Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy Belated 4th of July!

Since I didn't get around to posting yesterday, I'm wishing all the US people a belated happy 4th of July! Thankfully neither of my dogs are bothered by the sounds of the fireworks and they slept through all of it. We had a nice relaxed night at home. It was the first time that we haven't gone out and watched the fireworks some where, but I have to admit that it was really nice to be able to relax at home and revel in the fact that we both had today off.

I took the dogs out to a sports field that's attached to one of the local grade schools last night to practice heeling and paying attention while on grass with limited distractions. One section of the field is set up with mesh barrier that I assume has something to do with Little League. Either way, it's absolutely perfect for heeling patterns along a barrier so that I can keep the sits nice and straight.
Both dogs needed a little bit of warm up time before they were really actually focusing on what I was asking of them. Bess actually took a little longer than Heffner. She also started out slower than was her normal pace for heeling on a smooth surface. However, she did get over that and I was getting a nice heeling pace out of her about half way through. Heffner warmed up pretty quick and was my happy little heeler. I LOVE working on heeling! I kept things really simple for both dogs. At the moment, I just want them to understand that just because we're on grass doesn't mean that we get to lose focus. There's still work to be done and the expectation is that they treat it like any other surface that we more regularly work on. I did two laps around that barrier per dog. The first entire lap was just heeling. Treats were sporadically given for focus. Heffner has a really good understanding of this. He will bore into me with his eyes when he knows that he is supposed to be watching me and giving me all of his focus. It's almost as though he thinks that the harder and more intense he stares, the more likely he will be able to levitate that treat out of my hand and into his mouth. Bess is just starting to catch on to that. Again, I think this has a lot to do with my lack of playing focus games with her.

For our second lap, we would heel a few paces and then halt. I varied the distance that we would travel before halting and both dogs did really well. I have found that it's also helpful for me to practice like this on a long stretch against a barrier where I can focus on what I'm doing and maintaining consistency. That way I'm not having to worry about a lot of turns or maintaining sits in proper position. I haven't entirely decided how often I want to do these exercises each week, but I think 3-4 will reap great benefits.

After we did the work part, then it was time for the play part. Since we were on school grounds, I didn't let either dog off leash (we live within walking distance and I took the dogs one at a time). At one point there was a school district marked trucked that stopped and watched us for a while. I'm pretty sure they were waiting to see if I let either dog off leash in order to correct me. After they watched some heeling where I very obviously was training my dogs and the leash never came off, they moved on. So our playing was mostly just walking around the grounds and me getting the dogs into different spots to snap some pictures. The sun was just right that I snapped some shadow pictures of Heffner and I standing in the field.
I've been really bad lately about getting pictures in for the 52 Weeks for Dogs, so I made a concerted effort to get a shot yesterday, just under the wire. I was going for something that was a little patriotic since it was the 4th of July. I decided that the flag that was in front of the school was perfect! There was the shot that I included at the top of this post and there was another one with a slightly different angling of his head.
Next up was Bess. We did the same pattern of heeling and it took her a little longer to come into focus mode. I think that's something that will get better with time. She also got her picture taken with the flag after we were done. With her I was able to capture the pose that I originally wanted to catch with Heffner. I wasn't quick enough with my trigger finger with Heffner to capture him looking up at the flag. With Bess, I was ready.

I'm also super excited because yesterday we got a scanner!! There were some super good sales, so we took advantage of that. Possibly tonight or some time this week/upcoming weekend, I'll be scanning in some pictures of Heffner from the puppy days to post. I think I've mentioned this before, but when we first got Heffner I was fairly anti digital camera. Adam is always into the latest techno stuff and a digital camera was right up his alley. I was fighting the switch and took most of my pictures of him in those first few months with my film camera. This will also be nice because I can scan in a plethora of other things too!

At the risk of making this an even lengthier post (this is exactly why I need do daily posts; otherwise I blather on about too many things!), we had our obedience lesson today! Heffner's sits today were noticeably better! I think that doing those exercises last night with the mesh barrier really helped. I also got him to inadvertently do a walk up sit instead of his normal rock back sit. The walk up sit is what I would prefer that both dogs do. Bess is more likely to do it than Heffner. While it seems like such a minor thing, when either dog does a rock back sit, they usually end up out of heel position. While it's not by a large margin, it's more noticeable with Heffner. When I have to take a slight step back to get back into heel position with him, it's noticeable. Some how I got him to do a walk up sit. After our instructor broke it down for us and told me what she was seeing and watched me actively trying to get the proper motion out of Heffner, I feel like I have a good idea of how to get it and that's what we're going to start working towards.

Heffner also sometimes will start off his heeling patterns by pacing. Again, while it's a minor cosmetic thing, it looks much better when he's doing his happy heeling when he's gaiting properly. So we toyed around with different ways to start the heeling patterns and different speeds. In the end we decided that me essentially just starting right into the speed that I want to heel at is the best way to start him out at the right gait. I just need to practice that a lot and NOT slow down from the speed that I start at.

I've also been working on him getting treats that I drop out of my mouth. I know it sounds simple, but when you've never done that with a dog before, they tend to be a little confused. We've been working on it a little bit for the past couple of weeks. Once he caught on to the fact that the treat was coming from my mouth, he would start just randomly biting at the air when I would give him the watch command or use his name. For him, the treat was just randomly falling from the sky when I cued it. He now realizes that it's coming from my mouth and has a better concept. He's catching rate has gone way up. I was actually forcefully spitting it out at him for him to catch and now I'm working on just dropping it from my mouth right into his perfectly placed mouth.

When it was Bess' turn, we worked on a lot of the same things. Figuring out how to go about getting a walk up sit from her. I think I've got it mostly figured out. She has a little easier time doing it than Heffner does. She thankfully doesn't pace while heeling, so that was a non-issue.

We did some work on the stand for exam. I need to be very mindful of how my body is positioned with her and how I'm cuing her. If I'm not facing forward and giving my stand signal, I tend to get a stand into a sit. Not what I want. We figured out what I need to do for my hand signal and how I need to stand and that helped a lot. I just need to practice it.

There was a lot of trying different things out and figuring out how to get what I wanted out of each dog. Our instructor also does a great job of explaining why it's more ideal to train things a certain way or why we're going for specific movements. While we're "just" working on novice exercises, it's the foundation for everything else. Since I do plan on going on with the dogs, I need to keep in mind the upper level exercises and what will be expected of them at that level. With the novice exercises being the beginning phase of those exercises, I need everything to be as solid as possible and prepare them for the next step up.

Phew! I think that's enough for today. I hope everyone had a great holiday!


houndstooth said...

Happy Belated Independence Day! The pictures of them by the flagpole are beautiful!

Remington said...

I LOVE the pics! Very creative!

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

great pics! And it sounds like it was a wonderful obedience lesson. There are so many sits in obedience, more and more each level, so keep working hard on those tucked sits. I'm glad I have smaller dogs so it's not an issue :)