Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Platform

As requested, this post will be talking about what was gone over in Michele Pouliot's lab on the Platform. The lab was focused primarily on getting the dogs onto the platform, building value for it, and then getting them to understand the exact position for the respective sport while on it.

You begin by initially just clicking when the dog shows interest in the platform. If you have a dog who's already used to hopping up on things, say for example you do some of the core conditioning stuff, then you'll progress faster. Once the dog is showing interest in the platform, you increase your criteria and wait for the dog to put one foot on it. You continue to build up to the point where the dog gets all four feet on the platform. Prior to doing this, you need to have decided what the default behavior on the platform should be for the dog, i.e. sit, down, stand. Once the dog is getting all four feet on the platform, you start clicking for your default position.

As the dog gains understanding of what is expected while on the platform, you build up the drive for the platform. You want to make it a high value thing for the dog to be on there. She used the example that you want them so excited to get on the platform that they're practically climbing it as you're putting it onto the ground. Bess in particular will do this with our taped up phone book that I use for front pivots. She gets very excited when she sees it come out. Part of building up this drive is to have a rapid rate of reinforcement. You don't want the dog to put one paw on the platform, and then pause before putting the second one on. You want to do a rapid rate of reinforcement, so that they are really eager to take the next step and they're really ramping up their energy level to get into position.

Once the drive for the platform is built, you start calling the dog into the positions that you will actually use, i.e. front or heel. You can use as many platforms as you feel are needed to hit all the positions that you want. The dog is then driving into correct position, with you in correct position, and getting rewarded for it.

From here you can add in some distance work to get them holding in position. You can walk away. You can run away. You can go hide behind something. Essentially you're proofing the dog staying in THAT position.

As far as how to progress into removing the platforms, that wasn't gone over very much. Michele used her newest dog as the one example given. In her DVD Step Up to Platform Training, she said that she shows an unedited clip of what happened the very first time that she took one of the platforms away (I haven't watched the DVD so I don't actually know how it went). From what I gather, the dog had built up such a solid understanding of what the position was that she caught on pretty quickly that the position was the same with or without the platform. Eventually she got to a point where she was only doing platform work once a week with her puppy to continue reinforcing the behavior.

She did also mention that this puppy was the first dog that she purposefully did NOT teach a moving heel to. The dog developed such a reinforced idea of what heel position was, that the behavior carried over really well to beautiful heel work. Michele said that even she was blown away by it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Movie Monday

Finally back on track! This is a video hodge podge of clips of the dogs playing with the iBalls toys. The first few are of Heffner. I was TRYING to get a shot of him bouncing around and playing with it, but he had been playing with it for a while and mostly just wanted to squeak on it. The last half of the video is mostly Ruthie. Cause she's pretty freaking cute!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Portland Clicker Expo Day 3

Today was the final day of the Clicker Expo. So sad! I decided to start the morning off with a talk by the KONG representative titled "It's Fun to Have Fun But You Have to Know How." This was a shorter presentation lasting only 45 minutes. I went just out of curiosity to see what he had to say. The representative himself is an interesting guy because he works a lot of law enforcement officers and search and rescue teams from a training and behavior standpoint. So throughout his talk he would put in little stories, pictures, and videos of his work in these fields. He talked about using various puzzle types toys like the KONG to mentally stimulate your dog and the advantages of this. He also talked about the correct way for your dog to chew the KONGs and make them last longer. And finally he showed a new addition to the KONG family that is due out in February or March.

Following that talk I went to "Smart Reinforcement" with Ken Ramirez. This talk was basically about how to use reinforcement effectively to maintain behavior. He started by going over the basics of reinforcement. How precision marking and timing are incredibly important to gaining the correct behavior. Additionally, immediate delivery of reinforcement aids in cementing the behavior. When you're working with multiple animals, stationing them makes reinforcement clear and clean. He also brought up the issue of fairness when working with multiple animals. Even though you may be only working with one animal at a time while the others are say, on down stays. Those animals on the down stays are working the entire time that you're working with the "active" animal. They deserve reinforcement for this just as much as the animal getting directly worked with.

Novel reinforcers can be effective at making an event memorable, though you have to be careful that it's not in a negative way. When you use something that you've never used before you run the risk of the animal being afraid of it, not liking it, or spending time figuring out what it is. At that point it's not a positive reinforcer. Know your dog and choose wisely.

He went over primary reinforcers versus secondary reinforcers. A primary reinforcer is inherently reinforcing because it satisfies a biological need. The perfect example of this is food. Secondary reinforcers acquire their reinforcing value through association with a primary reinforcer. The perfect example here are clickers. You pair them with food so that the click becomes reinforcing.

A few other reinforcers were briefly touched on. These were the keep going signal, tertiary reinforcers, reinforcement substitutes, and conditioned reinforcer. Ken's favorite out of these are the reinforcement substitutes.

Reinforcement substitutes are trained just like a behavior in order to build up the value of them with the dog. Their success is dependent on a few things. It depends on what kind of a reinforcement history you've built up for them. It's dependent on what kind of a relationship you have with your dog. How you implement them. What kind of training and observational skills you have. And their effectiveness is also dependent on how you introduce them.

Following this he went into reinforcement schedules. While there are many nit picky ways to break them down, generally speaking they fall into two categories. It's either reinforcement given continuously as in treat after treat after treat for every behavior. Or it's given on a variable schedule.

The advantages most often touted for variable rates of reinforcement are that they have the potential to strengthen behavior. And that you are able to get behaviors of longer duration. The primary disadvantage is that it can lead to the animal becoming frustrated.

Ken prefers to use variable reinforcement instead of a variable schedule. He uses a mixture of primary and secondary reinforcers. All throughout his emphasis was on knowing your dog and knowing what will work and what won't.

After Ken's talk I was eagerly anticipating "Hold It, Get It, Bring It, Give It!" with Michele Pouliot. And you guessed it, this talk was all about the dumbbell retrieve!!! Oy vey, the dumbbell is going to be the exercise that does me in yet. After listening to Michele's talk, I am excited to try out her method and see if we can get beyond the spots that I'm stuck at primarily with the danes (Ruthie only got introduced to the dumbbell last night). Throughout her talk she used a TON of great video clips that perfectly illustrated what she was talking about.

Before you start into a training plan, you need to clearly define what your retrieve goals are. These are going to be somewhat dependent on the sport or use you want for this behavior. If you're doing this for a service dog, your requirements are going to be slightly different than those of someone who is training this for the competition obedience ring.

Your first step along the way is to create a LOVE for the article. You are clicking for interaction with the article and using a rapid rate of reinforcement. You can start with something as simple as the dog just looking at the dumbbell when you produce it (you're offering the dumbbell from an upright position while holding on to it). The most common result of this stage is the dog nose touching the dumbbell. However, you don't want to stay at nose touching for too long or else it becomes more difficult to move on to the next step.

The next step is to get a mouth behavior on the dumbbell. You are clicking for the dog opening their mouth towards the dumbbell even if it's just lip movement. That's still opening the mouth and moving in the correct direction. As with the first step, you don't want to stay at lipping or teeth bumping the dumbbell too long or else it will be more difficult to mover forward.

Step 3 is open mouth behavior on the dumbbell. Closely behind that is step 4, duration hold. Here you are withholding clicks to create duration of the hold. If you are stalling out at this point, then you move to Michele's second option which is to place the dumbbell on the floor and start from the beginning to get the dog to pick it up. You are clicking when the dog picks up the dumbbell. If at any point the dog drops the dumbbell, they don't get the click until they pick it back up.

Step 5 is a hands off the dumbbell hold duration. You are clicking for the dog holding the dumbbell without your hands on it. Up to this point (unless you were using the alternate method) you've been holding on to one of the bells.

From here you start placing the dumbbell on the ground with your hand still on it and the dog has to pick it up and finish delivering it to hand. Gradually you move your hand away until you are standing fully upright and the dog is picking it up and bringing it to you.

Once the dog is solid at this point you employ the use of a helper who will hold your dog. You place the dumbbell in between yourself and your dog and have the helper release the dog. The dog picks up the dumbbell and delivers it to hand. From there you gradually move to an actual retrieve where you throw the dumbbell and do the real retrieve. Michele's advice was once you have the hold you're pretty much golden.

The important part of the dumbbell retrieve (and the part that I know I haven't and won't do a good job explaining) is that your hands on the dumbbell are the cue for the hold. The rest of the exercise is just running out, grabbing the dumbbell, and bringing it back. You are training the dog to hold while your hands are on the bells after they've retrieved it. This helps to negate the behaviors where the dog spits the dumbbell out once it comes back or drops it as soon as your hands start coming towards the dumbbell itself.

After Michele's great talk I decided to go to the "Training With Play" lab with Kay Laurence. OMG! Her lab was fantastic!! It makes me wish that I had caught some of her other labs/talks! I really didn't have any expectations going into the lab as to what I was going to see, but apparently other people did because the room was totally packed! As the title implies, the lab was all about using play in your training and using it effectively.

The basis here is that the tug is the reinforcer. You get a behavior, click, and the dog gets the toy. The toy can also help you get the dog to offer some behaviors depending on how you use it. The primary toys used were a tug and a whip it toy (which is one of those toys attached to the end of a lunge line thingies). Of course, when using a toy, you need to have a reliable out command. As part of this, she recommended (and did a great job of demonstrating with dogs that she's never worked with before) that you use your body posture to signal to the dog when it's time to release. While the dog is tugging you're not making eye contact. You're making sure to maintain constant pressure on the toy to avoid rebiting and gradually moving up towards your hand. And your body isn't fully facing them. When you're wanting them to out the toy, you face them in a calm manner and stop playing WITH them. If they're not outing the toy, you simply put your hand into the collar under their chin and apply slight pressure. This is only so that the dog can't continue to self reinforce, it is not a collar correction. And then you wait. It's up to the dog to let go of the toy. Gradually the dogs pick up on the body cues. And while they may not immediately out the toy at first, gradually it builds up to a point where you starting to move your arm in the direction of the collar is the cue to drop. And then you fade from there so that your body cues are what they're picking up on.

She did all sorts of things with the five dogs participating and it's kind of difficult to relay absolutely everything that was going on. It's something that is way more effective to just watch her work with a dog.

When she was using the whip it toy, she emphasized that the toy must behave like prey in order for it to be interesting for the dog. It also won't be interesting if you constantly keep the toy well out of reach of the dog. The prey is more interesting when they are within an inch or two of capturing it. It builds their need to get it.

You can use the whip it toy to reinforce stays by pretending it's a bird. For this you are moving the toy in an arc over the dogs head rather rapidly. After having to constantly switch direction to keep an eye on the toy, the dog will eventually just stop and stand still. Boom, there's your stand stay! Click, and reinforce with the toy, letting the dog catch the toy.

By using toys as a training reinforcer, the behaviors you are eliciting are kill behaviors. By doing this you are not going to have the dog offering up a roll over behavior. You're going to get things like chase, stay, sit, down, etc.

Building up the dog's need for the tug toy can take some time and creativity on your part. Some dogs may really not be that interested in actual toys. A terrier in the lab wasn't interested in the toy at all, but loved to catch rabbits and vermin when it was out and about and had done so on a few occasions. Kay's advice was to find a fresh kill (road kill) and put a toy in a bag with the kill so that it would absorb the smell. This could then be exciting to the dog because it smelled like something that it really would like to chase and kill. Gradually you build up value for the toy itself.

Like I said, there was a whole lot more going on, but it was difficult to take notes on absolutely everything. Should you get the chance to watch Kay in action, I totally recommend it!

And that brought the 2012 Portland Clicker Expo to a close. There plenty of other talks and labs that I wanted to go to, but I since I can only be in one place at one time, that just wasn't possible. In the closing talk, they did release the January dates and location of the 2013 Clicker Expo and are still working on the March one. Next January it will be in San Francisco and unless the other location is more appealing I plan on attending. There's still so much to learn and this Expo has really helped to fuel my desire to learn more about training in general. I'm very lucky this year in that I'm already signed up for a couple of training seminars that I'm really looking forward to. The more you learn, the more possibilities there are! I have so many things rolling around in my head that I want to try out and work on with the dogs now! I need to start creating weekly training plans so that I can be as effective as possible with my time while also making sure that I'm able to fit everything in. Here's to 2012 being a great training year!!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Portland Clicker Expo Day 2

Today was day 2 of the Clicker Expo. I started off the morning by going to "The Education of Today's Trainer" with Aaron Clayton. This talk was an over view of the benefits of going to the Karen Pryor academy and becoming a certified trainer. I just wanted to get a general feel for what the program was about. I went out of curiosity. I thought it was an encouraging talk and hit very generalized questions. I don't really have anything in particular to say about it that mostly can't be found on the web site.

Following that was "What a Cue Can Do" with Kathy Sdao. I've never heard Kathy Sdao talk before (which is actually true for all of the presenters at this conference) so I thought I'd give it a go. This was a foundation level class (each class is given a difficulty level to better help people choose what's right for them), so it covered the basics. Sometimes it's good to go back over the basics. One of the first things she mentioned was the curse of knowledge. The longer you've been training and the more experienced you get, the more difficult it is to remember what it was like when YOU were first learning.

Kathy is a very animated and enjoyable speaker to listen to! She had some great video clips to go along with her slides. One of which was about Einstein the African Grey parrot where he tried out for some televised pet trick competition.

In general, the whole talk was about the basics of what a cue is. Cues tell you when you may do the behavior productively. They do not cause behaviors, reinforcement does. Cues should not be added until you have the behavior that you want and it's consistent! Each of the cues we use should be salient. They should leap out from the background. As such, they should also be distinct from other cues. It is also best to minimize compound cues. Her example was asking for a down. Often people not only do the verbal and the hand cue, they also tend to bend over. How do you know which of the three cues the dog is actually going to think belongs to the down?

Following Kathy was "The Right Touch" with Michele Pouliot. Her talk was great! There were two focuses of her talk. Using collar pressure and using body pressure to get behaviors. This was an advanced level class and the reason was because you are technically using negative reinforcement to get a behavior. If you are not careful it is all to easy to turn collar pressure into collar drags or corrections and body pressure into just physically moving the dog around. Her goal was to build this negative reinforcer into a positive opportunity for the dog and use just the lightest amount of pressure. Ken Ramirez touched on what she's done with Guide Dogs for the Blind, so I had a pretty good idea going into this of how she was going to cover it, but it was still great to hear in depth how she goes about things.

In order to train collar pressure, you start by having the dog tethered to a stationary object. The use of a stationary object is to avoid the handler actually pulling on the leash versus applying constant pressure, which is what you want. You have some sort of mild stimulus that causes the dog to lean into their collar. What you are looking for is the instant that they let up on the pressure. For this it's helpful to have your hand on the leash so that you can actually feel that moment when it happens and quickly click and treat. Gradually you get to a point where the dog chooses to not pull into the collar. This is advantageous when using collar pressure as a directional cue. You can use the lightest amount of pressure and the dog automatically yields.

Body pressure is trained in a similar manner minus the stationary object. The amount of pressure you use is just enough to be annoying to the dog. Not heavy handed pressure, but just enough. She used multiple examples related to freestyle for getting the dog to start volunteering behaviors. One of which was a paw cross. The dog lifts a paw into your hand. By the lightest of pressure on the side of that paw you are able to guide it into a position across the other paw. After a few repetitions, the dog may start to automatically put that paw into your hand if you open your palm up in the intended position.

After Michele's talk it was time for my favorite talk of the day! "Top OTCh" with Cecilie Koste. Her talk was about the basic skills that you need in order to be a top obedience competitor. This is important to keep in mind for the first recommendation that she makes. She recommends starting off with a serious obedience dog if you want to be a serious competitor. That's key. If you want to be a top OTCh competitor, then you should pick a dog that will get you there. If you just want to compete as high as you can with the dog that you have, that's totally fine. But if your goal is to be a world class competitor, you need to pick the right dog for the sport. I know that this can be a little disheartening sounding if you have a non-traditional breed, but she isn't telling you that you can't succeed with that dog, just that the dog you get should be dependent on the level at which you want to compete at. I actually really appreciate her honesty on this, since she had to have known that a statement like that isn't going to sit well with at least some of the people.

She then went into the 18 basic skills that you need to train your dog for in order to have a solid foundation for obedience. I know that it sounds like a lot, but it really breaks down well and you find these skills in the various exercises. I'll first list the skills then I'll go into the notes that I took on some of them that better described what to aim for for me personally. The skills are: look at you, targeting, sit, rear end control, sit at heel, gallop towards you, walk and look up, down, stand, stay, doggie zen, hold, let go, bark (her caveat was that if you are going to only do obedience, you don't necessarily want to train this), jump, scent discrimination, tracking, and go to person. And throughout her talk she had FANTASTIC video clips to perfectly demonstrate what she was talking about. Like I said, her talk was absolutely my favorite!!

Before I get into the individual skills, she emphasized the fact that you are getting the dog to OFFER these behaviors. You are not getting them by luring, cuing, or verbal encouragement. These skills are all things that the dogs are capable of offering up, you just need to set the dog up for success and then capture the behavior that you want. And while you are capturing and reinforcing these behaviors, you are NOT adding a cue in at all. The cue doesn't come until the dog is getting close to being competition ready and you are putting these basic skills together to create the exercises.

Rear end control. For this you are capturing hind leg movement and building from there. For backing up, you are clicking when the dog moves a back foot. Gradually you build up until they are actually walking backwards. To help the dog along, start out by having them positioned in between a wall and yourself. For teaching backing up while turning use corners. Gradually you fade away the wall and use lower and lower barriers until you aren't using any barriers at all. At that point, the dog will hopefully realize that your leg is what they are to stay in contact with and that is what will tell them the direction to go in. For coming into heel position (and this is something that I am absolutely going to start doing with my dogs) you start by using a box. You begin by moving in a clockwise motion around the box and click the dog for moving their back feet in a similar direction. Gradually you build up to the point where you remain stationary and the dog has to move into heel position to a point where they are in contact with your leg.

Gallop towards you. Start by training this skill when the dog is fresh and excited. Say when you get home from work and they're all happy to see you. You need a helper to hold on to the dogs collar while you walk 50 ft. away. Once you are in competition position away from the dog (it's important that you start by presenting the dog with the picture that they are going to see) the helper releases the dog. You click when the dog is at the speed that you want. Slowly you decrease the distance, but always clicking when the dog is moving fast.

Walk and look up. You start with the dog making eye contact with you. Click and treat. Then you reward for them making eye contact with you while you're moving backwards slowly. Then you increase the speed with which you move backwards. Then you start moving sideways and click and treat for the dog moving with you and making eye contact. Finally you move into heel position and reward the dog for being in position and making eye contact with you.

Stand. You start by simply capturing a stand. Then you capture the stand while you are slowly moving backwards. How do you get the dog to offer this behavior without you giving some sort of encouragement? You reinforce multiple stationary stands first. Then you start moving. The dog is not getting rewarded for just moving, so obviously that's not what you want. Maybe they'll try a brief stop in standing position. Bang! Click and treat. You've got to be ready to reward that possibly small hesitation so that the dog has something to go off of. Gradually you shape for speed.

Stay. First choose your dog's most probable position. Click and treat your dog rapidly just for being in the position. They are getting multiple rewards for simply remaining in this position, so why should they move? Always bring the treat to the dog. Gradually you increase the time before you click and treat. It's also a good idea to train this exercise when the dog is relaxed so they are less likely to spring out of position or move. That way you have plenty of stationary behavior to reward. Once that position is solid. You train the stay from the next probable position. The caveat being that you must get the dog to first offer this position before you start working with it.;0)

Doggie zen. I had never actually heard of this term before Cecilie's talk. The basis of it is that the dog gives something up in order to get it later. For example, you put a bowl of dog treats on the floor. The dog cannot eat it until give the release to do so. You put the food bowl down. The dog ignores it and works with you. Then you release the dog to the food bowl. The way that you add the cue in to this is that you wait until the dog is digging in. The dog then has to wait for the cue in order to go for the bowl.

At some point in your competition career there is a possibility that your cue will become broken. In other words, you'll give a cue and your dog will not respond appropriately. For this, Cecilie says to simply go back to these basic exercises and work on the ones for the competition exercise that broke down. Start small and build back up. It's then from these basic skills that you start to put together the competition exercises. Your dog therefore has all the tools to accomplish these tasks.

She mentioned that you could be thinking that this is rather overwhelming and now you potentially have a dog that is throwing all these behaviors at you. If you break things down again, you'll realize that there isn't really that many behaviors that they can throw at you all at once. When the dog is in heel position, what behaviors can they throw at you? Sit, down, stand, or go out. That's pretty much it. They can't exactly offer jump, because there's no jump. They can't offer a dumbbell, because there's no dumbbell. It's not as overwhelming as it seems. Through your training the dog also learns the difference between you in a position where it's okay to offer behaviors and you in a position where there are specific behaviors expected. Specifically, it's okay to offer behaviors when the handler is facing the dog and/or moving backwards (things are also a little different in Scandinavian obedience because they don't have a front position). When the handler is in "normal" position (i.e. heel position) the dog must wait for a cue.

When you start to train for the competition exercises, it's important to back chain them. The dog is most likely to perform the most recently reinforced behavior, therefore you're making your job that much easier and less frustrating for the dog. Once the exercises are good to go, you start training for actual competition. She was pretty much out of time when she started touching on this and didn't really get to go too in depth. But her recommendations were to use a variable rate of reinforcement and to train with distractions. The distractions should actually be a part of the basic skills training so that you can continue to build on them. You aren't really ready to compete until you and your dog are capable of succeeding at the exercises on the first try. There are no second chances in the ring. You should also increase the quality of your reinforcement.

Following her awesome talk, I went to her "Top OTCh" lab. In the lab the handlers were working on the basic skills that she talked about in her talk. I actually ended up leaving the lab early because I wasn't really gaining new information from the lab.

So there you have it! Two days down and one left to go!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Portland Clicker Expo Day 1

Today was the first day of the Portland, OR Clicker Expo and I was really excited to see what was in store for me! I had a little taste of what was to come when Crystal went last year and posted about her experience. I got all registered first thing and then started going through my goody bag. Inside were a bunch of raffle tickets. The goal for the tickets are that you reward people basically for acts of "goodness" that are really defined by you. Kind of like you're clicking them. You can give someone a ticket for introducing themselves to you. You can give someone a ticket for the way they were mindful of their dog's needs during a lecture. Or in my case, you can reward someone for the fact that they brought their frenchie to the expo! It's all up to you and it really helps to inspire a positive attitude where everyone is going around looking for something good to reward. I love it! The tickets are good for a drawing for a basket at the end of each day.

As I was going through my registration packet and reading over the welcome material, I read a passage that I absolutely love and wish it was something that the general pet population would take to heart when out and about with their respective dogs. "Does your dog always want to rush up to other dogs and try to play? You may think your dog is being friendly, but to other dogs that behavior is incredibly rude. Your dog may be getting in the face of another dog that has worked long and hard to gain self-control in that situation. If someone's dog snaps or snarls at your dog, it is your fault, not theirs." This was also reiterated by Karen Pryor herself in her opening address. This is so incredibly true and I really appreciate that they emphasize this at the expo!

As I started typing up my experience from the talks, I realized that these posts could easily become incredibly long and/or take a matter of weeks to get all the way through. So in an effort to minimize this and create posts that don't make the reader feel like they are going through a long drawn out novel, I will do my best to summarize each day in one post and make them relatively brief. However, this is me that we're talking about here.;0)

After the opening session it was time to get down to business and go to the talks or labs of your choosing. The first talk that I chose to go to was "Oops! What to do When Mistakes Happen" by Ken Ramirez. First and foremost, Ken is a fantastic speaker! He completely filled up his two hour time slot and held my attention the whole time. No small feat considering that I was already starting to get a little hungry at the beginning of his talk. In order to talk about how he handles mistakes in training, he first had to give a little background on the various methods that trainers utilize. The first he talked about was a no reward marker (NRM). This is pretty much what it sounds like. The trainer uses a marker to indicate that the animal being trained has gotten it wrong. Something as simple as an Oops! Part of the problem with this method is that the animal can get frustrated at not moving forward and this can lead to a negative training experience.

The next "method" is the delta signal. This is essentially a warning before a negative stimulus happens. He likened it to his mother telling him to clean up his room multiple times with no effect. It wasn't until she used his full name that he knew she meant business. It was the use of his full name that was the delta signal that if he didn't do as he was told there was going to be a negative stimulus coming his way. One of the down sides to this method is that the delta signal can end up becoming the new cue for the behavior.

Following this is the time out method. Scientifically speaking, this is a negative punisher. This too can create frustration in the animal being trained. Time outs must be very well timed lest you punish the wrong behavior. Additionally, the time out doesn't actually teach the animal what behavior you WANT.

Next up was negative reinforcement. This is a subject that many people are not fully clear about. Negative reinforcement is using the removal (negative since you are taking something away) or avoidance of an aversive to increase a behavior. An example of this would be teaching a horse to neck rein. The aversive would be the pressure of the reins on the horses neck. The horse learns that they are to move away from the pressure. When they do so, the pressure, and thus the negative stimulus, is released and they are therefore rewarded for their behavior. Negative reinforcement does not always mean something that is abusive.

Ken's preferred method of dealing with mistakes in training is by using a least reinforcing scenario/stimulus (LRS). You are taking an inappropriate behavior and dealing with it in a way that isn't frustrating to the animal and keeps them wanting to work. His preference is to use a 3 to 5 second neutral response. He had some great video clips (he actually had really great clips throughout his talk) to demonstrate exactly what he was talking about. For example, if the animal in question doesn't respond to a sit command, he would pause for 3 to 5 seconds and then move on to something that the animal will reliable do, so that he can reinforce that. The animal doesn't get rewarded for the inappropriate behavior, but the trainer and animal continue moving forward to other more reinforcing and reliable behaviors so that the animal realizes that they will only get reinforced for correct behaviors.

He then went on to discuss some alternate response training. This topic he plans to cover more thoroughly tomorrow during his talk on aggression. The notes I took on this topic were very basic.

After Ken's talk I went to a lab (workshop) with Michele Pouliot titled "Crosstrain! Teach Your Dog the Skills Critical for All Canine Sports." This lab focused on using the platform to teach a solid understanding of position to the dog. This position could be whatever you need it to be depending on what discipline you were interested in. The two most common examples were obedience and freestyle. I got a LOT of really great ideas from this lab that I can't wait to try out with the dogs!! It also added a few more items to my list of "must have" training tools. I have a feeling that list is never going to get much shorter.;0)

The strongest advantage to the platform is that it is a well defined space for the dog to be on. Once the dog learns to go onto the platform, there isn't a lot of room for them to futz around on. The platform essentially doesn't allow for crooked sits. You are able to constantly reward the dog in perfect position. The platform also allows the handler to be in the goal position so that the dog not only learns what position they're supposed to be in, but what the handler looks like when they're in that position. Too often while we're training, we're correcting the dogs position, which throws us out of the stance that we should be in. The dog learns that ideal position for them involves us being twisted into some shape. When we're in the correct position, the picture changes for the dog, so they change their positioning in order to get their picture of you back the way they were rewarded in. If that sentence made any sense!

She also emphasized magnetizing the platform. You build up so much reinforcement for the platform that the dog is practically climbing on it as you're putting it down. They're excited to get on there and into the position that they KNOW they'll get rewarded for. From there you start using the verbal or physical commands that you want the dog to know and it's a piece of cake for them to associate the correct position with the command!

Following Michele's lab I wen to "Shaping Procedures for the Agility Trainer" by Eva Bertilsson and Emelie Johnson Vegh. I have their agility book and just recently started reading, so I can already tell that a lot of what they went over in their talk will be reinforced in the book. Their talk, by far, was the hardest for me to wrap my head around. I am going to try my best to summarize what they were talking about, but I know that it won't be half as good a job as they did. And hopefully it will come out at least moderately clear!

First and foremost, you must understand that these two ladies are the masters at breaking things down. This is part of the reason why it took me a little bit to fully catch on to what they were describing, since I tend to have difficulties breaking things down into smaller steps. Not only do they break things down into smaller steps, but they break them down into MINUSCULE steps! Seriously! The best example I can give is that before you want a specific behavior, figure out where you want your dogs head facing and reinforce that. If you have a behavior in which you want the dog moving forward, like you do for agility, then you wan their nose pointing forward. So reinforce that, and only that. Because you want the dogs nose pointing forward, you don't want them looking any where else lest they add that into the behavior. This particular example was much clearer to me when they showed a video clip of this exact thing. The reinforcement was so rapid that the dog didn't have a chance to look any where else. Therefore the ONLY behavior that was getting rewarded was this position.

Obviously as part of this shaping process, the reward is very important. How you give it, where you give, how frequent, and even what it is, will effect the end goal. There was a fair bit of description on this, which was best illustrated by the nose forward position. Rewards given rapidly to the dog in this position did not allow for any of what they call "garbage behavior."

They continued to further break things down in a sort of mind boggling circle. In essence, the taking of the reward is a behavior in and of itself that also must be trained. You don't start into a training session with a picky dog and a treat that they've never had before. If you present them with something unknown, they may take the time to sniff the treat and taste it. At that point, what you originally were trying to reward is not what's actually getting rewarded.

To further screw with my mind, the method that they used to explain all of this involved starting at the end. You start when the reward ends. Just the reward ending can be a cue for another behavior. You give the dog a cue, they execute the behavior, you reward, then they stare at you to figure out what comes next. The end of the reward you just gave is what's cuing them to stare at you and wait for what's coming next. This is something that I TOTALLY never thought about like that before. They're talk was basically filled up with little brain benders like that. I just wasn't used to thinking like that and it took me a little bit to wrap my brain around it.

That's really as much as I'm going to attempt to describe from their talk. I'm really afraid that I'll butcher anything more that I haven't already! Their talk was great and I definitely recommend that if you get the chance to hear them speak, you should.

I also gained some ideas for ways that I can go about getting Ruthie used to and ready for the tunnel (I'm a bad trainer and have not done any work with trying to get her to go into the tunnel since she very adamantly told me that she's not a fan). It's little things that I just hadn't thought about. I'll talk more about them as I actually start to implement them with the Mighty Midget. I also learned a little Swedish from the talk! It turns out the the word slut means the end!LOL That was a pretty funny moment when at the end of one of their video clips the word SLUT popped up in big bold letters!

Phew! I made it through and hopefully anyone still reading this did as well! Tomorrow is another day and I'm looking forward to it. Now to figure out what to do with these poor neglected pooches of mine....

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Idita Walk 2012

February 1st is the start of the 2012 Idita Walk! The premise of the Idita-walk is that you shoot for walking 1,049 minutes between February 1st and March 31st. Once you sign up and pay your "entry fee," you gain access to an online log that will allow you enter your daily totals throughout the course of the event. It's a great way to encourage people to be a little healthier, get their dogs more exercise, and promote the Iditarod a little. I've already signed myself up for it this year and I'm looking forward to keeping a better online record of how I'm doing.

I participated in the event last year and exceeded my goals. Of course it helps that I didn't go crazy over board because I knew that I would be wanting to up the stakes this year. I am going to continue to only count the time I spend with the dogs towards my daily minutes. However, I'm going to add in a little twist.;0)

Two years ago I did a little pedometer challenge. I've been wanting to do something with that again and I think this is the perfect opportunity! Starting February 1st all the way through the end of the Idita Walk, I'm going to wear my pedometer and I'm going to do a weekly breakdown as to where I'm at with the dogs with regards to activity minutes (we do a lot more than just walking together, so I figured I'd call it activity minutes versus walking minutes) and where I'm at personally with the pedometer. Since it's been a while since I've done the pedometer challenge, I don't really know roughly how many steps I'm putting in in a day. I'm going to use February as my baseline period, figure out my average daily steps, and then shoot for increasing that average during the month of March. I haven't yet determined how much I want to try to increase by. We'll just have to see how that pans out.

Last year my goal for the Idita Walk was to put in 2,089 activity minutes with the dogs. I am going to increase this goal for this year to 2,500 minutes. I think this could be a lot of fun! Anyone else planning on joining in either via the Idita Walk or just doing this as a personal challenge?

And with that I'm off to take care of doggy toe nails and get ready for the start of Clicker Expo tomorrow morning!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Books of the Month

“One Second to Glory” by Lew Freedman is the story of Iditarod Champion musher Dick Mackey. The book gets its title from his 1978 victory in which he won by one second. The story begins with a brief overview of Dick’s childhood and how he got to Alaska in the first place. It follows him through his early years and chronicles how he got started into mushing and eventually racing. If you’re a dog history buff and love reading about how things got started, then you absolutely will love reading about the early years of the Iditarod. Dick Mackey did it all from competing to race marshaling to flying a bush plane on the Iditarod trail. And since the story is transcribed directly from him, you get it in his own words.

The Mackey family is a very well known mushing family, with several Iditarod champions. Some of whom are multiple winners. While the story doesn’t really focus so much on the children growing up, it does give you a glimpse into the childhoods they had and what helped to shape them into the iron competitors that they are today.

What I did find pretty interesting and didn’t realize before reading the book, was that Dick Mackey essentially founded Coldfoot, Alaska. This may not sound interesting in and of itself, but he started with a ramshackle “diner” and gas station, that actually turned into a real town and truck stop. In an area that sees temperatures hitting 60 below and colder, this is no small feat considering that your construction time frame is essentially limited to the “summer” months.

The book does tend to jump around a lot as far as time frame from chapter to chapter, which can be a bit confusing at times. Once you realize that the entire story line is not necessarily chronological, you’ll get over that.;0) I do also get the feeling that since this is the story that is being told to the author many years after things have actually taken place, some things may be remembered with rose colored glasses. Again, you’ll get over that for the good story.;0)

All together I thought it was an enjoyable book and fun read since the Iditarod is coming up in March.

"The New Complete Great Dane" by Noted Authorities (I seriously LOVE how they phrased that!) is a great book for someone interesting in the breed and it's history. For those who have a mentor in the breed already, there are countless moments in this book that I swear it's verbatim what you will hear! It actually kind of cracked me up a little at times.;0) There are also times where you can tell you need to read between the lines of what's being said or NOT said to get at the crux of something.

Regardless, I found this a very enjoyable book to read and I feel that anyone with a love for the breed with also find it highly enjoyable.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

RCC Wrap Up

Lets see, I left off with Day 2, which was Thur., with Bess getting her second Beginner Novice leg. Friday was a slightly less busy day that had Bess and I competing in Rally in the morning and a later ring time for danes meant no ring conflicts!! Three days of no ring conflicts! Woo hoo!!

I would post the Excellent and Advanced courses that we ran on Friday, but the print outs weren't all that great and things were not entirely clear. This was one of those times where a walk through was a necessity. Our Excellent run wasn't too bad. I had some glimmers of Bess perking up a bit, though she still seemed stressed. I'm changing up our warm up routine quite a bit and I think it's helping at least a little. We ended up qualifying with a score of 87. After the last time we were in the ring, I will pretty happily take that score.

Next up was Advanced. I walked the course. I even watched the competitor ahead of us correctly finish the course. For some reason, I thought it would be cool to create my own station about half way through the course.:o/ I was so convincing to myself that I didn't even consciously realize what I had done. Until the end. When the judge let me know what happened. Ug! Regardless, our Advanced run was better than our Excellent run and I was throwing a party when we crossed the finish line. So NQ and no RAE leg. Bummer! However, things are looking up for Bess and I in rally!

After we were done with rally I took Bess over to the FitPAWS booth so that I could say hi to Bobbie and also check out some of the equipment that they have and see what I needed to add to my list of must haves for this year. Specifically I wanted to try Bess out on the donut and see what she thought. Since she's gotten so used to getting all four feet on our giant core disc, I had a feeling that she would most likely try to do the same thing with the donut. And she did! Let me tell you, that thing is a lot harder to stabilize when you're not entirely ready for a large dog to do that! Bess enjoyed herself and got to try out a variety of products that we don't already have. Bobbie gave me some ideas for additional exercises to try. And since it just wouldn't be Rose City Classic without me doing some shopping, I bought the donut and then on Sunday I went back and also picked up the inflatable ring to help stabilize it a little bit better. New toy!

Saturday I was only doing conformation with Ruby. I had no desire to compete in any performance events over the weekend when the spectators come out and things get crazy and annoying! So instead, I did some shopping!:0) I picked up some awesome new collars for the dogs that I'll share in another post.

Sunday was conformation again and thankfully slightly less crowds which was really nice! While I was somewhat glad that things were coming to a close, I was also really sad to see everyone go. There's the closer to home crew who hits up all the relatively local shows that I always love chatting and hanging out with. And then there's the people who travel from a greater distance that I don't get to see terribly often. We had people from California, Arizona, and Canada at this show. It was fabulous to have everyone together and have multiple days to hang out and chat. It was just sad to see them go and know that it was going to be a while until I see them next. Thank goodness for Facebook.;0)

So that was our crazy extended weekend in a nut shell (I apologize for the lack of pictures in this post, hopefully I can make up for that soon!). Lots of fun, great people, good show, and great dogs. I have some videos that I need to find the time to put together. Kennedy was nice enough to take video of our Beginner Novice runs! I'm not exactly sure when I'll have those videos together because this upcoming weekend is the Clicker Expo in Portland!! This will be my first time going and I'm really excited! I'm signed up for all three days!:0)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Birthday Heffner!!

Happy 6th birthday to my very special boy!! Heffner got his most favorite toy in the world as a present today, the iBalls!! It takes him about a year to really kill them and he is absolutely smitten with them! As soon as I got it out of the package he was hopping all around me trying to get at it. It was really cute!

The above picture is him curled up with his prize just a bit ago. Taking a nap after some training, going for a run, and being a general spaz with his new toy.

I also picked up the three pack of the small balls for Bess and Ruthie. Though it turns out that Ruthie thinks Heffner's ball is pretty awesome. Even though it's bigger than her head, she manages to pick it up and carry it around the house with her. Since it's Heffner's new toy, I haven't let her do much of that. And once I pulled out the small iBalls, her focus turned to that and she's been happily rolling around on the floor with one in her mouth for the past half hour or so. It was quite entertaining when all three dogs were squeaking their respective balls at once! And of course, Adam was totally egging them on!

I realize that I haven't posted anything since Thursday and I apologize! I just got so busy and tired. I even managed to take a four hour nap on Saturday!! I'll do a final recap tomorrow. I hope that everyone had a great weekend and a gentle Monday!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

RCC Day 2

Holy tired Batman!! This morning I was very thankful that both conformation and obedience had middle of the day ring times. That meant that this girl got to get some serious sleep! And yet, I find myself now feeling seriously tired. And all I did was a whole lot of standing around. I don't quite get it.

At any rate, I still don't have any video to post, but I do thankfully have more good news. Bess got her second BN leg today with a score of 192!! I am going to stop myself right there and be happy about that. I caught myself starting to totally tear apart our run and turn everything into a negative. I think I need to work on that. I got compliments on Bess from some other people outside of the ring, both people that I know and other exhibitors that I haven't met before. This was very sweet of them and I think I need to be less mentally harsh on Bess and I and focus on the positive.

I'm having a hard time right now separating what I've seen that she's capable of in practice versus some of the lack luster performances that we've had in the ring. I just don't know what all the factors are that cause this disconnect between her and I when we get into the ring. Just as I've started focusing on being more mentally there in the agility ring, maybe there are things that I need to do for obedience and rally that will eventually help our performance?? And maybe I'm just already starting to freak out about rally tomorrow. That's probably more likely. We've struggled so much with rally lately, that I have to admit that I'm dreading going into the ring tomorrow. This is definitely not the mind set to have.

So here's to having a little yummy hard cider tonight, relaxing with the dogs, and getting myself mentally prepared to stay positive and only think of positive outcomes. And I need to not freak out if we start to have little problems!! Maybe I should take that yummy cider to the show with me tomorrow and partake before entering the ring???

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

RCC Day 1

Holy long day Batman!! We got to the Expo Center today at about 6:45 am. And we left at roughly 7:00 pm. You see, I didn't bother to check and see what our obedience ring time was for today until I arrived. As it turns out, obedience for the working group specialty wasn't starting until 2:55 pm. Oh yes, and ALL ring times were delayed by a half hour due to the inclement weather. And our obedience ring just happened to be running an additional half hour behind. That meant that the working group specialty obedience classes didn't start until 4:00 pm. Yikes!

While I was able to take Bess out to walk around for a bit in between things, she still had a pretty long day of just hanging out. Thankfully she hung in there and we made it through our Beginner Novice run. While the run wasn't exactly what I was hoping for as far as attitude from her, I am overall happy with how things went. We ended up with a score of 190 and took 1st place in the A class!:0) Yay Bessy!!

Unfortunately I didn't do as much videoing today as I had thought I would. I sort of spent my time chatting, playing with dogs, and eating. Hopefully I will get enough clips tomorrow to put something together. In the mean time, I'm completely beat and going to go pass out.

Fingers crossed that tomorrow goes well and I'm hoping for a little more happy attitude in the ring.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Here We Go!

Tomorrow morning begins the big Rose City Classic cluster of shows!! I'm pretty excited and glad that things worked out with my projects at work that I can not only take the time off, but I'm not leaving a ton of stuff behind that I'll stress about.

I did a little shopping yesterday and picked up a new pant suit as well as a new skirt set. Oh yeah, and freaking pantyhose. I killed the last pair that I had whenever the last time was that I wore them, and I almost forgot to buy more.

I've got what little I needed to pack all together. I've got Bess in Beginner Novice tomorrow and I'll be showing Ruby in the great dane specialty as well as the working dog specialty. Hence why I will be wearing a pant suit tomorrow so that I can maximize my comfort and still get the job done in both rings. There will be some sparkly shoes gracing my feet fo' sho'!

I'm currently a little paranoid about what the weather will bring over night. For those of you who may not know, in the Pacific Northwest we usually get pretty mild winters, which equal a day or two of snow that quickly melts. Which also means that none of the cities and towns regularly keep any equipment on hand to help maintain icy or snowy roads. This is bad when we do get snow. And has a lot to do with why things generally shut down even with only an inch of snow on the ground. Tonight we are actually predicted to get a few inches of snow. And some reports say that we will get sleet in the morning. Definitely not something that I want to deal with while I'm driving. So I'm giving myself plenty of time in the morning to get there and I'm just going to keep my fingers crossed that 1) the roads aren't that bad, 2) there aren't hardly any people out on the roads, and 3) the weather isn't all that bad by morning. Snow on the roads I can handle pretty well. Icy, nasty overpasses I'm not terribly thrilled about.

Anywho, it's high time that I get to bed. Wish us luck and I will hopefully have a positive update as well as a video to post tomorrow!:)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Movie Monday

We got snow!!! Sort of. It's amazing what a little bit of elevation can do. At our house, the snow melts and is very sad. Drive out towards the coast and BAM! It's sticking! I wanted to give the big dogs a chance to play in the snow in an area where it was actually sticking and accumulating, so we headed out west this afternoon (since it's a holiday today, I got the afternoon off). Incidentally, Ruthie is NOT a fan of snow. She's rather disgusted with the cold and not thrilled that I still insist she must go out and potty.
And now to the actual topic of today's post, Movie Monday.;) I took Bess and Ruthie down to visit my parents yesterday and took some video of their time there with my parents' golden retriever, Jazz. He's about 10 months old now and really doesn't know what to make of Bess!

If you'll remember from a previous Movie Monday, Ruthie has a weird obsession with plastic bottles. For whatever reason, my sister has left a variety of empty plastic bottles around my parents house. Ruthie kept finding them every where in the house and was pretty much in hog heaven. These bottles weren't always empty though, so they kept getting taken away from her. What she learned from that was that if she looked hard enough, she was bound to find a bottle. This even extended to outside. There was some recycling sitting outside in their breezeway, and naturally, she found the bottles!

Anyhow, we had a great time! This weekend was a meat packing weekend and I am trying to avoid finishing up the cleaning in the garage. I just happened to off balance a plastic tote that contained turkey tails on Saturday. There weren't very many tails left, but there was plenty of meat juice left. It wasn't pretty. And now I need to finish cleaning that up, but I'd really rather not!!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Avoiding Burn Out

You ever get to a point where you're trying to pack so much into a day, while trying to maximize your training time, that you feel like you just can't do it any more? I periodically hit that burn out point when it comes to training and keeping the dogs in shape. It happens to me a few times a year where I just hit a wall and have to take a break from my training and conditioning regime and not do anything. Granted, I feel horribly guilty at the time, but I just get to this point where I can't continue scheduling my every non work related minute in order to try and maximize my dogs' abilities. I just hit overload and my brain shuts down. The weird thing about it is that I totally recognize this pattern I have, but I don't do anything about it. More recently I've been analyzing my patter of burn out, and trying to figure out how to avoid it.

Before competitive dog sports, my focus was training for triathlons and small scale road races. The grand scheme was to gradually build up to the point of running a half Ironman. A full Ironman takes such total dedication to training, nutrition, and sleep, that it really wasn't practical for me to have that as a goal. I read everything I could get my hands on with regards to sport specific training, cross training in other areas, nutrition, and how to structure my work out cycles. I became totally and completely obsessed with structuring my weekly, monthly, and yearly exercise regimen! It's no secret that I have a crazy love affair with Excel. My obsession with structuring my triathlon training centered around my excel files. I tracked every single exercise, every single day. I had multiple tabs to let me know where I should be throughout the year in my training, what I should be focusing on, and what points I should be hitting in what sports at what times. It was great in a very OCD sort of way.;0)

It was this sort of attention (or OVER attention) that kept me from over training and burning out on my triathlon training. I was always eager for more and excited to hit my goals and be in the kind of physical shape that I wanted to be in. Never mind the fact that it felt freaking awesome to finish those races and still feel strong after crossing that finish line! So why on earth am I experiencing burn out with regards to my dog training and conditioning regimen?? Considering how incredibly anal retentive I was with my triathlon training, it's a wonder that I didn't just walk away from the sport within the first year! And yet, I'm now involved in a sport that I feel so much more passionate about and I routinely hit periods of burn out. What gives?

The key to my triathlon training (besides my OCD tendencies), was periodization. More importantly, the four week cycle of building for three weeks, followed by a RECOVERY week. That week of recovery every fourth week was key. I had three weeks of building and challenging my body. Just as I was starting to reach the point where it was getting to be a bit much, I had a week where I was "lazy" and could mentally check out. My workouts were cake walks. I still got them all in, but they instead of pushing me to my limits, they were rejuvenating. So why on earth haven't I thought to do this before with my dogs???

From here on out, I am going to periodize my dog training and conditioning schedule. I think we're all familiar with the "phenomenon" of taking a short break from a dog sport and when you come back, both you and the dog are refreshed and seem to have a new zest for the sport. Isn't that weird? ;0) The dogs and I all really need this. While they continue to be happy to work with me and do anything I ask and go anywhere I take them, it's still nice to have those periodic spikes in interest and activity. It keeps the game exciting, keeps burn out at bay, and keeps us all in a good mental place. And the mental aspect of training and competing is something that I'm paying more and more attention to now a days.

Anyway, this was something that has been tumbling around in my head this week because I hit a bit of a burn out patch. I really wanted to get this post out there while I was still feeling enthusiastic about it.:0) And I've also been toying around with the idea of doing a few spring triathlons this summer. Some of the funner ones that I know I will enjoy. Who knows.;0) Happy Friday everyone!!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Training Thursday

I'm not entirely sure what's going on with YouTube, but I did figure out how to get my video to upload without taking several hours. For whatever reason, as long as I continue to type in the description box and make general tags to the information regarding each video, it continues to upload. If I stop typing or stop making changes, it stalls. Annoying, but at least today's video only took a few minutes to upload!!

It turns out that teaching the hand touch to the dogs wasn't that difficult after all. They already check out my hand for treats, so it wasn't difficult to get them to at least sniff my hand. Once they got a few clicks, they figured out what was going on. Bess through in a few paw hits just for good measure on the first video.;0) And no, I have no idea why on earth her tail is tucked in both of her clips. She tends to do that. Sometimes she'll just randomly stand in the middle of a room with her tail tucked and I have no idea why. I'm just chalking it up to one of the little idiosyncrasies that make Bess so unique!

And for whatever reason, I do just happen to be wearing the same hoodie in both clips. At least on the second portion my socks match.;0) And if you notice in the second half, Ruthie is starting to do some big girl stays! She's now starting to do down stays outside of her crate while I work the other two dogs on lower excitement exercises, just like I require for the danes!!

I'll stop yapping now and just post the video.;0)

And here's the other video that I never got around to posting. Just some random shots, mostly of Ruthie.

For this week's challenge we're going to up the anti on the hand touch. I want to see some "extreme" hand touches!! Lets spice it up a little! You could add distance to the hand touches. Add height to them. Require the dog to hit your hand multiple times in a row. Or even require that they hold their nose to your hand for a hand touch with duration. Whatever idea pops into your head involving a hand touch, GO FOR IT!!

And if you participated in last week's challenge, post a link to your blog post or video in the comments so that others can see how different people and different dogs went about it!!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Technical Difficulties

YouTube is being a royal PITA tonight and has already taken over an hour to try and upload my 2 min. video. I've never had it take this long before!!>:0( Movie Monday may be postponed to Tuesday at this rate since I would like to go to bed and the video is only at 33%. Has anyone else been experiencing issues with YouTube? It took longer than usual yesterday to upload Ruthie's video, but not this long!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Obedience Match - Le Midget

Today was all about Ruthie (photos courtesy of Danielle)! The Pacific Northwest French Bulldog Club was putting on an AKC conformation and obedience A match today. There are three different level of matches within the AKC. The most common seems to be the C match where most anything goes. You can train in the ring, you can use food, you can use toys, you name it. Today's match was an A match, which means that it is run JUST like an actual dog show. Therefore, there's not supposed to be any training in the ring let alone food or toys. It's about as close to a real trial as you can get. The club needed to put on this final A match in order to fulfill their requirements with the AKC to become a licensed breed club.
I think they did a fabulous job! We had a very understanding judge, great ring stewards, and just a generally fun group of people throughout the day. And get this, there were entries in all three of the regular levels of obedience! (I should also mention that because it was an A match there was no Beginner Novice so Ruthie was in a straight up Novice class) The bitch entered in utility and open is my obedience instructor and her partner's dog. She was definitely the best behaved and trained frenchie entered (go figure!)! The novice dogs were absolutely the entertainment! Oh boy!
The two boys entered in Novice were having a grand ole time! Ike did really well until he got to the heel off lead portion when he first got distracted and I think figured out that he wasn't attached. At one point he went tearing out of the ring and went visiting. He's a pretty social little guy and I have to admit that it was pretty funny. Next up was Ruthie. She's just so cute! We got video of her run and I'll go through that after I plug it in here. Following Ruthie was Remi. Remi was also all about having a good time and trying to go do some visiting. All three were a freaking riot! But it gets BETTER!! And for this I really wish that we had video!!
Do you know what comes after the individual exercises? That's right! Group stays!!!lol I laughed so hard that I was crying and almost peed my pants! The three of us go into the ring in a fairly orderly fashion. Getting the dogs situated and sitting still took a few moments, but it got done. Ruthie was in the middle of the two boys. At this point I should also mention that Remi and Ike (the two boys) are best buds. They LOVE playing with each other and are like little tasmanian devils whirling around the ring when they're set loose together. They are a riot to watch. But I digress.;0) The dogs are all in position and the handlers are told to leave their dogs. We all start to leave and Jill lets me know that Ruthie got up. I turn around and walk towards her to reset her. That was apparently the boys cue that it was play time. They start ripping around the ring together, having a blast rough housing with each other after all this serious stuff. I didn't think too much of it and thought that I could just call Ruthie and she'd come to me like she has previously (this has happened during our team practice before). Nope! Ruthie had to tell those boys who was boss! She goes tearing around the ring after them! So there's three handlers trying to wrangle three tasmanian devils whirling about the ring while our poor judge is just standing there watching the melee. I was dying laughing! I honestly cannot do it justice! Everyone outside the ring was roaring! I finally just picked Ruthie up once she paused in her regulating of the boys. Needless to say, we didn't attempt the down stays.;0)
Would you like to see the video of our cute little run? I figure that this video will serve as a great baseline as to where we started so that I can look back and be awed at how fabulous Ruthie has gotten.;0)

As you can see, she's pretty super cute!:0) Her automatic sits are really reliable. Still crooked, but dude, she's more reliable than either of the danes. The stand for exam is kind of where things started to break down. Sooooooooooooo, I realized as I was trying to get her to hold a stand that we've only ever practiced the stand command when I've had a treat in my hand. While she's munching on the treat she's totally happy to stand and stay, now that we actually have a stay with distance. Hence why she just continued moving forward and didn't stop like she's been doing. But again, still comical. And I swear that she can hold a stay while I walk around her! It's just not solid yet (obviously!).
The off lead heeling wasn't awful. I see it as a definite plus that I have a dog that is generally pretty happy out there and isn't dragging way behind me. So what if she doesn't necessarily end up on the correct side of me. Details shmetails! I am pretty proud of her moments of self correction though. And did you see those automatic sits??
Then came the recall.lol Two thumbs up for her holding her stay while I walked all the way to the other end of the ring! Do you think she figured out what the judges signal was for?;0) Then again, that was a pretty happy little recall! And yes, our finishes are still very much a work in progress. Overall, super cute little dog who I'm very happy with how she is coming along in obedience. I think she is going to be a VERY fun dog to trial if things keep going the way they are.

It has also been decided that I MUST have pink sparkly shoes by the time we actually start trialing. I wore the gold ones today, but I definitely need an ensemble with Ruthie. After all, she doesn't have a kick ass competition collar for nothin'! I also plan on getting her a blinged out pink leash of some sort. I'm going to do some looking at Rose City to see if I can find what I'm thinking of amongst the vendors without spending a small fortune.

After the obedience match was done, there was some time to kill before the conformation could officially start. As further entertainment, our frenchie obedience team did a little demo. I have to say that we actually didn't do too bad! Considering how things had already gone during the stays, we opted to do only on leash work.

Once the conformation classes started, I was interested in watching how the handlers stacked the dogs. Frenchies are just a wee bit different than danes and I haven't really practiced much with Ruthie, so I didn't really have a great idea of how to do it. Jill and Danielle's Hellon and Ike free stack really well, but I was curious as to how you hand stack a frenchie. Good thing I was paying attention because I actually got to take two different frenchies into the ring! It was so fun!! The first one was a crazy little pied bitch who was absolutely hilarious and so excited! She was super fun! The second was a much calmer cream bitch.

After the conformation portion was done it was time for a yummy potluck! Once everyone's bellies were full, they started the meeting. Incidentally, I am now applying to be a member. Funny how those things happen! I even already have my sponsors!:)

To make an already long post not quite so long, it was a really fun day with really great people, and Ruthie and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves! It was very neat to meet new people, chat with people I already know, and hear positive things said about Ruthie. Great way to spend a Sunday!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Agility Trial - Big Dogs

Today the big dogs and I were at an AKC agility trial. With the new year, I've made some agility related resolutions that I didn't mention on my 2012 goals. The biggest one is to be more prepared and to be more mentally present and be more mentally involved in the day. A lot of the errors that we have on course are because of stupid handler issues that are at times due to me just not being on top of my game. Doing things like getting the truck packed up the night before and having everything set so that I can basically just load the dogs up in the morning and head out to the trial site is actually pretty beneficial. It gives me some chill time in the morning. Makes it so that I don't have to get up quite so early and can get a little more sleep. And it just gives me an overall feeling of being more put together and prepared that will carry over into the day. I also need to have a better general attitude about being at the trial. I started to get to a point where I would go over in my head all the other more productive things I could be doing if I weren't at the trial or getting more anxious to get done ASAP so that I could get to whatever I had planned for the evening, even if it was just hanging out at the house. And finally, I didn't go out and do anything the night before the trial. I wanted to make sure that I got enough sleep that night and that I was seriously ready to compete in the morning. Basically, I needed to really focus on holding up my end of the deal!

I think things went pretty well because of this preparation! I'm not saying that we had a fabulous day and the dogs qualified on every run, but I think I was a better agility partner for them than I have been more recently. Our quality moments were better than they have been, though there's still room for improvement. Then again, there's always room for improvement.

I've also decided that I'm going to start bringing my laptop along to trials so that I can write things down as they occur so that I'm not trying to recall everything several hours after the fact! Or in cases like tonight where I start to run short on time, I would have this whole post already written! I'm going to give a short and dirty version, but I will at least include maps. I didn't want this post to spill over into tomorrow because we've got the frenchie A match. I do have other thoughts and ponderings from today's trial that I will save for another post. So here goes.
First up was Heffner in Excellent Standard. Overall, it was a great run and I was happy with it. Unfortunately we had one slight bobble on the weaves where he got distracted by something, started to pull out of the weaves, and when I tried to pull him back into the same spot, he skipped a pole. NQ. Drat! Otherwise, like I said, great run!
Next up was Bess in Excellent JWW. To me, the course looked like a bunch of serpentines with some other stuff thrown in. And it turns out, that's what the judge was actually going for (I happened to over hear a conversation that he had about the course)! Sweet! We actually practice serpentines and Bess totally rocked them this week! Overall great run, I mostly did well on my front crosses, but an NQ. I botched a front cross that caused a drop bar half way through. After that I was just going with it and I pulled her off a jump. D'oh! Otherwise she was totally working with me and I was very happy with that!
Then Heffner was up in Open JWW. It was not a great run. This is the run that got pondering a few things. I had a hard time getting Heffner's focus at the start line due to a poodle outside the ring. He didn't have any reactive outbursts, but his focus was shot. He actually went around the first jump when we started, which earned us a refusal. Once I got him back in the right spot and we started again, he knocked the bar. There were at least two other knocked bars throughout the course. The second half of the run was actually pretty nice and we were thankfully able to end on a good note. But for a dog who seriously VERY rarely knocks a bar during our practices (and I would know since I'm the one who has to reset them), it just gives me pause. And makes me potentially over think. But regardless, NQ.
Next up was Heffner in Open FAST. After looking at the send portion of the course, I knew it wasn't going to happen for us. I don't practice tunnels at all with the big dogs. Tunnels are strictly for trialing. And that send portion with a push to the opposite entrance regardless of which jump I chose, just wasn't going to work for us. I just don't work on that kind of thing with them. So it was that combined with a generally very lack luster attitude that I was getting from Heffner that made me decide to scratch him from the class all together. I wanted to end the day on a high note with him and we had thankfully done that with the last half of his JWW run. It was best to just leave it at that.
Next up was Bess in Novice FAST. Two thumbs up for a great course!! I loved it! Bess did have one quick fit of zoomies on the course, but we nailed the send, got all the points we needed, and finished with enough time. Qualifying run! And that run was the final run Bess needed to get her Novice FAST title!! Woot!
And our final run of the day was Bess in Open Standard. It's a good thing that bitch is cute! She took off to go check out the people and dog hanging out at the exit gate. I got her to come back, but then she did a lovely back jump over the triple. It was really quite well executed and showed some nice maneuverability. Just not exactly what I was going for. She did however totally nail her down contact on the A-frame. Wahoo!! And then I did this stupid arm wave thingy that totally sent her to an off course jump. Brilliant me! Not too bad of a run, but an NQ.

And now that I've wrapped that all up, I'm going to bed so that I can be rested for the frenchie match tomorrow!! Tomorrow it's all about Ruthie!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Training Thursday

And now we're officially starting the weekly trick training theme!! As I mentioned previously, these tricks aren't necessarily going to be crazy difficult. And some of them will start out really simple and build up in subsequent weeks. With that said, I picked something that I haven't actually trained the dogs for, though it seems like a lot of people have. The hand touch. The goal is to get your dog to reliably touch your hand with their nose by next Thursday. You can go about it any way that you choose (obviously!), but I'm going to go the clicker route. I haven't done much clicker training with Ruthie, so my prediction is that it will take her a little longer than it will take the big dogs. Next week I'll have a video put together along with the next trick.

So who's with me?! :0)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Random Ramblings

Some random ramblings for you today:

*Bess was a rock star last night at practice! I handled her differently than Heffner and it worked great (duh)! Now if I can just remember that on Saturday.;0) Also, if I actually honest to goodness RUN with her, there are less bars down. Novel!

*I, personally, need to work on sprinting. Thankfully I have three sprinting partners who are all too willing to help me. I need to teach them that tackling mom at the end isn't how it's supposed to go. This goes for The Midget as well. Additionally, I am slow.

*Heffner was a tightly wound spring and it was awesome! He is ridiculously fun to run.

*I need to suck it up and start actually training Ruthie's weave poles. Dang it!

*I also need to teach Ruthie a wait command on the teeter. The teeter has now become super fun to race across, whether I'm totally ready to catch the other end for a more graceful descent.

*I finally have a dog who can easily fit into a tunnel and she HATES them. I need to get a tunnel to practice with at home.

*Heffner thinks that heeling is amazing fun when mom is going all over the place and he never knows which way I'm going to turn.

*Bess doesn't like practicing heeling in her purple coat. Only the burgundy one.

*Bess is THE BEST snuggler.

*Ruthie wants to suffocate me with her face when I try to snuggle with her.

*I am officially a Board Member (that's right, I'm a BM!;0) ) of the Sherwood Dog Training Club!! Woo hoo!!

Tomorrow will start my goal of weekly "trick" training! I've got a list started, though I don't have 52 figured out just yet. Some of the stuff will start out really simple and then build on the previous week's "trick." I'm kind of cheating and giving myself a little extra time to build on stuff and make it better as I add in a new component. Some of the "tricks" are starting out really simple because there are either things that I just haven't gotten around to teaching any of the dogs or there are basics that I haven't gotten around to teaching Ruthie yet and I need a reason as well as a time line to get my butt into gear.

Happy hump day everyone!!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Movie Monday...

...is an epic fail this week. Something is seriously screwed up with all the footage I took a couple weeks back while I was hiking with the danes. I can view the files just fine in Windows Movie Maker, but beyond that it's all scrambled. I don't know if it's the videos taken on that camera (it's a new point and shoot that Adam got to take on his trip to Germany) or if it's just the footage taken from that day. I need to do some testing. So unfortunately today's Movie Monday is a no-go.:(

I will let you in on what I'm planning for my video blog for the month though! Since the big Rose City Classic is coming up starting on the 18th of this month, I'm going to shoot all sorts of footage while I'm there. I've got a variety of friends who will be there competing in a variety of sports with a variety of dogs, so my plan is to bring them in on it as well and do some chatting with them! Hopefully it ends up turning out well!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Hello 2012!

Happy New Year!! While 2012 is only almost a day old, I'm pretty happy with how it's started! We had a nice laid back evening at our house with an old friend and his fiance, who I got to meet for the first time. Then today I headed out with Bess and Ruthie for an obedience lesson. The lesson went really well and I was happy with how both girls are progressing! Bess is getting ever closer to an actual honest to goodness dumbbell retrieve! It's taken a long time and we still have a LOT of work ahead of us, but she's starting to get it. And once she's really got it, I know that she'll fully enjoy it. At the moment her enjoyment is hesitant. She's not entirely sure of what I'm asking her to do and why I keep building on what she's already mastered. We also had some off leash heeling that was wretched today! Yay!!

Ruthie was also doing a great job as well! We have a stay! There are still aspects of the stay that we need to build on, but thank goodness it's there. And she actually has a stand stay as well! This may not seem terribly impressive when you consider the fact that she's a finished champion and conformation dogs do a whole lot of stand stays. However, I pretty much broke her stand stay once we brought her home. Sit was the first thing that she learned and she got heavily rewarded for it. As such, it's her fall back behavior. We've had to put some time in getting the stand stay back.

We also had a little frenchie team practice! Good lord these dogs are adorable! Each practice we improve more! We did some group stays today and while Ruthie's group stays are still rough, she is greatly improved from where she was at previously. Yay!!

And Ruthie also has an competition obedience collar!lol The above picture is the collar that she will be competing with.:0) I have to remove the dangling thingy, but otherwise it fits within the rules. I asked our instructor today just to verify. I bought the collar originally because it was just too freaking cute to pass up. And at $10, there was no way it wasn't coming home with me. Then I got to thinking that it would be awesome if it could be Ruthie's competition collar! She doesn't pull on the leash at all, so I don't need to worry about the collar busting. And that collar combined with my shiny gold "obedience" shoes will definitely make us a team that stands out! Though I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing right now!lol I'm starting to think that I need some pink sparkly shoes to go with her collar. Maybe some pink sequined pants as well? Maybe a blinged out top? he he he.....At any rate, this upcoming Sunday we'll get to try out our ensemble as well as our skills at the frenchie obedience match. If nothing else, I promise to try and get at least some pictures. We'll see about video.;0)

Heffner pretty much got to bum around the house today. After I got home from the lesson and practice, I took a lovely nap on the dog beds with him that I think he enjoyed. We were up pretty late last night and I was totally zonked.

I hope everyone is having a great start to the new year!