The dogs and I have been hard at work on some Training Tips videos! Head on over to my YouTube page under the Dog Training & Behavior Playlist. Let me know what you think!
Here’s one to wet your whistle:
the pipes the pipes are calling
from glen to glen, and down the mountain side…
Been singing this tune all week because we have Danny visiting!
Isn’t he adorable?! His family has been doing an awesome job with him, making my job as easy as can be this week. Which is wonderful.
Danny is a 3m old lab pup. His owners say he’s a “silver” lab, but really as silver is just a genetically dilute form of the chocolate coat coloration in labs, he’s a chocolate labrador retriever.
As most lab pups who have come through my door for training or boarding, Danny has benefited from learning about balanced reciprocal play and that dogs don’t enjoy having their heads jumped on as a way of greeting. Zora is, thankfully, a great puppy teacher and has been enjoying making Danny her minion. She tells him what he can and can’t do with her, and with some consistent reminder’s he’s steadily grasping the realities of dog social interactions. Just yesterday, for the first time, I saw him actually ask her politely if she would play with him, and it worked! She obliged. This morning, on the other hand, he forgot and tried the classic lab jump on her head, which yea dude, that’s a no go, she no like that.
He is a sweet moose of a pup. And a labrador in every sense. Sweet, a bit slow on the uptake, needs loads of consistent repetition, and is currently a puppy version of Jaws. Seriously, he tried to eat my concrete garden statue, ignoring the antler lying right next to it. He is for sure all lab.
This spring I’m working with a number of agility teams specifically on contact obstacles. Some of the teams are with young dogs that the handlers want to set a solid foundation for contacts on, some are dogs who are nervous, insecure or otherwise uncomfortable on contact obstacles, and some are dogs with inconsistent or non-existent behavior in the contact zone. These dogs are all learning how to move and keep their body safely on the obstacle
Over the years I’ve found, dogs who have been taught how to move their bodies and save themselves on the contact obstacles, rather than simply how to go across the boards from start to end, have increased confidence and in the long run more reliable consistent performance of the obstacle.
So, we start with a board. For these early exercises I like to use a 10″ wide 8′-10′ long board.
I do these below stages 1-5 with the board in various positions. Part 1 we work through these stages with the board flat on the ground. Part 2 with the board elevated on both sides so it is a flat elevated plank up on cinder blocks. Part 3 with the board as a tippy board with a moving fulcrum (piece of 1.5-2″ diameter PVC) under it. Part 4 with the board elevated on 1 end so it is a descending or ascending ramp (then vary the height starting with cinder block, working way up to various pause box heights and finally if available propping 1 end up on an a-frame ramp). Depending on the dog we may spend ample time at each part, or so a few simultaneously. Most dogs we do these exercises for a couple of weeks before moving on to competition style equipment, but we move forward at the pace of the dog. The dogs comfort, confidence and attitude tell me when we are ready to move forward.
Yes, I do the tippy board work before I do the ramp work. Why? because I want a dog confident in understanding how to control movement. When we start to eventually teach actual contact obstacles, I teach the teeter before the dog walk. I do NADAC agility, we have no teeter in competition, yet still I teach my dogs and students dog’s how to safely understand and operate a teeter totter, as I feel it’s important in a dog’s understanding of how obstacles work and how to control their bodies. Dog walks can flex, and shift, and make noise, teeters help a dog learn all about those variables.
Once the dog is comfortable with the exercise of each stage and each part, I then add in various speeds and obstacles into the board. Practicing each piece coming into the board at speed, and from other obstacles such as tunnels, hoops, jumps, allowing the dog to further learn how to control and manage their bodies on a narrow board.
Stage 1: Mark and reinforce any contact dog’s feet make with the board as you move up and down the board. Reinforcement is delivered while the dog is still on the board, and handler works to center the reinforcement over the board (either food reward or tugging is ideal in this situation over throwing a toy). Build value for feet interacting with the board.
Stage 2: Mark and reinforce when dog has contact with board with 2 or more feet, progressing criteria as dog is comfortable to all 4 on the board, as you move up and down the board. Reinforcement still delivered while dog on the board and handler works to center the reinforcement over the board. Build value for coordinating all 4 feet interacting with the board and maintaining interaction with the board (as opposed to tap and move off)
Stage 3: dog is now comfortable and has built value for getting all 4 feet on the board. Dog gets on board, and is cued to do a position change, sit, down, stand. Criteria is dog to keep all 4 feet on the board during the position change, once in position and able to hold the position. Handler adds in release cue (verbal) or another position change after reinforcement is delivered. Vary where on the board the dog is cued to do various position changes. At this stage also vary where the handler is in relation to the dog when they cue the position changes ie: ahead, behind, beside, a few feet away, etc
Stage 4: Dog is all 4 feet on the board and learns to turn around 180′ to start then building up to a full 360′ on the board while keeping all 4 feet on the board. Working on the dog being able to move their body in even more ways on the board. This is an especially important exercise for larger dogs.
Stage 5: Dog learns to back up keeping all 4 feet on the board.
By learning progressively how to move their bodies, move forward, move back wards, change position, turn around with moving, stationary, level and angled boards once we finally move to actual agility contact obstacles the dogs have an understanding and confidence that makes teaching the full height equipment so much easier.
There are loads of games you can (and I do) use to teach and reinforce the come cue (aka Recall). Round Robin, Restrained Recall, Tag, The Stalky Stalk Game, Hide & Seek, Treat Toss, The Bowl Game, and more. But relatively simple game my friends and I often play with the dogs on our walks is calling them back and forth between us.
The “rules” of the game are pretty simple:
The “if they want it” is because we’ve learned some of the dogs prefer to only gets treats from me, or from my friend. But they learn they will only get those treats if they actually complete the loop of run to the opposite person, then run back when called. So they race away when called to the other person same as the rest of the dogs, don’t really care or want that person or the food, but are thrilled to then be called back and get their treat then. Race away, race back, race away, race back.
How far apart we are to start depends on the dogs in the group at the time and where we are (ie what distractions are or aren’t around), and as the dog’s get into the game we gradually move further and further apart. Sometimes if we’re playing the game on the trails (vs in a field) the dogs end up racing around corners, over fallen logs, up and down hills and generally having a great workout.
The dogs quickly figure out in order to get a food treat they have to A. Go all the way to the human calling them, B. Actually go from Person A to Person B if they want a treat when Person A again calls the group, (except for Tom, he’s special, and as such his version of the recall game involves a sit stay and me moving away) and C. Ignore the other dogs around them. I’ve found this a great game for teaching dogs the value of not focusing on the dogs around them, I’ve done this game with dogs that have a tendency to want to chase or body block, and by the end they’ve stopped fixating on the dogs running around them and instead race as fast as they too can to get to the human calling them. We’ve even been able to time our calls with some of the regular dogs to build up to dogs passing each other without a second glance. It’s great fun for us all! (note, if a dog has a tendency to want to grab other dogs, they don’t play the game while other dogs are also running, safety first always)
Another piece we often add into the game is the dogs not leaving the present human until the other human actually calls them OR the present human sends them to the other human. This teaching of the send has proved useful on a number of occasions. The dogs all learn that if they hear the word “Katrin” and race to me, good stuff will happen. Or “C—” and they race to her, good stuff will happen. Or “J——” and they race to him, good stuff will happen.
We do this game close to every walk in the woods as it really helps to remind the dogs that coming to us when we call is a good thing, doesn’t mean the walk is over necessarily, and helps increase the dog’s value for the humans in the highly stimulating environments of the woods, fields and ponds.
A bonus of the game? The dogs get additional running time and end the walk really tired.
I’m a rather routine, predictable person. I find routines comforting and reassuring. I like having plans. It’s harder to get lost, lose things and be forgetful when life is orchestrated with many patterns. It’s no surprise I have any number of patterns I tend to follow when it comes to agility trials. Everything from how things are packed in our car, to setting up or breaking down our crating space. And of course pre and post runs.
Zora and I have what I call our Corgi Warm Up and Corgi Cool Down routines. She recognizes each phrase and the predictions of behavior it means. As I feel warm up and cool down is important with the canine athlete I thought I’d share our routines
Our Pre-Run Corgi Warm Up Routine
We have 2 types of corgi warm ups. One involving handling warm up and one involving stretching.
The handling warm up we do first thing of the day before the general briefing at the trial, and depending on the courses then set may or may not do it at other points before certain runs. During the handling warm up we find an open area, might be where the club has the practice equipment set up, might not, and we review various motions and cues. Switch, out, here, go, tight, wait, and so on. Get as in sync with each other as we can. If a particular course has a spot that looks rather tricky, we will practice the motions so that when we actually get on course there is a better (but not guaranteed as yesterday’s trial proved. LOL) chance I’ll handle it correctly. During our handling warm up I try to vary type and positions of rewards to further reinforce where on course I’d like Zora to be relative to me when we do that motion or cue once on the field.
The other warm up we do, this one we do before every single run, is our stretching warm up. Which includes portions for me and for Zora. We start off with some walking and trotting, then some moving in figure 8s to the left and the right. Next we do some leg, neck, tail and back stretches, and light muscle massage. From there we move to the ring as either we are first dog or last and there are now about 4 dogs to go. We jog to ring side for a bit faster movement. Once ring side we do some pivots, sit down stand position changes, hand touches, and turns to the left and right, working to ensure our muscles are warmed up before running the course.
By then it’s our turn, we walk to the line, Zora moves into her down, I cue her to “watch” which means look down the line my foot is pointing to show her where she’ll be going on the release. We get our “Good luck” cue to remove the leash from the judge. Leash off, I move to my starting position, and off we go!
Our warm up stretching routine usually takes about 3min. When we are first dog on the line, I have to time my walk through so I’m done with a minute left in the walk through. That way I have my 3 minutes as it’s usually about 2 min after the walk through ends to first dog, us.
Our Post-Run Corgi Cool Down Routine
Our Corgi Cool Down routine is similar to our warm up stretching routine, only done in reverse with an addition that makes Zora’s eyes sparkle. Aka Squeaky Ball. Squeaky ball doesn’t actually squeak. Maybe it does still now that I think about it. But Zora doesn’t squeak it. She holds it, carries it, and fetched it, no squeaking. She loves loves loves Squeaky Ball. It’s her special post trial run toy that she only gets now a days at agility trials. Oddly enough at home she likes it ok, but she loves it at trials. I think she’s associated it with trials hence it’s value there. At home she’d chose a tennis ball, at a trial she wants Squeaky Ball all the way. It’s a soft plush fluorescent orange or yellow (we have one of each so just depends which I happened to pull out of the bag) ball with a squeaker in it. Squeaky Ball is always part of our Corgi Cool Down routine.
We finish the course, the leash runner hands me Zora’s leash. I hold it out, Zora shoves her head into it, and we leave the ring together. Head on over to where we left our treats and Squeaky Ball ring side. She gets a couple of good girl treats then I say the magic words, “Let’s go play Squeaky Ball!” And she starts prancing. We jog together to the exit door or open area to play a little game of Squeaky Ball fetch. After our game, we do some body stretches, figure 8s, trotting, walking, light massage, Zora gets a drink and then quiet time until we do it all over again for the next run.
Do you have a pre or post exercise routine? Please share, I’d love to hear them!
A favorite dog of mine, Rose, who belongs to a good friend has been ill for the past couple of months. Steadily going downhill. Thursday my friend learned Rose’s symptoms were due to cancer. It beyond sucks. Rose is a lovely dog and only 6.
Because Rose hasn’t been feeling well for a while, and hadn’t been eating well or absorbing nutrients, she’s lost a lot of weight. Over 10% of her body weight. Closer to 20% at this point. For a dog who was svelte to begin with this isn’t good.
Thankfully her owner is now working with a fantastic vet (we won’t go into the way her regular vet dropped the ball on this situation). In addition to prescribing some meds to help Rose feel better, the new specialist vet has given an ultra digestible food for her to eat. One that her body can at least get some nutrients from. Which is great. Except it tastes like crap. And she’d rather eat other things, which unfortunately right now her body can’t actually use.
So, how to get a dog who is essentially starving and anorexic to eat food that will help her but tastes like garbage?
This is where Rose’s years and years of training history are proving to be a huge asset. Rose loves to train. She loves puzzles and thinking and problem solving. She also loved toys, balls in particular. And she loves games that involve her figuring out what to do in order to get the ball to be thrown. My friend has developed an awesome relationship with Rose these past 6 years, with training games being a huge part of their daily fun.
My friend had to go out of town this weekend, I had Rose and the challenge of figuring out: how to get her to eat food that tastes like garbage and she would rather spit out?
Knowing Rose as well as I do, I figured let’s try rewarding eating it with ball play. And see if that ends up reinforcing eating. The good old Premack Principle.
Then build up how many kibbles she has to eat in order to get the ball thrown.
It worked! So far she’s up to a handful of kibble individually hand fed to her at a high rate per ball throw.
Because the goal is for calories in to well exceed calories out for her right now, the ball throws are short to minimize how much energy she spends with the ball part of the equation. But for about 4 short ball tosses per session she’s willing to eat usually 2.5-3 handfuls of kibble now 4-5 times a day. Which is awesome. She’s actually eating and getting in calories her body can do something with.
And it is clear she has grasped its an if then equation. Every so often she’ll try spitting a couple out. When that doesn’t get the ball to happen, she’ll make a clear point to eat the next one. And get very happy when that does make the ball occur.
Thank goodness for training histories and a smart dog. Sure is improving Rose’s quality of life, even with cancer. Fingers crossed she’s willing to play this particular game for a long time more.
Rose this past fall when she was feeling her usual bouncy happy poodle self on one of our walks.
NADAC trial recap for the weekend. It was awesome!!! I’m over the moon, on cloud 9, still happy dance big grin, etc.
It was my clubs annual spring trial, so I worked and helped out more than I usually do at trials, but I think I did an ok job pacing myself over the 2 days. Saturday a good friend of mine who rarely does trials on turf was also entered and we crated together. It was nice to see him and catch up. There were a couple of new folks and it was lovely to meet them, clap and cheer for them, and get to know them. I hope they decide to come to future events as well. As always hubby was a huge help, I’m ever grateful he is so supportive of my agility hobby.
The courses this weekend were super fun. And a plethora of bonus boxes. It was awesome. Usually we are lucky if we see 1-2 boxes all weekend. Saturday we had them in touch n go, both rounds of regular AND in weavers. Sunday they were in both rounds tunnelers, both rounds regular and BOTH rounds jumpers!! Seriously! 10 boxes in a weekend of 16 runs. And all of them felt 90% doable for where our skills currently are (which is also amazing).
I’m happy to report our winter training of go skills in many different contexts has paid off. I am so damn happy!! We struggled with those types of elements on boxes last season, she rocked them all this weekend!
Elite Jumpers, that final go line of the course OMG my heart sings as it does for so much of this course:
I found repeatedly a hole with turn always at big distances. Especially when there was a closer draw obstacle. She’d lock onto the draw. But I was pleased despite the lock on she was able to respond most of the time to my lie down cue. I started using that after the first round of touch n go where on the resend she could not shift her focus and wasn’t really listening but guessing. So good things to work on.
Elite tunnelers, that turn away with the green tunnel draw, got us both rounds. 1st round she made it to the mouth of that green tunnel where I downed her and redirected back out. This round was better as she didn’t fixate on that green tunnel and I’ll take the change she did do asking me for help.
Elite Weavers, so much awesome happened this round!!! But again the tunnel draw
Elite Regular, again over the moon about so much of this! Struggled with some of the push outs
And fingers crossed I think we maybe earned a passing distance challenge regular run on Sunday! Still waiting for final determination from NADAC but I felt comfortable enough with it to try submitting it for bonus review. We shall see.
Elite Regular distance challenge:
We have a yard again! A yard snow free and dry enough to train in! Agility practice here we go! WooHoo!
I signed up for an online 3 month long Big Distance course with an instructor I’ve worked with before in person at her seminars. Lisa Schmit of In the Zone Agility. She’s very well known in NADAC land for her bonus skills, training and work not only with her own dogs but also with students and helping people build their own big distance skills. As the timing of her class seemed perfect for my yard being once again usable, I know Lisa’s approach and that her input has been helpful to me in the past, and the price of the class was right, I signed up.
Today we worked the Out Lesson 1
The out tunnel after the pinwheel gave me trouble. I’m kind of stuck on how to build further. I know if I do that extra step push we’ll get it, the times I tried it without the extra step push there was confusion and the out tunnel didn’t happen. I don’t really know which would be the best next stage for us. Do I keep doing that extra step push? Do I try to fade it? If I do keep doing it, how do I do it in a way that allows our distance to continue to grow? And she’s not taking my out cue the times I was trying to cue it prior to the hoop, she was consistently coming through that hoop either already locked onto the closer tunnel entrance or cuing off my foot when I turned it too much to then switch to the hoop. How to build the response to the out and my cue timing so she’s taking that pinwheel hoop thinking about the correct tunnel entrance already. I’m looking forward to Lisa’s feedback and continuing to think about how else I could have approached it, and working through the challenge.
I talk with my agility students and students considering competition often about defining what success in the ring means for them, their dog and their team. As I feel that definition can have a huge impact on not only your competition qualifying rates but more importantly on the relationship your dog builds with the competition environment and with you.
People at trials often comment on how relaxed, happy and easy going I seem. And how I can be that relaxed in competition?! For me, it’s all in how I define success in competition.
With my own dogs I define success in the trial ring as: I was able to maintain commitment to criteria as I do in training for all aspects of the run.
That’s it. Seriously. Simple as that. Yet often oh so hard to do. When there is this idea of a greater ‘prize’ be it a qualifying score, title or ribbon and when there is this feeling of ‘everyone is watching’ it can be really hard to be true to your training. It can be really easy to shift into ‘oh we can fix that really quick and still make time enough to Q!’ when in training if your dog say popped the weaves you would respond by restarting the sequence 2 obstacles into the weaves. Or you cue a rear cross and your dog spins. It can be really hard in a trial run not to throw up your hands, say “oh fine let’s keep going” rather than do what you would have done in practice of reworking the set up. It can be really hard to be as genuinely in love with your dog, the way you are in practice, when in trial your dog takes the wrong course or knocks a bar in a sequence you thought you both knew well.
Have I struggled or failed to stay honest and true to my definition of competition success? Of course. I’m human. I’ve failed. But I work towards that as my standard. I’ve found for me even the nicest ribbon or qualifying score doesn’t feel so great when it came at the expense of my training, my dog’s confidence and understanding, and our honesty in team work. And some of the best feeling runs I’ve ever had came when I was true to my definition, NQ and all.
So here’s my basic formula for getting qualifying scores and runs I’m happy with:
1. Read the rules. Know the rules, know the standard you are being judged against. Know the challenges you will face. Understand the set up. Have a picture before you even begin of what the performance looks like and what skills your dog and you need to have mastered in practice. Have a picture of what your ideal performance of a skill looks like and work towards that.
2. Train it until you trust it. And don’t do it in competition until you trust it in training reliably. If you learn in competition you made a mistake and something you thought was to the level trust really isn’t, stop putting it in the trial environment until you’ve found and worked through the challenges in training.
3. Trust your dog and be honest. If you cue something and your dog does something you didn’t expect, trust that they believed you communicated what they actually did. If you’ve followed #2 above, by the time you are in a trial run if your dog does something chances are you cued them to do that whether you meant to or not. Honor it. To not to erodes your dog’s confidence and will end with second guessing and decreased speed (ask me how I know this. First hand experience. So sorry Zora, Niche, Regal, James, Monty…I’ve done it to all of them at one point or another, and then have to go back, fix my screw up and rebuild. It’s much easier to believe and honor what you dog did as correct to begin with)
4. Trial like you train. Maintain same criteria and responses for obstacle performance, handling, cues, attitude, focus, etc in all environments both training and trial. To not creates confusion and can make it really hard to get the same performance you get in practice in competition. Just look at how many people say, “He only does this in the ring! At practice he’s a different dog!” Often it happens because the dog realizes early on their handler isn’t the same person in a trial that they are in practice. Their handler has different criteria and rules in a trial and responds differently. (it can also happen for other reasons but rather often it’s at least in part the reason I just listed) And going back to #1 if you don’t trust you’ve trained it to where you can trial like you train, don’t trial it yet.
and 5. Trial to find holes in your training. When you trial to find your weak spots, it helps you push yourself to improve your practice and training, and find the challenge in the courses. It helps you to try new things in practice and then on course. It gives you information and data on where to hone your training and where to focus your practice for visible improvement. It allows you to continue to work towards that ideal you established when you started off reading the rules.
Here’s what I don’t do. I don’t walk into any competition run with the goal of qualifying. When you walk onto the course with the goal of qualifying in mind you are more likely to accept a lesser criteria or micromanage things on course (ie see point # 4), and to change who you are toward your dog in the ring, and by doing that increase the odds over time your qualifying rate will actually decrease.
I’d say my formula has been rather successful for me over the years. Looking at Zora in 2017 out of 175 competition agility runs we had an 81% Qualifying rate for the year, completed 2 NATCHes and a Versatility NATCH, qualified for NADAC Championships and then won our division there. Our class with the lowest Q rate was tunnelers because 40% of our runs in tunnelers this past year I chose to work our extreme distances skills and attempt Bonus runs. None were qualifying runs but all were super awesome and furthered our training practice. And in Rally in 6 competition runs we earned our Rally Novice all 3 runs with perfect 100 scores, and Rally Advanced in the next 3 trial runs scores of 77 (serious handler errors that run), 98 and 100.
And with that, agility trial season 2018 begins next weekend! With our complete lack of usable yard space for the past months, and therefore lack of agility specific training, I’ve only entered us a couple of runs one day. We’ll be using those to get some rust off and I’m walking into it assuming we’ll be training a lot on the field. Remaining true to my criteria means success.
I adore using mats or dog beds or other place type spaces to teach and then remind dogs about taking turns.
Tom and Zora have both been getting rather nudgy, pushy and whiny lately around the concepts of sharing my and other people’s attention so I realized I needed to be much clearer and consistent with our taking of turns during training as I’ve slacked a lot on the criteria for that. I’ve been really lax on where the non-working dog is to be in space.
We’ve now done 2 sessions where I went back to clear and consistent criteria that the working dog was active with me and the non-working dog was quietly lying on the dog bed. Then they swap on cue. And already I’m seeing a positive difference. Calmer, quieter, more focused work from both of the dogs.
The non-working on the bed dog is remembering to stay on the bed until I give their name and release cue. Even when the working dog and I are doing some rather active, movement based and enticing things. The working dog is getting my undivided attention and we’re making some great progress on things.
An interesting observation is each dog has asked to be the on the bed non-working dog at times when they want a break from the active more precision based training we’ve been doing. I respect that and we do a dog swap when ever either asks for that.
In the past when I’ve been consistent about non-working dog is on the mat during training sessions, I see really nice fall over to other areas of life, such as when people are at the door, leave it exercises and meet and greets in general. As those too have deteriorated in ways I’m less than thrilled with lately, I’m including practice and clearer consistent criteria on our greeting manners using their ‘on the bed’ behavior too.