Monday, December 17, 2012

Laying More Bricks in the Foundation

Sometimes I feel like I'm in training overload. There are so many things I'm working on right now. but so little daylight for me to be able to train outside. I never feel like there are enough hours in the day and that I can't do it all justice. Here are just a few of the things I've been working on as far as Hokey's foundation training goes, in no particular order:

1. Running Contacts. The dogwalk training has kind of been put on the backburner simply because by the time I get home from work, there just isn't enough daylight for me to set up and work on it. In the meantime, I've been questioning if a running dogwalk is going to be the right behavior for Hokey. Being that consistency in striding is key, I'm not so sure if her habit of naturally adding an occasional leaping motion into the middle of her full out run might interfere. However, I will continue to train the foundation for a running until I'm ready to make a decision because, no matter what contact behavior I decide on, I still want her learning to drive with speed to the end of the walk.

With the dogwalk on hold, I have, however, gone back to work harder on the foundation for the Aframe running contact. Hokey is working the box on the ground consistently well. Here is a video showing me setting her up so there is a direct line between her and I, with the box offset from that line. She shows that she understands what she's supposed to do by leaving the line in order to bounce through the box instead of coming directly to me when I release her. Also shown is that she is able to drive ahead of me independently (although I'd still like to see little more forward drive in her behavior) when I'm well behind and several feet lateral from the box.

I've also started to apply the grid to the box. She's working it pretty well although it's not a ingrained behavior yet (we just started, so that's expected). Sometimes when I first set it up, she loses sight of the box behavior and does the 2 jumps and then comes to me instead of driving forward through the entire grid. I've found that if I start off relatively close to the box and then increase my distance, it seems to help remind her that she needs to bounce through the box. I noticed in reviewing the video below that when I added the grid, she is also looking at me a little more instead of driving forward into her reward zone. I may need to be just a little quicker with throwing my reward. Right now I'm only working the first (forward) position on both sides in conjunction with the grid. Once she's moving forward consistently and seems to understand her job, I'll start working the other positions. Here she is doing a nice job with the grid:

2. Line Setting. I started working on some foundational "line" exercises to teach her to stay in her lane/path while I'm in mine. Here we set up on two parallel paths both heading forward. I have a dish set up in the middle of her path that contains one very small treat. I do a restrained release so that she drives ahead of me to the dish, staying in her lane. When I catch up and pass her, I get her attention with a toy so that she breaks from the dish ASAP and chases me while both of us stay in our individual lanes. I do need to be a little more aware of not veering into her lane or pulling her off into mine. It's harder to keep track of in my yard than it is in the training building where we go for lessons. In the building, there are mats to help clearly define our separate lanes. We'll be adding challenges to this exercise as we move forward with our training.

3. One Jump Exercises. I started doing some one jump work with Hokey to teach her to use her body properly when jumping. It is used to teach her proper form when turning tightly over a jump by training her to keep her head down into the turn. I am also teaching her to keep her feet up so that she doesn't tick or knock the bar. Sometimes my timing isn't the best and sometimes my treat placement isn't great, mostly because they bounce, but for the most part, she's doing well with this.

4. J-turn for a change of direction. I'm training a turning cue so that, when she's facing me, Hokey passes my side and turns away from me to change direction so that we are then on parallel paths. Here we are working on the flat, around an obstacle, and over a jump. Note that, because I just started training this, my arm movement is highly exaggerated at this point. As her understanding of the cue increases, I should gradually be able to keep my arm much closer to my body.

5. Pinwheel. Starting with a close-set pinwheel of jumps, I'm am training Hokey to drive into a pinwheel and carry through all 3 jumps independently. My path is to run up the middle on a straight line toward the standard of the center jump. As soon as I see her commit to the 2nd jump, I move back down the center line in the opposite direction (I am not happy with the last example in the follow clip as I paused instead of moving when I should have).

6. Sends. Because deaf dogs have a tendency to be velcro and not easily amenable to working at a distance, I wanted to make sure I was working on sends right from the very start. As mentioned in my "Living Room Agility Training" blog post, I often use the dining room table to practice sends with all my dogs. I just trained Hokey on dining room sends a few days ago. Here we are having a blast with it. This will come in handy when it's 20 degrees outside with a foot of snow on the ground.

We can use patio furniture in the yard to do something similar:

 Since she tends to like to drive into my tunnel, I also put that to use in working sends:

7. Backside Cues. If we end up running in USDAA trials, Hokey is going to have to learn how to read my cues to do a backside approach. We just started this and she's already picking up on it really well. I mix it up with front approaches so that she doesn't get locked into a particular pattern. The key is my foot position - notice the difference in where my sending foot is pointing when I send her to the backside as opposed to the times when I'm sending her for a front approach and asking her to wrap back to me. As for my arm movement - it's too exaggerated and distracting. I need to work on that.

8. Tunnel Rear Cross. This is something I'm really struggling with. I have had some trouble with Hokey pulling off the tunnel, entering and then turning around to come back out, or showing hesitation/drop in drive when I work on this. Putting a toy several feet from the far end of the tunnel for her to drive to usually helps with that aspect of things. However, as shown in the 2nd half of the following clip, she still has a long way to go as far as learning to read the rear cross. It is simply not clicking thus far. Her deafness doesn't help because I can't help her with a verbal clue to let her know where I am once we've lost visual contact. I've been thinking about how I can use the placement of the toy to help her learn to read the cross. I also need to think about my own timing and placement of the cross to, hopefully, make it more clear to her where I'm going. It's hard, because if her head is already in the tunnel and, especially if she's driving to the toy, she might not notice my cross at all. If I cross too soon, it might cause her to pull off or turn around and come back out  of the the same way she went in. I'll have to play with it and try to come up with a solution.

So that's the update. I can't wait for the daylight to lengthen again in order to give me more training time during the week. However, with January and February on the horizon, even with enough daylight, there may be snowy and cold weather ahead. I sure am looking forward to spring!

On the way?
Wake me when winter is over!

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