Thursday, April 25, 2013

Gimme a "T"

T is for tunnel.
Several months ago I wrote about how, due to her deafness, Hokey was really struggling with reading rear crosses when heading into a tunnel. She would lock onto the tunnel entrance and "tunnel vision" would take over; my motion would become irrelevant. Once inside the tunnel, our visual contact would be broken and since she does not have the ability to pick up auditory clues, she would have no idea where I was and would repeatedly end up turning in the incorrect direction when exiting the tunnel. 

Since then, Hokey has become more experienced with the information being given to her through my handling. I've also worked on getting her to look for me as she exits the tunnel. Last weekend I took her to a little group training session/informal class at a place we've never been and one of the compliments I received on her training is that she was looking for me at the exit of the tunnel to tell her where to go next. I was curious to see how far she'd actually come in the past few months, so a couple of days ago I set up an exercise with a jump on either side of a slightly curved tunnel in order to see how well she could predict which way to turn as she exited the tunnel. I kept it simple at first.

Then I mixed it up just a little bit in order to see if she could still follow the information I was giving her regarding which direction to turn when exiting the tunnel.

I was still curious if Hokey's ability to read a rear cross on a straight tunnel (i.e. "puppy cannon") had improved, so I set that up today. It still needs some work. We did have a few instances of "missed communication". I noticed these were more apt to happen during a more straight on approach to the tunnel then if we had a more angled approach.

But overall, she is making progress. Months ago, she almost never turned the correct way out of a straight tunnel when I executed a rear cross. Even repeating it several times didn't seem to clue her in. Now her "hits" definitely exceed her misses. Here she is turning the correct way several times.

I finished off with the big exam - an exercise that mixed things up between rear crosses and non-rear crosses. She did excellent!

T is for Teeter
In my last blog post, I explained the process I was using to train the teeter, but didn't have any video clips to demonstrate. I've rectified that.

We play two different teeter games. The first is the "bang game" where I line Hokey up parallel with the slightly elevated end of the teeter and have her hop on. This teaches her how to use her body to push the end down and stay balanced. It also teaches her the 4-on end behavior I'll be looking for. We work on her staying in position until I release her. In most dogs, the "bang game" also helps to acclimate them to the noise the teeter makes when it hits the ground, but since Hokey is deaf, maybe calling it the "push it down" game would be more appropriate.

Next, I work on getting her to run across a low teeter, encouraging speed, but also getting her to stick her 4-on end behavior no matter what my motion is until I release her. In previous weeks, I had someone else restrain and release her. This past week I restrained her then raced her to the end where she would stop, but I would keep going. Here she is on a very low set teeter.

And then one set a little higher:

It appears she has a pretty good grasp of the end behavior criteria because the one time she overshot and came off the end, she tried to fix herself without any prompting on my part.

And here is Hokey running a little mini-course that incorporates all of the contact obstacles. Her A-Frame and teeter are coming along nicely. I haven't spent much time training the dog walk yet, so we still need to tackle that more seriously.

T is for Table that needs to be Trained
I also need to spend some time training the "down on the table" behavior in the hopes of getting a faster down and better duration. The table is often considered a bit of a no-brainer obstacle that doesn't need much training time compared to other obstacles, but when you have a dog that doesn't like to go into the down position in the first place, it's something that requires some dedicated training time. Out of all the many things I've trained this dog to do over the past several months, I would have to say that "down" was the thing I struggled with the most. Even now, she displays some resistance to going into the down position and has a tendency to slightly rise back up with her elbows hovering just above the ground - you can see both of these habits on display in the above video. She loves jumping on the table itself. But going and staying down? That's another matter. I've tried to find ways of making "down" into a fun and highly rewarding game for her, but so far I've struck out.

So that's my Terrific Testimony on Training Three T obsTacles.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

I hate to speak too soon, but it looks like as of today, springtime may have finally arrived. In anticipation of warmer temps that have been MIA for the past several weeks, the dogs and I have been swinging into full gear. Hence, the hodgepodge that follows.

Hocus Pocus - Agility Training

1. Weave training: Hokey's weave training has continued to move forward. The day after my last blog post, she actually had her first real test: her first exposure to a set of 24" weaves (the 2x2s I've been using, as well as my own set of weave poles, are older & narrower) in a different location. As you can see, she had no problem generalizing the behavior.

A few days after that, I decided to add a 2nd set of 6, for a total of 12. I introduced it the same way I introduced the 3rd set of 2x2s to the 4 poles - I set them a few feet apart and gradually moved them together. Hokey picked it up quickly and within a few minutes was weaving 12 poles! Here she is on that first day of 12 poles:

From here, I will continue to do some around-the-clock entry work with the set of 6 poles and incorporate handling/motion into the mix with sets of both 6 and 12 as well as building the weaves into sequencing.

2. Sequencing: And speaking of sequencing, we've been doing more of that recently. Here is a short clip showing some examples, including the first one where she does a serpentine-backside-threadle combo.

I thought it would be interesting to have both Hokey and Poppy run a short sequence to compare. They both do a great job considering Hokey had only been truly weaving for a couple of days before this and Poppy rarely does agility anymore. You can see the difference between the green and velcro dog vs. the experienced one who is confident with distance.

3. Contact Training: Hokey and I have been working on all 3 contact obstacles. Living in the city with only a small yard, I don't have any contact equipment of my own, so I try to make the most of my once-a-week training sessions that give me access to the equipment. I don't have any recent video of her teeter training, but we've been working on her end behavior, which, due to her weighing 12 lbs or less, will be a 4-on-run-to-the-end-and-ride-it-down behavior. I do this by propping up the "down end" of the teeter with a short jump standard so that the "up end" then becomes the "down end".  I then place her parallel to the teeter end and let her hop up sideways and ride it down a few inches. I start with just a small drop and gradually increasing the drop, by placing foam tiles under the end and removing 3 or so at a time, until there are none. After working the end behavior from both sides, I drop the teeter low and, with the help of an assistant, do some restrained recalls running the entire length of the board, while holding the end behavior we'd just practiced.

Hokey's running A-Frame is slowly coming along. Since I was having some issues with her scrambling between the apex and the box, I lowered the frame more so that I could set some bars on each side of the frame to help her stride rather than scramble.

After a couple of weeks of that, this past week I set it a little higher and removed the jump bars (except the one I lay at the apex). At the end of our session, I decided to see what would happen if Hokey approached the frame with some momentum rather than a sit/stay. This is the result:

For the first time, she gave me a 2-hit descent (2nd example in clip), which was wonderful. However, I've decided not to be picky about that. I'm fine with her giving me a 3 hit descent as long as she is moving forward at a good clip and not scrambling between the apex and the box and also hitting the yellow well. In fact, when she gives the 2-hit here, she isn't hitting as deeply into the box as she tends to when she does a 3-hit descent, so I actually prefer the look of things at 3.

Because I've been concentrating on the A-frame and teeter, I haven't had much time to incorporate the dogwalk into our training. I really need to get a 12' plank to practice running her across at home (if I can figure out how to get a 12' board to my yard from Lowes or Home Depot) and also build her a little arch hoop to run through to encourage her to run all the way down to the end instead of leaping. Here is what little I've done with restraining her and letting her run down the plank to a reward.

Hocus Pocus - Conditioning:

I decided that Hokey needs more conditioning in certain muscles that she will be using when descending the A-frame and dogwalk and riding the teeter down as it drops. I decided to use stairs for a couple of different exercises in order to help with this. One exercise will involve her walking backwards up a few stairs. I decided to train her the same way I trained Ollie and Poppy to reach back with their hind legs to walk up various objects backwards (see previous post Back Up That Booty for details). Since Hokey is small and the stairs are relatively high, I felt I needed to start with something a little lower. Here she is backing up onto a box:

I used the box to transition her to the stairs, by placing it in front of the bottom stair, then having her back up onto the box, then onto the bottom stair. Then I removed the box and had her just backing onto the bottom stair.

Then I added a second stair to the mix. This is a little trickier because she actually has to move her front end up and back first and then move her rear end. She does have a tendency to curl her body instead of keeping it straight, but she's getting better.

And finally, I started to add a third stair:

Now that the weather is starting to get warmer, I'm able to get her out for walks more often. This helps build both her muscles and her stamina. There are also a couple of places in my neighborhood that have concrete steps. We stop and do our backing up exercise as part of our travels. The lesson seems to have transferred well to other locations.

Poppy & Ollie - Nose work:

Poppy howls for nose work

After a month-long hiatus, nose work class has started back up. Now that they have both passed their ORT, Ollie and Poppy are preparing for their first nose work trial at some future point yet to be determined. With the weather getting warmer, we are now able to more comfortably practice exterior searches and vehicle searches. Here is a clip of Ollie practicing a couple of exterior searches. The tin contains 3 Qtips of birch odor.

And Poppy as well.

A friend gave me a couple of plastic vials for exterior search practice. Because they are
somewhat pointy on the bottom, you can place a Qtip inside, close the lid and drive it down into the ground anywhere in the yard, then open the top back up so that it is hardly visible. Today was the first day I tried using them and both dogs did amazingly well at finding them even though I only had one swab of odor in the container and it was windy out. I also taped the vial to things like the branches of my lilac bush, lawn furniture, and weave poles, so the dogs would get practice searching for odor at different heights and not just at ground level.


I will wrap this up with a quick video of Hokey and I after one of our backyard agility training sessions. I hope it makes you smile. Always remember to play with your dog and share joy together! That's what it's all about.

Time to put this blog post to bed.