Monday, March 16, 2009

Video: A Great Training Tool

My camera frequently comes out when I'm working with my dogs and during advanced/competition classes. After training or going to a trial with an out-of-town friend and student we will spend weeks looking over the videos we take. But why?

Everything is on the screen! The timing, cues (intentional and unintentional), dog responses, handler responses, successes, and areas for improvement are all right there. The video can be played, re-played, watched slowly, and compared to another clip. After reviewing a clip, I can make notes on what we need to work on next time and areas of improvement. And the best part is that progress over time can be monitored.

Here's a video clip that we (The Ohio 4-H Teen Dog Experience) showed during an animal presentation at the Ohio 4-H Teen Conference in February.

Now, it's our goal to focus on the things that go right:
-Griffin completes each part
-Griffin is precise
-Griffin is straight on his Recall, Front, and when he sits at Heel
-Griffin is in the right locations
-I give clear cues
-I am sure he completes each part before cueing the next part
-Timing of cues

If we are working towards getting every little piece right, we also want to note where to make improvements and go from there. As I'm teaching, I make a quick mental note of the pieces we need to improve upon and then give clear instructions on what I am looking for (TAG points, though I do know I need to use that phrasing more often!). If this video clip was of students, I would think about these areas for improvement:
-Giving the verbal/visual Stay cues before stepping off
-Being sure the dog can respond to a visual or verbal cue
-Improving each behavior before asking for them together. The weak piece here was the recall
-Speed of the recall
-Latency of the recall
-Knowing how to respond to less-than-ideal responses *cough, that recall, cough*

After watching the clip with the student, or watching this happen in real-time, I will point out some of those fabulous great things that happened. It's important to note those, otherwise the student might not be aware of the great cueing, great timing, or correct performance from her dog. The next part of the lesson would be working through these 'areas for improvement.'

We will do some training to check that the dog could respond to just a verbal stay cue or just a visual stay cue. I will tell the student "Give the cue before you move your body at all," and we will go through a little training without the dog to be sure the student can cue before stepping forward. The next part of the lesson is spent on working through the recall to improve latency and speed (separately of course!). I will mention that we want to be sure each part is perfect before we put them together again, but if there is a poor performance we should stop the behavior in chain. In this situation, after the late recall response I probably should have turned and walked away with Griffin for more recall training.

Homework notes would have points about:
-Cueing in front of a camera and/or a mirror to be sure that the cue happens before motion.
-Exercises for improving speed of the recall
-Exercises for mproving latency, especially with the recall

I was tempted to break this post into two pieces but I can't find an appropriate place for that....this won't happen again! Pull out your digital camera and use it.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Luna's Bike Adventures

Our bike rides are getting longer and more exciting. Today we passed two groups of bikers, two people walking dogs, charging barking dogs behind an invisible fence, a cat, a goat, and a peacock. The peacock was the most exciting to her, but like with the other distractions I would get off the bike and walk until we were safely passed. I think she would have kept going past these distractions but I'm not about to find out yet.

The rest of our training? Not quite as great as the exercise.

I was debating entering Blaze in AKC Rally next month but a shelter training seminar has come up that weekend so it's time to debate about where to be and what to do. At the end of May is a local APDT trial and hopefully I'll be able to take everybody.

With group classes I haven't been doing an orientation, but soon I'll be offering one and go from there.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Progress from Last Week

Here's how things have (or haven't) improved:

1) Obstacle fluency: We've been attempting to go outside at least twice a day using meals as her reinforcer. I think we've got out for half of them. We can improve on this for next week! Most of the last week was with jumps, but we'll do more teeter, weaves, and tunnels this week.
At class tonight she stuck right by my side other than a few times where she wasn't sure where to go and guessed. I was extremely happy with her!

2) Trust my dog on stays: We did not work on lead outs this week (hey, I did with Griffin!).
At class I only asked once while I put the leash in my pocket. Next week I want to be using a lead out on half of the exercises and working on it while we wait our turn.

3) Wear warm socks on cool nights.
It was about 40 tonight. I should have taken gloves...

4) Run more.... after that short time running I was very out of breath!
Tonight's class didn't involve very much running so we had no problem there. We only went out once this week....if the bike didn't have a flat tire we would have gone more. Though I suppose biking while my dog pulls defeats the purpose of -me- exercising? We went out once this week....goal this week is more than that.

New set:
1)Run more. More than the once from last week.
2)Dress appropriately.
3) Continue on obstacle fluency, especially: Speed on Teeter, Weaves, and Tunnel Discriminations. Take Luna out for more than half her meals.
4) Work on Lead Outs. In class use them half the time and between turns.
5) Handler movement on contacts [in agility many people teach their dogs to stop at the bottom of the ramp obstacles. The base area of those pieces of equipment is called "the contact"] Luna should remain in position until released. She should get into position regardless of what I am doing. But in reality, like way too many dogs, she only stops if I stop. And that doesn't make me happy.

Overall tonight was great. We'll spend some more time doing weaves the way we were at class. Varied entries to two sets of poles slightly off center... I thought the exercise was that the dogs found the entry on their own but our instructor was using luring and body blocking to get entries. We'll see what happens. Wednesday night is one of the few times when Griffin stays home alone. Generally I'll give him a stuffed kong as I whisk the others out of the house. It's good for dogs to learn to be comfortable when they are alone and I should start doing this more than once a week.


One of the great things about a training class is the motivation it provides! If in seven days I have to be able to show my progress on behaviors A, B, C, and D, it can be much easier to fit the time to practice every day. Otherwise....I find it easy to let things slide and everything in the real world get in the way.

Griffin and I have a couple groups we train with and it's great to have so many people to keep us on track. Our homework right now is :
~Train in new location-S- every week, meaning, more than one new place!
~Fix Heel position. One of the troubles of training competition behaviors alone is that it can be hard to see what your dog is (or isn't) doing. Our Heel position was a little too far forward.
~Left hand feeding. I am right handed. I like to feed from my right hand, even when it is more strategic to feed from the left.

Enjoy spring!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Agility Class with Luna

Luna and I go to an agility class every week. She is really enjoying it even if she thinks the trials aren't so fun. Tonight we started with a novice course, which was quite a surprise as the last time Luna and I have done a course was at a trial in November. In class and at home we've been doing sequencing, handling and obstacle training. After our first time through the course, I was able to make quite a list of the things we need to work on. Most of these aren't new:
1) Obstacle fluency to decrease overall stress.
2) Trust my dog... if I leave her in a stay she really will stay. I just don't always believe it!
3) Wear warm socks on cool nights.
4) Run more.... after that short time running I was very out of breath!

And a new thought... she generally has trouble after the contact obstacles. My current theory now is that while she is stopped, I reinforce that, and then she is left wondering what to do next... I'm left unsure how to transition from that stop to movement again and so my handling is less than ideal.

This held true, on our second time through the course I only reinforced her one one of the contacts...on the others I would release her after I was happy with the duration of her stop. When I did reinforce her, after feeding her I asked for a stay, took a few steps away, and then continued. And it went much better. I can't wait to see how well this theory holds up next week. At home we'll work on stays and releases.