Sunday, January 31, 2010

Teaching: Focus Points

I've been prompted to think a lot this week about my teaching, thanks to a student and friend.

All instructors tend to have a few focus points they are stuck on. I know for the last two months mine has been "Placement of reinforcer" and this last month I have added in "Presentation." This has greatly helped my training with my own dogs, as well as the training my students in all my classes/lessons. But...I need to think about all the other important things too!

Some focus points that I will need to focus on in different weeks:
Speed and latency, Shaping skills, mechanical skills, fluency, toys as reinforcer, real world applications, challenges...

On other notes, Griff and I, and a two-legged student, visited a 4H/FFA club in another county today to give a workshop. Griffin and I were the students while the 'real' students had a chance to judge. He was adorable and his heeling was beautiful! He did two whole patterns, his only errors were a stop and sniff when our 'judge' directed us over a hose and into a wall, and when we were 'left turned' right into a bucket...Griffin went on the other side and immediately resumed heel.

Some of the things the students learned in this three hour lesson today:
-Proper obedience handling for heeling: via tag-teach
-Clicker introduction and mechanical skills
-Targeting: taught by my assistant for the day
-Go-around an object
-Call fronts

Time goes fast and I really could teach more long lessons. The time went fast and I can't wait for my next time with this group!

This is going to be a great week with agility class starting at PosiDog!

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I'm not so great about sharing videos and pictures that include me. Next practice I'll get a short one. Short is a start (...lower my criteria for myself, right?!).

Recent talks with training buddies, students, and professionals in varied fields is making me stop thinking about speed as something we add to behaviors after they're started, offered, and close to perfect. In so many settings, and especially for competition behaviors, it needs to be one of the earliest, if not the earliest priority.

Performing with speed can put a different emotional response to a behavior. It can make the striding and so the actual performance of a behavior different. It can make faults more likely or less likely to happen.

I need to constantly be reminded with my own dogs to keep this a priority. But I'm doing pretty well with student dogs. And even my non-sports students hear some of this when we talk about recalls. The slow puppies? Practice recalls at the time of day when they're most likely to be wild. We want to practice with speed!

A recent example is Griffin's contact behavior. We did about 30 reps with the aframe at Posidog last week. He hit every contact (1 was close to the top, one close to the bottom.). He was VERY consistent with his speed. But he felt slow. Reviewing the video, his performance was about 1.5 seconds long. I compared it to a video of Luna last year (...or the year before?) where she was moving almost as fast as she could, really trying, and looking fast. She was 2.5. I've been puzzled about that. I don't know that Luna can get faster...but Griffin sure can!

Some parts of my plan for increased speed:
- Use a thrown toy as a reinforcer rather than thrown food.
- Recall him over, or have his favorite people recall him over.
- Improve speed on all his behaviors.
- Reinforce speed in play
- Play and run with him more.

Off to think about speed....

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Training Troubleshooting

I put these on our camp blog, but thought it deserved a mention here. Horray for copy and paste!

When you're having a problem with training...look at these pieces:

1) What is your rate of reinforcement. How many times/minute are you click/treating. The higher this number per minute, the better. An exception would be behaviors that take a long time (...retrieve) or duration behaviors (stays or heeling).
2) What is the placement of reinforcer? Where exactly are you putting your reinforcer? If you have a stay exercise, you almost always want to feed the dog in position, with his chin tucked a little. If you are doing heeling with a slow dog, toss the treat ahead. If you are heeling with an excited dog, feed at nose level, right along your leg. If you are doing fronts...feed right where your dog's head should be: Straight and close to you.
3) Think about how you present the reinforcer. Do you move your hand to his mouth? Do you have him move to get it? Do you toss the reinforcer?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Preparing for Classes

I'm currently finishing the last preparations on my curriculum for my agility class due to start at PosiDog soon. Instructors do put care into these projects!

It's a challenge to go through what I think are all the important foundation skills, balance them out so everyone gets enough practice on everything, and to keep it fun. There's not really a part of dog training that shouldn't be fun... but when you sign up for an agility class you're probably wanting to start playing with the equipment.

But there's a lot more to agility than just the equipment. Most of the game is about what's going on in between the obstacles. If our dogs are good at learning, they will learn the obstacles faster. If your dog already knows a lot of behaviors, he will learn this game faster. If we practice on speed activities, your dog will be faster in agility. If your dog knows about how to move his body, especially in relation to objects and obstacles, he will learn faster.

The great thing about foundation classes like this, is that you can do almost all of your homework in the house and that you really don't need any equipment.