Monday, July 18, 2011

Contact High

No, not THAT kind.  Drugs are bad, kids, just look at The Pup for all the proof you need.  She’s tweaked out of her mind pretty much all the time now (more info on THAT later).

We’re talking about a different kind of haze here, but I suppose the effects are sort of the same: disoriented, giddy, super hungry and then a little sleepy. Er, based on what I’ve heard about the other kind. (Drugs are bad.)

Of course I’m talking about (what else?) the dogwalk. 

Yes I know what “obsession” means, why do you ask? 

(I prefer the terms “goal-oriented” and “determined” by the way. )

Anyways. The dogwalk.  The Dog and I went to an impromptu running contacts seminar with Karen Holik a few days ago.   Really interesting.   It was sort of a “here’s what OTHER people have tried and the ups and downs of that and here’s what you could take away based on the success and errors I’ve had” format.    We both seem to agree that there isn’t a formula to teaching the concept so I found it really easy to listen to her and keep an open mind and so picked up more than a few pretty profound takeaway points.   Such as…

*The only concern is that the dog is running.  Do not look at the yellow.  So many people reward leaps that hit the yellow when all that really matters is that the dog is not leaping.  When you teach a concept that has very grey criteria for a dog, the ONLY thing you really can easily distingush for them is run vs. leap-forget about footfalls.  This is something that Silvia told us in the winter when she was here (Karen does mostly Silvia’s method for big dogs) but Karen really expanded on this and sort of hit home on the fact that yellow isn’t criteria.   To help achieve a solid running contact, she suggested marking the behavior (running not leaping) in different places- not just on the contact when they move through the yellow, but sometimes just above that, or off the ramp on the ground. Genius. Other criteria were to make sure the dog is running straight and keeping their head down.

*It should be hard for the dog. She likes to start with max speed and energy.  Yes, she starts on the flat and then progresses slowly up on height, but she wants to make it hard. Her theory is then when they get it- they really get it. I can appreciate this, but maybe not for every dog.  I still like the ‘Daisy thoughts’ on confidence then speed but it makes sense that if you start at the most difficult scenerio, you won’t have a down period where it all falls apart when the difficult scenerios are introduced.  I DO agree with the point that it should be harder.  Her rule was that if your dog isn’t making mistakes at least 20% of the time, you aren’t really training anything and the dog isn’t learning.  I also agree to an extent with her thoughts on working through the times when there are WAY more mistakes than successful attempts without making tings easier.  If you move the target in, or slow things down so they can ‘be right’ then again, the dog isn’t really learning- at least not the thing you want.  She prefers to do it until it’s right. This could mean a lot of reps though and again, may not be right for every dog.

*In regards to the target, or reward, she seemed to prefer toys. For most dogs, this is the highest level of mind-blowing excitement and remember, she wants this. She was, however, perfectly fine with my using various obstacles as targets, since jumps and tunnels do get The Dog into the state of excitement we want.   She said that she prefers to set out the target (far away) as opposed to throwing it.  In her experience, dogs tend to check in, ever so slightly, to see whether the toy is coming.  She felt that this would incorrectly elicit an extra stride in practice which allowed them to run through.  But in a show… no toy, no stride, no run- just leaps!  I have seen this myself, so agreed there.    

*And yes, if the target is out, then the dog does get it every time. Her thought was that they will learn the difference based on your reaction- party or not. But the party has to be a ‘party like it’s 1999’ party, not an office party for the guy in Accounting you don’t really like’s birthday.   I agree with this too.  In order to keep The Dog’s spirits up, I had to give her some reward for every rep. But the time she finally- finally!- offered the one good, solid running effort, we played ball for about 5 minutes before trying it again.  I do think that was made it all click for her.

*Considering the entire obstacle- don’t do dumb things. OK, so she didn’t say it quite like that, but her thought was that you should treat the end zone as you would a jump, and proof the obstacle like it was the weaves.  She told us that anything you would NOT do while a dog was jumping, you should NOT do while they are on the down plank of the dogwalk (or Aframe).  So don’t accelerate, decelerate, stop, converge or give a verbal cue.  Any cue you want to give has to come while the dog is moving across the top, or after they have exited.  She does not teach turns as she doesn’t want to mess with stride (AGREE!!) but manages on the ground, so she does a lot of her cues after the exit.  This was excellent advice for me, since I plan on ground management as well. (Good lord, if we ever get it I am NOT messing with it!!!)

As for the exercises…
So as I said, she does mostly Silvia’s method. She starts on the flat-send to a toy and mark the running. Important point here- mark WHILE running, not a “YAY” when the get the toy, since most dogs pounce on the toy at that point.  The she does the same thing on a rug. After that, the plank, plank off a table, and onwards up, always with the toy out as a target.   We did quickie versions of each stage. The other three dogs were very new to the concept as Karen taught it, so it was VERY interesting to see her trouble shoot leaps (like I said, no making it easy!).  One of the dogs had been trained a running dogwalk off another method, then went back to 2o2o so hearing her ideas on going between the two and having both was informative.

As for how we did…
The Dog failed just running to a ball. She didn’t want to run to a stagnant target. She ran a bit, walked up to it and then looked at Karen like “you throw dis now, please?”  The she technically failed the plank off the table and only offered her trot-trot-trot to the ball. Then she took the ball over to the auditors and gave them The Look.  Oh dear. I’m sure at this point everyone was wondering to themselves what horrors they would see when we went on the full, half-height dogwalk since I had promised ealier that she was running it awesomely. Frankly at this point I was wondering about the horrors too.  Thank all that is holy, she did it perfectly just as she has been at home.  Then she missed one so we could get some feedback.  In that case, I took off running as she started her descent. Karen gave some advice on proofing movement (like the weaves!) which we will start this week.  Then I explained how she has some weirdness on the right- she will flick off the side more often than not.  She did one on the right, pretty well, but then Karen had us run on the flat on the left and the right and lo and behold- she totally sucks on the right.  She naturally drifts away even when walking on that side.  Guess we will continue working on right side heeling! She also took a look at our Aframe and decided that it was awesome and any misses were my fault for converging on her line so I needed to manage it better (like it’s a JUMP!) Ok. Sorry, Dog.
After all that work, I wasn’t sure what to expect over the weekend since we had the MAC AKC show.
(Recent heartwarming practice right before the show...)

Dogwalk Scenerio One was jump-dogwalk-tunnel.  On the right. Her worst imaginable set up. Gulp. I fretted for awhile, then listened to Wise Mother and just ran it ‘right’ (no funky stuff), keeping in mind that it was ‘a jump’ and I shouldn’t change my speed or do anything but move towards the tunnel. Again, thanks to all that is holy, she did it pretty dang nicely. She did decelerate on the down plank but cantered through the whole plank and kept her head down and there was NO leaping. WOO HOO!! In fact, so great was my celebration that she came out of Mr. Tunnel at 2,000 mph thinking YAY let’s do the dogwalk again! and I almost lost her to an off course. I haven’t had that close a call…ever. BUT she came in, stayed on course the rest of the time and ended up winning the 20” class! COOL!  She had a great Day One, with a 4th in JWW for a QQ too.

Dogwalk Scenerio Two was Jump-Dogwalk-Sharp Left Into Tunnel with a jump looming off the dogwalk. Again I wrestled with how to handle it and in the end went for running it like I would have before the retrain-verbal cue, stay out of her face. Em, wrong. My “left, tunnel!” fell on deaf ears. She did what our training told her to do- take the jump! At least the dogwalk was lovely. The speed was better, still a slight decel but she ran through.  So a very, VERY good learning experience- we no longer have the super power of tight turns off the dogwalk into a tunnel…for now.  I hope to work out the timing on that again someday, because it was really a lovely turn before.  And overall, the  nice dogwalks with no sticky-sticky hesitation tells me that she is getting the concept, foundation is THERE, and she just needs to get confidence on accelerating on the down plank on the full height obstacle. JWW was also a learning experience- I was able to rear ridiculously tight without driving her off the jump- Good Dog!- but one was just TOO close and I crowded her so much to tighten her turn that she knocked the bar. Bad Leader. Still, VERY happy with her and the information I have been able to get the past few days.
Ok, this is getting WAY long but I do have to say that The Pup is insane. She has now developed an obsession with the drain in the tub.  She likes to stick her nose in the drain and huff. What substance is down there that she is inhaling is beyond me, but every time she goes in the bathroom now her little butt vanishes behind the curtain within two seconds and then all you hear is a weird snorfle. 

Also she is now obsessed with burying her rawhides- before it was just every now and then, but now it’s daily. She gets one and immediately starts to canvase the area for a suitable hiding spot. None of which are clever.  She has started to realize this point and so is expanding from just the rug by the couch, the stairs and the spot under the coffee table. Now we find them in among the Xmas wrapping and water bottles.  Today, every nook in the couch is filled with a rawhide. Behold-

Terriers are so weird. But a Terrier with a Border Collie is obsessively weird. 

That makes for GREAT entertainment!

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