Friday, July 1, 2011

Running Dogwalk (Bet you thought you'd seen that end of this! HA!)

What can I say, I don't give up easily and I'm certainly not going to let all you off the hook either.  I suffer, you suffer.

But really, it's going much better this time- promise.

I've managed to learn quite a bit during and after Failed Attempt One with The Dog, both through study and execution.

Much of that I've been able to apply to The Pup.

And while if I suffer, you suffer, there is the flip side: when I benefit, so do you! (Though I am sure you'd prefer ice cream over unsolicited advice...)

So what have I learned?

One- and most important- no one has a 'formula.' There are some very good general concepts, but largely this is trial and error.  If anyone tries to sell you a formula, run away.  Certainly don't buy it!

Two- It will NEVER be perfect. If you are looking for perfect at any stage or in the long term usage, run away.

So there you go, helpful, no? (Wink!) Really, I've learned way more than just that, but I doubt anything else could be applied to EVERY team. Again with the 'no formulas' thing.

So...Things I've figured out regarding my dogs (which may or may not be helpful for anyone else):

Start 'em young. I read that that one person started their dog on a plank the week she brought her home.  It made sense; her dog had amazing dogwalks. There was certainly no harm in building value in the board at that age-most of us do similar exercises for rear-end awareness anyways. At this point, board value is essentially ingrained into The Pup's mind.

Other Foundation Matters. The more you do with body awareness in general, the better off you are. At the high speeds of a running dogwalk, you need to know your dog is 100% in control and understanding of their body.

Learning Style Matters Too. The Dog did not start out life with tricks based foundation or shaping like The Pup. She was not taught to learn, or more importantly, how to make mistakes. This has caused more issues with training this obstacle than anything else. I've spent the last year and a half trying to rectify this by teaching tricks, tricks and more tricks through shaping. While she still has her preference to be perfect, she is willing to redo something and doesn't liquefy into a puppy puddle when she makes mistakes now. And her ability to rebound has improved a lot too. Good for training in general, but great for this obstacle that requires a lot of repetition and shaping

Retrains suck. Ok, maybe this is another one that can be universally applied. Going forward, I would always opt to train running first, then a stop if need be and not the other way around.  I'm not saying you only get one chance, but no matter what you're doing you can only retrain so many times and this is one place where excess confusion makes for excess frustration.

You can't be perfect, but you should be pretty good.  If it isn't pretty accurate at 6", then it won't get much better if you raise it and cross your fingers. Yes, some dogs seem to run into an awkward height at some point, but in general moving on before there is enough consistency to indicate understanding is a bad idea. This was a big mistake I made with The Dog. I didn't know enough to tell if she got it, or rather, that she got what I was trying to uh, get her to get. Get it??

Know your dog. A big duh, and kind of relates to the formula thing.  Rather than grasping ONE training format, I should have checked them all out.  The one I happened to pick at first was not the best one for The Dog. Parts of it, yes, but not everything. Like I've said before, The Pup has a training plan specifically catered to what makes her tick.  It would not work for The Dog-  I'm still working on narrowing in on the best thing for her.  Trial and error, baby.

Luckily though, far less error, since as you can see from the above, I figured out a few things.  Phew. Only took a year.   If anyone else has any valuable lessons on the running contacts, please share! Learning at the expense of others is the best way to go!
So here is The Dog's current status.  You can see how varied I am when we practice, for two reasons: I'm still working on what gets the best results as far as the reward goes, and I don't want her to 'feel' the reps. If I repeat the exact same tactic she either falls apart or falls into patterns (like how she learned to pace me off the DW). Besides, in real life I won't always be ahead or behind or moving or standing still, right?

Anyways, she only had one giant miss, but about half or so were only back foot hits. I'm rewarding these of course because I care more about speed consistency than footfalls, but I am jackpotting the really nice strides.

I'm extremely happy with this compared to the first attempt last year. She's happy, she is offering a nice pace and the leaping is pretty rare. (But again, any thoughts or advice are very welcome.)
Here's The Pup. She had her first ever miss (and it was spectacular!) which I included because it's history. I think she was so excited to say hi to Marvin that she forgot about anything else. When he didn't give her a treat it shocked her, but clearly didn't bring her down. Solid after that.

Also, one last video starring The Pup. We are very sad, it's the video for our last lesson through ST's online course. Luckily there was enough homework we didn't even get to start that we will have ideas to occupy us for ages.

By the way, I would really, really recommend trying out her online courses as a participant. If I haven't already said it a dozen times- totally worth the money (and it wasn't that much to start with).

So anyways, show this weekend (AKC) and a glorious day off on Monday, though I know I will be busy trying to keep the dogs' heads from exploding along with the fireworks.

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