Monday, August 20, 2007

Retraining Tika's Dogwalk (continued)

SUMMARY: Having a plan

OK, I have a definite plan and I'm workin' it. The thing is, though, that I've got a trial this weekend and next weekend and then more than every other weekend from now through USDAA Nationals at the end of October. Do I blow off my dogwalks until I'm done retraining? That's the age-old question (well, in agility ages, anyway). I'll just have to decide before this weekend.

I experimented with stride adjustment using pool noodles as speed bumps, but that's going to take a tremendous amount of work to figure out what needs to be done. I'd find something that would look good for about 10 to 20 tries, and then she'd figure out a way to leap beyond the up contact again. And it's exhausting doing the videotaping and reviewing. And the suggestion of putting baby powder up the whole contact area to see where the feet hit is OK but takes work before every run and then some detective work after every attempt (it's not always obvious to me), plus it doesn't tell you where she's taking off *from*, which is useful info.

So I don't have time for that technique, and I'm not so convinced that it's a good one for an experienced dog, anyway, (1) because she already has "muscle memory" of how to do it another way, and (2) it's not a rewardable event.

I've not been enthused with hitting-the-target because, although it *is* a rewardable event, getting her to run to hit a small target (phone book, mouse pad, that sort of size) and keep running has been a tremendous challenge to me.

Then, last Thursday, another trainer/handler was working on running Aframe down contacts with a PVC box/frame around the contact zone, something she got from Rachel Sanders. The idea is that you train the dog to hop/step/stride into the box and then back out, using a clicker, and then put that around the contact zone. That way, the dog can pick her own stride to get through it, and it's a rewardable event. Eventually, you'd fade the PVC box. It looks like this on my reduced-size dogwalk:

I puzzled over how to get multiple repetitions on the dogwalk ramp without her having to do the whole dogwalk, and me being able to take her off it easily (lifting) if she misses, and have her concentrate on the box for a while rather than leaping onto the dogwalk. Finally occurred to me that I could just rest the planks on my table, and gradually raise the table to its full height--and since mine has PVC legs, I could actually make higher-than-normal legs, as long as it remains stable enough as the dog runs over it.

So we've had exactly 4 days of working in the PVC frame. I'm trying for 30 or more repetitions a day. She's slowly getting it, I think, but we're at a very slow speed at the moment, too. I'm trying to work quickly towards clicking when she hits the contact but rewarding at the down contact, to build an unbroken flow and speed back into the dogwalk performance.

Our classmate Ashley has made amazing progress with 5 weeks completely off the dogwalk, retraining a running *down* contact, and (he says) 30x a day. I screwed off all summer so I don't have 5 weeks. And now we're back to my original dilemma about what to do for upcoming competitions. Ah, well, that's my own decision for another day. I believe that I know all the pros and cons of doing it in competition while retraining. Just have to decide what I'm willing to sacrifice and when.


  1. I feel your pain. I am retraining the rottie's contacts. I bought the beeping contact trainer and started teaching her to hit the pad, away from the dog walk. Her percent for hitting the contact improved but never reached 100%--she doesn't get it. And most crucially, she absolutely has to slow down to hit it because her stride is huge. Bottom line, dogs without up issues are going to run faster if I make her hit the ups consistently. We have shows coming up, and she just finished her MACH, so I transitioned her to the dog walk, even though she wasn't ready. And she didn't get it at first, but eventually did. I took away the contact trainer today and she hit it 5/6 times, basically stopping 2o2o on the UP and kind of waiting for a release to run the rest of the dog walk. So basically, we have a half-trained up contact that is not 100% and would be called a refusal by some judges. We have a 3 day trial this weekend, I plan to walk her off if she flies over the up, but if she hits it, we will complete it. The up contact rule is the MOST BOGUS RULE EVER.

  2. That is the problem. Tika's times aren't superfast to begin with, either, mostly because she doesn't have the world's fastest contacts. So do I really want to slow her down? No--that's why I was glad of an idea of *something* that she had to run through, rather than a specific point that she had to hit. I dunno whether this is going to work. I can't decide whether I should be mucking with it now or wait until after the nationals. Argh.