a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Training Notes

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Training Notes

SUMMARY: A little work with both dogs and myself.
One of my concessions to entering a squillion more agility trials this year  was that I needed to work on the things that have been problems or are frustrating me.

As yet, I have no written, quantified plan. At this point, after months of not feeling like doing anything at all, it is enough for me to feel like training with the dogs, and to actually do it at least for a few minutes a few times a week.

Hence, I've been:
  • Practicing deceleration moves with both dogs (that seems to be the move du jour for some reason), after observing that in some cases neither one seems to notice that I've stopped moving.
  • For Tika, down on the table, lots of food rewards.
  • For Boost, practicing just running and going going going over jumps (and tunnels) without hesitation or looking back at me, over and over and over.
  • For Boost, trying to build as much value in doing jumps as in doing tunnels.  (We seldom get refusals on tunnels; we also play in tunnels a lot at home.) So, for example, sending her over a jump to get her toy rather than only running through tunnels or on the flat.
  • For Boost, trying to put more name recognition value on "Hup!" She's pretty good at "weave", "climb" (Aframe and dogwalk), "teeter", and "through" (tunnels), but just "hup" isn't one that I ever practiced very much.
  • For both dogs, some "out" work (for gambles).
  • For both dogs, "touch" to a nose touch at the end of contact obstacles (Tika with emphasis on the dogwalk, because that's what she's most likely to do oddball things on, and not at all on the teeter; Boost with emphasis on the teeter because that's where she's been coming off the side.)
  • For me, just trying to get a better grip on getting to where I need to be. I have been reviewing online videos of other people's timing, watching so carefully the people in class who are really good at that with their really fast dogs--which (after all these years) I'm finally remembering has more to do with how quickly you can leave the dog on the previous obstacle than with rushing to get to the next one. Boost has made this more challenging for me with her propensity for pulling off of obstacles, but some things we've been analyzing in class lately, on really learning where your dog is taking off for, say, a jump, is helping me refocus on this. I'm not really fast, myself, but watching the people who are really good at being there--90% of the time they're calmly almost loping into position.
  • For me, running. Just lifting my feet and moving. Trying to do at least a little jogging around the yard or a little jogging and a sprint or two when we go to the park.
I'm alternately worried and not worried about Tika's hearing. I think she is having some hearing difficulties. Oh, no she isn't. Oh, yes, she is.  I keep thinking back to Jake and my earliest introduction to his hearing deterioration was that he seemed to blow me off on course when I was clearly and loudly calling him or giving him clear and loud verbal instructions. Tika is sort of manifesting the same thing. Sometimes.  Like, she always used to send to tunnels fine. Now she's turning back to me more often, as if not certain what I want her to do.  Now she's not "COMEing" (in nonagility situations) where she used to be fairly reliable about that. She seems to startle more if she's napping and I touch her or something louder happens. A few times she has started alarm barking when the renter has made some noise in the house, as if she can't recognize the noise or its provenance.

In class, she alternates between doing even complicated courses with her usual not-super-fast experience ease, and then completely messing up things that I thought were simple for us to do as a team, and that often involve verbal cues.

This is an evolving question. I am working on emphasizing COME and her name value with treats, with the assumption that if she's not losing hearing, it will help, and if she is, it won't hurt.

Boost seems to be doing better with the run-run-run strategy, even though I'm only doing it in small loops in my back yard. At least, better in class. Last couple of classes, no refusals at all. .. oh, except that she still still STILL doesn't get the  serpentine cue.  Should work on this again; so far haven't been.

Of course--like this last Thursday night--it's all about the bars. At least one bar in every run, but she was fast, kept going even when I did rear crosses, got her weave entries and stayed in, got her contacts, and did nose touches.

So, yeah, need bar-knocking drills again, too, I suppose. I haven't been adding them in because right now the Take Obstacles In Front Of You seems much more critical.  And I have mixed feelings about stopping dogs and taking them off the course for knocking bars. The experts seem to differ on whether that's effective or causes more problems. When I do drills, I've decided that I much prefer rewarding for not knocking them and not punishing for knocking. I'm not consistent in this.

That's it for now; another note to myself that I'm actually working on things again. Not sure where that little dribble of renewed enthusiasm for training is coming from, but i'm glad it's here.


  1. I don't think taking a dog off course really works well for anything. I see the same people taking their dogs off all the time and the dog never seems to improve. Doesn't seem to matter if it's for bars, contacts or whatever. I noticed one woman today who takes her dog off all the time for not stopping in a two on two off carrying her dog out of the ring even after the dog was successful. I wondered how that dog had any idea when he was being carried off for contacts and when it meant that his mommy was happy about the run.

  2. I think taking the dog off the course works for breaking start line stays, because anything else reinforces that it's OK to break. Some venues, some judges, might let you put your dog into a stay again and continue (I have done that a couple of times, made them sit again where they were, then led out to the next convenient place), but I think it's not OK in every case, and if they break again, I really feel that I don't have any choice but to leave or I'm rewarding the behavior--they're breaking the stay because they want to run, so letting them run is the reward.

    I hate taking the dog off the course, because I've paid to be there and I've walked the course obsessively and I really want to run it. So I reserve taking the dog off the course for things that I believe they know well how to do *and have successfully done in competition*. For example, when all of a sudden boost started jumping off the side of the teeter earlier this year, I tried to fix it by making her "down" on course before continuing, but after that didn't fix it after 2x, I just immediately took her off course the 3rd time that weekend and she didn't get to keep running. She didn't do it again that weekend.

    Or if she has repeatedly popped out of the same set of weaves (let's say the 3rd time after two retries). I'm not going to keep repeating the same error after that--3 might be too many, I might do it the 2nd time--and I certainly don't want to allow her the reward of getting to go on, which is what she wants to do and why she is popping out.

    That does seem to get the message across, at least for a while, in all of these cases.

    I'm curious what you'd do for these situations?

    1. I do think leaving the ring can work for startline stays assuming you can be 100% consistent about your criteria and that you never allow them to break their startline because you really want to run. It did work for jaime after I ruined his startline by allowing him to move his feet which turned into scooting which then became taking the first jump. I changed his criteria to a down so that it would be easier for me to be consitent about reinforcement. It took about a month to retrain in many different places and situations and then I started using it in trials and I'd say it took about 6-8 trials before he completely stopped breaking. Cost me a lot to walk him off every time he needed to go, in effort as well as $$ but I thought it was appropriate that I had to suffer, too, since I allowed the problem to get that bad.
      It didn't seem to work for contacts even though it would seem that the criteria (2 on/2 off) should have been easy to reinforce. I can only think that by then he was so charged up he couldn't help himself or--more probably--I wasn't 100% consistent about using a verbal release before letting him move on. I used to make him lie down when he self released and then I would lead out from there and re-start him but I truly think he thought it was just a new way to do contacts. He also would not collect before the weaves so he'd get the entry but then miss the next pole so I'd have to re-start. Sometimes he'd pop out toward the end of the poles and I think that was due to too much sppeed/excitement, lack of sufficient proofing training or maybe discomfort in his neck, shoulders or back. I settled on a way of managing his poles by waiting until he was truly loaded in before I passed the plane of the first pole. That mostly worked very well but he never learned to hit the entry and stay in if I was ahead of him. I really don't think taking him out of the ring would have made a difference because the behavior is so complex and doesn't always happen in the same place. I think sometimes what happens is that taking the dog out creates some stress around that obstacle and causes the dog to slow down a little the next time they encounter it, just enough so that the behavior is acceptable and then it seems like the dog understands what he was taken out for but I think if they really understood, they wouldn't keep repeating the behavior.
      I don't know what the answer is except becoming a better trainer and handler and practicing in more environments--or by learning how to run without a startline and/or stopped contacts :-)

    2. Start lines: Yeah, I let Tika get away with tiny infractions and it started to snowball. I also switched her to a Down in an effort to fix it, as you did. That seemed to have helped as well as starting to be completely consistent with taking her out when she took off early. With Boost I've tried to be 100% consistent during her whole career plus do a lot of rewarding in training, even now, for staying when I lead out. Once in a while she breaks, but not often.

      Contacts--dunno, I tried taking Tika off, making her down, lots of stuff. I finally gave in to "inconsistent contacts are better than fighting it year after year". And boost's contacts, yep, I relaxed criteria and it has bit me there, too, but she was never as much of a challenge as tika to begin with.

      Thanks for the comments.

    3. I really believe that even if I had done everything right with Jaime from the beginning, he would still have been pushing me for his whole career anyway. He still pushes his limits every day and he's got to be at least 14. I think he would have been a great working sheep dog but he's not nearly as biddable as many of the BCs I've known.
      My next dog will have running contacts because when I watch dogs that have them they look like they really enjoy the contacts. I figure it can't be any harder than teaching a really good stopped contact and I would think that the more they do it, the more dependable it gets.
      Of course, with each new dog we hopefully become better trainers so by my next dog I should be amazing :-)