Takoda’s first exposure to pinwheels, May 18, 2015

Pinwheel Beginning Set up, May 18, 2015

Pinwheel Beginning Set up, May 18, 2015

Everyday I try to come up with something new to do with Takoda.  Today I decided to expose him to a pinwheel of hoops with props to help him be successful without me needing to babysit.

Pinwheel Set Up 2, May 18, 2015

Pinwheel Set Up 2, May 18, 2015

Over the course of one day, I gradually moved the Expens away from the left and right hoops but left them close to the OUT hoop.

Pinwheel Set Up 2, May 18, 2015

Pinwheel Set Up 2, May 18, 2015

(above) This video is of a couple of reps with Expens helping Takoda seek out all three hoops.  I used toys for some reps and mark buckets and food for other reps. 

(above) Over the course of one day, I gradually moved the Expens away from the left and right hoops but left them close to the OUT hoop.  By the last set of reps, there was just a sliver of an Expen near the OUT hoop.  I was very pleased with how well he drove through the hoops.  I also varied my position.  In this video I tested rear crosses, which he read very well.

The forecast is for RAIN, RAIN, RAIN, so it will be a while before Takoda sees any more hoops or pinwheels.  It will be interesting to see how much sunk in today but I am guessing he will remember what he experienced today because it looked like he was having fun and feeling really good about his success.

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Lil earned her NATCH2 this weekend

Lil's NATCH2 photo with cooler-than-cool Judge Sunny Williams

Lil’s NATCH2 photo with cooler-than-cool Judge Sunny Williams

(above) video of Lil’s NATCH 2 Jumpers Run.  This was our sixth run on Sunday at the end of a 3 day trial.  I was so thrilled at Lil’s enthusiasm and energy level.  She got the job done with great pizzazz.

(above)  Lil’s Tunnelers Run.   I loved this run.  Lil was fast and her turns were super tight.  Her YPS were over 5.50.   I think she loved this run too.

(above) one of Jake’s Touch N Go runs.  NQ due to crossing the plane of the barrel and then circling it in the other direction but I was beyond happy I didn’t lose him at that point.  This was his first outdoor trial of the season and something was clearly tempting him in the grass.  Good boy for staying in the game.

I’ll be uploading more videos of Jake and Lil’s runs.  There were so many really nice runs, I can’t decide which ones to post.

Lil and Takoda hanging out ringside at the trial.  Jake was in the RV with Bruce at this time.

Lil and Takoda hanging out ringside at the trial. Jake was in the RV with Bruce at this time.

IMG_3535 I was so blown away that Takoda was so relaxed and quiet at his first outdoor trial and you can see how close our doggie neighbors were.  He took it all in stride like he has always hung out at trials.  He also did some amazingly precise heeling through oodles of dogs and people waiting to run.  I was shocked he was able to remain focused in such a distracting environment.   By Sunday he was playing and tugging with me as well at the trial as he does at home.  This little puppy is so darned adaptable!  So are his litter mates who were also at the trial.

 

 

A few of Jake and Lil’s runs at Sharon Nelson’s Seminar and Fun Raiser in Moab, Utah

(above) Lil’s Touch N Go Bonus Box run, April 17, 2015

After 3 days running Jake and Lil during Sharon Nelson’s Seminar, I was curious to see how they would run on the 4th day in a row, especially Jake since I am thinking about running him at Champs which is a 4 day event and he has never done four days of agility in a row.  He did very well at the seminar.  The couple of times he lost focus he quickly got it right back.   However, at the Fun Raiser Trial (day 4), he lost focus and did not come right back.  This was very disheartening for me because we have been working on this issue on and off for most of the 8 years Jake has been part of our family.  I think four days in a row played a role in his not coming right back but I think having more open space around the courses during the Fun Raiser contributed too.   During the seminar, participants tended to sit close to the action to be able to hear Sharon’s feedback.  Once the chairs were removed the arena looked noticeably larger to me and I assume it looked more expansive to Jake as well.  Since Champs is held in a HUGE arena, I am still on the fence about whether I think Jake will be able to stay focused or not at Champs.

As you can see in Lil’s Bonus Box run above, she ran very well on Day 4.  She loved the firm dirt footing in this horse arena.  I did too!   Lil has had a very reliable running A-Frame for a few years now.  The reason I am asking for a stop (4on) is because this A-Frame is 8′ vs. 9′ and she does not automatically adjust her striding so lately I have been playing around with stopped contacts sometimes and running contacts other times (like when the A-Frame is 9′).  So far she does not appear to be confused by mixing things up.

(above) One of Lil’s runs at Sharon Nelson’s Seminar.   Handlers got to pick their own Bonus Box positions.  It was great to be able to look at the course challenges and to determine where I wanted to be to meet those challenges.

(above) One of Jake’s runs during Sharon Nelson’s Seminar.   He had been running  full courses up to that point without losing focus.  But since I wanted Sharon to see what he looks like when he does lose focus, I asked if we could run the course again, which I thought might him to lose focus.  The video shows what Jake typically does when he loses focus.  The feedback I got from Sharon was similar feedback I got from Sue Sternberg many years ago… that Jake is not stressed or demotivated by anything I’m doing.  He was just distracted by something that caught his attention.  If I had to guess what he is thinking it would be something like: “I know where we are going next!”… then “Whats that?”… then “I know where we are going next!” then  “But what was that?” then in this case  “I know where we are going next!”

The thing I need to figure out is how to change my emotional state when he loses focus and does not come right back.   If I can remain emotionally neutral, he responds better than when I stress out about it, which he picks up on and makes the situation worse.  Sharon gave me some good solid advice about what to do when Jake loses focus and I will be doing my best to “keep my head” so Jake can “keep his head.”  Time will tell if I am successful.

(above) Lil running Extreme Barrelers at the Fun Raiser the day after the seminar. She earned a 15 point Q (points are based on the dog’s speed) which earned her Novice Title with an extra 5 points to spare.   Lil has always turned incredibly tight.  You can see how she makes 90 degree turns out of each tunnel and also how tightly she turns around barrels which cut her yardage significantly.

I love running more than one dog.  Jake is a total blast to run when he is ON but its great having a dog like Lil who is ON 99% of the time and super fun to run too.  Lil helps me keep everything in perspective.

Lil earned her Versatility NATCH at Mountain Dog Sports Trial, February 27, 2015

Lil's V-NATCH photo with Judge Ron Young.

Lil’s V-NATCH photo with Judge Ron Young.

(above) Lil’s Versatility NATCH photo with Judge Ron Young.   It was cool that Lil earned this Championship Title under a judge who knew us from the East Coast.

I didn’t feel any pressure about this run being for Lil’s V-NATCH, because Lil runs Weavers courses well.  The only reason we lacked Elite Weaver’s Qs is I tend not to enter this class when it is offered late in the day on Sundays, which seemed to be fairly common on the East Coast (this is not a complaint though). I just personally prefer to run Elite Weavers (3 sets of 12 poles) with a fresh dog.   But since moving to Colorado in July, I’ve found many trials offer Weavers on Fridays, so we were able to get 8 needed Elite Weavers Qs (for a total of 13) over the past 6 months.

(above) Lil’s Versatility NATCH run at Mountain Dog Sports on Friday.

Elite Weavers was the first class of the trial.   Lil was acting tentative outside the ring so I ran this course with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, thinking Lil would appreciate feeling that type of energy to avoid feeling bogged down by the soft, deep dirt or feeling concerned about the environment which smelled strongly of horse poop and pee (Yucko).  Lil got her Boogie On about half way through the first set of poles and finished well under SCT.  She ran incredibly well all weekend long, Q-ing 11 of 14 runs and as usual the few NQs were due to handler errors.  I was (and am) so happy because this was the first trial at this site where Lil felt like her confident little self.  🙂

(above) Lil running Elite Touch N Go on Saturday

By Day 2 of the trial, Lil felt entirely confident when entering the horse arena. The tentativeness I felt on Day 1 and at previous trials at this site was gone.  I loved how tightly she wrapped the hoop and barrel. If you watch her wrap the hoop, you can see she was so tight, she had to hop over the timer foot.  🙂

(above)  Lil running Elite Regular on Sunday

This is one of my favorite runs of the weekend BECAUSE we NQed early on.  The turn after the dog walk seemed so easy on Round 1, that I took it for granted on Round 2. I guess I forgot it was easy on Round 1 because I handled it vs. stood there facing the tunnel while watching Lil run into it. Duh!  But as a result of this early off-course tunnel, I decided to run the rest of the course from a self-imposed handling box. Lil aced it…and she looked like she LOVED the distance.  🙂

(above) Lil running Elite Chances Round 1 on Sunday

Having recently participated in Paula Goss’s Advanced Distance workshop, I knew exactly how I wanted to handle Chances courses this weekend.  I knew WHERE I wanted to be, and WHEN I wanted to be there to show my dog the correct path ahead.  I handled Round 1 and 2 the same way with Lil and Jake and both dogs ran the course beautifully.

(above) Lil running Elite Chances Round 1

(above) Lil running Elite Chances Round 2

(above) Jake running Open Chances Round 1

I made the same mistake with Jake both rounds and pulled him off a hoop but I was so happy with how well he ran this course both rounds.  This was a tough weekend for Jake.  He found the temptation of huge mounds of horse poop along the one side and the back of the arena to be too much to resist on about half of his runs.   But on Sunday, I only lost him to horse poop on one run.

(above) Jake running Open Chances Round 2

(above) Lil running Elite Chances on Friday

The Chances course on Friday was one of the most challenging courses I’ve encountered.  There was only one Q in the entire Elite class.   Lil didn’t Q due our only missed dog walk / tunnel discrimination of the weekend, but I loved how well she ran the uniquely challenging portions of this course.  The coolest thing for me was that I knew exactly WHERE I wanted to be to send her out to 2 jumps after the second tunnel….which was as far away as possible from the tunnel exit when she emerged.  My plan worked beautifully.

Another challenge I felt really good about was the left turn after the first tunnel.  Once again, I knew WHERE I needed to be.. and WHEN I needed to be there in order to pre-cue that left turn before Lil ran into that first tunnel.  Plus she totally aced running through the “box” in the center of the course twice.  The first time was straight through 2 hoops to the far entrance to the purple tunnel.  The second time was from the exit of the purple tunnel OUT to the jump.

(above) Jake’s Open Chances Q on Friday

Jake Q-ed this very challenging Chances course in Open, which was particularly challenging for him due to the proximity to huge mounds of horse poop in that area of the ring.   I almost lost him twice.  The Q was saved by the Open line having a narrow channel in which the handler could walk in front of the tunnel, which helped me coax him back into “working mode.”

Jake’s contacts were PERFECT all weekend long.  So were his tunnel/ contact discriminations.  There were many things to feel good about which helped balance out numerous Es due to Jake wolfing down huge mouthfuls of horse poop.   SIGH.  Good thing we don’t need no stinkin’ Qs.   HA HA and true!

A few of Lil’s runs at Paula Goss’s Advanced Distance Workshop in Phoenix, AZ

(above)  a few of Lil’s runs plus Jake’s run during a lunch break from Paula Goss’s Advanced Distance Workshop.

Paula Goss is a fantastic agility instructor.  She has a great eye and set up challenging courses that could be worked from a variety of distances so each team was challenged yet not over-faced.  She also shared some great tips for training and course analysis.  I left the workshop with fresh ideas for what I want to practice at home.

I really don’t know how she kept going and going and going….like the energizer bunny for 3 days straight…. especially because it was HOT and SUNNY.   Amazing!  Plus her vibe is so upbeat and fun AND her demos of handling moves are inspiring to see and then try to mimic.  Paula’s handling is precise and graceful, yet totally punchy and dramatic when it needs to be.  I have a long way to go before I will be capable of handling anywhere close to Paula’s level but I am totally jazzed about trying.

Enough about me!   Lil was a real trooper.  She approached every course with great energy and speed and gave it her all.   I was thrilled to see how much her distance skills have improved this past year.  What used to be a GET OUT is usually now a simple GO ON and she appeared to be 100% confident working at HUGE distances.   But as we all know, agility is a game of balance, and as Paula pointed out on numerous occasions, Lil’s COME INS/ Turns towards me, especially to the left are a bit weak right now.   I am confident we’ll regain our balance as a team and in the mean time I’m 100% fine having some off-courses when working at a distance since the benefit of having developed such a solid GO ON far outweighs a few lost Qs!    Qs…. Shmoos is what I say.  🙂

 

 

A few of Jake and Lil’s runs at NADAC Trials in Arizona

What a nice break from winter we all had in Arizona attending 2 NADAC Trials and a 3-day distance workshop with Paula Goss, which I’ll be writing about in a separate post.

Here are a few of Jake and Lil’s runs.  They both ran so well on turf and stayed perfectly clean.  What a nice change of pace from running in horse arenas around Boulder.

(above) Lil Elite Jumpers Bonus Box

Lil ran a great Jumpers Bonus Box course on February 1, which happened to be her 6th Birthday. I could not be more proud of her.  She ran with full confidence and really nice speed. Feel free to MUTE the audio. I was a total blabber mouth but Lil is used to me doing that and ran really really well in spite of it….. or maybe because of it (GASP)!

Too bad I didn’t believe we’d make it through a couple of tricky turns when I walked the course because had I formulated a handling plan for that last turn away from me towards the closing line, I may not have been SO LATE and I think Lil might have gotten it.   In the future, when my handling fails, I hope I can resist the temptation to jump in and finish the course running with Lil.   I need to remember I can just take a few steps and continue working at a distance.  Regardless, I feel GREAT about this Bonus Box attempt and based on the huge round of applause and YAHOOing Lil earned, I think our fellow competitors agreed.  🙂

(above) Jake Open Touch N Go

Jake’s new 4-on contacts were stellar and he earned his Open Touch N Go Title.  The only time he didn’t stick a contact was when a disconnect occurred between us earlier on course.  He still hit within the contact zone but since stopping 4-on is now part of our criteria, I asked him to return to a 4-on once as a test.  It seemed to have a calming affect on him.  After a brief pause and praise, I released him and he appeared completely centered, reengaged, and I could tell he did not perceive it as punishment.  If I had to guess, he experienced it as a reset (physically and mentally) and he finished the course running beautifully.  I wish I had a video of that run.

(above) Lil Elite Touch N Go

I have been playing around with asking for 4-0n the A-frame with Lil but after seeing her response at this trial, or should I say lack of response over the first two A-frames at our first trial since training a 4-on, I decided I didn’t like it for her.  I think her long history of running over A-frames trumped her short history (under a month) of stopping 4-on and I really didn’t like how it caused her to shorten her striding down the A-frame which made her dismount higher.  So instead of trying to “make her stop” and potentially creating an issue with Lil and the A-frame, I decided to just say GO ON like I always have and she went back to her typical style of running over A-frames.

For the record, the only reason I had contemplated switching Lil from running to 4-on was because NADAC trials can have 8′ or 9′ A-frames and Lil doesn’t automatically adjust her striding when she goes from 9′ (at trials around Boulder) to 8′ (in Southwest Colorado and at Champs).   A stopped contact would have saved us the hassle of needing to train a few sessions on 8′ A-frames before we encounter those shorter A-frames in trials.. and at Champs, which is not convenient since I don’t have an 8′ A-frame.  Oh well.  Its not the worse thing in the world.

(above) Jake Open Weavers

I almost scratched Jake’s last two runs after he lost focus on a Chances course mid-day.  I thought he was mentally done but I’m glad I changed my mind because he finished up the day with two fantastic runs, including this Open Weaver’s course.  Jake has a bunch of Open Weaver’s Qs.  The reason I have not moved him up to Elite is because I don’t think he needs to weave three sets of 12 poles and Open Weavers has two sets of 6 and only one set of 12.

(above) Lil Elite Weavers

Too bad the video starts mid-course because Lil ran the opener super fast and weaved the first set of poles much faster than she has been weaving lately.  I have wondered why her weaving has slowed down this past year.  Is it mental?  physical?  emotional?  Or maybe its due to weave pole bases being a little wider than the poles we train on at home.  Regardless, I was very pleased with how well she ran this course.

(above) Jake Elite Tunnelers

Jake has been running so well lately, I ran him very similar to the way I ran Lil in Tunnelers and Weavers… just a few feet less in terms of distance but the same basic handling.  YEY Jake!

(above) Lil Elite Tunnelers

Lil ran this course beautifully with me mostly staying inside a self-imposed Handler’s Box.  I lost my nerve while leading out and released her before I got to my intended position but other than that, I stayed in my box, and Lil ran with full confidence. YEY Lil!

It was so much fun to run agility outdoors and to reconnect with friends from Champs and Yellowstone Dog Sports. Plus I love having Sarah Fix as a judge.  She always creates such a fun, upbeat vibe and this trial was no exception.  Also agility folks in Phoenix are very welcoming.  We’ll be back next winter for sure.

 

 

 

 

Warming up with a barrel and 2 buckets then doing a few A-Frames

I am LOVING what I’m seeing on the A-frame from both dogs.   Stopping with four feet on (4-on) looks easy for them to do.

I can see that Jake knows his job and is preparing to stop the entire descent with no hesitation before reaching the bottom.  The way he is performing 4-on looks much easier on his body than jumping off from high in the contact zone (his natural MO) and I think 4-on might even be lessening the force in which he hits the up ramp due to early anticipation of the stop at the bottom.

This morning’s session focused on distance.  I wanted to test Jake and Lil’s understanding of WHERE to do 4-on.   I really LOVE this style of 4-on for Jake because he has to plan ahead and reduce his momentum all the way down vs. with 2o2o, he would sometimes descend too fast and land hard into 2o2o which made me cringe years ago when I used to ask for a 2o2o.

Jake’s videos:

Lil’s running A-frame has been fast and consistent for a few years now.  The reason I decided to mess with it is because in NADAC, A-Frame ramps can be 8′ or 9′ long and Lil was not able to transition from one to the other without training a fair amount in-between, so after thinking about it on and off for the past 6 months, I decided to see if I could train a performance that would allow her to transition back and forth without any extra training in-between the two different A-frame ramp lengths.

I’m not sure what Lil’s end performance will look like on the A-Frame but I loved what I saw today.  I find it amazing that she only started showing me she is able to stop 4-on a couple of days ago yet today she made it look easy.  At this point, Lil often pops into a last minute and super soft 2020 when I’m ahead.  Although I have never asked Lil to do a 2o2o on the A-Frame, she has been doing 2o2o since puppy hood on a variety of objects, so its not surprising that she is offering it on the A-Frame, especially because it requires less effort than stopping 4-on.   But when I said WAIT, she was able to stop 4-on at the very bottom of the A-frame which impressed me.  I guess this tells me she really doesn’t know what MARK means on the A-frame… yet.

Once I feel she is anticipating stopping with 4-on , I might early release her most of the time.  Actually I might early release Jake sometimes too.   But these will be future decisions.  Right now I’m just enjoying seeing how quickly my dogs learned HOW to shift their weight back enough to be able to stop withe ease on a full-height A-frame…and the dog walk too.

Lil’s videos:

A sampling of Jake and Lil’s runs at last weekend’s trial

Mountain Dog Sports hosts GREAT trials.  The vibe is always positive and fun and last weekend’s trial was no exception.

I had one goal coming into this trial and it was that my dogs run with their usual gusto and focus in what I consider to be a very challenging environment for Terriers…. an active horse arena.   A little background……. Lil struggled the first time we trialed at this site  in October.    She lacked confidence and even lost focus a couple of times which is rare for her.  Surprisingly Jake ran pretty well in October.  He only checked into the Mouse Hotel in one corner of the arena once.. and gratefully he checked right back out after one or two JAAAAAAKE  HEREs!

So with the sole goal that my dogs run fast and focused, I decided to run with them a lot more than I usually do.  Not sure how they would have done had I used more distance (maybe just as well) but I was very pleased with how well they both ran… AND for all the Qs they racked up!

Lil ran 13 courses and Qed 10 of them.  Jake ran 10 courses and Qed 5 of them.   Jake also earned High in Trial for Open dogs.  I could not be more proud of how well both dogs ran.

What a fun way to spend a weekend!

Running fast and collecting faster than fast!

After a few weeks of training Jake and Lil to target an upside down feed bucket with their front feet, we have started taking the show on the road.

Day 1: This session was their first time being asked to run and stop (4-on) on a flat A-frame.. or on any A-frame for that matter.  The reason the A-frame is resting on the ground is because it is too heavy for me to lift by myself without potentially tweaking my back.  But since I dragged it out to the yard this morning, I figured why not do one session with it flat on the ground to see what Jake and Lil do.

(above) video of Jake and Lil’s first session running on a flat A-frame and stopping 4-on

I was super impressed.  Both dogs ran with really nice speed and targeted the very end of the A-frame by collecting / putting on the brakes.  Most reps, they stuck the 4-on vs. reverting to 2o2o, a behavior both dogs have been practicing for years and years….on steps, rugs, you name it and they put their back feet on it so this was not surprising.

The reason I slowed down the video was to see HOW they were putting on the brakes.  Were they dropping their butts down or crouching?  I didn’t see much butt dropping but it might happen naturally once the A-Frame is raised… or maybe not.  One thing I’ve noticed recently was how much LESS angle a longer-backed dog has when sitting, compared to dogs with longer legs.  This translates into longer-backed dogs having less braking power when dropping their butts.  Here are 2 photos, including a quick and rather sloppy Photoshop of Lil showing how her SIT would look if she had longer legs.

Lil Sitting

Lil with photoshopped longer legs

Once I raise the A-frame, I’ll be carefully watching to see HOW Jake and Lil put the brakes on in order to do 4-on.  If it looks relatively easy for them to do, I’ll continue training 4-on.  If it  looks grossly unnatural or hard on their bodies, I will go back to running A-frames and find another way to deal with running consistently and safely over both 8′ and 9′ A-frames.

This morning’s session was such a blast.  Both dogs LOVED IT and so did I.   Can’t wait to nab some unsuspecting person who walks by our property to help me raise the A-Frame.  🙂

Why Lil does those funny little head bobs and nose touches while waiting to be released.

A while back I noticed that Lil was doing a little head bob or quick nose touch to the ground now and then at the start line when training. I also noticed that I often inadvertently rewarded those behaviors by releasing precisely at those moments. While that was unintentional on my part, I didn’t see any harm in those quirky little behaviors… until recently at our first trial in an active horse arena, a couple of times nose touches morphed to sniffing at the start line, which certainly caught my attention.

Once head bobs and nose touches were on my radar, I started noticing how often Lil “offered” quirky little head movements in her day-to-day life.

When I ask Lil “Where is Jake?” She whips her head quickly in Jake’s direction and then whips it back again (and I reward her for that). She also whips her head to the Right and Left in response to those verbal cues. She offers quick nose touches when she is waiting for me to put on my shoes and knows we are going for a walk. I suspect those nose touches are the equivalent of twiddling her thumbs in situations like this one. I also think the quick nose touches morphed from a slight lowering of her head when I added the duration to Forward Focus while Lil was looking out into space… at nothing in particular.. which I inadvertently rewarded her for doing.

So I had to ask myself: “Where did this come from?” My first thought was that they morphed out of Forward Focus games (examples in earlier blog posts).


(above) a little head bob at 0:46 but overall nice forward focus!

While I still believe those games contributed to her offering head movements more frequently over time, since I have been rewarding Forward Focus when she offers it on walks or when standing in front of agility obstacles, I never thought I needed to put Forward Focus, a seemingly benign behavior, on stimulus control.. until recently. And when I looked back even further… all the way to puppy hood, I realized Lil played a lot of “Look at That” games which create the ultimate foundation training for head whipping.

Once I recognized that head bobs can lead to nose touches which can lead to sniffing when a little trial stress is added to the mix, the next obvious question was how to remove them from Lil’s bag of tricks. My plan is to approach this training puzzle in terms of process… a long-term goal.. not an OMG I HAVE TO FIX THIS ASAP.” Afterall, for Lil, head movements have been part of her life since puppy hood and they are not an indicator of stress for her so I don’t feel a huge sense of urgency to get rid of them. Plus I think they will always be somewhere in her…lurking under the surface… and I’m OK with that. I also love her cute head whipping tricks like “Right,” “Left” and “Where is Jake” head whips.

My current plan is:

1) Reward only when Lil’s head is not moving in her day-to-day life. In other words, put all head movements on stimulus control….. if I don’t ask for it, I won’t reward for it.

2) Change Lil’s start line position from standing to sitting (at least for the time being).

3) Change Lil’s start line routine to avoid the behavior chains that currently include head bobs.

4) Make nose touches nearly impossible for her to do through the use of position and a perfect prop I happen to have (more on this prop below).

5) Maintain steady eye contact when leading out. Pause when Lil bobs her head when practicing. Start moving again and praise when her head is still. So far, this has been working very well because when I look at Lil, she looks right back at me which tends to keep her head still. My current plan is NOT to pause at trials because I do not want to cause any stress related to the start line since I think Lil’s head bobs are just a habit she has formed over time vs. an indication of stress.

6) Ask Lil to SIT a lot in day-to-day life (and reward sitting) since she has been heavily rewarded for standing (my personal preference to date but that may change) but not for sitting. Mark and reward SIT before she has a chance to move her head, then gradually add duration. This is working very well too!

7) Sometimes ask for a quick Sit Pretty (begging) when Lil is sitting then go back to another quick sit, which positions her front feet deeper under her body so her sitting position is more tucked vs. slouchy. Release quickly to start.

And now back to the PERFECT Prop. I personally love using props because learning takes place so fast with the right prop…. faded quickly (I’ve never had a problem fading a prop). The perfect prop which I happened to have on hand is a rubber feed bucket turned upside down, which Sharon Nelson uses for training foundation skills….brilliantly!

So why are feed buckets so perfect you might ask? When Lil places her front feet on a Mark bucket, the angle of her body is like a “standing sit” (HA HA but true) plus she is able to push off from her rear legs with a lot of power, due to her weight being shifted back, which is great for punchy/ fast releases. The other BIG benefit is that Lil’s head and nose are farther from the ground when she is standing on a Mark bucket. One more benefit is the behavior of front feet on a Mark bucket (or front feet on anything for that matter) is a new behavior for my dogs so they are both starting off with clean slates.

Lil standing on the Mark
Jake standing on the Mark
Lil sitting with front feet on the Mark
Lil sitting with front feet on the Mark

A couple of days ago, I decided to take the “Mark Show” on the road and took both dogs to an active livestock barn. We started off with some easy reps, sending the dogs back and forth between 2 Marks (like in my last post). Later in the session, I mixed in some SITs (in the dirt) and the first couple of reps were great.. head perfectly still and really nice punchy releases. After couple of reps she started doing a little head bob as soon as I took my first lead out step. I said a very happy WHOOPS and paused for a moment then continued leading out, praising as I walked or ran… and her head (and body) stayed perfectly still and then I released her. I ping ponged back and forth between starting her on the Mark and on the dirt (already starting to fade the prop). Her speed was best when we were both running. Her speed dropped to moderate but still respectable when I added 15′ or so of lateral distance or sent her to the far bucket which tells me something for sure.

Jake does not head bob or nose touch so his reps were all about focus in a new and highly distracting environment. He totally ROCKED.. running full speed ahead between 2 Mark buckets placed as far as 30+ ‘ away.

The following text is worthy of a separate post but since it is also about Mark buckets I decided to combine it with the text above.

The next day I found yet another amazing benefit to using Mark buckets when I met a friend at a local outdoor facility where she practices. $50 buys a 30 day unlimited pass (when classes are not in session) so I signed up for a month. Even if there are some snow days, it’s still a great bargain and only a few miles to drive. Thank you Julie!

The ring has a sandy dirt surface and SURPRISE SURPRISE there were sheep and horses in 2 adjacent pastures. Jake goes totally bonkers when he sees sheep and freaks out if a horse looks at him so I thought OK THEN this will be an opportunity to see what Jake can do surrounded by HUGE distractions. As it turned out, he never even glanced at the sheep or horses. I attribute a lot of his total focus on teamwork and a total lack of interest in the sheep and horses to my having the Mark buckets in my car, which I had brought primarily to use with Lil at the start line.

But once I saw the sheep and horses, I decided to start by warming up each dog’s brain by running them back and forth between 2 Marks (started 10′ apart and increased the distance to about 20’). Then we took a short break and started up again with a Mark, then 3 jumps followed by another Mark. I gradually increased the number of jumps in the sequences, while also expanding the area we were working in. Neither dog had ANY issues with distractions in any part of the ring. I think starting and ending most sequences on the Mark buckets worked incredibly well with Jake. It really kept his head in the game, even when driving straight towards the horses or sheep with me behind (and thus out of sight). His focus never wavered.

Then 2 BC teams showed up and I realized one handler was going to let his dog run around unleashed with a ball between reps. But after observing that dog interact with a less social dog who approached him, I felt this BC would be safe IF Jake ran up to him (Jake is not aggressive).. but I also asked the handler what his dog would do IF… and he said “nothing”. The other BC was being micro managed but I also asked his handler what her dog would do if approached by a YAHOO terrier and she said her dog would run away.

Now with 2 BCs off leash in the same ring, with pastures with sheep and horses on 2 sides of the ring, each of my dogs had one more very long turn consisting of a mixture of short and long sequences. Both dogs had unwavering focus, really nice drive and confidence, even when running straight towards the BC practicing running DWs. They drove hard and landed on the Mark buckets wherever I placed them… or came running back to me when I ended sequences without the Marks. YEY JAKE! YEY LIL!

For Jake in particular, finishing sequences on a Mark appeared to have a very positive influence. I think it was because he always had something visual to drive towards and he always knew where he was going next, even when working at a distance or driving ahead of me. I think it kept him from even thinking about looking to see what else might be going on. YEY Jake again!

The Marks were also great for practicing independent weaving. I placed one mark at each end of the weave poles and alternated sending, recalling, running along side close and with lateral distance and Lil ran fast and confident every rep. I didn’t get around to working on weaving with Jake but plan to do that next time.

Marks are incredibly versatile training props. One more advantage I’d like to share before signing off is that Mark buckets are helping Jake transition from 2o2o to 4on the dog walk naturally. No retraining needed! I can say with 100% certainty, the reason he is now often stopping with his front feet an inch from the bottom edge of the dog walk ramp is because of all the reps he has done with his front feet on the Mark.. while also learning how to drive fast and then shift his weight back enough to stop on the Mark bucket and not knock it over. These are important skills to have in terms of contact performance. The best thing about is, is he is learning all of this away from real contacts minimizing physical stress.

It’s amazing to me now much one training prop can do. Sharon Nelson is one smart cookie and very generous to share her training “magic” with all who are interested.

🙂