Jake and Lil “Moon Walking” which is what I call Paw & Shake while backing up

Moon Walking consists of a difficult combination of movements so I keep sessions super short (the video contains the entire session from start to finish).  I also do not practice this combination of tricks every day… just once in a while.  I find it fascinating to see how each dog performs the combination of movements differently.. how they get their front legs super high, while rear feet shuffle backwards.  I leave  “how to do it” up to them and just reward what I consider to be their best efforts.

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Huge progress with “Forward Focus.” Lil is now able to focus forward on nothing (in partcular) and with a little more duration.

In this session, Lil is practicing “forward focus” while looking at nothing (in particular).   In the past couple of days she has begun to offer the behavior in her day-to-day life (which I’ve been rewarding) and is able to hold “forward focus” for a bit longer.   She is one smart little girlie!

For non-dog training fanatics, this video might be like watching paint dry but this is a very complex trick to train. Dogs have zero natural incentive to look at nothing so the fact that Lil is willing to stare into the distance for even a moment or two means she understands what I am asking of her and she trusts that she will be rewarded even if she cannot see me when she is doing the behavior.

Happy Holidays from Jake and Lil

This is a single take and it is totally unedited.  It might be hard to believe but I added the background music AFTER I video taped a single session with my totally impromptu “munchkin costume” yet I think it kind of looks like I choreographed the tricks to match the music.  Even the timing of Jake entering the scene is total chance.  I don’t know if YouTube will remove this video due to my use of this very essential background music so if you want to share this video with friends, do it fast!   and if YouTube removes this video, I think YouTube is a totally mean Grinch!

Combining “eye gaze” and “forward focus” games

Let me start by stating how much I dislike ice.  Snow is fine, but a thin layer of snow over a thin layer of ice is not what I call fun.    As a result, I’ve been trying to come up with interesting new indoor games to play with Jake and Lil for 3 days in a row.   More than anything my dogs need mental stimulation, so I’ve been combining variations of “eye gaze” and “forward focus” games with the goal of training a new cool looking freestyle trick.

The thing you cannot see in the video is that I am looking forward (in the direction I want my dogs to look)

Practicing “Forward Focus”

If you live in the Northeast, you learn to dread the term “wintry mix.”  Well, that is what happened overnight and now we have a thin layer of ice on top of 1/2 inch snow.  YUCKO!  I didn’t intentionally train Jake and Lil to understand what I mean when I say EASY or CAREFUL but luckily through sheer repetition, they both  know what those words mean.  Both dogs made it safely down (and then back up) the steps to the yard this AM.

I’ve not been video taping training sessions lately but I was inspired to pull out my video camera in order to capture a couple of training sessions with Jake and Lil practicing “Forward Focus” to share with a friend who wants to train her dog to look forward vs. at her.

(video above) I didn’t initially use a Manner’s Minder to train Forward Focus but thought it would be an easy way to do it.  I also thought using a platform would make it easier for a dog who was just beginning to learn this skill to WAIT before being released.

(video above) The next day I used a toy instead of the Manner’s Minder and moved to a different location in the living room.  I decided to include all repetitions so my friend could see that it is OK to make mistakes as long as we get it right more often than not and are fair to our dogs when we screw up our training mechanics.   I think Jake and Lil are quite forgiving of my screw-ups and are happy to keep playing with me.

The second video is long, so you may want to skip ahead to 6:35 where Lil does a few 180 turns away from me and waits while looking forward, before I release her to a ball tossed over her head.  This was the freestyle trick that inspired me to train “forward focus at nothing” in the first place.

One more quick note:  The reason I kneeled down for some reps was to change the “picture” my dogs see when lining up at my side.  For me, the benefit of kneeling is to experience what it would be like to work with big dogs, whose mouths are right there for easy feeding vs. way down near my feet.  It sure makes delivering rewards easier.

Jake likes to catch the frisbee. Lil likes to throw the frisbee. hmmmmm

I forgot how much fun Jake and Lil have playing with a frisbee.  Both dogs had the same level of skill or maybe they even improved a bit since the last time I brought out the frisbee, which was so long ago I can’t even remember when that was.

If Lil’s aim continues to improve, it would seem logical that I could eventually remove myself from the game entirely and see if Jake would be willing to catch a frisbee tossed by Lil.   This is not a goal but rather something fun to think about down the road.  🙂

Freestyle Practice Session from 2 years ago

This freestyle video showed up in the side bar while I was watching random agility videos recently uploaded to channels I subscribe to on YouTube.   I have no idea how YouTube goes about listing the videos it does on the side bar… but I was shocked to see that  2500+ people had watched this particular video, which then caused me to re-watch it.  I  had not realized how long I’ve been doing Brace work with Jake and Lil and I can’t believe Lil was less than 2 years old in that video!

Camp Gone to the Dogs

Jake and Lil’s Freestyle Demo

Bev Blanchard is an amazing Freestyler, instructor and choreographer.  We took 3 private lessons with her at camp, through which she helped us develop a freestyle routine from scratch.  On Thursday, after our final lesson, we discussed everything we had worked on, and I remember thinking that I wished I had a few weeks vs. one day to practice before performing the routine for the first time. 🙂

I decided it is kind of crazy to try to develop an entire freestyle routine in 4 days of camp to then perform in on the 5th day.  So I plan to continue to refine this routine over the winter vs. starting a new routine from scratch every year at camp.  I hope to add some cool tricks that did not make it into this routine in place of tricks that didn’t look as dynamic as I’d like and develop each dog’s solo routine to really highlight what makes each of them so special.

I’m so glad Bruce captured most of the routine on video because  I learned something very important.   I had not realized that my body language was the same for some new tricks AND old tricks so that my dogs needed to rely solely on verbals to know which trick to do at times.   Lil seemed fine with the verbals but I think my vagueness in terms of motion and body position contributed to  Jake’s loss of focus at times….on top of  performing in such a  “well seasoned” ring filled with treats from a week of camp! 🙂   I also think Jake might do better with fewer treats during the routine.   He seemed to lose focus briefly after each treat!    And the other reason it is good to have video, is that things don’t look nearly as bad as they sometimes feel…like Jake’s sniffing!   I actually think he looked kind of cute!

Clips from the agility ring.  Lil’s new running dog walk looked really good all week-long.  It’s the first time she worked on turns after the dog walk (since we have only been doing NADAC lately).  She nailed every single one.   Oh and Siliva Trkman is right as she always is when she said “If you train a running dog walk, you get the A-Frame for free.”   Since I switched Lil from 2o2o to a running dog walk, her A-Frames are looking great!…. nice low hits and great speed even with a tight turn after!

After 2 months off from agility (due to a soft tissue injury), Jake looked great at camp!  He had nice soft landings with every single 2o2o on the A-Frame, and really nice speed!  He looked like he was having a blast too.  I took it easy with him and only ran him a little but I think he is feeling good!  YEY!

How Lil learned to throw a Frisbee like a discus

Teaching Lil to toss a Frisbee in a discus-like manner involved stringing together a few rather complex behaviors including: catching a Frisbee, spinning in a 360 degree circle while holding the Frisbee, and whipping her head to the side and releasing the Frisbee at a precise moment so it flies back towards me.

This trick started by capturing a behavior that a lot of puppies do naturally: throwing toys into the air. Over time, Lil learned to flip toys higher and higher in the air, and it was not uncommon to see a toy fly across the living room while we were watching TV (which looks so funny).  The “Flick It” trick is now mostly under stimulus control so she rarely  flips toys across the Living Room anymore.  This is a good thing since Lil considers anything on the floor to be a potential toy and a marrow bone came close to hitting the TV screen once.

Here is how Lil learned this trick:

As I mentioned, she already knew how to flip a toy over her shoulder so I started by throwing the Frisbee just beyond her reach so she had to turn away from me to pick it up, which put her in a perfect position to flip the Frisbee back to me over her shoulder.

The first few times, I clicked and rewarded Lil for just picking up the Frisbee.  When she heard the Click, she’d drop the Frisbee and run to me for a treat.  Little by little, I started delaying the click, so Lil started turning back towards me with the Frisbee still in her mouth, before I clicked.  Her enthusiasm for the game, along with her past experience of flipping toys over her shoulder, made it easy for her to start tossing the Frisbee by whipping her head to the side while she turned.

At that point, my placement of the Frisbee dictated the direction of the toss.  So I refined that position to make it easier and easier for her to throw it back to me vs. in a random direction.  And since Lil was then able to throw the Frisbee 90% of the time,  I started rewarding only “better than average” performances (direction OR velocity).   It looked good, and was fairly consistent, so I left the trick alone for a long time, thinking it was complete.

Somewhere along the line though, the idea occurred to me that it would be super cute if Lil learned to catch the Frisbee before flipping it back to me.  But this would mean that Lil needed to learn how to flip the Frisbee back towards me from any position.

I started this new phase of training by rewarding Lil for just holding the Frisbee in her mouth. I quickly added that behavior to another trick she already knew:  how to do a 360 degree spin.  Once she was able to hold the Frisbee and turn 360 degrees without dropping it, I needed to figure out how to add the “head whip.”   The only way I could think of was to alternate training two separate behaviors:  “360 spins while holding the Frisbee,” and the “head whip” from Lil’s original Frisbee trick.

I figured eventually the two behaviors would start to blend.  Plus I couldn’t come up with a better plan! 🙂   Not surprisingly, the direction of Lil’s tosses went out the window for a while as she often released the Frisbee too early.  But I rewarded any tosses that had good “head whip”/ velocity regardless of the direction, and I also rewarded any full 360 degrees turns while hold the Frisbee, even it she just dropped it after the spin.

I didn’t train this regularly at all, often taking weeks or even months off between sessions. When I did bring the Frisbee out, I just clicked and rewarded “better than average” performances (velocity OR direction).   And as you can see in the video it is slowly coming together.  ps–Some sessions have better Frisbee velocity than what was shown on the video, but I was very happy with the results of that particular session because I thought Lil was really trying to spin AND toss the Frisbee towards me in one motion.

Over time, I think Lil will be able to blend “the catch, the spin and the release” into one fluid motion.   I also anticipate the Frisbee will gain more and more velocity as Lil learns to whip her head to the side at the precise moment necessary to use the momentum of the 360 turn the way a discus thrower does.