Monday, December 6, 2010

Training Holiday

The company I work for in the mornings is closing on the 15th and I cannot wait.  Mostly because it I am planning super-training holiday with the boys.  Seeing as some of our most important events are run in the period between January and March, December is normally my most important training time.  But I am not just waiting around for that the holiday to come along, I have started intensifying my training already.

Chaos is doing very well at the moment.  My current problems include the whole 'knocking over wings' scenario and speed on the contacts.  I have been working on both (hopefully I can convince Anthony that he has to tape me tonight and then I will post some vids).  Over the last few months I have changed both my handling system, as well as my training system slightly.  I did not want to mention anything about it before, as there was no proof in the pudding yet.  But since a few agility friends have noticed the change, I guess I can go public now.  This slightly altered system has definitely been an improvement.

I have been doing jumping grids and exercises based on my 'horsy' childhood for years (long before I heard of Susan Salo and the Clothier method, although their books and dvd's are very interesting and gave me some more ideas).  My plan for solving Chaos's tendency to drop bars by knocking wings on tight turns, is threefold.  First of all, for the last month, I have worked on a variety of jumping grids.  Even though he hardly ever knocks (maybe 3%) on these grids/straightlines, I do feel that it exercises his ability to stride and general jumping performance.  The second part of my plan started with sending him around wings (no bar) and clicking for NOT touching the wing.  This is something I never thought about when I originally trained him, I just wanted him to drive there, turn tightly (often brushing the wing) and drive back.  I am now sending him around everything I can find (trees, buckets, wings, my husband) and rewarding for not touching the object.

The biggest change was the change to my handling system.  Previously Chaos's cue to turn would be that I would hang back or slow down, in general create more distance between me and him, as well as a very strong verbal.  He would turn super tight, but this would also mean that he would be looking at me, shorten his stride and wrap with his head in a horrid position as far as jumping goes.  Personally I think this is THE main problem for him knocking the wings, is the position of his head while he is jumping.  When he drops his head to look at/respon to me, he curves his back and drops his hindquarters.  To demonstrate this I am re-posting a picture I posted last month:

  Now first of all, two things that I am very proud of, is Chaos verbal directionals and his 'go round'.  He responds brilliantly to his verbal directional commands, this has won me many a class especially with tight turns out of the tunnel.  He drives into his go rounds and chooses his take off point very well.  So I did not want to lose/ stop using either one of these.  But my physical cues definitely needed to change.  So I spent a few months and retrained these.  My turn cue, is now an opposite hand with my closest leg stepping into him.  This not only results in a nice pre-curve, but a nice jumping arc, with good take-off and landing.  This of course means that I have to work a course harder, I have to follow up and be with him, but quite frankly it turns out this suits me too.  And it means I hardly every get caught flat-footed, I have better course position and I am not half as lazy.  My go round physical cue remained the same, a flick with an outstreched hand slightly infront of my body.  The only thing I have to concentrate on now is keeping my hand close to my side for a go-on cue.  This took me hours of repeatedly watching video of myself to figure out.

The other major change in my training system, is my ration of reward/performance.  Many of my previous students will have to pick up their jaws from the ground now, but I have increased my sequences'obstacles between rewards significantly.  I used to preach (and practise) that you should do no more than 5 or 6 obstacles before rewarding.  At that stage my philosophy was that if your dog was expecting to be rewarded the whole time, he was more likely to drive and focus during a full course in a show situation.  I think I was wrong, although it still depends from dog to dog.  By only working short sequences, you are not teaching your dog the mental stamina it requires to get through a full course at speed.  Please don't think that I all of a sudden expected Chaos to do 30 obstacles in succession.  I built it up very slowly.  And I will do the same with Volt.  Initially I will reward after one or two obstacles, but by the time Volt is 30 months old, he will be working much longer sequences than any of my other dogs, before he gets rewarded.  In this process I have also increased the quality of my reward though.  Instead of a quick 15 second tug after a sequence, I will have a whole game, sometimes up to 1 minute, or I will throw the ball a good few times.  I have NOT increased my training time and my sessions still last 5-7 minutes.  If there is something very specific I am having a problem with, like a certain pole entry or pull through, I will run it once or twice ONLY practising whatever it is I need to, so only doing 3 or 4 obstacles, and reward, but then I will run a much longer sequence, with this behaviour at the end and reward for this.  I feel that this has not only increased Chaos's course performance and ground speed very much, but also contributed to consistent quicker contacts.

Okay this is turning into a monster post again, but I do want to give a quick update on the High Voltage Maniac.  He is amazing... and very very very busy.  I have added quite a few things to his training program over the last week:

1.  We are doing flatwork, mainly circles and tug now.  He is very quick and damn cute, BUT I have to say that he does tend to get the zoomies when I do this.  He then ends up sprinting 5 circles around me (while I am standing still) before coming in for the tug. Hilarious as this might be, it is NOT ideal.  So when he goes into tilt-a-whirl mode, I will run away from him in a straight line, he will always follow and then come for the toy.
2.  Flat foot target, I have decided to teach a foot target first, as this is a behaviour so much more easily taught to a puppy than an older dog.  I will teach a nose target later.
3.  Targeting the back of my hand with his front feet. This is such a nice one to have, as you can teach so many tricks with it.  Anthony took some video of this last night, I will post it later.  Eish at first this was a very painful process as he attacked my hand, chomping on it while touching with his foot.  It took some patience from both me and him before he figured out that biting wasn't part of the deal.
4.  Backing up/Reversing.  He is already reversing up objects, in other words reversing and putting his feet on a tupperware container etc.
5.  Climbing in and out of a box.  This one was kind of forced, when he figured he could climb into the toy box, getting him out was a nightmare, so I decided I better teach him to climb in and out of things on command, just to make my life easier.

I don' t like wishing time away, but really wish that the 15th would come now!

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