Monday, November 29, 2010

Practice on the Walk

Today it's brisk but sunny outside so I decided to load up on treats and do some Agility practice on our walk to take advantage of the nice weather. Our daily walks always consist of heeling (walking on my left) and 'with me' (walking on my right side) along with Side Changes. I also try to work on Gilda's stays and recalls on the walk to keep them sharp.
Today we used the parking curbs to practice walking on an Obstacle and her 2o2o skill. It was hit or miss. Gilda kept coming off of the curb to get her treat! I also took her to the playground and had her offer behaviors (which she does the minute she sees or hears the clicker!). My goal was to get her to climb onto a piece of equipment that she had never seen before and she did it in no time! Such a brave girl. Ah the wonders of clicker training...

{Playground equipment is good practice}

{Or how about climbing onto an old log?}
During our last class, Jessica explained to me (yet again) how to correctly perform a Rear-Cross on the flat so we worked on those on both sides.
To do this, I start with Gilda on one side (let's use heel or left side). Using a treat in my right hand, I guide Gilda to turn away from me. As she makes this turn, I turn toward her and voila! she is now on my right side. It's a really neat maneuver that is new to both of us. Gilda does not seem comfortable turning away but knowing her, it will just click one day.
After a 4 mile walk and enough tricks to use up a pocket full of treats, I gave Gilda her favorite reward, an unleashed run in the field! I only wish video could capture her speed because it is truly awesome.
We first practice stays and recalls and then Gilda gets her 'Free' command which lets her know that she can run and be a dog until she hears a new command. In this video (sorry about the quality), she has been given the 'Free' command and is now responding to the 'Come' command:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

2x2 Weave Pole Training (With YouTube Video)

Happy Thanksgiving Eve...
I found a YouTube video that will at least serve to illustrate the Weave Pole Entrance Training using  the 2x2 Technique (You can see what the equipment setup looks like too). I will replace this video if and when I can get one with an AU dog and instructor.
When I was initially introduced to 2x2s, it was in an early group class and it seemed to me that I was training Gilda to simply walk between 2 poles (I told you she's a whole lot smarter than me!) In a later session, the lightbulb went off and I understood that we were training the very first step of the Weave Poles: The Entrance. The goal again is to teach the dog to always take the first pole by entering with their left shoulder to the right of the first pole.
View this video with that in mind only (in other words ignore the handling techniques as I want to keep those as purely AU as possible). Note that in the early scenes, the dog is being rewarded merely for going between the poles. Later, he is rewarded when entering to the right of the first pole. [Enjoy the funny song as well]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2x2 Weave Pole Entrance (No Video...Dang It!)

I took Gilda to AU today for her makeup class (since we've all agreed to let Dr. Randall have a nice Thanksgiving and gave her Wednesday off from Agility) and while I remembered to take my camera along... I left the memory card in the computer!
I was really hoping to take a few more brief videos as I find them to be so helpful...
Jessica worked on Gilda's stays (which beginners can work on during daily walks and spare moments at home) and on Gilda's jumping and Jump Recalls. Gilda has often been a somewhat reluctant jumper so it was pretty exciting to see her actually wanting to jump today!
 [Beginners Note: One of the issues that I and many new students find frustrating is that their dog will often perform a solid stay and/or recall at home 99.9% of the time only to seem unable to perform the same commands in class at all! Rest assured that you are not alone in this. Gilda seems to find the Agility arena to be an exciting place full of new smells, other dogs and lots of fun equipment and this overstimulation seems to make it hard for her to concentrate on me. She reminds me of a small child still learning impulse control. Know that your instructor understands this phenomena! Hang in there and celebrate the small gains!]
Jessica worked some more with Gilda on her 2o2o and 'upped the ante' by giving the "Two" command while she was running. In the previous session, Jessica was standing next to Gilda when she issued the command. For Gilda (and most Agility dogs) movement creates excitement so Jessica is working to teach Gilda how to focus and work with all sorts of movement and distractions.
Jessica also worked more on Gilda's 2x2 Weave Pole Entrance (which is the exercise I really wanted to video!). This exercise is geared towards teaching the dog how to enter the weave poles. In Agility, dogs must ALWAYS enter the Weave Poles with their left shoulder to the right of the first pole. (This is difficult for humans to read and understand so you can imagine that it's tricky to train a dog to get this concept!)
For the exercise, 2 poles set 24" apart are used. Gilda is not lured or cued. Jessica waits for her to offer the behavior of going between the two poles with her her left shoulder to the right of the first pole at which time she gives a C/T. Once Gilda performs this reliably, Jessica then uses a tug-toy as a remote reward tossing it forward in the direction Gilda is moving. This action is not only a reward for Gilda ("a toy came from the sky when I went through those poles!") but it also engages her prey drive and keeps her driving forward. She will use this forward drive later when we introduce more Weave Poles. (There's that recurring theme about creating good agility foundations again! Fascinating stuff).
Once Gilda has a good success rate of entering the poles from one point, Jessica begins moving the starting point slightly. Gilda needs to learn that no matter where the excercise begins, she must always find that first pole and enter with her left shoulder to the right of it.
I really hope to get a short video of this as it makes so much more sense when you can watch the process. Maybe Santa will bring us a spare memory card...

Friday, November 19, 2010

2 On / 2 Off (Videos)

Yesterday Jessica worked with Gilda on her 2 on / 2 off (2o2o) skill. This skill requires the dog to have 2 front feet off of the equipment and 2 back feet on the contact area of the equipment. The dog holds this position until released by the handler (in Gilda's case, a verbal cue of "OK"). The dog needs to learn to hold this position regardless of what the handler is doing (running by, turning, etc.). The 2o2o skill is used on the A-Frame, the Dog Walk, and the Teeter.
To teach this skill, Jessica uses a clicker and some of Gilda's favorite treats. When Gilda performs the desired skill, Jessica Clicks and Treats (C/T) to reinforce the behavior. (You can hear the cues and the clicks if you adjust the volume)

In the following video, Jessica works with Gilda on a raised board. She first transports Gilda to her starting position using a treat held in the hand closest to the dog (Gilda can sniff or nibble at the treat but she does not get to eat it). Once she is on the board, Jessica gives the verbal "Two" cue. This cue tells Gilda that when she reaches the end of the board, she should perform her 2o2o. On the first attempt, Gilda comes off of the board before performing her 2o2o so Jessica simply starts over. Gilda gets no clicks, no treats. On the second attempt, Gilda performs the 2o/2o which Jessica C/T but Gilda doesn't hold the position when Jessica walks away from her. Again, Jessica simply starts again. On the third attempt you can see that Gilda starts to break position as Jessica walks away but then 'chooses' to stay. What a Good Girl!
{Jessica works with Gilda on a 2on/2off}

In the next video, Jessica works on teaching Gilda to hold the 2o2o position until she is released. You can see that Gilda has progressed enough to work off-leash and no longer needs transported to the start. Jessica continues to use a (C/T) for correct position. You can tell that Gilda is really starting to understand that no matter what Jessica does, she must follow the "Two" command until she hears her release cue, "OK". Notice again that while Jessica moves around, she maintains eye contact and never turns her back to the dog.

{Jessica works with Gilda on holding her 2o/2o until released}

These videos were recorded one right after the other and are in real time. This gives you a feel for how effective clicker training and good handling can be! Also... Notice that in both videos Jessica rewards desired behaviors and ignores mistakes (she is truly the ultimate patient handler). This is very important for novice handlers to learn and practice because this is the foundation to making Agility training positive and fun.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Table/Chute (Video)

I took Gilda to Agility Underground tonight so that she could work with her instructor, Jessica (Gilda loves Jessica!) Jessica and Dr. Randall (her other well-loved instructor) say that speedy dogs like Gilda are tough 'first agility' dogs especially for a novice handler. They are working with Gilda on her ability to read and follow body language and cues while I work to improve my handling skills so that I am giving her the clear direction that she needs. (she is advancing far faster than I am!)
Another added benefit is that with only Jessica and me in the building, Gilda is far better at staying focused on what the handler is asking her to do. Gilda's regular group class is good because it teaches her to focus and work while other dogs and people are working around her which is difficult for most young dogs and especially reactive dogs. Gilda does well in group class at this early point in her training although the distractions really slow the learning process.

Gilda is beginning to work on both the Chute obstacle and Sequencing. For the following Table/Chute video, Jessica first had Gilda run through an open Chute twice and a partially opened Chute twice. She then made sure that Gilda would reliably run through the closed Chute. She tossed a favorite tug-toy as Gilda was exiting the Chute to teach her to drive through the Chute with good speed.
In the video, Jessica transports Gilda to the start of the sequence using the tug-toy. Jessica then gives her a "Table" cue (an obstacle that she is very reliable with). This cue tells Gilda to jump onto the Table and quickly perform a Down skill. Initially, Gilda breaks her down cue prior to the release cue so Jessica repeats the verbal Table cue. Jessica releases Gilda from the table using Gilda's release cue, "OK" which is followed by a hand signal and verbal cue for the Chute (the obstacle she is now learning).
This technique of starting at the end of the sequence (the chute) and then adding the beginning of the sequence (the table) is called Backchaining. Notice that Jessica maintains eye contact and  keeps her shoulders pointing toward the obstacle so that Gilda clearly understands where to go.

{Jessica works with Gilda on her Chute skills}:

What the Heck is Dog Agility? (I didn't have a clue...)

I don't actually know when I saw my first Agility run, I just know that for years I dreamed of having the time (and energy) to have what appeared to be a strong bond with a dog. Agility, Flyball, Obedience, Rally-O...they all looked like such fun activities!

Within days of adopting Gilda, we were very aware of her speed and her intensity. (We honestly thought that we'd be able to outrun her for at least a month or two... wrong-O!) She was faster as a little pup than Bruno ever was!

{Runs like a Border Collie!}

Although I knew Agility was of interest to me, I honestly didn't do much research on it. I thought, "you go to class, the dog learns the obstacles, and then you tell the dog which obstacle to take" Simple, right? Oh how very wrong!
Here is A basic definition from Wikipedia: (Note how this differs from my preconceived notions of Agility!) 

Dog agility is a dog sport in which a handler directs a dog through an obstacle course in a race for both time and accuracy. Dogs run off-leash with no food or toys as incentives, and the handler can touch neither dog nor obstacles.[1][2][3][4][5] Consequently *the handler's controls are limited to voice, movement, and various body signals, requiring exceptional training of the animal and coordination of the handler.
In its simplest form, an agility course consists of a set of standard obstacles, laid out by an agility judge in a design of his or her own choosing on a roughly 100 by 100-foot (30 by 30 m) area, with numbers indicating the order in which the dog must complete the obstacles.
*Courses are complicated enough that a dog could not complete them correctly without human direction. In competition, *the handler must assess the course, decide on handling strategies, and direct the dog through the course, with precision and speed equally important. *Many strategies exist to compensate for the inherent difference in human and dog speeds and the strengths and weaknesses of the various dogs and handlers.

*the stuff I didn't realize!

I quickly learned that there is a whole lot more to agility than meets the average spectator's eye! Both the dog and handler have very important roles in the Agility Team. The dog must learn how to perform each obstacle independently. This means that when the handler gives the cue, the dog must know how to approach the obstacle, how to perform the obstacle, and what to do after the obstacle. The handler must learn a variety of techniques to communicate with the dog between each obstacle and must perform these maneuvers with great consistency and accuracy. Obviously this also means that the handler must learn each course prior to guiding the dog through it. How could I not have realized this?? More importantly, how are Gilda and I going to learn all of this...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gilda's First Year: Background Part 2

When we got Gilda to the point that she seemed to  somewhat enjoy walking on a leash, she was far enough along with her vaccinations to join a "Puppy Socialization Class" at our local Kennel Club. (I don't think either of us enjoyed this class very much which is probably why I don't have any photos of it!)
One thing we learned in this class was Gilda's need for dog socialization skills. Early on, she appeared to be a dog who loved other dogs... her tail would wag, she'd get animated and jumpy and run right at the other dog's face. As she grew however, her actions intensified and we noticed that while she was not aggressive, she often triggered bad reactions in the dogs she met. We learned that she is what's known as a 'Reactive Dog'.

{Reactive is the term coined by dog trainers and owners who own dogs that overreact to certain stimuli. It might be the sight of other dogs, people, kids, loud noises and chaos. The dog’s reaction to these stimuli is usually a bark and lunge type of behavior that scares the pants off both the person or dog being barked at and the person holding the leash. Reactivity may be part of the dogs genetic make up or could be from a lack of social experience or a particularly scary experience.}
Still learning about this new development, we entered into a Canine Good Citizen class with a well-reputed trainer. Gilda was proving to be a quick study and her basic obedience was coming along nicely. (We agreed that she had the best stay and recall in the class!)
I have always hoped to have a Therapy Dog someday and this was the very first step toward that goal. (Bruno passed all his testing but was never very comfortable in the therapy setting)

{Gilda graduates with her Canine Good Citizen certificate}
In true Gilda form, she was initally troubled by being in class with other dogs. Once she was used to the other dogs however, she seemed to conquer her fears and was able to perform in class. This would be a recurring theme for her.
She really did well in the class and was able to successfully pass all but one part of the CGC test which was to walk past another dog without reacting. At 11 months old, I thought we were making pretty good progress!

{Gilda learns the treadmill}
We also had her treadmill trained at this time so that she could still get her daily walks in when the weather was really bad because we had learned months ago that Gilda + No Walk = No Sleep.
Initially, she did very well. We had her walking on it in less than 3 weeks and we used it sporadically throughout that first winter. [At present time however, she refuses to go near it unless we place her food bowl on it].

Our next class was a Dog Socialization Class which had an interesting approach. All dogs were pre-screened by the trainer. If the dog was aggressive, the trainer would handle that dog during class. All of the other dogs (and there were up to 20 dogs) were released from their leashes simultaneously on cue. As soon as the dogs were released, the owners would all start walking around the perimeter of the room in a big circle. The theory was that moving people would induce the dogs to keep moving and moving dogs are less likely to react to each other badly.

This class really did wonders for Gilda. Being with so many other dogs at once really helped her to learn some dog manners that she apparently didn't learn in puppyhood as most dogs do. Also interesting was watching her seek out other high-energy dogs. Dogs that matched her energy level were the dogs she preferred to play with.
It was also during this class that I finally felt like she had bonded. She would run off to play with other dogs and then she'd stop to scan the circle of moving people to find me. When she found me, she would run to me, nuzzle my hand and then be off again. Needless to say I was thrilled with this development as I was already quite bonded to her! (We left this class when the location was changed. Something in the new building caused Gilda to completely shutdown and left her quivering in the corner. I didn't feel it was helpful to pay $$ for that!).

It was around this time that I began seeking out Agility facilities since she was nearing one year old. Knowing nothing about it, I was surprised to find that there were 4 "schools" within driving distance. One of the schools also had Flyball classes and we tried that...once. Flyball was not the sport for either of us. The high-stress, chaotic environment, and ultra noisy facility left Gilda frazzled and dropping hair by the handfuls and me with a splitting headache.

We applied to and were accepted by our current and most awesome facility: Agility Underground:
 Our classes (and our newest adventures) started in early January 2010 with our instructor, Jessica right before Gilda had her first birthday...
{1/15/2010 with canned dogfood 'cake'}

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Getting Gilda: Background Part 1

For as long as I can remember, a Border Collie has been my dream dog. Unfortunately my life never seemed compatible with all that a BC needs in order to thrive. When our daughter was young and Mike & I were both working full-time, we were offered a free puppy. My husband had dogs growing up but Bruno was the first dog April & I ever had.  We really lucked into a great dog and we were so lucky to have him with us for nearly 15 years. Bruno appeared to be a Golden Retreiver Mix and he fit in wonderfully with our lifestyle.

{Bruno at 7 weeks! So cute}
Once Bruno made it safely through puppyhood (and there were days I wasn't sure he would), all he really wanted  in his dog life was to be told that he was a 'Good Boy'. He was so easy to train! If we just uttered the word "No" in his general direction, he'd never do that bad thing again...

{Bruno the Great Dog}

We look back now and think of what a great Agility dog Bruno would have been as he was very athletic and wanted to follow us and be with us more than anything.
{Fig & Bruno the Gentle Giant}

When we knew the end was near for Ole Bruno (02/14/1995-10/08/2009), I began thinking about and looking for our next dog. I wanted something completely different from Bruno because I worried that I'd compare the new dog to Bruno and he was going to be hard to live up to! Boy did we get different! This is the photo from that really caught my attention (not everyone in my immediate family agreed that she was the cutest thing ever but that's what I thought!):
{ photo 3/09}
The history on 'Lindy Sue' said that this 8 week old puppy was found next to a dead adult dog that had been hit by a car and that she was taken in by a rescue group. Nothing else was really known about her. Her coat made it pretty clear that she had some Australian Cattle Dog (often referred to as a Blue Heeler) genes. The rest of the story was anyone's guess!
Susan at the rescue organization S.P.O.T. (Saving Pets One at a Time) wrote me a very honest email saying that this puppy was 'very shy and would probably never be the kind of dog to come up and lick your face'. She reported that the only thing she was able to get her to eat was plain yogurt.
Undaunted, we made arrangements to drive 3 hours to Southern OH. By this time, little Lindy Sue was about 12 weeks old and was scheduled for a spay. I requested that we be able to have her spayed at a more appropriate time...and I am sooooo glad the rescue group agreed!
On April 9, 2009 (14 years to the day that we adopted Bruno), we met in a McDonald's parking lot. When she arrived, Susan produced a 9 pound pup that was literally shaking from head to tail. She sat 'Heeler Pup' (as she called her) on the pavement and the puppy immediately backed as far away from us as she could, grappling to get under the car. I had never seen a young pup act like this and all I could think about was Bruno at 7 weeks bounding straight towards us as if he were the happiest puppy in the world. What were we getting ourselves into????

{People were starting to agree with me about her cuteness!}

The other thought I had was Cesar Millan's advice on how to choose a well-adjusted puppy and this little girl had not one of Cesar's recommended traits!
Something told me that she was our dog and yet I decided that if Mike thought we should leave without her, I would agree. (After all, he has always been the rational one when it comes to animals). Thankfully, Mike said, "Let's take her" and so we handed over $75, signed some papers agreeing to have her spayed, and put on her new collar and leash...and I now had my second dog!
{Gilda & Big Brother Bruno}

 It was a gray and chilly day and we had the car windows up. Within minutes of leaving the parking lot, we realized just how horribly the beautiful little puppy on my lap smelled! It was an odor so foul that each time she moved just a little bit, we would both gag! She lay in my lap on a waterproof pad with her little chin resting on my forearm. Without moving her head, her eyes followed everything. I told Mike that she reminded me of a Border Collie intently taking in the world around her without moving a muscle. She smelled so putrid that we actually stopped halfway home to bathe her so that we could survive the trip home!
Once home, I figured that after holding her for 3 hours, we had sufficiently bonded and that she would not leave her new guardian. I sat her in the grass so that she could pee and she promptly ran under the car just out of reach! Mike had to push the car over her so that I could retreive her. Our new adventures had just begun!
Inside the house, I first showed her the laundry room where her crate, food and water were set up. She ignored all of those, ran quickly to a small tear in the old vinyl floor, promptly ripped it off, then turned and looked at me as if to say, "Okay. that's taken care of! Now what?"
Next, we took her to the living room where we had a large dog mat and some toys for her. We sat her in the middle of the mat and tossed a toy. She ran to the toy, picked it up, and brought it right back to the mat. If we scattered all the toys, she would get them one by one and bring them back to her 'safety mat'. Her antics made us laugh right from the start and so it seemed fitting to name her after a comedian...She became Gilda!

{Gilda Radner as SNLs 'Roseanne Roseannadanna}
Gilda's first vet check revealed that she had every type of worm known to veterinary science, fleas, and malnutrition. I was very worried about her brain development and I was so thankful that the rescue agency had agreed not to spay her as I'm not sure she would have survived it!

Food was our first huge challenge. She ate mulch, stones, dirt, poop...anything but puppy food. I researched puppy foods, trying to find the best one so that she could get some good nutrition fast! I tried brand after brand (the local pound was happy to get the opened bags) until many months later she finally seemed to eat Wellness Puppy about every other day.
She ate very little, pooped 6-8 times a day, and buried every treat we gave her (which was very cute to watch). We bought an Everlasting treat ball and filled it with her food. The little green ball required Gilda to push it around the floor with her nose to make kibble come out a little at a time. (I was advised against this method of feeding by trainers but I didn't care as I was happy to have her eating some real food!) She caught on very quickly and seemed to really enjoy working for her food. I was just beginning to understand the concept of dogs who "need a job to do" (See Novice Notes Page: Dog Jobs). After she turned 1, we switched her to Wellness CORE Dog Food (See Wellness CORE) and she has eagerly devoured each meal ever since but still loves the magic ball for treats.

{Gilda and the magic ball}

Another big issue from the start was that Gilda absolutely refused to walk on a leash. I think the term is 'muleing' and let me tell you, she took it to a whole new level! It was a really sad sight to see a small puppy that was just too petrified to move forward. This is where our rather extensive collection of leashes and collars began. Bruno had maybe 2 leashes his whole life...

{A few of Gilda's Accessories!}
We tried every kind of halter, collar, head lead, etc. that was made. We took her to the park every single day for a month only to have her rolling around as if she were in the death-grip of an alligator!
On Mother's Day however, we had a major breakthrough! Gilda actually decided to walk on on a Flexilead (which we never used again after that day)! We were so excited! She was walking out in front of us and we were smiling and laughing, feeling good about our success...when suddenly, she took a giant leap right into the Lake! Before I could panic or jump in after her, our little pup was doggy paddling like it was something she did all the time!
Gilda will swim in anything, anywhere at any time ever since that day.

{Gilda plays pond fetch}

By this time we were noticing many traits that were so unlike our happy-go-lucky Bruno. Gilda herded everything she could and nipped at every heel within a 3 block radius. We figured that could be the Blue Heeler in her...
Her intense stare and her ability to drop to her belly from a full-speed run however made us seriously wonder, had we ended up with a Border Collie (mix) after all?
Whatever her genetic makeup, now that she was walking on leash, she was ready to get on with some real dog training....