No creeping!

Sit and watch any Utility class, and you will more than likely see dogs moving forward out of position. Often, you will see dogs taking steps forward on the signal stand as the handler walks away, or you will see dogs who fail to lock up on their moving stand exercise, continuing to trail along after the handler.

Reasons for this are many…a lack of clarity regarding the performance requirements, stress about the exercise, the dog may not like the additional distance from their handler, or the dog may be feeling pressure from the judge and trying to alleviate the pressure by adding distance. A lot of times, in training, you will see these handlers physically correct their dogs for breaking position. Unfortunately, if the dog is breaking because of stress and/or pressure, you have now made the situation worse.

When I was training Gunner as a young dog, it was very evident he did not want the judge touching him for a Novice stand for exam. He was not necessarily worried about the judge, he just did not see a need for anyone (other than me!) to touch him. We worked through this in a common way, with a clicker and a whole lot of cookies. Novice exams went smoothly and it was almost comical to watch Gunner’s tail wagging wildly on a exam, waiting for his click and treat.

But, judge pressure in the advanced classes was a whole different ball game. This was primarily visible on signals, when Gunner would take a couple of steps forward as I walked away, sometimes looking back at the judge before he moved. People’s opinions for correcting the problem covered the entire gamut, from physical corrections, to ground poles or platforms, to having the judge go in and feed him while he was standing…none of which I liked. So, instead, I went back to one of Gunner’s favorite foundation exercises – the target. But, instead of releasing Gunner to a target in FRONT of him, I released him to a target BEHIND him.

Kazee is going to have the opposite issue as Gunner. He wants everyone to touch him and, even better, he will help you by running over to you! Yes, just a little bit of impulse control issues. 🙂 So, I decided it was time to pull the target into more of Kazee’s obedience work. He is familiar with the target from agility class, but in this context, he is always running towards the target, it is never behind him.

If your dog is not familiar with a target, I would recommend sending the dog to a target placed in front, before moving the target to the side or behind the dog. The target needs to hold a lot of value for the dog. This is a good game to play at mealtime, even using your dog’s food bowl as their “target”.

The following video show Kazee’s first introduction to the target behind him, as well as some basic target work to introduce the concept to the dog. Please note my very exaggerated hand signals when releasing the dog to the target. They are slightly cut off in the video, but you have to make sure your release is dramatically different than your Utility signals. My cue to release the dog to the target is a step forward, with BOTH hands raised, and a verbal “go target”.

If you have another person to train with, work up to the “judge” carrying the target and placing it on the ground after you stand your dog on signals. Normally, in the beginning, I want this done before I have left my dog, so I can support him (if needed) during the judge’s movement behind him. The target does not need to be close to the dog, it can be placed by the go-out stanchion. But, what helped Gunner the most with the judge pressure was placing the target closer and closer to the judge, including directly between the judge’s feet. Yes, I would send my dog TO the judge to get to the target! Then, the judge would feed several cookies to my dog ON the target, while I ran to give an evan better jackpot on the target. What better way to have your dog control the judge pressure than to make your dog WANT to run towards them!

Targets can be worked into any exercise. And, for dogs who love to eat, it gives you some built in proofing, as the dog has to work through the exercises with cookies easily visible (and attainable) on the target.

For dogs who move forward (either because of pressure, Gunner, or from insufficient impulse control, Kazee), I also feel it is important to be able to move my dog backwards in ANY position (stand, down or sit) and have them maintain their position. As soon as I start working with a young dog, I teach them if I give them a signal and they are already in the position, they need to move backwards. For example, if the dog is in a down and I give them another down signal, they need to scoot backwards, but maintain their down position. Remember, the ring exercises need to be easy, but the practice work needs to be difficult. I want my dogs always thinking backwards. If they are thinking “backwards”, they will not creep forwards!

Yes, I know I cut off the top half of my body, but when you are filming yourself on a tripod before you have had your coffee, that is what happens. You can easily see my dog and my requirements, so that is the important thing.

Moving stands can be another challenge to get dogs to lock up. Most handlers add pressure in front of their dogs to get them to stop. But, in the ring, when this pressure is gone, the dogs take a couple of steps forward (or worse, do not stop at all). Instead, increase your requirements in training. Teach the moving stand by requiring BACKWARDS movement on the stand. In the beginning (and often throughout the dog’s career), I will help them by moving backwards with them (if you show in Rally, this would be comparable to the backwards steps during heeling). In the ring, I generally do not see backwards movement from Gunner, he merely locks up into his stand. But, really, if he moved backwards one or two steps, what is wrong with that? Bonus points, in my opinion! And, to reiterate, this is something I do forever with my dogs. The more you show, the more you have to keep your requirements crystal clear. I could have easily gotten Gunner’s OTCH without teaching this, but he recently finished his Obedience Grand Master title and went over the 700 OTCH point mark. No way would I have been able to meet those goals without requiring extra effort in practice.

You may have noticed my verbal cue with the stand signal…”Stand Back”. Completely legal in the ring and a little extra reminder to my dog of his requirements. The stand signal (in my case, my left hand) can not be held as a cue to the dog, and it needs to be immediately returned to either my side or the center of your body as I walk away. If the signal is held, it may be a scored as a handler error or, if the judge felt my signal kept my dog from moving forward, an NQ on the exercise.

This blog post is in response to a reader’s question on helping a dog who moves forward on exercises. If you have any problems or questions you would like to see me address in a blog post, please feel free to either ask in the comments or send me an email to shannonshepherd@me.com. I never claim to have all the answers, but if what I do with my dogs can help someone work through a problem, I will help in any way I can.

Until next time…train hard, but play harder!

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Not enough hours in the day…

Fortunately, the breed ring is finished for the time being, because with agility and obedience, there are not enough hours in the day to get everything accomplished (not to mention work and family!). Kazee finished his breed Championship on January 28th and, while he may play as a special once and awhile, he is not competitive right now against the mature dogs. So, we have been concentrating on the fun stuff.

I say “fun stuff”, but sometimes it is not fun at all. Challenging, yes. Complicated, yes. Fun, not always!! Kazee is so different than my last two dogs, I feel like I have started several things over multiple times…probably because I have. The old adage of “throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks” definitely applies some days. This is primarily true for articles and go-outs. If you have followed along, you have seen our struggles with articles. I started scent work with the Scent-a-whirl, but the barking was over the top. I then switched to the Around the Clock method. This method worked wonderfully for awhile and Kazee was doing multiple finds with a complete pile. Then, one day, it broke. Kazee started snatching and grabbing, without sniffing at all. After a few days of this, I went BACK to the scent-a-whirl. Kazee clearly understood the sniffing requirement and was (without fail) only picking the correct article out of the 4 uncovered bins. But, while the barking had been fixed on this particular tool, Kazee does not like putting his head in the bin. I was not about to fight this and add more pressure to the exercise, so I bit the bullet and went to a tie down board. Honestly, I have never used a tie down board before with any of my three dogs. The German Shepherds just understood the exercise after it was explained to them and Gunner never needed it after doing the ATC method.

Kazee has been on the tie down board for about week at home. I decided to take the board to the dog club this morning to see how he did. Because I was working articles in a new location, I left only two articles on the board to make it easier. I was happy with his effort. So, until THIS method breaks, we will be using the tie down board. 🙂

I mentioned Kazee’s barking earlier. I finally decided to give MYSELF a kick in the butt and start to get this under control. Kazee is not very easily offended, so the method which seems to be working is a muzzle hold and/or putting him on the ground in a down position for a few seconds. Low growling is allowed on the tug toy right now, as I do not know if this will ever be silenced. Kazee is an extremely vocal dog and he needs some method of release. Barking completely depends on the dog and, given the fact that I have never had a barker before, I let this go on way too long. Honestly, if Gunner gives me an occasional bark in the obedience ring, I love it, as it means he is having fun. And, Zita, well I got after her once for barking as a young dog and I could never get her to bark again.

Our other problem area is go-outs. He loves to mark to his tug toy, but has a tendency to go deaf to everything else when his tug toy is involved. So, while I’m still using his tug for some marking work, I have gone back to his placemat for go outs. When going back over my notes and video, I was previously releasing Kazee off of his mat to be rewarded. Big no-no, as all rewards need to happen on the mat. So, for right now, I’ve gone to food rewards on his go-out spot. There are not many treats Kazee will eat (not your typical Springer!), but he loves homemade tuna fish treats. He could have picked something that makes my house smell a little better. Oh, and he loves bacon. That makes the kitchen smell good, but then I end up eating half of it! So, I make myself bake the tuna treats. 😦

On a bright note, heeling is coming along beautifully and Kazee LOVES agility. I have never done agility before, so I am trying to keep myself in foundation classes and pick Kazee’s breeder’s brain whenever possible.

For those of you who enjoy watching training videos, I took several of Kazee today and one  of Gunner as well. The National Obedience Championship is in three weeks and Gunner has been working very hard on our problem areas. I have never had the opportunity to show Gunner at an NOI/NOC before because of logistics, so we are excited to compete. I am not worried about running clean, but I want good positive work from my wonderful boy, so everyone can see how well an English Springer can work in the ring.

Kazee – Agility work from today, over a couple of different sessions. Weave poles – almost closed, with guide wires. Dog walk and A-frame with his target box. Teeter – which is still very new to him.

Kazee – First obedience session with him of the morning, while Gunner does a sit-stay in the ring.

Kazee – Articles on his tie-down board and dumbbell retrieves

Kazee – go-outs to his placemat

Gunner – working on problem areas of dumbbell pickups and fast finishes, also some heeling work and signals. It always feels “easy” when I train Gunner after working Kazee…maybe it is just because I do not have to think as hard. 🙂

Kazee and I are in no hurry to get into any type of ring, especially obedience. There is still a lot of work to be done on impulse control before even going to a formal match. And, I like to train completely through Utility before entering Novice any way. And, with my started skills over again every other week, it may be awhile!

I am also starting to accumulate agility equipment and now have a teeter base on order as well. My husband is not especially thrilled with my new yard ornaments (he thought the obedience stuff in the garage was bad!), but a happy wife is a happy life!!!

Until next time….train hard and play harder!!

When in doubt, go back to what you know.

Let me preface this post by saying I have really enjoyed working Kazee on the scent-a-whirl…that being said, with this particular dog, I was seeing behavior I did not like. This included an over-adrenalized dog, who was not thinking and thought barking his fool head off was part of the game. I see a lot of advantages in the scent-a-whirl, since it can be used with toys for very young puppies, but sometimes, if you do not like what you are getting, it is time to go back to what you know. And, sometimes, you have to force a dog to slow down for them to figure out what you want.

What I know, for articles, is the Around the Clock (ATC) method. This method was developed by Jan DeMello and it is a very specific training program to teach articles to a dog. What I needed from Kazee was for him to SLOW DOWN, think and use his nose. Today was day two for the  ATC game and Kazee has caught on very quickly. I do a couple of things differently when I teach it:

  1. I do not use anywhere near as much food on the bar as Jan suggests to start with.
  2. I reward heavily for the dog bringing the article back to me.

The method includes using canned, squeeze cheese, but Kazee will not touch the stuff, so I am using braunschweiger that I have mashed up and put into a dispensing tube for easy application.

There are 11 retrieves in each session. This is a lot for some dogs and I may split the session in half with Kazee, as he seems to be extremely bored with the game by the end of it. I am rewarding with food at this point, but my goal is to start rewarding with a tug toy…as long as he continues to work the pile properly.

If you have never seen this method, here are a few pickups from today’s session, which is only the second day he has played this game –

Your dog MUST have the ability to pick up and carry the article when you tell him to. Kazee does not have a forced retrieve, but he is very willing to pick up the article when I tell him to, since this has been rewarded very heavily in the past.

I am very happy with the scent work Kazee is giving me; and because I know this dog, I am not worried about adding speed back in, after he understands his responsibility in the game.

Another new thing Kazee was introduced to today was a box to shape a running target for agility. I have been a little lax on the agility front, but with the cooler weather, it is time to get moving!

This box will be placed at the end of all of Kazee’s contact equipment, where a running contact will be used (dog walk and A-frame). The box is trained so the immediate response from the dog will be a down, inside the PVC box, on a “go box” command. This is the first day Kazee has seen the box and the down will be shaped and heavily rewarded inside the box. It will be thoroughly trained and proofed before adding it to contact equipment. Since I do not use a box like this in obedience right now, I am not worried about carry over. But, even if I add one into obedience, the dog should be able to generalize his response based on the current venue.

Train hard. Play harder!!

Keep it fresh…

Those of you who know me from obedience, know Gunner. Those who know Gunner, love him. But, those who know him WELL, know how hard of a dog he is to train, show and live with. Could it be me? Did I cause some of my problems or at least intensify them? Oh, yes, I have no doubt about it. We have started over more often than I would like to admit. But, I guess these problems and figuring how to dig our way out of holes, has allowed me to keep learning new ways to do things.

Background on Gunner for those of you who do not know him…he’s a 7 1/2 year old Springer, who has been showing for over 4 years. He has earned top awards in his breed and many, many High in Trials and High Combined awards. He is also very environmental, has some separation anxiety and has decided that he no longer needs to work very hard in the obedience ring. We have not been showing as much this year with the new puppy in the house, so we have stepped back to work on effort and confidence.

While Gunner has not really had any problems with go-outs (which were originally taught with a platform), they can always be better. After attending a Debbie Quigley seminar, I decided to introduce food pouches to see if they helped with his speed and desire to move away from me. This is the first time Gunner has used his food pouches at the dog club, so I was expecting (and got) some mistakes. The video is a little long, but I think it more important to show his errors and how I handle them, rather than just him running out to get a pouch.

We HAVE had some recent issues with articles…and I’m not sure why. Gunner will occasionally stop in the pile and look at me for several seconds before going back to work. Looking for help or directions? I’m not sure, as I have never talked to him while he was in the pile. So, I’ve thrown in some more distractions and have been asking him to think a little more “outside of the box”. This is NOT proofing for a green dog. And, this is not all new proofing for Gunner either. He struggled today, which I am fine with. I will help him figure it out. One thing you will see, is even with some mild corrections, Gunner is NOT stressed about going to (or working in) the article pile. He is not circling the pile, afraid to make a decision. His head is up and his tail remains wagging. So, despite some issues, it is still a success for me.

Kazee continues his foundation work. I am thrilled with his progress on heeling and his engagement while working. I am going to have to stay on my toes because he’s a little “too” smart, but that is what makes obedience training so much fun. Because I am not sure how he will be trained on his go-outs yet, I have also decided to introduce him to the food pouches. Even if I do not use them for go-outs, I may want to incorporate them somewhere else.

Kazee makes his breed ring debut tomorrow, so wish us luck! Actually, wish ME luck. Kazee knows what he is doing, it is me who needs help!

Until next time…Train hard. Play harder.