Metal article progression

Wow, how is it December already?!? While I can not say we have done our scent-a-whirl every day over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, Kazee has been progressing steadily with his understanding of the metal article game.

The last blog post on November 12th showed Kazee’s first day with one metal article in a covered bin (the other three bins are empty). While this seemed VERY easy for him, I had to force myself to keep him at this step for awhile to make sure he was using his nose (and not his ears) to find the correct bin. Between a breed show and the holiday, he was at this step a little longer than I had planned. Oops!

On November 25th, Kazee did his first scent-a-whirl with a metal article in every bin. To minimize any fresh scent, I placed the three unscented articles in their bins the night before. Remember, the scented article ONLY goes into the MARKED bin. Make sure you scent the article each time you place it into the bin. You want your dog looking for YOUR scent, not his own.

I was really not sure how much Kazee was actually using his nose. In the beginning, I think he was going purely off of the sound of something being inside the bin. And, the barking…oh my. Can anyone guess what else I need to work on? Is this what my Sheltie friends feel like?

Fast forward to today…TEST DAY for the metal articles! The last couple of days, I have switched to a food reward, in an effort to bring down the energy level a little bit. Kazee has a tendency to sometimes be frantic in order to earn his tug and the barking was starting as soon as I told him it was time to play the “find it game”. I am glad he was enthusiastic, but geez. :/

I was expecting errors today and I got some. Hopefully, including these errors on the above video will help you see how you can maybe handle them with your own dog. Honestly, I was starting to get a little nervous and wondered if I took the lids off too soon. I can happily report that the lightbulb did come on!

You will notice that I did touch some of the incorrect articles while working with Kazee. When I was newer to Utility, I was very careful to NEVER touch anything. I placed and picked up articles with metal tongs, I carefully aired everything out before using it agin, I washed all articles before trials. Did it work? Yes, it did, but it was also completely unnecessary. I want my dogs to find the hot, fresh scent…not just ANY scent. All of my dog gear, including all of the articles, have my smell on them; and the dog may as well start differentiating the correct scent right away. This does not mean I place all of Gunner’s articles in the pile by gripping the bars. I simply dump them on the ground and reposition them by the ends. After he is finished with articles, I pick all the articles up by their ends and toss them in the bag. The used, scented articles are then lightly misted with 99% isopropyl alcohol before tossing them into the bag. The next time I do articles, I try to use a different number. But, every dog is different and you need to figure out what works best for YOUR dog.

Train harder, but play harder!

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On to articles!

Today was the first day for a “real” article in the scent-a-whirl. Since metal is normally the most difficult of the three styles of articles, I chose to start with this one, if for no other reason than to get it over with! 🙂 At this point, I do not know which of the two styles Kazee will be using in the ring, so he will be learning all three – metal, leather and wood.

I definitely like the new change in the AKC regulations allowing wood articles to be used. While I am one who chooses to try to train dogs through any aversion to a particular object, it also is not worth fighting over if the dog does NOT want to pick up a certain material.

Kazee has been practicing article pick ups every day, prior to working the toys in the scent-a-whirl. His reward for a good pickup is still his tug toy, but you can also use food as a reward.

I started with a pickup off of the floor, then a couple of pickups out of the open bin. The other three covered bins are empty. I am scenting the article each time before I place it in the bin. After a couple of easy pickups, I placed the article into the bin and covered it. Kazee was then released with a “find it” command. He is required to take the article out of the bin and present it to me. Same rules apply as his general pickups off of the floor – no dropping the article, no pushing it into me, no mouthing, etc. Eye contact is great, but I did not require it the first couple of times, as I wanted to make sure he earned his reward as quickly as possible.

Overall, I was very happy with his efforts on this new challenge to the game. We will be staying at this step for the next week, to allow him to gain confidence in finding and picking up his article out of the bin. He will be working through the entire progression with the metal article before I switch to another material. Stay tuned!

Train hard. Play harder!

Revisiting article pick-ups

Since this is the last week of toys in the scent-a-whirl, I decided I better revisit article pick ups with Kazee. He will be learning all three article styles – metal, wood and leather.

As always, I am still very informal with him. However, my requirements must remain in place: clean pickups, no mouthing and no dropping the article. Because of our past learning issues with picking up and holding items, he can respond in a somewhat unconfident way. He will try to push the article into me, without making any eye contact.

With his dumbbell, I am still letting him deliver the dumbbell by jumping up onto me, but by sitting on the ground, Kazee was not sure what to do with himself.

If you have a dog who is more motivated by food, you can do exactly the same thing I did with the tug toy. Just try to make the food a little more exciting than popping it into the dog’s mouth. For example, have them chase the cookie for a few seconds to build more value for it.

The dog needs to be able to pick up and deliver items before adding them into the scent-a-whirl. So, make sure you continue to work this separately with your young dog. The more items the better! It does not have to be only articles and dumbbells.

Train hard and play harder!!

Test day! 

You know the feeling in the pit of your stomach on test day? The “I think I am ready, but am I REALLY ready” feeling? Well, this was my feeling today when I pulled out the scent-a-whirl for Kazee. After missing four days over the weekend for a dog show, I decided yesterday was his last “fail proof” find it work. The lids were still on all of the containers, but he had been reliably finding the correct bin for some time. Time to bite the bullet and remove the lids! Basically, it was TEST DAY!

To help his odds, we started with only one similar, unscented tug toy in the bin directly across from his marked bin. All of the lids are removed, but there is only one toy in an unmarked bin. Remember, the scented toy (soon to be scented article) ONLY goes into the marked bin. Kazee was kept on leash today, as he sometimes has a tendency to do a victory lap with his toy. He has always been very good about coming right back, since playing with me is more fun than playing by himself, but I didn’t want to take the chance if he grabbed the incorrect toy. I played with Kazee to start the game, then placed the scented toy into the marked bin.

To find out what happened, you will have to watch today’s training session. 🙂

I was beyond happy! Remember, this is a dog who will plow you over for a tug toy! For him to bypass tug toys to find the “correct” toy, was wonderful and, yes, a little surprising!

He will stay at this step for at least a week before we start with articles. I pushed it today, having a toy in every bin, but you have to read your dog. If he would have tried pulling out the incorrect toy to play (or if he had showed confusion), we would have stayed at only one unscented toy until he was reliably and confidently choosing the correct toy. Mistakes are fine and he may make mistakes the next time we play the game. I think I will do this same progression the next time we play, adding one unscented toy at a time.

So, I think test day was a success! A+ for Kazee!! Remember, the end goal is a happy, confident working dog, who is not afraid to make a mistake.

Train hard, play harder!

 

Scent work progression and random tidbits

Kazee’s scent work has been a little stalled because of weather issues (thank you Hurricane Matthew), as well as dog shows, but we are still trudging forward. After spending time building value for his toy hidden in the scent-a-whirl, we have progressed to having one toy in EVERY bin. The three, unmarked bins contain tug toys, which were placed in the bins the day before we worked with them, to make sure there was no fresh scent on the lids. To start the game, I play with the chosen toy before placing it into the marked bin. I then release him with a “find it” cue. If he gets stuck on an incorrect bin, I would simply help him work his way around the bins. When he indicates the correct bin, I mark it with “yes”, open the lid, let him take out his toy and we play, play, play!

We will stay at this step for the next week, to fully imprint in his little brain that he is searching for a specific toy. As the next step involves removing lids, I do not want to progress too quickly, as it will cause unnecessary errors.

I have had a couple of requests to put together instructions for building the scent-a-whirl. Basic instructions, with the measurements for my dog’s scent-a-whirl, can be found at this link – https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/49412661/Scent%20a%20whirl%20building%20instructions.pdf

Please remember, this is a patented tool of Victory’s, so you can not build them for resale. If you have any problems accessing the link, please sent me your email address and I will forward it.

All of Kazee’s other obedience work is progressing well, despite the fact we have been busy on many other things. Everything is still very informal and I am more concerned about drive and attitude, than perfect precision. So, as long as he is not running around me in circles, I am still shaping all of the exercises. Go-outs, however, are still a little up in the air. He is currently running to a target, but I would like a little more focus, so this training method may change slightly before we are finished. I need to keep shaping his pouch retrieves and these may be worked into his go-outs.

Now that our Florida weather has started to cool off, I am looking forward to getting more outdoor training time in. With a shortage of air conditioned facilities, it will make training much easier!

Until next time….train hard, play harder!

Time to start using your nose!

Now that Kazee is reliably retrieving his dumbbell, I have decided to start introducing scent work to him. With my last dog, Gunner, I used the “Around the Clock” method to teach him articles. I did this primarily because I wanted a specific training method to follow and, in all honesty, I really did not know what I was doing. 🙂 Yes, I had an older dog (my German Shepherd Dog, Zita) already showing in Utility, but she was super smart and figured it out pretty quickly…I am still not sure what I did. LOL

But, I was not sure how I wanted to teach Kazee his articles. He has a very different temperament than my last two dogs and I also train much differently than I did eight years ago. During a Victory Hulett seminar last year, she demonstrated her method of teaching scent work to puppies. I was interested, but not sure I would ever try the method. But, I never say “never” and I tucked the method away in the back of my toolbox.

Fast forward to Kazee, who wants everything to be a game. I walked through the method with Victory again, to make sure I understood it, and I built the (patented) contraption which she calls a “Scent-a-Whirl”. Kazee immediately loved the tool and the game, so we are moving forward with this method to teach him scent work. Victory starts this training with much younger puppies, but because Kazee would not even hold a dumbbell for the longest time, I did not think about introducing this sooner. But, because the training starts with the use of toys, dogs do not need to have any type of a dumbbell or article retrieve to start the work.

I will be filming Kazee throughout this process, as well as detailing Victory’s instructions for the game. As this is not “my” method, I will be teaching my understanding of the method, which may or may not line up exactly with Victory’s.

Introduction to the scent-a-whirl (video taken Oct. 3, 2016):

Step 1: All lids off – play tug with the puppy using a soft toy. Then place toy in marked container. Tap on the container to encourage the puppy to get it out, then you and puppy play with the toy. (Stay close so that puppy doesn’t run off with the toy or get distracted.)

Step 2: Place lids on 3 empty containers. Play tug game with the puppy, then insert the toy into the 4th (marked) container and cover with lid. Encourage puppy to find the toy. You may need to tap on each container to get the puppy to smell them. Watch closely for any indication the puppy has located (smelled) the toy. Mark with a verbal “YES”, then remove the lid and let the puppy get the toy; play tug. (You must work closely – getting the lid off quickly to reward the puppy is very important.)

Step 3: Repeat until you can clearly read the puppy indicating the toy every time.

Important Points:

  1. Always start with play.
  2. Always play as a reward for the find.
  3. Each dog will indicate differently – some passively, some aggressively.
  4. You must work closely so that you can promptly mark finds with verbal “YES” and quick lid removal for the find – then play.
  5. As your dog progresses, allow them to stay at each level one to three weeks to ensure imprinting of knowledge. This is based on both handler and dog. If progress breaks down, back up one step, then re-test their understanding in a week or two

I stayed at the above steps for a week, as I wanted to see Kazee really start to use his nose to find the toy. Below video was taken on Oct. 11, 2016 (and, yes, coincidentally, I am wearing the same shirt! LOL)

I am really happy to see him actually slowing himself down and using his nose more and more. He is always very amped up when the game starts, but does slow down (slightly) with more repetitions.

Time to move on to the next steps. To be continued….

Train hard. Play harder!

Goals

Right now, if someone asked you “What are your current goals?” could you answer them?  You should be able to. It does not matter if the dog is an established competitor who already has his OTCH or if it is a younger dog in training. Are there people who go out weekend after weekend, blindly showing their dog without any goals? Of course there are. We all know these people. And I will be the first to say that your goal does not have to be a High in Trial or an OTCH. Your goal may simply to be better than you were at the last show. That can still be a good goal!!

I have dogs at both ends of the spectrum right now – a seasoned OTCH dog (Gunner) and a young dog in training (Kazee). Gunner’s goals right now are to improve our performance in the Utility ring. For some reason, he has been stressing and making unusual mistakes. Physically, he is fine, that was ruled out first. I do not buy the “new puppy in the house” excuse either. He knows his job and can focus on his work when needed. Plus, his Open runs have still been wonderful, so it is a Utility issue. Kazee, on the other hand, is still in the wonderful shaping world of puppy foundation. No pressure, just lots of rewards and short training sessions. I am not in a hurry to be doing full exercises, so we have been working on pieces, as well as building attitude and controlling drive.

A couple of weeks ago, I entered Kazee in a Novice match to support the club running the event. Was he ready? No, not really. But, I was not looking for perfection. I was mainly interested to see what he would do with someone calling us a heeling pattern in a ring. Since I train by myself the majority of the time, sometimes you just have to see what the little dog can do! He had never even seen real people for figure 8 posts! Honestly, I was thrilled. Had it not been a more formal match, I would have done a few things differently, but I was not going to screw anything up by taking him in the ring. What was the worst thing that could have happened? If he had been unable to do anything, I simply would have left the ring.

I’ve posted before about our challenges with the dumbbell. I have not pushed the issue with him and have slowed WAY down to his level of comfort. The lack of pressure has paid off and he is now starting to love his dumbbell, but I am still not asking for details. He is not required to sit before I send him and he jumps up on me on the return, at which point, he is presented with his tug. Mistakes are no big deal and the skill is simply repeated.

In the breed ring, Kazee has FAR surpassed my goals. At (almost) 11 months of age, he has 11 points and 3 majors. Not bad for a team that doesn’t know what they are doing! Fortunately for me, grooming is still pretty easy, since he does not have much coat to deal with. Guess we better finish before I have to really learn how to groom! 🙂

2016-09-25-kazee-major-3-edited

Do not let other people pressure you on your goals. You have the right to set whatever goals you want for you and your dog. This could be a qualifying score, High in Trial, Best of Breed, or simply to be better than you were the week before. The people who criticize your goals are probably the ones who do not even have one on their own dog. The most important thing is that you and your dog are enjoying training, in whatever venue you enjoy.

Train hard. But always, always, always PLAY HARDER!

Focus on progress

It is hard not to focus on results. Every trial weekend, people ask you what place you received or what your score was. They don’t ask if your problem area had improved or if you had a better connection with your dog in the ring. After all, this is a competition. Weekend after weekend, we enter the ring to find out who is the best team, on that particular day, under that particular judge.

I am no different. After not showing much at the beginning of the year, I have been showing my older Springer, Gunner, trying to finish his Obedience Grand Master (OGM) title. But, for this, I need scores…good ones. So, I have been concentrating on results. But, because I have also been fighting stress and effort issues, I failed to see progress. So, our ring performances were sporadic. I was either pushing too hard or not pushing hard enough, trying to find the perfect balance to pull out my dog’s best performance. But, as a result, our relationship was suffering. I wasn’t happy and Gunner was most definitely not happy.

And then one day while driving, I heard a comment while listening to the radio…

“When you focus on results, you fail to see progress.”

I realized this was exactly what I was doing to my dog…to both of my dogs. Gunner in the show ring and Kazee in some of his foundation exercises. I was so focused on the end result, I wasn’t looking at what each dog was giving me. And, when the dog is trying his best, you are not going to correct him for trying hard, but not being able to give you what you want.

So, you know what I did? I stopped. I stopped thinking about my score. I stopped thinking about my competition. I stopped trying to “think” at all. If you have ever listened to mental management tapes, they talk about moving your skills from your conscious mind into your subconscious mind. Think of your subconscious mind as your body’s autopilot. This “autopilot” is developed through the countless hours you spend training and working with your dog. For example, when the judge tells you to do an about turn during heeling, you do not have to concentrate on each foot placement, you just DO the turn. The same is true with your dog. He should no longer be thinking “What does ‘down’ mean?” He should just drop. But in the beginning, your dog needs to process your commands and think about what to do. He needs to think about how to actually manipulate his body to go from a run into a down.

And you know what, our trial last weekend was better. Open was about as close to perfect as we can get, with a 199.5 on Saturday and a 196.5 on Sunday (with a -3 for an exuberant finish on the JUDGE’s command on one of the exercises). And, right after my dog autofinished, I told him it was the “most brilliant autofinish ever!” Yes, I actually praised my dog for finishing on the judge’s command. Why? Because the finish was fast, happy and straight…three important components that we had not been getting in the ring lately. Utility still had a few minor issues, but overall it was much better. I am hopeful that a few more Utility classes with the “right” handler and our problems will be even more under control. 🙂

Kazee’s progress on the dumbbell has been another issue. Shaping was not progressing as I had hoped and Kazee was not moving past a quick open mouth over the dumbbell bar. I changed tactics and was thrilled to have him reaching for and holding the dumbbell. But then, he refused to move (even a fraction of an inch) when the dumbbell was in his mouth. He literally turned into a statue as soon as he closed his mouth over the bar. Taking a hold of his collar and insisting on movement backfired completely and we were soon back at square one. Another change in tactics and Kazee is finally picking up the dumbbell happily and bringing it up to me. Yay, my NINE MONTH OLD DOG is picking up his dumbbell. 😉 Talk about a work in progress!!

I love working with this little guy though. Problems aside, he is confident, outgoing and drivey, everything I wanted in a puppy. I am definitely going to have to think outside of the box though. He is independent and does not like to be “told” what to do. And don’t even think about drilling something! But yet, he needs structure and impulse control. Wish us luck!

As always, train hard, play harder!

Where does the time go?

It is hard to believe Kazee is 8 1/2 months old already. Everything has not gone exactly to plan with my training goals, but when do plans work out that way? He has, however, exceeded my expectations on his overall confidence and work ethic. I am letting Kazee dictate the pace on a lot of our training, although I am starting to require more impulse control in work and daily life. It is so much more fun to concentrate on building drive and his desire to work with me, but when his nickname turns into “Crazy Kazee”, it is time to put a little bit of a cap on things. 🙂

So, what has not gone to plan? Retrieves. Kazee has had zero interest in shaping a dumbbell hold beyond pressing his front teeth against the object or a quick open mouth over the object, then pulling back. Play retrieves he would do, but in a wild-eyed (Crazy Kazee) manner. And, after chipping a tooth on his dumbbell during a play retrieve, those have been stopped until there is more control built in. But when it came to sitting down in a chair and putting his mouth on a bar…no way. The +R faction would say I must not be shaping it correctly, my timing is bad, my cookies do not have enough value or maybe the dog is just not hungry enough. I have no doubt there are better free shapers out there than me, however, I am more about giving my dog information. This includes, “yes”, “no”, or “good, but try again”. With a full menu of information, I am finally at a point where Kazee is taking the object and holding it. “Object” meaning anything BUT a dumbbell. We are making progress (albeit slow progress), which is all I ask of him. There is no timetable and he will likely not do a “retrieve” for many months.

Heeling, on the other hand, is always fun with this little dog. He is drivey, animated and focused, through shaping this behavior from early on. He has never really been on a cookie for heeling, though I do use them for working setups, halts and some other behaviors. I am still working a moving hand push with him, but it seems to irritate him that my hand blocks his view of my face. So, instead, I am working the hand push for fast setups and stationary behaviors. What works for one dog, doesn’t work for them all!

I have also started free shaping a send away to a platform. While I do not use platforms for fronts or finishes, I do use them for other things, including go-outs. Gunner was trained go-outs to a platform and the desired behavior always seemed very clear to him…run straight until you hit your platform, jump on it, turn and sit. While he does not use his platform very often any more, he LOVES to see it come out in training, because it still has a lot of value for him. Because Kazee loves his tug more than food, I have been shaping his platform with the tug as his reward. Placement of the platform is not important right now and it’s position always varies. Sometimes it is up against a barrier or other times, like today, it is in the middle of the ring.

The platform used above is 14″ x 20″ and has 2″ x 4″ boards for legs (so it can be used as a chute, if desired, by flipping it over). I liked this size for him, especially the fact that it is a little taller than his platform at home. It was very clear to him if he was entirely on the platform, which is important when shaping because it removes grey area to the dog.

The more black and white you can make something, the better. This goes for all aspects of training. If you are having a problem on a certain exercise, put your dog away, step back and just look at the exercise or skill you are asking the dog to do. Is the desired outcome clear? Are there any grey areas you can remove? Ask a training partner if what you are doing makes sense. One hint, if you can not explain to another person (especially a non-dog person) exactly what you are doing or what the dog’s response should be, it probably is not clear enough.

As always, train hard, but play harder!!

 

Just ONE more time….

How many times have you been in a situation where things are just not going well? You keep telling your dog (or yourself), “Just do it right ONE time and we will quit!”. Things keep spiraling downwards and you finally decide to make the request easier for your dog to be successful.

Lets look at an example – your goal for the day was to build on the training from the day before and increase the number of steps of attention heeling. The training location did not change and there was no significant change in the level of distractions or your handling (dog has been off a visible lure for some time, but is still heavily rewarded during sessions).

After a few good reps, however, your dog regresses. All of a sudden they can not even heel a few steps without breaking their attention. After several failed attempts, you take a cookie out of your pocket and go back to a visible lure to get the attention you want. But did you really? Unfortunately, you don’t have attention, you have a bribe. Your dog is no longer heeling for you, he is heeling for his cookie.

So let’s look at what you have just taught your dog…you have taught him less effort equals my making the job easier. I am not saying you should not help your dog get the behavior correct. But what I am saying, is to work harder on motivating and reinforcing your dog for effort.

Ten years ago when I started training, I’m sure I pulled out a cookie…or I over-corrected and killed my dog’s motivation. So what would I do differently now? I would put my hands in my dog’s buckle collar, hold his head in position and require that he heel in the manner in which I taught him. After I got a few steps of good attention, he would be released with a motivational pop to a toy or cookie (which had not been visible previously). I would play for 5-10 seconds and immediately ask my dog to heel again. But now, I am going to ask for A LOT more effort. With Gunner this means a very strong hand push during heeling, which requires him to drive with his rear and elevate in the front. On the next rep, I will go back to formal heeling, and see if he gets me the level of attention and drive I want. If he does, he is released and we play a rousing game of tug or chase the cookie.

How you handle errors is a personal decision. Some people put their dog back in the crate if the dog does not want to work. Some people will attempt to work through the problem. I will occasionally put a dog away, but it depends on the type of error and why the error is happening. Unfortunately, I do not have the luxury at a trial to tell the judge “Sorry, but can I give my dog a 10 minute time out before I come into the ring?”, so I will often deal with a lack of effort error immediately during training. But, if you ever start to feel yourself getting frustrated and you notice that you are beginning to deal with your dog differently, than just put him away. I would rather cut a training session short, than cause myself another problem to deal with later.

But, always, always, always keep the desired criteria in mind. For example, if one of your criterion is 100% focused attention in heel position, require it (and reinforce it!) EVERY time you train your dog. If you start to layer in proofing, than maintain your criteria, but shorten the duration. If your dog is having a problem, work through it, but reinforce (not bribe) effort from your dog. And always remember, they are dogs. Just like us, they have bad days or days they just don’t feel like working. Hopefully these don’t fall on the day of the big show, but by working through problems in practice, you will lessen the likelihood of them occurring later…or, if they do happen, you will be more equipped with how to handle them.

Train hard. Play harder.