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!!

Bad days…

While listening to a podcast the other day while driving, I had to pull over to write down something he said,

“Don’t let your bad days make you lose heart, and don’t let your good days give you too much confidence.”

It sounded like he was quoting someone else, but it resonated with me. I sat in the car for a few minutes, thinking about the statement. Anyone who has trained dogs (or any animal for that matter) for any length of time, probably understands.

From the dog who suddenly “forgot” how to do an exercise, to the difficult dog who you have tried countless ways to explain exactly what you want and need from him. Sometimes, you just want to throw the towel in, get yourself a good book and find a shady spot on a beach somewhere. I mean, really, while people are out traveling the world and having exotic vacations, we are traveling to dog shows, living in hotels and eating meals out of food trucks.

But, those people do not get the high from feeling the connection to the animal beside them, strutting their stuff in heel position. They do not get to feel the love from their dog as he jumps up on them after a job well done. They do not get the satisfaction of finally seeing the lightbulb come on, after working countless hours with a dog on a new skill.

So, surround yourself with people who you can talk to on those “bad days”. People who will give you an extra little boost you need to try again or who will help you brainstorm yet another way to do something. Finding people who will be with you on the bad days, as well as the good days, are few and far between. But, these people are the important ones. This sport is hard to do by yourself, but it is not impossible. Nothing is impossible.

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!!

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!

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!