Thursday, March 24, 2011

Obedience Class Week 3

Tonight was our last night of this obedience class session. Kind of a bummer. Kind of cool. My son, Zach, came with us and was a sweetheart videoing us a bit. As always, Laurie kept the class moving. We never stop participating which is nice. She also works with students a bit extra on what they have had no experience with.

When we first got there, though, I was starting to just practice heeling Leo next to the gates so he continues to work on being comfortable with them. Then I was going to work on stays and she asked us to come into the ring where she was working with another student, presumably in a private lesson. Her dog is having some trouble with stays, particularly stays with distractions. They asked me to heel Leo around in the ring, in front of the dog, etc. It worked out well to do that with Leo, combining my need to work him on attention to heeling and also halts, etc. Zach even got to play the part of a distraction.

Here are the things I'm proud of Leo for:

  • He's starting to take the dumbbell and hold, even for the briefest of seconds.
  • He offers attention often.
  • He's responsive.
  • He was excited to show up at class tonight - he knew where we were and was thrilled to walk in the door.
  • He understands recall and even that he's supposed to sit in "front." 
  • He's responding to hand signals for finish and "around." 
Areas we still need to work on:
  • Attention to heeling.
  • Long (and short) sits - he tends to slide into a down.
  • Working in close proximity - I'd still like to bring his heel in closer to me.
  • Dumbbell - a solid take, hold, give. 
  • Retrieve
  • Send over a jump and recall - promptness and not continuing to look for food.
  • Not paying attention to the person standing there in the figure-eight. 
We've just begun but it's so wonderful to have a plan and start to have a clue! I have such a willing partner I have no doubt as I learn he will continue to exceed expectations. It's exciting!

Our instructor has also made some changes to the classes she's teaching for the club. Instead of an afternoon class and an evening class, she's going to hold two evening classes. One will be for Novice/Open and the second for Novice. We'll be continuing in Novice this session. Since the classes are somewhat indefinite as far as I know, I'm excited to see what the upcoming months bring and hoping that when Leo can move up to the Novice/Open class, Vegas can move into the Novice class. We'll see. At the very least, I'll start renting some time at 102 to work the dogs in a ring.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

More Tracking!

Last night we enjoyed the gorgeous spring evening and went to the park again with a friend for more tracking practice. Leo was revved to go! He loves just about any outing, but something about tracking just gets him all excited. It's probably the food reward. :)

Luckily he got to be first. Pam double-laid a track with 10, 20, and 40 stride legs. The little stinker dug right in and plowed through his first one. If I had to estimate the time to lay track and the time to run it, well, I'd have to say Leo is at 30 second to five minutes. LOL. The second one he ran nearly as fast although he had a bit more drifting from side to side, of which I'm not 100% sure wasn't just picking up different scents and getting distracted. A couple of redirects and he finished it and was raring to go for more. He's such a great little worker!


I haven't posted any pictures in a little while so thought I would share last week's 52 Weeks for Dogs shot in honor of St. Patrick's Day.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A tracking we will go...

After stopping off and getting hair cut tonight I took the dogs out tracking. I had thought to take just Leo but Vegas was chomping at the bit when I got home and acting well rested and recovered. So after changing clothes and donning the dogs in their collars and harnesses, we were off. For most after work practices at least until the weather is a little more reliably dry and the days lengthen a bit more, we're mostly using the park three blocks or so down the street. It's convenient and only receives light use which minimizes distracting scents for end of day tracks. 

I brought along Vegas' choke chain and some chain lengths with snaps that I have used to secure things in the back of my truck and hooked Vegas up to the step bar on the side of the truck. She gets so worked up in the truck I thought this would work better where she could be outside and see me and the chain prevents her from both pulling and chewing through. Yes, she has that kind of anxiety. She still whined quite a bit except when I was walking the track back toward her, but at least she was secure and non-destructive. 

The first track was for Leo. He's the one that got the short end of the stick (pun not intended) over the last few days. The first for both dogs was a double-laid, straight track of approximately 15-20-30 paces. The track traveled along a fairly flat to lightly sloped plane until it dipped slightly downward in the latter 40 paces or so. We were moving toward the river and the air was still. 

I can't figure what it is but tracking seems to work the "pee" out of my dogs (and sometimes more). We had barely started the first track and Leo had to make a pit stop. Silly dog. Moving on, he nailed his track in fairly short order with little correction except when he got overzealous and drifted too far left or right. I'm still trying to primarily use neutral colored articles for Leo since I want no opportunity for sight-tracking. So far so good - he's an ambitious and energetic little chipmunk. I had to trot to keep up with him at one point. 

After Leo's first track was complete it was time to pick up the flags and articles and lay Vegas' track. She had basically the same track but about 25 feet west of his. She did really well on her first track - after she relieved herself. She didn't dilly-dally and seemed to dig in and "get it." 

Leo's next track I upped the ante a bit. I ran it parallel to the road (East > West), double-laid, crossed over some non-grassy sections under a big tree, and plotted the course about 20-30-40 paces. Unfortunately some idiot decided to rev his car and peel out backing out of his drive and then sit and idle for no apparent reason so we had some distraction in close proximity that made Leo more cautious as he regularly looked around to make sure nothing would "get" him. But he still plowed ahead and worked this one out. He really seems to be moving from side to side which our friend, Beth, said is a sign of really following the odor. By then the breeze was picking up a bit, too, and could have been carrying the scent up onto the road where it wasn't as detectable. He ended up getting it though and it didn't take too long either despite the distractions and increased complexity. I was very proud of my little guy!

By then Vegas was chomping at the bit for her turn. Boy does track laying take time in comparison with working the track! Back into the truck with Leo, off to pick up the flags and articles, and back out to lay Vegas' next track. I might as well note something funny here. I tend to wear running pants when I go out with the dogs around home. I don't often wear them elsewhere but they wear well with the dogs and are comfortable. In this case, they also have a nice elastic waistband that makes tucking articles in my pants (around my waist) easy. However, at one point I started feeling like I was losing gloves and debated the wisdom of elastic. I thought they might be slipping down my pants legs and becoming deposited randomly around the park. Plus, I must look funny putting things in my pants all the time. :) 

Next track for Vegas was a little lengthier and, like Leo's, ran East to West. I paced approximately 20-20-30 for her until I ran out of grassy surface. This one she nailed the first sections fairly quickly with me only having to stop and back up to redirect her once. The last leg was more difficult, though. The car was still idling with bass thumping, and there was a tree alongside our track. Apparently there were really good smells under the tree and there must have been excrement or something  else equally unsavory on the ground nearby, too, because I had to call her off a couple of spots to prevent rolling her clean self in it. The last leg was difficult. It took more than twice as long as the other track and the first part of this one combined. I had to redirect, and redirect, until I finally moved forward a bit and got her focus about 12 feet from the article. She still found it on her nose through tracking, but she needed some help. I'm not sure if her mind was shutting down or if it was the breeze that had kicked up throwing her off but I think we'll stick with simpler tracks for a while and not move ahead. I want it to be fun and for her to show the enthusiasm she does for nose work and agility. 

I really had to debate on continuing for Leo. He certainly still had more "go" in him but the wind was increasing which is made all the more worse coming off the river. However, Leo was really amped up and that made my decision. I tracked diagonally across the park this time in a southwesterly direction, about the only area I had left on that side of the park without moving the truck etc. Same as before, double-laid, four articles, and this time about 20-25-35. I definitely noticed Leo drifting to the sides more on this track but he did well. At the next to last article, he really was struggling and kept turning back up toward where we had come. I think it was the wind carrying the scent and he just couldn't pick it up again. I tried redirecting him a few times and about half dozen tries and just before I had decided I would need to back him up to pick up the scent on an article again, I got him on it and could see him dig in and follow through. He's such a cool little fluff-ball. 

And that was about it for the night. We headed home to make dinner and both dogs have been happily snoozing since. We got in just before the rain and enjoyed the fresh air while getting to engage their brains in an activity before relaxing for the evening. Happy Monday!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Obedience Class Week 2

Leo and I had our second obedience class last night. We've worked on the dumbbell all week, most every day. We brought it along to class but didn't get to it right away. Our instructor started out with us working with the jumps used in obedience. Leo was pretty nervous about the jumps. He never is in agility but these are quite a bit heftier. There's the bar jump which isn't a simple, small bar. It's square, larger diameter, and has dark black striping. Apparently that makes it imposing. Then there's the panel style jump. That's just not a style jump we've introduced yet in foundation level agility and he was uncertain about it. I finally got him to jump it when I went between the standards, too. Our instructor set a single, narrow panel piece out on the floor just for us when the others were working on the broad jump. We did recalls over the jump as well as sending them out to a treat with a recall front. He did that really well and was moving nicely. We'll need to work on coming to front both in a straight line at me as well as coming in as close as possible and being straight.

From there we moved into some other activities. She is really good about keeping us moving and changing up what we do. We worked with our dumbbells and showed a way to get the dog to take it by gently opening the mouth. I think if I keep working on it with him he'll accept that and start to learn how to do it. Even in just a couple three or four tries he was relaxing his jaw and settling his teeth.

She had us doing some recalls to front and a few more about turn exercises. She noticed right away most of the dogs were losing focus on the about turn and showed us a way to train it to retain they're attention. Gives me something to work on this week. We did the same with right turns and spent some time doing some right turn work in boxes.

One thing I really have to figure out is how to get Leo to stay in a sit when I put him in a sit. The little stinker is way too prone to slide into a down. I need to work on my commands and whatnot, too. That is, don't call out a correction as readily as I am prone to do. Walk back quietly and put him in position, give the stay command again, and walk out, etc. Plus, when he doesn't readily come to me - or even when he hasn't even had a moment to move - I need to remember not to pat my legs. I want to make it fun but those kind of things aren't "obedience worthy." *sigh*

I have a lot to learn but fortunately I am picking up some tangible things to work on at home and independently. I'm going to keep taking Leo for the next session/month and see what all we can improve on. In addition, our instructor gave me the name of an author whose books I'd like to check out. Apparently she's written some good books on training toy dogs in obedience. She (our instructor) readily admits to not having trained toy dogs - she has a Briard now - but is great about having asked others who have worked more with toy dogs for tips, etc. Looking forward to next week.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Obedience Class Week 1

Leo and I went to our first competitive obedience class Thursday night. First off I have to give a shout out to the dog club for a fantastic facility. Wow - it's great!

There are six other dogs in class - two Goldens, a Labrador, a Portie, and some other large breed, possibly an Anatolian Shepherd. Our instructor has a Briard. My understanding was that this was a novice level class. However, the other dogs in class - or at least their handlers - have a lot more experience than we do. They have attention during heeling, solid heels, and most can retrieve the dumbbell already (or will at least pick it up). We have our work cut out for us. We did a variety of things, starting with the dumbbell retrieve. Leo got to retrieve a treat and then a goldfish cracker. He did okay in that he came back to me. We need to work on his come to fronts so they're more prompt, don't involve jumping up on me, and are straight.

Then we moved on to some heeling, serpentines weaving amongst other teams, about turns, recall to front, attention exercises, moving out and returning to your dog, and much more. I can't even remember it all but the thing I was most proud of Leo for was his stays. We  did a fair bit of handler work without the dogs at one point and the dogs were all lined up along the long side of the ring, next to the gate, a couple of feet from each other, in down stays, and we were out in front of them doing about turns, etc for quite a while. Often our backs were turned and all the dogs stayed - including my Leo! He only got up once and it was only within a few inches or a foot from his original position, to sniff, and I was able to quietly get his attention and put him back into a down stay from where I stood across the ring. It was pretty awesome.

What we walked away with to work on right now includes attention exercises, acclimating to the dumbbell, and stays with distraction. Of course we won't success on all counts by the next class, but it gives us some things to consistently work on.

So far we've worked with the dumbbell twice. She suggested just using something tasty like squeeze cheese on it and letting him lick it off. I'm using the peanut butter flavored Kong filler stuff and he really likes it. So far so good. He's not afraid of the dumbbell, fortunately, he just doesn't get picking it up. Interestingly enough, Leo instigated an extensive game of catch at the office the other day, too, retrieving his mini tennis ball at least a dozen times down a long hallway. Hopefully we can continue that type of activity and I can use the same words I would use in obedience to start forming the association.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A TD in the Making?

Tonight after running home from work I quickly packed up the dogs' tracking gear and headed to the park to meet our friend, Pam, and dogs for some tracking practice. Leo had an opportunity just as dusk was fully setting in and the light was almost non-existent. We worked on 10-20-40s and I have to say, watching him work was exciting! He was really getting it and the first one was almost a complete snap despite the slight breeze blowing in off the river to change the air current and move the scent a bit. The second one he did well but really struggled on the final leg, although he was within a half dozen or 10 feet and then veered off course, causing a delay as I proceeded to rework the track with him. Now that I know he's not always sight-tracking (Thanks, Beth!), he's really fun to watch. It's becoming easier for me to catch his indicators and read his body language. At more than one point tonight he was all the way out on the 30 foot lead and I was having to fast-step/jog to keep up. Can't wait to keep practicing with Leo!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011