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I have two videos from our four runs (first and last). I hope they'll show the progress we made. Our first run was quite frustrating. Gimme never found a rat. I tried what I'd been working on at the last trial - walking away from her when she was barking at a spot, to see if she'd stick it for a real rat. It seemed to be working at the last trial, but not at all this time. Gimme finally sucked me in by barking emphatically at one spot and when I called it, we got our false alert.
I talked to Sandra about it since she got to watch this run. I love getting her perspective, since she has a good eye and makes astute observations. Sandra thought Gimme wasn't barking about rats so much as barking at and for me. She thought she seemed frustrated (her Achilles heel). Based on what she saw, she said it wasn't clear if Gimme understood what she was supposed to be doing in there, or if she was even enjoying it. So I recounted our history.
Awhile back it seemed Gimme was eager to get in the ring, but once she did she was more interested in getting out of the ring and back to the car, than to hunt. What hunting she was doing, was just hunting without indicating. I had a few judges say she found every rat, but just wasn't sharing the info with me. This makes sense, since the moment she finds a rat it gets taken away. Also all the edible rewards are happening back at the car, not to mention all the treats she gets for doing well in the blind. So in talking to Dennis, I concluded our reward system was broken. We can't take food in the ring, but we can praise and physically reward (in a limited way). So then I started taking the time with each find to really get excited and praise Gimme a LOT. And for a bit she did start indicating again and was clearly enthused about my wild-woman routine.
Then she started barking, but initially was barking for an indication (she used to paw). To be clear, she had barked a few times before this, but not like she has taken to doing. Her barking escalated and I started having problems trying to tell when she was indicating a real rat versus when she was barking in general or at other tubes. Which is kind of where we were with this run... Gimme started out quietly searching, but then she started barking a lot, but without any clear indication. She barked briefly on the big pile, but then left it. Then she picked another spot to bark about, again leaving it. She found another spot to bark, but left it even sooner. Where she sucked me in for the false alert, she checked a spot where there was a tube (2:18), then barked at it and barked at me without leaving until I called it (2:33). She barked some more after I chastised her for lying and continued to bark when we were shown a real rat tube. In studying this video, I don't see any difference between when she was false alert barking and when she was barking at a real tube. Do tell me if you see something different...
Sandra thinks we may need to get back to basics and has put me in contact with a group which holds regular practices on Monday nights. It'll be an hour each way. Fortunately Monday is one night I still have available in my schedule, so it looks like it'll be a good opportunity for us.
I think its possible Gimme is a bit confused about what the game is now. She likes it when I get so excited and act the fool, and may have wrongly concluded its her barking I'm excited about. So, I decided for the rest of the runs this weekend to pay no attention to the barking and would only call "rat" when I saw paw action. I don't care if she barks, but I want to encourage her to go back to her paw indications which were so clear. She likes to use her paws, so its not like I'm trying to get her to do something she isn't already inclined to do.
For trial 2, she found 2 rats and did the tunnel with a bit of encouragement. When she found the rats I encouraged her to "use your paws" and didn't call it until she did something with a paw which was oriented to the rat tube. I am sure everyone thought I was plum crazy for not calling it sooner. Once we got "yes" from the judge, I rewarded her with lots of praise, but not so over the top. I called it after the tunnel, even though I was pretty sure there was another rat (I was right)... but I was intent on celebrating after the tunnel and encouraging her to focus on me when I asked for it.
For the next day on trial 3 we were within one second of a Q. Gimme found two rats, using her paw a bit sooner with encouragement. Then she did the tunnel when I asked and we celebrated for that. I was almost ready to call it, when she got intent on another spot. I waited for paw action, called it and celebrated with her - then remembered I should call it. The judge called "time" just as I simultaneously said, "I'm gonna call...." So we didn't get the Q, but I was still ecstatic to see such good improvement.
For trial 4, Gimme was really slow to find the first rat; she was hunting, just having difficulty. After she got the first one, she got two more pretty quickly. Again there was barking, but for these rats, she was able to remember to use her paws without me reminding her. I was trying to get her to do the tunnel when the judge called time. She was quiet until she found the rat, but it took her more than 2 minutes to find the first one. It was less than a minute to rat 2. She actually found rat 3 pretty quickly but was in an awkward spot to use her paws, so I encouraged her to come off the stack and approach it differently and quickly got paws. I think the judge lost track of time based on the time on the video.
Honestly for the last run, I think she was just tired. Not only was this the second day of trialing and her fourth run, but we'd also been involved with weight pull both days during the lunch hour. So I'm still very happy with this run. BTW there were 4 rat tubes.
I notice in watching the video there are a couple things I need to change in my handling. I think I'm taking waaaaay too long to get her in the ring and undressed. Everyone has been very patient and nice about it, but this is something I need to do a different way so we can move things along. And I need to get comfortable with getting the rat tube, praising Gimme and holding her back as I hand off the tube. I see the rat wranglers are not entirely comfortable with her antics. I know she won't accost them, but they don't. I may try carrying the tube to the outside rat wrangler myself... since I could be verbally praising Gimme while I do it. All this is things I can practice with the Eatonville practice group