Titles Achieved to date...

Monumental A to Z High On Liberty
UWPCH, ADPL3(2), ADPL3(GC), NC, NI, NE, SCN, SIN, SEN and CZ8B... 45 and counting...

Thursday, June 21, 2018

TD/TDX seminar, Monday p.m.

Sorry to be so long getting back to this - sometimes life gets in the way. On this last afternoon we had two group exercises - expanding the search area and article circles.

Expanding the Search Area - Gimme is really good at doing her "search for it" circles and, in fact, in our Monday morning search, Sil highlighted Gimme's search circles as a textbook perfect example. So on Monday afternoon as he was talking about expanding the search area; imagine my surprise to suddenly realize I've been doing it wrong.

The ideal is to repeatedly turn ahead of the dog, opening-up the area in front of you to invite the dog to continue the circle AND to use the dog's motion to step backward in a way that moves the dog into another area (in overlapping circles) without appearing to guide the dog. Somewhere along the way, when Gimme was searching, I started switching the line to my other hand and backing around in a circle. For purposes of not-appearing-to-guide-the-dog, mission accomplished. Obviously it works for us, since it was so smooth Sil didn't even pick up on it. The shortcoming has to do with my not using my chest-pointers to invite her to continue into more of the circle (not evident because she circles so readily).

I've been thinking of why I started doing this and I think it's because I'm right-handed, so I do most of the line control with my right hand. For the most part, Gimme circles clockwise, so this leads me to doing a backward circle. I watched the video from Monday morning, because I know there was two odd instances of Gimme circling counter-clockwise. Sure enough, when she circles CCW, then I'm handling the line and using my chest pointers correctly. Going the other direction, it's as I suspected.

For the practice exercise I asked Maureen to be my partner, so she could coach me through it and I could get the feel of how it's supposed to be. As always she provided excellent instructions. What I realized is, when it's backwards I am the pivot point for the backward steps to expand the area. When I'm doing it correctly, the pivot point is halfway down the line between Gimme and I. I'm sure this explanation is confusing, but it's the best I have. I don't know if I'll manage to actually make the change, but we'll see. Some would say, "If it ain't broke - don't fix it".

Article Circles - I know we've talked about these before. I decided to do this as our final exercise because I knew Gimme was getting tired from this long weekend. It's an easy game, familiar rules and Gimme loves it, so I thought it would be a nice way to end the weekend before starting the long drive home. Earlier in her tracking career I used article circles to get her into her tracking brain.

I've included a diagram of what an article circle looks like. It could really be any shape - oval and serpentine come to mind. I once did a big serpentine L-shape, because it worked. The key things are: start with a start sock (yellow), legs are 20-25 yards, place an article (blue) in the middle of each leg and make all turns, no matter how slight, between articles (i.e. not AT the article). The dog gets to lead the show and is rewarded lavishly every time they find one.  If they skip one, it's okay, just make sure they don't backtrack to try and make it up.  You can continue right from the end over to the beginning, as if it never ended.

Gimme gets 15-30 treats and a party at every article, which is probably why she loves them so much. At trials is the only time Gimme won't be immediately paid with food for finding an article. She may think I've momentarily lost my mind, but she loves the work enough to carry her through my apparent lapse.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

TD/TDX seminar, Monday a.m.

For our showcase track today, I decided to again take advantage of strangers to lay crosstracks for us. I don't know when/how Nadine and I will ever have another chance to set this up.

The "M" over "U" crosstrack exercise has 8 crosstracks, 4 straight across (90º) and 4 angled (45º). It's an intense crosstrack experience. Here's a diagram of the layout:

Sil had talked about making sure we make the reward experience very valuable. I realized I'd gotten into lazy habits, so I was giving her treats one-by-one instead of by a handful - it takes a lot longer.

"M" over "U" track video -
Gimme was a bit slow to get started on this track and I'm not sure why, it's not like her. Then again this was the third day and she may simply have been a little tired. There is no sign on the video to show she even noticed the first 90º crosstrack, though I noticed a slight nose tilt at the time. She was happy to show me the first article. Gimme briefly got sucked in by the 45º crosstrack, but figures out on her own to go back to the good track and is quickly rewarded with an article. She got sucked by the next 45º crosstrack too. This time appeared she ended up somewhere between the crosstrack and the good track, until the next article pulled her back to the good track. She got totally pulled off by the last 90º crosstrack on this leg - using the whole line - oddly in the "wrong" direction. I re-scent her and cue her to "search for it"... she goes around twice then commits again to the crosstrack, but in the other direction. When the end of the line stops her, she comes back toward me and then picks up the good track right next to me and heads down the track to the next article.
She started on the left turn as if she was going to do a "cartoon corner" (as if you created a perfect corner in a cartoon), but then veered at an angle. I questioned her "is that the good track" and she pulled off it. One circle and she found the good track and motored on to the next article. She overruns the second corner and when she realizes it, she curves off to the side and right into search mode. She starts to commit in the wrong direction and when I question her, turns off it and continues her circle until she gets on the good track again.
She turns a little to the right (wrong direction) just after the first 90º crosstrack, but then goes back to the good track on her own and bim bada boom, there's another article and lots of treats follow. At the next 45º crosstrack, Gimme veered off the track, but not in any direction that actually followed the crosstrack. It would have come from our left front at an angle and passed to our right rear, Gimme turned to the right front, after the crosstrack. We tried searching, but she wasn't finding it. After I re-scented her she found it quickly. At the next 45º crosstrack, Gimme commits in the wrong direction. When she ran out of line, she happened to circle left (she usually circles right) and got right on the good track and quickly found the next article. At the final 90º crosstrack, Gimme again committed in the wrong direct and again turned left after she ran out of line, quickly searched and found the good track followed by the final glove.
Out of 8 crosstracks, Gimme reacted to 6 of them. Of these, Gimme committed in the wrong direction on three of them and needed my input to get back on the good track and for the other three she deviated in the right direction and then self corrected. There is no pattern as to whether they were 45 or 90-degree crosstracks. Hmmmmm.
This was about half the length of her longest track, but took her a lot longer than she's ever needed to finish a track - 19 minutes! It was a very intense track, with harder puzzles than she is used to, one after another. I noticed about halfway through it, the strength of her pull was less and she wasn't moving as fast either. This was a lot of brain work for my girl.

Comments from Sil and Maureen:
  • Typically as the dog sees more crosstracks on a particular track, they become more and more attractive, which was true for Gimme as well.  In time the dog learns and resists being drawn off their track, but Gimme hasn't had enough of those experiences yet. She'll need more experiences like this to learn she is responsible for staying on the good track, no matter what.  
  • Corner communication wasn't as helpful as it should be because we haven't done it enough when she was right, it wasn't creating the right association and thus she wasn't "answering" with a meaningful response.
  • He complimented my way of taking a few steps as I'm adding restraint and/or stopping Gimme with the line, so it's not sudden. However I need to consistently and accurately back up to recover the space given. Perhaps I should make a habit to count those steps out loud, so I can then know how many backward steps I should take.
  • Maureen and Sil both thought Gimme's search circles are a lovely example of what it should look like. In particular the first corner was textbook. Sil reminded us we used this same field two days earlier and at the corner where Gimme lined out in the wrong direction, it could have been residual contamination.  I'd forgotten this.
  • Maureen appreciated my smoother line handling. The glove didn't work from the day before. But, I found I could let the line slide across my right palm, while letting it pull through a somewhat tighter grip in my left hand. I added another knot near the end of my line, so when I felt the knot go through my left hand, I knew I had just 6 feet to get a grip or I'd lose it entirely. It felt good.
  • Sil talked about Gimme's mental fatigue. He wasn't concerned about it this time, because we knew we were pushing her during the seminar and he knows I'll make sure to build in some fun motivational tracks. He reminded everyone how important it is to strike a balance between challenging tracks and fun tracks, to keep from losing motivation.
This is one of the (many) things I love about Gimme. She's really very strong, so we can sometimes push her too far or too much and she'll still bounce back.  It gives me extra flexibility.  Her confidence and persistence compensates when my training doesn't follow the best plan. As I always say, she makes me look like a better trainer than I am.

Monday, June 11, 2018

TD/TDX seminar, Sunday p.m.

In the afternoon Sil discussed the difference between "helps" and "hints". Helps are the conscious things you do when your dog is having difficulty, so they can learn from the experience. Hints are often unconscious, though they can be intentional as part of teaching the dog a new skill. Looking at this list, I see I do all of them at one time or another. Hints need to be extinguished gradually so the dog becomes a self-reliant tracker. They include:
  • facing in the direction of a new leg before the dog searches in that area
  • anchoring or staying on the good track when the dog wanders to the side
  • quickly following the dog when he investigates the correct direction prior to her committing to it herself
  • taking some suggestive steps in the direction of the new leg
  • encouraging talk when the dog is searching in the right direction
  • increasing tension or checking the dog when he investigates an incorrect direction
  • negative sounding talk when the dog searches in the incorrect direction
  • the tracklayer or spectators moving quickly before the dog and handler fully commit to the new direction
After the afternoon lectures we all moved to a large field, then laid and ran a contamination track exercise. The participants were divided into two groups. Sil and Maureen each laid a track. Then each group laid contamination on one of the tracks and afterward ran the other track with their dog.

Black solid is the dog's track, black dashed is the path off the field. Red (and red variations) are the contamination tracks. The two tracks were set up well apart. Then the two groups of contamination layers walked up the middle between them, turned toward the track and laid three lines of contamination crossing the track. The first two lines we walked as a group (multiple lines), in a gaggle, so there were multiple sets of footprints close together and crossing the track. The third line we walked single file (heavy line) like baby ducks.

We were instructed to allow our dog to use as much of the line up to the full length, to investigate the contamination.  Then if they were unable to figure it out, we were supposed to reel them in and give them progressive helps until they committed to the right track. There were three articles placed strategically to reward them after they successfully moved beyond each line of contamination. 

Gimme and the other more experienced dogs were able to work through the gaggle contamination. Every dog, Gimme included, got sucked in on the very strong scent of the third contamination line.

It was a fun track to do, though challenging for me since I was wearing thongs and Gimme was impatient with how slow I was. I didn't have any dry socks and did not want to get my only pair of shoes wet in the long wet grass. The muck boots were still too wet to use from the morning's adventure.  I think I need to stash a couple pair of dry socks in the van, for days just like this one.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

TD/TDX seminar, Sunday a.m.

On Sunday we weren't scheduled for a showcase track.  Showcase is where everyone watches, following along with Sil and hearing his commentary. As with everything, you can learn a lot by watching, if you know what you are seeing. I was assigned a field for a "peer track". This means I could find someone else in the seminar who is also a peer tracker and we could go off on our own and lay tracks for each other. I asked Maureen if she'd like to be my tracking buddy and she was happy to do so. She is the mentor who was concerned about my line handling and I wanted to try a gloved hand and see if it was better. I asked her to work in some change-of-cover obstacles.

My Seaside Adventure

It was a very wet and rainy day. I was wearing my knee-high muck boots and my FrogTog top, which I thought would keep me plenty dry enough. Maureen asked me to lay a track including a segment up on top of the dyke. We thought there was a place to get up on the dyke in a spot we could see. When I got there, it looked like it was just really tall grass coming up from the cow poopy-water ditch. There are ditches all around these fields to contain the run-off from the recycling of cow poop as fertilizer and there was no way I wanted to chance falling into one. So I turned slightly right and followed along the side of the dyke (separated from it by the ditch) until I found a way up. Maureen had indicated there would be a way down to the south, so I turned left along the top of the dyke. I walked forever, laying down an article (4) every 100-125 yards.

Then I walked a lot further and finally had to give it up. I was behind another farmer's property and we didn't have permission to access it and even if we did get down there, a cow poopy-water ditch separated us from the property we were using, which would have meant a 1-mile walk out to the road and back.

By this time I was cold to my bones and completely soaked from the waist down. My pants were so wet from the shoulder high grass on top of the dyke.  They soaked up water from the grass which ran down into my boots. My boots were soon full to overflowing. After all the "pain" laying this track, I didn't want it to go to waste, so I used my cell phone to call Maureen and suggested she run the track and I'd wait for her and Griffin at the end. She had to return to our cars to get Griffin and the track was very long, so it was about 30 minutes before they got to me. Meanwhile I sat on the big rocks on the other side of the dyke, looking out over the low-tide mud flats. Thus the reason for the name "seaside adventure". Maureen found the way down as they were tracking along the top of the dyke, so on the return trip, she let Griffin lead us through it.

So, two lessons learned. 1 - Always carry your cell phone, always. If I hadn't had mine and Maureen hadn't had hers, I would've had no choice but to walk back the way I came, ruining the track - a terrible waste. 2 - If the weather is inclement, wear all your rain gear. If I'd had my rain pants on, this would have been very different. As it was, I didn't have 90 minutes to go back to my hotel room for a change of clothers, so I ended up stripping from the waist down and wearing my FrogTog pants for the rest of the day and flip-flops on my feet.

I was wet, cold and exhausted (the water in my boots made them very heavy).  Even so, I ran Gimme on the track Maureen laid. There were lots of articles, so if it became too much for me, I could have stopped at any article. The track was a long series of obstacles, in the form of changes-of-cover. Gimme did very well, even despite having a heavier anchor than usual.  The gloved hand didn't help. 

Maureen took video of the track, with a commentary. Unfortunately there are some problems with the video. It is downloading as slow motion, so it's not really usable. We are trying to sort out a better option. If we get a resolution, I'll post more about this.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

TD/TDX seminar, Saturday

I've been looking forward to this seminar for many months.  We have another seminar on urban tracking in late July.

Although we've been doing some crosstracks, I wanted to take advantage of having strangers lay them.  When Nadine and I have set crosstracks for Gimme, my crossings have been perpendicular to her track, so the easiest kind for success. Thus I selected an "X" over "U" track to make it a more challenging angled crosstrack. This would be her first opportunity to have a crosstrack that was so much younger than the track, an hour after the track was laid, and laid by two complete strangers.  Here is a diagram for the setup.

Our instructions were to let the dog commit to the crosstracks as much as they wanted, up to the length of the line, while remaining still on the track (completely marked - you'll see Gimme walk right over a flag) and then use the hierarchy of helping techniques to give the dog information about the right decision. These helps are:
  • face in the correct direction
  • restraint
  • reel in and re-scent
  • reel in and point to the correct track and direction
  • reel in and love the track
In the critique Sil let me know I had three issues:
  1. I have "happy feet" - I'm moving around too much when Gimme is working out a challenge. I know I typically move more than usual when I'm stopping Gimme as she commits in the wrong direction, to give her a softer stop on the line and I thought I was backing up to "own my spot". Sil said this wasn't what he saw.
  2. On one corner Gimme started in the wrong direction and Sil said I stopped her with line pressure too soon, so she didn't get the chance to solve it on her own.  In the video I saw Gimme had started to circle and then turned back and took up the correct line.  This happened so quick I'm sure it wasn't apparent to onlookers.
  3. And, I wasn't using good verbal corner communication.
"X" over "U" track video - We started the first leg with the wind at our backs. Gimme does a back-and-forth serpentine over about half of the first leg, kind of her usual, which settles down quickly. She's completely into her track and so, there's no overt sign she noticed the first two crosstracks. She missed her second article, turning off the track right as she gets close to it. I think I remember some tire tracks there, but I can't really see them on the video. Where Sil thought I stopped her from going in the wrong direction on a corner, it looked to me like she was starting to circle and then turned back on her own. I definitely see the tire tracks on the third leg, about 10 yards before she gets distracted and then gets tangled in the line.

Gimme is about 5 feet to the left of the track when she crosses the third crosstrack and goes about 30 feet beyond it and stops to pee. Since she doesn't immediately continue down the track, I circle her (she almost always goes clockwise), which means as she comes around again from the left, she hits the crosstrack before the real track. I let her use the whole line to investigate. When she comes back I re-scent her on the start article and then she takes off down the real track and is quickly rewarded with another article. Gimme ignores the next cross track, then inexplicably loses the track about 30 yards from the final glove. She searches and then goes to the end and I reward her by letting her clean out all the treats I have left.

She loses steam on Monday's track too.  Sil thinks it's mental fatigue.  After all, this is a lot of concentrated work.

The video quality is challenging. It would be more valuable if I commented to myself about what I'm seeing.

Maureen, one of the mentors, has concerns about my line handling. She doesn't like biothane leads because they are too "sticky" and tend to create a stuttering effect, instead of having the line slip smoothly through my hand. I like biothane precisely because it's sticky, since it doesn't require as strong of a grip to hold onto. She is concerned the stuttering may distract Gimme as she is working out some of the more subtle challenges in these advanced tracks. So I'm going to try working in gloves and see if it helps. I think I may try just one glove on my left hand, so I can still have the full sticky grip when I need it.