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Monumental A to Z High On Liberty

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tracking Genius (4)

We went tracking last Thursday (Feb 19th, but not this week) after RallyFrEe class.  Gimme did well, but we've now identified an issue to work on and another to watch. 

Our track looked like this: 

This track was beyond what we thought Gimme was ready for - it was more test than training.  It was an intense track of 460 yards, with multiple changes of terrain and cover, no aging, turns in both directions (5 left, 1 right), no food drops, food in articles, and following a bitch in season.  This field isn't part of the mole farm, so at least we didn't have a vermin challenge. 

When Gimme is having difficulty, her head comes up and she defaults to air-scenting.  On this course her head was up a LOT.  Many dogs are likely to miss articles when their head is up, but Gimme found all of them, regardless.  She has a very talented nose.  She's always had a tendency toward high-headed searching, which wasn't helped when our old nosework instructor was almost always setting high hides.  Back then I placed a lot of low hides in our personal training to encourage her to look low as well.  We don't have the problem in nosework now, since Dorothy is pretty conscientious about having a lot of variety and Gimme seems to really understand to check the low areas too.

Still this is going to present a problem to us in tracking, so when Nadine ran the track after us with her second dog, I walked behind her dropping treats in her footsteps.  The distance between food drops varied.  Most of the time it was 10 or 15 yards, but right after turns there would be two drops spaced at 5 yards.  When we did the track again, Gimme kept her head down much better and had a lot less difficulty.  

Our plan is to set a number of very long, more or less straight tracks with evenly spaced food drops.  By long, we are thinking roughly 300 yards.  Over time we'll space out the drops by varying some of them.

I've also noted a tendency in Gimme to track 2-3 feet left of the track.  This seems to hold true regardless of the wind/breeze direction relative to the leg of the track.  We aren't sure yet what this means, but Nadine did say she'd heard of other dogs who tracked to one side or the other of all their tracks.  Provided she doesn't go any further away and continues to get her articles, its just something we'll watch.

Gimme loves her articles and it doesn't seem to matter what its made of.  I haven't done any real training outside our tracking... just a lot of excited praise and metronome treats on the article.  I'm asking her to lower her front end to it.  Nadine wants her dogs to lay down, but I don't want to insist on a down, since we'll often be tracking in wet and/or very cold conditions.  Gimme also volunteers some paw whacks of the articles, which is fine.  

There is a training game we can do to work on article indication.  I'm going to a seminar well north of here this weekend and will spend one night in a hotel with little to do.  So we'll have time to play the game and see how it works.  

I have sent in my registration for a 1 day tracking  judges' education seminar, where I'm sure to learn a lot.  I've also registered us for three 3-day training weekends with Sil Sanders.  I'm very excited about the possibility.  
Between now and then I have already entered 2 barn hunt trials and have another on my list when it opens.  There are also a couple nosework element trials on the list, along with an NW3 trial.  The NW3 trial is right here in the neighborhood, so I thought I'd enter and see if we get in.  I wouldn't expect to pass, but it would be nice to get our feet wet close to home.  NW3 trials can only take 24 entrants and there are usually 5-6 times as many entries as slots, so chances are we won't get in.  At least this one is two trials back-to-back, so its a little more likely.  If I don't get in, we'll just wait until another one shows up close to home and try again.  
BTW I am still persisting on the physical training for myself - can't believe I've stuck with it so long.  But anything for the Empress of the Cosmos...

Saturday, February 21, 2015

RallyFrEe (3/3)

RallyFrEe (3/3) and a smidgen of nosework class...  

I've been thinking about my concern about the nosework back-to-baby-basics emphasis by our co-instructor.  My objection has been the tendency I've noticed after having already found an odor box and gobbled up the self-serve cookies, on Gimme’s second time back to the box she checks it for self-serve cookies and then quickly moves on.  I don't see this as a good thing.  So the solution I thought of and will try at the next class, is: when she is gobbling the self-serve, I will keep adding more treats; to keep her mindful of getting goodies from me, even after self-serve.  Hopefully then when she doesn't find the self-serve cookies, she'll pause, giving me time to pay up.

RallyFrEe class on Thursday morning was great.  Even though we had a skip week in there, I didn't get to work much on our two behaviors - due to a ten day migraine and extra work hours.  I talked to Kathy before class and asked her if there was time, for help repairing Gimme's "side" (offside heeling) behavior.

Our first behavior we were working on was to tighten up her circle around me from the offside position.  Gimme starts and ends in position, but is really wide in front and on my left as she makes the circle.  I tried to work on it once and Gimme just didn't want to - it was then I realized she needed to see Tonya for body and energy work.  It was a very interesting session.  Afterward Gimme did better, was more willing.  I then realized part of the reason she goes wide is probably because its her awkward turning direction.  I was able to show some improvement for class.  Kathy cleaned up some of my mechanics and we got even more improvement.

Part of the difficulty for me is using the clicker when I need to have my hands free to treat in any position and always wanting to make sure I'm not clicking in her ear.  It hurts my ears when the clicker is too close, so I think it’d be worse for the dogs.  Kathy suggested using a "mouth click" (making a click-ish noise with my mouth), but I can't due to the cleft palate. I've since experimented with a soft clicker I got from a friend.  I'm going to try to get a second one and a wrist bungee for each.  They are soft enough I wouldn't worry about clicking in Gimme's ear.

After this we worked on her "down" in the offside heel position.  I hadn't done this at all in the two weeks since the last class and even had to look it up on the blog to see what our second behavior was.  Its the down-stand behavior and I chose the offside position because it would be weakest.  To start with I need to simply get her to down and remain aligned in position, since she tends to turn her butt out about 45° as she lays down.

Kathy had me do it with some barriers set up.  At first Gimme was confused by the barriers, but then after she got used to them was fine.  In fact, she was so fine, the third time when we were approaching, Gimme ran ahead to lay down in the place I’d given her the cue twice before.  Even though it wasn’t what I wanted, I was happy to see her thinking and trying to be right.  Afterward we varied where on the barriers I asked her to down and she did great.  I need to practice this some more using natural barriers at home (different pieces of furniture) and then will start moving away from them and see if we can keep the position.

J’Anna, a classmate, wanted some help with her back-around and I wanted to play with the course Kathy had set up, so they went into a different part of the building so I could have Gimme off leash while playing with the course.  Gimme was distracted by the Shelties who kept getting up to look over their barrier, but once I spent a couple of minutes working on basics, she did well. I found she was popping forward of both “heel” and “side” and so missing cues.  For instance if the sign was a thru-transition and she doesn’t slow or stop with me, she is already too far out of position to do the thru when I cue it.  This is a symptom of her broken “side”, though this is the first time I saw it infecting “heel” as well.  Arrrrrgh.

Kathy was able to help me with this retraining “side”, which I’ve been trying to reteach the same way I first taught.  Kathy had me shape it, by capturing moments when Gimme passed through the position and gradually ask for tighter and tighter requirements.  I realized in doing this, I’ve been trying to work on too many criteria at once.  Since she used to know it well, I was getting frustrated when she would sit or forge past me or any number of things.  Gimme was well aware of my frustration and was avoiding me a little at those times when she thought it was most likely to happen – which was unfortunately adding to my frustration, thus we were in a downward spiral.

So the criteria for basic heeling, broken down to individual training items, is:
●  loosely in position
●  moderately in position
●  tightly in position

●  duration in position
●  slowing with me
●  speeding up with me
●  stopping with me
●  remaining standing after stopping (“side” position)
●  remaining aligned after stopping

Gimme was willing to move with me, but the moment I slowed or stopped would move away.  So Kathy had me abandon treating her in position and instead click in position and then throw the treat.  I can’t do this at home because our living room training area is too small (5x10 feet) and tossed treats too often go under furniture.  If we do it in the yard it would take forever waiting for her to find treats in the grass.  Then I remembered the seldom used tennis courts, just a five minute walk from the house.

During class we were able to shape up to moderately in position with a little bit of duration in position.  Kathy had me catch her in position, say the cue “side”, then click and toss the treat.  Tossing the treat meant Gimme got to run out and pounce on it, introducing a bunch of fun into the training.   Today we did a little bit of capturing of loosely in position during our walk when Gimme was able to be off leash, with clicks and tossed treats.  Later we did a session at the tennis courts and once she got acclimated, Gimme did well.  I got mostly moderately in position with a few tightly in position.  The best part was getting some instances of enough duration in position so I could click/treat in position and then after a bit more duration, click and toss the treat.  Gimme had fun and I was very happy with how it went.

I am very happy to have Kathy as a trainer.  She’s very insightful and completely reward based.  I am so glad to have her to train with.  I’m sure Gimme is happy to have her too – she likes having someone she can rely on to straighten me out when I get crooked.

Well, I promised Gimme another training session today.  Can’t keep the Empress waiting…

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Nosework (1/8 & 2/8)

We didn't have RallyFrEe class last week, thus no tracking either.  It was a perfect skip week, since it was the week before Valentines and I had a LOT of extra work to do, just to keep up with my accounts.  Gimme says she didn't sign on to be bored to death.  She is so mistreated.

I didn't post about nosework class last week because there just wasn't much to post.  We did three different searches, but they were all box drills and all went back to basics - i.e. right back to the first few weeks of nosework training.  We had boxes and other stuff, but there was tons of treats for self-serve in the odor boxes.  When the dog first found odor, we didn't have to do anything because they were self-serving treats.  If they went back to a box after cleaning it out, then we were to add more treats.  

Honestly I don't much see the point.  Sure its fun for the dogs and it builds value to odor...  but I'd think with several years of being paid to find odor and the NACSW obsession with pairing most of the time, odor should already have a lot of value.  If it doesn't, then a person needs to rethink how they are training and especially their reward system.

Then this week we started class with pretty much the same exercise.  Only this time it was outside along an exterior wall.  There were three boxes about ten feet apart, followed by three small containers about five feet apart.  All were loaded with the dog's treats so they could self-serve.  When we did this - I noticed I ceased to exist on the way down the wall and there was a frantic quality to her searching.  On the way back, I existed again, but I saw Gimme had a tendency to check the box and finding no self-serve, she moved on too quickly for me to add treats.  I fail to see how this is a good thing.

Fortunately we had other exercises to redeem the time spent.  

We did an exterior container search of 12 containers - 2 odors and 10 distracters.  Gimme did really well with this, though I flunked because I called alert when she really wasn't indicating.  I wasn't working my container plan, so it was completely my fault.  I did find the reason why I didn't work my plan kind of interesting.  The containers were on a sidewalk, two-by-two along the edges.  If I had found this same configuration on a floor, I would have walked the outside of the containers and I think I would have worked my plan.  However, for some reason, having this layout on a sidewalk, I felt like I had to walk down the sidewalk, which gave me little room to maneuver.  It was a purely unconscious constraint, which I didn't realize until after the search was done.

Our next search (second and third) was a two room search.  In both rooms there was an area by doors which was taped off to indicate it wasn't in play.  You will see this at NW3 level, where you may move from one interior search through a door right into another search area.  A dog might smell odor coming under the door from the other room and could chose to indicate it, as if it was an inaccessible hide.  In this case, both interior doors were taped off - one led to a room where used boxes are often stored and the other led to the next search area.   Also in the second room, there was a line of tape all the way across the room, dividing it in half, and the area on the far side was not part of the search area.  We could let our dogs cross the line, knowing there would be no odor there.  

Our job as handlers was to observe our dogs and be able to call at 1 minute in the first room and 2 minutes in the second room, if odor was present and/or if there were additional hides.  In the first room, Gimme nose-scanned the room and not finding anything of interest spent most of her time near the two doors.  She went around again and checked out the toys and then back to the area near the doors.  I called it "clear" and was correct.  

In the second room, I let Gimme go down into the area past the tape and watched to see if she was following odor back (she's done this many times, so I don't immediately assume she isn't on something) or just scanning.  When I decided it was scanning (head up), then I called her back.  Shortly after she found odor under a chair.  Almost immediately she went back to the area past the tape and wasn't prompt in returning when I called her.  Later Dorothy made a point - saying Gimme's failure to return the first time I called her was information - she was saying right then, "don't think there is anything there - gonna check here."  

From there I got her into the most forward part of the area, where she really hadn't searched yet.  She kind of sniffed around a group of boxes, but didn't commit to anything.  Dorothy explained, the day before there had been odor in the corner where the boxes were, so Gimme was getting something, but it was just very old lingering odor.  At just before 2 minutes I called "finish" and was correct again.

Normally we don't get this many searches, but there were only three of us in class last night.  So, for our fifth search, Dorothy put odor back behind the boxes attached to a broom handle, so we could see how our dogs acted around those boxes when there was really something there.  It was set up to be inaccessible.  Gimme came in and quickly went past the tape again.  Partly this is because the bathroom fan was on, so it was drawing scent toward the bathroom.  I called Gimme back and she quickly found the hide she'd found before.  She seemed tickled to find Dorothy "forgot" and left it there in the same place. Then she moved toward the boxes pretty much on her own, with just a little movement on my part.  She showed them how "inaccessible" is a matter of opinion, by shoving the boxes aside and accessing source.  

Ya gotta love her boldness.

We don't have nosework next week.  I do have RallyFrEe and tracking on Thursday this week and next.  I will be volunteering at an NW2 trial on Sunday morning, so maybe there will be something to blog about then too.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Tracking Genius (3)

We also went tracking again on Thursday.  Gimme did great, of course.  

Our track looked like this:

It was a fairly simple track.  Only 150 yards, no aging to speak of, all left turns.  For us the challenges were, the mole farm, no food drops, no food in articles, following a bitch in season who peed on course and the unknown challenge on the third leg.

Really the whole field is a mole farm - must be 100 mole hills out there.  I just draw in the part where they are the most concentrated.  Nadine got there before me and laid the track and was already running it with her old girl, Skookum, who has a TD already.  We ran next, then Nadine with Cricket, then Paula's dog, then Gimme again, then Paula's dog ran last.

Gimme paid less attention to the mole hills this time.  Given her vermin obsession, this is good.  She was more interested in where the bitch in season peed.  Even though there was no food on the course and none in the articles (for the first time) - Gimme did very well.  The only challenge was the third leg and all the dogs seemed to be distracted there.  With a little encouragement to get back to work they all did, but it was clear there was something there, even if we didn't know what it was.  This is a public park, so there could have been people walking dogs across where the leg was laid, but it shouldn't have thrown off Skookum.  Its a very rural area, so most likely some wildlife passed by there.  Its good to address these challenges early in training.

I haven't officially sent in my registration, but there are several really good tracking training opportunities this summer.  The first is a 1 day judges' education seminar which I can audit for just $60.  Its about an hour from here, so I can't pass it up.

The others are a series of three weekends late July and into August training with Sil Sanders.  He's quite a name in the tracking community and author of Enthusiastic Tracking.  I've met him at nosework and barn hunt trials and he's a very nice person.  The seminars are progressively more difficult.  I am pretty certain I will sign up for all three.  The first one will likely be too basic for Gimme, but I can always learn something.  Besides if Nadine gets the knee surgery she is expecting, it would be a good review for us.  The second weekend should be about right for us.  The third weekend is about VST training and he'll set the exercises according to the dog's needs - so we'll learn a lot there. There is also the opportunity for "extensions", to expand each weekend onto Friday and/or Monday.  Fridays are review days and since I'm taking these back to back and following the judges' seminars, I'll pass on those. The Monday extensions are another opportunity to train with Sil and work on individual needs, so I'm very interested in those.

This all promises to be a lot of fun.  I love Gimme's versatility and her enthusiasm.  Because she pulls so hard and it really made my back hurt for a week after last time, I've embarked on an exercise program to strengthen my core.  Its not like I'd do this for my own benefit, but I would for Gimme.

We have a barn hunt practice nearby tomorrow afternoon.  This will make Gimme happy - she's missed it.

Friday, February 6, 2015

RallyFrEe (2/3)

We continued with our work from last week.  Kathy had sent our video's to us and asked us to critique what we saw.  She asked us to review the video and make a list of 3 things we like and 3 things we want to improve for each behavior.  She also said we should make note of any pattern in our handling and the dog's attention, focus and teamwork across all of the behaviors. 

Then we were to pick two of the behaviors to work on.  I picked Down-Stand and Counter-Clockwise Circle.  I picked them because both had issues separate from the issue we are working on to tune-up our "side" (right side heeling).  For each of them we were to select one aspect from the "to improve" comments to work on first (which I've underlined).  Here is the analysis I did for both of them:

Behavior:           Down-Stand
♥ Like:                prompt and fast stand to hand signal; happy dog; eager to respond;
♥ To Improve:     start position – need to go back to basics on “side” to correct forging 

                          and shouldn’t need “wait” cue before down or hand signal for down,  
                          and down should be aligned in “side” position; want to get “stand” on a 
                          verbal cue; want ending stand position in correct “side” position 
                          (butt angled out even more than first time);
♥ Handling:        unintended shoulders/hips turned toward dog; need to reward faster 

                          and in position;

Behavior:          Counter-Clockwise Circle Around
♥  Like:              on verbal; no hand signal; relaxed and happy; 
♥  To Improve:   position at start is wide (more “side” work); doesn’t complete behavior 
                          first time and needed to lure with empty hand to get end position; and 
                          first half of behavior is too far from me - she comes in close to finish;
♥  Handling:      shoulders all over the place;

Then we talked about fluency and all the different parts of what makes fluency (not to be confused with stimulus control).  Generally Kathy has noted (as have I) as you improve precision, some of the other aspects clear up on their own because the dog gains confidence in what is expected.  Of course, this assumes reward-based training.  So, she recommends working on issues with precision first.  The six aspects of fluency are:
♥ Precision –   does behavior look like you want it to look like
♥ Latency
–      lag time for initial response to cue (one second?)
♥ Speed –        how fast does dog do behavior (time it takes to complete)
♥ Distance –    can dog do behavior at a predetermined distance
♥ Distraction
can dog do behavior in conditions in which you want it to happen
♥ Duration –     can dog do behavior for as long as you want it to (holding sits, etc)

Then Kathy coached each of us on how to work on the part of the behavior we selected to improve first.  What she suggested for my wanting to get the starting down position aligned more correctly is nothing I hadn't heard before - I just hadn't seen the issue, thus hadn't done it.  Its a matter of working beside a barrier or using a platform and training the down, so Gimme understands where to be.
Here is a diagram of our issue.  What I want is a nice tight circle around me (green line).  What I'm getting is the red dotted line.  My analogy is: Gimme is showing up for pay-day in "side" position.

What Kathy suggested for our issue with circle was a little different.  She started with using wire guides and just rewarding a lot in different parts of the circle.  I thought she was going to suggest gradually opening up the guides on the side where Gimme knows best (the end position).  It would start out looking like a "C" with just one panel folded open, then gradually fold back more and more panels until it was gone.

Instead Kathy's approach after doing many repetitions with the guides tight to ensure Gimme stayed close, was to expand the guide to form an egg shape or a bigger circle.  Then move me so Gimme had a choice about whether to stay tight or to go loose.  If she stayed tight, she was amply rewarded.  If she went loose, she got no reward and then we went back to using the guides to ensure she took the correct path before retesting.  Gimme seemed to be getting the idea, so we'll keep playing with it.

On an exciting note, just before class ended, a student from the following class came in with her dog and wanted to put it in a crate right next to where Gimme was.  My request to move away and wait until class was over or to put it in a different crate fell on deaf ears.  <sigh>  However at least she was willing to cover the front of the crate, so I'd have a little more maneuverability when we'd be leaving.  I could sure tell when Gimme realized there was a dog there.  She went from calm and collected to alert and ready for something.  I thought it was going to be a challenge when we left.

Instead Gimme walked away with me cool as a cucumber.  Of course, then I realized I'd forgotten my car keys, so we had to walk back to the crate, which was also approaching the dog in the other crate.  Gimme acted like he wasn't there.  I was very proud of her.  One of the other students has a reactive dog she sometimes brings to class and she noticed how well Gimme did and sent me a nice note about it.  Gimme got lots of peanut butter for her good behavior.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Nosework (6/7)

Gimme did great in class.  

We started with a blind exterior search.  She went from the startline directly across 35 feet to where the first hide was, she had it very quickly.  Then she moved over to find the second hide in a rack of PVC...  there were 9 racks.  This hide was inaccessible, but she identified its tube very quickly and demanded payment.  Then as we were moving about the area, she went to the space between the front 4 and the back 5 racks and tried to source it again.  I knew it was channeling because she was in exactly the spot where she'd found it before - just at the other end.  I let her check it out and after a bit she came out, went back to where she'd found it before, then just moved on.  I wouldn't have spent the time at it during a trial, but I thought it was valuable learning for her.  From there we started working the perimeter, when she made a bee line for another area across from us and quickly sourced and indicated another spot.  I am too slow to say "finish" - hope it doesn't cost us a Q some day.

Our next search was an interior.  They had set four hides and only showed us two.  There was also odor coming from the little refrigerator where they store odor, because the co-instructor was preparing the odors right there on the counter and we were told if they indicated it to pay there.  So we had the potential for five hides.  The point of the exercise was to show how there can be "invisible" hides, in this case an inaccessible hide at threshold.  Every dog who found it, got it later when they came back to it from the other direction.

Gimme did a good job and found all of them, even the invisible one.  It took her six minutes, but much of her time was spent licking her leg after getting paid with peanut butter.  And I wasted an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom with her.  She was all over the sink, the little trash can, a small shelf and the side of the toilet - going back and forth, but not settling anywhere.  After too long at this, I realized the scenario seemed eerily familiar.  It was very much the same as what happened in the hide we missed for the interior element trial.  Odor tends to drift toward plumbing and/or cold things like porcelain.  Just like in the trial, I'd gotten stuck standing watching her and was literally exactly between her and the hide.  When I realized the similarity, I moved and within 10 seconds she indicated source.  Too bad I didn't do it a minute sooner, eh.  But, at least I did catch myself...

Out of six teams, Gimme and Apollo (a deaf, white APBT) were the only ones to get all five hides.  Apollo was quite a bit faster, but then his handler is younger and faster and he doesn't waste 2 minutes getting rewarded.  No matter how you slice it though - Gimme is cuter...