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Monumental A to Z High On Liberty

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Nosework (3/18)

We had three exterior searches tonight.  In the first two we were to work with a really short leash (3-5 feet) and the third search we could use as long a leash as we wanted.

Exterior search 1 video  We weren't supposed to take them up to the two garage doors because there were metal shavings by the doors.  I'm the only one who actually kept my dog out of those areas.  Gimme found the first hide really quickly.  From there we checked the perimeter around the search area and then I started a bit of roving diagonals to check the middle area.  Dorothy said the first time we went under the window that Gimme wanted to search around the corner and more in the area, but I don't see this on the video.  To me it looks like there's a little slack in the leash when Gimme decides to come away from the corner of the building.  I'm not sure why she didn't catch it and I don't think I pulled her away from it.  It was a big area to cover in just 3:00.

Exterior search 2 video  Gimme was a bit distracted from the startline and again as we got to the far end of this little search area.  You see she completely gets into work once she gets close to odor.  After we had checked the other area, I took her back to the area where she'd been looking away, just in case there was something there she missed.  She actually found the hide fairly quickly, but I used up all the time making sure she covered the area.

After I took Gimme to the car and was walking back over I saw two small things moving along in an area just across the cul-de-sac from where search 2 was set up.  So I'm thinking there was some vermin/critter nearby and she smelled it.  To her credit, she was able to let go of the critter desire when she got closer to odor.

Exterior search 3 video  There were two hides and we were allowed to use any length of line we wanted.  Because it was a large area, I opted for my 25' line, but I really didn't need it.  The 12' line would have been fine.  Gimme did a very nice job and found both hides in under a minute.

When I took her back to the car, I took her harness off.  This way she knows she's done searching.  Apparently she wanted to search some more because she fussed and yodeled the rest of the time while the other dogs were doing their searches.  She made it pretty clear she saw no point to waiting around if she wasn't going to do any more searches.

In case you missed it - we got into an NW3 trial this Saturday.  So feel free to start crossing fingers and other body parts any time you want.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Parkour (5/2)

So sad to think we only have one more night of class.  I think I already mentioned we won't be continuing with the group class.  Its on a Sunday night and with this being the show season, I'd be missing so many classes.  I tried to work a deal with the owner, but she's unwilling to compromise and I'm unwilling to pay the full amount for something I'll only get half of.  I'm talking with the instructor about taking a monthly private lesson.

Class last night was challenging in so many ways.  I had a migraine after going to see my Dad for Memorial Day.   Its always emotional for me and this was no exception.  Things which are hard for me always affect Gimme and she was quite upset.  Probably not the best idea to go to Tahoma on the way to class.  Gimme and I had a big hug-fest and agreed we'd let-it-go and have fun in class.  Despite my best intentions, the migraine declined to be let go.

I also decided not to take Gimme's soft crate into class.  I brought lots of bedding to put under her matt, so it would be inviting.  I also set up a visual barrier for her.  She actually did quite well in this respect, even though at times the other dogs were only 6 feet away while they did the course.  

Class was all about getting the dogs to be more controlled, stimulus control vs offering whatever behavior they want.  Session 1 video  For the first session, we had a board and were to start with having the dog sit before getting on.  I was very proud of Gimme for not reacting to Jo's dog which barked loudly when she approached the board.  She did well, learning to win by waiting for me to suggest what was going to work.  As we all know, this is against her natural inclination. 

Note the woman moving her dog - I love this gal.  She never has to be asked, is always on top of things, thus I never have to worry about her dog.  In our first class her dog wanted to give-eye to Gimme and she put a stop to it right away.  Jo is always so good about reminding me to feed the right behaviors, as I have a tendency to feed everything.  She's really a very good instructor and has a good eye for details.  Session 2 video  At one point Gimme is in a down and I keep cuing "stand", but she's so busy offering me sits and downs, she doesn't actually tune in to what I want. 

Gimme is usually very good on the ladder, but she had trouble tonight.  Session 3 video  Partly she was in food mode and partly its because there is another dog so close (about 6 feet).   When she started getting really tense, I pulled her off the ladder and massaged her for a short bit and then she shook it off and was much better.  Jo suggested I deliver the treats to the far side so she would be less likely to turn toward me and would be more balanced.  I couldn't see Gimme's back feet to know when she had them up on the ladder rungs, so Jo was saying yes" for me. She also suggested I make Gimme wait for the treat to come to her instead of always moving toward it.  This will be a hard habit to break for both of us. I did a little Doggie Zen to help Gimme understand what I wanted.  

Session 4 video  For this fourth session, Gimme got on the board before I cued it.  So I had her get off and then got sits, over and over, closer each time - just to help her understand to wait for me.  You know how she loves to drive the train.  Still, she did really well with this - you can see she's getting the idea.

Session 5 video  Gimme likes getting on things.  I'm not sure why she got so tense on the one disc, since this normally doesn't faze her in the least.  I think sometimes when they get tense and the surface starts vibrating with them, its not easy to stop.  I wish I had massaged her sooner.  It seemed to help right away. 

Session 6 video  Gimme always likes to use any opportunity to give Jo kisses and being on the scaffold is always a good one.   Besides, she deserved a reward after bypassing the chance to offer "box", her favorite Parkour activity.

This time she was cued to "box".  Its was a challenge to not go on ramp straight ahead as she exited the box.  She did a nice job all around here and its obvious she is really thinking about what she is doing.  Session 7 video

We had a whole course for the last video.  Session 8 video  There is a blue page in the middle where I cut out 40 seconds which fell outside the camera range.  We were to leave the props and get our dogs to go around a large cone.  Gimme just had the absolute hardest time with this - not even able to follow a lure.  She really was confused and didn't know what to do.  To a large extent I think her brain was simply used up.  This is also the behavior we discovered had disappeared following her seizure March 25th.  Both "cane" and "orbit", behaviors to circle around something (CCW and CW) have completely disappeared.  Following prior seizures, behaviors lost their link to the verbal cue and had to be refreshed in each training session for awhile.  For these two, its not a matter of refreshing, rather I am teaching them from scratch and its been a very slow process.  Ordinarily I would have given her a break, but I knew we'd be moving to easier stuff and she'd get to end on a good note.  So I lured really slow to get her through it and then we went on to the easy stuff.  

I've never seen Gimme this brain-tired.  She slept soundly all the way home.  I called her name once and didn't even get an eye flicker.  I think this was a really good class for her and one with potential to help her learn to think in other situations.  Sure wish we could continue in Jo's classes.

BTW when I got home last night, it was to a notice we'd gotten into the Salem, Oregon, NW3 trial next weekend.  I sure never thought we'd get in there, since we started at #55 on the waitlist.  Start crossing your fingers now - we'll need all the help we can get.

Friday, May 27, 2016

What's in THERE?

I've often wondered what goes on in Gimme's mind.  On the other hand, there are definitely times I'd be afraid to know.  I just know she thinks about things, more than any dog I've ever known.

Recently with Kathy's help, we've been doing some back-to-basics training, with the goal of finding games and strategies I can use when Gimme goes into Mommy-brain.   With the intense false pregnancies she gets and resulting Mommy-brain for 6 weeks, I lose a lot of training time.  Losing 6 weeks out of every 6 months is bad enough, but its the backsliding which is really hurting us.  The ups and downs with her anti-seizure medication makes it worse.  So our goal for now is to just find a way to prevent backsliding.

Recently Kathy has coached me into a better way to reward Gimme for finding "heel" and "side" positions.  We are trying to make them super valuable.  Basically I'm tossing a treat and then rewarding strongly when she gets to whichever position I cued.  Some of her best treats aren't workable because I can't hold them in my mouth, or they melt, or are too obvious.  So mostly I've been using jackpots - five treats given one at a time.  I know the experts say jackpots don't work, but they haven't met Gimme.  Tonight I used some raw trimmings from steak, which Gimme clearly loved.

My living room is small and most of the time it looks like an explosion went off in a toy factory.  Gimme likes having all her toys on display, all over the floor.  Before we can train, I have to pick up all her toys and put them in one of her four toy baskets, or risk breaking my neck tripping on them.  The rest of the time I ignore them.  So, Gimme knows we are about to do some training the moment she sees me gathering her toys.  In the past, as soon as our training sessions ended, Gimme got really busy getting her toys out and scattering them all about (she has to play with each one, so this can take awhile).

Over the last week, Gimme is no longer getting all her toys out right away.  Sure she gets out a few, but the explosion-at-the-toy-factory decor hasn't been in evidence much this week.  And most unusual, sometimes she just sits next to the toy basket watching me intently. 

My sense is she is inviting me to train.  Its as if she is saying, "See, basket full, floor is clear - let's train something."  I haven't done anything when she does this, i.e. I'm not leaping up to respond to the hypnotic suggestion "training time".  And yet, the behavior persists.

What does it mean?  And most important - am I still in charge?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Urban Tracking (14)

Today we visited the new site - Auburn's Game Farm Park.  What a great place to do sports field tracking.  There are so many possibilities and plenty of room for us to work, despite the restricted areas.  This will be a great opportunity to lay tracks near distractions, with contamination.  There are oodles of obstacles as well.

Nadine set up a great track for Gimme.  Before we even got to where our track started, Gimme was busy following Cricket's two tracks and she was dead on them, as well as the connecting path between them.  She stopped to search for every place an article had been.  I need to ask Sil if I should allow her to do this or not.  She could have been a little tired and her nasal passages a bit dry before we even started her track.

The track Nadine laid for us was 400 yards, 5 legs, in cool and dry conditions.  We had two narrow cement crossings, one a driveway and the other a cement path.  The bad news is that Gimme's track got waaaay too old before we got back to it.  It was 1:10 and she's never done a track that old, much less in short grass with dry conditions. 

I decided to give it a go anyway and she was challenged from the start.  Her strongest areas were the two cement crossings. She had real difficulty with the third turn.  Instead of turning left she was repeatedly drawn straight ahead and toward the low cement wall/walkway 10-15 yards away.  Twenty yards on the other side of the wall was a thick forested area and a river on the other side of that.  There was a steep drop off from where we were, through the woods, to where the river was.  

In any case, Gimme was getting very frustrated and looking like she was thinking of quitting - in one case she laid down in front of me, which she never does.  I'm sure the age was a definite factor.  I got her up and tried rescenting her, but she still couldn't figure it out.  So Nadine guided me to a spot where she knew we were exactly on the track and I put down the sock when Gimme wasn't looking and basically restarted her from there.  She was brilliant from there to the end.  At least we were able to end on a positive note.

The wall/walkway-forested-area-river was similar in terrain and distances to the river we track by all the time at Flaming Geyser which hasn't been a problem for the dogs.  We weren't sure what the difficulty was, since the wall/walkway was a bit away from where we were asking her to turn (10-15 yards or more) and the forest was another 15-20 yards past it.  We had a similar turn on another area which I'd set up for Skookum and she too had trouble and it looked very much the same.  Skookum's track had only aged 20 minutes, so she was able to work through it.  

In retrospect, there were a quarter-million squirrels in this park, so it may have been a vermin issue.  Our dogs all ignore moles, but squirrels are different.  Gimme thinks they are close cousins to rats doncha know.  

Gimme's last two tracking experiences haven't been as much fun as she normally has, so we will definitely make sure her next one is simpler and very motivating. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Nosework (2/18)

Class tonight actually followed the pattern I suggested last week and guess what - the dogs improved each time they came in the search area, regardless of whether they were or were not on leash.  Hmmmm.

Interior search 1 video  Again they'd set up a chaotic search area.  The first search was four hides, three minutes and on leash. Gimme only found 3 of the 4 hides in 3:00.  She was working well throughout, but I had the sense she wasn't completely focused.  The second time she went to the crate with the dog bed in it, I really got stuck and just sold her on it, so the false alert was my fault.  If I had kept moving, I don't think that would have happened.

Interesting note, Gimme was the first dog (she was the third to search) to show any real interest in the crate.  After she did, the others all became fascinated by it.  In the second search the two dogs who'd been before her during the first search were suddenly interested in the crate.  Gimme doesn't really pay much attention to it in later searches and not at all during the last search.  The other dogs all checked it for every search for the rest of class once Gimme did.  She's a real trend setter, doncha know...

Interior search 2 video  The second search was the same hide locations and again on leash.  As handlers we were supposed to organize our search and try to shave 30 seconds off our time.  Gimme very briefly checked the crate and dismissed it right away.  I'm not sure why it took her so long to sort out where the metal chair hide was, but it did seem to be a challenge.  In the prior search we never got to the front part of the room where the broom hide was.  This time we got all four hides in 2:35. 

Interior search 3 video  The third search, the hides were moved and the dogs got to go off leash.  Gimme did a good job and was very on task.  She paid no attention to the crate this time.  Found all four hides in 2:25.

Interior search 4 video  For the fourth search, the hides were in the same place and we went back on leash.  Gimme found all the hides in 1:31, which is a big improvement.  For this search she was very calm and focused.  She never even looked at the crate this time.  

We went for a 5 mile walk this morning.  Now Gimme has been snoozing contentedly ever since we got home.  I'm going to join her on the couch now.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Urban Tracking (13)

Turned out to be unlucky 13.  We had a really cool exercise for the two more advanced and talented girls, Skookum and Gimme, and neither did very well at it.  Skookum did better by a little bit.  Gimme was just in lala-land.  It had been six weeks since they'd done urban, so perhaps their skills were rusty.  Gimme was in season and it just may have been "THE day".  Weather could also be a factor, since the conditions are pretty dry and there would have been more damp in early April.

We are going to do a similar exercise next time, just reversing the plot so the turn is away from the curb out into the open.  Gimme had done one of these at the Basic Tracking seminar and she was brilliant.  Hard Surface Turn Against the Curb video  So I was surprised to see her have so much trouble this time.

The tracks were 20 yards from open concrete up to a curb with a turn and then 10 yards to the article.  The spacing between the tracks was greater than I've shown here.  The dogs ran the youngest track first and then the next youngest, through to the oldest track.  So each track was a few minutes older than the one before.  The first track was 24 minutes old and the last track 32.

Multiple turns against a curb video  Gimme's first run was the best.  The second was okay.  By the third run it seemed she was pattern trained and wanting to just go to where she thought the glove was.  The fourth segment of the video is her 4th/last run of the right turns.

We'll just have to see how it goes next time, which may be as soon as next week.  We are trying to schedule it so we are there on Thursday, so we miss the parking lot sweeper and all the 18-wheelers running over our stuff and smashing it to bits.  Of course it may be a moot point, since Nadine found a place with some sports fields we can use.  So we'll be switching gears and doing the sports field tracks to get caught up.

In any case, even if it wasn't Gimme's best effort, she still had fun and was happy afterward.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Tracking Pictures

We ended up with a lot of pictures from this seminar.  The first surprise was when I opened my goodie bag.  There was clothespins, a scarf, clippies and special Dalmatian construction tape.  Talk about feeling special...

Stella Rowlett took the rest of these pictures and shared them with me.  She says Gimme
is "beautiful", so obviously 
we all know Stella is a genius.  
Just sayin... 

These first pictures are from Saturday's track.  
Gimme isn't very patient about waiting.

What's the delay here?
Mom, we're here, I'm ready... let's go!
What's this?
Nevermind, follow me.
Mom, glove here!

After the track on Sunday...

We could go again...
or play...
Will trade for cheese.
Wind-blown is a good look for me.
Mo' cheese please.
What's that?
A bunny?
I could catch it...
Did you say "tug"?
Sure, and I'm gonna win too...
Hold on Mom!
I'm winning...
Chillaxin' after my victory tug.
That was fun...
...but, too short.

She's right, I AM Beautiful!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

RFE Practice (16)

On Thursday we had our regular every other week RallyFrEe practice.  In some ways Gimme did much better than she has been doing.  

Session 1 video
Our first session went well.  I had stashed treats around the room, so I expected Gimme to be distracted by them as she smelled them.  The first stash was right inside the door.  If she was distracted, I gave her a moment to recover and if she didn't, I moved us farther away until she had enough distance to recover.  Pulling hard toward a distraction, making the leash straight, also caused me to move farther away.  Gimme really seemed to understand the message from this approach, so often we were able to walk right by the distraction afterward.  Stuff at the far end of the room  has always been more distracting for her - probably because its where the day care and people coming and going happens.  We worked distraction for 3 minutes.

When we worked the course, I planned to ask for more attention duration in "setup" and to use more movement throughout.  Kathy and I are working together to find the best combination for Gimme, now before Mommy-brain hits again.  She thinks the short distances of heeling in RFE between stations is disruptive to focus for Gimme, so I am trying to do extra loops of heeling between stations and whenever she seemed to lose focus.  I thought it worked well.  The day care dogs seemed especially noisy today.  Also as we were trying to do the second station this guy came to take his ladder away (4:20).  I had stashed a pile of treats on it and he moved them to the table.  I did notice in the video I was having her come toward me and then switch sides before heeling.  I want to change it up so I heel away on whatever side she comes in on and then change her to the other side, if need, at a point farther away, so its smoother and she gets the moving benefit closer in time to the distraction.  I think this works a whole lot better than backing up to reset for a station.  In hindsight I realize we've done mostly Sit Stand, instead of the Down Stand station, so its something to work on.  We haven't practiced the center-front-pivot in a long time, so I was happy it went as well as it did.  I see I "forgot" to do a heeling loop once I got into the diagonal of the course.  We've been struggling with the figure-8-2x for awhile, so I was pleased she was able to do it here with my new cuing.  None of this was brilliant, but I did think she did better and seemed to be happier and more confident, so we're headed in the right direction.  I was sure surprised to see it was a 15 minute session.

Session 2 video
The issue I was having for the "turn" is the tightness of her turn.  I want her to turn tight to the right for the spin on this side, just like she does "spin" on the other side.  Instead her inclination is to take a step or so forward before turning.  Its something we've been working on.  I think it takes me too long to switch gears when something isn't working.  Gimme seemed distracted from the start and yet it takes me 3 minutes to switch to more movement oriented work.  At 4:00 the guy comes back with the ladder.  He proves very distracting to Gimme so we move toward the other end of the room and later even farther still.  From there we just worked heeling and attention and pretty much gave up on doing stations.  I'm just not sure why she was so unfocused this time since she's usually better on the second session.

Session 3 video 
Since I was expecting her to be distracted, I just came in and started with focus work right away.  I should probably do this more often.  I thought this was the cleanest of the three sessions.

On Friday (the next day), Nadine and I met for an urban tracking session.  Gimme didn't do nearly as well as I've come to expect.  Granted, its been 6 weeks since we did urban, so she's had time to forget some.  But, I think she may have been on "THE special day" of her season.  This RFE practice was only the day before, so she may have been more distracted because of this.  Just a thought.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Nosework (1/18)

We had two interior searches, which all the dogs worked really fast so it ended up being a really short class.  The room was set up with all the stuff in the middle of the room, just the opposite of last week.  There were six hides.

For the first search we worked the dogs off leash and the goal was to stick with them as if they were on leash.  Despite Dorothy's reminder, with Gimme this is just impossible.  When she's off leash, she moves quickly all over the room.  In order for me to be near her as if she was on leash, I'd have to be at a dead run following her.  I think me running would send her over the moon and she'd move even faster.  I followed her as much as I could, but running would be counter productive. 

Interior search 1 video  Right before we came in Gimme saw a bunny, fortunately moments after I saw the bunny so he got to live.  I wasn't sure she would be able to go to work, but she did.  She did this search in 2:00, which is a good time for such a busy search area and so many hides.  As you can see she pays no attention whatsoever to the dreaded panties.

For the second search they moved the hides around and we were to work them on leash.  Gimme did a very nice job at this, finishing in 1:00, half the time of her earlier search. Interior search 2 video 

Dorothy thought the time improvement was due to having Gimme on leash and especially a shorter leash.  This whole short leash thing has been an obsession in NACSW nosework for a couple of years.  I agree there are times it is helpful, but I don't agree with a one-size-fits-all approach, which is definitely the NACSW mode.  Sometimes Gimme does well with a short leash and sometimes she doesn't.  In this case we'd just come from a seminar weekend and she wasn't as fresh as she usually is, so she was more accepting.

So, I'm not saying the shorter leash wasn't a factor in the improvement, but I'm also not ready to accept it without considering other possibilities. 
  1. For instance, as I pointed out during the discussion, we haven't isolated out the reality of how familiarization with the search area might make the second search go faster.  She agreed we hadn't.  We'd have to run the same or very similar searches on another night, reversing the order of leashed versus off leash.
  2. Also, since the handlers clearly know where the hides are in this search, they are going to tend to just take the dog around to where the hides are, so obviously it will go faster.  The searches would both have to be blind hides to say whether the leash was a real improvement.
  3. And in Gimme's case there was the whole bunny encounter, which could have gotten her amped up and affected her focus during the first search.  This affect would have had time to dissipate by the second search.
In any case, I love watching her work.  Her tail just never stops wagging, never, not ever.  The other night when I was watching her tracking video, I was thinking about how amazing it is for our dogs to do what they do.  I think we live with them every day and so we are used to seeing this and get a bit blasé about it.  Sometimes I think about it and I'm just in awe.

We live with these sweet affectionate creatures who play these silly games with us for the price of cheese or peanut butter and the joy of our company.  Its a sweet deal my friend...

Thursday, May 19, 2016

TD/TDX Seminar Notes


A quarter mile from the training center where we meet for the tracking seminar is a house with these wonderful wood sculpture dinosaurs in the yard.

I don't know the back story behind these creations, but every time I see them I want to take pictures and share them.  I am just fascinated by the idea of how he gets from the raw driftwood to the end sculpture.

I did find a link about these sculptures online.  Unfortunately, it doesn't say much... 
Bow-Rassic Park

Here also are some other notes I have from the seminar...


Cross Tracks

Cross tracks are very different from contamination.  A dog can be brilliant about contamination and still fail a cross track, so you have to train them intentionally.  See the diagram in the day 2 blog for "M" over "U" course design.  Of course you would start even simpler, with  "U" over "U".  

Sil thinks its unlikely all the people and dogs who walk over our tracks at Flaming Geyser would prepare Gimme for a TDX cross track.  Its hard to wrap my mind around this.  Good news - as handler, I can lay a cross track for Gimme over a main track laid by someone else. 

Helping Your Dog

About helping your dog - don't rush in.  Let her try to solve it and be patient.  If the dog is still struggling, see the levels of help I described in day one blog.  Make sure you know the different levels of help.

Preventing Problems

Start with keeping a training log.  And plan each track to teach a specific thing.  When doing diagnostics, ask yourself the following questions (get the new book, Modern Enthusiastic Tracking, when it comes out to read the full diagnostic discussion):
  1. When you arrive at the tracking field or approach her track, is your dog obviously excited to be there and obviously impatient for his track?  Sil commented he thinks we can answer a resounding "YES" for Gimme, since she starts getting excited when we get north of Seattle (he doesn't even know about how she is when we drive near Auburn where Nadine and I meet for our weekly tracking sessions).
  2. In the last five TD-like (or TDU-like) tracks, did you help her find the track more than once or twice?  I've almost never needed to help Gimme - day 3's track was the first time in over a month.
  3. On the best 80% of her opportunities to work a corner, does she find and commit to the new leg quickly and enthusiastically?  For the most part Gimme does find the corners on her own and when she commits she drives down the new leg.  I haven't tracked this consciously, but could check past blog entries to be sure.
  4. On the best 80% of your opportunities to read your dog on a a corner (without flags), do you read his tracking behavior and believe your dog quickly and confidently?  I'm thinking this is where we fall down.  Gimme is still the far stronger member of this team, though I'm happy to say I'm slowly closing the gap.

Going along with what I said on the day 2 blog about what it takes to be a good tracklayer - our day 3 lecture was about track design.  

Keep asking the question, "why will this tracking experience help my dog learn to be a better tracking dog?"  In the macro sense there are two parts to this question, 1) overall track configuration and 2) each choice made while laying the track.  

Consider the following:
  • What is the next step in the process?
  • Can/should you make the track easier or simpler to bolster confidence and improve motivation?
  • How can you use a longer, older, more difficult or more complex track?  Lots of strategically placed rewards improve commitment to keep working.  Placing reward, whether article or food drop, 30 yards after challenge rewards the dog for effort and accomplishment, while not interfering in problem solving.  Placing the reward closer may serve to lure the dog through a challenge, which may not be the best learning experience, especially if the dog is ready for more.

Many things can go wrong either just before or after you lay a track.  A field could be mowed, animals or people could be on your track, the track may age too long, a field could be plowed or fertilized, or new structures or obstructions may be in place.  You have a choice to make - can this be salvaged for a good experience?  You can try it and if its not working, remember - stop early, throw out an extra article and end on a good note. 

Dreaded Whistle 

Near the end of the third day we ended up in a discussion about when judges blow the dreaded whistle.  The question was what is the maximum distance a team can be off the track before the judge tweets the whistle.  Sil said, Its not just about being a certain distance off the track.  Rather, its about "is the team still working the problem?" and "can they still recover?"... 

This is consistent with what I saw when I laid track at a local test.  As I followed the team running my track, they did very well through the first two turns (statistically most teams fail before the first turn).  Then somewhere on the third leg things went awry.  I couldn't believe how far off the track the judges let them go.  A huge distance one way and then another direction and still they let them go.  Then the team got tweeted when they were fairly close to the track, relative to where they had been.  

It didn't make sense at the time.  Now I understand the reason the judges stopped them was because the dog had stopped actively working the problem.  He hadn't shut down, but would have soon.  The judges left to do the next track and I walked the team to a place where I could say, "the track is right here".  The handler was able to re-scent and re-start her dog and they finished the track by finding the glove.

Sil said, "Tracking judges aren't out there looking for reasons to fail you..."

TD/TDX Seminar - Day 3

We again got to have an early track.  One of the ladies in the seminar got a certification track first.  I missed it because I was laying a track for John and Charlie.  This was the only time I got to see him and Charlie track.  I teased him saying I was going to lay a Romanesque spiral for him and the big challenge would be getting to the start.  Instead I laid a simple dog's head shape, adding a dirt road crossing near the end.  They did a great job.  I had placed an article just across the road and Charlie missed it - he kind of arced around it and rejoined the track past it, finding another article 30 yards beyond it.  Sil said I should have placed it farther past the obstacle, so Charlie was only working one challenge at a time. 

While we were running this track, Anne was laying our track in field 7.  Sil selected this field because the vegetation was much shorter and he wanted me to work without being able to see the path in bent grass.  He also changed the parameters so there were no articles on the first three legs.  I talked to Anne about how to lay it and didn't feel warm and fuzzy about what I would see when I got there.  I was right to worry. 

The only flags were the start flag and directional flag on the first leg.  There were no markers on first or second corners.  Instead of visible flags for the article-flag-article-flag combo on the fourth and fifth legs, she laid clothespins in the grass.  Looking into that huge, nearly blank field of short grass, I almost fainted.  Gimme, of course, had no clue this was supposed to be hard - she just wanted less talk and more tracking.  I must say, as the track went on, it was really gratifying to see the clothespins laying in the grass as I ran over the top of them.  Gimme poked her nose at a couple of them.

She again had difficulty getting started.  I thought it might be because of her special condition; Sil said the start was much too close to the house and mowed area making it a big distraction.  After a minute of her dilly-dallying I re-scented her with the start sock and this seemed to work.  Still, two slow starts in a row is a trend I'll be watching.  This was a more typical day with infamous Bow winds, which you hear loudly in the video.  Day 3 tracking video 

At about 1:40, Gimme makes the first turn and starts down it, but then stops and stares before coming back toward me.  I suspected I gave her an unintended line check, but in the video you can see the line is slack.  I don't really know why she chose to pick up a furrow and go down it as if she was tracking.  Possibly some scent had pooled in the furrow and she just got started.  Maybe bunnies.  Maureen (mentor) and I wondered if she had caught the scent of one of the articles.  But from the corner where she first went off course, the nearest article could not have been closer than 75 yards.  I've seen she can smell articles up to 50 yards, but this would have been a huge stretch and, in this case, for articles in her not-faves category.

We only went about 20 yards before Sil called me to back up.  Gimme comes with me so readily, she must've known she wasn't on the track.  Even as we were coming back she picked up another line and tried to go for it.  Both times she wasn't pulling as hard as she usually does, so I should have known she wasn't on the track. You can clearly see the difference between those two wanderings and when she fully commits to the track at about 4:00 minutes.

Gimme was brilliant for the rest of the track.  The second and third corners were spot on.  She found the first article and we celebrated.  Then she went right past the second article, I called her back to it and partied just as if she'd found it on her own.  She isn't as fond of eye glass cases or cup cozies, but she does love a party, so she made sure she showed me the other two plastic articles on the next leg.  I wasn't good at keeping the line up off the ground so I had to call her back just as she was solving the fourth corner.  Fortunately she is really forgiving of my ineptitude and as soon as she was able, she hauled both of us down the track.

Sil thinks the reason Gimme hesitated the first time she started down leg two is that it just smelled different, being an upwind leg.  He also thinks she kept going on the false leg because I'm missing one part of corner communication.  I'm doing everything else, but not verbalizing "is this the good track?" when she lines out.  The other part of the enquire step is to increase the tension on the line a little bit.  He said dogs hear the question in our voice and feel the line tension and will usually curl off a rabbit trail, cross track or other false line.  So I really have to focus between now and the next seminar to get this piece into our corner communication.  I made up an acronym for CORNER, to remember the steps.
C  change of behavior
O  own your spot – stop
R  reconnoiter/search for track
N  note the dog lines out on a leg
E  enquire "is this the good track?"
R  respond to dog's behavior
Sil thinks we are very close to certifying.  We just have a few little tweaks and then we'll be ready.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

TD/TDX Seminar - Day 2

Gimme started the day with a fun track, a progression of the remedial tracks Sil suggested for us last month.  Before the tracks were 3 legs, 2 turn zig-zags and the first leg was blank other than the start flag, sock and directional flag.  For this track Sil added a blank second leg, which gets Gimme accustomed to going a longer distance before she gets the article-reward.  She's done this before, but not since we started the remedial tracks, so its a good plan to reintroduce the idea now with her working so hard to really stay close to the track.  It has the dual purpose of weaning me off reliance on mid-leg flags.  Gimme did a really great job and I was very proud of her.  

The first leg had a start article and flag and a directional flag at 30 yards.  The second leg was blank with no flags.  Legs three, four and five had the article-flag-article-flag combo.  There was an unintended right turn at the last flag on the fourth leg, about 20 degrees (not quite how I drew it).  This is what Sil calls the dog-head shape and with that unintended turn it ended up very Scottie-dog shaped.  The last leg ended with another article and flag.  You can't see many of the flags in the video, but I could see them.

Sil always has us verbalize our goals for the track.  For this one my goals were to have Gimme work close to the track and for me to not step off until she pulls 20' or more of line through my hands.   I'm not waiting 100% of the time, but more often than not.  And when I do step out early, I notice it at the time.  Its important that I get control of this so Gimme doesn't rely on my movement to tell her she is right. 

Gimme started out "goofing off", but with a little encouragement, she got right to work.  I'm sure it was because of her special condition.  It could also have been a bit of distraction from the barking dog nearby.  I didn't notice the barking dog at the time, but its very clear in the video.   I was surprised right away to see her reacting to the furrows caused by farm equipment when the ground is wet.  I really thought this was only something to affect little dogs.  

I used to think her main change of behavior was to bring her head up, but with Sil's coaching I've come to realize she actually curls off the track a bit before her head comes up.  Seeing this improves my timing reading her changes of behavior, so I was able to "own the spot" before I am taken past the corner.  You can see when she commits to a leg, she really gets her head down and puts her shoulders into it.  If you watch on the second corner she starts to pull me off balance a bit when she commits. 

She really did a nice job on the track.  When she hit the unintended turn, she just sailed along on it.  This playing with the glove at the end of the track is something we've just started doing.  In the past she hasn't been interested in chasing it, but showed a little interest at the seminar in April.  Now that she's in season her play drive really goes over the top.  So this weekend she was chasing and retrieving the glove and even tugging with me.  I'm happy to see this, since it'll make the transition at tests easier for her (when I can't have food).  On this track she tugged so hard she pulled off some small pieces of leather from this very old glove.   I'll have to start carrying a sturdier glove out on these tracks so we don't get a reputation for ruining others' stuff.  Truth be told, the dog who ran the track I laid put a sizeable tear in the almost new glove I put at the end. 

This is a very long video - almost 12 minutes.  Its much better quality than we got last month, since Jon is able to keep up.  Day 2 tracking video  I hope you enjoy it.

Sil commented that he could see a lot of progress since the seminar last month.  He said we were doing as well as I report in my blogs (I send the links to him).  He suggested using a starter track to get her brain in gear if she continues fooling around at the beginning.  I'll see how it goes when she's not in season.  He talked about the bend in the fourth leg and noted we could see the same thing in a test.  In fact you could see a bit of "meander" in a test to get over/through an obstacle safely.  Sil says we are nearly ready to get our certification.  My goal is to have it by the end of summer.

After we did this, I laid track for a cross track exercise.  The black U-line is the track and the red M-line is the cross track.  It was just three legs, but it was very complicated to keep everything in order, putting cross track flags at the right places and doing the same with reward articles. I had to keep the flag colors in mind (white for the track, orange for cross tracks), get articles down with the right spacing after each cross track, walk a straight line and not forget where I was in the plan.  It was nearly 800 yards.  

It was a lot of fun to watch this being run and having it go off without a hitch.  Well maybe one little hitch.  It was very hard to see the white corner flag from the start, even though the grass was relatively short and the field very flat.  So I told Louise I had used a giant roll of hay on the far side of another smaller field aligned with a particular fir tree on the horizon for my sight line.  We hadn't even got to the first cross track when we noticed my giant roll of hay was moving!  The farmer chose this exact moment to come in with a tractor and take away my marker.  So much for my ability to select stationary reference markers.

Later in the day I laid a pair of 1-corner, 2 leg tracks for Stella and Heidi.  On Friday Heidi had experienced her first 45 degree corners.  I got to lay her first 90 degree corners.  Gimme successfully navigated corners on her very first track, so I didn't fully appreciate then how especially talented she was (not that I would have been surprised had I understood).  It was neat watching Heidi puzzle through these challenges and emerge victorious. Sil reminded me to allow for more spacing between the two tracks, as well as between the tracks and the ingress/egress path.  There is so much to think about in tracklaying.

Which gets to the other thing we spend so much time learning - how to lay a track.  There is so much more to laying a good track than just walking a straight line.  The tracklayer has to:
  • be able to follow instructions and replicate what is needed
  • have an adequate selection of flags, clippies and articles
  • select stationary reference markers on the horizon 
  • make an accurate map or representation of what she did
  • walk a straight line
  • maintain spacing for entry and exit paths so she doesn't foul the track
  • maintain orientation in the field while doing everything else
  • keep distances consistent and accurate
  • leave articles in the right places
  • leave food drops in the right places
  • place flags or markers correctly
  • know how to deviate if/when it becomes necessary
  • report all deviations
  • be able to walk the path behind the tracking team and know when they are on or off the track
  • do this while you are separated in space from the team so you don't confuse the dog while they are running the track
  • and keep a sense of humor...
These seminar days are very long and jam packed with information.  I found this group to be so much fun, so there was always a lot of laughter and good jokes going around.  Sil has mentors he brings in to help with instructing individuals and to send out with tracklayers to make sure things proceed smoothly.  The mentors he had this year were perfect.  I knew Maureen and Kathleen from last year, Patty was a great addition.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

TD/TDX Seminar - Day 1

Gimme is in season, so to make sure her condition wasn't a disruption to any of the boys, we were told we could park behind the building.  This worked out great for us, since we were the only ones back there Saturday and Sunday, thus I didn't have to worry about running into anyone when I was walking her.

The morning was mostly lecture...  Key things I learned, this time, are:

  • the dog is responsible for leading you down the track, as close to the track as she can,
  • your job is to set up experiences so the dog learns what she needs to know to be a successful tracker
  • read the landscape so you can stay oriented in the field, so you can organize the dog's search when you see a change of behavior
  • if your dog needs help, do so happily
Sil demonstrated a TDX track with one of his dogs.  The tracklayer misunderstood the directions, so the middle part of the track was simply too much for Twizzle.  She has her TDX but hasn't trained in quite awhile.  The track had an unintended change of cover from lush moist vegetation to sparse dry stubble.  The stubble was very prickly underfoot (I could feel the hard crunch of it through my shoes), so it was distracting.  This section of the track had a bunch of those giant hay-marshmallows, which disrupted airflow.  It was also along a busy road, so there was fast moving traffic which was distracting and also stirred up air flow.  With the help of the tracklayer they were able to make the turn and head back to the green vegetation, but by this time, Twizzle was simply too tired, too used-up, to recover and finish the track.

What was interesting was watching how Sil used the different levels of helping the dog, to try to aid her.  They are...

  1. Restraint - hold your dog back when she reaches the end of the line and still wants to go in the wrong direction or down a contamination or cross track,
  2. Reel-in & Re-scent - bring your dog back to you and re-scent your dog, which may help her refocus on what scent you want her to follow,
  3. Face in the Correct Direction - dogs are very aware of body alignment and posture, so this is a huge hint about what is correct,
  4. Reel-in and Point to Correct Track & Direction
  5. Reel-in & Love the Track - moving forward along the track until the dog moves forward in front of you, focused on this interesting thing
I have a bit of video I took while Sil was demonstrating in class how to "Love the Track".  There is a fancy ethology term for why this works, but the main take away is - whatever you show interest in will become immediately attractive to your dog.  Sil - Love the Track video

Sil went through all the steps above trying to help Twizzle.  When it became apparent she could not benefit from continuing on the track, Sil took the glove she'd found earlier and tossed it ahead of her so she could find it and they could end on a positive note.

In the afternoon, I watched a few of the tracks until the field was cleared and our group could start the tracklayer training exercise.  I've done this before and call it the tracklayer-exercise-from-hell.  We were each given one start flag and a bunch of small paper tags (½ by 1½ inch) and instructed to lay a track with three to five turns and legs of 50 yard minimum.  At each corner we were to leave a paper tag on the ground.  The ground cover is 1-2 feet tall.  After a delay showing our maps, we were to then go back out and find our tags.  

Last year I only found 2 tags.  This time I found all of them.  The key thing is to record triangulation markers for each corner.  One thing which I found very cool was how accurate my pace was.  I could see where my footsteps bent the grass from when I laid the track.  I purposely didn't look down, instead keeping my eyes focused on my landmarks.  Yet when I did occasionally look down, I saw my current footsteps were falling exactly into the footsteps from an hour earlier.  I didn't expect this level of consistency.  I think the biggest difference is simply all the experience I've gotten laying tracks between last year and this year.  

Here's a picture of a map I drew.  Its not the one I used in the exercise, but one I did on day 3.  You can see all the little pictures I draw out at the sides to remind me where my reference points are.  If I were doing this for a track with a longer age (this time was only an hour) then I would have written more notes in the margin.


Sil also had another exercise for us.  He had gone out and laid a straight track broken into three segments with flags.  We were to walk the track and note our own count and submit the distance we got for each leg as well as the total.  I got legs of 29, 44, 28 and a 101 total.   

Based on the results of the actual measured distances, I have re-calibrated my stride.  I was using 15 steps for 10 yards and now it is 13 steps for 10 yards.  On a leg of 100 yards based on my old reference, this would actually be 115 yards.  For the track I did with Gimme as described below, what I thought was 410 yards would actually be 472 yards. 

We weren't scheduled for a showcase track, but I wanted to track Gimme anyway.  She was bored beyond words Friday and I knew we had the group dinner Saturday evening, so I wanted her to have the chance to get out and do something.  I had a partner to trade tracklaying, but by the time we could do it, she was too pooped, so I laid Gimme's track myself.

It was very much like the tracks we have been doing, though I laid it all as one track, five legs (60, 80, 80, 80 and 110 [actually: 69, 92, 92, 92, and 127]).  Gimme did a great job at this.  She really just aced it.  There was no infamous "Bow wind", but a stronger breeze than we are accustomed to.  It was a great way to end the first day.  She has showcase tracks on Sunday and Monday.