Monday, January 18, 2010

Dennis Bilik at BannerDogs

Last weekend I attended a seminar with Dennis Bilik at Donna Matey's BannerDogs facility. My intention was to continue the training I had begun the previous weekend with Quinn. I am always cautious about working my dog on a decoy I am unfamiliar with, but since I had seen Dennis' work I decided to include Cooper this time.
Donna Matey and Aida Flick, who are both seasoned Mondioring competitors, were there and assisted me with the exercises. In fact, Aida is now a deputy judge! I was sad to learn that I had received misinformation the previous weekend and that the MR1 and FR1 legs are not interchangeable; that changes my plans for spring trials. One difference noted between their training is that they are less formal in beginning the exercises, using horns, etc. In MR the horn (like one of those silly clown horns, or bike horns!) marks the beginning and end of the exercises, halts, etc. It was mentioned to me that you need to add random horn honks so that the dog does not cue on the use of the horn. Thinking this through, I noted that if I NEVER use the horn to begin/end/signal exercises.... and instead have random horn honks throughout, the dog will never attribute it. Seems to me a far better idea than first teaching the dog that the horn has meaning and then trying to convince him through random application that you lied!!
Whether it was because Dennis was warm, or because he was more comfortable working with me now he was much more open and talkative. In Minnesota, I questioned whether he really wanted to be working my dog or not. Of course, I may have to accept some blame as I told him Quinn was a schutzhund dog and probably wouldn't bite hard, knowing full well that he would, and he bruised Dennis in his trial suit. Do decoys hold that sort of thing against you? It's not as if I meant to hurt him, but I have always subscribed to the theory that you underestimate your dog when working with a new decoy so that they don't try to prove something with your dog.
This past weekend, he was extremely helpful in explaining how he thought the exercises should go and what to work on next and I enjoyed working with him.
We worked on the defense of handler exercise. Dennis said that the other work is in order and that the "out" and "whistle recall" would be the most important for us to finish. In only one week's time, Quinn is showing he understands "contact" and is moving around me to follow the decoy. Quinn is recalling off the decoy to a pillow bite from me... I'll have to start asking him to come to a position to receive his bite next. Much of what I have to consider is how best to communicate what I want while not creating conflict in other behaviors. When I am going recall Quinn I use the whistle and when I am asking him to out and guard I use his name as a preface, saying "Quinn, out-platz." Dennis said that last weekend he wasn't sure my goals were possible, but after this weekend they are definately in reach.
I find it amusing that Quinn's foundation in schutzhund has helped to make this easier. He obeys commands, understands markers and reward and knows how to learn. The "triangle" work with Greg Doud prepares him for the decoy enticing him to be drawn off the line. "transport" gave him a headstart on understanding to move and keep watch on the decoy. I worried about whether I was doing the right thing in switching him over, "ruining" him..... but he oozed enthusiasm as we moved through the exercises. Even when corrected, he kept a calm head and it did not dampen his enthusiasm.
Having seen his work, I decided to bring Cooper along on this trip, as well. He has had some foundation in legs, but only a session or two. I recall Greg not being enthusiastic about my taking Cooper to work on Mike Ellis, but it did not seem to pose a problem with his grip work. I like to give my young dogs a foundation in how to work legs properly so that I can always return to it later if I desire. I worked Cooper on a harness and back line, and would let him drag me in and then "pop" it about 4 feet before the grip, so that he was driving in hard and accelerating. This was after we saw that he was turning his head properly while working both legs. First I wanted to work his grips for long periods, and I liked that he continued to drive in and take more and more. Cooper also knows to release on command and to down and wait, so this helps as well.
The one thing that I plan to utilize more as our training continues is the bridge "goooood" to signal the decoy to return and present a bite as reward. We do it in our schutzhund training and not only do I think it will be helpful, but also clear and consistent in the method. It helps to reward the correct behavior. Downside is that you may not be able to work the session so long as you give those extra grips.
Michael Ellis will be coming to BannerDogs in February. According to Donna, she does not know when he might return. I imagine with his new school in California he is very busy and no longer needs to travel so much. I am on the waiting list, since those seminars fill at the previous seminar.... there is the chance that I will not be able to get in, but I'll keep my fingers crossed. Cooper will be returning to his schutzhund career and plans to certify as a disaster dog, and Quinn will hopefully be adding the initials MR1 behind his name before summer's end.