Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Engagement is a team effort!

Since I'm thinking about puppies, and things we need to remember it reminded me of something I learned at the last seminar with Debbie Zappia. 
If you do this from the start, you won't have those worries of leaving anything in your training area for fear the dog will be "distracted" and snarf your food or steal toys.  The puppy learns that food on a table is not "free."  From the start the lesson is that reward is accessed through you, the handler.
Keep your food on a chair or table in the area you are training.  Don't fill your pockets and carry more food on your body than you need for that little piece.  Running back to the table gives you a chance to re-load and energizes the dog, giving them a little mental break, as well.  The message is: don't touch the food. give me behaviors, and I will give you the food.
Naturally, when you begin, any dog is going to want to help itself. I think it is easiest with a dog just learning the concept, or a smaller, younger dog, to use a chair or low table. You cover the food with your hand and when the dog backs away (the doggie zen concept of having to give up in order to receive!) you verbally reinforce with your marker and give the dog a piece of food. You don't smack the dog or make punishment; it is your job to cover the food and reward the dog for appropriately moving away. Then take the dog away from the food with you, by leash guidance and go back to work.

When you need to reload your food, hold the dog by the collar and ask it “are you ready?.. let’s GO!” and run to the table where the dog can put their feet up. Keep the leash short enough as you approach the table to encourage the dog up.  When I took off and raced Marco to the table, and he was still eating some food, dawdling, Debbie complained “Everyone is leaving their dog!! Take the dog with you!!”
This is a different approach than what a popular trainer is teaching, where you take off and run away from the dog... apparently to engage him to chase you.  And this is what I did, thinking it was good.  What I recognized afterwards was doing that was very similar to bribing the dog with a toy, instead of rewarding behavior with a toy.  I took off and the dog weighed whether the dropped food, the crowd, or a host of other things were more exciting than me running away.  And who was doing all the work? me!!  Far better to make this a team effort and not allow your dog to check out on you. Your escape should not become a cue for the dog to pay attention. 
Remember that when you do take your dog to re-load you don't just stand there and fill your pockets; it remains a team effort.  Keep the dog in the picture by rewarding it for attention there, as well.  With the dog watching, you verbally encourage with your "good" or "nice" and give a piece of food for attention without mugging.

A much better method of engaging your dog by remaining a team.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Yard is a Big Place!

I love to explore my new yard!  Some things need to be jumped on, or tasted....

there are so many fun things to climb on!  I take my job very seriously but my people seem amused when I help them with chores....

The raised flower bed in the front yard is pretty cool.  It's like a jungle there and I can sneak up on Roya by hiding behind the wooden sides.

oops! sorry about that!

One of the most fun things is to chase my people when they walk and bite their legs.  At first they thought it was funny.  But I am very persistent and I try to take a bigger bite.  I guess that pinches and hurts and they stopped laughing.


(do I look suitably apologetic???) nawwwww

Foxtal's Vortex Viper, aka: ViVi (name pending)

Meet ViVi.
She is a female Belgian Malinois puppy, 6 weeks old
Her full name (pending) is Foxtal's Viper Vortex, named after sniper scope.
I expect she will be deadly accurate, a force to reckon with.
Her momma is Lazer du Loups du Soleil, IPO3.
Her daddy is Mangouste du Loups du Soleil, MR3, FR3, 4x World Team Competitor.
Besides being from the famous Loups du Soleil lines, Lazer's dam is Fauxtois... the same mother as my Jinx.

The litter does not carry the Loups du Soleil name because only those litters bred by MichaelEllis or his partners can use that name, so I will be using my own kennel name.  How lucky is that?  I will have an awesome dog, from incredible lines... with MY kennel name!!

ViVi is so smart she will be going to law school with my friend, Sam.
He has big plans for her training. Although ViVi is quiet and sleeping at the moment, I have already wished revenge on Sam for having avoided this crate-training, I-miss-my-mommy period of ear piercing decibel levels.

The last puppy I got at 6 weeks of age was my Sofie, and she turned out pretty darned great!  Ordinarily I would not do this, and keep my own puppies to 10 weeks of age, but I know that I have stable adults who can teach ViVi how to speak "dog" and that I can provide the environmental stimulation that she needs.  The concern with taking young puppies is that they will not learn how to properly behave with other dogs and become dog aggressive.  Enter Roya, my old Dutch Shepherd bitch.  Roya has raised two litters herself and is such a great mother that she even nursed a singleton puppy our neighbor brought over.

Roya has helped ViVi transition to her new home.  She takes ViVi outside to potty and gently, but firmly teaches her that puppies do not take food from grown ups.  I have been feeding her raw and at first she didn't know who to bite off pieces of the patty.  Once I mushed it up in my fingers, she dug in. That little body actually eats quite abit!

So, another puppy adventure begins..........too quickly they become young adults.  For now, however, I will savor the puppy breath and frito feets.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

When I competed recently in the AWDF Championships, I had not been able to practice grass tracks.  I thought the dogs from southern climes would have a distinct advantage considering my practice had been on SNOW!  When we actually earned the high IPO2 tracking score and ended up winning the IPO2 Championship, I had to pause and evaluate what I had done to aid this success.

One of the complaints by competitors at all levels was that the legs of the tracks were too close together.  In every Championship I have competed in, the tracks have been much shorter than regulation due to the large number of tracks that have to be fit into a small place.  I have found this to be much more challenging than if the tracks were longer because speed changes are obvious and the dog has no chance to settle into a long pace.

At the AWDF, the tracks I observed were on pasture grass with rolling hills in a medium breeze.  If the dog did not keep its nose down and instead raised it up to air scent, it was drawn to other legs or other tracks.  The dogs that had good tracking ethic, did not have a problem.  Pre did not lose his focus in this way.  What made the difference?  While I cannot say for certain, there are several things that I do in training that I believe contributed to our success.

One thing is that I teach and reinforce footstep tracking, and in training place on foot in front of the other.  In this way, the dog has the width of my foot to be correct... or not.  If you walk a normal, side-to-side gait, and allow the dog to cast like that, the dog is rewarded for trailing in the area between your footprints and it now has an area of several feet that it believes is correct.  Add a breeze to that and the dog who does not understand how to work to the source of the odor--- the footstep itself--- and you have a mine-sweeper at the end of the line.

Almost immediately, if I have other people working with me, I instruct them to walk on either side of me while I lay my tracks (or they lay mine).  If there is only one additional, they walk on the side upwind from the track, so that their track and scent is blowing directly to the dog.  Ideally, the longest legs run cross-wise to the wind direction.  The dog learns that the only reward is at the source of the odor that it is started on, and no other.  Just as soon as a dog or puppy understands the tracking behavior, I introduce this.  The people walking alongside, stay at approximately 5 feet off either side and also crossing the track at intervals.  Since you are all walking together, the track layer can place bait/reward after these crossings.  You do not lead the dog through challenges with food, you reward them for meeting the challenge.

I do the same thing with the police dogs I train.  In fact, their work is much more critical than a sport dog.  Their scenes are often very contaminated with scent by the time they arrive and so the dogs must work the scent they are told to follow, to the exclusion of all others.  Here are several photos from a tracking exercise we did last week.  This was after the dogs had completed tracks of over 1 mile in length, through varied terrain with multiple articles.  Those tracks begin with a scent article that tells the dog which scent they are following.  Any time I work a track that allows the dog more latitude in searching out the track, the next track we do is back to precision.  In this track, three handlers laid long, straight tracks approximately 15 feet apart, each ending at an article.  While one team ran their track, the others sat with their dogs (quiet and down) on the hillside, observing.  As you can see, neither the near proximity of the tracks nor the other dogs caused a distraction from the task.

 The dogs also learn that they are not beaten up, punished or corrected physically.... nor does the handler do the work for them by cueing them with the line.  When they have problems at a corner, the handler instead acts like the dog missed a great party and encourages them.  This is something I picked up from listening to Debbie Zappia, and I find the dogs don't become stressed and worried, or even worse--- lie to the handler to avoid punishment. 

Tracking can be great fun when the team creates and meets challenges together.  It is even more fun when you can walk next to a friend and chat while you lay your tracks, and doing so is to the advantage of your training! Many positive discoveries in training come from a handler or trainer trying to make things more efficient or easily understood.  In my case, I found I could have new handlers walk alongside me as I described what I was doing in laying the track and it made things more clear to them.  Then I found that it actually helped the dogs to understand their task, as well. Viola! A program is born!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pre wins the AWDF IPO2 Championship!

Last weekend, Pre and I competed at the American Working Dog Championship in Kentucky.  I am very fortunate to be able to train and compete with this wonderful dog for the year.  I will write more detail later, but despite issues related to lack of coordination in the event, having to travel the day before the Championship, and trialing in 93 degree heat, Pre prevailed to earn a new IPO2 title under the sharp pencil of Championship judges.  I purchased a CD of photographs and have to select from an incredible array, and various friends also took photos and video that I hope to get copies of.
I attended a seminar with Debbie Zappia recently and she worked on some technical points to maximize our performance, and they really helped.  I plan to work with her again in the future as Pre and I  have plans for the Working Dog Championship (Iowa/May) and earn our IPO3, North Central Regional Championship (Hazelhurst, Wi/Sept)  and the American Working Malinois Championship (Illinois/October) before he retires to his Madison family.  Sam gave Pre a wonderful foundation, and then I took him to college! A great team effort!

In the meantime, here are a couple photos from Kentucky:

Pre hanging out on the bed with me; we're watching Animal Planet

                                                          After our stadium work in 93 degree heat. Tapped out

                                                    Showing off his "sit pretty", a crowd favorite!