Posts Tagged ‘Dog training’

The 3 things that help me take training from backyard to competition

October 11, 2009 9 comments
7 may
Image by shutterflood via Flickr

My name is Pat, and I train dogs for competition performance events.

No, I’m not on the Agility World Team. I don’t make the list for the annual AKC Obedience invitational. I haven’t made the Front & Finish top dog in breed rankings since Casey was in Novice obedience and agility (1999.) The last time dogs I trained made first-in-breed listings in any venue was January 1, 2005 when Casey and Reu became the first English Cocker Spaniel and Gordon Setter in the US to earn AKC Rally Novice titles.

In 2000 I actively taught and trained two dogs in three to four obedience and agility classes each week, a schedule I’d maintained since I’d started training Taryn in 1981. I showed my dogs every other weekend in some combination of breed, obedience and agility. In 2009, after an intracerebral hemorrhage (stroke) and five years of cancer diagnosis, surgeries and treatments, it’s a good day if I have enough energy left after work to take a long walk with the dogs, let alone get my dog-in-training to one regular class each week. The day after a class (when I can take a class) feels like the day after I’ve been hit by a truck. I pick one cluster to show at each month, try not to combine too many venues in the same weekend, and generally need a day off after a circuit to ‘recover’ from my dog show vacation.

It may seem odd that a person who now trains mainly for her personal satisfaction actually considers herself competitive. Then again, you’ve probably never seen me cook – put me in the kitchen and I’ll trash-talk you all the way to the first-place ribbon. Yes, when it comes to certain things I’ve got a serious competitive streak. Where that shows up in my dog training is that I want my dogs to do their best, to improve every time we go in the ring. Our ‘bests’ may not lead to first place ribbons every time, but I don’t need more flat sateen ribbons. What I’m looking for are titles, letters after their names which tell the whole world that they are trained companions who work for a living.

How do I get my dog to a title when I can’t manage a class? Maybe even more important, how did I manage to teach skills to my dog when I spent the better part of 2008 on the couch recovering from either a surgery, a chemo infusion, or both?

The answer lies in keeping my training organized, but simple. During my recuperation, I made use of the three things that have always helped me understand where each of my dogs is along his individual training continuum:

1) A training log: This blog is an extension of the pen-and-spiral-notebook that I keep in the basket on my coffee table (you know the place–mine is where I corral the remote controls, pens, back issues of Clean Run and the spill-free zone where I set my coffee mug.) In a simple Dollar-Store notebook I jot down in my personal shorthand the results of each day’s training session, no matter how short or small. Even if all we did was practice a down-stay while I made my breakfast protein shake, I write it down. Which dog(s). Where. How long. What position. In or out of sight. If outdoors, what weather. Whenever an exercise doesn’t seem to be making progress or seems to break down for no reason, a quick check of my log lets me know whether I’ve been devoting enough attention to that skill.

2) An exercise binder: The hardest thing to do when energy is at a premium is create a practice on the fly. I save every course map (agility and rally.) I save copies of exercises from the ‘net and from issues of performance magazines like Clean Run and Front & Finish. I have every curriculum I’ve every written, every instructing and seminar handout I’ve ever received. They’re filed in the binder by venue and class. When I don’t have the energy to practice, I read through my saved courses and plans, and flag the ones I want to try next (Post-it notes are my friends.) Later, when I do have the energy to practice, I can quickly find something to work on in my files.

3) A calendar: The toughest thing about being out of dog-showing in any venue is getting back onto the superintendent’s mailing lists and into the swing of which show(s) are on which weekends when you decide to come back. My calendar is pretty low-tech — a two-year paper monthly vest pocket calendar with a separate notes section. It’s in the same plastic cover with a telephone/address section saved from an earlier organizer. I keep closing and circuit dates in the calendar, and update it regularly from the AKC website and various online agility calendars. I make notes about each run in the calendar’s notes section. I keep notes about judges in the telephone/address section (that section stays with the planner; the two-year calendar and notes sections come out and are stored in my office file cabinet.) By knowing when the shows are, I can plan my entries, evaluate where my dog is in ring-readiness, and get a reality check by looking at my notes about individual show/run results. My notes in the show calendar help drive my practices.

A really organized person would probably keep all three of these elements in a single binder — but I like them to be more flexible. I also like them to be closest to the spot where they’ll be needed, or where I’ll be likely to fill them in with notes. For now, the training log lives on the coffee table, where it’s most likely to be completed after a training session or class. The calendar lives in my purse, so that it follows me to work (where I make entries) and to shows (where I make notes about judges and runs.) The binder of courses lives on the lower shelf of my coffee table, with the current issues of magazines — ready to review and flag new courses and exercises to practice.

Sure, there are a bunch of other things I do to keep my dogs working when I’m laid up, but these three items — training log, reference binder and calendar — are the three things without which I would never get my backyard-trained dog into the ring.

What are your strategies for training when you can’t take a dog to classes? How do you keep your dog(s) in training when their training is limited by your own physical condition? Please share your ideas!

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Dog Owner’s Survey

October 1, 2009 1 comment
Slip collar, showing how the chain pulls throu...

Image via Wikipedia

On Twitter, @wholedogcamp has been asking people to complete this 10-question Dog Owners survey:

One note: if you’ve owned multiple dogs, you should complete a new survey for each individual dog. For me, that meant 8 surveys (Taryn, Jazz, Nola, Muni, Bard, Casey, Reuben and Madison) which took me about 15 minutes, total (~2 minutes/dog.) I didn’t fill out surveys for the temporary foster dogs who’ve lived here over the years. My surveys were only for personal dogs who have spent more than a year in my house (15, 14, 10, 10, 14, 14+, 4 and 3 years for the dogs recorded, respectively.)

I do wonder how my eight surveys’ answers – that I regularly use slip, prong and e-collars and a halti if needed – will jive in the survey tabulations with my affirmation in each survey that, in my estimation, my training methods are ‘firmly based in behavior science.’ Using aversives judiciously is firmly based in behavioral science – it’s just not the part of behavioral science that makes people feel warm and fuzzy, and therefore it doesn’t meet with approval in many current (vocal) dog training circles… 😉

@wholedogcamp promises results will be shared, so I’ll post them here when they’re available.

Meanwhile, if you’ve owned and trained a dog, consider completing this free survey. If you use slip, prong, and e-collars and use reinforcement methods based in behavioral science, speak up!

edit: 6 oct 2009 12:55 pm EST – issues with the survey link have been resolved and it’s still available — have you filled out surveys for your dogs yet?

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Day of rest

August 19, 2009 Comments off

Adult educators call ‘thinking time’ the critical reflection stage of the transformative learning process. Transformative learning theory in part says that humans, especially adults who are exposed to new skills have the ability, via critical reflection to transform simple or rote knowledge into something they can more broadly apply. They hear or see the new skill, and then need time to to assimilate the skill and put it in their own words. The process of converting the new knowledge into their own words is the key to critical reflection which is the first step in transformative learning.

Amy Ammen, who has trained dogs from four different groups to an AKC Obedience Trial Championship and who runs Amiable Dog Training in Milwaukee WI, gave a number of seminars in the 90s. I was fortunate to go to one held locally at Cornell by Ithaca Dog Training Club. In my notes from that seminar, I wrote down this quote: Shut up, and let the dog think.

The quote from Ammen came while she was discussing trainers who chatter at their dogs every second of a training session. They are so busy giving their dogs what they consider ‘feedback’ that they instead prodcue white noise — and rather than be effectively coached, the dog tunes out. Ammen’s point was that in constant chatter, the dog can’t do his own situational processing. The dog can’t convert the information provided in the training situation into something to which he can actively respond. There is no transformative learning without processing time for critical reflection — for people or dogs.

M. definitely benefits from down time and time off and scheduled breaks in our training plans. Most of the time I aim for maximum M-processing time by practicing different major skill every day, and only repeating a skill practice two or three times per week. On that randomly rotating schedule, she and I both stay fresh (and this training log helps keep my poor brian cells on track.)

But now and then, we take the whole day (or a couple days in a row) off completely. We take regular walks and I expect M. to listen to my whistle — but we don’t work heeling, recalls, stays, directionals, weaves. We are just human and dog, enjoying each other’s company. We recharge. I process what we’ve been working on, and based on her reactions during our next practice, M. processes what we’ve worked on, too.

Transformative learning has more to it than the critical reflection part of the process, but from down time can come a definite upswing in skill familiarity and processing. So tonight we took some time off from organized skill building…and spent a little time cuddling.

Because in this house, there’s always time for one more cuddle.

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The Dog Trainer’s back…one hour at a time

August 3, 2009 Comments off
A Hungarian Vizsla negotiating an A-frame.
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Two weeks ago, I substitute-taught an advanced beginner dog agility class at Syracuse Obedience Training Club. No big deal for someone who’s been a club member for 28 years, taught obedience classes for 20 of them and is training and competing with her third agility dog–right?

Right…except that in July, 2000 in week 4 of my new 8-week curriculum, Obedience for Agility Puppies, I had an intracerebral hemorrhage.

Nursing the worst headache of my life, I called my assistant and all of my students to cancel that Monday’s class. Roxanne, my assistant, continued the class after I was hospitalized. And although I’ve taught many other things since that Monday night in July, 2000, including teaching dog trainers how to be better instructors, I haven’t taught a class full of inexperienced handlers and their dogs since that summer nine years ago.

I was a little nervous. Sure, I knew the curriculum and the principles of the class–teaching the dogs to sequence (working multiple obstacles.) I had worked with two of the students, but knew none of the dogs and had never worked with the class assistant. I would have to teach from notes to be sure to stay on track. What if I lost my train of thought, what if I couldn’t adapt each sequence to the skill level of the student and dog? It felt like my first day at school.

When I arrived, sequence areas were set up–A-frame to weaves, tire to tunnel to jump to chute, teeter to table. As the students came in, I introduced myself to the miniature schnauzer, visla, australian shepherd and toy dachshund while everyone grabbed a stanchion to set up a jump circle. One student helped me move the table so that it could be part of the circle and the teeter sequence. We warmed up with the jump circle, small dogs first, everyone analyzing each other’s efforts and the handler paths. I felt them out, they felt me out, and with everyone prompted to chime in with comments, soon all of the students relaxed (I was still nervous as a cat.)

After the jump circle, I asked, “Who has equipment at home?” and “Who practices outside of class?” That segued into my favorite subject: home practice. I explained simple sources for practice equipment: the Dollar Store, the farm supply. I explained how every sequence we were going to practice could be modified for at-home practice, and how in five minutes a day, they could work control commands like here and out and go. I moved into the jump circle with my imaginary (perfect) dog to demonstrate a simple one-jump practice to work on straight lines and curves. I could see the AgilityNerd blog drill practice in front of me, explaining to them how to work the straight lines in the circle and switch sides for the curve.

I was teaching again. And taking my life back, one hour and one class at a time.
It IS just like riding a bike!

All content at “The Dog Trainer’s Log” (c) Patricia A. Steer. May not be reprinted without permission. Originally published at “Gaelen’s Cafe: Life Out Loud” August, 2009, (c) Patricia A. Steer

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When Casey has a good day…

March 15, 2009 Comments off

Now and then I see it in your tail–
first a steady wag, and then it vibrates with purpose.
Now and then your gait is deliberate, and your eyes are bright.
Your goal is in sharp focus,
and I know that for a few minutes
you’ve found your tennis ball again.

Casey had three good days in a row last week.
He took Madison’s bone to chew whenever she left it unattended, slept all night long, and tail in full wagging vibration, he brought me his tennis ball.

More important–when I tossed the ball across the living room, Casey remembered that tennis balls exist for him to chase, to bounce upon, to snatch and catch and race back to me so that I can throw the tennis ball again. And when he was chasing the tennis ball, he stayed on task all the way through, instead of losing his tennis ball and forgetting that we were playing.

I love it when his tail wags, his eyes shine, and he remembers how to play.

Originally published at “Gaelen’s Cafe: Life Out Loud” March, 2009 (c) Patricia A. Steer
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