Sunday, 27 April 2014

Training Round for Finn

Yesterday was the last day in the Winter League series at The Patch. 

Finn, although too young to be in the League itself, was able to do training in the Pay on the Day ring.  

As expected, there were a few distractions, and Finn's attention wandered sometimes.  However for a young pup - first time in a ring - I was more than pleased with how he responded.

Amy took a few photos, and I think they show how much he is just enjoying the experience.

I was particularly proud of him doing a start wait for me, and then achieving the first half dozen jumps and a tunnel of a Jumping round.  We have a way to go in terms of direction communications, but I came out of the ring grinning from ear to ear.

So - some Summer training, and next Winter League we'll be out there testing ourselves in real competition.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

First Obedience Competition for Finn.

I somewhat optimistically entered Finn for the "Pre-Beginners" Obedience Class at the BDSS Show today.  It amuses me that we are not just "Beginners" (which might logically seem to be the place to "begin") but that we are PRE-Beginners!

As it was, this level was tough enough for us.  Luckily the judge was totally encouraging and put us all at our ease.  We were fifth in the running order, and so I got a chance to watch a couple of others go before me.

Finn was a bit excited by the whole environment, so I had to take him away for another walk around as we waited for our turn.  The first exercise, on the lead, was very simple, and involved a few turns right and left and a halt and sit.

Unfortunately an "About Turn" is not so easy to achieve on a scooter - as the Aztec doesn't have a great turning circle!  No matter the judge just smiled and adjusted his position to cope!  Finn did all this quite nicely, if not quite as perfectly as I would aspire to.

Then it was the Wait and Recall, which he achieved.  (I stepped off the scooter so he could properly sit in front of me, and also do a proper finish.)

The off-lead handling was the same as above - but was not so successful.  Unfortunately some smells beckoned... so we did the last bit on the lead again.

Later we returned to do our "Stay", which we did with the other dogs that had also not achieved the whole off-lead exercise, and this Finn did well.

Over all I was very pleased with him.  I might even try another obedience class!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Thinking about Right and Left commands.

Yesterday morning I posted a question on FaceBook about right and left commands in agility.  The responses were very interesting, so I thought I'd share them here.

My question was: 

So sometimes on a course we might want a turn right at a given point on vocal command. So we would like to be able to yell "Right" and have the dog turn just when told!

Other times we might want them to take an obstacle and turn immediately after.

However in this case, the command needs to be given before we actually want them to turn. 
So "Jump Right" would mean Jump and then turn Right, rather than turn right on hearing the word Right!

Do dogs work out this difference in what we mean? Your thoughts?

The short answer:

Joanne Orrell:
Absolutely, if that's what you have taught them and been consistent with it, then they will pick up on it pretty quickly.

This sounds promising. However as with all things there can be more aspects to consider as well:

Yvonne Lynch:
From a linguistic perspective, dogs understand words in a very different way to the way humans do. Humans understand language and can combine words in completely new ways and still derive meaning.

We debated this a bit further and it seems dogs will hear "Jump Right" not as two separate commands strung together to be acted in sequence, but rather a single command "Jump-Right" which always means a certain thing.

Jan Winsor:
We have stopped stringing cues together - such as Jump, Turn right etc, and taken the time to train distinct and discrete cues for each separate behaviour. 

So with this in mind it might be better to use separate and shorter commands to refer to jumping and immediately turning tightly.  For looser turns after a jump, there seemed to be agreement that the command could be given after the dog had committed to jumping the obstacle.

Controlling the tightness of a turn could be another issue:

Joanne Orrell:
I tend to just use the command more so I would say this this this (my right command) rather than just one this or back for left. She knows then that I want her to turn quicker and tighter.

So, for me, if I'm using the word Right, it could look like this:

The discussion continued and it's clear there are a lot of ways to make verbal directionals work, but so long as a handler is consistent, then the dog should work it out.

Yvonne made another point about how dogs learn compared to humans:
The other thing I've learned from my day job (Speech and language therapist) is while people learn language really well with contrast (so contrasting left with right), dogs are not learning the pattern of language so the contrast is confusing. Teach left separately from right - the contrast is not helpful like it is for children.

So it seems that right and left should be taught at first as discrete exercises in their own right.  Perhaps tackled on different days, or at least with other activities in between.  Other posters made the comment that calling each turn - that they are doing anyway on arm signals perhaps - would also help reinforce the directionals.

So my plan?

I think I'm going to teach Right and Left as simple directionals to be obeyed when heard, with repetition to increase the turn tightness.

Then for jumping tightly round a wing, when the dog really needs to know BEFORE the jump, I'm going to use Wrap and Loop as individual commands meaning JumpRight and JumpLeft.

And that has about exhausted my brain for this morning...  Now just to go outside and help Finn speak my language!!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Contacts? "Touch" or Running?

So Finn is just about to start learning contacts and the debate is whether it would be better to learn a proper "touch" on the down slope, or whether to teach him to "run" off the contacts, without jumping?

He's a big striding boisterous dog, as can be seen here:

With Patsy, I had been teaching her the "touch" technique, when my handling style had to change.  As a result I decided that making contacts was the least of my worries and so didn't actively reinforce anything properly.

The result?  Well, mostly she gets her contacts, but sometimes she really misses! Ooops!

So with Finn, I'm wondering whether a "touch" would be useful.  This way might give me more time to get to a better position on the course perhaps?

Or would the "running contacts" be better, by reducing the need for me to be in position as he runs off the obstacle?

I think perhaps it all centres on how well Finn can learn "right" & "left" vocal commands.

If he can come off the contact in the direction I call, then even if I'm not in an ideal position I can hopefully call his next move.

Jury still out on which would be best for me. Your thoughts welcome!  :D

Oh and picture above shows my new wheels.  I'll have to do a post about them soon!

PS Edit 6th May:  After some discussion online, and with Louise our club trainer, I've opted not to go with running contacts.  I'm going to teach him to stop at the end of each contact and wait for a release.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Pictures from Puppy Agility Class

Finn settled more quickly this week, but still gets very over-excited on arrival to class.  

One problem is barking in excitement.  So each time, I just reversed the scooter further away from the group until he stopped.  He got the idea!  

Anyway it was a lovely bright day, if a bit windy, and I gave my camera to Janeen who took the following snaps of the class.  

Lining up ready for the first exercise:

Ach Finn, look at the camera:

 In this exercise we were doing 2 jumps up to tunnel turn a the top, and back down a line of jumps.  Yay Finn!

Amy with Pixie (Finn's sister).

Pixie learning to do channel weaves, helped by Louise.  Amy is calling Pixie through from the other end.

Better pose this time.  :)

Finn practicing channel weaves:

Queuing (A frame on it's side in background... to windy to put it up!)

All in all it was a great session.  All the dogs seem to be progressing well now and enjoying training.  Next Sunday is Easter Sunday, so we'll miss a week of training.  Lots to keep practicing a home however.

I've been watching Kristy Netzer's DVD, "Dial Up the Distance", and Shona printed out the notes to go with it.  Takes a wee bit of tweaking for use with the scooter, but I like how Kristy works with her dogs and the DVD shows how to break things down into simple stages.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

First Agility Class for Finn.

A windy day up at Cooperhill, but the puppy agility class started today.

Finn was rather excited, and somewhat lacking the social skills to be part of the group, but once asked to actually DO something he participated to the full.

So these are the exercises we did:
- Sending the dogs out around a jump wing.
- Tunnels, straight, curved and running on afterwards
- Round a wing & into tunnel.
- Beginner see-saw exercise - just getting dogs to step onto down side and accepting the movement.

Finn coped well with these, and gradually calmed down during the class, so that in the end he could stand in the group without getting over excited.

Anyway no photos from today, so here's a wee picture of Finn helping me sew yesterday.

Very attentive student. ;)

PS Oh and Finn also got his Bronze Good Citizen Award a couple of weeks ago!