Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Agility update

Agility practice outside of class is consisting entirely of teeter, dog walk/a-frame contact, and weaves. A few weeks ago I switched to a different way to teaching the teeter. The standard approach seems to be a foundation of wobble board and bang game, then getting the dog to run across a lowered teeter, and then slowly raising it. Chimera was fine until we started raising it. This is the same point at which Dragon started being nervous about the teeter. Yet it was a surprise with Chimera because he'd never shown any nervousness during wobble board or similar foundation exercises. When I met as a 10.5 week old puppy, I put down a serving tray turned upside down, which rocked back and forth a small amount. I lured him over it and got him going back and forth with tossed treats, and he acted as if he didn't even notice the movement. I think the problem with continually raising the teeter, even in small amounts, is that the movement is constantly changing just when the dog thinks that he has it under control. Rather than shaping toward a confident, high teeter, for some dogs it makes them lose faith in the whole thing.

So my instructor suggested that I use Silvia Trkman's method -- go straight to a full-height teeter, hold the end up for the dog, and control the drop completely. Chimera has no issue with the drop itself, once he's on the end. At this point he will happily ride it down at full-speed about halfway, or at a slightly slower speed all the way. It's the tipping point that made him nervous. I'm slooowly starting to hold my hand an inch or two underneath the high end, so that it tips just a tiny amount as Cai goes over. So far so good -- he's excited to go on it again and again for his reward of baby food smeared onto the end (on a piece of duct tape, so as not to contaminate the obstacle).

The dog walk and a-frame have a modified running contact: a down on the ground after running off. I'm using a cut up yoga mat and Cai definitely understands his job when the mat is there. I can run fast ahead or front cross and he will down on the mat. I can also send him ahead of me, but I have to be close behind him to remind him to lie down facing forward instead of turning around to face me, which takes a lot of extra time. (He's about 50% on this now.) Right now I'm building muscle memory and speed and not worrying about fading the mat. Later I'll be able to cut it down to smaller sizes. I need to remember to add a verbal "contact!" to the behavior.

Weaves: I was having trouble adding my fast movement, as he'd get distracted every time and skip poles. I tried very hard to break it down into just slight acceleration, but couldn't quite "explain" to him what I wanted. Finally I figured out that if I moved slowly but stutter-stepped, he also would get distracted, yet after a few failed trials the lightbulb went on and he was able to ignore my strange movements and focus on finishing the poles. Then I practiced dancing or moving backwards, and he ignored me. Then I was able to add fast running ahead and he was able to ignore me. Then I worked on dropping treats in his peripheral vision while he weaved. Success! Now I just need to repeat this process in class to cement his understanding, and so I can really full-out run ahead.

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