Sunday, December 22, 2013

Weaves and teeter

No one attended yesterday's open practice agility session, which was perfectly fine with me, as it meant that I was free to set up a full set of 2x2s right across the open middle of the room. Someone asked if Chimera was having problems with skipping poles because he was getting faster, and a lightbulb went off in my head. He is learning to single-step the poles at a fast pace, but if he loses his rhythm, it makes him skip a pole. (He also skips if I'm running too quickly, which makes him speed up more than he can handle.)

I thought back to Susan Garrett's 2x2 DVD, and remembered that she helps dogs learn the proper footwork by opening up each pair of poles just a little bit, so they're offset just enough to make the motion easy for the dog. I did that for Cai, and I could see the difference right away. We practiced various entrances from other obstacles along with front and rear crosses on the way in. The only big problem I still see is that if I run hard ahead of him, he'll often skip a pole near the end to try to keep up with me. (Though he always gets himself through the final pair, so he understands that part of the behavior!) If I get another chance to practice all by myself, I will set up the slightly-offset poles again, and do other forms of distraction training (ie ignoring treats and toys on the ground and me doing things like jumping up and down or tripping and "falling"). Hopefully that proofing will then allow him to focus on the poles completely even when I'm running ahead.

In the meantime, he can do the competition set of 12 poles during class, as long as I stay beside him or behind him.

In teeter news, he is eager to run up the teeter because he knows he'll get high value treats. However he doesn't like the movement of the teeter while he's going across it. Same problem my last Papillon had -- he is happy to run up a steep plank (like the a-frame) and a narrow plank (like the dog walk) and he doesn't mind the falling -- if he's already at the end, I can drop it all the way and he'll be back for more. It's the fact that the board starts moving as he's running across that bothers him. He'd made excellent progress during our private lesson with Sandy Rogers, but then was regressing again. Once again I had the thought that the irregular practice was making it worse. Twice he managed to go up the teeter while I wasn't looking and rode it all the way down. A few other times we practiced with the chair propping it up, as Sandy had shown us, but he was still stopping as soon as the board started moving, riding it down, and then going the rest of the way. The movement was not predictable to him; it kept changing. It's also noticeable that because of his body weight and the calibration of this specific teeter, the tipping point is where he reaches the edge of the contact zone. I'm sure he's made the connection and is purposefully slowing down at the color change.

I'm thinking that perhaps the answer is to stop changing the behavior of the teeter, and let him practice running and riding it down as-is, with no props or manipulation. Let him gain confidence and speed up and start to favor the end of the board through reward placement. I tried that out (see, here I'm changing the scenario again...), with me standing on the far edge, facing him to encourage him, and putting treats at the edge as soon as it started to tip. I'll run this idea by our instructor during our next class, and I'm trying to schedule another private with Sandy as well.

I really dislike the teeter.

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