Thursday, June 12, 2014

A very dirty dog

We took a trip to the Albany Bulb with some friends this morning.

Somehow he was able to pull the stick out of his tail on his own, with a minimal amount of fur loss.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Catching butterflies

Found this small butterfly net at an arts and crafts store. It has a telescoping handle. It'll be a perfect prop for Musical Freestyle.

I can hold it and have Cai put his front paws on the edge, put his head inside, jump over it, or I can use it to give choreography cues that look like they're part of the dance. Or he can hold it and either walk around with it, or just hold still while I toss small and light props into it. I can feel a routine developing already.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Rally-FrEe seminar with Julie Flanery, part 2

Some info about scoring and competition in Rally-FrEe:

All behaviors are variations of staying in precise position (heel, side, center, behind), circle (around the handler), spin, thru (handler's legs), plus paw lifts, the playbow, and free choice signs.

Each full course has 15 signs, plus a start sign (dog might start on left or right side of handler), and includes 4 free choice signs. Clips on the signs will indicate which side of the handler the dog should be on when they reach that sign. The sign is placed so that the handler is sandwiched between the dog and the sign (unless it is a change of direction or change of side).

There are no "do-overs" as in AKC Rally O. However you may pass by a sign and still get a Q, if you get enough points from the rest of the course. Scores are based on the execution of the signs (150 points, 10 for each sign), plus HAT: Heelwork (consistency in heeling), Attention (ability of the dog to focus on the task and the handler), and Teamwork (engagement, enjoyment, and working together) (30 points, 10 for each category). At each free choice station, you can also earn 5 points for creativity/complexity of the trick. 125 out of 200 points are required to Q.

Changes in the proximity of your dog's heeling are considered a fault - it doesn't matter if he slightly forges or lags, if he does it consistently throughout the course. The subtlety of your physical cues is considered - in higher levels, the expectation is for fewer lure-like cues. Cues that look counter to luring are scored higher (ie, putting up your right hand as your dog is going to your left side). You are not penalized for giving multiple cues as long as your dog is continually responding and not exhibiting refusal (ie, chanting "around around around" as your dog is making his way around you).

For free choice behaviors, judging is based on what is presented, without assuming what the intended behavior is. (In other words, if I cue my dog to roll over and he only lies down, the lying down behavior is judged on its own, without assuming that he was supposed to do something more.) BUT apparent mistakes by the handler will be taken into account - so if I then get upset at the dog and re-cue the roll over, I WILL be dinged for it. Just pretend that whatever your dog did, that was what was supposed to happen. Make sure that your dog starts and ends on the correct side of your body when doing a free choice behavior.

Course maps are made available 7-10 days prior to an event (whether live or video competion), so that handlers have time to decide on their free choice behaviors and brush up on any rusty skills. Music is played during live events, and is encouraged but not required for video submissions.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Agility match in Elk Grove

This morning I dragged myself out of bed at 5 am for our second agility match, in Elk Grove. There was a jumpers course set up outside on grass, and a standard NADAC course set up in a barn with dirt flooring.

Chimera was of course distracted by the dogs, and did some demand barking, but I'm still so happy at the change in his reactivity after taking the L-theanine and lactium for a few weeks now.

We were in the jumpers course three times. I went in with food (boiled chicken) because it seemed like Cai was too sniffy and distracted to play. The first time, this worked fine. I kept his leash on and we did some heel work for treats. The second time he didn't take food, and I tried using sniffing as a reward. Unfortunately, by his third turn he was so overstimulated that he barely picked his head up from the grass and I carried him out before our 90 seconds were even up. I was bummed out but decided to go ahead and do our two turns in the standard ring - at the very least it was an opportunity to practice leash walking in a very distracting environment, and I'd paid for it long ago.

Cai was still turning down treats, but I tried giving him a rubdown and scratching above his tail. He liked that. I tried doing some playful pushing on him and running, and he perked up more. Then I leaned forward and blew into his face, and he started barking excitedly! That's something that I do at home when we're playing. I don't remember what gave me the idea to blow on him in the first place, but it instantly revs him way up. I usually use it as a self-control exercise. I don't want to use it so much during stressful/distracting situations that it loses its effect, but clearly it's a secret weapon I can pull out from time to time.

During our final 90 second turn, I was able to take Cai's leash off and have him do one or two jumps, and I used playful bouncing and pushing and blowing in his face as a game, and he was SO happy.

During our weekly agility class, food has always seemed to trump play. Color me surprised.

Rally-FrEe seminar with Julie Flanery, part 1

Back in April, I attended a two day seminar with Rally-FrEe's creator, Julie Flanery. I've been so busy with work that I haven't had to time to write up a summary until now. Chimera had a working spot, and Sherry and Jacques went with us as well.

The seminar took place at a farm with an indoor training building. There were training fields with grass outside, and adjacent to the training areas were alpacas! I was super excited because I really want to raise alpacas someday. I thought that Cai would find it impossible to focus, between the strange dogs belonging to other participants, the strange animals, and the new smells. We have had very few opportunities to work on grass and he's used to an even surface under his feet. I'm happy to say that he surprised me! I had hot dogs with me and started off giving him a very high rate of reinforcement (one treat every couple of steps and after every trick) when we would do our practice runs outside. By the last run on the second day, I was able to lower the rate to one treat every five or so steps of heeling. Considering the circumstances, I thought of it as a big success. Seriously. With alpacas and dogs and smells on grass, staying connected with me for five steps at a time was significant. Everyone starts somewhere.

I have three videos of our runs from the second day:
"thru" course first time
"thru" course second time
full course

Enough about Chimera. Here are Julie's general training tips for those who are interested in Rally-FrEe:

Practice your foundation skills early, often, and on-going ("use it or lose it"). Avoid making assumptions. Video tape yourself and keep notes! Attention is a foundation skill that should be frequently rewarded, and attention/eye contact is always one of the criteria for the reward. Have a plan before you get your dog out for training - be specific on what you want to accomplish during the session - don't practice the same criteria over and over. The dog should be in a relaxed down or a crate when not actively working

When you're practicing at home, replicate the pattern that you'll follow at a show - crate the dog first, get your gear ready and mentally prepare yourself, then release your dog from his crate and immediately start warm up games and work. Keep your dog busy and engaged "from crate to gate." To prevent inattentiveness due to stress, plan and practice every aspect of your performance - make it predictable.

Play music while training so that the behaviors are taught and practiced at the right rhythm (and to create a positive CER). Choose free choice behaviors that are high-value secondary reinforcers in the ring.

Julie's Tibetan Terrier, Kashi, had a long bout of digestive upset and illness as a young dog. She often wouldn't eat, and so Julie frequently rewarded her with toy play, but she also brainstormed ways to get the most use out of the limited amount of food rewards Kashi would eat. As a result, she has become a fan of training props which allow the dog to quickly start performing the desired behavior and get lots of rewards in a short amount of time. She uses x-pens (especially good for shaping a dog to go around the handler or around a prop, and for backing up), target sticks, platforms, and perches for pivoting. This greater amount of environmental management also creates more opportunities for errorless learning, and there is less handler movement to fade out of the final picture. It allows you to avoid NRMs and continued failures, which can cause a lack of confidence and slow, tentative responses. Instead, each successful rep reduces stress in the dog and handler.

Remember to look where you want the dog to go, not directly at your dog. Give multiple treats after your dog performs a trick and then returns to position, to reinforce being straight at your side or straight in center/behind. This is particularly important for the "thru" to prevent the dog from anticipating figure 8s and swinging his butt out. Always do more single thrus than multiple weaves.