Training For Attitude

After a short bout of winter temperatures and frozen ground we have warm weather again so we used it for some agility training. And again I’m incredibly proud of my Java. Possibly too proud of her, like a parent who is proud that her toddler has learned how to walk – as if that was a special accomplishment and not something all healthy children learn in due time. But hey, it feels good to be proud of her so you’re stuck with this post 🙂

As you know we started working on Java’s teeter. We don’t train it much (usually just a few reps before we run a sequence), but at least now I remember to do it. I was avoiding it because I wasn’t confident that I can keep her confidence (screwed up, huh?) and kept postponing teeter work. But enough is enough, avoiding teeter isn’t going to help Java’s confidence either, so we dived in. I am happy to report that I have failed to scare Java so far! 🙂

My first priority when training teeter is her attitude. I want her to be happy to jump on this unstable surface and comfortable with the loud bang it produces. We have worked on both parts since she was a puppy, but she can still get scared if the bang is too loud so I didn’t know what to expect. It would be most helpful to use toys in such situation, so that her drive to chase overrides any minor fears. But the best placement of reward for teeter is right at the end of the board, NOT a thrown toy so that she could chase it. A lot of people use tug in such situations, but Java’s desire to tug in position is not strong enough.

I tried using a double reward – cheese in position and a thrown toy after release, but she was breaking position too often. This really surprised me since we do pretty challenging 2on2off stuff on a box at home and she never breaks. It turned out I was underestimating the value of thrown toy. If Java could speak she would tell me that the order of rewards from most favorite to least favorite is:

  1. Thrown toy. ANY toy. Just throw it! Do it! Now!!!
  2. Toy in my hand, moving away from her
  3. Cheese
  4. Other foods
  5. Tug toy shoved in her face (this is how teeter training with a tug is often done)

Java isn’t dumb. If she gets cheese for staying in position and a thrown toy for breaking position, guess what she will choose? I decided to train using just food (so I can reward in position) and once she had a nice history of that, use only a thrown toy as a reward, so there is no competition between the two reinforcers. It worked!

Today I used a toy for the first time (except for one or two trainings in summer which are long forgotten) and very predictably Java decided that stopping is for losers 😉 However, we were able to correct this very quickly. It was pointed out to me that I always run ahead of her and that I should try stopping with her. So I did. Oops I guess I need to vary what I do more!

We also did some sequences. Not trusting that the dog will take a jump gets you in all sorts of trouble. It was quite comical. We have a lot of things to learn before competing, but hey at least we can do extension to collection stuff – if they give us such a course we’ll nail it 😉

I love watching Java jump. She seems to have a natural talent for it, at least compared to Ruby. 😉 And she does the most beautiful extended jumping… I hope she will be able to keep it when jumps are raised to 65cm.

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