Posts Tagged With: Java

Running Contacts Madness Continues

We haven’t been training much, but Java was hitting her mat like a pro. Any distance, any place. True, we only used racing to a food bowl as a reward, but it looked awesome. Until she got back and tummy problems and it all went downhill. 😦

We didn’t do any RC training for 3 weeks. Even though Java seemed fine in the evenings I didn’t want to risk making her uncomfortable and getting that associated with training. Then after three weeks we tried again and – BAM – Java hit perhaps 50% of the time. Say whaaaaaaaat? And it wasn’t just the first session. It looked like she wasn’t even trying.

Concluding that the dog isn’t trying is a very risky thing – it could be very unfair to them if they actually WERE trying and they can’t tell you you’re wrong. So I brushed it aside. Surely she just forgot how to adjust (as weird as that seemed to me). She used to do best if we did one session every day, we’ll do that for a week and she’ll be fine.

Then I got a little lazy busy and we only did two or three sessions that week. Not much improvement.

Luckily our weekend getaway place had a perfect lawn with a perfect little slope so I could even start doing hill RC work if hits got close to 100% again.

20150502_115024Unfortunately, we had trouble on the road and arrived after dark. Next day, it rained all day, but cleared at night. I don’t know what got into me, but I decided to do our first RC training in this new place in the dark, on a slope next to the cottage, lit only by the porch lights. Java did BEAUTIFUL hits! She was excited, she was fast, covered the mat nicely with her stride and only leaped over it once. I was feeling very excited about our next training!

Next day we woke up into a sunny morning. The lawn was waiting for us. Java took food in the morning, didn’t seem nauseous, we were good to go. First try, poor speed, leaped over. Next try, leaped over. I dragged the mat further down so it was on the flat. I got some hits, but also some leaps. Disappointed.

I got Ruby out, did some sends to the mat, impulse control, threw toys for him and had a blast. He is such a fun dog to train 🙂 Then I thought what the heck, this RC training is going so poorly I might as well break the rules and reward with toys even though she’s likely to look back at me IF she’s going to hit at all.

First try, great speed, but leaps over, looking back at me. Next try, hit, possibly looks back a bit while moving forward, gets toy thrown. Next try, another beautiful hit, focusing forward more. And so on, about 8 hits in 10 tries. 😀

I didn’t get it. What happened here? Food is not working anymore, but toys are? And why did food work great on Friday evening?

Here’s my sister’s theory. If a dog is nauseous, even a little, food will have a lower value, won’t it? And if this behavior of hitting the mat is mentally difficult for Java, then she will need a really good incentive to think hard. So it’s possible that on Friday evening food had a higher value because Java felt 100% OK (she was also fast, which is another indicator of both food value and how she felt). The next morning, however, food had lower value. Remember, Java’s nausea always came on in the morning. Java was slower. She didn’t try as hard. But toys were still high value and it was worth it to try hard to hit.

I don’t know if the above theory is true. It could be. Or it could just be that random breakdown of behavior that happens so often with RC. Three weeks without training can change the behavior.

Just in case I did stop training RC in the mornings for a week and got a better % of hits. Then we started some hill work*. First try was a leap, the rest were hits, and in the end she got three beautiful jackpots. 😀 Of course I got all excited about this, but the next session was on the flat with a different setup and it didn’t look half as good. I really thought that once the dog got the idea of hitting the mat and learned how to adjust stride to hit, the performance wouldn’t randomly change like it does with running the plank. Boy, was I wrong. I must be crazy to be training this. Well, at least it gives me something to complain write about, right? 😉

* hill work: putting the mat on a gentle slope (currently much less than a dog walk). I put it in the middle of a slope, not at the bottom of the hill (my slope doesn’t have a well defined “bottom” anyway). There is no reason to leap over anything except when she wants to avoid the mat. The plan is to work up to a steeper slope (probably a bit steeper than a dog walk) and then move to a hill that will have a similar contact to ground as the dog walk so that Java will have to learn to run all the way down to hit the mat.

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Then There Were Turns

Here’s where we are right now with running contacts, not training as often as we should, but still making progress. We started doing some 90 degree turns. I decided to put props at the end of the mat to make it very clear what is good vs bad execution. She can still do a “bad” turn by jumping over them, so I’m hoping that will work in my favor and they will be easier to fade. Plus, they stack 🙂

Aaaaand we finally took the show outside which means we have more room to practice from different starting spots! There was some confusion with 2o2o in the beginning, but turns are helping with that 😉 Then for a while she was quite prone to jumping over the mat, probably from the added excitement of training outside. Now she seems to be back to hitting almost 100% of the time so I can be picky about which hits I like best. That would be:

  1. two front feet
  2. a combination of front and rear feet
  3. just one front foot, but in the middle of the target

I don’t like to see just rear feet or one front foot on the edge of the target.

She is running toward a food bowl for now, but at some point I will have to replace it with static toy I think.

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We’ve Got Stride Adjustment :)

I hope you like running contacts because you might be reading a lot about them in near future. I *tried* coming up with a different topic for this blog post, I really did, but the thoughts about RC just wouldn’t go away.

We hit a very important milestone last week: Java is adjusting her stride to hit the target!!!

I suspected it before, but I couldn’t be sure because there isn’t enough space in my living room to vary the distance much. But last week I was able to train her at a bigger distance and she was hitting the same way no matter where she started. Not only there were no misses, but majority of the hits were very precise: first front paw hit the edge of the target, followed by the other three paws neatly spread out across a 30x80cm target. I’m over the moon that she adjusted her stride to give me the best possible hit. 🙂

We’re training on three different targets:

  • Non slip bath mat, white, 30x75cm, very thin – gives me the best hits
  • Non slip mat for washing machine, black, 30x60cm, 1cm thick – gives good hits, but I think it might look confusing on my carpet. It’s also harder to see black feet on a black mat…
  • Dog pillow, blue, 50x70cm, 5cm thick – this one is very tempting to jump over, which is great for teaching Java a difference between good and bad tries

One of Susan Garret’s Puppy Peaks videos shows Swagger running across a low wobble board as preparation for his running contacts and now I’m thinking that it would make sense to make such a board for Java as well. I’m guessing that a dog who can confidently stride through a wobble board won’t have so many problems if the training plank will wobble a little bit. I already have a wobble board in my “dog gym” (my living room 🙂 ), but its fulcrum is way too high to run through. I need something lower.

Along with working different targets it’s also time to pay more attention to turns. I like the idea of working on these from the ground up, so that the dog experiences the differences in contact hits when going straight vs when turning. We have only done a few sessions on turns so far, so it’s high time to get more serious about it.

I have to admit I’m a little unsure about what I like vs what I dislike which is why I have been avoiding them. What do I do when front feet hit the target, but one of the rear feet hits next to the target during a turn? Do I reward that? On a dog walk that rear foot would hit thin air, so I would be rewarding an impossible turn execution.

We’re training turns using a cone/pole to wrap around, so we don’t have problems with missing the target. I did try one session without a pole and Java started just skimming the target, but we soon came to an understanding that she needs to actually hit it. Still, those hits were quite high on the target and I would prefer her to cover the target well and then turn, so I went back to using a pole. Turning high on the contact might be OK on a full dog walk (haven’t decided yet), but while the target is still on the ground I see no reason to let her do it that way.

Then there is also a lurking struggle with stopping vs running. Sometimes Java decides that the training setup looks like 2o2o and offers stopping on the target, especially when the reward is in front of her, because that’s how we proofed 2o2o and she was very good at it. I can usually break her out of it by changing the setup, but it would be nice if we got to a point where I could use a static reward without confusion.

So obviously plenty of things to work on, but for now my heart is singing because Java is adjusting her stride to hit 🙂 Surely everything will be easy now!

Yeah, right.

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Missing That Running Contact Feeling

When I decided to stop training running contacts, a friend (who obviously knows me better than I know myself) laughed and said I won’t be able to stay away from them for long. She was right. I love everything about running contacts… the fluidity for performance, the rush of running alongside the dog, the thrill when you see your dog run a full height dog walk for the very first time after months of training. Everything except a whippet falling off the dog walk because they were too crazy and misstepped and couldn’t hang on. That part is no fun at all.

[Just to clarify, I’m only training RC to Java, Ruby will continue to perform 2o2o as he goes crazy when I include dog walk in a sequence and I need to babysit how he runs up so he doesn’t hurt himself.]

A search for a slower performance

Many moons ago

Many moons ago

So I was thinking… what if Java wouldn’t run full speed? I’m not talking about trotting across the dog walk, but a bit less than crazy full speed running would be nice. And especially, running in a bit calmer state of mind. Could I train a slightly slower and safer dog walk performance? I heard the warning many times that if you don’t train with maximum speed then you might never get a maximum performance of that obstacle, and that would actually work in my favor here. But can I teach the dog to consistently hit the contact while NOT running full speed?

I first learned about running contacts from Silvia Trkman and her method requires that the dog runs full out. The story goes that if the dog isn’t running full-out in training, they certainly WILL in trials and then they will leap over the contact because they will either:

  • Not care about hitting the contact when they’re in such a hurry to get to the next obstacle, or
  • Won’t know HOW to hit it at that speed

Daisy Peel adapted this method so that it can be trained at lower speeds as well and it seems that she is able to train dogs to a decent level of performance without the necessity of running full tilt from the start. So that myth is busted. She trains using a Manners Minder, which for many dogs automatically results in less speed. So this method would be a natural choice for me, right?

Well, not so fast

I would also like to change another part of the method: run the dog over a plank at ever increasing heights and click when she is running nicely (without leaping) AND hitting the contact. That’s simple for the trainer (once they learn to see the footfalls), but if I had you run for 10m and click for quality of one of your footfalls, how long would it take you to realize exactly which footfall I’m clicking for and which quality earned you that click?

Take into consideration that my timing would be way off because a series of events would have to happen:

  1. I would first have to see the footfall,
  2. then I would have to decide whether it fits the criteria,
  3. then the signal to move the muscles would have to travel down to my thumb
  4. which would then press the button on the clicker.

By the time you would hear the click you would be at least one stride further down the path. The only way to have good timing is to start *predicting* whether the dog is going to hit and clicking in advance. Otherwise you’re clicking on her first step OFF the dog walk – which is just about the worst timing possible, as you don’t want the dog to focus on how to get to the ground as soon as possible.

Some dogs have nice even strides that make this prediction easier. Other dogs soon realize that you’re always late with your clicks and figure out that the click wasn’t about reaching the grass at all, but about what they did on the plank. Java doesn’t seem to belong to either of these categories. I think she believed that my clicks and verbal markers were for running on the ground, not on the plank, so it “worked” for a while, until she found a shortcut – just jump straight to the ground 😛

Well, Ruby also didn’t belong to either of those groups of dogs, I just persisted long enough that he somehow figured it out. But there has to be a better way, right?

There has to be a better way to teach that it’s all about the last 60 or 45cm of a 400cm long plank

Devorah Sperber of Art And Dog Blog got me thinking about building a Clicker Board, which is a great idea since it’s cheap and ensures perfect timing of the click. I even bought a board and a bunch of clickers to test it 🙂 Unfortunately I don’t have my own dog walk to incorporate the clicker board onto, so I would have to use it on top of the club dog walk and I felt it was too bulky for whippet sensitivities.

For a while I was tinkering with building an electronic contact board which would be much slimmer. (I know I could buy a commercial version, but they seemed a wee bit expensive to me, especially when including shipment to Slovenia.) I got it partly working, but not well enough for training. Maybe some day when I get around to it 🙂

Enter foot targets

There used to be a widespread belief that foot targets were an ineffective way of training RC, but these days I see more dogs with beautiful running contacts that were trained that way. Another myth busted. Of course a foot target needs to be faded in the end. Still, if it helps to bring clarity I’m all for it.

A year ago I tried Dawn Weaver’s method because her dogs seem to have a very controlled style of running the dog walk, no craziness (yay!). I am not at liberty to discuss the details of her method, but will say that her dogs have both stop and a run and her method reflects this. Unfortunately Java became quite conflicted over when she should stop and when she should run. Then she got injured in April and I had a lot of time to think.

I was crushed. I thought what’s the use in training a really really difficult behavior when the dog could get injured at any time (not necessarily during agility, but even out on a walk like Java). Even the big names of agility world take two years or longer to train all possible entries and exits to a running dog walk in all sorts of situations. Running contacts might *look* trained once they start using them in competition, but there is a lot to be done still. Wouldn’t it be wiser to just go with 2o2o like I first planned so we could finally start running agility courses?

But 7 months (April-November) was a long time to wait, and I was still curious about running contacts. I started looking at other methods that use foot targets at least in part – whatever I could find out about Susan Garrett’s, Martina Klimesova’s and Laura Chudleigh’s method. Of course, after learning about different approaches, I couldn’t just sit on it and not try it out. Watching my friends training running contacts with their young dogs might have had something to do with it as well 😛

This is probably crazy, but three weeks ago Java and I started playing with foot targets. At this point she is basically going through retraining, which is generally a very bad idea. The best way is to train ONE type of performance and stick with it. Java has done some Silvia Trkman’s method, some Dawn Weaver’s method and some stopped contacts – enough to confuse anyone 🙂

Wish us luck, we’ll need it 😀

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…and we’re back!

My poor tortured dogs during walk in Russi

My poor tortured dogs during walk in Russi

Last week we went to Ravenna to see dr. Piras. (Thank you all for nice wishes!)

This was the longest trip I ever took with Ruby and Java – about 5.5 hours each way. They did surprisingly well, settling down and not making a peep for the whole journey. I thought we would be hearing some complaining after two hours, especially with no stops. I remember going for my first two hour drive with Ruby and how impatient he got after just one hour of driving. We stopped at a rest stop, I let him out, he discovered it was freezing outside and was very happy to go back to his crate 😛 Well, there was no complaining this time. Maybe it helped that it was freezing cold in Ljubljana and they figured they would rather be in their crates than out there 😉

By the time we got to Ravenna they had enough, though. They were so happy to be out of their crates and we even had some time to take a walk. Not so happy when they discovered we drove all that way to see a vet of all people, but they were good patients nevertheless.

We found out that Ruby’s toe that gave him the most trouble in the past has become unstable – in other words it moves around too much 😦 Apparently there is nothing we can do about it that would stabilize it for good, so it needs to be buddy wrapped with the next toe to fixate it whenever he runs – forever. I have been wrapping it since we came back and I think he is driving from the rear more than he did before. Maybe I’m just seeing things that I want to see, but it really looks to me like he’s using his rear legs better.

I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t understand Java’s diagnosis very well… By the time of our appointment I was very very tired (driving in a car is very taxing for me for some reason), I slept only 4 hours that night and I think only half of my brain was still awake at that point. I *thought* I understood what dr. Piras was saying, but by the time we got back to Ljubljana it was all a haze.

Well, after calling Piras ten times a day all week I was finally able to get him on the phone yesterday and this time I was able to process the info 🙂 Here it goes: Java sprained the medial collateral ligament when she fell into the ditch and then some scar tissue formed. The ligament is doing OK. The swelling we see is a result of scar tissue pressing on the tendon sheath. The fluid in the tendon sheath is pumped up when Java runs, but because of the pressure from scar tissue doesn’t flow back down. It helps if I massage it or guide the joint through it’s range of motion.

He advised using DMSO on it, therapeutic ultrasound and to keep wrapping the wrist for a long time to help with proprioception and therefore stabilization. Just like in humans, sprains have a tendency to repeat, so it’s best to be careful… but he said she can run and even do light agility. Ahhhh… I feel so relieved that she doesn’t need a surgery or another 6 months of rest!

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Vet Time Again

Two weeks ago Java’s wrist swelled up after being trouble-free for more than four months. I guess the vet was wrong when he said that it should heal on its own in 6 weeks to 4 months. We were very patient and yet… Here we go again 😦 It makes me so sad to have to restrict Java’s freedom again even though she is a good little patient. She does very well with walks on leash, even with other whippets running around which seems to fascinate other whippet owners to no end. The only thing that really gets to her is if someone is throwing a ball to said whippets. Then she starts screaming her ALL! BALLS! ARE! MINE! song.

Last Sunday there was a Canine Sport Medicine Seminar in Croatia and Alessandro Piras, an Italian vet who works with racing Greyhounds and sport dogs of all breeds, was presenting topics on sport injuries. He came highly recommended from several friends, so I went. I brought Java with me and she was a demo dog for physical examination. Piras thinks something is up with her medial collateral ligament. Tomorrow we’re driving to Ravenna to have it checked out. Fingers crossed that he will find the real cause of Java’s swelling and that she will soon be able to run free.

I am also bringing Ruby along as I’m really curious what Piras will say about his fat toes. It bothers me that he has two fat toes next to one another on his hind foot and the knuckles rub together, irritating the skin. It doesn’t seem like it will work long-term. For those not familiar with sighthound foot injuries, a “fat toe” is a toe that has been sprained and then developed a lot of scar tissue to strengthen the joint, so now the joint is bigger than it used to be.

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Use It Or Loose It

The popular saying holds true for play skills, too. For a while as I wanted to prevent Java’s wrist from swelling I didn’t dare to play much with her. I was afraid that movements from side to side and quick turns as she’s chasing the toy would put too much stress on her wrist. The vet told us that we should be careful with that wrist for four months and during this time we almost completely stopped using toys in training, only food, which is Java’s favorite anyway.

What happened? The same thing that happens to all dogs with whom their handlers only use their very best reinforcer – Java’s love for toys diminished and so did her play skills. She was still very happy to play outside (dogs can have different rankings of reinforcers depending on location), but not so much at home. If I initiated play in the living room she would grab the toy and tug halfheartedly and hope that treats are going to appear soon.

The solution for a dog who doesn’t like to play is simple: play more! Very short and fun sessions, ending in what dog likes the most. This is what worked for Java:

  • Playing before each food training session, therefore transferring value from food to play.
  • Occasionally reward the best play with food which I don’t have on me at the beginning, so the reward is a surprise. This is not the same as teaching play as a trick. I am just following what she already enjoys (play) with what she enjoys even more (food), as a surprise. Who doesn’t like a nice surprise? 🙂
  • Playing with two balls, teasing her.
  • Lots of toy chasing. This is the type of play she likes the most.
  • Restrains to a toy in which I pretend to race her. She gets VERY intense, speeds like a bullet and her turn back with the toy is just amazing. She would make a great Flyball dog.
  • She loves surprise downs and sits in the middle of Two Toy Game and she’s pretty darn good at them, too. Yes, playing becomes higher value if she has to work for the toy 🙂

I don’t have many rules as we play, but I do expect her to play with which ever toy I offer even though there might be more exciting toys within her reach. This rule is important to me, because it means that she is willing to ignore distractions while playing. In this case the distraction is a better toy than I have, some other day it could be treats in the grass or another handler playing with her dog nearby.

Here is a clip in which we’re brushing up on Play With My Toy and just building up the value of toy play:

It took a few sessions for her to stop hoping that I will play with The Beaver if she carries him around long enough. Now she will drop The Beaver immediately as I reach out for the other toy, even if it’s just old fleece.

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Our Vienna Adventure

After visiting the vet at Vienna Veterinary Faculty Java’s wrist remains a bit of a mystery. We went to do the ultrasound and as soon as the vet saw Java’s wrist she said it would be a waste of money to do it because her wrist isn’t swollen (not even a little). She did say that from X-rays I brought her it looks like it could be a tendinopathy on the flexor of the 1st toe. If there would be a persistent lameness a part would have to be severed surgically and that would solve the lameness. She would be able to run and do agility afterwards. But she isn’t lame and the only time she was limping was right after running into the ditch.

But there is also good news: I let Java run free in the park and also did some agility with her and her wrist was just fine 🙂 I guess it’s also possible that it’s healed by now (it’s been four months), but I will try to keep her from sprinting for a while.

The One Mind Dogs seminar was awesome! It was information overload for me, but I didn’t mind, as long as something stays in my memory I’m happy 🙂 I tried to write down as much as possible, but of course there are many things that slipped by me. I learned that Slovenian English accent is easily recognizable because so many people know Silvia Trkman’s English and apparently mine is the same (well duh – we’re from the same city). Someone even asked me if I was related to Silvia and didn’t look entirely convinced when I told him I wasn’t 😀 Though in Slovenia we sometimes joke that everyone is related to everyone else because the country is so small, so I guess in a way he was right. I just wish those genes would show up in my handling 😛

Java relaxing while other dogs run agility

Java relaxing while other dogs run agility

I loved Janita’s and Jaakko’s style of teaching. It seemed really logical and well thought through. No two people think exactly the same, so it was also interesting to listen to one and the other explain course choices and focus on slightly different things. While those who had working spots were running the course I was alternately listening in and going back to Java to keep her quiet for longer and longer periods of time. She wanted in on the action, and when she wants something she can be really loud, but with occasional treat she did really well (I used differential reinforcement of other behavior to stop her from barking and whining). The day was very hot and I didn’t want to leave her in the car even with door open, so I kept her in a shade by the course. Luckily there was water for dogs to cool in so I took her there periodically. The first time she was a little skeptic about jumping in, but afterwards she started pulling there as soon as she realized we’re heading for the water 🙂

By the end of the second day Java was really fed up with just hanging around. When the official training was over I warmed her up, lowered the bars to 20cm and did short obstacle sequences on Jaakko’s course. It was very challenging for us, but apparently it’s possible to learn something by watching, because we did things we could never do before 🙂 Java was barking like crazy and flying through the course. I even asked Jaakko to handle her for a sequence, and he did! He had a hard time keeping up with her because she didn’t send to obstacles as well for him as she does for me and those little 20cm jumps were not slowing her down much. That was fun to watch 🙂

In short, Vienna was great. We met wonderful people, made new friends, learned a lot, my health held up, Java’s wrist was great, and we did some agility after a long time. Perfect four days!

Time for bed now. I will write more about the seminar in the next blog post.

Java calmly watching ducks at the park! Success :)

Java calmly watching ducks at the park! Success 🙂

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In Which I Give Unsolicited Advice On Dealing With Adversity And Show Java’s Rally Obedience Tricks

If I counted it right my “30 posts in 30 days” was actually “25 posts in 30 days” which was about five times more than I usually write in a month. Not too shabby. I’m glad it’s over though 🙂 When I started I thought I will be writing about agility and daisies and unicorns, but then it turned out to be wrist and toe problems and witches and bad luck spells. It took a lot of strength to fight depressive thoughts. I think this was my most successful fight so far. So yay! I guess.

Here’s what helped:

  • TheObstacleIsTheWayListening to Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is The Way over and over again. I first listened to the audio book in the beginning of June and I thought it was pretty awesome. Then the reality of Java’s injury hit on June 15th and I found myself going back to it again and again. This is such a first-world-problem to have. No children dying, no epidemics or hunger to fight. But it’s a real problem to me and a real source of sorrow. The Obstacle Is The Way helped me get past the emotional side of it, to act and find other things to focus on. Ryan’s book talks about practical applications of stoicism and while that made me write it off at first (who wants to be stoic? Not me!), the book quickly changed my mind, especially since the stoic principles actually helped me to deal with a rough month better then I have in the past. I might read works of Marcus Aurelius or Seneca in the future. That’s how good this book is.
  • Especially with both dogs injured it’s easy to stay at home a lot and be less active, but that is such a mood killer. I tried to spend the same amount of time on my feet even when we weren’t going for long walks.
  • Helping to train Trinity was a blast and so was our little Whippet Agility group. It makes me feel connected with the sport even though I haven’t been running around equipment all month. It feels good to help others and see changes in their dogs.
  • And of course Rally Obedience! It was great to have something else to focus on, something that we could do regardless of injuries.

Yesterday we had our last Rally class and since Ruby had some mysterious tummy problems I decided not to fill him full of treats, so it was Java’s chance to shine. And shine she did. It’s obvious that she had less practice at it than Ruby and she is a bit bouncy on all exercises which makes it look a bit less like obedience and more like a flavor of Whippet Ballet, but I’ll take it 🙂 She did really really well with distractions. There was a dog barking, an unknown Golden Retriever next to our path (Java didn’t even glance at her), lots of rattling of treat containers and toy squeaking (distracting, but manageable) and instructor tossing a ball into the air while she was heeling (very tempting, but she made the right choice!!!). So proud of my girl 🙂

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Day 27 & 28: I Have A Plan

In less than two weeks I’ll be heading for Vienna to audit an OMD seminar by Janita Leinonen and Jaakko Suoknuuti. Trust me, the irony of driving to another country for agility workshop when I don’t even know when I’ll be able to do agility with my dogs is not lost on me. I have been thinking about it a lot. Would it just make me think of all the things I cannot do right now? Would I get all sad and depressed? Will I even remember anything of value since I won’t be able to try the moves with my dogs? Well I COULD practice the combinations on my own and visualize the dog, but

  • It would feel silly
  • I am crap at visualizing
  • How would I even know if I’m doing it right if I wouldn’t have a dog to show me?

But heck, I’m going anyway. I think it will be fun 🙂 I bet it will be interesting and even though I might not remember much by the time we’ll be able to do agility again it’s not a bad way to spend three vacation days. 😉 Plus, I’m taking Java with me. I’m trying to find some decent ultrasound diagnostics in Vienna as we speak. Keep your fingers crossed…

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Day 18: No Behavior Is Ever Trained

I have decided it’s time that pups and I got back to basics in our training. Back to doing core Recallers games, back to maintaining and upping the criteria in Rally Obedience, back to doing more self-control, just plain old basic stuff. It might not be fancy, but it really has a great impact on the big picture and right now it feels good to do basic stuff.

So this morning I focused on dogs touching my leg during heeling which meant I was clicking almost every step. I had to click this often for Java because she tries to offer all sorts of stuff since I taught her to go backwards around me (she looooves that trick!) and I wanted to make sure that she understood what we’re focusing on. I didn’t want to create a chain of move away from my leg – move close to my leg – slide her butt behind my leg (the start of going backwards around me) – correct position – click – treat. I wanted her to be in correct position 90% of the time. That went well. Then we did heeling over kibble on the floor and I noticed that after I deliver a treat she glances toward the floor (to check if the kibble is still there, no doubt) then she looks up. So I started clicking before she looked down which pretty much meant I was clicking and treating continuously while we were walking over kibble. She stopped trying to look down pretty quickly. Of course we didn’t get much duration yet, I’m saving this for the evening session 😉

For Ruby I also had to click very often because he developed a habit of walking 10-20cm away from my leg, which is not so bad in itself, but it seems to me like he’s moving further and further away with each Rally Obedience class and I would like to stop the trend. So today the criteria was that he had to touch my leg while heeling. Not too bad, but not good enough that I would add distractions to the picture, so instead of walking over kibble I had a different distraction exercise for him: I put him in a down and did recall to front with an empty food bowl near his path. That went good, so next time I filled the bowl with kibble. This is similar to one of Recallers exercises that he knows well, so I didn’t expect him to try to eat the kibble, but in RO class he sometimes veered toward the bowl instead of coming to me in a straight line. I am sure he would come directly to me if I used his recall word, but I never use that unless I intend to reward him really really well, and in RO I don’t plan to have a party after recall, so I was using an informal recall to get him to come to me. Now I need to teach him to come in straight line on this cue. Bowl of kibble didn’t even get a glance from him (I also had kibble, so my rewards were no better than what was on the ground). Very pleased. 🙂 Now I need to find the minimal situation in which he will fail.

Another problem that creeped into our training since we started doing RO was randomly getting up from a sit. Ever since Ruby was a puppy, Sit meant “sit there until I release you” and it worked really well once I proofed it. I only used one release word “OK” and he was listening for that. I could shout out “Orange” or run around, or throw his favorite ball, or throw a ball and let Java chase it and he would maintain that sit until I said OK. But with Rally Obedience exercises I didn’t always say “OK” before I gave next cue. Of course giving the next cue releases him from Sit so he can do what I cued, but apparently this has thoroughly confused him because he will now release on all sorts of things that were never meant as release, even just plain movement. Need to work on that release criteria more. This will be fun 🙂

In one of the videos for the Recallers 5.0 Susan Garrett said that no behavior is ever trained. It’s either improving or it’s deteriorating. So true. I should have this framed on my wall!


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Day 12&13: Why Are Whippets Fast When Running, But Slow In Training?

Today I was reminded of something I read a long time ago on a blog:

In my experience Whippets can suffer a bit from the ‘good dog’ syndrome. (disclaimer: of course there are exceptions to every rule!) It’s really easy to teach a Whippet to be well behaved, and I think that might be why one occasionally sees slow-ish Whippets in agility. Unlike some dogs who can take constant reminders not to go wild and act like heathens, Whippets seem to take the lesson to heart too quickly and once they’ve been convinced not to go wild, it’s hard to convince them that sometimes wild is appropriate.
Frankie Joiris

For those who don’t know her, Frankie is a remarkable animal trainer. She has trained several breeds of dogs, cats, birds (sorry I forgot which kind) and turtles for film industry. Heck, she taught her dog to tightrope walk! So when she talks I sit up and pay attention.

You know how with some whippets the handler says “Sit” and a whippet takes like 5 seconds before their butt finally reaches the floor? Are those ‘good dogs’? Sure. Are they well behaved? Possibly. Would I like my dog to sit like that? Hell no! If the butt is not on the ground within 1s (and that’s on a bad day) I’m seriously reconsidering my training session.

I don’t think Ruby was ever in danger of being one of those whippets who slow down because their owners want them to. He had another reason to be slow: he just didn’t care about what I wanted and about my stupid training ideas. He was fast and crazy when doing the things he wanted to do (usually mischief) and slow when it was “training time.” He was one of those 5-second-sit dogs. Well, maybe a little less, but he was sloooow. I don’t think anyone who sees him work today suspects how slow he really was.

Puppy Java in playtraining (c) Yinepu

Puppy Java in playtraining (c) Yinepu

Java is different, she definitely cares about what I think and though she is naturally fast it would be easy to make her slow down so she would be more user-friendly for slow human reflexes. That would make it easier to teach her precise heeling because she wouldn’t be so all over the place from guessing what I want. It would be easier to click at the right moment. But the downside would be that the resulting heeling (or sit, or down, or retrieve, or recall, or tunnel,…) would be slower and less intense.

The thing is, it can be difficult to get a fast, enthusiastic performance of a behavior that was taught in a slow manner. In that case you say “sit” and the dog hears “sloooowly move your butt to the ground”. Whereas if you teach sit in an enthusiastic way then you say “sit” and the dog hears “the quicker you sit, the sooner I’m gonna throw this ball!”.

If you want to see fast, energetic responses you have to train your dog when he is in the fast, energetic state of mind. You want to see sparkling eyes and wagging tail every time you train, so first play, then train. If your dog doesn’t like toys you can play with food, too. Just run around and give him food when he catches you, or roll it on the ground.

Also, try to remove “no” from your vocabulary. “No” is slowing the dog down, decreasing the energy and doesn’t actually tell the dog what to do instead of the “bad” behavior. Instead of saying “no”, teach the dog what it is that you want. Don’t want the dog to jump up to get the food? Teach him that all paws on the ground make food appear. Don’t want him to bolt out of the door? Teach him to automatically sit when you put your hand on the handle and wait while you open the door. Don’t want him to pull? Teach him that only loose leash moves forward.

Whatever you reward is what you will get more of. So if you want to see excitement, reward excitement. Don’t tell the dog “no” when he jumps up. Instead, if he’s jumping up because you’re holding a toy and he’s not usually totally crazy about playing with you (I’m going to contradict my advice a bit…) REWARD that energy by playing with the dog. Don’t say “no”, “calm down”, “feet on the floor”. Just play. Jumping up is energy, so if you want more energy, then jumping up in a training situation is your friend.
Yes, that means he will be more likely to jump up on you next time you’re holding a toy. BUT it also makes it more likely that he will show more excitement and energy when you play. Sometimes you must temporarily sacrifice one goal (your dog not jumping on you) to get another goal (sparkly eyes when playing and working).

Does this mean I let my dogs do whatever they want so they will work with excitement? No. Well, I let them jump on me, that’s true. I find it useful to see when they are at the right level of excitement and ready to work.

Here’s an example of how I teach them my rules AFTER I taught them that working with me is fun and exciting: Yesterday we had a Rally Obedience class after another class where one of the females was in heat. For Ruby this was the first time of doing RO under this particular distraction. He can do agility without a problem, but he would sell his soul for agility, so that makes it easier. We were getting ready to begin and Ruby found a particularly nice sniffing spot. I asked him “Are you ready?” He just chattered his teeth at me, no doubt still very interested in that female’s smell. I smiled and thanked RO gods for a wonderful opportunity to make a point. I could have asked him “Are you ready?” again and then kept correcting him every time he would drop his head down to sniff during RO sequence. Instead, I didn’t say anything. I took Ruby back to the car and got Java out. She was more than willing to take his spot in the class and within 2 seconds Ruby knew that he just lost his opportunity to work. (Java did great! But sorry, no video 😦 ) During next round I let him have a go again and he was a superstar. “Smells? What smells? I don’t smell anything, just don’t let that black bitch take my spot in the class again!” Much, much more effective than saying “no”. And the best part? If done correctly it increases dog’s energy instead of squashing it. With enough practice distractions become cues for the dog to focus on the job more intensely.

Training, communication and building a relationship with your dog is a wonderful, positive, HEALTHY thing to do. And if the dog isn’t having a total blast while you’re doing it, you’re not doing it right.

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Day 7: Rally Obedience Training Notes

I’ll get to Rally obedience in a minute, but first I need to alert you to another source of excellent (and free!) information on dog training: the SPARCS conference this weekend. They offer completely free live video streaming. I missed it last year; I don’t intend to miss it this time! The themes are:

Friday: Aggression and Conflict

Saturday: Temperament and Personality

Sunday: Science in Training

Here’s what I think we need to train according to the weaknesses exposed by Sunday’s Rally Obedience class:

  • Get a reliable and pretty much error-free performance of all RO I exercises when I don’t have food in my hands and I don’t have the treat pouch on. Ruby is pretty forgiving of training without the treat pouch (in agility this is the sign that the real fun is about to begin!), but before I try to improve performance of several exercises without a treat pouch I first need to be sure that he can do them well in isolation.
    • First with treats coming from my pockets
    • Then mixing with rewarding from a food bowl
    • Try it in different environments
  • Which brings me to the question of when will I reward. I don’t like to always reward after the exercise is finished because I think Ruby will learn the patterns of exercises (example of an exercise: heeling, recall to front, sit, go around me into heel position, get a cookie) and the intermediate behaviors will loose their value because he will know for a fact that he only gets a cookie after going around me. This is a behavior chain so one could also argue that every next cue will reinforce the behavior before it and therefore there is no need to reward variably. I don’t know…  I’m sure there is excellent information out there about whether always rewarding at the end will hurt the chain, I just need to do some research.
  • Keep heeling with eye contact even when there is food on the ground (on the first pass!)
  • For myself: remember to say Sit after recall, not Down! 🙂
  • It would be nice to find a way to straighten his downs when there is a bowl of food present. I played around with a platform in the living room and of course that’s no issue. But even on the ground it won’t be a problem at home I think… Only at the club. No idea there yet.
  • Also his recall could be straighter 😉 Need to refresh recalling by a bowl of food!
  • Sending him around my back while there is a tempting bowl to my right.
  • Maybe teach him to walk toward me without jumping up 😉 Not really a priority right now as I don’t think that exercise is a part of RO I

And a video of the second part of RO for those who didn’t get tired of it last time (same course, 2nd try):

Notes to self:

  • Keep rewarding from the hand until there is a really good behavior to reward. Use send to bowl as a jackpot, not as a random reward.
  • Engage him for the whole session just as if he would be a highly distractible dog. It breeds excitement and focus which breeds speed.

A short update on Java: she is having short walks on leash and light tricks training at home, making sure we are not unduly stressing her wrist. I am currently gathering veterinary opinions on how to proceed. I expect we will know more about her mysterious swelling in a week or two and then we will also decide how to treat it.

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Day 6: Happy 2nd Birthday, Java!

Has it really been almost two years since I brought you home? Sometimes it seems like it was yesterday. You were a perfect puppy: great focus, drive, willing to please… with the sweetest puppy eyes and silky soft fur that was made for cuddling. You slept a lot those first months for which I will be forever grateful 🙂

Puppy Java in action! (c) Yinepu

Puppy Java in action! (c) Yinepu

You are not a puppy anymore… I think I really should stop calling you that at two years old 😉 I love how you climb on me to say hi, how you demand your special minutes in the morning, how you talk to me when you want something (usually food) and how you jump into my arms when I come home. It’s been a fun two years! Here’s to many more!
Java loves to be in my lap and look over my shoulder (c) Stisnprtisn!

Java loves to be in my lap and look over my shoulder (c) Stisnprtisn!

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Preventing Injuries And Java’s Wrist

I always thought it was weird how much emphasis was put on warming up before agility competitions compared to little emphasis on warming up before training, so I’m glad that Daisy Peel decided to address this subject in her latest podcast. Let me be blunt: I think the reason why people tend to warm up their dog in competition and not in training or classes is that it’s less convenient to do it in training. It may mean that we miss out on watching the other team run or we can’t hear the instructor or we can’t chat with friends. Ever since Ruby injured his shoulder in 2011 I started to pay close attention to warming him up before every training and in the process started paying more attention to how my fellow competitors warmed up their dogs. Sadly what I saw with majority was no or close to no warm up…

But this post is not about what other people do or what they should be doing. Honestly, I think we don’t know for sure how well we can prevent injuries with a proper warm up, at least not without doing a study. And of course there are other things at play here – what condition the dog is in, not just muscles but also tendons, how flexible he is, how well he’s trained to handle different situations on course and even his character. Some dogs throw their body around more than others. We can never 100% prevent injuries – accidents happen and even a well conditioned body with a good warm up can sometimes fail. But we can do everything in our power to avoid the known causes.

Here’s what I do:

Agility on rocks

Agility on rocks

  • Before training we take at least a 10-minute walk. If I only plan to do one short session (for example, last time we did just weave entrances on open weaves) I plan our walk so that we train in the middle of our daily walk. We are very lucky that we are able to train at a club where this is easy to do.
  • Since we started Bobbie’s K9 Conditioning class we also do a warm up routine consisting of tricks that warm up the joints and short sprints. This takes another 10 minutes or so. Total: 20min of warm up. I am not so careful with warming myself up… I need to add that in.
  • If we’ll be running a course we do a few warm-up jumps or wraps.
  • Then we train for about five minutes. If I’m only training one dog, we keep walking around until next exercise (about 10min), so our trainings are essentially walk – agility – walk – agility – walk. If I’m training both then I walk with both of them for a short while before putting one in the crate and training with the other one. This way they get to walk before being put into crate and after they get out of the crate.
  • After the training we do a few tricks for cool down and take a 15 to 30-minute walk, because as muscles cool down they tend to shorten and keeping the dog moving helps prevent that.

In the evening I check the muscles and warm up those muscle groups that seem harder than usual by applying a heat pack for 20 minutes. Ruby always gets a heat pack on his shoulders even though he hasn’t had any problems with them since rehabilitation, but I rather stay on the safe side.

Java at Savica falls

Java at Savica falls

Part of injury prevention is keeping the muscles strong and flexible. I try to walk them 1hr every day now that I’m feeling better and I’m hoping to get that up to 1.5hr per day in a month or two. Every other day we do some strength training and some stretching away from agility. This is new to our regime since starting Bobbie’s class. I used to be very uncomfortable with stretching my dogs because I was afraid I would stretch them in a wrong position or too far, but I’m getting used to it. Ideally I would also like to do some massage or TTouch work each week, but this isn’t really happening at the moment.

What about Java’s wrist?
With all this good stuff, how did Java sprain her wrist? I have been racking my brain on this one. I just couldn’t believe that she would sprain a wrist and wouldn’t limp or show other signs of pain like licking. I know toe injuries can be silent like that, but wrist sprains usually result in lameness.

Finally I remembered that one week prior to that coursing training Java was running with a Galga Espanol (and beating her! She was flying!). They were running big circles in wide open field… or so I thought. I didn’t know that there was a gutter in the middle of the field, the sides of it covered with grass. Galga jumped over it, but Java crashed into that gutter at full speed 😦 My heart stopped. I ran over there, got Java out of the gutter and she stood still for a while. When she started moving she was limping on front foot, but luckily nothing was broken. We were 2km away from the car so I couldn’t carry her all the way. After a while she was limping less and by the time we got to the car her gait was normal.

Yay, we're recovering!

Yay, we’re recovering!

She stayed sound all week and even after coursing she wasn’t limping, only her wrist swelled up. I asked our physiotherapist if this accident could be the real cause of injury to her wrist and coursing only aggravated it to the point of swelling. She said yes. Java is actually really lucky that she only had some transient swelling, not a broken leg from crashing into gutter.

Java is doing really well with her rehabilitation plan. She was wearing a hard wrist wrap last week, but this week we replaced it with a soft one as her wrist hasn’t swelled in three weeks. We were going for 1hr walks and did some strength building/stabilization exercises this entire time so she didn’t loose too much muscle mass. This week she got to run around on Flexi lead, too. 🙂 If everything goes well I will be able to let her run freely for short periods of time next week. She will be wearing the soft wrist wrap, of course.

All in all I think we have good reasons to be optimistic. Java’s wrist is on the mend, Ruby is sound and doing well, and I found a health regime that allows me to be active again and take my dogs for long walks. 🙂

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Wrist Wrap

Java_BohinjJava got her wrist wrap today! Wait… What? What wrist wrap? Why?

Well, at first I thought it was a bee sting. After the coursing training several weeks back Java’s right wrist swelled up. It didn’t hurt her when I palpated it (and she’s not the kind of dog that hides the pain) and it went away after couple of hours. Bee stings happen. Ruby had a few already and didn’t seem to be in pain after the initial sting wore off. This looked quite similar. Still, the location of swelling was suspicious… Continue reading

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Rally Obedience, Lure Coursing, Conditioning And Agility – Whew, We’ve Been Busy

Ruby... ready to go!

Ruby… ready to go!

Ruby started his Rally Obedience class last week and really showed off for the instructor. He kept his excitement up for the whole hour without me lifting a finger for it except for releasing him every few minutes so his brain got a break. I wasn’t even using toys, just food. Why do I never get such excitement for work when we’re practicing alone?

Really nice precision in heeling, matching my pace from slow to running and back and following direction of movement, without crowding that I usually see in agility. Backing around me – no problem, changing positions – no problem. Ignoring distractions like a pro. Lovely sends to the table even though he has never done that before. Down stay on the table was iffy – his elbows came up, anticipating recall to heel. In short, he loved Rally Obedience. It did help that we were doing all this around agility equipment. Maybe he thought this was just a long agility warmup 😉 I hope he will keep the attitude even after he figures out that this isn’t agility!

Speaking of warmups they have changed quite a bit since we started K9 Conditioning class. In addition to 15 minutes of walking and some tricks we now do a series of exercises to warm up the joints – even toes! I don’t yet know how much they’re helping, but this week Ruby had first two agility trainings after a month and he looked great in the evening, wasn’t sore at all. Of course I made sure that these trainings were easier on his body after such a long time off, but maybe also the new warmup and cooldown routines helped some. Continue reading

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Java’s Jumping Is Looking Better Again

So last time in March (wow time flies!) I wasn’t sure what was causing Java to take off early – was it due to lack of confidence after a long winter break or were there some other issues developing? I am happy to say that with very minimal intervention it seems we are now back to her lovely centered jumping style.

I did three basic Susan Salo exercises to compare her jumping to how she was jumping in autumn, to build some jumping muscle and gain confidence on a setup where she doesn’t have to watch my handling in addition to judging her takeoff spot. Continue reading

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Physio News

We’re back from the physio session and I have great news: Ruby’s toe is not really bothering him, it has just developed a lot of scar tissue which keeps it stable and (unfortunately) stiff which is especially apparent when he walks down the stairs. We got some exercises to try to break some of the scar tissue down over time. Most importantly there is no reason to keep him from running free 🙂

Java is also fine, just some muscle soreness in the right shoulder because she loves running to the right so much, but that was gone by the end of the session. It seems that we have successfully built up the left shoulder so there isn’t any detectable difference now. All ready for the K9 Conditioning next week 🙂

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Warning, Warning: Early Takeoff Sighted

I noticed that since our winter break Java has started taking off a little earlier and landing closer after the bar, both on straight lines and for cik&cap. This raised a red flag and I’ve been wondering what caused her to jump this way. I already have one dog that takes off too early and would prefer not to have another one.

In the past I have been told that a certain exercise by Linda Mecklenburg encourages dogs to only focus on their landing spot, not take-off spot and thus could lead to taking off early when in fact the dog should add a stride before a jump. We have been doing that exercise all fall and Java continued jumping beautifully. Then after not doing the exercise for two months we got this. Huh?
Continue reading

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Training In The Sand

Yesterday I took Java to train in a new location – first time running on sand and in a covered arena with its tarp flapping in the wind and LOUD dogs (and she said she was not going to be outdone in the barking aspect 😉 ) So yeah, great generalization/distraction experience for her. I was pleasantly surprised that she not even once thought about doing zoomies on that sand. Well, she IS really good about not doing zoomies in training, but I thought sand would be a bit more tempting. Or at least she would be a little spaced out because she’s in heat. Nope, 100% focused on the job at hand. Love this girl 🙂
Continue reading

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This weekend my awesome sister came by to do a photoshoot of my doggies. The result are these A.M.A.Z.I.N.G photos. I expected them to look great, but these are way better than that. I think she has really outdone herself. Thanks, sis!

Click on a photo to see a bigger version in a slideshow.

(c) Stisnprtisn!

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Hello there, 2014 :)

Built for speed

Built for speed

Some photos of Java which my wonderful friend Monika Pleterski took on our first walk in 2014. What a fun way to start a year! It wasn’t as warm or as sunny as some of my Aussie friends adventures, but there was water and there was sand. And that’s pretty close, eh? 😉
Continue reading

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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! 🙂 Continue reading

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Thank goodness for videos! I just went through videos of Java’s training over the last ten days, thinking we haven’t really done much as we have been just mucking around with this and that. Ha! Who did all these awesome things then? Continue reading

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