I’ve been working on sequencing with Rush, and he paid attention to my cues and took the other entrance to the tunnel.
I am trying to train weaves when Rush is at his most excitable. Last night, while the dogs’ dinners were cooling, I went down to the world’s smallest agility field with Rush for ten treats worth of weave training. He gets all kinds of excited when he’s hungry and he’s waiting for dinner. I set up hoop-weave-hoop. 6 poles.
He flew through the poles like he’d been doing them for months.
I tried really revving him up by holding his collar and getting him more excited. Whoops! He did the first two and the last two, but not the middle. No treat! He yelled and barked and carried on, but I sent him through again and he was fast and furious and got all six poles. I gave him a treat.
Next, I sent him hoop-weave-hoop-wrap-weave-hoop and he was flawless and focused and didn’t yell at me or curl back (and yes, I kept my hands quiet)… so I gave him all the treats I had left and called it a day.
Some years back, when I first started training with Debbie, she asked me “if it’s annoying you, why don’t you fix it?”
At the time, I had just taken hold of Dancer’s collar and was trying to bring her around for another try at something. Dancer’s reaction was to balk, like a pony. She even reared up on her hind legs. I dropped the collar and led her by using a treat (a treat lure) instead, and Debbie asked me “why not fix it?” “It doesn’t annoy me that much.” “If it’s annoying you, will it annoy you less next week or next year? Why not fix it now?”
“I don’t know how.”
Which was (finally, excuses dropped) the truth. I had no idea how to make my grabbing her collar and running with her into something she liked instead of something awful. I could put the leash on and run with her, even holding the leash right next to her collar… but I couldn’t hold her collar.
Debbie did a fast demonstration of “collar grab-treat-drop collar-repeat” until she was thrilled Debbie was grabbing her collar (which took her about ten treats), then said “and when she loves you grabbing her collar, then you take one step, then treat, and so on. I followed instructions and by the next week, a total of about ten minutes of training in twice-a-day ten-treat sessions, the problem was solved. Dancer still isn’t thrilled if I grab her collar but she doesn’t rear up like a recalcitrant pony anymore. (She really doesn’t like pressure on her neck, so when I hold her collar, I try to do it very gently.)
I thought of Debbie’s idea and words this morning when Rush backed up when I picked up his collar to put it on. As he was backing up, I thought “that’s really annoying” and then I thought “so I should fix it now”. I got ten nice juicy roasted chicken hearts out of the drawer and I held them in one hand and the collar in the other hand. Rush looked at the collar and looked at my hand. He’s a smart dog and he’s pretty much figured out what it means when I’m shaping behavior. He stood still for a moment and then ever-so-slowly walked over and barely touched his collar with his nose. 1 chicken heart.
I backed up a foot and held out the collar again. He stepped toward me and touched it again. Chicken heart #2. I stood still and he bopped the collar. #3. I put the collar around his neck and he stood still. #4. I took it off, backed up a foot and held it out again. Bop. #5. Around the neck. #6. Off, back up, bop. #7. Around. #8. Off, backup, bop. #9. (That one was insistent–“oh, get on with it!”) On, buckle, #10. Leash on, out the door.
Rush’s second-highest-reward is a tennis ball. Given a choice between chasing a tennis ball and chasing almost any other toy, he will choose the ball every time. When he was eleven weeks old, I threw a ball for him for the first time, and he raced across the yard to retrieve it and bring it back. (Video here.)
(His most favorite toy is a frisbee, but they’re not as portable or as aimable, so we play with them less.)
I often use a ball as a reward and as a lure/motivator for training Rush. So when I wanted to help Rush learn to swim, I thought the ball would help.
While Rush and I (and Jay) were visiting friends who have a wonderful five-year-old golden retriever named Ruby, we took both dogs to the beach on Blakely Island to do a little swimming. We threw a ball for Ruby and she bravely dived in to the cold cold waters of Puget Sound and swam out to her ball. Rush tiptoed into the water, the picture of reluctance, until he figured out another way to get to the ball.
This log was in the water, mostly submerged, because it was high tide (I went back and took the picture at low tide):
Watch the video here to see how Rush took advantage of the submerged log to try to get to his ball without having to swim.
Of course, it’s not just balance; it’s also determination and bravery. Those are mostly inborn temperament, and partly training. He’s really an amazing dog, and I’m so lucky to have him.
The next day, we took Rush to a calmer lake, all by himself, to see if he’d be more willing to swim there. You can see how much he likes his tennis ball, and how he feels about swimming, in this picture:
Rush and I were away for the weekend–more on that in another post–and I didn’t do any weave training for five days. This morning I grabbed a stick of cheese, cut it into ten pieces, and went to do some practice with handling and the four poles. I did sends on both sides, challenging entries on both sides, recalls on both sides. He did really well, only missing a pole once in eight tries.
I had two pieces left. I added a third set of two, making a set of six straight poles.
He did them perfectly.
He got both pieces of cheese, some serious praise and loving-up, and I quit.
A few days ago I wrote about training Rush to do four poles straight, and speculating on where to go from there. I tried added a third set of two and wasn’t happy with the results–Rush slowed down, got confused, and started weaving 1-2 and 5-6, skipping 3-4 entirely.
I took the question to Debbie (of course) and she suggested that I focus on adding handling and challenges (entries) to the four-pole set, so that’s what I’m working on: four poles with front crosses before and after, rear crosses before and after, sends and recalls on both sides, entries from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock. Oh yes, and keeping my hands quiet and my signals clear!
A million years ago, when I was about 12, I took horseback riding lessons (being a normal, horse-crazy girl) and I remember very clearly that one of the things the instructor emphasized was “quiet hands.”
Despite not being a horse, Rush is reminding me forcefully of those early lessons in quiet hands these days. He likes his signals steady, with my hand low and quiet. A lot of flapping around and he comes in and yells at me. I’m pretty sure he’s saying “cut it out and keep your damn hand steady and quiet so I can figure out what the hell you want.” Rush swears at me a lot when I’m not quiet and clear and focused on early clear signals.
Years ago, I figured out that the absolute best way to run Dancer was to pretend I was someone else entirely, someone who gave consistent clear signals and gave them early. Mostly, I pretend I’m Susan Perry. This is the only youtube video I can find of Susan Perry, and it’s not exactly what I have in mind, since it’s really extreme distance handling, but you get the idea: she’s an amazing trainer and handler, and an excellent example.
However, over the years, Dancer has slowed down some, and she’s gotten a lot more tolerant of my handling (I think she’s mostly learned what to ignore, like the flapping arms), and now I’m having to learn those lessons all over again and then some with Rush.
It was a straightforward circle. Rush did nice jumps in a circle–jump, land, stride, jump, land, stride, etc. A nice circle. Except… (with Debbie there’s always a catch)…
After every three jumps, I was to go in, do a front cross followed immediately by a rear cross. This should not, in theory, change the dog’s path at all. Of course, what it really does is expose every single flaw in your front and rear crosses immediately. Rush yelled at me as he nearly crashed into my knees; he spun after landing because he was headed the wrong way because I was late; he missed the next jump entirely because I sent him on the wrong path. He got a lot of handler-screw-up treats. (Yes, he got a treat when I screwed up. It wasn’t his fault.) He kept on working, and I kept on trying to keep my hands quiet, signal early, and signal clearly.
Finally I figured out that my path had to take me within about a foot of the jump before the front cross–Rush needed the whole distance to be able to set his path correctly, because his path to the next jump was set as soon as he did that single stride between jumps. If I was late, he had to spin, because I was sending him the wrong way. Once I figured that out, I did three front crosses in a row without changing his path. That was the exhilarating part!
With Rush, therefore, the key is to respect his speed; I don’t want him to slow down, so I have to give him signals that let him plan the stride before the the takeoff. That’s going to be a real challenge.
Yesterday I worked with Rush on the weaves three or four times, using the method I described in the last post (4 poles, slight channel, me stationary, doing the weaves in both directions). By the end of the day, I felt confident enough to close the channel and straighten out the poles.
And Rush did them, four poles, with nice footwork.
Today, I started with the poles closed, and he was enthusiastic about doing the poles (as soon as I put them into place, he was trying to weave the first set) and doing them a bit more quickly than yesterday–and he was 100% accurate with four poles. I’m confident he understands what to do with four poles.
Now I’m trying to decide where to go from here:
*Vary the entry angles
*Add another set of poles
Four different criteria! I know the right dog training answer! Change one thing at a time!
I have time for one more training session today after it cools down a little; I expect I’ll try adding a third pair of poles and see what I’ve got.
I am struggling with teaching Rush to weave. Dancer learned so quickly and so easily that I just took it for granted that Rush would learn to weave easily. I was wrong.
I started the two-by-two methods about a month ago, and it didn’t take long for Rush to get the idea of going between the poles. I quickly went on to two, then three, sets slightly slanted to create a channel. He does that pretty well, but not with the speed I want, and closing the channel seems to make it impossible for him. Frustrating.
Today at the barn I tried something a little different. I used four stick-in-the-ground poles and set up a generous channel (about four inches) with the poles about 30″ apart. I stood about halfway down. I signaled the weaves; I threw a treat way out from the poles (about ten feet out) as Rush completed the last pole. Violating weave-training tradition (which is to train one direction at a time), I simply pivoted on my feet (didn’t take a step, just pivoted) and signaled the poles as soon as Rush got the treat. Again, I threw the treat out in front of the poles. This is similar to the method I used when I introduced jumping, where I stood at the jump and rewarded Rush for going back and forth over the jump. I used the same method to introduce the tire and the broad jump.
The familiarity of the method seemed to work for Rush; it took just a bit before he was doing the poles quickly and offering to do them without hesitating. In addition, the reward rate was pretty high, because I didn’t have to ask him to wait while I positioned myself, since I stayed in place and just pivoted on my feet.
After a few more reps, I closed the channel a bit–to about two inches–but left the poles about 30″ apart. He kept doing nice weaves, with a bit of footwork, too. After a few reps, I moved the poles to about 26″ apart, with a two-inch channel. His weave work continued to look nice, and his footwork improved.
At that point, Rush was going through the weaves pretty quickly, and I decided to get out his tennis ball for a reward. He did a few more sets for the ball, weaving quite quickly, and I quit for the day.
From here I think I’ll try the 2x2s with the channel open a bit and the back-and-forth repetitions to see how it looks at home. I really like the high reward rate and not needing a start-line-stay for this method.
I’m still working on jump chutes with both dogs. Today, I tried a curved jump chute–tunnel, 20 feet, 5 jumps on an arc, spaced at 6-foot centers (5 foot end), 20 feet, weave poles (set of twelve)–with Dancer. I have seen how she extends and accelerates to bounce that line of jumps, and I wanted to see if it would translate into hitting the weave entry and speed and then weaving faster.
I’m trying to help Dancer find that rhythm where she single-steps (swims) the weave poles. She does it, sometimes, at trials where she’s really going fast, but not consistently.
I threw the ball for her a few times, then pulled out the cheese and told her I had it… she was so ready! She waited calmly while I led out; she flew through the tunnel, bounced the curve jumps perfectly, and hit her weave entry at speed, and did some of the fastest weaves ever. It was a thing of beauty.
Of course, Rush is not yet weaving (although he’s reliably doing 6 poles with a very small channel), so I took the weaves out for his practice sequencing. I worked the sequence with a single full height jump (20 inches) at the end. Like Dancer, he was flawless. He jumps equally well on both leads, in both directions.
I have been very impressed with the results of the jump training. Both dogs are clearly learning balance, control, speed–and how to read a jump sequence. At the CPE trial last weekend, in the heat, Dancer did very well, earning two Qs in regular (level 4) and a Q in Full House (level 5). She may have earned a Q in Colors as well, but I didn’t stay for the results. It was very hot, but she was fast and confident.