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Titlemania 2017!

The United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA) had this event last year in Ohio and for 2017 they expanded it to three (east, west, central). We had so much fun at the trial doing agility, watching agility, rally, swimming  – we had to come back even though this year it was a bit further away.

We spent last weekend in Tennessee at an ag center building where the big USDAA end of the year event is held every other year.  It’s an awesome facility!  Lots of space! Air conditioning! Internet access (…I did not have any time to work!)!  Nice footing! Organized host club!

Great view!

The not so good parts:  Stairs!  The crating was at the upper levels as well as most of the bathrooms and the drinking fountains. I did find a first floor bathroom on day 3 and that was very exciting!  There was very little natural shade around the building, parking was permitted under the nearby barns but from reading the confirmation letter I wasn’t sure where parking was allowed. We ended up paying to park in a covered area right up against the arena (my dogs typically crate out of the car vs indoors).

The event was definitely not the same as TitleMania last year. No rally, only agility. Hosted by a local club vs by USDAA (benefits of this: the club knew the location, had many local participants, club members were awesome at helping out, organizing, answering questions – overall this was a good change!).  Overall awards were mostly done at the end of the last day vs some things happening on day 2 and 3 too. Results were not posted online until many days later. Fewer vendors. Less presence of USDAA.

Griffin and I didn’t have quite as spectacular of of a time as last year – but it was still a great experience and it’s really special to have a 9 year old dog who can do so many runs in a weekend – and get better each day.  The first two days were a bit questionable – he was showing more interest in the bar setters than usual and had some weave pole problems – I couldn’t tell if it was the surface or if he was stepping on the base and slipping there. But he’s a durable dog and a few runs later was weaving as usual.

On the last day we had two clean runs in the Master Challengers class!!   One was a second place and the other was over time.  I was a bit surprised by that – but looking at his yards per second – he was going about 20% slower than usual by those last runs.

It’s so interesting to me that the MC classes were “easier” for us than the regular standard. We spend more time in  training doing those “harder” things so that’s flipped around what we can and can’t do well.

Saturday MC standard

We had lots of fun watching other teams – some very experienced and detail-oriented and others who are primarily focused on getting through without faults. Griffin and I are definitely more in the ‘detail-oriented’ end of things.

This sequence made me very happy  –

 

He was so good!  He knew exactly where to go! I was able to signal him in a timely way! However – I recognize we need to practice less of this and more of the things that are hard for us as a team.

If we’re lucky with his health, and/or if Tonks is ready, I hope we can attend next year. Even though it wasn’t quite as exciting as 2016, I recognize the challenges of creating new events ad we enjoyed the experiences.

 

AKC Farm Dog Certification Program

The American Kennel Club (AKC) has been creating more new programs over the last few years. Part of this is to provide opportunities for people with varied interests and dogs with different strengths.  (And part of it is suspected to be for financial reasons…)

One of these new programs is the AKC’s Farm Dog program. This is similar to a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test but with an emphasis on skills that are theoretically useful on a working farm like walking over varied surfaces, walking past livestock, being calm while tied up for animals to be fed, manners at a gate, and a neutral response to a loud noise.

While volunteering at a 4-H event in April we had an opportunity to take the test and Griffin and I were able to get one of the two passes needed.  We’ll hopefully have another opportunity this year. The livestock part was a little harder than I expected. Chickens were used and we had spent the previous two days doing field training so his interest in birds was much higher than usual.  I had not been present for the morning test so missed the part that during “Feed the livestock”  we were supposed to scoop food and pretend to feed.  I actually fed the chickens some of their feed which made them more active and noisy than usual!  However – Griffin was a responsible adult dog and while he showed interest, he was able to turn away when asked.

I enjoyed the event and hearing an AKC rep discuss the program. I’ve applied and been accepted to be an evaluator for the program.  For the most part, they’re taking herding judges or CGC evaluators with livestock experience.  I grew up on an Angus cattle farm and still occasionally handle animals. The primary disadvantage of the program is that like most AKC events, it has to be planned 6 months in advance and typically hosted by an AKC club.  So unlike CGC, I can’t set up a test myself.

I think this makes for a better display for the public than the GCC test (sit on a straw bale! Walk over surfaces! Other kinds of animals!).  I could see my students loving the opportunity to work towards this test, but I don’t know how often it will be offered in our area.

My previous dogs spent more time on a farm – Blaze and Luna (and occasionally young Griffin) spent time going with me to feed cattle. They had to be tethered on a gate or staying while I did that. They needed manners at a gate and to be comfortable around large equipment. They needed to occasionally ride on the gator (like a golf cart – but more serious!), be held by someone else, and be calm if the bulls charged towards the fence. Farm scenarios vary so much depending on the situation, the type of livestock, and the type of dog.

This test does fit in very well with the 4-H program – many (but not all!) 4-H programs conclude with the youth showing at the county fair – often with livestock in a nearby barn (sometimes very, very close!).  It’s a great way to merge the dog program with the rural background of 4-H.  The AKC has been very supportive of the Ohio 4-H Dog Program and has provided opportunities for us to do tests for youth at events separate from herding events.

Have you tried the farm dog certification or does your dog spend time on a farm? What skills are useful in that environment?

Griffin – Companion Dog!

Way back in 2001 when Blaze was a puppy, I did a lot of reading online about dogs and training – very quickly I learned about dog sports/activities – including competition obedience.  For many reasons (dog health! behavior challenges!  rules at the time prohibiting mixed breed dogs!) I just wasn’t able to do much with Blaze and Luna. 

Photo by MN

Finally, after all this time, we’ve been able to achieve the goal. Griffin and I finished the AKC Companion Dog title two weeks ago! 

It was a very hot/humid day. The trial was in a barn at a fairgrounds, no air conditioning but many huge fans. A conformation show was in an outdoor/tent area with announcements made through the loudspeaker system in the whole area.

It wasn’t our best performance – but we passed even with the challenging environment.  He did his best heeling in a trial.  The figure 8 was hilarious – as we went around a person the breeze changed and her skirt blew right against his face!  During the stays arm bands started to blow away and almost created a lure coursing situation!  The judge went and intervened to catch the escaping arm band.

 

Now we’re excited to move up and work towards additional goals.

UKC Nosework

Griffin does not do well with nose-related-activities. It’s been very hard to train him those kinds of tasks and it’s one of the reasons our obedience trials are on hold.  We’re part of a group that holds nosework trials through the UKC program. There are 5 (maybe more?) levels of competition and four events in each level.  The dogs go through a designated area and find a specific, hidden scent. In this level/program, the first one is birch oil.

Viktor has limited options for dog activities we can do together due to his legs/structure. Nosework was going to be an option and we’ve been working on it for quite a while.  And he doesn’t seem to be catching on easily. He has a lot of trouble focusing on activities and quickly spirals into his favorite behaviors.  Calm and focus is not a current strength.

About a month before the trial I tried Griffin during a session to see what would happen and he seemed to catch on very quickly.  We ended up entering the trial and did all 8 runs for the first level.

On several of the runs he did obvious ‘indications’ of laying down or freezing with his nose at the location.   And other times he was not as specific but obvious/persistent about what he had found. We got 8/8 passes, including two “High in Trial” for fastest time in that level.

Nosework is very popular in many parts of the country and here. While almost any kind of dog trial/event is fun, I still prefer obedience and agility and the kinds of skills training there is more fun to me. I also like being able to watch other teams – which is not allowed in nosework – to prevent someone from accidentally giving away where the scent is.   I’m very glad we had the experience and I may still continue to work with Viktor for our next opportunity.

I do like that in the UKC program you only need 2 passes at a given level – this makes it possible to earn titles in a given weekend/event and I think two repetitions is a fair amount to demonstrate that a dog can do the task.  As their program is still fairly  new, some of the rules aren’t completely clear but it was overall a good experience and a nice opportunity to try something new.

Griffin Returns to Hunting Training

Photo by MN

Last fall we attempted a retriever certificate test. We didn’t pass -but it really truly seemed like bad luck vs a specific training challenge. He did really well despite having very little training for that type of event and it seemed like it might be realistic to do AKC style hunt tests with him.

So of course we waited 6 months before our next training session.  We went with a training friend to take a lesson from someone semi-local who has a lot of experience with the tests.   As I’m so new to this and reading the rules only gives me a vague idea of what to expect, I mostly went with it, modifying things slightly as needed but mostly just seeing what happened with our current training.

 

  • Griffin was eager to retrieve birds even though that’s new to him.
  • He is not afraid of gunfire.
  • He likes gunfire possibly too much.  He heard neighbors off in the distance shooting and wanted to run to them and look for birds. He’s only had one training session previously where gunfire = birds and then he heard it at the test last fall.  And apparently that was all it took to create a strong, strong association.
  • His recall was not great. He didn’t run away by any means, but he wasn’t always as efficient coming back as he should be.  He was influenced and wanted to roll on birds. This bothered me a lot because I don’t like those behavior patterns…but surprisingly enough to me, the instructor wasn’t worried about it and said the rolling often goes away with experience. He also commented that it’s typically female goldens though, not males….
  • Apparently his ‘retrieve to hand’ is great? He had so many compliments on that it seemed almost like a joke… I was not as impressed as I know it could be ‘more perfect’.
  • Waiting is hard.  In the first level tests I can hold his collar but in higher levels that is not allowed.  He is very, very eager to go.

Hopefully we’ll be able to go again soon and find events to enter.  It’s not quite as exciting to me as some of our other games because the actual activity is a lot more one -sided than other dog activities and it’s just too much standing and watching the dog run out and back. But at the same time, it’s fun to see dogs do what they were developed for and to work towards high levels of control and precision at a distance.

We’re informally doing training to help repair some of the week areas. This week we’ve been going on more longline (for legal/safety reasons) in new areas and practicing coming back on a word and on a whistle.  We’ve practiced retrieves at greater distances and we’re doing a lot more stay practice every day.

MN April 2017 :: Dog Adventures

Photo by MN
Tonks! Lichen, giant rocks, and there was birch. It was almost like being in Sweden!

The first time we went to Minnesota was in 2014 – with just Griffin and Blaze.  Now I’ve made the trip many times, with many different dogs. The initial trip was very stressful – I was worried about getting there in time for our appointments and getting back in time for lessons.

But now we’ve gone enough times I’ve lost count and I do most of my packing in the hour before we leave. Now I love traveling with my dogs and I do a better job of giving us a little extra time to enjoy the trip.

 

My dogs are great at traveling. They sleep for most of the drive and are happy whether we get out at a rest stop, nature area, or parking lot. This makes it easy to take them on trips and we don’t need too much planning. I keep a dog food bin in the car (for treats during regular outings), water, dishes, clean up bags, toys, etc. For interstate travel I am sure to keep rabies tags in the car in case we’re asked per state regulations -but it’s never come up.

Viktor

We got to see our favorite rest stop in Wisconsin. This one has a “scenic view” trail. But then there’s a branch off that it’s an older trail that goes way up the hill. The mystery trail was closed due to rain. We thought about going around the block (and we may have on past trips…) but I’m too much of a rule follower, so Viktor just sat sadly by the sign.

 

 

Photo by MN

Megan and I took the ‘puppies’ hiking on Sunday. They haven’t had a lot of walking together in general because we are either in places where they can be off leash running or we’re in urban areas where I don’t feel safe walking multiple dogs at once (in case off leash dogs approach). The dogs did really well with the hike – they actually looked tired by the end.

One of the most surprising things to me in  Wisconsin and Minnesota is that state parks charge an entry fee. We were able to park just outside of one and venture slightly into one – limited by dog physical abilities with Megan’s physically challenged Gabby.  Griffin loved this walk – he wanted to peek through the railings at the river and was very hopeful about checking it out.  He’s so curious about the places we go – even as an adult dog.

 

Griffin leaving WI

MN April 2017 :: Vet Trip

On Monday we had one of our many trips to visit the rehab vet that keeps Griffin and Viktor as well as possible after past health challenges. For both of the dogs it was a recheck and hoping that nothing new would be discovered. We now have a board certified rehab vet at OSU – a 15 minute drive from home but with the complications for both Griffin and Viktor, we’ll keep up with our (now infrequent) trips to Minnesota.

Viktor had his highest weight ever – 40lbs now!  He had some soreness…probably from Tonks occasionally running into him during play.  There are some changes with his muscles in his front legs – we’re hoping it’s due to not swimming (much) over the winter. So with swimming and new exercises we should hopefully see him back to where he was or better.

At one point during the exam, the vet had trouble looking at his front paws because there was a lot of “forestry” in there due to his morning adventures.

Griffin was fine which is great news. I want him as healthy and happy for as long as possible. Tonks went in for a weight and to resolve an ongoing debate about her size.  45lbs which is lower than I expected.

Testing Your Training

Recently I read a training article that compared a beginner perspective (try something until you can get it right once or twice) to the perspective of someone more experienced (keep working until you don’t get it wrong). We’ve been talking about this in most of our training classes recently – especially when students are bored or think their dogs are bored or think their dogs “know” something.

With my own dogs, I rarely feel like they “know” something perfectly – there are usually ways I can test understanding to improve fluency and creating behaviors more resilient to distractions.  A few variables I can change:

  • Change location
  • Change handler position relative to handler
  • Alter distances between dog and handler
  • Discriminate between cues – add in handler distraction
  • Change excitement level (more or less) prior to the session
  • Tempting distractions
  • Behavior in sequence
  • Delayed rewards

And – combining some of these gives essentially endless opportunities!

Here’s a video we took for an online class – Griffin and I ran the same sequence and did a different handling option at jump 5. We could have tried variations at other places (especially the opening serpentine).

What’s something your dog knows? How can you test understanding? How can you add variation?

Providing Appropriate Dog-Dog Socialization for Adult Dogs

Socialization is a frequently misunderstood concept in dog training. It’s more (time) critical with puppies, but even for adult dogs we need to continue to provide good (not bad, and not neutral) experiences with the world. For dogs who are genetically more stable/resilient, we don’t need to work as hard. For dogs who are more anxious, we may need to do more conscious and structured training to maintain progress.

Of my current dogs, Griffin (8 years) and Tonks (18 months) are fairly stable.  Viktor (2 years) is more anxious but definitely has an easier time than most of the anxious dogs I work with and definitely is more resilient than  my past dog Luna.

Here are a few of our activities for dog-dog socialization:

Golden party.

Training Class: In a class environment my dogs have a great time (not bad and not neutral!) around other dogs. My dogs are learning they can’t always play with other dogs and that they can focus with me even when other dogs are around. The structured activities provide a great way to spend time around other dogs of different sizes and types. My dogs spend more time assisting me in classes as demo dogs than truely as student teams ourselves, but it’s still great for them!

Walks: We try to find opportunities to walk with other people and dogs. We don’t do this as much as we should. Sometimes it happens as a plan and sometimes it happens spontaneously when we walk past/with dogs in public parks or at pet stores for a short period. Treats and fun with me make this a good experience (not bad  – and not neutral!).

Play Time: This is an option I do less of than some may think – I want to be sure these are good experiences for my dogs. Tonks enjoys this more than my others, though Griffin has one very best friend German Shepherd Dog and I hope to create friends outside our family for Viktor. Play creates good experiences because it’s fun – but it also creates expectations of high arousal and excitement. This isn’t a bad thing  – but if the only interaction a dog gets with other dogs is unstructured play (dog parks, some daycares), we often see dogs who get immediately and extremely excited the moment they see other dogs.

Golden party

This Weekend:  We did a group playtime with Tonks and two friends on Saturday.  They did a lot of chase (switching roles) and a little wrestling.  Today Tonks and Griffin went on an off leash walk with a dog friend. There was some chase but much, much less than when we were in the confined indoor environment yesterday. Later on, Griffin went on an off leash walk

with a new ‘friend’ (used loosely – no play, just polite interactions).

 

Viktor’s Plans: Viktor hasn’t played with a dog outside of Griffin and Tonks since he was young. Part of this is we don’t know a lot of appropriate adult dogs and part is because I didn’t want to risk him being inappropriate with another dog. Poor play skill practice would be bad for him – those are habits I don’t want him to practice. But also, I didn’t want him to scare another dog. We’ve been doing muzzle training (to reduce my fear of him hurting someone else) and some structured training to prepare for introductions, hopefully in the  near future. In the meantime, he does get a lot of dog socialization other than play/interaction through class time and walks.

Griffin – USDAA Agility – January 8

We’ve had some less than stellar trial days in November and December –  sometimes fast but poor control, and sometimes great teamwork but Griffin doesn’t seem to be trying hard. As a result – we’ve not be en entering as many trials as we try to figure things out. His training has been great, with some of the best intensity and speed we’ve ever had.

Gamblers P2:  I entered the wrong class, but the secretary was able to move us up. I was glad I asked!  Some events are very strict and the secretary gets grumpy about the request/question and other times it’s not a problem. Gamblers is one of our strengths – even though we can “design our own” course we try to go for as many points as possible. We intentionally did the weave poles twice to prepare for standard. We ended up running my ideal plan with about 2 seconds to spare. The gamble/distance challenge was easy for us but Griffin knocked the last bar.  The jump was really close to the jup and I’m not worried – he was trying his best!  I loved how fast and responsive he was – this was just like he runs on good training days.

Standard: P2:    Mostly good, he was a little slower and less responsive – and popped out of the weaves.But we did the ‘hard’ parts and his table stay was great, I was confident enough to get quite far away.

Snooker P1: Our favorite strategy game. We took a greedy plan to try and get a lot of points without being unreasonable.  It worked,  great run and our only qualifying score for the day.

I’m still not comfortable enough to ask other people I don’t know well to do video, so here’s part of a training session.

Our next event isn’t a trial but one of the many informal competitions that are now occurring.  2 weeks!