Friday, 31 May 2013

Birthday Dogs

Today is Stella's second birthday.  Happy Birthday to my crazy, wonderful Stella Bean!

Riley also turned seven on May 12th.  It's been one heck of a year with the surgery but he is doing great.  Happy Birthday Handsome!

Here are some pics from our May long weekend camping adventure.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Is That The Same Vizsla?

You know your round the previous day was really, really bad when after your round the following day the judge asks if that is the same V I was trialing the day before!

Two weeks ago we traveled with a friend to Kelowna to compete in a CARO rally trial.  The plan for the weekend was to attempt an advanced title and also a novice team title.   The first round was novice team and it went well.  Stella was a little distracted but I was pleased with some of the choices she made.  We had been working on some of the attention stuff since the trial a few weeks before that and had made some good progress.

Things went steadily down hill from there.  It was a very long day and the facility was stinking hot (around 35C).   Our first round of advanced was awful.  There were a few moments of lovely work but the majority of the round was very distracted despite the fact that we can use food (with rules).  CARO rounds are about twice the length of most CKC rally and that combined with dirt floors was to much for her.  The second round of advanced was even worse and I opted to pull us out part way through the round.

It was the end of a very long day and I'm embarrassed to admit that I ended up in some very tired, frustrated tears.  We are capable of beautiful team work and this trial and even the CKC one before that were showing a disconnect that was getting worse.  Yes I believe Stella is going through a "teenage brain" phase and she is very young but this is pointing out some big holes for us.   We need to start to build duration, reduce the reinforcement schedule and be a lot stronger about maintaining criteria.  I also need to figure out how to do all that while keeping things fun and reinforcing for both of us.  Currently her ability to concentrate in a stimulating environment seems to come in about 12-15 second increments.

So after my mini-meltdown a new plan was created.  I would do two rounds on Sunday.  The first was an on leash round for novice team.  Unfortunately my friend's dog was lame so she had pulled from competition the day before.  They found me a partner and we had a good round.  We didn't Q because our partner missed a station but I was happy with our result.  The next round was advanced and I opted to go FEO (non-competitive) and use the round for training.  We went on-leash and I rewarded good choices.  It was a very good decision as it kept her from rehearsing more bad stuff and helped to end the weekend on a positive note.  We also kept the day shorter and headed for home after that instead of waiting until the end of day for our final runs.  Bad days are never fun but they are valuable learning experiences!!!  

I will now take some time to work through all of this.  This past weekend we participated in two CKC Rally Advanced rounds where I was already registered.  The rounds went very well thanks to the practice match on friday where we were able to get some good training rounds in the facility.  I had a clear plan for our rounds and was rewarded with a 98 and first place on saturday.  Stella also did great on sunday but I screwed up and turned incorrectly losing 10 points and also had one re-do (3 points - my fault again) so ended with a respectable 87.  I hope to train in lots of different environments and practice matches over the next months and re-evaluate competition plans in the fall.


Tuesday, 7 May 2013


I have been a terrible blogger lately.  In my real life I am an accountant so April is very busy plus I had dog stuff (conformation shows, seminars, rally trial) every weekend so not much time left.  The good stuff is I got to attend two amazing seminars with Suzanne Clothier and Michelle Pouliot.

The Clothier seminar was on observation skills and arousal.  She also did an extra session on adolescent dogs which stuck quite a few chords with me.  Stella is approaching her second birthday soon and I have been noticing a lot of distraction and testing of boundaries lately.  When Riley was around the same age that was when everything went crazy with my "perfect" puppy and started my interest in dog training.  Teenage dogs are hard!

Suzanne is a fabulous presenter.  She has a great sense of humour, interesting stories and an appreciation for dogs that shines through everything she discusses.    This blog will talk about the information presented during the adolescent dogs portion of the seminar.  A few favourite quotes included:

"Adolescent dogs are trying to mess with your head. Like Tax Attorneys, if they can see a loophole, they'll drive at truck through it."

'There's a good mind in most of those little buttheads. I agree though that sporting breeds get their brain cells in installments. Once a month, another clump arrives.'

"Stop trying to jam it (energy) up. Utilize it."

"Dogs are brilliant negotiators. I always thought dogs would make great used car salesmen. However, if you sent a really smart adolescent dog in to negotiate with the used car salesmen, he would give you the car and write you a check for additional money. Sometimes you don't even know when you have been had."

Adolescents begins in dogs around 16-20 weeks.  Other dogs recognize it long before most people do and will start to enforce social responsibility.  People recognize this as the end of the "puppy license".  Dogs will then mentally mature gradually over the next 2-3 years.  We mainly fail our dogs in this period because we are not clear in our expectations to maintain responsibility.  We need to be aware of not just training skills but on developing connection.  Suzanne suggests we video tape a training session or other interactions (walking) with our dogs and then watch it as a silent movie.  Show the video to a friend and se if they can identify what you are working on.  Dogs guess their responses based on our actions so they care what is happening not what we intend.  We need to make the information and permissions very explicit and consistant.

That is where "even though" training and connection is important.  "Even though" that dog is walking across the street, or that nice lady has good treats or ....... you must still stay connected to me.  We often silently permit our dogs to do whatever they please and justify it using human type excuses like oh, he loves that doggie friend and is just excited.   The dog doesn't have any feedback  so assumes that rules don't apply when he sees that friend or is excited.   A good way to work on this is to make a list of thing that the dog knows how to do and a list of things we control (because we have thumbs!).  Work these things a lot and change it up.  When we do the same sequence all the time the behaviours become habituated and automated without thinking.  Give one request and have a time frame and performance goal in mind.  When the dog meets criteria then they get what they want.  It is fine to help to remind them but then no reward.  A dog's decisions need to have meaningful consequences especially in the adolescent years.  They need to understand "Why should I ...." and when we train with positive methods we achieve results by smart use of access to resources.  It isn't about controlling our dogs every moment of every day, it's about clear communication and understanding expectations. 

This isn't new information but that seminar combined with a recent rally trial with a distracted Stella has me tightening up some things.  I am trying to have much clearer expectations when we are training (no sniffing, visiting etc) and also doing things that make it easier for her to understand  (on/off behaviours) when we are working.  Day to day rules in the house are more consistant and if I get an "in a minute" response then I go and get her instead of calling a second time.  She really is a very good butthead teenager so I am already seeing some results.  Like Suzanne said ... "She isn't getting away with anything, she is just doing exactly what she thinks the rules are".