Thursday, 8 May 2014

Obedience Skills

So this time last year I decided to take a step back from competing.  Stella had just turned two and we had achieved our Rally Advanced title but we had a long way to go mentally before we ventured into an obedience trial.  I have a picture in my head of what I want us to look like in the ring.  The exercises are necessary but attitude and engagement are what is most important to me. We are slowly working towards that picture and I have a very loose goal of entering late fall for our novice obedience.

While we work towards that goal we are also having a blast working ahead on the open and utility exercises.  I have been taking courses at the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy and  I really like them.  I have a real life trainer that could easily teach me these exercises but I love learning about training so I like learning on-line and then working through how to apply it to Stella.  I can then work with my trainer friend and she helps keep me in line when I totally do stupid things :). 

One of the trainers I respect and enjoy following is Hannah Branigan.  She has a great DVD set on Obedience "FUNdamentals"  and teaches on line Obedience Skill Building Classes at FDSA.  She is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member and I got a chance to see her in January at Clicker Expo.  One of her clicker expo seminars was on "Breaking it Down" to build up exercises that our dogs understand fluently and enjoy doing. When thinking about training she wants us to be aware of our priorities.  Emotional State should be first, followed by engagement and only then can we train behaviours.   When training for competition we should start with concepts then work on skills and with those it is an easy transition to working on the actual exercises. Concepts include things like teaching dogs how to offer behaviour (operant conditioning), impulse control, speed, body awareness, focus, distance work and stimulus control.  Skills include things like targeting, jumping, retrieving, platforms, positions etc.  All her stuff is taught without force and with both the dog and handler having fun!

Hannah is great at breaking down all the exercises into little easy to manage and fun pieces.  Splitting allows focus on one thing at a time which reduces errors and frustration.  Drilling exercises is boring for both dog and handler so breaking it down lets us work pieces and makes it easy to troubleshoot problems before putting it all back together.   It helps us to isolate our challenges and identify areas where our dogs have weaknesses.

I SUCK at splitting and planning which is one of the reasons I am enjoying the on line courses at FDSA.  I find the working spots very useful as I video and review my sessions a lot more than I would without.  I have taken Obedience Skill Building 2 at bronze and 3 & 4 as gold working spots with Hannah and really like the results I am seeing.  Hannah walks us through series of skills that build on each other until you wind up with competition level exercises through to utility.  Stella is easily frustrated so breaking things down has helped both of us a lot in learning all these exercises.  There is a range of skill levels in the courses and Hannah  is very patient, encouraging and has great feedback when critiquing our videos.   She has made me more aware of back chaining, reward placement and is very helpful in keeping the exercises fun for the dog.  She is also good at busting the handlers on their unwanted body cues and movements.

I am very excited that I will also get to work with Hannah this fall when she comes to Vancouver, BC for a three day seminar!  It will be covering obedience materials "beyond fundamentals" and I am looking forward to it.  I know a few friends how attended her seminar in Oregon and they really enjoyed it.

This video is a mish-mash of working through a few of the exercises.