Archive for February 16th, 2009

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Crate Games, it is not just for breakfast anymore.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I had small workshop here yesterday with 9, mostly adolescent dogs, and their handlers. It went quite well with a few “aah ha” moments and the odd “oh my” thrown in to balance things out.  We started the day with some grids and body awareness exercises and then finished up the afternoon with some handling drills. Working with dogs that have a solid foundation of Crate Games makes handling drills so much easier. Not only do the dogs have the understanding of control behaviours (necessary for a great start line) but the understand is also there to ‘explode’ off the start line once the dog gets his release cue. In my 15+ years competing in agility I have only ever had one dog break a start line (and she only did it two or three times). That is seven dogs, with a combined experience of 43 years trialing in agility with less than 4 broken start lines in total and none since 1998. Crate Games is a big reason for this understanding. I would guess that CGs could be one of the most under-utilized program I have. I think most people are  like, “oh yeah, I did that. . . next skill!”  There are so many fundamentals to teach an agility dog, and you just can’t wait to get on with them all, so it easy to gloss over the less “sexy” ones in favour of the ones that appear to be more “agility-like.” I don’t want this blog to sound like an informercial for my stuff, but quite honestly everything in my program comes back to Crate Games so it is worth the extra time. I was forwarded an email last week that was sent to info@clickerdogs.com  from someone asking if I thought there was anything in the DVD that would help with obedience “stays.”  Aaaah yeah, of course there is. But it will help ANY dog sport in so many ways, as it is the ultimate activity to introduce the concept of the transfer of value. Sure you have a model to work distractions so that all of the toy-throwing and run bys on the contacts or  weave poles training will seem like a walk in the park to your dog, but you will have so much more.

More distraction work through crate games.

Seven-week old puppy "Export" being an "expert!"

7 Week old puppy holds sit in position with food distractions on the floor in front of him.

More distraction work, holding his sit in position with food distractions on the floor in front of him.

 In addition to the control you gain, you will also be teaching drive! Both the drive to move one ahead of you in agility and drive as in motivation. So if you are working on increasing speed or building more intensity, refer back to you DVD before you do anything else.  It will make a difference if you apply the program as it is outlined on the DVD. I could go on but really, dust of your disc and watch it again please, this time with intent!  Okay take a look at these pictures of Tracy Sklenar’s (one of our instructors) cute little Export as a 7 week old puppy (a few years ago). I mean really, how else do you get a 7 week old puppy working through distractions like this!     Check him out learning to drive ahead . . . his first gamble at 7 weeks old, how cute is that?? Did I mention he is only 7 weeks (you should see him now, fast and yet with lots of self control).  

One KEY thing I would change if I was doing the DVD again is the use of the wire crate. I had to use the wire crates to make the DVD so you (the viewer) could see what the dog was doing. However, when I teach this to my own dogs I use a hard shell crate. That way I can be more enthusiastic and throw the cookies into the crate during the “You’re Out-You’re In” stage. Wire is not a problem, I know lots of people that use them with great success but I myself don’t use them much. In the DVD I ‘hand’ the cookies to the dog (to prevent them flying out the back through the wires) but in reality I throw ’em.

The start of distance work! Puppy Exie driving away from Tracy into his crate.

The start of distance work! Puppy Exie driving away from Tracy into his crate.

Group shot of Crate Games graduates.

Group shot of Crate Games graduates.

Here is a picture I almost hate to put in because of the stereotypical pigeon-hole Crate Games is already put in. . . working stays. But I will do it anyway, this is our instructors dogs chilling in their crates during a puppy camp. Yes puppies are running all over the place having fun and clearly it is not concerning these dogs.  In case you haven’t seen this before, here is a short clip highlighting some of the CG benefits. Export is the ripe old age of 9 weeks when we shot this video.  Too funny. It was also nice to see the short little clip of my girlie Twister who appeared briefly with the other three dogs I owned at the time (before Feature’s day) during the opening.  www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebjBo_spqG0&feature=channel_page

Today I am grateful that John is such a sound sleeper as it is 11:00 PM (way past my bedtime) and I am jammin’ to this old Grand Funk song  as he is sawing logs. This song (FootStoompin’ Music) reminds me of my brother Steve. I don’t know how he is able to hear today. When we were kids he would take the two stereo speakers off the stands and place them on the floor facing each other about 2′ apart. Then he would turn up the tunes full blast and lay his head on the floor between the two speakers! Oh my! I guess it is not so different to what some kids do with their ipod today eh?

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Effective Transitions

Monday, February 16, 2009

Being sick sucks. I have been laid up for the last few days but today I think I have turned the corner (just in time, as I have a bunch of teaching coming up). This weekend there was a Chiropractic-Veterinary workshop at our place. That is where vets & chiropractors get tutored on the finer points of working on our dogs (and I guess other animals but I don’t much notice any of that). I think they have to complete (and pass) about 4 or 5 modules which are four days long in order to be qualified to graduate. Anyway, if I am home I come out a do a demo somewhere along the way, on body awareness exercises. Today I was I was getting over this cold so I spoke/demoed/trained for the group for about 20 minutes. I was editing the footage for my chiropractor (Annette) to use when she teaches this module (and I am not around). As I was editing I was, of course, critiquing my dog training. Not too bad but some things I will be working on first thing tomorrow:). One thing I did notice was the amount of, what we refer to around here, as “stress-breaks” I took during the training. I was using food as my reinforcement during the demo and tugging to transition from one exercise to another or to ‘break’ if the training was going on for too long. First of all what do you consider too long? Think about it before you read what I have to say. How long to do sit in one spot or stand training something before you break it off and play with your dog? I think this clip is pretty typical of my training,  the longest Feature worked without a tug session was 92 seconds. That was the only session that went on longer than a minutes. The next longest after that was 42 seconds. Some were less than 15 seconds long. The other thing I noticed was that the entire demo was 20 minutes long. Feature was ‘working’ for approximately 12 minutes off and on during this time yet I had more than 3:00 minutes of tug footage to choose from to put this montage together and I only repeated on small clip (that is obvious) the rest were all original, non duplicated tug sessions. Yes I know this was a demo, but it was a demo of a “typical” training session with my dog.  Another thing you would notice (if you saw the entire 20 minute clip) was that although I am teaching I am always 100% focused on what my dog is doing. She is either tugging while I lecture (if it is a quick transition) or I have her lay down as I prepare the work environment. Transitions are critical to successful training. Aim for  “fast ‘n fun” transition (to quote Lynda Orton-Hill). Effective transitions will allow you to keep your dog’s interest in you and the work. It will also help to keep his arousal at a level that will facilitate peak performance. If you train with food only, this doesn’t mean that you areoff the hook” either. If you have somehow lost your dog’s drive to tug (they all have it at one point), you should still be breaking up your sessions with play but you may need to run back and forth to create the same level of excitement that the rest of us can generate with just tugging. This is more work for the ‘food-only’ trainer, so it sometimes times gets skipped and the dogs that should be having the shortest training sessions (lower drive dogs), often get the longest! I firmly believe this is a major contributing factor to the reason that most dogs that are trained exclusively with food are less driven in competition than dogs that are toy motivated. I know there are anomalies to be seen both ways (tug-driven dogs with less drive in the ring and food-only dogs with lots of drive). My point is, if you where to do a poll of all of the slow moving dogs in the ring and asked the owners if their dog enjoys a game of tug with them, I bet the answer would be “no” and if you ask the owners of the really fast dog the answer would be “yes.” I hope I am not setting someone reading this on a tangent cursing at me through the computer. I assure you we have lots of “food-only” trainers that come through Say Yes, but we help them to see how much easier their training is once they put the tug drive back in their dog.

Notice in this video how I may be finishing my training on the floor or standing or kneeling and the tug is presented immediately without there being any “downtime” for the dog. That is what effective transitions are all about.

Anyway enjoy the video, I hope it makes you laugh the way it does me. It really is a bit weird to make a video of not much more than tugging don’t you think?

Today I am grateful I am getting over this cold!!