Saturday, July 19, 2008

It's too hot to train!!! (Part Two)

This morning in Brooklyn, when I woke up and turned on NY1, it was already 80 degrees. This was at 7.30. I always have a training session with Tyril on Sat mornings, and felt today shouldn't be any different.

Well, I was wrong. Something in the heat and humidity made Summer sluggish and Heeling exercises were too stressful on her. We tried one Heeling pattern, and Tyril said, "OK training is cancelled for today." And no wonder. If she wasn't into it, we just shouldn't make it unenjoyable. I mean, she WAS heeling and she WAS making the about turns, but she was also making them in the most pedestrian fashion, panting the whole way. Her drive was like a balloon from last months party.

So we sat and talked and I tossed a ball around for Summer. She played fetch with some enthusiasm for about 15 mins, and then decided it would be better to lay on the grass and chew on her Bad Cuz.

I can't wait for this heatwave to break. I really need to work on her Off Lead Heel... We did do a couple of long recalls and a couple of Down During Recall, and she performed those with real pizazz.

Which makes me think that Heeling really truly is her, ahem, Achilles Heel.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

It's too hot to train!!!

I was born and raised in super sunny Singapore - one degree north of the equator. Hot, humid, tropical, monsoony Singapore. Did I mention hot? So I deal with this so much better than poor Summer.She's a cold weather girl. She's got a really short coat and not much of an undercoat, but give her winter anyday of the week.

So tonight while I tried to train her, she just wasn't that into it.

I tried getting her to chase me for a piece of boiled chicken. She did at first, but was a little meh about it. So I put her in a sit/stay and ignored her for a bit. Then proceeded to try again. A little better.

I then put her on the leash and did a little pushing and Hupping on me. For anyone who isn't familiar with pushing, it's GREAT. Hupping is basically getting her to jump up and plant her front paws on my chest. I also like to throw in the Speak cue when she's in Hup - it seems to get her drive up more. I combined that with a few light leash pops to get her mojo flowing. Magic! She did a couple of kick ass Down during Recalls, but for some reason, her Jump finish from the front sit was slipping.

Ugh. She was fudging the front sit before, but ace-ing the Jump finish. Why was she fudging on something she used to do so well?

My guess is, she doesn't fully get the whole exercise. I must be stressing her out too much to get her drive flowing freely... So by the time she does the great front sit, she's too confused to follow through to the Jump Finish.

So what I did was to keep stepping back and getting her to Hup on me while I stepped back. At the end I asked for a Front instead of a Hup, and then asked for the Heel (her Jump finish). She made a couple of her waah-waah "I'm confused!!" sounds again, so I kept quiet for a couple of seconds, and tried again. "HEEL!" I said. BOOM! Her tookus flew up, swung around, and landed neatly in a sit/heel position.

For nervous energy dogs like Summer, sometimes it's good to apply a teeny bit of pressure to get them to narrow their drive into the behavior you're asking for. When I managed to focus her drive through the pops while hupping, she performed with much clearer drive and focus. After about 5 minutes of training peppered with lots of pushing, I released her with an OK FREE, and tossed her small bad cuz, and she dashed to chase it down.

I wish I could have kept going, but I didn't want to overdo it with her. The heat really is a doozy for her, and I have to keep remembering to always end on a high note, and always leave the dog wanting more.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Titling city dogs

Here's something I overheard in Fort Greene Park last night: "New York City dogs are really well-behaved BECAUSE most of us don't have backyards. So our dogs really learn how to adapt and interact well since they're out amongst other dogs the whole time they are out in the park."

Isn't that interesting? It's true, we're forced by circumstance to have our dogs and ourselves confront some really stressful situations, and with any luck, all of us have the emotional elasticity to deal with the stress and learn how to relieve our internal tension.

But here's a conundrum: despite all the opportunities for socialization here, there are pitifully few opportunities for us NYC dwellers to enroll our dogs in classes at levels beyond the Canine Good Citizen. Why can't I find accessible agility classes that are (a) in my borough; and (b) don't cost an arm and a leg; and (c) don't frown at you when you show up sans clicker? Or rally O for that matter? Or flyball? Or dock diving? (OK maybe not dock diving...)

It makes me very sad, because I think that Summer would make a kick ass agility dog. Even Rally O.

That being the case, we are relegated to entering the scary frightening uber-cut throat world of AKC Competition Obedience. We're currently hoping to get her a CD Novice title this fall. With any luck, I might even try her for the CDX title next year. I have sent in my application to get her her ILP registration with the AKC as a Belgian Malinois (even though she's only a mix... I've heard that money talks.) And we're currently working our hinies off to be ready by fall.

She's actually doing better than I thought she would. Fie on me for underestimating my dog!!

Here are some videos of her working the CD Novice exercises. Bear in mind, we haven't really worked that much in the offleash formal heel. She goes offleash everyday, twice a day, but as you all know, formal heeling can be particularly stressful for the dog, so I don't enforce it all that much in our informal park jaunts, apart from the occasional ad hoc 5 min training sessions I pepper our walks with.

Working a Heel On Lead (please pardon my trainer Tyril's, uh, French):

Working a Heel Off Lead (she fudged the Right Turn because I fudged the Left Turn prior to that. I inadvertently dropped her drive by cutting into her too abruptly during the Left Turn...)

Working the Stand For Examination:

Working the Recall (she sometimes gets distracted during the Jump Finish... I need to be a better trainer.):

Working the first half of the Figure 8 exercise. We didn't have extra bodies, so we used garbage cans instead...

Let me know what you think!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The prettiest thing I've seen

I know, the words Canine Freestyle bring shudders to some people how Ultimate Frisbee does to me. But this is just beautiful. I challenge anyone to tell me they've seen something as sweet and as moving as this.

What's so great about drive training with my dog?

Everything. It taught me how to harness that drive, channel it into a very specific behavior, and ultimately allow my dog to release it in a way I deem as appropriate.

What is drive? It's probably easy to recognize if you've ever seen a dog's eyes light up, her ears prick forward, her head held high, her neck long and straight, her body taut as a spring ready to launch forward. That's drive. It's usually directed towards a prey animal, or something that she sees as prey-like - a ball, a shammy cloth, a tug toy, your underwear, your pantleg. If you're doing it right, she'll see YOU as prey-like. No, she's not going to hunt you down and kill you in your sleep. What you're trying to achieve is for her to be attracted to you the same way she is attracted to a prey-like thing.

Drive release is ultimately fulfilling to a dog because it talks directly to her natural instincts (hence the name Natural Dog Training. ) But hey the guy who taught me about it, Lee Charles Kelley, introduced me to Kevin Behan's book, which ultimately turned everything I thought I knew about dog training on its head. And through Lee's blog, I started reading Neil Sattin's site, and learned even more.

Why drive training for me? Once I learned about it, it seemed like a no-brainer for my spazzy dog. Summer is a special case of weird focus issues. She's got erratic drive. Sometimes it's all over the place. Sometimes it's not high enough. Sometimes it's so high that she doesn't hear or see me. Well, ok, that rarely happens anymore, and it's all thanks to drive training! When I realized I could do things like build and then focus and harness that drive into a specific behavior, and still end up with a fulfilled doggy, I was intrigued. You mean she can feel happy just by fulfilling her drive without treats? Sign me up!

I still use treats - but I use it in conjunction with building drive and releasing drive now. I don't use it the way +R clicker trainers use it. I do use a verbal marker with Summer to indicate a correct position or behavior, but I believe it's actually a way to build her drive as well. Plus, a marker and treats is an easy way to teach new behaviors that seem counterintuitive to a dog. I mean, how many dogs you know will naturally do things like jumping through your arms held up in a loop? Well, ok, maybe not counterintuitive, but humans alone can be stressful enough to dogs - we're SO BIG!! But when you can learn to harness drive and be as attractive as a giant elk (well, ok to a dog, a giant elk is the be all and end all of supermodels), you can teach them how to do this.

Why I started a blog about my dog...

Does the world need another dog blog?

I don't really know. Nor do I really care. A friend on a training forum suggested to me, when I posted for tips on how to keep track of my training successes and setbacks, to start a dog training journal.

At first I balked. A journal? Really? Then I remembered how I managed to whip my butt into shape to keeping track of my finances through Quicken. And then I thought, Oh, Ok. Maybe I can do this.

Then I thought, what a great way to keep track of the entire journey of raising a healthy happy trained responsive dog!

We live in Brooklyn, and while thankfully it isn't Manhattan and the restrictio
ns the city naturally imposes on working with a high energy dog, our humble little borough does pose a few logistic problems when it comes to training. Especially when you have a strange spazzy leash reactive dog like mine.

So here begins my little blog. Hopefully it will help me keep on track with my training. And beyond that, maybe some of my friends might find this of amusement as well.

Cheers to all, and a Happy Summer!