Last Saturday I attended two seminars hosted by Act-Up Agility Club at Silver City Canine Training Center. The presenter was Tracy Sklenor of Leader of the Pack, Too in NY.
The morning seminar was on Focus, Motivation, and Impulse Control and the afternoon seminar was on Weaves and Contact performance. I enjoyed both seminars quite a bit. Tracy is a very dynamic presenter who definitely personalizes her presentations for the dogs and handlers attending.
In the morning we learned the game, It’s YerChoice (article by Tracy Sklenor can be found on pages 36 – 40 of the Clean Run Special Focus Issue: Motivation, Drive, and Self-Control). In It’s YerChoice, the handler begins with a handful of treats held at nose level, open palm. If your dog attempts to get the treats you close your hand. No verbal corrections – you let your actions speak to the dog and the dog’s brain work. When your dog is capable of allowing a handful of treats to be in front of them without mauling your hand, you may give them a treat from your hand. If they try to grab the treat or move for your hand, oops bad choice, close your hand.
Tracy showed us how the criteria in this game can be continually raised and made “sexier.” For example, Ike already knows a version of the It's YerChoice game called Doggie Zen. Because Ike understands the rules of this game, I was very quickly able to raise my criteria and toss a handful of salmon treats on the ground without Ike moving to grab them. Yay Ike. As we all know, Ike has decent impulse control, we just have to work on motivation.
Tracy suggested a couple of things, one that I had reinforced Ike for being slow. Agility-for-Fun anyone? Four years of shelter agility definitely reinforced Ike’s slowness – after all, in the beginning I didn’t even know I should have criteria for obstacles! If I didn’t know that, I can only imagine how unsure Ike was about what the heck he was supposed to be doing. No wonder he is so precise.
What this made me start thinking about is criteria – I currently STILL have lax dog walk and A-Frame criteria because of Ike’s speed. I have never had to ask for a specific behavior because of his speed - you can't miss contacts if you're moving slow. However, the question this seminar raised for me is, does my lax criteria contribute to Ike’s precision? When Ike understands something he is confident, when he doesn’t he isn’t. Sounds like most of us, right? If Ike isn’t 100% sure what his job on these obstacles are he is going to perform them CAREFULLY. D’oh! I am pretty confident my lax criteria on these two obstacles has slowed Ike down.
I need to develop strict criteria for the dogwalk and A-frame and enforce it. I also need to make time to make sure I reinforce Ike when he breaks out of a trot!
The afternoon seminar reinforced the need for criteria for me. Ike stopped on the a-frame, as he is wont to do lately. Tracy called him a perch-aholic. I’ll have to add that to my list of labels/descriptions for this behavior – star-gazing, sight-seeing, etc. To me it is a sign of stress, I have always made the assumption that it was related to a trial atmosphere, but hmmmm….what if it is because he isn’t sure how I want him to perform this obstacle? Oye!! I need lots of A-frame practice. Kay-trin…..can I rent the A-frame at your house?! ; )
Tracy introduced me to a bunch of teeter games which I would consider playing with Carmen or a future puppy. One is the Bang It game. You put a jump stanchion under the weighted end of the teeter so that the unweighted end is almost on the ground. You reinforce your dog for hopping onto it and making it bang. Once they are comfortable with that you start teaching them how you’d like them to be positioned on the teeter when it hits the ground and lower the weighted end (switching the stanchion for a chair, etc) so they have to hop higher onto the unweighted end. Personally I feel like it is much better for the dog structurally to be closer to the tipping point of the teeter and I would never use the Bang It game for anything other than becoming accustomed to the noise and movement of the teeter.
We also learned the Elevator game – you have your dog hop on the unweighted end of the teeter, you raise it up and let it bang. Eh, I can see the benefits of it if you are teaching a 2 on/2 off behavior but in general not so much.
Rebound game - you have your dog hop on the unweighted end of the teeter and once it bangs you then slip your foot under the end of the teeter and force it to rebound up. This is to counter-condition a dog that is doing a 2 o/2 o and might have the board bounce up under them at some point. With the structural issues the rebound surely creates I do not see this anywhere in my future!
Last but not least was placing the teeter between two tables and have the dog run across it. We did this with a blanket under the unweighted end of the teeter and I can see how this could benefit a scaredy dog. The unweighted end’s table was slightly lower, so there was still some tipping and bang associated with the game.
We went over the importance of a nose target and I am going to attempt (once more) to teach Ike to nose target. He has gotten SO much more confident, I *think* it is a possibility.
We finished with 2 x 2 weave method which I am tempted to try with Carmen. Why not?
You teach the poles by teaching your dog to enter one set of two poles, you always throw your treat or toy in the direction in which the dog would be weaving. Ike actually really dug this. It was at the end of the day (5 o’clock and we had been there since 7:45am) and he was tearing after his tossed treats and through the poles.
Then you set up the second set of two some distance away slightly angled, but “in line” with the first set. Then you add the third set. As the dog begins to understand the game you slowly bring the weaves in tighter to the format your dog will see competitively. I can visualize how the training wnet and should progress, but sometimes I have serious difficulty explaining! I apologize. I can see how this could be a very fun game to play with your dog. It might be good for the onion (aka Carmen) as so far she thinks poles are a wee bit scary.
This isn’t a blow-by-blow of the seminar, which I sometimes do. I got more of a “big-picture” message from these two seminars – even though the two seminars were different topics, there was one message for me.
A dog that is given clear criteria is more confident. A more confident dog has more fun. A dog having more fun is faster; at least Ike typically is!!
2 weeks ago