Sunday, January 4, 2009

Earthdog # 1

Yesterday Carmie had her first Intro to Earthdog class at Dogs Learning Center in Hudson. It was great! The instructor Carolyn is excellent.

Carmie was a bit out of sorts at first. The facility is in an industrial center, so it is a large room with tall ceilings.

The first thing Carolyn did was talk about Earthdog in general and what we would be working on in the session. I feel like she covered a lot of information and I will do my best to give a coherent recap.

She also works for the MSPCA so one of the first things she talked about is her rats which are lovingly cared for by her 91 year old mum. She said that the rats don't love when the terriers are barking like crazy but in general they are pretty desensitized to them. She doesn't feel like it is fair to take a rat from a pet store who hasn't been exposed to ANYTHING and put them in a den.

We discussed how overwhelming the Intro to Quarry can be to a novice dog and handler and how the Intro to Earthdog classes will not supply the instinct but will help get the dogs acclimated to the liners and exposed to the idea of going in them. Especially with dogs like Carmen and Cassie, who are older, much of the "instinct" aspects of Earthdog (barking, digging) might have been trained out of them.

Carolyn likes to train by including the foundation of behaviors you will need if you make it to the Senior and Master level. For example, in the Master level two dogs are off leash in the woods. The dog that reaches the den first is allowed to work it and the other dog is tied up and must "honor" the other dogs work. This means they can not be SCREAMING the entire time. So it is good to be able to settle your dog.

In the senior level there is a recall portion and Carolyn teaches her recall with a whistle. In training the recall, the whistle ALWAYS equals rats. So in a trial when your dog hears the whistle they know even though they are leaving the rats to come to you - they are going to be rewarded with rats.

She recommends using the same premise to teach your dog to be picked up out of the den. Once the dog has reached the rats and worked them for the required amount of time (working equals barking and digging) the handler needs to be able to pick them up. A dog that excited needs to know they will be rewarded with something equally exciting - so in practice the best reward is to sniff bark at rats. 99 % of the time when your dog comes to the whistle or allows themselves to be picked up out of the den they are rewarded with exactly what they want - rats.

To introduce Carmen and Cassie to the liners Carolyn had us turn a straight liner over and click-treat our dogs for moving through them. This is when I realized how much work Carmen would be doing. The liner reached mid shoulder - she really has to crawl through those liners!

Once the dogs were easily trotting through the upside down liner we turned them right side up and worked on shaping the dogs through the liner. This also went fairly quickly. I am using "Get'Em" as the liner command.

Then we worked on the corner tunnel. There is a normal straight entrance that "appears" to dead-end, but really the dog needs to make a 90 degree turn. To teach the corner tunnel Carolyn had us start at the capped end so that our dog would feel confident there was a "light at the end of the tunnel." See my diagram below - the red line is Carmie's initial path-of-travel.

It was REALLY interesting to watch Carmen attempt to figure out how to physically make the turn - she did and was very successful at navigating both directions. Now we moved on adding the straight tunnel to the mix with a few inches between both tunnels so the dogs wouldn't feel too hemmed in.

Carmie thought it made more sense to squeeze out between them, so I continued working on having her enter the corner tunnel.

We ended with getting Cassie (Silky Terrier) used to being in the final portion of the tunnel where the rats are. Carmie's brain was already toast so we just had her watch and gave her delicious treats near the rats.

Due to the UKC show next weekend I will not be at class, but I got so much out of it I really wanted Carmen to go without me. My in-laws offered to take her. Hooray!! Hopefully they will give me a very in-depth update.

Carolyn said that both Cassie and Carmen did really well. She said she has done this course before and sometimes the entire first class is spent trying to shape the dog into entering the straight tunnel.


MericoX said...

I'm so jealous! It sounds like you guys had a whole lot of fun!!!

Where is the earthdog place located?

Jules said...

It was VERY informative! It is in Hudson, MA near Stowe?

Diana said...

What a great class. I love the way the instuctor gave you that informaion about earthdog before even starting class. Thats a great thing to do. And what a way to teach a recall, its a win-win situation. Rats for both. Im going to try to incorporated that in teaching a recall off fence running. thanks, Diana

Jules said...

Diana, She also does USDAA and commented that it didn't even take her JRT one Gamblers run to know that a whistle in an agility that context wasn't about rats. Just goes to show how smart our dogs are if they are encouraged to think.