This weekend my club had Tracy Sklenar of Leader of the Pack in Upstate NY down to give four 4-hour seminars.
I signed Bug up for the Getting Focused and Avoiding Distractions seminar (Saturday a.m.) and the Fancy Footwork seminar (Sunday a.m.). Wow – did I get a lot out of both seminars. Since Bug is injured, he is not currently allowed to play agility, so Ike went to the Fancy Footwork seminar. Gulp!
Getting Focused and Avoiding Distractions
Tracy started the Focus seminar by saying she considers this seminar to be Life Skills 101. The goal is the dog will be impervious to distraction. The goal is not about running sequences – it is about developing the working relationship between handler and dog.
Tracy doesn’t believe in using verbal or physical corrections. She feels punishment only works if it is omni-present.
One of the first things we did was go around the room and introduce ourselves and describe our dog’s focus issue. Bug has baby dog focus issues in the ring, but on occasion in the outside world Bug will lock on to a person/dog/critter and I will cease to exist.
If a dog is distracted Tracy will not call their name or say “leave it.” Why no name? A dog’s name has typically been very highly reinforced with cookies, etc. It has a positive association. You keep calling your dog’s name and they finally come – if you reward them for coming then it is win-win for the dog. Sniffing or checking out is reinforcing for the dog and then they get reinforced again for coming back. Tracy will typically just go quietly get the dog. If the dog has the zoomies she asks the handler to hide on the dog.
The first thing we did was an exercise that Tracy called Point A to Point B. We asked our dogs to do something then rewarded them with feeding on the fly or playing with a toy.
With Bug I used his rabbit tug. I asked him to wait in his crate, when I released him we immediately started tug. Then stopped and asked Bug for a behavior (down). Are they ready? Tracy used this exercise to demonstrate that a dog being unfocused is actually because they are too low on the arousal curve. Bug went from a rousing game of tug to a down ready to do whatever I want. I was so happy that Bug was willing to tug out of his crate like that. We were in the narrower section of the building and surrounded by people and dogs in their crates. He could have cared less.
I was reminded of something I recently discovered – Bug really doesn’t have a clear idea about sit. This is because, basically, I haven’t trained it. We focus SO much on down for herding and we really don’t do any obedience. In addition down is definitely more comfortable physically for Bug so we just do downs. However, he should understand what sit means! So, I will work on that. He needs more tricks in general. We have a super down, but our nose touch is wimpy. I suppose I could have asked him for “cute” but that is not solidly on cue yet.
Next we played It’s Yer Choice. You have a handful of treats at the dog’s level. They go for the treats, hand closes. They move back hand opens. They stay back you take a treat from your palm with your other hand and bring it to them – they ONLY get the treat if they do not move. If they move the treat goes back in the hand. This game is all about impulse control.
The next step was to move the food from our hand to the floor. This was a bit harder for Bug. Initially you want a small pile that you can easily cover with your hand if your dog attempts to steal. Eventually you will have treats scattered. Tracy demo’d this with her BC/Staffie Matrix. Matrix is a 15 mo puppy and she has this game pretty well nailed. With Bug I was able to graduate to scattering the treats slightly.
Next we talked about what to do if you have your dog on leash and they become unfocused. Tracy suggests you slide your hand down the leash until you reach the collar, once your hand is on the collar you walk backwards 5 – 10 steps and try again. We did this with an opened bag of treats and a pile of pork loose on the ground. Perhaps not surprisingly Bug had the most trouble with the pork just lying on the ground. He thought surely it was meant for him. To be honest it didn’t take him long to figure it out.
Then Tracy went and got her Dal who is very non-reactive and we played the same game on leash with people and dogs. Bug was SUPER with the Dal and after initially trying to investigate a human sitting on the floor worked really well with this game.
For the final exercise Tracy set up a short curving sequence with 5 jumps. Then we laid out all sorts of distractions. Tugs right next to jumps, bags, people bouncing tennis balls and crumpling Dunkin Donuts bags. We set up a pretend gate and had a pretend leash runner who didn’t wait until you had your dog settled. It was a VERY stimulating situation.
Tracy wanted us to do Point A to point B when we were going from our crate to the course. When Bug came out of his crate he was not interested in his tug. So I did a little zig-zagging and rewarded him from my hand and ran out there.
For Bug we laid the jump bars on the ground so he could just stride over them. First attempt Bug locked onto a sheepy tug that was right next to the second jump’s stanchion. I took his collar and back we walked. Second time he did not have an issue. Good boy, Bug.
In addition to be reminded I need to work on sit with Bug, I learned that a 4-hour seminar is probably about all Bug can currently handle. He definitely seemed tired when we came out to run the course with distractions.
This morning Ike and I attended the Fancy Footwork seminar. I was so ridiculously nervous. Ike has not gone to a seminar or a trial in two years. He has just recently started taking agility classes again and being happy in them. I didn’t know what would happen. When we went around the room to introduce ourselves I did explain that Ike finds trials and seminars pretty stressful and that it had been two years since he attended one.
The first thing Tracy talked about is stride. She said the length of our stride affects our dog’s speed. Well, yes, that makes sense. Short stride cues deceleration. Long stride cues acceleration. She said think about it, you can not take long steps with your arm out, standing up straight. Then imagine yourself leaning forward, arms pumping. The arms pumping and forward bend causes your stride to widen.
For dogs that do not like to drive ahead of you she recommended a game. You hold onto your dog’s collar and toss something your dog wants. You and your dog run to the item. If you can beat your dog to it – they don’t get it. You pick up the toy or treat and go back to do it again. If you are constantly beating your dog then you change the game slightly. You must run to the item on your knees. Hopefully the dog will beat you to it! When Tracy explained this game Kathleen and I immediately looked at each other – it is a perfect game for both my boys!
The first sequence was very straightforward – two jumps, tunnel, two jumps. The only point of the exercise was to get the handlers bending down and pumping their arms. First attempt it took me a little bit to relax and start gunning it. Second attempt I got into it and everyone said they could really see a difference in Ike’s speed. Cool! I have to admit I felt silly, but hopefully with practice I won’t.
The next sequence was the same set-up, but instead of gunning it out of the tunnel and over both jumps you stop at the first jump following the tunnel – with your feet forward. Once the dog has committed to the jump you turn and head back to the tunnel. Hello wrap. The first time I did this Ike back-jumped because my turn was late. Second time he did it beautifully.
We did a couple additional sequences (actually more than a couple) that worked on both front crosses and rear crosses. I didn’t draw the courses or take any additional notes because I was really busy paying attention to the other runs. Kathleen did take some video though which I will definitely post.
Ike did really well. He stayed engaged and happy – even with repetition. I am so tickled by him, that I am using the word tickled to describe how I feel. We did have a couple of moments where I pulled him off a tunnel and another where he chose to skip a jump, but wow he worked hard!
Tracy suggested working on building tunnel value. Ike has never liked tunnels so it is absolutely a valid point. She also said she thought I could get him back trialing if I wanted. It felt great to hear her say that but I have no intention of ever trialing him again – he doesn’t want to. HOWEVER, I think I will work as though I plan on it.
I see today how much he enjoys working with me in an environment where he isn’t stressed out. I learned so much more running him today than I think I would have running Bug. Maybe not, I would probably have learned different things with Bug. I enjoyed running Ike so much today. To have today – where he worked so hard and stayed upbeat and happy - feels like perhaps the biggest accomplishment we have made together. It never seemed like a possibility before, which just goes to show you that you don’t know where you’ll end up if you keep working.
17 hours ago