Tricks and Treats

I’ve been on a trick kick over the last couple of weeks.  Maybe it’s because Halloween is just around the corner.  But more likely, it’s because I’m back from the Worlds and USDAA Nationals with Breeze and I’m now concentrating more of my mental energy on Tai.    AND because its fun AND because I looked at some of Silvia Trkman’s videos.  Now there is a dog trainer!  See link below.

So, all week Tai has been rolling over; spinning left and right; wrapping a cone; weaving between my legs, hand targeting; backing up; sitting pretty; downing on a mousepad.     Some of these tricks are old friends we are revisiting after a lull.  Some are brand new and still in the early shaping phases – what fun.

Nearly all of these tricks have an agility benefit – building mind-body awareness or practicing maneuvers that will eventually be performed over 26″ jumps.  Although, I can’t quite figure out the connection  “rolling over” has for agility.  Anyone?  Oh and with his long body, he requires a fair bit of real estate to perform this one.

As Tai performs his “tricks”, he’s been getting lots of treats but when I seek a little break in the action, he’s been practicing his version of “Trick or Treat”…otherwise known as “HEY YOU…pay attention to me”.  We’re working on extinguishing this behavior (or at least I am).

While Tai rests calmly in his crate, he doesn’t usually choose to take a break unless it’s after a vigorous romp outdoors.  But since he sometimes tries to squeeze himself into the sheltie’s bed and since he’s nearly 10 months old, it seemed like the right time for that investment.  Here’s how that is working after an hour long hike yesterday.

More tricks on the agenda for tomorrow (Halloween)…maybe teaching Tai to “say his prayers” would be appropriate for All Saints Day (Nov 1).  I’d love to hear what tricks you have taught your dogs.

Here is the link to Silvia Trkman’s website

The right time

I was recently asked by a friend who will be getting a puppy soon…how did I know when it was the right time to introduce new skills to Tai?   The question got me thinking.    Each puppy is different and each trainer has different goals so other than a few general guidelines, there is no one answer to the question.  During the early, early days…I wanted all of Tai’s experiences with people and other dogs and puppies to be positive.  That meant introducing him to lots of friendly people which wasn’t hard but also sticking pretty much to same age puppies and avoiding adult dogs other than our own.   When he got a little older – 3 months or so, he started to meet and greet older trusted dogs and by 6 months old, he was pretty dog saavy and even the occasional cranky dog he might meet, didn’t do any harm because he had built up a solid bank of positive experiences.  It also meant gradually introducing him to potentially scary or over-stimulating things like speeding cars.  Now, we can be at a dog show, hotel or festival with tons of people and dogs and even a hot air balloon about to launch and he handles it all (mostly) with great aplomb.  But not so much with bicycles speeding close by us as  I recently found out so that is on our list to work!

When it comes to agility training, the same question applies.  When is is the right time to introduce my puppy to contact training, weave pole training, jump training, sequencing, etc?   One obvious answer is…not until the dog is mature enough to handle the stresses – both mental and physical.   So, for full height jumping or weave training…best to wait until at least 1 yr old.  But no need to wait that long to get started… there are lots of training techniques today that allow us to safely give our puppies the foundation needed for all of those skills and the best ones are centered around games we play with our puppies!

But lets back up.   What about focus, toy drive, food drive, working through distractions and just plain having the coordination to get the job done?  For example, Tai has had a great nose touch to my hand for a long, long time but needed some time to develop the skill and coordination to get all four of his big feet on a travel plank – not an issue I encountered with my shelties!  Now – at 9 months old and with some practice –  he can stand and balance on the board so it’s the right time to introduce targeting on the plank.

Part of the answer too, is the vision for the end behavior and knowing the steps to get there.  I figured out a long time ago from observing top notch dog trainers that they know what they want and in any training session, they observe and adapt to the dog they are working with to get each piece of the end behavior perfect … and they have a lot of tools in their toolbox to draw on.  That’s why they are successful with dog after dog.

Here is an example.    With my previous dogs I wasn’t able to use toys as effectively as I liked because while they would tug, I had never put the piece in place of driving to the toy, picking it up and returning immediately to me to tug.  So with Tai, I wanted this to be in place before starting some of his other skill training.  In fact, I consider this a skill as important as a sit stay.  And it’s (mostly) fun to train for both me and Tai.  Sometimes it can be a lot of work getting that tug with distractions around.  But I figure all that physical work is lending itself to maintaining my youthful figure. LOL.

Yesterday, I did Susan Salo-style straight line jump grids with Tai for the first time in about 7 weeks.  What first struck me was his increased speed and power compared to a couple of months ago.    But there are so many other things I like about his performance.  His solid sit stay, his focus forward, his skill in executing the grid even with me running along side, his send to the toy and his tugging when I caught up.   All those pieces were trained separately and took some time to put in place and it’s neat to see it all come together.  A short video clip is here: 


So, I guess the answer to the question of when is the right time depends on the dog, on the trainer and that vision thing.  After observing literally hundreds of amazingly talented dogs and handlers at the FCI World Agility Championship and the USDAA Nationals over the last month, I am motivated and inspired to achieve the best for Tai and to not be in a hurry to get there.  It will happen at the right time.

Back Home and Back on Track

Breeze and I just returned from the World Agility Championship held in Reiden, Germany.    What a fantastic experience…from cheering our teammates and friends to watching literally hundreds of amazing teams give it their best.  But most of all…stepping to the line with my little buddy Breeze was the thrill of a lifetime.   The judges tested our skills and our mettle — in the combined 2 round Small Dog Individual event, only 6 dogs were without faults.  What is that saying…the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat?  We were off course early in the first round with an otherwise lovely run.  Agony.  But our teammates did better with silver medal awarded to teammate John Nys and Rush in the Medium Dog Individual class.  Pure joy in watching that team realize their dream.

So…what about Tai?  Now that I’m back home I can get back on track with his training.  Or at least I will after getting through the jet lag and over the cold I picked up in Germany.  I was trying to spend some quality time with Tai last night and sat down for a minute, literally falling asleep sitting up.  I startled awake to find two intense border collie eyes staring at me.  What’s next, Mom?  He’s certainly ready to get back to it.

And boy…am I motivated.  Watching the large dog teams at the Worlds, was jaw dropping.  The courses required speed and tight turns and dog after dog proved their athleticism and skill.   Not to mention the handlers who were putting it all out there.  I was excited to think that Tai will run like that with me some day.

At just 9 months old, he’s an adolescent and still seems to be all legs, although I think that is an optical illusion because he is a smooth coat and his legs are white.   He weighs about 35 lbs and is around 21″ at the withers.  Their is a LOT to train and I don’t want to shortcut any of it.  Fortunately, I’m not on a time schedule.  It will happen as it happens and that is ok.  A good attitude to have as winter looms around the corner.

It’s fun to start getting serious about obstacle training…we’re starting with the table and tunnel; shaping each with toy rewards to keep up his drive.   His flatwork, jump grids and crate games are coming along nicely and we’re working through distractions more reliably.

Next week is USDAA Nationals in Louisville, KY and he’ll get lots of exposure to “life” around agility and then we’ll be back home for the foreseeable future.  Based on this unposed shot, I don’t think he wants to get left behind again!