09 March 2012

The easy road

I just took it....

After a few days of intense video analysis of Strafe's dogwalk behavior, I decided to start teaching an alternate. Admittedly, he was hitting over 90% of his dogwalks during that period, but I could tell from his striding that he wasn't balancing well coming down the ramp, which means that in the excitement of a trial atmosphere, he will continue to be inconsistent. He's a dog who powers from his front end, and I think at this young age he can't figure out how to do that an run the down ramp properly all at once.

My goals with this dog are to qualify for Nationals and Tryouts. In order to do that, we need to QQ fairly quickly. My long term goals with this dog are to make the AKC/FCI World Team. More than once. Ambitious, sure, but these goals require consistency, which I will openly admit has been my biggest issue in the past. Not off courses or eliminations - I always had those "one small mistake" dogs; with Drifter it was "one bar" for a long time. With Kiba it is either "one bar" or "one aframe contact". My previous dogs have been similar. I have always been good at achieving handling consistency to the point where my dog and i can smoothly navigate almost any course and stay on it, but the little things have always gotten me. This has historically been due to the types of dogs I had - pushy, rushing, or in Freeze's case, ETS. Now I have a dog who is smart, sound, careful, and willing to be a team player. Right away. I don't want to waste time working on a single obstacle. The dogwalk is only 1 obstacle out of 20 on a standard, only 1 out of 40 in a double-Q, only 3 out of 100 at Tryouts....

And since I do give seminars and workshops regarding contacts, I do know the advantages and disadvantages of both behaviors. The stopped dogwalk will be slower in almost every situation, but it is also easier to handle. And there is slowly starting to be a bit of a trend of more difficult dogwalk entries and exits - more so in europe right now, but I've seen some difficult AKC exits as well. Just last weekend Drifter faceplanted trying to turn off the DW. The course flow wasn't hard, but the turn was. I have never had a dog with a well-trained, fully independent stopped dogwalk, so perhaps that actually does appeal to me. I never really prefer to go slower on purpose, but I do like the idea of being able to say "go walk it!" and peeling off to the side and knowing the dog will hit the contact and wait for me to direct him.

So all of this is to say; I have taught Strafe a stopped target behavior on his dogwalk. We started working on the target yesterday morning with a clicker for a couple sessions, and I independently did one session of teaching him to put his rear end on the dogwalk plank. And by the 2nd session today he is sequencing the entire behavior on the dogwalk. Caveat: he is a really, really smart dog who lives to please! Not all dogs can do this in 2 days of short, intense sessions! I wanted to get the conceptual understanding in place quickly because in one week we have another trial - our first USDAA trial - and I'd love to try to get a Grand Prix Q, which, you probably already know, requires hitting the dogwalk contact. And usually also some fairly technical handling. So we will test out our behavior there. (I will also try to find another one to practice on before we go).

I am not a patient trainer, you may have realized. I am not willing to spend 6 months training ANY single behavior. If it doesn't work, change it! Listen to your dog. In fact, for pushy dogs I don't use a target at all, I train a lie down on the end of the plank, with a lot of emphasis on the dog shifting its weight back and stopping. With Strafe I knew I needed to drive him forward, rather than set him back, because he is a more cautious, softer dog. So I chose a target method.

Off we go on a slightly altered agility journey.. .   with my newly nicknamed Smarty-Pants dog...


1 comment:

Brittany said...

Totally understand! I was going through the same thing with my young Sheltie, only with the aframe. She has a FANTASTIC stopped dogwalk that I adore, but I had trained a running aframe from the beginning. It just wasn't working for her. She is a little crazy/frantic when running, with no sense of self-preservation, and she treated the aframe like it was a speed bump to be cleared as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that was translating to "take the shortest second stride possible, if you take one at all."

Soooo, I decided to add the stop she has on the other contacts to the aframe. It took 2 weeks, and she now has a beautiful, fast, stopped aframe. Ultimately, I want to teach both, but for right now, I think this is safer for my crazy girl. We have the same goals (2012 Nationals, Tryouts), and I need that consistency right now, not a dog screaming and flying off the aframe. I'm hoping the stop will make it easier when I go back to the running to get her driving down, but we'll see. I've always been a proponent of a running aframe for every dog, but I've definitely been humbled into believing it's not always that easy.

Good for you for making the right choice for your dog. :-)