Northfield Natter: The Ups and Downs of Trialing

I found Adele Yunck’s blog post a good reminder that everyone has their ups and downs. It’s  important to recognize them as such and not focus on the negative. Read her post….

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Totally Fetching

Totally Fetching: Teaching & Proofing a Reliable Retrieve is Adele Yunck’s update to the long-popular 1995 VHS video, Positively Fetching: Teaching the Obedience Retrieves Using Food. She kept the best of the original video and redid the rest, adding a section on building your dog’s hold, and greatly enhancing the proofing section. This 73-minute DVD takes you through the whole process of teaching your dog how to retrieve for the AKC obedience ring, from choosing the right equipment through proofing and problem solving. See a large variety of dogs from all of the AKC breed groups learning how to retrieve. You will see successes as well as errors. The companion booklet includes some photos and is a great supplemental reference when you are away from a DVD player.

More information and how to order!

Goals Revisited – October 18, 2009

When you are first learning a new sport, it is difficult to understand how to get to the end goal that the sport requires, because you haven’t made that journey before. This can be a frustrating aspect of learning a new sport.

I’ve spent the past four months training my two Flat-Coats for AKC hunt tests, pushing to get Gryffin and me to the Master level (we earned our first two Master passes in September) and Ty to the Senior level. Gryffin is my first hunt test dog, so each new level is new for both of us. He’s had to suffer my field-training learning curve. One of my frustrations with learning how to prepare us for hunt tests is figuring out what we should be training on a day-to-day basis. What have I done to ease this frustration? I pull out my many books and saved magazines and read (and read and read). By nature, I am inclined to think that if one book on a topic is good, six is better. I’m like this no matter what I’m trying to learn, whether gardening, parenting, organizing, or dog training. I like to read a lot of similar and different ideas, and sift through and figure out what is likely to make the most sense to me and to my dogs. What issues are they having? What drills can we work on by ourselves or with one training partner to advance my dogs’ understanding of a given concept? I also talk to different trainers who’ve done advanced work AND whose training makes sense to me, as well as spending time training with them if possible.

Before I finished my first OTCh title on my Flat-Coated Retriever Tramp in 1991, I was really unsure about reaching that pinnacle, even though she had the needed 1st places and 40+ points. With the subsequent dogs with which I’ve earned an OTCh., I really never doubted that we’d get there, as long as I was willing to keep plugging away at the training and showing. When I start training a new dog, an OTCh. title is usually one of my lifetime goals for that dog, but I also know that it will take me several years to get there. How do I keep myself training when I know it’s going to take me a long time to get where I’m going? First of all, I want to build a strong foundation for the various sports I plan to do with that dog. I love teaching foundation work. I enjoy the step-wise progression towards the advanced exercises. Because there are lower-level titles that need to be earned before getting to the OTCh. level, I have those as intermediate goals.

Of course, when you are new to a sport, you don’t even know what concepts you need to prepare your dog for. This is when having a mentor to help guide you along the way is immeasurably helpful. Gail Dapogny, who taught the first Puppy K class I took in 1985, took me under her wing about a year into my training endeavors, and helped me catch the fever for both competition obedience and working for excellence with my dogs. In my area of the country (southeast Michigan), there are now numerous trainers, training schools, and clubs offering excellent training for competition obedience and agility. But what if you aren’t in such a lucky locale? Take yourself and a chair to some local obedience trials. Sit outside the rings and watch. Even better, volunteer to steward at a trial or fun match. You will learn a lot about what makes up a good performance, a poor performance, and an excellent performance. See how different exhibitors are with their dog(s). Do you like the way they work together? Find out where and how they train. Chances are that the well-prepared teams are either experienced or are fortunate to train with someone who is experienced. If you don’t have many local trials that you can attend, look for obedience performances on YouTube.

We each have a unique idea of what we like to see in a performance team. By watching numerous performances, you will start to develop an eye for what you are aiming for with your own dog. It might not be the same thing as I’m aiming for with my dogs. That’s one of the great things about obedience – there’s lots of room for different levels of goals.

It’s also not just about the goal, but the journey to that goal. As I wrote about in Setting Training Goals, I spend far more time training than trialing, and I look at trials as a test of our day-to-day training.

If you take your time developing a solid foundation with your dog, even if it takes a while, it pays dividends in the long run. It will make your time competing at trials more productive and successful.

Dealing with Disappointment – Adele Yunck

This email from Adele sure struck home for me. I know a lot of you will appreciate her article about NQs. Read on….

I tell you all of that to say I have been in the ring a lot this year, and it has not all been good. I’ve had my ups and downs, as many exhibitors do. I have been dealing with my own disappointment at various times. However, my history in obedience has shown me that with hard work and persistence, I eventually reach my goals, in spite of the bumps along the way. Although it sometimes seems to be so, no one wins all the time! More….

A Call for Balance in Dog Training, by Margie English, NY

The following article is shared with permission. It may be forwarded, as long as Margie English’s name is attached.

When I first read this, I liked the message so much that I wanted to share it with as many people as I could, because I think Margie makes many excellent points. I hope you enjoy it and find it informative.

Adele Yunck
A Call for Balance in Dog Training
by Margie English, NY

The use of a clicker or other bridging stimulus is a wonderful tool for training an animal with whom you have no social relationship. You can train a killer whale to pee in a cup. You can train a chicken to play tic-tac-toe. You can train a homicidal elephant to put his foot through a hole in his cage to have his hoof trimmed.

While the behavior of these animals has changed and made them more convenient to care for or exploit, the social relationship remains unchanged. The homicidal elephant will still kill anyone who enters his enclosure. The killer whale doesn’t feel any different about you after he pees in your cup. And who knows what chickens feel?

None of these animals live in our homes. They are not our companions. When their trainers go home at the end of the day, the animals are on their own doing whatever they get to do when left to their own devices in captivity.

We expect much more from our dogs, and our clients expect much more from their dogs. Fortunately, we are blessed with an animal whose ancestors picked us out and figured out how to get along with us. (If you haven’t already, please read The Covenant of the Wild by Stephen Budiansky on how domestication evolved in some species.)

Consider this: you can’t herd dolphins. If you want to move dolphins from one tank to another, you can’t just drop a net in there and shove them along. They’ll panic and drown themselves before they’ll yield to that net. You have to take the time to train them with R+ to move themselves from one tank to the next, or you’ll drown some dolphins.

If want to move sheep from one pen to the next, you send a Border Collie in there to act as a canine aversive net, and he’ll get them shoved in no time. Sheep are domestic animals and dolphins are not. When domestic animals evolved, one of the adaptations they made was tolerance for informative aversive stimuli. In other words, they can learn from informative negative reinforcement. They learn quickly, and the lesson learned becomes self-reinforcing. When he beats the R-, he wins every time. Negatively reinforced behaviors are very sturdy and need very few reminders. Positively reinforced behaviors need lots of reminders. This is why they’re harder to maintain and why everybody has so much trouble weaning dogs off food rewards for behaviors that don’t come naturally to them.

Sue Cone and I put on the first seminar Karen Pryor ever gave for dog trainers. (It was a NADOI conference, BTW.) Back then, Karen wad totally up front about not being a dog trainer. We didn’t care. NADOI felt that dog trainers had a lot to learn from wild animal trainers at that time.

We had no idea then that the field of dog training would be taken over by people who thought dogs should be trained as if they were wild animals.

I don’t think dogs want to be wild animals. They want to share our homes and our lives, and they’ve programmed by domestication to learn the rules on how to do that–even if they include some informative aversives. They want all the information they can get.

I once attended a seminar featuring Ted Turner, the famous dolphin trainer. He was asked why dog trainers use aversives and he replied, “Because they can.” Later he said, “Good trainers give more information than bad trainers.”

To sum up: dogs can tolerate and use more kinds of information than wild animals can. And they thrive on all the information they can get. Don’t short change them.

End of rant,

Margie English, NY
October 2009

Training with Limited Space or Time

From Adele Yunck

With the onset of cold and wintery weather here in the north, many people have limited training time because of darkness and bad weather. While I have the luxury of space because I have a training building in my back yard, I don’t always have the luxury of a lot of time for training. I’d like to discuss how I spend that limited time to make progress towards my goals with the 3 dogs I’m currently training. More…

Open Training Concepts

I’d like to explore some of the concepts I typically include when working on maintaining and polishing the Open exercises. They are training ideas that I frequently include when working on a given exercise with one of my dogs.

One overall concept in all of my training is that of varying the time I wait before giving a command. Dogs have such natural internal clocks and are such creatures of habit that if you are too consistent with the timing of your commands, your dog will anticipate the next part of an exercise, not waiting for your command. While most judges use a pretty consistent rhythm, there is variation, with some hesitating longer than others.

This is particularly important on finishes. Most dogs will anticipate their finish at some point. When I was preparing my first two dogs for Open, they both did a lot of finish anticipation, mostly during training, thankfully. Going from one finish in Novice to four in Open makes this a very common problem for the new Open dog. Sometimes I finish my dog after only a brief sit in front. Usually, on the next front, I remain silent, testing whether my dog understands he should wait. After a successful silent interval (my dog waits correctly in his front sit), I might give him a treat or simply release out of the front sit, or I might finish him after this longer-than-usual pause. I always want to be ready to catch him if he starts to finish on his own.

Applying this concept to any of the retrieve exercises, sometimes I release my dog quickly to retrieve. Other times, I pause longer than usual. I might then send my dog; I might release him; or I might give him a treat. I might use some other command than my retrieve command, such as SIT or WAIT to make sure my dog is listening and waiting properly.

On the Drop on Recall, I mix some straight recalls (i.e., no drop) in with ones on which I have my dog drop. I might drop him in the first third of the recall, at the halfway point, or in the last third. I might motivate (i.e., do something fun like a cookie-toss recall or a chase recall) the recall off the sit or off the down. I vary how long I make him wait in the down, which is especially important if you do UKC Open in which a steward walks past your dog while he’s in a down. Sometimes I go give my dog a cookie for a particularly good drop.

On the Retrieve on Flat (ROF), I practice alongside a High Jump regularly, since all of my recent dogs have tried out jumping the jump when they shouldn’t. I’ll practice minimum distance throws (20 feet) and full-ring-length throws. Sometimes I purposely throw off center to make my dog work on finding fronts from different angles.

On the Retrieve over the High Jump (ROHJ), I purposely throw off to the side to proof for dumbbells that take a bad bounce. Given my training building’s rubber flooring, these bad bounces are all too common. I want my dog to understand that when I say JUMP on this exercise, he is to jump both going out and coming back, even if it isn’t the most obvious and straight path. In my opinion, this is the most important proof to work on with this exercise. I will also alternate between a ROF and a ROHJ. I use a different command on each of these two exercises to help clarify my dog’s job (FETCH on the ROF, JUMP on the ROHJ, in case you really want to know :-)). I watch where my dog focuses after picking up his dumbbell: if it’s on me, he’s most likely going to come straight to me; if it’s on the jump, he’s probably going to take the jump.

As I write this, I realize I don’t have a concrete list of concepts for the Broad Jump. I do want to see my dog driving hard enough to the jump that he is clearing it comfortably. I’ll motivate the jump itself or the return.

Since having some stay issues during trials last fall (mostly lying down during the sit stay), my dogs have been doing mostly back-to-back sit stays. They usually get through the first 3 minute sit, and sometimes the 2nd 5 minute sit, but Gryffin has gone down during the 2nd one a few times. If you have a dog who lies down on a sit stay a lot, make sure you are training sit stays frequently, daily if possible. This will help build up his core strength that he needs to have in order to keep himself up in the sit. If you correct your dog for mistakes almost every time he does a sit stay, you build up a lot of stress (been there, done that). If this is happening with your dog, go back to kindergarten: stay close, stay in sight, keep the time short. I build up duration first, then where I am in relation to my dog (not directly across from him), then being out of sight.

When my dog has a good understanding of the exercises, I also add other types of proofing to challenge my dog’s understanding. Simply training around other people working their dogs is a great step. If you increase difficulty gradually, and are fair about your proofing, your dog will be ready for the Open ring in no time.

Until next time, happy training!

Adele Yunck
Northfield Dog Training