Posts Tagged ‘dog training’

Three weeks ago, I took Carlin up to the Academy. January 9th, it was. A Saturday. I left him there, and I came home.

When I left him, I hoped they could succeed where I had been failing — helping Carlin feel comfortable while he’s on leash. I wanted (and want) him to not have to worry about being attacked out of the blue. And if he does start to see and then react to something that worries him, I hoped that he would have a quiver of other behaviors that I could ask him to do instead of worrying.

You see, about four months prior, Carlin was viciously attacked by a Malamute, a big dog, twice his weight and at least half again his height. Physically, Carlin was wounded, but not badly. But mentally, he began to worry every time I took him out on a leash. When I took him to Obedience lessons, he worried about the other dog in the room. And if another dog got too close on a walk or in the obedience building, Carlin would lunge and bark.

Carlin was obviously scared on our walks, and I was scared too. Left untreated, behavior like this can be (or at least become) very dangerous. To Carlin, because lunging and barking could incite another dog to attack. To me, because I could get pulled over.

So I sent Carlin to the Academy, where they have a controlled environment, experienced trainers, and a wide variety of dogs to practice around.

Friday was my first visit with Carlin since I left him at the Academy. It reminded me very much of our second visit to Cooper during his stay at the Academy almost 7 years ago.

I sat quietly on a couch in one of their training spaces, while Amanda took Carlin through his paces. I got to watch, but she asked me to sit still and not speak. I’m a good student, so I did my part, while I observed Carlin ace a variety of commands: sit, down, wait, stay, let’s go, and right here. Carlin did a great job following all those commands, even though he was in a confined space with a string of other dogs working around him.

Then the tough test: Off. He made the wrong choice on this at first. He was led over to me, told to sit, and then I was asked to say, “Good sit.” At the sound of my voice, Carlin lost his self control. All he wanted to do was throw himself into my arms. This was so like Cooper in that long-ago visit. Cooper shook so hard with his attempt to follow the sit command. He really tried, but finally, just like Carlin, he couldn’t help himself.

Finally, after several corrections and reminders to “Off” and “Sit”, Carlin regained control of himself and sat. After just a few seconds, Amanda released him, and I stood up and gave the command he really wanted to hear: “Hugs!” Carlin threw his whole body into my arms, back legs scrabbling on my thighs, front leg wrapped around my neck, tongue licking my face (and glasses), ears, neck, and hair, and back to my face.

We were both so happy to see each other.

Then we went outside, where a bunch of other dogs “just happened” to be, and I put him through all the exercises that Amanda had demonstrated. I made my share of mistakes — the biggest one was using the leash correction on him while repeating the command rather than using the correction together with the “No” that should precede the repeated command. I have homework this week to help me train my reactions to time that stuff correctly. But the thing that made me happiest, was that Carlin did not seem to resent the corrections when I gave them correctly. He seemed to react as if my corrections were reminders rather than any sort of punishment.

After we were done with my practice session, we went inside again, and I was told to put Carlin in a down-stay for about 10 minutes while the trainers took a break and did some paper work. In the picture below, you can see him nested up against my legs, staying in his down-stay. A few minutes after this photo, he turned over onto his side in the shelter of my legs, and went to sleep.


So this week, I have my homework and I know Carlin will have his. I’ll get to see and work with him again next weekend.

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With Carlin away at the Academy, it’s been a long, quiet week here at home.

Tooey has no one to play with, except Russ and I, and neither of us are very good at bitey face. True, we go for walks and to the park, but it’s not the same without the puppy boy running circles around us.

I have no one to go to obedience lessons with. I went once last week by myself, just to learn about signals, but it’s not the same without a dog. I guess I could take Tooey, but she’s not really happy to go into the obedience ring again, so…

Sleep is a lot more restful, if a little lonelier than usual. Tooey still sleeps down at the foot of the bed, but where is that soft bundle of warm curls who plops himself down on the pillows between our heads at 3 AM?

The new squeaky balls just lie in their toy box, not squeaking much at all, and definitely not being rolled toward my feet, pushed by a brown nose attached to the boy who wants to fetch.

The trainers tell me Carlin is doing well with his training. He’s gaining confidence. He’s been going to Home Depot to practice walking calmly in strange situations. He’s training in the same room as another dog, and paying attention. He’s walking past other dogs without lunging and barking. He’s getting a chance to play and chase balls, and lots of attention.

Pretty good for him. Except I bet (I hope) he misses us. I sure do miss him.

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While Russ and Tooey were off hunting, I took a short dog-free trip to visit my cousin in Marin County in California. So I sent Cooper and Carlin off to camp at Classy Canines.

Jayme, who owns Classy Canines, was the person who groomed, trained, and showed Cooper at the beginning of his show career, so I thought Carlin would benefit greatly from her attentions. She’s also a fabulous dog trainer — her dogs have Rally, Obedience, and Hunting Test titles, so she knows where we want to go with Carlin. And plus, I’m hoping she’ll help Cooper learn the elusive Three Steps Backwards exercise for Rally Excellent.

And last but definitely not least, her boarding dogs get to go for daily runs in a multi-acre open space, and I knew both Cooper and Carlin would love that.


Carlin and Cooper running with the pack — photo by Jayme Nelson


Carlin and Cooper running with the pack and Cooper’s Springer buddy, Stryker — photo by Jayme Nelson


Cooper — photo by Jayme Nelson

Here are Carlin and the most of the pack practicing their Sit-Stay for the camera.


Sit! Stay! Camera click! Good dogs! — photo by Jayme Nelson

Cooper, amazingly enough, is not in the picture. Usually he’s a real camera hog. But instead, he was apparently off with his English Springer buddy, Stryker. They had flushed a pheasant earlier in the walk, and were convinced that they could find another one. Good dogs!

Russ, Tooey, and I are all home now, but the boys are still with Jayme. It’s a long story involving a broken-down truck and expensive repairs, but when the truck is fixed, Russ will go get the truck and the dogs, and we’ll all be home together again.

I’m sure Coop and Carlin will be very happy to be home, but I bet they will really miss running with Jayme and her pack.

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I think I had one of those ah-ha moments. It was another one of those things that my teachers have told me, but which I hadn’t really started to understand for myself. The moment occurred last Tuesday, while I was practicing Obedience with Tooey, and it maybe explains why she refused to go into the water at the last hunt test of the season.

Taken from the AKC Obedience Regulations, amended January 1, 2012, page 73

Tooey and I have been working on the broad jump. The broad jump consists of four white telescoping hurdles, all about 8 inches wide. (See the diagram.)

We’ve been gradually adding hurdles — starting with her jumping over one hurdle and then two. On Tuesday, after several beautiful jumps over two hurdles, I added a third. I gave her the command to “Fly” over the hurdles, she trotted toward them as usual, really slowed down as she got closer, stopped when she got to them, put one front paw on the nearest hurdle, and looked up at me.

Her expression clearly said, “What am I supposed to do now?”

Just that one change, from two hurdles to three hurdles, was enough to stop and confuse her.

My teachers (and many of the books I’ve read) have all said that environment and context are as much a part of the correct execution of a behavior as the command or signal. That a command to “Sit” in the living room does not necessarily mean the same thing to the dog as a “Sit” in the backyard or at the park. You have to practice it many times in many situations until the dog “generalizes” the behavior, and understands that “Sit” means butt down no matter where you are, who else is around, and what else is happening.

Similarly, to Tooey, “Fly” over two hurdles is one thing; “Fly” over three hurdles is clearly something else. She understood the first, but not the second. So I went back to the beginning, throwing cookies over the three hurdles until Tooey was as happily flying over them as she had been over two.

So, what might this say about her performance at the hunt test last weekend?

Tooey had made it through the land series really well. She did her usual workmanlike job of going out and retrieving the ducks, and she did it with little of the hunting around that many of the other Junior dogs were doing. We were pleased and very excited. This meant that if Tooey also got her two ducks in the water series, she’d pass her 4th retriever Junior Hunter test, and would have her Junior Hunter title.

But when she and Russ got to the start line at the edge of a deep pond, she was clearly distracted and confused. She sat at Russ’s side, marked where the duck had fallen on the other side of the pond, heard Russ send her, but then wouldn’t get into the water. She looked up a Russ a couple of times, clearly confused. He sent her again, and she moved out along the bank for a few feet or so, and then came back to Russ. That was it — she was out.

Russ leashed her up, and we went home, without the pass or the title, and ourselves clearly confused as to what the problem could have been. Tooey loves the water. She has always loved the water. Getting into any kind of water has never been a problem. If we had been asked to predict what might fail Tooey in a hunt test, not getting into the water would never have occurred to either of us.

But on Tuesday night, maybe the problem was at least partially defined: A command in one environment is not necessarily the same as the same command in another, new environment.

We’ve practiced at all kinds of ponds and rivers — still water and moving water, deep swimming water and shallow running water, and steep banks and flat banks. But this test was set up at water unlike anywhere we’ve practiced. This was deep water with a 90 degree drop for a bank, just the pond’s edge with tall grass. At the line, the dog sat on the edge; take one step and the dog is in deep water, needing to swim right away. Nothing gradual about it.

Tooey doesn’t usually do the water-spaniel leap like Cooper does (see the banner photo at the top of the blog). She usually walks in, at least part of the way. But to get into the water at this test, there was nothing to walk on. So she was confused, just like she was on Tuesday with the hurdles. Her look up at me on Tuesday was just like her look up at Russ on Sunday: “What am I supposed to do now?”

That is exactly the question. But now, at least, having formulated a hypothesis as to what the problem might be, we can keep working on it, and see what happens next year.

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Almost one year ago today, at the Rose City Classic dog show, Cooper got his show championship. And that’s the last time I spent any time near a regular conformation ring. (I did show Cooper at the IWSCOPS specialty show in August.)

Today, even though the sun was out, our field training group was flooded out of its training grounds, so Russ and I decided to go to watch the Irish Water Spaniels at this year’s Rose City Classic. We left the dogs at home, hopped in the car, and drove the few miles over to the Expo Center.

About half way there, the area around my solar plexus got tight, I found it harder to breathe, and my stomach started to churn.

This went on for a few minutes until I realized, “Hey! I’m feeling nervous. Why am I nervous? I’m not showing any dogs in this show.”


I guess that I have been nervous driving to dog shows for a long time, ever since I started showing my dogs. So some part of me has made this dog show = nervousness into an automatic connection, one that I seem to have no control over.

It’s like watching Tooey start to drool when I start getting out the field training bumpers. She often gets treats when she retrieves those bumpers, and some part of her brain has made the connection bumpers = salivation.

We’ve both been classically conditioned.

I am beginning to realize that if I’m going to keep showing my dogs at dog shows, I had better deal with this. It’s understandable to be nervous when there is something to be nervous about. But when I start reacting for no reason based in reality, well, that needs some attention.

I think it’s connected to the high rate of failure at dog shows. Conformation shows are the worst at this — only one dog and one bitch can get points toward their championship — everyone else loses. I lost a lot — it took more than three years of regular showing for Cooper to get his championship.

And for Obedience, the problem has been me. Every dog who passes the trial, earns a leg toward the title. But the dog and handler have to be trained and ready to pass. I’ve been eager for Cooper to earn his CD title in Obedience (for a lot of reasons), and so I started showing him as soon as I thought he remotely had a chance — as it turns out, before he was ready. Resulting also in a high rate of failure.

So mostly my experiences with dog shows have been uncomfortable, linking a strong desire to succeed and a fear of failure, with the regular experience of failure.

So. What to do?

I am taking some steps. I haven’t shown Cooper in Obedience for quite awhile. And all that time, we’ve been taking classes, going to private lessons, attending matches, and practicing at home. Am doing my best to make sure we are prepared when we go next time.

But I am puzzled as to what to do with that extra layer of nervousness that appears to affect me without reason. What to do with that nervous feeling that arrives just because I am driving to a dog show. It’s got to be a mental game of some kind, but what, I don’t know.

Perhaps you do.

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Most of this morning we watched frozen precipitation. It ranged from tiny particles, to fat flakes, to hail pounding on the roof.

But then we noticed sunshine. Odd… Hmmm… better go training now.

Tooey obeying the "Hold" command for a few minutes after an 100-yard blind

Cooper learning that he has to pay attention to his handler before said handler will throw the ball

We worked on

  • a repeat of yesterday’s long V-blind, but in a new location for Cooper,
  • a couple of 100-yard blinds for Tooey,
  • a “Hold” practice for Tooey
  • an honor for Cooper while watching Tooey go off for her blinds, and
  • paying attention to the handler for Cooper

This paying attention is hard for Cooper when it comes to toys. For about a week, we’ve been working on a new rule: Cooper has to look at his handler before the handler will throw a toy.

Usually Cooper is so focused on the toy, or whatever else he’s distracted by, that he doesn’t even really know his person is there. This does not work well in Obedience, particularly during heeling, when the dog has to be paying attention to the handler so that the dog stays in correct heel position, no matter where the handler goes. So if we can convince Cooper that very good things happen when he looks at his handler, we are hoping that he will actually want to pay attention to his handler. This would, in theory, make correcting his tendency to get distracted during heeling much easier.

But you know, teaching a new thing can be dangerous. Students “forget” things they’ve long known while they are learning new things. This is normal, and it happens to people and dogs. Eventually, the new thing becomes integrated and the old things come back.

In particular, I’m hoping that teaching attention will not mess up his marking ability. Marking is crucial to fieldwork, during which he’s supposed to be looking out so he can “mark” where birds fall. We may have to re-introduce the “Find your mark” command, which tells him to look out and around for birds. He’s never really needed that command because he’s always been looking out without being told to.

So we got in about 1/2 hour of training. Then we noticed that the sky was getting suddenly darker, and that all the other people and their dogs had gone.

Hmmm… better leave now. And just as we got the dogs back in their crates and the bumpers and chuck-it put away, the hail started up again, pummeling the car and dancing off the windshield.

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How to know the best thing to do is WAY different from actually knowing.

And I’m starting to realize that the biggest task in being a beginner is learning how to judge what is best.

I am not one who learns well from books or DVDs. That may sound odd coming from a person with an M.A. in English. But I find instructional books and DVDs difficult to follow, mostly because the authors, despite their best intentions, fail to explain the one crucial thing I don’t get. Or they assume I know things that I don’t. Or they go on and on about stuff I learned long ago.

And with a book or a DVD, you can’t get help.

With a person, when you’re not getting what you need, you can at least ask, and they can explain again. And with a person, they can observe and make comments when you’re doing well or making a mistake.

Now, if there were only one teacher in the world, that would be simple. But there are many more than one. Many have credentials, others have long experience, and some have both. A few of those actually know how to work with people. And only a small fraction are available at the same time and place as I am.

So, those are the people I work with (or try to, anyway).

So here’s the problem: they don’t agree with each other. Here are two example:

In hunt tests, you stand with your dog at the start line, facing the area where the first bird is going to fall. Sounds simple. But no.

You have to stand correctly, and how “correctly” is defined is not universally agreed upon. Let’s take just foot position. I’ve been told three different things by three different (and successful) pro trainers. The dog is on your left in heel position, so the question is just where to put your feet next to the dog.

  • both feet parallel to each other, toes pointing straight toward the area of the fall and even with each other, feet about 6″-10″ apart
  • the left foot (the one next to the dog) is pointed toward the area of the fall, with the other foot slightly behind and angled with toe pointing away from the dog
  • the right foot (the one away from the dog) is pointed toward the area of the fall, with the other foot slightly behind and angled with toe pointing toward the dog

All of these positions have advantages. The first one keeps everything squared in the direction you want the dog to go: feet, hips, and shoulders. The second and third provide a bit more ease in your ability to maintain balance on uneven ground, and still have a foot that can indicate direction.

Okay, now here’s another one — about how to hold the leash when you’re training your dog to heel.

  • Hold the leash loosely so that the clip end of the leash hangs from the dog’s collar in a J-shape. The leash should never be tight, even when the dog is somewhat out of position. For Cooper and me, this equals about a 3-1/2′ leash. You keep the dog in heel position with rewards, food lures, verbal encouragement.
  • Hold the leash so that when the dog is in heel position, the leash is loose, but whenever the dog is out of heel position, the leash is tight. For us, this is about an 14″ leash. Of course, you can still reward the dog when he’s in the correct position with treats or praise.

In the first case, the dog learns to heel without depending on information from the leash and collar. In the second case, the dog is given information when needed by the leash and collar.

I won’t even get into the discussion about what kind of collar to use.

So the point of this post is not to argue about which one of the suggested methods is best — it’s to help me think about how to know which method is best.

One obvious answer is that whichever one works for the dog is the one that I should choose. But it’s not that easy.

  • First off, I am a beginner. I can’t really tell which method works better. With heeling, I’ve just begun to figure out how to see if the dog is in heel position without looking down and back at him when he’s behind me (another no-no). I will get better at this, but I’m not there yet. With foot position in the field, well… there are so many other variables out there that I have no way of knowing which might be enticing my dog off the straight path to the bird.
  • I go to a lot of training classes and sessions because I want training partners and, other than my living room, I don’t have a training space of my own. So I end up in the company of a lot of experienced people who don’t agree with each other and who are trying to help me. I find this both helpful and very confusing.

It seems like I need to just pick one way to do a thing and stick with it. That way, my dog can get consistent information from me.

But then, what am I supposed to do when I’ve picked a way that seems to be working, but the teacher/pro/expert wants me to do it another way? Particularly in the case when I have developed a relationship with this person, am paying them for the expertise, and/or need a training partner or their training space.

I mean, I don’t want to insult these people, and I do want their help.

If I knew how to pick and could justify my choice, it’d be much easier to talk to these people about why I am doing what I am doing.

But that’s the problem.

It’s a circle, and one of those vicious ones, too.

I am getting dizzy.

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I learned a lesson today: Be at Obedience matches and trials much, much earlier than I think I have to.

You’d think that after the nightmares I’ve had about dog shows, I would already have internalized this lesson.

But apparently not.

This morning I was scheduled to run in an Obedience fun match put on by the Sherwood Dog Training Club. I try to go to as many matches as I can — they are the closest thing to a real Obedience trial you can get. But because they’re fun matches, and not real trials, there’s all sorts of things you can do in the ring. You can re-do exercises, correct your dog, give treats, play with toys, whatever you need to do to help your dog and yourself learn all the right moves and behaviors.

For this match, I thought I’d given myself a 1/2 hour buffer. I counted the number of people scheduled to run ahead of me in the Novice class, multiplied by 6 minutes per run, added that to the start time, and planned to be there 30 minutes earlier than the resulting time.

But reality interfered. As if often does.

I’d forgotten my entry fee money, and had to stop at a cash machine. That added 10 minutes to my travel time, leaving me with being there just 20 minutes ahead. And then, it turned out that about 4 people who were supposed to run before me were missing, and that right there equals about 24 minutes, putting me now 4 minutes behind. And then, some of the people ahead of me were faster than expected, adding probably another 3 or 4 minutes to the time hole.

Being kind and resourceful people, instead of eliminating me from the run order, some fellow club members filled in ahead of me. And when I walked in the door, I discovered that the person ahead of me was already almost through her run.

That gave me only about 1.5 minutes to get my dog out of the car, persuade him to pee outside, and be inside at the ring gate. Gagh!

I’m usually a very responsible, on-time type of person, so this is completely embarrassing. I hope it’s sufficiently embarrassing that I won’t do this again. Reality can bite in just these same ways at real trials, too.

I guess I can just be glad that I had an opportunity to learn this at a fun match, rather that at a real (and much more expensive and less forgiving) Obedience trial.

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Who would have thought that, after a week with 6 inches of dark, soggy, horizontal rain, we would get perfect weather, in a perfect setting near Monmouth, Oregon, to do some hunt test training? Any opportunity to train with a group is wonderful, but to do it in these conditions is truly a gift to be thankful for.

Both dogs are sort of rusty at the work. I’ve been able to take Cooper and Tooey out a couple of times in the last month, but neither time has Russ been able to go. Russ and Cooper are the good team, and when those two work together, it’s a real pleasure to watch, even if they are rusty at it.

Today we tried a triple with Cooper. That’s when the dog sits with his handler to watch 3 birds go down, and then goes out to pick them up and bring them back, one right after another. Cooper has done a triple before, but not at these distances (about 150 yards or so). Cooper did really well on his first two birds.

Cooper bringing back his bird

On that third bird, he needed a bit of help to remember where it had fallen. Since I had thrown that bird for him, I walked out of my blind and into the field, waving my arms as I moved toward the area of the fall. Seeing that motion perked up Cooper’s memory, and he found the bird and brought it back to Russ. That’s one thing about Cooper — he always brings back his bird.

We worked on some blind retrieves, too. That’s where the handler lines the dog up, pointing him in the direction of a bird (or, in this case, bumper) which the dog hasn’t seen fall. On a blind retrieve, the dog has to go out on faith, and follow the handler’s whistle and hand signals to direct him to the bird. Coop’s rusty at this, so today’s practice is just what he needed.

Russ directing Cooper toward the bumper

Cooper, having found the bumper, bringing it back

Tooey and I got some training in today, too. With Tooey, I still go into training sessions with the question in my mind — will Tooey pick up and bring back her bird? She marks the fall of her birds well, but she doesn’t always find them on the ground right away. That’s not uncommon for a “junior” dog.

But she’s also had some episodes where, even after she’d found her bird, she wouldn’t pick it up. And a couple of times, she’s found it, picked it up, brought it part way back, but then dropped it and wouldn’t pick it up again.

And on top of that, today she got a little spooked by the people who were throwing the birds for her. She’s usually a bit wary of strangers, and twice, a person popped up out of his or her blind while Tooey was running out toward the bird. All for excellent reasons, but of course, Tooey didn’t know that. (You can see a blind in the upper right corner of the picture above.)

Both times, that sudden appearance of people stopped her in her tracks. Like “Whoa! Where’d that person come from? I’d better step away and study the situation for a few minutes.”

So, lots of challenges. But thankfully, even with all that, today we had success. Tooey found all her birds (mostly frozen ducks), picked them all up, and brought them all back. Not surprisingly, the flapping pigeon was her favorite, much more exciting than frozen ducks. And she brought that pigeon back alive and unhurt, fit to serve another day. Good girl!

Tooey marking the fall of her bird

Tooey running out toward her bird

Tooey returning with her bird (hooray!)

Trice with Tooey showing off her pigeon

I want to thank Jim Davis of Oakhaven Labradors for his advice and access to this wonderful spot and equipment today. And also thanks to Hank, Donna, and Pat for throwing birds for Cooper and Tooey.

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Cooper is a versatile boy. I have tried teach him how to make espresso coffee, but he is limited to drip only. Cinematography might be a new venue for his talents. I recently built a new collar out of steel and neoprene that is a camera mount for the GoProHD video camera.

In the video that follows, I felt it necessary to slow it down to half speed because Cooper’s motion is so quick, that the visual shakes would be too disturbing to watch at regular speed. Even then, when he shakes off the water, be prepared for some visual disturbances.

Cooper wearing his stylish GoProHD video camera

We spent this morning at St. Louis Ponds with the Northwest English Springer Spaniel Club at their monthly club training day. After a few drills, I stepped over to one of the ponds with Cooper and his new camera to record a bit of video. In fact, it is the very same pond that is in the photo at the top of blog, the one with Cooper leaping into the water.

Patrice and Tooey are away this weekend in Canada at a Retriever workshop on Vancouver Island, so us boys are staying home and doing boy things with our toys. Over time I will adjust or modify the collar to help stabilize the image a bit. But I think Cooper has a future in producing some bird hunting videos.

Now if I can get him to perfect those espressos . . . .

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Just the other day, I wrote a blog entry about our new regime to help Cooper learn what staying Steady means.

Today, Russ was able to take a picture of one part of our training. To do that, he had to step away from his normal place, which is with Cooper on his left, with Cooper’s head at Russ’s knee. You can just imagine he’s standing there, can’t you? Yes, I knew you could.

Throw the bumper! I'll stay steady, I promise!

The rules for this particular part of the game are that:

  1. If Cooper is sitting, with all 4 feet on the platform, then I will blow the duck call. If he moves a foot off the platform or starts making noise, I stop blowing the duck call, Russ heels Cooper off and then back onto the platform, and we start over.
  2. If Cooper is still on the platform with all 4 feet and is quiet, then I will throw the bumper. If not, then I don’t throw it, and Russ heels Cooper off and then back onto the platform, and we start over with #1.
  3. If Cooper is sitting (again or still) on the platform with all 4 feet and he is quiet, then Russ will send him for the bumper. If not, then I go out and pick up the bumper myself. Russ heels Cooper off and then back onto the platform, and we start over with #1.

Oh, this is hard.

We moved on to requiring that he also be quiet today. He’s done well in the past couple of days with staying on the platform, even up to being able to retrieve 8 bumpers out of 8 throws. But we noticed that he’d increased the amount of “vocalizing” — doing this whine/bark that says, “I want to go NOW! Send me NOW! NOW!”

Can’t have that. Cooper needs to be quiet at hunt tests, and besides, he’s not in charge of deciding who gets to go when. So we added the quiet requirements.

We’ll keep doing some version of this every day. Let’s hope some of this sinks in deep in by Saturday, when Cooper is entered in a Senior retriever hunt test.

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I took Cooper to a private lesson with Joan at Dog Days last weekend, and as part of our work that day, I described Cooper’s problem with staying steady at the line in hunt tests.

She said, “Oh, that’s just Stay.”

My thought, “Oh, yeah, right. Just Stay…”

But nevertheless, Joan did demonstrate to me that Cooper doesn’t really know that “Stay” always means Stay. She asked me to put him in a Sit-Stay and walk away 20 feet. After I did so, all she had to do was wave one arm, and Cooper moved.

This is the dog, who when told to Stay during field practice so Russ can walk out 50 yards to place a bumper, will stay butt solid on the ground until Russ returns. However, this is also the dog who so far cannot then stay at Russ’s side and wait to be sent for the bird during hunt tests.

Obviously, there is a gap in Cooper’s understanding.

So, we’ve started a new regimen. At the moment, it has 3 parts:

Part 1

Cooper must Sit-Stay before getting to eat. I mix up his bowl of food and put it on the table. Then I take Cooper across the room, I turn to face his mat, and tell him Heel, Sit, and Stay. When he’s got that, I go to the table, get his bowl, and put it on his mat. Then I return to his side and wait for a bit (this time is gradually increasing as we progress). Then I send him to his food.

The first couple of days that we tried this, of course he broke before I’d even returned to him — I had to rescue the food bowl before he could get to it and take him back to where I’d placed him. Now we’re up to about 15 seconds of waiting after I’ve returned to him.

Part 2

Cooper must Sit-Stay before getting into the car. (He loves riding in the car.) I put him in a Sit-Stay at the edge of the front porch, go to the car and open the back, and then I open his crate. Then I return to Cooper’s side and we wait. After a bit, I send him to the crate. Same issues as staying for the food bowl, and about the same rate of success.

Part 3

This training happens only in the field. It requires two people, bumpers, and a raised (3″) platform that is just barely big enough for Cooper to sit or stand on.

Russ places the platform so that it is squarely under Cooper when Cooper is in heel position. I go out 30-40 yards with the bumpers. When Cooper is sitting, Russ signals for the bumper, and I blow the duck call and throw the bumper. Then, if Cooper still has all 4 feet on the platform when the bumper lands, Russ sends him for the bumper. If a foot is off the platform, I go out and get the bumper myself.

This is hard.

At first, Cooper could not stay on the platform at all. Then he could keep 2 or 3 feet on the platform. Then he could keep all 4 feet on the platform for about 2 bumpers out of 8. Now we’re up to a pretty reliable 6 bumpers out of 8. When we get up to 8 bumpers out of 8, then we’ll up the criteria so that Cooper has to be with all 4 feet plus butt on the platform before he can be sent.

After that (whenever that is), we’ll have to figure out a way to “fade” the platform. I’m sure I can get Joan’s help with that.

Oh, and Tooey?

She’s very motivated by food and by riding in the car, so we are doing Parts 1 and 2 with her also. These seem harder for her than for Cooper, but she’s having gradually increasing success also.

However, Tooey is not so motivated by getting to retrieve, so Part 3 wouldn’t work for her. What we need to figure out for Tooey is seeing how we can get her to enjoy retrieving. But that’s another story for another post.

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The fact that I don’t know my right from my left is not usually a problem. Oh, yeah, I might say the wrong direction when giving driving instructions. Or I might put the dish in the right hand cabinet after being told to put it in the left cabinet. But anything like that can simply re-done. No big deal.

But as I discovered in last Sunday’s Obedience fun match, that is not so easily done in an Obedience competition.

Take a look at the performance in the YouTube video below:

In this video, you can hear the judge say “left turn” or “right turn,” and then see the dog and handler execute the specified turn perfectly and without hesitation. In fact, this performance won a perfect score of 200.

In contrast, during Team Cooper’s turn in the fun match on Sunday, the judge said “left turn.” I then stopped in my tracks for a couple of beats to try to figure out which way is left. Cooper then also stopped and sat, which is what the dog is supposed to do when the handler stops.

But really, neither of us was supposed to stop. We were supposed to keep going and turn left together. And more frustrating, this happened every single time the judge said either “left turn” or “right turn.”

If that had been in a real Obedience trial, I suspect we would have NQ’d (not qualified). Sigh…

I need to work on it, probably on my own without Cooper so I don’t confuse the boy. But after many several decades of not knowing my right from the left… I don’t know.

Maybe I’ll get Russ out there with me to play judge, and when I do it right, I get a treat. That’s it! Positive reinforcement might just work for the handler, too.

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I need to learn how to do this retriever training stuff, and my plan last night was to take Tooey out and practice a T-drill. She knows how to do them, having learned with Butch. But I didn’t have a clue.

Then Russ had a great idea: Why not practice with Cooper, who knows how to do this even better than Tooey.

Russ made a video, using his new GoPro HD video camera:

If the above doesn’t work, you can go to YouTube and see it there: http://youtu.be/_S-_iDAWd-E

And you’ll probably note that while Cooper knows how to do this, he still wants to play by his rules and go for the bumper he wants to go for. There are places in the video where you’ll see I sent him straight to the pile (marked with a white flag), but he decided to go off to the bumpers at the ends of the crossbar of the T.

I just called him back and did it again. Silly boy.

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This upcoming weekend, Cooper is in four hunt tests. (Yes, we may be crazy.) Two Senior-level retriever tests and two Senior-level spaniel tests.

So last night, we went out to one of our favorite training grounds to practice some blind water retrieves, a couple of land-water-land-water retrieves, a double retriever (one land, one water), and above all, being steady at the line.

Cooper (and Tooey, too) did great on the retrieves. Coop did better on being steady (sigh…). Overall, we were happy with the work and the fact that it didn’t rain.

Although rain would not have made any difference. Our training grounds are flooded. They lie along the river, which yesterday reached flood stage. So we had less land available to do land retrieves (and not enough to practice quartering for the spaniel tests), but a lot more water for water work.

After training was done for the day, we got our cell phones out and took just a few pictures — happy dogs and beautiful scenery.

wet and happy Cooper and Tooey

reflections of Cooper, Tooey, and the clouds

A temporary pond that is normally dry land

Patrice, Cooper, and Tooey on a spit of dry-ish land

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