Maybe it is Time to Train my Dog...

05 May 2012Steve Schwarz

I was at the NOCI AKC agility trial this past Friday with Meeker and I’ve decided I actually need to train my dog. Meeker has had a few unfortunate injuries over the past few years that have kept him from training and competing as much as I would have liked. He is just coming off of 9 weeks of leash walks and another 3 weeks of increasing activity with a few agility runs in the last two weeks. So when I went to the trial (just one day for us) I wasn’t sure what I’d get.

I got what I’ve trained.

Meeker has pretty good foundation skills and I rely on them to get him around almost any course. That foundation also lets me take him to a trial without much practice. Last year’s toe injury meant we went to Cynosport without any practice for the preceding month and still had a respectable showing. So yah, foundation training pays off, what’s the big deal?

But I’ve also done some training that hasn’t helped us be successful. I’ve trained Meeker to have an unreliable start line stay and an unreliable A Frame down contact when I really need them: in a trial. Meeker gets really amped up at trials and will self release his start line and not add the extra stride he needs to be all the way in the A Frame down contact. Since there are no consequences he gets what he wants: to run! But Steve aren’t you “The AgilityNerd”? don’t you know better? Sure I know better, but I’m human too. Sometimes I just want the Q, the advancement to the next round, or … and I just “let it go”. So for short term gain I’ve reinforced two trial specific behaviors that are detrimental to our long term success.

This “run the course junkie” has finally hit rock bottom.

With any behavior you have to decide if you care. I don’t care if my puppy Flyer climbs up on people for petting. I like the interaction and I know I can train him to not do it. I do care if he wants to climb up the counters/tables to get to food - he never gets to do that and is heavily reinforced for keeping his feet on the floor. But not everyone cares about the same things.

I haven’t cared about the start line stay because 95% of courses don’t need a Lead Out and I’ll have a faster run if I keep moving. But it has irritated me that I can’t get more than about a 15 foot lead out.

The A Frame is a much more complicated story. Meeker started with a 2o2o A Frame but I never liked how hard he hit with his front end (see the video in my Stride Regulator article). With Dana Pike’s help I “broke it” and switched him to a running A Frame using Rachel Sander’s initial box method (before the DVD). After probably 1000 A Frame repetitions over 6+ months he was never fully consistent reaching over the apex - I think it really has to do with his front end structure - he has never liked to reach forward and extend. So I now have a handler managed running A Frame and I’m not too happy with that but it is… manageable. Until we didn’t advance to the Grand Prix Semi Finals at Nationals because he jumped his A Frame contact.

The real issue with the A Frame is the reps it takes to make a change in striding stick. Meeker will add the stride, most of the time, so for now I will mark every trial A Frame where he doesn’t add the stride, even if he is in the (top of) the yellow. So we’ll be entering a lot of Gamblers runs and leaving Standard runs early if necessary.

The Premack Principle works. He knows the behaviors I want; I have to make it clear that those behaviors let him do what he really wants: to run!

Here’s the video from Friday’s trial. Watch the early self release in Std and you might be able to just make out him launching high on the A Frame in the background. We Q’d and took first place, but I should have stopped my run long before that. My handling failure in JWW should be the topic for another article…

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