Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Video of Failed BH

You can see video of our failed BH routine here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Trial/Workshop Report, Day 3 (Sunday)

Well, never let it be said that I was too proud to post my humiliation....

Sunday's weather was supposed to be colder than Saturday (which had gotten quite cold by the end of the day) and chance of rain had dropped to only 10%. So much for the forecast; we watched tracking from beneath an umbrella and at least the good news was that it was possible to eyeball the track in the wet grass, if one lined up correctly. It was a drizzle, not a hard rain, but damp enough. :-)

Shakespeare tried on his track, he really did, but he walked over one article and cast hugely on the second and third legs. When he reached the article marking the end of the track, he happily picked it up and brought it to me -- a very nice article retrieve, except I've only ever trained an article indication and have never asked for a retrieve. I have no clue where that came from, but I laughed and thanked him and went to receive my critique. No, we didn't pass. I didn't really expect to, given the previous two days, so that wasn't too bad. I'd done the tracking to be well rounded and to take a shot at the title for him; this weekend was for Laev.

No dogs passed tracking, actually; even the dog trying for his SchH3 who had done so beautifully the previous two days failed after his second turn, just stopped tracking and couldn't restart. Scores for the day were 57, 51 (Shakespeare) and 10. Ouch!

We arrived at the trial field and I was told that Laev and I were first up for the BH. That was fine with me -- no waiting and no time to develop nerves! I pulled her from the car, aired her, and did a brief warm-up. She wasn't awesome in the warm-up, but she was functional, and we went to report to the judge. Long down first, he said, so we headed to the flag marking the down. Laev didn't seem to be minding the drizzle much (good dog!), but when I cued the down at the flag, she merely crouched; I walked away knowing we had no down.

Indeed, as I saw later by the video, Laev sat up almost immediately. I caught a glimpse of her in my periphial vision as I was watching the working dog and noted that she seemed awfully tall...! But if she stayed in a sit, we'd at least get partial points, so I just watched the other dog and waited. She did remain in the correct location for a long time, but finally she broke and began to wander and sniff. This was a first -- always if she's broken it was to run to me -- but I collected her and kept her beside me.

That was probably a good thing, after all, because a moment later, the working dog left his handler and started for us. This had never happened before and it got my attention in a hurry, because this particular dog has displayed dog aggression since about 12 weeks of age. The handler generally keeps good control of him, but when he left during the off-leash portion and came for us I expected an attack and a serious one at that. I grabbed Laev's collar and stepped in front of her possessively, hoping he wouldn't come through me to get her.

He didn't really care about me, but to my happy surprise he slowed and came in a non-aggressive manner, just acting like a pushy adolescent. He just wanted to shove his face into Laev's! But I didn't want that, either -- I'd never seen him make friendly overtures before and I didn't trust that nothing would happen -- and so I circled Laev, pulling her behind my legs as I moved, and I grabbed a handful of shepherd scruff and stiff-armed the two dogs apart. Laev was quite good for the first few seconds of his approach and then she decided that she'd had enough ("too much shepherd in my face!") and growled and threatened. Quite honestly, my pulling her about certainly didn't help, but given what I knew, I wasn't taking any chances of close contact. The other handler arrived and collected his dog, and I leashed Laev and moved away.

It would have been REALLY nice right then to take Laev away and let her blow some stream for a few minutes, but there is no down time here, and I had only the space between the honor down and the start of our heeling pattern to regain my dog. That space is supposed to be covered in "controlled heeling," but we did it in controlled bouncing and playing and happy talking. Hey, if he failed us for not heeling there, we weren't going to get it elsewhere without that moment of decompression, so.... /shrug/ But the judge said nothing, and when I reached the center line Laev dropped immediately into heel position and sat. Oh, I love this dog.

Her heeling was perfect. PERFECT. I had originally intended to smile as a conditioned reinforcer to Laev, but the smiling was very soon merely a reaction rather than a deliberate action. It was nice, just like it's supposed to be. My shoe came untied, but I just hoped I wouldn't trip; I wasn't interrupting this. Through the group, she was awesome, we turned and started off-leash. And then things started to fall apart.

The dog coming at us had rattled me as well as Laev, and I wasn't thinking quite as clearly, I suspect. I also suspect that I should have spent more time specifically planning my verbal and physical reinforcement between exercises, because I sure did skimp when I had my opportunities. Laev generally does better with tasks chained together rather than broken up with many reinforcements, but this is a long routine to go with no intermediate feedback, and I should have taken the time to chat with her between the group heeling and the center line again. Laev started to waver in the off-leash heeling but self-corrected mostly; I gave her a second cue only once. My leash slipped from my shoulder and around my waist, and I stepped out of it and kept going. My loose shoe began slipping in the mud, but I didn't dare stop to fix it, lest I break Laev's thin concentration. She held it together until we turned toward the honoring dog, where I got nervous.

The first time we passed the honoring dog, we were on-leash and Laev was brilliant, so I didn't sweat it. This time we were off-leash and she was shaky, and I decided to turn early to keep some extra distance between us, in case Laev eyeballed him. (After the incident a week before, when the offending dog turned toward us while Laev was down, her eyeballs popped and she got very tense.) So I turned and headed up the field. Laev went very wide on the about turn, self-corrected, and then caught up to me. I halted, and instead of sitting Laev dove into the ground.

I don't know what she found, but it was tasty. I think she was actually eating something. I took her collar and pulled her away, but she couldn't take her eyes off the spot. I eventually had to lead her by hand to the start point for the next exercise (and nearly kicked off my slipping shoe to work barefoot), where Laev left me twice to run back to the goodie spot. On our third and final try, Laev didn't leave me, but she moved beside me in a way that could not possibly be called heeling and then she failed the sit out of motion miserably. Zero points for that exercise and no chance at the down out of motion, either.

The judge's critique was short and to the point. "Excellent" he called the first half of our routine, but he said we began to lose control in the off-leash portion and that the dog sensed me becoming nervous (you think?! /grin/) and then failed.

We failed the BH. I don't even know how to comprehend that; we failed the BH, the entry-level temperament/obedience test. Ouch.

I wasn't alone, though. Not one dog passed anything that day. Seven failed BHs in all (no traffic test needed, so the trial ended an hour or two early), and no passing Schutzhund titles, either. It was NOT a good day for anyone. It wasn't that the judging was awful -- we just didn't have it that day.

It did make me wonder, though, why I'd ever thought it was a good idea to blog Laev's work and establish relationships with people from around the world who would want to know how we'd done. /grin/

A friend watching (whose dog also failed in another phase) wondered if there had been a cache of dropped hot dogs from someone who'd been training on the field early that morning before the trial. I don't know if that's the case or if Laev just found some droppings from a critter or who knows what, but I can announce this: We will be adding heeling over dropped food to our training repertoire. :-)

Trial/Workshop Report, Day 2 (Saturday)

Saturday was supposed to be the nice weather. It was supposed to get up to fifty degrees. Yeah, right.

Shakespeare tracked better than Friday, but it was still ugly. The judge had recommended that I practice moving up and down the tracking line behind him, but that freaked him out and he got frantic on the track. Ann (another working Dobe person I know from UDC, who had come to train today only) suggested I track him again and gave me some treats which Shakespeare was just crazy for to seed on his track. Shakespeare and I did three more tracks, and while he tracked very enthusiastically for Ann's food, he was so enthusiastic that he ran right over his articles. /sigh/ Oh, well; I'll take eager over accurate for tomorrow's trial.

Laev's was the second track I laid and the fourth I ran, and by the time I started her I'd forgotten my second corner. Consequently when she took it, I tried to block her, and she got frantic ("no! this has to be right! why don't you want me to take the track?") and tracked ugly. I'd also changed the way I had started her, asking for more attention to me instead of the track as we approached, and she was a little more frantic from the beginning. Her track wasn't nearly so pretty as Friday's, she pulled a lot and cast at the sides a little bit, and when I finished the track two people were discussing my equipment. "I hear you won't use a pinch collar," one said, in the tone of voice which might be heard from a gunfighter as he slaps his Colt -- "I hear you won't recognize a brand."

Nice. Yesterday she's great and gets compliments; today she's off and I'm using the wrong equipment and am not a good trainer. From the same people, no less. Sometimes it's better to just do what you do and not care about what others say. The problem is, I have zero confidence in my tracking training skills, so it's harder for me to brush off tracking advice.

For obedience, I planned to just classically condition the field as an awesome spot for Laev for tomorrow's trial. I took a clicker on the field with me (haven't been using a clicker for obedience for months, just reinforcing known behaviors, but I wanted one for practicing reporting in and decided that it couldn't hurt in the least for our routine) and clicked/treated frequently.

Laev held her long down under distraction really well, until I treated. I gave her a large food reward, which took her a little longer than usual to eat, and by the time she finished she'd apparently forgotten what she was doing. I replaced her and she held it again, so well that she didn't want to sit when I returned. Time to go back to the standard chain of down, return, sit, reinforce.... But we'll mess with that after the trial.

Laev worked really well in our moving exercises until we got to the moving down and recall (last exercise). She just couldn't get a moving down. She'd sit, she'd stand, but she didn't down.

Now, Laev has had a moving down since she was six months old. It was the only exercise about which I felt really confident when discussing the BH a few months ago. But I just couldn't get it on the field without a huge hand signal to the ground. Finally I made the conscious decision that Laev has done this correctly hundreds of times and incorrectly a few, and there was nothing to be gained by making a big deal over it the day before the trial, and we just quit. If she stopped in the wrong position during the trial, she'd lose points, but she probably wouldn't fail.

The judge had a lot of comments for other handlers, but none for me. I doubt that was because we were so perfect ;-) but probably because I hadn't taken his advice yesterday. Also, someone probably tipped him off that I wouldn't let him demonstrate on my dog, because he uses methods which I do not and I am fiercely protective of my dogs with other people handling. It would have been pure disaster if he'd tried to demonstrate stomping a leash attached to a prong collar on my dog who has almost never received a true "collar correction." I would not have been rude, but I wouldn't have let him work my dog, so it was probably just as well that he didn't offer. :-)

After 12 hours, we were done with Saturday's training and talking. On the way home, I stopped at a Petsmart for good distractions, and Laev hadn't been in a Petsmart in nearly a year. I bought some of the dog food roll Shakespeare had loved and I worked Laev briefly in obedience. She nailed every down out of motion I asked for. See, I knew she knew it!

Trial/Workshop Report, Day 1 (Friday)

The club had opted to spend two days in seminar/workshop and then trial on Sunday. I would have preferred to trial on Saturday -- I didn't think an extra day of training would make a significant difference one way or another, and I also had the purely personal motive of then having Sunday free either for church or for the APDT/CDSP trial an hour away. But my opinion didn't carry, which was fine.

We've been getting an amazing amount of rain this month, and our club field was completely flooded with inches of water, so we used a soccer field near our tracking fields for practice and the trial. We met the imported German judge at the tracking fields -- "Let us say not seminar, let us say we make dog training" -- and started our workshop.

Shakespeare's morning practice track was pretty lousy. This didn't surprise me greatly, because I'd really forgotten that I wanted to do tracking with him and had been focusing more on Laev, but I thought he'd do better than he did. He skipped one article and tried to skip another, and this is the only part of tracking he'd been really reliable on! What a great picture to show the judge. :-)

Laev's track was better (of course -- Laev's much better at tracking because I didn't goof up her training as much) and she actually received compliments from the judge and a visitor from another club who came to train and then trial this weekend. Nice.

The visitor from another club had brought a dog to try for his SchH3. He waited and laid a track over our used tracks, and when they ran the track it was very pretty indeed. The dog had earned his 1 and 2 earlier this year, and if he worked anything like he tracked, he'd have a 3 on Sunday. :-)

Tracking finished, we ate lunch and then headed to the makeshift trial field. Obedience was largely a chance to let people work through the routines and get suggestions or help if they wanted. When it was our turn (we work in pairs, to simulate trial conditions of one dog working and another honoring), I pulled Laev and went to practice reporting to the judge.

This was the second time for the club to practice on this field. I'd driven over once during the week to practice with Laev and let her see the place, but that was obviously solo. I was approaching with my eye on the judge instead of my dog, as he'd recommended, and I wasn't watching Laev closely. (No reason too, in my experience.) But apparently the act of going into a group with another dog was too near last week's experience, when one dog jumped another, and Laev decided to take preemptive action. She lunged at the Shepherd beside us.

I was stunned but caught her ("Oh," said Carol from the side, "so that's what those ears are for!"). I could barely believe it; I've not seen Laev aggress like that before. Still, there was no time to marvel at it, because the judge was coming to me and telling me to put a pinch on her for training.

Crud. Laev's never had a pinch on for obedience -- she uses a customized one for parts of bitework only -- and I was pretty sure that adding one for this would not fix the situation. She snarked because of stress, and adding stress to the situation might after a few ugly moments suppress the obvious behavior but wouldn't get me the long term fix I wanted. Still, here's a man we flew in from Germany for this weekend, who is going to judge me, who is German and probably expects that I will jump at his training advice (training directors there generally get fewer arguments than I give mine here!), and I am standing in front of my entire club and outsiders, with the dog who was indeed the problem in this situation. No pressure.

I stare at Laev for a moment, who is giving me good eye contact back, as trained. "I see you thinking," says the judge. "What are you going to do?"

"We're going to do that again," I said, "in this collar, and I'm not going to take my eyes off her."

The two teams reported to the judge again, this time with both my eyes on Laev. I reminded her verbally to watch me, and while we were speaking to the judge I shifted slightly, asking her to scoot forward, backward, sideways in heel position. When we'd finished our spoken protocol, I quietly told the other handler that we'd be moving first, and then I heeled Laev backward from the judge and other dog and moved away. Success! She never even glanced at the other dog. No trouble, no repeated mistakes, and no band-aided training that would have given me problems in the long run.

Laev's obedience was middling; she didn't look awful, but I know she can do better. I wanted to practice reporting in again but didn't really get a chance. I didn't want to insist and fret people about working their dogs next to one which had previously snarked; I can do it tomorrow.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

But Dobermans melt in water!

Today I was driving home when I noted a nice empty grassy field at a corner, the last holdout in a commercializing intersection, and I immediately changed lanes, turned, and pulled in to get a few minutes of practice with Laev in a new location. :-) I noticed first that Laev gave me very nice attention upon exiting the car, ready to get right to work; I noticed second that we haven't done much work at all around traffic, and it was a big distraction for her.

It's been raining for days here, and it's been a wet fall overall, and it was taking a break from actual rain to do a little misting while we practiced. We did a short routine of heeling, which was pretty decent, and then as I headed across the field I tried a sit out of motion. What I couldn't see in the long grass was the enormous deep puddle which we reached just as I cued the sit.

My shoes filled with water. Laev sat, but she gave me a dirty look. "Don't you know that Dobermans melt in water?"

Neither of my Dobes really dislike standing water (except that obviously sitting and lying down in it is ridiculous in their eyes), but they're not crazy about rain. I've tried to raise Laev so that she didn't regard precipitation as a terrible evil, and she will play tug in the rain with me, but apparently asking her to sit in the puddle violated some unspoken agreement and while she complied, I had better pay big for this one. I did. :-)

I did a couple of downs out of motion as well, and she crouched at first until I reminded her that she needed a full down in order to get a piece of cheese, after which she did sink into the lowest position of not quite smooshed into the wet that she could get. It looked like a down, anyway. :-) We moved to a different area and did a down with recall.

Everything was very short distance; I wasn't going to take her offleash beside two busy streets, even if she was giving me nice attention and working well. It takes only one mistake. I am, however, learning to look around unfamiliar fields before I train. :-)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bellyache, and Potential Trouble?

So the semi full of Bravo! Raw Diet came yesterday, and my husband set out 30 lbs on th porch for my sister to pick up. Last night, he (completely forgetting the food) let Laev out front. By the time he realized his mistake, Laev had eaten somewhere between 2 and 12 lbs of ground raw food -- on top of her normal supper.

At least with a raw diet I don't worry much about bloat, but even so, Laev looked positively like a bowling ball this morning. I didn't think she would track for food, but she did (TOTs in the footsteps, and cheese/hot dog bits for the article). A few minutes after I put her in the car, she puked it all back up. /sigh/

We practiced in a mock trial format today, tracking first (better for both Shakespeare and Laev, although I'm told I need to age Laev's tracks much more in order to slow her down more) and then obedience. Laev was still willing to work for food :-) but was a little slow for the toy, as if she for some reason didn't want to jump around a lot. /wink/ The weather was nasty -- a crazily unseasonable 60 degrees yesterday, and then today a miserable cold, wet, dark day. We were all saturated and freezing.

Three of us reported in to the "judge" at once, as for the trial, and while we lined up, one dog attacked the next. I immediately backed away and called Laev to me, reaching for treats and rewarding front position as I backed hurriedly away, swinging Laev between heel and front, but she was rattled by it. I don't blame her; she hasn't seen much of that, and she's only 18 months old -- it's hard to believe sometimes that she's still impressionable, but she's really not terribly mature in some things. I brought her back when things had settled and treated generously for holding eye contact while the offending dog was heeled about the group. She did it, but it was a little tough.

Then I went to put her in position for the honor down. The offending dog worked first, starting the heel pattern. The pattern is in the shape of a capital J, with the baseline and short upper stroke heeling toward the honoring dog. Laev broke the down as the team turned toward us and the two dogs made eye contact. I replaced her and when they came for their second lap, Laev broke again. This time I replaced her and stayed close, reminding her to down and hoping my proximity would give her some confidence, but she popped up from the down two or three more times before her turn ended.

We started our heelwork, and it was obvious that Laev was a little rattled. She stayed in heel position, but she just wasn't "on" like normal. It was a new field (our usual field was completely flooded with the weather change), but I felt her performance had more to do with the incident than the environment. Still I didn't hesitate to take her off leash for the second half of her pattern, and aside from a botched down out of motion (she gave me a sit instead), nothing was too hideous.

I took her back for another try at the honor down during the next dog's work, and she remained in place the entire time. Of course, that was the attacked dog, and not the attacking dog; the problem is, I'm pretty sure we'll be paired with the dog she's newly unhappy about for trial day. /sigh/ Just when I was starting to feel pretty confident about the BH, a new challenge....

I'll have to work my butt off this week, training in different locations and with big and slightly scary distractions, but not crossing the line into stressing the dog. Ick.