Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Our Tracking is Full of Fail

Laev loves tracking, but she doesn't love 100-point tracking. Laev's idea of tracking is to move at maximum speed over the footprints, air-scenting except where needed, and getting to the end as quickly as possible.

Well, that's not exactly true. That's how she starts, yes, and then she settles into very nice accurate tracking. But I would like to see nice tracking the entire time!

I don't know exactly why this is -- I have never made the end of the track very fun in comparison with the track itself. Friends will play tug at the end of a track, or finish with a pile of food, or chase a ball in the field; Laev's tracks end with an article and then a sit at heel. There is no hurry to reach the end, except in her mind.

For competition, she'll need a deep nose and accurate footprint tracking, so I'm trying to get her more focused. After talking with my club, I decided to go back to serpentines, lots of food in the starting scent pad, and food in nearly every footstep. Tonight I went out to lay a track, and I chose to lay it in ankle-deep grass with lots of inches-thick grass clippings; no racing down this track! To get the food, she was going to have to go slowly and dig a bit for the pieces. This would slow her and require concentration, certainly.

I brought Laev out and dropped her into heel position. Laev loves tracking; I can ask her to heel and work to the track and the cue to track is the reward. She gave me lovely focus, begging for the track, and I cued her to start.

Right off the bat it was ugly. She snatched a single piece of food from the scent pad and rushed off it, already veering off the footprints in her hurry. But she realized her error and got back on the track, and after a moment she seemed to be working better, eating most of the treats and following the track. We were doing all right 'til the first article, which was a piece of PVC I hadn't used before. Laev wanted to skip it, not recognizing it as an article, and when I gently insisted that she should indicate it, she seemed to fall apart. She couldn't really concentrate after that, and she had a terrible time finding and following the track. Even right on it, she skipped every treat -- it was as if it was too much work to pick them up. She (and I) missed the second article, and she was ugly all the way to the end, where I encouraged her to down on the third and final article.

So. If she can't be bothered to eat on the track, then she's clearly not hungry. We went back inside and prepared dinner -- I had even tracked her at dinner time -- and Laev is on short rations. Tomorrow we'll try the same field and see if it's still too much trouble to concentrate to find the food....

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I hate wasps.

Laev's retrieve has been a bit lackluster of late. Okay, worse than lackluster. It had been stellar, but suddenly it vanished -- she would not go out at the first cue, or she would run out to the dumbbell and then do a chin rest upon it rather than bringing it back. I had no idea what was going on.

Probably I'd screwed something up -- it wouldn't be the first time -- but it's relatively pointless to spend time wondering what went wrong instead of just fixing it. So I got some extra-tasty new treats (raw chicken feet!) and got to work.

Within a couple of weeks, Laev was enthusiastic about retrieves and almost always going out on the first cue again. She also is now taking the Schutzhund jumps well. (Schutzhund jumps can be a bit of a challenge; the high jump is 1 meter or 39 inches tall, and the wall is 1.8m or 71" tall, with an angle much steeper than an agility A-frame. The dumbbell to be carried back over these is 650g or roughly 1.5 pounds.) Laev prefered to take the wall in hell-for-leather fashion, which I worried would cause injury, so I trained her to pause at the apex for a treat and then descend. I think this pause will fade smoothly, and it's better to have a slight hesitation than a dog with a damaged front end!

Tonight Laev was a bit sloppy going over the high jump, using her feet as she crossed. This is likely due to her banging her knee on it last week and she's cautious now, but we'll have to fix that. No touching allowed! But she was retrieving eagerly.

I decided to finally add the dumbbell to the wall exercise, which until now has been only wall technique. With Laev on a long line, I sent her over the wall, directed her to the dumbbell, and then ran with her back over the wall. First time went well.

The second time, I decided to make it look like a real retrieve. I set Laev up, threw the dumbbell, sent her over the wall and then ran alongside to help her find the dumbbell if necessary.

As Laev scaled the wall, a sharp pain jabbed through my clicker hand, and then again. Without thought I began tearing at my hand, sending my clicker (wrist coil and all) off my wrist and through the air.

Laev paused, because this was an entirely new set of hand signals for her. My friend Melissa was laughing at me, wondering why I'd thrown a clicker. I stood shaking my hand, which was really hurting now, and reached for my treat bag; Laev hadn't done anything wrong. "Something stung me," I said.

Ah, well, we move on. I asked if anyone in the group had an antihistamine. My mother is highly allergic to some stings, and I have somehow made it to my present age without any real stings to test my susceptibility. No luck, though the two RNs in our group offered to perform CPR if necessary.

After a moment I sent Laev for the dumbbell. She picked it up and carried it back to me, then suddenly dropped it and pawed at her face. She'd been stung, too!

We moved well away from the retrieve area and I had her work some heeling circles around two volunteers so we could end on a good note. I also sent her for a very short retrieve, so that she didn't think it was the dumbbell which had caused the sting. She was as eager as ever; I love this dog. Still, our retrieve isn't good enough that I can afford to have her stung while training, so we were done for the night.

A club member examined the wall and found a nest of wasps had moved in. They'll be moved out before our next training session! I found my clicker a good 25 feet away; I'd thrown it hard!

I spent the next hour with an ice pack on my swelling hand. No allergic reaction, though, so that was a good thing. :)