Thursday, October 21, 2010

MacNews, 1(1)

Here is the greatly anticipated debut edition of MacNews! This special sub-blog (is that a real word?) will detail Montana Mac's adventures in training during the months he is here with us.

Montana Mac's official name is Grand Champion GlenMegan's Flanders Fire. He and Asia are almost the exact same age, with birthdays just two days apart; they were three in July. Montana Mac normally lives in Connecticut with his mom, unless he is off showing with his breed ring handler, Michelle (Ostermiller) Scott.

I am always watching show results and started seeing this dog getting group placements, and I checked out his pedigree and liked it so I wrote to his mom, Megan, to congratulate her -- even though I did not know her (I am a friendly sort of person :). So I kept my eye on what he was doing, and was very thrilled when he got his Award of Merit at Westminster this year -- at just 2.5 years!

So one thing led to another -- his mom told me how smart he was and I said she should send him to me to get some working titles and then she heard I was driving east and knew a sign when she saw one so that is how it happened that a dog I never met before is now sleeping on the floor as I type this!

Will he share a room with one of the Kaibab girls?! Well, he would like to share a room with Zoey right now -- and she thinks that might be quite fun! But no room sharing is happening at this time -- and definitely not with Zoey. Montana Mac is a lovely boy with a great temperament and is quite smart -- his "fault" is that he is not a big boy so he and Zoey would not be a good match, since she is not a big girl (plus they would produce kangaroos).

You might be thinking to yourself, "hmmm.... but Cadi is a big girl..." Yes indeed -- she has the size to share a room with Montana Mac. The Glitterati will be two next month (can you believe it?!) and we will check orthopedics and if things look good, I would say that there is a good chance that we will have a January or February wedding here in Montana, complete with room sharing...

But Montana Mac has much to do before he can share a room with anyone! The goal is to make Montana Mac a BMDCA Versatility Dog and BMDCA Working Dog -- so how are we going to do this?

We have to do draft, of course, since that is a required component of the Versatility Dog award -- and my plan is for him to also work on a Tracking Dog title, agility titles, and probably a CD (obedience) -- but that is the lowest priority since it is not really needed given the others.

I have been planning this for months, and we got right to work. The foundation skill for most working events is attention -- nothing can happen with a dog that is not paying attention. And so I immediately started reinforcing Montana Mac for looking at me -- he looks in my direction and gets a treat.

Today I walked around the yard, saying nothing, and clicked/treated as he followed me around and looked at me. I added quick turns -- click/treat as he followed/looked. Once he went off to sniff (probably where Zoey left a pee-mail) and I said nothing -- I just walked on -- and when he caught up and looked at me I clicked/treated.

Paying attention is the dog's job -- I will not beg, plead, or even ask for it. If he pays attention, he gets reinforced and if he doesn't he gets nothing -- remember that the best way to extinguish a behavior is to ignore it.

I set it up so the dog will find it easy to pay attention (i.e., no distractions at first), and I reinforce at a VERY high rate so it is extremely rewarding for the dog. All he has to do is look at me to get a click/treat -- or if I am moving he just needs to be with me and check in by looking at me. Dogs catch on to this very quickly, and of course I use good treats and vary the treats to help keep it interesting.

So that is the first thing that we are working on -- attention. Consider a draft test -- I must have a dog who is responsive, and that means the dog has to be paying attention to me and not everything else. In agility I must have a dog who is with me, and responding to my cues -- this also requires attention. And obedience is nothing without an attentive and responsive dog.

At this time, we are only working in the yard or arena where it is easy for him -- we will not make it more difficult until the behavior is solid. And once he understand his job, if he ignores me and were to go do something else, the training session would stop -- I will not allow a dog to rehearse behavior I do not want to experience in the ring. And again, I will not remind the dog what his job is -- it is his responsibility to be attentive and responsive to me.

There are other foundation skills that we are working on -- I regularly call him to me with a "here" and strongly reinforce that. A good recall is critical, but I never teach it from a "sit" but rather get the fast "here" behavior on cue before ever combining it with a stay. Also, I never call him if I suspect he might not come - so when I know he will come and I have excellent treats, I call him, give the treat, and let him go about his business again. I do this in the yard and on walks.

In addition to attention and the beginning of a strong recall, we are working on "stay". This means I have him sit next to me and I click/treat rapidly and then release him. I am asking only for a few seconds and of course there are no distractions and I do not add distance. I have had very good success with stay because I train it VERY slowly and in tiny steps but know it takes time and that is why it is something we have started right away.

Montana Mac has also had introductions to draft and agility. He is now walking between the shafts of a cart while being clicked/treated. He is not a hitch/go dog (only some are) so I have to create a happy association with the cart (using food and no force), which we are already doing nicely. I can now bump his sides with the shafts and he is fine -- I will not hitch him up for a few weeks because again, one has to train in the smallest increments possible, but he is doing quite well in advancing through the baby steps of draft.

He had some intro to agility already and so easily jumps 20 inches, which will be his jump height. He loves the tunnel and today did three obstacles in a sequence -- jump, tunnel, jump :) We will go slowly on the contact equipment -- the teeter noise startles him so I had Cadi show him the Bang Game -- the dog jumps up with her front paws and pulls the teeter end down to make a bang, and gets a treat for doing it. The bang becomes like a click -- it always gets a cookie. Montana Mac is already more comfortable with the noise -- again, one must train in tiny baby steps and never push a dog more than he can handle.

Montana Mac has lovely house manners already, and is easy to have around. The girls growl at him if he gets in their space and he listens to that very well and backs off. Karma likes him quite well, and is happy that he shows no inclination to chase her so she said he can stay.

It is hard to get pictures of a dog you are reinforcing to stay close but here are a few...

I keep one of the carts in the yard so I can practice a lot -- Syd is also doing the intro to draft training and they are competing to see who is better :) This is Mac responding to "here"...

A head shot of Montana Mac, who clearly needs his ears trimmed!

This is Asia telling Montana Mac to back off or kiss his face good-bye ;)

And here is Galen with Syd in his lap and Montana Mac hanging out with them...

You can see pictures of a younger Montana Mac and read the hilarious story of his creation (scroll to the bottom) at:

I look forward to your ideas, comments, and questions about the Excellent MacVenture and MacNews!

1 comment:

  1. Awwww, I am going to love following the training stuff w/him! He looks lovely in that moving pic of him. And someone is very jealous that her dog is in someone else's lap! Sheeesh!