Friday, November 26, 2010

MacNews, 4(1)

Our training has been challenged somewhat by weather, but we have adjusted. I have a three car garage that is solely used for training, and so we have shifted gears to obedience since the agility arena is under a foot of snow :)

I am reminded of how many small pieces constitute a simple obedience exercise -- for example, the stand for exam. The dog must stand still, allow the handler to leave, allow the handler to return by walking behind the dog, and the dog must remain still when a complete stranger touches his head, shoulders, and rump -- yikes. And each of those things is further broken in to small steps -- let me give you a couple of examples based on work we are doing.

Today I had Dear Husband help me -- I put Mac on a sit stay (an easier position to hold and more reliable than the stand stay) and stood in front of him. Dear Husband then walked over and touched Mac's head, for which he (Mac, not DH) got a cookie. I returned to heel position (easy since I was right in front of him), gave another cookie and released him.

So even though I am training for the stand for exam, no standing was involved, no distance from the dog was involved, and there was only a single pat on the head. I was very confident that Mac could do this, and I was right -- by breaking the exercise down into small components, he was able to successfully complete a step of the more complex behavior known as "stand for exam" :) It is only by completing each little step that one ever gets to the whole behavior chain that constitutes an obedience exercise.

Another example -- the returning to heel position from a stay. This requires a dog to remain still as you walk behind him -- not easy. Today I did two things to practice this. First, I put Mac on a stay and walked about three feet in front of him and then walked to about three feet from his shoulder -- so I was on the side of him across from his shoulder. I clicked and handed him a cookie for remaining still, and repeated several times. I intentionally did not go farther than I expected him to stay -- I like to build success, not failure.

The second thing I did was put him on a sit stay and then stand right in front of him again. I held a cookie in my left hand and let him nibble on it as he remained still while I walked around him -- so he was eating the cookie and I was moving around him -- the cookie distracted him from thinking too hard about me being behind, and he held his stay just fine. Once in heel position he got the cookie, another one for not releasing himself, and then another one after the release word.

We have also been working on heeling, which he clearly had a working knowledge of before he arrived because he is doing very well. Keeping in mind that it was 20 degrees out and I was wearing 14 layers to stay warm, here are some heeling pictures...

Carting in snow is not easy but we have some nice tire tracks now so we stayed in those. Mac continues to get more comfortable in the cart but isn't perfect yet (I say that for the benefit of those of you who are also training novice dogs :) -- sometimes the cart still worries him and we need the snow to melt so we can do the long, straight driveway to get more "miles" under the harness to help him become more comfortable. However, he is doing very well for a novice dog -- it is all about baby steps :)

This is my favorite picture -- he is sticking his tongue out at me!

And that is the latest from MacHeadquarters, where the snow is deep but the training commitment is deeper :)

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