Saturday, March 04, 2017

Those Stolen Moments!

Since the time of my last post, I have managed to "steal" about 5 minutes of each day to work with Bandit on little training things.  Sometimes this makes my mornings extremely rushed, but I have managed to make it work.

At first Bandit was a bit hesitant.  It seemed like he expected that something not-so-good might happen when I led him off into the back bedroom by himself.  But now when I invite him back there to train, his eyes light up and he shoots back into the room!

We mainly work on Freestyle skills.  I often have him swing into side or heel position and we simply take a step forward or a step back, or he does a 360 right or a 360 left.  Of course we work spins and twirls and leg weaves and his paw tricks.

We also do a good deal of work on sustained focus - of course just one tiny step at a time!  I have devised a modified "Look at That" protocol where I click as his head begins to dip toward the floor and treat when he lifts his head back up.  He almost always raises his head back when he hears the click.

It is my hope that doing this consistently will teach him to self-interrupt and he will start to offer focus with a natural enthusiasm, all on his own.
Twice we have also worked on toe boards for Agility

Bandit working on his toe board 

At first I was not all that pleased that we have a very small space to work in during these "stolen" training sessions, but I am coming to see the small area as an advantage.  It is compelling us to work on tiny bits of behaviors:  click/treat for one step forward with his head up, getting two continuous leg weaves, moving forward and backward just one or two steps, tight turns, etc.

The best part of all of this is that I am starting to see changes in Bandit!  I am seeing a more eager and enthusiastic attitude toward training in general.  He is starting to move more willingly into heel or side position, even in more open spaces.  His sustained focus at Rally class was the best that it has ever been!

So, I am incredibly pleased, and Bandit and I will absolutely continue to steal these moments for daily training sessions.  The icing on the cake is that we both love this!  Win-win!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Learning From the Master

It has been quite some time since I updated this blog.  Bandit and I have been training and learning together and making progress and facing challenges.  Overall, things have been going very well for us as a team.

We are still splitting our focus between Musical Freestyle, Agility, Rally Obedience, and Parkour.  That presents a challenge in itself since we are working on many different skills for four different sports.  However, there is a nice degree of overlap, so usually whatever we focus on for one discipline is applicable to at least one other!

In some ways our Freestyle is the most challenging, since I have no access to a Freestyle class, and we rarely have the opportunity to work in a large space.

Recently it seemed to me that Bandit and I had really stalled out in our Freestyle training.  I felt that the work that we were doing was "flat" in some way.

I really had no idea of what I ought to do about it.  I know that Bandit and I have a ton of potential as a Freestyle team.  I just did not really know which way to go.

So, I did something that I had been avoiding for a long time - I looked back.

To Speedy.

To Speedy and me as a Freestyle team.

He and I had something really special.  After losing Speedy I felt, for a very long time, that he had taken every skill and strength that I had in the sport of Musical Freestyle along with him.  I did make the decision to go on with it in spite of that, but in a big way things have never quite been the same.

My dogs and I have accomplished some things since then - Dean has made a few really nice performance videos, Tessa made one of her best, and she earned her Intermediate title in WCFO.  She also completed the pre-Bronze level in the Cyber Rally-O Dance Divisions! 

Bandit earned a Q in the Cyber Rally-O Dance Divisions, and he earned his first leg in Beginner Musical Freestyle in WCFO.

But I had really come to the point where I felt that Bandit and I were missing something that we ought to have in our dancing.

I had avoided looking back to Speedy for a couple of reasons.  First, I do not want to be someone who cannot appreciate my current dog for who he is.  I did not want to create a temptation to try to make Bandit into Speedy, in a sense.  Bandit is a beautiful, talented boy who has a style that is all his own, and I want that to shine forth in our work together.

Also, watching Speedy's videos can be difficult on an emotional level.  Sometimes I can watch them and enjoy them, and sometimes it is upsetting to do so.  So, I generally avoid watching them.

But it came to the point where I didn't know what else to do.  It was on my heart that Bandit and I were missing something that Speedy and I had, and that whatever it was, it was something that Bandit and I ought to have!  I needed to figure out what that was.

First, I pulled up the video of Speedy and I performing to "Here Comes the Sun" at the Freestyle Festival demonstration.  Although that was very early in our Freestyle experiences, I always look back on it as one of our best performances.  There was a live audience and they were extra appreciative.

Here is the video of that performance:

I noticed several things right away.

Speedy knew and understood his Freestyle moves, and he "owned" them.  My cues weren't always the greatest, but whenever Speedy read them, he was immediately performing the behavior.

He really put his heart and soul into every single thing he did in his Freestyle performances.

Bandit is more tentative in a lot of his moves.  He does them when he reads my cues, but he almost carries them out with a manner of, "Ummm . . . . I think?"

There is one exception - his "Sit and Give Paw".  He NAILS that one.  He puts his entire being into that one.

That is what we need to build with all of the Freestyle moves.

Second, Speedy knew more moves.  I certainly know that Freestyle is not just about throwing around a lot of moves, but a routine without some measure of variety can be very flat.

It took me a few days and viewing several different videos to figure out the last component that Bandit and I are missing.  Speedy's focus.  His attention was riveted on me.

Back when I was working with him, I recall people pointing that out to me and I really had no idea what they were talking about.  To me, Speedy was just Speedy.  But now I see it.  It's not just that he was giving me eye contact - he was giving me his full attention - with all his heart.

Now, I am under no illusions that Speedy was a perfect dog.  We struggled - a lot.  He was afraid of dogs and people.  He got over being afraid of most people, but he never was comfortable around certain dogs.  He couldn't deal with crate rooms.  He was easily overstimulated by his own movement, and we worked HARD to even be able to continue in Freestyle when that became an almost impossible issue.

But here is the thing - and it is, I believe that last piece in this puzzle (for now).  Speedy and I WORKED.  We worked hard.  We faced problem after problem after problem, and we never stopped doing what we needed to do to deal with them.  I read books.  I attended workshops.  I took him to different places and we trained and trained and trained and trained and trained!

I worked harder to help Speedy just be comfortable in public situations than I have ever worked with any other dog on anything.

And . . . I forgot about that.  I really, honestly forgot.  I mean, I know what we did, but I seriously forgot the time, the effort, and the work that we put into everything that he and I did together.

Nothing came easy for Speedy.  Nothing.

And I presented the honest question to myself - have I worked so hard with Bandit?

And the answer: Not by a long shot!!

So, now Bandit and I are studying under the Master!!

I have taken away four specific areas that we will work on.

1. Train more moves!  In fact, I am going to start off by training Bandit to do everything that Speedy did.

2. Build confidence into Bandit's moves, so he does them comfortably and happily.

3. Work on focus.  I actually have been working on focus with him, but I have some new ideas that I think will work out better than what we have been doing.  The idea will be to help him understand that offering his focus is a very, very good thing!

4. Train more.  Even if it is a stolen 5 minutes in the morning while the other dogs are out to do their business, we are going to find time to train more!

We have actually already started on this, and I feel that it is bearing good fruit.  Bandit has just eaten up the few new moves I have introduced him to.  He likes the confidence games.  And I tried out the new focus strategy this morning and I ended up with an attentive dog who was wagging his tail at me!  YES!!!

And my worries about expecting Bandit to be Speedy were unfounded.  I am not trying to turn him into Speedy.  Instead, it is like Speedy is our instructor.  We are learning from him, and from all that he and I did together.

When Bandit and I have mastered some of these basics, we will branch out in new directions, I am certain!  But, in the meantime . . . . this is good.  This is very, very good.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Customing Platform Work

I have been working with Bandit on platforms to assist him with learning positions.

Strictly speaking, platform work is supposed to be shaped.  The initial "four on the platform" behavior is shaped, and then the platform becomes "magnetized" as the dog is heavily reinforced for putting four paws on it.

Then the platform is placed in position and the dog learns to come into position, though a shaping-with-props process, the positions are put on cue, and the platforms are faded.

As I have been working with Bandit on the platforms, we have encountered a bit of a difficulty.  Bandit does a beautiful job coming into front position on the platform.  No surprise there - it is most natural, even if he is coming into position from beside me, to move into a position where he is facing me.  But we have run into problems when I have moved the platform into heel and side position.

I have done the step where he remains on the platform and I move around and click/treat so he can get the feel for proper position.  I have worked a gradual approach to the platform.

However, we consistently reach a point as the criteria increases and he is approaching the platform from a more difficult angle, where he gets stuck.

He will get onto the platform backwards so he is in heel or side position, but facing behind me (which would be fine if we were working on that, but we aren't!).  Or, he will start to avoid the platform altogether and start to circle me. 

If I were seeing some degree of enjoyment on his part, in working to figure out what I want through the shaping process, I would continue with it.  I might break it back down a bit, and raise criteria more slowly.  However, I was clearly see frustration on his part.  Any learning that was happening was not the learning that I want to happen. 

When I see frustration, I know it is time to reconsider my approach.  The last thing I want to do is for Bandit to associate platforms with frustration.  We had that experience with some pieces of Agility equipment, and it took some work to un-do the damage that was done.

So, I decided to help Bandit by giving him a clear hand cue to indicate that he should head to the rear of the platform.  Once he did that, I could remove the hand and he would get into position.


Here is a video of our first session doing this.  There is some front work first.

After sharing the video, I was asked by a friend, "Why did you use the hand?  Why didn't you shape it?"

That is an excellent question!

The reason is simply this: after careful consideration, taking Bandit's learning style and training history into account, I deduced that giving him a quick hand target was the best way to help him learn.

It was not so much a matter of him getting the idea quickly, but of him getting the idea without dealing with undue frustration.

Don't get me wrong - frustration is a reality in training.  But I do feel very strongly that it ought to be minimized, and if it is going to be detrimental to the training process, it should be avoided if at all possible.

In this case, I could see the potential of creating an actual issue, and I did not want to do that.  Add to that, I knew of a way to convey what I want to Bandit in a way that is very clear to him and has the potential to facilitate learning effectively.

So, I chose a training tool (hand target) that is very clear to Bandit, and he got the idea very quickly.

I expect that within two - three more sessions, he going to be getting onto that platform from any direction without me having to give the hand cue.

Let's see what happens!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

"Big" Twirl and Spin

I plan to have a section in Bandit's Freestyle routine where he will heel with me, twirl, heel, make a large twirl, and then heel with me and do a twirl transition into center position.

It's a pretty basic sequence.  We are working on building the "big" twirl.

Once he is very fluent around this "barrel", I will switch it out for gates that form about the same size circle.  Then we will fade it down with staggered targets or something.

I am hoping this works out like I plan!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Making Progress by Asking Less

A while ago I felt that Bandit and I were reaching something of a plateau.  He had made a good bit of progress with everything that we were working on, but it seemed that he had stalled out in many ways.

I really thought that I was going to need to find a way to ask more of him, but in the end I made the decision to ask less.

And the result was astonishing!  He has literally smashed that plateau into pieces and we are flying forward once again.

One example of this is our heeling.  I realized that we had reached a point where I needed to start getting the food out of my hands when we were working on heeling skills.  Any time I tried working with him without food, however, his nose was on the ground at once.

I decided to break down the criteria into smaller pieces, and to go back to a 100% rate of reinforcement.

I set Bandit up in heel, in a sit.  I had food in my hand.  I cued him to heel and we moved forward about 4 feet.  At first I kept that food right on his nose, and he got the treat at about the 4 foot point.

We repeated that a few times and then I moved the treat up away from him so it became a visual target, not a scent target.  Success!

Finally, I did a repetition with the visual target and reinforced, and then did a repetition with no food in my hand.


Before long I was able to start asking Bandit to heel between a few signs in Rally class (not all) with no food in my hand.

He is doing a phenomenal job.

We did something similar with inside turns.  He was just not understanding them, so I worked with him around the four corners of a chair.  After doing that a few times, I noticed major improvement on his left turns.

It is counter-intuitive.  Sometimes when it seems like I need to up the challenge, what I really need to do is break it down.

The day will come when Bandit successfully completes the entire Figure 8 Waltz for the Cyber Rally-O Dance Divisions.  First, though, he needs to master some simpler skills.

The plateau has been dispensed with.  We are once again moving onward and upward!

Friday, April 08, 2016

Distance Training for Agility

Bandit and I are currently taking a distance Agility class through the Fenzi Academy.  We have really only gotten started.

The first thing that we did for the class was identify our "base cues".  These are the cues that I will take the time to train with him as his foundation.

The base cues that I have chosen for Bandit are:

"Go", which will mean "run out and take whatever is directly ahead of you and keep running forward"

"Fly", which will mean, "go out to take something and come back to me"

"Out", which will mean, "go out and stay 'out there' taking equipment, or take the far side of a discrimination"

"Here", which will indicate the close side of a discrimination.

"Switch", which will mean "flip away from me as I flip toward you to change sides"

I am also considering right and left directionals, but I am going to focus on the more basic cues first.

I like having this very specific plan for Bandit's training.

In the class we are training our base cues on cones.  This video is Bandit's "baseline" video for his cone work.

He did a send out with me doing a front cross and a send out with me handling it as a wrap.  Both of these could be "fly" or "out" skills, depending on the context of the course.  And then we worked on a "pass by", which sets us up for a "go" or "out", again, depending on the course.

Bandit's drive and speed amaze me.  He locks in on the task (flying around the cone) and he just throws all of himself into it!

I am not used to that at all!

I am looking forward to working through the rest of this class with him!

Friday, April 01, 2016

Analyzing Bandit's Heeling

Bandit and I are at a point now where I want to begin to take his heelwork training more seriously.  Not "seriously" in the sense of making it "serious" for him, but "serious" in the sense of giving him more structure and a higher level of criteria in our heelwork.

The first question that I needed to consider was: what picture do I want to create with his heeling?

I came to the conclusion that I want the picture to be very similar to the picture that Dean and I created in his heyday.  Bandit's style is a little bit different from Dean's, but I would like for Bandit to have the same level of understanding of movement in position that Dean has.

Here is a video of Dean doing some pretty good heeling.  This was actually not even his best, but it is very good.  Keep an eye on  how he moves his body when he is on the inside curve.

It is clear that Dean knows how to move his entire body in order to maintain heel position, regardless of the direction that he and I are moving together.  He can read the inside curves and adjust accordingly, and he can drive a bit on the outside curves.  You don't see it in this video, but he can also move in a straight line and maintain his position.

I want that for Bandit.

In this video, it is obvious that Bandit and I have gotten a good start.  He has a basic idea of moving in position, and he has a lot of enthusiasm, and his movement is very pretty.

He drives very nicely on an outside curve, but he doesn't have any idea what to do when he is on an inside curve.

And, even though this was taken last August, I can't say he and I have done a whole lot of work on it since!

I have considered this, and I believe that Bandit needs to learn how to move his entire body on an inside curve.  We have done pivot work with a pivot disk, but I don't believe that Bandit is generalizing from the pivot disk to heelwork.

I am going to do some more foundation clicker work with him, and focus in on allowing him to choose to make a left turn and move his rear end in.  We will do this with a 90 degree edge, such as a chair.

I am looking forward to getting into this work with him.  It is my goal, by the end of May, for Bandit to be able to move with me 10 feet in any direction and maintain heel or side position!