May 28, 2006

My Greyhound

Dusty was playing chasing games at a friends property. She would run past the older dogs and take off as though they were chasing her. They weren't.

May 27, 2006

"Get out" command

Over the last few days we have been working on a cue for Dusty (and Thommo) to move away from me. We'll use it in herding to give a soft start, and in agility for distance work.

First step. I set up two short fences using garden mesh, with a gap between them so that I could go straight ahead. I put a target out in front of the gap, blocked the gap with my body and sent Dusty to the left. I stepped through the gap, to reward her at the target. Repeated left and right. I'm using a movement of my arm away from my side as a signal. No verbal cue as yet, but will just use a "Sssht" when we are with the sheep.

Second step. Duz likes to herd the yard broom, so I've been sending her around the end of the fence while I sweep straight up the middle.

Third step. For the two of them I put a jump at the end of the fence sending them out to do the jump while I run through the gap and up the middle. I'll add more obstacles to the line as they get the idea. Thommo is pretty good at this and we have a few Gambler's titles, but I don't think it hurts for him to go back to babysteps with Dusty. The arm movement is the only signal as yet for Dusty, for Thommo I use "out" as well.

May 26, 2006

Herding 101

Re-directing flying sheep: Denise Wall's photo of Jeannie Weaver's Jack trying to stop a ewe in the shed.

May 22, 2006

My way or the highway

Originally uploaded by trent shepherd.

Trent captured Dusty and I discussing how we were going to handle the flock - left up to her she would only go anticlockwise.

May 20, 2006


Dusty had a great day today at a sheep herding clinic. She worked calmly and confidently, and even I managed to keep it together for most of the time.

May 19, 2006

Strategic Pairs

In Thommo's class this week we were running Strategic Pairs, another event that is now part of ANKC competition. In strategic pairs both dogs are on course at once. While the course is numbered one to twenty, there may be long distances and awkward turns between two consecutive numbers. The strategy comes in dividing the obstacles up between the dogs so that the result is a fast flowing course.

In our practice example, we decided that dog one would do obstacles 1 to 3, dog two 4 to 7, then dog one 8 to 10, and so on. As it turned out dog one had the obstacles that would be most likely to cause problems, and dog two had the trickier course sections.

Thommo did well. We were too quick starting our section and had to re-do the first obstacle, but I never mind Thommo being too quick. With strategic pairs I have to be careful that he doesn't see call offs or stopping him running or making him wait as corrections or he gets depressed.

After two runs our instructor said we were finished so I put Thommo away and got Dusty out for her class. But we got through the next turn quickly and were able to have another go. So I let Dusty have a run. She really responded to the excitement, handled all the obstacles without fault and raced around her sections. We had one run past on a sharp turn, but that was my fault. I was impressed, she is not really up to running courses.

May 18, 2006

Stick games

Thommo and Dusty retrieve a stick from the Hunter River. Duz is so muscular, ripped like a body builder :-)

May 11, 2006

Agility class

In Thommo's class we worked with a Snooker course - Snooker has recently been introduced as an official ANKC event. So in Dusty's class afterwards, all of the obstacles were set out. Our instructor divided the course up into short sequences, which we backchained, sending the dogs to a target and rewarding them on arrival.

Some of the sequences were harder than others. The jump tunnel jump got quite a few dogs running past the tunnel opening. As Le explained it there were four reasons for this:

  • People got caught behind the wing of the jump, and in stepping around it pulled their dog to the right and away from the entry.
  • People were behind their dog at the jump and the dog turned back towards them missing the entry.
  • People turned too soon, dropping their left arm before the dog had committed to the entry.
  • The tunnel curved to the left, away from where the dogs knew the reward was.

Once we had sorted out our handler paths and body language even the young dogs had no problem with the sequence.

Canine Behavioral Assessment

The researchers at the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society of the University of Pennsylvania have developed a test to assess canine behaviour and flag any attributes which could be cause for concern.

The test consists of 101 questions describing the different ways in which dogs typically respond to common events, situations, and stimuli in their environment. Users simply click a box to indicate the extent to which the description fits their dog. It takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

It is designed to be used by veterinarians, behavioral consultants, researchers, shelters, and working dog organizations with an interest in screening dogs for the presence and severity of behavioral problems. For a limited period, it is also open pet-owners interested in comparing their dogs to others in the database.

The dog is scored in the following categories:

  • Stranger-directed aggression
  • Owner-directed aggression
  • Dog-directed aggression/fear
  • Familiar dog aggression
  • Trainability
  • Chasing
  • Stranger-directed fear
  • Nonsocial fear
  • Separation-related problems
  • Touch sensitivity
  • Excitability
  • Attachment/attention-seeking
  • Energy
A gold star indicates that this dog scored within the normal range.

A red flag indicates that this dog obtained a less favorable score for this subscale than at least 75% of the dogs in the comparison sample.

Two red flags indicate that this dog obtained a less favorable score for this subscale than at least 90% of the dogs in the comparison sample.

Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire

May 09, 2006

Agility Equipment

What I have been trying to do with Dusty in agility obstacle training is to teach her various concepts, generalised behaviours which she can then apply to the real agility obstacles. This is only partly because of my tiny-yard/no-storage-space limitations of access to agility equipment. I actually think it makes good training sense.

Helix Fairweather in her article Home Schooling Your Clicker Trained Agility Dog quotes Julie Daniels - Agility has three major categories of obstacles and one oddball one: the go-overs, the go-ups and the go-throughs. The go-overs are the various types of jumps — bar jump, tire jump, broad jump, panel jump, spread jumps. The go-ups are the contact obstacles; the A-frame, the dog walk, the teeter, the table. The go-throughs are the tunnel, the chute, the tire jump. The oddball obstacle is the finesse obstacle — the weave poles. So we have been training these skills - go over, go up, go through, weave - using a variety of makeshift, found and cheaply purchased odds and ends.

But with two dogs now doing agility training it might be worth my effort to set up a collection of 'better' equipment so that at least training exercises are more consistent. For example, my found jumps are not height adjustable, so I either set them up for Thommo and put the bar on the ground for Dusty, or I set them up for Dusty and Thommo walks over them.

May 07, 2006

Tracking training

This is an example of the training plan from Try Tracking. A star is a food drop, a red circle is an article.

Try Tracking

Yesterday we went to our first tracking class. While I'm on long service leave I thought I'd take the opportunity to do as much as possible with the dogs. Thommo didn't seem to enjoy it, though he seemed to be tracking and he found the food drops and articles, he worries so much about new experiences - he kept checking back with me, "Is this right?" Dusty loved it, once I put the tracking harness on she is raring to go.

We went to Medowie State forest, twenty minutes out of Newcastle. Our group consisted of a German Shepherd, a Dachshund, a Border Collie, a Corgi and a Cattle Dog. For the beginners we started with short 15-20 metre tracks, in a straight line laid directly into the wind (which was a very light breeze). The area we were using was level, with knee high grass and sapling regrowth.
With our dog in the hands of another classmate, we each placed a start flag with a sock bearing our scent beside it, and a tasty treat on top of it. We then walked with a normal stride and speed out to the end point where we left another sock and treats and placed our end flag. By looking from flag to flag we then had a line that should approximate the scent trail. We returned to our dogs making a big arc downwind of the track.

The dogs wore their tracking outfits: harnesses, with a two/three metre lead attached. We'll work up to the regulation 10+ metre line. We brought the dog to the start flag, and gave the cue to track. The dogs all ate the first treat without any problem, but most needed some encouragement to continue to follow the trail to the next article. For some the instructor began laying the track and encouraging the dog with a food container. Dusty was great. She had the idea of following my track and stayed on it fairly consistently despite signs of rabbits and kangaroos. We each did four tracks, then sat in the shade to discuss our progress.

I have the book Try Tracking and had read it, and done the first three days of the training plan, so Dusty was a little advanced of the others in our group. Try Tracking's author says that it is important in the early days to do at least three tracks a day, six days a week for the first three weeks to imprint the idea of tracking, so we are going to continue with the lesson plans from the book. Unfortunately tracking class won't be able to meet again until the end of the month.

May 04, 2006

Ready, Steady, Go Game

This game teaches the dog to wait at the start, and develops the self control necessary for the contact obstacles.

Get Tuffie to stand, sit or drop facing you, say ‘Go’ and back away presenting a handful of treats in front of his nose or a tug-toy. Don’t say anything other than ‘Go’ and don’t repeat it. Let him 'chase' you three times and end the session.

Next session, extend the time you ask Tuffie to wait before saying ‘Go’. Present the toy or treats after you have said go.

The next session, sit Tuffie off to the side of you facing the same way as you. Crouch into a semi-racing posture, this will be the signal that you are going to run. Ask for the sit, count two bananas, say ‘Go’ take a step or two and hold out the treat.

Over the next days or weeks add duration, waiting a few seconds longer, taking a few more steps before rewarding.

When Tuffie understands the game, before saying ‘Go’ add in a drawn out ‘Steady’ first. Be dramatic, you want to work him up to fever pitch.

Then put a ‘Ready’ and the front. Your goal is to have Tuffie quivering in anticipation as you say ‘Ready, steady’ then take off like a rocket as you say ‘Go’ to race you.

Next step to work towards is for Tuffie to stay as you walk away. At first walk before saying anything, later you can walk away saying 'Ready, steady'. Start with just one step, work up to some metres.

Then remove your body language as a cue. Stand still and straight to say 'Ready, steady, go!' then start running, or throw the toy or treat container.

Now try it in front of a jump, then a line of jumps.

Start line stays

At class last night we worked on tyres and tunnels, neither of which Dusty has any problem with, and on tightening turns, and we did some start-line stay practice.

With Thommo I do a stand stay. This seemed to be the position he was most comfortable with, probably as a result of playing Ready, Set, Go games where he would be standing beside me, and of many hours of him standing and waiting while a threw a ball, then gave the OK to fetch.

With Dusty I'm using a down stay at the start, again because this seems to be a default behaviour for her, and one the first stay we learned as she needed to do a down stay in the presence of sheep to get her Herding Instinct Certificate. I guess I could insist on a sit-stay with either of them, and work to reinforce it and proof it. But why not start from a position they are already comfortable with.

There is some debate over what is the fastest start. Nancy Geyes recommends a sit-stay, saying that she finds it easier to teach a reliable, square, sit-stay, than a stay in a stand or down position. Chris Zink says that dogs that are left standing at the line first trot and then have to shift into a canter before jumping (jumping is an extension of the canter). This wastes some time and also makes it more difficult for the dogs to judge the correct take-off point. In contrast, dogs that are left sitting go straight into a canter and are ready to jump without having to shift into a different gait.

This may be true where the dog stands flat footed, or lies down belly on the ground, but my dogs wait in a sort of crouch: Thommo in a stand slightly lowered, Dusty in a down slightly raised. Most herding dogs adopt this sort of pose in a wait.

Greg Derrett advocates a standing start. He also says to have a routine which incorporates the dog's natural behaviour. He brings the dog to the start line then stands them with a gentle scruff.

May 03, 2006

Rules and Regs

From the Canine Association of Western Australia pdf files of ANKC rules and regulations:

ANKC Agility Rules
ANKC Agility Rules - Games
ANKC Herding Rules
ANKC Obedience Rules
ANKC Retrieving Rules
ANKC Tracking Rules

The beginner's guide to dog agility

Acting on the principle that owning training books is nearly as good as actually training your dog, I've ordered a copy of Laurie Leach's The Beginner's Guide to Dog Agility

Chapter 1: Falling in Love With Agility
Chapter 2: How to Play
Chapter 3: Selecting Your Canine Partner
Chapter 4: Keeping It Positive
Chapter 5: Building an Obedience Foundation
Chapter 6: Preagility Training
Chapter 7: Going to School
Chapter 8: Learning the Obstacles
Chapter 9: Teaching the Jumps
Chapter 10: Teaching the Tunnels
Chapter 11: Teaching the A-frame and Dogwalk
Chapter 12: Teaching the Teeter
Chapter 13: Teaching the Table
Chapter 14: Teaching the Weave Poles
Chapter 15: Handling Skills
Chapter 16: Sequencing
Chapter 17: Training Challenges
Chapter 18: Getting Ready to Trial
Chapter 19: Packing It Up
Chapter 20: Your First Trial
Chapter 21: Minding Your Agility Manners