It's been years since I've had a lesson with Stacy Peardot mostly because she stopped holding lessons at my practice field and I couldn't see myself driving the 1 1/2 hours in rush hour traffic up to her lessons in Fort Collins after work and of course driving back and being coherent for work the next morning. Never mind how tired & fuzzy I would have been for the actual lesson. So I was pleased to be able to pick up a last minute spot in her foundation workshop this weekend (handling workshop was sold out by the time I heard about it, darn it). I'm not sure how much teaching she does in the area anymore so it seems a rare treat when she offers something, esp. on a weekend. I finally felt confident taking Strummer to something like this and thought it would be a great opportunity to work on his barking/lunging at other dogs working agility in a pretty low key atmosphere where dogs wouldn't be running too crazy and he'd have a good chance at being successful (he was, yay!). Also I'm always eager to see what other people are doing in the way of foundation training and was looking to pick up a few new things to work on. I feel like I know what I'm doing in some areas but have holes in others so I was hoping to fill in some gaps.
Her training center is located on a beautiful piece of land at the end of a private dead end dirt road in the hills a few miles north of Fort Collins. There were a few hairy, narrow turns on the dirt road going up to her place but coming back down was no problem somehow, maybe because I had an idea of what to expect or more likely because the big drop off was on the other side of the road so it wasn't as freaky. She's got a nice outdoor ring as well as an indoor training center with a carpeted surface. I was worried about this at first but it felt pretty spongy. I'm not sure what's beneath the carpet but I wouldn't have a problem working my dogs on it if the opportunity ever arose again (and I'm pretty picky about that kind of thing). Of course we weren't doing anything concussive for the foundation workshop so it didn't matter anyway but something for me to keep in mind if she ever offers another workshop.
The workshop was scheduled to last 3 hours but Stacy took an extra half hour or so to work with us. Overall it was really helpful. Stacy's an excellent teacher and she does a good job of spending an equal amount of time with all participants. She went into a lot of detail and answered everyone's questions but still managed to move things along at a good pace so we covered quite a bit of material. In fact I can't think of a single negative thing about it, it was a fun morning of training on a perfect Colorado spring day in a beautiful setting, what more could you ask for?
I have several pages of notes and not nearly enough time to type all of it up, at least not tonight. I've been busy w/ work and the return of normal weather means I've been spending most of my free time outdoors so I'm afraid the blog's been suffering a bit. I'll try to type up the most interesting bits for now.
Traffic Cone Game
The purpose of this game is to teach the dog tight turns and also to get him to work his spine. You start facing a traffic cone with your dog on your left and a bit in front of you near the cone. You have a toy (or food if he doesn't like toys) in your right hand. Take the dog's collar in your left hand to restrain him a bit then tease the dog with the toy in your right hand. Release the dog, lure him clockwise around the cone and quickly rotate 180 degrees, picking the dog up on your right like a front cross. The idea is to get the dog to turn as tightly and quickly around the cone as possible. Strummy really liked this game but it took me a little bit of practice and guidance from Stacy to get it just right. Eventually you can transition to a jump to practice tight wraps.
Position Training (heel/side)
This was simply teaching the dog to sit straight facing forward in heel & side position like in obedience and to put a hand cue to it. The purpose is to train the dog to come up to your side parallel to you on the course and to never cross in front or behind (unless you cue him to). To start out we were to lure the dog into a sit position at our side. This sounds so simple but I've been having a hard time teaching Strummy to sit straight next to me. We started this in obedience class toward the end of classes and we never quite got it. Part of the problem is that Strum is such a long backed dog and I have such short arms that it's hard for me to reach back to give him enough room to lure him into position. He's also uncomfortable with me standing next to him. Stacy's solution for this was for me to put him in a sit and then move myself into position next to him, say the verbal cue ('heel' or 'side') then give him his treat. The idea is that he'll eventually become more comfortable and learn the verbal cue so that he'll soon go into position himself when he hears the verbal. Funny thing is that this was my first instinct in obedience class but the teacher told me not to do it. So far it's working out pretty well, we'll see how things progress. Of course there was also the option of lining him up next to a wall.
The next step is to take a step forward and call/cue the dog to heel/side position. He should come up next to you right into position. Ultimately you should be able to cue the dog to come up parallel to your side while running a course.
I'm embarassed to say that this basic skill is a huge gap for me. I've never had anyone explain in detail how to train this (other than a baffling article in Clean Run some time ago) and never seen the point of it so it was especially helpful to see how to use it on a course.
Nobody was interested in learning left/right so Stacy spent most of the time teaching the 'turn away' cue. She does this by starting with the dog sitting in heel/side position then luring the dog to turn into a 360 circle away from the handler and finish up right next to the handler back in heel/side position. Because Strum is so long backed I was allowed to take a little step forward if I needed to to allow him enough space for his turn. You say the verbal cue (I use 'turn') as the dog is executing the turn away from you.
Next step is to add motion to it, turning toward your dog as he turns away from you and picking him up on the opposite hand like a rear cross. I'd actually already trained Strum to do this with the motion part already added but I think I'm going to try the circle thing too. Yes, I know this violates the Greg Derrett method of handling and I do like how Susan Garrett trains the rear cross but I trained Lola to have a 'turn away' cue and I've found it invaluable. It's about the only verbal directional cue she truly understands and I really really like it. I've never had a problem with her turning away from me when she's not supposed to and I'm not sure how you do Gamblers without having this kind of a cue. Since I don't have these other people in my area to explain their methods to me I'm staying with what I know works for me for now.
Eventually you add the jump in. You start by straddling the jump with the dog facing the jump. You send the dog over the jump and throw a toy away from you while saying 'turn' and the dog should turn away from you to get the toy on the other side of the jump. You can also put a toy on the ground to act as a lure.
Phew, that's all I have time for right now. Hopefully I'll have time for more later.