I'm not a big fan of training with lots of aids, targets & gizmos and I especially don't like spending money on expensive gadgets. However, I finally decided to break down and buy a remote treat dispensing machine called a 'Manners Minder'. These things are not cheap and it took a long while convincing myself it was worth the money. But I can see how it can be incredibly useful for working on the dogs' running contacts. I can stand at one end of the plank and do recalls and put the machine at the other end and do sends and get way more reps in a shorter amount of time. It will also be handy for training obstacle independence and distance work so I decided to take the plunge and fork over the cash.
It's a long & tedious story but it took me over a week to get the proper batteries. Finally I got the thing up & running and the stupid thing doesn't work. It mostly worked the first night but now a day or two later I push the button for the remote and treats come out maybe 20% of the time. Sometimes I push the button and it beeps/dispenses with a delay. It did a good job of training superstitious behavior in me as I tried to figure out how to get the remote to work but I'm afraid it's not very helpful for training the dogs. I've emailed the company and we'll see how good they are about replacing it. You're supposed to notify them of defective merchandise within 36 hours of receiving it but it took me over a week to be able to use the thing so we'll see if they make an exception.
For now I'm setting the dog up at one end of the plank and standing with some treats while facing the dog at the other end and calling. If they run the plank without leaping I click & treat. I'm following Sylvia Trkman's method for training a running dogwalk and she says at the beginning the dog's should be pretty much 100% successful because all they have to do is run on the plank. Of course, she’s never met Strummer who takes one stride on the plank then does a superdog leap over the rest of it. I don't think we'll be having any trouble with the broad jump. Lola isn't leaping but her stride is so darn huge that she gets one stride in then she’s naturally off the board. She thinks running on the plank is crazy fun though so I think she’ll enjoy the training. Today I tried standing close to the board and the pressure of me standing there forced her to shorten her stride enough that she was able to hit her forefeet fairly close to the end of the board. It’s just what I want but she had to slow herself a bit. I suppose it’ll take a bit of time and troubleshooting to get it just right. I’m going to start taping some sessions so I can see exactly what’s happening and make sure I’m rewarding what I think I am.
I’m not going to mess with Cody’s contacts for now. While his contacts aren’t perfect he’s got a fairly high success rate in USDAA (DOCNA, forget about it). I’m starting to do quick releases with him in practice where he’ll normally stop just so he doesn’t jam his shoulders. He won’t stop at trials most of the time anyway so it’s not like the quick releases in practice are going to ruin anything. My hope is that they’ll carry over into the ring but I’m not holding my breath.