I was finally able to arrange a time & place with Joy for an agility lesson, my first in a whopping 7 months. We were at a different place from my normal training field and unlike my normal training field this place allowed her to reserve the whole field for lessons so I decided to try Strummer out at his first proper lesson. I've been working my way through Linda Mecklenburg's jumping foundation book and since Joy had been training with her over the winter and was familiar with the exercises I thought it would be good if I could go through them and she could tell me if I was doing them right. And of course I wasn't. I wasn't too far off, but apparently it matters which way you point your feet and you're supposed to take a step as part of your cue. I looked back in the book very briefly this morning and couldn't find any text explanations about feet and what to do with them. There are some photos showing her with her feet in the proper position but no text explaining it, at least not right there with the individual exercise explanations. This is why I hate learning from books & articles, I always seem to manage to miss some detail out. Anyway, in general you have one foot behind facing the dog and the other in front facing the direction you want to go. You cue the jump then step the foot that's behind forward to meet the forward foot. I know, I would probably be confused too if I just read that. I think I need to stick to lessons from actual real live people. Once I got the footwork down it all started to make more sense. All my previous work wasn't for naught though, Strummy did a pretty good job of things once I got my end down. He had some jumps where he didn't collect enough and overshot me but all I had to do was not reward him and he'd get it on the next try or two. He knocked only 2 bars in over a half hour of working and both of those were on extension exercises which I hadn't been doing all that much of since I felt the collection stuff was harder for him in the beginning.
One exercise that caused him some problems was this:
In this exercise we're facing each other and with my left arm I'm cueing him to take the jump in front of him but he kept running straight to me to take the jump in front of me. I had to move a ways to the left until I was nearly right in front of him then inch my way back to the right over a series of reps. but he eventually got it. It'll be interesting to see if he gets it right away when I try it again in practice or if I have to start over in front of him again.
I also showed Joy what I was doing to train running contacts and she suggested a piece of PVC or tape in the yellow zone to mark the area where he needs to put his feet. In general I'm not big on props but this sounded like a good idea to start with both to help me mark correct performances and also as a little guide to Strum to help him get the idea more quickly. I'll probably fade it very quickly, I don't want either of us to get too dependent on it but I like the idea for the beginning stages.
Overall I thought Strum did great especially considering he was in a totally new place and he worked for over half an hour, way way way longer than I ever train him in a session. He never got distracted, stressed or overstimulated. He did break his stays in front of the jumps and that's a new one. I need to work on proofing that in new locations. Joy remarked that he seems calmer and that when he makes a mistake he tries something different the next time. I'm not sure if that's because that's the way he is or it's a result of all the clicker training I've done with him or maybe a combo. In any case it sure is nice to have a dog that doesn't shut down at every little mistake. I haven't been making a big deal out of errors. Sometimes I won't say anything, just won't give him a reward and other times I'll say 'oops' then 'let's try again' in a happy voice depending on how frustrated he is. I signed up for the 'Advances in dog training' seminar with Susan Garrett instead of the handling seminar and the more I've been thinking about it over the past few days the more I think it will help me more than I first thought because there are lots of little training things like that that I don't think much about, esp. with the obstacle and foundation training.
Lola had a lesson too, more on that later.