Yesterday was a half day running contacts seminar with Daisy Peel. It was her first such seminar and she was honest about being hesitant to even offer such a thing since she's only trained one dog to competition level so far and the training for running contacts is still in its infancy. But in my mind somebody has to start somewhere so why not share what we know and what we've done so far and maybe it sparks further ideas and debate.
You know how you can never seem to get your dog to make the mistakes you're having trouble with at the seminar in front of the expert eyes? Yeah, not a problem for us yesterday. Strummer had about the worst day he's ever had on the dogwalk, he was so high and wound. Sky as a kite. I wasn't thrilled with the huge number of misses but on the other hand I got exactly what I wanted, some feedback on what to do when he keeps failing like that. A good part of the problem is that he doesn't care that he's failed. Sometimes he'll get in a sort of loop where he'll repeat the same mistake over and over. Not always, sometimes he'll start trying different things but sometimes he gets stuck. So the suggestion was to take him by the collar back to the start of the exercise when he misses so he knows he's made a mistake. Daisy felt he didn't even realize he'd made a mistake and I'm inclined to agree because he's quite happy to keep running around and start the exercise over again. At the very least I think the act of leading him back to the start at a walk may help to calm his brain a bit. It didn't seem to have much effect yesterday, he still had a very low success rate but I'm going to try this plan for a while and see if it works. I'm going to try it with the weaves as well. Daisy also said that some days are just bad training days and she'll stop if it's getting really bad which is what I've done on occasion. I always wonder if it's better to push on through loads of failures or to call it a day and I guess the answer is that most of the time you push through but sometimes it's best to quit and I suppose you figure it out through experience. She pointed out that you need to be able to tolerate your dog failing a lot if you're going to train running contacts.
One interesting deviance she had from the way I'd trained at the very start was that she had the dog sending away to a toy or treat gizmo on the flat, ideally at a run. The idea was to simply observe what the dog would do. One of the things we were watching for was would the dog pounce on the toy and if so how soon before it got to the toy. If the dog starts pouncing way before it gets to the toy then you need to place the toy farther off the end of the plank when you get to that stage so the dog doesn't start pouncing while it's on the plank. Then we progressed to sending the dog across a line of rubber backed carpet mats about the length of a dogwalk plank to the toy/gizmo. I thought this was a really clever idea because you can easily take them anywhere to practice and I can't imagine they were hugely expensive. Then we progressed to the slightly elevated plank. When I started out the process I stood in front of the flat plank with Strum facing me and called him to me which obviously doesn't teach him to run out ahead of me. I like the idea of teaching the send from the start. Strum had difficulty figuring out that he had to run across the carpet mats but he was perfect once he got on the elevated plank. This mirrors how our original training went, he had a hard time on the flat plank but things improved once we got to the elevated plank. It was the full length dogwalk that was a disaster. In fact all the dogs that did the full length dogwalk had a fair amount of misses, including one that's had a nice dogwalk in competition for a few years now from what I've seen though I don't see this dog all the time.
A funny aside was that one of the reasons Daisy gave for choosing to train running contacts was that she was bored with Q'ing all the time and a few others chimed in with the same 'problem' and these were people with fast dogs. The certainty of Q'ing was boring to them. I don't know, I'd love to have some people's problems and I heartily offered up Strummer to them if they'd like a bit of uncertainty. I'd love to see a top handler running him or even someone who halfway knew what they were doing though, that would be cool to see.
Yesterday was hot, high 80's I'd guess and today is supposed to be 96. Not my favorite sort of weather for agility. Luckily there's a hose at the site so I kept Strum doused in water all day yesterday and he seemed fine. Plus it's a great reward for him, better than food or a toy, and even though it's weird and a bit inconvenient Daisy encouraged me to let him have it. I've been using the hose to reward him after his runs at trials so I was happy to be able to use the hose for reward at the seminar. This afternoon I go back for Masters Jumping, we'll see if my brain melts. Maybe I'll get under the hose myself. Agility wet t-shirt contest anyone? I took Strum for a run this morning so hopefully he won't be so over the top today.