Thursday, September 22, 2011

Training becomes harder

I have been thinking a lot about this lately. To me, a puppy is very easy to train and to set goals for. You want the puppy to sit. You have very concrete measures of success for a sit. You want your young agility dog to learn the weaves. They go through all the poles, they know how to weave. (I know, not quite that clear cut, but close).

Tangle now knows all of his obstacles, he is very clear right now what the criteria is for success. So, how do you set your goals and how do you measure them now?

My goals for Tangle are to gain confidence, speed and more passion for the game. He also needs mileage or experience. My challenge is how do I measure progress and what is my criteria? More esoteric for sure. What does "mileage" really mean? And how do you put "mileage" on a dog with the least amoung of repetition and stress on their bodies?

I am starting with developing pictures in my head of what a confident, passionate, and speedy runs would look like. (Mileage is something I am still trying to define.) I look for examples among my other dogs, and I look for examples among many, many videos of other people's runs. OK, now that I have a few examples, I am setting my mind to defining concretely why the run looks confident, speedy, and passionate.

One of the challenges is defining milestones of success and knowing when we have arrived. I can break it down in many ways, just deciding which is the best is the trick. Do I break it down by obstacle? For example, the weave performance goes from 2 seconds down to 1.3 seconds? Do I break it down by body language? No stress on the startline, eyes engaged. Full strides, head down (it's a border collie thing) where he is capable or is he reserving energy (ie, hesitant) still?

I think that my answer lies with both of these types of measurement. I don't want to stress too much any individual obstacle at this point and the "body language" indicator is very hard to measure.

Stay tuned!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Weave Entries

20/20 hind sight is a beautiful thing!

Tangle has been struggling with his weave entries over the last several weeks. Not sure what happened since they were AWESOME before my injury. I say "before my injury" since I suspect that my injury had it's impact on Tangle. The weaves being one of the casualties.

Before the injury I was able to move with Tangle, meet him at the end, and have a huge game of tug. I didn't do this all the time, but obviously enough that it made it really fun and worth the challenge to hit entries. While my motion was still very limited, just throwing a toy at the end didn't seem to be enough for him.

So, over the past week, I went back to just 4 poles, worked entries, threw a HUGE party if they were correct! When I first started this approach, Tangle was getting his entries but thinking way too much. Slow, methodical, and not having a ton of fun! I am not sure what made me realize this, but I started to tug with him at the end of the weaves and I saw a dramatic shift in his motivation to hit the entry and to drive through the weaves! Sometimes you don't realize what you are doing to motivate the dog. You have to retrace your steps, examine every motion and figure it out.

All of dogs have switched from time to time what motivates them. It takes me a day or two, but eventually I catch up and realize that I must shift the reward to the "reward of the day". This is exactly what was going on with Tangle's weaves. This morning Tangle was back to being "on fire", hitting his entries, driving with passion through the weaves and tugging for his reward.

When given the proper motivation it is amazing the speed at which Tangle can hit his entries and drive through the weaves!