Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Retraining an AFrame

More than anything I wanted to put these thoughts down for myself.  One, to remember what I have done, and two, it helps me solidify my thoughts on this topic.

I decided about a year and a half ago (maybe more) that I needed to retrain Split from a 2o2o AFrame (AF) to a running AF.  He clearly didn't like the pressure on his shoulders and after 5 or so reps he would start limping on the front-end.  Plus, I just really like the fluidity that it gives my runs.

I tried many things and some I believe contributed to the solution and some didn't.

Split is a boy that wants to do the right thing, is very sensitive, and is a little (a lot) Velcro.   His personality is key in how I trained things.  It is hard to work with sometimes and almost always I have to adjust my plan.

The first thing I needed to do was "break" the 2o2o and have him run his AF.  I put the AF  down low so that it would appear different to him.  It took me about a week of practice every day to get him to start running it without hesitation (see doesn't take long to ruin criteria does it?).  When it was down low he would run it without a leap.  Once I started to move it up, he began to leap (it was probably less than 5 feet high).  I tried marking the correct behavior, but things didn't really improve.  He enjoyed leaping and sometimes would creep to make me happy.  He just didn't get it.

Frustration and many weeks later...

OK, so now he is leaping.  I decided to train him to hit a box on the ground, similar to Rachel Sanders box method.  I trained Split so he would run away from me, intentionally hit the box and keep running (to catch a ball or something).  Although I don't remember exactly, I think this probably took several weeks to get the behavior that I was happy with.  Once I had this I put the box on the AF. 

Fast forward many months...

When the box was on the AF he would hit it.  Trying to fade the box was murder!  Also, a gnawing feeling in me just knew he didn't really "understand" the criteria.  After all, how do you explain that to a dog.  Really, this is about muscle memory to a degree.

Frustration again, and a break from training this (after all, I wasn't getting a reward)...

While re-training Split on the AFI began to train Tangle on a running DW .  Let me just say, everyone should train a running dogwalk.  Not to get the end behavior, but because it teaches you and your dog so many valuable things (maybe I will blog on this some day).  Seriously, this is a fabulous experience but it does take diligence.

The training of the running dogwalk gave me a much deeper understanding of how to teach a dog to run a contact.  I learned details on how to progress through the process that I never would have learned retraining Splitty.  So, I put Split through running AF 101 school which Tangle was doing running DW 101.  I didn't want to retrain Split's dogwalk, just too much.  But, fundamentally all the principals that I learned with Tangle applied to Split and his AF.

AF went down low again, clicker came out, and the treat-n-train.  Another obstacle to overcome with Split!  Some days he would be afraid of the clicker sound and almost always the treat-n-train.  Back to the tennis ball!

In order to not make this a novel, basically I followed many of the steps that Sylvia uses for training a running DW.  Low obstacle, very little stimulation, low motion, lots of repetition, gradually increase all of those.  Always, jackpot and high reward for getting it right.  Training the AF was now Split's favorite game!

Again, once I raised it to about 5 feet he began to leap.  Frustration set in!  This is when I began to put a stride regulator on AF between the change of color.  There are two things that this did   1) Split's stride would ALWAYS hit the yellow 2) it allowed me to get his performance on a higher AF to the point of frequent reward--key!!!  I ran the AF this way for probably a month.  Slowly adding more motion and other obstacles.

When I took the stride regulator off I had leaping back again.  Another round of frustration! 

But once I sat back and thought of everything I learned with Tangle and running DW the emotion wained and some constructive thoughts set in (I learned this process from training Tangle's running DW).  I removed my motion, stimulation and obstacles and left the AF high.  I began to reward Split for successes and not reward for failure.  Presto, I was beginning to get different results!

To me, the key was teaching him what success was (the look, sound, and my reaction).  That is, when he did something right what would happen and when he did something wrong what DIDN'T happen.  When Split got his AF right I would throw a huge party (not too much happy sounds because he is emotion sensitive I had to increment into this), throw the ball, and give a boat load of praise.  When he didn't get it right, there was no reaction, just walk back and try it again.

Within days I began to see Split adjust his stride to "get it right"! 

So, we are now several months into this break through.  We have done a couple of trials without any AF calls.  I still work the AF 4-5 times a week in a training mode.  Each session starts with little motion and increments into full motion and obstacles.

Can I call him "retrained"?  Nope, not yet!  But have we hit a major success milestone? Yep, we have!

P.S. There are a ton of thoughts out there on what the "proper" running AF performance looks like.  Leaping over the apex, almost touching their belly over the apex, only one stride on the downside, two strides on the downside and on and on.  I now have three dogs with a running AF.  Each performance is slightly different.  The answer is "it depends" and ultimately what can your dog do confidently and reliably matters!

Split's progress to date,

Split and Tangle with stride regulator,