Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ah puppies! Learning is a way of life!

There is always a difficult side to participating in Dog Agility Blog Day.  I always sit down, think about what I know on the topic and come to a similar realization.  "The more you know, the more you know you don't know" - Aristotle

I spend an amazing amount of time thinking about agility in general, and when the blog event is upon us, I spend an amazing amount of time thinking about that topic.  I have been around agility for a while, I am certain that I know more than I knew when I began, but I am also certain I have more questions as well.  Training puppies, at least when it comes to agility is no exception.  Training puppies for everyday life, I know exactly what I want and a pretty good idea how to train most of it.

Baby Split and Randy

Starting a puppy can be a very passionate topic for most.  We want to build these lean, mean running machines that can jump over a tall jump (without knocking the bar) in a single bound.  We want them to attend trials, love all people, dogs, children and noises.  We want them to wait at startlines, run full blast when asked, run by our sides at a critical moment and have independent weaves, and contacts.  Really we want nothing less than perfection.  How do we train that?

Well, only speaking for my life and my dogs, agility is about 2 percent of their existence on this earth and I am an avid agility person.  Most of my dog's time is spent being a great member of my everyday existence, and wonderful member of my greater Border Collie pack.  I keep that in mind when I am training my puppy, I try to focus on the perfect everyday puppy first.  I truly believe that this is the best foundation I can give my future agility star.

I focus on three things when training my puppies:
  • Life skills
  • Learning skills
  • Playing skills
I may change my methods with each puppy, but fundamentally these are my three goals for each of my puppies.

Life Skills - these are the skills that it takes to be a successful "pet" dog in my house.  The puppy must learn how to interact with his/her pack members, greet other dogs, warn other dogs that it is uncomfortable, not surf counter tops, rely on me to protect it, love people and children, walk through home depot without getting scared, jog with me, sit/stay, lay down, etc...  You get the idea.  Everything it takes to be a fantastic pet.

Learning skills - Just like children, puppies have to know how to learn.  They need to know that I am not going to show them everything, I want them to help think through the problem at hand.  I want them to offer solutions of their own.  I am mostly talking about shaping, yes.  If my dogs never stepped one foot on an agility field, they still need to know how to learn.  I have all sorts of "tricks" that I use in every day life and they need to be brilliant learners. What should you do when the ball goes over the fence?  Go around it and find the opening of course!  Great puzzle for dogs.

Playing skills - I use these skills to exercise and interact with the dogs, and on the agility field.  Simply put, I want my dogs to know how to play and be happy about playing anywhere and everywhere.  Not all dogs are born with this ability.  Some worry or get stressed in strange/different environments.  Play is a way to help release that stress or emotion and just PLAY.  My dog must know how to de-stress or channel his/her stress at trials and classes.  I want them to do this through play.  Also, in general life, I use this play to help keep them engaged. SQUIRREL!  We work on tug, fetch, chase, spinning, going around trees, hide and seek to name a few.

All of learning is incorporated into real life as much as possible.  I try not to have too many "training sessions", I want my dogs to be use to learning, thinking, and playing all day long.  Border collies pattern and if I only teach them one time of day, or in the same place they are very capable of drawing the conclusion that is the only place they need to "think".  All of these skills are a way of life around my house.

So how does this relate to agility?  I believe that perfecting  all of these basic skills helps when I start my basic agility training.  If my puppy can sit/stay when I open the backdoor to let him out, wait at the gate to the agility field before released, sit/stay before a meal, it makes training the startline that much easier.  I have already worked many situations where the puppy needs impulse control skills.  Does this make them perfect, heck no, but it is a great foundation.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

5 Foot Jumps, why did I wait so long?

It is funny how suddenly some idea occurs to you and then you wonder "why didn't I think of that before"?

A couple of weeks ago I decided to convert most of my field over to winged jumps with 5 foot bars.  What made me decide this?  Well, while trying to do threadles with Tangle it suddenly dawned on me, he just doesn't fit over a 4 foot jump bar when taking it at an angle.  There just isn't that much room for my very long boy to maneuver between stanchions that are 4 foot apart.  And, as Rachel Sanders would say, he fights for the tightest line so that REALLY doesn't leave him much room!

5' Winged Jump

This started me wondering, Tangle's size isn't that unusual.  Why don't all venues that have backsides and threadles require a 5 foot bar?  Have you ever really WATCHED the effort it takes for a medium/big dog to do a backside with no wing?  New found respect for that dog!

I believe USDAA now requires a 5 foot bar.  If we are going to see a backside or two in AKC and UKI, why don't they require a wing and 5 foot bar?  UKI strongly encourages wings, but neither AKC or UKI require a 5 foot bar.