Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Another Beagle Surprise!

Giuseppe, Oliver, and I went to Petsmart to get kitty litter.  I decided to take his treats in with us.  Normally, I use his kibble during the week to train.  I didn't think that he would want to work in Petsmart for some dry dog food.  But I thought it wouldn't hurt to take it along.  We walked around the store for a little bit.  He had a great time sniffing, greeting people, and unsuccessfully trying to find bits of treats on the floor.  After a while, I decided to see if he would like to work.  I asked for a few steps of heeling, treated, and released him to sniff.  After a few times, I had perfect Beagle attention.  We did a few steps of heeling, fronts, right side heeling, and left finishes.  He did such a wonderful job!  He remained focused in an area with different smells and people walking by.  He was also close to the cat cages.  Even though he couldn't see that cats from where he was and vice versa, I know he could smell them.

I am very proud and impressed that he worked so well in Petsmart.  The store must have thousands and thousands of smells on the floor between pets, food, people, and products.  That must be very distracting to a Beagle nose!  I am extremely curious to see how he does this weekend at the Rally Obedience run thru.  This will be his first time in a trial-like environment.  From our experience yesterday, I think he is more ready for a trial environment than I originally thought.  But we will take it at his pace.  I'd rather go in having a plan to help him rather than thinking that he will be just fine.  Whatever happens, I'm sure that we will have a blast!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Play Breakthrough!

Yesterday, Oliver and I went out to work on weaves and jumping.  It went extremely well!  I set up the weaves and jump outside and then went back in for Oliver.  On the way out the door, Oliver turned back and grabbed a toy.  He loves to carry his toys when I take him outside but it is the first time he has done so when we go out to train.  Once we got outside, I let him walk around and sniff.  Then we got onto training.  He wanted to PLAY!  I was able to use the toy as a reward for much of our work.  He was so excited and playful.  This is a first for Oliver.  I was so happy with my boy!  He had a lot of fun.  Close to the end of the session, he stopped playing but I believe it is because he was getting tired.  Either way, it was a definite success.

For his weaves, we have been using the 2X2 method.  We were having issues when we added two 2X2's for four weaves.  Sometimes he would nail them, sometimes not.  It seemed like it didn't matter how close or far apart they were.  He was having trouble hitting the second set of 2X2's.  Instead of setting the weaves up in a straight line as suggested, I set them up so that the second one was off to the left.  This gave him more room to set up for the next entry.  It worked really well.  Today I am going to try to turn the second set slightly instead of setting it off to the left.  I would like to see which set up helps him more.  I am excited to try it today!  I'm enjoying modifying and observing what helps Oliver best in our training.

The jumping also went really well.  He LOVES the jump now.  He used to not like jumping at all.  I'm still playing around with his jump height but appears that he prefers 8 inches.  At 12, he seems to struggle a bit.  Due to not knowing exactly how old he is and seeing him struggle a bit with 12, I think I will use 8 for him in competition.

He is showing so much enthusiasm.  He grins so big during and after training.  It's such a blessing to work with him.  He is really a pleasure.  I've changed my training methods so much due to what I've learned with him.  I am looking forward to continuing our journey together.  Hopefully there will be many more play moments in our training from here on out too!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Oliver's Basic 2 Class

On Tuesday night, Oliver and I went to our basic obedience class.  I have a lot of negative feelings towards this class because of how it is run.  The class is supposed to be a basic class for relatively green dogs but the level the dogs are asked to perform at is very high.  The dogs in the class almost always fail at the exercises.  Oliver normally does very well despite this and fails very little.  But every now and then the level is above what he is capable of doing.  This week, the whole class time was used to practice duration stays.  I have multiple problems with this as the dogs never really get a break from the exercise.  Oliver and I have not worked duration stays as much as we have been other things.  We do work stays every day but normally it is about distraction rather than duration.  Knowing that Oliver was not at this level, I increased my rate of reinforcement a lot.  But Oliver and I are still learning about each other and our abilities.  I wasn't sure if he would tolerate stay after stay after stay.  So, we gave it a shot. 

The first two or three stays, Oliver did quite well.  There were a lot of distractions going on but I gave him a small treat every 5 seconds or so.  After that, Oliver just wasn't having it and rightfully so.  He was probably bored as we were not doing anything active.  Also, he was getting quite frustrated by doing stays over and over.  I decided to give him a break to sniff the floor.  This proved to be a mistake as he howled at me as if to say "I still am not doing anything!".  It just increased his frustration.  I decided to take a cuddle break so he could relax but have lots of attention while in my lap.  This definitely helped him reset his frustration level but he still didn't want to do stays.  I started having him stay for a short period and rewarded with heeling.  This also helped him.  But in the end, we just went outside for a longer break. 

I learned a lot from Oliver in this class.  Even though I disagree with the way the class is run, I probably will keep going.  It's helping me in changing my training plan in the moment to best benefit Oliver.  Normally, when Oliver and I train, I only increase difficulty of the exercise when I feel that he is ready.  I have gotten used to doing this because it works well for Oliver.  99% of the time, he is always right when I train this way.  But in this class, the difficulty is raised above what we are capable of so I have to adjust my training.  I have increased reinforcement, changed duration, etc.  I've also had to take more breaks with him.  It's helping me in figuring out what his needs are too and what is going on with him when he acts certain ways.  We are a new team and benefit from this type of learning.  I still don't like the class but I am learning things from Oliver by going.  He's such a good boy and seems to want to keep going too! 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


This weekend, I was able to get out with Oliver and work on some generalization. I often take Oliver with me when I go out as long as it is cool enough for him. I never realized that this was the perfect way to help in generalize! So, this weekend, every time we went somewhere, I made a point to get Oliver out and work with him. The first day, my husband and I had to run to Lowe's and Home Depot for some things. At Lowe's, I got Oliver out the Jeep and went to a safe, sunny part of the parking lot. It was quiet and out of the way. Oliver was very interested in everything. He had a long acclimation period. Then we started to work. I asked for a few steps of heeling. He did perfectly. Then I released him to go sniff. I let him look around and sniff until he checked back in with me. Then we would start over again with heeling. Soon, his sniffing and looking around became less and less. I started to ask Oliver for a few more steps of heeling. He wanted to keep working so we did fronts and finishes. The whole session lasted approximately 10 minutes. We had a lot of fun! The second day, we had went on a walk with a group of Beagles. It was a lot of fun and afterwards, I decided to work him for a minute or two. He was more than ready to work! I was excited. He did some wonderful work. This time, because Oliver was more focused, we had almost five minutes of constant work. Such a good boy! And yesterday, my husband and I went to a grocery store to pick up chestnuts. When my husband was in the store, I got Oliver out of the Jeep. We worked for only about 5 minutes. The parking lot was busier with people walking around. Oliver did lovely! He didn't need such a long acclimation period. In fact, he started working almost immediately. He's really doing a great job! This was his third time doing generalization for a new location. Yet, he had improved tremendously from the first time! I'm very excited with his progress. His weaves, jumping, stays, and generalization is coming along really well. He's a great working partner!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

To Talk or Not to Talk?

I decided to start this blog to document my random thoughts and training adventures with Oliver.  He teaches me a lot so I thought it would be appropriate to have a blog dedicated to this.  Yesterday and today, he taught me what kind of handling he needs.

During training, I always yap to Oliver... a LOT.  But is this what he needs?  Some dogs don't care if you talk to them or not.  Sometimes talking is just background noise.  Some competitions require little to no talking at all.  I talk to him because I feel like it helps.  But of course, I could be wrong.  So, I decided to test whether my talking was helping or didn't matter.

Normally, I talk to Oliver, ask for a behavior, and keep on talking.  When heeling, I intermix the heeling cue with a bunch of praise and am very vocal.  Even when Oliver makes a mistake, I keep on talking with "OK, lets do that again" or "Try again" or other random things I decide to say.

Yesterday, I did my "test" by being quiet during the exercise but vocal afterwards.  We started with just sitting.  I quietly asked for a sit and then treated/praised after.  His enthusiasm was very low but he was with me.  Then we moved on to our 2x2's which we are working on for agility.  He did them once, treat, lots of praise.  The next time I quietly asked him to do them, he missed the entrance.  I quietly brought him back and started over.  He shut down.  I was surprised at the impact.  Luckily, Oliver bounces back quickly.  Today when we went to train, he was his happy normal self.

Of course, my talking obviously helps him.  It doesn't mean that I will always have to talk to him.  Certainly once he is more experienced and confident, we could work on fading the talking.  But we are not in a hurry to do this.  He benefits from me talking and I like it too.  :)