Monday, 17 November 2014

Hannah Branigan Seminar

Soooooo many layers!!!!!  I recently attended a three day Hannah Branigan obedience seminar with Stella called Beyond Fundamentals and it was awesome.  I am familiar with Hannah's teachings from online obedience classes at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy and seeing her at Clicker Expo and she is very good at breaking things down.  The further I go in this dog training adventure the more geeked out and fascinated I seem to get with all the subtle layers.

The seminar was less about training each specific obedience exercise and more about applying concepts like conditioned emotional responses and foundation skills that help us carry the trained behaviours into a high pressure ring situation.  We need to train each ring behaviour (or part of) until the skill is fluent and then add stimulus control, distance, distractions and sequencing.  We can teach and work all those additional steps as separate concepts without ever screwing up our ring exercises!

One area that I basically suck at is putting things on stimulus control. Dogs need to understand all sorts of cues both from the handler and the environment and translate those to reliably doing the behaviour only on the conditioned cue.  Hannah said that once our dogs understand the concept that a cue is significant then each progressive cue should be easier to teach as dogs can generalize that skill. I guess it is time to get all of those half taught tricks under stimulus control!

Lost focus on distance work is the source of many ring errors.  A lot of exercises require us to leave our dog in a wait (stand for exam, recall, drop on recall, signals etc) where the dog needs to maintain focus on us to prevent errors when we move on to the next step of the exercise. Waiting is boring and/or watching us walk away can be stressful for some dogs.  We can train our dogs that waiting is fun and rewarding.  Randomly turning back to toss rewards or take off running in a chase game or releasing to a toy or zen bowl are all ways to build value for waiting.  It keeps our dogs focused and ready for the next part of the chain.   Alternatively there are also exercises that require us to send our dogs out to do a task (directed jumping, gloves, scent discrimination, dumbbell exercises etc.) and then return to us.   We can train the send/return concept by layering levels of difficulty using things like zen bowls, targets and wraps (cone etc) to build confidence and understanding before adding in things like retrieves, positions and scent work. 

Distractions can then all be built on to the foundations.  An example would be when we want a dog to be comfortable with a judge working right next to the scent articles.  If we start with getting the dog comfortable with a "judge" close to a zen bowl or target first and gradually build on that we keep  success rates high and build lots of confidence.  All of that hopefully carries over to the formal exercises in a ring environment.

Sequencing is the final step.  Again we can teach that concept to our dogs by starting with strong behaviours that don't need high rates of reinforcement (sit, hand touch, paw etc)  and teach our dogs that the reinforcement comes at the end of a series of cued behaviours instead of after every single cue.

One of the areas of struggle for positive reinforcement trainers is what to do when a dog makes an error.  Hannah really stresses the emotional state of the dog as our biggest priority when training. Avoid errors by setting up the dog for success as much as possible.  "Failure begets failure" so if a dog fails twice in a row then stop what you are doing as the dog does not understand.   Hannah also avoids using non reward markers.  Some dogs are tough and can work through failure but many dogs get frustrated or deflated.  Stella is one of those dogs that deflates very easily.  Most errors are treated by the handler stopping forward motion, stepping out of position and restarting the exercise again quickly.  She also throws in things to soften that sequence.  For example when you stop and step out of position you can offer a hand touch which the dog will miss because it is out of position.  That hand touch has a huge secondary reinforcement history as we pair it with all sorts of rewarding when the dog is in the correct position so this "softens" the reset.  I've been experimenting with this in heeling with Stella and liking the results.

There were lots of other gems at the seminar and ways to break things down into easily trainable goals.  Training little pieces of things helps to keep things interesting and fresh for both the dog and handler and can give valuable information on where the trigger point might be in a problem exercise. When we worked the figure eight stuff I really developed a new appreciation for how many pieces of a chain that can be broken into.  Right circle, left circle, halt is expanded to train the little pieces like transitions from collection to extension and vice-versa, judge pressure, ring steward pressure, hind end awareness, handler eye and shoulder position cues, feet direction etc.  Things like the transition from "exercise finished" to the setup for the next exercise are just as important as the actual exercise and should be trained.    

Lots of things are still processing in my brain from this seminar.  Sometimes it seems like such a huge task and I miss those days where my goal really was just to go in the ring and get our novice title.  Now I want more!  I want to be a happy, confident and accurate team all the way from our Novice A debut through to a utility title and hopefully we will achieve that goal over the next few years.  I really do love this stuff even when it makes me crazy or makes my head hurt and Hannah is an excellent presenter who gave me lots to think about and work through.  Any errors in this information is totally my fault and I highly recommend everyone go to a Hannah Branigan seminar!   






Monday, 3 November 2014

September Beach Fun and Troubles

We had a lovely summer of camping with the dogs and topped it off with a last trip to Tofino to play with the dogs on the beach in September. 










Unfortunately Riley has been struggling off and on with his poor body since summer and things got worse on this trip.  One day while walking on the beach he ended up with spasms in his hind end.  The vet chiropractor later explained it as the area where his rib cage meets the hip joints was greatly out of line and would be compressing the nerves causing something similar to sciatica in humans.  We fixed that up and have made progress but it has been slow and other neurological difficulties are also suspected (possible scar tissue from his surgery two years ago pressing on the spinal cord or maybe even bulging discs).  The only real way to know would be an MRI but for now we are trying conservative management and hoping things settle down.  He is happy, still crazy and keeping comfortable but has very limited stamina before he shows signs of weakness so our walks are short.  Please send healing vibes for my wonderful boy.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Stella Trial Updates

Well it has been a busy spring for Stella and I.  Regular viewers might remember how we were robbed of our final conformation point due to an administrative screw up so in February we ventured back into the show ring and the dog-show gods smiled upon us and we got that last point (AGAIN!).    We also needed to take a new picture.  Probably should have had her standing on the ground as the platform makes it hard for her to be comfortable in a real stack so her butt is a bit wacky here but it is still evidence we achieved that goal!

CH Varazs Kedvesem Final Dance, PCD, RA, CGN
CRA-MCL, CRNT
In May we headed out with a friend for a trip to Kelowna to attend a CARO rally trial.  This was the trial that last year ended in tears of frustration when my dog clearly expressed to me that she was not interested in working with me (see blog  Is-that-same-vizsla?).  That marked the start of a year off from trialing to develop a new training plan.  Well what a difference a year makes :).   I was super pleased with how the trial went.  My dog was engaged and we achieved our CARO Rally Advanced title with scores of 191 (my error), 197 and 198.  We also got another leg on our Rally Novice Team and finished up that title this past weekend. The video below is from the Kelowna trial.



I have a very loose goal of heading into the obedience ring to attempt our CKC Novice Obedience title in November.  That will depend on lots of things :).  Stella just turned three so we have lots of time and I am in no rush.  We are actively training the open and utility exercises while we also work on developing lots of ring skills, focus and confidence.   I plan to do lots of matches and attend venues like CARO rally that allow rewards to create lots of good associations with competitive settings.  Stella is not an overly sensitive dog as far as environments but she also is not a "high-drive" dog that loves to work and compete.   It will be a balance to keep her happy and engaged when competing at formal obedience and I want to make sure we are both as ready as possible.








Thursday, 8 May 2014

Obedience Skills

So this time last year I decided to take a step back from competing.  Stella had just turned two and we had achieved our Rally Advanced title but we had a long way to go mentally before we ventured into an obedience trial.  I have a picture in my head of what I want us to look like in the ring.  The exercises are necessary but attitude and engagement are what is most important to me. We are slowly working towards that picture and I have a very loose goal of entering late fall for our novice obedience.

While we work towards that goal we are also having a blast working ahead on the open and utility exercises.  I have been taking courses at the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy and  I really like them.  I have a real life trainer that could easily teach me these exercises but I love learning about training so I like learning on-line and then working through how to apply it to Stella.  I can then work with my trainer friend and she helps keep me in line when I totally do stupid things :). 

One of the trainers I respect and enjoy following is Hannah Branigan.  She has a great DVD set on Obedience "FUNdamentals"  and teaches on line Obedience Skill Building Classes at FDSA.  She is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member and I got a chance to see her in January at Clicker Expo.  One of her clicker expo seminars was on "Breaking it Down" to build up exercises that our dogs understand fluently and enjoy doing. When thinking about training she wants us to be aware of our priorities.  Emotional State should be first, followed by engagement and only then can we train behaviours.   When training for competition we should start with concepts then work on skills and with those it is an easy transition to working on the actual exercises. Concepts include things like teaching dogs how to offer behaviour (operant conditioning), impulse control, speed, body awareness, focus, distance work and stimulus control.  Skills include things like targeting, jumping, retrieving, platforms, positions etc.  All her stuff is taught without force and with both the dog and handler having fun!

Hannah is great at breaking down all the exercises into little easy to manage and fun pieces.  Splitting allows focus on one thing at a time which reduces errors and frustration.  Drilling exercises is boring for both dog and handler so breaking it down lets us work pieces and makes it easy to troubleshoot problems before putting it all back together.   It helps us to isolate our challenges and identify areas where our dogs have weaknesses.

I SUCK at splitting and planning which is one of the reasons I am enjoying the on line courses at FDSA.  I find the working spots very useful as I video and review my sessions a lot more than I would without.  I have taken Obedience Skill Building 2 at bronze and 3 & 4 as gold working spots with Hannah and really like the results I am seeing.  Hannah walks us through series of skills that build on each other until you wind up with competition level exercises through to utility.  Stella is easily frustrated so breaking things down has helped both of us a lot in learning all these exercises.  There is a range of skill levels in the courses and Hannah  is very patient, encouraging and has great feedback when critiquing our videos.   She has made me more aware of back chaining, reward placement and is very helpful in keeping the exercises fun for the dog.  She is also good at busting the handlers on their unwanted body cues and movements.

I am very excited that I will also get to work with Hannah this fall when she comes to Vancouver, BC for a three day seminar!  It will be covering obedience materials "beyond fundamentals" and I am looking forward to it.  I know a few friends how attended her seminar in Oregon and they really enjoyed it.

This video is a mish-mash of working through a few of the exercises.