We have achieved dogwalk! Asher really had the lightbulb moment and if he’s not rewarded for a repetition he changes to hit the next time through – and he’s trying so hard to adjust his stride to hit. We went back a tiny bit to the manners minder with the low dogwalk, but after it wouldn’t work when it got too hot (OMG, those things are so finicky!), just went back to the toy and powered through. So he can now hit in ‘sequence’ two in a row, both towards a tunnel and into a wing wrap – as well as out of tunnel, which was surprisingly hard for him. Even though we had worked entries, those speed entries are always scary with a big leggy dog.
So I was thrilled with him, felt like we had finally turned the corner on that one and planned to do some more proofing next week. But the weather was so cool after our last class of the week, and I knew it was going to be going up to near 100 this weekend, so I figured we’d stick around after class and play around a little while we still could. Wasn’t planning on doing the dogwalk, it was set at full height, but he went up the dogwalk ramp so I asked him to turn around and run … and so he did. Huh. So, yeah, out of curiosity we did the whole thing – no problem. Added speed, he still did it! Well okay then.
He’s definitely a bit wobbly with it, he’s not sure where his feet are or what kind of striding he needs to do – but he’s trying really hard! So much work still be to be done, but he really was doing some remarkable adjustments to hit nice and low that I was thrilled to see – both front and rear feet. He did fall off the top ramp once, thankfully he just gracefully jumped like we had practiced and he did not seem upset about it. I’m pretty sure it won’t be the only time, he’s a big boy and those legs are everywhere.
Putting the dogwalk into the ‘got the basic idea’ category of training, along with just about everything else in agility at this point. The only thing he hasn’t been introduced to officially is the teeter. I still haven’t even decided what I want his teeter performance to look like. I’ll admit to thinking about being lazy and just doing the 2o/2o so that it’s basically pre-trained to stick on the dogwalk when he’s ready to have the stop added there. I prefer a 4-on teeter, less futzing around, but we shall see. I WANTED a 4-on with Navarre, and he just refused, which I found funny. He wanted to do that obnoxious flying 2o/2o that takes way longer because he has to stop in position until he gets control of the board or else he’ll get called on a flyoff.
As for the dogwalk, that went really fast with Asher and relatively easy to get to this point – I’m definitely getting better at training the behavior now that there are a lot more dogs in classes doing running contacts these days so I’ve done a lot more problem solving. This was very similar to how I trained Navarre, but with much less repetition and less proofing along the way (so we’ll see how that works out in the end). So far I’m happy with it, but I do still wonder if sticking to a mat method would give a more consistent performance.
I have looked a lot at mat based methods, which definitely have their advantages:
- Can be trained fluently in sequence with no access to contact equipment
- Give a very clear and consistent criteria – and give you something you can bring back out if your dog is having an issue
- Easier to teach turns and acceleration into a running target area because you’re not trying to run a board at the same time
- Should be able to rapidly progress once you add in the contact equipment with minimal repetitions
So I like the idea of training a running mat behavior on the flat and transferring to the equipment. The problems I find with mats:
- Securing a mat is a huge pain in the ass – both on the flat and on equipment
- ‘Mincing’ and creating unnatural striding to hit the target
- Focuses the dog’s head down at the mat instead of ahead towards the course
- Can create a more of a ‘bounce’ striding instead of a run as they compress to hit the target and then ‘bounce’ off the equipment instead of running smoothly
- Have to fade the mat
I think a lot of these issues could be addressed with well trained flatwork with the mat, which, admittedly, a lot people don’t do to the extent it really should be done before combining it with the board. So when people bring out a mat for me in classes to use on equipment two things usually happen, either the dog ignores the mat completely on the equipment (which is often reinforced by the handler rewarding or going on because it was ‘close enough’ or ‘in the yellow’) or if the handler is insistent on criteria, the dog has the most unnatural looking performance as they mince awkwardly down to the mat and then leap (and if they remove the mat the dog just leaps). Usually the mat on the flat looks pretty good, but the dogs also have a history of poor performance on the equipment, so that also very much biases the performance – mats are almost always used to ‘fix’ a bad running contact, and that’s hard. So I have not been a huge fan of mats in general as I don’t like the striding they usually produce with almost every dog I’ve seen it used with in classes. Obviously mats for running contacts can work well, lots of great mat trained RC out there and I enjoyed seeing the progression with the online courses I have followed.
Asher did do some mat work on the flat when he was younger, but I never progressed once he got bigger as it was such a pain to secure it (and don’t even get me started on ‘boxes’ – gah!). I still think the work we did do was helpful in teaching him how to hit an area with a running stride. We looked at it in a basic way, sending, running, recalls, turns and in some basic sequences with wings and tunnels.
But like any behavior, step number one is to get the behavior, and sometimes targeting is helpful, but I usually do just skip straight to shaping with most things anyway. And you get to skip the step of fading out the target, which can often be tricky. So we’ll see how Asher’s performance holds up as we progress. The plan is to stick to straight off entries and eventually put a stop on it for turns and for when I can’t get there. There was someone recently that had a theory that you don’t actually have to train turns on RC assuming you’ve gone through the process of teaching the dog to hit from all types of approaches as the dog should already know how to adjust their stride. So we’ll see. I don’t want to spend all our time training the dogwalk, I’m just looking for a straight off or gentle turn running performance, and I’ll have a stop for the other scenarios.
So, progress! We’ll keep looking at it and putting it into more sequence situations – he definitely thinks it’s fun now. I don’t plan a lot of fancy cues for the dogwalk either – mostly just cueing whatever obstacle in next. ‘Go On’ to drive straight ahead regardless of where I am, ‘Turn’ away into a tunnel, ‘Here’ come to me instead of taking the next obvious obstacle, and of course ‘Touch’ if I just need a chance to get there or it’s a really sharp turn.
Went ahead and signed Asher up for the foundation skills online class with Justine, mostly because I need some accountability to actually work on his collection. I don’t expect him to be a super tight turning dog, but knowing Dove/Navarre as I do, I know that if I want any semblance of collection I need to be consistent NOW (and I have not been working on it …). So this class is a lot of things he already ‘knows’, but we haven’t worked on any of it lately and, oh, it showed in our first week’s homework. We have work to do. So many things in agility! Love this age. I think this will be a great thing to focus on this summer, little skills when it’s hot and I love Justine’s stuff.
Speaking of hot weather, Asher is doing better with the heat, thankfully. He’s also just being less of a spaz in general. When we go hiking he just runs around like a NORMAL 15 month old puppy, instead of some sort of jacked up puppy on speed (even when it’s not hot!). He no longer looks like he’s going to pass out with his eyes bugging out of his head (well, usually). I think the puppy is finally growing up a little, and he’s just such a good boy. Very glad I ended up with him. It’s also amusing that out of the whole litter, everyone is heavier than him except Flee – even the girl puppy down in CA! That is one substantial litter. His brother in FL is pushing 50 lbs, so I’ll take my ‘small’ boy at 40. Oh, and once Asher stopped running around like a little crackhead, so easy to keep weight on him now! Had to seriously cut back on his food, little fatty.
Herding practice this week was kind of a bust for Navarre, we were back to him not seeming to recognize or take any flanks whether on a verbal or a whistle. It was frustrating but I also don’t feel the need to argue about it. A couple things may have exacerbated it though, we started with penning (different sheep this week) and working on his flanks. Flanks were good but, once again, we could not get those damn sheep in the pen. We’d get them easily right lined up at the entrance as soon as they would get near to walking in they would BOLT and run me over. I truly felt Navarre was being a good boy, so I do think it’s something I’m doing. And then we left that to work on zig zag fetches and there were some gunshots that he didn’t SEEM to react to, but maybe it was more stressful than I thought. I ended up putting him up after he couldn’t seem to respond, worked with Asher and brought him out again where he STILL couldn’t respond. We did finally do a little bit where he was taking flanks so we ended on a good note, but it was an odd day for him.
Asher, on the other hand, was being SO GOOD! What a good puppy, he has really figured out inside flanks – I’m enormously happy with the work he’s doing. Flanking was good, he’s thinking more and more about the verbals as opposed to position. His flank shape really degrades at a distance though. He was oddly not walking up as nicely this week though, more hesitating on that for some reason. We penned the sheep though! And it was interesting, we did have to do a bit of ‘around the pen’ at first as I was so gun-shy working with Navarre I was afraid to cover with Asher, but as soon as I started actually giving Asher the information he did great. We got them nicely lined up at the pen where we were having issues with Navarre, the sheep were antsy and I was tentative and walked Asher up and he was NOT looking at the sheep as he walked and I thought they’d bolt … but no, walked right in totally calm. Huh. I guess Asher knows what’s he’s doing, I thought for sure they’d squirt past like they did before.
But that’s the thing, I trust Asher’s sheep sense a hell of a lot more than Navarre’s, so when Maddy wanted to move the lambs out into the front field and her next appointment was there I volunteered to try to move them – and it was definitely Asher that I felt would be a better choice. And he did great! Very calm and covered without being pushy or frantic with the inexperienced babies. Our biggest issue was two slipped past him and I decided to leave them and get the big group moved and go back for them. Getting those last two with them all frantic from losing their friends I was really happy he stayed calm and we tucked them in with the others. What an exceptionally good boy, very pleased with him and we continue to have a good time with our sheep adventure. I really need to start practicing some different whistles to see if they’ll work for me so I’ll be ready to introduce them to Asher at some point …
Haku had a good birthday week – and it’s nice that the water is so warm right now that we can do LOTS of swimming without him getting too cold. I am starting a new supplement with Navarre, a more ‘natural’ anti-inflammatory (boswellia and curcumin) that the vet recommended, so I’m going to try it with Haku as well and see if there is any difference. I still worry about him getting enough low impact exercise during the week, it’s been hard without Bright. I’ve also been crating Navarre at night so it’s just Special Haku Time at night, which he enjoys. Navarre can be really pushy during our bedtime snuggling, so he can get his snuggling during the day (when Haku is too busy!).
As for Navarre’s back, he’s been on a normal dose of metacam daily and there is no difference that I can see whether he’s on or off of it. He’s running, jumping, playing, hiking and swimming and doing everything totally normally (including peeing!). He still has his ‘half mowhawk’, still looks roached as well (but I do think that mowhawk really influences that!). We saw Maddy over the weekend, and it was really interesting to see that even though we hadn’t gone a long hike beforehand this week, he was actually … relaxing. Not being a pill and figeting and flailing and fighting. So, yeah, that’s a HUGE change. And she said he felt a lot better all around, maybe because he’s back on metacam (though not as big of a dose). So Navarre just relaxing for a massage without tiring him out first, that’s huge and has never happened. He still reacted to her working more in his groin issue, and of course to the pelvic floor work. Still, progress … I think? I hope?
I remain optimistic, and it helps that he is feeling so well overall. We still have no idea if it’s something that can be fixed, whether the swelling caused the spinal issue or the spine caused the swelling. We don’t know if it’s something that was always there or something new, and we don’t know if it can go back to ‘normal’ or not. We’ll just keep working on it and I’m doing everything I know of. Monday we go down to see Patricia in Eugene, see what she thinks. Next weekend we see the chiropractor, and we’ll continue to see Maddy weekly as well. We have some physical exercises to work as well, so hopefully that will help too.
But I’ll have to say, 2020 really prepares you for shitty things happening, I’m pretty chill about the whole thing. Even if he never does agility again, I’ll still have my Navarre – I so miss Bright, I don’t know why more now than ever. Maybe it’s more real. Maybe it’s because so many people didn’t realize that I had lost her, so I’ve had to explain what happened over and over the last few weeks when they ask where she is. Maybe it’s just being back into ‘normal’ routines and not having her there. I just so miss her and get annoyingly emotional about every female border collie I have in classes – especially if they’re weird and dramatic. Sigh.