Monday, June 9, 2014

Training field trip for Kizzy

I don't know how much I've written about it, but I've been trying some new (okay, not new, but new to Kizzy) stuff with Kizzy's training in an effort to build our working relationship a bit. She's been on a trialing hiatus since I believe it was the beginning of March. While her overall performance in the ring was improving and she's even managed to bring home a handful of Qs, the pain point of her leaving the ring was getting worse, not better.

This spring we were able to start working at home again and even there we struggled at times. What I would find is that she would engage with me until she didn't want to, at which point she'd just leave. This would happen if there was something we struggled with or if she just felt our session was getting to be too long (she is not a heat-loving dog, by the way).

I started to work Kizzy more with food instead of toys in training. I found that food kept her attention for longer bouts of time. Overall I felt she was running a bit slower, but stayed engaged more so than with toys.

A few weeks ago I upped the ante in an effort to test the waters to see where she was in her ability to work with me through distractions AND without the reward being carried on my body. I started out very small, with just a simple box of jumps set near the deck, on which was placed a bag of treats. We would do one or two obstacles and then run to get a treat.

We progressed to eventually doing much longer sequences and even a full Happy Hurdle Day drill with three "treat stations" set out in the yard (baggies of yummy treats in boxes). Not only did Kizzy have to choose to stay with me when I did not have the motivator in my hand, but she also had to make the conscious decision to continue past the treat stations. This was hard for her and she was running fairly slow as a result, but I was impressed with her ability to make good decisions and return to play the game with me. We also worked a lot on coming to hand and getting lots of petting before running to a treat station, so I am hopeful that this will translate into end-of-run behavior at trials.

In addition to the work we've been doing around agility equipment, Kizzy and I have also retreated indoors for some team-building exercises. It is time for Kizzy to "learn stuff." It's always been a bit of an embarrassment that Kizzy doesn't really have any tricks in her repertoire. People ask, "What does she know?" and the answer is always a mumbled, "Nothing...." Tricks are something I teach to puppies when they are too young to do that "fun agility stuff." I did nothing with Kizzy for nearly her first month with me because I didn't plan to keep her. Then when I did decide she was staying, I pretty much jumped straight into agility work because, after all, she was around 18 months old. Fail. Huge fail.

So we are starting from square one. Kizzy has been introduced to the clicker and we started off with a nose touch to the hand. I'm happy to report that she picked this up rather quickly, although that is not to say that the process has been flawless. It's been interesting to see how her brain works, and she's not really one to explore options if nothing is happening. She has the propensity to just lay there and zone out if she doesn't know what to do. As a result, I have kept things very simple up to this point and with a very high reward schedule. I felt that she was solid enough on the nose/hand touch that last night I introduced an object to interact with -- the touch light. Yeah.... This will probably take a few sessions for the proverbial light to go on.

Yesterday I loaded Kizzy up to take her on a private little field trip to Petco. Not only have my coworkers not met her yet (or Luke; sorry Luke), but I felt it would be a good chance to check her ability to pay attention to me and work through distractions.

I felt that the trip went very well! We took some time in the parking lot for her to realize that I was attached to the other end of her leash. Once in the store she was sniffing and exploring everything, but I was able to get her to check in with me regularly. She quickly improved as I asked her for behaviors in the aisles. She did hand/nose touches in a new environment. She stood or sat nicely while I talked with coworkers. She even did her nose touches for one of the girls I work with!

We had a bit of squawking when an anxious black lab skittered by the end of the aisle. That was a very distracting experience for her, but once the other dog had moved on she settled down and checked in with me again. In general it was a very good experience for her. I get another huge, fat, "FAIL" for not having spent more time working on these skills with Kizzy.

We were only at the store for about a half hour but it was a very exciting half hour that took up a lot of brain power. That, combined with running around the yard while I mowed in the morning, made for a very tired Kizzy. She was zonked out for the entire trip home. Everyone got pig ears to make up for the neglect of those who had to stay behind.  ;o)  And also because I was ditching them to go volunteer at Butterfest for the rest of the afternoon.

Because I do feel that she has made advancements, and because I want to do a check to see where we're at, Kizzy has been entered in Jumpers for both days at the NADAC trial this coming weekend. It is anticipated to be a VERY small trial. I figure it's not fair to put her in anything with contacts since she hasn't seen any in so long (another training fail!), and the Novice Jumpers courses should be fairly Kizzy-friendly. Of course, it's the last class of the day on Saturday and the first on Sunday, so we'll just have to see how things go....

Because it's our only event for the entire month of June, Kaiser gets to run everything (figured we may as well start working towards that second V-NATCH), Luke is in 3 a day and Secret is also entered in 3 a day (Regular & Jumpers for her -- I'm sticking to my "no more Chances" with her since she hates it so much). I have faith that our judge this weekend will be accommodating to Kizzy's quirks, but I'm hoping the work we've been doing will pay off and she'll just be a little angel.  :o)

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