Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Stuart Mah: Lexi

I promised a write-up about our experiences with Stuart Mah (see: this past weekend. It's taking quite some time, so I'm splitting it up by dog. This post is in regards to Lexi, who is my obstacle-focused speed-demon.

Also, I have videos, but I did not feel comfortable making them public as Stuart spent a lot of time working with us and our club. If you would like the links, comment on this post and I will share them individually.

The first thing that he told me is that some of my directions are vague. Not only that, but because Lexi is ahead of me a good portion of the time, I need to use more than one type of cue. I am using body cues, but that's not always enough since she can't always see me. Also, one cue "right" may not be enough, either. For her, it might be "quiet right"--don't be afraid to compound directions.

For the first exercise, we were to wrap a jump, and then get the dog to do a 180 around 2 jumps (there was more to the sequence, but this was the focus). For Lexi, I was always in a hurry to get the turns in, hence forcing her out wide. For the wrap, I was in a hurry to get the wrap in, and hence pushing her away. He told me not to be in a hurry, and showed me how he could slow his speed (bringing her into handler focus) then almost stop at the jump, Lexi naturally turned into him. I was trying to do too much by going fast, then stomping on the brakes. I needed to use a more obvious cue (fast, then slooowing down) to let her know what was happening. As he said, "Turns aren’t as important, neither is speed, it’s about taking the time to back the power off to get Lexi to pay attention".

Another exercise had Lexi speeding out of a tunnel, FCing, a jump at the outside of the tunnel, then two tight right turns back into the tunnel. Lexi kept blowing past the last jump to head right for the tunnel. She kept making the turn too wide, no matter what I did (telling her "shh right"). Stuart said that this was a case of her blowing the cues (not my fault). This is sort of what I have been seeing her do (see my post about driving a fast car), but haven't been sure how to address it. In this case, she was busy watching me accelerate, and she did not do her job. This goes back to how Stuart has told us that our dogs need to do their jobs--to take some responsibility for the course ahead. 

To fix it, we made it easier. We put a jump wing down to make her "see" the jump better, and she didn't miss it that time (reward). We removed the wing, and she continued to go around (even after moving the jump farther out, to make it easier for her to make the turn). 

He described it this way: Lexi gets caught trying to run and not think about her job. No attention to detail on her part. It’s her responsibility to pick that jump up. She is not taking responsibility when it comes to powering down. Her objective is to get going fast. We need to tell her to pay attention to detail, she needs to go back and pick it up. Somewhere along the line it was more important to run and handle than for her to take responsibility for obstacles. She’s saying “I can work only to a point”. It’s not that she doesn’t know how to perform the obstacle, it’s that when she goes into handler focus to make some of these turns, unless the obstacle is right in front of her, it’s easier to go around. She’s not paying attention to detail. 

To fix it, we actually do need to correct her, and ask her to finish her job, because she ignored it. So, when she did her "flyby” as he described it, I stopped and brought her attention to it "Hey, what happened? You do your job" and I walk closer to the jump and send her over it (not 100% helping her) She is not allowed to opt for the easy way out. If I help her finish it, I can verbally reward, but no real reward because I had to do the work. 

She does it because the speed is more important than the detail. They should be of equal importance.

Another important thing that he mentioned all weekend is something that everyone seemed to have trouble with (except me, because I remembered it from his seminar before) that I thought I would mention. Be sure to reward your dog verbally for what it is that you're trying to train. Let's say that you are practicing a pinwheel and the dog misses the center jump and comes around to the third. If you do it again, and the dog gets the center jump, you want to mark it "yes!" or "good girl!" as the dog is running to complete the sequence. Too often handlers say "good girl" at the end of a run, but to a dog, that just means "good job on the last thing you did". Dogs live in the moment, and won't remember that it means good job on the third obstacle, or whatever it is you're training. Your physical reward can come at the end, but the verbal marker should come immediately.

I want to end this by saying that if you ever have the opportunity, Stuart is amazing. He's extremely knowledgeable, as well as friendly and helpful. I strongly recommend a seminar with him.

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