Thursday, October 6, 2011

Collaboration Leads to Progress

Those who frequently follow my blog know that I've been struggling with some training issues lately.  Just, who is usually a spot on gee/haw leader just hasn't been getting it together this year, and my young ones who show such huge potential don't yet know their left from their right.  I rely on having a strong leader to help train the kids, so I've been kind of stuck.

Last night Jenn Stutesman came over to run dogs with me, and got a first hand view of how much of a blockhead Just can be.  I had him running beside Rose, who is about as easy a dog as one would ever hope to see.  Rather than take the 'haw' at the top of the hill to run our training loop clockwise, he broke to the right ('gee').  The whole thing became a battle of wills as I went forward and led him to the left, and he broke right again before I could mount the machine.  I'm not sure how many times we repeated this before he finally decided that maybe, just maybe, the big primate really DOES want to go to the left.

Meanwhile, Grace has been persistently grabbing and jerking on the lines while we hook up, which creates a lot of equipment damage, and even worse, she's been attacking her running mates to the point where they cow on the ground.  A dog can't run while he's on his back in the dirt trying to defend himself from an unruly bitch.

Here is the entry from my training journal regarding that run:

Date, Day, &c:
Wednesday, Oct 6.  ~6:30 PM
Mileage & Speed (M = Measured , ~ = Approximate): 
1.5 miles measured.  Speed not recorded
Route, Trail & Terrain Conditions: 
Boyce-Stricker Drive Loop.  Dry dirt
Partly cloudy, ~ 45 degrees. 
Just & Rose
Selene & Beau
Orion & Denali
Jen Stutesman accompanied us on this run.  Easy hook up and launch.  Just turned "blockhead" on the haw to take the upper left in a clockwise direction.  He also had trouble with "gee" coming back into the yard. 

Rose was distracted going past Ted's yard, but didn't try to pull out of line.

Generally a pretty easy little training run.

This morning our handler and I discussed some of these issues, and Ted came up with some insights and ideas that had escaped me.  Between the two of us we came up with a training plan that has led to considerable progress.

To help Just, we decided he should run in single lead rather than be put in a position of having to either shove or guide another dog to go the proper direction.  Today I saw the result in a situation similar to last night.  Just broke right rather than left, but this time he was able to respond to the 'haw' cue to correct his error and we lost very little time in the process.

For Grace, who has been in danger of being required to run while wearing a greyhound muzzle, we put her in the middle of the team, but did not fasten her to the gangline ("mainline') with a neck line to her collar.  We figured that if she abused the additional freedom the dogs ahead of her would jerk her along backward, forcing her to regain focus and get back into line.  Meanwhile, if she didn't feel quite so confined her behavior on hook up and while running might improve.

When I hooked her into the team today she was the last dog to go onto the gangline.  I moved right along so she wouldn't have to wait quite so long to actually run, which gave her less time to think about maybe grabbing the gangline.  The result was great.  She never put a tooth to the line and our launch proved to be very smooth.

Ted and I also discussed a very distracting habit of mine.  I tend to talk to my dogs too much while they are running.  Doing so doesn't do anything to change their behavior, but it does cause them to look back toward me rather than ahead of their feet and probably confuses them, making harder for them to determine whether I am asking them to perform a behavior, or just blabbering on.  Today I made a concerted effort to just shut up and let 'em run, speaking only when it was truly necessary.  Midnight's Son, who in the past has spent a lot of time rubbernecking and acting a bit stressed out, seemed much more comfortable as a result and I noticed the entire team seemed a lot more focused on their run.

So, here is the entry from my training journal and a 10 minute video of our run today.  If you've been following our earlier vids I think you'll agree that this was one of our smoother runs of the week.

The "run board" lets me remember which dogs I want to hook up in which positions, and today included an important reminder as well.

Date, Day, &c:
Thursday, Oct 6.  2:00 PM
Mileage & Speed (M = Measured , ~ = Approximate): 
1.5 measured.  12.9 MPH max speed, 7.4 MPH average speed
Route, Trail & Terrain Conditions: 
Boyce - Stricker Dr. Loop.  Dry dirt
Partly cloudy.  48 degrees.
Just (single lead)
Rose & Capella
Grace & Seamus
Midnight's Son & Orion
Major changes on this run.
1.  I ran Just in single lead.
2.  I ran Grace without a neckline
3.  I avoided speaking to the dogs unless necessary

Easiest run we've had in a while.  I ran Grace without a neckline, and she did not grab lines.  She only snarfed at Seamus once, and that wasn't a particularly serious attempt.  During stops she kind of wandered off to the side to sniff a bit, but when I called the team up she jumped right into the job.  This is worthy of more experimentation before I resort to the muzzle.

Just did a good job running single lead.  He missed the 'haw' cue up top, but corrected on his own without me having to leave the machine and pull him and the team around into the turn.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! That was funny to watch Grace - as you said, she had a bit of a wander, but no way was she not going to be it it when you started again. Can't tell Orion from Midnight in this but thought Midnight was on the right as seen from behind - both were looking ahead pretty continuously. And Justin is definitely listening to you. Amazing to watch!