What a great group of Young dogs and handlers last night. They were wonderful about sending in my e-mail request for 'where they were at' and 'what they've accomplished' over the winter months. This provided me with enough information to develop a 'test' if you will, to see where they were at with their criteria and their dog's focus on the handler.
I asked that they bring a kennel to put their dogs in so they weren't always standing right by them. I wanted the dog to have some 'chill' time, and the handler to not worry about what their dog was doing, and reinforcing them for doing nothing. I really do think this is helpful for the handlers, especially when they are trying to absorb what they are suppose to be working on. When the dog is 'out', it's working, when it's in it's crate, it can 'chill'.
I set up a few work stations of one 'obstacle'. For instance a contact plank, to assess where they were at with their 2o2o criteria. I'd also set up a jump and straight tunnel to work on start lines. There were other stations, but 2o2o and Start Lines were the main topic of last nights class.
We spent a little time discussing 'criteria', and what there's would be. It was an interesting and hopefully 'enlightening' discussion. For instance, one person explained that she didn't care if her dog, 'sat, did 2o2o, or stopped at the base' of the contact equipment, as long as he did one of those. This lead to a discussion of how dogs understand black and white, but are not good at 'grays'. If the dog is rewarded for 3 different positions, that can lead to a lot of gray, and a lot of uncertainty from not only the dog, but also from the handler. Trust me, Seeker has taught me a LOT about the lack of understanding of 'gray'.
The first decision was going to be, what do you want on your contact? Then be consistent with it. Your criteria doesn't need to match everyone else, it just has to be yours. So, whatever that is, that's what it is. Pretty simple, right?
Next was our Start Lines - in front of a jump, and also a straight tunnel - how inviting is that!! The dogs actually handled it very well! GOOD DOGS!! Is there room for improvement? Sure, but I think there is always something we could tweak just a bit to make it better. So, back to that darn criteria again, what do you want it to look like? Then work it!!
The great thing about both of these criteria is they don't require equipment! Or at least, not much. Start Lines can be worked any time, any place (Finger UP on that topic). To work contacts, you can use stairs, a plank, a pivot board, carpet, or yes.....even a piece of paper! Seriously, we just make this too complicated! You don't need much if any equipment, so don't get hung up with that!
One last thing before I end this post. "They'll do it at home." Yep, MINE TOO!! So, you need to 'take it on the road', now when I say that, I don't mean literally 'on the road'. The change could be as simple as going from your back yard to you front yard. It might be at the neighbors, or two houses down. So, don't make this more difficult than it really is, it just needs to be a different place. Also, I'm sure you have 'dog friends' that live close by, USE THEM! Make a trade, can I come work (name whatever), and you can come over and work (whatever). Buddy up! Challenge each other! That's the way we improve, and it's how our dogs improve.
Most importantly, have fun. Criteria is important, don't get me wrong, but you need to enjoy the journey! Remember, just because you know what your dog wants, doesn't mean they understand. Be patient! They are truly amazing animals, and they will do it for you.....if they understand what you want.
An Open Letter to My Students
2 months ago