Sunday, January 18, 2009

Week 6: Heel, plus agility tests

What a packed day of lessons!
Before going into all the details of the class, I found out that Hazel had been adopted. Good for her, and doubly wonderful is that her new owner, Jon, is going to continue her training. We met up at the training session and he's willing to keep her through the training program until she graduates. We'll also plan to hold some extra training sessions at his home so she can be ready to do the major exercises JI has planned to graduate both dog and trainer.
As for what we learned today, we had to train our dogs to heel, which is not just about keeping the dog by our side, but training the dog to maintain eye contact in motion. We walked with the dog by our left side, fed at a regular interval so long as the dog stayed next to us (always at the left) and didn't break from the exercise. The point of teaching a dog to heel is to avoid having a dog go off on its own, to smell another dog or approach another person while out and about in a crowded situation. JI explained that when the military trained dogs, they kept the dog on the left side since they had to have their right hands free (guns were usually hung at the right hip). The dog is in a somewhat uncomfortable position in a heel, they are expected to focus on their walker/trainer/owner while walking, their heads turned upward to the right, keeping contact with their person.
Most of our dogs are now well socialized, with few cases of complete insubordination (!), so they took to the Heel training relatively well. We didn't have a case where the dog didn't follow, but it did happen that one dog tried to herd her walker until JI told the trainer not to let the dog choose the direction of the path. If a dog tries to jump ahead of the trainer during the Heel, use the left knee to stop that behavior. Also, he told us to call the dog to Heel before any turns, otherwise you lose the attention of your dog.
I was working with Hazel alongside her new owner, and it took awhile for her to get a sense of what we were doing, since she is still learning to bond with Jon. He also had to pick up the philosophy of the clicker training all in one morning. He was sort of thrown into the puddle but managed quite well by the end of the morning.
The next major lesson we worked on was agility training. JI brought in hurdles, a tire and a tunnel, which we were taught to use to get the dogs to jump over or through, or run/walk through. It was lots of fun to get the dogs to hop over the hurdles or try to get them to jump through the tire (we skipped this exercise since Hazel's head isn't past the tire's lower run, she's energetic but not ready for this yet). The tunnel took a bit of work, since dogs don't like having something that hangs over their heads; Hazel took time and several repeated runs before she had the courage to go through the tunnel. But when JI was observing her at this, she balked! We had to shorten the tunnel and lure her through again, only to fail at the last walk through. She was pooped, poor thing, and so were we all. Several of the dogs just plopped down after all this work, only attempting to beg for some of the chicken sandwiches we had for lunch, but with less exuberance than they normally do before the exercise.
Tiring day, full day, we're moving forward towards graduating the dogs in a month, and it's an exciting but scary plan. If the dog or the trainer fail, then we have to keep at it until JI evaluates us to have passed the course. We have a month to get the dogs to do all of the ff: a one minute sit stay, a three minute down stay (oh no, this is the one that is going to be the harder command for Hazel), a 5 minute bed stay, walking loosely on leash, the Come command, and Heel. The sit and bed isn't going to be too hard for Hazel, what will be the focus of our training will be to work on the Down, and to improve her leash walk since she's got a stubborn streak.


Katrina said...

I really admire your eagerness and discipline in learning new skills and taking up new hobbies, whether it's Chinese painting or dog training. Your life is so busy, yet you find time to do these things! I often wonder how you fit it all in -- work, read books, surf the net, see friends, watch TV/DVDs/movies, cook, dog training lessons, etc. Maybe you don't sleep? ;-) You inspire me. This year, I've got to do more than just sit on my rapidly expanding ass and surf the net!

By the way, I'm sure it's no surprise that I like your blog's new look. Purple and lime green is one of my favorite color combinations.

Watergirl said...

Thanks Katrina! I wanted to change the blog a wee bit with some color changes.
There are a lot of other things that get forgotten or put aside when I get busy with a new program, housekeeping is a biggie. The dog training is both a lot of fun and useful, I hope we'll be able to keep it moving forward. We should find someone to teach us about bikes!

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