So here I am trying to remind Feature exactly what are my expectations on her contacts.
I trained Feature differently then my previous dogs in that I introduced the running contact before I did the stopped. With Encore I had a running A Frame and a stopped dogwalk for the first 2 years of her career. I taught her a running dogwalk over the winter of ’07. Encore’s running dogwalk has a unique cue so I use it when I feel the run will give me a competitive advantage in the ring. I wanted to keep the stop behaviour because, well lets face it, I am not 28 any more and I am not always able to be in places that other younger, faster runners can get to. So with Encore I have 2 discreet behaviours, each with it’s own cue for the dogwalk. I had hoped to do the same with Feature but I taught the run (without adding a cue) before I taught her the stop with the nose target.
Feature’s background may have contributed to what I have now, but perhaps not. It also may have been a good idea had I completed the training and adding a cue to her running behaviour before I taught her the stop. Regardless, I can only guess now and really it doesn’t matter. The thing about dog training is not to focus on the “why” of what you have, that will do nothing more but to give you an excuse for your failure. It is far more productive to describe what you currently have, decide what you want as a finished behaviour, and then get to work to figure out how to train it. Sounds easy enough doesn’t it?
The crude elements of a good contact performance by my standards are; 1) a great nose target 2) the drive to get into end position, 3) the body awareness to be able to weight shift once in end position 4) the understanding of the release word and the need to wait until you hear it.
In my opinion Feature scores very high on all four of these elements so I need to look at other areas. If she has any weaknesses they would be in her applying the brakes early enough as she drives into position and her possibly her drive to comply with waiting for a release from control positions.
My goal is to focus on those two areas. I am going back to Crate Games first as that is always a good place to start when having any issues with control behaviours. As I wrote about in a previous blog Feature’s Crate Games have weakened since moving into this apartment 14 months ago. Now since she is just 25 months old, you can do the math and see that her Crates Games have been weak longer than they were strong. The problem is that she goes into the Crate (without being told) at meal times and then immediately takes 2 steps out so she can see around the couch as John prepares the dog’s meals. I have been working on not allowing this, mostly by managing and keeping the crate door closed, hoping this response would be left here in the apartment when we move into the new house.
I realized that this baggage must be dealt with sooner then later. Previously I had been trying to get Feature fully in her crate only during meal times. I worked at that off an on for a month with little progress. Then I realized how unfair it was. Her behaviour of being half in and half out was not noticed, thus had been allowed to take hold for so long, it was pretty fluent.
My new plan was to work Crate Games at times when she was not being fed a meal and also to use my crate more for her when I am working Encore (rather than just allowing her to stay on the table). Just by altering the time of day I did the work, doing it between meals in only 5 session one day her behaviour at meal times dramatically changed. I won’t believe it is a permanent fix, so I will continue to observe and reinforce, but I am impressed with the massive improvement I see!
As for her not putting on the brakes early enough, I first had to know for certain if it was something she could do but chose not to or was it something I just hadn’t taught thoroughly enough. I will leave you with that thought to decide how I would make that differentiation and will report back some time next week.
Today I am grateful that with just a little outside the box thinking I was able to fix Feature’s Crate Games behaviour with relative ease!