Baby Thor

Baby Thor

Training Thor

In January 2010, Thor, a 5-month-old weimaraner, came crashing into my life.

Here, I will outline the steps taken to train him to be a well-mannered dog,

to do agility, and to perform some service dog tasks.

At five months, he is pretty wild.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Agility #5 & #6

Week #5 coincided with AgileDogs USDAA trial.  I was photographer for the event, and Kathy was running her dogs.  But still, there was class.  I arrived early with Thor to let him run in the fenced pond area.  I let him run a second time just before class.  Thor loves to run with the other dogs.  One of my friends commented that he "runs circles around every other dog."  He certainly is fast, and his favorite thing is to run while another dog chases him.  No dog can catch him!

Class went well.  Because Kathy had to leave to run her dogs, class went longer than usual, and my friend Barb filled in to teach.  I love Barb's style, but it is very different from Kathy's.  I think some of the other handler's had a hard time adapting.  Barb spends a lot of time talking and explaining satisfying my desire for full understanding of the reasons behind the methods.  Kathy does more skill practice.  Both are important and it can be challenging for instructors to find the right balance.  Anyhoo, because the class went long, my legs gave out so I put Thor away.  We'd had a good class.

Week #6, Thor had just been neutered five days before so he stayed home and I audited. Kathy was out of town on a judging assignment so Barb was our instructor.  Barb, who rightly emphasizes independent obstacle performance, introduced the class to the concept of shaping.  Allowing the dog to CHOOSE to perform an obstacle while the handler stands by without giving direction develops problem-solving skills (in the dog) and a dog who fully understands the obstacle.  It requires patience and good observation skills on the part of the handler and can be very hard when first attempted.  I've done lots of this with Thor using both a tunnel and the tire.  As a result, he is very good at finding all angles of entry. 

I brought my camera to take pictures while watching and listening.  Deb's sheltie, Lucy, LOVES tunnels.  She was happy to run back and forth through a straight tunnel ignoring the treats that Deb tossed!  Repeating the tunnel was reward enough for Lucy!  And she already understood the concept of offering behaviors.  Linda's shepherd, Vasso, had a harder time.  Although only 11 months old, he has a history of formal obedience and wears a nylon choke collar.  So Vasso has been exposed to corrections for making incorrect choices.  This is a dog who will have trouble offering behaviors because he is afraid of  the consequences of making a mistake.  Vasso, who had been doing tunnels when directed, was unable to initiate tunnel behavior on his own.  Barb directed Linda to click/treat for looking at the tunnel, looking in the tunnel, putting head in tunnel, stepping one foot into tunnel.  Vasso is a smart dog and made really good progress.  But to Linda it must have felt like big steps backwards.  She was frustrated and close to tears despite Barb (and me) insisting that Vasso had made great strides forward.  Bean went next.  I know nothing of Bean's history but he is five years old and new to agility.  He reacted to the exercise similarly to the way Vasso had.  Both did a great job for dogs just being introduced to shaping.  Bean's handler was fine with it, Vasso's was not.  It made me very sad to realize that Vasso's early training had been with outdated methods.

I ended up with two photos that I like.  First, a picture of Roo (Barb's dog) happily demonstrating his "Go To Mat" behavior.  Second, a picture of Vasso peaking out of a tunnel and looking very worried.  These two photos illustrate the results of different training methods.  Roo, who has known only scientific, modern, positive training, and Vasso, who has done traditional obedience training in a choke collar.  As if I needed any more convincing...


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