Yesterday I decided to try to put my new contact theory into practise. I had a very clear plan in my head of exactly what training I wanted to do with Zeki not just on the dogwalk plank but a couple of other things as well. My plan was to do some plank work and some startline waits.
As usual nothing went to plan but we had a great session!
I started off with some flat work using my little marker cones. We have a variety of flat work exercises we do using the cones and I'm building up the distance that Zeki has to go to the cones without me. I set out two cones about 7-8 metres apart and we work lines to and around each cone.
First of all we do what I call natural turns which means Zeki has to stay on my designated lead arm and follow my natural shoulder turn taking in a cone at each end. We do this on both lead arms.
Next we practise our front cross flat work. This means Zeki has to start off on one lead arm and go around the cone still working off that same lead arm; as she rounds the cone I pick her up on the other arm (i.e. turning into her) and cross to the second cone on a diagonal line and repeat the exercise on the opposite arm.
Then we work on our rear cross flat work. Here we start for example on the left lead arm and approach a cone which is slightly to our left. I ask Zeki to turn "left" and she rounds the cone away from me. I turn the same direction as Zeki and pick her up on the right arm. We approach the second cone again on a diagonal and I ask her to turn "right" and so forth.
She really enjoys these exercises which I originally taught using clicker and food but for which we now use a thrown toy as reward.
Lastly an exercise I've been doing since she was tiny, I send Zeki to a single cone and she has to run round it and come back to me. For this exercise I am stationary; I set her up on my chosen side and expect her to round the cone in a natural turn, i.e. if she starts on my left arm then I expect her to run round the cone clockwise. I then turn and receive/reward her on the same side and throw the toy forward. I do the exercise this way to build her understanding of not crossing in front or behind me, i.e. she stays on the arm I've requested unless I give her a signal to do otherwise.
After this we progressed onto some straight lines through wings. Following on from my session with Karen the other week, I built back to three wings where I would throw her toy through the wings and then restrain her and let her fly up the wings by herself to get her toy. I then run and and we have a good game of tuggy. I will build this up so that I can run up either side of the wings (at the moment I just following her through the middle.) I am making sure I don't run until she is about to pounce on her toy in order to encourage her to drive up there by herself. I will mix this up more once she really understands her job.
Then for the first time we used just one set of wings to practise our wing wraps. I did these on natural side (with me pivoting), i.e. if she was on my right I asked her to turn right. Next I will do this exercise with a front cross collection and lastly with a rear cross. I don't think it will be too much hard work to move to the cross behind version as she already has very good idea from her flat work with the cones. I was very impressed with her wing wraps. She understood to go past the wing (probably from having run through them and having done the cone work) and as soon as I cued her left or right round she came and I threw her toy as reward.
Now I have a dilemma. I have taught Zeki left and right as I have with all my dogs. However, I have huge problems remembering left and right in all walks of life. Just ask Andy, he will regale you with various tales about this, especially from situations when I've been driving and he's been directing me (or trying to!) I have used a steady command with all of my dogs and this means for them to "collect, take the obstacle in front and turn to the side I am on". If I want them to turn away from me then I will use the same command but do a sort of two arm transition move to indicate I want them to turn away (Tasha very sensibly calls this the "aeroplane" cue). If it's a really difficult turn away then I will drill myself when walking the sequence to use the correct turn command. It bears no relevance to me I just know I have to say that word at that jump.
Now, I have listened to Bernadette and I understand that little dogs are capable of turning fast without the kind of "collection" that a larger dog might need. However, I see no reason that I couldn't teach Zeki that "steady" means turn towards me and just leave out the part where I teach the stride collection. Views welcome on this and also if anyone has any wonderful methods or tricks to teach a lazy brain to compute left and right at speed. At the moment I have to check which wrist my watch is on and obviously this is just too slow!
At last we got to the plank! Things went much better than Friday. I placed the food tub much further out and let her approach the plank from front on only. She really did increase her speed and ran through every time. However (and there always is a however with me) I noticed that often she would turn and look at me as I clicked and then run on to the pot. I'm clicking as she runs the final part of the plank. This I wasn't pleased with. She definitely has "clicker means end of exercise" syndrome. So, with the advice of my super trainer I am going to do away with the click and probably the food and just reward with a thrown toy. I will say at this stage that I'm almost certainly going to train a stop and release contact but in the meantime Zeki is getting lots of confidence and speed running down the plank.
Lastly and completely unplanned I decided to introduce Zeki to the weaves. I have v-weaves and although I wouldn't teach a large dog on this type of training weave I think they can work really well for smaller dogs. I opened them right out so they were almost laying on the floor and put Zeki's food tub about 1.5 m from the end of the poles. Then I let her tow me on lead through the poles to her tub. I did this about four times on each side. She took to it really quickly. I might do them once more this week but then I think I'll leave it for a while. She's not eight months until 8/11 and I can already tell she's going to learn the process pretty fast so I don't want to go any further with this particular obstacle just yet.
All of this lasted about 50 minutes and she was still just as full of energy at the end of the session. I really enjoyed it and am now feeling incentivised to push forward with her training.
That's about it for now!