Thursday, March 20, 2014

Training a Low Drive Dog for Flyball

I got very lucky with my first three dogs. Indy was so easy to train for anything and despite having no idea what I was doing...she does everything at top speed and desperately wants to please. Goose isn't quite as easy, but did learn flyball in 3 months and still runs consistent 3.8-3.9 in start. And then Pax was also easy. He came with tons of drive for toys and he loves to be trained. I really had zero problems with any of the dogs and this was because they love to tug. Good tug play in which the dog wants to play with YOU can solve lots of problems.  A super fast/stop everything and run recall and tug drive can solve 95% of problems in flyball. Spy is missing the tug part. Oh no!

Ah Spy.  A beautiful body, but low tug/toy drive. She's fine with just hanging out and sleeping. Most  people love that! She's a great and very easy dog.  But I want her to LEARN STUFF and use that body to do things fast!

I tried all the standard stuff to build tug drive and that all worked to a point. I wasn't getting the kind of tugging I wanted. So I starting trying other things.  I put her in a crate and make her watch me train the other dogs, thinking that would make her want to play. Nah, not too concerning for her. She didn't care either way.

Then I did some variation of NILIF (nothing in life is free) or Ruff Love. My version was one training session per day for her breakfast, no free play by herself or with the other dogs (her favorite thing to do). This helped quite a bit and she began to enjoy working with me. It still wasn't enthusiastic at all and we still didn't have a great relationship with her because I was always putting her away when she didn't feel like working. 

At this point she was doing recalls to a tug 75% of the time and total refusal to work for a tug for anything else and definitely not with food around. She was telling me, "Why should I go fling myself at that wall board for a reward that isn't rewarding?" I would give her food at the end of our session when she did a good job and if she didn't feel like it, I just didn't train her that day. I didn't get too far with this method.

Here is what I did that finally worked:

1. Use the Correct Rewards at the Correct Time.  My goal is to use a tug for flyball 100%.  We still have a long way to go, but we are making huge progress. First I made a mental note of her favorite and least favorite things to do. The favorites are my best tool for getting her to do things on the least favorite list. Flyball (or any) trainers need to accept that we can't ask our dogs to do something they don't really want to do for a reward they don't really want. Your dog may eventually find the tug rewarding, but he doesn't right now.

2. Build Work Ethic. Give your dog a cue for when training is starting. "Do you want to play!!!???" and act really silly and goofy and ridiculously excited.  And then while they are still into training say "That'll do, good dog" to end the session (which should be very short).  The difference in Spy is amazing. When she sees me...she goes nuts and when I end our sessions, she still wants more training.

3. Train behaviors that the dog Enjoys. My daily routine with Spy includes lots of obedience with stay to build excitement, body awareness, recall games with a little bit of flyball built in. Use a high value reward. 100% of Spy's diet comes from me for now. Some of the training is more challenging for her and some is just getting rewards for basic manners.  

4. Using food to get your dog to tug. This has to be done very carefully. The worst thing I see is the someone waggle the tug in the dogs face in suicidal bunny fashion and then when the dog doesn't tug, give food. What did you just do? You rewarded your dog for not tugging. You basically said "hey do you want to tug? No? Ok thats can have food instead! And good job for not tugging!" can use food to improve tugging in a different way. If your dog tugs at all even for a second, mark it with a clicker and then reward with food. Add duration and start clicking for good tugging behavior like rocking back, head shaking and a tight grip. A good shaping dog will respond to this. If you don't want to shape specifically, you can ask your dog to tug before every meal. Also, I've seen success with the tug-it bag filled with nasty squishy meat. And of course try a different tug.  Just remember not to use the tug itself as a reward until it's REWARDING by itself.

5. Using Life Rewards to get your dog to tug. Is your dogs favorite thing to run free? To go outside and play with other dogs? Ask your dog to tug first or do some task and then release to go do that thing. Start a routine at your door. If you want to go outside and have to tug first. Just be careful that it stays fun and the dog doesn't predict the release. Spy loves to zoom around in the woods. I ask her to tug before she can run and when she comes back to check in with me, we play tug and then I release her again. She loves that game.

6. Stop Tugging Before the Dog Stops. In my classes, I usually have to repeat this many times. I'd rather see 5 seconds of engaged tugging that ended with the dog still wanting more than 30 seconds of tugging that slowly fades away. Only tug when you are directly engaged with the dog.  Most of us with good tugging dogs are guilty of this in flyball. Check your dogs times and talk to teammates while the dog is tugging. It's probably find for a dog with a lot of tug drive. But for a dog like Spy. It's no good. I've been consciously trying to stop doing this with all my dogs. It also helps when trying to teach "out/drop it".

7. Off Switch or Go Crazy and Freeze Game. Or even the ready- set- get it game. Play lots of games that switch between high energy craziness and calm behavior. This is great for dogs who have trouble settling down, but I've found that it's great for dogs that have trouble getting excited. It teaches them to quickly change between the two mental states. I play with a bed nearby and get Spy going nuts...playing keep away, chasing her around, acting very goofy and then calmly say "get on your bed". As soon as she is calm and ideally fully relaxed...I say OK!!!! and start going nuts again.  Or  the ready-set-get it game ultimately works up to being able to say ready-set-......GET IT and the dog can't move until you say GET-IT. Try swing the tug around, throwing a ball,  running away to test them.  It also teaches a very solid stay.

To be continued.......

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Jumping for Flyball

There are several things that have led me to start doing foundation jumping and stride training for flyball on a regular basis.

 1. I have a dog in training and I don't want to retrain her later.
2. I am retraining Pax, who doesn't have great natural striding for flyball and didn't get the best foundation.
3. I  am co-teaching an Active Dog Foundation class and want to make sure my students get an excellent foundation.

 I have a lot of experience with using props to control my dogs stride and jumping in flyball, but it's always been to fix a problem. And they often launch the prop too.  The problems started because I originally didn't use any method to train striding or jumping. I just sent my dog over the jumps and hoped for the best. With my border collies Indigo and Goose, this worked just fine and they run well. Now I know that was luck. Pax was a big wake-up call. I didn't worry about his jumping and hoped he would sort it out with more experience and then I tried (unsuccessfully) to fix his run. A striding problem turned into a box turn problem and at his worst he loses 0.5 - 0.3 seconds.

Foundation Exercises

1. Shaping a jump. In flyball some people use gates or block dogs to get them over the jumps. What is the dog learning? Not a whole lot. This is common training in agility. You can start out with your dog on a leash and wait for them to move toward the jump and keep click/treating each step until they go over. Then try different angles and different heights. Then add a collar restrain.  Before adding more jumps, I like to see a new dog going over one jump from various angles. This really helps dogs that bail out on jumps. You may want to be careful about training this too much. With a bad bobble on a fast team, a dog that takes the jumps no matter what may be more likely to crash.

2. Jump Grids.  I've been adding jump training to our Active Dog Foundation class.  The purpose of this is to teach prop respect and to teach either shortening or lengthening a stride. It really helps to study Susan Salo's method before attempting to try grids. I learned her basic grids and then adapted them for the needs of flyball, which is obviously very different than agility. They can be used to teach 3 strides, to fix double striding between jumps or any launching or prop respect problem. I have used several different grids, but this basic one has been really helpful for training Pax to stride properly between the jump and the box. 

First I set up a grid with jumps spaced 5 feet apart. I am not using speed and not rewarding for launching two jumps. I have the jumps fairly high to make it easier. 

After tons of repetitions, he was reliably NOT launching and his jumping looked nice and smooth (rocking back and head down).

Next I made the jumps lower, used a starting point and added some speed. And did many many more repetitions. I did this exercise almost everyday for a few months.

Now I do THIS exercise almost everyday, which incorporates the exercise I do to improve turning
with the grids at full speed and one of the jumps flat on the ground. It's made a huge difference for him and it's how I exercise him some days.

Here I took similar jumps to the ones used in the grid and incorporated them into the flyball course.

3. Passing and Launching the Start line

I hate the passing exercise that uses a wide jump. This teaches dogs to jump over the start line. We actually want them to run through it. It's very useful to have something at your practice that can be used as start/finish stanchions and get lots of practice running through them. This can start with no jumps and just doing recalls through the stanchions and then add two jumps and do a restrained recall from the dogs starting point, over the two jumps and to their tug. You can also add another set of stanchions at the end and use two dogs to train both passing and running through the start line. I hope to get video of this soon!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

whippet flyball update

Pax thinks he is a border collie and runs into the building for his recall. It's so cute!

We've been working hard on our flyball training. Our new training facility is awesome. I've been going twice a week to work with the dogs for the last several months and have made lots of progress. Our rental house doesn't have much space for training and outside is not an option right now, so I really depend on this time to train the dogs. Hopefully with our new house, I'll add a space to do some indoor and outdoor training during the summer too. The other thing that is lacking at the moment is conditioning for the dogs. They are not in great shape right now. All they get is a hike 5 days a week. No sprinting or muscle building activities unfortunately.

Luckily one of my teammates also is motivated to train twice a week and we are always able to get at least one more person to help on our Wednesday morning sessions. I typically just train Spy and Pax on Wednesday mornings, but lately have been working on Goose's box turn too. On Sunday night, we try to work all the dogs, using Indy as a distraction dog since she isn't working on anything. She also gets to be my demo dog for flyball class and when we are teaching our recall class too.

Oh yeah, my teammate and I started teaching a few classes at the training center. I've been trying to get to the point that I could teach classes outside of flyball for awhile, so this is super exciting. We are also starting an impulse control class in a few weeks. I love training and preparing for the classes gives me lots of ideas for my own dogs that I can use for flyball training.

Oh the whippets. Gotta love them. Spy, spy, spy. Getting a whippet for flyball is like day-trading and getting a border collie is like investing your money in retirement account. Whippets are usually either amazing and the biggest return or they don't play at all. I know there is some in between, but it holds true more than other breeds. And border collies almost always can play, and it's just a matter of how fast they are...but pretty reliably you know you'll get something pretty good.

Pax was incredibly easy to train. His only issues are related to me trying to get the best out of him. He was amazing from the day we brought him home. Fully focused and never once shut down. And then there's Spy. This little girl is going to make me work hard. She is so very distracted by everything.....people, a noise, another dog standing there, a piece of food on the ground etc. Sometimes when I'm trying to work with her she just wanders off. It's pretty frustrating, but she does have tug drive and is interested in I'll take that and keep at it.

My plan for her at the moment is to get her to reliably do head to head recalls, and only allow her to greet people when released to do so..especially when it's training time! At home I'm working on her wall turn, tug drive and ball retrieve.

I finally got out of my training rut with Pax and found a set up that works for him! I am actually always working on finding ways to get him to rotate into the lane without using a headboard and am still deciding how to fade down his props. For some reason the black tape covered gutter was really making him launch and now I think it's almost a cue to launch. Since we started using a FedEx box, taped up white..he takes three strides out every time and hasn't launched once. When I fade that out, I'll have to go to something other than the black striped gutter.

Well, if the 3.6's weren't shocking enough at the tournament last month...Pax busted out all 3.5s on his first race out last weekend. His best time was a 3.568. I was calling passes and became totally useless when this happened. I think my jaw actually dropped. His return was amazing. I had no idea he was capable of 3.5. I always thought at best, he'd be a solid 3.7 dog. In his second race he ran two 3.5s and a 3.6 and then we pulled him. Perfect weekend for him.

He has a full time spot next month, but I will list Indigo on his team and put her in for him if I don't like what he is doing. After all this time retraining him, I don't want to lose everything I worked for.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

First flyball tournament with the new team :)

It's been awhile since I've posted! We had our first flyball tournament since December and first ever with our new team. It was lots of fun, despite the 8 hour drive. We got a new van. It's so lame and so awesome at the same time. Everything fit with no issue and we were are very comfortable, especially Finley. It's really the perfect size for us! I am disappointed that it's white, but am not interested in paying lots of money to repaint it. We just have to accept that it's really ugly and enjoy it. As soon as we finish setting it up, I'll post photos.

So, we pretty much had to run Pax because we needed to enter one team into the regular division and he was one of the 4 that didn't run in the last 90 days. Ben ran him all weekend and did a great job with him. He will be running him from now on....he gets a lot less stressed about trying to get the tug back from him! His first warmup sucked. He went wide off the box and launched over the prop that was there to make him take 3 strides off the box! But then, I was surprised when he ran all 3.7s and took 3 strides and box turn looked great during racing. Then I was even more shocked when he started posting 3.6s including a 3.63. There was one race that was full of false starts and he didn't look as great toward the end of that, so we pulled him for the rest of the day. He ran all but one race on Sunday as well and never ran higher than low 3.8s! 90% of the time his turn held and he took 3 strides off the box!!  We have since practiced and are still figuring out the perfect props to use to get this all to stick. I'd love to see consistent 3.6s from him.

Here is Pax at practice after the tournament this week

I learned from watching this that I need to take out the stride regulator out when he is on the way in to make his striding more even...I am happy with his turn and striding on the way out. 

Indy and Goose ran well and will continue to be on our A team until we switch things around again. Pax isn't ready for that commitment and Raven probably won't debut until later this summer. Spy did so much better than expected. I was pretty worried about her focus issues. She still can't really run head to head with another dog doing recalls, or at least since the last time I tried! She had a little setback with teething and tugging.  She was so awesome at the tournament. I did short recalls with her alongside the run back area during racing warmups and she stayed 100% focused on me. I also played "Look At That" with her on the side of racing, which helped a lot. She thoroughly enjoyed introducing herself to every human and dog that would listen.

I finally got some video of Spy. She is almost 6 months now!

Unless we get snowed out we will go to a scrimmage in the morning and then we will be teaching flyball class and team practice! Big day!

As far as upcoming events..I am going to try to go to 3 more tournaments before my human baby is born. This includes one that is one week before my due date. We will see how it goes....

Monday, January 14, 2013

Whippet Flyball Update

PAX: I am pretty sure I already ruined Pax's muscle memory to take 3 strides off the box, by running him for a long time with the wrong striding. Looking back at videos from last year when I was training him, I had the gutters in the wrong place and was not setting him up well at all.

For the last several weeks I've been trying a new method. I keep it very simple and just recall him over 2 jumps. If he takes 3 strides off the box, he gets the tug. If he takes two twice in a row, he gets nothing and I make it easier for him to succeed. I'm not sure if it's working, but it's my last idea to get him to fix this problem.

For his wide box turn I've been laying a baby gate flat on the ground 1/2 way into the lane, so he can't go wide. I need to figure out a way to fade this too. Still working on that. When we do anything with the box, and jumps and striding all together I don't withhold a reward if he does it wrong because I think that would be really confusing.

The only way this type of training can work, in my opinion, is if you make it very simple. If you are working on ball holding, you can withhold the reward, but you need to just use a dead ball and no jumps or box. I definitely thing dogs learn faster if they get different feedback depending on what they do. The more positive way to do it would be to shape him to take three strides, but I haven't figured out how to do that yet at the speeds that the dogs are running!

SPY: Spy is doing well with her ball to tug exchanges. She even did a few at practice. She is very distracted. I tried running her against our calmest dog and even had the other dog wait until Spy was all the way to me and she still wanted to run over and say hi! I need to get her used to the motion of other dogs and work through distractions. Next practice, I plan to play the game "Look at That" and some premack.

Look at That (LAT) is a control unleashed game. First you teach the dog to look at something (anything at first) and then click the head turn toward the thing and treat. Once they get the game, you can start clicking for specific things, like other dogs or people or anything that they react to. This teaches them to acknowledge that the thing is there, but they can just look back at you and work through it. It's a positive association with the thing being there.

Premack. For this game, I'll keep her on a leash and while the other dogs are running I'll give her the option of focusing on me for treats and playing or go look, try to chase the other dogs. I'll be far away enough that she can make a good choice! This is "trick" her into thinking that she chose to ignore the other action going on around her! 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Exciting Stuff

We haven't been to any events with our dogs lately, but a lot has been going on. We left our flyball team and just started a new one! We have 6 members and we decided to call ourselves Mass Chaos. In just the short amount of time since deciding to start a team, we found a new facility for practicing and teaching classes. We are entered in our first tournament in February. We still have a lot of work to do, but it's been a fun process.

I haven't been doing anything with the border collies other than taking them on hikes and working on their recalls and sit/stays. Spy is taking puppy class and is working on a trick for her last one. I decided to do something useful, so she is working on "go to your mat". I was a little worried about her distraction issues in flyball, but she has been much better lately and is very focused at home. She loves tugging now. She can do a dead ball/tug exchange, which is about where I want her to be. She is very good at hand touches as well. I am auditing Silvia Trkmans puppy class and will post about how that is going.

Oh Pax, Pax Pax. I've been working with him a lot. I don't know if I'll be able to fix him. I wish I knew as much as I do now, a year ago. At least the new puppies on our flyball team will benefit from what we know now! I am going to keep at it and then give him a try in Feb to see how he looks. Until then recalls and box work several times a week.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


We got a new puppy! I have been planning to add another whippet pretty much as soon as Pax came home. I've had a blast with Pax in everything we've tried together...although I do get tired of his obsession to be on my lap at all times. We have especially been enjoying racing and lure coursing. Pax gives it his all and is a solid "B" dog, but of course my competitive self wants a faster dog. I am really happy with her so far. She is confident, smart and biddable. The only issue we are working through at the moment are distractions. She doesn't have the focus to work through any distractions...some of that will come with time. She is a natural retriever and she doesn't tug like Pax, but I have no doubt I can get her there. We FINALLY decided on a name!  "SPY"

Pax hasn't made too much progress since his flyball break started. Retraining a dog is frustrating. I HIGHLY recommend not debuting a dog until everything is just how you want it and if you see something wrong, pull the dog right away. I was so excited and anxious to get him going, I didn't realize all this. Especially with a whippet. They take longer to train than border collies usually. I plan to take close to 2 years to train the new baby unless it takes longer. My goals for Pax are to get 3 strides off the box to the first jump and a less wide box turn. I'll keep updating his progress..if there is any!

The yearly big break from dog sports is coming up so Im planning on doing general obedience training with everyone and keeping them conditioned with chuck-it and hikes in the woods.