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Old 10-12-2009, 08:03 PM
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Default Agility - mistakes on course

I'm stealing a lot of this question from an email my instructor wrote, discussing an issue that has come up a lot lately. I'm interested to get opinions from other people, particularly the agility people who trial and train outside our area, since I see trends that are common here.

What do YOU do when your dog makes an error on course that you have trained enough to feel confident that they "know better"? Examples: You have trained and drilled contacts. The dog hits them in training, you have proofed them in many situations, and they blow one in the ring regularly. Or your dog ignores a clear handling cue and goes off-course (yes, I know, it's often handler fault. But we've all seen dogs who say "screw you" and do their own thing). Those sorts of things. For the purpose of discussion, assume the dog has been checked for pain/medical issues and is clear.

I commonly see people do things such as down the dog in the ring or pull them from the course and walk off. Do you see this as a) acceptable and b) productive? What is normal in your area? Have you seen some form of either correction or reward that is allowed in the trial ring and that seems to have an impact on the dog?

I'll share my opinions eventually, but I'd like to hear what others have to say.
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Old 10-12-2009, 08:20 PM
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Now that Cider is an all masters level dog.. If she's being a serious fruit loop I will pick her up. Has only ever happened once.. Left me after a few obstacles to go sniff the fence line.. called her.. Called her again while running from her. Couldn't get her back, so got to spend time in her crate for a while.

Blown contacts are really rare for us.. I'm not impressed but won't correct them in a trial as they aren't usually our issue. Most off courses are due to me, or lack of information and experience for Smudge..

I did down Smudge during an absolutely awful jumpers run yesterday.. Was being a fruit loop wasn't payign any attention to me. As the only run of the day I didn't see the point in taking him off course. Downed him till he settled and continued on.. Not the first time I've done it with him, but it's not really a chronic issue either..
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Old 10-12-2009, 08:43 PM
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Auggie's done some pretty whacked out things on me before, and only twice have I pulled him from the ring. One time he actually tried to leave the ring on his own - he wasn't having fun and he NEVER tries to leave the ring, so the fact that he kept turning around and trying to head out was an obvious cue to me that he was done. The second time he had his nose to the ground by the weave poles and was completely fixated on the scent. He would NOT return his attention to me no matter what. So I finally gave up, waved at the judge, and carried Auggie out of the ring. Booger butt!

Neither of those were actually pulling him as punishment for doing something "bad" or "wrong." I have seen people do that and I personally find it just terrible. I hate to see it happen. If a dog is seriously out of control, like zoomies, crazy, completely ignoring all commands - in that case, yes, if you can get ahold of the dog, pull him. Like what happened with Auggie and his sniffies, you know that at a certain point you aren't going to re-connect with your dog and be able to carry on, so pulling is the wise choice (and the considerate one for everybody waiting to run after your run.)
Unless it's a situation like that... I just hate to see it. I don't think it's productive, I don't think they're teaching the dog anything, and they're certainly not having fun with their dog out there.
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Old 10-12-2009, 09:34 PM
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In my limited experience doing agility stuff...I have only seen one handler down the dog on the course, which I thought was a huge mistake. All that did was create additional frustration in the dog.

When Ares was doing agility, the only times he'd do really off things was when the conditions were difficult -- usually too hot (for him ~ anything over about 72 degrees and he didn't want to run and jump). So I'd quit and wait for a cooler day.

He did get the zoomies once - he blew past the tunnel and then circled it 3 times. I just waited him out. I did eventually learn that his zoomies were a response to my handling and so I learned how to be a better handler. If he went off course, it meant something had told him to go that way -- usually my shoulders were turned slightly. I didn't pull him for that because I knew he was doing what he'd been told to do, even though it wasn't what I had meant to tell him.

Besides, I really hate when people say the dog "knows better". Dogs don't do incorrect things intentionally. It's an issue of motivation or the dog hasn't been trained for the current conditions.
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Old 10-12-2009, 11:20 PM
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Most of the time, the mistakes are mine and we continue on, but in the past I have done the 'pick him up and leave'. At that time the mistakes were mine but I didn't know it and I was following advice and it bloody near shut my high drive love the game of agility dog down.

He rarely blows me off anymore, because I am a better handler and I get the information to him at the right time. Therefore he has now learned to be confident in what I am cueing him to do. In the past I had him very well trained to disconnect from me and when those disconnects happened it was generally messy. Not zoomies, but Off Courses all over the place.

Recently he did blow me off and I wasn't happy with him, nor was I happy with myself either. I did pick him up and leave the ring, however I didn't put him in a crate either. It was just time to leave it alone.

And he did come back in the next class and ran really nicely for me, but then I also had my stuff together better, so it does go hand in hand.

I often question when a dog blows us off, I had to take a very long hard look at where Petie and I were concerned. It had gotten to the point that I was ready to quit running agility with him.

And people blamed my dog, said he was a Jrt..........that he was good at giving me the paw and frankly it got to the point that it pissed me off, because I had trained my dog to disconnect from me very well. And it was my job to fix it and to build that connection up to where it needed to be and we had a point to prove lol.

I have no problems seeing someone down a dog that is esculating or getting over stimulated to the point where they are going to go over the top especially to a dog that is bitting the handler. The team needs to settle down and collect themselves, hopefully to end a bad start with a nicer finish. I haven't downed my dogs, but I have stopped running, called my dog to me, took a very deep breath and tried to finish the course when things have gone soooooooo bad lol.

People also need to make sure that they have without a doubt maintained their critria during the run.

One good thing that has happened in recent years for AAC, is we are now allowed to train in the ring. So if you blow a contact etc, you can fix it. You can run your own sequences if you want, time is reduced and once a judge sees you training, it is called or you can call it. And of course it is worth an E but sometimes well worth it and I wish we had it years ago.
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Old 10-12-2009, 11:26 PM
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Quote:
It's an issue of motivation or the dog hasn't been trained for the current conditions.
Okay, an addition to the question, because that was well stated. How do you motivate the dog or train for trial conditions when you can't "train" in the ring? I don't love the term "ring smart" because I don't think it really is what is going on, but same idea.

This topic has come up a lot lately. My portion of the conversation has to do with Meg's contacts; other people have been discussing it regarding other issues. We drilled the bejeesus out of those contacts. Months of starting with a plank on the ground, progressing gradually to equipment and working up to full height. I can't make her miss in class/run throughs/practices no matter what I throw at her. She hits them and holds until released.

It's hit or miss at trials. Day one this weekend, for example, she didn't hold my criteria once. Never got called on the a-frame, got called on the dogwalk in one class (fair call; she didn't come within a mile of the yellow). Day two, perfect performance in 3 classes, hit the yellow but didn't hold criteria in the last class of the day.

How would you suggest I reward the correct behavior in the ring? How do I "punish" the incorrect?

The putting the dog in a down seems to be the new popular thing around here. For knocked bars, missed contacts, out of control fits, etc. Never used to see it until this season, now everyone is doing it. I've seen people leave the ring a lot. The issue we've talked about with both those things is - do the dogs see it as a correction? I ask my dog to down a lot in various settings. It's a behavior that she is used to performing, and it often means treats. I don't think asking her to down in the ring would be seen as a punishment for her, or really any dog. It's just another behavior. I have yet to see a dog leave the ring who looks upset, even the high drive BCs who seem to adore running. Leaving the ring with their owner, they are still wound, happy, barking, spinning etc. They don't look like "crap, I screwed up". And honestly, I don't want my dog to ever think leaving the ring with me is a punishment.
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Old 10-13-2009, 08:08 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BostonBanker View Post
How do you motivate the dog or train for trial conditions when you can't "train" in the ring? I don't love the term "ring smart" because I don't think it really is what is going on, but same idea.
By training in the ring.

Fun matches and show n go's are great.

Occasionally you'll find a judge who *cough* won't notice *cough* when you do a little training in the competition ring. I haven't done a lot of agility, but I have seen a lot of seasoned competitors training in the ring at obedience trials. It's after the dog has already done something to NQ though.

Also by training at home as if it's competition -- sometimes not rewarding until the end of a full run. Having lots of new and interesting sights and smells and sounds going on while training.
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Old 10-13-2009, 08:20 AM
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Unless Brandy has completely blown me off in the ring (which rarely happens *now* ) I do nothing. The mistake is most likely my fault, and I like to leave the ring on a positive note and keep the game positive. I don't down my dog, I don't pick her up, I don't yell, or indicate "wrong" We just carry on. I find that there is too much going on to actually pin point the exact mistake in the ring. To me the downs (in what I've seen) are kind of useless.
If the complete blow off has happened, she does not get rewarded after the run. Her drive is for the treats, not necessarily the game (I think she loves the game because she loves the reward), so that removal of reward after a run really hits home with her. No treats, and straight to crate makes her think twice about blowing the next run.

As for your question about the "down" as a correction, there are only certain dogs who will perceive it as such. Brandy is driven for treats, so a down in the ring is nothing to her - just another required behaviour as you stated. Dogs who are actually driven for the game can view this as a correction as you are interrupting their reward which is running itself - however I see this build some major frustration, and I'm of the mind that you do not want to build that in agility. It seems to amp the dog up even more, so I would tend to agree with you and not use this method. I never have, as I stated, and I like to leave with my dog in a positive frame of mind, not a frustrated one, so that wouldn't work for me.
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Old 10-13-2009, 10:23 AM
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People also need to make sure that they have without a doubt maintained their critria during the run.
Exactly - but how do you? (I swear I'm not trying to be difficult, I've spent an entire season pounding my head into the wall over this).

Meg hits and holds the contact. My choices: verbal praise while she holds, happy release, continue on. Verbal praise, release, leave the ring for a reward (considered, haven't ever done). This is not a dog who lives for a agility. While she generally seems to be having a blast on course, I think she runs because she likes playing with me, and because she likes cookies.

Meg blows through the contact - either misses entirely, or just doesn't hold to my criteria. Choices: continue on the course. "correction" like a down, a verbal correction, or leaving the ring (verbal corrections are a no-go for me; I've worked too hard to get her to like agility. And as I said, I don't think the others are corrections for her). Give up and take up a new sport. No training in the ring for either of the venues I run in, and judges aren't really willing to not notice.

We go to run-throughs at sites we've never been to, and at sites we trial at. I've tried fading her target gradually (original plan) and I've tried having the target there every time in practice (what we were doing leading up to this particular trial). We proof up the wazoo. Having people hover over her like a judge, sending her to the contacts from way behind, rear crossing them, bolting on ahead while she holds position, new places, new pieces of equipment, new dogs around. We've done demos at huge fairs, horse shows, and dog festivals. I'm not going to say we proof fully, because I know you can always proof better - but we do a lot. She once held her contact in a seminar when another dog got loose and came up over the a-frame behind her and came down at her.

I've always believed that you don't train at a trial. If something falls apart, you know that you need to stop trialing and work the behavior more at home. That it is a training issue. And I know that this is - I just don't know what my next step is. I don't know if I CAN fix this outside the trial ring, and I don't know how to fix it in the ring.
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Old 10-13-2009, 12:44 PM
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BB are you able to film your practice sessions and then film a trial and compare the two? You say you've proofed up the wazoo, trained and trained on contacts and she hits them during practice, fun runs etc. but it's a hit or miss in trials - correct??
My reason for filming would be to pick up on the small subtle differences in body language by you, from a low stress venue (training, fun runs) to a higher stress venue (trials) - even if you think you're not showing stress signals.
I can tell you from experience, that no matter how much I say I'm not stressed at a trial, Brandy knows best and picks up on the littlest thing that can throw a run. Our weaves in practice are 95%. Weaves at a trial are hit and miss. The reason, my set up in class for entry is smooth, easy and it doesn't matter to me if she hits them or not. My set up at a trial is stiff and I'm constantly thinking about them - too much. The difference in body language may be so subtle spectators may not notice, but the dog does. Brandy is VERY handler sensitive, I would assume Meg to be the same, just because of how you've described her in the past, so both dogs pick up on how and what the handler is feeling very easily.
That being said, if in your trial runs you tense up as she approaches the contact zone, if you take an extra step, if you let out a loud breath, if you maintain eye contact, or push and normally don't, if you over support, these can all affect how she will perform the contact. Try and compare the two on film, and look for the differences in running styles from low stress to higher stress environments - this could shine a light on why you are having the contact problems.
Hope that helps.
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