Thursday, December 1, 2011

When I am a Dog Trainer

Although I have always loved dogs, and I love people who love dogs, I am but an adoptee of the dog people. My first home, my people, are Engineers, the nerds, the geeks, the gamers, the wedgerats, the techs, the fraternity of Lamda Nu Lamda. And, once upon a time, I spent a year and a half residing at Worcester Polytechnical Institute, the University of Science and Technology. And Life.The motto of this fine institute of many sciences is "Lehr und Kunst." It is upon these words - Theory and Practice - that my school will be founded.

I will teach pet classes, because honestly you have to, but there will be a Pet track and a Performance track and there will be flow charts and it will be awesome. Some classes, like Clicks & Tricks and other things that can stand alone will be trackless, but entry level pet classes won't see much actual clicker, if any.

Novice A
A Performance class for people who have never titled a clicker-trained dog in Obedience. 8 weeks, 6 teams.
Prequisites: Performance Foundations I and Obedience Foundations

Week 1: Bring Dog, crate, clicker, treats. Review Novice exercises in slideshow and assistant + demo dog forms.
10 minute warm up: Rally-style doodling. Do you and your dog remember the things you've already learned?
15 minute lecture: Dogs in crates. What areas do you need to polish? Most of this class is about heeling and proofing, since sit-down-stand are covered in the preqs. Leashes are a safety net! If your dog needs a leash to stick with you, your rate of reinforcement is too low. Demo footwork and other handling signals with dog, then without for right-about turn. Leave slide up showing footwork while handlers pair up and walk 3 paces - about turn - 3 paces with "dog" watching only feet. Switch. Repeat, watching face/shoulders/upper body.
15 minute practicum: Get dogs out, set up for heeling. Handle about turn as practiced. Treat often, and work at your own pace. It is more important that your dog is successful and is keying in on your movements than keeping up with the class.
10 minute lecture: Dogs in crates. Demo right turn as before. Homework: 300 peck heeling with verbal "Name, sit." Practice right and about turns - not in the context of straight line heeling.
10 minute free-time: Leave, or stick around and get questions answered, a little extra practice, etc

Week 2: Warm up before class. Think about your routine before going in the ring to compete.
10 minute homework check: Who can 300 peck the farthest? When you drop out, stop where you lost and practice sit-stays. Winner gets some kind of credit that can be applied to stuff.
15 minute lecture: Dogs in crates. Left turns.
15 minute practicum:
10 minute lecture: Dogs in crates. Demo linking straight line heeling and turns. Be sure to lower distance/duration since you are making it harder. Homework: Can you work up to where your 300 peck was at the start of class with a right, left, and about turn? Don't add them all at once!
10 minute free-time

Week 3: Slow

Week 4: Fast

Week 5: Figure-8

Week 6: Long Sit

Week 7: Long Down

Week 8: Heeling Off Leash/Run-Through

I got to our Obedience class early tonight, and after letting Gatsby run out a bit of his crazy left him in the car to watch the Beginner Obedience class. I had thought about putting Gatsby in this class instead of Pre-Novice, and I'm glad I didn't. For one, it's MUCH larger and fairly chaotic.

I really enjoyed the chance to observe though, because there were a lot of interesting things I saw.

First of all, you can tell who breeds what around here - there are a fair number of Dachshunds (1 in agility, 3 in Beginner, 2 in Pre-Novice) and the Danes! I think the instructor (same for my class and this one) breeds them, from what I picked up in conversation. She uses them to demo a lot, there was a beautiful Harlequin tonight.

Secondly, because the class is so big, there is a lot of confusion for people and dogs. I don't think more assistants would have helped all that much, the room was too full. People didn't really know what they were doing and were trying to keep up with the rest of the class, when everyone's dogs really needed different things. It was just TOO MUCH. Maybe I'm just sensitized to it, but most dogs needed to come way dowwwwn, not more up happy playful yay! But then there were a few people like the lady with a young Dane who was shutting down under the excitement (I suspect). The dog was terribly confused, she'd barely get herself into a sit before starting off again. Each time she sat slower and slower, I suspect she needed to be told she was RIGHT for sitting, but now we're going to move on.

As a side effect of size, I'm beginning to realize that the standard structure of a training class is all wrong. Nobody knows why (or exactly what) they're supposed to do what they do, so they don't know how to change it if it's not going to help their dog. Understanding the why behind something is a huge soapbox of mine, which is why I'm such a theory buff (and why I can know all this and still have only a half-trained dog, I never did have much use for practice). Tonight they sent dogs through tunnels as a confidence booster. For the Dane who started out apprehensive but by the third time though was bounding? Yes, and it was delightful to see. For the timid Miniature Poodle who slipped through at first and by the end was trotting calmly (if unenthusiastically)? Yes! For the collie mix who had her leash pulled through the tunnel and still threw back her head and dug in her feet? Not so much.

There's too much lumping - because there's so much to cover in a class period (and let's face it, it's easier to get by with lumping in correction-based training) - and not enough splitting. And trainers have been saying for as long as I've been around that short, high energy, successful training bursts are more effective than dragging through for an hour. I know my energy goes all over the place during class, and there's still a lot of downtime.

So that's my rough outline of how I'd do a Pre-Novice class. Obviously there's a lot left to fill in, because this is my first time through an obedience class with an eye towards competition (and I don't know what I'd cover in the foundation), but the structure is the most important thing. Talk - do - talk - do. Split, practice, combine.

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