Training Tuesday: April​ 17, 2018

German Shepherd puppy wearing a graduation cap and looking at cameraThe theme for this week’s training plan is “When the ice melts.” Mother Nature dropped a few centimeters of slush on us last week, which is now frozen solid. Living on a curling rink has put a little hitch in Milo and my training giddy-up. But, this too shall pass. Here’s my weekly report:

Last week’s plan:
• Practice indicating articles in the house
• Do a few steps of focused heeling
• Do some counter conditioning for handling Milo’s paws to make nail grinding easier.

What we did:

I had to rejigger my plan on Thursday because the article indication and heeling went faster than I expected.

Article indication
After one day he responded to an article, in every room in the house, like this:

I think we’re ready for the track.

The focused heeling was fine. I added some more steps.

Paw handling was our biggest challenge.
• The trouble is that I started out using cheese as a reward. When Milo smells cheese, he goes into hyperactive, happy overdrive, which is not the frame of mind I want him to be in for nail trims. I want him happy, relaxed, and still. We switched from cheese to kibble on Thursday, and things went much better.

This coming week’s the plan is:
• Mix up 5, 10, 15, and 20 steps of focused heeling on low-distraction parts of our walks. We’ll move to a field when the ice melts.
• Tracking is on hold until the ice melts. When we start up again we’ll practice on a 100 step track with one right turn, one article on the track, and one article at the end of the track.
• Add touching the (turned off) grinder to each of his nails with lots of reinforcement.
• Keep doing a couple of Rally signs on our walks.

Stay tuned for next Tuesday’s training report!

Training Tuesdays

On the Road with Milo documents my sometimes-literal journey to understand how people and dogs can live well together. I’m learning from philosophical and scientific research on human-canine relationships; expert dog trainers, breeders, and handlers; and my own relationship with Milo the AwesomeDog.

Milo and I are companions. We train and compete in obedience and some dog sports. And we spend as much of our summers as we can camping in Canada’s national and provincial parks. My posts on this blog range from critiques of scientific papers to reviews of campgrounds, but in one way or another, they’re all about the relationship that Milo and I share, and hence about the relationship between humans and dogs.

Training is all about relationship—attention, communication, friendship, and teamwork. This spring and summer, my goal is to train with Milo more systematically. To document our progress, hold myself accountable, and regularly remind myself that the point of the training is to develop my relationship with Milo, I’ll post weekly updates about what I’m planning and how we’re doing. These will be my “Training Tuesdays” posts.

On Training Tuesdays, I’ll report what we did during the previous week, plan what we’ll do the next week, and muse about things that went well or poorly.

German Shepherd puppy wearing a graduation cap and looking at cameraMilo’s puppy kindergarten graduation photo


 

This week’s plan

I’ve already decided that this summer we’ll work on Rally Obedience, and train for Schutzhund obedience and tracking titles. I’m adding a “Living well” category for things Milo and I can learn that will make our lives easier and more fun. This could include tricks, house manners, and things like handing for grooming and veterinary procedures.

Rally

  • Nothing formal yet
  • We’ll just practice a sign or two on our walks

Tracking

  • Article indication off the track (2 minutes a day)

Obedience

  • Between 2 and 15 steps of focused heeling with giant rewards (5 minutes a day)

Living well

  • Paw handling with very high reward rates (2 minutes a day)

Glossary

Article indication. Milo and I will be doing Schutzhund-style tracking. In these tests, he needs to tell me when he finds articles dropped along the track by laying down with his front paws on either side of an article. I’ll teach him this in the living room. When he’s got it, we’ll take it outdoors onto a track.

Paw handling. Milo does not like getting his nails trimmed. I can wrestle him through a manicure, but I would rather not. It stresses us both out and is detrimental to our relationship. So, we’ll do some counter-conditioning to teach him that it is a good thing when I grind down his nails. All I’m going to do this week is call him to his paw trimming spot and ask him to give me a paw (he already is happy to do these two things). Then, I’ll hold his paw in the same way I would when grinding down his nails and give him a treat. That’s all. Easy-peasy. The trick is yummy treats and tiny little baby steps.

Summer training plans

I’ve decided that this summer Milo and I will train for an obedience title and a tracking title, and take another Rally obedience class.

BH (Begleithund Test)

line diagram tracing a heel work pattern

BH heelwork pattern

This is the first obedience title that one can get in the sport of Schutzhund. I’m interested in a BH because it seems difficult but doable. In addition to a temperament test and a traffic test, the BH involves a long heelwork pattern. Milo and I can already do all of the elements of this pattern. The trick will be to link them together and keep him focused for the duration of the exercise.

 

Tracking

Tracking is on the list because Milo is an olfactory genius (proud dog mamma talking here). He loves to sniff and it seems wrong to deny him the opportunity to develop this talent. It is also a lot of fun to work with him on a project that he finds so engaging.

black and tan german shepherd with his nose down in green grass

Rally class

Milo and I could get some more Rally titles. But Rally classes provide more important benefits than titles. They are great socialization opportunities. These classes provide a safe and controlled environment with lots of new dogs and new people who Milo can practice ignoring. Also, this instructor helps me work on being a more confident handler. I can always use this sort of help.

I called this post “Summer training plans.” This is not yet a plan, only a list of interests. More detailed plans are on the horizon.

My plan for this week is to make the plan. I’ll:

  • look into upcoming Rally classes and Rally trials,
  • set up a weekly tracking and training date with some like-minded friends, and
  • make a first pass at dividing the BH and tracking training into tiny little manageable bits for me and Milo work on.

 

Rally Obedience: E​ngagement and trust

Milo and I just earned a score of 96 / 100 at the mock trial that was the final exam in our advanced Rally Obedience class.

I wish Milo the AwesomeDog could read because this post is all about thanking him for being such a wonderful partner.

attentionMilo was super engaged during the trial. This means that he was paying attention to me with laser focus. He was not asking, but demanding, that I give him a job to do and he put his whole self into doing what I wanted. He didn’t just walk, he pranced. He didn’t just jump, he leaped. He was beautiful, and we were a team.

One of my classmates praised him for being so “sharp.” She said, “his eyes are always on you, even when you’re talking to someone else.” I don’t think she realized how grand, and complicated, this compliment was.

It is not just his nature to pay attention like this. He and I worked through some difficult things together, and we developed a solid relationship. We both know that we have each other’s backs and that the world is better and safer when we’re a team.

Also, we practice engagement almost every day. We spend more time training this than anything else. I say “look,” he looks me in the eye, and I give him a treat or a game of tug or a cuddle. We do this before breakfast, on walks, when we go to new places, and when we’re watching TV at night. You can train a dog to pay attention to you. When you have that under your belt, everything else gets easier.

When Milo is engaged it is a big deal–he’s 90 pounds of muscle and smart as a whip. It’s a big deal because he’s trusting me and putting all of his brains and brawn at my service. That trust and willingness to work for me with his whole magnificent self is a gift for which I am profoundly grateful.

Thank you, Milo.

 

Who’s got four paws and a CKC Novice Rally Obedience Title?

THIS GUY!

12

 

We arrived early and got a good spot in the corner. This is where we hung out between runs, and where Milo rested while I walked the courses and chatted with the other hoomins.

boy's home

Milo, chilling out between runs.

 

Can you believe that he earned all this bling? I might have to make a quilt or something.bling c

 

And here is my angel from heaven barely resisting tearing off this his ribbons.

bling a

I am very proud of my boy! ❤

 

Fitness and flourishing: The benefits of attending to your dog’s mental health

They say that a tired dog is a good dog and, generally, they’re right. This is a little bit concerning because although this summer with its camping and hiking and swimming has been good for both of us, Milo is getting physically fitter than I am. Each day the gap between what I can do to tire him out and what it takes to tire him out gets a little bit wider.

tired dog

Milo and I have been camping for 11 weeks now. He started out strong and is getting stronger–swimming more days than not, playing a vigorous game of fetch on most days, and hiking almost every day. He’s a great big muscle with outstanding endurance.

I’m sure I’m much fitter now than I was at the beginning of this trip too. First of all, Milo never hikes alone. Many hikes have the word “lookout” in their name. I guess people like a view, and you need high ground for that sort of thing. So, lots of this summer’s hikes involved an uphill trek. I grew up in a part of Canada that’s so flat that people say you can watch your dog run away for three days. As a result, whenever I put on any vertical metres it feels like a serious (and somewhat exotic) workout. It seems like I’ve been walking uphill all summer, and I’ve noticed that it takes more to get me huffing and puffing than it used to.

German shepherd sitting on a rock looking out over a deep blue bay

Milo at Lookout Point.

There are other ways my daily activity has increased. For one thing, Milo and I travelled across the country which means I’ve hitched and unhitched my trailer many many times. Setting up the trailer involves deploying five, yes five, jacks, and none of them is electric. I’m getting some serious pipes.

Playing with Milo provides a good workout as well. When we play tug, there are times when I am yanking on my end of the toy as hard as I can. He is strong enough to pull me over, and I have to pull back. It is fun and exhausting and we’ve been doing lots of it this summer.

Except for my Fitbit saying that my resting heart rate is nine beats a minute lower than it was at the beginning of the trip, I don’t have a way to measure my increased fitness. But I know I feel good, and that is better than numbers.

However, even though I feel great, I get tired before Milo does, every single time we play or hike or swim. We are often a tired person and a slightly winded dog duo. This has not turned out to be a problem though because although it is true that a tired dog is a good dog, a mentally fit dog is a good dog too.

I’ve been thinking about physical fitness in terms of how much exercise it takes to make me and Milo tired, but fitness also includes mental fitness, or psychological well-being, or mental health, or whatever you want to call it. This summer our mental fitness has been improving in step with our physical fitness, and that helps him be a good dog and helps me be a good person.

 

German Shepherd laying on a grey rock.

Milo’s the good dog.

 

In addition to getting more exercise, we’ve been eating good food, spending time in nature, enjoying long hours of restful sleep, and experiencing very little stress. Milo has a guardian who is more centred, and I have a dog who is calmer. It seems like neither of us is sweating the small stuff as much as we used to.

For example, the last people who used the campsite we’re in right now left a week’s worth of stinky trash and recycling in the fire pit. That is the sort of thing that used to make me fume. But this time I just thought “some people make it easier to leave the place better than I found it than others.” It only took about 90 seconds to clean it up, and now I’m enjoying a campfire. Milo is laying on the ground beside the picnic table I’m using as a desk.  He’s keeping tabs on the neighbours, and paying attention to dogs walking by in a way that’s alert but relaxed. In other words, he’s being a German Shepherd Dog.

It’s not that he’s too tired to get in trouble, it’s that he is physically and mentally fit. His needs are being met and his life is full enough for him to enjoy being good–good in the sense of being well behaved, and good in the sense of flourishing.

This trip with Milo has helped make my life full enough to enjoy being good too!

Another shot at Rally Obedience

start signAfter our last, which would have been our first, Rally trial was cancelled, I realised that I stopped posting about Milo and my training. We still train every day. But, without a goal, it ‘s hard to be systematic about it. I was disappointed by the cancellation because Milo and I put alot of time and energy into getting ready for that event.

I am happy to say that Milo and I are back on track and will make our debut at the Red Barn Event Centre, which is hosting an All-Breed Candian Kennel Club Rally Obedience Trial on October 8, 2017.

Update: Milo and my first Rally Obedience Trial was cancelled

Thank you for your good wishes and support. I was notified a couple of days ago that this whole trial was cancelled. This cancellation is a significant bummer because I really wanted to trial in Saskatoon and I planned much of my summer travel around this event.

I have to remind myself that the travel has been, and continues to be, wonderful and that there will be many more opportunities for Milo and I to strut our stuff in the ring.

I’m looking at Canuckdogs.com for another Rally event for us to enter.

Training outcomes July 25 – August 2: We know the novice rally signs

Milo and I spent the last week heeling through figure eights, and weaves, and spirals. I am happy to report that we can do all the Novice Rally exercises and I can read all the signs.

The biggest challenges for me will be keeping track of our left and right turns (I’m not joking) and remembering to speed up when Milo starts to lag. This feels backwards. When Milo starts to slow down my tendency is to slow down as well and tell him to hustle up. But, he catches up more quickly if I ignore him and walk faster.

I’ve heard people give different reasons for why this works. Some say

  • that it adds more forward energy to the exercise,
  • that the dog doesn’t want to be left behind,
  • that it makes the exercise more interesting for the dog, or
  • that the dog imitates the handler.

All that I know is that if I slow down, he slows down even more, and that if I surge ahead, he’ll break into a trot to keep up. It’s a case of do as I do, not as I say.

I wish I had video of me and Milo. In my imagination we look like this team when we go through a serpentine weave:

Training plan for the week of July 25: The novice rally signs

As I’ve said before, my goal is to earn a Novice Rally Obedience Title with Milo. In a Novice Rally trial, the judge creates a course of 10-15 obedience exercises and evaluates a dog-handler team as they work through those exercises. According to the Canadian Kennel Club

The chief objective of rally is to provide a fast-moving and motivational activity that demonstrates the competency of handler and dog in performing basic obedience exercises without requiring exact precision for success. 

This German Shepherd earned a perfect score on a novice course.

Most of these exercises Milo and I have been doing for ages. The fancier heeling patterns will need some attention, and I need to keep working on Milo’s engagement in new and distracting environments.

Also, there are signs that indicate which exercises a team needs to perform. Some of them are pretty obvious, and some aren’t. I need to study.

 

So, the plan for this week is pretty straightforward:

  1. Practice engagement in distracting spots.
  2. Work on our Figure 8 heeling pattern.
  3. Familiarize ourselves with the signs indicating various exercises.