Friday, September 30, 2011

Boredom is setting in ...

Poor, poor Gata - she just doesn't understand why I'm not working her. She likes find the ball games just fine but she also LOVES to chase the ball, and heel, and jump, and retrieve and ...   Plus, I still have to figure out how I am going to work Tor and not work Gata without breaking her heart and mine ...  Comments, suggestions???

Thursday, September 29, 2011

More Normal Results ...

Gata's blood work continues to come back normal. CBC looks good. Thyroid levels all well within normal and ratio of T3, T4 and TSH is good.  Should have the Cortisol results back tomorrow. Glad that nothing is wrong but what is causing the collapses and why are they happening so much more often in a way that does not appear to be weather dependent???

Also heard back from the University of MN that they have only tested about 10 Belgians. So, I guess, we will probably submit samples for that if the rest of the blood work and cardiology workup all come back normal.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gata - Vet Investigation #1

Mother Nature played with us a little today. I'm not sure whether or not it was for the best. It was cool and rainy. The video didn't turn out at all - think I went from StandBy to Off instead of Record. But Gata did have a mild collapse while working and I was able to record her temperature at various points along the way.

Pre-exercise: 101.5
~5 minutes: 105.0
~8 minutes: 105.9
~12 minutes (mild collapse): 106.3
~20 minutes (~8 minutes of recovery): 105.8
~40 minutes (~28 minutes of recovery): 103.8

I'm not exactly sure that it is the most accurate thermometer but you can definitely see the change from baseline and how rapidly her temperature goes up.

All of her blood work today looked normal. She had an Ehrlichia test again, pre and post exercise Glucose and Electrolytes, CBC and Chemistry.  Not all of the results are back yet but so far everything looks absolutely fine except for her temperature.

Next steps:
1. Try to get a good recording of a collapse incident with her (will try on Saturday, not supposed to be raining and the clinic is open if things go bad)
2. Do Cardiac Imaging and potentially a cardiac ultrasound and ECG. Currently scheduled for next Thursday.

The vet is thinking everything else is going to come back normal. Trying to brainstorm on what might cause thermo-dysregulation. Potential candidates so far - strange auto-immune (Thyroid/Cortisol) defects?? Tick-borne disease since I distinctly remember pulling a huge tick off after picking her up from a friend that she stayed with for a few weeks when she was about 9 months old when my Dad had a heart attack.

If nothing else shows up we will submit blood and tissue for the EIC tests (and probably for the BCC project, too) and see if that shows anything. Time will tell. And time to go to work!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

EIC probably not the problem

I heard back from the diagnostic lab at the University of MN Vet School. They have tested several Belgians (Tervs and Malinois) for EIC and none have come up positive. They didn't exactly say that it would be a waste of my money and her blood but did encourage me to consider submitting her blood for the research being done on BCC instead. So that means no clear diagnosis since they are still working to identify a genetic defect.

May try to have a follow up conversation or email with them to clarify it just a little bit more. Just keep banging away at it. Hopefully, we will get to an answer soon.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Gata's Time is Approaching ...

It is going to happen. I have made the appointments for Gata.

Wednesday morning I will take her in relatively early (7:30) for a fasting blood test. Then I will take her out for some work and work her hard enough to cause a collapse. I will videotape and monitor her temp, mentation, and other vitals. After she recovers, I will take her back for another blood test.

Friday morning I will take her in for Cardiac Imaging. If her heart and lungs look normal we will do a complete blood chemistry and another Ehrlichia titer. While she is sedated, the vet will listen to her heart for an extended period of time to see he if can detect any arrhythmia.

If all of that comes up normal, we will submit blood samples to the U. of MN to test for EIC (Exercise-Induced Collapse) and/or BCC (Border Collie Collapse).

I am already nervous.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Delaying Gata's Collapse Video for a Few Days

I have decided to wait a couple more days to do a video of Gata collapsing, for several reasons:

1. The vet clinic will be open if she doesn't seem to be recovering quickly.

2. I can continue to do some training work around taking her temperature. She is getting much better about it but I haven't even tried it out in the middle of an open field during the middle of a training session yet.

3. The weather is definitely changing, and if this is EIC her recovery will be more certain if the air is cooler.

4. And last, but not least, I am just a little freaked out by the whole idea of working her specifically to cause a collapse. I'm not sure that I will feel any better about it in a couple of days but, hopefully, I will have become more accustomed to the idea.

Equal Time for Tor

Back to my dogs after all that writing about the clinic, this will be much easier! So, the title of this post is equal time for Tor, but he probably still won't be equal since my concerns around Gata are so significant. But, Tor is doing marvelously well. He is growing up and looks absolutely fantastic. He is definitely a handsome dog! He doesn't have lots of coat yet but definitely has the tail and feathering of a Terv.

He is a delightfully goofy and intense dog. It's almost like he is doing everything within his power to become that once in a lifetime kind of dog. The funny thing is that all of my dogs have been that. He is so affectionate and pushy and playful and just downright goofy that he constantly makes me laugh just before he forgets and rakes his teeth across my arm raising a bruised welt the entire way. I feel almost schizophrenic as we transition almost instantaneously between good/no so fast it makes my head spin. He is, by FAR, the quickest dog that I have ever worked - both physically and mentally. He learns thinks freakishly fast and when you think it is time to generalize a behavior he just goes out and does it like he has been doing it for years and it makes perfect sense to do it under these circumstances as well.

He continues to be a very stable dog and Gata's influence just reinforces that. However, between the move, his age, and his inherent aggression he has become somewhat more protective of me than I like. He is absolutely fine if we are working or even just going for a walk. He notices things and you can see he is evaluating whether or not they pose a threat if we are just on our neighborhood walk but he generally doesn't do anything more than that. However, if I am just standing around talking to my neighbor he doesn't have enough structure to know what to do and will tend to make the decision to try to drive them away from me. So I am working on that.

His training has suffered a little as a result of what is going on with Gata, the weather, my transition into a new job, etc. He hasn't gotten any bite work outside of the seminar. But, in all honesty, I think that is all right at this point. He is one of those "biting monsters" so building the relationship and other skills that I plan to use to gain the necessary control and accuracy are probably even more important at this point in his progression.

His obedience is coming along very well. I'm not exactly sure what his heeling looks like, it has a much different feel to it than Gata's does, but his position is perhaps even better than hers. I started him very differently and it is definitely paying off in terms of his certainty about where he belongs. And that confidence definitely shows and his energy and general happiness to work also show through. So I think I have succeeded in what I was trying to do with him and have avoided the "stalking heel" that I thought might be most natural for him. I plan to set up the video camera one of these days to see just exactly what he is looking like. He feels very bouncy beside me :-)

He is also learning the basics to many of the more advanced OB exercises. His retrieve is coming along beautifully. I am pattern training the actual retrieve portion as described by the Germany team that I spent so much time writing about. The hold work is also going very well. That I am doing in a manner that combines the Michael Ellis approach, starting with something definitely not a dumbbell and including lots of different items and textures, and the approach of the German team in terms of attention to detail with respect to position of dog and handler and so many other things. It is going well but I plan to work on it a lot more over the winter when we won't be able to do so much outside.

His out of motions are also coming along, in general, I have done a great job on his down, but need to spend more time on his sit and stand positions. They are good but not excellent. Something else we will be spending a lot of time on this winter when we will be spending more time training in the garage.

He is also learning the send out. It is also going well. He is adding in more and more speed as his confidence in what he is doing increases. He occasionally looks back over his shoulder but that is diminishing with his increasing confidence. Given the excellent down that he has, I think he will have a very beautiful send out someday :-)

He definitely needs more work on his jumping. When he is unsure of what he is doing, for any reason, he jumps like an Ox. I'm not really sure what to do about that, partly because I'm not exactly sure what his future looks like. Like Gata, he could compete ia variety of sports quite easily. And I don't want to limit his potential in Agility by focusing exclusively on SchH jumping. But, realistically, he has the potential to be a PHENOMENAL SchH dog and I don't want to jeopardize that either. So, for now, I procrastinate and try to decide how to proceed.

Anyway, that is pretty accurate update on where things stand with Tor. I need to get some pix of him but in lieu of that here is a link to one of his early bite work sessions on Dave Deleissegues.

Schutzhund Clinic - Peter and Connie Scherk and Florian Knabl; Part 5

OK, here we go, the final installment on the Schutzhund clinic with Peter and Connie Scherk and Florian Knabl. I'll start with a very general discussion of handler focus and obedience during bite work. This is a very important aspect of bite work these days. Many points can be lost very quickly for a lack of accuracy or control in these elements. It tends to be the characteristic that separates a real biting monster from a great trial dog. Dogs that don't exhibit superior control in the bite work don't end up on the podium very often any more. Peter, Connie, and Florian recognize that and start working on the control elements of the bite work from day 1.

Like many people these days they actually start working on the back transport before they do much focused heeling with their young dogs. That way they avoid the conflict between focused heeling and the transport exercises. There will still be some conflict when the dog starts to do focused heeling but they mitigate that by increasing the level of distraction over time. So by the time that the dog actually has to do focused heeling in the presence of the big ball that they initially train most of the protection exercises on and ultimately the helper they understand the difference. You can also emphasize the difference by using different commands.

They start on the back transport using a very mechanical/physical technique that requires at least one excellent assistant. The assistant's job is to help control the dog's position using a back line attached to the harness and to keep the dog in a standing position during the early phases. The dog is supposed to maintain their position with the handler's left leg and will only be released to the toy/ball when the handler's left leg is back and right leg is forward, effectively putting the dog in an artificially lagged position. They believe that this is critical to minimize forging and point loss. As the dog starts to learn the position, lightly brushing the handler's left leg, and in a marginally lagged position, help from the assistant is faded.

I think you could probably do more shaping and achieve the same result in terms of position but I think that their focus on when you release the dog to the ball or helper is unique and probably very smart. An awful lot of dogs forge in the back transport no matter how you train it and I think this might help that problem.

They work the side transport as a variation of the back transport.

From there we moved on to the element of focused obedience within the confines of the protection work. Like most people, once their dogs are doing focused work they start adding in distractions of varying type and value. They do lots of that before ever working on focused obedience in the presence of the helper - pretty much the highest value distraction for most SchH dogs.

That was pretty much it for the bite work stuff that I saw. We left a little early because Gata had the first of her more serious collapse incidents here on Sunday afternoon. So they may have done a little more that I didn't see. However they did use a few tools that I thought were interesting and worth talking about.

Dressage whip - I already mentioned how I felt about the abuse of this particular tool. However, when used in the way I would envision I can see it being very useful in creating total body awareness and extremely precise movements and positioning. I think it is something that I will play around with over the winter. I did a lot of this sort of work in horses so think it should come pretty easily. Though I think that there is the potential that you could inadvertently teach the dog to move away from the helper's stick as well. So I will have to keep that in mind.

Big ball - as soon as the puppies have developed a few fundamental skills they start pattern training parts and ultimately the entire protection routine using a big ball (soccer, Jolly, etc.). I think they usually have an assistant on hand as well who can add energy/movement to the ball or remove it when necessary. But the point is the dog already knows the rules of the game before it starts working on the helper so it is much easier to do so without using corrections. I did it that way with Gata but mostly to make training more efficient - I train at least 10 times on my own for every time I train on a helper. Whereas the Germany group do protection work 3 times a week.

Special bite wedge - Team Heuwinkl has a special relationship with the folks at Frabo and have lots of custom made equipment. Most of those designs eventually become marketed items, partly because they are just well designed and executed to meet a general need and partly because of good marketing. I'll do my best to describe the wedge that I saw them using since it doesn't have a specific name. But the folks that are really involved in SchH that read this will understand, I think. It is one of the hard (rather than pillow) wedges with 3 handles that have become so popular recently. The customization is in the cover for the wedge. It has a strip of plastic sewn across it, about 2 inches from the biting edge so that dogs that don't immediately go for a full bite will connect with the slippery surface and either slide off or regrip quickly. Ultimately, it encourages dogs to go for a better grip from very early on. This is something that I will probably invest in since I do so much with my dogs on my own. I have sort of avoided using the pillow wedges with Gata because it is too easy for me to present it badly and/or her to get a strange grip on it. So I really like this idea. Though I didn't actually pick it up when I was at the clinic so don't know what it would feel like to use.

Final take-sways from the clinic. I really like what they are doing and it is definitely revolutionizing the sport of SchH. I don't think it is the most sophisticated training in terms of theoretical elements and basis in learning theory. But I'm not sure that is as important as successful outcomes in the sport of SchH for now. I would definitely audit their seminar again if they came anywhere near me. I would not hesitate to take a working spot with a young or green dog as long as it had a good out or I needed help getting a good out. I wouldn't pay for a working spot with a more advanced dog. For me, it was a very nice way to spend the weekend and start tapping into the SchH community around here.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Gata and Heat Sensitivity or Exercise-Induced Collapse or ???

Gata continues to worry me. What I have been trying to minimize by describing as "heat sensitive" is probably something much more akin to Exercise-Induced Collapse. The only good thing about it is that they have done a lot of research on it since the last time I looked into it and have a much better understanding than they did at the time of Gata's first collapse over 3 years ago. They have a genetic test for it now, but it seems to be pretty specific to the retriever breeds. There is something else like it in Border Collies that is definitely NOT the same thing based on genetic markers. As far as I can tell they don't know what it is yet. But I will try to call the University of MN to find out more.

Anyway, Gata had another incident of it at about 6:00 Wednesday morning. It was neither hot nor humid. She's been off since then as I have been doing my own research and trying to figure out how to proceed.

I stopped at the local vets office on the way home yesterday, on a whim. I don't like the set up of their facility or the way their tech tries to manhandle the dogs but did like the vet. And since he had worked at the NIH I thought there might be a pretty good chance that he would be academically inclined. He wasn't there so I ended up talking with the owner of the practice. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he knew quite a bit about EIC and BCC. Apparently there are quite a few working stock dogs and field trial Labrador Retrievers around here. And at least some of them suffer from it. Apparently, the current estimates are that 30-40%of all Labradors today are carriers.

Anyway, he talked to me about some other things that can present similar symptoms - dilated cardiomyopathy, some heart arrhythmias, glucose/insulin problems, and ... Ehrlichia canis (again with the Ehrlichia). So we mapped out an approach to sort through most of the possibilities pretty quickly and easily for her but probably not so easy on my bank account.

The one thing that is really worrying me about it is that I am going to work her long enough to cause a collapse and monitor a number of things including time, temperature, mental status, etc. I've decided that if I am going to do all of that I might as well set up the video camera and record it. I was planning to do that tomorrow, but have to admit it is sort of freaking me out a little bit. It just seems wrong to go out of my way to cause a collapse even though I know that it will be very helpful to the vets to be able to actually see it. Several of these conditions are known to cause fatalities.

I think I can set it up so that it is relatively safe. Have ice water in a cooler on the field to help cool her off as soon as I get her temp and do a mental status check. But still, it seems awfully risky. Oh man, I hate these sorts of decisions ...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Schutzhund Clinic - Peter and Connie Scherk and Florian Knabl; Part 4

OK, on to the bite work.  I guess we should start with the most important part of bite work, the out. They start teaching that at a very young age when the puppy is still playing with the rag. They tell the puppy to out and stick a piece of food in front of its nose. When the puppy opens its mouth they more or less push its head back with the food. They want their dogs to look like they are almost spitting the sleeve out. So this drawing the head back from the toy is very important to them. Again, lots and lots of repetitions until you have a pretty nice out.

However, they do some things that are quite a bit different than many of the people that I know in the sport.
1. They discourage an automatic out and train the dog in a way that avoids it
2. They rarely out the dog when it is in front of the helper
3. They rarely out the dog when the helper is locked up
4. They almost actively teach the dog to increase their fight when the helper is locked up
5. Teach the dog to out in almost any phase of the engagement with the helper so that it doesn't matter what is happening when the judge signals you to out your dog

They practice with the dog on both sides of the helper, while being actively driven. It is quite impressive. Especially with the international rules changing it seems likely that dogs will be penalized for an automatic out soon.

Fixing a bad out was not something that they had any patience for.  Though, I don't know if they would do the same thing at home.  I think clinicians feel pressure to show results with the dogs at the clinic and if the dog won't even reliably it is hard to get very far.  They just corrected the crap out of the dog and reprimanded the handler for not teaching it properly in the first place. Age might have mattered, there weren't really any young puppies there. But they seemed to want to go thru the entire list of dogs and just correct every one for outing problems.

They asked me to demonstrate Gata's problem with the out. I replied that she doesn't have a problem with the out and they told me to put her away. I was told by the host to get her out, that it was her turn and that we could work on other things. Gata could use some work on her out when under drive, etc. but that is about training and exposure to stuff I haven't done with her before and not a justification to correct the crap out of her. She certainly would have had a problem with her out, and maybe even her biting, if I had just turned them loose on her. The look on my face must have been pretty frustrated because they at least tossed me a pillow to give her a few bites on. Her outs were beautiful, as usual for her. Didn't win any extra points with Peter on that one either. But I didn't have my dogs there to demonstrate their training methodologies, I had my dogs there to advance their training in one way or another. Unfortunately, I can't say that they did anything at all worthwhile with Gata. She didn't even get to have a good time on a helper over the two days.

I would have been happy to let them work on her out under other conditions, she does auto out a little sometimes. But I think I will feel safer about working on that stuff on my own.

Anyway, enough about that. They do some very interesting work on the bark and hold. They do a number of things very differently than any other group that I have observed. However, I should also mention that I walked away thinking that using their method with a less experienced helper, or one that didn't read dogs as well could lead to disastrous results. So, I'll try to summarize a few of their rules first and then add in more nuance at the end.

1. The dog never gets a bite on the helper for the bark and hold. The toy, ball or pillow or wedge, or a sleeve is always thrown away to the helper's right hand side and the dog is allowed to grab it there. NEVER a bite from the helper!!

2. They work the dogs in true aggression for the b&h. They start the puppies very young, while they are still being socialized in other environments and/or under other conditions. They have someone approach from a very significant distance acting distinctly suspicious. When the puppy reacts at all in a confidently aggressive/assertive way the suspicious person moves away.  This will vary by individual puppy. For some, it will be as little as looking at the bad guy's face for an instant for other puppies they will want more. Initially, the reward will be that the bad guy goes away but at some point they will add in the toy/puppy sleeve. They do all of this outside the blind. They will continue moving it along until the puppy is showing perfect bark and hold behavior outside the blind on a loose back line. Then they will move it into the blind.

For many of the dogs there, they started this work by taking advantage of their natural tendency to resource guard. They threw a puppy sleeve on the ground in front of the dog and then tried to sneak up and take it.  When the dog barked they kicked the sleeve to him.  It worked very well for many of the dogs including Tor. As the dog becomes more and more confident in their aggressive assertiveness they show them more and more aggressive displays from the helper.

The key element is only moving forward in aggression when the puppy is confident and not overly stressed out. Rewarding the frantic or hysterical aggression is not what you want.

I plan to take advantage of the technique that they demonstrated with Tor to build on what they started.  With me, he will not be showing any true aggression. So, I will essentially be pattern training him, which I don't mind. Tor shows plenty of natural aggression and already has a very powerful bark whether he is demand barking or showing aggression. For this particular dog, I'm not really worried, I think he will show plenty of aggression anyway. Though, I realize that this is another place where my approach would differ from theirs.

OK, I'm going to stop here for now. I will do the rest of the bite work stuff later.  One thing that I did want to mention - they pattern train almost all of the bite work exercises using a big ball first. I did that with Gata and people made fun of me but it certainly worked well with her.  Anyway, more on that later.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Schutzhund Clinic - Peter and Connie Scherk and Florian Knabl; Part 3

OK, here we go again. After the retrieve, they demonstrated their approach to teaching jumping. This was another example of what we would call lumping but definitely seems to serve a purpose in terms of patterning a particular jumping style, which is all that is required in the protection sports, as opposed to agility.

Again, they started with the desired behavior - a really fast retrieve over the jump with clean pick up and equal speed on the return.  They want clean, fast, powerful jumps. They don't ever want to lose any points because the judge didn't like the way their dog jumped.

So, they have developed a device that essentially turns the vertical 1-meter jump (or lower heights on the way to a meter) into an oxer for the dogs. They extend various different light-weight contraptions off both the front and the back of the jump. Light-weight is critical because they want it to fall (or make noise) when barely ticked. I know I'm not explaining this very well but know that many of you have probably seen similar home-rigged contraptions. They also cut the boards in the middle so that if a dog ever does fail the jump it gives way easily and minimizes the likelihood that a dog gets hurt.

From the first day that the puppy ever sees the jump, they are encouraging speed, drive and power over the jump. If the puppy ticks the metal rod they simply give a no-reward marker and try again. This the only place that they clearly, and purposefully, used a marker, as far as I could tell  but again, I only saw the final 2 days. The puppy's first jumps will be at a lower height and will essentially be a restrained recall over the jump to build speed and drive. Eventually, they turn it into jumping in both directions and a full retrieve but they didn't actually talk about that. So I don't know if they do anything other than lower the jump at first.  Again, literally hundreds of repetitions and much work at lower heights before going to full height.

The last two obedience exercises they talked about were the send out and long down. It seems sort of funny to lump them together but it works really well when I tell you about something that I thought was very clever. They have taught they're dogs to release from a stay, in any position, with a very particular physical movement from the handler.  For Bendix and his young dog, Peter drops into a quick squat, sort of.  The dog releases to him for a toy. It helps to minimize the likelihood that the dog breaks the long down when the other handler on the field gives their dog a command and also minimizes the likelihood that their dogs would release from the crowd reaction to their spectacular send out and down.  The other thing that it does is create a more active stay as the dog is now intently watching their handler and less likely to be looking around or distracted by other things on or around the field. I really like this aspect of it and have been working my dogs on this as well.

OK, the actual send out. Again, remember lots of repetitions. They have a shallow hole/ditch at the end of their field. They hide a special toy there that is used primarily for the send out.  They teach the puppy to run to the end of the field to get the toy.  They start close so the puppy can see it.  Once they get far enough away that the puppy can't see it they make a big deal sending their assistant running and waving the toy down to the end of the field to "hide" it.  Eventually they fade all of that. In parallel to that, they are teaching their puppy to down fast for that same toy - sort of a version of Ivan's game only more bite work like, with an assistant holding the puppy on a back line and the handler some distance away agitating the dog.

Once they feel the individual pieces are good, they put them together.  One very critical element though, the times that you tell the dog to down the toy is not in the hiding spot - very important that the dog not be able to self-reward. They fully expect that in the beginning, regardless of where the dog is when they call out "down", that the dog will go all the way to the end of the field to check if the toy is there before they down. That gets better with repetition as the dog realizes that the toy will NEVER be there when you tell them down. At some point in the future, they will start to give a harsh second command if they think the dog is not downing as fast as he is capable of. At that point, they will also withhold the reward.

From that point forward they will do about two gos for every send out and down. Again, they place a very high premium on speed and power in this exercise so are always building speed and drive for it. This is also the only exercise that he specifically mentioned doing a lot of foreshadowing to build the dog up. He starts cueing the dog as soon as he completes the retrieves.

He also has specific warm up routines for obedience and protection work, and I think tracking, too. I'm not sure how long they are but know that he activates his dog with barking before he goes on the field for protection. I don't know any more than that, though.

OK, that completes the obedience exercises. I'll try to get you something on the protection work tomorrow. It's a little more complicated with the start of the work week.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Heat Sensitive Dogs

So many things have been going well since we moved to MD that it seems kind of petty to complain about this, but it is potentially quite serious. Gata has always been prone to over heating during work, primarily obedience. Since moving out here that problem has resurfaced in spades. It has been so hot and humid most of the time that I am lucky to get 4 minutes of work out of her before she starts to overheat. Tor is not as bad as Gata but he is struggling in the heat as well. Hopefully, they will both get used to it, at least a little.

In the meantime, I have been doing a little research on the topic again, special thanks to Augusta Farley and Tammy Doherty for their help. Tammy reminded me of some basic physiology principles that had slipped my mind. Things like there are a couple of different ways to help get your dog accustomed to dealing with working in the heat:

1. Try to keep their temperature from going so high while they are working by identifying signs that indicate that the dog is approaching their critical temperature. I had that down pretty well with Gata in CA but out here she continues to heat up when we stop working since it is so much hotter and more humid. So I need to identify a different, earlier marker for her.

2. Reduce her temperature as much as possible before she starts to work so that it will take her a little longer to get to her critical temperature. Things like fans, cool pads in crates and vests can all be used effectively to that end. I have used all with her in the past but not specifically to cool her down before starting. Though the cool pads and fans will do some of that anyway.

Anyway, Tammy recommended a specific vest that she has used that used a slightly different technology than most. It is very popular with military and working dogs. Here is a link to an online brochure for their canine products, the website is being redesigned.

I would love to hear if anyone has used their products. I will almost certainly order something for Gata tomorrow. Until it gets here, I will go back to doing all the things that I used to do with her. I guess I had gotten to comfortable with the idea that I could tell when she was getting too close to her critical temperature and had stopped using the other tools to extend her ability to work.

Maybe, just maybe there is a slight chance that we can get her ready to trial for the DVG Nationals. I would say the odds are strongly against it right now, not enough time. But we'll give it a shot and see how it goes ...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Schutzhund Clinic - Peter and Connie Scherk and Florian Knabl; Part 2

OK, here we go again. The first actual obedience exercise that they explained while I was there was the retrieve. Like many other people, they work the hold and delivery of the dumbbell away from the pattern of the retrieve.  There was nothing all that unusual about their work on the hold and deliver except their attention to detail and the number of repetitions they did. For example, they are very much aware of their position with respect to the dog. They don't want the dog to develop a history of "less than perfect" deliveries of the dumbbell in the front position so they don't start the training in that position. They make sure that they are in a 90-degree position to the dog to start this training. They work the hold and delivery for months, focusing on all the details - where the dog is holding the dumbbell in their mouth (they prefer just behind the canines because the dog will naturally pick it up there and they don't want the dog ever rolling the dumbbell in their mouth to reposition it), the calm hold, the quick release upon command only, quality of the sit, position of the head at delivery, etc.  It is this level of attention to detail that pays off for them in the end.

Then there is the whole pattern of the retrieve, which is what the game that I alluded to earlier is about. Ultimately, they want a fast send, lightening quick pick up followed instantly by an equally fast turn, and straight return. So they have developed a game that creates those elements for them. It is a 2-tug game, but not like the 2-tug or 2-ball game that I have seen many people play with their dogs. In their game, the goal is to have the dog think that the best reward of all is to have both tugs in its mouth at the same time.

To start this game they put two nearly identical tugs close together on the ground and encourage the puppy to get 1. As soon as the pup picks the first one up they encourage him to get the other verbally and by kicking it on the ground. They think it is very important to keep the tugs on the ground at this point. If necessary, they move the tugs closer and closer together until the puppy picks up both at the same time. Then they have a party. However, they do not play with the puppy with the tugs, they want the ultimate reward for the puppy to be possession of the two tugs. So they run in big circles with the puppy telling him how marvelous he is. If he drops a tug, they stop and repeat the game to get both in his mouth.

I really don't understand their emphasis on possession as the ultimate reward for the dog. I tried to ask about it but didn't get a response that made sense to me but it was very clear from watching them with their own dogs that this a core concept in their training program. Peter would slip the sleeve or pillow to Bendix and he would trot almost a perfect 20-meter circle around him for as long as Peter was talking. Now and then he might lay down in the shade, it was bloody hot that weekend and had to be especially hot for the folks and dogs from Germany. He didn't chew on it or shift his grip in any way, he just trotted around with it quite happily. I've never seen anything quite like it.

I have personally shied away from encouraging possession as a reward in my dogs since both are quite possessive by nature. Having seen this I'm no longer as concerned about it. The flip side of this, is, of course, training the out extremely well. Something else they do extremely well. But we'll get to that a little later.

Anyway, back to the 2-tug game. Once the puppy gets the idea that 2-tugs are so much better than1 you start doing more and more with it. At this point, they would go away and play this game with the puppy for months. Eventually building the pattern of the retrieve. The puppy is in place, probably not heel position to start, and the first tug is thrown a short distance. The puppy is sent to get the first tug and encouraged to pick it up quickly and bring it back quickly by cheerleading and waving the 2nd tug around. Once the puppy makes the turn and is headed back the 2nd tug is thrown back between the handler's legs and the puppy goes flying through, effectively building the pattern for the retrieve. Eventually starting from heel position is added. They try to break up the anticipation by rewarding for focus on the handler after the dumbbell is thrown sometimes. Once the pattern is sufficiently fluid and the hold and delivery work with the dumbbell is satisfactory you add the two together to get your formal SchH retrieve. Again, I want to emphasize that satisfactory for them is pretty exceptional by most people's standards.

Their explanation of why this is better than others methods is that the dog is never rewarded for just speed or just possession or just a good pick up and turn or ...  You get the idea. That the puppy never practices the pattern without all the key elements. Their primary concern seemed to be rewarding the dog in a way that encouraged or allowed them to spit out the dumbbell before returning to the handler. It makes sense but then so do methods where you teach it in pieces so if you ever do have issues you can break the chain apart and work on the key elements. Anyway, I would be very interested in the opinions of others on this because in many ways it reflects their approach to many foundation pieces. You'll see it again in jumping and a couple other places.

I almost forgot one very important piece to this. Once the dog is retrieving the dumbbell they continue the 2-toy game by finding the right size ball so that the dog can hold the dumbbell and still pick up a ball. So they do lots of ball work in addition to tug work with their dogs. I never saw any indication of a strong preference between ball and tug with their dogs. Sleeve, yeah, for sure, but they took whatever they were given and were very happy with it. This is something that I have always had trouble with Gata. She wants what she wants and it can change in a flash. Though once she fixates on something that is probably it for the day.

OK, enough for now. Stay tuned for another installation later.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Schutzhund Clinic - Peter and Connie Scherk and Florian Knabl; Part 1

I thought I would tell you about a clinic that I attended a couple of weeks ago. The clinicians were Peter and Connie Scherk and Florian Knabl from Team Heuwinkl in Germany. Those of you that follow Schutzhund more will know that Mia Skogster and Horst and Michaela Koche are also members of that small but very talented (and successful) club. They were hosted by Hardy Ernstein of the Podium Belgium Shepherd Working Dog Club.

In addition, they brought their dogs to use as demo dogs! Bendix vom Adlerauge and Yannik von Bonum Bono as demo dogs - those are some mighty fine demo dogs. Bendix is a multi-titled world champion and is now retired at 10 years old. Yannik hasn't won any international events ... yet ... but he's been pretty close. I believe there may be some Yannik puppies in the U.S. in the not so distant future :-)

It was a 3-day clinic with about the first 1.5 days devoted to obedience and the remainder to protection. I was unable to attend the first day so can't tell you too much about their approach ti obedience. I can tell you that their dogs perform beautifully in obedience and appear to be very happy and confident in the work. They use a dressage whip as an extension of the hand, in a way that reminded me of some of the work that I've seen demonstrated by Bart Bellon, though I don't know the details of either methodology or who started first.

By the time I got there they were focusing on the obedience exercises within the SchH routine, starting with the retrieve. They had done much on focused heeling and the out of motion exercises on Friday.

Before I get into the specific exercises I want to describe, as well as I can, a few things that I observed that were quite a bit different than other methods that we are all familiar with. First of all, they didn't use markers in the way that we are familiar with. When I asked about it I got a sort of cursory response that wasn't very explanatory. I didn't want to push since I assumed that they had explained it on Friday and they made it clear that they were not going to spend much time reviewing. They did use markers, just not purposely as much as many of us do. They definitely used a no reward marker and the word that they use to release their dog to the toy/reward clearly becomes a marker.

Secondly, they train their dogs ALOT. And coming from me who also trains my dogs Alot, by most people's standards that is saying something. Obedience every day, at least once; protection 3x a week; and tracking about 4x a week.

Thirdly, along with the amount of time they spend training goes the number of repetitions that their dogs get. I have no doubt that the majority of their core behaviors, and maybe all of their behaviors, reach a level of true fluency, as defined by the likes of Bob Bailey.

Fourthly, their methodology is definitely motivational but I would call their application of it very rigid. For example, they really don't seem to worry about generalizing behaviors to multiple locations. They seem to get true fluency first and then generalize to variations later. On one of the games that they showed us for building the retrieve, they talked about playing this game exclusively with their puppies for months before moving on in their training. I think that this is pretty key to their getting the true fluency that I talked about above.

Fifthly, they start working with their puppies on basic fundamentals as soon as they get them. They certainly work on handler focus and the out from day 1 or 2.

Finally, they aren't really theoreticians. I don't know whether this is true outside of the clinic setting but they definitely did not have any interest in discussing other ways of doing things or the reasons behind their methods. They were there to present their approach and that was pretty much it. To be fair, they had plenty to do in the time available. Plus, I came in a day late with no connections to the club or people there so no real opportunities for me to try to discuss things on breaks or  ...  But they are definitely not cut from the same cloth as the likes of Michael Ellis, who if you give him dinner and a beer or good glass of wine will sit and talk about training theory all night after the seminar is over. I have seen him do that time and time again ...   However, this was their first clinic in the U.S. Their English is quite good, but I am sure that it had to be difficult for them. Plus, they don't understand our dog training culture yet ...

OK, I lied, one more thing, when it came to fixing problems in the dogs at the clinic, their approach was pretty traditional - correct the heck out of them on a prong and then make sure that they didn't get a chance to repeat those problems. That was disappointing.

OK, I feel like I am writing a book here. So, I am going to stop with that for now and go unpack a few more boxes. I promise more over the course of the coming days. They had some very interesting approaches and games that they had developed.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Change is Good

Well, alot has changed since I last posted.  We (me and the dogs) have moved to Maryland to accept a new job in Gaithersburg, MD.  So we have a new address, a new home, and an entirely new lifestyle.  For the first time in my adult life, I have a back yard and a garage and a washing machine and dryer ...  All things that I am really loving.  The dogs love the yard but still love getting to work with me on a daily basis.  So the yard makes it a little easier but it doesn't change that much.

It has been HOT, HOT, HOT since moving out here.  We drove and about the time we got to western Nebraska the heat index soared to 115-degrees Fahrenheit.  It seems like it has been that ever since, though I know there have been a few brief breaks.  We are all having a tough time adjusting to the heat.  Gata is really having it rough, though, and has had 2 close bouts with exercise-induced collapse (or something like it).  I need to revise my system, I'm not stopping soon enough with her.  The warning signs in CA (trotting back to me with a ball) are too far along for the weather here.  In CA, once I stopped her she would start cooling off.  Out here, because it is so much hotter, she just keeps heating up, and has come close to collapse several minutes after we've stopped working on 2 occasions.  The latest was on Sunday.  The humidity seems to be a key factor with her.  Both times happened on days where you could almost feel the rain and pending thunderstorms in the air when you stepped outside.

Since we're still in the process of settling in (less than 50 boxes left to unpack, yay!) we haven't really gotten to meet many dog people yet.  We've attended a Schutzhund seminar with Peter and Conni Scherk and Florian Knabl (more on that soon) put on by Hardy Ernstein's group and have gone tracking and practiced obedience one day with Marty Segretto and some of the folks from the Alexandria Schutzhund Club.  We're hoping to get a little more focused soon.  But with the heat, the move, and Gata's heat intolerance I guess I'm not in a big rush.  We're definitely looking forward to getting more connected to the dog community out here in the Poolesville, MD area.  If anybody knows of anyone doing anything fun out here let me know :-)