Last term, I took Denise Fenzi and Deb Jones’ “Train the Dog in Front of You” class at the FDSA (Bronze). Denise’ part made me investigate the fact that Phoebe tends to mouth me a lot during agility, in between the obstacles. Together with my fellow lurkers, I arrived at the conclusion that Phoebe and I most likely have a frustration problem:
I’m a novice handler, and she’s a fast and impatient dog. When my cues are not clear or I forget what obstacle I’m supposed to tackle next, her frustration shows by means of biting my arm.
My colleagues suggested I make a point of really practicing my own handling technique over a short sequence without Phoebe, and then see if the biting problem still shows up. I’ve done that twice, using very simple courses – much simpler than the ones our trainer tends to spring on us. And what a difference it made! Phoebe was focused, fast, and concentrated on the next obstacle rather than on me as long as I only used jumps.
During another short session, I tried including a tunnel. Turns out the biting occured again – whenever I cued the tunnel. Thinking about it, I realized that Phoebe hasn’t generalized the “tunnel” cue yet: she knows it upstairs, but she doesn’t know it outside or in the garage, where I haven’t trained it that often. Phoebe is notoriously bad at generalizing. How could I expect her to generalize the tunnel to a fast-paced outdoors activity like agility?
So today, I went back to practicing the tunnel and building distance. You’re probably going to notice my handling is crappy as you watch the video. What I’m working towards here is a reliable verbal cue, cue discrimination, and some distance. However, once I’ve found a new trainer, I’ll hopefully have an opportunity to work on my handling skills.
Here’s our dabbling in tunnel skills, interspersed with different behaviors and the attempt to build flow by asking for fluent behaviors.
I think I’m also going to treat myself to Sylvia Trkman’s Foundations DVD – I’m sure there’s lots on it for me to learn!