The Real Deal

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Last weekend I got to see in person a PSA trial hosted by HCK9 in Upper Marlboro, MD.  It was a two-day trial; I don’t know who participated in Sunday’s trial, but on Saturday there were only PDC competitors and PSA 1 competitors.  PDC is what I’m currently training for and is the actual first level in PSA.  All in all, the obedience was about as expected.  It was interesting to see some of the different distractions the judge had come up with for both the obedience and the protection routines.  For instance, in the PSA 1 obedience legs, the decoy sitting in the chair had a tug on the end of a fishing pole that he’d throw out and drag along the ground by the dog.

In the protection routines, one of the decoys had two trash can lids that he clanged together, which not only provided a noise distraction but also created a fairly small physical window for the dog to target the bicep area.

While I would have like to see some level 2s and 3s competing, it was still fun and informative to watch this trial in person and see some great dogs with a lot of potential.

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Training update

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It has been a few days since the last post- which is not to say we haven’t been training. Our last couple trips out have included a good bit of focus on tightening up King’s finish (the dog coming to heel from in front of the handle- points are awarded for straightness, proximity of the dog’s shoulder to the handler’s knee, and of course focused attention on the handler once in the position. One of the previously posted videos on obedience shows him returning to heel from a long distance away. However, we need to polish up the finish from any/every distance as well as the “style” of finish (does he go all the way around the handler or do a “whip” finish on one side?). All in all, it has gotten better, but of course I want it perfect every time.

Our bite work has lately returned to targeting the bicep, which is the required target area on the bite suit in competition. It has been a fairly straightforward transition on the sleeve so far, and the sleeve provides an easily visible target area for the dog. You’ll see in the video that we’d done a couple bites on a hard Shutzhund-style sleeve, the reason being is we’re trying to get King to get a fuller bite onto the sleeve. The hard sleeve requires a full bite with little room for error, or else the dog will lose its grip. The soft black sleeve is typically used in a similar fashion, but because it’s soft it can be turned around so a large target area is presented over the decoy’s bicep. At the very end you’ll see King counter in, at which point Greg slips the sleeve, thereby rewarding the dog for driving in (instead of pulling).

This weekend, there’s a PSA competition in the area. Obviously we’re not competing (in fact, we’ve stepped back the bitework in a sense, though I think the end result will be better scoring later in the year), but it will be great to finally see organized competition in person.

Day off

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Every year, Washington, D.C., hosts the National Cherry Blossom Festival.  The festival includes a parade, some road races, and a lot of photography at all times of day.  Areas around the Tidal Basin, the Washington Monument, and other parks are full of the Cherry Blossom trees blooming at right around the same time.  Thursday of this week was supposedly the peak day of the blooming, so yesterday morning two of us played tourist and walked down to the Washington Monument.  Even on a weekday morning, there were a lot of people down that way.  However, I also got the added benefit of a good bit of exercise for King.

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Training continues as well- on Thursday, we worked on heeling finishes (the dog coming into heel position) for obedience and targeting of the bicep for bitework.  Except for “leg dogs” (dogs trained to target the legs of an assailant/decoy), dogs in PSA competition are required to target the bicep area of the decoy.  It’s not too tricky, but does require a transition as much of the initial bitework is forearm targeted since it is done in the dog’s prey drive, and therefore the dog is chasing the decoy. The level at which we are first going to compete does also offer a sleeve division, but in order to move on to higher levels the bicep targeting on the bite jacket is required, and so we are going to keep working at bicep targeting (among other things) and look to compete later in the year.

We’ve also started working on “outs” off of the decoy- the dog outing on command- and he’s getting better but it is a very different and new action for him, so it will be a couple more weeks before those really improve. As of now, we’re set to go back to training tomorrow, and will hopefully see further improvement.

Two steps forward…

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The previous two training sessions have seen my dog take leave of his senses in our obedience work.  At the same time, his progress in protection training has gone remarkably well.

I’ve had times in the workplace where most of my coworkers seemed to all pick the same time to forget what we were working on. It’s maddening, but usually corrects itself the next day.  Didn’t seem to be the case with K-Man.  He seemingly forgot how to sit.  Seriously.  We went from pretty good mock trial obedience runs to things falling apart in a few areas.  I think the added frustration is now we are working on pretty technical things, such as how close the dog is to your leg when heeling through a turn.  In addition, you do something a couple times with these dogs and they figure it out, which then means they anticipate the next move instead of waiting for your command.  This meant that after I left my dog in motion, walked away and turned to face him, he was already pushing himself off the ground to come to me. So we’ve got some things to work on…

His protection scenario training has come along.  The PDC includes a carjacking scenario- we’ve started that, which meant he actually got to sit in the front seat of the car (after he figured out he can’t get there by going under the steering wheel).  He also got to work with a different decoy, which is good generalization for when we go to a trial and the decoy will be a complete stranger.

We’re back to training tomorrow. No new videos, which is probably just as well

Training re-cap

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This weekend (in addition to my getting sunburned in cold weather AGAIN) we continued advancing in our PSA PDC work. At this point, our obedience work has become more technical refinement to ensure we don’t lose unnecessary points. We did a full trial run of the PDC obedience portion, though I didn’t get any footage. King Man still had a slight lag on the right turn in the initial figure 8 around cones. We brought home a couple cones just to work on that portion specifically. Would we pass the obedience portion tomorrow in a trial? Maybe. But if we can get a near-perfect score, might as well keep chipping away at it, plus we have some more protection work ahead of us.

In protection, we worked on defense of handler again, only this time using a blind instead of the car. The short clip below is a good example. The second time wasn’t as pretty in the heeling portion since King had figured out the game and was ready to jump through the blind at that point.

We also did our first out training in a bite scenario. In PSA, the dog has to out by the third command or else you’re disqualified. Obviously, you want an immediate, clean out on the first command. Since this was our first time, and the dog is in a high drive state, I’d say it was okay. Basic outs are something I can practice at home with him. It won’t be quite as realistic as being on a decoy, but after he did the out he got a quick re-bite for a reward and then our decoy Greg slipped the sleeve.

Progress continues…

Dog vs. TV

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No physical altercation took place between my dog and my television (the latter is well up off the ground…thankfully).

However, it now looks like King recognizes the music from one commercial in particular, and the fact that the commercial has a dog in it, which obviously he doesn’t care for.

The commercial in question:

I usually watch CNBC in the mornings, and they air this commercial fairly regularly. When the music comes on, King has taken off from his post by the door looking out on the street and come running back into the tv room, and it was not to see me. Since this has now happened more than once, I think I’m onto something. Yesterday, I pulled up the commercial on youtube from upstairs, and he came running upstairs as well.

On a side note, we have not done any tracking training. If we were training in Schutzhund, that would be a large component of our training. King was in training to be a detection dog before I got him, so he knows a search command. However, I don’t think he’d be quite as adept at hard surface tracking like the dog in the commercial (plus if you believe everything on tv you’d have to buy a new car, too).

Obviously he doesn’t like other dogs, in person or on tv. Other animals that have now aroused his ire on television- deer, elk, bears, horses, tigers, and bison (thanks to a new commercial for Las Vegas), to name a few. Good to know, though I wouldn’t like his chances against a few of those.

Today’s training

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With some warm weather here for a split second, I wanted to get some training in today. Obedience consisted of starting our figure 8 pattern, which is the beginning of the PSA obedience routine. With tight, multiple turns, it can sometimes get tricky to have it all go perfectly, as I quickly learned. Overall it went pretty well, but there is room for improvement. Despite being easier overall, our right turns were the main sticking point today since they lend themselves to the dog lagging behind as you turn away from him/her.

On bitework, we continued with the carjacking scenario. I’m including a short clip below- this part shows the continued advancement in putting some pressure on the dog for a moment, and eventually the dog “winning” at the end of the scenario.

This will probably be all we get to work on until Thursday, at which point we’ll probably continue working on our heeling turns.

Weekend re-cap

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For some reason, the weather got warm over the weekend. Well, Saturday. I spent most of the day re-organizing and cleaning out a storage area, and part of cleaning that area out meant putting some scrap wood to use. King Man loves it back there because he sees squirrels every day running around there. They’re usually at least at the fence line or higher, so he has yet to actually taste one of them, but that doesn’t diminish his love of keeping look-out. Since I figured the weather would eventually stay warmer (it was back in the 40s by Sunday) it would be nice to have something that he could sit on off of the ground and even get a little shade at the same time. Hence, this hut/shack/lean-to. It’s a still work in progress- I don’t know whether I will enclose any of it, how I want to treat the roof, etc., and he’s not sitting out there much when the weather is bad anyway, so this project was just as much a way to get rid of some wood that was taking up valuable inner-city storage space.

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Sunday was another training day. While it was back to sweatshirt weather, I think I got a combination of wind/sunburn (it doesn’t take much on the latter). Anyway, we did a full mock obedience routine much as you would see for the Protection Dog Certificate (PDC) level of PSA, and we added a decoy onto the field as there would be in the next level of competition (PSA 1). In total, there were 3 other people on the field as we worked our heeling pattern, plus a vocal distraction, plus a physical distraction of some car keys thrown on the ground near him. Somehow, King Man nailed it, and really the biggest issue was done by me when I didn’t put my leash away for our off-leash heeling pattern. With that in mind, our competition schedule may be accelerated some for this year. Here’s a quick clip (this took place further away from the camera than planned since all our snow is melting and parts of our training field are now mud pits):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9iG7kdpMU0&feature=youtu.be

For bitework, we practiced what’s called “defense of handler,” where the decoy came around from the side of the vehicle instead of being visible the entire time. One of the times we practiced it, the decoy also did more motion toward the dog instead of away from the dog. What this does is start to engage the dog’s civil drive as opposed to its prey drive. Prey drive is pretty straightforward- animals chase their prey (see: dog + squirrel). Dogs with high prey drives can sometimes get more satisfaction out of the chase itself than actually catching the item, be it a tennis ball, a squirrel, etc.  Not every dog has a suitable civil drive to engage something coming toward them, and it is something that must  be carefully and properly developed; hence, the value of working with a good decoy. The first time around, King Man was barking and wasn’t backing away, but I don’t think he realized I’d dropped the leash and he was free to go. Either way, he got it the next time around, and we did a couple more similar repetitions and then he was done.

All in all, a productive, sunny afternoon that now has me looking at when our first competition trial may actually take place…

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Gear review- jute frisbee

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I recently had an order of dog training supplies come in that included a jute frisbee. A few places carry these, but since I was already ordering a few things from the company, this frisbee came from Elite K-9.

Although we haven’t done a whole lot of frisbee work, King Man figured this one out immediately, loves chasing it, and the ability to also use it as a tug make it very versatile. Every once in a while, when the work is going well, I’ll toss the tug for him, and most of the time he’s good at bringing it right back (sometimes at full speed- which doesn’t always feel good). On the occasion when he thinks he’d like to run off with it, a quick verbal command usually changes his direction and we get back to tugging.

Most of the items I have made of jute have held up to a lot of biting and tugging, as jute is supposed to do. I expect this frisbee to hold up as well, though it is thinner since it is a frisbee and theoretically should be able to achieve lift. The straight edge may make it easier to pick up off the ground as well. A regular frisbee is hard for a dog to pick up if it is flat on the ground. If it lands upside down, the dog can then pick it up, but sometimes, the frisbee will flip up over his eyes, and then the dog runs into a tree…(seriously I know a dog that did this pretty recently)

The other nice thing about this frisbee is that it folds up and could tuck into a waistband or pocket pretty easily. This is good just for portability if you’re walking it down to the park, but will also come in handy for stashing it away if we’re working on heeling.

If your dog likes to chase things and/or tug with you, I’d recommend picking one up.

Possession is nine-tenths of the law…

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I’ve heard various thoughts on possessiveness in dogs throughout most of my life. Once I finally ended up with a dog under my roof, I figured it was time to dig a little further as opposed to what I just heard anecdotally from someone on the street (or from someone chasing their dog through the park after it wouldn’t come back when called…).

For a long time, conventional wisdom held that a dog should never be allowed to “win” a game of tug with a human, whether that meant getting to keep a tennis ball or another tug toy. The thought was this would encourage the dog to be dominant over the human  and the dog wouldn’t “know its place” in the hierarchy.

I’m not looking to sway opinions, but after a lot of thought and research, it doesn’t make a ton of sense that if every time a dog brought someone his favorite toy it was taken away, that dog would become less possessive. If he knew it was going to be immediately taken away, wouldn’t he want to try and hold onto it just a little longer? Or maybe not bring it back at all?

During yesterday’s snow, I was finally able to watch the last 30 minutes or so of Michael Ellis’s “Teaching Protection Skills Without a Decoy” DVD. The last segment is on trouble-shooting an “out” issue with a police service dog. As you can imagine, being able to get a police dog to release a suspect is pretty important. It takes a while of both training the dog as well as his handler in the DVD, but eventually you see a lightbulb come on about how previous ways of addressing possessiveness could in fact encourage the dog to be even more possessive than before. Almost reverse psychology, but worth considering.

I don’t just hand over a toy to my dog, and am not suggesting you should, either. If he puts in a good effort and gets things right, though, I do let him “win” from time to time, and while I know he’d probably like to keep most of what I give him, he will still bring it back to me, and hasn’t yet tried to assert some sort of dominance by running me over with my car…