What a cold icy winter we have had this year. I was so looking forward to going to a favourite show at the end of December but the weather forced its cancellation for a second year running. It seems such a long time since the beginning of December when Rafa won his second novice. It has been impossible to get outside to train most days for the past 3 months. The snow was bad enough but I think the ice was worse. It’s practically impossible to do neat heelwork on an icy surface but then we have had so much mud to follow.
It does appear that things are improving now though. I saw my first lamb of the year a couple of days ago and that usually means spring is on its way. The lack of training has been particularly noticeable with Roy who does need plenty to occupy him and space to move. He is a very strong dog and working with him is like trying to drive a Ferrari on ice at the best of times.
Rafa too has felt the lack of training but in a different way. He is an ultra sensitive little dog and with little or no outside work his confidence on return in retrieve and scent has taken a bit of a nosedive. I usually move around a lot to motivate him and this is not too easy to do indoors.
On the plus side we have been competing in a series of league matches for our club. Rafa winning out of novice meant he had to compete in A and I didn’t know if he would be as happy. I needn’t have worried. Rafa absolutely loves heelwork and he has won all but one of his classes and the last one he was in joint lead. As the other joint leader was a team member we tossed a coin and took 2nd place.
Apart from speed on return – something I particularly want my dogs to have – the one thing that has emerged from the winter matches has been return on stays. Rafa worries about strangers walking towards him and has been jumping up to lick my hand on return. It all started last year when dog ran across the ring to attack another. This happened 3 weeks running and after that strong winds blew tree branches down on top of Rafa’s head just as we all went back after the sit stay. At the end of the year a friendly dog invited him to play and forced him out of his stay.
All this has finally taken it’s toll. So at the moment we are taking every opportunity to improve Rafa’s confidence with carefully managed stays to help him. I am lucky that I belong to a very supportive club with some really helpful members. So Rafa has been rewarded for holding his stay when someone he knows well goes towards him then several people then someone he barely knows. We are building up gradually and Rafa in a few days has made tremendous strides towards being completely solid.
I know that old fashioned training methods would let him fail then punish him. I would not even do this to an ultra hard totally confident dog. Positive methods will always produce perfection if correctly applied. -whatever the type of dog. Both the keen powerful over confident Roy and the sweet sensitive little Rafa have been clicker trained from the time they came to me as pups. I don’t however use a clicker once a behaviour has a name. At this point I switch over to a ‘clicker’ word which also has the advantage of portability and you can use it without disturbing other dogs and their training.
I thought it might be interesting to compare Rafa when I first started training him at around 5 months and Rafa now. The first video shows how he was started with clicker and treats. Compare this with the one of his left turn training sessions and one of his winning A rounds at a club match. Roy has not been left out. The video I have included of Roy at the start of this article shows clearly how much work we need to put in before we can be truly competitive this year. One thing that never alters is Roy’s enthusiasm. I just love his attitude and I am very lucky to have him in my life.
Most of my training is done with both Roy and Rafa together. I find it helps to train with distractions right from the start and as both boys get on so well they really do provide a significant distraction for each other. Going to shows does not then pose too much of a problem as they both know how to focus. I find that it helps also to bring out their competitive streak.
However confident you are at training it is always good to have someone who is knowledgeable to offer an unbiased opinion from time to time. So training days apart from being highly motivational have a really practical purpose as well. I was disappointed that the weather prevented a day’s training before Christmas but in January a few of us managed to get to a training day with Rob Bint who is particularly good at noticing when things are not right and come up with some practical suggestions.
The one thing I have always been able to train particularly well is left turns. For some reason Rafa’s left turns were to put it mildly dreadful. This is borne out by the videos of the matches. I would never have picked this up so quickly on my own. So Rob’s help and advice has been particularly valuable. Ultra confident Roy has a tendency to over turn and I am so used to this that I would have carried on ignoring Rafa’s training needs for some time left to my own devices. We have just one more winter league match but not until the beginning of march so plenty of time to work on perfecting things.
Last weekend we braved gale force winds and rain coming down like stair rods and made a 400 mile round trip to a show. For the first time in a long time Rafa failed to gain a single rosette. It wasn’t that he didn’t try just a series of circumstances. He was disturbed in his A when someone bellowed at her dog to lie down and the dog appeared to leap into Rafa’s face. Unfortunate as this was he would still have been placed if he hadn’t got up at the end of the sit. He just couldn’t cope with someone going back to their dog before I reached him.
Roy was his usual wild self. I really wasn’t expecting too much from him because we simply haven’t put in the work he needs to be truly competitive. He even barked and jumped up around my ears in B losing most of his marks on this one exercise. Fortunately he was quieter in A and managed a third place. He amazed me by giving up his dumbell and scent cloths with no trouble at all and he didn’t anticipate a single recall.
Competitive obedience relies very heavily on accuracy and attention to detail. The only training which has been possible for the most part this winter has been tightening up work on presents and finishes and turns on the spot. The very thing that has slowed down Rafa’s retrieves has proved invaluable for Roy.
Now that the weather appears to be improving I am hoping we will be able to get out more and train. I have two very different dogs but both in their own way have their strengths and I love competing with both of them. I have finally managed to see a surgeon and I am going to have an arthroscopy on the damaged knee which I hope will restore me to full mobility. I do hope so because it would be good to lose all that excess winter weight I seem to have acquired! Both Roy and Rafa had a good show season last year in spite of everything. I am hoping for an even better one this year.