Saturday, April 7, 2012

The sloppy wanna be trainer

I didn't know if I should write this entry in my "Between being deaf-blind" or write my experience here in Dancing with Mickey. I figured because I had Mickey with me at this workshop, it would be more appropriate here. Although it is more about me growing as a trainer and handler.

For twenty-five years I have worked with dogs. Inspiring to be a dog trainer/handler. I wanted to be respected in my niche. My name has gotten around some, but to reach the level of achievement I inspired, just hasn't happened. Maybe I can hope and instead say I haven't reached the level of achievement I inspired yet. For about twenty years I have wanted to get into the obedience ring. I have had to get over many mental blocks and fears that I have developed over the years. Fortunately, I have recently worked through this and I have decided to enter the local show. I will debut this June. I had worked through a lot of stress issues to get to this point. Ok, got one problem out of the way, the next one appeared clear as a blue sky at this workshop today. Was it a slap of reality, a realization or an epiphany?

As I listened to Sarah Mullen today, I realized how sloppy I have gotten as a trainer. I have been to workshops with the best, and for awhile there, my handling skills were not too shabby, but year after year they started to deteriorate. I always thought I just need to practice. But my technique and fine tuning has disappeared from the channels of my synapses in my brain. I couldn't think of the next step and was making sloppy mistakes. I needed a reminder. I needed guidance. The past four years I have had my world change. A stressful job, health issues, fatigue, being overwhelmed with life and trying to keep my head above water kept interfering with my focus to train. I would do a good job of training for a few weeks, then cycle in a slump of fatigue and other things. Time would pass, I would get my spunk again to try again, train for a few weeks, see improvement, then slump again. This cycle has been really heart breaking. I thought try something new like K9 Nose Work, I would do the activities for a little bit, then have a dry spell of no training. I found that using a toy with pairing odor with Mickey was just too much for my aching joints. I switched to food.

Sarah talked about the basic principles of getting attention. She reminded me of the high rate of reinforcements that Bob Bailey taught her. I learned that too. Oh I would watch her. Visualizing how she was doing it. Some dogs need variety, so having a variety of treats for some dogs is a big plus. I realized this while Nan was cutting some dog treats right in front of Mickey, a chunk rolled off the table and Mickey walked forward to try and get some. I was in utter shock! Oh my, my precious service dog was not acting so service dog! Mickey and I have some work to do. He use to be good. Mickey wanted that "other" smelly treat. Ah yes, as Sarah said, variety. Mickey was tired of what I was giving him the past 3 hours, he wanted this new smelling treat. The value of variety for your dog.

Another point that hit home with me is teaching a release. That has been my biggest oops and mistake with Mickey. I would get lost in my thought and Mickey has learned to create his own release. Shoot, I should know better than this, but there is no use in beating myself up, that doesn't help me, what helps is take what Sarah shared today and build a training plan to take care of this issue. This will help focus, this will help from him checking out. Break down all the criterion. Break it all down. The basics that I needed a reminder.

Sarah also touched on stimulus control. When you give a cue, the dog immediately does this cue. She mentioned that once you start using the cue with the behavior, after building the behavior, only reward if you gave the cue. You want to start out with knowing for sure they are going to do the behavior.

As Bob Bailey has always said, "Training is a mechanical skill." This is very true. I have let myself get sloppy, a lot of it unconscious. I have fallen back into bad habits of what I learned so many years ago with leash jerking. It isn't completely back, but a little tug here an there does come out. It is reflex that is way deep inside me and, just like if I haven't trained a muscle or an idea for awhile, it will also become out of shape. My training skills are certainly out of shape. The focus on stimulus control, breaking things down and using a release with help me to get back on that finer training again. This will allow me to succeed in the ring. I have had this knowledge already, so now to pick myself back up, take this refresher and a few little tidbits and move forward with success.

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