Thursday, June 30, 2011

Getting Motivated

Thanks to the German Shepherd Dog Club of Atlanta and its Versatility program (not to be confused with the AKC Versatile Companion Dog titles), I'm feeling motivated to get off the couch and work the dog now and again.

This copy is slightly out-of-date, I think. The copy for this year included the optional titles in Obedience. This turns Obedience into the great spot to get points, it looks like. It's not completely un-doable to charge in with the CGC, then pick up the full sweep of seven titles -- assuming, of course, that your dog can do all the exercises. It wouldn't hurt to throw in the Rally titles as an excellent place to practice heeling with lots of upbeat chitchat and fun.

Tracking and Herding are the big instinct outlets for German Shepherd Dogs, of course. Once upon a time, the forebears of the breed pushed the sheep out to pasture, kept them in line without fences all day, searched out and brought back any sneaky strays, then pushed them all home again and rounded up the children. Now we have to get formal. In an ideal world, C course herding (tending) would be easier to find, but we have to pretend our dogs are designed for chute-and-gate work instead. The other big outlet for shepherdy drives is Working Dog Sport, which involves tracking, obedience, and protection work. The national breed club still supports it, but the AKC does not.

The remaining AKC performance category is Agility, which most dogs love much as most children love a playground. It takes a solid, sound body, so it's a good idea to have the OFA certification on hips and elbows before getting too heavily involved. Puppies, though, are happy enough to learn the contacts and to step over a little jump. It's a good idea to teach as much precision as you can cram into your shepherd's head before you try to speed up, as most of them seem to want to run wild over every square foot of the equipment -- including parts that were never meant to contain a dog! Sunny, gonzo gal that she was, liked to jump between the tire jump and its supports rather than through the tire. You lose qualifying runs that way.

A huge portion of the Versatility program rewards health testing and responsible ownership. Microchipped? One point. Health test made public regardless of result? Point. Altering an animal you deem unlikely to improve the breed if it passes on its genes? Point. While getting the particular point profiles to match the club's title descriptions isn't easy, getting a decent point total isn't terribly hard if you actually do stuff with your dog. Your dog can even pick up a point by living past the age of ten. An altered ten-year old rescue with a microchip and a CGC qualifies for the club's Versatility Started certificate.

Dustin also qualified for a certificate, but I am feeling ambitious, or greedy, or motivated, or all three. I tell my husband titling the dog doesn't cost that much more than a gym membership. He tells me that he'd rather I had the gym membership, but I can carry the kid in a backpack while I lay and run tracks, or do obedience, or teach basic agility. He'd get squished if I did bench presses with him in there.

So, we're tracking. We're herding when possible. We're jumping at height, now that the hips and elbows are clear. And believe it or not, we're even working obedience, though the dog is in it for the cheese and it's not my favorite school subject either. My son is learning hand signals.

If you live in the area and have a shepherd, come join the club -- and me! We can get into a happy and productive title war.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tracking Report

Today's tracks for Bruce and Dustin were about three hours old -- which I hadn't intended, but I was researching stud dogs. We worked in fairly hot sun for most of both tracks, and the garbage truck came through at the end of the first.

Dustin worked his track well from a flag with no article beside it, indulged in only a little dinking around, and did something interesting. Apparently at some point in the past we missed a plastic article (a discount card from Orschelin, if you happen to wonder) and I walked a few feet from it today. He detoured off the track and dropped on it. However, all the bitsies near the road, which I had never touched, he ignored. The scent on the thing had to be at least a week old, but he could still tell the difference. He did totally blow the end of the track, which was perhaps twenty feet from the garbage truck and the strange young man throwing large sticks around, so we hung out and watched for a bit. And, of course, being a boy, he had to pee at the man and the truck.

Bruce was somewhat distracted by lingering odor of strangers, but he seems to have the general tracking concept. He still hates to stop for articles, though. Even as food-motivated as he is, he'd rather SNIFF. This is a good thing if I can ever get it properly shaped.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The New Training Page

Hey, loyal readers! There is now a website for Sun Treader puppy training. It includes links to several other information sources, including Glendhenmere Kennels, the West Kentucky and Atlanta German Shepherd Dog clubs, and an informative article on dog breeding. On the Contact page is a link to Dekalb County Animal Services with a picture of one of their adoptable puppies. Enjoy!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tracking and Herding

We're getting back to our instinct outlets at last!

Dustin's run a couple of 75-pace tracks lately, one with four articles, one with just one at the end. He's doing them well, and I think we're ready to start doing longer work at last. His concentration is better. He's also finally getting over his pine-needle hangup.

After Sunny died, the last place he smelled her away from home was at a local dog park, where she'd loafed on pine needles the week before. Since then, he wouldn't work them. Just wouldn't. He didn't mope the last few times I tried, but just wandered off dinking around. Finally I phooeyed him, put him back on the line, and gave him a really high-value treat for completing the track which had ended under the pines. Now I randomly use the higher-value treat at the end of some tracks and he works wherever I put him.

We're also going to get back to non-grass surfaces pretty soon. He's used to driveway crossings, but working along a sidewalk is something else again. Training Sunny, I gave her a couple of tracks laid barefoot with twig-sized scent articles in the sidewalk cracks, and that appeared to work. The best articles appeared to be foil gum wrappers rolled up to toothpick size, which slipped in well, were overlooked by local custodians, and weren't too hard to remove.

Bruce is also getting back to his tracking, to his delight. I'm still trying to get through to him that it's good to stop at the articles. He happily goes from footprint to footprint and keeps right on going past anything that might earn him a treat. It won't be a problem to take him to greater distances, but I'd really like to be certain he'll find the final wallet or glove and let me know about it, rather than carrying on through the tracklayer's subsequent motions and then barking furiously upon finding him or her.

And Dustin and I are also herding again. He's getting taken back to the very beginning of all things, in hopes of improving his outrun and getting rid of his overflanking, and in hopes also of getting him to stop working brilliantly for a puppy and start just plain working brilliantly. Besides, (confession time!) his handler has forgotten a lot.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Herding Sheep

Dustin and I went to work sheep for the first time in months and the second time in a couple of years -- poor dog. We used to go several times a week.

This time we went to a different farm with a different variety of sheep, smaller than we were used to and much, much faster. They wouldn't let Dustin work in his usual method, which resembles something out of the movie Babe, cuddling up to them and whispering his directions into their ears. We spent a certain amount of time racing up and down a very hot long pen before Dustin settled to his satisfaction that these were stupid sheep, he wasn't going to get near them, and he could still control them through action at a distance. Once he got the hang of being able to move them from fifty feet away, in fact, he seemed to rather like it. For the first time in his life, he could tell that "Walk up" meant, as I told him, "Not me, them!" because I wasn't anywhere near the silly creatures either.

Most people who try to trial on sheep use a lot of Scottish (or, given how German most German training commands really are, pseudo-Scottish) phrases like "Away to me!" and "Come bye!" when they're working. Most people then forget which is which, or stand there yelling out "Way! Stay! Lay!" and wondering why the dog isn't obeying those three loud Ay!s from a hundred yards off. Dustin and I do try to learn our ways and byes, but we do far better if I tell him what I want in plain English. "Bring 'em. Put 'em there," with a point of the stick, generally gets me a flock of sheep brought up to me and then stuck wherever "there" might be. Pushing the dog over this way, then over that way, as though the sheep are a little ball bearing I'm trying to trap in a hole by tipping the field, generally gets me sheep everywhere, an annoyed dog who figures it's all my fault with perhaps some justice, and a laughing coach leaning on the fence.

I say cooperation works best, regardless of linguistic origins. It's not like the dog cares whether I command him in English, German, or Choctaw. If he were herding German-style, there would be very few commands or large gestures. Too, if I'm just saying "Push 'em through there," I tend to say it calmly, which the dog and sheep all respond to. Come to think of it, so do herding judges.