Thursday, July 14, 2011

Training the Broad Jump

I've been working on Dustin's broad jump lately, as one of the Graduate Novice and Open exercises, partly because it's good for both our fitness levels and partly because he finds jumping to be fun. I like to be a couple of exercises ahead of our actual titles, so we'll go into the Novice ring pretty soon with some Open exercises already in progress. Besides, the broad jump is in the yard, nice and available, and we can work a couple of jumps a day.

We started with a couple of boards broad way out, so they didn't look like something to walk on, very narrow, so he could just hop over. We had a target in a straight line from his sit through the middle of the jump, and he went to the target, or I stood in that spot and had him come to me. He already has some idea that "jump" means "don't go around" from other work.

From there I started making the jump a little bigger and putting more of the boards in their flatter configuration. After a week or so, I now only have to put the leading board edge-up to remind him what to do, and he'll sail over the full distance very nicely.

If I put the leading board flat, though, he suddenly re-interprets the exercise. He's quite nimble and quite able to trot along with his feet neatly hitting the center of each board, and he's such a show-off he's very proud of being able to do this. I'm half-pleased. He knows where his back feet are, which is oddly rare in shepherds, and this means he spends a lot less time planting them on my toes. However, that's not a jump.

And I find myself saying things like, "On what planet is that a jump?" as I take him back around and put the lead board back up again. He, of course, has not answered me, and if he does, we have a whole new area of communication to explore.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tracking on a Retractable

This morning I laid and ran a short track for Dustin -- it's getting too hot too early to do much work, but he had an eighty-pace track (plus bonus stretch) with several turns and a couple of different surfaces. I walked on a low balance beam for part, for instance, which gave him no particular problem. Some of the grass was short enough to be nearly bare earth, some quite tall, as the neighbor mows more religiously and more thoroughly than I do. Articles were cloth start; metal, plastic and paper in the middle; a leather/cloth wallet to end formally, and twenty more paces to a tennis ball -- which he also treated formally. This is, after all, the dog who will lie down and stare at a food bait instead of gobbling it.

He's not working perfectly footprint-to-footprint, but he is getting pretty clear on the concept of working closely. This is good enough for AKC tracking rules. He is gradually learning I don't like him to get distracted. He's weirdly sensitive to pressure on the tracking line for a dog who will merrily drag me everywhere on his leather collar and a walk. Right now I'm working him on a retractable leash, which puts very little pressure on his harness. If he is clearly dinking around, I can just give the handle a shake and convey just enough wiggle to let him know I've noticed, and that's just enough to wake him up and get him back to work. If he's feeling confident, he can get well out in front of me, and if he's not he can fall back without entanglement. We're both pretty happy with the retractable as a training tool.

I apologize for the lack of pictures. My hands are full, and the kid is still too young to take good ones.