Saturday, January 23, 2010

Defining Success

Today was the first day of the UKC trials, and Maisy and I were entered in level 1 of rally.

How did we do? Well, it depends on how you define success. If you define success by ribbons and placements and scores, we didn't do so hot. She scored an 88, which was well below the placements, and frankly, well below her abilities.

Still, I'm going to call the day successful. Sure, I'm mildly disappointed with our score, but Maisy was surprisingly relaxed for being at a trial! She only "wuffed" twice, which is her "I'm on alert" noise, but she was controlled and didn't display any reactivity. For most of the time, she had relaxed body language- looseness through her whole body, a slow, soft helicopter tail, and a happy, open-mouthed expression on her face. She warmed up well, very attentive and snappy, and while she wasn't quite as precise as she is at home, she had excellent enthusiasm.

I'm not sure what happened when we went in the ring. She became distracted and disengaged from me. She sniffed a lot, and twice she had to stop, sit and scratch herself. Those are stress displacement behaviors, and I haven't seen the scratching in a long time.

If we'd been at an APDT trial, I would have whipped out the treats to help transform the ring into a positive space. Since I couldn't do that, I simply waited patiently for her to finish scratching, praised her like crazy for her moments of attention (and really, she had some nice moments), and kept smiling. I knew our score was going to suck, and it didn't matter. Perhaps I should have left the ring. If she was so stressed that she disengaged from me, there wasn't much point in continuing. But I didn't think about that, and I'm not sure how to leave the ring gracefully.

We show again tomorrow, and I need to give some serious thought into going in, doing one or two signs successfully, and then leaving. Of course, I know that if we get a couple of really good signs, I'll want to push for more, for the whole course, so I'm going to have to decide what to do in advance... I'm not sure what my other options are.

What would you do if you were in this situation?


Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

Congratulations!!! You need goals in place before you even think about the score and placements. I say that you more then exceeded them today!

Have you ever done a whole rally run (at a trial) without treats before? If you haven't then I would say that's also a major predictor of loss of attention and an increase in some stress. With Lance I had to work through that, plus working through doing a whole heeling pattern without talking to him in the obedience ring. Lance saw the lack of feedback as he might be doing something wrong. It still can be hard for us.

As for leaving the ring, do you know if you are allowed to in UKC? I know in AKC you basically can't unless you say you are sick or you get yourself excused by "training in the ring." But at the least you can talk to the judge ahead of time and ask her to excuse you for inattentiveness. Of course I don't know what the UKC rules are....

Crystal said...

Thanks Laura! I'm really pleased with the level of relaxation I saw in her today, and with her attention outside the ring. Just her being able to be there without totally losing it made the day worthwhile.

We have done a whole rally run at a trial without treats before, but it was a year ago; we didn't use treats at the first APDT trial I went to because I didn't understand the rules about when I could treat. I did provide lots of verbal feedback, but let's be honest: girlfriend thinks with her stomach.

I am wondering if going from lots of treats outside the ring to none inside the ring negatively impacted her performance. I'm sure that was stressful, even with verbal praise. I think one thing I learned today is that I really do need to raise my criteria in training. It's kind of ironic, really- I struggled to develop a really high rate of reinforcement, and now that I've developed it, I need to reduce it a tad.

Anyway, I'm not sure how UKC feels about leaving the ring on a good note. I've read the rule book, of course, and it talks about not training in the ring, but doesn't really define it. It's probably a good idea to talk to the judge beforehand. If he will be incredibly offended by it, it may be better to scratch instead.

I think I will consider doing the entire course if:
-There's no wuffs.
-Her "shark teeth" subside for at least part of the time.
-She's attentive during warm ups.
-She can heel the length of the ring during warm ups without treats.

PS- I totally thought of you today; there was a Toller at the trial. They are so cute. When I start to seriously consider a second dog, I'll have to pick your brain on what they're like to live with. The size, color, and markings seem just perfect, and I've liked what I've seen in Vito's and this other Toller's attitude.

Megan said...

First, you totally want a Toller!

Second, CONGRATS! You definitely achieved quite a few "personal Qs" today and that's excellent. Personal successes and personal Qs lead to "bigger and better" things. I don't think it's necessarily treating "less" per say, but building that history of reinforcement, and creating cues as reinforcers, as well as building the behavior chain. Much easier said than done... definitely.

Third, UKC will let you excuse yourself at any time (and I've excused myself from the AKC rally ring once, the only thing the judge didn't appreciate was me not giving her advance notice). Buzz and I excused ourselves from Obedience last time after the honor dog had completed it's requirements.

Fourth, see you tomorrow!

Dawn said...

Your run today had some very lovely moments. Yes, she stopped and scratched a bit, but then right after she tuned in and did several very lovely stations. She gave you good attention, most of the time.She looked away when the AAE in the corner let out a whiney howl, but gosh I don't fault her for that. Her tail was wagging, she looked happy and she did not look overly stressed. I am sure you guys will do well tomorrow. I can't wait to hear how it went.

Crystal said...

Megan, yeah, I do want a Toller. Or maybe Pyr Shep. Or maybe a Cardi. Really, I just want Maisy. She's like the perfect dog. LOVE HER.

Anyway, thanks so much on the congrats. I'm pleased with her ability to remain relaxed and to exercise self-control. The more I think about it, the less I'm disappointed with her score.

I'm glad to hear we can excuse ourselves any time. I'll still let the judge know up front, just as a courtesy, but it's good to know it should be okay. I really need to think about what's best for Maisy long-term, not just tomorrow.

Can't wait to see you tomorrow. What are you doing- rally or obedience?

Crystal said...

Dawn, I felt the same way. There were some great moments of attention, and I'm really quite thrilled that she could switch back and forth between stress behaviors and attention like that. She has a great bounce back.

All of MY attention was on her, though, so I didn't even hear the whiney howl. Good to know she had a legitimate reason to be distracted. Really, not REACTING to that? Pretty huge!

How'd your open run go?

Crystal said...

I wish I'd gotten video of it. I had intended to, but since the courses are shorter than in APDT, our turn snuck up on us faster than I expected. We didn't even really get a good, proper warm up in, because all of a sudden it was our turn! Tomorrow I'll make my kennel help hold the camera instead of leaving it by our crate.

Megan said...

We're doing Rally. He needs one more Q for his URO1.

It's definitely important to think about "long term" vs qualifying tomorrow or not... but it sounds like you can accomplish both. You understand your dog, and know how to handle her.

Crystal said...

Ooooh, you're my competition, lol.

What time are you planning on getting there tomorrow?

I hope we can accomplish both. I'd love to place tomorrow, but if she isn't in the right space, we won't even try.

Megan said...

9ish, we have to enter still (got a surprise day off work, of course I'm going to spend it at a dog show).

Competition is fun!

Crystal said...

Oh, wow. You'll be hanging around a long time. I love hanging around, but Maisy doesn't. Too bad, really.

Where do you work? I'm jealous; I never get surprise days off.

Megan said...

I have to go over APDT stuff with Jolynn at some point, and it'll probably be more like 9:30 with the way I usually work. We have to do DOS entries, so I have to be there before 10!

I work at a Cafe on the weekends. I usually work Sat & Sun if I don't request it off specifically (and like a month or more in advance). She needed me on Friday, so I bartered with her and got Sunday off in exchange for needing me Friday. I don't work during the week because I substitute teach 3-4 days and like ONE day off!

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

I use a lot of treats outside the ring, the really really good stuff, and it doesn't seem to make that much of a difference. We have had attention issues in the ring, (which hopefully are most worked through) but I think the biggest thing that has helped us are

1. teaching Lance that silence is a good thing (for obedience, not rally)

2. working on the amount of time that Lance can do a great heeling pattern without feedback and teaching him that means he gets a huge jackpot at the end. So I bring canned cat food to run throughs and other times I practice longer times of heeling without feedback.

3. working on other cues as reinforcers. more helpful then obedience then rally where I can ask Lance to do his favorite tricks in between exercises

As for tollers, I'm in love. High drive, intense, and with a great work ethic. I'm told they can be a bit "stubborn" but to me with any dog it's just about being using reinforcement properly and Vito is nuts about his ball, tugging, and then food. I got a toller since a lot of people also said that they are like border collies with an off switch and I've found that to be true. He does not need to work 24/7 like some BCs but is ready to at an instant. The only thing "bad" is the toller scream that they do when extremely excited!

Crystal said...

Laura, it totally sounds like I'd enjoy a Toller, except maybe the screaming. Maisy is a pretty quiet dog. I'm not sure if that's her nature, or if I've just shaped that in her since I knew going into dog ownership that I wanted a quiet dog. And I agree about the "stubborn" thing- I hate when people describe dogs that way.

Thanks for your suggestions on heeling. In general, I do think that this is a training issue more than a stress issue. I think silence will be helpful. Even though we can talk in rally, it'd be nice for that verbal praise to become more meaningful. I definitely know I need to build duration- I'm horrible at that for all behaviors.

Could you tell me more about using other cues as reinforcers? Maisy doesn't really have any tricks that she loves doing.