Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Clicker Conformation Training

Jedi's gorgeous father, Champion Mar Haven's
Last Cowboy Song, perfectly stacked
I'm having trouble training Jedi for the ring. His poor gaiting is all me -- I'm out of shape and uncoordinated. I'm trying to walk more to build endurance. I'm even doing a tiny bit of sprinting during our walks. Seriously, Jedi would look better in the ring if I could move my ass and not trip over my own feet. At least I know what my problem is here.

Stacking is a more difficult issue. Jedi is a German shepherd, which stacks differently than every other dog in the AKC. All other dogs stack with their legs squared underneath them; GSDs have their front feet and one back foot squared, but the other rear leg is elongated, producing the signature slope. I have watched dogs walk into a perfect stack in the ring and it's very impressive. I have seen others set into a beautiful stack with little effort from the handler. And then there's me and Jedi, looking as graceful as a couple manatees playing Twister. I'll set the front and he'll wiggle around while I'm trying to set the back, sometimes even licking my face. Endearing yes, but not the stuff that wins ribbons.

In frustration, I bought another book: Positive Training for Show Dogs by Vicki Ronchette. I wish I had found this a year ago! I'm only halfway through the book but it's already proven to be useful. I think I know what I've doing wrong: First of all, I was trying to do too much too fast and confused the poor boy. Then I tried holding bait in front of his nose. It was great when I was in front of him, but when I would work on the back feet he was wiggling around to find the goodies. Jedi is a food whore.

So now I'm trying to fix my mistakes. Unfortunately it means going back to square one. We are using the clicker now. I'm a horrible clicker clicker, so I have Hubby click while I set and so far it's working. Jedi likes the clicker because it means "food's a comin'." (Remember, he's a food whore.) We started out slowly, just clicking for standing still. Now we're working on the front feet. When they are square, he gets a click/treat. Then we'll increase duration before moving to the back feet. Eventually (hopefully soon, but I don't want to rush it) he'll understand the picture I'm looking for. THEN we'll add distractions. Ideally he'll develop muscle memory and be able to walk into the stack with little (if any) need for adjustments. Will it work? I hope so! I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, Jedi and I have increased our walking in preparation for the Chariots of Fur 5K next month. NEXT MONTH! I'm a bit anxious. Hopefully this will help with our gaiting as well.

I'm thrilled be able to include this post in the inaugural Training Tips Tuesday blog hop because:
  1. I need help! I can't wait to see what other (and more experienced) dog owners have to share; and
  2. I want to help. If my bumbling and fumbling is able to help somebody else -- especially a newbie in the ring like me -- then maybe my mistakes won't seem so bad.
We'll have to revisit this in December and see how far we've come. Until then, check out the other posts in the hop. And please share what you've learned. You know I will! -- K