Wednesday, March 24, 2010

ClickerExpo: Day 1

Friday morning we got up early so that we had plenty of time to get ready and to take the dogs for some exercise before a long morning for them of sitting through training lectures. Fortunately across the street there was a nice park with a couple miles of walking paths and two huge dog parks.

I am not a fan of dog parks, and generally will not take my dogs into one. I find that too many owners are not responsible, don't have their dogs under control, don't understand canine body language and communication, and I basically think they are often a disaster waiting to happen. Since we were there early though, no one else was around and we were able to let Maebe and Cade run off leash in the dog park area for a while. They had a blast - Maebe found some nasty chewed frisbee, and Cade just herded her and us as we stolled around. They burned off a lot of pent-up energy, which was a big relief to us.

We returned to the hotel and grabbed some seats in the ballroom for the opening presentation by Karen Pryor. We took seats near the back, at the end of an aisle close to a door, so if anyone got too impatient or fussy we could make a discrete exit. Fortunately, all my concerns were unwarranted, as both dogs settled down on their mats and behaved themselves wonderfully. I was so proud of my Noodle. He isn't a reactive dog in the least, but I figured he would just be SO interested in all the other dogs, other people, things going on. I expected he would be fussy, and might get frustrated. Instead, he mostly sat and looked at me, for which he received the occasional bit of kibble. He would watch passing dogs with moderate interest, but always kept his compusure.

The opening comments by Aaron Clayton and Karen Pryor got us excited for the great seminars to come, and it was a thrill seeing Karen Pryor talk after being such a fan of her work. I spotted other training gurus and authors in the audience as well, and felt kind of like a teenage fan-girl at a boy band concert. :-)

From there, we went to a seminar on agility foundation training, which was wonderful. I was pleased that the presenters also follow the handling systems, jump training methods, and agility practices that I am using with Cadence, and their presentation gave me lots of great ideas of more ways to build foundation skills with him. An intriguing concept they mentioned was using "tranports" in between exercises, and always paying attention to how your training interacts with your handling system. Rather than letting your dog bounce around you, spin circles, zoom around, etc. in between exercises, they suggested using "tranports" such as tugging, carrying, holidng the collar, etc. until you are ready to start working. These are all trained as specific behaviors, and don't allow the dog to develop sloppy habits that will interfere with the handling system. Lowell and I immediately recognized how Maebe will walk backwards in front of him and bark as he walks to a start line, and how then if she gets frustrated on course, she also resorts to that default behavior. It made perfect sense to not let these default behaviors get muddied up in the handling system.

We let the dogs take a break in their crates in the hotel room (still being good dogs, they remained quiet), while we ate lunch then attended a Shaping seminar by Joan Orr and Helix Fairweather. The content was very much Shaping 101, so a bit basic for us, but it is always good to review. Plus, both presenters gave shaping demos with audience dogs, and it is always impressive and informative to watch an expert at work. I find I can learn a lot about timing and breaking behaviors down into their core parts by watching someone who is very skilled at this.

Afterwards, we got the dogs again and went to the learning lab, where we got to practice some of these shaping exercises with Joan, Helix, and other Academy grads assisting. Most of the exercises were things I had already started to shape with Cade: eye contact, targeting, going to a mat, etc. But, this was a highly distracting environment, and I was pleased by his ability to focus and work for me even with all the commotion.

Our first day over, we went back to the park and took a lovely walk for about an hour. It was a gorgeous day, we were full of excitement about all we were learning and practicing, and delighted that the dogs were doing so well and having so much fun. When we returned to the hotel, we met up with some other dog trainer friends who were at the Expo and went out to a fun dinner together. We returned exhausted and excited for another day of learning on Saturday!

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