Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Deadball Retrieves

Finally...I know, right?  Here's what we did:

Start in boring, enclosed space (our home office/spare bedroom did the trick) with about 8 - 10 feet of space for working;
  1. Warm-up with a couple of tosses (i.e., not-dead balls);
  2. Restrain Dancer, toss ball, wait one second after it stops moving, send her to get it;
  3. Repeat until she's reliable;
  4. Increase time between when ball stops moving and dog is sent to get it in 1 second increments (literally, one second!)
  5. When up to 10 seconds, switch it up by leading the dog to the spot where the ball will be, place the ball there, make sure the dogs sees it, then quickly lead the dog back to the starting point.  Once there, quickly release the dog to get the ball.
Like this:

What's important here?
  1. Start with the familiar fetch game:  this sets the stage for what's going on here, why we're in this little room.
  2. Solid fetch foundation with familiar cues:  I've already covered building Dancer's fetch skills.  But what I haven't pointed out is that when we play fetch, every time I throw Dancer's ball, I say the same thing, "GET your BALL!"  And off she dashes, to get her ball.  When we move to deadball retrieves, I use that same verbal cue (it's not really a command, it's just a "familiar stimulus").  Because we've warmed up with regular fetch, and because in the beginning the ball is only dead for one second (literally), and because I'm using the same cue, she's likely to go straight after the ball.
  3. Boring space, no distractions:  I've tried doing this in the backyard with the other dogs around as a starting point (cuz I'm lazy, which we've already established), and it just doesn't work.  The dog needs to be able to keep their little lemon-head focused on the ball, they need to be able to keep visual contact with the ball even after it's stopped moving.  Distractions prevent this from happening.
  4. Short distance:  not more than 10 feet, short tosses, etc.  Again, if the dog loses track of the ball, she won't know what you're asking her to do.  So, if your toss is bad and the ball goes out of sight, it's best to just start not ask the dog to go find the ball.  You haven't trained her to do that yet!
  5. Short time delay between ball going dead and releasing the dog to get it:  one second, then two seconds, then three, etc.  Don't start with 10 seconds because your dog will lose track of the ball, and you'll end up with confusion, not happy retrieving.
  6. Transition carefully from tossing the ball and waiting til it's dead to placing the ball: if your dog isn't staying fully aware of the ball from the time you place it, through you're leading her back to the starting point, all the way until you release her, she's NOT ready for the ball-placing step.  Keep working the toss-delay-til-dead part.
  7. I'm going to keep working this protocol until I get the same speed and enthusiasm for the deadball as I'm getting in our live ball fetch games.  Once I have that, I'll move on to the next step.
But in the meantime, there's another foundation skill I'll be training concurrently.  While I'm training deadball retrieves, I'm also going to be training Over and Backs, or U-turns.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

NOW can we learn deadball retrieves?!

Happy to be a 2 Kees household again...easy to tell them apart when they're side by side!
My goodness, what an exciting couple of weeks have passed since I last posted!  First, I must confess that I fell into my favorite pass-time:  procrastination.  Since Dancer was now our dog, why rush the training?  We've got forever, right?  Plus, she was going to be spayed on Friday the 14th, which would put her on limited activity and curtail our Flyball training, so why start when we'd only have to stop?

So a week blew past, and I'd done nothing (I also told myself I was letting her "settle in"...that's important when you adopt a new dog, right?)  We still played fetch everyday, and she was still rocking that, so it's not like I was ignoring her.  But her Flyball career was stalled.

Then last week, Neena got sick:  Monday morning greeted us with a 106.1 degree fever.  She's fine now--turns out it was an abscess, but it took us until Friday and many vet visits to get that figured out.  And since Terry and I have been through hell and back with our dogs in the last 16 years (2 epileptic dogs; 1 who also had Cushing's, hypo-thyroid, arthritis, and myasthenia gravis; 1 with lymphoma; 1 dementia; 1 kidney failure; 1 jammed a 1" x 1/4" stick through the roof of his mouth into his head; and 1 who ran into a tree and blew up a disc), we tend to get a bit twitchy when mystery illnesses linger.

Also on Monday of last week, Dancer went into heat!  Cancel the spay on Friday!  So Monday night saw Terry running out to PetSmart for some bitch pants and liners...he's such a good doggy-dad.  He's also gotten very good at changing her.  Bet he never thought he'd be changing anybody's panty-liners at his age!  (Consider this a warning to any 50 + year old men out there who might be reading this:  never say never.)

So with Neena back to her usual psycho self, and Terry and I literally screaming with relief about that, and with Dancer's spay postponed til September, we're back on track!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

She's Baaaaack!

And not only is she back, she's back to stay...forever!  Judi and Kathy agreed that Terry and I can adopt this little girl, and we couldn't be more pleased.  Well, Wyatt could live without her, but Raff, Neena, Terry, and I are in agreement that she belongs here, and so here she is.  Love.

She and Neena can wear each other out every day.  Or several times a day, is more likely.  And she and Raff can play Keeshond games as only Keeshonden can play them.  And all three of them can focus on each other and hopefully leave old-man-grumpy-pants (a.k.a. Wyatt) alone.

To celebrate, tonight we did a little group activity that I think I'll call "Choose to Jump".  It involves me standing beside a Flyball jump with a clicker and a cheesestick, and whoever goes over the jump gets clicked and cheesed.  Pardon the poor video quality--it was dusk, plus I recorded it through the window, with my camera (phone) propped up on the window sill.  We've never played this game before, so I had no idea how it would go...and actually, it went pretty well!  Dancer didn't really have a clue what to do, so I gave her the benefit of a little luring.  Neena had almost no focus, so she got lucky but didn't really connect the dots.  Wyatt started strong but didn't seem to truly figure it out.  Who was the clear winner?  Why, of course, the Raffinator!  When it comes to figuring out how to get the cheese into his mouth, few dogs can compete with this fluff butt!

Dancer's here, and we're going to have a total blast this summer, and beyond.  Other than Wyatt being slightly put out, and other than my having an endless playlist of "Dancer" songs going through my head 24/7 (Tiny Dancer, Rhythm is a Dancer, and other variations...Dancing with Myself, Dancing Queen, you get the idea), and other than the toe-licking thing, I just don't see a downside here.