Glacier and I have unofficially started our Rally Obedience training. I got the go ahead from the Obedience Club to register him in the Novice Rally class that starts March sixth. We still haven't been skill tested, but the instructor said to look at as more of an evaluation to see which class we would be better suited to. If things continue going the way they have been, Glacier will be all set. There are a few basic Rally Obedience cues Glacier didn't know yet, and so I started training him in our backyard. I may have to change our training location since I asked him to "down" on a sand spur yesterday. He completed the request without a complaint and I didn't even know the stinking thing was attached to him until the training session was over and I patted him down to make sure everything was in working order.
For those of you who don't know what sand spurs are, allow me to explain. They are the dumbest plant in existence. Mosquitoes have more purpose. I understand most creepy, crawly bugs have a role to fulfill and so do most plants, even poisonous ones, but the sand spur is the most pointless, painful type of vegetation out there. Okay, maybe they have a point, but I have no idea what that would be. They have these horrible prickly barbs that get stuck under your skin and even after you pull them out, the area burns for a while. They are so small that people don't even know they are lying in weight. The dogs often come in from outside with the annoying little things attached to their fur and stuck in their paws. Usually I have to remove the latter. Anyway, the point of the off track rant was that, poor Glacier performed his cue and got stuck with one of those pesky things. That means, a change of training venue is probably in order. Look out living room. Here we come.
There are two problems with the living room though. For one it's much too cluttered to practice loose leash heeling. The next issue isn't really a problem with the living room, but we really enjoy being out in the sunshine. The whole back and front yards are covered in sand spurs. There is really no escaping them. Maybe I'll have to do some training inside and then finish up outside. That way we get loose leash heeling work AND sunshine.
As for our training, I've been reviewing "sit," down," "heel," "stay" and many variations of these cues. Glacier has to be able to hold a sit/down "stay" for a short length of time; he has to hold a "sit stay" while I walk around him; he has to be able to go from a sit to a down and back to a sit again (we in guide dog school world like to call these puppy push-ups); and other combinations of "sit, down, stay." His puppy push-ups aren't so good, but I think it's because he thinks it's a punishment. We often would use these in training, and in every day work if our dogs became distracted. It would get them listening to us again and make it so that we could continue working. So, as of right now, the thing he knows the best is the hardest for him.
I've also been teaching him new things. I'm not sure if I am teaching the to him properly because I can't see the pictures or videos, but he is at least getting the point. I figure the instructor of the Novice Rally class can correct my body position and his if need be. Glacier will only have known these cues for a short while, so it won't be hard to re-shape them into what we need him to do. Re-training me might be harder. :)
I mentioned before that in order to be in the class Glacier would have to know how to "finish right or left." I didn't know what that meant, so I did some digging and found a few good resources on the internet. That said, there wasn't a whole lot available. Most of the resources were book that were in inaccessible formats. That means, no digital or audible format. So, I did the best with what I could find and began teaching Glacier the different finishes and "front" as well.
Front is a cue you use to get your dog to come from a "heel" position to sit in front of and facing you. I'm sure in more advanced competitions or dog sports, "front" could be assumed from any position. I won't bore you here with the details of how I managed to teach him these three things because its' a lot and if I started doing that, every single post would be the different training sessions we've had. I was thinking of starting a page that outlines each cue we have learned and how we got there. That way, if you want more information you can get it, but you are also not bombarded by it on my every day posts. I'm very excited by his progress. His "finish left" could use some work, but we've only trained twice. We'll see today how things go.
The trainer for the Novice Rally class, and the person testing us, seems like a great person. We've only communicated via email, but I like her training philosophy so far. She doesn't encourage the use of harsh corrections and subscribes to reward based training. That is good because as of right now, Glacier only performs his finishes for treats. She also would rather people use flat collars or Martingales rather than choke chains. Prong and electronic collars are NOT allowed. They aren't even allowed on site at competitions. That makes me happy. I think prong and electronic collars are horrible horrible devices.
Glacier usually wears a choke chain when he is working. LDB, and most other guide dog schools, encourage collar corrections, but students are taught how to perform them properly and they are not to be used with excessive force. I am going to have Glacier wear a flat collar though, and maybe use a different leash than his guiding one, to create a distinction for him between working, playing and Rally Obedience. The guiding harness is used in a similar fashion in that it not only provides the blind handler something to hold onto and serves as a means for the handler to read the dog's body language, it also signals to the dog that he or she is working. That is why most handlers are so strict about people petting their guide dogs in harness. The harness is supposed to signify "working" to the dog and if people are always interacting with the dog with the harness on, then the dog forgets or cannot distinguish between working and not working. If I give Glacier a particular collar and leash to wear and take off his working collar during Rally training, that will signal to him that it is Rally Obedience time and he can focus on that.
At the Novice level, Rally is like basic obedience training with a few more fancier cues. You are allowed to talk to and encourage your dog. You are allowed to praise them, unlike the traditional Obedience competitions. This very important difference is what makes it possible for Glacier and I to compete in Rally. I don't think I would put him into Obedience competitions because being able to communicate verbally is key to a guide dog team. I'm not saying that is the way it is for all teams, as some handlers cannot speak to their dogs, but Glacier has been trained that way and we bonded that way. I wouldn't want to do anything to jeopardize our working relationship.
I also wouldn't enter a guide dog in agility because there is a higher risk of injury. If your guide dog is injured, not only is the dog out of commission, but so is the handler. I was reading somewhere that at the advanced levels of Rally that the dogs are asked to do low jumps. I will have to actually look at one of the jumps and determine when the time comes if it is safe for Glacier or not. By that time, Aria may be ready to start Rally and Glacier and I can just keep doing the Novice stuff for fun.
Wow, I've rambled a lot this morning. I will leave it at that for now even though I have some thoughts pertaining to our move to Scotland vying for my attention. Have a fantastic day and make sure your furry friend, working or not, has an equally fantastic day. :)