A week from now it will be my beautiful, yellow guy's birthday. In honour of this, all of the posts will be about Glacier. I've noticed in my past posts Glacier is mentioned, but very few of them revolve entirely around the dog that has my life in his paws...literally. I hope you enjoy "getting to know" Glacier much better.
Last night was our second Rally obedience class. I have to admit that with the moving and all of the other issues with the puppies, I didn't practice at all with Glacier. I knew going into the class that he may have a harder time performing the cues and focusing, but after the first ten minutes of constant reminders to "leave it" and to "pay attention," I was pleasantly surprised. We practised some of our cues from last week-a 360 circle, a 270 turn, sit/down Etc-and then added in a few new ones. I was amazed to see how effortlessly Glacier and I could move as long as I wasn't giving him the wrong cue and he was focusing on me. Most of the mistakes we made were handler error; AKA my fault. His "sit" position improved a lot just in the hour long class. He was more willing to sit directly at my side as opposed to scooting his bum around in front of me. It wasn't perfect, but probably seven times out of ten he sat where he should. Now his "downs" on the other hand, definitely need work. Every time he went into a "down," he laid directly across my feet. Maybe he's trying to tell me not to walk because it is not safe or something. Regardless of the reason, I need to be disciplined enough this week to practice with him.
Some of the new cues came easily to us. Our finishes, both left and right, were very good. There is one finish where you pass the dog behind your back and he either sits at your side or you start walking. In the one where you are supposed to start walking, the dog is expected to fall into step at your side without any yanking on the leash or leash tension. Glacier was a pro. He also impressed me with his call to "front." Basically this means the handler takes a few steps back while calling the dog to come around in front and then sit. This was one of the cues Glacier didn't know and I had to teach him. His movements were fluid and he responded really well to my voice and hand signals. In novice Rally Obedience you are allowed to use both hand and voice signals, but as you progress you can only use one or the other. Some of the other handlers were having to use their leash to guide the dog, or a treat to lure the dog to the front. Glacier needed no such encouragement.
Since the majority of guide dogs are not treat trained, I have been trying to do the cues without treat rewards. I don't want him to get used to being treated every time he finds a curb when we are out walking. Not to mention, sometimes your guide dog will do something for you and you won't even know it was done. If guide dogs worked for treats, we would be stepping in pot holes or running into planters all of the time. Guide dog handlers are taught to just keep talking to their dogs and every once in a while say "good job" or something in a happy voice to reinforce the wanted behavior. I think it's also to help just in case you missed the dog taking you around a bus stop sign.
We also practised "left" finishes which was another cue I taught Glacier before we were skill tested. Up until last night, I had to move my feet in order to get Glacier to make the little circle at my side that he is supposed to make. I started the "left" finishes practise moving my feet, but I wanted to see if Glacier was ready to do the cue without the movement. In a competition the foot movement would be considered a fault. I wanted to see if Glacier was ready to perform the cue without my foot signal and he was. I was very impressed. Even though we didn't practise all week, Glacier was on fire. No wonder the dog made it as a guide dog.
We reviewed a few other signs. One of them was slowing or quickening your pace. I thought Glacier would be good at this one since as my guide he needs to alter his pace according to what I am doing. I wasn't entirely sure if he would respond though because I think Glacier gets a lot of his information from me through the harness handle. In Rally Obedience he is not wearing his harness and the leash has to be slack, forming a nice J shape. The first try he put a bit of tension on the leash, but the second time around he slowed right down with me and sped up when I did.
All and all, it was a great class. We had some great bonding moments and I also think it reinforces to Glacier that he has to listen to me. At one point, when we were having some "down time" Glacier rolled over on to his back with his paws in the air and grumbled as he rolled around. I just had to laugh nd give him a belly rub. It is the first time he has ever done that with me. Perhaps these classes are good for us. We will practise this week though and hopefully next week his focusing won't be quite as inconsistent. :)
PS: The give away from VIP Products has arived and it is fabulous. I will g it up in another post, complete with a link to the product.