Saturday, September 16, 2006

Long day at the seminar...

Murph and I are one day into a two day seminar with Celeste Meade. Number one border collie team in the country for obedience. I find it fascinating how perception differs from reality when it comes to folks who label themselves "purely positive" and their perspective on what the top obedience trainers do to their dogs in training. A couple of tidbits that surprised me: 8 of the top 10 obedience dogs in the Northeast are trained with e-collars. Yep, that's right - using e-collars to train and perfect go-outs, etc. I find that shocking (and I didn't intend to use the pun) but I guess not surprising. According to Celeste e-collars are making a comeback - the latest re-fad in training, people have seen them work SO well for imaginary fencing stuff that they've reinvented them for performance events. Celeste is NOT a fan of e-collars and won't allow them in her building - not even for herding. She feels they have a place in field work however, as it's not practical to go into the water to correct a dog.

One auditor mentioned that her dogs LOVE the ecollar, when they come out of the cabinet her dogs jockey for position on who gets to put it on and go work. Celeste pointed out that the dogs are not jockeying for the collar so much as what the collar means for them...oh boy, we're going to go swim, we're going to go get some ducks - they are in drive and what happens in drive - true drive - is different than what happens outside of drive. One of Celeste's border collies is a peel 'em off the ceiling type of high-drive dogs - that is a different critter than the casual mellow fellow that her OTCH dog is - granted, I've only just met him and he's 11 - but he's a pretty casual dude.. Learning the key to your dog's drive is so important.

Back to perception vs. reality. Celeste is by and far a positive trainer. She doesn't use the word correction, she uses the word reinforcement instead. Hence my deduction is that there is positive and negative reinforcement. This seminar is focused on motivation - motivating the dogs to want to play the game. I've read Terri Arnold's books (and that's where Celeste started her training) and I've spent a great deal of time trying to prevent "poop face" in my dog. That's great, but I've done little to make every effort to prevent my own poop face.

Heelwork should be an aerobic exercise. Celeste (who is in good shape) came off a 3-4 minute heeling demo markedly breathing hard. I thought I hustled before - I've got to step things up even more so. I also need to put more thought into what each foot is doing...the idea is to help your dog - some of the things like stopping with your left foot puts you into your dog's space. Murph doesn't have a space issue, but I do think I got faster sits when I remembered to brake on my right foot (then another left step and bring right up to it).

Also interesting - in the first few minutes of the seminar Celeste asked us who played in what - meaning who did agility and who did tracking, etc. Celeste made an interesting point about agility runs. If you are aiming for a 200 run in obedience you're riding a fine line between NQ and that 200. To get a 200 your dog is always on that edge of control and motivation. I had never thought of it that way. Another slice of that apple is that when we have a fantastic agility run - you know the ones that make your weekend - but a bar was dropped or a contact blown - BUT the rest of that run was unbelieveable. You leave the ring after those kinds of runs and you don't care that you didn't qualify. Why should an obedience run be any different? Seriously - why is it any different if you have a great open obedience run and a tap on the broad jump? It's all about perception.

Why should we treat obedience runs differently than an agility run? In agility we've got an advantage - we're running. The mere movement and running the course makes the game motivating for the dogs. What can I do as an amateur non-poop face to make the obedience ring as much fun as the agility ring? I've got some ideas. One of the things I learned at Essex was that I lost my dog inbetween exercises and getting him back was tough for both of us. Celeste stresses "pick-ups" like in agility where you drop your dog off one side and pick up on the other: Flips, switches - whatever you call them. It's an interesting concept. I've got a few weeks to figure out what is going to work for us.

Another thing Celeste stresses is pet obedience - pet manners, pet "stuff". She won't allow people to move into her competition class until they've passed three levels of "pet class". When people approach her for private lessons she often tells them to go back to the pet classes and save some money - get the basics down - get the fundementals down. She stresses this over and over again, saying that she never ever gets upset with a student or dog having competition issues, she has HUGE problems with people who don't work through the pet issues before trying to do X,Y and Z. Pet stuff: Walk on a loose leash, wait, stay, social manners with other people and other dogs, sit, down, attention - really the basic stuff.

Celeste also has an interesting perspective on dog-to-dog interaction - let dogs be dogs. In her classes the dogs are off-lead running around with each other - one simple rule - no greeting other dogs in front of the withers. Smell all the pee-pees you want but nothing ahead of the withers. Her solution to dogs and puppies doing this is to take the dog's collar and lift (saying nothing) - a puppy time-out if you will. There was no emotion in this at all - no verbal cues and it was really effective with the couple of dog-aggressive in the crowd. One terrier in particular went from visablly looking for trouble to being totally relaxed and in the flow after perhaps three of these reinforcements. It's all a matter of leadership skills - pet stuff I think she would say.

Oh, and she won me over right away with the Cesaer Milan is full of crap bit. He's got two tricks in his bag - choke and pull. He might have some logical ideas of canine behavior but his toolbox is lacking and old-school - and if you really look at what he says and what he does they are almost two different things. But, like any other celebrity he's drawn into his own hype. I'm still not sure if I had to listen to him in person that I wouldn't smack him though...

One of my biggest reliefs is that constant eye-contact attention is not part of the program. Attention when you're working, yes. But the style is overall let your dog be a dog - not a four-legged robot.

So that was day one a lot of information to process. Murph is sound asleep and ready for bed and it's only 8:30 - truth be told I picked up the phone to call my folks and thought "it's too late to call them" - it was 7:30, so yes. I'm ready for bed too! So far I'm pleasantly surprised with the seminar so far. I'm impressed with a "dog" person who communicates as well with people as she does with dogs. I'm surprised that her methods are more modern than I had expected from someone in the game so long - but I think the major message here is that whatever is in fashion for training styles bits and pieces still have merit. The key is figuring out what works for a given dog.

Whew, off to bed for us. Another early morning for us tomorrow as well. I'll summarize the second half tomorrow.


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