Easy Daisy: A Draft Training Update

You may recall that I am engaged in an experiment of sorts to see if I can have Daisy ready to pass the Novice Draft Test in sixty days; the original post is HERE. We now have only 35 days before the test; this is a summary of the progress and plan.

Daisy is not “heeling” but is walking well on a loose leash by my side — and that is good enough for a draft test, which only requires that the dog : “…walk under control within arm's length of the handler at all times… on either side, in front, or behind the handler …”

The other component of that Basic Control part of a test is a Recall and as I indicated in the last post, I train the “wait” and the “come” as separate exercises; this is also going well.

Training a dog that I have not raised from birth is always interesting. Daisy is wicked smart and biddable to the extreme — a great combination. But so many things I take for granted are not in her toolkit because she was raised with different expectations.

For example, she did not know “down” and she understood “stay” to mean wait a few seconds before self-releasing. My others dogs understand — from the time they are puppies — “sit” and “down” and they also also understand those things are never self-releasing — even absent the “stay” cue.

On the other hand, Daisy has much better “house” manners than some dogs who shall remain unnamed.

Sparkle — practically perfect.

Sparkle — practically perfect.

And so Daisy has not only had to be trained but she has also had to “unlearn” things — luckily she lives to work and please.

Daisy literally runs into things because she is SO focused.

Daisy literally runs into things because she is SO focused.

As you can see from the photo above, Daisy is now pulling the competition cart. Last night was a typical “getting used to things” session. We practiced Basic Control and then did the entire straight driveway, which is almost 1/2 mile round trip.

Doing the driveway is so valuable, even though it is just a straight down and back. The cart bumps and rattles, and Daisy gets used to the “feel” of things without layering other needed skills. We enter and exit through a gate — this requires Daisy to stay while I open and close said gate.

Since we have done the driveway more than once, I have added additional skill training to it. We do stops — always a sit and always rewarded. I practice “slow” on the slight incline part, and “back” — one step only — on the slight decline part. I do slight serpentines to practice turn behavior. And at the end of the driveway I use the road to do two big circles that are heavily rewarded before we head back towards home.

Training a dog should always include breaking behaviors down and training components rather than expecting big clumps. And this requires a constant assessment of the Least Trainable Units of a given behavior, and whether the dog can handle a bit more or we need to slow things down. When a dog cannot successfully perform, we know to dial back.

Further, desired behavior needs to be noticed and rewarded — I think the noticing part is where most people need work. We tend to notice when the dog does something we do not appreciate — that is the opposite of what needs to happen to both maintain attitude and be successful. More on that soon…

Daisy is turning well to the left. Her right turns are supported in order to avoid a tendency to curl up in the cart instead of using her whole body to make the turn. This support comes in various ways — sometimes she needs my hand on her hip to gently push her rear to move along with the front as she turns. Sometimes — if the turn is wide enough — I can use a food lure to move her whole body.

Her stops are quick. Her backing is not yet independent but she is catching on. She is slowing on cue — yay! She is staying well for one minute and we are building time easily.

In other words, Daisy has a solid foundational set of skills. They are not as smooth as an experienced dog, but that is to be expected. She remain unfazed by the cart — that is key to being able to even consider a draft title in sixty days. I would say she is on track to be able to achieve the goal.

Draft Daisy.jpg

The things I will now focus on are as follows:

  • Daisy needs to practice Basic Control in other places. Therefore, in the next week we will go to two new places to train.

  • We need to begin to tighten up the turns; we can do this in our training yard by setting up cones.

  • It is time to introduce the Narrows — I will set that up as well.

  • She needs an independent back; this can be worked separately from the cart in order to get more chances to practice during the day.

There is one thing that is looming as a Disrupter to this Sixty Day Challenge: Daisy is also due in season within the next month. That, unfortunately, is not something amenable to training.

First in a Regular Series: Sixty Days to a Draft Title (maybe)

Daisy and I are embarked on a journey.

Daisy July 2019.jpg

Sixty Days to a Draft Title.

Ambitious and especially for a dog as novice in working events as Daisy is — but what is the worst that can happen at a draft test (barring being struck by lightening, of course)? We don’t pass — but nobody takes away our birthdays and so Big Deal.

Our (okay — my) sights are set on the Inland Northwest Bernese Mountain Dog Club’s two-day draft test in Helena on September 20 & 21. It is a fabulous test at a lovely site with wonderful, cheerful and laid back volunteers and awesome judges — and scones. Click HERE for more info on the test.

But Daisy and I have a lot of work to do to be ready.

Draft tests begin with what is basically a heeling pattern, although it is less “heeling” and more loose leash walking in the handler’s general vicinity. A recall follows before the dog is harnessed/hitched.

Can I just say that I wish they would get rid of those two things — the fake heeling and recall?! For so many reasons. But I digress.

Daisy does not know how to heel. Minor issue — that can be trained and especially because it is not exactly “heel” so it can be less than perfect. We have 54 or so more days, after all!

Recall — agility training has helped with “wait” but this exercise will also need work. However, not as one complete exercise! We will work “wait” by itself and “come” by itself 100% of the time for the next month.

How do you work them separately, you ask? Easy Peasy.

Put dog on a wait, reward for the behavior — and release. Add distance to the wait as the dog can tolerate but always return to the dog and reward — and then release. If the dog breaks the wait, you just got info that you moved too quickly for their current skill/understanding. Slow that training down, sister!

To work on “come” — toss a cookie and let the dog chase/get it, and then say “come.” Give an even better cookie when the dog comes. You can call the dog in the house, in the yard, etc. — this is an easy exercise to practice.

Training a new dog for draft is always a bit of an anxious mystery — did she get the full set of carting genes? A partial set? Or like Harper B for Be Missing Those Completely — None.

Here is Daisy pulling the training cart — her second time hitched up.

It would appear that Miss Daisy has the complete set — whew. That helps so much.

At this point Daisy’s biggest challenge is letting herself be harnessed without playing tug with the harness and/or rolling over with joy that she is being touched. Daisy feels her Feels in big and happy ways — “sedate” is not in the Dog Dictionary next to her name.

Can we do this? Is the Sixty-Days-to-a-Draft-Title doable for Daisy?

I guess we will all see. It sure will be fun to try!

Photos

This is Hal and his BFF, Abby (Sparkler). SO cute! Both of them.

Thank you, Kathy!

Thank you, Kathy!

Daisy.

Daisy July 17.jpg

rePete has a better recall than most dogs.

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Meow.

Meow.

Claire and Daisy.

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Claire has kindly refrained from going into season just yet — adding in the trip to breed her on top of everything else might send me straight into unraveled.

However, she is at eight months now so it will be any day. Maybe a few days away might be a blessing — washing dishes in the bathtub is no picnic, I assure you.

Happy Thursday to ALL.