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.