How we’re prepping for our first Rally-FrEe entry!
I’ve just started practicing the course for Phee’s first entry in Rally-FrEe Pre-Novice class. I’m nervous and excited! She recently passed her Skills Test. (That allowed me to assess whether we were ready to take the next step and enter a video event.) I thought I would share how I spend the 10 days leading up to the time when I need to submit her first video entry.
Phee has experience with cookie courses. What are “cookie courses”, you ask? I set up a course of 8-10 signs. The signs don’t matter. Focusing on me as we walk through the stations, with upright signs, numbers/markers is what I want her to gain experience with. We heel through the course and as we approach a sign, I mark her focus on me and give a cookie. That’s it! She just needs to be heeling and focused and she gets a cookie. No behaviors. Because if she can’t ignore the signs and move with me past the sign, then I can’t expect her to respond to a cue. If she’s not looking at me, then I’ll say her name and mark her looking at me. In doing this, I’m strengthening her focus on me, and better yet, I’m teaching her that signs are cues to look at me!
Here’s Phee’s “cookie course” in action!
Other pre-work before I get the course includes a sequence of 4-5 signs (varied and increasing in number) that include only behaviors she does well. I need to see how well she can respond to the cues, with the stations present, and reinforcement at the end. Doing this starts to address the need for duration without reinforcement on a course.
Assessing Phee’s Skill Level & Weak Behaviors
Right now, Phee can do about 7-8 behaviors in a row before reinforcement, without the behaviors deteriorating. (Hooray!) I opted to enter in Pre-Novice, so that I can provide some reinforcement on the course.
Once I received the course, I assessed her current skill level on the sign behaviors in the course. (Behavior isn’t stagnant!) For this course, she is weak on the bow, weave x 3 (Imagine that! I thought she was doing so well on those! Our dogs can really throw some surprises our way.), CCW spin and CCW circle. So, I immediately start putting my effort into those behaviors. The bow has been a hard one for her! I’ve been lax on taking the time to train it methodically, and it shows.
Practicing Small Pieces of the Course
I started to practice sequences that are in the course, 4-8 signs at a time, with reinforcement at the end. In this way, Phee is practicing short durations and not all 15 signs at once. These are varied and overlapped and start to include my weaker behaviors. She’s rewarded after the weak behavior if she performed well. My reward events include food and toy play, and last for at least as long as it took to do the sequence.
As I work the short sequences of the course, I’m better able to plan my Free Choice behaviors. For Phee, I will be sending her around a cone or prop for most and do a spin for one. These are solid and fun skills for her!
I then start to back-chain these sequences to strengthen her response. We are just getting to that point now with this course. Today is day 5. The videos are due in 5 days.
Almost Ready! The Final Touches
Today, I set up the course to see where she was both skill wise and emotionally. How does she handle 15 stations with minimal reinforcement and no breaking off for games and play?
Below is a video of that session. I should have provided more reinforcement – I think I rewarded only once or twice. I lost her focus a few times and needed hand cues to help her at some stations. One of her favorite people was filming which made it harder for her. Overall, I was happy with what she gave me! I feel it would qualify, though my intention is to video again for a better submission. Having this is a nice back-up though, in case things don’t go as well on the next take!
From now until the day before I video again, my sessions will focus on continuing to strengthen the weaker behaviors and start to back chain shorter sequences of 4-6 behaviors. Her experiences over these last 10 days will hopefully provide us with a nice, qualifying run! Wish us luck!