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Agility with Brains and Beauty



          These are three words which can be linked to the poodle quite successfully; if the correct methods of bonding and training are applied. Poodles are really people in dogs and because of this they require company, respect, patience at times, their own space at times and guidance in order to extract the required response.


          Poodles by nature are usually quite “bouncy” types of dogs. They like to show their emotions. It could be a yap, bark, a cheeky look out of the corner of the eye, an unexpected spring into the air or a full on stare and yawn whilst looking you directly in the eye. This is what makes moulding your poodle something special; keeping and controlling these “poodley” traits (it’s personality) and harnessing them  to be of benefit.


          Poodles by design are a “pretty” elegant, agile and intelligent type of a dog. Their origins come from retrieving ducks out of swampy, cold boggy terrain; hence the modified haircut, the ribbons in the hair, the webbed feet for swimming, the top-knot and docked tail. To be a good retriever, the dog needs to be able to think and to work out the best way to get the bird; hence the brains.


          I have had the pleasure of owning, showing and trialing a silver female miniature poodle; Nicky (Aust. Champion Adeltoy Nicollette UD ET ADM) born 30.05.91 and a black female standard poodle; Zoe (Aust. Champion Adeltoy Smashing Zoe CD ADX ET) born 30.12.92. Zoe currently has two qualifying in her second obedience title (CDX) and has three qualifying times in her Agility Masters title (ADM). Nicky has had the honuor of representing Queensland in the National Agility Challenge Team Event on two occasions. She is the first and only small dog (i.e. < 380 mm at the shoulder) to attain its Agility Masters Title in Queensland.


          These dogs have achieved these feats through setting goals and progressively working towards them; being able to know and read your dog. Fair and just treatment goes a long way when you’re training your poodle. Harsh, unjust and erratic treatment does nothing to getting your dog to work efficiently and happily for you. This sort of treatment of working your dog in fear mode is not only dangerous ( as it can turn your dog from fear into attack mode) but it takes the fun out training with your companion and also the fun out of your dog. If you’re lucky you’ll get an unanimated dog going through it’s paces, tail down and showing definite cringing characteristics whenever you or someone else returns to it or approaches it. Poodles really telegraph their emotions. When they’re happy……they’re happy; but when they’re unhappy, a pathetic image appears - a scene of an overbearing handler inflicting stern and harsh control over this poor defenceless dog. That’s not what you are trying to achieve !


          Be patient, fair, stern at times and above all be consistent. (Consistent in your approach to training. Consistent in your commands and signals. Consistent with your boundaries for praise and discipline.) If this is adopted and steadily implemented, then your dog will gain a knowledge of what it needs to do to stay with-in the safety zone. Being consistent is extremely important, but being totally consistent with doing the same exercises, staying away for the same amount of time etc. can create a very difficult problem to rectify; i.e. the problem of anticipation. They’re very intelligent and it doesn’t take them long to work out what is supposed to come next. This is why; once the initial training of the exercise is completed, some variation should be progressively introduced to your training content but not to your approach to training, commands and signals or to the dog’s working boundaries. Variation keeps the dog’s interest high and teaches the dog to focus on the handler. Varying the order of the exercises, combining exercises, introducing distraction, noises etc. can also enhance the dog’s ability to work. Varying the time of praise increases it’s hunger to please. Always reward any break through which your dog has made, any exceptional performance and occasionally just give the dog some praise as a confidence booster.


          It’s all about finding the balance to achieve a solid foundation. Don’t rush through the early training or move onto the more advanced exercises without getting the basics correct first. Work from the known to the unknown and incrementally teach the exercise. If this is followed, then your poodle will know where it fits with-in the family, what it can do, where it is allowed to go, when it is work mode, when it is free time etc. You set these parameters and stick to them. Poodles will try to stretch the boundaries; so be adamant in your decision if you don’t want to change any of the parameters.  Using these tactics your poodle will become an asset to your family, a loyal and faithful companion, a good working dog when required and a family member when not working. Poodles have an inbuilt elegance and beauty about them. With a background in retrieving they also get a very useful confirmation for jumping, climbing, weaving, running, gaiting etc. and the brains to implement some quite difficult things.


  Poodles are agile with the brains to match their elegant looks.   

                                                      Acknowledgement to Bruce  Nobbs - Poodle Owner. for writing this article.




Analysing an Exercise


1.  Select the exercise!


2.  Is it complicated? Some exercises are quite complex and are made up of several conditioned responses e.g. the recall. It can be broken down into the following mini responses: sit, heel off, sit, leave and stay, call and come, sit and return to heel with a sit.


3.  Can the exercise be linked to any previous training?  If exercises can be linked logically together then the training of the exercise will tend to go more smoothly. Dogs; like humans feel more comfortable learning and progressively learning from known to unknown e.g. teaching the stand for examination; the dog must be able to stand freely unaided with handler beside and also in front of the dog without signs of panic. It should also know “stay” and be able to do a sit for examination.


4.  Does the exercise require pre-training? Some exercises might be totally different to what the dog has been used to doing or bred for. A border collie, for instance, was bred for herding animals not retrieving things. Yet, with the correct pre-training these dogs can retrieve with the same zest as a gun dog. Pre-training is important when there isn’t any link to the previous exercise. An example of this is when you’re teaching your dog scent exercises in Utility exercises. Will your dog pick up a metal object for instance?  Pre-training for this part of the exercise is similar to the initial dumbbell training where the dog’s mouth is opened to receive the metal object.  As the dog becomes familiar with the object then the object can be thrown or placed short distances in front of the dog and be retrieved like a dumbbell. The pre-training is as the word suggests; training which won’t actually be as the exercise is run when at trialling level. It is used to familiarise the dog with the new object and also to build a stable foundation for the exercise.


5.  What does the dog know already? Knowing what the dog will do and won’t do also gives the handler a starting point to work from. If the dog loves to pick things up and naturally carries things around in its mouth; then the retrieving pre-training could possibly be ignored.


6.  Is the exercise a control exercise or an action oriented exercise? Again “control” means suppressing the dog’s natural urge to do what it wants to do.  It might mean suppressing the dog’s fear of being dominated e.g. Stand for Examination.  The dog’s natural instinct is to take flight. These exercises require building stability into the dog’s nature and increasing its tolerance to outside distractions.  Action oriented exercises require harnessing the dog’s natural instincts and adapting them to the exercise e.g. using the dog’s prey drive to chase and fetch a dumbbell.


7.  Have you got the necessary equipment? Some exercises may require specialised equipment e.g. doing the broad jump in open, a broad jump is needed; however  a low bar jump or solid jump could be used in the initial stages whilst the dog is still doing the exercise on lead. Improvise where ever practicable and only if it doesn’t affect the overall outcome of the exercise.


8.  Can the exercise be taught by yourself or does it require assistance from another person? The majority of exercises can be quite successfully trained by yourself; however ring familiarisation is recommended for all trialling members. Several of the Utility exercises will require a helper to give the exercise  continuity and to limit inducing secondary extra commands and movements. Exercises like Scent Discrimination, Directed Retrieve and Food Refusal; it is advisable to use a helper when teaching these exercises.


9.  Has the dog or handler got any limitations which might hinder the exercise being completed successfully? Some defects in the dog could prevent it doing the exercise. If a dog has very poor eye sight then this would make the Signals Exercise in Utility practically impossible to do successfully. Also if the handler had some major handicap or illness this would also made it difficult to do some of the advanced exercises.


          These are some issues and suggestions which need to be considered when training at advanced levels of obedience. If you take it logically, calmly and don’t put unreal time limits on completing the training for the exercise; then with a little luck the exercise training will be successful.

Endurance Test         Training and Competing
The following article will discuss the basic requirements, equipment and training to successfully complete an Endurance Test.
What are the requirements of the test?  The test requires the dog and handler to average 10 k.p.h. for 20 km  and to do this over varying surfaces in a total test time of 2 hours and 35 minutes (including vet checks and compulsory rest periods).  After the test there is also a very short basic obedience test.
What equipment does one need? A pedigreed dog between 2yrs and 7yrs of age, not in season or in whelp; a lead up to 2m is recommended; a fixed collar or harness; a push bike preferably with a speedometer or a good comfortable pair of jogging shoes; a set of C.C.C. rules on the Endurance Test; a handler who is a current member of the C.C.C. or similar interstate controlling body and lastly a fitness certificate from the vet within 2 weeks prior to completing the E.T.
What training requirements are there and what are some of the things to look out for?  The training schedule will vary according to the current work load of the dog. I found that the training had to be progressive; i.e. working from easy to more difficult, from slow runs to faster times, from short distances on hard terrain to longer ones. My initial training consisted of only 1 to 2km runs at 10 k.p.h. (This was also because of the extreme temperatures of last Summer.)  As the weather became cooler and both the dogs and the handlers fitness improved; then the distances and terrain was increased. Most of the training was done on bitumen and concrete so as to toughen the dogs pads up. It’s also easier riding for the handler. The distances were progressively built up over the months prior to completing the E.T. (from 3km to 5/6km and then finally to 8/10km.) The frequency remained reasonably constant 3 to 4 times per week.  If your dog is handling this work load and the dog’s disposition and is physically holding up then I believe it is fit enough to attempt a full “mock” E.T.  We did two “mock” E.T.s in our final lead up training.
          Because the test is run on varying surfaces it is important to keep a close eye on your dog’s feet. I will just elaborate on that. Nicky; my 7yr old mini poodle who’s only 300mm at the shoulder and weighs in at 9kg; did show some pigment loss in the centres of the pads but they were still fine and very tough. Nicky can only show gait to 8k.p.h. so to maintain 10 k.p.h. or better meant that she had to “bunny-hop” which created an accentuated pad contact with the surface in which she was running on. Nicky had to do 3 times the leg rate and contacts than my standard poodle had to do.  Zoe; my standard poodle is 5½yrs of age and is 600mm at the shoulder and weighs in at 28kg. Zoe on the other hand had no problems show gaiting at 10 k.p.h. in fact she is still in show gait at 20 k.p.h.  Zoë's pads were fine and showed no signs of wear. It was in between the toes where I noticed some rubbing and calluses forming. This was caused from longish toe nails rubbing on the side of the toe.  This was easily fixed up by shortening the toe nails and letting the hair on the feet grow for 4 weeks prior to doing the test.   
          The other thing which is important is keeping your training schedule on track.   Once the dog is fit; then simply maintain it. Don’t train your dog into the ground.  Keep your training progressive and positive.  If the dog is pulling out in front; that’s OK.  If the dog is being dragged; that’s not. The dog needs to be encouraged up. Keep encouraging and talking to your dog when you’re doing the training sessions.
          Needless to say you will need to keep an eye on the dog; they can’t talk but they will still give you signals if something is wrong.  I didn’t take temperatures or heart rates when I trained.  I figured that if the dog still wanted to play “chasey” after training rates of 15/16k.p.h. and a length of 8km plus; then there wasn’t too much wrong with them.
          The Endurance Test is quite easy if you’ve done adequate preparation for yourself and your dog/s. Yes you are allowed to run 2 dogs at the same time; either in brace or on separate leads. All in all we did around about 500km of training over a 6 month period. This excluded my personal fitness training on the exercise bike during the hotter Summer months. Both of the dogs actually became heavier with Zoë putting on almost 2kg and Nicky about .5kg not that she needed that.

The Endurance Test  The test itself has to be run at a venue where there are varying types of surfaces available e.g. grass, bitumen, gravel and concrete.  Each group of dogs and handlers are given numbers or numbered bibs and when competing in the test must stay in catalogue order. In each test group there is a pacesetter with a calibrated and checked speedometer, a judge and an official time-keeper. (If there are more than one group then these officials will be allocated for each group.) As the pace-setter moves off, then the competitors follow in single file at about 2m spacing.  (If you breakdown or your dog has to toilet then you must pull out of the line and either fix it up or clean it up; then catch up and return to your original position.)  This could mean travelling at rates of up to 20k.p.h. for a short distance. Again, if you and your dog have done the work; then it shouldn’t be a problem.  
          The Test is in 4 sections with 5 vet checks (temperatures, heart rates and general health including pad checks). Each dog has all results and observations recorded.
1.   Initial vet check with the dog in a rested state.
2.   8km run on at least 2 surfaces with a 15 minute tethered rest period where the owner can care for the dog’s fluid needs etc. and the dog is vet checked
3.   6km run on at least 2 surfaces with a 20 minute tethered rest period where the dog is cared for and vet checked as above.
4.   6km run on at least 2 surfaces with a 15 minute rest period where the dog is allowed to move around and it is vet checked and can be cared for as above
5.   Short obedience work out just to show if the dog is willing to work not to be judged as an obedience exercise.
          If you’re successful then the title of E.T. can be applied for from the Dogs QLD and the letters E.T. are added to the dog’s pedigree after it’s name.
          Taken and used in the correct manner, this can be a good tool to be used for other fields of obedience, tracking, agility and even showing. If your dog is fit and motivated then it will actually want to work and do more things.
 Bruce Nobbs


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