This weeks agility homework: rear end awareness. For those not aware, for dogs the but just sort of follows the decision-making front end because it's attached. They don't give it a whole lot of thought. There are areas in training having control over their rear is very useful though or important to working safely.
Now Sierra's a brilliant dog but erm... has not spectacularly successful... at rear end awareness before. It's just not particularly a strong area for her. We've taught with (flat) ladder and cavaletti in her puppy agility classes and those and backing in freestyle. She's inconsistent with the ladders and cavaletti to the frustration of myself and instructors. She does okay with backing, though she tends to crab a few degrees after several paces. We've tried rear paw targeting and spins on various equipment and via capturing, shaping and luring. She can climb ladders, both standard and more difficult ones at playgrounds which involves a fair bit of awareness of footing placement. When we're doing heel work in obed her left-about turn was taught with her tucking and swinging her bum off my left shoulder position. She can also do erm... I guess you'd call it lateral heeling - it's not great, there is two-tracking (I never bothered to refine it) but it's there. I've speculated part of it may be her physical build - her rear is not the best conformation wise so perhaps she feels the strain more - but she can move that rump! I think the only thing I know of we've not had a go at is the balance balls.For this particular class they want pivoting on a point (pivot box) with the front anchored, ladder work and cavaletti work to be passed through to the next level. All pretty standard and they ought to be simpler than climbing the ladders but she bodges them up.
I decided to tackle the pivot box first because I actually have the equipment in the house for that and prefer not to be soaked by all this rain! The main sticking points for her have been her dancy front feet when excited... it's almost like that subconscious excitement whine some dogs do. Getting her to anchor her front in the face of excitement is difficult as she doesn't realize she's moving/shifting them
Almost as soon as I wrote it (okay, WHINGED it) onto my facebook page I realized my solution. I couldn't work with unconscious behaviour, it needed to be made conscious. There needed to be a way for her to have a sensation that would call her attention to the fact her feet were moving. I pondered for a few minutes. Novel surface textures wouldn't suit, it needed to be on her paws so she was aware of it on and off the box. Socks? Nah. It'd likely be very mildly aversive and her focus would be solely on that rather than placing and planting her feet. Coke? (An old showing trick to give dogs a bit of extra grip when gaiting...) Not noticeable enough. Needed to be stickier but not messy either.