Keep it fresh…

Those of you who know me from obedience, know Gunner. Those who know Gunner, love him. But, those who know him WELL, know how hard of a dog he is to train, show and live with. Could it be me? Did I cause some of my problems or at least intensify them? Oh, yes, I have no doubt about it. We have started over more often than I would like to admit. But, I guess these problems and figuring how to dig our way out of holes, has allowed me to keep learning new ways to do things.

Background on Gunner for those of you who do not know him…he’s a 7 1/2 year old Springer, who has been showing for over 4 years. He has earned top awards in his breed and many, many High in Trials and High Combined awards. He is also very environmental, has some separation anxiety and has decided that he no longer needs to work very hard in the obedience ring. We have not been showing as much this year with the new puppy in the house, so we have stepped back to work on effort and confidence.

While Gunner has not really had any problems with go-outs (which were originally taught with a platform), they can always be better. After attending a Debbie Quigley seminar, I decided to introduce food pouches to see if they helped with his speed and desire to move away from me. This is the first time Gunner has used his food pouches at the dog club, so I was expecting (and got) some mistakes. The video is a little long, but I think it more important to show his errors and how I handle them, rather than just him running out to get a pouch.

We HAVE had some recent issues with articles…and I’m not sure why. Gunner will occasionally stop in the pile and look at me for several seconds before going back to work. Looking for help or directions? I’m not sure, as I have never talked to him while he was in the pile. So, I’ve thrown in some more distractions and have been asking him to think a little more “outside of the box”. This is NOT proofing for a green dog. And, this is not all new proofing for Gunner either. He struggled today, which I am fine with. I will help him figure it out. One thing you will see, is even with some mild corrections, Gunner is NOT stressed about going to (or working in) the article pile. He is not circling the pile, afraid to make a decision. His head is up and his tail remains wagging. So, despite some issues, it is still a success for me.

Kazee continues his foundation work. I am thrilled with his progress on heeling and his engagement while working. I am going to have to stay on my toes because he’s a little “too” smart, but that is what makes obedience training so much fun. Because I am not sure how he will be trained on his go-outs yet, I have also decided to introduce him to the food pouches. Even if I do not use them for go-outs, I may want to incorporate them somewhere else.

Kazee makes his breed ring debut tomorrow, so wish us luck! Actually, wish ME luck. Kazee knows what he is doing, it is me who needs help!

Until next time…Train hard. Play harder.


Asking for advice


Everyone has to ask for advice at some point. We simply don’t know ALL the answers to ALL the problems.

But before you start asking for advice, stop and think…

1) Are you ready for peoples’ opinions?

Maybe you are wrong, maybe you aren’t…but are you ready to hear what other people think? If you don’t have an open mind going into it, you may miss something wonderful. Did someone suggest a training method or a tool that you aren’t willing to use? If you say no before they even explain their reasoning, you won’t understand their methodology behind their answer. If you want someone to give you their time by answering your question, the least you can do is listen with an open mind. Understand, this is NOT the same as when someone gives you an unsolicited opinion. But when YOU ask for advice, be prepared to listen…to everything and everyone before making a decision.

If you’re wrong, be prepared…the truth hurts. Maybe you’ve completely messed something up and someone (if they’re being truthful) will tell you. Is it the end of the world? Absolutely not. But, maybe, most of what you are doing is correct and it just took someone from the “outside” to see the issue. Either way, if you aren’t prepared to listen and HEAR, then don’t ask.

2) Do you really need advice or are you just looking for validation?

Yes, sometimes it may be a combination of the two things. Where you “think” you are doing something correctly (or handling a problem the right way) and you want to see what other people think of your methods. But, if you are just looking for a pat on the back, don’t bother asking.

Unfortunately, this is the reason I have left almost every dog training group on Facebook. I enjoyed seeing peoples’ posts and watching other peoples’ dogs, but when someone asked for assistance, it became a bloodbath of people trying to prove everyone else wrong. So, in the end, I (and many others) simply won’t answer at all. The newbies seem to know everything and the experienced people seem to think that no one else’s opinion matters or is worth considering.

3) Who is the best person to ask?

There really isn’t a “best” person, but the only rule is that the person needs to have more experience than you. And don’t evaluate a person solely on titles. If you have having a problem with your little terrier’s retrieve, the local “professional OTCH trainer” who has worked with countless Border Collies or Golden Retrievers may not be the best person to ask. It does not mean you can’t ask them, but I’d also seek out a successful terrier person to ask for advice. And, again, “successful” does not mean titles. It may simply mean you love how their little terrier does a retrieve.

Be prepared for a different answer from every person you ask. Thus, don’t ask very many people. Ask the people you trust, the people you respect and, above all, the people with experience.

4) What are your reasons for ignoring advice?

Trust me, you do not have to listen to every piece of advice you are given. You know your dog and your steps of training better than anyone. But, if you are ignoring advice simply because it is not what you wanted to hear or you do not like the answer, then you are never going to learn. Instead, think through the person’s advice and make sure you understand exactly what they are trying to say. Maybe, after you understand it, you may be able to adjust the advice to your particular method of training. If you don’t understand, then ask questions!

Don’t made decisions based on emotion. We are great at coming up with excuses for not listening to “good” advice, simply because we are too close to the topic at hand.

But, in the end, trust yourself. A mistake is simply a mistake. Even if the advice does not work completely, maybe it addressed a portion of the problem. Or, maybe the advice will not work right now, but file it away for later, just in case. Above everything, keep working towards your end goal and surround yourselves with people who want to see you succeed.

Train hard. Play harder.



Why can we see the holes in our training, but we can’t seem to stop long enough to fix it? Sure, we might work on it by throwing in some fundamental drills here and there to try to help our dog, but to actually STOP showing and work on fixing the hole is very difficult. While at a seminar last weekend, the foundation hole in my dog’s training kept showing its ugly head.

I have never had the good fortune to live in a location where I was able to train with someone really good. Maybe if I had, they would have seen the hole a long time ago. That’s not true…I saw the hole a long time ago. What is it? Basically, it is the “get it game”. The drill where you throw a cookie to a puppy/dog and they are supposed to run out to get the cookie, then whirl back around and race back for another cookie. I’m sure I did the drill, but like so many people, I did not do it long enough or often enough for it to become ingrained in my dog. And now, the hole shows up on every retrieve exercise and some recall exercises – looping on a dumbbell pick up, wide turns on direct jumping, wide turns on the glove pick up. It is all the same hole.

I have tried to patch the hole with cookies, games or corrections. Other trainers’ suggestions have included never doing a retrieve off of a flexi lead, throwing something towards my dog to interrupt him when he’s not concentrating on coming into me directly, tagging him while he picks up the dumbbell, or throwing a toy or cookie when he’s coming in to front. I’ve done them all. Have they helped? Yes, temporarily. But they didn’t solve the problem, which is the dog needs to make a concerted effort to pick up the object and concentrate on the next portion of his job….to get back to me quickly! I made a decision last weekend to stop and try to fix my hole, not just patch it. Yes, this means I miss a trial or two (or more), but if it helps fix my issue then it is worth it.

Another part of my issue involves a pushy dog, who is upset that he is no longer the center of my training universe. A dog who is grumpy around the house and giving me lackluster effort at shows. The seminar presenter asked me how much freedom my dog had…my answer was “too much”. She kept pushing. How much freedom does he have? He has all the freedom he wants. He is loose in the house except for bedtime, where he sleeps in a crate in our bedroom. He does not have free access to regular play toys, he does have access to chew toys. While I do not plan on crating my dog for long periods of the day, he will be spending some time in his crate each day. He will also have less liberties in the house and his sleeping crate will be moved out of the bedroom.

But, I have to be honest, I am upset. Not that he’s losing some freedom, his crate is being moved, or I will miss a few shows, but that I have let it get this far. That I didn’t deal with it sooner. That I took the path of least resistance to try to fix my problem.

I could blame it on being busy. I could blame it on having a non-traditional breed who can be difficult to work with and live with. I can blame it on work, or the family, or the new puppy in the house, but it is me who is responsible. I am the one that makes the rules in the house for the dogs. No one else. Yes, sometimes everyone has to suffer because of my rules. We have to listen to a dog whining in his crate because he would rather be with us on the couch while we are watching television or we have to rotate dogs being outside because they are not allowed play time together.

Do I think I can fix my problem on a 7 1/2-year-old dog? I don’t know. But I don’t mind breaking it down and trying. One thing I am not willing to do is keep amping up corrections to keep the hole patched. I need my dog engaged with me when working. Engaged because he WANTS to work, not because he’s afraid of what will happen if he doesn’t work. That being said, I want my dog to work a specific way. I do not want him simply in heel position. I want him brimming with excitement at the very thought of heeling work. I want him leaping in the air at the thought of being able to retrieve his dumbbell. There is, in my mind, a difference between engagement and attention. The latter can be forced, coerced and corrected, but if your dog is not engaged with you and wanting to work, why bother? So, while attention is good, keep striving for true engagement from your dog. And work to achieve that perfect picture in your head…that picture of a happy, working dog who loves the sport YOU have chosen to do.

Train hard. Play harder.