Rewarding effort and changing tactics

The motto at class today was ”When all else fails, reward effort.” Without effort, you have nothing. Even if your dog is going through the motions and staying in position, it can be (in my opinion) lacking in joy and teamwork, and who wants that?!?

People get too hung up on everything being perfect. You can work with any dog who gives you effort. Help them, show them, encourage them. But if you have a dog who does not love to work with you and simply goes through the mechanical motions, what fun is that? I want bright eyes, a naughty grin and a dog pushing me to work. So, when things start to fall apart (and they will), go back to simply requiring effort. Forget perfection for the moment and do whatever you need to do to pull the desire and joy out of your dog. And, if I require effort from the dog, you better bet I require effort from the two-legged half of the team too. You only get what you put into it.

To clarify, just because I sometimes isolate the “give me effort” part, it does not mean my criteria is loosened. For example, if I am working effort on signals, I do not allow my dog to take a step forward in the stand as I am walking away. Or, if I am working speed on the drop on recall, I do not allow my dog to break his sit stay before I call him. If I allow my criteria to change, it creates grey area for the dog…something I never want in training.

Training’s today brought some unexpected challenges, which required a change in training plans. Like most young dogs, Kazee got confused on a basic skill….a come front signal. We had started the session with directed jumping, so the jumps were in the ring, and we had actually done a couple of quick drop drills in our earlier warmup before I had taught a class. Watching the video, I think he was getting confused more with the hand signal than the actual “come” portion of the exercise. He loves the drop on recall exercise (done primarily with a right hand signal), we had just done directed jumping (right and left hand) and my come signal is also with my right hand. So, to him, he was seeing hand motion and not differentiating between the different commands.

Some people may have simply made the decision to correct a failure to come directly, but when you watch the video, this is clearly NOT what is going on. Kazee is giving me effort…actually too much effort. He is just not making the correct decision. So, I changed tactics and helped him figure it out. I paired my verbal with my signal and I did not put as much distance between us, in some cases taking the jumps out of the picture entirely. But, once he started to figure it out, I set him up for directed jumping to my right. Why would I do this when he clearly was confused on the right hand motion? Because I wanted to show him the difference between the jump signal and the come signal. I wanted to clarify his understanding that “THIS is the difference!” And, he nailed it. Train your dogs for understanding!! Had I simply worked the come command only, I am pattern training, not training for understanding. He would not have to differentiate between commands, he would simply say “okay, now we are working fronts”. While he may get his front command, he is doing it without thinking of the actual command and/or signal.

The next training session of the day brought another couple of training opportunities. We started with articles and, after all of our problems working through this exercise over the last year, I am very happy with where Kazee is currently at. He is working the pile extremely well on a consistent basis, going quickly to and from the pile, continuously working, and (though he sometimes will make a mistake) is reliably finding the correct article. Because I am more concerned with his attitude and confidence on this exercise, I am not asking for pivots before the exercise and I am just now getting to the point where I occasionally ask for a front on the return. However, it was clear on the last article that the added energy brought along some undesirable mouthing. Something to work more often, OUTSIDE the context of the article pile.

Then, when working on the return to heel from a stand position, it was obvious Kazee did not want to give me the behavior I was asking for. This may have been the result of him being tired, who knows. So, I again changed my tactics and went back to just requiring effort to get into heel position. Normally, I ask him for a little bit of a bounce/hand touch when he is coming around to heel position. If I don’t, Kazee has a tendency to not go far enough behind me before trying to turn (something you will see at about 5:30 on the below video). I was happy with where we were when we stopped training, but the entire hour drive home involved me thinking through my problem. So, when I got home, I pulled him out of the car and we went back to work. Instead of asking him to physically come up towards my hand, I decided to let him power through the return to me, going directly to his tug toy. I will need to thoroughly shape and condition this drive on the return, so this skill needs solidifying before attempting to pull everything together. However, this does not mean I will stop the requirement of him coming “up” to my hand in other situations. This is a great way to require (and reinforce) effort from your dog.

And, maybe someday, I’ll learn how to set up my camera so I don’t cut off my head!

Setups are one area where it is easy for you to work effort. I want my dog driving quickly into heel position, setting up straight, with head up and eyes bright…ready to work. This “ready to work” attitude will then carry over into my exercise. But, if I allow my dog to wander around, call him multiple times to get into heel position and watch him numbly get into heel position, you can bet that attitude will carry over into the exercise also. If your dog has a problem with setups, they are super easy to work with a food lure. Let him chase the cookie in your left hand for a second, then ask him to quickly set up. As soon as he is in heel position, mark and reward. In the beginning, I don’t even care if my dogs sits in heel position, I will reward the drive and speed trying to get there. Later, I will lose the cookie and do the same game with a hand touch requirement. If your dog prefers a toy, you can play the same game with a toy. Use it as a lure in the beginning, but quickly turn it into a reward.

Because there is always the comment of “there may be an underlying physical issue”, I feel obligated to add that I absolutely agree. Make sure there is not a reason your dog CAN’T give you the effort you want. But, there are plenty of people who cite “he must not be feeling well”, to excuse a lack of effort. A lack of effort is then inadvertently trained and reinforced. Yes, everyone (two and four legged) have bad days and sometimes things just go south in a hurry. On those days, put your dog away and try again later. But, learn to recognize the differences in your dog and address the areas where your dog chooses not to give you effort. Key indicators are when your dog will happily work for the cookie in your hand or when the training is all done in a playful manner, but stops working as soon as the cookie goes away or you take training in a little more formal direction (which has to be done to make it ring ready).

Train hard, but play harder!



Killing drive

You stand in the ring with your dog, waiting for someone else to take a turn in class…or worse yet, waiting for multiple people to take their turn. Meanwhile, your dog is wandering around at the end of their lead, sniffing the ground or trying to reach the dog next to them. You are watching the team working, so you are ignoring your dog until the instructor calls your name. You hasten to the starting point and tell your dog to “heel”. But, instead, your dog starts off lagging, giving you minimal effort. You give your dog a quick pop, telling him to “Get up here!”

Who is at fault? Your dog isn’t tired, he’s been standing around for 10 minutes waiting his turn! Unfortunately, even if your dog had been adequately warmed up prior to class starting, you have let him become completely disengaged and disinterested in training. This is one of the main reasons I dislike group obedience classes.

Every time you train your dog when he is not completely engaged and in drive, you are telling him it is acceptable to not give you 100% effort. YOU are telling him it is okay.

Say, for example, the group class is doing dumbbell retrieves. You throw your dumbbell and the dog trots out to get it, picks it up and trots a little slower coming back. “He’s stressed” the instructor says, “give him a cookie for trying so hard”. Really? You are going to reward a slow retrieve? Remember, what you reward, you reinforce. If your dog was not ready to do a FAST, CONFIDENT retrieve in a group environment, you should not have done the retrieve in the first place.

So, what do you do, if you need a group class for your dog. Research how the instructor handles their class. Are all dogs handled the same? Are you allowed to put your dog in his crate between exercises? At minimum, train your dog how to relax on a mat and how to reengage with you coming OFF of his mat. This is a skill taught in practice, not in class. Be ready and get your dog engaged with you before it is your turn. Pay attention! Do not start an exercise until your dog is completely engaged with you. If an exercise is too difficult for your dog to do it in drive, modify the exercise for your dog. In the dumbbell example, maybe instead of doing a full length retrieve, you will do a short dumbbell recall instead. Or, maybe a very short pickup, allowing the dog to jump up on you to receive their reward.

Always keep the end picture of the exercise in your mind. Stop making excuses for your dog’s performance. Because, really, you are making excuses for your training. Advocate for your dog to help him be successful. Classes can be wonderful for proofing, but done correctly, this should bring a dog’s confidence UP, not down. Errors are fine, lack of engagement and effort are not.

So, again, every time you train your dog when he is not completely engaged and in drive, you are telling him it is acceptable to not give you 100% effort. YOU are telling him it is okay.

Train hard. Play harder.



The power of the “pause”….

As you prepare for the next exercise, the finished product is clear in your mind. You move swiftly over to the go-out setup, keeping your dog engaged the entire time, mark your dog on his “spot” and tell him to “go”. He runs halfway then veers off to the right. He was looking directly at his spot, what distracted him? Was it the sun spot on the ground by glove 3? Was it the dog in the next ring? Did you not mark him the same way as usual?

Some of the best advice I ever received was during a conformation handling seminar by George Alston. He told everyone to “slow down in the ring and do everything at half speed. When you are in the show ring, under pressure, everyone has a tendency to speed up. So, if you slow down, to what feels like half speed, it will probably be closer to the speed in which you actually train.”

I will be the first person to tell you to “show like you train and train like you show”. The problem is that showing is almost NEVER like training, especially for those of us who train primarily by ourselves. I almost never train with dogs working in neighboring rings (sometimes with handlers hollering way too loudly at them), tons of activity outside the ring, loudspeakers, or doors opening and closing. Heck, I am lucky to have someone call a heeling pattern for me every once and awhile!

So, what do I do? I slooooow myself down, in practice and at the show. During heeling, I count to myself (1,2,1,2,1,2…), this helps keep my heeling, turns and halts smooth while keeping my emotions under control. When I set up for an exercise, I almost always take one deep breath while I am smiling down at my dog. In other words, I pause. I stop what I am doing for just a second and connect with my dog. I do not delay the ring or the judging, but it is not a race to see who can complete their run the fastest. The important thing to remember though, is I do the same thing in training. And, guess what, I train the pause to build anticipation from my dog. Imagine that. 🙂

Pausing does not automatically bring your dog down (although an excessively long pause could), it can actually bring them up. Remember back to when you were about to open your birthday presents when you were younger. You were all ready to rip off the paper, but then your parents made you stop and wait until everyone came into the room or until they ran and got their camera. Did you get more excited or less excited? Me, I got more excited! I wanted to open my stinkin’ presents!! Dog training can be exactly the same way. “Okay Dog, you want to get to that super awesome go-out spot, you are going to have to wait a second and REALLY stare at your spot before I send you.” And, if you think only a border collie can do the stare and crouch, then you have not watched my Springer when he is really ready to go.

I also apply this same “pause” to errors. If my dog keeps messing something up, I require them to pause for a few seconds before trying again. Think about it as a mini-time out if you want to, but putting him into a down for a few seconds while I just stand there and think, puts us both in a better frame of mind to continue our training. And, honestly, very rarely does my dog make the same mistake after pausing for a few seconds to regroup. As long as he is put into the down without a huge negative emotion on my part; and as long as I bring him out of the down properly, I have lost zero drive.

So, in training and at the show, remember to slow down. Stop worrying about hurrying to the next setup, instead connect with your dog and move together. Think about your pace, rather than how you are going to move your feet when the judge calls the upcoming halt. Think about ONLY the exercise you are currently doing or the exercise you are moving to set up for. Train until everything that you need to do, happens in your subconscious without having to actively think about what to do next. Video is your friend! Tape your training sessions and your trials and compare them. Do you appear rushed? Are you heeling at the same pace? Are you staying connected to your dog? Remember, this is a sport about TEAMWORK!

Train hard, but remember to play harder!


No creeping!

Sit and watch any Utility class, and you will more than likely see dogs moving forward out of position. Often, you will see dogs taking steps forward on the signal stand as the handler walks away, or you will see dogs who fail to lock up on their moving stand exercise, continuing to trail along after the handler.

Reasons for this are many…a lack of clarity regarding the performance requirements, stress about the exercise, the dog may not like the additional distance from their handler, or the dog may be feeling pressure from the judge and trying to alleviate the pressure by adding distance. A lot of times, in training, you will see these handlers physically correct their dogs for breaking position. Unfortunately, if the dog is breaking because of stress and/or pressure, you have now made the situation worse.

When I was training Gunner as a young dog, it was very evident he did not want the judge touching him for a Novice stand for exam. He was not necessarily worried about the judge, he just did not see a need for anyone (other than me!) to touch him. We worked through this in a common way, with a clicker and a whole lot of cookies. Novice exams went smoothly and it was almost comical to watch Gunner’s tail wagging wildly on a exam, waiting for his click and treat.

But, judge pressure in the advanced classes was a whole different ball game. This was primarily visible on signals, when Gunner would take a couple of steps forward as I walked away, sometimes looking back at the judge before he moved. People’s opinions for correcting the problem covered the entire gamut, from physical corrections, to ground poles or platforms, to having the judge go in and feed him while he was standing…none of which I liked. So, instead, I went back to one of Gunner’s favorite foundation exercises – the target. But, instead of releasing Gunner to a target in FRONT of him, I released him to a target BEHIND him.

Kazee is going to have the opposite issue as Gunner. He wants everyone to touch him and, even better, he will help you by running over to you! Yes, just a little bit of impulse control issues. 🙂 So, I decided it was time to pull the target into more of Kazee’s obedience work. He is familiar with the target from agility class, but in this context, he is always running towards the target, it is never behind him.

If your dog is not familiar with a target, I would recommend sending the dog to a target placed in front, before moving the target to the side or behind the dog. The target needs to hold a lot of value for the dog. This is a good game to play at mealtime, even using your dog’s food bowl as their “target”.

The following video show Kazee’s first introduction to the target behind him, as well as some basic target work to introduce the concept to the dog. Please note my very exaggerated hand signals when releasing the dog to the target. They are slightly cut off in the video, but you have to make sure your release is dramatically different than your Utility signals. My cue to release the dog to the target is a step forward, with BOTH hands raised, and a verbal “go target”.

If you have another person to train with, work up to the “judge” carrying the target and placing it on the ground after you stand your dog on signals. Normally, in the beginning, I want this done before I have left my dog, so I can support him (if needed) during the judge’s movement behind him. The target does not need to be close to the dog, it can be placed by the go-out stanchion. But, what helped Gunner the most with the judge pressure was placing the target closer and closer to the judge, including directly between the judge’s feet. Yes, I would send my dog TO the judge to get to the target! Then, the judge would feed several cookies to my dog ON the target, while I ran to give an evan better jackpot on the target. What better way to have your dog control the judge pressure than to make your dog WANT to run towards them!

Targets can be worked into any exercise. And, for dogs who love to eat, it gives you some built in proofing, as the dog has to work through the exercises with cookies easily visible (and attainable) on the target.

For dogs who move forward (either because of pressure, Gunner, or from insufficient impulse control, Kazee), I also feel it is important to be able to move my dog backwards in ANY position (stand, down or sit) and have them maintain their position. As soon as I start working with a young dog, I teach them if I give them a signal and they are already in the position, they need to move backwards. For example, if the dog is in a down and I give them another down signal, they need to scoot backwards, but maintain their down position. Remember, the ring exercises need to be easy, but the practice work needs to be difficult. I want my dogs always thinking backwards. If they are thinking “backwards”, they will not creep forwards!

Yes, I know I cut off the top half of my body, but when you are filming yourself on a tripod before you have had your coffee, that is what happens. You can easily see my dog and my requirements, so that is the important thing.

Moving stands can be another challenge to get dogs to lock up. Most handlers add pressure in front of their dogs to get them to stop. But, in the ring, when this pressure is gone, the dogs take a couple of steps forward (or worse, do not stop at all). Instead, increase your requirements in training. Teach the moving stand by requiring BACKWARDS movement on the stand. In the beginning (and often throughout the dog’s career), I will help them by moving backwards with them (if you show in Rally, this would be comparable to the backwards steps during heeling). In the ring, I generally do not see backwards movement from Gunner, he merely locks up into his stand. But, really, if he moved backwards one or two steps, what is wrong with that? Bonus points, in my opinion! And, to reiterate, this is something I do forever with my dogs. The more you show, the more you have to keep your requirements crystal clear. I could have easily gotten Gunner’s OTCH without teaching this, but he recently finished his Obedience Grand Master title and went over the 700 OTCH point mark. No way would I have been able to meet those goals without requiring extra effort in practice.

You may have noticed my verbal cue with the stand signal…”Stand Back”. Completely legal in the ring and a little extra reminder to my dog of his requirements. The stand signal (in my case, my left hand) can not be held as a cue to the dog, and it needs to be immediately returned to either my side or the center of your body as I walk away. If the signal is held, it may be a scored as a handler error or, if the judge felt my signal kept my dog from moving forward, an NQ on the exercise.

This blog post is in response to a reader’s question on helping a dog who moves forward on exercises. If you have any problems or questions you would like to see me address in a blog post, please feel free to either ask in the comments or send me an email to I never claim to have all the answers, but if what I do with my dogs can help someone work through a problem, I will help in any way I can.

Until next time…train hard, but play harder!


While working on my next (more informative) blog post, I wanted to check in on Kazee’s articles, especially for those of you who have told me that they are working the same method with their dogs.

I have been working Kazee’s article bins daily, unless I am out of town at dog shows, and I am very happy with his progress. He had been reliably finding the correct article each time and willing picking up the article and bringing it to me when I removed the lid. Normally, I do the articles before breakfast and Kazee seems to have much more drive than he did this afternoon. But, we had an early agility class, so there was no time to do them this morning. However, this is definitely something to note in my journal, and I may need to start varying the time I do the articles and increasing my rewards respectively.

But, even with the slight lack of drive searching the bins, I upped the challenge for him today…I started removing lids to bins containing non-scented articles. I did one article find as we had been doing them (all lids on), but then I removed a lid on each of the next three searches. I was very happy to see him check the open bins, but continue working until he found the correct bin.

My plan is NOT to remove ALL of the unscented lids before removing the scented bin’s lid, but rather to randomize how many bins are uncovered on any given search. And, sometimes, leave the scented bin uncovered as well. If the scented bin is uncovered, he will not be praised until he has the article in his mouth and is moving towards me. Obviously, if he gets stuck in the beginning, I will help him, but this help will be dropped quickly. I will probably work up to about half of the bins uncovered before removing the scented bin’s lid. But, at some point, ALL of the bins will be open.

By now, everyone knows this little dog’s love for his tug toy…so I have started using it for more difficult impulse control work, which will hopefully be transitioned into our go-out work later. He has done very similar tug drive work before, but I have always held onto the tug toy, I have never dropped it on the ground. It definitely made him think!!

On a breed ring note, Kazee was an awesome boy last weekend at a local breed trial (okay, mostly awesome for those of you who saw him in the regular Group ring 😉 ). He went Select on Saturday and on Sunday was given Best of Breed, Best of Breed Owner Handled, and was then awarded an OWNER HANDLER GROUP 4!!! Very, very proud of my boy. 🙂 Don’t tell my husband, but the GCH title is looking pretty intriguing…2017-04-09 OH Group 4

Train hard, but play harder!


I have to admit, I am horrible at journaling any kind of information. I never kept a diary when growing up and (I am little ashamed to admit) I did not even maintain baby books for my two boys…granted, I had twins and there was no time for sleeping, let alone journaling! But, with each dog I train, I tell myself I am going to start keeping track of my training, as well as problems and lightbulb moments. But, yet, I never did. I would start, with good intentions, but it never lasted long. But, I was determined this year to start maintaining a training journal for Kazee.

Recent research by the University College London says they believe it takes an average of 66 days to create a habit. Wow, no wonder exercising never became a “habit” for me. I could not even make the old theory of 21 days, let alone 66 days!

I knew a couple of things had to be in place for me to create this new habit for myself – it had to be convenient and it had to be portable. Enter technology. While I do carry a notebook and pen in my gear bag, it is much faster for me to do a voice to text memo or even type my notes, than it is to write them out. Plus, I wanted some other perks of doing my journal electronically.

As I have exclusively Apple products (iPhone and iPad), I found the answer in an application called “Day One”. They also have a version for your Mac computer, but that application is more expensive (and I record mostly on my iPad anyway), so I stayed with the mobile only application. If I train at home, I generally record my training data on my iPad, as it is easier to type on the keyboard. But, because I do not carry my iPad around with me in my gear bag, I can also journal on my iPhone, and everything stays synced.

I can set up multiple journals and record much more than just what I did during a training session. A screen shot of a journal entry from April 4th shows how much data is recorded automatically. It records the time of my entry, as well as my location and the weather conditions. If I do not write down something right away, I can go back and edit the time and/or location and it automatically updates the weather conditions to the corresponding time and location. You can also add “tags” to entries, to search for them later, although there is also a general search feature.


Friends who know me, know that I can not even remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, let alone when I started training a new skill. Journaling keeps you honest. You might think you have been training that particular behavior for four weeks, when truthfully you have only been working on it for two weeks. Also, if you work with an instructor, you can go into your journal at the start of a lesson and tell them exactly when you started something, problems the dog has been having, good progress or handling items, and lightbulb moments.

If I happen to record my training session, I can insert a hyperlink to the YouTube video and it embeds the video directly into my journal entry, where I can watch it from the Day One app, without going to YouTube. You are not able to save video directly into Day One, but you can insert photos directly into the journal entry. If you wanted to keep track of your ring setup on any given day, this would be a perfect way to do it.

Embedded video:


Embedded photo:


While I do not have these particular features set up, Day One can also be linked to other accounts, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And, if needed, you can password protect the application with either a numerical password or Touch ID. Do not worry about losing your data, as Day One automatically syncs your entries with iCloud and you can import/export the entire journal or just one entry.

Recording plans or ideas is as simple as doing a voice text directly into the application from my phone. I have also discovered, that as I record my problems, I come up with alternative solutions to address my issue. So, while I also like to talk through problems with training friends, I discovered that just writing my problems down helped me work through it.

While I am a not ready to say my journaling habit is carved in stone, I am happy to report I am well past the 66 day timeframe. Journaling has given me somewhere to do more than just keep track of Kazee’s progress, it has given me a place to write down my goals and a means by which to hold myself accountable for the way I train. Dog training is not all fairy farts and rainbows, sometimes our dog, or us, just has a bad day! Writing it down helps you vent. If you have a bad day, write it down, then either forget about it or come up with an action plan!!

Happy journaling!

** For those of you who have already asked, this is the exact app in the iTunes store –

Screenshot 2017-04-06 11.06.11

I do not know if there is something similar for Android phones. If someone is using something, please share the information in a comment!

Proofing vs. Confidence Building

I sat at a trial last weekend, watching utility A after utility A dog fail exercises. For some reason, no one expects Utility A dogs to pass, why is that?? My last German Shepherd earned her Utility Dog title in two weekends. While I know she is the exception to the rule, I do not understand why people are showing dogs who are not ready for the ring. Yes, I know dogs make mistakes, people are nervous, etc…all of these factors play a part in why dogs fail in the ring.

While watching one dog struggle in the article pile, someone came up to me. “Can I ask your opinion,” she said. “Of course,” I said. She went on to tell me she was helping the team currently in the ring. The dog was visibly stressed on articles (staring at handler, repeatedly picking up and setting down articles, circling the pile…handler eventually called the dog in), and she wanted to know what I would recommend doing to “fix” the problem. This is an awkward position to be placed in. While I have known the dog for a while, I can not say I know him well. When I did not answer her right away, she went on to tell me what she thought they needed to do…which was to put more pressure on the dog in the article pile and apply harder proofing situations. She believed the dog needed to be required to work through the pressure and find his article.

Honestly, looking back, I think I visibly sighed. Everyone seems to think when something fails in the ring, the dog has not been proofed enough. That the dog was not required to work through enough pressure on a daily training basis to handle the pressure in the ring. I shrugged, and (politely as I could) said that is not what I would do. The dog lacked confidence. Take a dog who lacks confidence on an exercise and start applying a lot of pressure, and all you are going to do is make the dog’s world explode. You have now turned the scary article pile into a horrible place where there are toys or food laying around to trick you or the person standing close by (who you thought was safe) is now there to pull you out of the pile if you do something wrong.

If you start putting a lot of pressure on a dog who lacks confidence, especially on an ‘away from the handler’ type of exercise like articles, you are going to create a problem with the entire exercise. Not to mention risk damaging your relationship with your dog altogether. I told her, while I did not know the dog very well, I would recommend stepping back and retraining how to work an article pile with CONFIDENCE. I would consider going back to working small article piles, in easy locations, and with high rewards. The dog would have to be successful and very confident, before I started making the exercise harder or applying any proofing at all.

This does not mean proofing does not have its place or that it can not be used to help a dog GAIN confidence. But I really believe it depends on the exercise, the problem you are experiencing and the overall relationship between the dog and handler. I will use my older Springer, Gunner, as an example. Gunner is (and has always been) very environmentally sensitive. Thunder (or even rain), diesel trucks, motorcycle noise, air conditioners turning on…all of these were enough to send him running for the ring gate. If he had a visual to pair with the noise, it was even worse. Seeing the large truck making the noise did not make it any better, it only confirmed there was something to be afraid of.

Years ago, before I even started showing in Novice, it was recommended to me to take Gunner to difficult environments and REQUIRE him to heel with attention. The well-known instructor clearly told me, “You will NOT like what you have, especially in the beginning. But it will get better. The more you expose him to difficult environments and help him work through his anxiety, the better he will be able to handle easier environments in the future.” Looking back, I do not think I followed her advice right away. I wanted to work through the anxiety more positively. But nothing I did could recreate a more difficult show situation. He could handle quiet shows, where nothing out of the ordinary happened, but he could not hold any level of concentration under more difficult scenarios. While I did not go heeling in a train yard, I did go to places he felt were difficult…an empty grass lot behind a park-n-go lot being his biggest problem area. To me, there was nothing super distracting about his lot. The main road was on the other side of the parking lot, and the lot itself did not have a lot of traffic. Sometimes there was a large truck making a delivery at the nearby pharmacy, but other than that, not much going on. But Gunner decided the lot was hard, so this is where we went…often.

To be clear, my dog was NOT being flooded. He was always willing to take cookies, he was never frozen in fear. But it was difficult for him. And, six years later, it is STILL difficult for him. But, I can tell when I do not do enough of this highly distracting work with him. By heeling in these difficult (for him) situations, it makes the ring pressure easier.

But heeling is different than articles. Articles are worked 20 feet away from the handler. The dog is by himself in the middle of the ring with a judge standing right next to him, sometimes with dogs in the next ring with dumbbells being thrown, commands being shouted, etc. Articles (and other utility exercises) require A LOT of confidence on the dog’s part, you can not rush to the dog and help him in the ring. So, if your dog lacks confidence and you start applying pressure, all you are doing is adding stress to the exercise. In contrast to my above heeling example, while heeling I can support my dog. I can help him through problems, I can completely break from the exercise and do whatever I need to do to help him be successful. Who cares if my OTCH dog is heeling to a cookie in my hand? I don’t!! What is important is that my dog knows I am there to help him, to support him, and to reward him…very, very heavily.

So, now that I have droned on and on for eight paragraphs (oops!), let me pull the article situation back to my own dog. Last I checked in, Kazee was doing articles on a tie down board. I hated it….and Kazee hated it. I was not providing enough information and Kazee was getting frustrated. He would scent the pile well one day, then try to snatch and grab the next. So I broke it completely and went all the way back to the beginning.

Kazee does NOT like the scent-a-whirl, he hates it actually. But, he hates it because he has to put his entire face and head down into bins. This is an issue in other ways for Kazee, which (I believe) is what led to some of our initial problems on the scent-a-whirl. So, I went a similar, but different route. I decided to teach it initially like a nosework game. All I wanted him to do was FIND the scent, he did not have to pick up anything at all. I bought 12 new, shorter plastic tubs, which would allow him to pick up an article (when the time came) without him having to put his entire face into it.

We stayed at this “nosework” stage for almost two weeks, starting with only 1 bin and building up to 12 bins. His confidence came back up, he was eagerly running to do his “find it” game and I was not seeing any stress signals from him. We did the game in different locations – inside my house, in the driveway, on the back porch, in the garage, at the dog club. I will not say that he never indicated the incorrect bin, but he was actively using his nose and searching for the correct scent.

I will not post all of the early (working up to 12 bins) videos, but I will post two videos at the end of this step, as they show different issues –

The main thing I wanted to see was a happy, confident dog in the article “pile”. A dog who could easily take a negative marker, if needed, and eagerly go back to work. I definitely saw this from Kazee, so at the end of last week, I decided to move to the next step, which was having him pick up the article after he found it. Because I added new requirements, I made the exercise easier, going back down to only two bins. Today, I add two more bins, bringing it up to four bins total.

I am in no hurry to train articles. I know, in my mind, what I want his article work to look like, so we are working towards that vision as our goal. Some people would look at our earlier article work and say “he knows he is supposed to scent in the article pile” and would have started to apply more pressure to the dog. They would have then, essentially, taken all of the joy out of the exercise. I want my dogs oozing joy. I want people to stop ringside and watch them work. I want people to look at my non-traditional obedience dogs and see that they can be successful with something other than a Golden or a Border Collie. And my definition of successful does not necessarily mean in the winner’s circle, it means showing the judge what a true obedience TEAM looks like. And, sometimes, you have to have a sense of humor…if we go down in flames, we go down together. 🙂

As always, train hard, but play harder!

Not enough hours in the day…

Fortunately, the breed ring is finished for the time being, because with agility and obedience, there are not enough hours in the day to get everything accomplished (not to mention work and family!). Kazee finished his breed Championship on January 28th and, while he may play as a special once and awhile, he is not competitive right now against the mature dogs. So, we have been concentrating on the fun stuff.

I say “fun stuff”, but sometimes it is not fun at all. Challenging, yes. Complicated, yes. Fun, not always!! Kazee is so different than my last two dogs, I feel like I have started several things over multiple times…probably because I have. The old adage of “throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks” definitely applies some days. This is primarily true for articles and go-outs. If you have followed along, you have seen our struggles with articles. I started scent work with the Scent-a-whirl, but the barking was over the top. I then switched to the Around the Clock method. This method worked wonderfully for awhile and Kazee was doing multiple finds with a complete pile. Then, one day, it broke. Kazee started snatching and grabbing, without sniffing at all. After a few days of this, I went BACK to the scent-a-whirl. Kazee clearly understood the sniffing requirement and was (without fail) only picking the correct article out of the 4 uncovered bins. But, while the barking had been fixed on this particular tool, Kazee does not like putting his head in the bin. I was not about to fight this and add more pressure to the exercise, so I bit the bullet and went to a tie down board. Honestly, I have never used a tie down board before with any of my three dogs. The German Shepherds just understood the exercise after it was explained to them and Gunner never needed it after doing the ATC method.

Kazee has been on the tie down board for about week at home. I decided to take the board to the dog club this morning to see how he did. Because I was working articles in a new location, I left only two articles on the board to make it easier. I was happy with his effort. So, until THIS method breaks, we will be using the tie down board. 🙂

I mentioned Kazee’s barking earlier. I finally decided to give MYSELF a kick in the butt and start to get this under control. Kazee is not very easily offended, so the method which seems to be working is a muzzle hold and/or putting him on the ground in a down position for a few seconds. Low growling is allowed on the tug toy right now, as I do not know if this will ever be silenced. Kazee is an extremely vocal dog and he needs some method of release. Barking completely depends on the dog and, given the fact that I have never had a barker before, I let this go on way too long. Honestly, if Gunner gives me an occasional bark in the obedience ring, I love it, as it means he is having fun. And, Zita, well I got after her once for barking as a young dog and I could never get her to bark again.

Our other problem area is go-outs. He loves to mark to his tug toy, but has a tendency to go deaf to everything else when his tug toy is involved. So, while I’m still using his tug for some marking work, I have gone back to his placemat for go outs. When going back over my notes and video, I was previously releasing Kazee off of his mat to be rewarded. Big no-no, as all rewards need to happen on the mat. So, for right now, I’ve gone to food rewards on his go-out spot. There are not many treats Kazee will eat (not your typical Springer!), but he loves homemade tuna fish treats. He could have picked something that makes my house smell a little better. Oh, and he loves bacon. That makes the kitchen smell good, but then I end up eating half of it! So, I make myself bake the tuna treats. 😦

On a bright note, heeling is coming along beautifully and Kazee LOVES agility. I have never done agility before, so I am trying to keep myself in foundation classes and pick Kazee’s breeder’s brain whenever possible.

For those of you who enjoy watching training videos, I took several of Kazee today and one  of Gunner as well. The National Obedience Championship is in three weeks and Gunner has been working very hard on our problem areas. I have never had the opportunity to show Gunner at an NOI/NOC before because of logistics, so we are excited to compete. I am not worried about running clean, but I want good positive work from my wonderful boy, so everyone can see how well an English Springer can work in the ring.

Kazee – Agility work from today, over a couple of different sessions. Weave poles – almost closed, with guide wires. Dog walk and A-frame with his target box. Teeter – which is still very new to him.

Kazee – First obedience session with him of the morning, while Gunner does a sit-stay in the ring.

Kazee – Articles on his tie-down board and dumbbell retrieves

Kazee – go-outs to his placemat

Gunner – working on problem areas of dumbbell pickups and fast finishes, also some heeling work and signals. It always feels “easy” when I train Gunner after working Kazee…maybe it is just because I do not have to think as hard. 🙂

Kazee and I are in no hurry to get into any type of ring, especially obedience. There is still a lot of work to be done on impulse control before even going to a formal match. And, I like to train completely through Utility before entering Novice any way. And, with my started skills over again every other week, it may be awhile!

I am also starting to accumulate agility equipment and now have a teeter base on order as well. My husband is not especially thrilled with my new yard ornaments (he thought the obedience stuff in the garage was bad!), but a happy wife is a happy life!!!

Until next time….train hard and play harder!!

Bad days…

While listening to a podcast the other day while driving, I had to pull over to write down something he said,

“Don’t let your bad days make you lose heart, and don’t let your good days give you too much confidence.”

It sounded like he was quoting someone else, but it resonated with me. I sat in the car for a few minutes, thinking about the statement. Anyone who has trained dogs (or any animal for that matter) for any length of time, probably understands.

From the dog who suddenly “forgot” how to do an exercise, to the difficult dog who you have tried countless ways to explain exactly what you want and need from him. Sometimes, you just want to throw the towel in, get yourself a good book and find a shady spot on a beach somewhere. I mean, really, while people are out traveling the world and having exotic vacations, we are traveling to dog shows, living in hotels and eating meals out of food trucks.

But, those people do not get the high from feeling the connection to the animal beside them, strutting their stuff in heel position. They do not get to feel the love from their dog as he jumps up on them after a job well done. They do not get the satisfaction of finally seeing the lightbulb come on, after working countless hours with a dog on a new skill.

So, surround yourself with people who you can talk to on those “bad days”. People who will give you an extra little boost you need to try again or who will help you brainstorm yet another way to do something. Finding people who will be with you on the bad days, as well as the good days, are few and far between. But, these people are the important ones. This sport is hard to do by yourself, but it is not impossible. Nothing is impossible.

When in doubt, go back to what you know.

Let me preface this post by saying I have really enjoyed working Kazee on the scent-a-whirl…that being said, with this particular dog, I was seeing behavior I did not like. This included an over-adrenalized dog, who was not thinking and thought barking his fool head off was part of the game. I see a lot of advantages in the scent-a-whirl, since it can be used with toys for very young puppies, but sometimes, if you do not like what you are getting, it is time to go back to what you know. And, sometimes, you have to force a dog to slow down for them to figure out what you want.

What I know, for articles, is the Around the Clock (ATC) method. This method was developed by Jan DeMello and it is a very specific training program to teach articles to a dog. What I needed from Kazee was for him to SLOW DOWN, think and use his nose. Today was day two for the  ATC game and Kazee has caught on very quickly. I do a couple of things differently when I teach it:

  1. I do not use anywhere near as much food on the bar as Jan suggests to start with.
  2. I reward heavily for the dog bringing the article back to me.

The method includes using canned, squeeze cheese, but Kazee will not touch the stuff, so I am using braunschweiger that I have mashed up and put into a dispensing tube for easy application.

There are 11 retrieves in each session. This is a lot for some dogs and I may split the session in half with Kazee, as he seems to be extremely bored with the game by the end of it. I am rewarding with food at this point, but my goal is to start rewarding with a tug toy…as long as he continues to work the pile properly.

If you have never seen this method, here are a few pickups from today’s session, which is only the second day he has played this game –

Your dog MUST have the ability to pick up and carry the article when you tell him to. Kazee does not have a forced retrieve, but he is very willing to pick up the article when I tell him to, since this has been rewarded very heavily in the past.

I am very happy with the scent work Kazee is giving me; and because I know this dog, I am not worried about adding speed back in, after he understands his responsibility in the game.

Another new thing Kazee was introduced to today was a box to shape a running target for agility. I have been a little lax on the agility front, but with the cooler weather, it is time to get moving!

This box will be placed at the end of all of Kazee’s contact equipment, where a running contact will be used (dog walk and A-frame). The box is trained so the immediate response from the dog will be a down, inside the PVC box, on a “go box” command. This is the first day Kazee has seen the box and the down will be shaped and heavily rewarded inside the box. It will be thoroughly trained and proofed before adding it to contact equipment. Since I do not use a box like this in obedience right now, I am not worried about carry over. But, even if I add one into obedience, the dog should be able to generalize his response based on the current venue.

Train hard. Play harder!!