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.


Kazee – 18 weeks old

Kazee is in the gangly teenager stage right now and is growing like a little weed. Attention span is still minimal and the food drive is about the same. He will eat certain things, but he doesn’t LOVE anything. We do a lot of little things in the house at meal time (as he loves his raw food), but at this age I don’t like having him miss a meal just to use his raw during training. Plus, it’s just messy and not very convenient.

He still loves his tug toys, especially those with rabbit fur in them, but he will tug on almost anything. His adult teeth are starting to come in, but it has not slowed him down much. If he doesn’t want to tug on any given day, we just keep the sessions short and use more food.

Kazee went to his first indoor obedience trial a couple of weeks ago and I’m happy to say  he was a perfect angel (although the next trial may be the complete opposite!). I was a little apprehensive, so we crated back in a corner. But, he was quiet in his crate and was very well behaved. While we did get some heeling and basic attention work done inside during the trial, all of his tugging had to be done outside because he’s so loud.

Today’s training –

Still working on what heeling method will work best for him, so I’m concentrating on muscle memory and offered focus for the time being. He is starting to get better on shaping different behaviors, but I have to almost exclusively do it for his meals because he just doesn’t care enough about the regular treats (hot dogs, cheese, salami, etc.) to try too hard. Definitely a change from my last Springer, who would jump through hoops for a piece of hot dog. But, the differences between dogs are what keeps it interesting!

Train hard. Play harder.

I trained poop face today…

How many times have you heard someone say NOT to train a poop faced dog? We all know the look from our dog…the look which says he really doesn’t want to train today. Maybe he’s tired, maybe he’s grumpy, maybe he’s just having an off day (they are allowed those once and awhile), but he’s in a less than stellar mood and showing you very clearly he would prefer to be anywhere else but in the ring with you.

Well, I had a poop face Springer today (Gunner, 7yo) and, you know what, I trained him anyway. Did he get a little better, yes, but he was still pretty poop faced about the entire ordeal. But, as long as my dog is not ill or hurting, I am going to ask him to do something for me. It may not be stellar work and I may have to make some things super easy, but he has to give me something each time I take him out of his crate. Why did I work him? Because he has been giving me less than good effort in the show ring. And what better day to train him than when he does not want to give me good effort in practice? And, honestly, when I am at a trial and paying $25+ for a class, he does not get to decide when he does not want to work. Sorry.

I did not cheerlead, but I did ask him to work. He started with bouncing hand touches and a few spins and twists. I pinched his rear when he showed it to me and brought him back to me with a hand touch. But, the main thing I did not do? I did NOT pull out cookies!! If you have followed my blog for awhile, you know Gunner happens to be a dog with a food issue (I’m sure a problem created by me) and he will jump through hoops for a piece of cheese. Unfortunately, it has caused problems in the ring over time. So, last summer, I eliminated almost all food from training. He is required to tug, he is required to interact, he is required to get vocal.

But now, he watches the puppy get tons of cookies during training, while he only gets one or two for being quiet in his crate. He sees the bait pouch put away when I switch dogs and, while I know I’m humanizing him, he doesn’t think the entire situation is very fair. So, as much as I wanted to pull out a cookie and get my regular, upbeat dog back, I stopped myself. I forced him to interact, I told him I was going to “get him” while I talked to him silly and went at him with my hands. I praised him heavily for jumping up on me and interacting. He got scratches and rubs and told how wonderful he was. There was not much tugging happening, but I didn’t force the issue, as I am not going to force fetch him to a toy. As long as he retrieved it and jumped up to deliver it to me, I accepted it. Towards the end of our last session, he did start to tug with one of his yarn balls and we played for several minutes before calling it a day.

I was sweating and I was tired, but I actually got some good work in. Was it “fun”? No, not really. I like my upbeat, bouncing off the wall Springer. I would much rather work to keep him reeled in, rather than continually work to pump him up. And, while he wasn’t heeling as well as he could, I guarantee you, if I had offered him a cookie, he would have been doing circles around me trying to earn it. That, my friends, is called bribery. And it does not hold up in the ring. I don’t care if the cookie is in your pocket or if you are holding it in front of your dog’s nose, if the dog is working ONLY for the cookie, that’s bribery. I am not saying to never pay your dog with cookies for working, but you need to keep your dog’s temperament in mind when doing it. Also, learn to recognize when your dog is working for the food (or toy) versus when he is working for you. However you decide to pay him for working is your decision…it could be a rousing game of tug, a few cookies, a game of chase, whatever your dog enjoys, but, he needs to earn it by working with YOU.

Train hard. Play harder.


Slow down Speedy!

Patty Berg has a famous quote, “It’s not how fast you get there, but how long you stay.” A professional golfer, Ms. Berg’s 15 major title wins remains the record for the all-time major wins by a female golfer. But I also think it is more about what you learn along the way, rather than how fast you get there or how long you stay. We see this in dog training all the time…dogs who come out in Novice like gangbusters, blowing through to Utility and their OTCHs, only to start having issues in the ring or, in general, hating the life of a show dog. Or, we see dogs who very rarely show. While they may do well in the ring when shown, it is likely because they still believe a cookie is going to be handed to them or because they think a correction is pending if they make a mistake.

Everyone seems to be in a hurry with their young dogs. Why? I’m not sure. Slow down, teach the fundamental skills to your young dog. Teach them how to learn, how to think. Teach them the game is fun, and it is even better when you work together. Help them figure out how to work through errors and how to recover from corrections (not necessarily “physical” corrections) or interruptions. In the process, learn how to read your dog. Learn what type of praise they like. Learn their tendencies…for example, I can already tell Kazee is going to be a lefty on his turns.

Each new dog I work with (not necessarily my own dog) teaches me something new and I am already doing a lot more shaping with Kazee than my last two dogs. Does that mean I won’t layer in other learning quadrants later? No, but I do think I will like my foundation better.

This week, we have started working on two new skills – offered focus and the beginnings of a shaped retrieve. Kazee is starting to have a lot more food drive, so it helps with the shaping, but we still work in plenty of play and tug sessions (either during the sessions or separately).

Offered focus – On day one, I was using his favorite raw meal as a reward. While we were able to get through it, it was too frustrating for him because he wanted his dinner. I made some changes during the session after seeing him struggle, which helped. Day two, I used a lower value treat, which he still likes, but which does not send him over the top.

Shaping a retrieve – While I think will be switching him to a more neutral object, I started with his metal article. He has been chewing and playing with this particular article for 6 weeks (it’s hard to believe I’ve had him for that long already), so he is very familiar with the taste of metal.

I am doing a lot of little pieces with Kazee and I have been asked how many times a day I train him. Normally, he has 3-4 training sessions per day. These may range from spending a couple of hours at the dog club (rotating between training and playing with me and spending time in his crate while I train my other dog) to 5-10 minute short sessions in the house or driveway. Some of these sessions may also only involve play time. These are still learning opportunities for impulse control and relationship building, so do not underestimate the benefit of a good old fashioned game of tag in the yard!

Train hard, play harder!

Clicker stacking

While I did not get Kazee with the intention of showing breed, he is so nicely put together, it may be an option later. I believe dogs are smart enough to figure out the difference between doing breed and obedience, so I don’t worry about teaching both at the same time. And, really, is it the end of the world if your puppy happens to sit in the breed ring?

Funny story…when Gunner was a little over six months old, I had the opportunity to go to a George Alston handling seminar. Being new to the breed ring (I had never even taken a handling class, let alone shown a dog in the breed ring), I jumped at the chance to take a weekend seminar from someone who I had heard so much about. Yes, I’d been warned he yelled at people, made people cry, etc., but I was excited anyway. On day one, I made the mistake of stacking my puppy with my back to Mr. Alston. All of a sudden, I realized he was yelling at someone, “I’m not here to judge YOUR backside!” Unfortunately, I think he had already said it three or four times before I heard him…and then realized he was speaking to me. Oops! I muttered an apology and switched sides to stack my dog.

Anyway, off topic…If you have ever heard Mr. Alston speak, you know he does not want your dog watching you AT ALL while you gait. As it was easy to inadvertently teach your dog to look at you while moving when using food, he did not use it. We all then practiced our (non-food) gaiting several times while learning procedural things. Later, during a break, a friend asked me how Gunner’s obedience was coming along. Since we had some time, I switched his collar and lead out and showed them how well his attention heeling looked. Suddenly I realized that someone else was watching me…yes, across the room was Mr. Alston. He went back to speaking to whomever he was talking to, but approached me a few minutes later. “You heard me talking about not teaching your dog to watch you, correct?” Swallowing hard, I answered “yes”. He leaned in and whispered “That doesn’t apply to this dog.” Then he turned around and walked away. So much for being a tough guy. 😉 Actually, any dog can learn the difference, it just comes down to how well WE differentiate between the two requirements.

Back to Kazee…in case we decide to play in the breed ring later, I have started to teach him how to stand still (which he will need for obedience and breed). I’m not worried about formal stacking right now, I just want him to learn that standing still will earn him a click and treat. Standing still should be just as fun for him as wiggling backwards in a down or a scoot sit. This will help give me a great attitude while he struts around at the end of his lead or free stacks in the ring. I’m not holding his head still or forcing him to stay standing. If he sits, I just start over, I don’t lift him by his rear and force him into a stand position. I will be teaching him a formal “stand from a sit” later for obedience, but I am not going to ruin anything by some informal work now.

Lesson one –

Next thing I need to work on…teaching him to stick his head into his snood for dinner without having to be wrangled into it! But it is a pretty funny way to start mealtime. 🙂

Train hard. Play harder!!!!!

Foundation skills

I have learned not to be awestruck when someone shows me what they can do with their young dog. You have seen them…those young puppies doing amazing things, working on advanced behaviors or competing at 6 months old. Look at your puppy as an individual, the same as a 2-legged child. Everyone learns at their own pace and may need something explained to them in a different way to help it make sense. If something doesn’t work today, put it away and try it again in a couple of days. Instead of looking at a complex behavior, look at speed and attitude. Build drive and desire. Teach the puppy how to think and problem solve. In the long run, you will be better off.

I’m always amazed by people who skip the foundation (building block) work and then wonder why everything falls apart later. Actually, the “foundation” needs constant work…forever. Teach these foundation skills with energy, and require speed and effort from your puppy. Use a combination of rewards for your puppy, including food, praise and play. If he appears tired or he’s too distracted, put him away and try again later.

What things do I consider “foundation” exercises:

  1. Voluntary attention (HUGE!!) – yes, I reward the puppy just for standing there and staring at me.
  2. Get it (young puppy) and Hold (older puppy)
  3. Marking
  4. Hand touch & hand push
  5. Targeting (I use a plastic lid)
  6. Motivational pop to food or toy
  7. Pop up release (to food for puppy, later a hand touch)
  8. Rear end awareness exercises
  9. Find heel position
  10. Move with me & stay with me (even when released)
  11. Bounce, spin, twist, backup
  12. Position changes
  13. Find front
  14. Come
  15. Spin back after picking something up
  16. Getting on a platform & send away to a platform
  17. Dumbbell games
  18. How to use their nose (beginning scent work)
  19. Send to a mat or crate
  20. How to come out of a crate
  21. How to play with me WITHOUT a toy or a cookie
  22. Chasing a cookie or toy
  23. Marker words
  24. Muscle memory for head position
  25. Responding to their name
  26. Collar grabs
  27. Switching back and forth between food and play
  28. Responding to cue words that I can take into the ring, i.e. “Ready”
  29. How to bring the toy BACK to me – this is a hard one for Kazee!
  30. Speed – I don’t want you trotting to me, I want you RUNNING to me.
  31. Jump up on me – to deliver toys or objects, i.e. dumbbell or article (I don’t put fronts into exercises until much later. Fronts slow a dog down, so I work on fronts separately.)
  32. and (most important) learning that training with me is the best thing in the world!!

Spend the time training these things to your puppy or young competition dog and it will pay off in the end!

If you have another foundation skill, please list it in the comment section. I’m sure I have missed some!

Train hard. Play harder.

Train the details

In my opinion, two of the most important things to train your competition dog are ring entrances and setups. If showing in Open and Utility, I also consider removing the dog’s lead as part of a ring entrance, as well as preparing the dog for the possibility of being measured. Your ring entrance sets the tone for the entire run. While it should not influence scoring, the judge’s first impression of a team is extremely important and it is your job to make sure it is the best impression possible.

The next time you are at a show, sit back and watch these two specific items. Who walks into the ring with an attentive, focused dog? What is their body language saying to the judge? Who moves easily between exercises, setting up efficiently and quickly for the next exercise?  While I may talk to my dog in an upbeat voice, I do not want to cheerlead or do a lot of clapping or extra body language. Personally, I will also not do a lot of “tricks” to get to a setup. I may throw in a spin or a hand touch, but I do not ask my dog to spin the entire way or walk with my dog between my legs.

Remember, you are being judged the ENTIRE time you are in the ring. While there is generally nothing to score on a ring entrance or setup, the main thing to remember is you should not slow down the judge’s ring. If you have difficulty setting up or controlling your dog, or if you use your hands to physically set up your dog (even in Novice), then the judge can choose to mark you below the line. Also, if you continue to reposition your dog on a setup, the judge can instruct you to stop and prepare for the exercise. While you are permitted to take your dog’s collar and guide him between exercises in Novice, I choose not to do this with my dogs. If I can not move between exercises without physically guiding them, then they are not ready to go into the ring.

Obviously, all dogs are different…some need to be formally heeled between exercises, while some need a chance to disconnect briefly and allowed to refocus (which is how my German Shepherd was). Experiment during matches or wildcard classes to see what works best for your dog.

Take the time to teach these skills, so your dog will know exactly what is expected on show day. Teach your dog some stress relieving behaviors in case you need to use them between exercises (spins, hand touches, bounces, front feet up on handler). These need to be practiced and reinforced OFTEN, not just taught, then forgotten.  In practice, these behaviors (after taught) should be required. Meaning, if I tell my dog to put his front feet up on me, he must do it. If I tell him to do a hand push, he must get into position and push. It is not an option, it is a trained and required behavior. It is also heavily rewarded when done well.

While training, do not forget the perfect picture in your mind. My “picture” includes speed, effort and precision. So, if I call my dog to setup, I require he does it quickly and accurately. Anything that does not meet my expectations is addressed. Require 100% in practice, because you will likely not get 100% in the ring. Consistency is extremely important. Decide what you want from your dog and reinforce it…every….single….time. No exceptions!

Train hard. Play harder.


One of our jobs as a trainer is to help our dog gain the confidence he needs to make his own decisions. This does not mean he will always make the “correct” decision, but this is not the same as a “bad” decision.

If you continue to make things easier for your dog, they will never gain the confidence to make the decision by themselves when needed.

Help them if needed, cheerlead them occasionally and praise them often (even when they make an incorrect decision). I would much rather have my dog make an incorrect decision, than stand there waiting for me to tell him what to do. Teach your dog how to think, not just how to react.

Train hard. Play harder.


A new site!

When I started playing around with putting my thoughts down on the Internet, I merely saw it as an online journal of sorts. I’m just a dog trainer after all, who would really want to read what I had to write? I have struggles and successes (thus the Blue Ribbons and NQs title!), but people don’t often see the struggles.

I’ve been training and showing dogs for less than ten years…a newbie as far as some trainers are concerned. I am not out to conquer the universe, but I like to do well in my chosen sport. I’m a little OCD and more than a little anal about certain things, all of which correspond fairly well with competition obedience. 🙂

I love to share what I have learned and I don’t think people should have to pay to see my videos or read what I have to say. I don’t consider myself an expert, but I do think I am pretty good at what I do.

All dogs are different and there is not a “one size fits all” approach. I do not like categories and prefer to let my training speak for itself. Watch me train. Watch my dog work. Watch how we interact. If it is not your cup of tea, move on. If you see something you like, feel free to implement it into your own training. If you have a question, by all means please ASK! I enjoy helping people problem solve and think that is how everyone learns, including myself.

If you would like to read my old posts, they can still be found online at my original blog –

Train hard. Play harder.