Train the basics…

Time and time again, people show up for their first lesson and we never work on what they scheduled the lesson for. Why? Why would I not want to help them with their heeling or their dog’s fronts or their dog’s retrieves? Because, in reality, the main issue is a lack of engagement between the handler and the dog, as well as a possible lack of commitment from the dog. This does not mean if we fix the engagement piece, the dog will miraculously be able to heel perfectly or do their fronts, but it will give us a better starting point to work on these skills.

Examples which I see often:

  1. Dog does not have an “off” behavior and is, instead, micromanaged by the owner
  2. Dog does not automatically connect with the owner when released from a kennel or from their “off” position (without being cued or corrected)
  3. Dog does not know how to cue they are ready to work
  4. Dog disconnects and leaves the owner
  5. Handler has the dog sitting in heel position for an extended period of time, but does not require 100% focused attention consistently

Gone is the day when we ask our dogs to simply perform and follow direction, rather than think, offer and engage. However, this does not mean he has a free pass to do as he wishes until we ask him to work. Your dog should CHOOSE to engage with you and STAY engaged, regardless of what is going on around you. Yes, I know this is easier said than done. All dogs have different temperaments and tolerances for their surroundings, but it CAN be done!

Off Behavior

Teach your dog a “settle” command or give him an “off” position. For example, teach a curled down (not a sphinx down) or have your dog sit between your legs. While in these positions, your dog does not have to maintain engagement, but they should remember you exist and be ready to reconnect. These are TRAINED and maintained positions. If you place your dog in a curled down, he is not allowed to sniff the floor, lean to sniff a person or dog, crawl around, or continually shift positions. Flipping hips is not a huge deal for me now that Open stays are gone, as long as it is not happening constantly. And, when you train an “off” switch, you need to train an “on” switch. Teach your dog how to quickly re-engage on a verbal and/or touch cue.

My dogs are also trained how to place themselves into a sit position between my legs, facing forwards. If I need to have a quick conversation with someone and am going immediately back to work, this is usually a position I place them in. When I step off, they should immediately re-engage with me (also a trained behavior!). I often use this position as I am waiting to go into the ring, to allow my dog a moment to relax and take the opportunity to look around.

Whatever you decide to train, it does not matter, just train something. Your dog should not be allowed to pull you around on lead while you are trying to talk to someone. They should not be barking at you to get your attention. They should not be jumping on you trying to get the cookies out of your hand. They should not be dragging you to get to the instructor, their buddy next to them in class or their treat bag on the chair. This behavior from your dog is exhausting. They are expending valuable energy on being naughty, rather than saving their mental and physical energy for training.

Automatic Connection

If you have never watched Susan Garrett’s “Crate Games”, this would be a fantastic place to start. (There are probably tons of videos on YouTube on how to teach this behavior.) While I do not follow her training methods verbatim, it is essentially the behavior I want…100% offered focus as soon as they are released from their crate or off position.

When arriving at a new location, I will generally do a short acclimation walk for my dog to see the surroundings, then put him back in his crate. The next time out, I expect nothing short of wonderful, offered engagement…or back in the crate he goes. This is started, trained and heavily reinforced in low level distraction areas, before expecting it in higher level distraction locations. And it is ALWAYS reinforced…forever. Remember, behaviors which you do not continue to reinforce, will weaken or go away completely. It is much easier to maintain something, rather than try to build it back up again later.

Coming out of their kennel, warming up or moving to a setup point…this is not an opportunity to sniff or disconnect. Even if you do not expect your dog to heel to the next area, they should remain connected with you, waiting for direction. You should not have to put them on command to get to a different area in the room or ring, i.e. “with me” or “let’s go”. If you walk to a different spot, they should automatically go with you. With my current dog, this usually involves bounding around somewhere in front of me, keeping his eyes on my face, while I tell him how smart he is. 🙂 In the ring, however, I will often use a “with me” to get to my next setup position, as I do not want it to look like a lack of control.

Dog cues you that they are ready to work

This is similar to the automatic connection, but slightly different if my dog is in a new environment.

When going to somewhere new or when arriving at a training location where I need to warm up my dog, I follow the same general procedure each time.

  1. I set up my crate and bring in my gear bags.
  2. Potty my dog, bring him inside and put him in his crate. Close the crate door – latched or zipped!
  3. Make sure I have cookies in my pocket and get my dog’s training leash ready.
  4. Open the crate door, attach my dog’s leash, expect and require engagement coming out of the crate.
  5. Release the dog from engagement with a “go for a walk” command.
  6. Walk around the training or trial site, possibly pointing out items I think my dog needs to investigate. He is trained and reinforced for going towards something to check it out if I ask him to. Examples of things I would ask him to look at would be the stewards table, chairs holding extra jumps, or the bucket of cleaning materials on the ground.
  7. At some point during this casual walk, my dog will generally start to check in with me (I want more than just an eye flick.). I will mark it with a “yes”, take a step or two backwards letting the dog come towards me and give him a cookie. I then give him the “go for a walk” command again and keep moving. When my dog tells me he has looked around enough, he will generally push me for more engagement by turning completely to face me. At this point, I will usually ask for a couple of tricks (spin, twist or bounce) and reward my dog. The time frame for the dog checking in will vary depending on the dog and the surroundings. The more places your dog is acclimated to, the quicker he will be able to tune out the environment and focus on you.
  8. I will work my way back towards my crating area and put my dog back in his crate. Close the crate.
  9. Depending on time frame, he may sit in his crate for a few minutes or longer, then be brought back out of his crate to warm up.
  10. When exiting his crate the next time, he is expected to offer engagement and maintain engagement throughout the training process.

Dog disconnects and leaves you

This is one of my biggest pet peeves and is a very simple fix, even with older dogs. The caveat is you have to be very consistent and deal with this every single time, regardless of the situation or surroundings. You also have to be very QUIET when correcting the behavior.

Normal situation: Handler and dog are on the training floor. Handler may or may not break their engagement with the dog (for example, asking me a question), but the dog decides to leave the handler to check out their training bag, come say hi to me, search the floor for cookies or simply remove themselves from the training environment. Handler calls the dog “Fido come” and the dog may or may not respond. Handler often rewards the dog for coming back to them.

My expectations for my dogs…even if you are not placed in a specific position (curled down or between my legs), we are still training and you are expected to pay attention to me. Yes, I am the first person to tell someone to stay connected to their dog when they are training…but, people, this is life. What happens if you need to break connection in the ring with your dog? Is it okay if your dog says “okay, you are not paying attention to me, so I do not have to pay attention to you”? Absolutely not.

What if we are working on proofing a behavior and my dog decides he really needs to say hello to the judge sitting on the ground or play with his canine buddy who is heeling on the other side of the ring gate. Should my dog think he only needs to stay with me because I have given him a specific place command? Or would the behavior I am asking for be made even more solid by explaining to the dog very early on that he is not allowed to leave me at all when working?

But, how do I train this? To me, this begins with training a dog on how to offer engagement. Once I have the engagement, it is up to me to maintain the engagement. Despite the feel good phrase of “be the most exciting thing” to your dog, it does not work that way. You are not going to trump his canine buddy or the person sitting in the chair eating a hot dog when the going gets tough.

My dogs are trained very early on a “with me” command for general day to day, loose leash walking. If asked, I expect them to stay within a very close proximity to me whether they are on leash or off leash (so, for example, not running around a yard during free time). If they start to pull or decide to leave me when walking (even though I would not consider them to be “engaged” with me), I silently go to the dog, take them by the collar with both hands, turn them around to face me, walk backwards while telling them “with me”, let go of the collar while still walking backwards (expecting the dog to continue to move towards me), and tell the dog how smart they are. No cookies in your hands or given as a reward. This is a very quiet and soft correction. This should not be made into a huge confrontation, you are simply reminding your dog that he needs to stay by you.

Later, after I have worked voluntary engagement with my dog and he knows how to offer this behavior, I expect him to stay close AND engaged with me, even if I am not staring lovingly into his face. And, he especially needs to not leave me IF I am actively engaged with him in the face of distractions. Pretend, for example, I am proofing and testing my dog’s understanding of his setup position on the directed retrieve exercise. The person playing judge is set up directly in front of me, holding his clipboard down at an easy to reach position. My dog leaves his set up position to go sniff the clipboard. I walk to him SILENTLY, take him by the collar, walk backwards a couple of steps telling him “with me”. I then let go of him, continuing to move backwards a few more steps while telling him how smart he is. You may ask “why the praise when you had to go get him?”. I am praising him for continuing to come toward me after I let him go, I am not praising him for leaving me. For leaving me, he earned both hands on his collar with a small “with me” correction. This correction happened at a place where he should not have been, which was next to the judge sniffing the clipboard. The most difficult part for most people is to simply keep their mouth closed while they are walking to their dog. No “come” and no saying their name to get their attention. Also, no feeding a behavior you have to correct. So, even though you can offer verbal praise when the dog follows you backwards, do not feed him! When setting up for the direct retrieve again, I ask for brief sustained focus before marking and rewarding my dog for being correct. I might then repeat with a little more pressure or distraction from the judge, trying to mark and reinforce the proper response from my dog before he makes an error. If during this process my dog pushes me for even greater engagement, I may break out to reward with a small jackpot or play session.

This behavior is proofed during training by me NOT maintaining 100% engagement. If my dog is training and I break or release my dog, this does not give him permission to excuse himself from training. For example, if I pause to explain to someone why I am doing something or if I walk to my gear bag to get something, my dog is expected to maintain attention even if not placed in a specific position or settle command. But, I also feed this offered engagement very well and I always have a portion of my brain on what my dog is doing, so I can respond immediately. So, while talking to someone, I may toss him a cookie every once and awhile. Or, I may pause during my explanation to the person, look squarely at my dog and tell him how wonderful he is. So, in essence, my dog should THINK I am always 100% engaged, regardless of what I am doing. In this particular example, it does not matter if my dog sits, downs or stands, but he is not allowed to leave my close proximity and he should be watching me. If he decides to check out the person I am speaking with, he would earn a soft “with me” correction.

Obviously, when you are in the show ring, you are not allowed to take a hold of your dog’s collar, except in Novice when leading the dog to the next exercise. But, personally, if my dog does not know his requirement is to stay with me between exercises, he would NOT be in the Novice ring. But, dogs can be dogs. If my dog were to become distracted at some point or become a little too wound up and started jumping around, I would simply say his name and tell him “with me”. If I have done an adequate job of preparation, he would know this meant he needed to stay near me and pay attention. No touching the collar necessary.

Extended time in heel position when not “working”

This is one of the drawbacks of going to a formal class setting. Handlers are waiting their turn to work an exercise and they have their dog sitting in heel position. But, the dog is looking around and, in general, not paying attention to the handler. So, when the handler goes to perform the exercise, the dog makes a mistake and the handler is forced to either correct the dog or restart the exercise, neither of which you can do in the ring. (Don’t I wish we had “do-overs” in the ring!!)

If my dog is in heel position, his requirements are: proper heel position with engagement. Anything else dilutes my position command. How does your dog know the difference between when you say “heel” and he is allowed to look around or when you say “heel” and he should maintain 100% focus?

People have a tendency to use a ‘sit in heel’ position as a control position…to prevent the dog from actually having to think for and control himself. Instead, use a settle command and step OUT of heel position. Or, place your dog in a sit between your legs. When it is almost your turn to work, pick up your dog with your “on” cue and set him up with attention.

Think about when you are taking a lesson or training with friends. How often do you ask your dog to get into heel position, then continue talking with your instructor or your training buddy…while your dog is completely disengaged and disinterested?

Train the basics…

While none of the above items specifically deal with teaching a single formal exercise, they all have the potential to either positively or negatively impact everything you do during training. Helping your dog understand engagement, commitment and self control is a valuable part of your training and should not be overlooked. Pay attention to the small things you are asking your dog to do, which could dilute or negatively impact a specific command or behavior you teach them…and think of other ways in which you can instead build your dog’s understanding of his job, through motivation and rewards.

Moving stand exercise…make it fun!!

When you think of “fun” exercises, the Utility moving stand is probably not one which comes to mind first…but it could be! After watching Kazee work his moving stand during practice the other day, someone asked me how I teach it. There are a multitude of ways to teach this exercise, but, like almost everything, you need to break it down into pieces and train the individual components first.

If you know how I train, I require the dog to give me extra effort on the individual components. Because I show my dogs often, I need to have a way to show the dog when he is NOT giving me enough effort. Also, because most dogs tend to stress down slightly at dog shows, if I require more effort in practice, it will usually balance out about right when in the ring. And, lastly, it is a heck of a lot more fun!

When teaching this exercise, I will assume your dog understands a “stand” command. Hopefully, your requirement since puppyhood was a kickback stand, where your dog does not move forward into the stand. Also, if you have been “helping” your dog stand with your hands for Novice obedience or Rally, stop NOW. Your dog is fully capable of standing by himself from a sit position…it is time to start requiring it.

So, what is the difference with the way I teach a moving stand exercise? I teach my dog to stop forward motion and immediately move backwards before freezing into the stand position. Okay, your first question may be “How will this be scored in the ring?” While I train and practice with more backwards motion, I drop part of my cue in the ring and the dog normally only takes a step or two backwards when standing (if any). To my knowledge, Gunner was never hit for any backwards motion in the ring. The handler’s motion is also very important, as any hesitation on your part can (and should) be scored. The smoother you make this exercise, the better it will look.

To start teaching the “stand back”, put your dog between you and a barrier. Ask him to stand and then immediately ask him to step backwards (and stay standing). I give my moving stand signal with my left hand, which has a cookie in it. At this point, I do not worry about my dog going backwards perfectly straight. Again, when used in the ring, the dog will not be running 4-5 steps backwards. I do try to keep him relatively straight and if it was a big issue, I would put a couple of broad jump boards on the ground to limit the arcing.

So, what if you currently give your moving stand signal with your right hand? One, you can do the same thing with your right hand, as shown with my left hand. Or, two, switch your signal to your left hand!! Personally, I do not like the moving stand signal with the right hand. For most people, it completely contorts their upper body and most people hesitate on the signal because of this upper body rotation. I do use my right hand for my novice stand signal and my utility signal stand signal because I am either standing still (Novice) or stopping with my dog (Utility signals). For me, this is more about “old habits die hard” and I have been using my right hand for this signal with no issues for too long to convince me to switch. However, it is very easy to train a different signal for the moving stand exercise, especially because you are able to give a verbal command with the signal.

Once your dog’s effort meets your satisfaction when done against a barrier, move into an open area. I will also switch to a toy at this stage for a couple of reasons…the main one being that I can take a toy into any match ring. If it is match before a trial, you often can not have food, so I like to be able to reinforce my dog the same way I do in practice. Yes, I know not all dogs love to tug as much as Kazee does, but you CAN teach your dog to enjoy it. In the video below, I have the tug toy in my right hand, but I would recommend starting with the tug toy in your LEFT hand, same as the cookie. After your dog is proficient, then switch the tug toy to your right hand and make sure the dog remains engaged with YOU while heeling forward.

Make sure you watch for ANY forward motion after the dog freezes in the stand. This must be dealt with every time you see it…even if it is simply giving a negative marker and restarting the exercise. If the verbal negative marker alone does not have the affect I need, I will give a negative marker, walk back to the dog, pick him up slightly (one hand under his collar and the other hand under his belly), move him backwards slightly and tell him to “stand” or “stand stay”. Forward motion is NEVER allowed. Proof this, especially with the higher drive dogs who do not want to stand still! Reward the freeze in the stand stay often (throw tug toy or go back and feed), you do not have to finish your dog every time.

Separately, while you are initially training the “stand back”, you can start working the “return to heel” portion. I prefer a left finish for the moving stand exercise, as I think it is easier to maintain a straight finish.

I teach a hand touch on the finish. I started doing this many years ago when I was showing my German Shepherd, Zita. After awhile in the ring, I would occasionally get walk-ins on the moving stand. Part of her retraining included a hand touch on the moving stand finish. The extra effort I required from her consistently in training completely abolished the walk-ins in the ring and even gave her a cute little bounce on her finishes, which she maintained until her last weekend in the show ring.

This hand touch is also extremely easy to take into the ring with you. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you have already NQ’d and want to require a little extra effort on the moving stand, simply stick your hand back up on the finish and require a hand touch! (And then apologize if the judge says “Don’t train in my ring.” 😉 )

Have fun with this exercise, but remember to always maintain criteria! My pushy dogs always like to forge on this exercise because they like it so much, so I have to be extra vigilant during training.

You may have noticed the new training space in the videos. We have relocated to the Denver, Colorado area and have traded our beach umbrella in for snow shoes! While I love the Colorado weather, I am very glad I have somewhere to train daily without driving if the weather is bad. 2018 has been a rough year with a lot of losses (including 3 dogs), but I am looking forward to 2019 and hopefully adding another dog to the family.

If you have any questions about the videos above, please feel free to ask in the comment section. And, as always, train hard but play harder!!

You get what you reward…

Ever so subtly, we sabotage ourselves. We have the perfect picture of our dog’s position and performance in our head, but yet we do things in training which work against that picture. Sometimes we see it, sometimes we don’t. But, hopefully, we fix our errors before they become a trained behavior in our dog.

Reward placement and the maintenance of criteria are critical in every aspect of dog training, whether you do obedience, agility, nosework or dock diving. Little things we do as trainers, can degrade or enhance our dog’s understanding of what proper position and performance actually involves.

In obedience, reward placement is crucial. Dogs are smart and opportunists by nature. If we reward less effort, what encourages them to work harder? For example, have you every heard someone complain about their dog leaning sideways while performing a front? But, then watched the person reward their dog for an “acceptable” front with one hand off to the side of their body…and probably rewarding their dog after digging through their side pocket trying to find a cookie! The handler is causing the leaning with their reward placement, and then rewarding the dog for leaning…the very behavior they want to extinguish!

Or, when heeling, the dog is crabbing or wrapping and the handler ignores it because the dog is animated and pushy, wanting to work for their toy or cookie. (I catch myself in this dilemma often with my young dog!) You HAVE to maintain your criteria for your dog to understand exactly where he needs to be.

Remember, your dog does not dictate where and when the reward happens. If you begin accommodating your dog on certain behaviors, then you are training him to do the exercise incorrectly. Who is training who?

Let me give a couple of examples to help clarify my point.

Signal stand and moving stand – Dog does not stop quickly and lock into the stand position

The dog takes too many steps before coming to a complete stop and ends up in a forged position. Or, the person accommodates the failure to lock into a stand by taking extra steps themselves or slowing their pace. But, guess what, the dog stopped! So you reward the stand and walk away to practice your signals or the call to heel. Problem…you have just told your dog that his failure to lock into a stand position was acceptable. And, even worse, the 1-2 steps in practice, will likely turn into 2-3 steps in the ring.

Now, some people are thinking “Well, what SHOULD I do?” This is where I often see people starting to smack a dog in the nose or give a stronger verbal along with a signal. Essentially, punishing the dog for YOUR improper training during the foundation work. Not very fair to the dog, is it? Instead, go back and help the dog understand the reward placement for the signal stand…and do not reward anything other than EXACTLY what you want the behavior to look like. This does not mean you should not praise effort, but do not feed the dog!

In my dog’s case, this would be a cookie in the hand I am giving the signal with. I would also probably help the dog with a quiet verbal, depending on which dog I was working. If my dog locked up in his stand wonderfully, he may get a quick, rapid fire reward of cookies to clearly show him that I loved what he just did. Or, he may get released to a toy thrown behind him. But, if he did not stop and stand exactly like I wanted, I would simply give him a negative “oops” marker and try again. And, as I am a huge proponent of making the dog work harder in practice, I would also implement some backwards motion into the stand. Meaning, as I stopped and signaled for the stand, I would also take a step backwards, requiring the dog to shift his weight back faster (or even take steps backwards) to stay in position to earn his reward.

Do not change your handling (extra steps, slowing your pace, etc.) to accommodate your dog’s failure to perform the exercise correctly. If you do not think the judge notices this handler error, you are wrong. Smoothly transition into your stand and require your dog stop in heel position. And, by all means, if your dog does not perform the stand properly in practice, do not walk away from them to practice signals!

Finishes – dog finishes with his rear out or is slow

I, as much as anyone, love to reward fast finishes. However, IF you are going to let your dog sit before rewarding them, make sure they are sitting straight! It is amazing how fast those half points add up in Open and Utility, so straight finishes are essential. The more fast, crooked sits you reward…guess what? The more crooked sits you will get!!

So, if I’m working on adding or maintaining speed to heel position, I avoid having to nit-pick straight sits by not letting the dog sit at all! A prime example is the call to heel on the moving stand exercise. If I practice the call to heel component in its entirely every time I do the exercise, my dog’s return is going to slow down. Instead, I work on the dog driving to heel position from the stand by calling the dog to a toy or cookie in my left hand (for a left finish).

Find what works best for your dog. For example, what worked well for my German Shepherd was actually calling her to heel, but then asking for a hand touch mid-way back to me. If she did not give me a hand touch, her correction was a little bounce to the hand and another try to do it correctly. But, in the ring, it kept her speed up and gave me a cute little bounce into heel position. However, if I did this with my younger Springer, he wound die of boredom! He loves his tug, so that is what I use.

To help your dog work harder on his sit, think about how to make them give you more effort to get into proper position. Some examples:

  • Left finish – pivot 90 degrees left AS the dog is turning to sit in heel position (move before they sit)
  • Left finish – take a step to your right or backwards as the dog is coming up to sit. A step forward makes it easier.
  • Right finish – take a step to your right as the dog is coming up to sit
  • Right finish – spin to the right as the dog is coming around. For my dogs, I will generally have a toy or cookie in my left hand to help the speed.
  • Hand touch or hand push in heel position
  • Attention, attention, attention! Do not let your dog sit and look forward into space. My dogs are required to look up at me on every finish.

Above all else, maintain your criteria on every piece of the exercise. If your dog does something you do not like, do NOT keep going! Mark the behavior you did not like, break off and try again. If you dog continues to fail, you need to change something. Maybe give them a short break, ask for a smaller piece of the exercise, back off the pressure or proofing, or help them with a verbal or extra signal a couple of times.

Continuing to fail (and being punished for it!) teaches your dog nothing, except to hate the sport of obedience.

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!


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!!

Where does the time go?

It is hard to believe Kazee is 8 1/2 months old already. Everything has not gone exactly to plan with my training goals, but when do plans work out that way? He has, however, exceeded my expectations on his overall confidence and work ethic. I am letting Kazee dictate the pace on a lot of our training, although I am starting to require more impulse control in work and daily life. It is so much more fun to concentrate on building drive and his desire to work with me, but when his nickname turns into “Crazy Kazee”, it is time to put a little bit of a cap on things. 🙂

So, what has not gone to plan? Retrieves. Kazee has had zero interest in shaping a dumbbell hold beyond pressing his front teeth against the object or a quick open mouth over the object, then pulling back. Play retrieves he would do, but in a wild-eyed (Crazy Kazee) manner. And, after chipping a tooth on his dumbbell during a play retrieve, those have been stopped until there is more control built in. But when it came to sitting down in a chair and putting his mouth on a bar…no way. The +R faction would say I must not be shaping it correctly, my timing is bad, my cookies do not have enough value or maybe the dog is just not hungry enough. I have no doubt there are better free shapers out there than me, however, I am more about giving my dog information. This includes, “yes”, “no”, or “good, but try again”. With a full menu of information, I am finally at a point where Kazee is taking the object and holding it. “Object” meaning anything BUT a dumbbell. We are making progress (albeit slow progress), which is all I ask of him. There is no timetable and he will likely not do a “retrieve” for many months.

Heeling, on the other hand, is always fun with this little dog. He is drivey, animated and focused, through shaping this behavior from early on. He has never really been on a cookie for heeling, though I do use them for working setups, halts and some other behaviors. I am still working a moving hand push with him, but it seems to irritate him that my hand blocks his view of my face. So, instead, I am working the hand push for fast setups and stationary behaviors. What works for one dog, doesn’t work for them all!

I have also started free shaping a send away to a platform. While I do not use platforms for fronts or finishes, I do use them for other things, including go-outs. Gunner was trained go-outs to a platform and the desired behavior always seemed very clear to him…run straight until you hit your platform, jump on it, turn and sit. While he does not use his platform very often any more, he LOVES to see it come out in training, because it still has a lot of value for him. Because Kazee loves his tug more than food, I have been shaping his platform with the tug as his reward. Placement of the platform is not important right now and it’s position always varies. Sometimes it is up against a barrier or other times, like today, it is in the middle of the ring.

The platform used above is 14″ x 20″ and has 2″ x 4″ boards for legs (so it can be used as a chute, if desired, by flipping it over). I liked this size for him, especially the fact that it is a little taller than his platform at home. It was very clear to him if he was entirely on the platform, which is important when shaping because it removes grey area to the dog.

The more black and white you can make something, the better. This goes for all aspects of training. If you are having a problem on a certain exercise, put your dog away, step back and just look at the exercise or skill you are asking the dog to do. Is the desired outcome clear? Are there any grey areas you can remove? Ask a training partner if what you are doing makes sense. One hint, if you can not explain to another person (especially a non-dog person) exactly what you are doing or what the dog’s response should be, it probably is not clear enough.

As always, train hard, but play harder!!


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.




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.



I am a huge believer of the dog giving effort during training. And, this does not just mean the exercise itself…it also means coming out of the crate, entering the ring and moving between exercises. If you allow your dog to “turn off” during these activities it WILL bleed over into your formal exercises.

How do you get effort? Wow, million dollar question, isn’t it? Every dog is different, so you need to figure out what works for your dog. Not very helpful, is it? 🙂

Examples of how I require effort from my dog or my students’ dogs:

  1. If the dog is lagging, the behavior is marked and the handler quietly takes a hold of the dog’s collar (normally from the left side of the dog’s head) and pushes him forward into heel position. While doing this, the handler tells the dog what they are doing “We’re heeling, good heel”, etc. Then the collar is released and the team continues forward a few steps before releasing the dog.
  2. If the dog is forging, the behavior is marked and the handler quietly takes a hold of the collar (same as in #1 above) and brings the dog back to heel position. The handler then slows their speed and asks the dog to maintain heel position. It takes a lot more impulse control for these dogs to maintain a slower speed and it allows you to address issues more timely.
  3. If the dog shuts off between exercises and is following numbly behind me, I address it similar to the lagging dog. But, I may just do a “with me” correction (a TRAINED behavior), instead of a “we’re heeling” correction.
  4. During a left finish, if the dog under rotates, the handler pivots left during the finish (helping the dog verbally if needed).
  5. During a right finish, if the dog stops short, the handler is either prepared with their left foot back or they take a slight step forward or to the side during the finish.
  6. If the dog is not coming into a front straight, I mark the behavior, then pivot or sidestep, while reminding the dog of their job.
  7. If the dog is not getting his rear in on a left turn, I ask him to do a left spin in heel position DURING the left turn.

The key…if your dog isn’t working hard enough, help him work HARDER. If your dog understands what you are asking from him, do not automatically make the exercise easier. As much as possible, train like you show….meaning not throwing in a whole bunch of extra physical cues or guides. Make doing the correct thing easy and the wrong thing much more work on the dog’s part.

Don’t forget to tell your dog when he’s doing something incorrectly. How else will he know what he can or can’t do? This doesn’t mean yelling “NO!” and running at your dog. A simple “wrong” or “oops” or “try again” works just fine. Keep your voice light and your hands soft. If your dog deflates, get him back in drive before continuing.

And, likewise, tell your dog when he’s doing something right! Even if it is just a smile, let your dog know he is awesome! Remember, you can smile all you want in the ring. Also, in Novice and Open, you can use any word for your heel command. So, why not say “AWESOME” as you move forward, instead of “heel”? This may also help you get a little spunk into your heeling if your dog is worried about the environment. (Disclaimer…Don’t say “Awesome, Fido heel”, that may be pushing it for most judges.)

As always…Train hard. Play harder.