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!!

Time to start using your nose!

Now that Kazee is reliably retrieving his dumbbell, I have decided to start introducing scent work to him. With my last dog, Gunner, I used the “Around the Clock” method to teach him articles. I did this primarily because I wanted a specific training method to follow and, in all honesty, I really did not know what I was doing. 🙂 Yes, I had an older dog (my German Shepherd Dog, Zita) already showing in Utility, but she was super smart and figured it out pretty quickly…I am still not sure what I did. LOL

But, I was not sure how I wanted to teach Kazee his articles. He has a very different temperament than my last two dogs and I also train much differently than I did eight years ago. During a Victory Hulett seminar last year, she demonstrated her method of teaching scent work to puppies. I was interested, but not sure I would ever try the method. But, I never say “never” and I tucked the method away in the back of my toolbox.

Fast forward to Kazee, who wants everything to be a game. I walked through the method with Victory again, to make sure I understood it, and I built the (patented) contraption which she calls a “Scent-a-Whirl”. Kazee immediately loved the tool and the game, so we are moving forward with this method to teach him scent work. Victory starts this training with much younger puppies, but because Kazee would not even hold a dumbbell for the longest time, I did not think about introducing this sooner. But, because the training starts with the use of toys, dogs do not need to have any type of a dumbbell or article retrieve to start the work.

I will be filming Kazee throughout this process, as well as detailing Victory’s instructions for the game. As this is not “my” method, I will be teaching my understanding of the method, which may or may not line up exactly with Victory’s.

Introduction to the scent-a-whirl (video taken Oct. 3, 2016):

Step 1: All lids off – play tug with the puppy using a soft toy. Then place toy in marked container. Tap on the container to encourage the puppy to get it out, then you and puppy play with the toy. (Stay close so that puppy doesn’t run off with the toy or get distracted.)

Step 2: Place lids on 3 empty containers. Play tug game with the puppy, then insert the toy into the 4th (marked) container and cover with lid. Encourage puppy to find the toy. You may need to tap on each container to get the puppy to smell them. Watch closely for any indication the puppy has located (smelled) the toy. Mark with a verbal “YES”, then remove the lid and let the puppy get the toy; play tug. (You must work closely – getting the lid off quickly to reward the puppy is very important.)

Step 3: Repeat until you can clearly read the puppy indicating the toy every time.

Important Points:

  1. Always start with play.
  2. Always play as a reward for the find.
  3. Each dog will indicate differently – some passively, some aggressively.
  4. You must work closely so that you can promptly mark finds with verbal “YES” and quick lid removal for the find – then play.
  5. As your dog progresses, allow them to stay at each level one to three weeks to ensure imprinting of knowledge. This is based on both handler and dog. If progress breaks down, back up one step, then re-test their understanding in a week or two

I stayed at the above steps for a week, as I wanted to see Kazee really start to use his nose to find the toy. Below video was taken on Oct. 11, 2016 (and, yes, coincidentally, I am wearing the same shirt! LOL)

I am really happy to see him actually slowing himself down and using his nose more and more. He is always very amped up when the game starts, but does slow down (slightly) with more repetitions.

Time to move on to the next steps. To be continued….

Train hard. Play harder!


Right now, if someone asked you “What are your current goals?” could you answer them?  You should be able to. It does not matter if the dog is an established competitor who already has his OTCH or if it is a younger dog in training. Are there people who go out weekend after weekend, blindly showing their dog without any goals? Of course there are. We all know these people. And I will be the first to say that your goal does not have to be a High in Trial or an OTCH. Your goal may simply to be better than you were at the last show. That can still be a good goal!!

I have dogs at both ends of the spectrum right now – a seasoned OTCH dog (Gunner) and a young dog in training (Kazee). Gunner’s goals right now are to improve our performance in the Utility ring. For some reason, he has been stressing and making unusual mistakes. Physically, he is fine, that was ruled out first. I do not buy the “new puppy in the house” excuse either. He knows his job and can focus on his work when needed. Plus, his Open runs have still been wonderful, so it is a Utility issue. Kazee, on the other hand, is still in the wonderful shaping world of puppy foundation. No pressure, just lots of rewards and short training sessions. I am not in a hurry to be doing full exercises, so we have been working on pieces, as well as building attitude and controlling drive.

A couple of weeks ago, I entered Kazee in a Novice match to support the club running the event. Was he ready? No, not really. But, I was not looking for perfection. I was mainly interested to see what he would do with someone calling us a heeling pattern in a ring. Since I train by myself the majority of the time, sometimes you just have to see what the little dog can do! He had never even seen real people for figure 8 posts! Honestly, I was thrilled. Had it not been a more formal match, I would have done a few things differently, but I was not going to screw anything up by taking him in the ring. What was the worst thing that could have happened? If he had been unable to do anything, I simply would have left the ring.

I’ve posted before about our challenges with the dumbbell. I have not pushed the issue with him and have slowed WAY down to his level of comfort. The lack of pressure has paid off and he is now starting to love his dumbbell, but I am still not asking for details. He is not required to sit before I send him and he jumps up on me on the return, at which point, he is presented with his tug. Mistakes are no big deal and the skill is simply repeated.

In the breed ring, Kazee has FAR surpassed my goals. At (almost) 11 months of age, he has 11 points and 3 majors. Not bad for a team that doesn’t know what they are doing! Fortunately for me, grooming is still pretty easy, since he does not have much coat to deal with. Guess we better finish before I have to really learn how to groom! 🙂


Do not let other people pressure you on your goals. You have the right to set whatever goals you want for you and your dog. This could be a qualifying score, High in Trial, Best of Breed, or simply to be better than you were the week before. The people who criticize your goals are probably the ones who do not even have one on their own dog. The most important thing is that you and your dog are enjoying training, in whatever venue you enjoy.

Train hard. But always, always, always 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.


Kazee – 24 weeks

To say that Kazee has been a handful would be an understatement. I am constantly reminded “be careful what you wish for”. 🙂 But, I could not be happier with him. The teething issues are starting to be a memory, with all of his permanent canines coming in nicely. Fortunately, he still tugged throughout the teething process, because some of the baby teeth needed a little “help” to fall out.

Everyone goes into training a puppy with a plan in their head…however, it very rarely works out as planned. This is how our heeling has been. Every puppy I have worked with, I used a lot of food to shape head position and muscle memory. Kazee has different plans, spitting out his cookies and looking for his tug. So, give him what he wants, right? Well, rewarding a puppy with a tug is difficult, as you spend more time tugging than actually working. You also have to keep an eye on the dog’s body position, so bad habits do not start.

Heeling will always be a work in progress, but we are trying the tug for right now. I do want a specific head position (if the dog can do it), but I also want a dog to express their joy in this exercise and to show the teamwork that goes into competition obedience. To me, there is nothing more beautiful than watching a nice heeling team in the ring.

Kazee was also asked to do a short stay today, which was the first time we have worked on this. Because I train by myself so often, I need to be able to leave him somewhere and walk away to call him, so no better time like the present!!

So, the moral of today’s story is…..forget your plan when it isn’t working. We are training dogs, not building rockets. Don’t overcomplicate things. Have fun with your dog and build trust and enjoyment in working with you. Trust me, you are not going to permanently break anything by trying something different. And if plan B doesn’t work, then move on to plan C. 🙂

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.

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!

Dog show fun

Kazee went to his first dog show last weekend. It was an outdoor trial, where I worked out of my car, so it was a perfect first experience. While dealing with a young puppy at 4:30 in the morning was NOT fun, it was not as bad as I had anticipated. After “helping” me get ready, he ate his breakfast in the car and slept the hour and a half drive to the trial site.

2016-01-30 15.03.35

My other Springer was entered in both Open and Utility, but I still had plenty of time to work and play with Kazee several times throughout the day. Fortunately, he was able to visit with another puppy on Saturday, so he burned off a little steam with some unstructured play time. He settled nicely in his crate when he wasn’t working, although it helped that he was facing away from the action.

I have introduced a few new concepts to him during training this week (target and pot work), along with continuing to build on existing things. It seems like he is going to be a lefty…which will be a change after having two dogs who turned right on everything. And, he is incredibly smart. When you are playing fetch, you have to continually keep him engaged, or else he turns his back to you (looking the direction where you last threw the toy) and waits for you to throw it. He will literally stand there for MINUTES if you let him. I haven’t decided if that is a good thing or not!!

Our Florida winter has been practically non-existant, so I’m not looking forward to spring and summer. February 2nd and a high of 75 degrees, and when I’m sweating outside at 10:00am, I’m not happy! Today’s training went pretty well, considering Kazee was warm and late for his nap. If you have kids, I’d compare him to a two-year old…temperamental is a nice word for it.

Until next time…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.