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!

Focus on progress

It is hard not to focus on results. Every trial weekend, people ask you what place you received or what your score was. They don’t ask if your problem area had improved or if you had a better connection with your dog in the ring. After all, this is a competition. Weekend after weekend, we enter the ring to find out who is the best team, on that particular day, under that particular judge.

I am no different. After not showing much at the beginning of the year, I have been showing my older Springer, Gunner, trying to finish his Obedience Grand Master (OGM) title. But, for this, I need scores…good ones. So, I have been concentrating on results. But, because I have also been fighting stress and effort issues, I failed to see progress. So, our ring performances were sporadic. I was either pushing too hard or not pushing hard enough, trying to find the perfect balance to pull out my dog’s best performance. But, as a result, our relationship was suffering. I wasn’t happy and Gunner was most definitely not happy.

And then one day while driving, I heard a comment while listening to the radio…

“When you focus on results, you fail to see progress.”

I realized this was exactly what I was doing to my dog…to both of my dogs. Gunner in the show ring and Kazee in some of his foundation exercises. I was so focused on the end result, I wasn’t looking at what each dog was giving me. And, when the dog is trying his best, you are not going to correct him for trying hard, but not being able to give you what you want.

So, you know what I did? I stopped. I stopped thinking about my score. I stopped thinking about my competition. I stopped trying to “think” at all. If you have ever listened to mental management tapes, they talk about moving your skills from your conscious mind into your subconscious mind. Think of your subconscious mind as your body’s autopilot. This “autopilot” is developed through the countless hours you spend training and working with your dog. For example, when the judge tells you to do an about turn during heeling, you do not have to concentrate on each foot placement, you just DO the turn. The same is true with your dog. He should no longer be thinking “What does ‘down’ mean?” He should just drop. But in the beginning, your dog needs to process your commands and think about what to do. He needs to think about how to actually manipulate his body to go from a run into a down.

And you know what, our trial last weekend was better. Open was about as close to perfect as we can get, with a 199.5 on Saturday and a 196.5 on Sunday (with a -3 for an exuberant finish on the JUDGE’s command on one of the exercises). And, right after my dog autofinished, I told him it was the “most brilliant autofinish ever!” Yes, I actually praised my dog for finishing on the judge’s command. Why? Because the finish was fast, happy and straight…three important components that we had not been getting in the ring lately. Utility still had a few minor issues, but overall it was much better. I am hopeful that a few more Utility classes with the “right” handler and our problems will be even more under control. 🙂

Kazee’s progress on the dumbbell has been another issue. Shaping was not progressing as I had hoped and Kazee was not moving past a quick open mouth over the dumbbell bar. I changed tactics and was thrilled to have him reaching for and holding the dumbbell. But then, he refused to move (even a fraction of an inch) when the dumbbell was in his mouth. He literally turned into a statue as soon as he closed his mouth over the bar. Taking a hold of his collar and insisting on movement backfired completely and we were soon back at square one. Another change in tactics and Kazee is finally picking up the dumbbell happily and bringing it up to me. Yay, my NINE MONTH OLD DOG is picking up his dumbbell. 😉 Talk about a work in progress!!

I love working with this little guy though. Problems aside, he is confident, outgoing and drivey, everything I wanted in a puppy. I am definitely going to have to think outside of the box though. He is independent and does not like to be “told” what to do. And don’t even think about drilling something! But yet, he needs structure and impulse control. Wish us luck!

As always, train hard, 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!!


Just ONE more time….

How many times have you been in a situation where things are just not going well? You keep telling your dog (or yourself), “Just do it right ONE time and we will quit!”. Things keep spiraling downwards and you finally decide to make the request easier for your dog to be successful.

Lets look at an example – your goal for the day was to build on the training from the day before and increase the number of steps of attention heeling. The training location did not change and there was no significant change in the level of distractions or your handling (dog has been off a visible lure for some time, but is still heavily rewarded during sessions).

After a few good reps, however, your dog regresses. All of a sudden they can not even heel a few steps without breaking their attention. After several failed attempts, you take a cookie out of your pocket and go back to a visible lure to get the attention you want. But did you really? Unfortunately, you don’t have attention, you have a bribe. Your dog is no longer heeling for you, he is heeling for his cookie.

So let’s look at what you have just taught your dog…you have taught him less effort equals my making the job easier. I am not saying you should not help your dog get the behavior correct. But what I am saying, is to work harder on motivating and reinforcing your dog for effort.

Ten years ago when I started training, I’m sure I pulled out a cookie…or I over-corrected and killed my dog’s motivation. So what would I do differently now? I would put my hands in my dog’s buckle collar, hold his head in position and require that he heel in the manner in which I taught him. After I got a few steps of good attention, he would be released with a motivational pop to a toy or cookie (which had not been visible previously). I would play for 5-10 seconds and immediately ask my dog to heel again. But now, I am going to ask for A LOT more effort. With Gunner this means a very strong hand push during heeling, which requires him to drive with his rear and elevate in the front. On the next rep, I will go back to formal heeling, and see if he gets me the level of attention and drive I want. If he does, he is released and we play a rousing game of tug or chase the cookie.

How you handle errors is a personal decision. Some people put their dog back in the crate if the dog does not want to work. Some people will attempt to work through the problem. I will occasionally put a dog away, but it depends on the type of error and why the error is happening. Unfortunately, I do not have the luxury at a trial to tell the judge “Sorry, but can I give my dog a 10 minute time out before I come into the ring?”, so I will often deal with a lack of effort error immediately during training. But, if you ever start to feel yourself getting frustrated and you notice that you are beginning to deal with your dog differently, than just put him away. I would rather cut a training session short, than cause myself another problem to deal with later.

But, always, always, always keep the desired criteria in mind. For example, if one of your criterion is 100% focused attention in heel position, require it (and reinforce it!) EVERY time you train your dog. If you start to layer in proofing, than maintain your criteria, but shorten the duration. If your dog is having a problem, work through it, but reinforce (not bribe) effort from your dog. And always remember, they are dogs. Just like us, they have bad days or days they just don’t feel like working. Hopefully these don’t fall on the day of the big show, but by working through problems in practice, you will lessen the likelihood of them occurring later…or, if they do happen, you will be more equipped with how to handle them.

Train hard. Play harder.

Energy Levels

Most people who show their dog in obedience have a specific picture in their head of how they want their dog to work. But, yet, when it comes to the amount of effort THEY put into their training, it does not seem to match what they expect from their dog.

I do not mean making sure you get up early most days of the week to beat the heat and take your dog out to train. (In Florida right now, this is about 5:00am!) I am talking about the amount of effort and energy you put into each and every minute you spend interacting with your dog during training. Personally, if I am not sweating (and sometimes bleeding!) at the end of a training session, I did not do my job. This does not mean I am running constantly or cheerleading my dog, but if I expect my dog to expend energy, I should be doing the same.

Some of my expectations from my dog include:

  1. “Engaged” attention (not just attention)
  2. Fast responses to commands
  3. Correct performance of behaviors…or more accurately, the performance of behaviors as they have been taught, which may or may not be “correct” in the handler’s opinion
  4. Speed moving away from me and speed returning to me

What should my dog expect from me in return?

  1. “Engaged” attention
  2. Rewards the dog desires – food, toys or personal play, delivered in a motivational manner
  3. Verbal praise when working through problems or in challenging situations, or for general encouragement for greener dogs
  4. Consistent training and handling, which does not change just because the dog makes an error
  5. An expectation of my properly teaching each step to a desired behavior
  6. A thoughtful and laid out plan for training sessions (which are always subject to change depending on training challenges!)
  7. Opportunities to rest – both physically and mentally

Not on the list, is energy. As a handler, I should be exuding energy to match the desired energy level I wish to see from my dog. I did not put this on my list above, because I feel it can easily be misconstrued and needs more explanation. And, as always, every dog is different. I know handlers who can not even touch their dogs during a competition because the dog is wound so tightly. Unfortunately (or fortunately, I never can make up my mind), this does not apply to the majority of us.

If I want my dog quivering with excitement at the mere thought of my throwing his dumbbell, if I started jumping around and squealing when I picked up his dumbbell, I will (more than likely) transfer the wrong type of energy to my dog. Personally, my dogs would stop thinking altogether, start barking and begin leaping into the air. If I proceeded to throw the dumbbell, they would likely break their sit-stay and fumble the dumbbell pickup in their excitement. This is NOT what I want to pattern to my dog when I pick up the dumbbell. So, instead, when I pick up their dumbbell, I start talking in a low tone, while I’m walking towards my set up. I will be giving the dog their (trained) cue words, to bring their energy level up. My older Springer, Gunner, will become tighter through his body and he will lower his body and close his mouth. In practice, these physical changes are rewarded, either by letting him jump up and grab the dumbbell (on command only) or by aborting the exercise for play or food. But, just because my energy is not as visible to others watching, my energy has changed. I have become more focused and intense to my dog. I’m looking him in the eyes as he is backing away from me. I am giving him his cue words in hushed tones. I am cueing him to bring up his energy level to match mine.

Now, think about what would be different if I walked over to pick up my dumbbell without being focused on my dog. After picking up the dumbbell, I walked to the setup spot without engaging with my dog and told him to get into position. I accept a less than speedy setup and throw the dumbbell. He waits for me to send him, then trots out to get his dumbbell, carefully picks it up, turns and trots back.

Is anything scoreable in the second scenario? Probably not. Maybe my dog actually lucked out and got a decent front and finish, so we even earned a decent score on the exercise. So, what is the problem? MY problem is that I want energy from my dog. I want my dog to have a super crisp set up, run back and forth after snatching his dumbbell and fly into front. Yet, in the second scenario, I did not want to put forth any more energy than absolutely necessary. So, what’s left? I correct the dog for being slow. I require him to do retrieve after retrieve, trying to obtain the picture in my head. Unfortunately, the picture will never change, unless I change.

If you are fighting an issue with your dog’s energy level, look at yourself first. Are you doing an adequate job of motivating him to perform a specific behavior? I am not saying that a lack of effort should never be corrected. If I have done my job and have worked all of the pieces and built up a behavior, I do require accuracy from my dog. But, things break. Exercises fall apart. Dogs get stressed and forget. Sh*t happens. Don’t be afraid to step backwards and retrain something.

Often, what I notice, is people exude energy during the training process, but this energy starts to wane after time. Young dogs are fun and accuracy is not quite as important, so we work on game play, drive building and pieces of future skills. But, as training progresses, our mentality changes…we think “My dog understands what is required, so I don’t have to work as hard anymore.” In some ways, yes, but in other ways, no. Maybe our timing does not have to be quite as crisp, since we are not marking complex pieces of behaviors. But, we still have to be alert, focused and engaged with our dog.

Filming your training sessions allows you to keep an eye on your energy levels. Watch the film when you get home (while the training session is still fresh in your mind) and turn off the sound. Watch your body language and how your dog responds. What is your dog’s energy level? What is your energy level? What could you do differently to bring up (or in some cases, bring down) your dog’s arousal? How does your dog’s body posture change at different times during training, especially after an error? Does he respond the way you want him to? Was the error an effort error or a lack of effort error?

If you are newer to the sport of obedience, try to find someone knowledgeable to watch you train or to review your filmed sessions. Listen to their advice and develop a plan to work on yourself, not just your dog. There are, after all, two parts to the team. And, if you expect your dog to uphold his end, you certainly should uphold yours.

Train hard. Play harder.

** Do not expect your dog to all of a sudden bring up his energy level to match your new, increased levels. This is a trained behavior, just like anything else. If you have an energy or motivation issue with your dog, so back and work on building drive and arousal outside of a training environment. Reward engaged attention during informal training sessions. Start teaching your dog cue words to turn on his arousal…two of mine are “reaaadddddyyyyy” and “wanna play?”. Break down exercises and reward speed. For example, if your dog has a slow (or non-existent) drop during signals, work this skill separately, releasing your dog AS SOON AS his elbows hit the ground. Then, gradually work the improved drop back into the exercise.

Keep it fresh…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…Train hard. Play harder.


Asking for advice


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

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

1) Are you ready for peoples’ opinions?

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

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

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

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

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

3) Who is the best person to ask?

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

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

4) What are your reasons for ignoring advice?

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

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

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

Train hard. Play harder.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Train hard. Play harder.


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.