FUN from the 2-minute dog trainer

March 1, 2016

It seems trite to remind my blog readers that agility is supposed to be fun. Every judge’s briefing warns us about taking this activity too seriously. ”Remember that your dog didn’t complete the entries, didn’t drive you here, and isn’t forcing you to do this.”

Occasionally, however, we DO need to be reminded that our goals and tunnel-vision should enhance our enjoyment, our sense of fun, rather than spoil our enjoyment of dog agility.

My advice to our students is to keep agility in proper perspective, and to establish a few essential rituals which may influence our enjoyment of a dog agility day.


Regardless of the sport, dog lovers around the world step to the line with obvious tension, focus, even anxiety at times. If we truly see this as a game we play with our dogs and friends, our perspective can put agility in its place.

If you have a double-Q, a move-up title, or a major title, on the line it’s easy to fall into the trap of placing unreasonable importance on the activity. If, however, we maintain the focus we would give a hearty game of Frisbee on the beach (for example) we have a more realistic view of dog agility as an activity. If you missed a tossed Frisbee on the beach would you be angry? Would you be frustrated? Would you be irritated with your partner? Of course you would not. You would laugh it off and resolve to fix your errors in the next toss.

Essential Rituals

To change an attitude, change a habit. To change a habit, change behavior. To change behavior, establish new rituals. I’ve found the following rituals effectively altered my attitude towards dog agility trialing.

First, at the entry gate and start line, I focus all my love and smiles on my dog. I tell her how much I love her, and that we’re about to go have some fun!

Second, as she is working her way through the course, I liberally heap praise on her performance. I can smile and laugh while we’re running. One happy “Good Girl!” goes a long way toward bolstering my dog’s sense of enjoyment and confidence.

Third, as we finish, whether we’ve Q-d or not, whether we’ve achieved my personal goals, I tell her she was brilliant and “wasn’t that FUN?!?” The praise and laughter continue out of the ring, as she gets her reward, and as we proceed to our crating area.

I practice these rituals in my class time. If I find myself getting frustrated or cranky during practice, or during class, I discontinue the session and return to the lesson when my attitude has improved.

We create the performance our dog gives us. Why not create a FUN performance.

For more blogs on FUN! in dog agility, check out <;

Marsha Houston’s 2-minute dog trainer blog

June 4, 2014

The Dog Agility Bloggers’ Event topic for June 2014, addresses the topic SUCCESS. To view all the posts go to
In my dog training world success is improvement over time using a standardized method of measurement. Here’s an example many of you should understand.
My wild 2-1/2-year-old border collie, Phe, gets so stimulated at an agility trial that he can’t hold a start line stay. A year ago he could barely wait for the leash to be removed.
I worked with him at home and in class, rewarding him for staying and encouraging him to calmly allow me to walk away. His start-line stay in class was great. His start line stay at trials was non-existent. I referred to his start line as a “greased pig” start line.
Over the winter of 2014 I initiated basic self-control exercises to his daily mealtime training. He has progressed to sitting and staying for his food while I walk away, while I call another dog to her dinner, while his bowl is sitting directly in front of him, etc.
What I did not do is revert to punishment or negative consequences (I know half of my readers are already shouting at their screen, “you should have carried him off the course!”). And here’s why I refuse to do that.
Phe, for all his excitement and drive, is a soft boy. Also, agility is his only game and he loves it. And I love that he loves it. And my definition of success must be different from yours.
Phe loves running agility and adores playing with me or with Bud (and probably with anyone else willing to step up and take him for a test run). His trial behavior is improving. He now goes to the start line looking at me and sitting in front of me with his eyes on me (as opposed to staring into the course and ignoring me).
Can I tell him stay and take a lead out? Nope. I may never be able to, though I often say that Phe is going to be awesome when he’s 9-10 years old so I’ll never say never.
Are my start line stays successful? If judged by the handler of an obedient sheltie who allows a 50-foot lead out? — No. From my point of view? — Yes. Because I’m seeing improvement over time using a standardized method of measurement. Success is subjective.
I’ve believed in the mealtime protocols of my 2-Minute Dog Trainer homework for many years. My work with Phe on his start line stays has taught me that I’ve barely explored the surface of this powerful training method.
I try to remember how I measure success with Phe as I sit ringside enjoying the runs of other exhibitors. There isn’t an agility dog alive that doesn’t have a moment or two of brilliance on their agility run. They may or may not qualify today, but their moments of brilliance must be seen as success for their handler to continue enjoying the dance.
If you run a dog training center or are a member of a dog training club, your measurement of success may be in the number of students in your classes, or the cash in your coffers.
After about 10 years of running an active, privately held, agility and obedience training center I can share with you my method of measuring success.
Our students feel comfortable asking for our advice whether we’re  ringside, relaxing at the crate, or walking through the parking lot. They trust Bud and my advice and believe that we have the experience and perspective to provide good suggestions.
Fellow exhibitors and ring crew are comfortable chatting with Bud and I. No one fears us or is intimidated by us. No one worries that we’ll throw them under the bus in order to promote ourselves or advance our dogs.
Additionally, we’ve used our position and connections to rescue, foster, and adopt a number of great dogs. And those who didn’t fit on our home have found great homes with our friends. I’m proud of our little pack of misfits.
If I rely on the approval of others to gauge my level of success I’ll never feel successful. Success is improvement over time using a standardized method of measurement. Our dogs learn when they are rewarded for successful performance, and our students learn when they are praised and rewarded for successful performance as well.
Success is subjective. My success bears no resemblance to your success. I feel great about it, and so does Phe (and so should you, even if no one notices).

Marsha Houston’s 2-minute dog trainer — STARTING YOUR PUPPY

March 5, 2014

The Dog Agility Bloggers’ Event topic for March 2014, addresses the topic STARTING YOUR PUPPY and I’m very excited because this is a topic dear to my heart! To view all the posts go to <http://dogagilityblogevents. puppy/>

Many years ago I developed a couple of handout packages for the “2-Minute Dog Training” protocols. I’ve tested these protocols with hundreds of clients’ dogs and a dozen or so dogs in our own house.

First, basic dog-training protocols for house manners in puppies or adult dogs — four modules cover:  1) attention to name and recall,  2) greeting strangers by sitting for attention,  3) walking on a loose leash, and  4) basic house manners.

Second, sport foundation training protocols for the agility, rally, or obedience puppy — eight modules cover:  1) come to front,  2) stay in sit or down, including an essay on start-line stays for agility,  3) stay in stand,  4) standard and wing jumps,  5) tire jump,  6) weave entries,  7) unambiguous contacts, and  8) heel position.

To purchase the sport foundation package click on <;

I have used mealtime training whether starting a puppy OR introducing an adolescent or adult rescue into my home. There are many reasons we recommend this type of training:

A)  mealtime training establishes structure in the regimen of both the dog and the handler and this structure begins to define their working relationship.

B)  training addresses a range of non-instinctive behaviors and introduces what will be expected in more advanced training. Companion dog sports are accessible to dogs of all breeds and mixes, and do not (generally) rely on instinctive behaviors in the judged performance (versus herding, earthdog, lure coursing, hunt testing, drafting, etc., which are limited to specific breeds or mixes and rely on the instincts bred into the dog).

C)  my relationship with my dog begins to form when daily mealtime exercises become our regimen. She learns how I operate and begins to discover how our training will be based on consistent application of reward for cued behaviors.

D)  my dog becomes confident in her ability to control her environment, to ask for attention, and learns to understand cues for a variety of behaviors.

E)  we form a partnership, and we learn to read each others’ body language and cues.
When I start my own puppy I don’t necessarily start with the really easy stuff. I want to make sure everything is safe for the tiny puppy, but complex tasks are easier than you’d think for your new puppy.

For example, the first agility obstacle my puppy learns to control and dominate is a wobble board. I want her to boldly enjoy and manipulate any sort of movement in her environment.

I began using my office footstool for this training over 10 years ago and that footstool has trained a bunch of puppies!

I don’t insist on a specific performance at first, just tossing food back and forth and allowing the puppy to interact with the wobbly footstool. If she acts surprised about the movement I don’t make a big deal about it, I just keep tossing food and let her figure it out.

It takes just a few minutes to begin shaping (either with luring and feeding, or click and treat) the puppy actually climbing over the footstool.

My goal is to have my puppy confidently slamming the footstool down with her front feet, climbing the footstool with all four feet, riding the footstool down as it drops, and any variation of that list of behaviors.

My puppies learn quite early to enjoy movement, banging, and wobbly footing. Once they’ve completely dominated the footstool a nap is often forthcoming.IMG_0306


This footrest (wobbly, noisy equipment) training has become the first agility training I do with my puppies!


Marsha Houston’s 2-minute dog trainer blog – The Mental Game

December 3, 2013

My experience of dog agility has multiple mental games. The first is the shear pleasure as I attend training events, play with my dog, make plans for daily training regimens, and socialize with my friends. The second is the intense focus (or fuzziness) while I stand with my dog at the start line at a familiar trial site. The third is the pressure cooker of the national event final round.

If my mental game is flawed, if I don’t practice the way I compete (or compete the way I practice), then my attitude will not be appropriate for the event with which I’m faced.

If I practice with focus and drive, and compete with the same focus and drive, then I’m practicing the skill I’ll need to succeed in a trial setting.

If I practice with lightness and joy, playing with my dog in a relaxed manner, and compete with the same lightness and joy, then I’m practicing the skill I’ll need to succeed in a trial setting.

Neither of those choices are wrong. If, however, I train and practice with lightness and joy, and compete with focus and drive, not only is my mental game flawed, but my dog is probably confused.

For many years my “novice A” dog and I struggled. She was a bar dropper, built badly for agility, and poorly conditioned for the task. But she loved agility and I loved running her.

After several years in novice and open my attitude towards the game began to shift. I stood at the start line wondering “how are we going to screw this course up?” I wasn’t enjoying myself and I had no faith in my dog. Should I even continue? Everyone around me was Q-ing, earning titles, etc.  (Sometimes handlers get another dog at this point.)

And then I had an epiphany. Bud Houston and I did agility training as a business. Trial weekends were my only vacations. Why was I having such a lousy time on my vacation? Why was I putting such pressure on myself?

If my vacation involved going to the beach and playing frisbee, would I have an intense need to qualify at frisbee? To earn a Q and move up to the next level? Of course not – when I’m on vacation I try to be more relaxed and have fun.

So I applied the “relax and have fun” idea to my agility trial experience. When I practice I do so with lightness and joy. I tell my dog he’s lovely and such a good boy. If we Q that’s great. If we don’t that’s okay as well.

I know many of the blogs in this cluster (see <;) regarding “the mental game” will discuss the intense, focused, driven mentality required to give a peak performance.  Other folks live this way, it just doesn’t work for me.

I don’t love dog agility any less than they do. My mental game is just different.

In order for me to do well, I have to be happy with myself. I have to show my dog that he’s right in what he’s doing, and loved for what he’s doing. I have to be relaxed at the start line, and up-beat at the finish line.

I must resolve to spend time conditioning proper performance in my dog. I must resolve to swim and take my pain meds.

I must resolve to never blame my dog for failure. I must resolve to always finish a run telling my dog he’s loved and appreciated.

Marsha Houston’s 2-Minute Dog Trainer blog

September 4, 2013

I apologize for going silent the last few weeks and months. Business got in the way of blogging.  My purpose for this blog is to join the agility blogging community and speak to the topic of “aging” …..

First – I’m so excited at the maturity I’m seeing in my youngster (Phoenix NAJ) who turns two years old this December.  Running him has progressed from nerve-wracking and frustrating to magical in one weekend spent training with friends and Bud Houston.  Phoenix’s 2-minute dog training was always steady, but any activity in a group setting met with high stimulation and distraction.  I persevered.  He grew up!

Second – puppy Katniss (at 10-11-months) has been registered as an All American with AKC and is being prepared for a February-March 2014 debut.  I know there’s disagreement amongst agility people as to when we should start competing with our puppies, but I prefer to get them in the ring as soon as possible, let them have a fantastic time, find the holes in my training, and give them some ring experience.  In the meantime, I used my new favorite weavepole training equipment, and Katniss learned how to hit entries and weave 6 poles in three 10-minute sessions.  She doesn’t understand weaves yet, but she will very soon. I’m working at sending-for-independent-performance as well as running-at-side-with-great-excitement.  I want her to be familiar with both situations.

Third – rescue Haymitch (at age 2-3 years) has been getting very little work. He needs another TDAA Intermediate Standard leg to be in Superior Standard and Games 3 for the TDAA Petit Prix and he’ll get it someday.  He joined weekly classes last evening and daily training sessions for Haymitch will begin this week. I hope he’ll do well in October.  I reserve all his training for Teacup (TDAA) agility, and don’t put him on big a-frames and teeters very often.

Fourth – I’m writing a BOOK on the 2-minute dog trainer protocols.  Bud’s going to be my editor. Angie Houston has agreed to be my illustrator. I want this to be a book people read and enjoy re-reading, sharing with their friends, and giving as gifts.  I find dog training to be hugely amusing and humorous, and I want to share my strange sense of fun with others.

Okay – now for my take on “aging” in the world of dog agility …

I don’t want to automatically sound like an old fart but those darned whipper-snapper kids don’t respect us old farts!

Sure, they can out run us. Sure, they have the time and money for classes, workshops, seminars. Sure, they can wake up at 5am on a Saturday and still be energetic for their last event at 5pm.

But can they drink 2 margaritas and still provide experienced, detailed analysis of a student’s novice jumpers run?  Can they?  I think NOT!”

I’m just kidding, of course.  Codgers kid a lot.

I believe that clever agility enthusiasts should seek knowledge from coaches of all ages.  From young coaches with tons of energy, who are developing new protocols for agility dog training, to crusty old coaches who have developed all the training protocols in existence up to this point.

If agility training is a journey I’d suggest youngsters make a point of walking in the footprints of handlers with a few years’ instructing under their belts (or suspenders, knee braces, support stockings). We’ve seen the reactions of hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs to specific handling moves.

After all is said and done it is the reaction of the dog that determines whether the handling skill is a success or failure.  Certain types of dogs will often share a common reaction.  And a crusty old coach will usually be aware of that.

Here’s to the crusty old coaches in the dog training world!

I’ve trained my dogs once today and will have another “contacts” session with supper, as well as a group beginner class for Katniss, so now I can totter off to my favorite recliner and margarita.

Marsha Houston’s 2-minute dog trainer blog

June 11, 2013

I’ve been committed to the 2-Minute Dog Training principles since 1999.

I’m convinced that a short, exciting, engaged, and motivated training session every day strengthens the bond between dog and handler.

And I’m equally convinced that these short training sessions condition my dog to perform specific skills and respond to my cues more consistently.

When a handler asks my advice (I’ve learned to never volunteer advice — who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! — this gets dog training instructors in trouble all the time <g>) my first question is always, “what is your daily training regimen?”

Here are the most recent reasons I train every day with the 2-Minute Dog Trainer !!!

Facebook post from recognized dog trainer, “I’ve trained my dog everyday for 23 days!” And that’s a huge event, because her training sessions probably last 30 minutes or so, and take 30-45 minutes out of her day.

Question from teacup exhibitor, “How do I get my dog to perform at trials?”  My response, “what is your daily training protocol — what training do you do at home?”  Her response, “I don’t train at home. I only train during agility class.”

Question from local student during discussion of distance training, “How do I teach my dog to work at a distance?” My response was, “You reward her for the work and gradually move further from the obstacle you’re training on. How big is your yard? What equipment do you have set-up in your yard?”  Her response, “My yard is only about 20 feet across and I don’t have any agility equipment in my yard.”  Shocked, I responded, “So what’s your daily training look like?”  “I don’t train daily,” she said.

Okay folks — if you want your dog to perform consistently at agility or obedience trials, if you want your physical and verbal cues to override environmental distractions and trial stress, if you want to feel successful and feel positive about your dog — you must train your dog.

It is absolutely NOT enough to just attend a weekly class if you intend to show your dog.  Perhaps I’m speaking as an instructor, but arriving at class every week with the same darned skills you left with last week is unacceptable.

It is absolutely NOT enough to train in one building, doing just agility class sequencing or following the lesson plan presented by your instructor.  Expecting your dog to generalize performance when you only train in one building, one night a week, surrounded by the same dogs and people, is unacceptable.

Training your dog is supposed to be fun!  One of the reasons I enter in dog agility trials is to motivate myself to continue improving.  I can’t qualify if I don’t continue to improve.  I can’t improve if I don’t continue to train. My dog can’t train if I don’t continue to devote time to him.

If I can’t devote 2-5 minutes a day to practice weave entries, or start-line stays, or sending my dog to a jump, or hitting contacts — then do I really believe I’ll succeed at a trial?

So here’s the thing.  If you want the trill of victory you must do some work. I’m not suggesting you drill your dog 30-60 minutes a day.  I’m suggesting you add mealtime training to your daily schedule — spend a couple of minutes twice a day with your dog.
The thrill of victory will become a possibility, and those victories will be all the sweeter for the investment you’ve made in time training your dog!

Marsha Houston’s Blog – 2 minute dog trainer

March 12, 2013

Bud’s been working with Kory on a performance skill which draws the dog close in an agility run, re-sets the dog’s line, creates corners, corrects trajectory, etc.

We spent some time last weekend with Erica Behnke and her Tilly, Brenda Gilday and her Leela, me and my Phoenix, and Bud and his Kory — all fast little dogs with tons of positive reinforcement — working on some new uses for this skill.

I would like to establish a fun 3-or-4-day agility camp to explore “101 uses for the come-by and switch” in dog agility.

Anyone interested in coming to camp for a few days, learning this skill, and exploring its uses in the strategy of sequencing??

Agility camps at our place involve 4-to-6-hours per day of instruction, unlimited personal use of the training building and equipment, group dinners in the evening (includes adult beverages, dessert, the whole bit!), and accommodations on site are available (either bunkhouse cottages or separate guestroom).

If you’re interested in a special skill agility camp for you and your agility dog, contact Marsha (me) at <>.  See you at camp!

2-minute dog trainer – Marsha Houston’s blog

January 5, 2013

This blog is going to be the outline for the Observation chapter in my upcoming book Marsha Houston’s 2-Minute Dog Trainer.  This book will expand on my brochures and handouts.

Observation – being Observant – conditioning Observation

First, a definition: “Observation is the action of observing, or watching, and recording or noting information from what has been observed. It is also a judgment made from watching.”

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea that some people are more or less observant. Pop culture celebrates the concept of observation as a specific skill for The Mentalist, Long Island Medium, or Psych. Many people believe that psychics are skilled at observation.

Whether my dog and I are training or performing, observation is key. In preparation I must condition myself to provide consistent cues, observe my dog’s response, and provide the correct feedback.

But being observant is only half of the equation. Reacting correctly to what I observe is the other half of the equation.

Then I must consider my dog’s powers of observation — often referred to as attentiveness. And her ability to react correctly to what she observes — conditioned responses.

Bottom line — my daily training, which takes place in intense bursts of activity, most closely replicates a performance environment.

Brief daily training sessions allow me to practice consistent cues, observation, reaction, and allows my dog to become attentive to my cues and develop consistent responses.

Marsha Houston’s 2-minute dog trainer blog

December 5, 2012

Our special topic this month is “backyard training” and, instead of including a bunch of training tips or exercises for training in your backyard, I’d like to be an advocate for training every day (whether in your backyard, front yard, side yard, basement, or the neighborhood park).

My puppies eat 3 meals a day until they are 4-6 months old. That’s about 6 minutes a day I can train a puppy. By the time my puppy is 6 months old I’ve spent 570 to 660 minutes of training my puppy.

That’s 10-11 hours of training, without stressing the puppy, without ever dropping below maximum excitement levels.

After the puppy is 6 months old I have 6-9 months before we being trialing.

That’s another 12-15 hours of training time, all done at mealtime with minimal interruption of my work or life.

So mealtime training — frankly ANY daily training regimen — enables the handler to condition lots of different behaviors with an excited, energized puppy.

If I take my puppy to a weekly class I probably spend less than 10 minutes out of any hour actually training my puppy.  I would have to attend a class for years to get in the same training time I achieve through daily training at mealtimes.

An additional benefit is the delivery of the food reward (or toys, or tugging, whatever reward system I choose to attach to positive behaviors) from my hand.

My working relationship with my dog, whether it’s my 8-week-old puppy or my 2-year-old rescue, can develop very quickly when all rewards are delivered from hand — and when every day involves fun, exciting training with huge rewards.

Bud and I are often asked to help solve problems — performance errors, relationship disconnects, or confusion. My first question is always, “what does your daily training look like?”

Set aside 4-6 minutes a day, at mealtimes, to fully engage your dog in training games. Work on obstacle skills, self-confidence, or self-control.

Put one jump in your basement or your backyard and work on sends (“go on!”) or crosses (front-crosses, back-crosses) or whatever — invest the time and be amazed at the results!

Marsha Houston’s 2-minute dog trainer blog

October 31, 2012

I’m anxious to get through our second TDAA Petit Prix and resume blogging!  I’ve got so much to catch up on.

First, and most importantly, my little Haymitch had a fabulous time at the 5-days-of-Petit-Prix trialing in Latrobe, PA.

I’ve had Haymitch since just June 1, 2012, and he didn’t start training a lot until mid-July when he was healed from rear dewclaw removal surgery.

Haymitch has done over 95% of his agility training in JUST 2-minute dog training, mealtime training, and there were some missing pieces at the Petit Prix (like jump conditioning), but he’s a great weaving dog already and showed amazing maturity and drive.

His AKC debut is the Friday-Saturday after Thanksgiving, and we’ll see if he and I can do some looser work. He needs a good bit of distance training between now and then because I’m not running those full courses with him. <g> I want to continue training with him and writing this training journal.

Second, Phoenix will be turning 1 year old in early December, and he’ll be attending our November 25 agility workshop for distraction training.

Poor boy, he hasn’t gotten to train anywhere but in our back yard, hasn’t really gotten out much at all, so we have tons to achieve in a few short months before his (hopeful) March debut at Queen City (note to self – get premium).

Third, we have our second work-study camp of the year next weekend (the second weekend in November) and we’ve got a bunch of the 4H Ohio Teen Dog Experience counselors here to gather deadwood, make bonfires, do some painting, and get our place in shape for the winter.

They’re a fun bunch, and very clever dog trainers, so I look forward to some hard work and good times.