Archive for January, 2009

brochure page 2, “come front”

January 18, 2009

PAGE 2 of 4 begins outlining the training plan for the first days or weeks of learning the skill. Again, please ignore fonts, sizes and colors. Constructive comments are appreciated.


introduction of “front”



Establish a quiet, non-distracting environment for

every 60-second training session. Add distractions and stressors only after you’re certain the dog understands the exercise and is performing 100% of the time.


If you’re feeding multiple dogs and training only one, take that one dog to another area during mealtimes.


If you run out of time or patience allow your dog to

finish her meal without further training. This training will be more meaningful to your dog if you’re relaxed and upbeat. Take a little break from the stress of the day and play with your dog for 60 seconds.

step 1


Get your dog’s food bowl, sit in a chair, put the food bowl in front of your face, have the dog sit in front of you, and stare at your dog across the rim of the bowl.


When your dog is sitting directly in front of you, pick out a piece of kibble, say “name, front!” and feed for focused eye contact. Repeat this exercise until the

food is gone. If you have time for only a few

repetitions, feed small handfuls of kibble.


Work continuously during the dog’s meal, preventing the dog from breaking off attention and moving from their “front” position. The dog will want to make eye contact and will begin automatically sitting.


If you’re clicker training the sequence becomes “name-front!” – eye contact – click – food.

brochure page 1, “come front”

January 18, 2009

I’m playing with the following format for the 2-minute dog training brochures. It is my opinion that the training must be sound and easy to understand. Additionally the format needs to work for the reader, whether an experienced dog trainer or a complete beginner.

PAGE 1 of 4 describes the program, the specific skill being taught, a total list of supplies needed with those required for THIS brochure in red, and a spot for instructors to add their contact information at the bottom front. Here’s an example — ignore the type faces and sizes, please. Constructive comments are appreciated.

2-Minute Dog Trainer

by Marsha Houston, copyright 2008


Come to Front







(red items will be needed in this training)

Dog’s dinner in a bowl

Eager, hungry dog


6-foot leash

Ottoman or small pause table

Standard jump w/2 removable wings

Tire jump or fixed hoop

Weavepoles w/removable poles

Contact trainer or heavy 12-18″ wide plank




Training provider,

place your sticker or label here.






Foundation Sport package

January 16, 2009

Last night it got so cold here that the treated lumber on our deck was making loud thumping noises (-2 degrees). And, as always happens when weather is uncomfortable, two of our older dogs had restless nights. Banner had to go outside at midnight with diahrea, then again at 12:30 am. Her feet got so cold she was picking them up and shaking them. Each time she came in I had to clean the mess off her trousers.

At 1:00 am Dash drank a pint of water and blatted it all over the dining room floor. By 1:15 am I had cleaned up the blat, had gotten Dash back indoors, and Banner decided she’d better make another trip outside. It was 2:00 am before I got back to sleep. My red aussies seem to have a more delicate digestive system than the blue aussies, and certainly more delicate than the shelties or the mixes.

The Marietta shelter manager has been taking classes, in addition to running the shelter and raising kids. And now she’s given the board her 2-weeks notice. I’m really tempted to put my application in for the job but it’s been 10 years since I had a day job, and I’m not sure I really want to go back to that schedule.

It’s not so much a problem this time of year but, when we have camps, my day is spent managing dogs, cleaning and cooking for the group meals in the evening. I would have to work half-days during camp (generally Monday through Thursday) and then work long hours on Friday and Saturday. It’s doable. We’ll see what develops.

The Paper Trail

January 16, 2009

My generation clings to paper records because (perhaps) of insecurity with computers and their capacity to retain information. I’m sure part of my problem with computers is that I’ve had 3 of them in 5 years and each time I switch computers I sorely miss the systems with which I grew familiar. As with my last computer, a garbled mess of conflicted electronics, even bad systems can become comfortably familiar.

So now I cling to papers. Stacks of downloaded rules from venue website, descriptions of rally sign performances, countless trial applications, dog registration forms, twelve inches of class registration forms, seven inches of shelter volunteer applications, eight or nine training manuals from seminars or workshops I’ve attended, and 10+ years of old calendars.

Today I pulled all those stacks of paper out and sorted them. I’ve got a huge pile to be burned and I intend, tomorrow, while watching temps gradually climb back into the teens, to be brutal about getting rid of more.

Tomorrow is my day to act as matchmaker and tour guide at the shelter. On Saturday afternoon a local movie theater is marketing the opening day of “Dog Hotel” by inviting our shelter to attend, distribute materials, solicite for volunteers, and bring a dog for demonstrations. My original shelter demo dog, “Blue the savant,” is with her Dad in Washingtonville doing Teacup Agility all weekend, so I’m probably going to take Dash, my 9-year-old aussie, or Bogie, Bud’s 13-year-old sheltie. Dash sometimes isn’t great with crowds, Bogie barks a lot, so it’s a toss up as to which will get to attend the movie premier.

The foundation sport package of training brochures is coming along nicely, and I hope to have first drafts  by the end of this weekend. Once the first drafts are finished I’ll print a set and have someone read the hard copies. My best proof-reader is my Mom because she doesn’t actually do any dog training. If she can understand what I’m trying to say, nearly anyone can.


January 15, 2009

We had a busy morning. Bud left to conduct a TDAA judge’s clinic nearby and I diligently scraped his iced-over windshield while he plugged addresses into his GPS device. After he left I prepared to leave for my hair cut appointment and, before I could stop myself, I hit the wipers on MY iced-over windshield and shredded one of my wipers. Why didn’t I scrape my own windwhield?  While I was running around the Tahoe, picking up pieces of wiper blade, I notice I had 2 low tires. sheesh

My 2 Minute Dog Training “sport foundation package” is in the works. We’re looking for temps in the teens again tomorrow, dipping to -1 degree on Thursday night, so it should be one of those “long, dark winter evenings” that lends itself to the creation of dog-training prose.

Benefits of Blogging

January 13, 2009

Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post was interviewed by Jon Steward of The Daily Show in early December ’08. Her opinion is that “blogging is the first draft of history.” I guess this particular blog is the first draft of MY history.

I have often thought, at various points in my life, “this would make an interesting book.” In reality, it probably wouldn’t be interesting to anyone else, but it makes fascinating reading to me. I’ve been sliding in and out of journal-mode over the last 30 years and the most interesting thing is the sense of time travel you get when you go back and read old journal entries.

The act of putting words to paper has the power to commit events to memory more surely than a verbal rendition (which often gets embellished and edited along the way). This journal or blog is about the closest thing to my real history, especially since it gets published immediately and is impossible to take back.

This morning I had an e-mail conversation with a woman who showed interest in being an incredibly experienced S.M.A.R.T. team member at the local shelter. She’s been an adoption counselor and has worked with shelter dogs for over 10 years. Her experience is with “no kill” shelters and she’s hesitant to devote her time to “kill” shelter dogs. She’s tentative about becoming attached to our shelter dogs who have a term limit.

I told her that the dogs in our local “kill” shelters are being cared for by kind people, are getting regular meals and fresh water, are warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Our shelter is, for some of them, the best home they’ve ever had.

I also told her that nearly 700 dogs were transported from our shelter to rescue groups and other shelters north and east of us. Our area is producing more puppies and kittens than our citizens can care for.

An interesting aside — the economic downturn being felt so severely in the rest of the country hasn’t affected us as dramatically as it is affecting “boom” economies. This little part of the world has made slow but steady progress, but it’s a common event in rural, southeastern Ohio for a family to be unable to keep the family dog. When faced with high vet bills for vaccinations or neutering surgery the family opts to pay the electric bill instead.

So we funnel a lot of dogs into New England. And, unfortunately, we kill a few as well. Little successes, saving one dog at a time, can be celebrated even while others are less fortunate.

Philosophically, I’m not sure that a lifetime of solitary confinement at a “no kill” shelter is preferable to death, but I’ve experienced neither myself. My only run-in with “no kill” shelters took place in Delaware, Ohio, where they were full nearly all the time and would turn away owner-surrenders and stray-surrenders, sending folks to the county dog warden who ran the “kill” shelter. All of them were well-meaning. The “no kill” shelters get more donations. The staff of “kill” shelters operate on a shoestring.

I don’t know what the answer is but I would imagine it lies somewhere in the gray area between kill and no-kill. In the meantime I’m going to keep taking little bites, making a little headway, saving the ones I can save and improving the last days of those I can’t.

This morning was spent establishing the format for a “foundation sport package” of 2 Minute Dog Training brochures. This package will include 8 exercises designed to establish a good foundation for competition dog sports. Titles will include:  1) come front, 2) stay in sit or down, 3) stay in stand, 4) jump standard or wing, 5) jump tire or hoop, 6) weavepole entries, 7) unambiguous contact  performance, and 8) heel position.

I’m struck with the diverse circumstances of the dogs with which I work. The cream of the crop will be trained to do spectacular tricks using highly-motivating short training bursts, while the bottom of the barrel will be trained to be attentive and attractive to adopters. Fortunately, I don’t train any dogs smart enough to know where they fall along that continuum.

All my dogs think they’re number one, the best of the best, worthy of huge rewards and treats — more and more treats. Everyone I’ve ever met with a dog gets the same sense from their dog. Perhaps the only universal in this equation is that all dogs act as if they’re the best dog ever. This is what makes me cringe when I think of a healthy, social dog being euthanized because the shelter is full, or being sentenced to solitary confinement for life.

The dogs in our shelter are the lucky ones. And the dogs being worked through the 2 Minute Dog Training protocols are the really lucky ones!

Cleaning House

January 12, 2009

When I was a college student I discovered I couldn’t study and write if my house was cluttered. My attention was always being drawn to mounds of papers, or piles of laundry, or a sink full of dirty dishes. Until I had cleaned up all the clutter I was unable to settle down and work. Perhaps I used cleaning as a means of putting off study or writing.

Yesterday I had a really small to-do list. Straighten my office and begin setting up templates for my “2 Minute Dog Trainer” brochures on agility-and-obedience foundation training.

I started the day at my desk, paying bills and filing away receipts. Then I thought, “Bud’s leaving soon for his TDAA judge’s clinic, better do some laundry.” Started laundry and, while in the laundry room, saw the new bottle of hardwood floor cleaner I bought so grabbed it and the floor-mopping supplies. On a return trip I dragged all the pillows and dog beds into the laundry room. (I should launder all these while I’m cleaning and doing laundry.)

Within half an hour I was vacuuming the kitchen, dining room, my office — all the areas where the dogs hang out — moving furniture, thinking about rearranging it, and prepping for a thorough mopping.

At 4:00 p.m. I plopped, exhausted, into my recliner. I had given 1/3 of the house a thorough cleaning, had pulled a muscle in my back, and had not touched my to-do list.

It’s an interesting situation when you work out of your home. The lines between housework and business work become blurred. When I was working outside the home my housework had to be done really early in the morning or immediately upon returning home. It must have been easier to do since no one was in the house 8-10 hours a day.

Perhaps I enjoy housework more than business work because I don’t have to engage my mind overmuch with housework. I’ve always found that problems and issues are clarified overnight or during hours of mowing or housework. So maybe my brain works better when I’m not getting in its way. Just going about my dull work, letting it get on with higher functions.

So today I’m going to clean up my desk, establish a filing system for my C-Wags paperwork, and create a  template for the “2 Minute Dog Training” brochures. But first I need to fold some laundry …

To anyone reading this daily journal, please send suggestions on specific training issues you’re facing. If it fits into the format of the “2 Minute Dog Training” idea I’ll use your suggestion. You may send your suggestion as a comment to this blog.

Inconsistent, ill-timed rewards

January 11, 2009

Yesterday was my second consecutive day working at the shelter as a SMART (Shelter Matchmaking And Rehab Training) team member. I was busy for 3 hours and left invigorated, and a little wiser about the daily challenges faced by shelter staff.

First I got to speak to a father and two small kids who want to come on Saturday mornings to play with the cats and dogs. I gave Dad some information on sanitary practices and suggested the kids bring their favorite books to read to the cats, maybe even to an occasional dog. This sort of calm, quiet interaction with children is a great experience for a shelter animal. Boredom is the number one stress among shelter animals and anyone with an hour to kill and a magazine to read can relieve boredom for a shelter animal by sitting and reading with them.

I spent an interesting half-hour speaking to 2 women who arrived separately and had the same issue. Woman 2 heard our discussion and said, “I don’t mean to interrupt, but I have the same situation at my house.” Both women were married to truck drivers who spent 6 days a week, or more, on the road. The women lived alone with kids and dogs most of the time and enforced certain rules for the kids and dogs. When Dad returned, he wanted all the rules relaxed and everyone to “have more fun.” Both women were having trouble housetraining small dogs they had rescued past the puppy stage.

I shared with them my belief that most negative behavior from dogs comes from one of two errors in dealing with the canine brain:  1) inconsistent rewards and,  2) ill-timed rewards.

With inconsistent rewards the dog isn’t sure what behavior is desired by his leaders. For 15 days lying on the floor beside the bed is rewarded with kind words and gentle stroking, then Dad comes home  and puts her on the bed and makes a big fuss over her. What is the desired behavior? The dog is not able to make the distinction between everyday rules and Dad’s special day rules. For a week Mom enforces housetraining rules and, if the dog doesn’t potty in the yard she goes into her crate for awhile, then back to the yard. Then Dad comes home and doesn’t want the dog in the crate and suddenly housetraining is set back.

I use one of my workplace analogies to drive a point home. Say you’ve started a new job and your boss tells you “it’s important that you be at work by 8:00 a.m. when we open the doors.”  On the first day you’re right on time. He greets you with “Good morning.”  On the second day you get stuck behind slow traffic and arrive at 8:05 a.m. Your boss greets you with “Terrific timing! We’re open for business and we’re glad you’re here.”  On the third day your trip to work is right on time but you decide to spend 5 minutes getting a drive-through breakfast. Afterall, yesterday 8:05 a.m. was “terrific timing!” You arrive at work at 8:03 a.m. and are greeted by your boss, extending your pink slip. “Sorry, I told you when we hired you that arriving before 8:00 a.m. was important.” If, on the second day, when you were 5 minutes late, he’d giving you a warning instead of praise, you would have passed up the day 3 breakfast sandwich.

With ill-timed rewards the dog receives treats and praise but isn’t sure which behavior earned them. A great example is the dog being trained to stay, yet always rewarded by getting up from their stay and coming to their trainer. As an instructor my primary job is teaching consistency and good timing to my dog training students.

Both women I visited with were trying to be consistent in training their dogs. Dad would inject occasional inconsistency. The dogs were struggling to figure out the rules of the house and housetraining was taking much longer than necessary.

This happens occasionally in my own home! We have nine dogs, five of which are geriatric, retired agility and obedience dogs. They’ve earned a soft life, and much of my time is dedicated to making their last years as safe, healthy, and soft as possible. We still have rules, however, and “come” means “come” whether you’re a youngster in training or a 13-year-old retired dog. When I’m calling dogs and get ignored, mostly by my geriatrics, I’ll go to them and gently enforce the command, then praise them for coming.

Bud, on the other hand, will call dogs and then tell me, “Banner didn’t want to come in.”  WHAT?  “I don’t actually ask for Banner’s opinion when I call her into the house,” I’ll say. Man, has she got her daddy wrapped around her paw.

Perhaps guys just want to be the dog’s best friend. <g>

A shelter bright spot occurred when I introduced a potential adopter to a young dog I’d worked with the day before. We opened her cage and she stepped gently out, yawning and stretching, then assumed a position leaning against this stranger. She wasn’t acting as shy as she had the day before and created a really attractive presentation.

Another conversation at the shelter was with a young family who wanted to adopt a 3-month old labrador retriever they found in the adoption room. This pup was to replace a dog which had been stolen out of their yard. They wanted the pup but couldn’t afford both the dog and the vet bill for another week. They’d just begun their search, but the lab puppy was just what they wanted and he seemed pleased with them as well. The shelter was able to put a hold on him and reserve him for this nice, young family.

I also got to spend some time with the shelter’s “cat lady,” learning some interesting cat facts. She posted later to let us know that 2-3 cats were adopted yesterday. The shelter’s tally for the day must have been 4-5 adoptions.

Unfortunately, at noon, folks arrived with a litter of 11 unwanted mix-breed puppies born to their daughter’s dog. These pups had been born to a beagle-mix bitch who was left tied outside, even when in heat, and these pups had lived outdoors their whole lives. Though unwanted, they all seemed to like people and enjoy the food and warmth. When asked if they needed information on spaying the beagle-mix they responded, “No, we neuter all our dogs. They all came from here. Our daughter was just too lazy to do what she was supposed to do and we’re going to take care of that next.”

A few minutes later three young men arrived with two aged Great Dane mixes. Their mother had become ill over the holidays, had been moved to a nursing home and, after several days trying to find homes for her 11-year-old dogs they’d run out of options. They all had to get on with their jobs and lives. One son leaned over the dogs and gave them little kisses on their noses before leaving. Maybe the world needs nursing home annexes for occupants’ dogs.

Regardless of why the dogs arrived at the shelter, I tried to stay positive with the people, asking if they needed information on spay asssistance, and thanking them for bringing the dogs to us. It was nice of them to think of their local humane society rather than disposing of the animals in some other way.

Fortunately, our shelter works closely with other shelters and breed rescue. I’ve no doubt that the litter of puppies will be heading out before next weekend, finding fantastic homes in parts of the world with neutering laws. And the Great Dane mixes may be attractive to folks in breed rescue.

By the time I returned home, after just a few hours at the shelter, I had done the math.  Four or five out of the shelter, 13 into the shelter. I got to dispense a good bit of training information and had four people interested in reading the 2-minute dog training brochures. Worthwhile work, but I’m just starting. I’m going to just keep nibbling around the edges of the pet overpopulation problem, doing what I can to educate and assist.

This week I’m working on my next set of brochures, “2 Minute Dog Trainer agility foundation training.” These brochures will cover obedience-for-agility, pause table performances, unambiguous contact performances, weavepole entries, and distance work, among other topics.

Enjoy your dogs!

January 10, 2009

I began a new volunteer job today. I’m the new volunteer coordinator at the Humane Society of the Ohio Valley in Marietta, Ohio. I was delighted to meet with two new members of my S.M.A.R.T. team (Shelter Matchmaker And Rehab Training team) and show them the ropes.

Actually, not so much showing them the ropes as weaving the ropes as we go. Our slightly run-down shelter suffers from lack of community interest and strong management, I’m afraid. Two weeks ago canine and feline disease was too common, animals were surrendered and sent straight to adoption rooms instead of being tested for or vaccinated for common diseases.

We’re all excited at the changes implemented last week. Instead of signing a form promising to spay/neuter the pet they’re adopting, adopters complete their paperwork and pay a reduced rate for their pet, the shelter transports the dog or cat to a local veterinary office where they are given a wellness check and have their neutering surgery. Adopters pick their pet up at the vet’s office and are responsible for the cost of the surgery.

Even more exciting is this week’s change! A month ago the shelter was filled, with 50% of the animals sick with one or more common shelter illnesses. As of this morning all kennels have a wellness card attached so staff are able to note changes in the health of the occupant. Items such as “not eating,” “worms in feces,” “vomiting,” can be checked off.  And, when informed that a dog was coughing, shelter staff arrived with meds for kennel cough. I’m giddy with delight at these improvements.

These changes have nothing to do with me except I put the ex-volunteer coordinator (Marietta’s Jane Snell) in touch with the president of another local shelter (Parkersburg’s Carrie Roe) and we discussed possible improvements. Then, suddenly and without warning, the ex-volunteer coordinator was voted in as president and I was sucked into the volunteer coordinator’s job by the vaccum created after the elections. Guess I was standing a little too close. <g>

Most dogs are surrendered at shelters because of behavior problems. If we can correct the behavior we can solve the problem. My goal is that every adopted dog from our shelter stay in the home of their adopter because they are a treasured member of the family. This can only happen if we, as dog lovers and trainers, support the adopters and assist them with the transition they’ll have once they bring their pet home.

My shelter package of 2 Minute Dog Trainer brochures is available at our webstore. It allows you, the purchaser, to print originals and affix a label providing adopters with information on your dog training business. I hope this helps shelters make training information readily available. I also hope this gets used as a marketing piece for local dog trainers. I figure that even the least motivated pet owner can manage 2 minutes a day.

I feel as if I did a good thing today and that good thing made the whole day worthwhile. Oh yeah, and I helped a gentleman find a shelter dog to replace the aged dog he lost in October. The dog he chose was a nice 2-year-old rottie mix with a peaceful temperament. That was worthwhile as well.

Hello world!

January 9, 2009

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