Archive for July, 2009

Protocols for bravery

July 30, 2009

The 2-minute dog trainer probably had it’s beginnings in my training with Dash for bravery.

With every meal I insisted that he do something which made him uneasy, uncomfortable, or nervous.

His first task, if I remember correctly, was jumping up on an ottoman. Dash learned his new name while sitting or lying down on an ottoman. The ottoman was a stack of firm pillows so we started with the bottom pillow and added height until Dash was jumping up on a wobbly stack of pillows.

His second task was the teeter, beginning with the footrest at my desk. It has a 2-to-4-inch folcrum and a square platform on top. When Dash visited my desk to get attention he had to step up on the footrest with his front feet. After a few attempts at bravery he was able to stay up on the footrest while I wobbled it up and down saying “teeter!”

He had to go up and down stairs for his dinner as we feed dogs in the basement. He learned how to jump up into a crate in my truck for affection and little rides. As I said in yesterday’s blog, “be brave or be lonely, be brave or be hungry.”

Any sign of bravery was rewarded with huge praise and some treats.

Within a few days Dash and I were inseparable and he began a phase with separation anxiety. This often happens with rescued or rehomed dogs, especially if they’ve been neglected or downtrodden by an earlier human.

He clung to me, following me everywhere, so he had to be brave in separation from me. We worked every evening during classes at brave separation.

He wasn’t afraid of dogs, thank God, so the pack actually accepted him and gave him confidence.

The other confidence-building exercise Dash and I engaged in was distance training in agility. I did around-the-clock conditioning with jumps, tires, tunnels, and chutes. Dash became a phenomenal distance dog, with the sure knowledge of the mission and paycheck.

Whenever Dash and I were faced with something he feared we stopped right there, got our our treats and clicker, and worked through his anxiety.

I took Dash to an agility workshop to get him on someone else’s equipment and be able to click/treat in another facility. The workshop was in a horse barn and there were horses hanging over a gate at one end of the building.

Of course, Dash was terrified of the horses on the first day and avoided that end of the building. Late on the first afternoon he had an opportunity to sample a road apple (aka horse poop) and on day 2 he dragged me to the building for another sample.

I walked him to the end of the floor where the horses had hung out the day before and — miracle of miracles! — there were piles there of the most delicious smelling stuff. Dash’s opinion of horses changed that day and he decided he kind of liked those poop machines.

Another event that built confidence for Dash was getting to experience sheep-herding. Consider this — a dog does what is instinctive and natural and receives immediate gratification. He moves behind the sheep and they move forward. It’s an immediate ego boost and the dog feels powerful.

Dash’s experience with sheep started out with his lack of confidence evident, lots of barking and poop-eating. Our instructor was terrific, though, and worked us through moves that showed the sheep that Dash and I were partners (giving Dash power in the eyes of the sheep) and moves where I shifted the herd (proving to Dash that I was a strong leader).

At age 9 Dash remains afraid of nearly every strange thing and event. But he trusts me and will often do something simply because I insist he try. His fears are quickly overcome with food and a clicker.

For example, Dash hates being picked up (part of his legend, his story, is that the idiot purchaser had 2 small daughters who terrorized this puppy by dragging him and picking him up, forcing him into frightening environments), and I was trying to get him to step into a container of bath water.

When I tried picking him up he panicked. When I tried to entice him with movement he balked. When I got my treats and a clicker he stepped into the tub on his own within 3 minutes.

Facing fear, Bud’s teeter discussion

July 29, 2009

Bud is initiating a discussion of teeter issues and he’s reviewing the different types of teeter fears.

I’d like to add my 2-cents as well, on the issue of fear in general. It is my philosophy, when faced with a dog needing training, that his or her fears are unwarranted or irrational.

There are, indeed, things in life of which dogs should be afraid, including, sometimes, the people who own them.

With puppies we must weigh protecting (not scaring) the puppy with building confidence (allowing the puppy to be scared and work through the fear).

I’ve seen demonstrations on the puppy Einstein process, where puppies are stressed in order to encourage the production of neuropathways for coping with stress. We have one dog who (allegedly) experienced this process as a puppy and, frankly, I don’t see any capacity in her for dealing with stress that doesn’t exist in our other dogs.

In agility or obedience training there is nothing the dog should fear. So their fear of jump bars hitting the floor, of teeters banging in the other end of the building, of fans being turned on, of crates banging, are all unwarranted or irrational fears.

A human analogy I often use is this — say your 6-year-old is afraid of the school bus — do you say, “oh, I’m so sorry you’re scared, okay you don’t have to go to school anymore …”  OR do you reason with the child, get them over their fear of the bus, and reward them for being brave? Of course you do the latter as there’s no way for your child to progress and be confident if they never face their irrational fears.

Perhaps the puppy has led such a sheltered (uneventful) life that even the slightest change in environment turns him into a quivering bowl of jelly.

Perhaps the youngster is relegated to a basement or garage and isn’t allowed to put positive associations with the banging and clanging of human existance.

Whatever the reason, when they get to agility class, we set out to reverse the fear, to reward away the fear, to build confidence by making positive associations with any effort at bravery. The reward of joining their owner and the food begins to override anxiety over the strange environment.

“Dash” — a case study in generalized fear …

In 2000 a woman bought a red merle aussie puppy from a well-known breeder of aussies in Texas. The 8-week old puppy was flown from Texas to Ohio. On the face of it this was a great plan. The puppy’s aunt was a world beater, fast and focused, intent on the work with the body structure to back it up. The puppy’s grandmother was biddable and fast.

Error #1 was with the purchaser, who heaped all her expectations of agility world domination on the shoulders of an 8-week-old puppy picked by the breeder and shipped, sight unseen, to Ohio. She was an average handler and an average trainer but she’d only trained border collies in the past.

Error #2 was with the breeder who, in the beginning throes of a divorce, allowed an unwanted pup from her most recent litter to be purchased by a total stranger without any references or knowledge of what his life was going to be.

Error #3 was with the purchaser’s choice of training methods. She decided to initiate a “nothing in life is free” and “tuff love” protocol with this 8-week-old puppy. For a couple of months she persisted with this.

Without knowing the pup I watched the train wreck unfold from afar. On agility lists we heard about how “Player” was being purchased from Texas (because no breeder in Ohio would sell to this woman) and how he was going to carry her to fame.

Within six weeks (pup was 3.5 months old) there were signs that he wasn’t working out, with the purchaser asking “is anyone going to the aussie nationals in Atlanta and could Player ride along to be returned to the breeder?”

In a few more weeks there was a general posting about a 5-month old red merle male puppy RESCUE needing a new home, with the rescue price listed.

I contacted the lady and asked,  1) is this Player, the puppy from Texas? (Yes),  2) is there something wrong with him? (No, we’re just unable to bond.),  3) why don’t you want to keep him?  (He’s a dud and all he’s interested in is food.)

I then contacted the breeder who begged me to go get this puppy, apologizing for having put him in that home, and asking if there was any way I could keep him. According to her the pup, now 5 months old, was clingy and sweet, preferring the company of people to the company of his litter, and a good prospect for training.

So Player became “Dash,” my sweet treasure of an aussie. When he got out of the woman’s crate he was “empty eyed.” He had few expectations of people by this point. He had no desire to interact with these strange creatures.

I put him in my crate, right behind the seat in my van, and he rode home with my fingers entertwined through the wires of the crate and touching his hair. By the end of the 90-minute drive he was leaning on my hand, craving some sort of attention and affection.

People involved with rescue and with shelter dogs will tell you that every adopter of a neglected or unwanted dog attaches a “story” to the dog. The story becomes the legend of that dog. Why he is the way he is. Why my home was his salvation. Why I’m going to heaven because I rescued him.

So that’s Dash’s legend, his story. But his real story is one of generalized fear — fear of everything including going into a crate, coming out of a crate, jumping up on things, jumping off of things, going in a door, coming out a door, going upstairs, going downstairs — conquered through positive reinforcement.

Instead of tuff love, Dash’s training protocol became “be brave or be lonely,” “be brave or be hungry.”  He had only to be a little brave to earn all the love and food he could stand.

After many months of rewarding bravery Dash became my “steady Eddie” in dog agility and obedience. He continues to battle his fears but has a foundation of reward-for-bravery and will, on most occasions, do what I ask with fundamental trust in me and my ability to keep him safe.

So my advice when faced with a dog exhibiting irrational or unwarranted fears is reward your dog for being brave. When you’re at home or in the car, on the street or at a store, reward ANY act of bravery or boldness with huge treats and praise and love.

showing Bud Kory’s new skill

July 27, 2009

I got home from swimming at 9:15 and Bud said he hadn’t fed dogs yet as he wanted to see how Kory’s new feeding protocol worked.

We all trooped to the basement and everyone ran inside. Kory was hesitant to assume his down position with the additional distraction of Daddy sitting nearby, so I put his leash on and tied him to the doorknob.

He sat, tied to the door, for a couple of minutes and then laid down. He stayed quiet while I prepared everyone’s food and put 9 bowls on the floor.

I picked up Kory’s bowl and my clicker, removed the leash from Kory’s neck (left it on the door knob) to see how he did without the additional cue of the leash around his neck.

He immediately danced below the bowl and dived in when his bowl hit the floor. On a couple of occasions he stopped chewing to watch the other dogs and, with his own breakfast nearly done, he wandered off to investigate the empty bowls.

I immediately put his leash on him and he completed his meal in a workmanlike fashion. By the time he finished the sharks were circling and I watched to see his response if a dog got too close to his bowl.

He didn’t react to the dogs. Instead he put his face further into the bowl and ate faster.  “Mine” was the message he was transmitting, and everyone understood.

Bud was suitably impressed.

Kory’s feeding protocol, Mercy’s new home

July 26, 2009

I continued Kory’s feeding protocol with breakfast this morning. He got a little antsy as breakfast was late this morning, did all his bathroom duties without prompting, and went back into his ex-pen on his own.

At breakfast Kory went into the basement with the other dogs and assumed a down position where I tied him last evening. I didn’t ask for a down and he wasn’t tied to the door, he just laid down on his own.

It could be that he saw Blue and Red in their downs (they’ve been doing downs for meals for a couple of years because of their propensity for getting underfoot during feeding, and nipping at the other dogs’ faces as bowls hit the floor …. grrrr ….) and mimicked them.

Anyway, I filled the bowls with Kory lying down quietly, then put him on lead and tied him to the door as I started placing bowls on the floor.

When everyone else was eating I walked to Kory with his food bowl and my clicker. He was dancing with anticipation and I was pleased to see his nose hit the bowl and not come out until the job was done.

I left the basement door open and shooed dogs out as they finished. Kory continued eating.

When he was finished I pointed to the door and he exited quietly, not bothering the dogs who were standing just outside observing the “stay out” command I’d given earlier.

When he got into the yard he wandered about just like a mature dog, not acting submissive or engaging the old dogs at all.

When I called all dogs into the small mud yard he trotted in with the pack. I truly believe this weekend has been a good experience for him, enabling him to become a solid member of the pack instead of an occasional, annoying visitor.

Bud arrives home late tonight and, by the time he gets here, I’ll have fed dinner.  Tonight I’m going to try to omit the leash in the dinner protocol.  We’ll see how well that works ….

In other news … I received pictures from the rescue organization that placed Mercy (now Mandy) with a nice family. I’m so delighted I didn’t adopt that sweet 3-legged girl — now she has two kids, a huge back yard, lots of friends both human and canine, and all the attention she deserves.

If you haven’t tried fostering you should. Just remember the foster mom’s mantra, “you’re going to make someone a great dog!”

In other news … this is reunion season and I received an invitation to reunite with the great group of women who worked in the office at Fenton Art Glass Company. I worked in the office when I was in high school (after school from the time I was 16), joined the sales department in my 20s, and left in 1999 to join Bud in Ostrander.

Fenton Art Glass Company, like many small, skilled, manufacturers, has seen their exclusive designs knocked off by factories in foreign countries. They’re attempting to provide some on-going support to the community by maintaining a small artists’ shop so visitors may still see the handmade glass process up close.

When I worked at Fenton there were 400-600 employees. Now there are about 150. This reunion will be bittersweet.

Additionally, my high school class is having 3 little reunion luncheons every year and the next one is in early September. We’ve created links to each other using facebook and have set our privacy settings to “no one.” <g>

I’m off to teach the advanced (4-hour) workshop!   I’ve got the fall ’09 registration handouts printed and ready so folks can start planning their year.

Finishing Kory’s feeding protocol

July 26, 2009

At this evening’s dinner we began putting the parts of Kory’s feeding protocol together, specifically,  1) keeping Kory’s nose in his own bowl in the presence of other dogs and,  2) keeping Kory’s nose out of the other dogs’ bowls while they eat.

For dinner tonight I put Kory on lead and tied his leash handle to the door knob inside the basement. The other dogs barely noticed the new kid hanging out by the door and, of course, were so intent on their dinner they didn’t go near him.

When everyone’s bowl was down and all were eating I picked up Kory’s bowl and walked him about 4 feet away from the pack, put his bowl on the floor, had my clicker handy, and my hand on the leash.

Kory glanced at the other dogs and dove into his bowl, never stalling out, never breaking position to visit the other dogs, just intent on his work. I clicked and praised for his workmanlike approach to dinner.

After about 45 seconds I hung his leash across his back. He stayed focused on his bowl without changing position at all.

As he was finishing his meal some of the sharks began circling, so I left his side to shoo them out the door. Kory held his place and continued eating.  More clicks and calm praise from me.

When he finished I gave him huge praise which he was delighted to receive, wiggling and kissing my face. I then put him out the basement door and he calmly walked amongst the rest of the pack. Within 30 seconds I said, “Kory, hurry up!” and he produced”poopage,” which is an accomplishment itself.

I believe this feeding training is going to change both Kory’s behavior in the pack , giving him more self-confidence (he’s been WAY too submissive, especially to a couple of our bitches) and his image of himself as a more mature dog.

Hopefully Bud will read this, curious as to what I’m doing with Kory while he’s away, and be pleased with our progress!

more on Kory’s feeding protocol

July 25, 2009

There was a 36-hour delay in publishing my last blog which was written Thursday night. Here it is Saturday morning and it just got published.

Kory’s put-your-head-in-your-bowl-and-eat protocol has progressed nicely.

On Friday he again ate his meal in the basement in the general area where other dogs eat, but in their absence. He again was clicked and encouraged to consume a large bowl of food without stopping or pausing. He again created “poopage” immediately upon consuming this large meal.

Friday evening we added distractions. My mom and sister were here so I fed Kory about 3 feet from my family. He was slightly distracted but got down to business and finished his meal, then pooped for me!

Saturday morning he got to pee before I left to swim. I was gone from 6:30 to 9:15. Upon my return I let all the dogs out in the yard where Kory immediately peed and then pooped!  This was a great bit of progress on regularly scheduled poop performance.

I put the older dogs into the basement, left Kory in the yard, and laid out the pack’s food bowls. As they got busy with their meal I brought Kory in, held his collar, and let him watch. He was fascinated by the feeding frenzy and wanted to check out all the steel bowls. I hung on to him while most dogs finished and began milling around.

I then opened the basement door and shooed Kory and 7 dogs out the door.  Banner and Wizard (my slow-pokes) finished eating and we left the basement.

We came into the house and I got Kory’s breakfast and my clicker. We walked to a spot just six inches from the baby gate separating him from the pack.

Kory took one look at the pack, all of whom were staring at his breakfast, and dove into his meal (earning a click and praise).

I stood nearby until he was diligently working away at his meal, then stepped back 4 feet. He hesitated, I stared at his bowl, he dived back in, I clicked and praised, then stepped back another 3 feet.

By the time he finished his breakfast today, with the entire pack drooling nearby, I was able to walk around the living room putting away my swimsuit, opening windows, doing chores.

Now I need to start putting the pieces together — 1) Kory eating in the presence of the other dogs in the basement feeding zone,  and  2) Kory observing the other dogs eating their meals without hassling them.

Tomorrow is a workshop day and Tracy Waite is going to be my assistant instructor. She’ll have 4 beginners and 4 intermediates. I’ll have 9-10 advanced dogs on my end of the floor.

So today I’ll be setting equipment in the building, doing some straightening up, then may take the pack down to the building for an outing. They love to experience the “wilds” beyond the building and chase each other around the agility field.

training Kory in Bud’s absence

July 25, 2009

When I’m faced with 3-4 days of training Bud’s dogs in his absence I generally pick a specific behavior that needs to be added to the puppy’s reperitoire, but which won’t detract from what Bud’s working on at the time.

For the next 3 days Bud’s judging USDAA at Janet Kemerer’s place in Washingtonville, Ohio. Like a lot of folks who offer trials in this lousy economy, Janet found that entries didn’t justify 2 judges so she asked Bud to judge all 30-some classes over 3 days. He’s going to work his butt off for the next few days so feeding and training Kory is the least I can do.

FYI — I heard on Ohio Public Radio this week that 279,000 more Ohioans lost their jobs in the last quarter, bringing the total number of lost jobs in Ohio to over 679,000. The economy in our part of the state has been stagnant for many years, so this latest crisis isn’t hitting us as hard as it’s hitting the highly populated parts of the state. We had no bubble to burst.

Anyway ….. I’ve chosen a skill to teach Kory that will enhance his life, his relationship with our pack, and our lives.

Kory is going to learn how to put his head in his food bowl and eat without dumping his food, without playing with his bowl, without timing out.

Our pack needs about 90-120 seconds to consume their breakfast, and about another 90-120 seconds to consume their dinner. A puppy who shows little interest in his food bowl, who wanders and nibs into other bowls, is going to get into trouble and is going to have his food stolen.

Until now Kory has been fed separately with Bud implementing mealtime training protocols. Hopefully, by Monday, Kory will be ready to join the pack for a hearty meal without starting any squabbles or suffering meal theft.

I began with our first meal opportunity — Thursday’s dinner. Bud left a couple of hours ago so I fed the pack as usual at about 5:00 p.m.

When everyone had finished their business I blocked them in and brought Kory and his dinner to the basement. I brought along my clicker as well — Kory has been worked a good bit with his clicker so he gets excited when he earns a click.

When I set his full bowl on the floor Kory sniffed it, got a click, and I fed him a few pieces of kibble from my hand. He had no interest in putting his snout in the bowl but I continued to click any instance of Kory’s snout facing the bowl, touching the bowl, going in the bowl.

Each click was accompanied by kibble from my hand which piqued his interest a bit more. As it began to dawn on him that the click occurred when his snout went into the bowl he became more and more intent on continuing to eat.

After about 45 seconds I discontinued feeding him from hand. He put his snout in the bowl, I clicked, he ate kibble.

It took him approximately 5 minutes to finish his bowl of kibble. By the end of the meal he was focused on finishing the food, getting periodic clicks for diving in with gusto after pausing to chew a mouthful.

After dinner I convinced him to produce “poopage” in the back yard quickly, and without the hours of delay he gives Bud. Unless Bud decides to read my blog he’ll have no idea what’s going on here. <g>

………… hours later ………….

Got back into the house from our Thursday night fun run event. Kory and I played fetch with the green kong toy for a few minutes. On his last fetch he caught the kong, spit it out, licked his lips, sniffed a spot on the ground, and gingerly picked up the kong again.

Yep, when I checked, there was a tooth on the ground. He’s dropping them everywhere. We both wear shoes in the house ’cause walking into a puppy tooth, barefoot, on hardwood floors, is just not worth thinking about.

Calendar for Petit Prix training

July 19, 2009

week 1, starting August 2, weave training job 1, take Blue to local businesses and work on pause table behaviors in the presence of strange people.

week 2, starting August 9 (camp week), weave training job 1, take Blue to local businesses and work on pause table behaviors in the presence of strange people.

week 3, starting August 16, jump training starting with a straight line of jumps and wind-sprints for me. I’d like to get Blue taking jumps without being told “jump!” each time. This is going to require a good bit of jump conditioning.

week 4, starting August 23, add a figure 8 (two pinwheels put together) for Blue’s distance training and my front cross training. Continue with wind-sprint and acceleration exercises for my knees.

week 5, starting August 30, back to basics with foundation conditioning on contacts, weaves, jumps, tires, tunnels and chutes.  Work around the clock and add distance. Build Blue’s understanding of the names of equipment.

week 6, starting Sept. 6, one month to Petit Prix!  Add strengthening exercises for my knees, including walking and sprinting. Make sure I have a good pair of shoes, both supportive and lightweight. Break them in before leaving for WI. Do sequencing with Blue, occasionally asking for distance work, independent performance of contacts and weave entries. Reinforcing jumping skills.

week 7, starting Sept. 13, back to jump training on the pinwheel, figure 8, straight jump chute, etc.

week 8, starting Sept. 20 (Blue in IL part of week, hopefully Bud will have a chance to give Blue treats every time she hears the timer beep.)

week 9, starting Sept. 27, sequencing, wind-sprints, distance sends, weave entries, playing and enjoying working together.

week 10, starting October 4 (depart for WI on Monday or Tuesday) Spend some time conditioning pleasant activities in the area around the electronic timers. Convince Blue that the sound of the timer does not happen at the start line.

Sport foundation, 2-minute routine (part 1)

July 16, 2009

In an effort to prepare for the TDAA Petit Prix in Wisconsin this October, I’ve implemented a few changes in lifestyle.

I’ve been swimming 3-4 times a week for 90 minutes (about 2 miles of swimming each time). My knee is feeling really strong and I’ve lost some weight.

But the most important routine is yet to be established. I need to start setting aside time each day to prepare Blue for the national event, and renew our partnership which was begun 2 years ago.

I plan to begin with the sport foundation 2-Minute trainers again. Blue has most of the skills but I figure it won’t hurt to begin with foundation work again.

Additionally we’ve begun working the girls through Susan Garrett’s 2×2 weave training. for the Petit Prix we want to add some area rugs to duplicate the footing dogs will experience at the nationals.

Additionally (!) I need to take Blue’s pause table “on the road” so she can work through her fear issues with men. These issues manifest on the pause table at trials, mostly.

Additionally (!!) I need to begin adding weight-bearing exercises for my knees. I want to work Blue dog jump chutes, pairing her jump conditioning with little wind-sprints for me.  I’ll begin with a straight line of jumps and progress to a large figure 8 so I can add distance jumping for Blue and front crosses for me.

Sound like over-kill?  Here’s some background information which will explain my mild obsession with Blue’s performance at this year’s Petit Prix.

When Bud created TDAA I was running Australian Shepherd’s exclusively. When I first heard the plan for TDAA I must admit I was a little offended. When Bud asked if I’d be interested in participating my response was, “help out an organization that excludes my dogs?”  Later I got excited about the games approach, the titling paths, and the whole concept of a little-dog venue.

At the time we had a trial group (at Dogwood Training Center) and we were holding meetings to prepare for upcoming trials. For our first TDAA trial we had ZERO entries.  I was shocked!  I said, “I can’t believe all of you with little dogs haven’t entered our trial!  If I had a dog eligible I’d have entered already!!”

Bud immediately said, “You can run Bogie.”  From that point on, whenever we had a TDAA trial I entered Bogie, Bud’s clever and biddable sheltie. We had a blast in TDAA, winning the first Petit Prix in the 16″ division by .29 seconds over Kathy Duffy’s Bobbie.

When it came time for Bogie to retire I figured I’d better keep my eyes pealed for MY teacup dog. Since I work with rescue and was considering volunteering at the local shelters, I figured a dog would fall into my lap some day. I wasn’t interested in seeking out puppies, but just had a mission in the back of my mind.

We moved to Country Dream (March 1) and engaged in a frenzied preparation for our first camp (April 31). We had the meadow bulldozed, the building put up, the cottages gutted and rehabbed, the guestrooms set-up, and I was able to find everything in the kitchen. <g>

On the last day of camp Sue Sternberg and I decided to visit the local shelters so she could arrange to become a transfer site for dogs from our area.

At the Parkersburg shelter she was greeted like a rock star. The staff knew of Sue, supported her efforts, and were excited about working with her. At the Marietta shelter the manager hid in her office, refusing to meet with Sue, until she got on her cell phone and called the staff of the Parkersburg shelter.

She had just received an e-hate-mail suggesting that Sue Sternberg is a dog-hater, a dog-killer, a dog-stealer, etc.  “Don’t let this woman into your shelter!” the e-mail warned. Of course, the folks in Parkersburg told the Marietta manager to ignore that e-mail and talk with Sue.

In the meantime, Sue and I had gotten out of my truck and both locked in on a dog in an outside kennel. She was the strangest looking dog either of us had ever seen. “Spook” had been turned in at the shelter just that day (I found out later) and clearly was expecting her family to come get her.  She was about 12″ tall (and about 30″ long, but that didn’t matter to me <g>).

Sue and I met with the shelter manager.  We returned to camp. For 2 days I thought about that little dog.

And, on that Saturday, I drove to the shelter and adopted Spook.  I decided her new name would be Blue, and that I’d see if she liked to train. If she did that would be great. If she didn’t that would be okay, too.

Thus began my journey with Blue.

In a recent e-mail to a teacup list (unfortunately folks rarely edit themselves on e-mail lists and often don’t understand why anyone would be offended by their words or tone — it’s something I try to remember when I write) several people indicated that it might be “unfair” for some of us to practice the ’09 Petit Prix games ahead of time, or work through strategies at the warm-up workshops in Wisconsin.

I thought about how agility organizations work diligently to “level the playing field” and how there is absolutely no way to make the playing field level or to make it fair, unless each and every exhibitor has their own category and only plays against their own performance, and in an environment devoid of people and distractions.

When one handler is judged against another there are always injustices. Add to that equation the wide variety of dogs and doggie histories, and the injustices mount up pretty quickly.

Unless and until there is a separate class at dog agility trials for middle-aged, overweight handlers with dogs rescued from the shelter after 9 months of being terrorized by a teenage boy — it will be unfair to compare our performance to that of other teams.

Fortunately for all of us, this un-leveled playing field allows us to make countless excuses for our shortcomings or failures. “My dog is afraid of men.”  “My knees are killing me.”  “The photographer scared my dog.”  “For some reason my dog doesn’t like the timing system.”  And on and on and on ….

My intention is to arrive at the ’09 Petit Prix as prepared as I can be, as fit as I can be, and to apply my skills and knowledge as completely as possible to each run.

In the back of my mind, however, is the desire for Blue to place in her division this year. More on that later …

basic obedience modules

July 7, 2009

Our basic obedience training is offered as private lessons. In one-hour lessons I explain the 2-Minute training protocols, demonstrate the homework, and have the clients demonstrate their understanding of the homework exercises.

At the end of the hour I ask “is this sort of training something you think you can do?”  I also ask if they have any questions or if their dog has any behaviors not covered by the training I’ve suggested.

Anyone who has done basic obedience training for any length of time knows what I know — that the problems people face with new dogs, with young dogs, with puppies, whether they’re from a shelter, from the neighbor’s litter, or from a pet store, fall into one of a few categories.

1) My dog bites me. It’s usually “mouthing” more than biting. I find the owner is usually focusing too much attention on the dog’s mouth, putting their hands on or near the snout, constantly touching the dog’s muzzle, sometimes actually sticking their hands in the dog’s mouth. By working the 2-minute protocols the owner learns a new way of interacting with their dog. I also show them how to pet their dog in a way which the dog finds enjoyable without engaging the dog’s muzzle.

2) My dog jumps up on me. In my experience there’s almost always someone in the house encouraging the dog to jump up. This is sometimes an unconscious behavior where the owner simply doesn’t know the proper response to jumping up. Occasionally it is a conscious desire to sabotage the training efforts of the person who dislikes the jumping-up behavior. All the exercises will encourage the dog to adopt a begging position with all 4 feet on the floor. The name recognition, recall, and attention exercise have the dog sitting in front of the handler. Other exercises have the dog walking beside the owner, sitting beside the owner, or lying down.

3) My dog drags me with the leash. When puppies are little we laugh as they drag us around, then we expect the behavior to diminish as the dog gets older. Even experienced obedience and agility exhibitors let their dogs drag on the leash. I’m always careful to have folks practice loose-leash walking while I can oversee their practice. They must be 100% consistent in their responses in order to extinquish leash pulling. If mom and dad do the exercises and kids allow the dog to drag them the lesson will rarely stick with the confused puppy.

4) My dog poops and pees in the house.  Occasionally I meet folks who accept the idea of their dog pottying in the house. They just clean it up. But the vast majority of housetraining problems are created by undisciplined and disorganized people. Faced with a disciplined routine most dogs quickly move toward compliance. My biggest issue in this part of the world has to do with teaching people not to punish the puppy for housetraining accidents. Of course, lots of dogs around here are stuck in the yard and aren’t allowed in the house.

5) My dog runs off and won’t come back. The statement I hear more often than any other is “we can’t have a fence.” This is usually because the family has a large piece of land. So the puppy gets turned loose on this expanse of property and learns to wander at will. The family works on attention to name and recall for a week or two, then expects the training to work forever. My protocols are designed to be repeated as needed. As dogs age they’ll drift in and out of attention versus distraction. The new dog must be trained and can’t be expected to respond the same as the aged dog you just lost.

6) My dog won’t let me take toys, trim nails, put her harness on, etc. This is a skill which people often give up on. Even savvy dog trainers will often come up with tricks to make the dog surrender toys, gimmicks to get the dog to file their own nails, or ways of holding treats to make the dog walk into leashes or harnesses. Sometimes it’s important that dogs accept some things they don’t like. I encourage owners to think of their dogs as 7-year-old kids, or teenagers, to tap into what might be a more natural response to the dog “not wanting” to perform certain behaviors. With my own dogs I often say, “because I’m the mommy, that’s why you must do this.” I know there are complex conditioning exercises we can do to get a dog to accept nail trimming, for example, but most dogs quickly give up resisting when they realize you’re not planning a surrender.

My 2-Minute training for basic obedience is designed to focus the dog on positive behaviors during mealtimes. At all other times I encourage the owners to use routines and management techniques to eliminate the opportunity for the dog to engage in negative behaviors.

For lots of dog trainers this is natural, common sense. What I’ve always found, however, is that there’s no common sense with dogs. Either you have it or you don’t.