Archive for October, 2010

2-minute dog trainer – back to my puppy

October 30, 2010

During this period of TDAA upheaval and anxiety, with a small number of teacup enthusiasts finding pleasure in jabbing at Bud and I with a combination of untruths and malice, I find comfort in training my puppy and seeing his progress with my own eyes. He’s a real treasure to me right now.

In the meantime, I want to get Tempest prepared for participation in our classes and workshops this winter. In order for him to be ready he needs to get away from herding me (stopping, facing me, staring at me) and start running with me or moving through obstacles on his own.

“HOOP — GO ON” — I first set up three hoops in a very tight pinwheel. The inner uprights of the hoops were touching, in fact.

The lesson is that, once I’ve said “hoop,” Tempest is to go through the first hoop and then “go on” and do the rest of the pinwheel.

Over the course of a week the pinwheel enlarged until the inner uprights were approximately 15 feet apart (making the entire pinwheel about 30′ x 18′).

During the second week of “hoop — go on” training, the pinwheel began to flatten. Instead of remaining a pinwheel it became a 3-hoop crescent shape.

Next week the 3-hoop crescent shape will become as close to a straight line as we can get.

“TOUCH” — I want an equal amount of attention to the opposite skills.  The opposite of distance skills are tight, technical skills.

I began by teaching a simple “touch” command to my hands. I quickly moved from a standard “touch” presentation, with Tempest facing me and moving to my hand at my side, to a random presentation. Sometimes he’s asked to come to my left hand, sometimes my right hand, sometimes with me facing him, sometimes with me facing away, sometimes with me moving away.

“HOOP — GO ON — TOUCH — HOOP — GO ON” — when I felt Tempest was ready (when he was 80% consistent on behaviors) I began to combine the two.

I set him up at hoop one and cued “hoop,” then “go on” to hoops two and three, then “touch” followed by “hoop” and “go on” in another direction.

The order in which I do the hoops doesn’t really matter at this point. I want him to understand that distance and close-up are equally relevant and equally rewarding.

This training has taken place, for the most part, in 2-minute increments during breakfast and dinner.

Tempest does hoops 1-2-3-touch-into-a-front-cross-then-hoop 1 again …. eats half his breakfast.  Tempest does hoops 3-2-1-touch-into-a-front-cross-then-hoop 3 again … eats the rest of his breakfast.

Soon I’ll start switching from sending him to 3 hoops to sending to just 2 hoops and crossing before he has a chance to go on to hoop 3.

Agility delivers an ever-changing picture to the dog and I want Tempest to understand that I hold the key to the puzzle.

2-min. dog trainer, proposals to improve TDAA

October 28, 2010

Here are some of my suggestions for moving TDAA from an organization led by a political body (the former Board of Directors) to an organization led by two individuals (Bud Houston and I) with constant input from membership.

First, communication between the leadership and membership will improve, with the leadership becoming transparent and accountable, and members’ voices being heard through a couple of standard processes, including but not limited to:

All TDAA members will be encouraged to join and read the TDAA members’ list (or subscribe to a new TDAA News site or facebook page) as their way to communicate with leadership. About 7-10 days before an advisor’s meeting is scheduled, the secretary or members’ liason will inform the list as to what new topic the board will be brainstorming. Members will have 7-10 days to post their ideas, argue publicly about them, combine them, and discuss. Members may choose to just send their brainstorm ideas to their board representative, their member liason person, or directly to leadership.

Instead of a call for “New Business?” (followed by board members’ pet project ideas, or crickets chirping) the board will have two standard bits of new business at EACH meeting.

   STAGE 1, they’ll be presented with the month’s brainstorm topic (if they’re reading TDAA news lists they’ll already know what the topic is) and their ideas will be joined by the ideas put forth by members. Board members’ ideas will carry the same weight as members’ ideas in this initial brainstorming session. There will be no discussion or critique of any idea — this is brainstorming only.  Board members may make personal notes of ideas that tickle their fancy and which they personally wish to consider further.

  STAGE 2 — the TDAA board of advisors will be asked for their input regarding the previous month’s brainstorming session. They’ll have had at least 30 days to consider implications, extract really valuable ideas, create idea combos and alliances, and pull from the previous months’ session the really valuable portions of the brainstorm. Endless discuss may occur, or assignments will be made for further work on any valuable ideas.

Second, each month, separate from any other report from the leadership, a board member will post to TDAA News lists on at least 3 items:  1) “here’s what I’m working on now for TDAA members,”  2) “here’s how TDAA is doing in my part of the country,”  and  3) “here’s what’s going on in my personal agility life (or life in general).”  Leadership may report on assignments they’ve received after stage 2 brainstorming as well as on-going tasks they perform for TDAA.

Third, the leadership activities will become transparent. Minutes of meetings will be posted to the members’ news lists within days of the meeting. Whether TDAA remains a member-owned organization or if Bud and I happen to “own” it, the membership should hear everything that affects them. Knowing that their comments are going to be posted, verbatum, to the TDAA News, may also make for a more civil meeting. Back-biting and personal attacks will probably decrease when true minutes are distributed.

Fourth, we’re reconfiguring our home’s interior to turn one room into the TDAA office and members’ guest suite.  ANY member has the option of spending their vacation with us, working for the organization. (ASCA, an incredibly long-running single-breed registry based in TX, has done this for years — except I believe you have to provide for your own accommodations when you travel to TX and work for ASCA.)

Bring your dogs and play with them in the 64′ x 120′, fully matted training building when you’re not working.  Schedule lessons in agility or obedience or rally, or visit our pond and meadow to relax a little.

But when you’re working for TDAA you may be doing data entry, posting new activities to various on-line agility bulletin boards, printing certificates, shredding outdated documents, filing, calling members, processing accounts receivable or payable, or updating the website (etc.). 

You stay in the members’ guest suite with a separate entrance, satellite TV, a full bath, and a kitchenette.  The official TDAA office will be IN this suite. We’ll picture this on the website as “Your TDAA office and member suite.”

I’d love to see this members’ suite occupied 25-50% of the time. You work for us, we work for you!

Bud and I have said this in many contexts, and in many ways, but I believe the biggest benefit to members is going to be a benevolent leadership that shares work with members — as equals.

We’ll listen to your concerns, shamelessly steal your great ideas, implement the best of them, and ask for your support when we take responsibility for the results.

Bud Houston’s been doing agility for 25 years. I’ve been doing agility for 15 years. We’ve both been in customer-service oriented businesses for 35 years.

I believe members will find our TDAA leadership a solid foundation from which to launch a successful teacup agility career.

2-minute dog trainer, proxies and leadership

October 22, 2010

I’d like to mount my soapbox for a few minutes on two subjects — proxies and leadership.

Proxies — we’ve had several people say they’d never assign a proxy. That their vote is precious and they’d never give it up.

Well, I assign my proxy every 2 years or so.  I assign it to a state representative, a state senator, a president of the United States, a governing body for my state or nation.

We don’t each vote on every bill and resolution that passes through the state or national legislature — instead, we assign our PROXY to an individual whom we trust with that precious vote.

We find an individual whom we trust, in whom we believe, and we say “I’M WITH YOU!” 

Our accumulated proxies build a majority, or a loud minority, but they build a POWERFUL GROUP.

When Bud and I ask for your proxy, we’re asking you to trust us to hold your best interests, and those of TDAA as an organization, foremost in our minds.  We already do that.

When Bud and I ask for your proxy, we’re asking you to allow this transition to take place over the course of a week or two rather than over 6 months’ time.  We’re hoping for a smooth transition and a future for TDAA where decisions about the organization are made by Bud and I after careful consideration of the opinions of both our board of advisors and all our customers — the TDAA membership.

When Bud and I ask for your proxy, we’re not saying you’ll never get to vote again on TDAA business.  Instead, when we assume leadership of the organization you’ll constantly be asked your opinion, and we’ll be adjusting our policies and plans to accommodate the majority of our customers — the member host clubs and the members themselves.

Leadership — it has been said of Bud that he’s an “idea guy” with no capacity for details and day-to-day drone work.

Well, maybe — probably — certainly!  (Though some argument could be made that a fellow who reviews 60-100 TDAA courses in one day, responding to each judge with comments on each, repeating himself dozens of times while instructing classes, judging hundreds of dogs on a single course, briefing exhibitors dozens of times over the course of a weekend with nearly identical information, is a detail-guy. And he does it all with a smile on his face. And he’ll give anyone — including his competition — advice on agility handling or strategy if asked.)

How many organizations or businesses have you seen started by detail-guys, day-to-day-drones?  How many day-to-day-drones are the inspiration for national movements? 

Idea guys have big plans. Idea guys inspire us to think about what is possible. Idea guys draw detail guys to them like moths to a flame.

By the way — I’m a detail, day-to-day-drone lady. Just in case you thought I was putting them down. <g>  I carry into this leadership package 35 years’ experience in customer service, information dissemination, and day-to-day paper pushing.

When I get inspired by an idea guy I start thinking of the details that excite me. I find details sexy.  Efficiency is sexy. Like infrastructure is sexy. New bridges and improved interstate ramps are sexy.

I’m not one to stand and say “ARE YOU WITH ME?” 

Bud Houston IS.  And I’m with him100%.   We’re a solid leadership package — an idea guy and a detail lady.

2-minute dog trainer, TDAA politics

October 21, 2010
Dear (member’s name) —
I hear your frustration.  I believe this week will bring some answers to your questions.
I wasn’t at the Petit Prix, I’m not on the current BOD for TDAA, I’m not a software developer, and I’m not a member of the scoring team that worked so diligently in Washington.
I am, however, a long-time observer of people’s reactions when Bud Houston steps out of his “exhibitor” role and tries to right a wrong in a trial situation.
I can tell you for a fact that there would have been as many people angry at Bud if he’d stomped into the scoring area, changed the process, altered the software, instituted manual scoring, demanded to know why it wasn’t working, etc.  If the scoring was corrected using a manual process, the 3-4-hour delay would have meant dozens of angry exhibitors.
I’m certain that several people, seeing Bud and Hazard in the final round after the aforementioned stomping and demanding, would have said “he probably changed the rules to get there.”
Right or wrong, Bud chose to stay in exhibitor mode due to concerns about conflict-of-interest accusations, and regrets it now.  Hindsight is 20-20.
That doesn’t explain why everyone else responsible is silent, of course.
Regarding your questions on the Near and Far scoring, I believe an answer has been discovered and I’m certain those responsible are reading your post, this post, and will be anxious to clear up misconceptions.
Marsha’s Blog:
Marsha Houston @ Country Dream
<> webstore for electronic training books!

2-minute dog trainer, a short excursion into TDAA politics

October 21, 2010

I’m going to be posting some of my responses to TDAA members’ questions here on my blog. I hope to journal this transition and use my blog to develop my answers in greater depth than an e-mail list can provide.

I believe Bud and I would provide better leadership of TDAA for a number of reasons including, but not limited to:  

1) I believe Bud and I will provide TDAA with more responsive leadership (Bud was addressing the 2010 Petit Prix issues within 48 hours while the TDAA board of directors as a body has yet to respond to members’ frustration and concerns after 10+ days), 

2) I believe Bud and I know that where there is power there is responsibility (Bud hesitated to step out of exhibitor mode at the 2010 Petit Prix semi-finals and demand manual scoring because of conflict-of-interest concerns, a hesitation he regrets now), 

3) I believe that dog agility, whatever the flavor, whether we’re training or trialing, should be an enjoyable diversion from the stresses of day-to-day life (versus the angry recriminations, blame-laying, and personal attacks I’m witnessing from supporters or board members),  and

4) We believe that the strength of TDAA lies within the membership of TDAA host clubs, not a board of directions (after the transition we’ll keep a board of advisors and welcome member input into programs and systems).

Of the 7-8 agility organizations existing in the United States currently, many are privately-held businesses.  Organizations like USDAA, NADAC, CPE, and DOCNA are run by individuals with boards of advisors. Members of these organizations are encouraged to provide input. Members are treated as customers.

Please be reassured that our conflict is with the failure in project management by the TDAA Board of Directors, not with the input of the TDAA membership.

We ask that you transfer your voting proxy to Bud Houston for this transition, after which your voting privileges will be restored and your influence over TDAA programs and policies will be welcomed. Transfer your proxy to Bud by e-mailing him at or by e-mailing me at

More later …

2-minute dog trainer, a call to action

October 21, 2010

The following message has been forwarded to TDAA members, judges, and friends. Most of you are readers of Bud’s blog ( but I’ll copy Bud’s message here for all my readers. Consider this my journal entry for 10/20/10.

Dear TDAA Fans and Members,

My name is Bud Houston, founder, and current president of the TDAA.

Today I am making a bid to take-over of the TDAA to restore control and ownership of the association to me and my wife Marsha Houston, of Waterford, Ohio. It is our intention to run the organization as a privately-held not-for-profit Limited Liability Corporation.

I have an internet-based description of my intention to assume control of the TDAA. Please follow this link to get more information:

Simply put, the new TDAA will not be less of an agility organization, just less of a bureaucracy. Rather than focusing on running board meetings and creating policy, we’ll focus on growing clubs and creating a supportive environment for the running of teacup agility dogs.

Note that this “take-over” is not a done deal. To make happen this I’m asking that you assign your member voting proxy to me for a short period of time, after which it is restored to you. With sufficient proxy ballots I can carry any election or ballot initiative of the TDAA. I will return the proxy when the deed is done. A simple email would be enough. Send to:

Thank you so much for your time and support.

Bud Houston

Postscript from Marsha … I’m in total agreement with Bud on this issue, and believe we (with the support of all TDAA members, judges, and friends) can improve TDAA through supporting the growth of TDAA clubs. I believe we can work together to create an organization that nurtures the handlers of little agility dogs.

2 minute dog trainer – holes in my training

October 16, 2010

Tempest is now 7 months old. I’ve had him for 5 months.

He’s 95-100% consistent on the following behaviors:

1) 2-on-2-off contact performance on dogwalk, a-frame, and teeter

2) automatic down on the pause table

3) coming when called

4) letting go of his toy when I say “okay”

5) releasing off the start line when I say “T!”

He’s 75-80% consistent on the following behaviors:

1) heeling off my left leg, looking up at me (he tends to forge to “head” me off)

2) taking his nose away from an item of interest when I say “leave it!”

3) walking on a loose leash (he walked with my Mom the other day and she said he walked beautifully for her, but he tends to forge with me)

4) sitting at the start line (he anticipates the run and can’t be bothered with sitting)

5) tunnels (he has started “heading” me by running to the entrance of the tunnel, whirling around to face me and stare, heading me as he would sheep or cattle)

6) jumps (he has had little or no jump training because of his age, so he takes the jump if I’m really specific and goes around it if I’m not)

7) tire (again, little jump training so good response if I’m really specific but no desire to do the jumps or tire if I’m vague)

Thursday night class:

Much to my delight, my work schedule allowed Tempest and I to attend this past Thursday night’s agility class. It’s an advanced class, so I did mini-sequences with Tempest and kept them brief so we didn’t interrupt the training going on with the more advanced dogs.

Here are the holes in our sequencing and obstacle training and my resolutions for filling in those holes.

A)  turning … Tempest loves to get a head of steam over 1-2 jumps and would, I suppose, just like to keep running until he hits the state of Virginia.  To fill in this hole in his training I resolve to teach him to target my hand, come to hand, and recognize the word “close” as his cue to come into handler focus. Because I don’t want him to constantly be in handler focus I want to be very specific about when and where handler focus will occur.

B) working away … just this week Tempest decided to run ahead, turn and face me, and head me off as he would livestock (or his brother Kory).  To fill in this hole in his training I resolve to return to return to work at sending him ahead to do work. When I point to a tunnel and say tunnel I want him to stay focused on the tunnel until he’s completed the task. If he turns to face me I’ll break off my attention, turn my back on him and walk away. The training will continue when he discontinues heading and follows me. This training won’t take place in a class setting as it involves too much time and patience. When others are waiting I’ll be impatient and won’t allow Tempest to think through his error, so I won’t make the mistake of trying to work on this problem during classes and workshops.

C) jumping and tire training … an intentional hole in Tempest’s training, left until last because of his age. I resolve to get our hoops out and teach Tempest some obstacle focus when I’m moving. He needs to begin operating like an agility dog in motion (following the line I’m creating) instead of a herding dog (controlling my movement by heading me off).

This is a really exciting phase in training for Tempest and I. We’re getting to run, we’re building a partnership, and we’re going to become a team.

A few things I’m pleased with include:  my weight loss (due to my job I’m working off about half a pound a week), Bud’s and my resolution to eat better and live healthier, the general health of our pack of dogs.

Creaping slowly toward winter I’m reminded of the old dogs we lost this year. I dreamed of them last night and miss all the effort we used to spend making sure they were steady on their feet, warm, and dry. I see the rubber attached to the ramp into the yard and am reminded of Banner’s difficulty with the slippery ramp last winter.

My heart aches every time I pass the graves of my dearly departed. No dog will ever replace any one of them. Each of them held a special place in my heart.

In the words of Eric Clapton, “will you know my name, if I saw you in heaven?”

2-minute dog trainer – agility sequencing begins

October 8, 2010

Now that Tempest is nearly 7 months old, has recovered from his neuter surgery, and has nearly reached his full size, I’ve begun agility sequencing using the obstacles he knows pretty well — tunnels, contacts, and jumps.

Jumps are not too familiar to him as we just started some very low jump training about a month ago.

Breakfast training still focuses on heeling, though I had an epiphany yesterday morning. I had this clear realization that I don’t have the time or money to show in two sports.

So I’m focusing on agility from this point on. Obedience heeling will be an elegant way to approach the start line, and all the basic stuff will still be reinforced (loose-leash walking, coming when called, sitting for attention, settle in the house, grooming, etc.).

My new job has me away from home 3-to-5 days a week. I leave home by 10:00 a.m. and don’t get back until 8:00 p.m. I miss all of Bud’s training time, all our private lessons, all our group classes.

I have managed to ask for time off on all the Sundays we have workshops but often find myself too tired to enjoy them. That’s going to change as I become more comfortable with the demands of my job.

In the meantime, with Bud at the TDAA Petit Prix in Washington state (with Hazard), and beautiful fall weather outside, Tempest and I have added 2-a-days to our breakfast and dinner routine.

Breakfast and dinner — with his meal in a remote location Tempest heels to a position on the floor adjacent to his contact trainer. I cue “left” or “right” and “walk-it!” and he turns away from me, climbs his contact trainer and gets part of his breakfast for a 2-on-2-off position. We repeat this once or twice for a total of 2-3 performances per meal. 

Next week I’m going to bring a jump into the basement feeding area and do at least one meal a day for ’round-the-clock jump training.  Jump is the middle of the face of the clock, handler moves with dog around the edge of the clock, dog-on-right, dog-on-left, sending to the jump from 6″, from 12″, from 18″, from 24″, from 36″, etc.

During our training in the agility building we’re working on sequencing and start-line stays.

In exchange for allowing me to lead out, walk around equipment, and return, Tempest gets games of tug and — on occasion — gets to do agility equipment.

For this week’s private lessons and class I had a layout in the building conducive to training a puppy.  Low a-frame, lots of low jumps and tunnels, nothing too difficult.

So Tempest and I worked on a simple sequence.  Jump-tunnel-jump-tunnel. (Sorry, I don’t have CRCD so can’t draw it for you — set 3 jumps in a straight line — take c-shaped tunnels and put them off to the side, facing in towards the dog’s path on the line of jumps.)

Sequencing on this layout provides the puppy with some interesting training opportunities:  1) jumps may be set up as a slice, to show that a “jump is a jump is a jump, whether facing you or set at an angle,”   2) tunnels won’t always be straight in line with your start-line position,  3) when you come out of a tunnel look to me for instructions,  4) the sequence may not end at a tunnel,  5) there’s tugging to be had if you do everything I ask!

He was a motivated student (working for his tug toy).  I felt relaxed and un-stressed (it was my day off).

We had a blast.  I hope to be able to fit more of this training into my daily routine, even on days I have to work.

I can either take him to the building between breakfast and heading out to work (between 9-10 a.m.) or take him to the building after work (8:30 p.m.).  Morning would probably work out better for me, as I’m more likely to have the energy then.

But, on the other hand, when Bud’s here I sometimes go swimming before work (still working on getting rid of the last 10-20 pounds slowing me down).  AND, Tempest might have a more relaxing evening if he gets a little work after dark. 

AND, Tempest would probably be more comfortable working several hours after his supper instead of several minutes after his breakfast — probably healthier to allow his meals to settle.

I’ll work sequencing into his schedule through the winter, though.

My goal is to get him into the agility workshops for mini-sequences (if the class is doing 9 obstacles Tempest and I will do 4 of those, for example) through the fall, build to bigger sequences through the winter, and be ready for advanced sequencing by his first birthday in March 2011.

In the meantime, his behavior in the house is pretty good considering his age.  He loves to chew on OAK, so he’s damaged some of my nice furniture when Daddy allowed him free run of the house and I’m away. 

Sight of chewed oak furniture was shocking enough that no further warnings were necessary about the need to crate the puppy when he can’t be watched closely.

In the meantime, I’m off to work today and the next 2 days (beatings will continue until morale improves <g>) — all the while Bud and Hazard are whooping it up at the TDAA Petit Prix in Auburn, WA.

Good luck at the Petit Prix to my sweeties !!!!

2-minute dog trainer – Tempest gets neutered

October 1, 2010

This was the week where all my obedience training paid off. <g>

Tempest got neutered about 10 days ago and was supposed to be kept quiet for 7-10 days.

The first day was no problem. He was sore and drugged with pain meds. He stayed nice and quiet, walked in and out of the house on lead, spent the day in his crate and ex-pen, and mostly slept.

By the 4th day he was dying to chase Bud’s BC, Kory. He skittered down the ramp into the yard instead of walking quietly.

I used as many obedience cues, in as calm a voice, as I could muster. He really is a very good puppy, so I’m lucky with that. The 6-7 days of total confinement (for Tempest AND me <g>) went quickly.

Fortunately I had a long period with no work days, so I got to spend 24/7 with Tempest and keep him from having to endure an elizabethan collar.

After 6 days of total quiet, with 3-4 trips each day to the training building to walk around with my antsy pup, I gave him a little more freedom.

He still wasn’t ready to rip and tear with Kory, but I gave him a 30-minute break in the yard by himself. He seemed to enjoy sniffing the edges, eating grass and sticks, and relaxing in the sun.

While he was recovering from his little surgery we worked on:  1) sitting for exiting crates or pens, exiting the house, entering the training building, etc.,  2) walking on a loose leash,  3) greeting people by sitting, and  4) being attentive.

Now that he’s done with pain meds and being confined, we’re back working on continuing to reinforce his 2-on-2-off contact performance with breakfast and dinner.

I take his food bowl to the part of the basement that holds his contact trainer. I set the bowl 10-11-feet away from the down ramp he’ll be using.

We walk away from his bowl (he usually heels at this point, since he’s not sure if this is a heeling exercise or agility — I LOVE that!).

I tell him “walk up!” and he mounts the contact trainer and drives to the floor, where he rushes into position.

I, on the other hand, do not limit my movement.  I don’t necessarily establish a parallel path but, instead, sometimes head off in a totally different direction while he’s moving down his ramp.

If he makes the mistake of coming off the ramp, I make a big deal of putting the food bowl back down and we repeat the exercise.

If he nails his 2O2O position I walk around, casually pick up the bowl, set it down in front of him and let him eat about half his food.

We repeat this exercise, for a total of two performances, with each meal.

SIDEBAR:  About 2 weeks ago I decided I wanted Tempest to know my contact performance criteria demanded he assume his position in perfect line with the ramp. I want his front feet to stay in line with the bottom of the ramp, and don’t want Tempest hopping off the side of the ramp with his front end. One of the problems with the sideways contact performance is that it complicates the dog’s approach to the next obstacle. If the dog is supposed to turn away, into a tunnel perhaps, they’re facing the wrong direction right from the get-go.

It’s been weeks since Tempest made the mistake of coming off the contact trainer in the basement. It’s been a week since Tempest made the mistake of coming off the dogwalk in the training building.

But he’s still making occasional mistakes when we work on the real agility equipment, so I’ll continue his training in the basement for several months.