Archive for August, 2011

2-minute dog trainer – Bud will be so pleased

August 28, 2011

Bud has pointed out a couple of miscellaneous skills Tempest doesn’t have, skills which have been on a back burner.

This week Bud’s been out of town more than he’s been home, so I’m using my free time to focus on these skills. Hopefully we’ll have great news for daddy when he gets back into town.

First, retrieving.  Tempest’s favorite game is chase-the-toy-and-kill-it, then drop-it-and-wait-for-mom-to-come-get-it.  The game the dog likes is the correct reward, right?

However, it means a ton of walking for me, and I’d much prefer a dog who fetches his toy and hands it to me.

So this week we began working on a formal retrieve. Once he is retrieving his dumbell to hand I’ll introduce various toys, and help him start generalizing the “fetch” command.

When he’s retrieving to hand I’ll be able to use the toy for a reward and get more training done. The current game is very time consuming as MY toy-fetching speed is a direct reflection of my age and physical capabilities — I’m no 18-month-old BC.

Second, absolute directionals. Bud often says, “You’ve spent the time on Tempest’s contacts that I spent on Kory’s absolute directionals.”  And the dogs’ skills reflect the time we’ve spent on training them.

So Bud can direct Kory through a complex course, using minimal movement and well-conditioned absolute directionals.

Tempest and I, however, struggle with any sequence where I can’t be in the picture helping direct him.  If I say “left!” he’s more likely to spin right, indicating two things — 1) he has no idea what “left” means, and  2) just shouting “left” confuses him and makes him spin.

“Right” is an easier directional for Tempest. Primarily, I believe, because “right” consists of a hard vowel followed by a hard consonant. While “left” consists of a soft consonant followed by a soft vowel and a hard consonant.

So our mealtime training has been to train left-and-right.  At some point in the afternoon I break away from my TDAA and computer work to do a little retrieval training with him.

Mealtime left-and-right — with Tempest’s food bowl in my hands, I have him face me.  He immediately starts guessing what I want, often getting two 360-degree left turns in while I’m setting up.

After several days of “left” training, nearly all his guesses involve “left,” by the way.

When I’m set up I say, “watch me!” then “left.”  I’m looking for an indication of his head to the left. Sometimes it’s a flicker, sometimes he does a complete turn to the left, depending on how hungry he is.

The “watch me” command settles him down just a little and stops him from countless offerings of “left” head flickers and spins.

Not that I don’t want him to offer behavior, but I’d really like him to watch me and offer the behavior he hears/sees me cue.

He’s improved from 20-25% accuracy to about 65-70% accuracy in 2 weeks. So, as Bud says, “that’s better odds than just guessing, so somehow he’s starting to make the connection,” between the left-or-right commands and the correct direction for his head turn.

With the retrieve he’s progressed really quickly from jumping on the dumbell, putting it in his mouth, dropping it, and eating a treat …. to …. picking up the dumbell and bringing it toward my hand.

I’m helping him a bit at this point, getting my hand in really quickly so he’s delivering it to hand without too much effort.

The training I’m doing is following Sue Sternberg’s “Inducive Retrieve.”  It’s the method I’ve used to train my dogs to retrieve since 1997 and I’ve always be incredibly pleased with the results.

Sternberg’s method emphasizes the retrieve-to-hand, and the dog is constantly rewarded for releasing the dumbell into my hand.

As I learned some time ago, “fetch” has nothing whatsoever to do with chasing a toy or carrying a toy around.  It has nothing to do with holding a dumbell, or trotting across the floor with a dumbell in mouth.

Fetching is the act of putting something in my hand. Period.  Afterall, dogs carry things in their mouths all the time. They chase things all the time. Neither of those activities result in the item in my hand.

Sternberg’s training puts so much emphasis on dumbell into hand, treat into mouth, that the rest of the “fetch” behavior becomes just a means to an end. The toughest part of my dogs’ retrieve training is the stay while the dumbell flies away. They love retrieving, and I’m hoping Tempest is no exception.

Sue Sternberg’s well-written publications, including the inducive retrieve brochure, are available at <> and all proceeds benefit the dogs in her Rondout Valley shelter in upstate NY.


2-minute dog trainer – brave new world

August 19, 2011

It’s been 3 weeks since my last blog.  My bad.

Tempest and I had a 7-week stretch of travel and trialing, and we made great strides at improving our communication. I also felt like we were living out of suitcases. My weekly check-list included “unpack car, refresh dog food, repack car.”  It was a little tiring, and very exhilarating.

As a minor matter, we completed our stint of AKC trialing with two titles (Novice Standard and Novice FAST), a Q in Novice JWW, 2 Qs in Open Standard, and a Q in Open FAST.

I had resolved that we’d get back to our AKC trialing in the spring, after a winter of building confidence with jumps, and developing the skills to work technical jump sequences (our weakness).

Bud Houston, my husband and instructor, initiated a series of technical jump handling class lesson plans (Nancy Gye’s Alphabet Drills – Clean Run magazines March 2005 through October 2006 — book and CD available from

We adjusted our class offerings for Fall and Winter to reflect our shifting emphasis, from writing and teaching to trialing and focusing on our own dogs (and Bud’s “Gather and Go” handling system).

We had a weekend off, due to our entries arriving too late for a 3-day trial, and we were looking forward to a little decompression after all the traveling. I was wanting a quiet weekend for Tempest, as it was the full moon and 4 weeks since his last seizure. Then an old friend of ours passed away, leaving a USDAA club in Oregon in a lurch and in need of a masters judge. Bud headed off to Oregon and I was left home alone.

Bud’s trip was followed by 3 days of advanced agility training on Nancy Gye’s highly technical jumping sequences, with Tempest keeping the majority of bars up and surprising me with his capacity to understand and respond to technical handling. I was literally left slack-jawed, saying “where’d he learn that?”

Well, of course, he’s a dog and he follows handler motion, and all I really need to do is learn and perfect the timing he needs from me.

Having missed just one weekend of travel, having Tempest remain in excellent health, and having conquered (for the most part)these marvelous complex training sequences, I just couldn’t stay home any longer.  Our return to AKC trialing will occur in September instead of March, while we continue to prepare for Tempest’s debut in USDAA in late September.

At the same time, we’re getting our house in order. Literally. We’re doing a spring cleaning in the log home. I’m a proponent of use-it-or-lose-it, so a few plastic bags of accumulated junk have made their way to the curb.

And we’re continuing to nibble away at TDAA’s system improvements while keeping up with the day-to-day work coming in.

All the time I’m working on the house and on TDAA registrations, memberships, trial applications, and events calendar, I have this excitement and obsession on the back burner.

I completely understand something now that I didn’t understand 12-10-8-years ago — the obsession with dog agility trialing.

For the first time in my life I am blessed with a dog who loves the sport, who can go from calm and relaxed in his crate to 100% on the start line, and who is physically capable of supporting our participation.

Having done all of Tempest’s training I have been able to build my own agility dog. And I’m absolutely loving this blessing at my side.

I do not take him for granted.  His love of the sport and ability to ignore all distractions on the field makes running him a total pleasure. Nature AND nurture, not nature VERSUS nurture, have created a perfect storm, my Tempest.

I know my future will hold another dog with issues. But, for now and for a few years, I’m praying to continue enjoying the blessing of Tempest.