Archive for June, 2014

Marsha Houston’s 2-minute dog trainer blog

June 4, 2014

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