Marsha Houston’s blog – getting Haymitch prepared for the 2012 Petit Prix

September 22, 2012

I wrote the following in mid-August as Haymitch and I were preparing for his very first trial, a TDAA trial in Gahanna, Ohio.  I’ve been meaning to update my blog for readers, but have been busy training my dogs. <g>

ON AUG. 12, 2012 I wrote:

The next 5 days will be devoted to a couple of advanced agility concepts, weaving and sequencing. And mental preparation …

Weaving —

I began attempting to teach Haymitch the 2×2 weave method. He didn’t get it at first, and didn’t get it at last. Dogs all learn differently, and he appears to be uninterested in offering to engage agility equipment unless I’m moving with him. With me standing still he offers non-equipment behaviors, like sit, down, jumping up, etc.  If I’m moving he offers to engage agility equipment.

I accept the dog I’m with, so I wired up a set of weaves and walked him back and forth a few times.  The wires, for such a little dog, provided no blockage to his efforts to jump over or duck under the wire. I put his leash on and he continued to easily duck under or jump over the wire. Hmmmmm ….

I moved to the 2×2 weaves, set them up in a slightly-akimbo line of 6 with the short TDAA weavepoles so I could get my hands in there easily, and began just luring him back and forth through the poles. I gradually allowed for a more independent performance. I gradually straightened the line of poles. Haymitch performed about 30 repetitions before he started to lose appetite.

By the 20th repetition he was starting to get the idea of what was required to earn the treat. I’ll repeat this training every day this week. When he starts actually weaving independently, I’ll open the weaves up again to build some speed and encourage that independence.

Sept.20, 2012, update … Haymitch is entering 6 weaves correctly about 90% of the time. I’m adding tougher entries and sending him to the weaves over a jump. He’s staying in the sets of 6 poles consistently. NEXT:  Adding weaves in flow, at speed, and increase to 10 poles.

Sequencing

Bud set the building for his private lesson with Pearl and her Tervuren (from Cincinnati). It was easy to come up with some sequences for Haymitch.

At first I did a number of straight runs over agility equipment. I lengthened those runs from 3 obstacles to 5-or-6 obstacles.

Next I put some “handler focus” bits in the middle of a straight line, asking Haymitch to pull off the obstacle in front of him to attend my lead. He missed cues the first couple of times, but quickly drew into the line I demonstrated.

As with agility obstacles, Haymitch showed he is fearless and intuitive. He goes into obstacle focus when my arm is outstretched, and comes into handler focus when my arm is dropped or I have my hand in “luring” shape.

Sept.20, 2012, update … Haymitch does nice sequencing with no distractions. At his first trial he wanted to visit the judge but always allowed me to call him back, and never ceased to work for me. NEXT: Adding longer sequences, putting 12 weaves in flow, asking him to do some distance work. New exercises will include the exploding pinwheel and “go on!.”

Mental preparation —

I just can’t be more impressed with this little guy’s natural ability. We adopted Haymitch about 2 months ago and didn’t really start serious agility training until late July.

I keep waiting for the shoe to drop, so to speak, and for Haymitch to fail to respond to training or handling but it hasn’t happened yet.

Sept.20, 2012, update … I feel confident in Haymitch and my ability to form a team over the next few weeks (and years). He’s a willing worker and responds perfectly to the intuitive training we specialize in. NEXT: Work a little each day with Haymitch on sequencing, and a little with Hazard on speed and enthusiasm.

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Marsha Houston’s blog – 2012-3 Winter Agility Workshops

September 8, 2012

2012-3 Fall/Winter Dog Agility Training at

Houston’s Country Dream

We’re reinstating a few workshop sessions so we can all stay active during the winter. These workshops are on Sunday afternoons from noon to 4pm.  Private lessons are available before workshop sessions, and during the weekMinimum registration SIX (6) handlers, so tell your friends and bring them with you!

______/______ November 25 (holiday recovery workshop)

dog 1      /      add’l dogs

______/______ January 13

dog 1      /      add’l dogs

______/______ January 20

dog 1      /      add’l dogs

______/______ January 27

dog 1      /      add’l dogs

______/______ February 3

dog 1      /      add’l dogs

______/______ February 17

dog 1      /      add’l dogs

______/______ February 24

dog 1      /      add’l dogs

______/______ March 3

dog 1      /      add’l dogs

______/______ March 17

dog 1      /      add’l dogs

_____/_____      TOTAL

   x $40     x $25 add’l dogs

 

Please mail your workshop fee (payable to Bud Houston) to:

Bud Houston, 14543 State Route 676, Waterford, OH 45786.

Marsha Houston’s Blog – 2min dog trainer – what makes a great coach or instructor

September 4, 2012

As a 2-minute dog trainer (most of my training takes place in mealtime sessions) I must be committed to providing a brief, intense training experience, whether I’m coaching my dog or my student. I believe a good instructor imparts useful information, but also shares a philosophical framework for that information.

My philosophy includes:

I believe I’m the emotional leader for my dog. If I have fun and maintain an upbeat attitude my dog will assume the same attitude, will enjoy the training experience and wish to repeat it.  I can push and put pressure on my dog in competition because I practice that in training.

I believe I’m the emotional leader for my students as well. If I assume an attitude of intensity and enthusiasm my student will assume the same attitude, will enjoy the training experience and wish to repeat it.  Students can withstand pressure in competition when they’ve practiced it in training.

My idea of a great agility coach:

My idea of the perfect agility coach and instructor is one who shares a solid training philosophy and integrates it with brief, intense, training sessions.

Students and dogs should respond with an equal dose of intensity and enthusiasm.

After all, what’s the point in a laid-back, blase’ training session that does little to prepare a student for the pressurized environment of agility trials.

A great coach applies pressure to students in class, pushes them out of their comfort zone, asks them to hurry to the start line, shouts “please go now!” to replicate the trial atmosphere, and pushes for lots of repetitions and work.  Sometimes a great coach upsets a student — it’s not always fun, but it’s often necessary, to be pushed by a great coach.

Marsha Houston’s 2-min dog training blog – Haymitch’s advanced training

August 12, 2012

Okay — so I could go to Haymitch’s first teacup agility trial (ARF in Columbus, OH, next weekend) without teaching him how to weave.  But what’s the fun of that?

TDAA competitions offer 10-12 runs over the course of a weekend, so there’s an opportunity to earn a Beginner Standard title one day, and move to Intermediate Standard the next.  Or to earn a Games 1 title one day, and move to Games 2 the next.

If he stays confident and focused and if my head doesn’t explode, he could earn his TBAD on Saturday. In which case he’ll need to know how to weave Sunday morning.

I should go prepared for weaving.

So the next 5 days will be devoted to a couple of advanced agility concepts, weaving and sequencing. And mental preparation …

Weaving —

I began attempting to teach Haymitch the 2×2 weave method. He didn’t get it at first, and didn’t get it at last. Dogs all learn differently, and he appears to be uninterested in offering to engage agility equipment unless I’m moving with him. With me standing still he offers non-equipment behaviors, like sit, down, jumping up, etc.  If I’m moving he offers to engage agility equipment.

I accept the dog I’m with, so I wired up a set of weaves and walked him back and forth a few times.  The wires, for such a little dog, provided no blockage to his efforts to jump over or duck under the wire. I put his leash on and he continued to easily duck under or jump over the wire. Hmmmmm ….

I moved to the 2×2 weaves, set them up in a slightly-akimbo line of 6 with the short TDAA weavepoles so I could get my hands in there easily, and began just luring him back and forth through the poles. I gradually allowed for a more independent performance. I gradually straightened the line of poles. Haymitch performed about 30 repetitions before he started to lose appetite.

By the 20th repetition he was starting to get the idea of what was required to earn the treat. I’ll repeat this training every day this week. When he starts actually weaving independently, I’ll open the weaves up again to build some speed and encourage that independence.

Sequencing —

Bud set the building for his private lesson with Pearl and her Tervuren (from Cincinnati). It was easy to come up with some sequences for Haymitch.

At first I did a number of straight runs over agility equipment. I lengthened those runs from 3 obstacles to 5-or-6 obstacles.

Next I put some “handler focus” bits in the middle of a straight line, asking Haymitch to pull off the obstacle in front of him to attend my lead. He missed cues the first couple of times, but quickly drew into the line I demonstrated.

As with agility obstacles, Haymitch showed he is fearless and intuitive. He goes into obstacle focus when my arm is outstretched, and comes into handler focus when my arm is dropped or I have my hand in “luring” shape.

Mental preparation —

I just can’t be more impressed with this little guy’s natural ability. We adopted Haymitch about 2 months ago and didn’t really start serious agility training until about 3 weeks ago.

I keep waiting for the shoe to drop, so to speak, and for Haymitch to fail to respond to training or handling but it hasn’t happened yet.

I’m really excited about his first trial opportunity this coming weekend. I’ve pulled out my training bag which hasn’t been used since Tempest and I attended his last trial — October 2011. Sadly it still contained T’s emergency seizure kit. Life is sad and strange and tricky.

I’ve received the worker’s volunteer spreadsheet and signed up to work as a bar-setter for intermediate and superior standard classes. I’ll probably work more than that but didn’t want to commit only to discover Haymitch is annoying when left alone in his crate.

I’ve arranged to meet dear friend Gwenn at the trial. We always have fun together and we hope Patty can join us as well.

Bud thinks I’m going to chicken out. Perhaps he’s thinking I’ll be haunted by the memory of Tempest, or be concerned about failing in front of people.  But I’m very excited about this trip and am really looking forward to getting away from home and enjoying the company of Haymitch, Gwenn, and Patty, along with all the great folks at ARF.

Wish me luck!

Marsha Houston blog – 2min dog trainer – It’s ON with Haymitch

July 30, 2012

Just mailed my entries to ARF’s TDAA trial August 18-19, reserved my room, and talked Bud into staying here that weekend to veg out with 5 dogs so I can focus solely on Haymitch.

It’s ON like Donky Kong!

Now I’ve got to start doing longer and longer sequences.  I’m thinking that a series of “Minuet” sequences might be good conditioning for both of us.

Wheee !!!  A dangerous situation — me and my FIRST teacup dog all my own.

Marsha Houston blog – 2min dog trainer – Haymitch con’t.

July 29, 2012

Haymitch has been on a crash course (no pun intended <g>) to prepare him for teacup agility competition. He gets mealtime training for dogwalk contacts (a sit at the bottom of the ramp) and a few sessions with the exploding pinwheel (“go on!”). He’s great dog-on-right going counter-clockwise, and sucks dog-on-left clockwise. So I’m doing 3-4 times as many pinwheels dog-on-left.

Additionally, once a day we spend 30 minutes in the training building where we’re working on sequencing, the full-size dogwalk and a-frame, the teeter, and weavepoles.

Sequencing – Haymitch seems to really enjoy running with me. He’s pretty steady about understanding his role, and rarely by-passes an obstacle. The most-often missed obstacle for Haymitch is a jump. I want him to understand that I’m not going to babysit agility obstacles, so I condition the dogwalk approach. I run at the dogwalk from 5 feet, from 10 feet, from 15 feet, and finally from the exit of the tunnel (about 20 feet). I’m going to add a jump to the sequence, between the tunnel and dogwalk, so he learns to take the jump that’s in his path.

Sequencing (mealtime) – For breakfast and supper Haymitch is learning the exploding pinwheel, taking three jumps in a pinwheel without my having to babysit them.

Full size dogwalk, a-frame, and teeter – Haymitch’s contact training actually started on our teeter trainer. It’s a wide, heavy, low tipping board. He progressed from that to the teacup teeter. I then introduced the dogwalk and he had no problem distinguishing between the teeter and the dogwalk. I then introduced the teacup a-frame. His first sequence contained both the teacup teeter and a-frame. Yesterday I tested his confidence by asking for the full-size a-frame, which he took quite naturally, as if he’d been doing agility all his life.  I always want to challenge him, so I took him to the full-size teeter which he ran up, rode down, and sat for his treat. He repeated this obstacle half a dozen times and seemed unaffected by the height, the tip, the noise, etc. So impressive!

Weavepoles – there are as many methods for teaching weavepoles as there are agility experts, and I’m not afraid of implementing any method if I feel it will add to my dog’s understanding of the obstacle. Haymitch’s introduction to weavepoles was with two poles, with a click/treat for entering correctly. I then added a third pole, click/treat for entering and exiting correctly. I then added a second set of 2 poles, with a click/treat or tossing a toy for going on to the second set. (As an aside, Haymitch’s favorite game with a toy is “keep-away” so I can get lots more repetitions if I train with food, whether I click/treat from my hand, or click/toss the treat into his reward zone.) Yesterday I wired a set of 6 poles, put him on lead, and got him to weave through all 6 poles for a toss of the tennis ball. Because I had him on lead I had better control of the “keep away” game. I may continue with the wired weaves, then transition to other methods if his weave performance is slow or unnecessarily deliberate.

I’m getting quite excited at the prospect of actually showing him in August. I’ll be anxious to see if he is adversely affected by strange environments, strange equipment, strange people, dogs barking, etc.

Marsha Houston blog – 2-minute dog trainer – Haymitch learns the chute

July 21, 2012

When teaching a new obstacle, our goal is always to start with the obstacle set for the easiest performance, reward the dog for performing, making it a little harder, rewarding the dog for performing, making it a little harder, etc.

This methodology usually requires an assistant, or instructor, to hold the dog’s leash or to adjust equipment.

Two days ago I decided to teach Haymitch to perform the collapsed tunnel. I decided to try it on my own, while Bud was down at the pond clearing the downed trees from June’s derecho event.

I set up one of our big barn fans facing the barrel end of the chute.

The chute fabric was completely extended, but the air flow from the barn fan kept the upper fabric about 12 inches off the floor.

I presented Haymitch with the chute, and he balked.

We went to a pipe tunnel, which he’s familiar with, and performed it a few times with a treat reward each time.

I set the pipe tunnel so the pipe tunnel exit faced the entrance of the chute. I thought that his performance of a familiar obstacle might encourage him to perform the unfamiliar obstacle.

I sent Haymitch into the pipe tunnel then directed him into the chute. He scooted right through and I tossed his treat a foot or two beyond the chute fabric.

I continued to present the chute entrance to Haymitch, clicking and treating as he went through the fabric.

If I clicked too early, as he entered the barrel end, he’d come back out. I had to click when he was more than half way through the fabric.

Each time I presented the obstacle I was farther from the entrance, so Haymitch ended up running 5-6 feet to get into the chute.

With the fan keeping the chute fabric open, Haymitch learned to seek out the entrance of the chute, run straight through, and find his reward on the floor 1-2 feet away from the exit.

When Haymitch was confidently going through the chute, with the fabric blown open, I changed the trajectory of the barn fan’s air flow.

This allowed the fabric to drop slightly, as less air was directed through the chute.

I went back to my original presentation position, sending him through the pipe tunnel and then into the chute.

I continued to click/treat as he was more than half way through the fabric. In our first training session, which took about 15 minutes, Haymitch was performing his conditioned sequence (teeter, tire, jump, a-frame, tunnel) followed by a distance send into the barrel end of the chute.

Our second training session began with the fan blowing the fabric open.

After 4-5 repetitions with the fabric blown open, I shifted the trajectory of the fan breeze, allowing the fabric to drop slightly.

Haymitch continued performing the chute, thought slightly slower.

I repeated the obstacle a dozen times, clicking Haymitch as he was half way through the fabric, and tossing his treat 1-2 feet from the fabric exit.

I again shifted the trajectory of the fan breeze, allowing the fabric to drop completely.

Haymitch refused the chute the first time he was faced with the fabric lying flat.

I turned the fan to push a little air through the fabric.

Haymitch went through the chute 5-6 times for his click/treat.

I again turned the fan away to allow the fabric to drop.

Haymitch went through the chute with the fabric flat on the floor!  We repeated this performance 5-6 times, with a click as he as reached the half way point of the fabric, and getting his treat about 1-2 fee from the exit of the chute.

We finished this training session with his conditioned sequence (teeter, tire, jump, a-frame, tunnel) and fired into the chute with the fabric lying on the floor!

Bud joined us partway through this sequence, so I handed him my string cheese and Haymitch immediately shifted his focus to Bud and ran the sequence for him!

We finished the training session with a few weave entries, finishing our string cheese. I’m SO impressed with this little guy!

Haymitch’s 2-minute meal time training focuses on the dogwalk contact trainer, feeding breakfast and supper for a sit on the end of the contact.

This mealtime training carries over into his sequencing work as:  1) on the teeter Haymitch climbs the ramp, rides it down, and sits on the end of the ramp,  2) on the a-frame Haymitch slows as he approaches the contact,  3) we haven’t done a lot of dogwalks, but I’m going to encourage a sit at the end of the ramp.

Marsha Houston’s blog – 2min dog trainer – Haymitch’s progress

July 17, 2012

Getting a new dog, whether it’s a puppy, adolescent, or adult from a breeder, or a rescue with unknown heritage, is a crap shoot.

Dogs have issues with confidence, with aggression, with shyness. Dogs can get sick, can experience trauma. Dogs can experience inherited behavioral or physiological challenges.

First-time dog owners sometimes assume that every dog will be a happy, healthy pet, and that agility or obedience performances are possible with every dog.

I’ve been around the block a few times, this isn’t my first dog show (so to speak), and I know how rare it is to find a dog in rescue who is happy, confident, well-socialized with people and dogs and cats. To find a rescued dog who has all these qualities AND is an eager agility partner is incredibly rare. To find a rescued dog with all these qualities, the athleticism for agility, AND who randomly offers behaviors for the click/treat, is a treasure.

When I adopted Haymitch all I wanted was a dog who was confident, who could be socialized to be comfortable in a trial setting.

What I got is a confident dog who has no apparent issues whatsoever with people, dogs, cats, equipment, vet techs, etc.

He is as athletic as I need, easily chases and keeps up with the border collies, plays with Phoenix with confidence, climbs and jumps onto chairs and tables, has no fear of anything I can see.

When I get out my clicker and treats Haymitch looks for work. He tries all the stuff he knows — at first he only knew “jump up,” “sit,” and “lie down.”  Now he throws all three of those, but he’s added “tire,” “tunnel,” “teeter,” and “weave” to his offerings.

Yesterday we had 2 training sessions on our little circular sequence (jump, tire, teeter, tunnel, a-frame). I also added a 5 minute session with 2 weavepoles.

This morning we entered the training building and he offered the tunnel twice. Walking to the weaves he offered the tire. When he saw we were headed to the weaves he offered a weave entry and then ran beyond it to the training teeter. Like a kid in a candy store, his skills are growing and he’s able to offer double the behaviors of a week ago.

Before this weekend is over I want to be working Haymitch on his sequence, AND on the weaves, with the distraction of Bud and the other dogs in the building.

I just want to go on record as saying “I will never take for granted this fabulous little dog and the personality and skills he brings to the team.”

Thank you, Margaret Hendershot and Multiple Breed Rescue!

Haymitch timeline ….
June adopted Haymitch
July rear dewclaws removed, began agility training
July 28-29 first trial opportunity (B&D)
August 17-18-19 second trial opportunity (ARF)
September 2 trial opportunities (Four Seasons and B&D)
October last weekend PA Petit Prix
November first weekend TX Petit Prix

I’m curious about exactly what is possible for Haymitch, if I devote the time and energy he deserves.

In the meantime, Phoenix is 7 months old and will begin weavepole and full-size contacts training this winter. His first trialing opportunity will be next summer, though he may get held back so that he can debut with Django who is just 4 months old.

Marsha Houston’s Blog – 2-min. dog trainer – prepping Haymitch

July 11, 2012

Most of my 2-minute training protocols were created with adolescent or mature dogs in mind, because I developed this program when we had older rescued dogs and my classes were filled with adolescent, untrained, pups.

In the last couple of years my blog has focused on using those protocols to develop an eight-week-old puppy into an agility or rally partner.

Phoenix, at 7-1/2 months, does his 2-on-2-off contacts for breakfast and dinner. We have jumps set up in the yard and he’s also doing “go on” and “jump” for meals. I’ve begun asking for some responses to common handling at mealtime as well (front crosses with simple rotation, some back crosses) but I feel no need to rush him into more complex sequencing or obstacle performance.

Ever few days I play with him in the 2-by-2 weave poles. We don’t do a bunch of repetitions, but I want him to remember what “weave” means. By this coming winter I’ll begin emphasizing weave entries more, proofing contacts, and start putting together sequences.

On the other hand, Haymitch landed in my lap ready for action. He’s 18-24 months old, athletic, greedy for food, greedy for toys, and bright as can be. I have no idea what his past was (don’t really care) but he hasn’t shown any fear issues. He doesn’t lack confidence on equipment, with other dogs, with people, etc. The perfect rescue dog. (Thanks, Multiple Breed Rescue and Margaret Hendershot — you picked a great one for me !!!)

We got Haymitch in June — that month was his settling-in month. His mealtime activities included sitting for his food bowl and keeping his nose out of other dogs’ bowls.  Also in June he was introduced to jumps, the dogwalk, the teeter, and some minor sequencing.

I’ve also worked with him at his recall. Immediately following the June 29 derecho Haymitch found a hole in the dog yard and went on a minor “run-about.” So many trees were down there was no traffic on the highway in front of our house, and he focused his worried dashing about to the neighbor’s freshly-cut hay field, so I left the gate open, left hot dogs on the porch, and went about repairing storm damage. Fifteen minutes later he was standing on the front porch wanting in. I resolved to give more focus to his recall, though his response was due largely to the horrible storm he’d just survived, and the continuing rumbling afterwards. He didn’t so much run off as just “run.”

In July he’s had surgery to remove two worrisome rear dewclaws, and his stitches come out this week. Also in July he’s been introduced to the a-frame, the tire, tunnels, and chute.

These introductions to equipment have been the equivalent of one beginner agility session. Bud and I worked together yesterday on tire, chute, and tunnel, but it’s mostly been me casually going to the building with Haymitch for a little training.

But now training begins in earnest in preparation for late October’s TDAA Petit Prix events in Latrobe, PA, and Wichita Falls, TX.

Texas’ Kim Brewer thinks I should bring my little corgi/chi mix to Wichita Falls. I don’t know that he’ll be ready, but it should be an interesting trip for him (shopping list includes new sherpa bag), and it may mean that little Hazard, at age 8, stays home with our house-and-dog-sitter.

He may go to the Petit Prix as an ambassador versus competitor, but he’ll be entered in all the runs and he’ll be as trained as possible. We may skip every set of weaves, he may bail the teeter, he may not hit a contact all weekend — or he may do just fine.

The Latrobe, PA, trip is easier to confirm since it’s a driving trip. Of course he’ll go!  Again, we may skip every set of weaves, bail the teeter, miss our contacts — or do just fine.

This is all directly related to my investment of time and effort. His performance in PA and TX will be a direct reflection on my skill as a trainer, and his confidence level.

Job one is establishing our timeline. I want him to experience a couple of TDAA trials, to gauge his confidence level and his skill level. I want to know if he’ll stay in the ring with me, stay focused, in the presence of that level of distraction.

July 21-22 Medina Swarm — doubt if we can possibly be ready, but might be an interesting test of his confidence level, may go for one day

July 28-29 B&D Creekside — would be great to get him into the Petit Prix venue and Bud will be there for a judge’s clinic so it would be four full days in that environment — two days to adjust, two days to play on equipment

Aug 18-19 ARF — definitely will go, should be able to train weaves by then

Sept 8-9 Four Seasons — would be a great experience for Haymitch AND his ex-best-friend Margaret is the judge, so it’s a great training opportunity.

Sept. 29-30 B&D Creekside — probably our last opportunity to prep for the Petit Prix as Bud’s doing a bunch of seminars in early October.

Job two is assigning skills to the timeline.  In our classes we have great success with:  1) familiarize dogs with equipment and condition performance, 2) present obstacles with movement, 3) sequence familiar obstacles with those less familiar,  4) string together 3-4 obstacles.

In July I want Haymitch to see all the equipment and begin small sequences.

In August I want Haymitch to start weaving, and confidently performing the teeter.

In September I want to start putting it all together.

In October I want to let him have a great time at the PA and TX Petit Prix, and develop the teacup agility partnership I imagined when I asked Margaret to keep an eye out for my first teacup agility dog.

See you at the Petit Prix!

Ohio Air Dogs – non-payment for services

June 25, 2012

One of the real joys of owning a small business, scheduling Bud’s seminars, hosting camps and trials, and managing TDAA, is dealing with great dog lovers and agility enthusiasts.

We meet such terrific people in the course of our various activities. They’re a talented and driven group. We love getting to know them better, become part of their lives, assist them in growing their dog-training business.

And then there are the bad apples.

Whenever I hear about a dog training center or dog business owner who fails to live up to his/her financial obligations (read: stiffs seminar presenters for their expenses and fees), my first reaction is always, “What is she thinking? This is such a tiny, tight-knit community! She’s going to ruin her business over an unpaid seminar fee?”

In 13 years Bud and I have experienced an irresponsible dog-business owner twice.

In the first case we received re-payment within a few weeks. The mismanagement that caused the rubber checks led to the rapid demise of the business, and the dog-training community no longer hears from this eastern Ohio business owner.

If you don’t manage to pay your bills you won’t last long in this relationship-based business.

Last October, at a national agility event, we were asked by Renee Roth, an instructor at Ohio Air Dogs, and a teacup agility enthusiast, about the possibility of having Bud do an agility seminar at Ohio Air Dogs in North Royalton, Ohio. It took us a couple of months to schedule the event, and a couple of months to get our required deposit. In the meantime Renee of  Ohio Air Dogs was posting on national agility lists, marketing the seminar.

We began getting vague e-mails from a person who claimed we would have trouble collecting our fee. I asked Renee if this was going to be a problem. “We don’t have any problem paying our bills,” Renee responded. So we figured this was a disgruntled business competitor. I wish we’d been less trusting and paid closer attention.

The seminar took place in late April. It was a healthy, full seminar. Bud was handed a check to cover his fee and expenses on Sunday afternoon. I deposited the check on Monday. On Tuesday, Bud said, “oh yeah, Marie [Goodwin] at Ohio Air Dogs asked that we not deposit that check until Tuesday.”

Of course the check bounced. I felt bad, having deposited the check a day early, and accepted responsibility for the $10 fee charged by our bank.

Since then, while our lives have been occupied with classes and training our dogs, a drama has been running in the background — the first NSF check (and $10 fee charged to us by our bank), 10 e-mails, 2 phone calls, a promise for a replacement check, 10 days of driving to post office looking for check, more phone calls and e-mails, 10 days of a “paypal” promise, a mythical e-check, 10 more days of watching my new paypal account for money that was never going to arrive, more phone calls and e-mails, a promise for a certified check, 10 more days of hearing about how the check was mailed with insufficient postage and driving to the post office looking for the payment.

All the time being barraged with untruths served up so fast that I don’t think Marie Goodwin of Ohio Air Dogs actually allowed them to register as lies before speaking.

For example, when asked why the replacement check or the certified check never arrived at our post office Marie answered, “I stopped payment on those checks!” Well I don’t think that vaporizes them — the envelope should still arrive in the mail — if it ever existed.

One Saturday I sat by the phone for 7 hours waiting for a phone call from Marie’s bank. We were going to do an electronic funds transfer and I asked her to have her bank call me for routing numbers and account numbers. Of course I never got that call.

So, by early June, I recognized I was dealing with a pathological liar who had no intention of ever paying us for anything.

Bud, on the other hand, having spent six weeks on more productive and joyful pursuits, came fresh to the issue and contacted Marie at Ohio Air Dogs and proposed a payment schedule. He asked for one current check to cover the expenses charged to our credit card, and 3 post-dated checks to cover the seminar fee.

Marie at Ohio Air Dogs immediately agreed to this arrangement. We hung up the phone with Bud feeling hopeful and me feeling resigned. (On a sidebar, we asked for checks dated 6/8, 7/1, 8/1, and 9/1. We got checks dated 6/18, 7/18, 8/18, and 9/18.)

Immediately the phone rang. Marie at Ohio Air Dogs said, “Bud, you could really help me out here. I do border collie rescue and have this puppy given to me by the breeder. His sire is xx from England [or Scotland, or whatever, I stopped registering details after the hundredth lie] and he’s got a really nice pedigree. I don’t charge for my rescues, I just try to find them the best homes.”

While I was vigorously shaking my head “NO!!!” Bud agreed to pick up the puppy at the same time as the four checks. There were two reasons I didn’t want this pup from Marie — 1) I tend to forge close bonds to rescue folks from whom I get dogs, and I didn’t trust Marie enough to want to start building that bond,  and  2) we had just adopted Haymitch, gotten Phoenix neutered, ended our weeknight classes, dealing with this debt, and our life was already whirling.

Django entered our lives. We love him, but it’s been hard for me because of the events leading up to his arrival. It’s like having prime rib served to you on a garbage can lid. My attitude was skewed by the presentation. But he’s a sweet pup. (According to Marie, he’s gone from being a left-over pup in her rescue to being a $1000 pup with a line of people waiting to buy him. No explanation as to why she didn’t sell him to one of the people waiting for him and pay her bills.)

Since Django arrived we’ve been barraged with phone calls and e-mails from Marie at Ohio Air Dogs asking for updates on his progress. How much progress can a 10-12-week old pup make? He’s seen our vet for all his shots and I’m trying to get his eyes to stop producing matter.

I finally wrote to Marie saying, “I’m preparing to deposit your first check covering Bud’s expenses. When your check clears we will e-mail an update on Django.” I thought it was a positive move, and a polite effort to let her know she needed to prepare her bank account.

Marie was incensed. I was holding a puppy as ransom and putting conditions on puppy updates. “This puppy was not in any way connected to the money!”  I was surprised on two fronts — 1) Marie at Ohio Air Dogs was disconnecting the puppy from the debt when I really expected her to screw us for the money and claim the puppy was valued at $1700,  and  2) Marie admitted she owed us money!  Of course, the check (for Bud’s expenses) bounced.

So now we have to decide whether it’s worth the effort to try to squeeze blood out of a turnip. I think Ohio Air Dogs is so mismanaged that they won’t actually exist for very long. They’re probably bouncing checks all over northern Ohio.

I’m going to publish this blog. This is going on Facebook as well.

I’ve contacted Ohio Air Dogs’ professional sanctioning organizations (APDT, American Treibball Assn, and Skyhoundz) to lodge a complaint I’m going to keep checking Ohio Air Dogs’ calendar and send a detailed letter to anyone who gets hired to do training at their facility.

We have discontinued phone conversations (which can’t be documented) and flag e-mail correspondence from Marie Goodwin and Renee Roth at Ohio Air Dogs in North Royalton, Ohio.

If you have a relationship with this group, beware. I’m certain Marie Goodwin will be telling everyone she talks to about those horrible Houstons and how we stole a puppy from her. Folks in Ohio, and all across the United States, know Bud and I. You’re all aware of our conscientious dealings with regards to business, seminars, camps, finances, and (especially) dogs.

In this relationship-based community all you have is your reputation. With a bad reputation, and with a history of failing to pay for services rendered, or failing to provide services paid for, small dog-training businesses fail and disappear.

In the meantime here’s your update Marie — Django is doing fine. He’ll be neutered when he turns 6 months old because we don’t breed dogs. He’ll be a fine agility dog because we’re fine dog trainers and he’s a biddable boy. If you ever pay us the $1720 + $10 + $10 you owe us, you’ll get pictures a couple times a year along with regular updates.