Friday, July 30, 2010

You just gotta laugh

My Terv friend Kila shared this with me and I hope it makes you laugh as hard as I did. Enjoy.

(Dog Trainer Version)

Pavlov: we fed the chicken on the opposite side of the road each day at 4 p.m. until the chicken’s autonomic system actually began causing the chicken to cross the road at 4 p.m. without even questioning the “why.”

B.F. Skinner: on prior occasions when the chicken voluntarily crossed the road, this behavior was followed immediately by a reinforcing consequence.

Cesar Milan: I bullied, chased, poked, and intimidated the chicken until it raced across the road, because I am a strong leader…

Barbara Woodhouse: You just say, “Walkies” with the right accent and place a crumpet on the other side of the road…

Karen Pryor: by associating R+ with road crossing and P+ with standing still, with a VR schedule, and offering a reward in keeping with the Premack principle, we increased the intensity and frequency of the road crossing behavior.

Bill Koehler: a few well-timed pops on the choke chain and the chicken was happy to cross the road.

Nicholas Dodman: I gave the chicken fluoxetine, sertraline, paroxetine, carbamazepine, and azapirone and then it was happy to cross the road.

Patti Ruzzo: I crossed the road, pausing every step to spit a treat out of my mouth like a human pez dispenser and the chicken followed along catching the treats.

Electric Collar Advocate: whenever the chicken does not cross the road I give it an electric shock. But do not worry, the shock is no more than you would feel if you walked on a carpet wearing socks and it does not bother the chicken at all. The feathers standing up and the smell of burning flesh mean nothing. In fact, they are happier having nice clear communication than they would be otherwise.

Yuppie: chickens are just like little people in feather jackets, and if you love them and give them diamonds and feel sorry for them all the time, they will be happy to cross the road for you.

Paris Hilton: Because I put it in a Gucci bag and carried it.

Shelter director: Any chickens that do not cross the road will be euthanized for their own good, and the others we will “adopt” out tomorrow for only $200 each. Please send us money so we can keep doing more of this important work!

HSUS member: I do not know anything about animals, I have never been around animals and am not really fond of animals, but we passed a law mandating that chickens be kept without cages because animals belong only in the wild and cannot be happy coexisting with man, so now they are walking wherever they want.

PETA member: chickens have the right to live in world without roads. Any chicken that lives within a hundred miles of a road is suffering an inhumane existence and might eventually be hit by a car so we should kill it today to ensure that it does not die tomorrow.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Take your dog to work

One of the best things about my job is that I can take my dog to work. I used to do this a lot with both Jamie and Phoenix, when he was a baby.

Then things got ugly at work with the layoffs, downsizing, furloughs and the basic crash of the newspaper industry. Everyone was tense and short-tempered. I didn't want to bring my dogs anywhere near what had become a very toxic work environment!

But time goes on and things change. The office has settled down and things are basically good again. So Phoenix came to work with me today. I originally planned to train in our former press room (empty, since our printing press is in Venezuela now) during my lunch hour but the day was so beautiful with pleasant temps and low humidity for a change that we went to the town square park and trained there instead.

No hot air balloons this time but there were guys running a little backhoe and trenching machine, installing electric lines, plus all the general chaos of a small town square park. You'd be surprised how noisy they can be on a summer day. We had a good training session. I was really pleased with Nix's attention and ability to tune out all the background noise. One thing about having a puppy who grew up on a farm, machinery noise is basically a non-issue. Nix has his quirks but sound sensitivity is generally not one of them.

His crate is right next to my desk. I left the "sunroof" open. He's been getting a lot of petting from co-workers and a few cookies. He's also been doing the silly boy "let it all hang out" thing. He was sound asleep until I tried to take a picture, of course. Dogs are awfully cute when they sleep on their backs.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mayhem & hot air ballons

Last night, a friend and I met at a local park to train. The air temp was 92 and the heat index was 102. But really, what else did we have to do? Like Jill said, it was possibly the shortest training session ever. It was also one of the weirdest.

When I got to the park, a woman, two kids and very big yellow lab (running loose, of course) were walking around a field. No problem, I thought, and drove to the other end of the park. While I was setting up ring gates and jumps, I heard someone yelling, "Blue, come!"

You guessed it, here came the lab, running straight at me, woman and kids in hot pursuit. Thank doG Phoenix was still in his crate in C3PO.

"Blue! Come! Come! Blue, you hear me? You come! Come here! Blue! I said come! Right now! You come here right now! Come! Blue! Blue! Blue! Get over here! Now! Blue!"

Yeah, right, lady. I don't think that's gonna happen.

Not only did Blue not come, HE JUMPED INTO MY VAN!

The back hatch was open and it was still full of a few jumps, folded up crates, a lawn chair and some bundles of newspapers I would deliver to area stores the next day. But that didn't stop ol' Blue. He piled right in on top of it all.

Did I mention Phoenix was having an absolute ballistic bat sh*t meltdown in his crate?

Seriously, Mom, do I look like I would have a bat sh*t meltdown?

I started to walk around to help the woman get her dog out of my van but she'd already hauled him out and put his leash on. Then she walked away without apologizing or even making eye contact!

For just a minute I thought about telling her if she couldn't control her dog any better than that maybe she shouldn't let it run loose in public places but decided if she needed to have that fact pointed out to her, she was probably not going to be very receptive to constructive criticism.

Shortly after the psycho lab left, some guys in a pickup truck pulling a trailer drove past where we were training and disappeared over a little hill. I didn't see any dogs with them so figured all was good.

Before long, I could hear a whooshing, flapping noise and wondered, "Now what?"

Here's what:

And off they went, floating away on a lovely hot July night.

Now really, how often do you get to proof heeling and stays with someone launching a hot air balloon 50 yards away? And no, the balloon really didn't bother Phoenix. He was interested in it and we sat and watched it together for a little bit, but when I asked him to go back to work he was like okay, whatever. What a good boy.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Doing the math

One of my goals for our summer "vacation" is to teach Phoenix a new left finish, one with a happy little bounce instead of just walking into place. I'm working on putting a bounce in the right finish as well, but that's more of a by product of our left finish work than an actual goal itself — because I've got to ask for some right finishes too, to keep him balanced and not thinking he's going to go left ALL the time.

So anyway.

I'd like to be able to ask for this new finish with realistic expectation of getting it when we go back into the ring to finish his CDX the first weekend in September. That's six weeks away. If we practice 10 finishes in the morning and 10 finishes in the evening (c'mon, it takes about a minute to do this, seriously) that gives us 20 finishes a day and 140 finishes a week.

Of course, these will be PERFECT finishes because initially, I'll be using food to get exactly what I want. When the food disappears from my hand (okay, it already has), I'll be setting up for total success and rewarding every effort that meets my criteria.

That's 840 perfect finishes under our belt by the time we get back in the ring Sept. 4. Even if a few of them aren't perfect and don't get rewarded, there's still a really good chance he will have done about 800 perfect finishes with this 10 in the morning and 10 in the evening formula.

This is useful math I can understand!!! My elementary teacher who taught multiplication would be so proud.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Spa day

Today was spa day at our house. Both boys got a bath and blow dry and so much brushing my arm may fall off. Jamie is 100% against this process. Brushing, good; water, bad. Phoenix is all about getting in the tub but takes a dim view of being shampooed.

Lather, rinse and don't even think about repeating!


Unless they get into something stinky, I don't bathe my guys that often. But I brush like crazy, all year 'round. This was the mid-summer bath. Yeah, there's an autumn bath and a spring bath, too. Usually no winter bath, though. Jamie really likes winter.

The worst thing about this (besides having to clean up the bathroom when I'm done) is that we're not even GOING anywhere. Nope. This was my third of four weekends at home. Things get a little more exciting after next weekend. We start a marathon of matches and trials that will carry us clear through November.

But for now, I have clean, shiny, fluffy dogs for no apparent reason other than I had time to do it today. I think they've forgiven me and are talking to me again. It's about supper time so I'm sure they'll come around.

Also made seven (count 'em, seven!) loaves of zucchini bread this weekend, all from the monster zuke Tammy gave me Friday night. Can I have another one? I go psycho on the zucchini bread this time of year and fill the freezer. It tastes so great in January.

Friday, July 23, 2010

It's okay to be confused

Thanks for the responses to yesterday’s post about using both gloves AND toys in the directed retrieve. Several of you said you wouldn’t ask your dogs to do this because of the potential for confusion, especially if you had proofed the dog against picking up toys on another retrieve.

First, let me clarify: the only way I would use toys as a DISTRACTION on the directed retrieve is if they were totally out of the line of the retrieve, otherwise how could your dog tell what he was supposed to mark and fetch if two items are directly in line with one another? (The retrieve item isn't being thrown on this exercise, unlike the dumbbell retrieve.) I would, however, put a toy out IN PLACE OF a glove.

So let’s look at what the directed retrieve requires: A) dog looks at whatever I mark him to and B) dog fetches that item on command, no matter what it is. If I mark and send him to #3, I expect him to bring #3, whether it's a glove, a toy or a plastic cup.

Phoenix WAS confused the morning I sent him for a toy on the directed retrieve because it was the first time he'd seen that picture and he’d been proofed on his dumbbell retrieve with toys scattered around on the ground. It’s okay to be confused. Confusion means the dog is thinking. He’s not sure what to do. He’s trying to figure it out. If he needs a little help to be right, that’s okay.



Not a correction. And never anger. Too often I think our frustrated human response when a dog makes a mistake is is “must punish” when it should be “must help.” Is it little wonder so many dogs don’t like obedience?

I didn’t realize until Nix veered off the toy and went to get a glove instead how solidly the “avoid toys on retrieves” lesson had sunk in. Wow. Again, he learned more than I thought I was teaching. What a clever boy.

It only took a few quick reps for him to understand the "fetch what you mark no matter what it is" concept.

With my first few Utility dogs (the shelties), I was so scared I would “break” them that I did very little proofing. I was just happy they learned how to do the exercises and wasn’t about to mess around with it beyond that! Fortunately for me, they understood and enjoyed their jobs so thoroughly (UDXs and OTCh./UDX5), proofing was not as important as it became with subsequent dogs. (What a beautiful gift Jess and Connor were!)

I want my dogs to be able to think and make correct decisions. I want them to understand their job so they can do it with confidence under show ring pressure. That’s not going to happen if I never allow them to make mistakes in training, then work through those mistakes with them. The key words here are WORK THROUGH IT WITH THEM. You can’t “correct” a dog for being wrong when he isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do in the first place. I realize this doesn't stop some people from doing it anyway, then they wonder why their dog has a bad attitude.

Years ago, I remember being baffled the first time I saw someone proofing a dog. I thought it was awful, they were setting the dog up to fail. Why would anyone DO that? Gradually I came to understand that when done correctly and fairly, proofing sets the dog up to succeed by giving him the ability to make decisions, not shut down or make failing errors, when faced with distractions in the ring.

Plus, proofing keeps your training fresh and challenging to your dog. Some folks like to train by going through the same motions over and over. Hey, whatever works for them.

But Jamie and now especially Phoenix never thrived on simple repetition, so I try to find new ways to approach the exercises to keep him thinking. My goal is never to deliberately create confusion but to be prepared to HELP my dog if it happens because if you train long enough, it’s pretty much inevitable.

Yes, I think you can take proofing to unnecessary extremes but that’s probably an individual decision for each dog and handler. How far do you want to push your dog? Obedience diehards will remember Diane Bauman’s “Beyond Basic Training” book from the early 1990s — the one with the cover photo of a dog working scent articles with little turtles in the pile. Extreme? Probably.

But my sheltie Connor worked articles with a cat in the pile. I didn’t deliberately put the cat there (it was just a weird cat who always showed up when we trained) and Connor didn’t seem to care so I let it go. If he’d been totally messed up by having a cat in his articles, I would have removed it. Would Phoenix do articles with a cat in the pile? Oh dear doG. I don’t even want to think about that!!!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Odds and ends

First, my apologies for so much text and so few pics lately. I love blogs with pics. I love seeing pics of other people's dogs, homes, cats, flowers, etc. Maybe it’s because I’d rather look at pictures than read words. But I have a lot of words in my head and if I don’t let them out they just keep rattling around and bugging me.


Remember a few weeks back when I said I was going to abandon Phoenix’s auto down on the table and teach an auto sit instead because there didn’t seem to be any consistency with his apparently non-existent auto down at trials and I didn’t think he understood what I wanted?

So we spent a week working on teaching an auto sit every single day and darned if that crazy dog didn’t do a perfect splat auto down on the table every single stinkin’ time in spite of me signaling and telling him to sit. That tells me the auto down program is embedded in his brain and is going to be really hard to override. I’m just failing to get the auto down reliably in trials, probably due to the stress of the moment . . . so we’ll keep after it. My goal is NOT to create any more confusion than I already have.


Phoenix and I went outside to work the directed retrieve one morning this week and wouldn’t you know it, there was only one glove in my bag. Lots of toys. One glove. Story of my life.

So what the heck, I put out two toys and a glove in the directed retrieve pattern. It’s a retrieve, right? What could be more fun that fetching a toy?

Lined him up, did the turn, marked him to Glove (Toy) #1, sent him, watched him race out, look at the toy, look at Glove #2 (which actually was a glove), change his mind, fetch the glove and race back like there was no doubt in his mind. “Gotta get a glove, not a stinkin’ toy. Get in trouble for fetching stinkin' toys when we’re WORKING.”

Oh, the mind of the malinois. It took some convincing to help him understand YES I REALLY DO WANT WHATEVER I MARK YOU TO, EVEN IF IT’S A TOY. I may play this game again and use a shoe, small garden tool, etc. Apparently, I thought I had trained a directed retrieve when in reality, I had trained a glove retrieve.


No doubt the above confusion stemmed from some retrieve proofing I’d been doing by scattering toys around and then having Phoenix retrieve his dumbbell. He’d been corrected for wigging off and grabbing a toy instead of the dumbbell that had been thrown, so in his mind, toys on the ground in the context of training were something to avoid.

I’m learning to think like a dog. It means I have to stop thinking like a human. Amazingly, that’s not hard to do.


Our Utility work continues fairly intensely, since I’d really like to go straight from the last CDX leg this fall straight into the Utility ring. Of course, I’d LIKE a lot of things but I’m thinking positively here and doing everything I can to be prepared. Nix and I have the basic concepts. What we don’t have yet is the polish, animation and confidence that makes a performance both enjoyable to participate in and to watch. I don’t want to go into the ring “for real” without that.


The “more funner” approach to obedience continues and I’m working to incorporate Bridget’s Carlson’s theory of “over training,” which essentially means asking for more speed, enthusiasm and overall general performance in training because if your dog stresses down in the ring, you’ll lose part of that energy but still turn in a great performance.

This is hard for me because I tend to focus on smoothness and efficiency in training without getting too crazy. But Phoenix likes crazy so crazy it is. Besides, it’s as close as I’ll ever get to an aerobics class.


It’s been hotter than heck here lately. Dew points are in the tropical range, which means if you do anything more intense than breathing outdoors, sweat pours off you in buckets. We’ve been training for about 10 minutes before breakfast in the morning, then try to get another session in the evening. I really, really, really can’t wait for fall and cooler weather. Did I mention I am not a big fan of hot weather?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Happy birthday, Jamie!

Today is Jamie's 11th birthday.

He's awfully cute.

Here he's trying to be serious.
He really just wants the cookie. NOW!

This is his "Here's your glove that OTHER dog stole
but I rescued it or there's no telling what would have happened
because that OTHER dog is insane" face.

My smiling coyote.

Monday, July 19, 2010

This looks like work

The Farmer, his brother and his dad combined oats and baled straw over the weekend. I think they filled six or seven hayracks before they were done. I filled water jugs, took pictures and stayed out of the way.

Thanks to everyone who shared their comments and e-mailed me about 4-H dog shows! I thought I was the only one who'd noticed a decline in the project since I was a young 'un. Without going postal on the 4-H system (I know it's run largely by volunteer leaders and they're usually someone's mom or dad and they probably don't have a clue about anything either but doG bless them because they're willing to give their time), but the trend these days seems to be for kids to dabble in everything without actually achieving in anything. Seeing how many trophies you collect at the fair seems to trump any actual knowledge or skill level.

A few years back when I still did a lot of 4-H dog show judging, I once withheld the trophies in the "advanced" classes at a county fair dog show. Oh yeah, that's me, the Wicked Evil Nazi Judge. Why? When the kids took their dogs off leash, the dogs ran out of the ring. Repeatedly. The only thing they could perform was the heel on leash and that was because they couldn't get away. That left 5 exercises (stand for exam, heel free, recall, long sit, long down) that they could not perform at any judgeable level all. Does that deserve a shiny trophy and grand champion ribbon? I didn't think so. Does it reflect a level of achievement beyond what they accomplished the previous year when the dog was tethered to them by the leash?

I talked to the kids in the Novice and Graduate Novice classes about why they were getting red ribbons that day. Honestly, they seemed fine with it. I think they were so embarrassed by their dogs' behavior they just wanted to leave. (Which is too bad. I wonder if they ever understood what they could have achieved with their dogs through regular training.)

Looking back, I was probably lucky to get out of that fairgrounds without having my tires slashed by angry parents. But 4-H is about setting goals and learning by doing. You can't just walk into the ring at fair with your animal and expect a trophy because you bothered to show up.

But enough griping and groaning. There are a million more things I could say about dogs and kids and learning how to train a dog and how to treat animals with respect and this post could go on way beyond any reasonable length so I'll shut up now. The 4-H program launched me into dogs 30+ years ago and it was wonderful and I am so appreciative of the leaders I had back then and all they did for me. And for parents who made sure I trained my dog, if not every day, at least regularly. And paid my entry fees and hauled me to "real" shows. Thank you!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

County fair & memory lane

I've been spending a lot of time at the local county fair this week, taking pictures for the paper. Last night I went to the 4-H dog show. It was your basic choke-jerk-yank affair with all the snaps and snarls you get when you mix dogs and kids and 90 degree temps. Nobody got bit, nobody's dog ran off, I served as a Figure 8 post and didn't get peed on and only one exhibitor broke down in tears so I guess the show was a success. They were still using the graduate novice routine from 1982 but nobody asked my opinion so I kept my mouth shut.

I taught the local 4-H dog project classes for 10 years in this county and for 3 years before that in a neighboring county. I gave it up mostly out of frustration. My training methods were not going to produce a ring-ready dog for the county fair in 10 weeks, which is the usual amount of time alloted to the training sessions that started in the springtime and continued weekly until fair. It gives me some small bit of satisfaction to realize that their current trainer, who still uses the jerk and yank approach with all dogs on chokers regardless of age or size, isn't getting any better results either.

Another reason I called it quits on teaching the 4-H classes was the competition from every other thing under the sun. The weekly evening training classes were up against vacations, church camp, 4-H camp, sports camp, scout camp, trips to grandma's house, the beach, the mall and endless softball and baseball games and tournaments. You guessed it, the dogs always came in behind everything else. Sometimes the kids didn't even bother coming to the classes at all and just showed up the day of the show with dogs who had never been off the farm, let alone around a dozen other dogs, all pumped on adrenaline and stress.

Watching 4-H dogs shows is always bittersweet for me, since I got started training through the dog project about a hundred years ago and it holds a very special place in my heart. But it was different back then. Seriously different. Most of the kids in my local county project also showed in AKC trials, doing obedience, junior showmanship and competing in the breed ring. Our dogs were a high priority. So it's hard to watch kids yanking their dogs around the county fair ring, knowing that when they go home, the dog will get very little attention until next spring, if then. But at least they're spending some time with them now and hopefully they'll learn something about communicating with another species.

County fair aside, my own dogs have had a rather lazy week. We've been averaging temps around 90 and one day had a heat index of 105 degrees and another is predicted for today, which does not make for great training. Phoenix and I have been doing the 6 a.m. training thing, getting in a quick session before the heat catches up with me. He is fine with the heat. Me? Not so much.

One of my projects for our "vacation" time between shows this summer is teaching a flip finish. This starts with a solid hand touch. I thought Nix had that but I've not been clear enough on my criteria and instead of hand touching my palm, he touches anywhere from fingertips to my forearm. Sometimes he doesn't touch at all, just does one of those "How lovely to see you, dahling" air kisses. So I've got to clean that up first before I can start to shape it into the finish.

A handful of his breakfast crunchies and a clicker has been a great help. Now he's drilling my palm with much more accuracy, although what I call a "nose touch" seems to translate to Malinois-ese as "tooth touch." It's okay. Nobody's bleeding.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Phoenix, 1; tomatoes, 0

Wish I had before and after pictures to go with this post but it didn’t happen that way.

I have . . . um . . . HAD . . . two cherry tomato plants in a big planter on the west side of the house. That is the extent of my vegetable garden. Phoenix and Jamie will both pick tomatoes off the vine as soon as they get ripe. Last year, I think they ate more tomatoes than I did.

So this year I put an old ex-pen around the planter as they started to ripen. It is a very heavy-gauge wire 36” tall ex-pen and it totally surrounded the planter with just a little overlap. Last night I was working in my flowers and the dogs were in the yard with me. Phoenix disappeared around the corner of the house. I knew he was going to try eating tomatoes and I knew he couldn’t get at them so wasn’t worried.

Then all of a sudden I heard a big CRASH, followed by a lot of metallic clattering and him screaming. I ran around the house. He had been trying to get tomatoes through the ex-pen and got his collar caught on one of the hooks, panicked and was now dragging the whole thing around the yard, attached to his collar. He couldn’t get away from it and couldn’t get it loose. He wouldn’t stop running so I could help him.

Finally, he got himself in a corner of the yard, totally freaked, panting hard, wild eyed. I got his collar loose from the ex-pen and was ready to sit with him and calm him down but he bolted across the yard . . . to go eat tomatoes!

No trauma there. Honestly, he recovered just like that. No harm, no foul.

If it had been Jamie, I’d have had to take him to the emergency clinic, treat him for shock, administer tranquilizers, etc. and he wouldn’t have gone near that side of the house for six months.

The planter had been knocked over, most of the dirt fell out of it and one plant was broken off at the roots. The other plant took a big hit, not sure it’s going to recover enough to produce much of anything. Good thing there’s a garden market on my way to and from work. I HAVE to have fresh tomatoes.

My dogs rarely wear collars unless we’re going somewhere. Nix had his on last night because we’d just finished a training session. I’m feeling guilty about the whole accident, even though he didn’t get hurt. The ex-pen is back in the garage. The tomatoes, or what is left of them, are fair game. I'm thinking next year, that garden market can grow the tomatoes for me.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer vacation

The dogs and I are on vacation. Sort of.

We have four weeks until our next competitive venue, an agility trial in August.

This means four weekends at home in a row.


Holy buckets. I can’t remember the last time I had one weekend at home, let alone four.

It makes me a little giddy.

Okay, by the third weekend I’ll be bored and by the fourth weekend I’ll be climbing the walls, wondering why I didn’t find somewhere to enter. But right now, it sounds very sweet. My to-do list is stretching into infinity.

And of course, I won’t actually STAY home the entire weekend. I’ve already set up some lessons with students and training dates with friends. But I’ll have a break from packing suitcases, loading the van and road tripping to shows.

Breaks like this are important. I don’t know about Phoenix, but I need a mental break from being gone every weekend, not to mention needing to catch up on things around the house before they get scary. Or scarier.

Looking back at my calendar, we’ve trialed eight of the last 11 weekends and that was just the right amount for me. Some folks trial nearly every single weekend this time of the year. I don’t know how they do it. Seriously. Not sure it would be as much fun if I did it every single weekend. Not to mention the stress of having a training problem pop up and you're entered every weekend for the next two months and then what do you do?

Looking forward, there are great "local" trials 10 out of 11 weekends September through November. I am going to show restraint and only enter nine of them, staging “off” weekends at strategic points.

One year, I entered seven weekends of fabulous fall shows in a row. By the fifth weekend, it wasn’t quite as fabulous as I’d thought it would be. By the sixth weekend, I swore I’d never do it again. By the seventh weekend, I just wanted it to freaking be over so we could go home.

I'm really looking forward to staying home on our summer vacation!

Monday, July 12, 2010

An inconvenient truth (or two)

The Scottish poet Robert Burns penned the oft quoted line, “The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.” This is often paraphrased in English as “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

That would pretty much sum up my pursuit of Phoenix’s CDX.

We were supposed to be DONE with this silly title back in April.


Three months ago. I think there was still snow on the ground then.

It is now mid-July and he still needs one leg.

We won’t trial again in obedience until September.

Bang head here. (Hey, Team Orange, who has the Bang Head Here sign these days? Sharon and I REALLY could have used it last weekend!!!)

The “what will happen next?” trial in Missouri brought to light some truths I’d been conveniently ignoring. Getting smacked in the face by the truth is just another step in the journey of figuring out what I need to do in order to build a better relationship with Phoenix and to find success. Hey, he didn’t come into my life wanting an OTCh/200 so I need to take the responsibility for figuring out how to create a happy, willing partner on this journey that is totally of my own desire.

Truth #1: I’ve only been asking for 100% effort in training. This is a mistake because if you ask for 100% effort in training, then go into the ring and your dog stresses down, you might get 85% effort. Or you might get 75% effort. Throw in a couple of odd distractions (like sexy daschunds in the next ring) and you might as well go home.

How to fix it: Let’s say you let a few things slide in practice. A lag here and there on heeling. A sluggish set-up. Whatever. That’s only going to get worse in the ring. And those are LITTLE things. If you start letting bigger things slide in practice, like slow responses or sloppy execution, etc., those are going to be HUGE in the ring. Trust me, they’re not magically going to improve just because you're at a trial.

I created the following imaginary obedience performance scale to demonstrate my point. On a rising scale of obedience ring performance, here are five possible levels: barely passing, adequate, pretty good, great, totally brilliant.

So imagine your dog’s performance in practice is pretty good. You can probably expect an adequate performance in the ring. Maybe he’s brilliant in training. That’ll get you great in the ring. What if you train for just the bare minimum of barely passing? Uh-oh. My goal with Phoenix is now to have practice sessions that are absolutely stunning to increase our odds of turning in ring performances that are totally brilliant.

Truth #2: In my eternal quest for perfection, I was boring my poor little sweetums right out of his ever-lovin’ mind. I THOUGHT I was being a brisk, motivational, happy, high energy trainer. I was not.

How to fix it: Our performance the first day was abysmal. Having been accused of exaggeration at times, trust me, I am NOT using that term loosely. Lagging heeling and a death march in after the drop on recall is abysmal. Ugh. Scores be damned, this was so totally NOT the picture I want in the ring. So when we did the show-n-go that afternoon, my only goal was to have a dog who showed some form of animation beyond simply breathing. I spent my five minutes doing running heeling, chase recalls, informal dumbbell throws, more running heeling, more chase recalls and hand touches until I literally couldn’t breathe. D*mned asthma. But I got what I wanted: an animated dog with bright eyes and a waggy tail and total attention even though I wasn’t shoving a cookie in his mouth ever 10 seconds.

Okay. Lessons learned. Those were the two big points that really came home to roost at the Sedalia trials and by focusing on those two goals — asking for a higher level of performance in practice and making practice sessions much less tedious — we’ll stand a better chance of getting that last CDX leg with a performance we'll both enjoy.

I'm also going to re-teach his left finish to incorporate a flip. I've never ever in all my years taught a flip finish. Always thought they were kind of silly, to tell you the truth. But they are a great way to add a little fun to a pretty dull skill (find heel, spot, place, close or whatever you call it.) And we're all about fun! More funner, as Taz the Terv would say!

And we'll keep working the jackpot concept and moderating use of food during training so the Skinny Little Dog doesn't freak out when the cheese disappears in the ring.

Honestly, what would I spend my time thinking about if I didn't have a dog to train?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Sedalia experience

Four days, 600-plus miles, one almost flat tire and a gallon Zip Loc bag of chocolate later, we're home from the Sedalia, Mo., obedience trials.

Who'd have thunk you could pack so much fun, laughter, disappointment, education, enlightenment, good food, success, failure, friendship and encouragement into just four days. This is truly why I love obedience: no matter what happens, there's always friendship and encouragement and there's always a fresh determination to do better the next time.

When Sharon and I set off Thursday morning, our goals for the weekend were clear: UDX legs for Rudy and two final CDX legs for Phoenix.

It didn't quite work out that way.

Friday: Phoenix Q'd in Open B for his second CDX leg. It was a totally lackluster, going-through-the-motions performance. This is NOT the dog I thought I'd trained. But perhaps it was. Certainly no one else has trained him so he is a product of me and no one else. Yikes. Something needs to change!

Saturday: A slightly better performance punctuated by a very distracted Phoenix walking around the high jump on the way back with his dumbbell because he was fascinated by the daschund in the ring next door. Guess I need to rent a doxie for proofing.

Sunday: Finally, I got some semblance of my dog back. He was focussed and on the job . . . until the last about turn on the heel free. I turned. He stopped to look at, well, I'm not sure what he was looking at. The judge called halt. I stopped and called him to heel. He came up into position and sat. We failed.

Yeah, major disappointment. The judge said "Your dog would have sat out of reach." Since Phoenix HADN'T sat before I called him, I said, "Aren't I allowed a second heel command if he's out of position?" No. 

I didn't agree but I'm not going to argue with a judge. He called it like he saw it. I think according to his interpretation of the rules, if I'd called Phoenix while I was still walking, we would have lost points for the second command but would have Q'd. Oh well. Another lesson learned.

But Phoenix did his group exercises three days in a row!!! Good brilliant wonderful maligator!

They say doG works in mysterious ways and this weekend was certainly proof of that. Things didn't go much better for Sharon and Rudy. Between Sharon and I, we came home with exactly one qualifying run out of nine. In fact, when we got in the van to leave the show site today, we both looked at each other, said "Oh F**K!", then had a good laugh.

We both agreed that we learned a lot about our dogs this weekend. Thanks to advice and encouragement from good friends, I have lots of different approaches get our teamwork and performance level back where I want to see it. Although it was pretty much a bust in the qualifying department, the weekend may have been just what I needed in the grander scheme of Phoenix's obedience career.

Sharon and I trained dogs for the whole five hour drive home and by the time she picked up her van at our place, I think we had solved all our boys' issues. Now to get busy training and make it happen!

We're off from obedience trials for nearly six weeks. Won't be showing again until the Amana trials on Labor Day weekend, so lots of time to start working through some of the glitches that showed up.

Tonight, I'm looking forward to sleeping in my own bed with my own pillow.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Compare and contrast

Here's my patio flowerbed last January.

Here it is this morning.

The malinois recall route (directly through the center)
is carefully camouflaged.
Sometimes he just jumps the whole thing
to get from Point A to Point B.
Still, I only plant very hardy flowers.
No wimpy flowers need apply.

Phoenix and I are off to Sedalia, Mo., tomorrow morning for a three-day obedience trial. Sharon and Rudy are road-tripping with us. I've never shown at this site but have heard it's nice, the judges are good and I'll get to see some of my "southern" friends so I'm really looking forward to it. CDX and UDX legs for all!

I'll file a full report when we get home.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Blogs, dogs and fireworks

I’ve added a few new favorite blog sites to the list at the left. There are so many really fun dog blogs I visit regularly that I couldn’t add all of them, but I’ve wanted to put Patricia McConnell and Susan Garrett’s links on here for some time.

Susan’s recent posts have mirrored much of what I’ve been going through with Phoenix’s recall issues and have been really helpful.


Here’s a sweet “awwwww” moment. Or a “the dog is crazy” moment. You decide.

From our house, we can see the fireworks displays at a number of surrounding towns on the 4th of July. When we went to bed that night, many of the displays were getting fired up. (Yes, we go to bed early. We get up early, too.) From our bedroom, I could look through the house and out the south living room window and see fireworks from what must have been the town of Oxford.

Since we had turned our central air off, the windows were all open and sound carries quite a distance on still summer air. Jamie could hear the distant booms and while not being totally upset, he went off and made a nest in the northwest corner of the bedroom, which is one of his perceived “safe” zones when things might be scary. Phoenix trotted out of the room.

When he didn’t come back soon, I got up and went to look for him. Better safe than sorry. Phoenix believes it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission and although he’s enjoyed loose-in-the-house-at-night privileges for a couple of years, there are still occasional surprises in the morning - dismembered socks, shredded flip-flops, “relocated" and "re-purposed" household items, etc.

This time, he was just sitting in the living room, staring intently out the window. Near as I could tell, he was watching the fireworks. I sat on the floor with him for a little while and we watched together. Obviously we’re both fascinated by bright, sparkly things.

Phoenix is also fascinated when the Farmer shoots the rifle, too, so make of that what you will.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Agility videos from Muscatine

Here's the Standard run from our double Q on Saturday.

And here's the gravity-defying dog walk run from Sunday. (Thank doG he has an excellent sense of balance ... and that he didn't fall off and get hurt ... or that I didn't have to catch him in mid-air, which would have meant ME getting hurt!)

I was really happy with Phoenix's start lines, contacts and weaves in all six trials. But that table, oh boy. I asked him for a down, he gave me an elbows-up crouch, then I ask for a sit. Poor guy, I don't think he has a clue what I want and I'm not doing a good job with enforcing criteria.

Personally, I can't wait until Sept. 1 when the table rule changes. I think I'll spend the rest of the summer working on an auto sit. Have tried for two years to master an auto down and it's just not happening for us. In training, about 90 percent, in trialing less than 50. So maybe it's time for a new approach. We're spending too much time dawdling around on the table and neither one of us are happy about it.

Thanks to all the Team Orange members who video'd us this weekend!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence Day!

No better way to celebrate the 4th of July than at an agility trial. Nix and I had a good day. He was a wonderful boy in JWW, alas my handling left something to be desired. I wonder if Phoenix is ever embarrassed to be seen with me? He probably wonders which handler he's going to have THIS TIME.

I redeemed myself in Standard and we Q'd with a gravity-defying dogwalk performance. Seriously, it's best if the dog has all four feet directly ABOVE the dog walk at all times. Treading air on either side not recommended. I'll post video. 

Went to the parade with the Farmer in his home town this afternoon, then out to supper (I haven't cooked for days. I think I've forgotten how.) Just got home and the skies opened up. It's been raining ever since.

Now it's time to regroup and get ready to leave Thursday for three days of obedience at Sedalia, Mo., with Sharon and Rudy. 

Hope you all had a safe, fun holiday!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Film at 11

Check out our collection of video cameras from the Muscatine trial today. Friends just kept asking, "Can you tape me?" Do we look that responsible? Seriously? Funny thing is, I think only one of the 12 cameras still uses actual video tape.

Everyone did a pretty good job of taping their assigned dogs. SOME PEOPLE even added bonus dogs to other people's cameras! (I don't care what she says, I'm blaming Rilda. Guilty until proven innocent.) I hope everyone got home with the right camera! Several of them were the very same model, that's when personalizing the case comes in handy.

The only camera we were missing was Michele and Jeff's "Channel 9 News Team" behemoth. (Wow, not sure I've ever used that word in a sentence before.) But the Antiques Roadshow wasn't in town so they didn't bring it . . . 

Good news, Phoenix QQ'd! Yippee.

Here's the video from our JWW run.

It's right here.






Operator error.

But that's okay. And it further confirmed my theory that if someone is actually taping us, we NQ. No video? It's a Q for sure.

My theory got screwed up because then we DID Q in Standard and there IS video evidence. Which I will post at some point in the next few days. Don't have the time or ambition to play dial up vs. YouTube right now.

Oh, a cool thing, I got to see Trip, Nicki's rescue from BorderBlog. He is still totally adorable and all freckly and he went to a great new home. 

The Farmer and I are off (me 'n pa is goin' to town) for 3rd of July festivities in the town where I work. Yippee, no cooking for me tonight. I'm more than willing to let the Iowa County Cattlemen fix my supper.

Back to Muscatine for one more day of agility tomorrow.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Handling systems and obedience

These days, you hear agility folks talking about “handling systems.” This basically means following the training methods and handling styles of the trainers who are achieving at the top of the sport. Each trainer approaches things a little differently and has specific approaches to training the necessary skills. We have the same thing in obedience although I don’t think I’ve ever heard it called a “handling system.”

Whatever you call it, it’s pretty smart. If you want to be the best you can be with your dog in your chosen sport, learn from someone who is doing an awesome job and whose style you like.

I think obedience “handling systems” have a lot more branches of the same tree than agility. There are the compulsion trainers, the clicker trainers, the cookie trainers (not necessarily the same as clicker trainers), the my-dog-works-because-he-loves-me trainers and any number of combinations and variations of the above. Call me a rebel but it’s really hard for me to commit to one single training approach at the exclusion of all others. I’m definitely a “combination” trainer and pick and choose which methods to use depending on the dog and the skill/exercise in question.

So I sat down the other day and tried to define my own obedience “handling system” (yeah, it was a slow day). This proved to be pretty much impossible because my approach to the same exercise may be three different ways for three different dogs. I guess you’d call me a “doing whatever gets happy results” trainer. Plus I always try to keep my mind open to new ideas as the sport evolves. Getting stuck in a training rut is an awful, boring thing.

I enjoy playing around to see what techniques a dog and handler team respond to best, whether it's me and Phoenix or a student and her dog. Why not let the dog have some say in the matter? He certainly didn't come into the world with the goal of an OTCh./200 but I'm willing to let him help decide how we're going to get there.

Last weekend, a student decided I was a "What if . . .?" trainer as I kept asking her "What if . . . you try this?" or "What if . . . you try that?" We were looking for a successful way to make something clear to her dog and I think we found it after some experimenting.

Over the years, a lot of different obedience trainers and even a few agility trainers have influenced how I train. They’ve been wonderful, generous, talented, patient people and I’m grateful to all of them!

I’ve learned from seminars, classes, lessons, from training friends (oh, thank doG for them!) and while sitting ring-side at trials. I’ve gotten truly sincere input on a Utility problem from a handler 20 minutes after my dog beat hers in a run-off for an Open B win. Obedience people are like that - we love to solve problems. For the most part, nearly all of us are willing to share experience and knowledge for the benefit of others. We hate to see anyone struggle with a problem when we are sure we have the answer!

It’s cool to think about following one single training method clear through a dog’s career. That ranks right up there on the fantasy scale of having a private instructor who lives 20 minutes from my house, has her own state-of-the-art training facility and can give me private lessons twice a month at my convenience for $10 an hour, plus always offers classes that match my dog’s level of training.

Okay, back to reality . . .

And reality is a three-day agility weekend, plus all the Fourth of July hoopla in the small town where I work as well as the Farmer’s hometown. Agility in the morning, hoopla in the afternoon and evening. I’ll probably meet myself coming or going before the weekend is over. I’m anxious to see if the additional work I’ve put into Phoenix’s dog walk contact and weave entries pays off.

Have a great holiday weekend!