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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Epiphany on Teamwork w/ My Dogs

Epiphany(s) Regarding My Doggy Partnerships

A few weeks ago I was running Spot in a trial on a very fast Jumpers course. Ahead was an off-course tunnel and to the right, but not immediately obvious, was the correct weave obstacle.

As Spot and I approached the intersection of obstacles I began my usual weave alert drill which is to say 'weave' early, stop my motion, allow him to load and then off I go while he performs the obstacle independently.

As was expected for the course design, Spot didn't immediately see the weaves (but a glance at his head told me he did see the tunnel), so I held my ground, didn't move from my well-placed position and just kept saying "weave, weave, weave, weave, weave" until he successfully found and loaded into the poles, just as I had trained him to do.

Epiphany No. 1 Well, I wasn't surprised IN his abilities, but I was amazed at how much faith & trust I had in him. When I think back on the moment, I knew that he'd be able to accomplish the task (years of repetition had taught me this) and just like in training, I needed to give him room to figure it out for himself and to own that part of our teamwork.

Epiphany No. 2 was that at some point in our Agility Relationship, my role had moved from Mentor to Leader and Spot's role had moved from Trainee to Right-Hand-Man.

This is interesting because with my young dogs, I'm in the Mentor Role (where successful skill repetitions in varying situations is the goal) and will be for several years. After all, the kind of effortless partnership Spot and I have doesn't evolve overnight, but it did successfully develop over years, just like it did with Pinky. Our team work is equivalent to that comfortable pair of shoes you automatically reach for and know you can count on for a sense of security, comfort and fit. Sometimes we just forget that those comfy pair of shoes started out a little stiff.

Our Current Training Plan: These days I don't practice with Spot and coincidentally when Pinky was older, it was the same way. We don't train at home (at all), we don't take classes and yes, these days we simply show up at trials. I just want to say one more time that the early years of learning, training & repetition has made this possible. I also knew I'd hit this point when:

Epiphany No. 3 These days, when I enter that ring with Spot, there are several things I am absolutely confident about.

  1. We are a team
  2. I am confident that my dog knows his job
  3. I trust him to perform his part (because I've trained it, proofed it, was consistent and thanks to prior repetition, it's ingrained for both of us)
  4. I clearly understand both of our factual strengths & weaknesses
  5. I know that my job on the team is to have a solid plan the moment we step into the ring
  6. We will be successful, whatever success means at the moment, and
  7. We are a team (yes, I intentionally added this in twice )
Without having the items above, going into the ring is the equivalent to a gambling crap shoot that always favors the house. I wouldn't take such a high risk using my hard earned cash so why would I gamble my dog's experience with me, our time AND my entry money with such poor odds?

As I mentioned previously, to get to that final stage that Spot and I are in, there was a period of evolution that lasted years. Some things to keep in mind during this phase are:
  1. You & your dog are going to have periods of time and/or age appropriate skills. For example, a 16 week old puppy isn't capable of the mental challenges of an Excellent style course and a dog who has been trained in Agility for only 2 weeks isn't going to have perfect weave poles. These are natural progression phases that cannot be skipped by any team - no exceptions. Right now you're thinking "Dah!" but what makes this phase such a challenge is that every dog is different and there are no visible mile markers to tell you "Now entering 'I forgot all you taught me stage'" or "Now leaving puppy zoomey zone". We enter this phase blindly and we're continuously surprised by things as both ourselves and our dogs are developing.
  2. You should always be building toward a working relationship with your dog. Let me guess, another "Dah" moment . But remember that my definition of a working relationship is closely tied with the words 'team' or 'partner' and not words like 'dictator'. I am a firm believer in creating a thinking dog versus a robot who requires me to make all of the decisions and be in charge of every portion of our interactions. I do this because on an Agility Course and in life, I need my dog to make smart decisions for themselves. I cannot be everything to everyone/dog, so why adopt that falsehood when it comes to my dog? This is where:
  3. Teaching skills creates a common ground for my dog and I to communicate around and it reinforces my expectations and smart decisions.
  4. There are moments when time with my dogs is about the skill and moments when it's about the relationship, but you can never have one without the other. I'm not trying to speak in riddles here, but the truth is that if you fail to have a relationship with your dog, you're not going to be successful teaching skills and vice versa, if your dog is lacking in skills, you're lacking the type of relationship that allows you to reach Epiphany No 3.
There are a lot of deep thoughts here for everyone to digest and it has taken me years to develop and put these philosophical dog training beliefs on paper! I look forward to any questions since this is just the tip of the iceberg : )

Dogs Enjoying Fall, Updates & New Electronic Timers

This year's fall leaves are just beautiful and make the perfect backdrop to take some updated doggy profile pictures. As usual, some of the dogs were more cooperative than others

I'll have to share Spot's picture in another post since I'm limited to 5 pictures per blog, but he's one who isn't fond of cameras. Rouge as well, (can't you tell by the not-so-thrilled look in the picture below). I'm certain she'd rather be running around : )

The Latest Updates

Being Sick: It's been a while since I wrote, but I have been so sick for the last 3 weeks. They're assuming it was the flu of some sort, but as time goes on and my symptoms continue to morph, I'm not so sure.

Ironically, last time I was sick (earlier this year) it also rolled on through a bunch of symptoms and I was convinced it was allergies. Humm....

Clicker Training a Horse: One of my friends/former students has a horse that she would like to clicker train. She didn't have a chance to clicker train (CT) her dog as he is deaf, so this will be a new experience for her.

For years now I've had an open invitation to go out with her to get some horse experience. And now to CT a horse? Yeah, I invited myself along and being the great pal that she is, she heartily embraced my attendance . I'll be sure to write about the experience as I have no doubt it will be amazing!

Seminar: Next weekend I'm out of town conducting an agility seminar, which I'm very excited about. I love doing seminars and there is so much going through my mind on all of the things we could cover. So many choices and only 8 hours to work with them : ) I'll be sure to do a post-seminar write up.

New Electronic Timers: This is a preliminary write-up on the new electronic timers we purchased. While ETs may not sound so exciting, these absolutely are!

First, they're made by a different company and are not your big and expensive trial timers. While those are great for the big events, they take a ton of batteries, require a car trunk for transportation and cost about the same as a used compact car (costs can range from $2,500-$6,000). In other words, not feasible for the average Agility Joe (Josephine) .

Our new timers were made by a different company, and were designed specifically for personal and class training. They are amazingly simple and a fraction of the cost. We opted for 2 sets (a start & finish set) which also comes with the main console for around $450 (without tax & shipping).

We just started using the timers last night at class and we're working to get a baseline on all of our students' dogs on each obstacle.

Specifically, we've started with the individual contact obstacles, different shaped tunnels and a couple of basic jump sequences. Next week we'll do weave poles and play with different style crosses.

The system is very easy to use, is small and the accuracy is spot on. Feedback from my students has been overwhelmingly positive not only on the system itself (they helped to put the timers in place at each jump height and read the console), but they LOVE the additional information obstacle timing has given to them. It has also brought out a bit of healthy competition among the groups so people are pushing harder, just like they would in a real trial. So many positives!

I doubt this is the last time you'll hear me write about this product (no, I'm not getting paid by the company), but I encourage each of you to check out the details at Finally, someone came up with a timing alternative for us 'budget conscious' (yet quality minded) agility folks.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Courses, Del Valle CA Oct '09

I'm catching up on sharing courses on my blog from the trial this weekend for the Del Valle CA agility trial.

The only thing missing is Monday's courses and that's because we'll be running them tomorrow : )

In summary, the exhibitors have made the FAST class bonus section look like a piece of cake the entire weekend and have done a wonderful job on all of the courses.

It's been a very fun trial, although I was in bed early each night recuperating from being really sick last week.

Tomorrow is our last day and I really should be in bed....night everyone!

Are AKC Courses Too Easy?

Traveling throughout the country is great for keeping up with the pulse of Agility. Lately I've been hearing grumblings that some feel AKC Agility courses aren't challenging enough.

I've actually heard it a few times and it has really surprised me because: 1) the average percentage of qualifiers on any given course I've judged hasn't increased or decreased over the years (I'd have to say the skill set required & trained for has increased over the years) and 2) the average percentage of qualifiers on my courses hasn't been any higher in the regions I've heard this vs. other regions of the country.

However, after today's Excellent Standard course, I was curious...had I made a course that was too simple?

I'm always up for a bit of analyzing and a bit of feedback from the masses (okay, this is a direct hint that I'd LOVE to hear your feedback!) and with this in mind I broke down today's Excellent Standard course a bit differently.

The first picture of the course is the dog's path without any of the obstacles. When I saw this, I thought it looked like smooth, easy loops for the dog's path. Based on this, would you think the course was too easy for an AKC Excellent Standard course? I might be tempted to think so...

In the next picture, I added the obstacles to the dog's path for an enhanced view. Using this picture, the minimum 3 side switches required by AKC for Excellent are easily spotted. The first is somewhere between #3-5, the second between #11-13 and the third is between #16-18 (the exact place of the side-switch depends on the handler's choice of a front or rear-cross).

Additionally, 5 of the required minimum 9 off-course options (for AKC Excellent) can also be found in this view. These options are: 1) from #3 to the weave poles or teeter (#1 to the #4 jump does not count in Excellent since it is assumed handlers at this level have a stay at the start line), 2) #4 to the chute 3) #11 to #14 jump 4) #16 to the #9 table and 5) #17 to the #3 jump.

So, based on this second view, does your opinion of the difficulty level for this course change? Do you think it's easier, harder or about the same?

OK, the last view shows the entire course, which includes the remaining 4 off-course options which are the jumps after the chute and first tunnel as well as the off-course tunnel around the double jump.

Now that you've seen the entire course, does it change your opinion of the overall complexity? Do you think that this course is too easy, too hard or just right?

I look forward to everyone's comments.

As for my personal thoughts, well, I'm going to keep an open mind and watch the qualifying statistics before making any drastic changes to my designs. Heck, I love a good challenging course and a chance to show off and judge unique handling sequences, but I also love subtle challenges and a fast, smooth path for dogs.

In theory, as a judge I should be designing courses with the majority of handlers in mind and not gear challenges specifically toward the easy or the more challenging side. Realistically, I'm going to design courses geared toward my own personal enjoyment since I'm the one who has to stand there and watch what's happening (both good and bad!) up to 330 times! LOL

Any way, so do you think AKC Excellent courses are too easy, too hard or just enough to keep you challenged?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fall Days

Today was an incredibly gorgeous day here in the Pacific Northwest. It started out chilly and the sun warmed things up quite nicely.

Surprise, surprise, the day revolved around the dogs! It started with Zulu herding sheep, Spot & Rouge going for a long walk in the woods (see the group shot attached) and with Rylee & Burton playing with their friend Sam in the yard.

In between all of that, Dan and I jumped out to the pumpkin patch to get apples for pie and pumpkins for carving.

I'm hoping tomorrow is just as beautiful as today. Check out the last picture which is along one of our walking routes.

The Pacific Northwest really is an amazingly beautiful place!

Tomorrow, is another day for the dogs : )

Catch-Up on the Last Several Days

On Sunday, the family went to Issaquah's Salmon Days, a local event of food, vendors and a chance to see the Salmon fight to get upstream to continue their population.

The fall day was beautiful and pictured here are several of the very large salmon going against the current. As you can see, they're BIG! But before you think 'easy fishing for filling the freezer', you need to know that by the time the Salmon reach this point in the fresh water of the stream, the meat isn't so good any more.

After we got home, Dan and I started a bonfire. We'd spent most of Saturday using our new 24' extension ladder to trim up a few trees. Most notably, the one that was immediately in back that seemed to never hesitate to share dried needles on our patio and on the roof. Every other day I'd have to hose down the patio or they'd be tracked into the house. Well, not any more!

At one point the bonfire was pretty large and pine needles go up FAST! Once the main work was done, we sat around the fire with a bottle of wine and enjoyed the crisp fall evening.

This morning Zulu went for his 2nd herding lesson. He did so good! He started off very nicely with some wide outruns and even added in a few counter clockwise circling (something he wasn't so keen to do last time). Where he understandably struggled was when asked/being taught to move forward toward the sheep in a straight line to move them.

Since I'm out there with him, I wasn't able to take pictures and I have to admit I was spectating a lot because it's so darned cool to watch!

I've had a ton of requests for updated pictures on Rouge, Zulu, Rylee & Burton. Today is a beautiful day and after lunch, I'll be working the dogs (client dogs & my dogs) well into the evening so I'll make a point to bring the camera with. Later, Rouge & Spot will be coming with for a walk in the woods and then I'll be here at home in the pasture working the crew individually on "stuff".

For all of my breeder friends, I'll try to give a more detailed log on each of the dogs later.

I'm off to eat!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Balancing Multiple Dogs (oh yes, and life too!)

Yeap, I'm now the mother of three young dogs!!!!

I have to admit, I'm VERY excited about each of them. This is going to sound so cliche, but each pup is unique, incredibly special and most importantly, they ALL touch my heart. I'm also lucky to have time for each of them because I don't have (nor plan to) have kids.

Three dogs in training works great for my life-style. I'm ALWAYS on the go and LOVE to multi-task - just ask anyone who knows me : )

However, I work very hard to give each dog individual attention and bonding time. A connection with each of them is so important to me. In this case, I follow my very own easy & sensible advice (that I give to my clients) and focus on the small, quality moments.

I want to share some of those personal moments (beyond training time) that are a part of our daily life. These small moments are special to me and I hope you'll enjoy them as well.

I may have mentioned this before, but experience with my old girl, Pinky, has taught me the power of a smile. Dalmatians are one of the few dogs who are capable of a smiling and over the years, Pinky & I have developed a bond where I smile at her and she smiles (a full-tooth grin) back at me. It is soooo amazing to get such a positive reaction to such a simple gesture of warmth & love. I am blessed to have been taught such an amazing lesson! Now, I smile at ALL of my dogs (individually) when I make eye contact with them. The pairing is a powerful message and I have no doubt they KNOW how very much I care about them and it offers them a clear window straight to my heart.

Next, I touch my dogs in a loving manner EVERY TIME I pass by them. I learned the power of touch from personal experience. For example, when my husband is passing by me in the kitchen and puts his hand on my back, it's a great mini-bonding moment and I feel a connection. I think my dogs feel the same way. As I'm passing by them (even if they're laying on the floor or a chair), I'll briefly touch their head in passing, give them a hug or stop, hold their head in my hands and plop a kiss on their forehead. I want my dogs to know that even if I'm busy, they're important to me.

One of our 'family' rituals is to start and end the day snuggling with our dogs. Again, we don't have kids so we have the time, energy and love to share.

The morning routine is the best! Dan leaves for work very early and so he feeds the dogs and then lets them all pile into bed with me until daylight. Just imagine 5-6 dogs snuggling together on one queen sized bed and I'm in the middle! It's very cozy and soooo hard to get up from. Once I wake up, the dogs each come up for their personal attention time where I massage their head, rub their bellies, play with them and cover them with TONS of kisses. They're all so happy, just love the time together and while waiting their turn, they play with each other. What a fun family moment and I just love starting my day this way!

At the end of the day when Dan and I are sitting in the livingroom, the dogs are there hanging with us. Some are with Dan on the couch and some are with me on my overstuffed chair & ottoman. Throughout the evening, the dogs will play with each other, snuggle with us/ amongst themselves or just hang and chew on their toys and bones. We're all there together and the love and happiness is easily felt throughout the room. It's relaxed, fun, cozy and interactive. In the winter, we have the fireplace lit and the Dalmatians are sure to be found inches from warmth!

During the day, it seems that even if I'm home, the dogs chose to spend the majority of the day sleeping! That works out great because they love to hang with me in the office or if the weather is nice, I leave the back door open and they come and go as they please since our yard is fully fenced.

One of the things I pride myself on is looking at each individual dog to see where they excel. For example, Spot is a GREAT traveler and I will often bring him with me when I travel (since Pinky is now too old for that). Zulu is full of energy so I've gotten him into herding (Rylee will soon follow) and Rouge is great company for when I go to the Agility arena to setup (I then work her afterward).

Lucky for me, I love to multi-task, have my hands in several pots at one time and my dogs allow me that luxury. I'll admit, my lifestyle isn't for everyone (okay, the majority of people would run away screaming), but it is so exhilarating for me! As my husband said to me this morning, "You always love a project." He's on to me...

I'd have to say that most of you are just as busy, but in different ways. Some of you are raising children (you are my hero!), some have amazing careers and some are living your dreams. Whatever it is, you too are busy! Remember, rather than scheduling time on a calendar, take just 1 minute at a time to create a quality moment for you and your beloved pet. You'll be amazed at how easy and how successful you'll find it is.


Friday, October 2, 2009

The Crack In the Cosmic Egg

Driving straight to the heart of what's on my mind...People. As a disclaimer, this has nothing to do with the dog world, so don't fret my doggy friends!

Today's Blog is a tribute to a book I read in college called "The Crack In The Cosmic Egg". The book's overall theme is that nothing is what it seems and I've often used this book as my scientific theory to explain misc. stuff in life.

For me, dogs are relatively simple. People on the other hand have the capability of being a bit more sly. I don't think they intend to be, but it just happens given the right scenario. (This is the point where I top off my wine glass because deep thoughts are ahead).

OK, just like dogs, people do things (generally) as a result of lessons learned from association. For example, people lie because they're afraid of consequences, they're trying to avoid responsibility, they don't want to feel out of control or they're simply insecure or lack a morale compass. Oh heck there is an entire host of potential reasons that only a trained professional can fathom.

The Crack in MY Cosmic Egg came today when I unveiled, a situation where someone was distorting the truth by omission. Some would try to argue that person didn't actually tell a lie, but we're all adults and no matter how one tries to sugar coat it, a failure to state the facts or clarify them, still results in a lack of trust (and yes, it's still a lie).

I can't help but think What the heck? Why try to hide a situation that impacts me? Ugh, now the situation is in crisis mode! I could get stuck on these questions, but once the initial feelings are dealt with, this is where The Crack In the Cosmic Egg theory has done me some good.

First, it reminds me that change is inevitable. Second, I avoid blame by remembering that when dealing with any living entity, the variables are countless and will change unexpectedly - and there is no way to foresee every pitfall or blessing that's going to come our way. Just when we think we understand someone or something, evolution/genetics and other unforeseen influences (like learned association) suddenly emerge like a clown from a wind-up box. Sometimes the clown makes us smile and other times that weirdo-clown scares the daylights out of us!

So while I'm not happy about being lied to, for the moment, I'm fairly content to place this situation in the temporary box I call The Crack in the Cosmic Egg. For me, it's a little easier to comprehend vs. the "Sh*t Happens" theory.

Just to be clear, once I'm through my surprise crisis situation, I'll be coming back around to get some more solid answers on the situation. After all, lying, even by simple omission is NOT acceptable...

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Well, I think it's time to announce that Dan and I have another new member to our household...Rylee the Terv is staying : )

She's a beautiful and sweet girl who fits into our household well. Additionally, she is a great worker and I've been training her in Agility for the last several months. As of this weekend, I'll be co-owning her and honestly, I'm very excited!

The first picture shows her presence, while the second picture doesn't do her justice (it's taken with my camera phone and the stupid flash I can't turn off), but it does show how well she fits into our pack of pups.

Ru (the Dal) is the future pack leader (besides me of course...LOL) of our household and she is a very nurturing and loving girl, just like Riley, so it's nice to see them spending quality time together at the end of a fun day of playing.

We've got 4 young dogs in the household and I have to admit on one hand, it's a challenge and on the other, it's simply developing another dog in the line-up of training and loving. By this I mean my 4 youngsters are soooo similar, it's almost weird! Of course this means if I screw up one, I'll screw up 4 of 'em!!!! Yeah, no pressure there...

Luckily, my puppy classes have given me a great deal of confidence as I feel I've found a great rhythm in teaching the basics and the feed back from my students has been incredibly positive.

Welcome Rylee! : )

Class Course - Sept 30 & Oct 1, 2009

For the record, I'm in denial that it's now officially October! The dogs are all loving the crisp days & evenings, but I'm not yet prepared to say good buy to summer.

Before I talk about this week's class course, I want to mention how proud I am of the puppies in my Agility Puppy Class. They are doing soooo good and it's really been so much fun to watch them come together and learn the basics. I've used a different format for this class and I have to say I just love it. It puts quite a bit of responsibility on the handlers, but also keeps them learning with new challenges while going back and self-reviewing other items. I have no doubt they're going to be superstars!

OK, on to this week's course as it relates to my competition folks. A few surprise lessons came out after I'd set the course and we started to get into the nitty-gritty details on some of the sequences. I'll admit, they were even a surprise to me.

First, everyone nailed #1-6 so I thought it would be a great time to shake things up a bit and challenged them to do a blind cross between #3 & #4. That meant folks needed to leave their dog at the teeter and be on the right side of #3. I chose to do this for a couple of reasons. First, people tend to hover around the teeter and in theory, their dogs should be able to do this obstacle independently at this stage in the game. Second, anybody can do either a front cross or a rear cross somewhere between #3-6 and I want my students to be more than just somebody!

I was frank and told them I didn't know how it was going to work, but in theory, if they did it 'this way' (and showed them), the results would be successful. I have to admit, watching them execute the challenge was far better than I could have expected and it was beautiful, especially for the very fast dogs and not so fast handlers.

The next sequence, #7-12 requires the handler to run the entire length of the arena while being ahead of the dog for as long as possible in order to get down to support a push to the weaves. Surprisingly, we used another blind cross on the take-off/landing side of the #7 jump. By foregoing the front cross, it saved handlers a few extra steps that were needed to get down the entire line of obstacles without the dog curling in.

Another benefit to the blind cross, it forced handlers to trust the training they've done with their dogs.

Next, handlers utilized a post turn for #13 &14 and a send from the landing side of #16 - #18.

I have to admit, this was a unique set of skills on this course and they worked great!