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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Courses - New Mexico

Today is my last day here in Las Cruces and there's a lot I'm going to miss! First, the people and exhibitors. What a great group!
Today's challenge was the wind & rain. I'm told that they had more rain today than all summer. I told them their hospitality went too far in making it feel like home (Seattle)
Onto the courses!
* Not a single dog was fooled into thinking they were going up the a-frame after the #3 jump.
* Most handlers went on the landing side of the #6 jump and did a front cross so the dog was on their left going over #7. Of those few handlers who did a front cross on the landing side of #7 (stayed on the right side of #6 & #7), I liked that tight line the best for dogs.
* Another great piece of handling was from #9 - #12. For fast/driven dogs, several handlers were able to push their dogs and then 'pulled their dogs up the teeter towards them and meet their dogs at the end of the teeter.
* I'm not sure why, but several dogs took the #10/#15 panel down. It was a bit slick on the grass and it's my understanding that this group doesn't run in the rain often.

On Excellent JWW, the weaves were quickly completed and were followed up by two large loops, the first to the left and the second to the right. After that, there was a tighter pinwheel (in comparison to the last two loops) that required more precise handling, followed by a large loop out.
The challenge on this course was to support those jumps that were furthest out and to be able to quickly change to a tight handling area at the end.
It was a great course to end the weekend with as dogs ended with a lot of energy and success.
Thanks again to everyone for such a wonderful time!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Fri New Mexico Courses

Looks like I inadvertently labeled yesterday's courses (which were from Friday) Saturday's and I'll just label today's (the real Saturday's) Friday's Clear as mud? LOL

This course had some interesting lines that don't come across as technical on paper, but were a challenge to handlers. They were:
* #3 to the a-frame with that off-course tunnel sucked in quite a few dogs. Some had already made their choice and were hell bent on taking it and others were handling errors. Some pushed their dog into the exit side of the tunnel and others caused a refusal at the a-frame as they pulled too hard.
*#6 - the teeter was a unique line (I know, looks boring on paper!) as the dogs were focused on the a-frame and with a simple step in toward the dog from the handler, the majority of dogs changed their lead leg and redirected to the teeter.
* The #10 - #13 sequence was not one to take for granted and it first required a push over the #10 jump at an angle.
* From #14 - #16, most handlers hung back and did a rear cross at #15, even if they were ahead of their dog. I liked the angle that it created for the dog to the weaves, but wondered if a rear cross would/could have the same tight line with a little more speed.
* The surprise challenge was getting from the #17 jump down through to the #19 triple. Unfortunately, quite a few handlers were behind and forfeited a clean run when their dog passed by the triple when there handlers either called them too hard and pulled the dog off of the obstacle or the dog incurred a refusal when it went searching for its owner who was 2 obstacles back.

As for Excellent JWW, we started with an unusual place for the first obstacle and worked our way around the weave poles.

As expected, some dogs took the off course tunnel exit. However, I really wanted to point out how great several teams did on executing the weave pole entry.

While not impossible, the positioning required either a bit of handling or a dog who was comfortable finding the weave entry on their own. This group did a great job and I'd love to come back and practice the various ways the handlers did setup for this obstacle.

The off course #16 dog was a close call for several teams and the #14 jump required a bit of a push out or support. If this was lacking, dogs pulled in too early and incurred a refusal/runout call.

For me, the day was non-stop as I made sure both rings were always ready to walk, paperwork was in order and all of the other usual judgely stuff. A few nice perks were that we were done by 2:00 p.m. and the weather was wonderful! I actually think I have a bit of color from the sun!

Since we were done in a timely manner, I had a chance to go back into the quaint little Indian town just down the road and do a bit more browsing around. Later we met for dinner at a Mexican restaurant near 'the square' and had a WONDERFUL meal! I believe they're stopping tonight to get me tamales to take home with me tomorrow....I can't wait!

A bit of news from the home front, Dan got his first Double Q with Spot today! That puts Spot at 10 DQ's and 1100 points toward his MACH2. Maybe I'll put that down as a goal for 2010 : )

Friday, November 27, 2009

Courses Sat New Mexico

Today is Day 1 of the trial and it was a beautiful sunny 67 degrees. Today was Excellent only.

We started with Standard and as one exhibitor described the course as having 'subtle challenges'. The areas were with the most judging calls were:
  • * The incorrect tunnel entrance (handler error)
  • * The usual weave issues (entry/popping out)
  • * There were several teeter fly-offs as handlers headed down the line of jumps & dogs left early to catch them
  • * Refusals at #15 as dogs spun while looking back for their handler or as handlers pushed in too early and the dog headed for the chute.
  • * The off course jump near the chute

  • Overall, I was impressed with the consistency of the handlers & dogs!
Next was Excellent JWW. I have to admit, I really liked this course and the varying challenges. Individually, none of them was difficult, but put together, the handler & dog needed to be on their toes and able to quickly adapt to the next sequence.

The challenges on this course were:
* Between jump #4 & 5 as dogs were heading toward the off course #15 jump.
* The off course tunnel only caught a few dogs as most were already heading toward #8 when they landed after #7.
* #12 jump - many dogs went went for the #2 jump again and some completely missed this jump.
* Some dogs headed for the off course #4 jump with a few of them taking it.

The ending from #15 on was a fast sequence!

Again, dogs did a great job and it was a pleasure to watch them.

On a separate note, I LOVE being able to get a feel for the local culture and this is a cute little town. I was taken to a place called the square that had wonderful shops with native jewelry, pottery & ceramics, clothing, a winery and other specialty shops.

The shops were true to the area and very different than anything we have in Seattle. I purchased a beautiful silver cross for myself, a bottle of wine for Dan (from Heart of the Desert winery) and an amazing Christmas gift for Dan's Mom. Beth (Dan's Mom) and I have a wonderful relationship and I spend all year looking or making something special for her. I seriously can't wait to give this one to her : )

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wag More, Bark Less

This post is dedicated to everyone who has had to deal with mean people....

Since moving out to the Seattle area, I've continuously struggled with a small group of people in agility who are insecure, petty, vindictive, unhappy and just miserable. I wouldn't normally notice these things, but unfortunately they find it entertaining to talk badly about others, including me & my life as they think they know it.

What makes it so tough is that they act nice to your face. Saying Hi, asking about specific details in your life and pretending like all is well. While in reality, they're just plotting or poking for something to speak badly of. If they can't find something, they'll make it up and do so with relish. After all, if they're cattily chatting about you, it makes them the center of attention and they feel important.

I've often been the target of their sharp tongues and worse yet, their make-believe reality. I've heard everything from I use prong collars to teach contacts, insensitive gossiping about the reasons I had to put my young border collie down and all the way up to someone approaching my husband (at a trial) before we got married and saying "We're concerned about you, you don't have to go through with it, are you really sure you want to marry her?" and someone openly discussing ringside how there's no way our marriage was going to work.

Ouch! It doesn't take a psychic to know that these are hurtful comments! Not to mention inappropriate, disrespectful and quite frankly, not their business.

I have to admit that after years of trying to rise above, keep smiling, keeping my chin up and more, I've finally realized that their bad behavior isn't going to go away or stop because they're not capable of that. So next I tried the old "I don't give a crap" approach and honestly, I've begun to feel myself acting just as miserable as they are! Clearly the close yourself off, hard edged approach isn't for me...

While it may not seem like it on the outside, I am a sensitive person (aren't we all?). I do care about people, their feelings, prefer building them up and more. This is the polar opposite of what the unhappy group is about and while I like to give, they like to take and simply based on that large difference, we're never going to see eye-to-eye. So that leaves me still trying to come up with a way to cope and not loose sight of who I am.

Lately I can't help but feel "If I'm going to get blamed for & labeled being a crap person, then I mine as well be!" OK, not necessarily logical but if you continuously hear or are impacted by the negative, sometimes you can't help but think about throwing in the towel and just going with it. Again, I need to find a magic sentence to block the hurt this causes me. Ah yeah and "just don't worry about what they say" somehow doesn't work so well for me. LOL

Looking on the bright side, it is because of these very people that I NEVER, EVER want to treat anyone less than with respect and kindness. After having felt the pain that they cause, I can't imagine ever inflicting the same feelings on someone else...that's just cruel.

I know logically that the majority of people here in this area aren't like that. Actually, I've met some of the most sane, personable, warm and amazing individuals ever. After yet another day of hearing crap about myself, I wrote my frustration on Facebook and was so touched by the kind words. It was nice to be reminded of the non-crappy side of me and it made me happy to know that the good side is still there and that people DO see it.

What scares me the most is that sometimes when the negative words get to me and I close up and go into 'protection mode', I'm afraid I'll lose the carefree & happy part of who I am to bitterness & hurt. It happens to a lot of people and I suspect that's exactly what happened to this specific group and now that's the only way they know how to live. You know, this reminds me of a horror flick where people are poisoned and turn into Mummy's!

Now that I've said my fears out loud, I feel so much better. I'm also going to come up with a plan to make sure that I avoid the Mummy Lifestyle the unhappies took. I never want to be compared to the walking dead!

Monday, November 23, 2009

West Virginia Sunday Course

Sunday in West Virginia started off with the other judge and I hoping to play a little prank on each other...

Remember when I mentioned that yesterday I was missing a weave pole and was delayed for 30 minutes? Well, since the other judge was able to start before me (yeap, he had ALL of his weaves), I naturally blamed him for my delay and claimed he stole my weave : ) Of course he didn't, but it was fun to put him on the spot!

Any way, on Sunday, I had planned to 'relocate' one of his weaves. Of course he got to the show site early and planned to do the same with me Gotta love when your judges have a sense of humor!

OK, on to the Excellent Standard course. If anyone is interested in the Open & Novice course, just let me know and I'll be happy to send them as the courses were well nested with flow.

This general design was a take-off from a previous course that I had created & run, but wasn't so thrilled with the middle section. Sometimes it's fun when you can take a course and improve on it - which is what this is.

As far as challenges, there were a few and handlers definitely had to work the last sequence.

The first challenge was subtle and came from the wings on the #2 jump. Those who hung close to their dogs as they took the short beginning tunnel and wanted to keep their dog on the right found themselves working hard to get around the wing and had to push their hard dog up the walk and off of the off-course jump.

The next challenge was the weave pole entry. While it was 18 feet from the dog walk, dogs who went charging toward often had trouble making the entry. I have to admit, this area wasn't meant to be a challenge so I was surprised.

The next surprise area was from the #9 jump to the a-frame. Handlers who over handled #9 and pulled the dog in hard after the jump incurred a refusal at the a-frame as dogs were certain they were supposed to head toward the exit side of the #7 tunnel. Looking at the map, I wouldn't have thought about this possibility, but there were about half a dozen dogs who worked hard for some creative tunnel entries.

I'd like to finish this note by sincerely thanking the club and the exhibitors for such a great time.

I had a chance to think about the thankless job agility/club volunteers do and I'm reminded that without them, agility trials wouldn't exist. I was lucky enough to have two wonderful volunteers drive me to/from the Pittsburgh, PA airport (1.5 hours from the trial site), others who ensured I had coffee, dinner, workers and a host of other items that really make a trip so much easier.

Exhibitors are also a major part of the weekend. When exhibitors are great, it really helps to make the event even more special. For example, this weekend after a lady earned a MACH and I was congratulating her she said "I'm so happy it happened under you" - oh my gosh, tears welled in my eyes. I mean if that isn't just the greatest compliment! Not only does it say that I'm forever a part of her dog memories, but that she thought enough of me to include her in that moment. That's a very, very special moment that I'll never forget.

If you have a compliment or kind word for your judge, don't hesitate to share! We do remember those moments and they do mean a lot to us!

Next week I'm in New Mexico for 3-days, so look for more courses after Thanksgiving. Speaking of Thanksgiving, have a great holiday everyone!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

West Virginia Agility Trial - Sat Agility Courses

This weekend was spent judging in West Virginia and it really was a fun trial.

The facility is beautiful. A very large permanent building with a canvas-like material that made everything light & bright, followed up with a field turf surface over rubber pellets.

Today was a full day of judging all JWW & all FAST classes. Unfortunately the day started about 30 minutes late thanks to a lost weave pole. Luckily my courses were well-nested and once we got started, things went along smashingly.

The JWW course was fast and flowing and I received several compliments. However, I couldn't help but remember the conversation I brought up several weeks ago about AKC courses being too easy. There certainly wasn't anything unusual about this course, but there were some areas that created a few challenges for people.

The first area was from the #6 jump to the #7 weave poles. Handlers doing a front cross between #5 & 6 had to be sure and continue to push toward the poles or dogs came in early and loaded in the 2-3rd pole.

The next area was area was #10-#12. Most folks pushed to the #10 double jump which resulted in a rear cross over #11. Many dogs landed facing the exit side of the tunnel and when the handler yelled "tunnel", off they went. This wasn't a tunnel entrance to take for granted.

On to Excellent FAST. I love a course and Send Bonus (SB) that allows for creativity and a bit of challenge, and this one fit the bill. The most common error was the handler stepping over the SB line around the #2 jump.

Handlers who first sent their dog into the tunnel entrance closest to the jump were the most successful. This maneuver allowed the handler to get into place and gave them plenty of time to cue the dog since they were exiting the tunnel furthest from the jump and had plenty of time to set themselves up for the second tunnel.

Nice job to all!

Friday, November 20, 2009

What Happened to Our Attention?!?!

Beyond the Agility Equipment: Rouge, my young Dalmatian, never ceases to astound me. She is an amazing companion, rock solid in all situations and incredibly outgoing and confident.

Physically she was always comfortable in her own body and excelled when training our agility skills. So it was a little disappointing (although expected) when at our first and second agility seminars she was distracted and instead of working on technique and form, we mainly worked on a soft skill...attention.

The irony is that I've worked hard to foster her confident, love-of-life attitude and here her zesty character was temporarily biting me in the butt! The good news is that I have drive, the bad news is that the entire package of her agility ability has not yet come together....That's okay because as I mentioned above, these moments should be expected and are a normal part of the evolution stage.

Remember, we're our dog's mentor: In a previous post I brought up the notion that we are our dog's mentor. To recap, as mentor's we develop, guide, shape and mold our dogs in all sorts of agility skills. Ultimately the goal is to strike a balance between our dogs natural abilities and to develop those 'other things' that will ensure they are well-rounded and prepared to go out on course with confidence. Think of it this way, some days we work on Skill A (contact performance for example) and other days we work on Skill B (perhaps attention) and so on.

Getting back to Ru...and the seminars. Ru wasn't being belligerent, stubborn or willful at the seminars, but rather her technical abilities were far stronger than her mental ability to stay focused. Unfortunately, without the attention, our technical skills are worthless. And that's how a training opportunity is born!

The flaw in my training...I'll own up to my part in Ru's lack of training. I worked on the hard skills, shaped them and did a terrific job on that. However, I did not put as much work into creating attention once there was three or more obstacles in a row. Honestly, she was doing so good at home, that in my excitement, I rushed to do more course work and skipped a few steps along the way. Sound familiar? Yeah, lots of us do it and I'm human too.

What to do next...At first I was confused as to where our great work had gone astray. I mean it was so amazing! However, when I asked myself "What would you tell your students to do?" the answer hit me like a V-8 moment (you know the commercial where they slap their forehead and shout "I could have had a V-8!).

The answer was to break things down in such a way that I could now work on & reward the attention - I needed Ru to clearly understand what the expectation was BETWEEN the obstacles. So I followed my own advice and shifted my focus from obstacles & handling to shaping/rewarding the in between parts...You know, the places where I needed my dog to look to ME for direction and not elsewhere for an adventure. By doing this, it gave Ru something to do (that I was happy with) and we were able to keep our connection.

How's it working...GREAT! I recently took her out to a distracted area and was amazed at how much better she was doing in staying focused on the agility task. Was she perfect? Nope, but her recovery period was far shorter and her attention moments were a lot longer. I'll happily take that progress and continue.

Someday we'll have it all, but in the meantime we'll keep working through these normal growing moments and continue moving forward in our growth.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Tail of Two Furry Friends

Yesterday's antics were provided by Rylee & Zulu and so this blog post is compliments of them and dubbed "A Tail of Two Furry Friends."

These two are perpetually playing. For Hours. And Hours. And Hours!

I'm often sucked into watching them as they loop among the natural landscaping, perfecting the game of chase, wrestling or hide & seek.

During a chase, they gracefully run at full stride and often toss in an abrupt change of direction in hopes of out maneuvering the pursuer. This seems to heighten their senses and add a bit of an athletic challenge to the foot race.

Often times one will start out in pursuit and at some unknown cue the other turns the tables and takes on the hunt.

Chase will often lead to a surprise game of hide and seek when one successfully dodges around a clump of thick landscaping or speeds over a downed tree and is now out of sight. The stalking game begins as each tries to find the other, but the best part is when they simultaneously surprise each other with a combined "I found you!" assault.

When a change is needed, Zulu & Rylee will head on over to our seasonal pond. The game here is to embrace the splashing and mud build up that cakes their fur. I suspect here they feel like real puppy explorers out in the wild, camouflaging their smells and breaking all of the 'clean' rules of the house. I'm envious - after all, who can't resist a good mud puddle now and then?

The fall leaves have added a welcome cushion to the wrestling game where one plays the victim and the other the aggressor. Don't be fooled into thinking one beats up on the other because their roles will morph unexpectedly with a quick body flip or classic head lock action.

It's so nice to see these guys enjoying each other's company and to watch the carefree relationship they have with each other. I just can't help but smile and catch the contagious good mood that they exude.

I'll admit, it's also nice when I call their name and they come running to me with a huge smile on their face. Yes, for all the fun they have together, they still love me : )

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Seminar - Lisa Selthofer Nov 7th

I just got back from conducting a 1-day agility seminar and had such a good time.

There were dogs & handlers at different skill levels and as is expected, each team was unique.

For example, some teams needed to be more precise in their cues, others needed to give their dogs a chance to figure out what they were asking and some needed to embrace their dog's speed and just go with it.

I love seminars (actually, I love teaching) and I see my job as making each team successful. The benefit of coming in and working with folks that you haven't seen before is that you bring a new perspective and skill set.

The course above was our challenge for the day. The handling skills being tested included a push-out to the top of a pinwheel (#2 jump), being comfortable ahead of your dog (#3 jump), turning a dog away & pushing out to an obstacle (a-frame to tunnel), a rear cross (#8 & #16 jumps), a front cross (#9 & #17 jumps), large spacing with off-course options (#11 to 12 & #19 to 20 jumps) and working these skills on BOTH sides (yeap, this course mirrors itself).

It was a ton of stuff for this group and for this newer club, it was also an introduction to consistency as it applies to cueing front & rear crosses. Later, I showed them how I train the 2on/2off contact work and also the EASY way I've just started to train the table.

I really had a great time with this group and could have easily continued for another day...hopefully they felt the same or at least left with a ton of knowledge and ideas! LOL

Thursday, November 5, 2009


I haven't had a chance to write in detail about Rylee and I think I'm now ready to.

Sounds funny, doesn't it? Well, Rylee started off as a client's dog who stayed with me a couple of days a week for Agility training. My rule when working with or training a client's dog is that there is a limit to the emotional attachment I allow myself. I do this out of respect for my own dogs who deserve 100% of my heart because they belong to me and are my family.

Don't get me wrong, I care deeply for my client's dogs and they are treated very, very well at my place. I enjoy working with them and they enjoy working with me.

There was always something special about Rylee and I have always wanted a Terv (what a nice coincidence!). After Nancy officially brought up the prospect of her joining the family permanently, I took time to give it plenty of thought.

Some of the positives were that Rylee fit in so well with my pack of dogs, she is incredibly sweet, has a wonderful work ethic and is well-behaved and pleasantly interactive. My main concern was that I wanted to be sure it was a good permanent fit for HER as well. While I knew she liked it at my place, the question was if she would love it.

My answer came in an unexpected way. I was gone for several days at a judging assignment and was grateful to be home. I knew the dogs would be happy to see me, but was pleasantly surprised to find that Rylee was beyond thrilled as I walk through the door. She cried, she jumped on me, she bathed me in kisses and was plastered to my side for the remainder of the night in happiness. It was clear that she was ready to make the leap and it was the definitive sign I was looking for.

Once Rylee joined the family and was allowed into my heart, our relationship continued to grow and I am getting to know her all over again. I'm happy to say that I'm even more thrilled with her! It's fun to wrestle with her, to have her cuddle next to me, to take her on RV trips with us, to have her join us as we do the RV rounds at trials and to introduce her as our newest family member. I feel like I can be more loving & silly with her and develop a relationship that is beyond the role of trainer - a role I strictly reserve for my own dogs.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Looking for a Holiday Gift for a Special Lady?

People are often surprised to learn that I have quite a few hobbies outside of dogs.

I like to decorate, cook, design and I especially love creating custom, handcrafted jewelry that features natural stone & precious gems.

Attached are just a few of my creations, all of which are available.

To view additional pieces, feel free to go to The website is still under construction, but there are plenty of pieces under the necklace header.


Monday, November 2, 2009

As They Age...

Pictured is Pinky, my 15 year old Dal on the left and Rouge, my 2 year old on the right.

It's ironic to have them pictured together and it's also the perfect introduction to today's doggy thought - as our beloved dogs age.

I've written about this before, but when Pinky turned 10, I had a reality moment where it suddenly occurred to me that my time with her was limited. We no longer had an entire future ahead of us, but instead our days were numbered.

It was at that moment that I made a decision that I wanted her to pass knowing that she was LOVED. Don't get me wrong, Pinky was loved before that decision, but I changed my ways to include a ton of smaller, moments into our daily life. That's when I learned to smile at my dogs, to touch them or kiss them on the head as I passed by, to snuggle, to play more and for the Dals, to cover them up while they slept (they appreciate the warmth).

As Sadie, Dan's Chocolate Lab aged (she passed away last year at 15.5 years old), there were signs. The gray around the muzzle, the wobbly back legs, cloudy vision, a loss of hearing, a bit of dementia and then later a lack of control of her bowels.

Over the last year, Pinky has aged a lot. When I look back at pictures, I'm reminded of black spots that have faded with time and as she walks, she does more of a bit of a waddle vs. a trot. This is a far cry from the spry agility champion she was back in the day.

It's at moments like these that I really miss our active times together and our solitary moments (at one time she was an only pup!). Thanks to her, I was able to travel the country and experience so much.

In daily life, I've slept comfortably with her tucked in next to me for over a decade and when there were moments I've been sad and crying, she'll snuggle in and lick my tears away. Pinky's raised me from a pup and I'm realistic in knowing that my short time with her is only getting shorter with each passing day. Ugh - reality is rotten sometimes!

I think that part of the reason I've surrounded myself with such wonderful, loving young pups is that soon I won't have my lovely old girl. However, I will have Rouge who will one day be our new Matriarch, Rylee who is my dream Terv and baby Zulu with his happy attitude. I also have my other tried and true dog, Spot.

So back to the picture. For me, it symbolizes 2 generations of my Dals pictured together. I imagine in 10 years, Rouge will be my old girl and I'll have a new young matriarch developing in the wings. Such is the way of life and all we can do is make the most of each moment.

Squirrel Antics

I'm one of those goofy people who has multiple bird feeders, bat houses for the barn & a makeshift squirrel feeder.

Since fall is here and winter is on its way, I thought it was time to put out the squirrel food and see how long it would take for them to arrive. I can't say 'return' because last year's young guy was squished in front of my house by a car... So we'll wait and see if any new squirrels show up.

I put the fresh nuts out late yesterday afternoon and was surprised to find my first visitors early this morning. As was the case previously, the Stellar Jays are the early birds, followed by the squirrels (2 of them this year) and lastly, the crows tried unsuccessfully to encroach as well.

The first picture attached is the squirrel I'm going to name Righty since he always comes in from the right side of our house (or driveway side).

The next couple of pictures are of Lefty. Yeap, you guessed it...he always comes and goes from the left side of the house .

Lefty is definitely the main squirrel who has claimed the feeder as his own and he's not hesitant to chase Righty off whenever possible.

While both squirrels are pretty aerobatic, I was able to get some great shots of Lefty jumping into & out of the feeder and a nice close-up of him chewing on his new found nut. Secretly, I think he was probably peeking out and watching to keep Righty at bay. Sharing does not seem to be his strength.

Being a bit of an obsessive when it comes to animal training, I'd often thought it might be fun to befriend and train one of these little guys.

However, the reality is that wouldn't be such a wise decision for several reasons. First, I don't want the squirrels to get too comfortable around my home as I have a few dogs who would love a chance to test their hunting skills on these little guys. Second, they're squirrely! Seriously, squirrels can be erratic & unpredictable, not to mention they may have natural diseases.

So, with all of that said, I've embraced their natural instinct to stay away and curb my own curiosity by being satisfied in simply feeding them from a feeder.

They get a free meal and I get to watch them - a win-win for all.

Oh, one more word about feeding squirrels. They're greedy little critters! If you fill the squirrel feeder, they'll spend the entire day taking the nuts (long after they're full) and burying them. Since nuts are expensive, I suggest only putting out a handful at a time to keep them coming back.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Clicker Training a Horse

Today was a beautiful sunny Fall day.

We started with our extra hour of sleep (hope you set your clocks back an hour), then met Dan's parents to breakfast (Happy Birthday Dad!), ran all of our errands and then went to go clicker train a friend's horse.

Jack is my newest hoofed friend. He has a wonderful disposition and is food motivated - all the makings for a positive horse training experience.

Heidi (his owner & my friend), came prepared with carrots, a clicker, some base knowledge on clicker training (she'd been doing some reading and watched me work with a dog the night prior) and a goal to be able to touch the inside of Jack's ears for grooming purposes.

We started with the clicker and pairing the click with a piece of carrot. Once I had Jack's full interest and he was responding to the click, I quickly switched to a marker word (I use the word 'yes') since a clicker isn't always available, I wanted to work around his ears (without clicking IN his ear) and I needed both hands free!

Disclaimer - I'm going to move quickly through the description of what I did, so you detailed folks may find some minor holes in my written description. Please remember, the purpose of this post is to give an overview of what I did and not a step by step instruction guide - I just don't want to get bogged down in clicker details, I just want to write about my experience : )

The Head Bow - Jack is far taller than I am, so my first step toward the ear work was to shape him to bow his head so I could actually reach his ears (see picture No. 1). This was easy since I made sure that each treat came from around the height of my waist, forcing him to tip his head to retrieve his beloved carrot.

Next, I began rapid reinforcement when his head was bowed to keep it in that position. Eventually I placed my hand on top of his head as he'd bow his head for the treat and within a few minutes he quickly understood my hand was the non-verbal cue for him to bow his head and get a treat. I was able to eventually move my hand around his ear and soon in his ear and then I was moving my fingers in his ear - all while his head was bowed, the marker word used and the treat given at waist height.

It was exciting to see Jack bobbing his head at one point when we had stopped to talk and I wasn't handing over the treats to his satisfaction. It was fun for everyone to see him offer up those actions and to think through what he needed to do to get the treat.

Heidi's Turn - Now that Jack has a base to draw from, it was time to hand over the reigns to Heidi since she's his main trainer. After a momentary pause, Jack quickly figured out the head-bow game would work with her as well and so the head dipped easily. Since Jack was working so nicely (yes, he is a very smart horse!) we were sure to move our position (right, left, front, etc.), place a hand on top of his head and soon Heidi was easily putting her fingers in his ear as well (see picture No. 2).

Homework - Heidi's homework is to continue at this phase and eventually bring the unplugged ear clippers out (not near his head or ear, just a visual) and pair the clippers to a head bow and a carrot. Again, a very simplified explanation.

Next Visit - I'm hoping to go out and check on Jack & Heidi's progress next weekend. I have to admit, Jack is really fun to train and he's such a nice boy! He's had some down time with a scrapped/sprained knee injury/kind of thing, but Heidi has invited me to ride him when he's back in the saddle again (I couldn't resist the pun) and I know I'm going to love it!

On the Doggy Front - All of the dogs spent hours outside playing the last two days while Dan and I were outside doing yard work. Tonight, they were all so tired they could barely walk. I'm hoping they'll need the rest of the week to recoop so I can get a lot of work done.

Have a great week everyone!