Sunday, September 30, 2012

My Confessions

Today on the Border Collie Boards, someone made a list of "Confessions" based on things that she has heard people critique dog owners on.  I responded in the post with my own list of "Confessions".

Here is my list . . . .  Purple comments were added by me here, and were not part of the original post on the Board
  • I manage some things instead of training them with some dogs. Sometimes I simply consider other things more important.  Dean walked on an Easy Walk Harness for quite some time because I wanted to work on other things besides loose leash walking
  • I sometimes mix grain free kibble with raw. 
  • I reinforce dogs when they are afraid and it ends up making them more confident.  Speedy would never have danced in front of one person, much less 500, had I not recognized that I was not "reinforcing fear" by doing this
  • I LOVE it when my dogs jump up to greet me when I get home.
  • I train my dogs to put their paws up on me, and on other things, on cue.
  • I consider it an issue if my dog won't go out a door ahead of me.  UGH!  It drove me NUTS when Tessa wouldn't go through a door ahead of me!
  • I use lures to introduce the vast majority of behaviors that I train and doing so does not result in dogs who only know how to follow food.  The key is to fade the lure as soon as the dog is ready for more of a challenge
  • I help dogs overcome car chasing without using any verbal or physical corrections and I absolutely care very deeply about their safety.
  • I do not use exercise to tire my dogs out so they will behave. My dogs exercise for enjoyment and overall health, and they behave because they know what is expected.  [The phrase "a good dog is a tired dog" makes me cringe on several different levels.  Yes, exercise is important, but it is not a substitute for good training, nor for quality mental stimulation.]
  • I save tidbits of my food from every meal and share it with my dogs. I've done this since we adopted our first dog because I love to share good things with my dogs. (Except, of course, items that would be harmful to their health, such as onions). Sometimes when I'm not home, I find that I have set food off to the side of my plate for them!  I don't think of food as "people food" and "dog food".  Food is food.  As long as I feed my dogs food that will not harm them, in moderate amounts, they eat a healthy diet.
  • I give my dogs free treats whenever I feel like it.
  • I often reinforce my dogs for trying their best even when they don't technically perform correctly.  I blogged about this recently.
  • I give my dogs free access to one another, to toys, to the furniture, and to many other things that they enjoy, and doing so does not reduce their enthusiasm for working with me one iota.  No "Ruff Love" here.  That style of dog management does not suit me at all.
  • If one of my fearful dogs is hesitant to do something that is not absolutely necessary at that point in time, I don't "make" the dog do whatever it is. I regard that as legitimate communication, not defiance.  Some would declare me anathema for that!  But I have found that this builds trust and confidence, and I have never made one of my dogs more fearful by respecting this communication.  I have only done so on occasions when I have failed to listen.
  • I use giving my dog permission to do things that they want to reinforce them for doing what I want. I no longer consider those things to be "self-rewarding" and I love being free of that idea.  Thank God I was able to toss that notion aside!  It is liberating to not have to try to manage my dogs to that degree.
  • I no longer use "watch me" to teach a dog to focus on me in the presence of a distraction.  It was a good technique to get started with, but when Speedy and I hit the end of its usefulness, it was a real blessing that CU came out right at that time!  LAT took us to the next level.
  • I know for a fact that I do not need to be more interesting than anything to have a focused and confident performance dog, so I no longer try to be, and I love being rid of the notion.  Halleluia!  Halleluia!  I don't have to try to be more interesting than the ground, than other dogs, than sheep, than anything!  Because I can't be and I know it!
  • I don't blame myself for the fact that Speedy is, by nature, fearful of some things. I don't blame myself for the fact that Dean is noise phobic. I don't blame myself for the fact that Tessa is still a little shy of people in some circumstances. I have worked very hard to help each of them overcome those fears to whatever degree is possible (and all three have made incredible progress), but I do not consider myself to be the cause of them.  Of all of these things, I think the one that has been most upsetting to me along the way has been the implication that I somehow caused these problems myself.  Really, neither the dog nor the handler are the problem.  The problem is fear, which has a biochemical basis and must be considered for what it is in and of itself.  When it comes to fear, blame is useless.  What is needed is an objective and proactive attitude.  It can be incredibly difficult, on an emotional level, to live with, train, and handle a fearful dog.  Blaming the handler only serves to increase the difficulty and does nothing to bring about changes that can help the dog let overcome those fears.
  • I do not deliberately deprive my dogs of anything so they will want train with treats, and they still want to - very much.  This is a common objection that I often read on internet lists to reinforcement based training.  Yes, some people do this, but most reinforcement based trainers, including myself, absolutely do not.
  • I have trained with treats for over 10 years now. Not one of my dogs is fat - all are quite trim with ribs you can feel easily.
  • I like getting kisses from my dogs.
  • I don't expect any of my dogs to tolerate another dog putting his or her face right up against his or her closed crate door.
  • I encourage my dogs to play tug with me, and the dog is certainly allowed to win.
  • Sometimes, when we perform in a sport, I make handling mistakes, and sometimes I am not at my best and I don't handle at my best. Sometimes my dogs make mistakes, and sometimes they are not at their best and they don't perform at their best. I recognize that both of those things happen and I flatly refuse to attribute all errors to either the handler or the dog in every circumstance.
  • I have a bad toe and one of these days I am probably seriously going to hurt myself running Agility, but I run anyway. Some risks are worth taking.
  • I am not a dog and I do not try to simulate one when I train.  Hence, I don't growl at my dogs, I do not scruff shake them, I do not use verbal corrections that simulate growling, and I do not use physical corrections that simulate the way a mother dog might discipline her puppies
  • I am often amused when my dogs get creative during training, and I sometimes laugh right out loud at their ideas, even if I am trying to train something different.
I guess when it comes down to it, I'm not a big one for "conventional wisdom" when it comes to dog ownership, training, and handling.  I do a lot of things that are outside of the norm.  And it works for me, and it works for my dogs.

I've always marched to the beat of a different drummer in many ways.  No reason to stop now ... 

So, those are my "Confessions"!! 

Tessa's Story - Some Commentary

The posts that I have been making recently, "Tessa's Story", are slightly modified posts that I made on my old Xanga blog shortly after Tessa came here.

That blog can be found here, if anyone is interested:

Old Xanga Blog - Dean Dog and Friends

I started that blog after we adopted Dean and it is a pretty good record of the first couple of years of his life with us.

As I recycle those old posts to share Tessa's early days with us, it occurs to me that there is something that is really not coming through in them - the degree to which Tessa was shut down during her first months here.

I know the Tessa of now so well.  She is a joyful and enthusiastic girl, full of desire to live her life to the fullest.  She loves to greet me when I come home, she loves to snuggle, she loves to train and perform, she loves to go to class, she loves to hike or go to the beach, she loves to play in the yard with her brothers and lay in her tub of water when it's hot.  Her eyes light up and she holds her plume of a tail up high and she is full of life and fun.

She was nothing like that when she first came here.  She was lost, she was scared, she had no trust, and - saddest of all to me - she had no expectation that anything good was going to happen to her.  She was constantly on edge, ready to spring at the slightest hint that she might need to get to safety.

Often when I tell people that after she had been with us for two weeks as a foster I could not let her go, they say, "you fell in love with her, right?"  No, I didn't.  Nor did she fall in love with me.  Love was the furthest thing from either of us.  Trust was far away, too.  I liked her an awful lot, and she had learned by that time that she could tolerate me.  But she was afraid of me and there was little I could do with her at that point other than allow her to find what safety she could in my home.

But there was something.  While I wouldn't call what I had for her at that time love, I did have a very strong sense of needing to protect her.  The idea of putting her on a transport and sending her to rescue - even such an amazing rescue as GHF - didn't sit well with me at all.  I felt strongly that she needed to be here.

I did see glimmers of her potential even then.  There were times when I would get just a glimpse of her true self behind her mask.  And when I saw her spring from one piece of furniture to another (usually to avoid the proximity of my husband, Ben), or when I saw her chase Dean and corner and turn, I saw a dog who just might like to play Agility someday.  And when I saw her break into a prance in the yard a few times, I caught just a brief flash of a dancer.

But the truth was that I had no idea if Tessa would ever be able to become a performance partner.  I didn't know if she would be able to handle training at home in private, much less in a training class.  I didn't know if she would ever be able to tolerate, much less like, the competition setting.  I knew that I was considering adopting a dog who may never feel safe anywhere but on the sofa or her favorite chair.

I didn't even know if she had it in her to have a shred of affection for me.  Maybe her experiences out in the world had smashed any capacity she had to love and trust a human.  I simply didn't know.

But it didn't matter.  This was where she needed to be and I needed to adopt her and give her the best life I could. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Morning Training

I got a training session in with all four dogs this morning.

Speedy kicked it off.  We did heeling through the house, on both sides, as warm up.  Then we worked some moves that I might use with him in a routine that I have an idea for.  I'm not sure if this is going to happen, but Speedy doesn't care - he always enjoys working on stuff!!

We did this one move where he started in left heel, and crossed in front of me to nose target my right hand, which was stretched out away from me to the side.  Then he crossed behind me to meet my left hand, followed by circles around me as I pivot in the opposite direction.  I'm not sure how it looks, but we had fun working on it.

Then we worked a little on our distance behaviors for Expert tricks.  He is working on a sit from a down and a down from a sit, all 12 feet away from me.  We tried down from a sit, but he wasn't going all the way down.  I think that might be too stimulating for him because of the distance.  We also did spins and twirls 12 feet away, and I tried having him send to a target laterally.  I mean that he was sitting at a distance from me, and the target was at the same distance from me.  I sent him to the target from where he started.  I'm hoping that can count as a distance behavior!

I need to come up with two more behaviors.

After that, Tessa and I worked for quite a while.  We did heeling through the house.  She is getting much better with staying up with me in heel.  We did pieces of her routine with the music, and I am very pleased with her progress!  We worked the opening in particular, and all of the moves with the pedestal prop.

We also started work on a new skill, which we began as a demo at camp a few weeks ago.  She is learning to back under my leg.

Dean and I started off with his rolling hoop dive.  This time I used food instead of a toy and he did much better.  He gets too excited by the toy and doesn't look for the hoop at all.  With food he was getting the idea.  He is sending to the hoop attached to a jump post from about 6 feet away.  I am adding a cue for him to visually find the hoop, and once we have that, I think we can add in the rolling!!

After that we did a bit of Level 2 Rally review.  We worked on a moving down, in both ways that we may need to do it. He is actually pretty good at splatting down when I remain in motion!

We finished up by working his stopped contact re-training.  It is taking some doing because he really wants to flop his back feet off the board, but I am working at being patient so he can figure out what he needs to do.

After that, Tessa got a turn on the board and I found that she can use some review on that, too!

Finally, Sammie got to play.  We did some basic Rally stuff. Some heeling through the house, sits, right finishes, etc.  I am kind of thinking of trying a Level 1 Cyber Rally course with him - just for fun.  I think he might be able to do it!  That is, if I ever get time to get something filmed!

It was a good session.  I hope we can do this more often.  We all have so much to work on, and I always see good results when we work on a regular basis.

Tessa's Story - Part 2

I was pleased on the second day to wake up and find Tessa (then Maggie) still on the bed with us.  She still had her leash on, but of course I had let go of it during the night.

First thing in the morning I went out with all of the dogs.  My dogs thought it strange, and maybe even funny, that I had gone out with them during their potty time.  That doesn't happen often here at home!

I had the leash on her again in the house, but I dropped it most of the time.  She stayed right with me.  She was also slightly more relaxed.  On the first day she startled any time I moved, even a little.  On the second day, she did not respond at all to small movements.  If I stood, she jumped up and followed me.  But if I reached for a pen or something, she did not care.

I really noticed her love for furniture on the second day.  The look on her face when she was on the futon, or on Sammie's chair, could only be described as beatific.  It looked as if she wanted absolutely nothing else in the world than to remain on that piece of furniture!  She wasn't guardy of furniture at all.  She didn't mind in the least if any or all of my dogs wanted to share her space.  In fact, she enjoyed snuggling up to them.  When she was on furniture, she was the picture of contentment.  And that was so good to see in her because she was that was about the only spark of joy I saw in her at all.

Doors were an issue for her.  At first she would not go through a door ahead of me.  That was extremely annoying, especially when I wanted her to go ahead.  She was very reluctant to go into new spaces, small spaces, and to go anywhere ahead of me.

Eating also posed a bit of a problem.  She liked the food that I gave her, but she got very uncomfortable when I watched her eat.  I had to keep an eye on her, though, to make sure that none of my dogs tried to trick her out of leaving her bowl!  They don't pull that stuff on each other, but they will pull it on a guest if I don't watch.  When I realized that she was eating even more slowly with me watching, I tried putting her in the bedroom with her food.  She would eat nothing.  I finally let my dogs out and kept her in so she could eat in peace.

I asked Lillie, the owner of the rescue, to change Maggie's name on the second day because Maggie was just not working.  It sounded too close to Maddie.  Maddie was not pleased to hear her name being used for this young girl!  So, Lillie changed her name to Sadie.  She actually responded better to Sadie, so it worked nicely.

These pictures are from the first day.  

Not sure yet whether I was a friend or not, but looking less miserable than she was in the shelter.  Maybe this wasn't such a bad place . . . 

On Sammie's chair, one of her favorite safe places, which is now known officially as the Sammie-Tessa chair.  You can see here, too, her back end where her coat was in very poor condition.  I had to chop a whole chunk of burrs out of her tail, and the look of her back feathers didn't improve for quite a while.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Tessa's Story - Part 1

It occurred to me that I have never posted Tessa's story as part of this blog.  This really was originally meant to be just a training blog, but I have sort of started reflecting and writing other things on here.  So, I thought it might be a good idea to actually share how she came to be part of my life.

I got involved with Glen Highland Farm, the most amazing Border Collie rescue in the world, located in Morris, NY, in 2005.  I went up there with Sammie, Speedy, and Maddie to attend their vacation camp and that trip ended up changing our lives in many ways.

Shortly after I had gone up for the first time, I began to volunteer for them, evaluating Border Collies in shelters or homes in my area, and taking part in transports.

Fast forward to late September 2010, exactly at this time of year.  I got an email from my intake coordinator about a Border Collie in a shelter about an hour away.  There was a 2 year (or thereabouts) that had just come into the shelter and she wasn't doing well in that environment.  She was scared of everything, but was better with women than men.  They wanted to know if I could evaluate her and possibly hold her for about a week.

I was unemployed and I had been hankering for a new dog to train.  A short term foster sounded perfect, so I agreed.  I set out on October 4 to go see the dog they were calling Maggie.

I will always remember the first sight of this dog.  She was in the far back corner of her kennel, frozen like a wild animal.  The look on her face was completely expressionless, as if she were trying to disappear into the walls.  Maggie was almost completely shut down.  When I walked into her run to evaluate her, she cowered in the corner.  Still, she let me move in and touch her and I completed her evaluation with no problem.  Once I got into her space, she was fine with me doing what I needed to do.

GHF decided to take her and they asked if I could hold her for a while since the rescue was currently full.  After meeting her, I was happy to do that.  There was something I liked about her, in spite of the fact that she shut herself off from me completely.  It was clear there was nothing personal about it and she would most likely co-exist with us and our dogs peaceably.

When I went to pick her up, she again cowered in the corner when I went in to get her.  Once on her leash, she went right along with me.  All was well until we got to the car.  She balked, and balked big time, when she realized I was leading her to a car.  I had to coax quite a lot and finally she jumped in.  Only to jump out in the split second when I went to open the crate door.  She even slipped two leashes and she was off!

That has never happened in all of the transports I have done.

Knowing she would not come to me if I caught up to her, I got the shelter folks.  They found her in a neighbor's yard and when she spotted them, she ran again - thankfully, back to the shelter!  They cornered her and corralled her into the main building of the shelter.  After that I got one of them to put her in the crate in my car.  Thus secured, we were off.

I rather expected her to panic in the crate during the ride, but she didn't.  After I pulled out of the shelter driveway, I looked back to see how she was doing.  She looked at me with interest, although she always shifted her eyes away from me quickly when I looked at her!

Right then and there, I knew I had to watch it.  I saw something.  I don't know what it was.  I actually said to her, "If I had a spot I might be tempted - you're my kind of dog!"  But, I went on, "It wouldn't be fair for me to ask you to live the life I would want you to live - you need to go someplace where nobody will expect anything from you."  Of course, it was moot (or so I thought!) we already had four dogs and Ben was adamant that we already had too many!

Also, there was already a potential adoptor for her.

So, we got to my house and I prepared to bring her in for a shower.  She didn't smell too bad, but she did smell like shelter, so some washing was a must.  I put my dogs in the dog yard and opened the side door and opened the car and got her out of the crate, holding firmly to two leashes.  And it's a good thing I held on.  She immediately started to struggle to escape.  And the closer I got to the house door, the more vehemently she struggled.  Finally I stopped and moved her back away from the door and we both took a breather.  She seemed to gather herself together at that point and she followed me, very unwillingly, into the house.

The shower went no better.  It was plain she was not going into the shower compartment and there was no way for me to shower her on the bathroom floor.  Finally I took a small container and filled it with water and mixed in shampoo.  I put towels on the floor and got her wet and lathered right there on the floor.  She tolerated it.  Then I took her outside to rinse her with the hose!  That's when she met my dogs, who were still waiting out there!

She was pretty oblivious to them until I got her rinsed off.  Then she checked them out.  I had her on a leash.  I could just picture her flying right over the fence and into the wild blue yonder.  She made no move to try to leave, but I still kept hold of her, just in case.

After a decent meeting, we all went inside and I dried her with towels, which she was fine with.

In the house, I kept a leash on her and, for the most part, I had her go with me throughout the house on leash.  I had no idea if she was housetrained, or how she would behave with my dogs in the house.  I was surprised, but she was fine with being tethered.  Any time I went to move at all, she jumped up, and followed me readily through the house.  She would not, under any circumstances, go through a doorway ahead of me.  But she would follow me anywhere.

So, I was not sure what we were going to do about sleeping arrangements that first night.  I discovered quickly that she was utterly terrified of crates and would not go within several feet of one.  Not even for food.  But the problem solved itself.  I thought about putting her next to the bed and using a tall gate to give her an area next to me.  But when I went to set that up, she jumped right on the bed and planted herself on it - chin and all.  I figured I would try having her on the bed, still attached to the leash.  That worked.  She didn't move the entire night.

One really good thing is that from the start my dogs did not mind her.  Even Speedy acted as if she had been here forever and he couldn't care less about her.  I think he knew that she was more afraid of him than he could possibly be of her!

Here are a couple of photos of Maggie (now Tessa) at the shelter.  It is plain how badly she wanted out of there.  It is strange for me to look at these now.  She seems like a completely different dog!  And in a way she is . . .  It is strange, too, that when I took these photographs, we didn't know each other.  We had no connection, no history, and we had no idea what good times were ahead.  She was just a dog I was evaluating, and I was someone that she wanted to avoid.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

So, About that Goofy Blue Merle . . . .

In my post about Tessa's Agility weekend, I mentioned a goofy blue merle Border Collie who placed first ahead of her twice.

That was Dean!

I entered Dean in Level 1 Jumpers, along with Tessa, in Level 3 Colors, and in Level 2 Wildcard, also along with Tessa.  He was also up for two titles - Level 1 Fun, and Level 2 Wildcard!

Dean is on and off at Agility trials.  He tends to stress, but when he is not stressing he can be brilliant.  I never know which Dean I am going to have.

When we first arrived at the trial, I brought Dean and Tessa in and I crated them together - right in the same crate - to hang out in the building for a bit.  I rarely do this with Dean because any noise, like a teeter banging, can shut him down for the day.  But it was Jumpers, so I figured it was pretty safe.

Dean seemed happy enough.  Tessa, who was pleased a punch to be crated with her Dean Dog, was lying next to him with her chin on his back!  There was one buzzer, and I fed Dean treats after it went off.  He didn't seem bothered by it.

When the time came to walk our course, I put them out in the car together, and I brought them in one at a time to run.

Dean wasn't terribly focused on the first run, but he didn't do a bad job.  As I was about to do with Tessa, I set myself up badly at the start.  Dean took the first jump, but ran around the second.  Unlike her, he did not send out to take the 3rd jump, and after I brought him around in a big circle to pick up the second jump, he incurred no faults.  I am so glad that CPE does not do refusals!  Such mistakes only eat up time.

Speaking of time, we lost a bunch of it when Dean decided to stop in the tunnel and sniff something!  He must have been in there for about 5 seconds, but it felt much longer!  Finally he came out and finished, and he ran the rest of the course beautifully.  The last part of the course did wind toward the crowd, which is sometimes an issue for him, but this time he nailed it!

It was a Q and Dean earned his Level 1 Fun title right along with his little sister!  I did take a ribbon photo with them together.  Tessa is preening in all her glory, and Dean is his typical goofy self!!

Dean went on to do a very nice Level 3 Colors run, earning a Q in spite of the fact that I was a clumsy oaf throughout the run!  I sent him in the wrong direction several times, almost bypassing the weaves altogether!  Luckily, I never sent him off course!  He also completed a set of 6 weave poles in competition for the first time!!

Finally, we ran our Level 2 Wildcard course, and he was perfection!  He was less than a second faster than Tessa, but he made no real mistakes.  I did blind cross a tunnel and he had trouble reading it and went wide, but he came through.  I don't think I had ever blind crossed a tunnel with him before.  I'm usually not fast enough!

I was extra proud of Dean.  He has had to struggle with so many anxiety issues that when he has a day like this where he has fun and is successful, it is a really big deal!  I am not sure that he has ever had an all-Q day.

I love running and and Tessa "against" each other when they are in the same class!

Next up, I am hoping that all three of us will head down to Periland, where we will, hopefully attempt teeters in Level 2 Standard!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Farewell, Level 1!!

On Sunday, Tessa and I bid a fond farewell to CPE Level 1!  All we needed to finish the entire level was a Q in Jumpers.  We were signed up to run Jumpers Level 1, Colors Level 2, and Wildcard Level 2, and Jumpers was first.

I did make a bit of a blip on the opening.  I probably should have led out past the second jump, but that isn't quite solid in class yet, so I'm not feeling ready to try it out in competition.  Tessa took the first jump, ran around the second, and promptly shot out ahead of me to take the third!!  You can have an off course in Jumpers Level 1, so that was OK.  I called her back, we did the second jump, and then ran the rest of the course and it was really nice.

We qualified, and she placed second to a very goofy blue merle Border Collie!  That completed her Level 1 Fun Title, and she got a very nice looking title ribbon!

But we weren't quite finished yet.  Our first attempt at Level 2 Colors was very successful.  We qualified and got first place.

Her best run of the day was her third - Level 2 Wildcard.  It was a straightforward perimeter run.  There was just one bit that I wasn't sure of.  There was one double jump all the way at the back of the course that was almost right up against the wall.  I wasn't sure how Tessa would be with that.  Turned out she was fine with it.

In the end, it was a beautiful run - flawless!  Tessa finished second to that blue merle again, this time by less than a second!!  She qualified.  That was her second Level 2 Wildcard Q, so we are finished with that now.  Next time she will go into Level 3 for Wildcard!  This time she and I are going to have a blast in Level 3 because we are very ready!

I was definitely proud of Tessa's Agility.  She did a beautiful job on every course that she ran.

But there was something else that I was even happier about.  You would never have known that Tessa was a dog with any issues whatsoever.  She pranced in and out of the building, preening the whole time, tail held high!  She was eager to go, go, GO at the entrance to the ring!  Before her third run, she sat very nicely and offered paw after paw!  She really wanted to go in and run!

On Sunday Tessa was a normal dog having a great time doing something that we enjoy.

To me that means everything.  Of course, I am very happy about this, too . . . 

Tessa, CL1, WFD-MF, CRO-1, ATD


Verbal Reprimands are "Good Things"

Now that's a title that might give some pause!  Most people who know me know that I don't incorporate correction - verbal or physical - into training.  So, why would I say they are good things?

Because that is a lesson that I have gone out of my way to teach Tessa.  She absolutely loves it when she hears other dogs get corrected, and I went out of my way to make her that way.

Years ago, Maddie and I were running Agility at Periland, and in the middle of our run, a man on the sidelines reprimanded his dog quite loudly.  She stopped and looked around, very worried.  Maddie was always sensitive to angry voices.  With a bit of encouragement, she was able to go on to complete the run, and I think we qualified.  But the whole incident left me thinking.

Of course, in a perfect world, people would leave their verbal reprimands at home.  Except in extreme and unusual circumstances where immediate safety is at stake, I don't believe that trials, where dogs of all sorts of temperaments are gathered, are an appropriate place to be verbally reprimanding dogs.  If the dog cannot behave without constant reprimands, more training at home or classes is in order.

But not everyone shares that philosophy, and it happens, and there is absolutely nothing that I can do about it.

I have realized, however, that I can prepare my dogs to hear it, and I can condition them to love it.

I started this with Tessa when she was first starting out in training classes.  Every time someone went "aht!" or "NO!" or whatever, Tessa got a high value treat.

At first she was tentative about it.  Was this something she needed to be worried about?  I didn't say anything to her, I just gave her a treat every time it happened.

Before long, she was anticipating the treat whenever she heard such reprimands, and eventually, she would actually perk up and start to glow with pleasure when she heard them!

These days she doesn't get a treat every single time, but I will usually give her a pat on the head and a happy "that means good girl, Tessa!" and she waggles happily.

This has served us well, even in the limited time she has been going to competitions.  At a recent Agility trial, we were walking through the crate room, and a participant looked right at Tessa and said, "What a pretty girl!"  Immediately, her own dog started to bark, and without taking her eyes off of Tessa, the woman yelled at her own dog.  Tessa immediately lit up, raised her tail, and preened as we continued to walk through the room.

Oh yeah!!  That's my smart girl.

I don't have to worry about people correcting their dogs on the sidelines.  I don't have to worry about people yelling in the crate room.  She knows those are "good things" that are going to get her praise, and sometimes good treats.  I do keep this loaded up with high value treats on a somewhat regular basis.

I will do this with all future dogs.  I consider it an important skill.

And while I would much prefer that this not be something that I need to do, it is a reality, and I am glad to have a way to be prepared.  When my dog considers hearing verbal corrections and reprimands to be a good thing, I have succeeded, and we can go on and do what we enjoy, regardless of how others do things.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Absolutely Awesome Agility Night!

Last night was Agility night for Tessa and Dean.  It was a nice, cool night, but still warm enough to be outside.  Tessa particularly seemed to appreciate the weather, and she ran with much more enthusiasm than she does when it is hot out.

The course was very simple, and Tessa did an awesome job on it.  Her start line stay is coming along nicely.  The second piece of equipment on the course was a dog walk, so I didn't get to practice leading out past a second jump, but I did work on building some more distance.  Her teeter is fantastic.  I think she really is ready to try a new teeter in competition!  She may get her chance in a week if the weather is nice enough to go down to Periland.  And she did nice solid weave poles.

The best part of the course for us was toward the end when there was a jump that I sent her to with a little bit of distance!!  That felt really good and it worked perfectly both times that we ran.

Dean had a great night, too.  He has been leaping the down contact of the A-Frame, so my instructor and I did some troubleshooting and decided to try having him go back to a stopped A-Frame.  He had issues with it years ago because he never seemed to be able to keep his back feet from flopping off of the A-Frame on a stop.  But we are going to try again.  We started a true re-train by having him off to the side, come around behind me to get on the ramp from near the bottom, and just offer the 2 on 2 off position.  He liked that!  I'm not sure why he got such a kick out of it, but it put him in a fantastic mood, and after that, he ran very nicely!!

His teeter is also getting very nice and if we go down to Periland I think we are going to attempt it again!!!  And his weaves, which he has been struggling with, were much better last night.

It was great to see Dean having such a good time.  I love it when he enjoys himself at class.

This Sunday we are going to the SuperPup trial at Bella Vista.  Dean and Tessa are both running Level 1 Jumpers and Level 2 Wildcard.  Tessa is in Level 2 Colors, and Dean is actually in Level 3!!  I am hoping, most of all, that Dean enjoys himself.  Q's would be nice, but a mood like he was in last night would be even better!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


It has been almost a whole year since we lost Maddie.  In fact, it was a year ago this coming Friday.

I still miss her more than I ever would have thought possible.

Today I was using a picture of Dean to illustrate what it means to be in the Image and Likeness of God.  I pointed out that the picture looks like him - it has identical eyes, coat pattern, tail, airplane ears, etc.  Yet the picture is not Dean and it is not like him in every way.  Just so, we are like God, but not like Him in every way.

I happened to notice today, after using that very picture for several weeks now, that just a tiny bit of Maddie's leg and chest are at the edge of the picture.  My students couldn't believe I knew which dog it was just by that tiny bit of leg.  But, of course, I knew.  I likely would have recognized her by a single toe.

Life has gone on, of course, and in many ways it was a very good year.  Much of it has been a tribute to her.  Although I wasn't able to do a video of the routine that Maddie and I were working on for the Dogs Can Dance Challenge, I did have a video of a live performance that I had done with her and Dean in February of 2011.  It was a wonderful performance - she was so full of life and having a great time in the ring with Dean Dog and me.  Her tail was going the whole time!

We earned 76 points in the Opening Act level of the Entertainment Division with that, in spite of the fact that the video was taken a bit far back and I didn't exactly follow the food rules since the performance wasn't actually video'ed for the Challenge.

When we eventually get the Entertainment Division title, it is going to mean a lot that Maddie got to be a part of that, even if we never did get to do a formal filming.  That performance will always remain a tribute to her.

Maddie is still the Q Queen and she always will be!  Even if Tessa is bringing home the CPE Q's these days.  Every time I go to that table to check labels and help myself to ribbons, I have to think of Miss Maddie Lynn and smile.

On Friday I would like to take Tessa and Speedy to the little park where I took Maddie for her last walk, just a week or so before we lost her.  It will be a nice way to remember her, but also to remember to cherish the time that I have with the ones who are still with me.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Right Reinforcer Makes all the Difference

Tessa and I have a rather strange difficulty.  She works best in highly distracting, energized competition settings.  She tends to lag a bit when we are training on our own in private.  Kind of backwards, but that's how it is.

On one hand, I don't mind this.  After all, she brings out her best in the situations that count the most.  On the other hand, it can make rehearsal difficult.

Last week at Monday night Agility, our Thursday night instructor had some kind of dog jerky (not the stuff made in China - this was from a local person) and Tessa went nuts over it.  She gave me a bit and I brought it home.  Tonight I got it out when Tessa was having her training session and she was enthusiastic, engaged, and really into the session.

The right reinforcer makes all the difference.  No matter that I thought I was using high enough value reinforcers.  Apparently I wasn't!!

We had fun in our training session tonight.  We did some heelwork through the house, both sides.  We practiced switches and twirls and spins and circles.  Tessa actually did one twirl on verbal only!!  We started just a smidge of distance works in preparation to go for her Expert Tricks Title.  And we started to train "under" (back under my leg).

I am really anticipating our November competition.  I think this is just going to be the best performance we have ever done!  We are going to be ready!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dog Training as Morality?

Training methodology and philosophy are often a hotly discussed and debated topic among those who train dogs with any degree of seriousness.  Particularly among those of us who enjoy discussing training on internet groups and lists.  The debates can get quite emotional at times, complete with indignation and hurt feelings flying high and fast.

I understand the intense interest in the subject.  I definitely have a philosophy that influences my own training and handling choices.  I enjoy discussing this with others of like mind.  And sometimes I enjoy discussing it with people who are not of like mind, especially on the rare occasions when the debate is objective and logical, and assertions are backed by solid first hand examples.

Some have compared training philosophy to religious practice.  As a seriously active and practicing (and even professional) Catholic, I do see a great many parallels between the two.  They are not exactly the same, of course, but there are certain similarities.

For example, although this would be considered a very unpopular assertion, I actually think of training philosophies as a type of morality.

Did I really just say that?  Yes, I did.

Just a few days ago, in my classes at school, my students learned this definition of morality:

Morality - what we ought to do and who we ought to be, according to God's Law

A training philosophy really is what an individual trainer holds as what he or she ought to do (to and for his or her dog) and who he or she ought to be (as a trainer and handler).

For example, just as I hold, as a Catholic Christian, that I ought to respect the property of others and so I ask to borrow something rather than take it without permission, I hold, as a dog trainer/handler that I ought to give my dog an active role in the learning process and so I use training techniques that provide opportunities for the dog to have input into his or her training.

I believe that this is one of the main reason why training debates among those who adhere to different training philosophies are often so heated and emotional.  The discussions aren't just about methodology, nor about what "works", nor what is the fastest way to train.  Dig down a little bit deeper and it is clear that we really are discussing the manner in which each of us believe that a dog ought to be treated and handled.

Few people are going to take kindly to a perceived implication that the manner in which he or she believes that a dog ought to be treated or handled is considered to be "wrong" by someone else.

Moreover, it is culturally unacceptable, at least in this country, to come right out and say, "I don't choose to train or handle in this way [insert methodology here] because I consider it wrong to treat a dog that way".  We have to dance around it, try to find a way to express it that sounds like that isn't actually what is being said.  

But, when it comes down to it, when one looks at things from a moral perspective, there are going to be some choices that one considers to be right and other choices that one considers it to be wrong.  And, when it comes down to it, there are training choices that each individual trainer considers to be right and other choices that one considers to be wrong.  If that were not the case, we would not be having these debates at all.

The whys and wherefores of those choices will vary from one trainer to another.  Some will base the rightness or wrongness of a particular approach or method on behavioral results alone, some on the speed of the effectiveness of the technique, some on the effect that the technique has on the dog's confidence and attitude, some on both the dog and handler's enjoyment of the training process, some on the track record that the method or approach has had with other handlers in certain types of competition, some on the role that the dog plays in the learning process, some on what has been tried and found successful by themselves, some on what is being taught or promoted by a particular trainer, some on what has traditionally been done in a particular discipline, etc. etc. etc.

But in the end, we are all making choices for our dogs that are driven by what we hold to be right and wrong for our dogs and ourselves, and I don't consider this, in itself, to be a bad thing.  Perhaps if we were to acknowledge this more openly, we could find ways to make our discussions of training, and our own training philosophies, more objective, logical, and fruitful.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Glen Highland Farm

I had the opportunity to go up to Glen Highland Farm again this year to teach at the vacation camp.  Unfortunately, because school is in session, I was only able to go up for one night.  But I was able to go and I was certainly grateful for that!

I took Tessa and Dean with me.  Sammie and Speedy stayed home with Ben.  I was sorry to leave Speedy.  He had always been my Freestyle demo dog, and I had actually never been up to the Farm without him.  But he doesn't enjoy performing in front of a lot of dogs anymore, and since I was staying in a tent, it really was much easier to only have two dogs with me.

Originally, I had asked to be able to do my demonstrations outside since both Tessa and Dean's routines really require a full ring space to showcase their movement.  But when I got up near Binghamton, it started to pour rain.  It poured and poured and poured from Binghamton all the way up to Morris!  When I got to the Farm, the rain was finally clearing out, but the grass was drenched, so we decided to move the demo into the barn.

After checking in, I took the dogs for a hike to our tent.  There are few things I enjoy more than hiking with my dogs at Glen Highland Farm!  They can run on the trails off leash and I don't have to worry about them.  They love it, too!  Tessa just glows as she runs at the edge of the woods.  That girl simply loves the woods!!

Once we found the tent, I made up the bed, got the dogs a bucket of water, and we took an hour rest.  I hadn't stayed in a tent at GHF in many years and it was wonderful to relax in the tent, reading a book, just being in the woods.

On the way up to our demo, I took them to the creek.  It was kind of cool for the creek, but Dean desperately wanted to go, so we went.  In spite of the fact that it was cool, I both of them might have gotten hot with so much walking and I wanted them fresh for their demo.

The demos went well.  I didn't get video.  Tessa went first.  She stayed focused, and did all of her moves!  Then Dean did his Bolero, or at least a modified form of it.  This was the first time we had performed the new version and it went really well.  We got a lot of positive feedback and a good many were interested in coming the next day for the 2 hour lesson time that I was able to offer.

After dinner at the barn, where I enjoyed visiting with several campers that I knew from previous years, we headed back to the tent.  Tessa loved that tent.  I was concerned originally that she might balk at going into it since it is a small space and she usually doesn't like going into small spaces.  But she went right in and seemed very pleased to be there.  Maybe she thought we were all in a giant portable crate?  In any case, she was happy as a clam in the tent!

It got COLD overnight and I was grateful that I had brought Ben's sleeping bag along!  That was nice and warm.  In the middle of the night, I woke up because Dean was trying to get up on the bed.  I felt him and he was cold, so I opened up the sleeping bag, and had him get in.  He curled up next to me, right in the bag on the unzipped side, and he stayed there until we got up!  I did check Tessa, who was in Speedy's portable crate next to me.  She was warm and cozy and just fine.  I'm not sure why Dean got so cold.

It was strange to pack up first thing in the morning so the things at my tent could get picked up!  It felt like I should have been there at least one more night.  After breakfast and some very nice coffee at the barn, I headed over to teach.

I had quite a few students.  Some were true beginners and some had some experience.  We went over some moves and some people tried out moving to music.  One student had a WCFO Heelwork routine to get feedback on and we all enjoyed watching that - twice!

After all of the students had gone on to the morning talk, I took Tessa and Dean to the creek one more time.  It was warm and they were thrilled to run down to the water.  We played in the water for a nice long time.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Last Walking Club of Summer

I finally got a chance to take Speedy and Tessa to King's Gap yesterday to do our Walking Club.  As I walked, I reflected on the goals that I had set at the beginning of the summer.  Two out of three were met.

Tessa is stronger.  She is looking really good.  I can't say this was entirely because of our walks, which were rather sporatic, but her muscle tone seems better and she seems stronger.

Speedy is also stronger.  He has some of his pep back.  I need to keep this up through the fall, to keep him as strong and flexible as possible.

I didn't lose any weight.  I had hoped to lose 15 pounds and I can't say I lost one.

But I had fun with my dogs.  I enjoyed being out in nature.  And I know that I benefited even if I didn't lose any weight.

It was a beautiful day yesterday and the pines smelled wonderful as we walked our loop.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Footsteps in Which She Follows

A few posts ago I put up a video of Maddie running a Jumpers course.  Something strange happened when I watched that video.  For the first time - ever - I found myself thinking, "I WISH I could run that course with Tessa".  In fact, as I watched Maddie run, I was half visualizing my handling if I were to run that now and how Tessa would probably run.

When I realized that I was both happy and sad.  Happy because Tessa and I are truly getting to be a team.  I am thinking in terms of how things work for her.  Sad, of course, because I still miss my Maddie-girl.

Honestly, I don't miss her as an Agility partner now.  That might sound horrible, but when I think of her at trials now, I think about how we would walk the grounds together, how she and Dean were trial buddies, hanging out with her in the car, and sitting together on her mat on the sidelines.  Sometimes I do think of, and miss, the power that she had, especially on a well executed serpentine.

But I miss Maddie much more on a day to day basis.  I miss snuggling with her while watching TV.  I miss her presence in our day to day lives.  I miss seeing her on the bed where she often hung out.

I shouldn't compare Tessa to Maddie, but sometimes I can't help it.  I don't do it much, but it happens.  Tessa certainly stands on her own as the girl of the house.  She has her own way of making her presence felt.  She's not nearly the stinker that Maddie could be at times (no, I really don't miss going out to pry a flattened Maddie who didn't want to leave the sunny yard up off the ground to make her go into the house!!).  She is not the people dog that Maddie was.  But Tessa has style.  She has strength and determination.  She may not be the physical powerhouse that Maddie was, but what she lacks in muscle, she makes up for in her strength of mind.  Tessa is much, much more girly - she's a girl, she knows it, and she loves it!

Tessa and I will have our own courses to run - many of them, I hope!  Some I'll love, and some I won't.  I hope I always remember to appreciate every moment of them - the good and the bad.  And I hope I always remember the girl in whose footsteps, Tessa happily follows.  When Maddie was alive, she loved to follow her around and do whatever Maddie did.  Now she and I are finding our own path, but we do well to remember Miss Maddie.

I can't believe it's been almost a year.  It feels like it can't be that long, and it feels like it's been forever.

Monday, September 3, 2012

CPE Agility (Part 2)

On Sunday we went back to the trial and we finally had the day I had been hoping for!

We started out with Standard and had a beautiful run.  Our first Standard Q!

We actually had a bit of a blip at the beginning of this run.  We lined up and Tessa took the first jump, but then she ran around the double.  When I had her go back to re-do it, she back jumped it.  That would have been OK - you can have an off course in Standard Level 1, but on her way over it backwards, she knocked the front bar off.  I turned her around and started to go on - planning to make it a fun run when I heard the judge calling out, "Wait!  Start over!" 

Huh?  In all the years I've played CPE Agility, a judge has never stopped me and told me to start over!  I was seriously confused for a few seconds.

Turned out the double jump had been set wrong!  The bars had been straight across the top, but in CPE the front bar is lower.

WooooooHoooo!!!!  Do over!  And that is what you see in the video above!

We went on to get our first Fullhouse Q and our first Jackpot Q, which was only my second ever Jackpot Q since Maddie and I stopped doing Jackpot after our one and on Q.

But I think the highlight of the day for me was our first ever Snooker Q!  Snooker had really become a monkey on my back and it felt great to finally be successful at it with Tessa.  Yes, she did jump another tunnel - but that's not an off course!!  I did end up sending her over a jump that was not in the course as we ran it, and we did get whistled off, but by that time we had enough points to qualify!!

Our only NQ of the day was Jumpers at the end and that was just because it was hot and Tessa was done.  I actually ended the run after three jumps because I could see that it was just too much for her.

In spite of that, I considered it a perfect day!  We conquered Snooker, and we earned our first Agility title!  In a way it was significant to me that our first title was Level 1 Strategy.  That was the last Level 1 title that Maddie and I earned, and that was our one and only title in that category.  In some strange way it made this more mine and Tessa's.  We will do this a bit differently and we will make it our own.

I absolutely loved the tiny little Q ribbons!  They are absolutely adorable.

I just felt great going home that day.  I was proud of how far my girl had come.  Just a year before we hadn't even started Agility and here she had earned her first title and was just one Q away from three others!  She ran great, she had fun, and we were finally starting to find our stride.

I was sorry that it would be several months until we trialed again, but I was very much looking forward to doing so!


Sunday, September 2, 2012

CPE Agility

Months ago I started to write up Tessa's CPE adventues, and I never finished.  So, I'm going to write a nutshell post to sum it all up.

It started out very difficult.  CPE was my thing with Maddie and it was hard to go back and start again with Tessa.  I knew Maddie's strengths, and her weaknesses, and I knew what to expect when we went out to run together.  Tessa was such an unknown.  She has tons of natural talent and she was excelling in class, but finding my stride with her in competition was a challenge.

Our first CPE trial was in March.  We went to Westminster - a very tough place to start since I never even took Dean to Westminster.  That was a special Maddie and me trial.

But it had to be done.  The first step had to be taken, and Tessa and I took it.

We left that day with two NQ's with placement ribbons, my head spinning, and Tessa having had a good time!

Here is a video of her second run, which was her first ever Colors run.  Looking at this now, I see that she did a fantastic job.  She was incredibly green, my handling was lacking, and it was a very good "get our feet wet" kind of run.  Of course, at the time I was mentally comparing her to Maddie (even though I knew better and honestly did not want to) and I was disappointed.  Not in Tessa, but just in circumstances.

One thing that surprised me was realizing that CPE is not going to be easy for Tessa.  I had kind of expected it to be, but I left the trial that day knowing it would be a worthy challenge.  And, in retrospect, that truly was what I wanted.

In April we went to Periland.  I honestly expected that to go better, but it didn't.  Where Tessa had run off to take the A-Frame on me at Westminster, at Periland, she ran around it during Fullhouse!  She was jumping tunnels left and right!

I realized something when we were there, though, that turned out to be the key to our success in CPE.  I had gotten a bit ambitious with Tessa and I had started her in Level 3.  I figured I was experienced, she was talented, and I thought we could just dispense with Levels 1 and 2.

During the Periland trial I was serving as ring crew during Standard and I became a bit envious of those who were running the Level 1 course.  I realized that Tessa and I could have done that and probably have succeeded.  She had not Q'ed yet at Level 3.  I made the decision to go back and start at Level 1.

I felt good about that decision.  It seemed that maybe Tessa needed to start from the beginning, and that she would actually enjoy starting at the beginning.  I had entered a trial in May at my home training center - Dandy Dog Training - and I promptly contacted the show chair and changed Tessa's entry to all Level 1 courses.

In the meantime, I was working hard with Tessa at class to learn better handling.  I knew that part of our problem was that I simply didn't know how to handle her as well as I could, and I was asking questions in class, trying out different things, and learning skills that I had never really explored before.  That is still a work in progress to this day, but even by May it was really coming along.

Tessa and I went out in our first run at the May trial and earned our first ever CPE Q in Colors!!!  That was a very fun run.  There were two choices on the course - one that was pretty easy and went right around the perimeter of the ring.  The other was a bit more of a challenge, twisting into the center of the ring, with a backside of a jump at the far end.  I chose the more challenging course, and we had a great time on it.

We would have had our first Wildcard Q, but I messed up and left her collar on, so we NQ'ed.

Snooker had become our nemesis!  At Westminster, we had done a beautiful opening, but when I went to start the closing, Tessa shot ahead of me into a tunnel and we were whistled off!!  In May we started out doing well for the first two pieces of equipment!  I landed in the wrong spot at the other end of the tunnel, though, and I ended up opening up the path to an off course tunnel, and again, we got whistled off.

Tessa was hilarious, though!  When I took off across the ring to head to the table, and called her, she proceeded to turn around, go back through the tunnel through which she had just gone, and then she took every tunnel on the course, ending up on the wrong side of the one closest to the table, so she jumped it to get to me.  She was pleased as punch!!!

I was laughing the whole time.  In spite of the challenge that Snooker had become, I was glad that Tessa was having a great time!!

So, we went home that day with one Q, one that would-have-been, and one very well earned NQ!!!  Tessa's traditional ribbon photo for that day  . . . 

To be continued . . . .