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3 R’s

Recently I decided I should blog more. I enjoy the challenge of taking all these thoughts that are swimming around in my head, and somehow giving them more purchase, more structure. I thought “hey now, let’s join this Dog Agility Blogger Action Day” ring to hold me more accountable to putting thoughts down, even if my schedule wouldn’t otherwise inspire said blogging. So what do you know, the first topic I’m here for is ‘Outside the Ring’, which is something I touched on in one of my other posts written only a few months ago, on the importance of fitness in your agility dog’s training regime. (http://www.emdogs.com/2014/05/fitness-at-the-forefront/)

The 3 R’s – Reward, Relationship, RespectRespect

With the fitness discussion already underway, I’d like to switch gears and talk about relationship, as just as important as the tangible physical side of agility is the ever-present emotional side. Everything you do in the presence of your dog is shaping your relationship, your partnership. You see, I don’t think that there needs to be a ruler in this dog/handler relationship.  I think what there needs to be is mutual respect. You respect them, and earn their respect in return. Respect is not something you can demand and truly receive in a human relationship, so why do we so oft think it appropriate to demand it from our canine partners?

If you have a very harsh and demanding boss at work, you might put on the brave face and do as you’re told to get that paycheck, but once 5 o’clock rolls around you won’t give work another thought until the next day. You won’t be inspired to get in early or do a little extra to impress. On the outside you’re the model employee, but on the inside you’re watching that clock and relishing the time you spend away from work. You treat your boss with respect only because he demands it and you want to keep your job, not because you *feel* it.

MyGoal_MyGirlsOn the flip side if you have a nurturing, supportive boss who respects you as a person and as an employee, chances are you’ll be more inspired to do better work. You’ll respect that boss as a person, as a leader, as someone you want to impress. Maybe you’ll be inspired to put in that extra effort, to make sure your work is noticed. Those are the relationships you remember, those are the ones that leave a lasting impression. In my life before I played with dogs full-time, I had both types of boss experiences.  The bosses who were truly respectful of me, and worked to build a good relationship, are the ones I remember fondly. The others are all grouped together in a “glad I got away from that!” trash heap. (You don’t wanna be thrown out with the trash, now do you??)

I always aim to be the leader to *earn* the respect from my dog rather than demand it.  It just makes for such a better, deeper relationship with her. I want her to feel confident to make decisions, because there are so rarely consequences if she makes the wrong choice, just rewards when she makes the right one!

“So how does one build that relationship?”

You might ask.

I reward my dog. A lot.218988_3839926156461_1497221202_o
Very early on I teach my dogs how to shape behaviours, how to think, how to decide…how to engage with me. I use clicks, I use treats, I use praise, and toys, and “yes!”, and all sorts of superlatives in a very high and clearly ecstatic voice. Anyone who trains with me is at first a bit shocked (and likely embarrassed for me) by my “let’s have a party!!” routine after an especially awesome bit of training, but in time I always hope to inspire everyone to be a little more silly, more excited, about every little amazing thing.  Build your dog up.  Tell her how amazing she is all the time. I can’t tell my girls enough how pretty they are, and how amazing and super-fast and perfect and awesome they are. I build them up and tell them they are Champions – they are the best girls in the whole world. I have the BestStik, BestMonkey, BestBean, BestMils, BestMoon, BestNay…they all have nicknames that include BEST. Because they are. All. The Best. They might not all be the best at the same things, but they’re all the best at being who they are, and that’s enough for me.  It is said that if you say something long enough you’ll start to believe it. Even though dogs don’t speak English, I think they speak emotions, feelings. If they can feel the love you give them as you praise and promote them, well, that’s good enough reason to do it for me.

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I treat my dog with respect.
I treat them how I’d like to be treated. I mean, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’d ever want to be served raw meat on a daily basis, but I wouldn’t mind a personal chef to cook and prepare my meals for me and make sure I get a variety, and double up on my favourites. No, I wouldn’t mind that at all.

What I mean is…I am fair. If the dog makes a mistake, I assume it’s my fault. I haven’t trained it, proofed it, cued it correctly…it’s on me. I’m not a pushover. I’m not a punisher either. My dogs don’t try to walk all over me, and I don’t walk all over them. Give & take. Respect.

I build a working relationship as well as a loving relationship.365.10.6
It’s not all about the work. It’s not all about the play. Or the snuggling. Or the meals.
It’s about everything all rolled into one. I don’t want a dog that just wants to work and won’t settle. I want a dog who is absolutely gung-ho about working when it’s asked of her, and absolutely gung-ho about naptime the rest of the time. I like to snuggle with my dogs. I like to hike with my dogs. I like to teach them silly tricks and pose them for pictures. I like all of these things. Because of my relationship with my girls, this makes them like all of these things, too. Agility is just another trick I teach. It’s just another game we play. It’s one of the only times we’re scored on our performance, but I always walk into the ring with THE best dog. & lucky me, I get to leave with her, too.

emdogs at gmail dot com _ leaves

What’s the best thing you can do with your dog outside the ring to make your runs go better in the ring?

Anything. Everything. With love & respect. Smile. Laugh. Play games. Teach Tricks. Hike. Swim. Condition. Spend the time. Get to know your dog. Enjoy your dog. Don’t worry about anyone else. We are all on our own journey. Your journey with your dog is just that. Love it. Embrace it. Cherish the time you’re lucky enough to get. Don’t worry about the results, as you already have everything you need at the end of your leash.

Everything you do outside the ring affects your time in the ring. Those 30-second blips in time are such a tiny part of the overall experience. Enjoy. every. second.

1091151_10200357283474498_614059725_oHug your dogs, today and every day.

Enjoy some other blogs on the topic of “Outside the Ring” here.

Fitness at the Forefront

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When it comes to training dogs in agility there are different schools of thought as to what elements are essential to success. One area that is so often overlooked is overall fitness. I am not talking about the level of fitness your dog maintains by going on a walk every morning and taking agility class once a week. I am talking about the level of fitness developed through a careful, calculated strength & conditioning plan. Dogs are amazing creatures; in ten minutes’ time they can get physical benefits akin to you or I spending a couple of hours doing cardio and circuit training in the gym. Lucky dogs!!

Whether you want to compete at the local, national, or international level, you owe it to your canine partner to prepare him to handle all of the physical challenges that might arise on any given course on any given day. I am a firm believer that success starts away from equipment, and properly equipping your dogs’ bodies to perform the task at hand is of utmost importance.  How can you expect your dog to keep the bars up, if the only conditioning those muscles get is doing jump grids? How can you expect them to hit their contact no matter the approach, the exit, and the traction onDSC_6240the surface of the obstacle? How can you expect precision on a variable/moving target like the teeter, if their bodies have been taught in stationary position, rather than challenged dynamically along the way? We expect so much from our canine partners, and they deserve everything the world has to offer in return.

Simply teaching the mechanics of jumping, but not properly strengthening all of the muscles that play a supporting role is setting your dog up for failure, either in the short or long term. If you teach the dog that “no matter what the bar is to stay up”, but in order to do so with their unfit bodies they have to employ spinal twisting, forehand loading, or hyper extension, you are setting them up to fall apart physically. Most very driven dogs will absolutely do everything they can physically do to keep you happy. They can only hero themselves over bars for so long before it starts to take an unnatural toll on their bodies. If everyone spent more time DSC_6057focusing on the strength & conditioning of their canine partner, and less time on jump grids, I feel that as a whole we would have a whole lot more bars staying up, and many more dogs being able to have an agility career that looks more like a marathon than the Kentucky Derby (not in speed, but in distance/time). If you train train train your criteria criteria criteria and your dog comes out of the starting gate, sails into the upper echelon of competition, wins everything at 2-3 years old, and is then riddled with injury after injury until he eventually retires…what have you gained? I would personally prefer to have my canine partners by my side for many years of agility together. I don’t want them to feel undo pain at my doing, and I therefore set them up to withstand the physical demands over a long period of time – not to grin and bear it for a short while.

Every dog is different, and everybody has a different amount of time to commit to the training and fitness of their canine athlete. I would challenge that it is far more important to spend 10 minutes when you get home from work doing some simple indoor exercises with your dog than it is to load him up every night of the week and drive across town to an agility class. Dogs really can get a great deal of benefit from very short, targeted sessions of exercises. The results I see in a short amount of time are astonishing.

Josie at 11 months

Josie at 11 months

I first became interested in the fitness side of dog agility when my now 8 year old Border Collie Josefin was just a pup. It was pointed out to me that I had purchased a dog that while gifted in many ways, structure was not one of those ways. She was, and of course still is, straight as a board front and rear. Luckily she is balanced (equally straight both ends!), but I knew early on that if I wanted to be able to play agility with her for many years, I would have to invest in her fitness above and beyond what the average dog would require. Once she matured, I set off on a mission to hike, swim, and otherwise cross train Josie as many nights of the week after work as I could manage, and most weekends, too. I didn’t have any coaching or guidance, I just made it up as I went. We’d naturally take days off here and there each week due to my hectic work schedule and deadlines, but there was no set weekly schedule. I learned that hill fetching was good for building butt muscles, and swimming was about the only cardio we could safely manage in the Texas heat for many months of the year. We lived in an apartment, so our indoor space was limited.

Josie at age 7

Josie at age 7

I used pillows and furniture to challenge her balance as exercise equipment wasn’t in the budget. I never thought about strengthening one muscle at a time. Instead I simply knew I needed to keep her generally very fit, with a strong core, and that was my main mission. As a result, my very straight heart dog is 8 years old and still going strong and turning in competitive times in the 22” class. She only lacks a few Standard Q’s for ADCH-Platinum, and will settle in to 16″ across the board pretty soon, title or not. No need for extra wear and tear when she’s just as happy to play at a lower height. I got lucky in her jump training. Being so straight in the front made it rather uncomfortable for her to launch from the front, so she was easy to convince that powering off the rear was the way to go. Since training her I have found that dogs with excellent structure and lots of drive are harder to teach correct jump form to because they can so easily just launch from the front and appear successful to the untrained eye. Dogs do what works, and given the opportunity will do what’s most comfortable, so the more we can make the two mesh, the more successful we will be!

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Rikki at age 2

Rikki at age 2

My young dog Ricochet has taken me on a journey altogether different than the one I took with Josie. Rikki is built very well. She is built for power and for speed. I worked to formulate a structured strength & conditioning program for her as she matured, to make sure she developed every muscle she needed to keep her kamikaze ways from destroying her body once we started to seriously train agility obstacles. Unlike Josie who was perfect in the ring from the get-go, Rikki and I worked through a good deal of “OMG this is too fun!!” in the ring her first year of trialing, and focusing on taking obstacles in order was more my aim to start off with. Once we got on the same page, had a startline stay in the ring, and generally ran the same numbered course each time, I could get down to the details. I noticed her running dogwalk had gone from 3.5/4 strides, to consistently 5 strides. I noticed that she had a hard time on soft turns, mostly to the right. She missed some AFrames. I noticed she seemed to launch nicely from the rear, but was still pulling bars as she wasn’t extending as I knew she could. I consulted a number of people on the matter and while many said “looks like a psoas injury” by her bar-knocking, the medical professionals couldn’t find a thing wrong with her body. Despite not changing anything in her diet or exercise routine, she also got rather skinny in early 2014. I feared something terrible was wrong with her, but nothing showed up in her bloodwork.  So curious to me, all of this. During this time many people suggested I “get stricter” with her bar knocking, that I “teach her to respect the bars”, that I do all sorts of things it just didn’t feel right to do. Deep down I knew that my internal dialogue screaming at me that there’s always some underlying physical explanation for obstacle performance issues couldn’t be wrong. I lost sleep over this – I really just didn’t know how to help my sweet Ricochet.

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She turned 3 this March, and three days later I had her spayed via laparoscopic ovariectomy. In the post-spay report from the vet I received word that one ovary was much larger than the other, covered in cysts, and likely very painful. Well, wouldn’t you know that a cystic ovary would likely present much the same as a psoas injury? I’ll be the first to admit that scoping the ovaries was about the last thing on my list of diagnostic tools for our bar-knocking problem. A single week after the ovariectomy she was already so much more comfortable in the air. 2 weeks and she could do things she hadn’t been able to do in a long time. 3 weeks later she was back to taking only 3.5 or 4 strides across the dogwalk instead of the 5 she’d settled into. All of a sudden we were Q’ing more often than not. Bars stayed up. Everything started to fall into place, as if the final missing piece of the puzzle had finally been found.

Bars will still fall – she’s a dog, not a robot. Contacts will still be missed – she’s a dog, not a robot. The break-away tire continues to be our nemesis – she’s a dog, not a robot.

I tell this story to highlight a common mindset that I feel is a mistake. The general feeling in the agility world seems to be that you train it, then you require compliance after that. But that mindset clashes with the reality of the situation: dogs are not robots. (Mine are not, anyway). They are individuals. They have good days and bad. They can get injured, sore, or fatigued. They do what they know, they do what works, and they aim to please. I wish every time I saw someone blaming their dog for a mistake on course, that the handler would take a step back and look at what they could do *besides* punish the dog for the mistake. Could you strengthen the rear end? Could you increase their core strength? There are so many things we can provide our dogs to keep them safe and healthy as we ask them to perform like Olympic athletes every weekend. If a dog of mine, or a dog in one of my classes all of a sudden presents with an obstacle performance issue out of the blue, the very first thing I do is make sure there is nothing physically wrong, before I try to alter the behaviour through training. 9 times out of 10 it is something a visit to the accu/chiro vet or a little cold laser treatment will clear right up.

I challenge everyone to train less, strengthen & condition more!

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I have been lucky to have the opportunity to work with Liz McGuire (who worked as a certified strength & conditioning specialist on the professional and Div 1 Collegiate level for 10 years) since Rikki was about a year old. She gave me specific exercises to strengthen areas of weakness, and create a physique that could handle anything this sport threw at it. Since Rikki’s spay I have really focused on re-strengthening the muscles that the intense hormone fluctuations took a toll on in the recent past. On top of the exercises we learned from Liz we have also incorporated a variety of treadmill workouts influenced by Robert Porter (VT, LMT, CCRP). In the 2 months since her spay, with thrice-weekly strength & conditioning sessions, she has gained 3lbs of muscle. She was scrawny at 31lbs and is now again looking rather buff at 34lbs and 18.75” tall. Her strength is obvious and the difference in how she sails around a course is easy to see.  I do have more time on my hands to work with my dogs than the average competitor, but it does not take a lot of time to make a big difference. Even with all the time we have available, our strength & conditioning sessions are rarely over 30 minutes in length. When we first started, the sessions lasted 5-10 minutes. It is easy to over-do it with targeted strength exercises so you have to make sure you don’t push past the point of diminishing return.

Everything in moderation…

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On the flip side, you can absolutely overdo it with an eager pooch. Dogs’ bodies deserve the same consideration as any athlete. After a workout, their bodies deserve time to rest and recover. My dogs that are currently competing have a pretty strict activity/rest schedule. It works for us. Think about making a schedule that would work for your household. For my actively training/competing dogs, our schedule goes like this: Monday is a rest day. By rest day, I mean that we do nothing. They sleep, relax, lounge around the house, and snuggle. We don’t hike, we don’t play Frisbee, and we don’t go on walks or do any strength & conditioning exercises. They rest. Unless they want to wrestle among themselves, which they often do by the time dinner rolls around. They do exactly what they choose to do all day long, which mostly involves sleeping and other such activities. Tuesday & Wednesday are high-activity training days. I teach on these days and we spend over 12 hours at the training center.  I sprinkle short training sessions in or them throughout the day as my private lesson/class schedule allows, and they get a big workout late in the evening after I have finished teaching for the day. Thursday is a rest day. Most of the time we are travelling somewhere for a weekend of fun, and Thursday is spent mostly in the car travelling, or in the house sleeping as I pack the car to travel. Friday to Sunday are trial/active days. Then we circle right back around to Monday, where we rest and recover after a weekend of trialing, hiking, or any other fun activities. That’s two prescribed rest days per week for my crew.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I feel that it is just as important to have a plan for rest as one for exercise and training. Over-training is at least as damaging as under-training. Dogs deserve mental and physical rest, time to just be. Don’t you feel rejuvenated after a day of just doing whatever you feel like doing, not being told to do anything, and taking as many naps as you want? Dogs do, too!

Moderation really is a key element in dog training.

 

 

Here are a few simple indoor exercise routines you can do with 10 minutes and items you have around the house. This is a young dog (about 1yo) doing a short indoor workout, and then in the second video you can see the difference in just a few weeks of training these muscles, just how much stronger she becomes in a short amount of time.

The exercises in these next two videos are advanced, and I suggest working with a canine strength & conditioning specialist before embarking on anything as intense as what Rikki is demonstrating below.  I am including these two videos mostly to give you an idea of what a difference a single month of targeted exercises can do for your dog.  These were shot 1 month apart, and you can really see how much stronger she is, and how much more muscle definition she has from one video to the next.  The level of difficulty in the exercises has increased, the speed at which she is doing them has increased, and the control she has over her body is clearly improving.

I realize not everyone has easy access to a treadmill, but there are lots of other options out there for everyone. One good tool to use is a hill, ideally one at a 25-40 degree pitch. Too low and you won’t get much benefit, and too steep and your dog will revert to using their front end to pull them up the hill so you will lose the benefit of the work. I have found that the school yard down the street from my house has the building built up out of the floodplain the soccer fields sit in, so the hill from the fields to the school building makes a nice slope for us to workout on. Only 10 reps in a session. This is very hard for them and very easy to overdo. Notice in the hill fetching I alternate which lead my dog is starting on each time by having her swing around me so that she gets an equal workout on both sides.


(In this video you can see a distinct difference in when I use food as a reinforcer and when I use a toy as a reinforcer. This outdoor workout wasn’t very useful with the cheese/chicken reward, but with a chuck-it ball her form greatly improved and she got a much more successful workout in. The good footage starts at 2:09, so feel free to start there!)

Here are some great ideas on ways to use very basic exercise discs that you can pick up at any store that sells fitness items. They’re easy to come by, but in a pinch any old pillow or cushion will do as long as it has a non-slip surface.

Remember in any exercises you do, keep things dynamic. The dog performs agility in motion, so many of the muscles you develop should be developed in motion. Here is a very basic introduction to getting on and off the ball with Rikki. She had never seen this setup before and I just wanted to challenge her ability to stabilize herself as she got on and then back off the ball for the most part. You’ll notice that while I train using shaping to get behaviours and teach tricks, I use a lot of luring for strength & conditioning exercises. I do this because if I leave it up to my dog to offer behaviours, I will likely get them done at warp speed, and since precision is a key element in some of these exercises I like to keep my dogs from bouncing on off and around things at warp speed.

I hope I’ve given you some things to think about with this post, and I hope you will take a look at your current training program and honestly evaluate what you can improve upon away from the equipment to better equip your dog to perform the tasks at hand.

Happy Training!

R Dog vs. E Dog

Are you creating an R dog, or an E dog?

Emily Hurt — January 2014

In my observation there are exactly two kinds of green dogs.  There are R dogs, and there are E dogs.

R dogs are the ones who turn around to look at their handlers a lot.  They will stick closer to their handler, and sometimes take much encouragement to take the obstacles.  This can be a slow dog that paces the handler, or a dog much faster than the handler, but without the ability to take obstacles without prompting.  These dogs will receive refusals (R’s).

E dogs are the ones who carry on unless prompted not to (and sometimes even if prompted not to!).  They do not pace their handler.  If not given cues in the proper time they will take what they see fit.  It might be what’s right in front of them, or it might be their favourite obstacle located halfway across the ring.  Timing is critical with these dogs, and they are the ones that will receive off course Eliminations (E’s).

>> Let’s not get hung up on semantics like three R’s equal an E, so then the R dog would E.  Or that in AKC there are not actually E’s for off course.  Or that not every course will end in an E for an off course.  These are just the terms I use to explain my position, so let’s press on.

Think of the dog as a balloon.  The balloon’s ultimate destination is to fly free, to float among the clouds (and nevermind the environmental effect releasing balloons has – I’m not for the practice, I’m just using it as a visual).  If you fill that balloon full of helium, just as full as it can go, that balloon will fly as high as it possibly can.  It will reach its full potential – its maximum altitude.  This is an E dog.

If you fill that balloon with oxygen it will just sink right to the ground.  No matter how hard you try you will never get that balloon to float in the clouds while filled with oxygen.  This is an R dog.

Now, if you start letting the oxygen out, and putting helium in its place, the balloon will start to rise little by little.  This is a process that takes much more time than starting from scratch and filling up with helium to begin with, but it can be done.  I call this: there is always hope.

Filling your dog full of “I’m a Champion!” attitude from the beginning will get you much further in the end.  It might take a while to learn how to control your E dog (floating balloon), but once you get a good handle on the string that keeps you in sync, you two can fly together…up, up and away!

Which kind of dog would you prefer to run?

I have run both, and without hesitation I will say I much prefer to run the dog the E dog.  I much prefer the dog that always thinks knows she is correct.  I never want my dog to second guess herself, or me.  Does that mean we never get R’s on our scribe sheet?  Absolutely not.  I can absolutely mis-cue something and send her past an obstacle, or over handle and pull her off of something.  Absolutely, that can and does happen.  What it means is we are a “go blue or go home!” kinda team.  I have never once worried about making course time (we have, a number of times, taken extra obstacles and still had the fastest time in the class).

Does this mean the only runs worth running are winning runs?  Definitely not.  If I only found the joy in winning and Q’ing, I’d have quit long ago!  What I find amusing is there are many people that think I Q a lot.  I have gone weekends without a single Q, especially with my young dogs.  But you’d never know it based on our post-run celebration.  The day someone can tell we faulted by how I’m behaving after a run, that’ll be a sad day indeed.

How do you make an R dog?10704335_10152758744791563_4765121668381534126_o

This is simple – it’s what most people do!  To create an R dog you introduce doubt, and remove trust.

Let’s start with the basic fact that everything that happens on course is your fault.  Yes, yours.  You haven’t trained, proofed, conditioned, cued, or handled successfully.  You are always at fault.  The sooner you come to appreciate that fact, the sooner we can get down to the business of taking the burden of perfection off your dog’s shoulders.

If in training, your dog is doing a pinwheel, and pulls off the middle jump, but successfully completed he first jump of the pinwheel, you know full well the dog can jump.  So stopping the forward momentum, putting them back over that 2nd part of the pinwheel (often accompanied by a sigh and even an eye roll, or a very stern voice), what have you taught them?  You have taught them not to trust you.  You have removed the trust from that run.  What will often happen is you will send that dog over the missed jump, then just continue on.  What has the dog learned?  The dog has learned you cannot be trusted, and they better keep a real close eye on you and second guess what you are telling them to do, so as not to make a mistake.

What should you do instead, you ask?  If my dog pulls off the 2nd jump of the pinwheel, I continue through the last part of the sequence, then make my way back to the place where we “failed” in the sequence.  This time through I make sure to support the jump my dog missed the first time, and *when* she is successful, I mark it with a “YES!”/”Super!”/”Good Girl!”, and either reward right away or an obstacle later, whatever feels right in the moment.  What does the dog learn in that situation?  She learns that you’ll always reward what you cue, and that she is right and good and *this is awesome and fun*.

To that end, you should never correct your dog in agility.  That does not mean you let them do whatever they please and just run amok.  That means you ignore what you don’t want, and heavily praise what you do want.  Dogs do what works.  If every time they shoot across the ring to the off course tunnel, you walk the other direction and ignore them, and every time they come with you and take this jump you’re cueing, you have a PARTY, what will they choose to do the next time?  They’ll probably come to the party with you.

If every time your dog goes around an obstacle, you go back and have them do it again, and their only “reward” is getting to continue on…how fun do you think that is for that dog?  It’s not the performance of each individual obstacle that the dog struggles with, but the obstacles in that particular order on that particular day.  If you really want to do the 10483309_10152537082596563_7764105944689835711_osequence “correctly”, start from the beginning (rewarding/praising all the way there!), as the entire sequence was the fail, not that one omitted jump in the middle.  You know your dog can jump because she just jumped the rest of the jumps in the sequence fine.  But she knocked #4 down…hmmm…how can we fix that?  That doesn’t mean we stop and “correct” for knocking the bar.  That means we do the sequence again, set her up for success, and praise like mad when she keeps the bar up.  THAT is how we make forward progress with any dog.

So, you create an R dog by punishing, correcting, and not rewarding.

1979672_10152796696276563_579697915019572957_nHow do you create an E dog, then?

Why, the exact opposite, of course!

I want to instill confidence and speed from the very beginning.  It is so great to have a blank slate – a totally new dog – to train.

I always start with very short sequences in training.  Keeping reinforcement high, and the rhythm very go-go-go, are keys to convincing your dog that playing this silly game with you is the best idea ever, and nothing will get in the way of the fun!

So you wanted a backside, and you got a beautiful slice instead?  Circle back around on other obstacles and re-approach the jump you wanted a backside on.  This time support it more.  (It worked!  Magic!  PARTY!!)  If you fail at the same skill two times, you need to find some way to make the dog successful.  Re-attempting something the dog clearly doesn’t know how to do (just because she did it once does not mean “she knows it and will never make a mistake again because she will generalize perfectly to every situation”) just creates frustration and breaks down trust.  Go back to basics of the skill you’re looking for – go back so far that you can reward over and again and insert the JOY back into the skill.  If you video your training sessions, you should have more time rewarding on camera, than working on camera.  If the ratio swings the other way you’re doing it wrong!  You cannot hurt anything, or reward too much.  You can absolutely hurt everything by rewarding too little.

On course, you’ll hear me praising my dogs.  A lot.  Every nice turn, every skill I tested and wasn’t sure they would perform, you’ll hear me telling them how awesome they are.  It happens a lot.  My dogs impress me all the time.  Just because we go off course or knock a bar doesn’t mean the run isn’t worth running.  There are still plenty of other skills you can praise on that course, and that’s just that much more fun you two get to have together!

The Q’s will come when you’ve experienced enough together, as a team.  The joy will happen when you get there together, as a team, not as a dictator and a follower.  This is a TEAM sport, and I for one respect my teammates above all, and if they’re not having fun, I am doing something wrong.

That’s my take on it, take it or leave it :)

My one and only goal is to have fun with my dogs, and show them a bang-up awesome time.  It’s my decision to play this game.  They’d be just as happy with hikes and Frisbee and swimming and…well you get the idea.  I doubt any of them would miss agility if we quit playing, because their lives are so full of other fun activities.  Let your dogs’ lives be so full of awesome that agility is just another element.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Their life is so short compared to ours.  When they’re gone, you won’t remember if you Q’d in Grand Prix in January of 2014.  You’ll remember the sweet kisses they gave you every morning.  You’ll remember that look of “this is SO AWESOME, MOM!!” they gave you every time you brought out their favourite toy.  You’ll remember that deep down feeling of joy you get every time you cross the finish line with your best friend.  THOSE are the things that are important.  Take the time to stop and focus on those, and you just might find yourself with an amazingly willing E dog living in your house, too. Three pillars of a well-trained and successful E dog include, for me:

  • Independent Obstacle Performance – the dog performing the obstacle the same regardless of the handler’s position
  • Verbal Obstacle Recognition – recognizing the obstacle, and committing to take it based on a verbal alone.  We use this skill in “lawn chair agility” while sitting in a chair playing fetch they will perform obstacles with absolutely no handler position.
  • Directionals – Left/Right, Wraps, Backsides, should all be able to be cued without position.

A note on teaching distance: I never “teach distance” to my dogs.  Yet they are very successful in gambles, and when I cannot run as fast as them on course.  For the past 4 years I have trained 99% of the time in a space less than half of a full size agility ring.  Somehow much dogs have overcome that “handicap” and been very successful.  Rikki has Q’d and placed in the last 6 Masters Gamblers we’ve run.  For a young dog trained in a tiny space where “teaching distance” doesn’t happen, I find that defies the common misconception that lots of space is required to gain crazy good distance skills.  It is also a testament to my 3 pillars above. 

Beanie Babies v2.0

Handsome Tripper

Felicity will be bred to Tripper on her next cycle, which should be late 2012 or early 2013. I am very excited about this breeding as I think these two will be an awesome match and blending the two should make some great dogs!

Fillie & Tripper in the Sunset

Tripper’s Pedigree: Tripper_Pedigree

Felicity’s Pedigree: 

Felicity is OFA GOOD (also other OFA tests), CEA Normal, CERF clear, and passed her  BAER testing.  Tripper’s hips will be fluoroscoped soon to ensure he is fit and ready to work.  I know Tripper carries for red, as his dam is a red.  He also carries for tri (he throws kind of a brindle-y tri).  I know Fil’ carries for tri, but don’t know about red.  Since they’re both smoothies, the likelihood of them having a coated dog is pretty slim.  Even though Fillie is white faced and Tripper is split faced, when bred to a split face the first time Fillie had 2 white faces, 2 split faces, 1 traditional blaze face and 1 very minimally white face.  So what the pups look like is only a fun thing to guess at this point :) One of my favourite things about Border Collies is how unique they all are, and how widely varied they are in looks!
5 July 2012 – Edited to add: I will take Tripper in August 2012 and run health checks on him in my care.  At least OFA and CERF.

3 Nov 2012 –  Trip’s OFA results

I have decided on this particular cross for a number of reasons.  I think their personalities will match up very nicely and produce some nice, even, confident, driven, super nuggly puppies for starters.  I also think these two pair nicely in terms of athleticism.  Where Fillie is flinging herself through the air, Tripper is more grounded and has some serious power and presence when he moves.  He will add some nice substance and level-headedness to the mix.  I really like what Fillie threw in her first litter in 2011.  I have watched the puppies grow and mature and I couldn’t have asked for a better first experience.  That litter was bred based on the two being a good fit, but there were also other extenuating circumstances that ultimately tipped the scale in favour of doing the breeding.

Felicity was an absolutely magnificent mother — I couldn’t have asked for a more attentive, sweet, nurturing mother figure for my litter.  We had to separate her from the puppies to keep her from nursing them once it was time for them to wean from her milk.  She was amazing at teaching them to play and wrestle appropriately and to just be sweet puppies in general.  Her pups are now almost 16 months old and to this day, anytime she sees one of them she hasn’t seen in a while she goes bonkers with excitement, and they’ll bust out into wrestling as if they never left her care!  It’s precious.  She and Rikki, the pup I kept from the breeding, are absolutely adorable together and wrestle and play and take care of each other something fierce.  The male from her litter came and stayed with us for a couple of months when he was 8-9mo and the three of them had a blast together (he has much more hair now that he’s full grown) :)

As soon as they can effectively take a treat from my hand, I start teaching them what the clicker means, and they learn how to think very early on.  I also start them on CrateGames for my own sanity as well as an easy transition in their new home :)

My ultimate goal in any breeding endeavor is to better the breed, and produce offspring that are better than their parents.  I do think this can be accomplished with Fillie/Tripper.  I think they will compliment each other nicely, and the results should be amazingly athletic and sound in mind to boot.

While Tripper is a herding dog, several of his littermates are in agility homes and doing very well.  Here is a video of a few recent runs by his littermate Vixen (who is MUCH smaller than him!), and also a video of him meeting Vixen again a few months ago – you can really see the size difference in the video :)

Please feel free to ask any questions you might have about this breeding.  I’m an open book, and I have nothing to hide.  If you are interested in a puppy from this breeding, please note that I am going to be a very picky breeder here and screen everyone extensively.  I will be collecting deposits at some point for those serious about holding their spot, and I will also be require references from potential puppy parents.

I look forward to the months ahead, the planning, and above all else…the puppy breath that will invade my house again!  :’)  We will do the ENS (Bio-Sensor Program) as we did before, and they will be weaned onto raw at the appropriate time.  Everyone will be invited over for the puppy parties just like we did with the first litter, and once they’re old enough for field trips, you’ll be seeing them everywhere!  As with the first litter, I plan to have a webcam up so you can check in with the pups during their daily life in the whelping box, the RomperRoom, and eventually on their trips outside the house as well.

Below are some photos from a recent trip to visit with Tripper and the rest of the Crossroads Border Collies crew.  For some reason my blog here wants to squish the photos horizontally a little.  Click on the photos for a more correct look at each of them.  For more photos of Felicity, please visit my facebook page — there are hundreds to choose from, and I’m happy to share!  For information about Felicity’s first litter, you can visit them at the blog I kept during their gestation and first 4 weeks and also now on their own facebook page.  I also have many videos of her daughter Ricochet (Rikki) on my youtube channel.

**Note: My blog squished the photos horizontally — click for more proportionate photos!**

These puppies will definitely be "Water Collies", their parents both have an affinity for the wet stuff!

Tripper checking over his shoulder for Fillie.

Tripper in the middle, racing Fillie in front

He's kind of a goober, and I kind of love that :)

Tripper, watching Fillie's antics across the way

The closest thing you get to stacking a cow dog.

Tripper and the girls

Just Tripper.

Such a sweet disposition (as long as you're not a cow).

They were pretty sweet on each other.

Prettiest Bean.

Hot day = long tongue

They're similar in size, he's just beefier than she is.

Tripper.

Tripper during a game of "get the toy out of the girl's mouth".

Too hot to herd, so we played on the hay instead.

Fillie & Tripper, sitting on the Hay...

Pretty Fillie

Fillie, Tripper in the background

Look at that sweet face!

 

Tripper.

Happy 5 Months, Beanie Babies!!

The Beanie Babies are 5 months old today!  Born 10 March 2011 via unplanned c-section, 6 little bundles of joy hopped into this world.

While she was a little confused at first (look at her poor eyes!), Fillie took to being a Momma pretty quickly and was just great with them after the anesthesia wore off.  I can’t believe how fast they’re growing up.

Ricochet, the 5th born, is such a welcome addition to our household.  She is just a joy.  Super easy to live with, easy to train, impossible not to love.  I can’t wait for many, many more milestones coming up in their lives.  The Beanie Babies are ready to take on the world, full steam ahead!

Rikki @ 5mo

High-Flyin’ Fillie!

 

 

I recently entered this photo of my crazy Fillie in a little online contest for SummerFun photos.

This photo won us some goodies (reportedly on their way to us) as well as being featured in a couple of online articles!  Take a look at Itty Bitty Fillie in these two articles:

http://dogblog.dogster.com/2011/08/05/the-hounds-across-america-photo-contest/

http://www.mnn.com/family/pets/photos/dogs-enjoy-the-great-outdoors

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Canines for the Cure — Texas Agility ShootOut

As my first official entry in my brand new, spiffy little blog thingie here on my brand new, spiffy little website…

I’d like to urge any and everyone to donate, buy raffle items, show up and support your

Dallas/Fort Worth agility community August 13th & 14th at the Watt Arena in Fort Worth as we participate in the 2nd Annual ShootOut.

I will be running my Ivie, Felicity, and Josefin.  My Madison will be run by good friendDenise Bridges.  I will also be debuting one of my DayTrain students there, a blue merle Aussie girlie named Gracie.  She’ll be running in the 16″ Deputy division.  Gracie has only ever run with me on her own, so I’m excited to see what she’ll do in a trial environment.

Jeff will be there helping me run the 4 dogs I have entered, as well as dabbling in running one of our black & white girlies.  Rikki and Artemus may or may not make an appearance.  I have a feeling I will be *really* busy, so we’ll see!

Every little bit helps, and remember *we are the cure*.  If you or someone you love has been affected by Canine Cancer, there is a space on the Memorial Wall just for them.  Go to the link about for the ShootOut and see about being included in the slideshow.

I’ll leave you with a taste of how it went last year — I’m ready to do it all again!!

1st Annual Texas Agility ShootOut

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