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Not very many people choose to train alone, usually when people train alone it is because they simply live too far from any instruction.  But, since I like to make things difficult, I choose to train alone for Agility and Obedience, even though there is ample instruction in my area.  Why the hell do I do that?  For me, the pros outweigh the cons, here they are.

Pros of Being a Loner-Trainer

Training happens when you make the time for it.  My schedule is out of control.  Seriously, I often work for 12 hours and then train my dogs into the late hours of the night.  No, I don’t have a social life, in case you were wondering.  So training alone really works for me here–I commit to training my own dogs a few nights a week.  If I need to skip it I can, if I need to do more, I do.  If I want to train at midnight since I am a night person, that’s up to me. 

All of the training falls within my personal ethics.  I have chosen to commit myself to reward-based training (as you know if you read this blog at all or know me).  I don’t like to give my money to people who have what I consider questionable dog training ethics.  A lot of people are OK with just letting an instructor know that they are not allowed to use harsh corrections on their dogs.  I, on the other hand, refuse to support your business if you would strap electricity to anyone’s dog; regardless of whether or not you would go there with my dog (you’d die trying, just so we’re clear).  In my area there are a lot of trainers who fully believe in using any and all tools to “get the job done.”  That doesn’t sit so well with me, so I know that if I train alone my dog is always safe and I am safe from witnessing what I consider abuse. 

If you want to train something a certain way, you are free to do so; likewise you are also free to not do things that you don’t find helpful or sensical.  If I want to me a total masochist and train running contacts (yeah, I did choose masochism this time around, we’ll see how it goes) I am free to do so training on my own.  If I want to train weave poles 2×2 instead of with channles, I am free to do so.  I have also chosen to adhere to a handling system in my agility work; specifically the Derrett System.  No one else in my area is doing this.  None of them–to my knowledge–are adhering to a system at all, but most of them tend to be “Mecklinburgy” (yes I just invented that word) in their style.  I have no problem with other people choosing to run without a system, and I certainly have no problem with people choosing to run with APHS (Mecklinburg).  I just want to run Derrett, so if an instructor suggests that I blind cross my dog, or use a flickaway cue, that is not only not helpful to me, it is counter-productive.  So, I chose with Idgie to train her agility foundation on my own, based on what I have learned from the Derretts and their Number One Fan, the one and only Susan Garrett.  I think she has a great foundation.  But we will get to the cons in a minute…   

The Cons of Being  Loner-Trainer

The comfort zone gets really comfortable.  Often, on your own with no one to critique your work, you stay inside your box.  I am guilty of this.  I do proof my dog and am not afraid of causing her to fail in order to teach her; that is not what I’m talking about.  I mean the box inside which you are not being watched, so you run freely and without any kind of stress.  I mean the box inside which the distractions present for your dog are mainly manufactured for proofing; and those are just not as good as working with the organic distractions of real life.  This can cause a really ugly wake-up call to occur when you finally do get out there.

There may be critical training mistakes happening without your knowledge.  Luckily, I have some really great dog trainer friends that I bounce ideas off of frequently, so this doesn’t happen too often.  But there are some minor mistakes I made that I am recently kicking my own ass for that a quality instructor probably would have noticed (I would notice these in my own students, but clearly not in myself!). 

Training happens when you make time for it.  Wait, wasn’t that a pro? Sure was.  And it’s a con, too.  This means you have to hold yourself really accountable, because no one else will.  Because I have no class to go to that I have paid for, there are more weeks than I’d like to admit where I just go home and throw the dogs some rawhides after that 12 hour day at work.  And no one blames me for this; and that is precisely the problem!  My friends say I work too much, my trainer friends tell me my dogs are brilliant and I need to take some time for me, and my mother tells me I look so very tired. So sometimes I just skip it.  And I shouldn’t.  So this is a con about as often as it is a pro. 

So let’s talk about what spurred this blog, shall we?  Today I took Idgie to a local group drop in where the instructor gives video analysis feedback.  Over all there are plenty of good things that happened that I need to hold onto,  because I am also kicking my own ass over how it went.  My dog got pretty stressed, which caused her to get really amped.  I got really stressed, which caused me to totally, epically, FAIL as a handler.  Idgie got stressed because there was a very exciting BC there that she NEEDED to chase down, and there was a competition obedience class happening concurrently, so she also got stressed about some of the dogs in that class.  I was very stressed about the poor dogs in that class (stupid ethics).  I was also frustrated at some of the well-meaning instructor’s Mecklinburgy advice that I wasn’t sure how to decipher into Derrettese (there I go making up words again).  I was also frustrated because I knew I was late on several cues; frustrating my already amped dog. 

What did I learn from this experience?  There are no Derrett trainers in my area.  So I will just have to know the system well enough on my own that I can translate Mecklinburgish into Derrettese.  I also know that I need to step outside of my comfort zone and get my ass to more classes off of my own turf.  And, to end on a positive, since this is my Sunday morning Church of Agility ass-kicking, not Catholicism ass-kicking, here’s all the stuff The Squidge did really well:  she didn’t pop out of the weaves when I moved out laterally;  she weaved harder and faster as I moved away, she did try really hard to hold her startline stays, even though there were dogs tugging and lots of things going on, for a home-schooled dog she dealt well with the plethora of distractions (let me paint the scene; indoor soccer arena with concurrent corrective obedience class, LOUD volley ball game, and lots of spectators), and she did do what I asked her to do most of the time (though most of the time I asked her to do the wrong thing…). 

So, to conclude, time to step outside of what’s comfortable.  But, I will continue to train alone most of the time.  I will use these away from home training lessons as information for what I need to work on at home.


This is one of those self-serving baby dog update types of blogs, so if you want to get into the knitty-gritty of behavioral science, check out some of my other posts.

Idgie has done some awesome things lately, and I have to write about it because I am absolutely coocoonutso in love with the dog. 

First, UKI trial.  United Kingdom Agility International is a new venue here in Colorado, and it’s great.  I decided to enter the Squidge in their Speedstakes class (jumps and pipe tunnels only) because they allow a “training round” where competitors can run their dogs and use a toy for reinforcement of great stuff, and just have that run not count toward titles.  The trial was held at our local fairgrounds and happened to be when county fair was happening.  Yikes.  Had I known that in advance I may not have entered, both for the fact that this makes the environment highly distracting for the dog (Squidge) and highly distressing for the vegan (me).   But ignorance is bliss, because Idgie proved a rockstar on all counts.  The ring was bordered by the carnival, vendors, and a livestock barn full of screaming hogs and sheep sheep sheep!  It was super super hot.  We waited FOREVER (7 hours or so) to run.  Still, my baby dog came out of her crate, knew her job, didn’t think about doing anything but playing with the mama, and we had a blast.  I am so so very proud of her.

Second, recalls recalls recalls.  Idgie and I are enrolled in Susan Garrett’s e-course for recall training right now and are having an absolute blast with all the fun recall games SG is churning out.  If you want to check this out, just go to her blog page.  Since we’ve been playing so many recall games, Idgie has impressed me with some great recalls. Yesterday I dropped her leash on a hike (national forest, must be on leash at all times!) and she went trotting down the trail.  I simply stopped, said her name once, and she turned on a dime and came racing back (at which time an epic game of tug commenced as a reward).  She had the whole mountain ahead of her with a river and squirrels and smells oh my and she still came flying back to the mama without a moment’s hesitation, now that says this stuff is working.   She was also extra-aware of my body positioning on our run last night (she was wearing a flexi, running out ahead of me).  She checked in frequently, slowed down when I slowed down, and turned when I turned, without needing any leash-cues.  If you’re an agility-nerd like me, you’re seeing how awesome this is.

Third, fun match/contacts/awesomeness.  We went to a fun match this past weekend at a place the beast has never been to (except once as a puppy when I was running Kelso there).  We didn’t do whole courses, she isn’t ready for 12 weave poles (though she just started doing 6! Hooray!) and I’m not ready to test her running dogwalk full heigh in new places yet.  But, she ran her A-frame with two hits on the down side and total confidence, and she nailed her teeter.  She also did her auto-down on the table (which was a very slick table, and she slid off once).  She also held her startline like a pro, jumped super well, read my handling cues like a champ, and LOVED every second of it.  She is almost ready to run in a real trial, yippeee!! Also, some R+ for the handler, I rewarded her awesomeness with games of tug on the course.     

Oh, and just so he doesn’t feel left out, Kelso is perfect in every way and continues to be perfect in every way, and is the most handsome and sweet and brilliant of all dogs, everywhere.

One week ago today Kelso and I got the final double Q for our Master Agility Champion (MACH) title at the Mile High Golden Retriever Club’s agility trial.  Kelso just turned 9 and we started competing in agility when he was about 2, so this title was literally 7 years in the making.  The past 9 years with this dog have been nothing short of a wild ride, and his influence in my life has truly made me who I am today. 

It all started with the tragic and untimely loss of my dog, Duffy.  Duffy was almost ready to compete in Agility and Obedience when I lost him, and there are not words to describe how hopeless I felt at that time.  But a new beginning came to me in the form of a little black and white puppy named Kelso.  

Kelso was ten weeks old when I took him home and he was ten weeks old when he bit his first dog.  The very first time Kelso met another dog, an on-leash encounter at a park with an older labby mutt, who was pretty polite if I recall correctly, he pulled his lips back into a snarl and gripped the other dog straight on the muzzle.   A little surprised, but unwilling to label my new puppy as anything but bouncy and beautiful, I walked on. 

From there I became the official dumping ground for opinions and advice about dog-dog aggression as the dog world caught wind that Sarah’s new puppy has a nasty temperament.  Everyone wanted to help, and everyone thought they could.   I was told to grab him by the neck and shake him when he growled at another puppy in puppy class. I was told to pin him to the ground when he attacked to show my “dominance.”  I was told to pop him under the chin with my fist, so show him exactly which body part had committed the crime–his jaws.  I am sorry to say that I desperately tried it all, and I am now certain it is all of this that made my sweet dog’s problem so much worse.

What resulted from years and years of abusive “solutions” to my dog’s problem was nothing but increased aggression and a broken relationship with a dog I loved.  I would sit in the parking lot of the training center I was using to teach him obedience and agility and cry more often than not.  I would hear suggestions about getting a new dog, of a different breed, to participate in dog sports with because not only was Kelso aggressive, he was very low-drive for a border collie as well.  I now understand that Kelso is NOT a low-drive dog, he is in fact quite easy to motivate and a willing participant in all that we do.  The truth is that Kelso learned to hate training because of the unfair sitations I put him in, and the dispicable corrections I doled out when he tried to tell me he was uncomfortable.   He learned to hate agility. He hated obedience. He didn’t want to get out of the car when we arrived at training class.  My heart ached for him but I didn’t know what else to do.

Years passed and I finally found my way with this dog.  I learned that fighting aggression with aggression is absurd.  I learned that correcting a fear-based behavior only confirms the fear that caused the behavior in the first place.  I learned that first and foremost, my relationship with this dog had to be repaired.  Because dogs are the most forgiving of creatures, he learned to trust me again, and I learned how to show him that I would keep him safe.  Interestingly enough, when I abolished the use of physical corrections in my training my dog soared to become one of the best obedience dogs in the state, earning his Utility Dog title, 4 UDX legs and a handful of OTCH points with an Open B first, and other wins.  He started to be a fantastic agility dog that consistently came in 15-20 seconds under time, as opposed to barely making course time before. 

What this dog has taught me is about more than the sports of dog agility and obedience, though he has taught me more about these than any instructor or seminar. What he has taught me is about more than dog behavior, or aggression in particular, what he has taught me is about life.  He taught me above all to consider the experience of others. To know that no one has all the answers. And to trust myself.  If your gut tells you something is wrong, it probably is.  If you cry after an hour spent with your best friend, there’s a reason.  

The way that I train now, whether it is behavior modification or stupid pet tricks, I feel energized and happy.  I never feel beaten down and exhausted. I am a constant student of excellent dog training, I never settle for an answer that seems wrong.  I never train dogs based on tradition or opinion.  I now look at training or behavior challenges with a scientific mind that can merge easily with my own personal philosophy gained through the spiritual journey Kelso led me through. 

I don’t believe in religion. But I believe in universal order.  I believe in souls converging for a greater good.  The mistakes Kelso so generously forgave me for do not get filed in the category of regret, they get filed in the category of remember.  I will always remember how I did wrong by him so that I will never forget to do right by the next dog.  I can always draw strength from the fact that he and I finally got it right in the end.  Getting our MACH last weekend was an experience that proved our dedication to each other.  I knew there was a way for this dog to be successful, and I finally found it. 

As for Kelso, it’s on to Big Adventure Time.  That means that though his formal training is through, he will still get to do something fun every day.  While the baby dog gets to learn agility and obedience and how to be a good dog, he gets to walk with me to the mailbox and carry the mail in himself.  He gets to do a grid of 8″ jumps, at the end of which I tell him he is Champion of the World! He gets to go on long walks carrying his Chuck It Squirrel.  He gets to just be, and I get to reflect on the lessons he taught me and continues to teach me.  Thank you, Kelso, my life would be so very different without you.

Totally guilty of not writing in this thing AT ALL.  Oh well, a lot’s been going on so I have good reasons.

First and foremost Kelso and I just celebrated his 9th birthday earlier this month.  He and I went for a long hike with no baby sisters allowed.  It was foggy and chilly and absolute bliss for both of us.  He carried his Chuckit Squirrel the whole way, and we only saw two dogs the whole time, both well-behaved and on-leash, so we were happy.  He is my soul, and I love him.  New additions to his life are Zeel, a homeopathic arthritis medication, and my own Kelso-specific raw diet formula which took me months to figure out, but now that I have, he has had pretty much zero GI troubles (except for when he eats something stupid that is not included in the diet!) which is a huge blessing.  The Zeel is interesting, not sure if it’s working or not.  I gave it to him for an agility trial weekend a few months ago and I, being the very best kind of dog mom, took one too.  We were both groggy all day.  So I won’t be using it for times he has to be sharp, but I have been using it in between with Metacam when he needs it, and of course our trips to see Dr. Long for accupuncture.  I think , with all of this, he feels great most of the time, which is my goal.  In more exciting news (what? more exciting than a birthday?) Kelso and I got our 19th double Q for our AKC Master Agility Champion (MACH) title, which means we only have to double Q one more time for his MACH.  Yikes! We have a trial coming up in a week so I will of course post on how that goes.  I am super excited, he just knows he got to have a cheeseburger (yes, the vegan feeds her dog a cheeseburger when he double Qs–remember those indiscretions that cause his GI upset? yeah…)

On the baby dog front all I have to say is HOLY CRAP, HOLD ONTO YOUR SHORTS.  This bitch is DYNO-MITE.  She isn’t such a baby anymore, she actually just turned 16 months old and I already can’t believe what she can do.  Her running dogwalk is currently timed at a consistent 2 seconds, which I suspect will get faster as her confidence grows.  Her Susan Salo gridwork is looking good, and she is pretty sure tunnels=crack.  Her automatic down on the table is fantastic, too.  We just started training her 2×2 weave poles a few days ago, and I think she really could have 12 poles in 12 days as Susan Garrett suggests is possible.  Her A-frame training is going well, she is consistently running it without fault, and I will let you know how fast it is when it gets up to full height.  Her teeter is proving a minor challenge (fun!) and we have gone back and forth trying some new things.  We spent weeks just playing the bang game and now I am having her run to her 2on2off position with the starting end up on a chair.  She is doing well with that, total confidence, which is how I would like to keep it.  She is also continuing with her strengthening and conditioning via Sasha Foster of Canine Fitness Zone.  She actually loves all of the shaping games for fitness we’ve been doing, and it’s a good brain break for both of us to focus on that stuff a few days each week.

And that same future agility rockstar has a few behavioral issues that I am of course constantly working on, learning from her all along.  Her leash reactivity to dogs has made steady progress, and I am currently implementing Grisha Stewart’s BAT program as an experiment.  It is working great for her, and we actually had a really peaceful walk along the Poudre River this weekend.  She is getting used to her new face jewelry (aka her Comfort Trainer head collar) to help us along the way.  So far, though, I am actually really thrilled with the progress we’ve made on all of her issues which include but are not limited to: fence fighting, dog reactivity, fear of children, and general weirdness.  LOVE her. I have a theory that the universe sends dog trainers screwed up dogs to make them better, and that is certainly what has happened to me thus far!

Work life has also been good, and very busy.  Hence the lack of writing.  I’ve been working on new curricula for the classes I teach, writing up behavior protocols to help with my private clients, and have been seeing an average of about 4-5 clients privately on weekends.  WAHOO! That is truly awesome.  So I don’t have a social life, so who needs one? 😉

Haven’t posted in a while, been super busy trying to be a professional dog trainer. Anyway, a few updates are in order, if you care about that sort of thing.

The first is that after going back and forth about it for years I finally switched my dogs over to a raw diet.  It has been about two months now and up until the past week I was thrilled with it.  Idgie’s coat looks incredible, they both love their food, and I just feel good about their new diet because I know exactly what’s going into their mouths, where it came from, and how balanced it is.  But I am learning still, since Kelso had a bout of bloody diarrhea (scared me, for all of his lifelong stress colitis he has never once passed straight blood) yesterday, and last night Idgie gobbled a chicken back and promptly threw it up.  Kelso is on some meds for the multitudes of spirochetes and Clostridium (which is his usual stress explosion, and he has had increased stress this week so I expected it) and the potential giardia and the potential campylobacter.  The potential part is frustrating.  We have had another rush of the big G go through work, so that part doesn’t surprise me (though the doctor couldn’t really tell if it was in fact a giardia cyst or if it was an epithelial cell, go figure), but campylobacter? Ok that freaks me out.  I kind of need to know if he has that or not.  I kind of need to know if his stress colitis makes him overly susceptible to things like campylobacter (which is commonly contracted from ingesting raw meat…hmmm) and if I should therefore be cooking this dog’s meat.  For now, I will treat him and see.  I am also switching probiotics soon to see if the new kind helps his gut out more than his current kind.  And might be giving him some digestive enzymes to help him digest bone, since he has been passing some chunks.  The thing about Kelso is he gets stress diarrhea. He just does.  And he has actually had a lot less of it since switching to raw.  Since the switch he had two diarrhea-free visits to my parents’ house, which is basically a miracle.  I am a firm believer in hearing what your dog is telling you, in all aspects of life, so I will change if necessary, though I can’t see myself ever going back to kibble. 

In more fun, less messy news, I have decided to train Idgie a running dogwalk. I decided a few weeks ago to ditch the 2on2off (mostly because I just hate it) and figure out some running contacts for this kid.  I started using Siliva Trkman’s method, and I am really excited about it.  Even more exciting is that my friend Sasha Foster of Canine Fitness Zone has added her imput with regard to motor learning theory, and we are trying something brand-spanking new to the dog world.  Hold on to your pants, this could be huge.  As of last night Squidge is doing the down plank at about three feet high, running all the way through at about 85% accuracy.  Pretty sweet.

In other news I revamped our training classes at Come-Play-Stay! and as soon as we get them underway and Ashley and I work out all the kinks, I will be writing an article for the APDT’s Chronicle all about it.  As far as I know there isn’t much like it out there, so once again, get excited, this could be big!

Funny how excited I am that Idgie is finally a year old, and on the flipside I find myself dreading Kelso’s birthdays.  He is 8, and will be 9 (oh god, 9…) in March.  My favorite times of a dog’s life are the very beginning, when everything is new, the puppy is cute and brilliant and the trainer hasn’t screwed anything major up yet; and the mid years, age 4-7 specifically, since that is such a prime time for performance, the dog is trained, you know each other well, and you seem to work together like a machine that took years to build. 

I do appreciate the dog’s retirement days, and I only love my dogs more as they age, but there’s something really bittersweet and surreal about watching your lively agility partner morph into a dog that just can’t physically do everything he wants to do anymore.  Kelso is actually still going pretty strong at his age, we are still seeking 2 double Qs for his MACH, a title I had no hopes of achieving with him until he was about 5, and his course times skyrocketed along with his confidence (something I regret it took me so long to figure out, he has been so very patient with me).  His course times are definately not what they were at that time, but they are still well under, and he still sails through the course with ease–most days.  But he does have kind of an old man back, and I am finding that though I used to do massage as a preventative measure for him, it is a necessity now.  In the past year I have also added accupunture to the list of things I do to keep him running strong, and I have to say nothing has made the difference that it has (thank you Dr. Long!).  He does get really stiff and sore after running his heart out on the mountain, but at this time I choose to let him run, and get him some accupunture and Metacam afterword. 

So what’s the point of this blog? Just to remember to celebrate Kelso every day, because he really is my doggie soul mate.  People in the dog world talk about “heart dogs,” meaning dogs that for some reason just get deeper into your heart than others, dogs that you’re not sure how you lived without before, and that you’re not sure how you’ll live without later, as you most likely will have to. Patricia McConnell said of her border collie Cool Hand Luke (a dog who even looks like Kelso, it’s weird), before he passed, “I imagine Luke’s death to be as if someone took all the oxygen out of the air, and expected me to live without it,” and I can think of no better words to describe the painful knowledge of a dog’s finite life. 

Kelso is not elderly or sick, but he is no longer young either.  This is the sobering time of a dog’s life, especially when that dog has been so very important for so very long, because you begin to be aware of their aging.  I am paranoid about Kelso, to say the least.  If he pants for no reason, if he looks worried, if he moves a little slower, if he sniffs his food before scarfing it, my mind spirals into a million different thoughts.  The other day while grooming him I noticed a swollen lymph node (which can happen for any number of reasons) in his arm pit and immediately had two other people I respect check it out.  By the time the doctor went to feel it, it had gone back down.  I am now obsessed with his armpits, officially.  Crazy? Maybe not.  I also do a full blood panel on him every 6 months, even though there’s nothing “wrong” with him.  Jumping the gun? I don’t think so.  This is a dog that is literally a part of me.  His existence is the reason I am the person I am.  He has taught me more about the way dogs learn than any book or seminar ever could.  Everything I do right with Idgie, and every dog after her, will be because Kelso showed me the right way in the first place.  Every dog I help throughout my life will owe a part of their success to this very special dog, because without him, I would probably be doing something entirely different right now.  I also got Kelso when I was 15, a rough time for all people, and it happened to be particularly difficult for me.  There are times looking back that I am quite literally not sure I would have survived had it not been for Kelso.  He took my heart, ran with it, and has protected it like any good dog ever since.  He is, and will always be, at the heart of everything I do that has any importance.  

December is our official month off from Agility, and we enjoy the break each time.  I would do agility every day, but I recognize it’s not good for either half of the team to do it constantly, and I have always given Kelso at least 6-8 weeks off in a row at some point during the year, a practice I have always believed ot be healthy for both of us.  We take that time to work on other things, walk together, be together, enjoy each other without competition or training.  Next month we’ll get back in the ring and hopefully finish up that MACH.  The title isn’t really the important thing to me, since Kelso has already surpassed all expectations, and has made me love him more than I knew was possible.  What I honestly can’t wait for is that final run, our connectivity, and our victory lap, knowing that this Kelso Willie Wonderdog and I got there together, through a lot of tears and mistakes, every step of the way like one being, learning first how to crawl, then to walk, and finally to run.

November 25th marked my baby dog’s first birthday.  I really can’t believe she’s already a year old! I have to say, most of this blog will be non-sappy I swear, but I seriously love this kid. She is so freakin’ adorable. She is cute, lovey, fun, and did I mention CUTE? Not to mention I could not be happier with the fact that she and Kelso are actually friends. Anyway, onto the real stuff.

Agility training is going well.  Now that she’s passed the year mark I’m getting pretty serious about it.  Up till this point the only obstacle training she has done was some tunnel fun (I couldn’t resist, there’s something so precious about a puppy’s first tunnel), puppy jump grids (ala Susan Salo, and some table games we learned from Susan Garrett.  Before that is was all foundation; nose targeting, crate games, flatwork, toy drive, and impulse control.  We are still spending significant time on her foundation stuff, as it truly is everything, but I have added some obstacle training to her monthly goals.  Right now I would say the only obstacle that is truly trained exactly how I want it is the table.  She has an automatic down and will slide into the down as I run past it at full speed.  She also responds to front and rear crosses within the context of the table–which is how I planned on applying those handling maneuvers to sequencing, and I am happy with the results thus far.  She also gets really excited about practicing the table (which I use to practice driving a line, front and rear crosses, as well as stays).  She vocalizes, runs as hard as she can, and just loves it.  She is so much fun to train!  We’re also starting to work on her 2 on 2 off dogwalk, which is frankly a little frustrating. I am attempting to teach her to do a 2o2o with a repeating nose touch, like Susan Garrett’s program teaches, without actually going to Say Yes! to learn how to do it! I would love to go to Say Yes! but financially it will have to wait. So, I have a repeating nose touch to a clear plastic ground target. I have her doing that with 2o2o a step, and a plank.  I am struggling fading the target and proofing my body position, and I am not convinced that she understands the 2o2o part of the behavior.  So it’s back to the drawing board on that one, I have some plans to figure that out with Ashley (whose website is this BTW you should all buy her book).  Meanwhile, we are going to work on driving ahead and crosses. 

Life training is also a priority right now, and by that I mean getting the little weirdo out in public more.  For a dog that had seriously extensive socialization she sure does get freaked out easily.  She doens’t panic, but she does get locked onto things (like distant silhouettes of NOTHING) and forgets to hear my voice.  So I plan on getting her out without Kelso more this month.  She really needs to learn how to work at places other than Come-Play-Stay! but when it’s literally freezing out we have less options. She also came into season for the first time  just a couple of days after her birthday, and so far it’s not too bad, just kind of yucky.

Overall I couldn’t be happier.  I absolutely love this puppy.  Her structure is a dream, her drive is intense, and above all, she’s got heart–she puts all she’s got into everything she does. We showed in conformation last at the Greeley Kennel Club shows in August, and she’ll come back out in February for the Rocky Mountain Cluster in Denver, looking better than ever!

On a final note I would like to add one more major change in the lives of my dogs that has happened recently.  After years of toying with the idea I finally decided to take the plunge and switch my kids over to a raw diet.  I’s been a few weeks and I honestly could not be happier.  Watching Kelso crunch into a raw turkey thigh, bones and all, confirmed for me everything I needed to have confirmed; they are meant to eat this way–and WE ARE NOT. And so I am a vegan who feeds her dogs raw meat every day.  If you want to know more about what that’s like, check out my other blog, Sarah in Veganland.

Here’s a super-cute shot of the Squidge herself, as a wee baby dog, at one of her first agility trials.


I haven’t posted in a while about Idgie’s training, so I figured I would catch up. She turned 11 months a couple of days ago (I know, I can’t really believe it either) and she is really coming along.  In August I wrote out a training plan for her, outlining what I planned to accomplish each month for the rest of the year, and so far we have done great.

Obstacle Training

Since Idgie is still young and obstacle training really is the easiest part of agility I am not doing much with this.  I have decided to teach her a two-on two-off contact for the dogwalk and teeter, and as soon as I made that choice I got to work teaching her a repeated nose-touch to a clear target on the ground.  She will now target the clear plastic disc, with her back feet on a board, repeatedly until released.  I need to proof the behavior and put it on a verbal cue, next step will be sending her down the board to that position and fading the target.  Then I will proof for handler movement and train the dogwalk, in full, before I add the teeter.  The only other obstacle work I have done is jump grids, still with 4″ bars, she does the straight line equal distance grid, and all three set point exercises (straight, bend, and slice).  That’s about it for jumping right now, keeping it simple because we can’t do the grids outside on grass or turf   due to weather.  I don’t want her to do too many grids indoors on the rubber because she tends to run a little too upright on it (which is typical of a lot of indoor flooring) and I don’t want her to only learn how to jump that way.  Springtime will be when we get serious about jumping and sequencing.  That’s it for obstacles, the near future will bring table games and I might teach her the chute just for fun.


This is the good stuff! We have been working so hard on handling, I know this girlie is going to be fast and she is really going to need some excellent training.  We have been working on building value for the reward zone (RZ–right at both of my sides, no crossing in front or behind) and testing that value for the RZ.  We have started some great anti-flickaway excercises too as I will be handling her within the Greg Derrett system.  She is working on driving ahead, focusing forward, and reading accel/decel cues.  We are doing great on all of those.  She will run right with me in the RZ in big and small circles, as long as she is on the outside.  Dog inside circles are still tough for her on the right, but great on the left, because I have been training her to heel for obedience and (baaaad dog trainer) didn’t teach her to heel on my right. We have also been working on the stationary rear cross training exercise we learned at the Susan Garrett seminar, and that’s going well.  Crate Games Squared are on the agenda for next month and I can’t wait to teach her that stuff! 


We haven’t focused too much on this, but her heeling is coming along fabulously anyway.  She also does gorgeous recalls (no front yet) and will retrieve the dumbbell to my hand, though without a front at this point.  Why no fronts? I have opted to wait to train her fronts until I have built up the value necessary for the RZ at my sides.  When I was trying to train them concurrently I found she was wrapping in to my front and flanking a lot more, both on the left and the right.  She does a nice finish left, and once again I have opted to wait on the finish right.  The reason for this is because she has to cross behind me for that finish, and that is a no-no in agility so it will have to wait.  The rest of obedience is on hold, I will probably get serious about that (my second favorite sport!) after she has begun competing in agility and I like what I see there.

Life Skills

Just as important as all that other business is life skills! Loose lead walking continues to be challenge, so I am getting more serious about it. I never had to work to hard in that area with Kelso so I wasn’t expecing Idgie to be such a puller (and she wasn’t, to be honest, it sort of popped up over night, since I was a bad bad dog trainer and didn’t reinforce the absence of pulling like I should have).  She has started to be a little snappy with strange dogs when we are out and about (damn border collies) which I perceive to be a resource-guarding issue (the mama is a HOT resource!) so at the agility trial last weekend I took her out and did clicks for “where’s the puppy?” and escorted her quickly back to her crate whenever she acted inappropriate.  Reason number one million we’re going back to wearing a Gentle Leader at all times!  Other than that she is pretty good.  She has improved regarding barking at the neighbor dogs. She still does it but it is much less frantic and I am usually successful at verbally interrupting her and having her come back inside. Overall I feel like our relationship is growing into a really strong one.  She loves working with me and wants to be around me at all times. When she and I are closing up work she follows me around checking doors and turning off lights, all the way through the building, no leash on.  She will even bring me her toys when I toss them, and I finally have my recipe for a great retrieve! Relationship=retrieve. A blog on that specifically will be written in the near future.

In general I am super happy with this little girl, and I’m sure she and I can go as far as the yellowbrick agility road goes.

At the dog show last weekend (where Squidge took another major reserve, not bad for a baby ranchy border girl!) I was walking Idgie on her stylish purple Sense-Ation Harness.  I decided to get the harness for her because she can be a bit of a puller at times, and while I need to work on her other issues I don’t think it’s fair to add the criteria of “keep the lead loose” to her plate just yet.  I find these front-clip harnesses to be fabulous tools to curb pulling during times that the handler does not wish to work on the issue of pulling.  A friend of a friend saw me and said, rather disgusted, “I never thought I’d see one of those on YOUR dogs!” Puzzled, I asked her why that was and she responded matter-of-factly, “well I thought you’d train her not to pull.”  My response was that I am indeed teaching Idgie not to pull, just not right at that very second in time, and that I practice what I preach–if you’re not going to train on a problem, you need to manage it so that it’s not occurring.  She then went on to say that the device I was using doesn’t work anyway–they still pull.  I told her I was aware of the fact that she might begin to pull on the harness, but that the harness does stop her from proceeding with the pulling.  Unable or unwilling to hear my opinion on the matter, she responded, “but it doesn’t teach them anything, take it off and they still pull.” 

And thus I am blogging today! No, of course the device doesn’t teach her anything.  It’s a configuration of straps and buckles, why would it have the capacity to teach?  And herein lies one of the biggest problems with the public’s perception of dog training tools, and dog training in general.  They want a tool to do the work for them.  They want the Gentle Leader or the Sense-Ation or the *wince* prong collar to turn their dog into a delightful walking companion.  They want the shock collar to teach their dog to obey indefinately.  They want the weave pole configuration to teach their dog to weave fast and accurately.  I have news; the tool is not the teacher–YOU ARE.  Your dog pulls? You can walk them on a no-pull device (hopefully a humane one) forever or you can train them that pulling never works.  The best way to teach your dog to stop pulling is to work on it in small increments, meanwhile walking them on a no-pull device when you don’t feel like training so that they never get away with it in between times.  Your dog doesn’t listen? Make yourself present in his life! Make that Premack Principle work for you! Make listening to you worth Fido’s while. 

The most frequent argument I’ve heard against Susan Garrett’s 2×2 weave pole training method is that it doesn’t teach speed, while, the arguers say, the channel method does.  I beg to differ! It is not the type of weave poles you use that teach speed or accuracy.  It is you, the trainer of the dog.  Done correctly, the 2×2 method creates a dog that not only has wicked accuracy, but goes nuts for the poles, something I can’t say for the channel method.  In fact, I would feel comfortable saying that the channel method allows people to be lazy in the motivation department, and churns out more slow dogs than most other methods for that reason.  Again, the issue here is the training, not the equipment.

Finally, I have to talk about my favorite little piece of equipment, and the one that is most hotly argued against in current circles.  I am, of course, talking about the clicker.  I read once that “clickers teach animals to ignore humans and follow food only.”  WOW. That’s a whole lot to accomplish for one little piece of plastic!  Clickers aid trainers a great deal in teaching behaviors, but the clicker itself teaches nothing–it can’t, it’s an inanimate object.  This is why once the dog is trained the clicker is obsolete until you wish to train something new. 

So, there you have it. The tools don’t teach. They help you manage, they help you communicate your point, they don’t do anything themselves.  Shock collars don’t teach dogs to be quiet any more than front-clip harnesses teach dogs not to pull.  The only difference is that one hurts and one helps.  So choose your tools wisely, and understand that no matter what tools for management or training that you choose, you’re still in charge of what your dog does or does not learn.

Last weekend Jane Killion (author of When Pigs Fly: Training Success With Impossible Dogs) was the honored guest at Come-Play-Stay!  Saturday she covered “Pigs Fly” basics and an introduction to free-shaping, and Sunday participants did some agility coursework with a problem-solving session, followed by a talk on course analysis.  Jane was a blast to hang out with, super funny and very people-oriented (not so with all great dog trainers I’ve met!).  We will certainly have to have her back in the near future. 

Idgie was one of the designated clicker-savvy dogs for Saturday, meaning she got to be shaped by tons of people! I was very proud of her, she worked for every person with the same gusto and brilliance she brings to the table with me.  Most of the people in attendance were by no means shaping experts (some had never even heard the term or picked up a clicker before!) so Idgie’s ability to push past frustration and keep offering behaviors was very impressive.  She was the star, offering all sorts of behaviors with each exercise.  One of the shaping stations was a skateboard, and she took to it like a lab to water, so I have decided to teach her to skate.  She is rocking it in record speed, of course.   Good whirlie girlie!

 It is interesting how no matter what the topic, people always find excuses with their dogs.  One of the saddest facts at the seminar is that most people hadn’t read Jane’s book and attended because they feel they have some “problem” dog that is forcing them to engage in this terrible practice of clicker training! Our participants SIGNED UP for a shaping seminar, and a good handful of them protested or invented reasons they couldn’t do certain exercises.  Some even got downright defensive when Jane pointed out holes in their training.  As Susan Garrett says, “embrace your holes!” it is the only way to success.  You have got to own up to the shortcomings in your training, or you will never turn them into attributes.  And as usual, the blatant disregard for stress in dogs was apparent in most teams.  A little upsetting, but I feel that each participant got back exactly what they put in.  One of my favorite moments of the weekend was when Ashley’s dobe Diesel, who had previously developed a strong aversion to weave poles (pre-cancer, long story), was shaped to weave again.  Ashley had tears in her eyes, and I had chills.  It was funny, every dog that was channel-trained took to shaping the weave poles like it was NOTHING–all channel-trained dogs should be so lucky to get to try it this way! 

Here’s a few gems I took away:

  • Don’t click a lure. If you click a lure, you are clicking the action of following food, and that’s just not good dog training.
  • Don’t put a green rider on a green horse–in other words let shaping virgins try their hand at an experienced dog whenever possible.
  • Don’t just train stays, click releases too. 
  • If it is making behavior happen more frequently it IS a reinforcer, and if it is making behavior happen less frequently, it IS a punisher. Let all other preconceived notions go and look at the facts.
  • Train working distance and shut your mouth on course–your dog will love you for it.

There were many more, I’m sure.  For now, I am feeling re-inspired about training, and I’m ready to tackle my next class with the zest for shaping I had all along and sometimes forget to show.