Archive for November, 2008


Puppy Camp is in Full Swing

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Day one of puppy camp was great fun, as always.  It is interesting to see the demographics of the puppies we get.  This weekend of the 24 puppies that are here, only 3 are Border Collies.  At another puppy camp this year, 19 of the 24 puppies were Border Collies.  We have as many American Eskimo puppies this weekend as we do Border Collies!  Plus, what is really cool, is that we have 18 DIFFERENT breeds represented this go around.  Everything from a Portugese Pedengo (go ahead – I had to google it too) to a Greyhound to a French Bulldog to a Westie to another Giant Schnauzer (which we are seriously getting a reputation here, for putting out some good ones:)).  The neat thing is that we have 20 puppies in this group that are all 5 months of age or younger.  Way fun, I mean way, way fun.  What works out great for the new students, is that 11 of the 24 in camp are repeating puppy campers (for five of them this is their third time at puppy camp) so we have lots of good examples for all to watch, especially since two of the repeaters took their past puppy camp graduates to the USDAA and/or AKC  nationals finals and one of them took another Say Yes graduate on to be a multiple-time, National Champion as well.  Lucky for all to have this mix in their camp (and for us that get to teach:)). Day one of Puppy camp is really focusing on relationship games with some dog training lectures to break up the work for the puppies and to get all up-to-date on the fundamentals of the Say Yes training program. Even for repeaters, the program is always evolving as I find ways to alter the message, in order to make the instruction clearer for students.  So from one puppy camp to the next there will always be something that is new to everyone.

For those coming into the Say Yes program as a complete newbie, it can be at times, overwhelming. It is difficult for any of us to break habits. Since dog training is just a series of habits, for some, this weekend is completely turning around things they have always done in a certain, comfortable way. It is rarely easy. Think about how you get dressed in the morning,  it is habit.  Tomorrow try putting your left leg into your pants first, rather than your right. Feels ‘wrong’ doesn’t it?  Just because it feels uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it is incorrect.  It is just habit.  As far as dog training goes, I think about this old saying quiet: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always gotten.”  I am always tinkering with how I trained my last dog, in order to more effectively communicate with me current one.  That is how I came up with ideas like; ItsYerChoice, or Crate Games or the nose target for contact training or the 2×2 for weave pole training etc. I am not afraid to leave what I did yesterday (even if it is a comfortable habit) in order to try to improve tomorrow for my next dog. If you aren’t willing to alter your approach from one dog to the next, you may find dog training frustrating and possibly ineffective from one dog to the next. I don’t mean tomorrow I may suddenly stop teaching the 2×2’s or something. What I am getting at is that, all we do at Say Yes is a series of games. So for example I have almost 50 games that I can use to teach a dog the seesaw. I don’t necessarily need all of them for any one dog and I may be adding more games as I am given different challenges from my future dogs. The point is, I will not keep trying to do what I did with my last dog and insist this current dog is a moron if he doesn’t get it!

The way I think about this is that God sends as a dog to teach us some lessons, if we don’t learn them, He will send them to us again in a future dog that we get.  We will keep getting those lessons until we finally get it!   Check out The Journey if you haven’t already done so, and even if you have, go watch it again:).   

So puppy camp is about evaluating the lessons that are being presented to you, and really getting to know your puppy so you can apply good dog training to bring out the absolute best in that puppy. Thus, the new journey begins!

I am so grateful for students that are not afraid to take that leap. To leave behind that which is comfortable, no matter what success it may have brought them with their past dog, in order to explore the possibility of a better relationship and more brilliance with their current dog.


Technology Rocks. . . (when it works:))

Friday, November 28, 2008

So I skipped a day of blogging, don’t want you to think I am predictable or anything. The truth is I spend a good portion of yesterday trying to capture, on video, this cool little routine I do with my dogs when I train.  The first time I did it, I downloaded it to my computer and somehow the autofocus had kicked off the camera so it was all a blur.  So I taped  when I trained again later in the day, downloaded it to my computer and the microphone was turned off.  Sooo went out after supper, got it right, got the footage downloaded but my computer now has issues.  I checked on line (it is a MacBook Pro, only 13 months old) and apparently there is a bunch of people with the same issue.  Right after downloading some upgrades to iTunes you lose all audio, like forever! So it now has to go to the Apple hospital.  Since I can’t post this clip without being able to hear what I am posting,  it will have to wait for another time.

On another note, I see there are a few questions for me under “comments.”  Thanks to everyone who has shared their comments, I am glad you like my attempt at blogging.  I promise I will answer  the questions when I get a chance.

With all I have going on this week: the launch of the new ebook, a three-day, puppy camp starting tomorrow and five day skills camp starting just days after that, I decided to squeeze in one class at a local agility trial. Well sort of . . .when I got there they were already running, so I missed my walk through. There were only 15 dogs before Encore and dun, da, da. . . I had decided to let Feature have a go for the first time ever. Maybe wasn’t the best idea since, there was no warm up area, I was late (Johnnie-proud-daddy decided to come at the last minute), it was a dirt surface, (something she has never even trained on before) and she has had very little training in the last 2 months. But what the heck, I decided to throw caution to the wind and be a wild girl: run my dog AND then post it here for all of you to see! I was very pleased with how well she held focus at the start line, responded to my body cues & arm changes without taking her gaze away from her job, did her job on both A Frames, had lovely weave poles and very nice jumping considering she has never on anything other then grass and the carpet in the building.  So here you go, Feature’s agility debut!

Today I am grateful for the opportunity to run a red border collie that doesn’t bark/scream on course. How refreshing, I could get used to this!


My Parents Would Have Been Great Dog Trainers . . . If they had liked dogs.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Neither one of my parents were big dog lovers. They were both kind people, just not dog lovers. I always found that weird. My brothers and sisters are pretty much split down the middle. Four of them have a tolerance but not a love, three of them have a family pet that they love, and two of us, some would consider to be: not-right-in-the-head with the unbalanced way we love our dogs.  By now I am sure you can see which category I fall into:).

I know my parents would have been great dog trainers because a lot of what I have learned about shaping behaviour I experienced first hand from them. There was always a consequence to your actions and I don’t mean something black or evil.  Just a consequence.  Now, keeping in mind I was their seventh go around on the child raising circuit, they had already been given several opportunities to cultivate their craft.  So if mom called us all down for supper when we were upstairs watching TV, we came down.  There was no foot stomping or bartering, there was just the request to come, and us going. If you chose to not come-when-called, there was a consequence.  It rarely happened because she had trained a good recall in her brood. However I did get to experience first hand on two occasions what happened if you got distracted on your recall and went to sniff somewhere else, so-to-speak.  My mom would go downstairs to the fuse panel, unscrew the fuse for the TV, and it wouldn’t be put back in until all the kids went to bed that night. Thus a consequence for your actions.

I  never actually heard my father raise his voice, not once in my entire life.  I remember one day coming in the house and my younger sister meeting me at the back door to whisper, “dad found out that you are smoking and he is going to talk to you about it.”  Bring it on, I thought, I was ready for the battle.  Crap, I was 21 years old, hadn’t lived at home since I left for university when I was 18, I was ready for the fight.  Sure enough, my dad asked to speak with me and to this day I remember every word my father spoke as he sat on the couch and said. “Susan your mom and I found out you are smoking, which quiet honestly, shocked us both, as you have always been such an athlete. Well, I just wanted to let you know, I am disappointed.” And with that, he got up and left the room. Wow, every behaviour has a consequence.  I waited until he had gone and then I cried like a baby.  Partly by the frustration of being all ready for my fight, but was quickly diffused by a much better prepared adversary, and partly by the knowledge I had disappointed my dad. Of course I quit smoking within the month and I haven’t smoked since.

Neither one of my parents ever laid a hand on me. I never had a “spanking”, well not during my childhood, but that is another story altogether.  As a teenager, I never had a  ‘curfew’ to be home by at night, although both my sisters (one older, one younger) each had curfews.  I always found that a bit strange and it was one of the many questions I asked my mom when she was sick with cancer. She told me she allowed my actions to dictate her parenting.  She went on to say because I was so involved with sports and spent all my extra time at a team practice or game somewhere that her and my dad never had to worry where I was or what I was doing.  Since my sisters were not into sports they spent more time “just hanging with friends” in a less structured way.  They were both given curfews.  My mom told me if I had ever stopped showing up at a predictable time, she would have altered those freedoms for me.

That pretty much sums up what my book Ruff Love is all about.  Not extending privileges to a dog until he has showed you, through the action of making good choices for himself, that he deserves those extra freedoms. Once extra liberties are extended, for example:  allowing a puppy to be off leash, it is the puppy’s good choices that allows him to stay off leash. Good choice = good consequence.  Any  failure (not coming when called the first time) will result in a less desired consequence: freedom stops and will not be granted back until more of a history of reinforcement for the correct choice has been built up.  You see, just the action of stopping the freedom will rarely create the desired response.  You need to have a history of reinforcement before and after, for the correct choice before it will be one that the puppy consistently chooses to make.  Had my father been a child molesting, wife beating, drunk, him telling me he was “disappointed in me” would not likely have had the same impact on me.  The fact that there was history of reinforcement through love and trust means the consequence I received was effective.

I am very grateful for my parents. They were awesome people and I know you all would have loved them if you had ever gotten a chance to have met them.


Toilet Stretching

Monday, November 24, 2008

No, toilet stretching isn’t some new plumbing innovation aimed at increasing the versatility of your crapper. It actually is a way I teach my dogs to give me a “sincere, all out, full-body-stretch.” Stick with me here, it really works. Years ago I tried to shape my dogs to stretch but it always ended up being only a play bow. Dog training while on the throne changed all that for me.  Here’s how it works.  If your dogs are anything like mine, they have to follow you everywhere you go around the house.  Everywhere meaning, even when I take a trip to the loo. That is where I came up with the idea to start to capture behaviour. I recognized that when I jumped out of bed and dashed to the WC in the morning, my dogs, who would have just woke up themselves, would follow me in and do what dogs do first thing in the morning; stretch. Really, really, good stretching.  You know the kind where the dog will sometimes point their rear legs out behind him.  All out, front and rear stretching.

DeCaff Toilet Stretching (not this is a 'posed' pic (I am fully clothed)

DeCaff: Toilet Stretching (note: this is a posed pic, I am fully clothed)

Since it was such a predictable behaviour from my dogs, and such a highly desired behaviour for me to see, I decided to start to stash cookies in a drawer in the bathroom so I could dog train from the can. Any dog that stretched in the morning would get showered in praise during the behaviour, and a cookie at the end (sometimes in the middle) of it. It doesn’t take long for the dogs to figure out the game and start to offer stretching any I take a trip to the powder room. (being a vegan, my dogs get ample opportunity for reinforcement:)).  Soon the response becomes so strongly classically conditioned, that all I have to do is go and stand in the lavatory and my dogs will come in and stretch. Once it gets to this level of repeatability I added a cue.  I will  give the cue (b-i-g stretch) just before I assumed the position.  Very quickly the dog learns to give me that stretch on cue.  That is when I will try it outside of the little girls room. I will walk towards the facilities but stop, just outside of it, and give the dog my cue.  I will not repeat it.  If the dog doesn’t offer a stretch, I step inside and see if he will do it there. If not, opportunity lost, I will then go about my business, (so to speak) and not reward the dog with anything other than praise if he stretches after the fact.

Dog Training on the Loo

Dog Training on the Loo

It doesn’t matter if your dog’s main job in life is just to be your companion or if he is an active part of an athletic lifestyle, latrine stretching is a healthy activity to start with any dog.  All of my dogs are active potty stretchers and many of them are offering it elsewhere now.  It all starts in the restroom but you venture out to other locations in no time. Go ahead and give it a try, soon your husband will be referring to you as a “wack job” as well!

Today I am grateful for my family. We are not as close as we used to be, although we all still communicate via phone or email or facebook on a pretty regular basis. I guess that is normal when a family of 9 kids moves on with their own lives and families (if you could call a family of 9 kids normal). However, we had a great upbringing, I mean it was really something special. My parents were married for more than forty years before my mom passed away, and they were both great role models for all of us. Talk about stability, from 1960 up until my father was killed a car accident in 2006, the family homestead was only moved once, and that was literally across the street (from 174 to 175, my dad always liked the neighbour’s house:)). Amongst my parent’s siblings and my siblings there are 25 of us; and only 1 divorce (five of my brothers & sisters have all been married for more than 30 years themselves).  I really feel blessed to have been born into such a spectacular family.


Becoming Geekacious

Monday, November 24, 2008

I will start off today by clearing up a question of an email that was sent out this morning to some of you.  The Say Yes Newsletter, it is legit. It is not spam!  We have just resurrected a mailing list you must have signed up for at some point. Give it a read, it is safe!  If you want to get on the list for this newsletter sign up at my website Say Yes Dog Training.

Last night, to my horror, I came to the realization that I was become way too geekacious (I love to make up my own works, another reason grammar freaks may want to stay away from this blog). This hit me when I used the words: web-browser, auto-responder and javascript in the same sentence, all while I was troubleshooting a problem with my web designer. That scares me a lot.  I am a dog trainer for crying out loud!

As I write this, I see my dogs all huddled in a corner whispering, I think they are planning an intervention.   I swear I see Encore with a pad and paper taking notes, but every time I look her way she shoves something under the bed. I overheard Feature whispering something about “walks being cut short” and the “lack of quality training time”. Every now and again I see Buzz looking off into space, then turning back to the group imploring them all to “speak a little louder.”

I really can’t say I blame them though, since for the past week I have been glued to this computer for about 15 hours a day.  However, it has all been worth while.  We have been gearing up for the launch of two pretty important products. The launch is called “Excellence in Weave Pole Training.” Phase One is this rockin’, 74 page, collection of everything you would ever want to know about weave pole training. I mean it is really the nuts and bolts of it all. Most of what is in there I have never released before, all brand new stuff. If you can’t tell, I am really, really excited about it all.  Everything from 110 weave pole challenges to try out (a great winter project for everyone), tons of great dog training advise, plus a sneak peak at the 15 page, 2×2 workbook, that will be included on the new DVD. You will all be able to learn more about it at the official launch, from my webpage (Say Yes Dog Training) this Wednesday. I know everyone is going to freak when they see it (and see how little you are going to have to pay).

I feel badly for all of the people that have been waiting, literally for years, for a 2×2 dvd from me.  I pumped everyone up in Australia 5 years ago, saying it would be out “any day.” Oops! It was shelved for a while and then I thought it was going to be launched this summer (it was so close), but ooops!  I decided I had to add these cool games to it and turn it into a complete weave pole training dvd, rather then just a 2×2 training project.  Poor Mel.  Mel is the kind man that did all of the editing on this project.  I am sure he didn’t know what he was getting in for when I suggested “we could probably wrap everything up in a matter of weeks,” ooops!  However, I know he is just as proud of this, now 2 disc-dvd set, as I am.  My video projects always seem to take a little longer to get to market, but I sure love each finished product when it is finally completed!  This one is no exception. It is amazing.   Anyway, we have had a lot of people writing to both, me personally and our website, asking “when will this *$@ing 2×2 dvd be ready?” (thank you all for your kind words:)).  I do feel badly for the continued delays, so that is why I decided to do this bonus project for everyone while we waited for the duplication of the main event.

That is what has brought us all to this Wednesday’s launch  of “Excellence in Weave Pole Training: Phase One” and why it will be taken down when the new DVD arrives.  I don’t want anyone buying Phase One in place of Phase Two.  So the offer must go away, as soon as the DVD arrives. If you go to our website now you can see the front cover and click to be taken to this cool video montage promoting the launch.

S-e-e, the fact I could hook you up with the video link right here is just more proof of geekacal tendencies. I am really  getting concerned. Okay, I think I am going to go and dress like a technophobe and walk around all day denying any knowledge of html.

As all of the work on this project draws to a close, I am really grateful for Mel King.  He has been so patient through this all, with me saying things like: “hmmm, no, no I think I liked it better the other way” or  “Hey Mel, I am sure this won’t take you too long to do . . “. The man is a gem AND still on speaking terms with me . . . now that really IS a bonus!


Meet My Dogs

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Today I am going to start right off with gratitude. I think gratitude is my favourite emotion.  Doesn’t it always makes you feel good to be grateful for someone or something?  Today I am being grateful for my dogs.  Each of my dogs personalities are unbelievably different, but that is what makes them so special.

Buzz, (Buzzy, Boo, BooBoo boy, Ba-zoo, mama’s special boy) is now 12 years old. You would have learned all about Buzzy if you read my book Shaping Success (if you didn’t read it, why the heck not?). He is just as enthusiastic about life today, as he was as a puppy, although he is deaf as a post. A long-time friend of mine says it is a Pete Townsend thing. Pete (of the rock group “The Who”) damaged his hearing after playing music too loud, for too many years. I am convinced Buzz, similarly did-in his hearing by continuously rehearsing  his own version of ‘loud music’. I always told him his barking was deafening, now I have proof!

DeCaff, (D-dog, Deek, My-D-Dog (said very fast is mighty dog), Whirlie), at 8 1/2, is currently my only little dog. She is my shadow and feels she needs to be with “da mama” at all times. She has been a very different dog for me to train and I am sure I learned more about dog training from her then any other single dog I have owned. All of my dogs have loved agility. They would just go crazy to play. While DeCaff enjoys the sport, I think she mostly does it because she knows it makes me happy (and of course because I used alot of good dog training to grow her drive for the sport). But at the end of the day, she just wants to do what I do, and is not at all pleased with me if she is left behind when I go out to teach or train.

Encore, (Cory, En, Coriander, Miss-E (said very fast is “Missy”), Missy-En), my 4 year old, is a serious, studious, workaholic who is the only one of the four that has a genuine soft spot for John. She just goes crazy for him. She is a big softie, that submissively smiles and will crawl onto the lap of anyone that will have her.

Feature, (Feachy, Peachy, Fee, Pee, Feach-en-ador, Nador, Ralphie), my 18 month old puppy is just a crack up. She makes me laugh out loud, like no other dog I have ever owned. She is such a character you would think she was a Jack Russell not a Border Collie.

Encore and Feature are great pals, they wrestle together in the house and run together non-stop outside. If the two of them were teenagers Encore would be the bookworm type, sitting at the front of the class, constantly querying the teacher, “will this be on the exam at the end of the term?“.  She would spend time each evening with 4 different coloured highlighters marking up her notes from that day’s lectures. She would often ask the teacher for extra homework on Friday afternoon and empty every book out of her locker to take home each weekend. Feature, on the other hand, would be the pot smoking, jock that all the boys and the girls would want to have as a friend.  She would know the maximum number of classes she could cut before losing her varsity status, often serving detention for being the class cut-up, would  sit in the back row of any class and rarely takes a note, yet somehow, always manage to get straight A’s on her report card at the end of the term.

DeCaff, "I love you mama", Feature, "are you done yet?", Encore, "am I doing this correctly".

Here three of my dogs show off their true personalities. DeCaff is saying: “I love you mama”, Feature is wondering: “Are we done with all of this yet?”, Encore asking: “Have I got this right? Is there some other way I could be doing this for you?”

Man, I love my dogs.


Getting Old Fashioned

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Since this is supposed to be a dog training blog, I thought I should occasionally write about dog training. My winter project is to go back in time, to how I used to train 10 or 15 years ago. I am sure that sounds kind of twlight zonish to you, especially since I pride myself on innovation. Well I think I may have innovated my way out of some good crap, so I am going back to pick it up. Back in the old days, like early 90’s, one of my goals, as an agility handler, was to do as little as possible. Yes, back then I could stand in the middle of a ring and have my dogs do entire courses, all on verbal cues from me. Aahh, the epitome of lazy-ass-training! One of the great benefits of this was that all of my early dogs; Shelby, Stoni, Twister and even Buzz where pretty much unbeatable at Gamblers.  My more recent dogs; DeCaff and Encore are growing into decent Gamble dogs but really lack the understanding of working from verbal cues alone.  What my younger dogs do have is a brilliant understanding of positional cues (my body has importance, well at least to my agility dogs it does).  This great understanding of positional cues means that my dogs are pretty impressive at running courses (yes I have a slight bias when I say that). If you watch my runs on youtube ( you will rarely, if ever, see either of those dogs take their eyes away from the course.  They lock on a line at the start and just follow my arm changes and body motion cues all the way up to the finish. I would say that is my primary goal as a handler today, for my dogs never to have ‘questions’ as they run a course. You will be amazed how a slight glance up at you eats up time around 20 obstacles.  If the question from your dog results in a full head turn, or worst yet a spin away from you, you are just cooked!

So can I have both?  Can I have a dog that clearly understands to follow my arm changes and not glance up at me PLUS have a great gamble dog? I am about to find out. I decided to go back to the stuff I wrote about in my book “Shaping Success”.  Using trees & garbage cans to teach an understanding of verbal cues to “go around stuff”.  Plus I am polishing up my directionals, something I rarely, if ever, use on course, except for distance challenges like those in the gamble, snooker or fast classes.  I think the key is balance.  Agility enthusiasts up here in Canada generally put alot of emphasis on Gambling. I think that stems from the fact that our National Championship is dependent upon our dogs being able to succeed at any outrageous gamble challenge the judge can come up with.  In my opinion we have the best Gamble dogs in the world up here. Just ask some of the Americans that come to our Nationals and struggle at Gambles. Between my 3 earlier dogs that I competed with at the Canadian Nationals (Stoni, Twister & Buzz) I have 4 National Championships and 11 Regional Championships.  My 2 since then I have zero, nadda, zippo, zilch. They haven’t done much to carry on the legacy, quite honestly, because it just hasn’t been that important to me. If I had to choose, I would much rather have a great Standard, Jumpers. Steeplechase dog than a great Gamble dog. Encore is 4 years old and has won each of the 3 Canadian National Steeplechase finals that have been offered at our Nationals and this year she won both Standard Classes as well. That is what I want from my young dogs. An understanding of handling.

The question to myself is, do I have to decide?  Can I have both? I know I do not want to lose any of the teamwork I have with my dogs on course, but I would like to build their understanding of Gamble work. All things in moderation, dog training requires a balance.  I will work some of these skills with my dogs over the winter, while never leaving good handling technique.  I don’t want to see a dog suddenly start turning wide, flanking, flicking or looking up at me on a standard course because of working gambles. So, I will work on my new skills without losing sight of my ultimate goal, that of wanting that effortless,  unspoken, communication throughout each and every run we do.

Today I am grateful for my friends. I have a few really great ones. You know what I mean, my friendship with these people may have started through dog training but I know it will be there no matter what. One thing I have learned over the years, it is that it is far better to have a few really good friends than a wack of them that come with strings attached.