Archive for January, 2009


A Critical Key To Training the Running Contact?

Friday, January 30, 2009

I have had a few of you email me privately and one post to my blog why I thought a “fool-proof method of running contacts was unlikely.” I don’t pretend to have all of the dog training answers and I am not a pessimist about ANYTHING. However,  I do believe I have a pretty good grasp of how behaviours are learned and how they are eroded. That is why I think a fool-proof, cookie-cutter running contact method is unlikely. Notice I didn’t say impossible, I am still holding out hope. But lets look at the facts, there is yet to be anyone running at the elite level of the sport that has produced a running contact with more than one dog that has stood up for the dogs’ entire career.  I have trained 3 dogs to run their contacts and I would say they are 95-99% successful. But that is not 100%. I know without a doubt I can train a dog that can compete at the World Championships level of this sport with stopped contacts and have that dog go through his entire career without ever missing a contact. I have done it with Buzz.  I can’t say that about the running contact. Although Encore has only missed one of her running A Frame’s that one was unfortunately at the World Championships, it cost our team a place on the podium. I am still working at it because I would love to have a method I could teach my students, knowing they will have success. So far no one has showed me that has happened. No disrespect to those of you that may cry “foul” because your dog may happen to look good at this point, but lets see these dogs when they have put in a career running contacts and then lets see that be followed up with more dogs that can do the same, finish a career with their running contacts AS RELIABLE as they started it. Then we are on to something.  I am a person that sees the possibilities where few others see them. I will continue to experiment, any of you that think you are onto something I have over looked please let me know! 

In the meantime I will leave you all to ponder this video and the methodology that you may have overlooked while training your own running contacts. Have a great weekend everyone, I am off to Omaha for fun and games with all of those crazy mid-westerners. Super bowl party here we come!

Today I am grateful to be heading south for the weekend, oh wait, it is Nebraska . . . south of Canada does not necessarily always equate to warmer weather


Is Agility Keeping Pace with Technological Advances?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Earlier this week John and I had to spend the day in the car running errands an hour or more away from home. Yes of course he drove, I do love me life. As he was driving I was thinking about all of the technological advances that surrounded me in the car. First and foremost with it being -18C outside I was grateful beyond belief for the advancement of heated car seats and couldn’t imagine living in Canada (or anywhere really as I even use these on some summer evenings) without the ability to warm my bottom on a cold day. Next as I spent 10 minutes placing a few orders on my cell phone I tried to remember the days when I had to stop to use a phone at a phone booth. Have you noticed there are far fewer phone booths out there these days? And lastly I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out for one of the worlds best invention of late: the trusted GPS that allows us to be mindlessly lured to our final destination like lemmings running off a cliff. Looking around at all of these recent advancements caused me to question what advancements have we enjoyed in agility in the last 20 years? I think to start with you would have mention how far we have come with our execution of handling. I know my own dogs personally will be forever grateful for Greg Derrett setting me on a path to more consistent and clear handling cues. As someone that lost a National Championship by 0.016 seconds, I for one was thrilled to see the advancement of electronic timing lights at the following year’s USDAA National Championships. Doing away with the cross-over obstacle sure was an advancement if you ask me! Perhaps some would consider my nose tap contact training method and the many msg” versions of it (Wendy Pape coined the msg phrase years ago when teaching her own “modified Susan Garrett”  contact method). CRCD and other computer programs for planning courses and sequences have made life easier for a lot of us as have blogs, Clean Run magazine and the multitude of internet information groups that are available today.  I would hope that one day the 2×2 method of weave pole training would also be included in this list as well.  Then I started thinking about a list of things that have yet to be discovered to make our agility dogs more successful? What about a safe, clean, inexpensive, indoor running surface. Or a safe, breakaway tire (possibly one of the new magnetic tire designs???). Or what about about jump heights that can be changed remotely with the flick of a switch or a collapsable chute material that dogs never get tangled in. A killer revolution would be if someone could come up with a fool proof way of teaching a reliable running contact. Man would that be cool, unlikely but way cool. Any others you guys can think of?


Continuing with Life’s Processes

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I am continuing the topic I started yesterday, describing how I have emotionally coped with the advancing progression of my dogs lives.

Denial and Grieving. The day after losing Stoni I had to leave for 3 weeks of teaching in Australia. Stoni had been sick for over a year. We all knew she was living on borrowed time, so her death was not a shock, you would have thought I would have been better prepared. I thought it was a perfect scenario for me, as I was getting on a plane, I could leave all of the memories of giving her those Sub-Q fluids, of the big adventures and come back and just start my life from that point. Not so. Once I settled down for my 26 hour journey, I started sobbing. Poor guy next to me on the plane. I thought to myself, this is not going to work, I need to be happy to be an effective seminar presenter. I got the idea to pretend Stoni was still at home with John. Remember how I said I can visualize myself anywhere?  Well, here is where this came in very handy. I got to Australia and had blocked the event, entirely from my mind. I didn’t send out the email announcing Stoni’s passing, even Greg and Laura Derrett, who are my good friends and who were staying in the same house with me in Australia,  didn’t know. I would call home and ask John how everyone was and, although he was concerned for my mental well being, he played along for me.  That period of denial helped me a lot. Part way through the month in Australia I was able to come clean. I wrote the email about losing Stoni and thought that was the end of it. It wasn’t. I got back home and all the memories were stirred up, it was as if the month away hadn’t happened. I had to start to grieve all over again once I was home with all my memories of Stoni. Unfortunately my relationship with Buzz and DeCaff really suffered during the following few months. Twister and Encore, my other two remaining dogs, were always very good with Stoni as she as grew older and weaker. Twister would clean her eyes and Encore, even though a puppy, was very respectful and often would curl up on the same bed with Stoni. Buzz and DeCaff took a far more feral approach and would growl at her if she came near them, it was as if the pack instinct to remove the weak, older dog had kicked in and they treated Stoni as if she had no right to stay. As guilty as I felt for it, I held that against those two when Stoni was gone. For the next  two months I wouldn’t train either of them. In April of that year I went to a big USDAA event in Myrtle Beach and not surprisingly my performance with those two dogs was terrible. I had to heal my relationship with my dogs. I did it by bringing them down to my work out room in the morning and just gave them treats for staying on their beds while I worked out. From there I gradually was able  to do more  with each of them and eventually we were once back to our normal training routine.

Recovery. Guilt really is a waste of emotion. I think it is normal to ignore one (or more) of your dogs when you lose another that was so special to you. It doesn’t make the other dogs any less special, just not as special at that moment in time. I think my recovery would have been faster if I had allowed myself to feel the way I did and not judge myself for it. DeCaff and Buzz forgave me, I just had a harder time forgiving myself. Forget guilt and do what you can, your dogs will appreciate any amount of time you can give them and when you are ready they will be waiting to start back to your training once again. When I lost Speki it was a sudden accident, with no time to prepare. Shelby and Stoni were there and saw Speki’s lifeless body and my outpour of emotion. Stoni had difficulty with it and for the next few weeks any time I would cry, she would run and hide. Shelby, on the other hand , was amazing. This will be hard for you to believe but any time during that period I cried, she would go over to my dog training bag and sit pretty beside the utility articles,  holding that position for an hour if it took me that long to get up of the couch. That is not a lie or even an exaggeration, she really did that. She had never done it before and never did it after those few weeks of me grieving.

Stoni, Shelby and Twister hamming it up for a Christmas card in the mid 90's.

Stoni, Shelby and Twister on a Christmas card in the mid 90's (no this was not photoshopped:)).

I know people that lose a dog and have to remove all of the pictures of that dog from their home, for at least for a year or two. For me it is opposite. I make sure I have a picture somewhere I will see  everyday. Seeing pictures of the dog never makes me sad, quiet the opposite, it always makes me smile. I think once again, you need to follow your heart and do what is right for you. When I lost Twister (less than a year ago) I was so grateful to have my puppy Feature. Feature is comedian and you can not be sad for one minute with her in your presence. I know that is a big part of the reason why I had to go all the way to England to get her. Another thing that has really helped in my recovery from the grief of losing a dog, is something that was recommended to me by Jo Sermon. She suggested I start a journal. What I did was to write only one line that would remind me of a funny story with that dog. I love to look over my journal, it really makes laugh, I mean belly laugh when the memories of those funny stories come back. Who knows, maybe one day it may turn into a book, one that has nothing to do with training, but everything to do with joy. For now it is a great reminder of what awesome dogs I have been blessed with and how they have enriched my life so very much.

Today I am grateful for Speki, Shelby, Stoni and Twister, my four, now passed, great teachers that have all left their mark not only on my abilities, but also my heart.

“I think God will have prepared everything for our perfect happiness. If it takes my dog being there in Heaven, I believe he’ll be there.”  ~Rev. Billy Graham


Lessons in Life’s Processes . . . get the kleenex.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A friend of mine is facing the loss of a dog that, over the years, has become part of her identity. The dog is not particularly old, not that it would make the loss any more bearable if she were.  Although the passing of a much loved family pet is always difficult, I believe the loss of a dog that was once your agility partner is far more devastating.  This has nothing to do with the amount of winning, or the number of titles, or the number of world championships you may have participated in together. It  has to do with the oneness you develop with that dog on the agility field. You are a team. The time and dedication invested in a relationship to reach that degree of unity only helps to fuel the burning pain of loss, as your time together draws to a close. I think it may be one of the first question I will ask my maker when my time comes “why did our dogs have to grow old so fast?”  

I remember when Shelby (my first agility dog 1988-2004) was about 5-6 years old,

Shelby with a rock, winning of the 1998 USDAA GP Nationals.

Ten year old Shelby with her most treasure reward, a rock.

someone tried to convince me to convert to feeding my dogs raw, telling me they would live to be much older. I recall thinking, well if they live to 12 or 13, that would have been a full life and it would be ok to say to good bye at that time. Hmm, how my feelings changed when I had my first dog live to be 12 or 13, I was in no way ready to say good bye.  As much as I adore my agility dogs and get so much from the experience of training and competing with them, that relationship goes into a completely different dimension once the dog retires. I look at my dog’s geriatric years not with sadness, reflecting back on their glories of yesterday, but rather with great amusement as the dogs disclose a new side of themselves to me. And yes, I now do feed raw today, if I can squeeze out even one more month of productive life for my dogs, it would have been worth it to me.  

At my friends request, over the next two days I will attempt to describe how I have coped with the transitions that I have experienced as my own dogs advance through life’s processes.


The Big Adventure Phase I have a good friend, Dr. Leslie Woodcock, who coincidently owns the Vet clinic with the pool my dogs love so much. Leslie and I have been friends for more than 20 years. She is not a dog trainer by ANY stretch of the imagination, far from it, she is a push over, and her dogs know it. What Leslie has, is great insight into, not only her passion of canine sports re-hab, but also into canine geriatrics. She is the last to give up on a dog. Leslie gave me this great tip when Shelby had to retire due to geriatric vestibular disorder (she was 12 and still competing at the time).  I believe this simple little thing has not only extended my dogs lives, but also improved the quality of their geriatric days unbelievably. Leslie said, “don’t forget to make her feel special everyday, or whenever you can.” That advise started the first of hundreds of “Big Adventure Trips” for my retired dogs. It could be a trip to the mail box in the car, or a walk with just the two of us, or hanging out with me while I set up a course for class. As the dogs got really old the trips got much shorter of course, they were nothing more than a walk outside around the house or possibly shortened to just a walk around the car. With Twister (1992 -2008 ) I would

Twister's amazing running A Frame.

Little 4 kg Twister's amazing running A Frame.




 sometimes put her on the last slat of the dog walk and tell her “go!”  As she leapt off I would announce her as the “Champion of the WORLD!” to which she would bounce off my leg, barking at me in agreement. It doesn’t matter what the big adventure is, they all start the same, I tell the dog “ok special girl, its big-‘venture time!” It doesn’t take long, possibly on a few minutes, but it usually involves a few doggie treats and me telling them stories of their brilliance.

The Borrowed Time Phase  When Stoni (1990 -2005) was 12 1/2 I had 3 different veterinarians tell me she wouldn’t live out the month. Her kidneys had crashed and she had stopped eating. I found a holistic vet who gave me the glimmer of hope I needed. He thought he could help, if I could get her to eat. At his suggestion, I made a paste of pre-digested whey protein and coconut butter and every 2 hours I would smear it on her upper lip. Stoni would lick off the paste, with great annoyance at me for disturbing her rest. Within 3 days she was eating again, This moved us into the “borrowed-time” phase of life with Stoni. For the next year or so John, (or I) gave her sub-Q fluids twice a day. Stoni would always wagged her tail and never complained about all the needles. The borrowed time phase is an unknown time frame, so you end up observing little details about your dog that may have passed you by before. I remember one morning, John and I were eating breakfast and Stoni purposefully got out of her bed and walked over to where Encore (who was four or five months old at the time) was playing. Stoni walked over and stuck her nose into the puppy’s ear. There they both stood motionless for a few moments.  I nudged John and whispered, look she is telling the puppy all of her secrets! It is easy to be sad during this phase but really it is

One of my all-time favourite pictures, one I like to call "the two legends"  Puppy Encore and Senior Stoni

One of my all-time favourite pictures with puppy Encore & stately Stoni.I like to call it "The Two Legends"

 a time to enjoy every extra moment you are squeezing out together. During the fall of 2004 we were at the USDAA nationals in Phoenix during Stoni’s borrowed time phase. She decided she wanted to go and say hello, and as it was, goodbye, to all of her agility friends. It was a long walk from the RV’s to the ring, but that was where she determinedly dragged me. It is still a great memory for me. Stoni wagged her whole body as she recognized people she had known over the years and who also were fan’s of hers. I will always feel gratitude to the people around the ring that day that made Stoni feel so special.  Please when you see an older dog,  take the time to acknowledge him, I can’t describe the difference it makes to the spring in the step of that dog. 

My parents would give up on an old dog with the first major health issue that cost any amount of money, so the borrowed time phase would be a short one. With so many kids to feed, I can see how that may have been necessary. For some of us, doing what we can for our older dogs comes without hesitation. Either way, I think it is important not to judge others or ourselves when these decisions have to be made, for the decision itself is part of our own unique journey.  Regardless of what you decide, allow your dog to have dignity and do not draw this stage out longer than gives your companion quality of life.  

Giving me “the sign”   I have found that each one of my dogs have let me know when it was their time to go. As much of a cliché as that may be, it is so true. Each dog has given me clear signs when they had shared all of the lessons that they were intended to bring to me. With Stoni, it was February 13th 2005. I pulled out my suitcase to start my packing for a series of camps Greg Derrett & I were teaching in Australia.  Stoni, who had been her normal bright-eyed self that day, came in and sniffed the inside of my suitcase.  We were alone in the bedroom when I said to her “this is a really long trip my girl, da mama will be gone for 28 sleeps.”  That night John commented he thought Stoni was a bit dull, not herself. At 5 AM the next morning, she had her first seizure. I sat with her until 8 AM when I called my vet, as I knew Stoni was telling me that 28 sleeps was too many for her to wait for me this time.  She had one more seizure before my vet arrived at our home to help her leave us peacefully.  That was almost 3 years ago and the tears are just streaming down my face tonight as I write these words. It is fitting Stoni picked Valentines Day to say goodbye, since she will always own such a big part of my heart. 

Burial or cremation? Again I think this is a direction your heart will decide for you. When I lost Shelby I wrapped her up in one of my red USDAA National Grand

Me sprinkling Stoni & Twisters ashes into the floor of our new house.

Sprinkling Stoni & Twisters ashes into the floor of our new house last fall.

 Prix finalist shirts and put her in a box that John build, with a rock of course (her favourite motivator of all time). We buried her behind the house, at the top of a hill overlooking a treed area where the squirrels always hang out. I have a stone marking her grave and every time I walk my dogs, I say good morning to her. With Stoni and Twister I felt the need to have each of them cremated. I didn’t know what to do with their ashes at first, but it recently hit me.  John and I are having a new house built, the floors are concrete throughout (so we can have radiant heat put inside– for the dogs of course:)). I decided I would mix Stoni and Twisters ashes together and sprinkle them in the main living areas of our new house. So they are in the kitchen, the great room, the master bedroom and my office and will always be a part of my life, as I have no intentions of ever moving from this Shangri-La we call home.

I think that may be enough emotion for all of us for one day. I will finish up with this post tomorrow.  Today I am grateful for all of the wonderful “Borrow Time” experiences I have shared with Shelby, Stoni and Twister.


2×2 Weave Pole Training with a Food Only Motivated Dog

Monday, January 26, 2009

Now that there are so many of you excelling with the 2×2 process I thought I would answer a few questions that you have sent in about training dogs that are not toy motivated. First of all yes, this method works well with all dogs, regardless of what motivates them! As I outlined in my 2×2 Weave Pole Training DVD, the key to success (which really is the key to success with all dog training) is the transfer of value. You must start with a motivator for which your dog has an intensive drive and, by applying the laws of how dogs learn, you will transfer the value of that reward into the weave pole entry.  If problems arise while using this method, it is more than likely due to the technique being altered from what is outlined in the DVD.

Now I would like to address the topic of value. Ideally you are starting with high value food and moving to a high value toy when you train. However I recognize that not all dogs have the same high value for toys that they do for food. My personal advise is to work at this, do not allow food to overtake the toy drive. I have written some suggestions below that should help you get started. We get tug-drive with the all of dogs at our school, so it IS possible regardless of what breed of dog you own. Having said that, I realize some of you have what you have right now and my goal here isn’t to source out the reason why your dog isn’t tugging, but to suggest solutions to your current situation so you can still train brilliant weave poles.

I have had people write in to say they want to use a Manners Minder or Treat and Train for their 2×2 weave pole training. I would caution you against doing this.  It is not that I do not like the product, quite the opposite, we have two of them at the school and do find them very useful for various applications. My caveat goes back to what I said to start this blog. The 2×2 works incredibly well and fast if you apply good dog training fundamentals.  You can do this with a Manners Minder BUT it will A) will take you longer as you will have to fade out the massive lure of the MM and B) will require a greater knowledge of dog training as  you have a high potential for problems to crop up that you may not notice.  The problems will arise because the dog is always focused on the value.

The big advantage of the MM is that you will have a well established reward line that does not depend upon your ability to throw. However, there is a good chance that you will not get the “transfer of value” that you would if you were throwing the reward as the MM is just a big ole lure isn’t it? It is similar to putting a cookie on a target plate at the end of a contact obstacle. The dog rarely develops the drive for end position, only for the plate. Once the plate goes, often times the understanding of end position goes with it, at the very least it is weakened by the removal.  I recognize this isn’t exactly the same as a MM as you can remotely control the distribution of the treat, but it is similar enough to cause issues. The dog’s attention will be focused on the “value” the MM rather than his job of finding his entry.

The other issue I have with the MM is that there will be a conditioned reinforcer built in. I  stated on the DVD the problems that may develop if you use a clicker during the training of the 2×2. Both the marker tone when you hit the remote and the delayed sound of the drum rotating to spit out a cookie become conditioned reinforcers to your dog and you may unwittingly be rewarding things you don’t intend to when using one.

Is it possible to use the MM and have great success with the 2×2? Yes of course it is, but I think there is an equal chance for disaster. Some of you may try and have great success. Others may end up with a poor behaviour in the poles and a lack of understanding of entries. My warning is if this is you, please do not blame the 2×2 method as it is not the method’s fault but rather your own alteration to the process that caused your issue.

So for those of you that want to use food only in your 2×2 training I am going to lay out  a couple of suggestions. First of all please do not just throw chunks of food. Yes, I suggest using food for the first 2 or 3 sessions on the DVD, but then I transferred to a toy. If you are not moving on to a toy,  move on to a toy you can stuff with food. There are a few reasons I am not a fan of just throwing cookies throughout all of the stages of your 2×2 training. Number one, it will be difficult for your dog to see the treat so he will likely slow down to make sure he can track it. With this will often come sniffing. Watch your dog, is that how you want him weaving when he has completed his training? Of course not. Your dog should really be driving hard to the poles within the first few sessions of 2×2 training.  Secondly, you can not throw a piece of food very far, especially if you are training a mini dog, which so often are the dogs that have been trained with food alone. With little guys we have to use little bitty piece of food, that will be difficult to see and limited in how far you can throw. All of this means you will once again be staying close to the poles, losing that great independence we want from the 2×2 trained dog. In addition, you will not be able to throw a small morsel of food with any degree of accuracy, so your reward line will not be as well defined. Rather than just pitching chunks of food, I strongly encourage you all to get yourself toy that you can stuff with food. When using one please do not be one of those people that throw the toy, run out pick it up yourself and give your dog a treat from your pocket. OUCH! Where is the value there? The goal when using these toys is to get a transfer of value from the food to the toy. Do not allow yourself to be shaped by your dog. Picture yourself in the middle of one of those Gary Lawson’s Far Side Cartoons. Your dogs are hanging out in the yard before training and one laughs and says to the other “yeah, just watch how I get her to not only throw the toy but bring it back for me before I get my treat! How much fun is that?”  So if you are currently stuck in your own animated toy-retrieval hell, get out! One of the best food-toys on the market to start a dog that is truly unmotivated by toys is the “Tug it”

tug-it-starter-cropped-picturefinal4 toy.  I am a big fan of this food transition toy.  The Tug-It is an awesome way to move away from exclusively using food, to incorporating a toy in your training. Even if you never make the transition, you can just use Tug-it stuffed with food for all of your regular training. The toy is very durable with large meshing that food can squish out of into the dog’s mouth. The starter version (pictured here) has a wider mesh allowing for more food to escape from the toy with each bite your dog takes. You can transition down to the smaller holed mesh in the process of creating a dog that will work for both food and toys. If you are using the Tug-it for the first time PLEASE DON’T TRY TO USE IT IN YOUR WEAVE POLE TRAINING! Take a week to build the value for toy. Your goal is to get the transfer of value from the food to the toy prior to using it in any  training.  Once you have that, you can easily transfer the value of the toy into your work (such as weave poles). Start with really gooey food like liverwurst or something similar that the dog will immediately drive towards, and will get reinforcement from, the moment he bites into it. One of my students uses raw ‘guts’ (liver, kidney etc)–it is really gross, but I must admit, the dogs’ go crazy for it (note: if using raw organ meat in your training be certain to have disinfecting wet wipes with you and don’t train indoors on surfaces that can’t be disinfected afterwards).  To start, attach the Tug-It to your leash and drag it around on the floor until your dog pounces on it to hold it still. Don’t do too much ‘teasing’ with the toy, allow the dog to learn how reinforcing it can be to chop down on the new toy. Allow the game to go on only for a minute or so. Put the toy away and try a few hours later. Stop with the dog wanting more. Do not make the mistake of having your session go so long that you end up stopping after the dog’s interest starts to wain. Be disciplined about this, less really is more when teaching drive for a toy.  The manufacturer of the Tug-It has a great video clip to show you how to easily make the transition from the Tug-It to tugging on a regular tug-toy (for those of viewing this at work the link is   Once the dog is showing drive for the Tug-it, you can move to stuffing it with a less messy treat  like more traditional dog treats or cheese or meat.  If you want to create toy drive the key is to transition. Do not leave the dog obsessing about the food at the early stage or you will be stuck using those gross, gooey treats forever! Trust me, if you don’t shape your dog your dog will shape you!  If you really don’t care about creating toy drive (seems a bit strange to me) then can just use your Tug-It for your 2×2 training with the food in it, no problem with that at all. You may need to weight it down though, with something such as a small hard rubber toy, in order to get the Tug-it to throw a long distance with good accuracy. Now here is the really good news, I am so crazy about the “Tug It” I have arranged to make it very easy for all of my blog readers to own one (or a set) and get a discount at the same time!  You can click here to go to the creator’s website and order the product, once you have put in your address etc there is a spot where you can put in a “DISCOUNT CODE”  Your promotional code will be the word TUGSY put it in and receive 10% off the purchase price. So do it now, spend a week building high value for the Tug-it, then get to you weave pole training. Don’t forget to report back on how your 2×2 training with your Tug-It has progressed.

Today I am grateful for a warm place to train on a very cold day in Canada.


Doggie Diction

Saturday, January 24, 2009

 I talk to me dogs. I don’t mean I talk to my dogs the way normal people do, saying things like — ”yeah boy, get the stick”. I mean I talk to them like I expect, at any moment, they are about to answer back. I don’t talk this way all the time, but for important things I do. Look, the entire world knows that dogs can’t understand conversations and only know the cues we teach them or learn from the tone of voice that we use with them right? Of course I am right. But what if, even it is just one chance in a trillion, that everyone is wrong. What if all along they could understand every word that came out of our mouths? Wouldn’t you feel silly in the end if you knew you could have just said “Look, it is numbers 1 through 20, follow my lead, hit all the yellow zones and enter the poles with the first one on your left!”  All that training and frustration for nothing! Okay maybe not, but I do talk to my dogs anyway. Every time I pack my suitcase to go to teach a seminar somewhere I, tell all the dogs that are not coming with me how many nights I would be gone. I would say something like  “okay, this trip will be just three sleeps then da mama will be back home.”  John thinks I am certifiable, but he loves me anyway.

When I train my dogs I talk to them in a different way. I have so much fun and so do the dogs. I think if you could rank the amount of enjoyment you got out of a training session from 1 -10 and based it on how many times you were happy or proud and how many times your dog appeared to be happy or proud (if that is possible) and you set goals for your training not so much upon “teaching a dogwalk” but rather, hitting an 8 or higher on the quality-of-fun-for-training scale, you possibly would end up with the best trained dog you have ever owned. I think that last sentence could very well be the longest sentence I have ever written in a blog. Heck, it may be up there for the longest one ever used in any blog in the history of the world!  Anyway, there are those that train here at Say Yes that end up picking up some of our expressions and the intonations in which we speak to our dogs. Things like “good girlie, whirlie” or “to da mama” or “smack da baby”  amoungst many weird others.  If you have seen my DVD’s you know what I am talking about. It is contagious, we have so much fun with our dogs, so it is enviable that others will pick up on the way we play and the things that come out of our mouths. It is a crack up.

When I really want to get one of my dogs going, (which I will admit gets John going in a different direction if I do this in the house) I tell one of my dogs,

The dawning of Encore's jolly ball obsession at 7 week of age.

The dawning of Encore's jolly ball obsession at 7 week of age.

“co’mere, mama gonna talk diry to you.”  So lets say it is Encore, I get her close to me then I whisper things like: “wally” which is dog-talk for her jolly-ball–in Encore’s opinion the most amazing toy on the planet. Or I may tell her “buffy”  which is dog-talk for her ball-with-feet--2nd place to the wally. Or “frisser” which of course refers to her frisbee– which is very distant, a long distance away  from having the value of either the buffy or the wally. The expression “go-for-a _____”  is another guaranteed over-the-top-reaction from the dog. You can fill in the blank here, it could be: “swim” or “run” or “walk” it really doesn’t matter for the  “go-for-a” is all the dog ever needs to hear to know ‘she wants in!’ “Swimming” is a great one to get the head tilt thing working and “weavers” is easily her favourite agility obstacle “the daddy”   is her favourite person on the planet (next to me, I would like to think). All this is like doggie telephone porn to them. It gets the dog so worked up, really I only do it like once a year but it makes me laugh so much.

I think talking dirty to your dogs is fun, but make sure you don’t abuse the privilege or you will lose the impact. If you have words you know will crank your dog up you can then use them in your training to produce a ton of drive when you need it.  I have a game called the “smoke ya” game that is described in Shaping Success. Often, before I start this game of chase I will take a long deep inhalation.  That intake of breath soon becomes a cue to my dogs that something very fast and very fun is about to start. Once you have these triggers you can use them for key moments. For example I will use one for DeCaff at the start line to get more drive in an important class. I will avoid them with dogs like Encore or Buzzy who tend to get “too over-the-top”  Try it with your own dog. You will need at least a week or two of “planting” the seed of anticipation before you can uncork it to get the dog jazzed up. But it really does work!

Today I am grateful for a much needed Saturday off, giving me a chance to get caught up on my life at home!


More About Me Than Anyone Really Needs to Know

Friday, January 23, 2009

This is a great read by a seven your old kid, really you have to check it out.  In it he says “I believe everyone is weird in their own way.” I am about to prove it. For a light-hearted change of pace I thought I would tell you alot of weird (and maybe some not so weirdl) things about myself.

I like to think of myself as gracious and approachable to everyone.  I am quick to forgive and pretty much trust everyone I meet (much to John’s great chagrin). I follow Zig Zigler’s philosophy that it is better to trust everyone and be disappointed every now and again than to live your life in suspicion of everyone you meet.  I love to laugh out loud and to make people laugh out loud, I like spicy food and although I am a bit of a tough nut, who doesn’t do well with people that cry, I am a true romantic at heart.

My favorite movies include happy romantics like: As Good As It Gets, Pride & Prejudice, Shadowlands, Regarding Henry and  The American President but I also love the Shawshank Redemption, the Thomas Crowne Affair and Rainman.  I am not a fan of sci-fi (I think John and I are two of the only people on the planet that have never seen a single Star Wars or Star Trek movie) although I did enjoy ET but really, who didn’t?  I am not much of a reader, but always have a book on the go (right now it is “Winning Every Day” by Lou Holtz).  Although I don’t get much time for TV,  I was hooked on the original CSI (until Sara and Grissom left) and love to watch NFL football. I go to church any weekend I may be at home and love to cook (although I am a vegan). 

All I need to add now is I love long walks on the beach and candle-lit dinners and I would have written the perfect singles ad. No, I am not single. John and I have been together for 12 years.

John and I vacationing in England.

John and I vacationing in England.

I met him while showing dogs, he was an obedience judge. It took me a year or two of chasing to convince him I was the best thing that ever happened to him:).  I used to have quite the off-colour-potty-mouth but saw the unsavoriness for myself after listening to two other agility instructors swearing like truckers at a dinner two years ago. Although I try not judge others for their choice of diction,  I chose to change mine, and did so overnight. 

I can be short-tempered, but rarely with my dogs, funny how that happens. I have all the patience in the world for those that are learning, and far less for those that blame their dog for their lack of success. I don’t drink soft drinks and haven’t had any form of caffeine in over 20 years. I can be a pretty wound up personality, so to add caffeine into the mix was never a pretty sight (water, herbal tea and beer are pretty much the only fluids I drink). I am a bit of a health nut and try not to eat white (bread, flour, sugar)  or anything with artificial sweeteners.

I avoid using a microwave or eating pre-packaged frozen foods whenever I can. I have a sweet tooth but can not have anything with chocolate in it. I love to work out, however lately I have fallen out of rhythm with my morning ritual. I am very much a morning person, 5-5:30 am is my time of the day.

I sometimes get myself in trouble by speaking my mind. Occasionally the filter between my brain and my mouth doesn’t work as well as it should and I feel the need to speak out, especially if I think there has been an injustice done to someone. If I am intolerant of anything, it would be that of dishonesty, prejudice and hypocrisy.

I love to observe people, to see if they treat a waitress or chamber maid with the same respect they treat me or someone they think is “worthy of their respect.” I am a person of few close friends rather than many causal ones. Although I love to entertain, and we often have people stay at our home for camps, reunions, you name it,  John and I are private people that rarely go out anywhere when we get time at home.

My favourite colour is green, but I rarely wear it and all my life I have had an obsession with the number 35. I have no idea when it started but it has been with me since I was a kid. I am not a particular superstitious person, but that number follows me everywhere. I wore number 35 in hockey when I was young and later in basketball as well. I paid $135,000 for the first house I ever bought. I started dating John when I was 35 and won my first USDAA GP Nationals when I was 35. I could go on, but then I fear you would run like frightened children the next time you saw me.

I have an eclectic taste in music. My ipod includes everything from HipHop to Classical to Christian Rock to Country to Rap and most everything in between. I am obsessive about music. If I like a song I can put it on repeat and let the same song play for 8 or 9 hours and I have done so on more than one occasion. 

I constantly remind myself of something Greg Louganis told me years ago,”Where ever I go, I want to leave that place a bit better than before I came”. I take this to heart, even when we stop at a truck stop to refuel the RV, so while I am picking up after my dogs, I will pick up one extra piece of trash. I love puppies, nothing makes me laugh out loud as much as a puppy. I don’t understand how people can tell me they just ‘tolerate’ their puppies and can’t wait until they grow up.  I have a tatoo, it is of Winnie-the-Pooh giving Piglet a hug. I will leave it up to your imagination to figure out exactly where that tatoo is located.

I am dyslexic, although it wasn’t diagnosed until I was in university. I also have two brothers who are as well. As a kid I was a voracious reader. I would go through a Nancy Drew novel every week. The Mystery of the 99 Steps was the bomb man!  When I was 10 or 11 years old I started to really struggle with my reading. Within a few minutes of starting to read a line, each word would grow on the page, right before my eyes, so that one word filled the entire page. It would be like a switch would go off in my head and the words would start growing. It made it difficult to read, as I had to do it one word at a time, waiting for that word to get smaller before I could see the next one. My mother took me to a ophthalmologist and I will never forget that day. He turned on the lights, when he was finished his exam, brought his chair very close, looked me in the eye, put his hand on my shoulder and said “Susan, what would you say if I told you there was nothing wrong with your EYES?”  The implication was that perhaps I was not right in the head and I was just making up the whole “growing words story”. That was the last time I spoke about my reading issue until I was in university when I saw an episode of  60 minutes (or one of those news-magazine shows) on dyslexia. There they talked about laying a coloured film  over what you were reading to stop the words from growing.  For me the colour that worked best was yellow. For the rest of my university days every book I read, I did with a yellow film over it. When I graduated I swore I would never read another book and I never did until Greg Louganis asked me to read his autobiography about ten years ago. That is what started me reading again, funny enough, the words now rarely

Christmas dinner at the Garrett household, circa 1970's. (I think I took the picture).

Christmas dinner at the Garrett household, circa 1970's. (I think I took the picture).

 grow. Rather than reading,  I was always good at observing people and mimicking what they did. I am the 7th child in my family (I have one brother and one sister that are younger). My brother Brent, who is four years older than I, is mentally handicapped as a result of a childhood accident. He is the next oldest to me in my family.  When he was eight years old,  my brothers took him onto the boulevard in the front of our house to teach him to ride a two-wheeler bike. I was the youngest at the time and don’t really remember much of this story but have heard my brother repeat it many times since.  After a hour or so of trying to teach Brent to ride the bike they gave up and were heading back to the house when I piped up that I wanted a turn. They all laughed at me and told me I was too little. I would not accept that and within minutes I was riding that bike.

When I was eight years old,  my brother Steve (the next oldest to Brent) was 13 and fell and broke his right arm on the last day of school. He was in a cast all summer and had to try and write with his left hand. He was terrible at it and I remember thinking I could do better. So I started to practice, you know, just in case I broke my arm:). I would write with my left hand so much I became pretty good at it. Then I saw comedian Jonathan Winters on the Johnny Carson show writing two different thoughts one with each hand at the same time. I had a new challenge but alas, I could never conquer that one.  

I have always loved sports and played in the Ontario Winter Games three times and a teenager. When I play sports I mixed up my hand choices as I played. I shot hockey left handed but golfed right handed. I throw a baseball with my right hand but kick a soccer ball with my left foot.  

Even though neither one of my parents had more than a high school diploma, my mother insisted that each of us go to university. However with 9 of us, we had to finance it ourselves. I went away to school and paid my own way through four years, by milking cows and not living beyond my means. I just love cows, they really crack me up. I was determined back then, that cows were going to be a part of my livelihood. However a firmer hand changed the course of my life’s passion as I developed a violent allergy to cows.

I dabbled in horses (showed up to Medium 1 Dressage) before I turned back to dogs (I used to help my sister in the conformation ring as a kid). I am absent-minded to a fault, if that is possible, John compares my memory to a fart in a colander. One of my greatest attributes is my ability to visualize things. I can put myself anywhere, even places I have never been, especially if I can see pictures of that place. Hence, I have no problem visualizing runs before I run them. However I absolutely can not visualize things as you describe them to me with spoken word alone,  but strangely enough, can do it if you make hand gestures or motion a line on the palm of your hand to demonstrate what you mean. So if you are on the phone describing an agility run to me, telling me what obstacles were where—just know I will be somewhere else mindlessly agreeing with you until you are finished, as I can not imagine spoke descriptions, no matter how hard I try. Strange eh?

I have a long list of mentors; those I know personally, those I have met only once and some that I have never met. Perhaps that will be another blog posting.

There you have it.  I have no idea why I wrote it, but I know there is a reason somewhere, perhaps one of you has some weird psych paper that is due next week.

Today I am grateful for potpourri of experiences that have uniquely allowed me to become me.