Running the “baby” dog

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Well Feature and I had a chance to get to know each other better as a dog and handler team while we were in Florida. First of all, we worked together at camp for three days and then we had two weekends of trialing. I have to say bringing out a new dog is one of the few times I still get nervous in agility anymore. I think it is the unknown factor. At a world championships I am excited, but I know my dog and know if I do my job she will do hers. There isn’t all of those unknowns that there is with a dog in the ring for the first time like; Did I train enough? Is she mentally mature enough? How will she react to the judge? The other dogs, the leash runners and other distractions found at a trial? Did I prepare the dog well enough at home before I have taken her to her first trial?  You shouldn’t have any of these questions with your older dogs, but no one can be really certain to the answers of those questions with a baby dog.  Ideally, if you have done your foundation work, these questions will be more or less answered in your first couple of runs. 

When I think of my first three agility dogs; Shelby, Stoni and Twister, all were phenomenal dogs, all were National Champions, as a matter of fact between the three of them they won 12 National Championships, however my level of confidence of what I would get in the ring was not there for years with them (and for Twister it took most of her career before I had that level of confidence.) By way of contrast, Encore won both a Grand Prix and a Steeplechase class when she was 18 month of age.  Feature at 20 months old, came 2nd in the Grand Prix in Florida and qualified in both of her Steeplechase classes (coming 4th in one and 2nd in round one). The difference is the work I do away from the equipment, that and Greg Derrett’s handling system. Foundation work allows me to keep mistakes down to a minimum when the dog does get in the ring. I don’t work my dogs on ‘real’ agility equipment until they are 14 or 15 months old, by that time they understand how to weight shift to drive into contact position and are less likely to make mistakes. Greg’s system allows the young dog to understand my movements right from the start. It is all dog training really. That is why the Greg’s system works so well with my dog training program. It is all just science. Dog training is science and handling is just dog training. You have trained your dog to sit, you give a cue to “sit” and the should respond, immediately. When you handle, you give cues with your body; arm changes, motion or positional or occasionally verbal cues. You should have the same expectancy with those cues as you do with all of your other dog training. It is all just science, it is black and white and once you understand how it works both you and your dog will be much happier. How well you have taught your handling cues and how consistent you are with their use will indicate how much success you will have with your young dog in the ring.

Here is collection of some moments that Feature and I had at the trials in Florida, I put in some great ones and some not so great ones to show she is still a baby and she and I are still learning about each other. She is learning the boundaries of my criteria and I am learning to gauge her speed (which I failed miserable at several times). Overall I couldn’t have been more happy with her performance, in and out of novice in two weekends.

Today as I look at the early accomplishments of my youngster,  I am grateful to Bob and Marion Bailey and all they added to my understanding of dog training.



  1. Congrats!!! I too have just started my baby dog (my second agility dog) and couldn’t agree more. All the foundation work before doing any actual agility is amazing. I did my job and he did his – it was such an amazing feeling! We went 6 for 6 (all with perfect scores) and are now in Open – he actually won his first Open Jumpers run! I am excited to take him to USDAA in a few months. Thank you for all the information and amazing foundation work that gave me the tools to create this incredible dog!!!!!

  2. Always inspirational to see the level of your dogs’ understanding, Susan. Congratulations on a wonderful debut with Feature!

  3. I wonder if perhaps you could post the youtube addy for your video clips in your blog, for those of us who are illegally reading it at work and have youtube blocked by our mean employers. 🙂 If we have the addy, we can still watch the clips by converting them at another illegal website. Thanks!

    Lee Baragona

  4. Hi Lee, that is way too funny, I feel like some sort of accomplice but today’s video clip can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6saVHnbu6RM

  5. Well done and very exciting!

    How do you feel about her running A-frame contacts now that you’re trialling her?

    And an idea for a future blog: addressing mistakes on course. What are some ways you do this? I saw some ways in the video – just wondered if you could talk about this a bit – how you decide what to do, etc.

  6. I am glad you wrote this post today Susan as my mindset was on training and its philosophy. A few years back I went to a seminar given by Kay Laurence from England. She demonstrated the clicker and shaping as a tool for training. I was hooked, it changed my outlook totally. Recently I borrowed a DVD on obedience training. A well known (no name) trainer was showing how to teach obedience including CDX skills as that is where I am at with Trudy. Comparison No. 1 from Kay to No Name was drop on recall, Kay – throw treat – dog runs chomps treat, say down, dog drops, click throw next treat, start over. No Name – dog on leash, you back up, command down, give a pop, dog to drop, dog not dropping fast enough, toss a small bean bag on its head to drop. Comparison No. 2 is the Retrieve – Kay, shape like most shapers do, entice, build, play. Susan you have some wonderful articles on this. No Name, after initial play, give them that credit, sit on chair, another person sitting on chair, dog squished in middle, knees to knees (dog in the middle), one person pinches ear, the other puts the dumbbell in the ear. Wow, blow me away. Was I ever disappointed as I thought I was going to be mesmorized by this touted expert. Such old school force mentality.

    Well, my thinking is that perhaps unfortunately in obedience you can force the dog to the water, but in agility you cant make him drink the water. Agility really makes us as handlers work hard. To build drive and I am really learning a lot in this department, we really need to put our thinking caps on. (There are just as many good trainers however as bad trainers in any sport. In obedience I have had the luxury of seeing fantastic dogs with awesome loving handlers, just needed to say that, it was more this DVD of No Name that totally disappointed me).

    I have two Springers, Bob, crazy fool, not really, but he is Mr. Silly, born happy. He will work forever. As discussion went recently, perhaps its because he is a male (that is another discussion!). Second dog, Trudy, kooky is a better word for her, not a spook but very aware and sensitive. No heavy hand would work with her. She is a shaping demon. I have learned from the luxury of Lynda Orton-Hill recently coming to Ottawa, to push that envelope. I am fortunate to have caught Lynda’s eye that there was a piece missing. I had desire to work with Trudy, she had desire to work with me but we needed some more input. Trudy now looks at me in the house and says, are we gonna work now. Christine Boisvert is my resource and coach that is keeping us honest with our training and shaping. My next step is to take the journey to go to a Say Yes camp. They fill so fast so I will have to watch your list even more.

    Aside from all this rambling, I cant say enough on how thrilled I am that I started agility. Such a bond with our dogs.

    Question (finally), when working and training your dog, how often would you train, how long. Young or old I think teaching anything no matter how positive would wear a dog down. I had the luxury of watching an expert in our area go and train once where I happened to be training. She came in, did a few things, dogs were totally hyped, little play and was gone. It must have taken her maybe 20 minutes. I have two dogs so I trade between the two so that I am not continually working the one dog.

    I would really love to hear how others train and of course Susan definitely how you achieved your success with your young dog.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this and I would really love to hear back from such an interesting group and of course you Susan!!


  7. Wow she’s lovely, amazing weave entry at 40 secs! Love it!

  8. Your post brought back memories of my youngster, Indy’s first run.
    I had already been competing reasonably well with my two older dogs so should have been confident that I actually knew what I was doing with dog number three.
    Not so.
    Waiting to go in the ring, I felt sick.
    I was bricking it as a I walked to the line.
    I had absolutely no idea what to expect and I felt totally and utterly out of my depth.
    I led out, released her and off we went. Well, the first half was a total disaster. By obstacle eight we finally found our rhythm and the finish was sweet! I got a taste of what we both could achieve together, and it felt good.
    Whay was I so nervous? I wasn’t nervous stepping up to the line at the AAC Nationals Steeplechase final. I suppose it was fear of the unknown. Just as you mentioned, how would she react to the judge, the leash runner, the ring crew. With the older dog, that’s a known entity.
    Good post, Susan.


  9. Great entry & video…love the sound choice ‘Be careful what you wish for as you might just get it’ hmmmm…understanding and independence with weaves, great jumping and SUPER SPEED….

  10. Wow! You guys rock and she looks fast! I’m more than a little jealous of your startline.

  11. I enjoyed watching Feature’s latest video and am curious as to which method you used to teach her a running a-frame.

  12. Awwww, congratulations! She has a great agility, I’m impressed!

  13. Awesome!! I start my baby dog in a few weeks so I know how you feel 🙂

  14. WOW! I’m impressed and captivated! Really beautiful work with Feature. 🙂

  15. This is wonderful to see…and only 20 months old. Great Job!

    I am hopeful that my pup will have the same confidence on course.

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