Archive for the ‘Dog Training: Handling’ Category


Party Crasher at Novice Camp

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Snapping Turtle

Pre-historic visitor to agility camp!

Well Novice camp started off with some excitement as this young lady decided she needed to lay her eggs right at the end of my opening sequence!  Every year at the end of May-first week of June, the turtles come up from the pond to lay their eggs. We have two varieties, the cutie-putie type painted turtles and the sort picture here which are snapping turtles.  

The snappers, luckily for us, prefer the water in our woods behind our house at it is a running creek.  The dogs never go back there as the brush is pretty thick. The only worry is this time of year when they come up onto our hay field to lay eggs.

It was entertaining for all of us, as it usually is each year, but this girl wouldn’t leave us alone!   John put up a snow fence to keep the dog’s away from her while she finished her job but once she was done she came up onto the agility field to get a closer look. That is when John loaded her into this wheel barrow to take her back to the woods.

After that adventure was over we all settled into have quite a great camp! It was suggested throughout camp on several occasions that “that was a gem Susan, you have to post it to your blog” so here I will leave you with one of them.

I commented to the group to not be concerned about the speed of their novice dogs. I spend a lot of time rewarding my young dogs close at my hips or “reinforcement zone” as Greg Derrett coined the phrase. In the midst of sequences I will often reward a dog for driving back to RZ. For this reason they are not all “launchy” and “powerful” when we start running courses together.

I used the example of Feature and Encore. When each of them came out most people commented on how “slow”  each one looked. At Feature’s first two trials she could not get within 3 seconds of any of Encore’s times. Only a couple of weeks ago John said to me he thought she would never be as fast as Encore. Well even though that would not change how I felt about her, I was pretty sure John was wrong and she proved it last weekend at the Ontario Regionals.

You shouldn’t want your novice dogs to be frantically grabbing obstacles, squirreling around like mad. The power and the speed will come, but the time spent working on the finesse will pay off down the road. It is far easier to teach collection and thoughtfulness to your young dog before they realize they are equipped with a 400 horsepower engine and a set of Pireili tires– then after!

Today I am grateful for the improvement every dog and handler showed over the 2 days at the camp formerly known as “Novice” camp.  See you all next year at “Growing the Teamwork Camp!”


I Don’t Get It . . .

Saturday, June 6, 2009

So I am looking over my registrations for the upcoming Novice camp this week and I don’t quite get it. Why do people trip over themselves to get into a masters camp (we have been full for some time for our July Masters camp) but do not want to make the investment in their novice dog? (as I write this we still have 3 spots open for camp this week).  I won’t give you another one of my foundation, foundation, foundation rants (ok I just did:)) but to me it is a head scratcher.

My “novice” dog Feature just debuted at her first “big event.” Her only fault was one knocked bar in her last class (4th to last obstacle). In the three classes where I didn’t have to hold her contacts; Jumpers1, Jumpers2 and Steeplechase Finals, no dog in any height class beat her time except Encore (but only by a few hundreds of a second). She didn’t just beat your run-of-the-mill-dogs’ times here either, as there were more than a half a dozen current and former Canadian and US World Team dogs in that group.

I am not writing this just to boast about how great my young dog is. My point is that this “novice” dog of mine has a career that is exactly four months old.  She just turned two this month and is already performing like a pro. She still has lots to learn, but the start has been an impressive one, even by my standards. 

Now here is the kicker. This is not the first time this has happened to me. Feature is actually my seventh agility dog I have owned throughout my lifetime and every single one of them have been great. Every single won of them has won National or World championships events or both. When I won my first US Nationals with “Stoni” back in 1996 people said it was  “fluke.” After more than a decade of winning with my dogs, doing it in every jump height (7 jump heights in all) I am going to go out on a limb and state I am pretty confident it is more than luck that is behind the success.

I know I can help those of you struggling with dogs making novice mistakes. Why is it then that  you wait until your dog is in Masters before you seek out help? By then a lot of bad habits have been set for you and your dog and change becomes more difficult. Life is so much easier if you start with a solid foundation of understanding in your novice dog.

This past January, Greg and Laura Derrett and I ran 2 camps in Florida. The first one was a novice-advanced level 3 day event. The 2nd was a 3 day masters. Guess what, the masters camp was full in a matter of days, the novice one never even approached half full. In the end, I had Greg and Laura teach the camp on their own and I changed my role to that of student where got to work Feature for the 3 days. It worked out awesome for me, that is for certain! It was amazing to get in 3 solid days of work with my “green” dog just before she was about to start her agility career.

This week marks the first summer in 5 years we have offered a novice camp here at Say Yes. I did it because I really believe it is where the focus should be, but now I realize why I stopped offering them in the past. So what gives? Do you want to come to a masters workshop because you think you may be missing out on some ninja secrets if you only do the Novice camp?  Honesty it would be more the opposite. We teach more concepts in a Novice camp and only work the finesse of those concepts at the Masters level.

So what’s up, how do I (we) motivate those of your with novice dogs or even masters dogs that are still struggling with fundamentals to sign up for a novice handling camp? It is so important but how do I convince all of you out there of it’s importance?

Today I am grateful for a weekend at home. The next three weeks are going to be a whirlwind for me but I promise all of you I will not forget you, the blog will be up and running.


An Epidemic of “Buck Fever”

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My observations from the Ontario regionals this week can be summed up by a comment I am borrowing from a friend. I was talking to a business colleague yesterday and he used the phrase “Buck Fever.”  He spoke about how a marksman on the practice range can hit any target in any situation or environmental stressor. However put that same shooter out in the bush with the adrenaline pumping and he can’t hit the broad side of a barn. Now as a vegan I may not be crazy about an analogy of hunting down a defenseless animal, however the point is a good one and one I saw played out a lot at the Ontario regionals this past weekend.

I saw many competitors, some my students, some just people I have seen at trials in the past that normally execute pretty well. Their handling choices are normally decent, decision making about “what to do if things do not go as planned” is generally instinctively good. However put these people in a “big event” such as the Ontario regionals and they are stricken with Buck Fever.

Suddenly handling becomes less sensible and more erratic, feet don’t move when they should and the mouth goes when it shouldn’t. At home or in an “regular weekend trial” this doesn’t happen. The biggest problem is that your dog counts on your calm, insightful direction to get him around the course. Once Buck Fever hits, your handling resembles someone juiced up on triple expresso swatting at an annoying mosquito in the dark. 

So what is the antidote to Buck Fever? This may be depressing for some of you but, the best antidote to Buck Fever is success. The more you rehearse being at a big event and handling the way you want the more likely it is that you will be able to do it again and again.  Of course immunity starts only with a solid understanding of dog training and handling. There is no cure without consistency away from the big events. Remember you need to be able to hit the easy targets at home first!

I still suffer from occasional minor bouts of BF myself, especially when I run a new dog for the first time. However just like your immune system, recovery is faster the more you have fought it off in the past. So this past weekend my standard, jumpers and Steeplechase runs with Feature where all pretty good.  I was completely relaxed (cold due to the weather but relaxed) going in. Even on Saturday where it was Day One and we were the first team on the line to start the competition, we ran well and she was only a few tenths of a second behind Encore who won the class. No BF for me here.

Where I did get hit a bit was in the Gamblers class. Quiet honestly it is because I rarely do Gamblers in Canada and it is a lot harder than anywhere else in the world (to start there is a minimum of 18′ distance challenge).

The first step to overcoming BF for all of us is to rehearse success.  Don’t wait for it, go out and create your own success. Since the judge won’t let us have a “do over” you need to rehearse this success in your mind before you go in.  Run your run many times before you step to the line. Then when you actually step into the ring you are on one of your “do overs.”  You should know exactly where every obstacle is, how you plan on executing,  what your next move is and when you need to leave to get there.

Recently someone posed a question to the blog about what to do when your visualization before a run turns to crap.  When you can’t seem to visualize your run without your dog going off course or knocking a bar. Here is a secret I learned from my good friend Greg Louganis. It is a good one, so take note. Allow it to happen. Don’t visualize only the perfect runs. If you brain needs to open the door where crap happens, go ahead and look in through that door.  Acknowledge that that scenario is one of many possible outcomes. How are you feeling? Did you cause the error?  How can you compensate for it?  Adjust and finish that run with your ‘blip’ in it. Acknowledge that you still love your dog just as much even though you didn’t run perfectly together. There is still no world peace and the outcome of your run hasn’t changed anything of any real importance in your life. Now you should be able to close the door of failure and go back to visualizing success. 

Learn from your struggles to visualize. I struggled visualizing my second gamblers runs this weekend with both Encore and Feature but I ignored it. Perhaps next time this happens I will look at possibly altering my opening plan until I could visualize it well and go with what I have succesfully run in my own mind. This is not, by any means, all the mental prep anyone needs to do well in sport, but it is a start.

 Realize that Buck Fever hits everyone hard at some point in their career but it is not fatal. It is a normal process for anyone putting themselves out there to be judged in any walk of life. It is simply an affliction that attacks our humility.  A full recovery can be expected.  You can build your immunity first by improving your handling and dog training skills.  However resistance to disease does come with continued exposure. So don’t step away from your chance to perform under pressure, you will get better eventually. Everyone that sticks with it does. Rather than judging yourself, learn from your experiences and as the slogan from this weekend says, learn to “enjoy the ride.”

Today I am grateful for the booster shot against Buck Fever that I received this weekend. Just like most inoculations, it often hurts at first, but the long term benefits are worth the momentary pain.


How Handling Systems are like Spandex

Thursday, May 14, 2009

We had a full day of handling here yesterday and another one planned for today. Double box times two! Yesterday was a group of mostly high drive dogs, 11 of the 14 being over-the-top Border Collies.  For the most part, all of the dogs worked very well.  However, at the end of the day, I had to give the group, a little collective smack down. I was a bit miffed at the fact that of all the dogs working, there were only 2 that had a solid start line (one of which was one of my instructors).  

Even if you are a lightening fast runner, having a dog that you can count on to wait at the start line will be a benefit to you throughout your career. I personally believe that the lead out is critical to a dog learning that your body position remaining motionless in a certain spot, translates to an upcoming turn.  This understanding of “positional cues” is an important part of Greg Derrett’s handling system, thus a solid start line is a big help when running in Greg’s system.

You may notice that I rarely talk about handling on this blog. Handling systems are definitely a matter of personal choice. I have been a fan’s of Greg Derrett’s system since my first introduction almost 10 years ago. However, I don’t write much about handling here because I want this blog to be a welcomed source of dog training to everyone. Handling discussions have the potential to divide people into defensive positioning of “us” against “them.”  Although, I am thrilled with the results I have gotten with all of my dogs while  following Greg’s system, I respect the right for all to handle how they feel is best for the dog.  

Handling system preferences have definitely created some “cliques” at agility trials. It is so easy for innocently intending comments to be overheard and turned into fuel for such a climate. It is my wish that this attitude doesn’t prevent anyone from learning from the information that I share here or in my newsletters.   Don’t get me wrong, I have very strong opinions when it comes to my own handling choices, but, just like wearing spandex, it is a matter of personal preference and that has got to be okay.  

At the risk of sounding altruistic, I will tell you that my vision for this blog is to create an atmposphere of inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness.   I want it to be a place for anyone (regardless of handling preferences) who is interested in good, science-based dog training, to ask questions, share their thoughts and collectively help dogs everywhere to be better understood. To this end, handling discussions will be kept to a minimum, however I will occasionally wear spandex as I type.

Today it is Feature’s 2nd birthday and I can’t tell you how blessed I feel to have her influencing my dog training and my life.


A Special Gift for You!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lots of great lessons were discovered during my recent time out west. There is one lesson though, that I find myself repeating over and over again when I teach, and yet still I don’t see the change in people’s behaviour.  You know the old saying “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.”  Just like in dog training, if you don’t get the results you hope for, you need to look at your approach to your problem. I have changed my approach to this deliemma ALOT over the years while teaching people. My efforts have produced only moderate success at getting people to alter their behaviour. In my opinion this could be the single biggest reason why dogs stress in agility. It could be responsible for the dogs that stress low exhibiting their stress with sniffing, wandering off, shutting down and also why dogs stress high–running off to do “zoomies” or just grabbing obstacles without their handlers. I have no science to back up my theory, but if this isn’t the biggest reasons dogs slow down or lose focus on their handlers in agility, it sure is r-e-a-l-l-y close to the top. 

So what is the reason? To find out you have to sign up to my newsletter. I just completed a podcast for everyone and for now it is free for all to download. Remember I said if you don’t see the change you are looking for in your training you need to change your approach, so this is my change of approach. You get to have me yakking in your ear for ten minutes to try and drive my point home to you.

If you receive my newsletter you will have already been given the link to the podcast download. If you don’t get the newsletter go to  my website now and a new pop up subsription form will be waiting to greet you there.

Please everyone after you listen to the podcast be sure to come back and leave a comment here to let me know what you think of it.

Today I am grateful that the internet dude is coming to fix my connection today, love Starbucks, but love convenience more!


MAC Trial

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Well another one in the books. It was cold and snowy here the first day I arrived in Minnesota, well dah. It is Minnesota and it is February! A really well run trial. The girls from Omaha were up and I have to thank Brittney and Dana for making sure my runs got videoed. Some of the runs were a dog’s breakfast.  The  footing was new for me and my dogs, very deep, loose footing. Great for landing, nice and soft for the dogs but very tough for my short little legs to run through. Feature adjusted well and won all her classes on Sunday. She now needs only 2 legs to move into Masters. Encore and I OTOH had the worst weekend of agility we have ever had together. She had a few bars down in her first run but Carol Smorch worked on her and it really made a big difference.  She did have some very pretty runs, winning Standard today and getting the odd other leg but I am just not used to her and I not being in ‘sync’ when we run together. It is like she is driving so hard and fast she is anticipating where the course will go rather than allowing me to show her. My back has been bothering me off and on for the last few months so I am not moving as well as I used to, plus I am in the worst shape I have been in in the last few years. I am sure that all of that has some impact on her. I will have to study the video tapes both from Florida and from Minnesota and see what I may be missing because her consistency is not the way it should be and certainly is not typical for missy En.  The highlight of the weekend, aside from the great company, would have to be the two girlies each winning their height class in the Grand Prix on Saturday.  Here is the video.  Judge Cherie Whittenburg put up a challenging but fun course, I for one obviously enjoyed running it!  

I teach for the next two days here in Minnesota before I head down to Wisconsin on Wednesday where I start a five day teaching stint there. 

Today I am grateful for the new friends I am meeting in Minnesota, great hospitality and the dry roads for driving:)


A New Goal for All of Us to Aim For

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The trial I was at on Friday was a small one. There were two standard runs and in the second one, Feature was the only 26″ dogs (video included below).  However with this very small trial there where still 3 people (that I knew of) competing (and doing very well) that were between 77-81 years old!  I mean they were really impressive! It was truly inspiring, really. One of them was struggling a bit to run hard as he had a bit of a bad leg, but the other two were running hard, I am pretty sure they could have out-run me (ok no jokes any of you that have seen me run). Around mid-day I was leash running for one of the biggest class of the day and started whining a bit about why did I have to pick the largest class to leash run, and why would I pick leash-running in the first place?  All that bending over, picking up and moving those leashs back and forth. You know, the usual belly-aching, all done very tongue in check mind you, cutting up in front of my friends. Anyway I laughed out loud to myself when I saw one of these gently-aging competitors leash-running for the VERY LAST CLASS OF THE DAY!  So we all were moaning about what a long day we had, running all those extra runs, yada, yada, yada and here this lady in her late seventies was leash running for that same big class I had done earlier in the day!

Anyway here are a couple of Feature’s runs from Friday. The first one is her standard run where she thought about her nose touch on the seesaw a bit too late, but quickly righted what she felt was an obvious wrong by pulling the seesaw back down to do her job properly. Entertaining for all of us, including the judge. And no, I never ask her to do this in practice. I don’t believe in putting a dog back on the end of the contact if they have come off for any reason (I would prefer to have them repeat the entire obstacle).  The next run is her last jumpers run of the day. She makes me laugh how she has to “pose” at the start line, stretching out as long as she can and then before I release her, she shifts her weight into her rear engine, like she is engaging the power-boasters before take off.  She just cracks me up.

Near the end of the day I was chatting with an Ontario agility legend, Shirley McRitchie.  Shirley turned 80 last year and still runs two very fast mini dogs (a Sheltie and an Eskie). Not that long ago Shirley won our Ontario regionals with one of her American Eskimos. Did I mention she will be 81 this year!!!! So Penny and I are moaning about our aching bodies and Shirley tells us she has been volunteering at the Ontario Provincial Curling Championships all week (and this is Canada where Curling is a HUGE sport). Yes, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday she does everything from selling stuff in the souvenir booth, to selling tickets at the door, to working in the snack bar. She shows up Friday morning bright and early to run agility  (aaah yeah, she also lives an hour drive away–of course she drove alone:)). She runs her two dogs all day, up to and including the very last class, collects her boat-load of ribbons and heads out in a hurry because she is working at the Championships again first thing Saturday morning. HOLY CRAP!! This lady rocks I tell you (no curling pun intended).

During the conversation Shirley says to me “so are you going to make a goal of trying to run dogs in agility when you are 80?” I tell her, “Shirley I am way to competitive for that, what ever you do I want to do one year more, so keep on kickin’ it and set that bar high for me!”  I know she will.

Today I am grateful for amazing competitors like Shirley McRitchie who help to make a day at an agility trial, time very well spent.