Archive for the ‘Dog Training: Skills’ Category


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.


Susan Salo Workshop At Say Yes

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

IMG_4150Susan Salo is here for the next week, although a few of us are sneaking out on the weekend to support our one and only USDAA trial in Ontario.  Susan has been coming around here so long now, I am sure our absence won’t be noticed!  We have a great group of “repeaters” here for Susan’s mid-week workshop.  “Repeaters” being, people that have worked with Susan on multiple occasions.

As usual Susan started off with a brief morning lecture. And again as usual, Susan had some profound logic to share with us all.  Often times Susan is just phrasing common sense in a

Lynda's Favor working at Susan Salo's workshop.way that affects people differently that day. One comment she made yesterday  morning I felt necessary to really emphasize for all. I added that it was sage advise applicable to all of dog training when Susan said of jumping “it is important that you never have a static lesson plan. Read your dog after each repetition and know what he needs at that point. Be flexible and willing to adapt your plan for that session to suit the current needs of the dog.”   

I think of this statement as it relates to people following the 2×2 method of weave pole training. The DVD presents a lesson plan to train or re-train your dog. However it may not be in your dog’s best interest to try to keep up with the pace that I set with the dogs that use for I demonstrations.  You shouldn’t try to push a dog along if his actions and success rate is telling you he is not ready for a bigger challenge.

Another gem I got from Susan was when we were discussing the current popular practice of punishing dogs for dropped bars (something neither Susan nor I approve of). Susan’s comment was; “you can not prepare for peace while you are a planning for war” when she was describing the conflict of trying to build a jump education while using punishment. 

Those of you struggling with teaching your dogs to jump please know it is not an overnight or even an over-month fix. It is a career long process and perfection is elusive, all you can aim for is a constant improvement. For the sake of the dog, that has got to be enough for you. If you do not have a current jump education program for your dog, I strongly recommend Susan Salo’s Jumping DVD as a place to start.  When you get it, print of the PDF that is on the disc and follow along from that handout while you watch the DVD.  It is never to late to go back and give your dog a new beginning!

Today I am grateful for the continual improvement I have seen with my own dog’s jump education.


Jumping into Spring, literally

Monday, May 4, 2009

Well I am feeling a bit better today so I thought I should try and train my dogs. Because we have grass that is green and not too soggy I thought I should fire up my jump grids for the girls.  Susan Salo will be here in a couple of weeks, and it is not like I am “cramming” or anything because I have been doing grids, but only inside on carpet. When working on carpet the grids are mostly focused on keeping the dog’s rear under them when they jump. Susan’s “spider” is a great exercise to facilitate that. I mix it up by doing spreads (both ascending and parallel)11_wks_jump_step_in2 Sweedish oxers to make them think harder and I throw in the long jump. I also make sure the girls see movement from me while in the spider and occassionally I will let them load themselves (I do this by allowing them to start 6′ away from the “V” point of the spider. I will start my grid work outside today by reminding both girls of how a spider feels outside.  For those that have know idea of what I am talking about I have included a picture but I highly reccommed you hop on our website and buy Susan Salo’s Jumping DVD.  I have included a picture of the spider so you get the idea of what I am talking about. In Susan’s DVD she includes a pdf which has plans on how to make one for yourself.  Here training Feature as a puppy I have bumps down rather than jump bars (obviously she was  wee puppy!). When I train my adult dogs there are no bumps just 1 bar across the jump. This is a great exercise for dogs that want to “pull on their front end” rather than loading from the rear.

Today I am very grateful that my health is on the upswing!


Recalls; a worthwhile investment

Monday, April 20, 2009

Anytime I do a foundation workshop I mention the tremendous importance I put on a  good recall. Not only is it lifesaving, everything grows from it. Focus for work, focus for you, the ability to control your dog at a distance and even handling gets a head start with a great recall. A dog that responds to your cues with a knee-jerk quickness, even when in full stride, will make a better agility dog. This weekend at the end of Skills Camp my instructors joined me and my dogs on our walk around the field.  Everyone worked on something recall related. Jane worked on loose leash walking in the face of extreme excitement. Penny and Tracy worked on recalls while Lynda and I worked on control at a  distance.  All the while the dogs where just enjoying a walk around the field. All of this gets mixed together as you are always training. Regardless if you “feel like it” or not, you are training your dog to do something. Most behaviours erode during the other 23 hours of the day when you are not “formally” training. Dogs are always learning, you can’t turn that off.  Penny had trained a great recall when her dog Teagan was a puppy. However ignoring the reinforcement the dog earned from her environment allowed another response to be trained over the next couple of years. Lately Teagan has been checking out her options rather than coming right away. Her preference is to herd my dogs rather than to come to Penny each time she asks. You think this will effect her responding to body cues on an agility course? You betchya! You will also see how we test recalls with Tracy’s 6 month old puppy “Matrix.”  As the song suggests “we got two lives, one we’re given the other one we make.” Nothing of value comes easy and everything we’ve got, we’ve got the hard way, by constantly being aware of what reinforces the dog throughout his life. Training never stops, the dog is always learning something weather you want him to or not!  Once you have a great recall, you need to continue to grow it, as I demonstrate in the video. Rather than constantly calling my dogs back to me, I ask for other responses when they are at a distance.  For a great plan to improve your recall, check out the article on my website Deposits into Your Recall Account . The key is to not allow your dog off leash until you have the verbal control that is demonstrated here.  If you can’t control the dog’s access to reinforcement, the only thing you have left to try is harsh punishment. As the old saying goes “violence begins where knowledge ends”.  That just is not an option for me. My relationship with my dogs trumps everything and the truth is, not only will you not get the joy to follow up on cues that these dogs demonstrate, training with physical punishment will never give you the control that I have when the threat of your punishment is gone (such as when the dog is too far away or when the e-collar is not on).  Reinforcement is the only thing that can build behaviour. So until the time you have trained the squirrels and the cats to listen to you, your dog should not have access to chase them (as they give reinforcement to your dog as he chases them).You need to be able to control the distractions the same way in which we controlled the other dogs when the puppy was not listening. Tracy would not have had her 6 month old puppy off leash in a leash free park where inappropriate choices could have been made. The great great recall history Matrix does have will continue to grow as she learns there is no reinforcement to be earned when you don’t listen to da mama every time she asks you to do something. You don’t want to give your dog the freedom to learn he can ignore cues from you.   Once your dog knows he must always respond to you, there is no distraction that will deter him from doing what you ask.   Please don’t say “oh my recall would be so great too if I had access to private walking areas like that.”  There are excuses, and there are obstacles.  I have not always lived here, and yet every dog I have ever owned has had the same brilliant self control just like my current dogs (yes even when I lived in an apartment).  You may be tired of reading this, but a great recall starts with Crate Games, the beginning of all self control for my dogs.

I never tire of being grateful for the awesome place John and I call home. We are all so happy living here.


Another Rockin’ Puppy Camp

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Well puppy camp was once again a blast. I was very impressed with the way the campers all were able to create focus and drive in some pretty young puppies. The key was “fast and fun” transitions. From the crate to work and back to the crate, including balance breaks (yes that is correct all you that worked with me in BC, we came up with a new name for ‘stress breaks’).  Balance breaks are quick breaks in your shaping sessions used to increase the dog’s excitement level and give both dog and handlers a break from their work. We used to call them “stress breaks” but too many students were taking them to alleviate signs of stress in their dogs (inadvertently rewarding the dogs for stopping their work).  The newly named “balance breaks” gives you balance between using food rewards and playing with toys. The students at puppy camp last week embraced the concept wonderfully. Here is a short clip from last week’s Puppy Camp.  Tomorrow we kick off Skills Camp, another big group coming in from all over (from California to Texas to Minnesota to New Jersey to Alberta and many ports in between!).

Today I am grateful we have scheduled a couple of yoga sessions (for staff and any students that are interested) before Skills camp this weekend (everything packed into one fun adventure!)


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!


Tug Drive

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Well Day 3 of Tweener camp yesterday was as awesome as Days 1 & 2.  The highlights are numerous. One of the cool thing was the tug drive that has been created and maintained by students that have struggled with it in the past. I know Lynda has had private lessons with some of them to work on tugging and it really shows. Can you imagine getting a Schnauzer to tug for the first time at the age of 5? Impressive eh? After years of only using food in training, to now be able to create tug drive is inspiring isn’t it? Well how about the fact that this 5 year old Schnauzer has NO TEETH!  Yep that’s right, he has learned to tug holding the toy between his gums and loving it!  We had a Samoyed that had little tug drive less than a month ago that started the weekend tugging, and was still had it at the end of the 3 day! There are alot of things you can try to help build tug drive. One idea I wrote up and you can retrieve from my website with the article entitled \”How to Create A Motivating Toy\” Often times creating the drive isn’t the problem, it is losing it along the way. As we know all behaviours increase due to reinforcement and, in my opinion,  the number one reason dogs stop tugging is because people reinforce it. Yes you do!  Lets say your puppy was tugging madly and loving it,  so while working a recall the puppy races to you and you put down the toy to tug. However the puppy can smell that garlic liver in your pocket so he won’t tug.  You dance the toy around to try to get the puppy to go after it and finally you shove it in his face, still he won’t be persuaded. The puppy won’t tug. Meanwhile, you think you need to reward him for coming when he was called and since he doesn’t want the tug,  you give him the garlic liver in your pocket .  If I have said it once I have said it a thousand times, “dogs are far better at shaping people than people are at shaping dogs.”  Since reinforcement builds behaviour what did you just reinforce? You rewarded the dog for ignoring the toy and NOT tugging when asked. Reinforcement builds behaviour and that is exactly what you get, a dog that chooses not to tug when asked.

DeCaff diving for her tug toy.

DeCaff diving for her tug toy.

Creating tug drive often involved coming up with unique toys for your dog to tug on. It is no secret that , DeCaff, my Jack Russell Mix’s favourite toy is a plastic flyswatter. It is golden, she just loves it. I used the value for the flyswater to create tug drive for more “normal” tug toys. So at camp this weekend we came up with a list of  unique things that often inspire non-tugging dogs to want to tug. I will post this list later but am appealing to all of you to send in your ideas.  What have you used to create tug drive in a dog that previously was hesitant to tug? Let me know!

Today I am grateful for the gorgeous warm weather we have been having lately. Spring is on the way!