Archive for the ‘My Dogs’ 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.


Positive Results from the Weekend

Monday, June 1, 2009

Another Ontario Regionals has been put to bed. The rain, wind, hail and 9 degree temperature made us all very grateful for the bit of blue sky we saw on occasion on Sunday afternoon.

Our championships up here in Canada are geared towards consistency across the Jumpers, Standard and Gamblers classes.  I tend not to work Gamblers too much at home, so my focus is always to do well in the regular classes. I have been doing more distance work at home but trying to balance with close work as to not lose what I have in my handling relationship with my dogs. Remember balance.

Well, we had an outstanding weekend in the regular classes with either Encore or Feature winning all of the 26″ Jumpers and Standard classes and Feature winning the Steeplechase finals as icing on the cake (Encore ran in 22″ and had a bar in the finals). 

However my lack of focus showed with Feature in Gamblers where I tried mini gamblers (not a good plan with a dog that has had less than 5 months of showing). If I had been more patient and just tried to accumulate points she would have been the overall winner as well. In the end she was 2nd place in the overall championship, 1 point behind Tiffany Salmon’s great (world team) dog “Rio”. In 6 classes Feautre had 2 1st place finishes, 2 fourths and only 1 fault (knocking one of the last bars of her last round of the weekend).

I didn’t bring along my re-charger for my video but Lynda’s husband, Johnnie-videographer-“Spielberg,” caught my runs for me.  This is one of my favourites  however there are a few more up on my youtube site (

Last year I had to sit out the Ontario Regionals as my back went out and for a full week I couldn’t walk without the use of a cane. Even though this past weekend we had to ran in mud, rain, hail and freezing temperatures; I am happy and grateful to report all is well with my health. God is good:)!


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.


Making Great Strides In Just One Day

Friday, March 27, 2009

Good day yesterday in Vancouver. Again a really keen group working in masters handling and luckily for me I had a large number of observers at the workshop as well (I think there was about 20 or so of them). Being day two of the two day workshop I started out as normal, answering questions that may have come up overnight. Then I made a plea to the group to help me with Feature and Encore’s “seminar crap.” I had many people keen to help, so it worked out great. My idea was to move the table the girls had being perched upon and expand it. I moved it closer to where I was teaching plus added another table to go side by side. That way when Feature decided to “kill” her frisbee shaking it like crazy, she wouldn’t bump Encore off of the table. Also there was plenty of room on the two tables for both dogs to sleep (they actually did that at one point during the day). I looked at my problem and realized these poor dogs had been watching other dogs work for two of the last three weeks. Rarely did they get to do a “demo” or get a turn to work and even rarer yet was me giving them a cookie for staying put for an entire day. So a few people donate  to a heaping bowl of various types of yummy dog treats and I placed the bowl nearby. Each time  a dog ran there was at least one volunteer standing near the girls to feed them for acting appropriately. At first they just got fed when any dog ran. Then I put Feature on a leash. If  she jumped off the table while a dog was running, whoever was on patrol at the time would take her leash and hold her off of the table. This meant she could no longer watch as she had a row of chairs with bodies in them in front of her. Within a few repetitions she was no longer jumping off the table with every dog. By the end of the day my dogs (who were likely stuffed full of treats) where much, much quieter and actually relaxed on the table. At the end of the workshop I ran each dog on the final sequence while the other waiting and didn’t make a peep. This reinforcement crap really does work eh? 

Today I am grateful to the slew of people at the workshop that spent time with my dogs in order to help me alter their behaviour. Great people here in the west!


Hanging On to Good Behaviour

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I have been on the road this time exactly one week and already I am seeing some “CRAP” from my dogs. Crap is a word that I have often used while teaching if I don’t like what my students are rewarding. “. . .well that was crap” is something I have said over and over. If you have watched my Success with One Jump you will have seen the out-takes at the end of me using the word over and over. Yes it means; poop, caa-caa, manure, shite, turdaceousness or fecal matter. I have said this so often that Lynda, on of my instructors, came up with an acronym for it. 


                           R= Rewarding



Crap, if you continually reward ambiguous performances in your dog you will get crap behaviour. No way around it, it will never be worthwhile. You may not even realize you are rewarding the behaviour. Like the dog that runs aggressively up and down the yard with the neighbour’s dog on the other side of the fence. That is self-rewarding crap, so your role in the development of that crap may not be as obvious, but the responsibility for you allowing it to happen is still yours. I have been playing the same roll this week in my own dog’s new “Crap”.  My dogs have always been very quiet in their crates or on a table while I work another dog and also while I teach seminars. Lately Encore and Feature have gotten more vocal. I did see this start in Minnesota so I can’t say it has come on all of a sudden, but it has gotten progressively worst.  In the last 2 days Feature has even decided she would occasionally  leave her table to go sniffing while I am teaching. CRAP!  So when they bark, or leave the table I have been giving them a time out, locking the offender in a crate or removing her from the building. N-i-c-e, lets just punish something that you should have been using reinforcement to prevent Susan! So yesterday afternoon I went on the attack. I experimented with ways to stop what I didn’t like by using reinforcement to my advantage,  while not interferring too much with my teaching. So rather than have Feature just hang on the table while I watch handling, I had her lie by the chair I was using. Hmmm, quiet, yet creeping around on her down, not so good. So I took off my shoe and had her put her right paw on it. Putting her right paw on my shoe is a behaviour I shaped a while ago, why? I don’t know, but it came in handy to give her a boundary to observe. That worked for the last couple of hours but I need to alter things because I can see her already changing the criteria of her right paw on my shoe behaviour. I don’t want to end up with very naughty seminar dogs after this trip so I have got to get on it, back to the drawing board today! It is very much like contacts in a trial. You have a wonderful performance at home but all behaviour does drift, and if don’t notice it, after a few trials or years of trials “all of a sudden” you are left with something that does not at all resemble what you started with when you first trained the contact behaviour at home. I love my well behaved dogs and I don’t want to lose that while teaching!

I am very grateful that God gave me a nudge to help me realize the crap (don’t know if He would use that word) that was beginning with my dogs and how I needed to come up with a new plan of reinforcement to alter what I don’t like.


New Experiences for Traveling Dogs

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My dog are country folk. While at home, life is pretty quiet. We walk on our own 28 acres so do not meet up with new dogs. There are few children that come to visit and those that do, are very well behaved.  Almost all dogs that we come across are either at an agility trial or coming to camp so they are met while controlled on a leash. Cars come down our driveway only for camps and they drive very slowly. All of that has changed for Encore and Feature this week since we came to British Columbia. We are staying at a hotel on a very busy 6 lane street, much like a highway in the city. We have to cross this street each day to walk to the nearby park where I let the girls run. Each day we have been met by a troop of young boys that hoot and holler and race the dogs because they are sure they can beat them in a foot race (it is obvious the male’s illusions of grander starts very young:)). Yesterday I spent my my day off with my friend up in Whistler. Bill and his wife Wanda have an amazing new house very close to where the Olympic downhill event will be held next year. When we arrive Wanda had an AMAZING vegan dinner waiting for us. She is one awesome cook and not even vegetarian herself! In the morning Feature, Encore and I joined Bill and his dog “Brigg” on their morning meet ‘n greet with the local dog folk. They get together every morning at 8 AM for a mountain hike. There was about 15 dogs and 7 people. It was fascinating to see my dogs interact. All of the other dogs in the group were males. Some intact, some not, but  most very happy to have new butts to sniff. Encore took everything in stride, ignored the boys while leading the pack on romps up the mountain, through the woods. You would have wondered who was the local and who was the guest! We climbed through the mountains for about an hour. Feature would not leave my side for the first 20 minutes or so. Encore would run but always kept an eye on us never straying too far. Eventually she came back to collect Feature. It took a bit of convincing but it was fascinating to watch her coax her less confident house-sister out to play with the rest of the dogs.

All of my dogs do get “puppy socializing” but honestly not much off leash interaction with dogs they do not know after they have “grown up”. If I had been asked to bet previous to this week, I would have said Encore would be the more timid one in a group of strange dogs and Feature the confident know-it-all. I guess her 22 months really showed as Feature relied on her big sister to teach her how ignoring the boys is always the best thing to do in life!

We went out for a shorter jaunt along another mountain trail before we headed back to Vancouver (for more workshops starting today). This walk was just Feature and Encore so they really ripped it up. Here is a short vignette of the

Today I am grateful for the great friends like Bill and Wanda.