Monday, August 6, 2012

Schema - Pause and Go - Highlights from 2012

Here are some fun video clips from some of Schema's agility runs from January through August 2012. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed running her.

Friday, June 22, 2012

You Are The Reason - Happy Birthday

Three years has passed by and so much has happened since I made the video below to celebrate Reason's 10th birthday. But I love the video as it highlights so many of the wonderful activities we shared together. While Reason might be grayer in the face, he is physically in great shape. Considering all that he's been through in the last year, it is truly heartwarming to me.

Happy 13th Birthday Reason. You are one of the most amazing dogs I have ever had the privilege to know and love. My words in this video still say it all. I love you Reas!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My New Favorite Quote

I posted this on Facebook, but I love this more than anything else I've ever read, so here it is:

"There is a big mix out there, and there's lots of different things going on, and there is not one way that was intended to be the right way. Just like there's not one color or one flower or one vegetable or one fingerprint. There is not one that is to be the right one over all others. The variety is what fosters the creativity. And so you say, "Okay, I accept that there's lots of variety, but I don't like to eat cucumbers." Don't eat cucumbers. But don't ask them to be eliminated and don't condemn those who eat them. Don't stand on corners waving signs trying to outlaw the things that you don't like. Don't ruin your life by pushing against. Instead, say, "I choose this instead." "
--- Abraham and Jerry & Esther Hicks

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

If I Knew Then What I Know Now - The Stress In Training Dogs

The topic of "If I Knew What I Know Now..." is one that many bloggers are writing about today as a topic for agility bloggers as part of a Dog Agility Action Day. Thanks to Steve Schwartz for organizing this great group of bloggers and this topic.

There are so many others that have more experience than I have in training agility dogs. I have only been in this particular sport for a little more than 10 years, so I have not seen the trends and changes in the sport over the years. However, I have been training dogs since the early 1980's and I have lots of experience training dogs in other performance areas - especially in obedience where I was an obedience judge for over 20 years (judging many national tournaments) and put OTCH titles on the first 4 dogs that I trained for competition.

Coming from an obedience background, it took me some time to learn the handling involved in agility, but what took longer was to make the gradual change in how I actually taught my dogs the different behaviors that are needed for agility or obedience from the traditional/correctional training to reward based training. For a long time, I actually resisted the change myself - getting caught up in the "you can't train a reliable xxxx without corrections". What I have learned is that you can not say "never" or "can't" or "won't" when it comes to accomplishing something. There is always a better way to do things as it proven continuously in our world as athletes become better trained, products become more creative, technology becomes more amazing, so why wouldn't training dogs be the same way?

My first dogs were all taught by luring with food to get behaviors and then gradually trained to know the behaviors in both obedience and agility (Reason was the only dog trained this way in agility). What happened to all those dogs is that the "proofing" or "distraction" phase cased the most stress for them and the most mistakes. The learning came easy as there was always that helpful lure to keep them working properly without mistakes. But struggles started happening when they were required to understand what they were supposed to do when that went away. Don't get me wrong, my obedience dogs were amazing working dogs. I motivated them and rewarded them for good choices and they looked wonderful in the ring when they trialed. I was a very good trainer and understood what I wanted in terms of performance, so I got it. However, there are definite phases of training - with corrections - that I never enjoyed. I can admit this now, but I absolutely never enjoyed correcting my dogs for their mistakes. Even though I was never unfair (although I might disagree now) with them, they always responded in a way that caused me to be able to reward them. The more I trained dogs in agility and the more I did my private obedience lessons and saw the meltdowns and stresses that were being caused by corrections from my students, the more I was inspired to do things differently to help make it more fun to train and for the dogs to learn how to actually think through mistakes, rather than being helped or corrected by the trainers.

Reason was an amazing obedience dog and he was my first agility dog. By the time I trained him in obedience, I was very experienced and knew exactly what I wanted in the obedience ring. I think I got pretty much what I wanted as he is the epitome of a cute heeling dog, with great drive and amazing speed into fronts and finishes. He qualified for the 2009 AKC Obedience Invitational when I was rarely doing obedience trials because I was trialing so much in agility and in herding with him. I had a weekend off and trialed him in a 3 day local obedience trial, which without my knowledge was an AKC Obedience Invitational Regional Qualifier. He was the top dog out of the 3 days which allowed him an invitation to that prestigious event. I was never really inspired to campaign him for an OTCh, since I was just more drawn to herding and agility being those activities were juicing me up because they are ALWAYS different and required me to learn knew things.

Before Reason retired, he did accumulate a bunch of OTCh points and also 9 UDX legs. I loved trialing him when I had a few weekends off, but as I started to train Score differently than my start with Reason, I started to recognize some of the stresses that Reason actually had while trialing in both agility and in obedience. When he would get stressed (because of a mistake) he would freeze up or when he was moving in agility, he would go around obstacles because he lost focus on his job. He would also do that in herding, when he made a mistake - he would start looking at me and he would lose his sheep. I was able to solve this issue in herding because the reinforcement is so much greater, but I was never able to fix it in agility and obedience. Probably no one, but me saw this side of him. He didn't act stressed because he was still speedy and still seemed like he wanted to work. But now I know better and he would have probably finished his MACH (he was retired with 19 QQ's) if he would have been able to handle the stresses of making mistakes and recovering. The stress issues caused me to get frustrated as well, which also contributed to more stress and focus on me in the ring.

Score was trained mostly with reward based, but I was still in a phase of trying to figure this all out. My obedience training with him was very minimal because I was doing so much herding and agility. Most of my learning and skills using reward based training was done with my students as I started making changes and seeing some really amazing results. Both in the dogs and also that people were actually having so much more fun training their dogs.

Enter Schema. Schema changed my world dramatically as I was committed to training both agility and obedience totally with reward based training. I have learned so much with her with the foundation Crate Games, circle work, and other games which taught her foundation concepts where she could learn how to struggle and make mistakes while dealing with stress issues away from the bigger picture of training. We learned a better communication system that probably seems very complex, but is actually very simple because it is built on very simple foundation games that she knows and understands. As more and more complex tasks are learned by her, if something breaks I know how to get her to understand what I want. She has learned to focus under extreme distractions and she is probably the most distracted dog I have ever worked with, since she has so much prey drive and she is so reinforced by motion. Her obedience training has been done completely by reward based, including her retrieve which was done totally by shaping and rewarding. She will eventually have BETTER heeling than Reason and her retrieve will be just as nice. But what she will have that Reason did not have, is the confidence to make mistakes and reconnect and refocus, which is very different than most dogs that trial in obedience (including my own).

The one thing that I know now, is that I had to go through this entire process of trusting my instincts and desire to train differently. Many people have quit training dogs - especially in obedience - because they don't enjoy it. And some people still do enjoy it, but get frustrated because of the issues they have in trials. I wasn't really enjoying the entire training process either, but that has changed. I enjoy EVERY aspect of training my dogs now and I love working with my students that trust me in creating a different approach for training. I think they enjoy training more now than ever. 

What I also know is that while I feel strongly about this, others will feel just as strongly opposed to it. I know that I was at that point in my history as a trainer and I have great respect for trainers that feel comfortable in how they train. It is a journey that we are all on and everyone is in a different place. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

I'm Still Here

I have been remiss in updating my blog. Mainly because I've not really been on my laptop at home very much with agility trials on the weekends and teaching or going to classes in the evenings. Both Schema and Score have a little over a month off from trialing and Score is going to have some time off so he can work different muscles and rest those repetitive jumping muscles.

The last time I posted an entry here was back in September. So many things have happened since there - in and away from trialing and training. Schema has been trialing (AKC) and training with jumps up to 24" since the end of August. In USDAA, she is jumping her height at 22". I never practiced her at 20" and I was not happy with how she was starting to tick the 22" USDAA tire (which is smaller) as well as a few other issues because of the differences between AKC & USDAA. Since moving her to 24" in AKC, I'm really happy with the way she is handling herself over the jumps as she is so athletic. 

The tire height in AKC is set to 20", which is just a 2" difference instead of a 6" differenc. Also, putting her in the 24" AKC height class, puts the table height the same in both USDAA and AKC. I plan on eventually jumping her at 26" in both organizations when I feel comfortable with how she is handling herself. I might also wait until she has all her QQ's for AKC Nationals before I move her up to 26". She is a very powerful and long striding jumper and I have done some training at 26" and it seems to be an easy transition for her. I'm going to see how this all plays out and just adjust it as we go. I realize I will have to make a choice for AKC Nationals jumping her either 20" or 26" eventually. I am pretty sure we will do 26" instead of going down.

How low can you go!!!
This year, I also want to get Schema in the obedience ring and get her CD. I love her heeling style and she knows her job of holding onto position, once she is at my side. I've actually taught her to heel nicely on both sides (right and left) and I will continue to work her on both sides since It keeps her balanced and it's easy enough for me to do, since I don't pattern train heeling anymore. She knows that once she is in position, no matter what I do, she must remain there until I release her. The only thing that needs to be taught is a more precise front. Actually she needs lots of training and reinforcement for front position as this is something I just have not worked on and she has had much more value for being at my side.

Also, more herding for Schema as she is very talented and keen on stock and I've just now figured out how to incorporate what she knows from agility (in terms of working with me and handling pressure) into herding. It has made a huge difference in our relationship and work on stock and now we need to keep moving towards more advanced work.
Schema watching the sheep

My goals with Score this year is to get him healthy enough and strong enough to finish his MACH2 and his ADCH as well as his HC (herding championship). We have had very little work the last 2 years in herding because of health issues (Lyme disease and Cryptosporidiosis) which has held him back physically with various endurance skeletal/muscular issues. I feel good about his current state as he is getting stronger and more balanced each day and my primary goal with him is to continue that trend as spring approaches.

Score driving after the turn at the post on the AKC A course

Go Score....Go!!
Reason is healthy and happy and enjoying his retirement. I periodically bring him to the trials that are close by so he can visit and do a few practice jumps. He is an amazingly resilient dog and I am just so thankful that he's still as vibrant and full of life now as he was one year ago when he was still trialing in agility at full height. Things changed quickly and I am forever thankful to have him still here. He rocks my world and always will.
Reason - sitting in the kitchen watching me

For some of you, it might be a surprise to hear that I am training and will be eventually running a Papillon in agility. Brink is owned by one of my long time obedience students, Dorie Madsen, who had some physical challenges in Brink's early life that prevented her from training him in obedience. So, I started working him with the foundation training (which is the same for both obedience and agility early on) and gave Dorie homework to do. Brink had been trained and completley understands Crate Games and It's Yer Choice games and so it was easy to give Dorie some homework to do as Brink could be left or sent to his kennel easily so Dorie could move to various places. I continued to work Brink over the past few years and now Dorie has taken over the obedience part and I am doing the agility training. He is such a sweet boy and I'm having lots of fun learning how to handle a small dog with different issues than I am used to in handling and training my Border Collies.

For me, I am doing many more private lessons and really enjoying working with people and dogs that want to use more reward based training. It removes the frustration from the handler and hence the stress from the dog and makes training just so much more fun. I'm also teaching more classes in both obedience and agility and really enjoying that as well. The most fun I have had as an instructor is doing a recent class, called Advanced Impulse Control, which were about 6 very experienced trainers/instructors with young dogs that took my popular Impulse Control class. It was a blast to see these young dogs start to learn how their choices would lead them to reinforcement if they would respond appropriately and if not, they were not rewarded and/or removed in a way that made sense to the dogs. Very fun to see the lights go on and to see how working impulse control in various places could actually be fun for the trainers. 

For me, training dogs has been an evolving growing experience of learning how to find foundation training issues and pick them out and work on them separately from the big picture. I truly love working on details and setting up games to help the trainer (which might be me) address a particular issue with the dog and also to help the dog understand their role in a simplified game. Then the fun is added to try and see if we can get the dog to make mistakes to further clarify their understanding. It is WAY more fun training this way.

That's it for now! I'll update more regularly now.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Patterns, Rewards, and Embracing Mistakes in Training

Schema heeling just as nice on my right side 
One of the things that is important when teaching something new to your dog is to be constantly moving and changing things towards the perfecting of the desired behavior or criteria. Of course, it's important to understand and know what you want that end result to look like, too. Many dog trainers - when teaching a new behavior, exercise, or obstacle - will continue to remain in a "safe" and successful place because the dog is not making mistakes. Or they just plain avoid the steps and the mistakes and jump to the end result while helping or aiding the dog too much. The dog never figures out how to perform without help or sort through any issues by doing them in smaller increments.

Most trainers are afraid of mistakes because they are concerned that the dog will not figure it out without help and lose animation or focus. So, when a mistake is made, they impatiently - and too quickly - jump in to help the dog or correct the dog. So, to avoid mistakes, they continue to allow their dog to practice something that should only be temporary on the way to putting all the pieces together for the final result. Or an even more common issue is that trainers don't complete the process of training so that the dog fully understands their responsibility for what has been taught because they feel that it is good enough to qualify and they can handle through it. The behavior/exercise/obstacle is minimally trained or too formally trained and yet the expectations for trials is to just trial and get experience and continue to train at home to develop the needed skills.

Unfortunately, trialing before foundation skills have been fully taught, is limiting and can lead to unwanted behaviors at the trials. "Practice makes perfect" so it's important to be MORE than ready when entering the dogs in a performance event. I do not want my own dogs to be practicing unwanted behaviors in the trial setting as those issues can become more difficult to solve when the dog learns to view criteria and reinforcement differently than I do in a trial setting.

There will always be issues that arise at the trials that are different than in training - those are to be expected and those are the issues that give us knowledge and perspective as to what more is needed in training. I certainly had plenty of issues when I started trialing Schema in agility that did not occur while I was training her. However, she had great skills and impulse control and a wonderful relationship with me. Knowing what pushed her past her ability to focus on task at the trials was important information for me in order to continue to develop her ability to bring her skills to the trials.

Mental maturity, impulse control, focus and a great relationship with your dog will ensure a better transition from training into the trial experience. When it comes to obedience trials, I believe it is even MORE important for the dog to have mental maturity, impulse control, and focus as there is so much more down time and precision in a very quiet setting. The quiet setting can be even more distracting to the dogs because any noise sounds louder and any movement seems more pronounced (dumbbells, retrieves, handlers running, or even just the judge in the ring). In herding or field work, the reinforcement is so high that the impulse control and relationship must be very well developed or bad "line manners" or issues walking to the post will develop and adversely contribute to poor focus and compromise in that run and future runs.

What is a reward? A reward can be any of the following and there are endless examples that are not listed. Some of the better known rewards would be:
  • food
  • toys
  • running and chasing something
  • sending a dog to a bird, dumbbell, or any other highly valued retrieve
  • sending a dog to sheep or allowing them to work sheep
Some of the following rewards are not recognized and dealt with as rewards or reinforcements for the dog and that is why the unwanted behavior continue to happen. There are many more than are listed below.
  • Pulling on the leash is reinforcing when you continue to move forward
  • Breaking a start line stay, contact, or table before you release them is rewarding them for doing that if you allow them to continue
  • In obedience, chewing, mouthing, or playing with retrieve objects are rewards for dogs that are stressed about fronts, stressed about corrections, or are not understanding requirements.
When dogs continue to practice unwanted behaviors in any setting and are continually rewarded for them (whether recognized by the handler or not), they develop a pattern and expectation for that particular behavior. It's more difficult to break that pattern, once it has developed and has become a habit. The other issue that occurs is that the dog has been prevented from making mistakes while they are learning and then they can not problem solve or cope with mistakes in training (without help and intervention from the handler) and the ring/trial performance then becomes something very different to them. This is what creates the so called "ring wise" dog (which is a really poorly labeled term). Basically the "ring wise" dog is created by a handler that has allowed patterns to develop as well as providing too much help and not enough independence in understanding the requirements. And because dogs are such brilliant observers, they notice the difference between training and the real thing and they respond differently as well.

So, in conclusion, what can be done to break this cycle of making the ring or trial a more comfortable place for both you and your dog? Ensure that your dog is well prepared and can train each exercise in obedience or each sequence in agility at a much advanced level than what is expected in the ring. Break teaching of the exercises down into small parts and challenge the dog's understanding by embracing mistakes. Be patient while the dog learns to solve problems and use rewards for correct behavior rather than corrections for incorrect behavior. Make sure that you are not rewarding something that you want to eliminate. Teach the first steps of any complex exercise or obstacle simple and as distraction free as possible and simplify the task when there are lots of distractions. Keep a good attitude and stay focused on your dog while you are working them.

We all make mistakes in training, but the most important thing is to find someone - a mentor or instructor - that is willing to help guide you to breaking those old patterns that are holding you and your dog's performance from becoming better.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Not Your Every Day Off Course Obstacle

While trialing Schema in Standard, it has become very clear the table has become our biggest off course challenge. It's not something that I naturally look for when I am walking a course - in fact, many times I have not even noticed the table when I am looking at the dog's path while walking a course. Only to find out later, while running her, that she locked onto that obstacle and either got an off course or a very wide turn because of it. I have to actually remember before walking the course to look for the table and see where it might come into play for her.
Schema driving to the table
I did not specifically intend to make the table a highly valued obstacle, but because of transferring my Crate Games training that I've done on her to the table, it has now become one of her favorite obstacles. When I started training Schema, she had very little impulse control. By lacking impulse control, I mean that she was very easily distracted by movement by other dogs. She is still distracted by other dogs, but she works hard to focus on what I want, now. That's because I've developed a communication system with her so she knows she is accountable for her actions (this is an entirely different subject that I could write a long blog on). It is her choice and she rarely now makes the wrong one now because she knows that she won't get to play otherwise.

While transferring her Crate Games to the table, I realized as I increased the distractions that it could be a great way to get more training done with my dogs. By, having them all out  on the table when I am training, I can individually release each of them off to work. Score and Reason were both reinforced and trained to wait on the table until they were released and they both learned to be able to stay there and watch me work the other dogs - a HUGE time saver, as I was able to train 3 dogs at the same time during a training session.
Schema and Presto hanging out on the table, waiting to be released
So,  now the table has become such a highly reinforced obstacle as it leads to playing more agility. It's not your every day off course challenge, but I think I can handle it just fine.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Expecting More Than You Give

One of the things that I think people could benefit the most from during training sessions is understanding how important it is to establish and maintain a connection with your dog. This isn't something that you only need during competition or during training. Maintaining or establishing a connection prior to training or competing is so critical for success. Yet, this is probably one of the most overlooked or misunderstood training issues in dog sports.

I see examples of this lack of preparation and connection all the time. Dog is at the end of the leash and handler is distracted - either talking or completely immersed watching something. The dog knows the person is distracted and unfocused because this happens  frequently when they are together. When this happens, the dogs seeks out things that are more reinforcing for them (like sniffing the floor, investigating table tops and training bags within reach, going to other dogs, or just learning to be complacent and inactive). Basically, the dog and handler are not at all connected or focused.

People are consistent in how they remove themselves mentally from their dog and the dog figures out the pattern and applies himself to many other situations. This is well practiced during training sessions and classes - whether obedience or agility. The dogs perfect their performance of understanding how and when to disconnect from their trainers under certain telltale conditions. But what I find so interesting is how these people then suddenly snap into "working mode" and start focusing on what they are planning next.  They have switched from being focused on social things into immediately wanting focus from their unsuspecting dogs.

The innocent dog (who is now in a completely different world - totally immersed into smells, doggy interaction, sights, or tastes) is expected to recognize immediately that they are now in working mode and transition into that perfectly focused partner. There is usually no time spent trying to get the dog focused because the person is hurrying into whatever is coming next (as they probably pushed the socializing up until the last minute). They expect the dog to have some sort of mind meld and to be so connected to the trainers thoughts that it immediate knows that it's time to focus. And when the dogs don't immediately know that the handler has gone from unfocused to focused, they are corrected or overly handled or controlled. This gives a very poor start to the training or competition and causes some perceived attention issues in the ring.

What people don't understand is the attention issue is not the dog's problem. Rather, the attention issue is the trainer's problem. When you have decided to socialize or get unfocused while you are hanging around (or waiting for your turn) with your dog, put them into working mode by doing a sit stay or down stay or Crate Games - so they can focus on a task. Then it is up to you to be able to multitask (train AND socialize) at the same time. Continue to reward or address stay progress with the dog, while you socialize, talk to someone, or watch something in the ring. If you can not multitask training with these things, then you have two options.

1) put the dog away (in a kennel, tie out, x pen, car, etc) during the time you need to be unfocused on the dog.
2) remain focused on the dog and keep that connection with them and ignore what is going on around you

When both you and the dog have been disconnected from one another, in order to both be successful in training and competition, you need a short period of time to reconnect. It is unfair to expect any dog to immediately go into working mode when they have been "somewhere else" mentally, just because you can go from unfocused mode into working mode immediately. Take time to warm them up mentally with a game of tug or heeling or anything else that helps reestablish that very important connection.

Here is a great article by Bob Bailey on this subject: click here to read it.

Here's hoping that some of the things I've mentioned can help you become more productive and ultimately more successful with your training. Many times it's not the training itself that causes the issues, it's the fact that there is consistent lack of connection between dog and trainer which causes other training issues to arise.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wayne Dyer Quotes

I saw these Wayne Dyer quotes on my friend Gail Smith's Facebook status and simply had to share them - they are all too great not to share.

"Conflict cannot survive without your participation"
"When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself."
"Loving people live in a loving world. hostile people live in a hostile world. same world."
"You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside."
"You don't need to be better than any one else you just need to be better than you used to be"
 'How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours. '

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Consistency In Life and In Training

As I “grow up”, I find myself no longer wanting to fight, correct, defend, promote, or be apart of any type of life drama. The only "drama" I enjoy is the drama between me and my dogs as I run a course with them (Thanks to Tracy Sklenar for coining that term and helping me with that "drama" on course).

I've made many changes in my life over the years and have been able to gradually eliminate or add things into my life to support my wanted lifestyle. Some of the many things on this list of changes includes: 

  • no longer turning on the television
  • no longer reading the newspaper
  • never watching a video (or reading something) that looks to be sad, gruesome, or scary  (I would never click on a video that is described as "disgusting or horrible").
  • no longer "fight" for any "cause"
  • listening only to music on the radio (no talk or commercials)
  • never respond to negative talk
  • allow others to have opinions
  • not feeling the need to defend anything that I am doing (this one is the hardest for me and I am constantly working on it) 
  • acknowledging and appreciating things or events that are fun and pleasing
  • having the ability to look or walk away from unwanted things (accidents on the road, gossipy conversation next to me)

This is a work in progress and I am not perfect, but I am definitely improving. I feel it's important to be consistent in both life and in training and the more I go this direction, the more I am finding I love it and want to continue to live this way. Living life like this and training like this is just more fun and more fulfilling for me. I am sure that some people might feel that I have lost my mind. But I think I have actually found it.