Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reflecting Forward

I'm typically not a person that likes to look back at the past. I think I got this trait from my Dad, (John Gagliardi) who has been successfully coaching college football for 61 years and is the winningest college football coach of all time. He has always claimed the reason why he has survived for so long is because he primarily looks ahead - towards preparing for the next game.

So here we are on the brink of a new and exciting year, 2010. The year, 2009 has nearly passed and as I sit here I want to "reflect forward" instead of looking back over the year. I have always been historically challenged in that I really never enjoyed the subject in school and don't enjoy reading or hearing about documented events of the past. I tend to have difficulties in recalling supposedly important events in my life and when they happened. I guess I am more of a dreamer, a planner, and a doer

This next year is going to be different for me because I have chosen to change the way I think about things. I acknowledge that there are going to be good times and not so good times, but I am going to embrace the not so good times as well as enjoying the good times. It is always those not so good times that force the changes in me for the better. I love to challenge my dogs with their training skills, by pushing them to fail in order that they can learn how to be successful.  I am planning on doing the same thing for myself as I push myself forward into areas that can and will cause discomfort, inconvenience, and less of the same thing. Doing much of the same thing because it is convenient, comfortable, and/or easy doesn't bring success and satisfaction into life. Taking myself out of the comfort zone will force uncomfortable changes that eventually create results. I am going to embrace changes that are not easy and will push me in a new direction. Then all I have to do is trust my instincts.

As I reflect forward, I can feel the excitement and the new beginnings just around the corner. I know that the past has nothing to do with my resolutions for the future. The past has only gotten me to this point in my life and I'm glad I'm here. I enjoy making changes to the way I look at life with the ultimate goal of feeling the same natural joy that my dogs feel every day of their lives. So with my personal resolutions for 2010, my focus will be on very specific results. Results are everything. Results make a person feel good about themselves as they give purpose. My driving force will be making myself accountable for the specific commitments that I've made for this next year - no excuses. To do this, I need to change the way I think, change what I say (even when no one is around), and change what I do.

It's all about change. Not changing is easy, but it doesn't bring fulfillment and ultimate success. My goals and resolutions have nothing to do with training dogs and competing, as I feel I have a very good handle in that area of my life. My goals are specific personal goals that are the foundation skills of my life, which (like dog training foundation skills) positively affect everything else in life.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happiness and Appreciation

This was going to be my topic for today as I have been thinking about this a lot lately. However, Susan Garrett just blew me away with her words on her own blog with the same general topic.

So, since she said it better than I could say it, I'll just point you to her blog entry "What Are You Seeking?".

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Edward Gal's Masterclass Video

The amazing rider, Edward Gal has had some record breaking rides with his horses in dressage the past few years. There are so many parallels between training horses and training dogs. This video, while it is 25 minutes long, is jam packed with training advice which is similar to training dogs. If you come from a horse background, you already understand how much there is in common and for those that ride (or rode), there is a "feel" of rhythm and tempo between the rider and the horse.

In the video Edward talks about the importance of control and reacting to what the horse is doing  to get that control and keep the horse in tempo.  He is constantly balancing the training session with control when the horse wants to run or move faster and out of tempo. When he feels the horse is anticipating a move, even if he was going to do that particular maneuver, he will do something else to ensure that they are still in balance. I love all the analogies between training the horses and training dogs and how he is constantly working on the foundation pieces of each exercise and not going further until the bottom brick of that maneuver has been laid.

My very favorite quote in the video, applies to dog training is this: "When you lose control, you don't have anything.".


Monday, December 21, 2009

Placement Of Rewards

One of the common discussions I have with my students is the proper placement of rewards. They are, of course, very used to hearing me encouraging them to reward in a certain place and a certain way and they do a great job applying the concept. However, when I observe trainers that have described a problem between their ring performance and their training sessions, very few of them are rewarding the dog with food (or toys) at the proper time and in the correct place to help communicate exactly what is wanted at the time.

This happens especially often during heeling or during fronts and finishes in obedience and in agility it happens with start line stays, contacts and weaves. The food or toy is giving totally out of the context and most of the time what is rewarded is the release of that position or something totally different than what is wanted. In obedience exercises, the trainer many times incorrectly rewards the end of the exercise - not the exercise itself. What happens is that the trainer gets so excited about the progress, that they throw a party with tons of praise and release the dog from that position while mindlessly giving the dog the reward for what happened moments ago. The dog never associates the previous behavior with that reward.

It's important for the dog to "feel" the desired behavior and to be rewarded in that position. If you are working on a position (down, sit, 2o2o on contacts, etc) let the dog be in that position for a short period of time while you reward them with food or with a game of tug for 2o2o on contacts. Don't let them release from position just because you are rewarding them (another training issue that confuses dogs and probably another future topic).

So, because many obedience exhibitors train with food (incorrectly) and trial without food and see that their ring performances are horribly different than their training sessions, they think that they need to eliminate the food completely so that the dog gets used to not having food. That will only continue to confuse and stress the dogs because there will no longer by any pay for training and there has not been enough association between the rewards and the required performance in order to get a consistent happy performance. Without rewards, performances become lack luster, slow, robotic, and unenthusiastic by the dog. Most people want a happy dog in the obedience and the agility ring. They don't want slow and unenthusiastic performances because those lead to lots of mistakes, and nonqualifying performances. Games, rewards, and breaking down the exercises into core/foundation issues are very important to success.  Many times once the foundation issue is identified and worked, rewarded, proofed, and polished many of the other problems go away.

Classical conditioning is a very powerful tool to use while teaching obedience exercises, like heeling, fronts, finishes as well as all agility obstacles. It associates a very positive experience with certain positions as well as certain behaviors. If the placement of the reward is not correct, then the dog never truly understands what the trainer is trying to communicate. The dog only knows that their trainer is sincerely happy and get a cookie or a toy away from what just happened. If your placement of reward is not correct, then you most definitely will not have the performance that you want in obedience or in agility. Your training sessions will always be different than your ring performances because you have not properly associated what you want in the various core/foundation behaviors with proper rewards.

Here is an analogy I have used with my students that seems to make the most sense for them. When you get a new puppy, they initially do not like their crate. How to you crate train a puppy? You use classical conditioning with lots and lots of rewards and positive associations with the crate. Puppy goes in the crate, you throw a treat in there.  Simple, right? You would not make any positive association with that crate if you got the puppy to go into the crate and then only gave them food when they came out. You wouldn't send the puppy in the crate, then have a party and let them come out for a treat. The puppy would not positively associate the crate with something good and they would quickly learn that if they go into the crate and then come out, they are rewarded. They would not want to stay in the crate.

Once dogs have a positive association with a position, behavior, or any execution of an obstacle, then it's time to try and proof it by SERIOUSLY trying to get them to fail. Making a game out of making mistakes and getting the dog to problem solve will do wonders for your ring performances in obedience and agility as well as your confidence in the dog. If you are too quick to make things easy when the dog makes a mistake or the dog reacts to failing you are not helping them.  In fact, they are actually training you to help them so they CAN be rewarded. Most trainers don't go through enough steps to let their dogs think and problem solve enough in order to be an team partner. What usually happens is that trainers try to hard to control the dog as well as handle the exercises/obstacles and that is WAY more work than you really need to do. If you teach the dog his/her responsibility by allowing them to make mistakes without constantly intervening to help them, they will eventually learn their responsibility and then all you have to do is handle.  Handling is SO much easier when you don't have to control the dog, too.

Next time you are training an exercise, and obstacle, or a sequence of obstacles, pay attention to what you are rewarding and when you are rewarding. It's fine to play with your dog between exercises or obstacles, but make sure that they have been rewarded many times in the proper place in order to ensure that they are associating it with what is wanted.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Letters - A Mockery

I have always wanted to write one of those clever Christmas letters to send along to all my friends and family. However, I never get around to it as it is hard enough for me to get cards out on time each year.

I always look forward to reading my sister, Gina's annual Christmas letter each year. Gina is a elementary school teacher, who is taking a break to raise her very active and large family. Each year I think she can't possibly come up with another letter so cleverly done - but each and every year I get a new version with a different theme as she makes a mockery of Christmas letters.

Here is her 2009 Christmas letter:

Joey is a frosh at SJU and has already completed his physics major in his first semester. He will get his math major in the 2nd semester and then choose a 3rd major sophomore year. He won Homecoming kind, valedictorian and most intelligent, best looking and most amazing kid on campus.

Johnny is a junior at Becker and took the ACT test Dec 12th. Of course he aced it, getting a perfect score. He completed the 5-hour test in 20 minutes which was amazing since he took the Chinese version just to challenge himself. He also won best looking kid taking the test.

Tommy is a freshman at Becker and has always loved to shoot baskets. On his basketball team he is 100% shooting from all over the court. He hasn't missed a free throw, a 2-point shot and has already made 90 points on just his 3-point only the first 2 games. (Last game he played blindfolded and was still dropping shots from all over the court.)  He is also the best looking kid in the conference.

Robbie is in 6th grade and is already taller than 2 of his older 3 brothers and is about a 1/2 inch from the last. He loves baseball, football, and basketball and while he is the star of all his teams he seems to be best at baseball. He hit 1.000 again this season as he has since T-ball. Every at bat...Robbie hits a homerun, every batter he pitches to...he strikes out. He is also the best looking kid on all his teams.

Kari is in 4th grade and plays all her sports like she is used to playing with 5 brothers. She is the smartest kid in her school and also had a perfect ACT test. She took the Spanish version and it was in Braille. She used her toes and completed the test in less than an hour. She hit 100% in softball and has not missed a shot in basketball yet this season. Oh, and she is the best looking kid in her school.

Jimmy is in 2nd grade and proves that often God saves the best for last. He was the best flag football player in the league, best baseball player in the state and even though he isn't old enough to play basketball yet, we are sure he is the best at that as well. He is the best looking Benson which is an amazing thing since all the Benson kids are so phenomenally good looking.

So again our kids are better than all of your kids in every way. Enjoy your normal children at Christmas and keep them aiming high by shoing them what they can attain if they strive to be like the Benson children.

Merry Christmas and see you on Facebook.

Gina and Jeff Benson

Friday, December 18, 2009

He's Back!!

Reason, that is...

Reason has been on the injured reserve list since mid August with what we thought was a torn ligament in his right rear toe (the outside/non weight bearing toe). He was rested and had that foot and toe stabilized in a thick wrap and he was on leash and restricted activity for 8 weeks. After another incident where he dislocated that toe in mid October, I got an appointment with Dr. Liz LaFond, who is an orthopedic vet and a surgical specialist at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Hospital. When she looked at that toe she immediately told me that it was unstable and was moving in ways that it should not move.  She felt that if nothing was done that Reason would continue to jam that toe and dislocate it - even in normal day to day activities if he would suddenly turn to the left, he could do that.The quickest and most effective option for his situation was to amputate that toe. So, on October 23rd, that toe was amputated.

It was amazing in that he was never lame or gimpy on that foot after the toe was removed. He adjusted immediately to his situation. He got back to help me with sheep chores after four weeks of rest and then I gradually building up the strength in that foot and ensuring that he was using it.

Last night for the first time since July, Reason ran a standard course and handled himself fine.  I am actually getting more and more confident myself that he is going to be fine.

I am enjoying our training sessions again - working on the little things.  And I look forward to our training and trials we have planned for 2010. Reason is my heart and soul...I love this dog more than words can express. There is nothing better than seeing him smile again because he can run and TURN again.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Failure - It's What You Make Of It

I just love Nike's "Failure" video with Michael Jordan. It's a reminder of how important "failure" is in our life, when it's used to inspire change.

It's also demonstrates how there are two different ways of looking at things - dwelling on failures or finding a way to be successful due to failure.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Own It And Then Let It Go

The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light. --Joseph Campbell

There are times in life where something comes up that causes me to feel negativity (sadness, anger, fear, uncertainty, skepticism, etc). I've gotten better over the years in dealing with these negative emotions and recognizing their value in my life (yes, negative emotions do have value). I can recognize these indicators quickly because of the immediately change in my emotions. What these feelings tell me is that there is an opportunity for me to make a shift and to improve my situation. Each shift and expansion I make, causes me to love my life even more and isn't that what it's all about?

So when life presents those challenges and I look at them and feel negative emotions, I challenge myself to come to terms with them as best as I can - some are easy and others take more effort. I try to look at them differently - and know that it's okay to feel those negative emotions. They are the indicators that there is something that needs addressing in my life. It's not anyone else's issue nor is it my task in life to change people for the sole purpose of making me feel better. I own those negative emotions and they are my own wonderful insights. Once I make the mental shift that everyone is doing the best they can (including me) and I focus on things that bring me joy, I then realize that there is no one or anything in this world that is responsible for making me feel bad - it's my own doing.

Pushing those feeling away, suppressing them, or even defending and justifying them won't help me feel any better. Recognizing those feelings, allowing them, and then making peace with those emotions will always make me feel better.  When I realize that I own the issue that caused me to pay attention to it, I can frame my emotions in a way that allows me to just let it go.

There are so many wonderful people (friends and family) in my life - and I'm surrounded by my simply amazing dogs that continue to help me remain grounded. When I am having the most difficulty making peace with where I am in life, I only have to look into my dogs' eyes.

Then I see just how perfect life really can be, if I just look at it differently.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Optimist's Creed

One of my favorite bloggers, Loretta Mueller (who has been much better about keeping up with her writing all summer long than I have) wrote a wonderful entry in her blog today about keeping a positive attitude and the importance of friends. The motivational poem that she included, by Christian D. Larson, reminded me of a wonderful message I had saved a couple of years ago. When I went to review it because the message is just so powerful for me, I was stunned that the author was the same one that Loretta included in today's blog entry.  I have copies of this powerful message posted around the house to remind me of what I believe is most important in life.  It had faded into the background for me and I had not read it recently. Here is a copy of the message as well as a wonderful video of that same creed:

I Promise Myself
To be so strong that nothing can disturb my peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person I meet.
To make all my friends feel that there is something worthwhile in them.
To look at the sunny side of everything and make my optimism come true.
To think only of the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as I am about my own.
To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful expression at all times and give a smile to every living creature I meet.
To give so much time to improving myself that I have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.
To think well of myself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud word, but in great deeds.
To live in the faith that the whole world is on my side, so long as I am true to the best that is in me.

Christian D. Larson

If you want a printable copy of this, click here.

To see a wonderful video of this same message:

Catching Up

It's been ages since I've updated my blog.  I've been doing lots of training and haven't really had the time or desire to sit down on the computer and put my thoughts down. Now that winter is fast approaching, I hope to be doing more writing. And as I look at my favorite blogs out there, I'm not the only one that has take a bit of a break in writing.  I think it's good for the soul, to take a break sometimes.

Friday, August 14, 2009

GoD and DoG

There's not much more I can add to this video. I've watched many videos over time and have been touched by a great many of them. But this one really hits home for me. Enjoy it:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Reason - The First Ten Years

"Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born." Anais Nin
Reason came into my life on June 22nd, 1999 and has been a source of joy and inspiration for me throughout the years. It's hard to believe that ten years can pass so quickly, but they did. Time flies when you're having fun.
Happy Birthday Reason! Here's hoping our journey continues for many years to come.
Also Happy Birthday to Reason's littermates, Surf, Quip, Summit, Storm, Splice, & Cinch.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Test Driving the Weaves

I've been meaning to update the blog with Reason's weave entry results from last weekend's trial. We had a two day local AKC agility trial here in Minnesota and it's been a couple weeks since I started Reason's weave retraining with Susan Garrett's 2x2 method. I realized that it was a very short time between our retraining and the real thing, but I've also seen a huge improvement in Reason's thoughfulness as well as true understanding of entries as I have been doing a lot of proofing and pushing in our twice a day training sessions. During these sessions, I usually use only four or six weave poles to minimize all the weaving he is doing during the week in these sessions (afterall, he will be 10 years old on Monday).
I can't tell you how pleased I was with his weave entry performances during those four classes. The grass in the rings was very dry from the extreme lack of rain we have had this spring (and from the use of it for trials and classes) and it was quite slippery for the dogs and that added to the complexity of the weave entries.
Reason succeeded with three out of the four weave entries and he never jammed his right shoulder onto the second pole as he had previously done. Since he has a history of many years of driving hard into the weaves, I knew that I was never going to change the fact that he doesn't slow down and collect himself. But as I watched the videos from the trials and stepped through the frames on his entries, he has definitely made a change in that he is ever so slightly rocking back as he enters. He is making his own physical changes becaue of his mental changes as he figures this out for himself. And that is a huge step in the right direction.
The one entry that he missed was a very difficult entry - and the slippery grass only added to it. It was a very fast start from the double to the Aframe and then over a wing jump to the weaves. That wing jump blocked the view of the weaves and Reason drove very hard over that jump, which carried his momentum to the left side of the weaves. He had to drive hard to the right to get to the poles and by then, he was past the first pole and entered incorrectly.
This incorrect entry led me to a lot of very creative exercises this week trying to drive Reason hard past that first pole on the left side of the weaves to get him to have to work hard to pull back to the right to get the entry.
I know that if I would not have done the retraining with the 2x2 method, that Reason would have probably missed three out of those four entries and possibly all of them, due to the slippery surface. For those that he actually made, he probably would have still slammed his shoulder hard into the second pole.
I made a short video of Reason's weave entries from this past weekend. Good luck to all of you that get to go to the ACTS USDAA trial this coming weekend. I wish I could be in two places at the same time as there is local herding trial that we will be competing in this weekend.
Here's the video of Reason's weaves (thanks Jacque for video taping us).

Friday, June 12, 2009

Reason and Schema's 2x2 Training continues

I'm making great progress with both Reason and Schema in their 2x2 weave training. And to top it off, it's been very rewarding for me. 
Schema is now at stage 7 (2 sets of poles, 4 feet apart, poles at 1 o'clock and 7 o' clock). In her first session today (June 12th), she was making a lot of mistakes and it was taking too much time, and I ran out of battery on my camera. So, there is only video of Reason from the morning session. Schema had another session later on this evening and it went incredibly well - missing only a few and figuring out immediately on the second attempt how to be successful. My throws are getting better for her, as I'm starting to be able to read her better and I have a clear marker on the ground (I have to have something on the ground - I don't seem to be able to hit the "line" if it's a marker, like a tree or an object that's not on the ground). I just love this little girl - everything about her continues to amaze me. With Reason, I have been proofing his entries by gradually adding more distance, speed, drive, and now an occasional jump. He is at 6 pole (3 sets of the 2). In the video, I didn't have enough stakes for the poles, so the last set of 2 poles were moving a bit after each of his attempts. I am really trying to test his self control at the entries and this morning I was able to get him to fail twice (he was able to get the entry successfully on his second attempt).  Two weeks ago, he would have never been successful at any of these entries - even if he was closer to the weaves and without as much speed. This is definitely a work in progress, but now I feel I have the tools and the communication with him, to help him continue to improve.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Reason can see weave entries!!!

I am just so thrilled with the change that I'm seeing in Reason as he is progressing in with his 2x2 weave sessions. I have been diligently doing 2 or 3 sessions a day and working him on very difficult entries.  I videotaped a session this morning and he missed on entry from the left side of the weaves where he actually wrapped the first and second pole. In the past, he would have never even tried to wrap that pole.  And he even succeeded on the second attempt at that angle. He is consistently getting very difficult entries from the right where he has to collect himself and get around the second pole. I added a little more drive and distance into this session and he still understood what he was doing. 
In session that I did later on in the day, I added even more distance and drive and I could not get him to fail.  I think it's time to move on and challenge him more, so I need to review the DVD and the transcript to see what is next. 
So, in Schema's session, I've been struggling with the throw and I am late, many times which causes her to turn her head back at me. I'm late because it's been harder for me to react to her mistakes or successes with only two poles. In some of the sessions that I don't have on video, I ended up rewarding her for going around both poles instead of wrapping the first pole. I'm improving gradually, but it will continue to get better as I learn how to read her better. I am confident that both of us will improve.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Reason and Schema - 2x2 Training

I'm having so much fun training (and in Reason's case, retraining) the weaves with Susan Garrett's 2x2 method of training.  In particular, I am just thrilled with Reason's progress.  He is now at the 4 poles in a straight line stage.  Yesterday he was making mistakes a various places in the entry arc outside of the low challenge area. Today, when I videotaped our session, he was 100% accurate. 
Here is a video of our session today.  Don't you just love his face when he is waiting for me to send him to his 'beloved' weaves?  That is the same face that I see at when I am sending him from my side on an outrun to pick up sheep, at the start line in an agility trial, and on retrieves (gloves, articles, and the dumbbell) in obedience.  I LOVE that expression as he reminds me to enjoy life.
And then there is Schema...I am finding it so much easier to toss the toy to Reason because I can read him better. Knowing that Schema is going to miss her entries more often, I am very late in throwing the toy and it's not always hitting the reward line.  Both she and I will improve as we go through this process. 

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Can an old dog learn new weave entries?

After watching Susan Garrett's "2x2 Weave Training - 12 poles in 12 days" DVD and following the discussions and questions on her blog, I have long planned on using this method to teach Schema her weaves. It was just a matter of waiting for the right time during the summer months when the training could be done outdoors.
At the same time, I've been thinking about Reason and the issues he has had over the years with weave poles. He is absolutely crazy about weave poles - to the point where they cause more off courses (or at least draw him enough to cause a refusal) than any other obstacle. When he runs into the agility field, he seeks the weave poles out and will stand or lay down near them as I set something up. When he knows that I am going to send him to the weaves, his eyes glaze over in anticipation. Once he is in the weaves, he powers through them. But the problem is and always has been - the entry.
Looking back at many of his runs from over the years, Reason, has had many errors on weave entrances. He powers into the weaves without slowing down and slams his right side into the second pole. While he tries to hang on and then wrap around that pole (and many times he is successful doing that), there are many times that the force and speed is so great that he ends up skipping the third pole. This is worse if there is a very speedy sequence prior to the weaves or if he is entering the weaves from the right side and at close to 90 degrees. With Reason's tenth birthday approaching in less than ten days and with him still in great physical shape, I want to keep his body from this type of obvious stress. The other weave issue for him is when he has to make the entrance from the left side of the weaves and wrap the first pole. I've know for a very long time that Reason's weave entries were not good, but I never realized how little he knew about these entries until I actually tested him on them a few days ago. I decided to set up a simple set of 4 poles to test his entrances. If you imagine the first pole at the center of the clock and the fourth pole at 12 o'clock, Reason could make the entry ONLY if he started anywhere between 7 o'clock and 4 o'clock. He was much better on the 6-4 o'clock range and he started to get less accurate between 6 and 7 o'clock. The more distance I added and the more speed he got, the more mistakes he made - even in this small and very easy range. If I moved to 8 o'clock, I could see that Reason was not "seeing" the entrance. He had that glazed over look and was just looking at the weaves as a whole. When I would send him into the poles, he would just go into them on the left side (wrong side) between the first and second poles, instead of wrapping the first pole and entering on the right side. 
So, I have been pondering these last few days as I get ready to start Schema's 2x2 weave training. I have some time off between trials with Reason. Should I just give it a try and see if I can retrain his weave entrances with this method? Well, it certainly isn't going to hurt anything. And it could only help him see things more clearly. So, the training began a few days ago with both dogs. But first with Reason and 2 poles. I knew that I could skip the first 2 steps because the value of these poles is HUGE with Reason. So we started at Stage 3 - with the 2 poles at 2/8 o'clock. I already knew where his mistakes would start to happen. But what I didn't expect was his high failure rate without being able to figure out the solution. I give this dog credit as he definitely kept trying, but he continued to fail over and over without figuring it out. I had to finally make it easier and go from there. It was after this first session that I felt pretty sad about how difficult these entries are for an obstacle that he loves so much. So after a fairly high rate of failure, during the first session I made the second session more successful. I stayed within the low challenge area and he had a better success rate during that session. With the third session, we started in the low challenge area to set the reward line and stayed there for about 5 successful entries in various places in that area. Then I started moving outside of that area and into the more difficult entries on what would be the left side of the poles (which would involve a wrap around the first pole to make the entry) and he started to make mistakes. I marked the mistake and this time the difference was that when he came back and retried it, he got it the second time. This was a HUGE change in his mental state to be able to focus on the task of finding his entry. I tried one more place on the high challenge area on that same side of the poles and he missed it again, but - again - on the second attempt, he figured it out. I then switched to the other side of the poles so we were starting on the left side in the high challenge area and he got that entry the first time. The second high challenge entry on that side was deeper and he made that one as well. I felt pretty good about his progress after this third session with Reason. So, I'm actually having a lot of fun reteaching weave entries to Reason and at the same time starting Schema from the ground up. Even early in the process, I'm seeing fairly impressive changes in Reason's ability to see the weave entry. While I'm not sure where this project will take us, I know that it is long overdo and it will be something that we can continue to work on and have fun with over the next few months. Here is a video of Reason missing out on a double Q because of missing the weave entrance after a fast sequence.  He couldn't hang onto the entry.  You can't see the crash into the second pole (because of the ceiling posts in this room), but you can see the weave poles getting pulled up from the hard hit (and they were taped down extremely well - I taped them as a course builder). This kind of pounding on a dog can't be good for them.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Golden Rule

Have you ever heard of "The Golden Rule" otherwise known as "Ethic of reciprocity"? 
I've come to know the dog community as family. There are tightly knit agility, obedience, herding, and other dog sports families (local & statewide, regional, and national). It's never a surprise to me when that community comes together to help, to support, to celebrate, or to show that we care. When it is needed, there are people that organize ads and parties, teach classes,re-homes dogs that need special care, cook, clean, help take care of family & dogs, and other examples - too many to mention.
But what about the times between celebrating successes and supporting someone's challenges in life (loss, health, etc)? How do you treat the people you come in contact during a typical trial or training class in your favorite dog sport? Do you intentionally withhold compliments from someone's performance just because you don't like them, because your opinions differ on some subject, because they are having lots of success and you are jealous, or just because they have never spoken to you or give compliments to you?  Do you criticize someone because of the way their dog is trained or how they handle a particular sequence? Do you secretly feel good when someone else fails or has a bad run because of some disagreement you have with that person?
My Dad has always stressed following the Golden Rule. He has been very successful in raising some pretty talented and well adjusted kids (if I humbly do say so myself) as well as coaching some very talented teams to become the winningest college football coach. He has always stressed that you don't need any rules, except the Golden Rule (see page 74 of  _No-How Coaching_ by Jim Collison).
The Golden Rule has been described in slightly different ways, depending on the religion or culture, but basically it states that you should treat others the way they would want to be treated.
When you simplify your life and try to focus on what is good, it is easy to train yourself to treat others with respect, to be friendly and courteous even under trying situations, and to overcome prejudice. But if you find yourself in a world of negativity, excuses, time constraints, lack of patience, and stress, it's easy to find temporary feelings of power and gratification when you criticize, laugh/joke at a person's differences or point out their failures. 
There were times in the past where I deviated from the one rule in life that now keeps me grounded. While it used to take constant readjustment of my mental outlook, it's becoming easier for me to pay attention to the great things that people are doing. Even if I witness something that I don't like, I can still find a way to quickly draw something positive from it (if I know what I don't want, I most certainly know what I do want) and then focus on that.
The amazing thing about living the "Golden Rule" is that it brings more happiness and joy into your own life - as well as bringing joy into others.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sometimes in the winds of change, we find our true direction

Last weekend at the agility trials, there were a few conversations about the difficult times - losing jobs, financial adjustments and juggling in order to be able to do some of the things we still enjoy.
I lost my corporate job in 2002 as a senior software engineer after I took a chance and left my job of 20+ years to join a small start up company in the telecommunications industry. I had always been a valued hard working employee, so the news that my job was being cut (along with many others) felt like my world had collapsed at the time. But the tears and the major adjustment passed quickly as I felt a little better about the change as each day passed. I was sleeping 8-10 hours every night and getting up refreshed in the morning. I didn't want to admit to myself at the time that I actually felt relief and even joyful not having to be anywhere that I didn't want to be each day. 
My previous employer hired me as a part time contractor, working 3 days a week.  So, I had Mondays and Fridays off and instead of working 10-12 hour days on a salary, I worked 8 hour days on an hourly rate. I started a small dog training business, Endzone Dog Sports, Inc., giving private obedience training lessons and some herding lessons during the daytime to help pay for my dog expenses and entry fees.  After a little over a year of contracting, I decided to take a break from software development and focus on what makes me happy - training dogs training people to train dogs. And I've never looked back.
Although, I no longer do herding lessons (I didn't want to keep the extra dog broke sheep that were useful in teaching new people & dogs herding), I love the obedience lessons that I do each week.  My students are incredible teachers for me as they allow me to find creative ways for the dogs to learn various skills. When students don't understand something I've described or they have questions concerning the details, they ask for clarification and that helps me to continue to develop better ways of describing the process. I love challenges in training and even more so, I love it when a student decides to put their trust in me to help them with a handling or training issues.  
So, I just want to thank all the devoted students and friends that have been training with me - some just a short time and some for a very long time.  You guys have kept the wind in my sails and I can't even begin to tell you how much I enjoy working with each and every one of you and your wonderful dogs.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Can It Get Any Better?

Last weekend (April 18th & 19th) Reason was running in an AKC herding trial in Advanced B sheep.  The sheep were hard to pen and many experienced dogs and handlers weren't getting the five Katahdins into the free standing pen. On Saturday, we didn't get any further than the pen because I rushed the process and got them circling the pen and decided to retire our run.  But on Sunday, it felt like I spent almost the entire 10 minutes at the pen - patiently waiting for all them to decide that that was a safer place to go.  Reason was working one side of the pen and I had the rope and was working the other side.  He was patiently walking in a few inches and stopping as we would wait for the sheep to settle before I would have him walk up a few inches again.  The cold wind and rain was blowing hard and I thought my left arm that was holding onto that rope was going to get so weak that the gate would blow back into the sheep and scatter them away from that opening.  Patience, focus, and Reason listening to my commands finally got the sheep into the pen.  After the pen, these sheep set up for a shed really nicely and Reason came in and held the two on the end.  That was his HXBs title, which rounds up all the A course & B course advanced titles on him (he already had his herding championship).
Now fast forward to this past weekend (April 24th, 25th, & 26th).  It's a three day obedience trial at St. Paul Dog Training Club in South St. Paul, Minnesota.  Reason is entered in Open B and Utility B all three days.  The obedience trial has been designated as an AKC National Obedience Invitational Regional Qualifier (for more information on these events, click here). Reason just loves obedience and considers it just as fun as agility, which is why I love going into the obedience ring with him.  He gives his all on each exercise, burning rubber on the way out and just as fast on the way back to me. And he just floats at my side when he heels with me. 
It wasn't a surprise to me that this event drew in some of the best competition from the surrounding states along with a couple of dogs from states that required a flight into town. 
We started off on Friday qualifying in both classes with great runs, but a bobble in each class kept us out of the placement.  On Saturday, he was 1/2 point out of the placement in Open B with a 198 1/2 (1st & 2nd place was a 199 1/2, 3rd & 4th place was a 199). In Utility B, he had a great run but nearly grabbed the wrong article in his race to find it but figured it out quickly and got the correct one.  I was pleased going home on Saturday night knowing that we had gotten UDX legs 6 and 7.  When I arrived at the trial this morning, I found out that Reason was actually in the lead as the 4 top qualifying dogs for the Invitational invite. I was thrilled to know this and just focused on our performances for the day.  Our Utility B run was a great run, with a 198 and 4th place (tied for 3rd).  He had a decent run in Open B, but not good enough to place.  This gave us UDX leg 8 and the icing on the cake was that Reason ended up in the lead for the regional qualifier.  
Because of the number of herding and agility trials we compete in, there is no way that we could ever qualify for the National Obedience Invitational with a breed like the Border Collie.  What an honor to be able to qualify for this prestigious event in Long Beach, California from a weekend of trials like this. But then again, the honor really is that I have such an amazing and versatile partner, Reason.  
Obedience photos by Great Dane Photos.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Fog Has Lifted - Finally

I think we made it through the most challenging part of Schema's heat cycle being at day 18. The last four days, (including last weekend while staying in a motel all together) have been rough on Score.  Before this, he could be distracted from her through various means (mostly quirks that I could devote an entire blog towards). But during the breed able days, he was a butt seeking magnet and he was determined to mount her and efficiently get it done, so it was tricky around the house (and REALLY tricky in the motel) keeping them apart. I knew that my personal fun police officer, Mr. Reason, would not allow anything naughty to happen.  If Score even looked at Schema lovingly, Reason would let me know by growling and chasing him away.
This morning it was like the fog had been lifted and things were almost back to normal.  Score is no longer interested in her rear end and when they went outside to relieve themselves, this morning he did his own business and wasn't thinking about Schema's business. Right now Schema is on the couch chewing a bullystick and Score is by my side wanting to go outside and play.
Score has been such a good boy, always sleeping quietly through the night while he is in a kennel next to Schema's kennel in the bedroom and also while riding together in the van. The most difficult times for Score had been during the daytime when he was used to just hanging out. That was when there was a lot of whining and a lot of "want" (and lots of growling from Reason). 
Last weekend we were out of town at a herding trial and I could see the effects that the peak of the heat cycle had on him.  I could tell that he was mentally drained.  His flanks were more explosive and not soft when they needed to be.  And he wanted to hold on to the livestock instead of releasing them when he continuously refused to take the flanks I was giving him. His body was moving fast, but his brain was stuck. His runs on Saturday were not pretty, but his sheep run on Sunday was much better as he and I were a little more connected.
Schema's first (and last) heat cycle couldn't have happened at a better time (well, I suppose the peak of it, could have happened before our motel stay).  Besides the herding trials last weekend, the only other thing I have going on in April are obedience trials this coming weekend for Reason. All is well in this house right now.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Have you ever thought about the way humans and dogs deal differently with contrast or unpleasant situations in their lives?
Humans love to find reasons why bad things happen to them or to others. When they are embarrassed about a mistake or when the outcome in a situation is not what they expected, blame can be a convenient diversion. Humans have tendencies of dwelling and chewing on the bad things that have affected them. They continue to hold their focus on those thoughts throughout the day - analyzing and replaying the situation over and over again and only totally letting it go when they go to sleep at night. However, then they don't sleep well because that stress on their body won't let go. 
We could actually learn a lot from our dogs by observing the way they deal with contrast and unpleasant things. Dogs so cleverly divert their attention from negative situations towards things that are more reinforcing and pleasurable. That could be something as simple as a sniffing a blade of grass on the ground. They always know how to effectively shift their focus from the negative to those things that are much more appealing. And even when they are immersed into something fun, they continue to challenge themselves by seeking out things that might be even better. When something bad happens to them, they immediately move on without blame and naturally turn away and look for something more interesting. Dogs expect good things to happen to them. But when they find themselves in a predicament, they don't complain - they just keep looking for that expectation of all that is good.  And the wonderful thing is that they do eventually find it. 
When life brings contrast or things we don't want into our view, we have a choice.  We can choose to look at what we perceive as negative and continue to view it that way or we can be like our beloved canines and find a way to look at contrast differently.  If it makes you feel bad, then find something else to think about or try to think about that contrast in a different way.  
I remember a very long time ago when I used to get very upset when I would see someone driving a truck with a dog that was loose in the back.  Whenever I would see a dog running from side to side in the back of a truck going down the road in front of me, I would start getting angry at the driver. How could they risk the life of that dog?  I didn't want to be the one to see the dog getting thrown from the truck.  The entire situation would consume me and I hated the feeling that would come over me when I would see something like this. So, I decided to try to find a different way to look at it so I would not have to deal with that negativity.  I decided that the likelihood of that dog being thrown from that truck was very low.  I told myself that the person driving the truck obviously loved the dog because they were taking them along and the dog was not left at home kenneled or tied up. When I decided that I was the source of my negativity and by looking at the situation differently, I could feel better - well, it was the beginning of a new personal challenge that I took on. Whenever I am upset, I take the challenge of trying to find a different way to look at the situation.
One of my favorite quotes is one by Dr. Wayne Dyer:  "If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."

Monday, April 6, 2009

Wool Ewe Stay Or Wool Ewe Go

A sure sign of spring around here is when the sheep get sheared each year after a year's worth of wool. After not being worked or handled from late November until April, the sheep are frisky and decidedly not in favor of relinquishing their wool.  
It was a cool Minnesota day today with a northwest wind and temps in the 30's, but we were sweating after shearing, worming, and clipping hooves (actually the shearer did most of the sweating). 
I love this time of year.  The weather teases us with snow and temps below freezing one day followed by temps in the 40's and 50's the next day.  There is excitement in the air as we gradually transition from indoor activities into outdoor activities. The dogs are feeling their wheels as they run across the fields which is no longer frozen under them.  Life is good.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Can't We Just Be Friends?

I've had the opportunity over the years to observe a lot of dogs and trainers inside and out of the obedience, agility, and herding trials. Lots of the dogs are well schooled in the venue that they are competing in and many of the handlers are very experienced. What I notice most is not the greatness of the runs on course or the great training session, it's the relationship between the dog and the handler. Some people have a strong connection and relationship with their dogs and others have a very poor relationship.
With all the foundation training people do with their dogs in order to train the necessary skills, what would help the most would be to put more effort into building a stronger relationship between the dogs and their owners. That relationship is the key to getting great performances and just having a better companion. How do you get a better relationship? It's simple, become a better leader to your dog.
Dogs are not comfortable in enviroments without a leader and without structure. And depending on the personality of the dog, they will learn various ways of dealing and coping with any uncomfortable situation. 
Many humans will bring new dog or puppy into their lives and try to treat their relationship like a new best friend. My dogs most definitely are my best friends, but they only became my best friends because they respect my leadership and the structure that I provide them. I'm not talking about total dominance, I'm talking about balanced dog training - where we (the humans) are training the dogs rather than the dogs learning how to train the humans. Dogs think about life and living much differently than we do. They deal best with straighforward situations which are black and white. They do not do well with our human negative emotions and they do not understand our verbal world of communication, but they are masters at figuring out our physical communications (motion) and signals.
My dogs never cease to amaze me at their ability to watch me and figure me out. I remember one time where I went to turn on the lamp in the family room, only to find all 3 of my dogs slinking away to various parts of the house (I saw Reason's tail going around the corner, Gimmick went behind the couch, and Score went slinking off into the kitchen). "What in the world was THAT all about?", I thought to myself. It didn't take me long to figure out what they were responding to - that lamp never gets turned on unless the dogs were getting groomed. It just happened to be a stormy/dark day and more light was needed in that room. The brilliant interpreters that they are, my dogs had figured out the pattern. If you pay attention to observing your dogs and their reactions, it can make you a much better dog trainer.
Occasionally I will hear someone express that they have someone else bring their dog to the vet (or be involved in any situation that they view as negative) because they don't want to be associated as the bad guy. This setting up a poor relationship pattern with your dog and it is not being fair to your dog as they look to you as a leader. Dogs are going to have to deal with fun things and not-so fun things in life. That's the nature of life and dogs and the choices they learn to make. They deal with negative things by avoiding them - and that's to be expected. But if you are not there to help support them unemotionally through some of these required "not-so-fun" experiences, how will you be there to support them when they decide that they don't want to do something that is required or when they decide they want to do something that is not allowed in their day to day lives?  That will lead to training issues down the road in your favorite dog sport. 
When you train specific skills to your dog in agility, obedience, or herding, how will you help them understand the parameters of the skill you are trying to teach, if you are only exposing them to positive things?  How will they deal with the negative things or even the difficult or challenging things in life and in training, if you are intervening and not allowing them to make a choice? You might create a very dependent dog that simply can not deal with making mistakes or failing in any situation. These types of dogs will shutdown or slow down and stop trying as they stress out because they can't depend on you to help them.  Or you might create an entrepreneur dog that gets creative in dealing with things that they don't want to deal with or challenges their focus and skills.  These types of dogs can learn how to seek out and find their own reinforcers or fun things to do when they are not taught that the choices they make leads to outcomes that are even less enjoyable.  Neither of these situations is going to give you a great relationship with your dog and it will certainly create future training issues as the dog learns effectively how to avoid or resist those perceived "unfun" or uncomfortable challenges in the future.
Dogs deal better with negative situations by having a strong unemotional support system in a strong and dependable leader.  
Yes, training new skills should be done with positive associations and experiences.  But dogs should also be allowed to make mistakes along the way and eventually learn how to deal with those failures based on the outcome of their choices. Dogs that are never allowed to fail or make errors or experience negative situations, are much more of a challenge to train for any dog sport. Proofing games are an important part of training dogs to really understand the skills they have learned so they can perform in any environment and have a clear understanding of their job. However, you can't effectively or fairly proof a dog that doesn't deal well with failure or mistakes. And as a trainer, you must be able to allow the dog to work through mistakes without jumping in so quickly to try and help them.  Dogs that learn to keep trying when they've made a mistake are dogs that have great relationships with their owners.  There is a strong connection in place as the dog looks to the owner as a leader.  
So set aside some time and observe your relationship with your dog.  Are you too quick to try and intervene to make each experience a positive one?  Do you let your dog make mistakes and unemotionally give them the response that is needed to help them make better future decisions? If you are having issues in obedience, agility, or herding with your dogs, take a few moments and be honest with yourself about some of the relationship and leadership issues that occur around your house.  Sometimes honesty is the best medicine on the road to recovery.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Behold the turtle: He only makes progress when he sticks his neck out. --James Bryant Conant

I've had this blog ready to go for some time, but "time" is always getting in the way of starting. And since that's never going to change, something has to - so that will be me.  It's here we go....
I'd like to introduce my wonderful dogs, who contribute daily to my ability to stay grounded. They are my therapy, my comic relief, my dose of reality, my inspiration, and my lessons in life. I'd also like to thank Janice DeMello for breeding and placing my dogs with me.  I couldn't have asked for better partners.
Reason is a 9 year old black tri Border Collie.  He is my soul mate and sometimes I swear he knows me better than I know myself.  He is my partner in obedience, herding, and agility and he performs all of them with an incredible amount of enthusiasm and determination.  He is also my main help to sort and hold the sheep when they need shearing, medications, and various other chores.
Reason is a very talented obedience dog.  There is nothing better than going into the obedience ring with him as a partner.  The joy on his face when he is heeling, retrieving, jumping or performing any of the other obedience exercises is contagious and I feel priviledged every time we enter the ring together.  Looking into that little graying face as he awaits my commands - just makes me want time to stand still.
Reason introduced me to the wonderful world of agility and I am forever grateful for this new adventure.  Most people learn agility with slower dogs.  Reason does not do anything slow and agility is no exception. There is nothing more exhilerating than running a course together with my powerhouse, "Little Boy".
Score, a 4 year old black and white Border Collie, is the middle child in our house.  He is closely related to Reason as they have the same sire, Scheme and Reason's mother, Static, is Score's grandmother.  While Reason looks nothing like Scheme, Score looks like his Daddy's twin.  I just love his expressive face with his head that tilts as he tries to interpret what you are telling him. Score is an effortless runner.  He can power up to speed and run for a long distance and not even be breathing hard.
Score is doing some great things in agility -trialing in USDAA Masters and closing in on his MACH in AKC agility.  He qualified for USDAA & AKC 
Nationals this year, but I decided to trial closer to home.
Next year we are definitely going to Tulsa for the 2010 Nationals.
Score is also developing the skills and becoming great herding dog.  He has a great feel for his stock and the tougher the sheep, the better he is - he loves a challenge and he rises to all that I have presented to him. I'm looking forward to enjoying many successful years with Score in herding, agility, and even possibly obedience.  
In May of 2008, I couldn't resist bringing in the newest member of my family, Schema.  Schema is a black tri granddaughter of Reason and Score's sire.  She is out of a bitch, Posh, that I loved immediately when Jan decided to keep her.  My word to describe Posh when I first saw her was "stunning" as she reminds me of Static. Schema's sire is a powerful and talented dog, Bezel, who has the most incredible contacts I have ever seen.
Schema is an amazing little girl, who has a great work ethic and has a lot of natural talent working stock.  She is very athletic, determined, and yet she is very biddable and sweet.  I love watching her run as she is such a powerful, yet efficient and graceful runner.  I can envision that her jumping style will be very similar.
I've been working on a lot of foundation obedience and agility work with her and she just loves it all.  I'm excited for the new things we will learn as we grow together as a team.
That's a brief introduction to my dogs.  If you want to read more about me, you can read it here.