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Testing Your Training

Recently I read a training article that compared a beginner perspective (try something until you can get it right once or twice) to the perspective of someone more experienced (keep working until you don’t get it wrong). We’ve been talking about this in most of our training classes recently – especially when students are bored or think their dogs are bored or think their dogs “know” something.

With my own dogs, I rarely feel like they “know” something perfectly – there are usually ways I can test understanding to improve fluency and creating behaviors more resilient to distractions.  A few variables I can change:

  • Change location
  • Change handler position relative to handler
  • Alter distances between dog and handler
  • Discriminate between cues – add in handler distraction
  • Change excitement level (more or less) prior to the session
  • Tempting distractions
  • Behavior in sequence
  • Delayed rewards

And – combining some of these gives essentially endless opportunities!

Here’s a video we took for an online class – Griffin and I ran the same sequence and did a different handling option at jump 5. We could have tried variations at other places (especially the opening serpentine).

What’s something your dog knows? How can you test understanding? How can you add variation?

Denise Fenzi Seminar!

A few weeks ago we had Denise Fenzi back again. We had a half day on engagement, half day of heeling games, and Sunday was ‘Handler’s Choice.’ I’ve seen Denise present twice before, but it’s been a few years. It’s fun to see so many people enthusiastic about training.


Denise is so excited about training and helping teams. It’s fun see how her seminars change over time. I have not done any of her online classes yet but I was told that parts of the seminar were like real-life versions of her seminars. I didn’t take a lot of notes – mostly funny things she said or interesting things – “90% of dogs will like motion for the sake of motion.”

TitleMania : The Dog Beach

Last month we went to a four day event near Cleveland. Click here for an overview. Click here for more about the rally. Click here for the part about agility.

The dog beach was just as fun and exciting as the trial!

Lake Erie!
Lake Erie!

One of my goals this year has been to take Blaze to the ocean. He loves water!  He turned 15 in February so we are on a time limit. In March we almost visited family in Florida. I considered finding the closest dog-friendly east coast beach.

When I saw how close Geneva, Ohio was to Lake Erie I started looking at dog beach options. I was amazed to find a dog friendly beach at the Geneva State Park, about 15 minutes from the trial!

We went on Thursday night – rain and wind resulted in a deserted beach. The signs were kind of vague, pets to be kept on the west edge of the beach but no obvious markers. It looked a little too scary to let the dogs in the water but we had them play on the beach. Blaze wasn’t as impressed as I had hoped. We went back Friday morning – again, empty other than someone on a tractor clearing the beach of litter and debris. The dogs took turns on a longline to play and Viktor went on a walk where he was amazed by a huge swan.

Blaze barking at the water.
Blaze barking at the water.

Friday evening when we returned the beach was crowded with people – play, swimming, picnics – but almost no dogs. Even inappropriately-social Vitkor got beach time!  Both Tonks and Viktor got a surprised look when they felt waves lifting them up but they are serious about retrieving and loved playing.   Griffin enjoyed it too, no surprise, and Blaze did some swims and barking.  The other dog owners kept their dogs on leash and at an appropriate distance. This made it safe and possible for all my dogs to have plenty of play time.

In summary, all the dogs enjoyed it  – the younger three loved it. They were so sandy and tired and happy.  Blaze was not as amused and just like his pond at home, wanted to spend more time barking in frustration at the water. I will say I’m glad I didn’t drive hundreds and hundreds of miles to the ocean for that response!

Griffin and the pretty water!
Griffin and the pretty water!

I can’t express how fun it was to be able to go with four different dogs in such a busy environment and have them all be so great. They only eliminated up by the parking lot. They didn’t run away or steal toys or food or chase small children or shake water onto other people. They just looked like normal, happy, trained dogs – which is (mostly) who they are.

Viktor vs the swan
Viktor vs the swan


Loretta Mueller Seminar

I haven’t been to an agility seminar in many years!  A few months ago we got an email that a past student was hosting a seminar. This student had been taking classes here while in school and now was working in a veterinary practice – that also now does training! I was really happy to be able to go and support what she does – and we’d heard great things about the presenter, Loretta Mueller.

I was only able to go one day – and with a 3 hour drive each way, it was a very long day for us. We had registered to work in the morning session (Open/Novice) and then audit the afternoon (Drive and…something?).  The morning spots were full so we took an afternoon session.

My primary goal was to give Griffin a good training experience somewhere away from our usual place and to work around the distractions of other people – and to test his training in a new environment.

Loretta is an excellent presenter. Most of the teams attending were very new to agility (some of the dogs hadn’t even seen tunnels, barely seen jumps, and most weren’t fluent with tunnels/jumps yet) – it was great to see how Loretta approached the situation and helping the people and dogs have a good experience – and to be inspired to continue training. I took many, many notes that will help me hopefully let me be more inspiring to beginning teams. She was also able to adapt for the few more experienced teams – most them have worked with her previously. Loretta was very generous with her time and ended up going over time with both groups and staying late answering additional questions.

Griffin was great! His first run was not very pretty but his enthusiasm and focus were great. The room was fairly small, the jumps close together, and people were sitting along 2 sides of the room, dogs crated there, and a few dogs not in crates (new seminar attendees!). I did ask that someone stand to block the uncrated dogs – just in case Griffin wanted to visit but he didn’t think about it. Some of our usual challenges came up – signaling too early and me waiting too long to get to the next place on course – sometimes I don’t trust his commitment enough. I think it was a really good experience for him and I’m really excited for our next agility seminar working spot in 2 weeks!

I took a lot of notes – both about teaching and training. Loretta very much understands dog training, not just agility, and she seems to prioritize classical conditioning over skill training in many ways (which I completely agree with!). In brief examples she touched on the ways she’s worked to change her dog’s natural responses to get the emotions she wants in certain situations and I was very impressed with what she has done. Many people ‘in’ training/sports know how to do this in theory but aren’t always as good at applying – it’s obvious she has again and again for her dogs as well as student dogs.

I hope I get a chance to see her present again!

Griffin – 2015 Obedience Rankings

We had some fun surprises this week when the 2015 rankings were posted for some of the programs.  In WCRL rally we may 6th in ARCH points – only the preliminary results are posted. I’m not quite sure how that happened as we’ve never had enough points in the past – I don’t think we did more trials this year, but each run we did was very good.

Screenshot 2016-01-28 at 12.09.43 AM




And even more amusing – in the Companion Dog Sport Program obedience, with only one event and two runs, we managed to be 10th in Novice A!   I’m most proud of us being the only Ohio dog to be listed (and maybe even participate?). I hope we can change that in the future and make it an option for dog enthusiasts in central Ohio. We had a great time at that trial!

Screenshot 2016-01-28 at 12.10.49 AM


Agility Training – Griffin

One of the things we’ve been working on is setting up specific courses and/or sequences and running things created by other people. When I set up my own exercises I end up with more common patterns and I don’t get the same practice in remembering a course.

We work through the sequences and then isolate and work on any pieces that are harder. Usually it’s the less- obvious things that are challenges for us. Griffin has many quite great agility skills but putting together more and more pieces is still our biggest challenge.  I was pretty happy with both of these sequences, we were able to do them correct on the first try. The first sequence was harder for us – on our second try we ended up with a few knocked bars. After a short beak we were able to complete it successfully again.

I want to do more agility training but with giving him a rest break before and after the Sunday trials and where other things fall on our schedule, we usually only really get in one good session a week. Plus it ends up being pretty short (but intense) so we spend a lot more time warming up/cooling down than running. Sometimes we end up skipping it and work on obedience instead!


5 Dogs Again – Kate

Seeing cows!
Seeing cows!

The day after Rudy went home, Kate came for a visit. I worked with her a few times as a puppy and now she’s been with me for a week to work on better house manners and some retrieve foundations.  She’s six months old but far bigger than Viktor!

I primarily only offer board and train for puppies -they tend to adapt to being in a new environment much easier than adult dogs and my dogs are more accepting of puppies coming into the house than other adult dogs.  Kate is only six months old but is more nervous than I anticipated – it took about a day for her to eat treats reliably and 4 days to comfortably play and eat everywhere.

Every day we go to different places to expose her to the world, meet people, and practice various training tasks. Most of these trips are very short. Socialization is about exposure and good experiences (treats and toys), not just interaction. We’ve been to several different towns and parks, the training center, an agility trial, and the family farm (water play with Griffin!). We’ve seen ducks, geese, small kids, all kinds of dogs, bikes, skateboards, joggers, cows, horses, big tractors and tiny cars and strollers.

We spend a lot of time working on house manners. She’s learning she can be calm while people ignore her, that lying down will get more attention than jumping or biting, to resist temptations, and look to people for direction.  During play sessions she’s been learning to chase the toy, drop the toy, and bring it back rather than just play on her own. It’s so tricky with young dogs – there is advice to crate them so they can’t hurt themselves or others, so they don’t practice unwanted behaviors, and to give the humans a break.  Unfortunately that makes it harder when they are out – they’re so excited!  I see this with Viktor and sometimes Griffin – if we have some long travel days he has a much harder time settling when we do get home, our busy weeks recently have resulted in Viktor sometimes needing an hour or two to ‘cool down’ out of the crate before he’s his more normal self.

Here’s a video of a down on verbal cue – note how she doesn’t need food to prompt her down – this process can happen quite quickly!  We have added in some staying – which is helped by the sit staying work we’ve been doing for a week.

The short break gives her family some time off to not be as frustrated, Kate gets to learn new skills, and our next step is to apply them to her home environment. I expect her to try her old games for a short period of time – it worked before in that environment – but her family won’t have to spend as much time getting her responsive now that some of the challenging bigger steps  have been passed.

It’s been fun to have a training puppy – especially one that matches the rest of my group!  Blaze has had to stay home (I can only fit 4 crates in my van) but he’s mostly been good for his dog walkers and life will soon get back to ‘normal’. Five is fun, but I don’t want five of my own!

Record Keeping/Training Plans (Again)

I’ve experimented with various systems/plans for tracking training sessions and making rough (or detailed) plans towards our goals. I’ve also had various ways to roughly track student progress to be sure group classes and private lesson clients are making appropriate progress – and to see if changes to the lessons will result in better progress.

DCIM298GOPROAfter the Bob Bailey seminar last spring I started looking at other ways to make plans and track progress. And now with four dogs in my house… I really have to do something better than my past plans.

Where we’re at/where we’re going:

  • Blaze is now ‘retired’ from sports and activities – but I need to be diligent about doing his rehab exercises and fun training to help provide appropriate enrichment.
  • Griffin is a ‘mostly trained’ dog, we need to work on details and whatever will help us succeed at trials. I’ve been too busy/not prioritizing well enough and sometimes we’re going trial to trial without any real training in between. We’re working on obedience and agility though we also participate in rally.
  • Viktor is only 11 months but there are some life skills he is lacking and there’s no good reason that we are unprepared for some of the low-activity things he could be doing, such as rally or tracking.
  • Tonks is just a very young puppy – but there are training things and experiences she should have  – calm behaviors, rhythmic behaviors, as well as continuing to develop various types of toy play.

Big Picture Training Plans:  I need to have a better idea of our big goals and the sub-goals/pieces needed to accomplish those goals – and I need to make sure we’re working on those skills. It’s often more fun to work on other things than the skills that actually need training.

What I Need to Track: This is what I’m having trouble with. I like to track everything (when, where, number of reps, when errors happened, distractions, etc) but ultimately that’s so much work that I end up doing nothing. I need to have an idea of the sessions occur and where we end the session. This lets me start the next session a little easier than where we left off.  I also need to better track our skills that need work. Griffin used to have a long list.  I need to be aware of how much we’re working on skills so that we can change plans if we aren’t making progress.

Making it Easy – Record Keeping: Simple things that are check boxes/marking things out are easier than writing. I did find a way to make check boxes online in a document, however it’s a lot of work to create and more effort than it’s worth.  At the suggestion of another trainer I have looked into using a program called EverNote and it has options for check boxes though I didn’t find a way to organize information that I appreciated. I may need to go back to the paper versions – but that doesn’t let me quickly find information online.

I like being able to view everything at once, at least for each dog, though it’s even better if I can see everyone.


Making it Easy – For Training to Happen I need to be realistic about how much I can likely do on a daily/weekly basis as well as finding ways to set up training so that I’m likely to actually work on what I would like to work on. Animal trainer Ken Ramirez talks about why people may not follow through with training even when they say it’s very important. But in the end, the desired change isn’t always actually important enough to inspire the person to make the necessary changes. I’m not always motivated to drive out for additional practice opportunities or get up early to do more training (or do training after classes when I’m tired). I know I’m more likely to do training if I’m in a group than alone, if a plan is written out vs in my head, or if we’re in a class rather than not.

Now What? I’m not sure. I’ve started writing out some of our big picture training plans and pieces. I’m looking at more paper and online options for making weekly (or longer term) training plans as well as record keeping for sessions.

Related Posts

September – Viktor Update – 10 Months

DCIM298GOPRONo new update on his health. We still have about a month until our next visit. He’s still on restricted activity with swimming 5 days a week and about 15 minutes of low-activity training walks and then some almost-no-activity training.

In many ways he acts like a much younger puppy. His style of play and interaction with me and towards other dogs seems more like a 5 or 6 month puppy. He’s also not had a lot of training – there has been a lot happening and combined with his activity restrictions, we aren’t usually able to get out in public at reasonable hours. Current weak training areas: walking in public (a huge surprise – he was so good!), calm around dogs, offered attention in busy environments, and settling. And we tried to do puppy level at the most recent rally trial – not good. He was adorable and happy and bouncy. But very unprepared and distracted.

Starting last week, we’ve been systematically working on various manners and training skills every day. One day we practiced in and out of the car in a calm and attentive way. And on another day we were in and out of the building. On Sunday while at the agility trial we worked on brushing. Here’s ones from a day where we worked on staying in the crate. It’s not the most exciting video and he can/should be able to do much harder tasks. It is proof of us training! I like how you can see his self control and understanding even though this isn’t something we’ve formally worked on in months.

We’ve had a few successes:

  • He is crated in the new training building most of the time. Sometimes it’s hard with door noises (people/dogs coming in and out) or if other dogs enter the room and surprise him. But he’s doing much better, much faster than I anticipated. Unsurprisingly, he does best on the days when he gets exercise, his pain meds, and appropriate training/activities.
  • Geese: This deserves it’s own post later. The short version – Viktor learned it’s fun to swim after geese.  But after a few weeks of management and training, he has swam with 50+ geese without losing focus.
  • Classes: He would benefit from weekly classes (or more often). We’ve done pieces of classes. When we do go to class, he is pretty wild at first but then settles in after about 10 minutes and does very, very well. I wish we were able to do more of this and find a nice routine to start class and to decrease the amount of wild time.



More AKC Obedience for Griffin

Last month we did our first AKC obedience trial. It was very small – I thought that was probably due to the show being on Friday. I’ve learned that it was probably more about the trial grounds/location. Yesterday’s trial was also a Friday but much bigger! Many more dogs entered, 3 separate rings and 3 judges – we got the opportunity to be in each ring!

DCIM298GOPROWarm Up: The last trial was very, very hot and held in a barn at a fairgrounds. We went later in the morning so I had time to exercise him both at home and at the trial site. Due to the heat he was a little more ‘flat’ than usual.

This time the weather has been much cooler and our first class was at 8am (2 hour drive from home). I exercised him heavily the day before and gave him a 5 minute off leash frolic on the way to the trial. When we arrived we didn’t have time for a walk or much of a warm up – I estimated 4 more minutes but one of the dogs before us wasn’t showing.

Pre-Novice: Great! His on leash heeling was the worst part and everything got better and better as we went along. He had some expected errors (first heeling as the poorest, moving on the stand for exam) and mostly very great things. I was very, very happy and will be entering this class again soon for more practice before we go to real Novice!

Beginner Novice:  I accidentally entered us in “B” instead of “A”  – so we were in a class of 13. Like before – initial heeling was the poorest piece but things got stronger from there. I missed awards because I was in the rally ring and we left before scores were posted. Some parts of this were better than last time (figure 8). I wish I would have stayed or asked about our score to compare it to our first experience in this class. I do know we qualified! One thing we observed was many dogs NQ’ing  – during the “stay walk around the ring” portion several dogs got up as the handlers passed the ring gate – the dogs seemed worried about the handlers leaving.

Rally Novice: B: Huge class! 20+ dogs!  I almost missed the walk through and was the very last one. The course was much, much shorter than the WCRL ones I’m used to. We ended up with a Q but a low score due to some serious handler errors. I went slow at a fast sign….realized that when I got to the real slow sign at the end of the course!). I also didn’t think carefully enough and on a “Call Front Return to Heel” I did the similar WCRL sign of “Call Front About Turn.”  His overall performance wasn’t great – disconnected heeling, but very passable for rally and I don’t think it was a bad experience for him.

DCIM298GOPROOther Notes: I’m new to AKC obedience trials – I repeatedly got ‘in trouble’ with the stewards for not knowing my numbers that had been emailed. It was a little stressful that all three had to question me and didn’t want to look it up (or let me borrow a judging book to look it up myself). Next trial – I will write them down on a paper and keep that in my pocket!

I also had one of my most unpleasant experiences – a large dog of a breed known for being…not so friendly with strangers… was hanging out with owners/friends in the bathroom. The dog growled at me and the handler barely glanced at the dog. I didn’t want to push it, so I left and came back later.

What’s Next: I’m ready to enter more! I want to also try the “Pre-Open” class.  Being at trials is addicting. I used to take a lot of agility classes and when classmates were competing it made me work harder and want to be doing that too. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in that type of environment. Attending events of the last few months has been very motivating – “I know we can do better next time!” This has helped our training and helped to prompt me to send in more entries.

Griffin and I need to work on our heeling. In familiar environments we need to work on lowering arousal and 100% focus. We also need to work on good starts in unfamiliar environments. And we need to go back to doing more distraction training.