Teaching In Between The Lines

When you design a lesson plan you have a grandiose idea like “students will execute conversions using Avogadro’s number to calculate grams of an element given the moles” and then you get into the classroom and you realize it’s more like a war zone and surviving might be the number one goal.  High school students don’t really care about moles or avocados or Avogadro’s number; they mostly care about their next Snapchat or what they are doing that weekend.  And teaching dog training class is similar.  How do you get buy in to your awesome lesson plan when some handlers can’t even get their dogs to take treats readily or pay attention to them for more than three seconds?

So sometimes the best thing to do is to change the lesson!  From conversions to wiping front to back and from luring heel position to working on eating cookies; from grand ideas to life goals!!  

And approach everything with compassion, because you never know where your student is coming from mentally or physically or whatever.  One of the schools I taught in had a very transient population, you never knew if you would see your student the following day; so learning the periodic table became a moot point and how you treated others was a common discussion.  Dog training classes are usually attended by people who will be back the next week but even then you can’t say for certain.  I’ve had students whose dogs have had career ending seizures, life threatening complications and other serious problems that prohibit them from continuing to train.  Of course, it’s important to have a lesson plan that shows progression and moves students and their dogs forward towards their goal, but it is also important to be focused on the NOW.  How is that student and their dog doing in this moment?  And the next?  The entire lesson may have to be scrapped if they are struggling and need extra help.  It shows flexibility and caring to diverge from your lesson plan to discuss something that is important in that moment.  I guarantee my high school students can’t remember how to do conversions, but they definitely remember our discussions about respecting others even when you don’t agree with them.

You probably won’t have to have personal hygiene conversations in your dog training class (I hope?) but you might have to stop the lesson to help an over aroused dog, or a dog that is so environmentally stimulated it can’t respond to its handler.  And helping that person and their dog in a compassionate way will let them know you care and keep them coming back.  It’s OK, that they couldn’t shape a retrieve that day, they learned how to lower their dog’s arousal and you were nice about it.  They might be on the 5-year plan towards that shaped retrieve anyway.

Teaching is a gift.  Teaching is super hard.  Teaching is not for the faint of heart.  All teachers make a difference in their students’ lives, and it probably isn’t what you think it is.  And every once in a while, you will get some feedback from one of your students about how you helped them and it will reinforce the idea that the lesson isn’t really what you are teaching.

dogs teach

Pickle teaches Bob and Hunda a lesson.

The Blue Boat

The valley sits at the corner of two mountain ranges, the golden grass tinkling as it bends with the summer wind.  I can see all the way to forever and it is quiet.  Fat and juicy grasshoppers bounce off my shoes and my feet take quick steps.

Under the crooked mesquite tree I see a big blue bulk.  A boat.  A blue boat resting in the not quite shade of a spindly tree.  The plastic is sun damaged and pieces and parts litter the ground as if the boat shook itself free of ornaments before settling in it’s final resting place.  

A quick check of satellite images says the boat has been here a while; the blue sticks out against the muted grass and sparse trees, like an egg in a nest.  A man made landmark out of place in the desert.  It’s hard to miss the blue vessel and my brain is confused by it.

The closest lake is not close.  And Blue Boat is not just a fishing boat like you would launch into a little pond and row in circles, this is a ship!  A ship, left to rot in the southwest desert, nothing around to explain it’s abandonment.

At night I imagine the sand pirates sail it around, floating gently on waves of grass.  They do battle with herds of stinking cows and take coyotes as prisoners to swab the deck.  I had a dream that showed where they bury their treasure, but no one can go there.

Soon the grasshoppers will die and the leaves will fall.  Blue Boat will remain, slowly degrading back into carbon and oxygen, the holes in the hull getting bigger and bigger, and the sand pirates will have to find another ride.


Peep Show Rehab Post #3

Day 35, out of 90, slowly dragging by.  Everyday, when I sit on the floor and do Peep’s range of motion stretches, I wonder if we will return to agility.  Not because of the recovery, I am sure it will be 100%, but more because I don’t want to have to go through this again.  I wish I could explain to Peep, that the crate rest isn’t forever and everyday puts us closer to do things together again.  I wish I knew how he injured himself in the first place, I have watched videos and thought about it and I just can’t figure it out.  I’m pretty sure Clean Run doesn’t sell bubble wrap for agility dogs, if they did I would buy all of it.  

I know that warming up, stretching and cooling down really helps prevent injury and I did all of those things, but accidents happen and agility is inherently tough on dogs.  Are there more shoulder and psoas injuries now a days or are we just better at diagnosing them?  It seems like there are more, so that means something about how we are doing agility is breaking dogs.  I hate to think that I broke Peep, but I am responsible for his agility career and the choices I made were obviously tough on him (and he is also tough on his own body).  I love agility but I worry about injuries more now, and we keep trying to go faster and tighter, that’s the game, right??  But now, when I sit on the floor doing stretches, I wonder if it was worth it and I debate if Peep and I will get back out there.  

On a positive note, it looks like his recovery is going well, the ultrasound showed him to be right on schedule in the healing process.  We had to drive 4 hours, one direction, for our appointment, there are no local orthopedic vets who do ultrasound.  We had a good experience at Las Vegas Veterinary Specialty Center with Dr. Mason and Dr. Forney.


Peep Show Rehab Post #2


Hobble view.

Day 25 out of 90 in shoulder hobbles. At least I can take them off and put them on easily during our therapy sessions at 4Paws Rehabilition & Wellness Clinic; practice makes perfect!

Keeping Peep entertained during his crate/x-pen rest has been challenging. I purchased a few commercial treat dispenser toys and I have a lot of bully sticks on hand but Peep’s favorite puzzles are the cardboard box/paper/toilet paper tube/egg cartons that are filled with treats. These consist of things from your recycle bin so they are cheap and readily available and easy to dispose of after they are destroyed. To make one, I put a few treats in some pieces of paper, crumple them up and throw them in a cardboard box and close the flaps. Peep was hesitant at first but now he dives right in, tearing, shredding, finding all the treats and making a wonderful mess. He really likes the twisted up paper tubes as well. I gradually make these puzzles harder by closing things up tighter or bunching more things together.


Fill a box with crumpled paper, dog bowls, toilet paper tubes, etc.


Put treats in everything.


Close up the box and give to your dog.  (The tighter you close it, the harder it will be)

Peep has also started to learn scent work. He loves to use his nose and has taken to it quickly. I use a really small area and do everything on leash so that he can’t hurt himself.

I know Peep gets frustrated being kenneled so much, he has torn up multiple stuffed toys and barks when I go to work the other dogs. By giving him special training time as well as treat puzzles, he works through some of his frustration in a positive way.


Kill the rabbit.


Dog Training Is Life Skillz

derp and me.jpg

My dogs love me, they do agility because I ask them to, but they would be just as happy going for a walk or chasing Frisbees.

It has always been hard for me to keep a neutral perspective with dog training and agility. By nature I am a competitive person and want to do well; I always felt like my self worth was invested in agility and people would judge me based on the results my dogs and I put out. It seems obvious that this is not the case, but damn if it doesn’t feel like that sometimes. Maybe it’s more like I judge myself based on results, and that is a lot of pressure to put on oneself. I am just a person, with some dogs, going through the motions of life.

My superstar agility dog is injured and in rehab, my young dog is an exceptional malinois with a lot of potential wrapped up in an excited, independent, working dog mind; training a start line behavior with a dog like that is not for the faint of heart. I try to keep an open mind when I start a training session, I start with a plan but I am flexible to changing that plan if things are going south. My dog doesn’t know what the goal for that day is; or the goal for their future agility career.

It sure is hard for me to be impartial and neutral during a training session, I work on it every day. I know I am improving, my coach tells me so, and I can see it myself and in the trust of my dogs. I also know I will have to continue to work on it every day of the rest of my life.

Peep’s Shoulder and Psoas Rehab Post 1


Peep is on day 14 out of 90 in hobbles on crate rest. To catch everyone up here is the story leading up to his diagnoses and treatment; I am super happy we are moving forward again!

One week before we were scheduled to be at AKC World Team Tryouts, Peep came up lame after a training session. I couldn’t quite tell where he was hurting but I cooled him off and put him in his crate. Two hours later he came out of that crate on three legs, holding his right rear in the air. After seeing the regular vet (who suspected knee) and an orthopedic specialist (who suspected, like I suspected, iliopsoas) we went to get an ultrasound in South Carolina with a vet who confirmed a small tear in his right psoas. This tear was small and I set about crate resting and doing therapeutic ultrasound, laser and massage to heal it. After our 2 month ultrasound check up things were looking great and after coming back to Arizona we started some rehab exercises with a canine physical therapist. This is when we found that the left iliopsoas might be compromised using a stance analysis mat, Peep would barely wieght his left rear (even though the initial injury was his right rear). Two weeks into therapy and NO progress was being made and I knew there was something bigger going on.

Dr. Julie Harbo did xrays to make sure it wasn’t Peep’s hips or knees, she did think his back was sore and the xrays showed a bit of a compressed disc.

At this time I went to see Dr. Leonda Armstrong at 4 Paws Rehabilitation in Prescott. She started with a total body exam from nose to tail and concluded that both psoas were not in great shape, his back was sore, but that his left shoulder was possibly the culprit. She and I decided to discontinue rehab until an ultrasound could be done on the shoulder and both psoas.

Although there is a good orthopedic veterinary specialist in Nevada who can do ultrasound and shoulder stability treatment, I decided to fly to Veterinary Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Group in Maryland to see Dr. Sherman Canapp. Dr. Canapp specializes in diagnosing and treating medial shoulder instability.

I spoke with Monica Bush, who also worked on Peep and had similar findings, about her experiences with Squid’s iliopsoas injury and she highly recommended Dr. Canapp.

At VOSM, Peep walked on a gait analysis mat and had a physical exam. Dr. Canapp was not convinced it was the shoulder but we decided to check it out anyway, along with an MRI for Peep’s back and ultrasound on the psoas.

Luckily, the MRI showed some changes but nothing that chiropractic care and rehab won’t fix, the psoas were both slightly compromised and but the shoulder was still in question (the ultrasound wasn’t conclusive). In fact, the ultrasound was so inconclusive, along with the physical and the gait anaylsis not showing anything, that Dr. Canapp wasn’t even sure we should go in and do the arthroscopy on the shoulder. But I didn’t fly across the country for nothing so he agreed to go in and look as well as do stem cell and prp injections for both psoas.

Dr. Canapp called me when Peep was out of surgery and said that when he got into the shoulder it was a mess, with a lot of small tears and affected tissue, he rated it 8 out of 10. They did radiofrequency treatment inside the shoulder as well as stem cell and prp injections.

We spent one day recuperating in a hotel room and then flew home. The first few days were fine, I think Peep was tired and getting his strength back. But now he feels like a million dollars, which is great except try telling a hyperactive Peep Show to walk slowly on a leash in his hobbles to go outside to potty. He wants to tug, jump in the air, do backflips, dig, play with sticks, bite the leash and act like a fool. Day 14 out of 90; it’s going to be a looooooong haul!!!

As they say, it takes a village, and I’m glad Peep Show has such a great team behind him! Thanx to all of you who have helped us move forward!!


Goals vs Life

I am mightily trying to revamp my agility goals.  The biggest question that pops into my mind is how agility fits into my life mission.  Agility is important to me, but it can’t be as important as the bigger things in life: people, relationships, connections, teaching, learning, sharing, and compassion.  The problem is that when I start thinking about how to fit agility competitions into the bigger life mission thing and it’s like smashing a square peg into a round hole.

The scenario that keeps coming back to me is Grand Prix semi-finals at Cynosports last year.  I had the run of my life with my little dog and knocked the last bar; it doesn’t change the connection that my dog and I had on the course, the subconscious movements, the lines, the teamwork or the energy that was expended.  But the bar does mean that no placement happened on paper.  I want to feel proud about that run, but since there wasn’t a placement there is some incongruity to the whole predicament.  If I just want to feel connection and teamwork I can do that on the training field.  So why compete?  The mental torture playing that run over and over again in my mind was certainly a bad way to spend my time.  Yet, in reality that run was fucking awesome; best run ever!  And if you can feel that it was the best run ever even with the bar, what is the point of going up against others?  Why go to competitions if failure is acceptable?  At an agility trial am I trying to prove something?  Satisfy my ego?  Fill my time?  Competing at agility shows don’t meet my life mission to help people and have compassion for myself and others.  It costs a lot of money and takes a large expenditure of time and energy.  I am exploring these ideas.  Is there a way to go to competitions and enjoy my time there?  Reward myself for the awesome but not quite perfect runs?  Can I fit my life mission into trialing by whittling the corners down on the square peg?  

The absolute best thing about all of this is that my dog doesn’t care one iota about what I decide.  He is happy just to do stuff with me, he could care less what it is.  I am so thankful to have a training partner that brings 110% to everything we do together.  I want to honor that commitment.  I want to satisfy my goals without stepping on my bigger ideals.  I want to have my cake and eat it too.peep kiss

FUn. Because whether you win or lose, you still have to drive home.

by: ffluffy

for: Dog Agility Blog Action Day

Do we do dog sports because they are inherently fun?  Or for some other reason?  Fun (when used as a noun) is defined by the Oxford dictionary as – enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure.  I am not sure I would describe the average dog sport venue in this way.  A better way to explain what is going on is to say dog sport X is a journey.  Journey (when used as a noun) can defined by the Oxford dictionary as – a long and often difficult process of personal change and development.

Dog training for me is inherently fun but competitions are another matter.  I feel the need to compete; I’m not sure I do it because it is fun.  And that might be a bad thing.  Am I searching for something that is lacking in my life when I step to the line?  Could I walk away from competitions and just do the training that I enjoy so much?  If there were no titles, would we still compete with our dogs?  I would, I think that would actually make dog sports better; competition for the sake of competition.

Competition should be about practicing what you know, learning about things you need to know, and teamwork with your dog. That might be fun; but it also might be a a long and  difficult process.

Getting in the car to drive home after a competition where you almost made the podium or exploded miserably is not fun. Getting in the car to drive home after winning definitely feels different. But in each case you still have to drive home.  And you better be ok with the process that got you there: the practice, the learning, the teamwork, the endeavor, THE JOURNEY.

Think about this – the first two letters of FUn are also an abbreviation for a common slang term that can be found in Urban Dictionary.  Journey on the other hand is a good, clean, G rated word that helps me get from here to there and keeps me company on the long drive home.

It's the Journey

It’s the Journey

Handling the Path

As published on USDAA.com at http://www.usdaa.com/article.cfm?newsID=2773

My students and I recently discussed how important it is to watch your dog vs. figuring out where you need to be as a handler. I am not going to tell you not to watch your dog, but, to be more successful, you do need to move the watching of your dog to your peripheral vision. I usually wear contacts instead of eye glasses for big events just for this reason.
How can you learn to watch what your dog is doing and where you are going at the same time? Watch the path where you want your dog to go next! You are still aware of where your dog is, but you are moving your eyes to where you want them to be next and moving your body to handle the next move. It is kind of like tracing the path you want the dog to go with your eyes.
When I run my dogs, I am looking to where I need them to be next and moving on; I am not waiting. My dogs are pretty fast so I don’t have time to stand around, plus standing around is not so much fun (for dogs or people).
If your dog starts to go off course, instead of watching them with your eyes and calling them, run to where you were going next and have a big party! And then start over and try again.
If your dog misses an obstacle, keep going! It was probably your handling mistake anyway. Then, go back and try the whole thing over again, focusing on that one spot where the mistake occurred. But, this time, handle the path, not the individual obstacle!
This might not work for all of you; we are all different and so are our dogs. But think about it, try it, and see if it helps get you moving. This might be just the thing you need to take your handling to the next level!
We are all learning all the time.  Don’t forget to ask questions and try to figure out what works for you and your dog and your team. That’s why it’s a journey!
handle the path

handle the path



by:  ffluffy

for: dad

wrapped in newspaper

stuffed in a suitcase

delivered to the desert

no ponds to speak of

but that July it snowed white fuzz

the little pieces peeled from the light brown stalk

expand five times their original size

And fill the backyard with tiny white seeds

thanx for sharing