Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Re-home?, RETRAIN



You have either had one or will have one in your future.  That one dog that just doesn’t fit, doesn’t want to do the dog sport of your choice, isn’t the high level prospect you were hoping for, and learns at a different rate or in a different way.

I have had two of these dogs and was told multiple times by multiple people to give back to the breeder, re-home, put down, or retire them.  The weird thing is I didn’t.  I didn’t listen to their voices or the voices in my head.  And it wasn’t just because I made the commitment to them as puppies.  I truly believe that there is a better home out there for every dog I own (stole that from an article in a Schutzhund magazine a few years back).  I don’t flatter myself that I am the best trainer, handler, owner, caretaker or partner; I have issues and so does everyone else who owns a dog!  That thought keeps me humble and probably makes me try a little harder when things are going awry.

Bob didn’t want to do agility.  He didn’t really want to do it from the start.  And I originally got him to be my competitive agility dog.  We were going to go to Nationals!  World Team Tryouts!  Competitions overseas!  Only Bob had a different plan for us.  It just took me 5 years to figure out.  And people would say Bob is the slow learner…

Bob would probably have been happier in a family with kids, or in a home that took him herding, or even with a handler who just wanted to do agility at the local level.  I considered re-homing him many times but somehow he stuck with me.  We are going to enter our first disc competition in less than a month!  My keyboard is sticky from the tears I just wiped!  Bob!  Competition!  Doing something that he dearly loves!  Yay!  I just had to open my eyes to his idea of a good time!  Learning a new sport is never easy and we have had our shares of ups and downs, crash and burns, laughter and head shaking along the way.  We certainly won’t be the best, but we aren’t trying to be.  It’s just me and my Bob A Lob, doing something together that we both enjoy.

Wad Frizz Club

Wad Frizz Club

Stage Fright and Being Naked!

I was listening to Ted Talk the other day and Joe Kowan was discussing stage fright; the next day I was experiencing stage fright first hand as Bob and I did our first REAL disc demo.  I do agility every day, I run in a trial some weekends, I have trialed at the highest level in agility; I can do agility in my sleep.  Disc on the other hand, is new to me.  And even though I practice, I find it hard.  And even though Bob likes it, he is not perfect.  We have a looooong way to go.

Performing in front of other people causes anxiety and stress, for both the DOG and the HANDLER.  Don’t deny it!  Embrace it!  I knew that doing a Frisbee demo with Bob would be hard.  I had run through my routine a million times in my head, I had done it a few times in real time.  I like to visualize my disc performance or agility run from start to finish, including getting my dog from my crate, pottying them, warming up, doing the run, finishing, rewarding and cooling down.  While this set of steps can help you be successful, don’t get too caught up in the “routine”, you have to be prepared for the unexpected and be flexible with your habits.  Esteban Fernandezlopez discusses this in a Bad Dog Agility Podcast on Improving Mental Game.  I like to plan what I am doing before an agility run but I am not going to freak out if I don’t have my special toy or certain treats.  A routine is a great way to generate confidence at a trial!  Read my post on getting organized for your agility run called Crate to Crate.

The disc demo went well because I trusted Bob to do what we had already done!  And NO!  I didn’t have treats out there!  Just discs and my dog!  We had also trained for this, practicing disc with the treats over on the table (although most of the time the Frisbee is the reward, some tricks like roll over, were taught with treats).  It was hard to step out there in front of a crowd of people, my heart rate was elevated, and my breathing was faster, my thoughts were not clear; I couldn’t even remember all of the steps in our performance!!!  But I took a deep breath, threw the first disc, and FAKED it!!!  And I was naked!  And so was Bob!  No treats!  No collar!  Just trust and love for my dog and doing disc together!

Make sure you practice you AND your dog being naked!  Train like you show, show like you train!  Nothing is worse than your dog going through an extinction behavior (like not releasing from the dogwalk) because they are suddenly not getting treats at the rate they gets treats in training.  Set up your training so that it is similar to how you trial!

When you are new to agility, obedience, flyball, schutzhund, tracking, fill in the blank with your dog sport of choice, you need a list of steps (called steps to perform) that you are going to mostly follow from start to finish, you need a positive attitude and a smile, you need a love for your dog and a trust in what you have done during training and you need to remember that you are doing this because it is FUN!  Force yourself to smile if you have to!

If it isn’t fun, if it is too stressful, if your dog checks out and you can’t get them back, if you are vomiting in the bathroom (Cynosports 2009, not me but some unknown GP finalist), you should probably reassess your goals.  We are NOT curing cancer!!!  It is a dog sport!  It is a hobby!

Here is a worksheet to help you design your own list of steps to perform, .  This is just one of many worksheets that help my clients and I to be successful on our agility journey!

bob disc demo

bob disc demo

Are You Nagging Your Dog?

I have been thinking about dog training lately; specifically about how we communicate with our dogs.
In the basic essence and over simplified philosophy of dog training you are rewarding what you like and ignoring what you don’t like.  Although negative reward markers MIGHT have their place in training occasionally, I do see them being over used.  Things like “eh”, “ah”, “no”, a heavy sigh, slouching of shoulders, blaming the dog for a mistake, etc can turn your dog off from their task.  And corrections certainly have no place in our made up “fun” sport of agility.  Instead, try ignoring what went wrong, or laugh like a silly goose as you say “let’s go try again” in a happy voice!
These two articles (links below) are great at describing how things we do as trainers can shut a dog down.  Nancy Tanner’s article says “Wanting or expecting a behavior from your dog that is perfect, and not allowing it to happen with time and maturity, will in fact shut your dog down.”  And the Dogwood article says “Imagine if every time you raised your hand and tried to answer a question in class your teacher screams at you “NO YOU ARE WRONG”. No matter how many ways or times you tried to answer the question, you were told that you were wrong and never told what the correct answer was.”
Anecdotal evidence from my experience training Bob tells me this is true (my friend Amber was present and can corroborate this story).  Bob is VERY soft, and doesn’t have inherent drive for agility.  When I was teaching his weave poles he started out awesome!  And then we had a session where things went south, I responded in a “eh” sort of way, put too much pressure on him, slouched and sighed, as I tried again and again, and he was done.  It took many sessions to regain what we had.  And I created even more worry for agility in his mind.  I re-experienced this with him training a Frisbee trick just the other day!  I was teaching a backwards circle through my legs.  He didn’t quite get it, and started to worry (I can see it in his eyes and body posture).  I decided to go all the way back to using food and going step by step because Bob was not having fun.  I took my time, NEVER marked anything with a negative, ignored when it went bad, and partied when it went well.  IT TOOK 2 WEEKS!  Which, in my mind is a really long time.  But that is Bob.  And now???? You can’t get him to not to the trick, and he slams through it like it is the funnest thing ever (ouch, my poor knees and calves).  But if I had made those “no” noises, I doubt if we would have gotten the trick to happen.  And we just did our trick in public, Bob was HAPPY to do it, no worries!!
Bob backwards circle through legs

Bob backwards circle through legs

In a Bad Dog Agility Podcast Denise Fenzi used a great example about negative reward markers by describing the of teaching of math to a little kid.  If you are going through the multiplication tables and you get to the sixes and the child starts having a hard time with 6 X 3, do you say “NO that is wrong?” and make them repeat it 5 times?  They probably aren’t going to get it right no matter how many times you do it.  Better to go back to the basics, talk about 6 X 1 and 6 X 2, do the three’s, show a number line using sixes, etc. And praise the child when they are correct, even if it is a small piece.  Those pieces add up over time!  Would you want to work for someone who only told you when you were wrong? Or verbally pointed it out every time you made a mistake?

Try it!  Go run a small sequence, and notice if you are correcting, using “no”, making the dog repeat, slouching, etc.  If you are, try to ignore the things you don’t like, just be quiet and focus on the things that are AWESOME, reward those things!  And then go back and break down the things your dog is struggling with, chances are you were causing the mistake anyway 🙂 so why would you correct or negatively mark something that was your fault?  Agility is a game we play with our dogs.  We are NOT curing cancer.  And no body died.
Here are the two articles:

Hug your dogs!  Run EVERY run like it is your last, because you just never know. 🙂

Learning A New Skill

Bob and I are learning to play Frisbee (freestyle).  Huge thanx to Wendi, who is teaching us everything she knows!  Learning a new skill puts me in the same boat as my Beginner Agility students.  It is a humbling experience!  All the different holds and throws, fidgets, rollers, around the world, long throws, types and weights of the discs, and much more!  And Bob has to learn to catch, grip, drop, jump, etc! Bob LOVES Frisbee!  Waaaaay more than agility.  I have kept it positive and fun for him (and he already LOVED it), he gets so excited when he sees the disc!

When we first started, we had some bad habits we had to break; like dropping the disc to catch another.   Bob is VERY sensitive and I was careful about helping him learn the drop skill with verbal encouragement and happy body language even when we have to end on a less than great performance.

Some of the skills don’t come natural for Bob; he is a big bodied border collie and not light on his feet.  He will probably never get good at vaults or flips in the air.  But we are ok with that!  He and I are bonding and having fun and that is what counts!  A happy Bob is a good thing!

Learning a new skill is FUN!  And HARD!  It provides a mental and physical challenge for me!  I work hard at it, practice almost every day (just like I would do with any other dog training), watch videos, try new things, make a fool out of myself, laugh, make new friends and slowly get better!  The learning curve has been steep and my success rate has been up and down and all over the place.  NOT linear!  No beginners luck or irrational confidence here!!  Some spazzy throws and a less than ideal sized dog make for some cringing moments.  But Bob and I will keep working, and taking advice, and trying new things and enjoying our time together as noob’s in the sport of disc!

Love Sofa King Rad Bobalicious!

Love Sofa King Rad Bobalicious!