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.

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

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

Don’t Forget the Table!  (Or the Bacon!)

As an agility instructor, I have the best intentions for my students, I want them to succeed, grow, meet their goals, and have fun!  I have been doing agility for 15 years and sometimes I take things for granted; table criteria is an example.  If you train a dog through our program, we have done the table from the ground up and talked about the difference between USDAA and AKC and when to release your dog and how to keep your dog motivated on the table and how to keep them staying on the table and etc.  BUT in this situation it is a a junior handler who is learning handling on a seasoned dog.  I put her in a Novice Handling class, her dog was already trained on the equipment, and we just need to teach the junior handler some moves.  So she didn’t hear the spiels about the table.  And even though I am pretty sure we did the table once or twice  in her class, I am 100% sure we rewarded the dog on the table and we didn’t talk about the “rules” of the table in a competition.

After six months this junior handler entered her first real trial, AKC at the Masters level (the dog has her MACH and has been to the invitational.)  I know her goal was to have fun, and she loves her dogs, and her parents promote a good attitude in sports.  In her standard run, as the dog preformed the table, the junior handler stepped into pet and hug her dog; she had already NQ’d so the E didn’t really matter.  How cute is that?  How cool is it that the handler loves her dog so much it was a natural reaction to step in and reward?  As the coach and instructor I kicked myself for not thinking to explain the rules for the table.  I took it for granted!  Her parents never thought of it either, why would we?

It is a very cool testimony to this junior handler’s relationship with her dog and her attitude towards competition that she loved on her dog in the middle of the run.  The judge didn’t whistle her off; instead she met her at the finish line to explain the rules (which I WISH I had thought to do.)  Doing agility has an aspect of a learning curve!  Teaching beginners is tough, and I have a knack for teaching in general, but there are so many things that have to be learned out in the ring!

This junior handler and her dog went on to earn their first double Q the next day and I know they are destined for great things!  What a beautiful start to their career!

Double QQ by Scott Klar

Double QQ by Scott Klar

Ring Around The Tunnel; Pocket Full of Kibble

As published on USDAA.com at https://www.usdaa.com/article.cfm?newsID=2801

Here are some fun exercises to test your handling skills and your dog’s discrimination skills, as well as weave entries. There are two course layouts for these exercises: one involves two jumps and a 15′ tunnel and the other substitutes weave poles for the tunnel.
Exercise #1
The first exercise is to see how many jumps your dog can take while you run around the tunnel in 15 seconds. You would be surprised at the wide turns and off-course tunnels that may occur! If your dog is going wide, stop and reward him at your side a few times after each jump and then try again. If your dog takes the off-course tunnel, make sure you are clearly indicating the jump and saying jump. Then try the sequence in the other direction!
Try the same drill with weave poles (and, no you can’t run through the weaves!). Again, work in both directions.
Exercise #2
The second exercise is a bit more complicated.  This sequence includes a front cross (changing sides by turning in to your dog), send, blind cross (changing sides by turning away from your dog), and a rear cross (changing sides while behind your dog). The dog is doing a figure eight: jump, tunnel, jump, tunnel, and so on.
Handling Directions
  • Start with the dog on your left. 
  • Front cross the approach side of the #2 tunnel.
  • Send the dog to #4 tunnel.
  • Blind cross before the dog exits #4 tunnel.
  • Blind cross again at the entrance to #6 tunnel. 
  • Rear cross on the approach side of #8 tunnel.  
You can reverse this drill and go the other direction.
Try this second exercise with the weave poles. It is a great test of weave entries and exits!
Check out the video example: https://youtu.be/CYriNp5nO5k
If you struggle with the handling portion of this game, break it up and reward more frequently (that’s why you have a pocket full of kibble). Use a food or toy reward that you can toss on the ground along the path you want your dog to take. For example, if your dog isn’t getting the send to #4, start at jump #3 and toss the reward on a path towards #4 as your dog takes jump #3. This will encourage him to travel out and the motion of tossing the reward is the same as the handling movement for the send.
The weave pole portion of this game can be very challenging for young dogs! Break it up into smaller sections. Try getting the reward off the handler (give it to a helper), or use a Manners Minder/Treat N Train (a remote treat delivery device) to reward the dog for completing the weaves regardless of handler motion.

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

Snooker 101: How To Play USDAA Snooker With FLOW & FUN!

***Disclaimer- I am teaching you how to play Snooker with your dog’s happiness as a priority and to get a Q.  If you want to learn Snooker strategy to win and get Super Q’s, please read Dave Hanson’s Snooker article at http://www.usdaa.com/binary/files/SnookerHanson.pdf

Snooker is a game played in USDAA agility.  It involves an opening of the handler’s choice and a closing of the judge’s choice.  Red jumps are taken, and IF completed successfully, allow the opportunity of taking a numbered/colored obstacle.  In the opening, numbered/colored obstacles, earn points if completed successfully.  If NOT complete successfully in the opening, you earn no points but can continue.  In the closing, if a numbered/colored obstacle is NOT completed successfully, the whistle blows.

ALWAYS read your Snooker course map and go to the briefing so you will know if it is 3 reds, 4 reds OR 3 or 4 reds, (or 4 of 5 reds, or…)!  You also need to know the time set for the course, as well as any other judge specific rules (#6A and #6B must be taken in flow, or combo #5 is any jump weaves, etc.)

It is best to look at designing your Snooker strategy by working BACKWARDS from the closing.  Always look at the closing, determine where number 2 is and how is the best way to get there from your opening.

Pick an opening sequence that utilizes FLOW.  Even a Super Q can happen with a course that runs smoothly.  In Advanced and Starters, FLOW should be the number one priority!  Get your minimum points on a course that allows your dog to work in extension, keep it safe and fun!

You only need 37 points to qualify in Snooker.  If you make it through the closing to number 7 you have earned 27 points; you only need 37 to qualify, so that makes a total of 10 points needed in the opening.  Or you could plan on getting through number 5 in the closing, and then you would need 23 points in the opening.  Or. Or. Or.  Get out a calculator!!

Red jumps are worth 1 point and if taken successfully, allow you to take a numbered/colored obstacle for points.  YOU CAN ONLY TAKE A RED JUMP ONCE IN THE OPENING.

Start with the hardest to get to red jump and end with the red jump that flows into the number 2 of the closing.

Your course needs to consist of the following: red jump, numbered/colored obstacle, red jump, numbered/colored obstacle, red jump, numbered/colored obstacle, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Think of the opening and the closing as a course!  Renumber it on your course map starting with 1 and ending with whatever number gets you to the last part of the closing.  I know you are allowed to “think on your feet” in snooker, but some dogs can’t handle the stress and will shut down.  I do not “think on my feet” with those dogs.  I run my course and leave if a whistle sounds!  I do not sacrifice my dog’s happiness and speed for anything!

Technically you can go to another red if your dog has performed a red incorrectly by knocking it.  I reserve this strategy for DAM/PVP.  Again, I run my course in flow and if the whistle blows, I leave!

**Try to plan a course that is do-able for your dog; don’t plan on 3 weave poles when your dog misses entries.  Make sure you can complete the course in the time allotted, weaves and contacts take longer than jumps and tunnels!

Refusals do not count in the opening, and do count in the closing.

If you fault a numbered/colored obstacle, you MUST complete it in the opening.

Snooker Checklist

  • Find hardest red jump, start your opening with that jump
  • Find #2 obstacle, plan to end your opening close to #2
  • Walk the closing
  • Plan an opening with flow
  • Re-number your course map
  • Memorize the opening and closing as one course
  • Plan a reasonable course for you and your dog’s skills
  • Leave when the whistle blows

Here is a fun course from cynosports 2014 to study and come up with a plan that has FLOW and is FUN for your dog!

Snooker Course

Snooker Course

Here is Eric’s briefing:

Start jump is bidirectional, must be taken to start your run and if taken again, ends your run!  The finish jump is live at all times and will end your run!

3 or 4 reds!

Combos are bidirectional in the opening!


  1. Champ 26/22 and P 20/16    45 secs
  2. Champ 18/16 and P 12         50 secs
  3. Champ  14/12 and P 8          55 secs

Agility Game called “It’s MY choice!”

The other day we played a game in class called, “It’s MY Choice!”.  It was designed to “mess” with my students heads a little bit, make them think on their feet, and keep things fun and sassy!  The way it worked was I numbered a course and the immediate obstacle after a contact was “my choice”.  In this photo, the jump after the teeter is “my choice”.  I called what they were going to do before the teeter.

Agility Game "It's MY choice"

For example, a tunnel  after a contact could be left side, right side, do it twice, front cross after, skip entirely, etc.  A jump could be backside, rear, front before, blind before, skip entirely, do it twice, etc.  It was fun and made for some quick thinking.  Handlers also had to walk all of these options during their walk through so they could be ready for what I called.  I do think accessing the mental image of the course as we are running in real time is hard for a lot of people.  The practice of memorizing multiple scenarios and executing “on the fly”, made the handlers use their brain in a meaningful way.

Here is the course we ran.  It’s in a small building, I recommend less obstacles for such a small space but I do not own the building.  Luckily you can use any course with contact obstacles!

"It's MY choice" course