Sunday, December 11, 2011

ONLINE CLASSES NOW AVAILABLE FOR DOG SPORTS – A new opportunity for learning and training

I would never trade where I live for having an agility field in my backyard or an instructor a short distance away. Don’t get me wrong – it would be perfect but there are tradeoffs for living in an area with few homes and surrounded by beautiful forest service land where you can hike for hours and never see another person. The dogs can run free and swim in the creek. Some of my most peaceful and happy times are my walks with my dogs… watching them get to be dogs, sniffing, rolling, running and exploring with each other.. HAPPY DOGS…That is their reward for partnering with me to partake in what I enjoy – agility, herding and obedience.

However, training and learning performance sports is a challenge when you live in remote areas. Fortunately we have a beautiful training field 20 minutes away with 2 agility rings, 2 obedience rings and some wonderful people to practice with. But where do we go to learn when the nearest place for lessons is 2-3 hours away?

The past year has seen some wonderful new training opportunities with online classes by Silvia Trkman (, Alistar MacCrae (, and Susan Garrett. YES, I have signed up for an online class from each of them who are considered to be the best in their sport.

Each of these online learning experiences is very different. I tend to be very critical of teaching and learning opportunities with my background in education.  And, I currently work for and teach at a very successful online university where I virtually live most of the week. 

I am especially impressed with Silvia Trkman’s virtual classes. Silvia posts her lessons every 2-3 weeks; students practice and make a video and she provides feedback on your work. Silvia is very quick to respond to both email and video postings. The feedback given to all of the students is an excellent learning opportunity for everyone since we can watch their video and then Silvia’s excellent critique. Her critiques are not only positive but very helpful especially when one is working remotely. Silvia seems genuinely interested in wanting her students to learn.
Silvia believes in positive training, shaping, and teaching dogs tricks as a way to form a great bond and also to see how your dog thinks and learns. We are currently taking Silvia’s agility foundation class. Her third lesson introduced sequencing, straight lines and the teeter.   We are not only learning a great deal from this class but are having fun with the lessons such as this one called  “Bang the See-Saw Game”. 

The purpose was to let the dog be OK about the noise and movement in a fun training game. You will see from this short video how happy and fearless Myst is with this game. This was only Myst’s second time ever on a teeter. The foundation work we did over the past year with warble boards, balance balls and our hikes have given her good awareness of her body with no fear of what has been asked of her to try.

I guess that living in a rural area has not been that bad when one can travel virtually to take lessons from some of the best. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Professional Student

I had another birthday yesterday.  I think my favorite birthday was my 30th--I was in my last year of residency and I felt that 30 marked the year where I really became a contributing, independent person in the universe rather than a professional student.  Now, quite a few years later, I feel that I have become a professional student yet again.  This time it's a bit different because I'm working fulltime, my career has bizarre hours and I'm back in school -- Internet Agility School.  It all began with Silvia Trkman's classes (which I love, love, love) and now I've upped the ante and submerged in Susan Garrett's (SG) Recallers class.  Today was the first day of class and I'm already freakin' out.  I didn't finish all the pre-recs (bad student) and I'm struggling to keep up with all the reading, chart creating and daily record keeping.  I feel like I'm in my med school biochemistry class except that agility is way more interesting.  I'm going to give SG credit in her creation of the daily record keeping.  Even if I don't train, I need to fill it out by writing, "I did not train today.  I didn't care enough about Gemini's training to even do 5 min."  Having to write that little statement will be the worst, and I guarantee that I'll find some 5 min of something to do just to avoid writing it.

As I'm embarking on my degree in training and handling from Agility U, a few unsuspecting participants are going to be drug into it.  First my husband, Chris, who is getting his MBA and has his working student woes, will have to be my right hand man and help me with the 2 person exercises.  He'll also have to go thru the changes of altering behaviors (of the dogs and us) ect...   Gemini was the root cause of school, so she's all in.  Twig can benefit from all of this and Gem needs a study budy, so she's all in as well.  Last, but not least is Voltaire.  He'll get drug in as a Grad Student.  Yep he's winding his agility career down, but he's not ready to quit training AND I'm actually considering tracking and obedience....

Here's a photo of my pupils.... and no this wasn't recess!

Gotta run and get some homework done.  I so don't want to be writing "I didn't care enough to train!"  over and over again on the blackboard of the web.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lessons Learned Along the Way – Challenges and a Time to Reflect on New Directions

My dogs are my friends, companions and partners in our adventures. I have always enjoyed taking my dogs for hikes and exploring the beautiful Sedona landscape. Looking at animal tracks and wondering who came before. In the summer we enjoy swimming in Oak Creek or a run on a California beach. To me these experiences are some of the best and happiest times I share with my dogs. 

I have always wanted to experience each of the dog sports that are most interesting to me: agility, herding and obedience. Each brings new challenges and new learning experiences. My dogs usually let me know which one of these they can excel in and perhaps stay healthy and sound for many years.

This spring I had the opportunity to take Susan Garrett’s “Recallers” course. It has been one of the best training and learning experiences that I have had since I started training my dogs. The course was so much more than recalls…. And for me it changed the course of my dog training and the decisions that I would make or reflect upon each step of the way.  We learned about the value in creating games as a way to overcome challenges and to teach new behaviors. Always looking for the positive and joyful way to teach and train.

This philosophy that I have come to believe in added a new challenge for me this past week. 

I have been looking forward to starting Myst herding. I put her on sheep at 5 months of age and she seemed to not only have a lot of instinct but also to really enjoy this natural genetic talent to work with sheep.  Realizing how important foundation work is for each of these performance sports, I wanted to work with someone who is currently very successful in open field herding. I chose a woman who is one of the top open field handlers in the country and traveled to northern California with both dogs this past week.

I was very excited to have Myst work with a top handler and begin with a good foundation. What I was not prepared for is that some of the top handlers have little patience for dogs that have issues that may take time and patience to work through. Myst's challenge was her intensity for the sheep and not wanting to give distance asked for by the handler. This woman told me that it would be a long road of training to train this pup and by the way "look at how wonderful these other one year old Border Collies that she is training are doing."

I was disappointed to say the least and was prepared to give up herding with Myst and focus only on our obedience and agility. I told myself that I was not prepared to venture into the world of negative corrections for this wonderful puppy that I had such a good relationship with and that was working so well with me in all of our training. In fact, my blog post over the weekend clearly stated I was giving up herding.

Time is a healer and driving provides a great opportunity to reflect and consider choices, new directions and what is really important. I continued to be very disappointed that I would never herd with Myst and today talked to my trainer in Arizona about Myst. She had seen Myst work and told me that yes she would take time but she believed that patience and time would help Myst learn to work correctly. She reminded me and had several stories about Border Collies that she had been told would never do open field work. Yes, it took time but if we love our dogs and are willing to put in the time and patience different doors can open.

So today a new direction and perhaps new goals... but I can say that my evaluation of Myst's herding will continue to be her joy in what she is doing. Myst clearly LOVES sheep and I enjoy herding and the learning journey.

What's the value in that?

In Susan's Blue Print for Change video a key point was made at examining what things our dogs really value and what activities are really rewarding for them.  It was heavily suggested that we take the time to do this inventory and make a list.  Here's my lists:

Gemini High Value Rewards:
    Chasing a rabbit that runs from her
    Chasing a real fur lure
    Tugging a flat furry toy
    Chasing or playing with squeaky toys
    Chasing her squeaky ball
    Food -- generally prefers soft real meat treats overall
    Also likes liverwurst or certain dog foods from squeeze toys
    Natural Balance Roll/Chips

Gemini High Value Activities:
    Lure coursing
    Down on the table game
    2 on/ 2 off games

Twig High Value Rewards:
    Beef rib bone/baked
    Liverwurst in squeeze tube
    Real meat, steak more than chicken
    Fresh Pet
    Greenies pill pockets
    Treat pouch
    *****The only thing she will reliably tug is a beef bone

Twig High Value Activities:
    Going for a ride/going to practice
    Spin right
    Playing shaping games -- likes the sound of the clicker

Its interesting that the girls have 2 very different lists.

I did an experiment yesterday and linked working a curved tunnel to the table/down game.   Doing downs on the table have always been one of Gemini's quirky traits.  She just loves to race to the table and fly into a down.   It was amazing to see how Gemini's speed and drive for the curved tunnel increased by including one of her favorite games.  I could even get funky tunnel entrances and exits if she knew that table/down game was involved.   Who would have thought the table would help Gemini's tunnel performance???

Rising to New Challenges aka Coping with Adolescence

Unbelievably Gemini is now 7 months old.  Just before her 7 month birthday some fiendish dog decided to possess Gem.  Almost overnight my little ready to play puppy decided that she had other things on her list of Fun Things To Do and working with me was not one of them.  Admittedly I went into my own personal tail spin and lamented what I'd possibly done that had created this behavior.  After seeing a trainer/friend and biting my nails over his diagnosis of the situation he delivered the news:  an acute case of puppy adolescence.  The treatment basis would be to use a bit more creativity to maintain connection with Gemini and realize that its normal for things to fluctuate and change.  Oh ya, don't lose too much sleep over it especially as I'll need to be on top of my game.

As fate would have it, I got an email about Susan Garrett starting a new Recallers Class (now that's good timing) and I came across some excellent materials about goal setting--how to set appropriate goals, how to measure them, and really how important the entire process is for moving forward especially when you are at a challenge point.  Clearly Gemini's adolescence is a challenge for me.

A couple days ago I went to the training field with my list of goals for that training session.  Gem's big sister Twig had her own set of goals which looked something like this:  tighten up serpentines and German turns (can use same set up), full teeter work looking for drive to end and include difficult entrances.  Gemini's list looked something like this:  Increased drive to tunnel/curved tunnel, single jump cik/cap (which I call Zig/Zag) with drive to jump, into and out of turn, and figure 8 between 2 jumps using zig/zag.  Gemini apparently failed to read her training goals for this session.  Tunnel sends went well.  I was surprised that she didn't want to work for her fuzzy toys but instead wanted Twig's squeeze tube of liverwurst.  Well ok I can throw a squeeze tube.  When it came time to work her zig/zag she looked at the jump at 4" and stared.  Then she tried to stand on top of the bar, walk around the jump, lie down, give me a paw, bite at my shoe laces, an in general do anything but her zig turn -- a skill that she has done well for a month!  None of her toys worked and no treats helped her to see the light so I put her up and worked Twig some more.  Gem was going nuts wanting to get back in the action so I decided to redo my goals and see if she would just chase me and a toy thrown over the jump.  Ahh success.  In 30 secs her world was magically different and she could do full speed single jump wraps with tight turns!  I abandoned the rest of her goals and ended the session by playing with the girls.  Who knows what was up with her?

Recallers 3.0 hasn't started  yet.  In fact registration doesn't start until tomorrow.  Her mini lessons leading up to the start have class have been very thought provoking for me.  Much of it involves problem solving by using games.  Aren't adolescents experts at playing games????  She has outlined a 10 step process to help us employ games in our training and she has made it clear how important record keeping is in getting it all to work.  So I am going to step up my game and use this blog as my training journal summary site.  I can only hope that class begins soon!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Traveling to Slovenia to Learn More About Shaping and Tricks

When I got my new puppy at 8 weeks old I had already decided to let Myst be a puppy and not introduce her to agility equipment or agility until she had had a chance to be a puppy. However, as always, it is a challenge with dogs that have a high work ethic to find something to do with their minds.  Myst loved learning, playing tug and  was always looking for an opportunity to play and interact with me. So I explored ways to teach her new things, develop skills and body awareness that she would use in any performance sport especially agility. Earlier blog posts show many of the fun things we did.

I learned a great deal about positive training from taking Susan Garrett’s “Recallers” course. I learned that the criteria for training was JOY and FUN. And, I learned that I must become Myst’s favorite cookie being the most fun to interact with and learn from. The recallers course continued to show us how there was always a positive solution to all of our training challenges.

When Myst was about 6 months I learned about Silvia Trkman ( ) and her fun, positive training for agility and tricks. Silvia started agility in 1992 and is famous worldwide for her methods of training. She runs Border Collies and PyrSheps.  Her impressive wins in agility include:
  •         12 times world team member
  •         10 times National Agility Champion (with 3 different dogs)
  •           2 times world champion

I ordered all three of her DVDs and was fascinated by CIK&CAP, heeling is just another trick and tricks for a great bond. This summer when she opened online registration for her puppy class I signed up. We traveled virtually to Solvenia to learn from Silvia.

Some of  Silvia’s assignments I had started previously from her DVDs but most of the lessons  were a challenge for me. One lesson was teaching “sit pretty” and then hug a toy or object. When I tried this with Myst she could not sit up and I had to think of creative ways to help her be successful. It took us 8-9 training sessions teaching her to balance and feel comfortable sitting up --- always there were high value reinforcements for the correct behavior. In the video you will see a few weeks ago her “sit pretty”; the picture above shows how much her balance has improved and now she finds this easy to do. My Puli, who has ZERO work ethic, was able to sit up for treats in one session.

What I continue to learn is that some dogs have an easier time with learning certain behaviors or tricks than others do; part of training and shaping is to find where you can begin and have success.

This is our graduation video from Silvia’s puppy class. We will continue to learn new tricks that we had not been able to learn during the class. 

After posting this video on Silvia's graduation page for the puppy class she responded with this post:
FROM SILVIA: "So cool to finally meet Myst! Great job with the tricks, that were sure great cik&caps and I really loved the heeling too! Let me know which video you want to get for graduation!"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Handstands into Fall

Yikes, I can't believe it's been over a month since I posted.  So much has happened during those 4 weeks.  Here's a brief rewind ala Quinten Tarintino.  Gemini graduated from her puppy class!  Admittedly I deferred making my graduation video because I didn't feel that we were as advanced as some teams.  But when I finally decided to shoot the video (which took me 4 hours to edit) I was able to see how much we have accomplished.  Remember all those problems with backing up?  Well now she backs up everywhere and can even back up a wall and go into a handstand position.  My goal is to get her to do a free handstand by the New Year.  That and maybe a down stay?  How about a recall?  I can tell that I'll be spending some time with Cynde and Myst to work on our recall.

Here's her Graduation Video:  Gemini Graduates!

Gemini turned 6 months old on Oct 9th!  Yay!  We happened to be in Boulder City, NV for an agility trial at that time.  Much to our delite and surprise an All Breed Sprint Lure Club was having a practice and test.  I entered her in 3 practice runs.  She'd be running solo, no fancy gear or muzzle, and a simple 100 yard straight sprint.  Unfortunately the dogs before us were not so keen on coursing.  Well, I told the guy operating the lure that she is going to come out hot.  I guess he just didn't think a little white puppy was capable of really running or he didn't hear me.  Anyway, first time out of the gate she caught the lure within 20' then she played with it, ran with it, and totally celebrated with it.  She owned that lure.  Her next 2 runs were great.  We started her back from the line and gave the lure a head start.  Success!  She chased it the entire 100 yards and never looked back!  It was thrilling to watch her and the other dogs just RUN.:

Here's her clip with some of her captured lure antics Gemini vs the Lure