Monthly Archives: March 2013

Official results, CPE March 23-24

Jackpot, level 2: 49 points, 40.30 seconds
FullHouse, level 3: 39.21 seconds, 27 points
Standard, level 2: 141 yards, 45.34 seconds (SCT 61 sec)
Standard, level 2: 156 yards, 43.22 seconds (SCT 70 sec)
Jumpers, level 2: 112 yards, 20.68 seconds (SCT 41 sec)
Snooker, level 3: 52.40 seconds, 39 points

In Snooker, Rush knocked a bar, then actually sat and waited while I worked out how to get to the last red and where to go from there! What a good dog! However, it’s clear that I need to work on his GO! cue–I got several spins before the last jump.

Wildcard, level 5: 90 yards, 37.53 seconds (4 time faults)
Colors: Q
Snooker: 44.67 seconds, 47 points

Dancer’s teeter was excellent, but she was hesitant and slow over jumps… Debbie and I have worked out a plan to raise her enthusiasm level.

Photos from last weekend

Some photos from Nina Sage taken last weekend.

He's yelling at me because I'm late... then makes the turn anyway. Photos by Nina Sage.

Dancer--photo by Nina Sage

What I’ve learned about dogs from Dancer’s teeter struggles

While I’ve learned never (ever) to say that a task is accomplished, I feel very pleased with Dancer’s new attitude toward the teeter.

She’s taught me so much about training, rewards, persistence, and dogs in the process of retraining her teeter.

Let me summarize: when she was about a year old (2007), I had surgery for my chondrosarcoma in my left knee, and her training was … well, not as effective as it should have been, might have been, whatever. By the time she was old enough to trial, I was pretty much recovered, and I think I entered her a bit too soon, because in an early trial (18 months or so), she had a flyoff–ran right up the teeter like it was a dog walk and flew right off the end and into space, landing about ten feet away. We worked with her in practice, she got more confident, and then she had another flyoff–in practice this time, but it still shocked her and scared her and then there she was, walking thirty-foot circles around the teeter and glaring at it. I decided to give her a good long break while I figured out what to do.

Our business was growing and the next summer (2008), when Dancer was two, we decided to move to Portland (and had a devastating business fire, too (video here: coverage begins at 45 seconds)). We rented a tiny little house with a tiny little fenced yard that formed a U around the house and I began the process of retraining Dancer’s teeter–while we also restarted our business and moved.

The first thing that I did was set up the teeter–without a base–so that Dancer had to walk across it as she ran from one side of the house to the other to bark at passing dogs, people, cats, squirrels, and falling leaves. She and Elly reacted to EVERYTHING. It still took three days before Dancer would run across the teeter, and I had it braced so that it didn’t move. It took about a month for her to run full speed across it, and then I added a single jump pole so that it rocked just a little bit. Three days again before she’d run over it.

What did I learn from that? Tiny little changes and lots and lot of motivation!

In the fall of 2008, I started working with Debbie. Thankfully, Debbie has infinite patience, and she managed not to express her horror at the state of my training, and she took over Dancer’s teeter training. She showed even more patience with Dancer than she did with me, and step-by-tiny-step she persuaded Dancer that the teeter was not so terrible. Tiny little changes, with huge rewards for each and every step.

I’ve written several times about those tiny little steps–including an article published in the September 2012 Clean Run magazine–so I won’t detail them here.

So I learned this: tiny steps, lots of rewards.

There came a point, though, where no reward was enough to persuade Dancer to enjoy the teeter. It was kind of like this: pay me $1000 and I might walk toward a rattlesnake, but I’d be really wary, prepared to run and any moment, and I’d sure as hell go very very slowly. Dancer was pretty sure the teeter was a rattlesnake.

But… if someone showed me that’s not a rattlesnake but a rubber toy? I’d laugh and go play with it, right? And I’d take your $1000 and wave it in the air victoriously, too.

How do you persuade a dog that a teeter is a toy? Well, Debbie and I did that by using a foot target that Dancer loved to pounce on–and putting it on the teeter. Lots and lots of history for the foot target before it went on the teeter. I’d trained that foot target for months before we put it on the teeter. (That would be the fall of 2010 by now.)

So I learned this, too: games you play with your dog, which you think are just for fun? Those can be used to persuade your dog that other things are fun, too. Some people call that “foundation training”–but I’m talking about those silly games, like “pounce on the bunny” and “high five” and “put your front feet up here,” that you teach just because it’s fun to teach your dog something new.

Then Dancer stopped doing the teeter (summer of 2012). I have a few theories as to what happened. I stopped rewarding the teeter for the special thing it is (to her); Elly was seriously ill and I wasn’t paying enough attention; Dancer had a painful yeast infection in her ears. Elly died; I had the ear infection treated; she still wasn’t doing the teeter. Dancer was visibly confused by life without Elly. She’d bark at a squirrel, then look around for Elly to come join her. Rush was oblivious and Dancer didn’t want to play with him anyway.

I took Dancer to Control Unleashed class (with Greta Kaplan), and I worked with her a lot on communication. It was a special time for the two of us, where she got a ton of treats for not barking/lunging/staring/whatever. She got treats when she looked at another dog and looked back at me; she got treats when she lay quietly on her mat as another dog walked by; she got treats when she did simple tricks while another dog did simple tricks nearby.

From Control Unleashed class, I learned to recognize Dancer’s stress, and I began to realize that agility trials are incredibly stressful for Dancer, and I put that together with what I’d learned from teaching her to enjoy the teeter, and I realized that I needed to make agility so much fun for Dancer that she’d enjoy herself even if there were other dogs watching her, and other dogs barking, and other dogs walking around.

And Elly taught me this: that tiny little sessions of agility with lots and lots of rewards can be way more effective than big long sessions of practice.

For the last few months, I’ve been trying to provide Dancer with huge rewards for everything to do with agility. Short little sessions with huge rewards. Cheese for walking nicely into the arena. Three bait bags in a row as a reward for doing one teeter. Hot dog bits for putting her leash on at the end of the run. A walk with just me after a nice run, a shoulder rub and a cuddle just for existing, every night.

Sunday (yesterday), I saw all this knowledge come together. Dancer’s run in Time to Beat–her last run of the day, after she’d Q’d in both Excellent Standard (in her first run ever in Excellent Standard) and Masters Jumpers-with-Weaves (her first Q ever in Masters JWW, and her first four points toward her PACH)–came immediately following a run by a Malinois who was so excited by doing agility that he screamed as he ran. Seriously, he screams. Dancer looked at the ring, looked back at me, took a treat, looked at the ring, looked back at me… it was the Control Unleashed “look at that!” training, but she was doing it so well that I was stunned. When the Mal finished his run, we walked into the ring, and Dancer couldn’t quite control herself; she barked at the Mal as he was leaving.

I asked her to sit, and I told the judge I was going to take a minute to settle my dog. She sat, she looked at me, I took a deep breath–her cue to take a deep breath–and I saw her take a deep breath. She chose to focus on me, and she chose to focus on agility. I stood her up and moved her into position at the first jump and we began our run.

It was a challenging course for Dancer. After the first jump, the second obstacle was the teeter. She could have so easily chosen not to do it, and I would have understood; the Mal’s screaming really disturbed her. She chose to canter toward it, up and over, and then on to the rest of the course. She had an off-course, my fault (of course), and so when we came around to the teeter again, and she did it without any hesitation at all…

We left the ring immediately, with me telling her every single step what an amazing dog she is, and we went to the treats I’d stashed outside the ring, and I gave her every single treat I had, and I told her she’s wonderful, and then we went for a nice walk while I told her she’s wonderful.

Because she’s also taught me this: don’t miss a chance to let your dog know it when she did something really amazing.

What I learned today

Today, I learned that an intact boy dog that has an erection on the start line is going to have trouble focusing on agility. I had to walk him out of the ring after only two obstacles when he stopped paying attention to anything I said and just stood and barked at me. I suppose I should be glad he held his start line stay. (That would fall into the category of: name one good thing about the run.)

Official results: FINALLY!

Friday I took Dancer and Rush to an AKC trial, where I had both of them entered in the 20″ Preferred class.

The huge big deal oh-my-god success was: Dancer did two teeters. The first one came in Excellent FAST where I asked for a-frame-to-teeter and she did it, after which I ran out of the ring with her and gave her a whole lot of chicken liver treats, also referred to as Poodle Crack (recipe here) in celebration. She liked that. The second teeter came in Open Standard, where she ran somewhat slowly and showed some signs of stress, did nice contacts, a nice teeter, a little hesitation at the double, calm table, a nice a-frame, clean weaves–and then went around the triple, which was the last obstacle, immediately following the closed chute, which always slows her down, so that she didn’t have much rhythm going into the triple… but I brought her around and she did take the triple. When I went to check the results, I was astonished to find out that she had in fact earned herself a Q in Open Standard Preferred, her third Q, and so she now had three more letters after her name: OAP.

I honestly wondered if we’d ever get there. It is made all the sweeter because she was one of only two dogs to Q in Open Standard. (153 yards, 73.87 seconds (SCT was 70 seconds), 5 faults for the refusal, 6 faults for the overtime, 89 points–it’s a dirty Q but it’s Dancer’s third Q and I’ll take it.)

The experience of running Rush is so different that it astonishes me. After I ran Dancer in Excellent FAST, I went to the Novice FAST ring to run Rush. It took a bit of planning to come up with a course that would allow me to Q even if I decided I needed to leave with him after the a-frame. In several trials he’s jumped the a-frame when it was in the first run of the day. I’ve been working in practice on making sure he’s wound up and then asking for the a-frame… but I didn’t want to be tempted to continue if he did it again, just to get the Q. My rule with Rush is: you jump the contact, we leave. (Note that I’d never do this with Dancer; she’d be deflated.) So my plan was to put the a-frame after the send, and after I’d earned all the points I’d need.

As I came to the line, I looked at the judge and said “take a deep breath” and then off we went. Three jumps to the send–tunnel-to-jump–no worries, then around to the teeter, again, no worries, then the weaves, then around again to the a-frame.

He came to a beautiful stop at the bottom of the a-frame and waited, quivering with impatience, as I desperately looked for a good line out of the ring and over the finish jump. I’d forgotten entirely to plan for when he did do the a-frame to my standards. Whoops! When I released him, he flew by me, and I ran as fast as I could for the finish jump, arriving just after the time buzzer. Q, 65 points, and blue.

He ran next in Novice Jumpers. Going in, he had two Qs in Novice Jumpers and I was hoping for the third. It was a course that was made for him, big swoopy lines, a tricky rear cross at the double (where the obvious handler line was flat across the take-off side of the double). Four jumps in a line at the end of the course. I thought it would run fast, but I’m still not quite used to the way Rush runs jumpers. 100 yards and he ran it a hair over 19 seconds. And that’s with the spin he put in before the last jump when I got too far behind for his training. The leash runner got caught up watching him and forgot to bring his leash over…. that was a small thrill for me; I love knowing people enjoy watching him run. Standard Course Time was 41 seconds…. Yes, he got the Q, but the spin meant a five-point fault, and he ended up second. Still, that’s his NJP title.

His Novice Standard run was a classic “almost” run. But for a premature exit out of the weaves (and only 6 poles at that!) and into a tunnel–thereby incurring a “failure to perform” fault, which makes a Q impossible–he ran very well for a young dog. His contacts were excellent; he did a nice down on the table the first time I asked; his second pass through the weaves was lovely. He was focused and doing his best to please.

Teaching skills using a single obstacle

I was at the barn today, working with Rush, and talking to Deena about methods used to train single obstacles. We were talking about the broad jump but the method applies to any obstacle.

Once the basic training of the obstacle is done, then you work on the foundation obstacle skills:

Front cross to the obstacle (to the left and to the right)
Front cross after the obstacle
Rear cross to the obstacle (to the left and to the right)
Rear cross after the obstacle
Lateral distance on either side of the obstacle (especially for weaves, teeter, dogwalk, and a-frame)
Completing the obstacle correctly if the handler is behind (especially for the weaves, teeter, dogwalk, and a-frame)
Completing the obstacle correctly if the handler is ahead (ditto)
If appropriate: blind cross before or after the obstacle
Ketscher maneuver (described here) to the obstacle and from the obstacle
Do discriminations: obstacle to left turn, obstacle to right turn, obstacle to next obstacle straight ahead
For appropriate obstacles (jumps, weaves, tunnels), do backside entries
Move laterally away from the obstacle if it’s appropriate, as in contacts, tunnels, and weaves

For jumps: there are all sorts of things to practice with jumping. There’s straight-ahead, full speed; collected jump to prepare for a 90-degree turn (with a front cross or rear cross or just a same-side turn); wrap to either side (and that can be managed with the handler making a front cross, full turn, or a Ketscher); push to backside of the jump. There are threadles and serpentines to the next jump.

Make sure you practice tunnel/dogwalk and tunnel/aframe discriminations. The Ketscher is really useful for pulling the dog in tight for discriminations. A discrimination that is rare but also rarely trained is when the tunnel is on the near side of the contact obstacle. I’ve seen a tunnel-aframe discrimination where the tunnel runs straight next to the a-frame.

Debbie has a lot of rules, but her rule with any obstacle is “cue the obstacle and get on to the next obstacle.”

For example:
You’ve trained the dogwalk. Now, train front crosses to the dogwalk, from both sides. Train rear crosses to the dogwalk, from both sides. Run slowly so that dog has to go ahead to the end of the dogwalk with you behind (dog on left, dog on right); handle an obstacle that is closer than the end of the dogwalk. Run fast so that you’re ahead of the dog and signaling the next obstacle but the dog still has to perform to criteria (dog left, dog right). Run ahead and blind cross to the next obstacle. Run ahead and front cross to the next obstacle. Move laterally. In all of these: make sure that the dog is meeting criteria!

To neuter or not to neuter, that is the question

UC Davis, which has a great vet school, did a study recently on the health effects of neutering in dogs. They studied golden retrievers, a breed they seem to have chosen because they had a lot of records on goldens at their vet clinic. (Looking at the results, I wish they’d just looked at all the dogs they treated, but perhaps that’s the next study.

I have not found a full report of the study (the one with a ton of scientific tables), but the UC David news office did release this summary.

Here’s the money sentence:

The study revealed that, for all five diseases analyzed, the disease rates were significantly higher in both males and females that were neutered either early or late compared with intact (non-neutered) dogs.

The diseases that were studied were hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tear, lymphosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, and mast cell tumors. Hip dysplasia was twice as common in male dogs neutered before one year.

The big arguments for neutering that are out there seem to be: fewer dog fights between males, no marking, better behavior… and birth control. Birth control seems to be the biggie. Shelters and rescue organizations won’t give out a dog that hasn’t been neutered.

Beyond the health reasons for not neutering, I’m becoming concerned, as I read farther and deeper into the subject, that obsessive neutering of dogs–which is a uniquely American concern–is damaging to the temperament and health of dogs in general. As random-bred mutts are always neutered, the random-bred dogs are vanishing. Only pure-bred dogs are bred, and many of those dogs come from closed breeding pools where recessive diseases have taken hold. A quick look at the Poodle Club of America website reveals a long list of health issues that are common in poodles. Cancers are common in golden retrievers (as indicated by the UC Davis study).

Besides recessive diseases, there’s the issue of temperament. Breeders who are breeding for type (the traits described in the breed standard for showing) may not be breeding for temperament and health. It’s hard to select for everything–breeders have to choose what they’re after.

My take on this is: train your dog; manage your dog; consider not neutering (spaying) your dog unless you have a really really good reason to do so.

International agility has changed my dog’s life

Photo by Joe Camp

This article is part of the Dog Agility Blog Events discussion on Internationalization in agility (to see other articles, click here–but do it after you read my article!). Certainly the complex courses of international competition and the new moves handlers bring to those courses are having a significant effect on agility. Just this year I learned how to do a blind cross called a Ketscher…. But the most important effect of international competition on my dog’s life is an unintended side-effect.

In this year’s AKC instructions for qualifying for the International Team Tryouts (to be held later this year), I find this single sentence:

“Dogs born after January 1, 2006 with docked tails may not participate in the EO 2013 in Belgium.”

When Sonic and Jib, miniature poodles and brothers, qualified for the USDAA IFCS World Agility Championships–held in Belgium in 2009–(as described in this article), the Agility Poodle Yahoo Group (a discussion group for poodle people who do agility) exploded into discussion. Would Jib and Sonic be allowed to compete? They both are phenomenal dogs but they both have docked tails.

The discussion was fast and furious. Some people said poodles have always had docked tails (and also had their dewclaws removed). Some breeders said people wanted the poodles that way, that an undocked poodle would never win in the conformation ring. People provided video of undocked poodles running agility, showing how the dogs used their tails. It went on for months, and crops up regularly again.

But the discussion had a trickle-down effect. Breeders and handlers started thinking about whether or not it was really necessary to dock a poodle’s tail. I realize that discussion had been going on before that, but suddenly it was real: if your performance poodle had a docked tail, you might not be going to international competition, even if your dog was the best dog.

Vikki (Dancer and Rush’s breeder) docked Dancer’s tail when she was three days old (in June of 2006); her dewclaws were removed as well. When Rush was three days old (May of 2011), Vikki let him and the other puppies in the litter relax and enjoy the day. Rush has his dewclaws, and he has a completely unaltered tail. It is long and he uses it with verve and style. Just check out his tail in the photos of Rush weaving that I included at the beginning of this post. You’ll see.


I realize that there are handling systems where layering is some sort of mortal sin. One more reason why I don’t subscribe to handling systems.

I need more distance with Rush. (More distance! More distance! It’s like asking for more gruel. I’m pretty certain I’ll never have enough distance.)

Yesterday I decided to spend some time on the world’s smallest agility field (my front yard) working on layering. I set up this course:

I started at the teeter, dog on right, and did the circle twice. (Those weird round obstacles are NADAC hoops, which are really useful when you want to set a line but you don’t have room for jumps.) The third time, I did a front cross before the teeter–which put me on the right side of the teeter and the dog on left. Rush does a nice stopped two-on-two-off on the teeter. When he stopped, I turned left, pointed my right arm at the teeter and said “okay, OUT!” He went to the hoop–nowhere else to go, really–which put him nicely in line with the weaves. I finished my turn, kept my right arm up and pushing out, told him “weave!”, and continued down the line to the hoop, throwing his toy right into his path as he took the hoop. He read it beautifully.

Why do I want to layer obstacles? Well, I’ve had several courses of late where the ability to layer a tunnel or the teeter would mean that I could get a bit farther down the line a bit faster; I need to be earlier with Rush, consistently. Layering will help.