Rally Advanced!


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Zora sitting in our kitchen with her 2 blue first place rosettes, 2 green flat qualifying ribbons, a green and black new title rosette and 2 hand made blue trivets we also were given as awards

We had such a nice time today at the Charles River Dog Training Club‘s rally trial.  It was a really lovely trial.  Very low key and easy going.  Everyone was so supportive of each other.  I do adore in obedience and rally the clapping after each run, the chairs set up to watch each other ring side, and that they stop everything to give the awards and placements and even more so I adore that they have a name for that.  They call it “Pinning the class” and it makes my heart melt a little every time.  I love it.  Love the community support and camaraderie.  It’s just a lovely way to spend a Sunday if you ask me.

It was an added bonus that our 2 Advanced Rally runs went very well.  I thoroughly enjoyed the judge’s courses.  Challenging but fair for the level.  We ended the day with a score of 98 and 1st place in our first run, and score of 100 and 1st place in our second run to complete our Rally Advanced title!  Yay!

Our 1st run with score of 98 (1 pt off for lagging at the start, and 1 pt off on our side steps.)

Our 2nd run with score 100 to complete our Rally Advanced title

We’re going to take a break from Rally now as I focus more on our Novice and Open Obedience skills gearing up for our first Novice obedience trial in just a few short weeks!


Training Dog Agility when Visually Impaired


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On average I have 6-10 degrees of functional vision.  In certain lighting conditions I have less.  With my glasses on I have 20/20 central vision.

In doing dog agility, or training dogs, I have to make some modifications.  And often get creative.

My #1 tenet is: Train it until I trust it.

And my #2 is: Trust the dog.

When I’m out on course, depending on where I am in relation to obstacles and my dog at any given time, I likely will not see her.  So I have to strategically chose handling paths, that put me into the spots where seeing her is additionally helpful.  And where I can hear what she is doing, thankfully I have extremely good hearing.

In training Zora, I’ve learned what her path and footfalls sound like when she is doing her contact behavior properly.  I’ve learned what she sounds like as she races through a tunnel.  I’ve learned what she sounds like as she digs in on a tight turn.

To meet my #1 tenet: Train it until I trust it, I set very specific criteria that I then ask the dog to be able to repeat in any given set up.  I use a lot of external tools to help me maintain the criteria during training.  Some of the tools I use allow me to know if Zora did the behavior I’m seeking without my having to see it.  Some of the tools I use allow me to better learn what her body sounds like when she is doing the behavior I am seeking.  Some of the tools I use allow me to move strategically while building her confidence with me at a distance.


Zora and I getting ready at a trial, her on her black rubber mark bucket and with her bright orange easy to find leash

For example:  Mark Buckets.  I’ve built a strong affinity to racing to them and putting her front feet on them for Zora.  I can send her to one, from a path of other obstacles.  Giving her this end place of value, means I can practice moving to other spaces in the sequence that give me the data I need while she drives along the correct desired path to eventually hit her mark bucket.

Or hit it type boards.  I duct tape clickers to stuff.  The i-clicks are excellent for this.  Last year a client actually gave me an official Hit It board they were no longer using, but before I had that, I duct taped clickers to a lot of stuff. Taking a light weight board, duct tape a clicker to the underside, dog touches the board, runs over the board, moves on to the board, weight of dog causes clicker to press against the ground.  Sound tells me dog is in contact with the board.  I place the board where I want the dog to be.  And now I have an external way of maintaining criteria independent of vision.  Useful for teaching contact behaviors, knowing when the dog has stayed on path (as if they are on path say coming out of a tunnel or off a jump they will move over the board), and even when teaching things like weaves.  For ones where dogs will be moving at speed, I use a textured board for traction.  For other things I have light weight pieces of plexiglass with i-clicks taped to the underside.


One of my home made hit it boards.  A piece of plexi glass, duct tape on the edges, with an i-click clicker duct taped to the top underside

Speaking of weaves.  Zora is the first dog in many years that I didn’t use an external accountable way (ie guide wires or x-pen cages) to teach weaves.  For her it was because I felt she wouldn’t learn weaves well using those methods.  Though using wires or cages is certainly easier for me, again external non vision based accountability for the behavior I’m trying to get consistently.  With her, I did a modified version of the 2×2 method and used a Treat N Train.  The treat n train allowed me to position it to better reinforce the exit path I wanted to condition for Zora, and again meant I didn’t have to place the food myself.   The 2×2 method of progressively building each in-out weave motion pattern allowed me to also position myself to be able to see the pattern as Zora learned each step.

I train my directional cues progressively, first beginning on the flat without equipment and then building up equipment and distance.  I have very specific set criteria and definitions for what each cue means, and what behavior exactly I want Zora to do with each cue.  I train them to reliable.  Out means I want a foot fall change away from me.  Here means come in to the inside path nearest me.  Switch is turn away from me.  Go is move on a straight line.  Tight is turn in toward me as a wrap cue.  It is the rare discrimination challenge on course that I actually see her do it, but because her out and here cues are trained to reliable, it’s actually rather rare we don’t complete the discrimination correctly as indicated on course.

My obstacle cues include not just the obstacle but the path onto and off of the obstacle I want the dog to take.  For example my ‘walk it’ cue includes training in the approach to the dog walk, the performance of the dog walk itself, the contact behavior, and the exit off the dog walk.  Training those pieces onto one ‘walk it’ cue means Zora has her job and it’s one trained to a degree that I can learn to trust the sounds her feet make as she performs it to check she’s done it as trained.  I can hear if she hits the down ramp on the wrong foot fall pattern and as such know she’s likely to over stride the contact and add in a ‘steady’ to get her to check her stride if needed before she hits the contact zone.

As often leash runners at trials place the leash on the ground, or on a chair, Zora has a ‘find your leash’ cue.  Which means run to it and stand on it.  She doesn’t grab it with her mouth.  She doesn’t play with it.  It’s simply a ‘find it’ cue.  I also made her a leash that bright orange and more likely to stand out against the green grass. I’ve also learned as we finish the course to move myself in a way that encourages leash runners who are still holding the leash to shove it into my hands.  At this point, there are a number of folks in my local trialing area who also know I may not see where they put the leash and they are good about handing it to me.

Another thing I do, both when training and trialing, is use video a TON.  In the actual moment, there is a high chance I will not see what Zora just did.  Video replay helps me immensely.  I learn what we need to train further.  What exactly happened at any given spot on course.  What went well.  What didn’t.  Why x, y or z happened.  And to clue me in further to how Zora response to my positioning and whether what we have been training is having the results I am seeking or if we need to go back to the drawing board.

I’ll also let you in on a little secret.  I don’t teach my dogs to make eye contact.  None of my dogs have a look at me cue.  Sure I teach it to my students, I have a really good way of teaching dogs to actively seek out eye contact and through that students can then use advanced eye contact work to additionally move their dogs in space.  But it’s not necessary for successful dog agility work.  And I don’t use it with my own dogs.  I do work hard to be consistent with my body cues, always a work in progress of course, and using my head positioning, but eye contact itself isn’t part of my training criteria.

When we’re out on our practice field training agility at home, Tom also has a job.  I didn’t teach it to him, but I do reinforce it.  He helps keep me from falling over equipment I forgot was there.  Tom’s guide dog training made him an expert at keeping tabs on me in space, and he’s become really adept at body blocking me when I’m training Zora and fully focused on what I’m doing with her, having forgotten where I’ve placed all of the jumps, or tunnel, or the dog walk.  Tom prevents many injuries when I’m training agility with Zora.

When trialing, I chose my venue in part due to risk of injury in other venues.  In NADAC the course design is most often such that I have a path free of obstacles.  The couple of times I ran AKC agility years ago, each time I took out a jump.  Once I smashed into the pause box placed in the freaking middle of the course right in my path.  It was painful and unpleasant.  I’ve not run AKC agility since.  And as much as I’d prefer to run agility outside at a trial, reality is indoor trials are easier and safer for me.  The footing is reliable.  The lighting is reliable.  Outside the lighting can change moment to moment, time of day to time of day, meaning what I can and cannot see can fluctuate greatly.

Many people who run dog agility, micro manage many things in their dog and compete despite having many incompletely trained behaviors.  Unreliable contact responses.  Dogs not actually jump trained.  Lack of start line stay.  Lack of understanding of directional cues.  And so on.  That may work for them, and that’s great for them.  It doesn’t work for me.  I need to train to a level I can trust my training and trust my dog to do her job reliably in order to successfully compete.


Zora and I at 2017 NADAC Championships award ceremony- Elite Small Dog Champion


Busy, Busy, Busy – Puppies are a lot of work!


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I rarely, rarely do board and trains anymore, but when I do they are most often for puppies.  Like B.B.!


little tan shih tzu puppy BB sitting for his photo

B.B. belongs to some long time clients of mine, and came into his board and train with me specifically with toileting, crating, scheduling, and a couple of basic obedience goals.  He’s a 15wk old shih tzu puppy they adopted from a local rescue group.  BB and his litter were part of a hoarding case, but he got an awesome start in his foster home before adoption.  They’ve been doing well with him since they got him, but needed some extra help and support with some of his training.

Today is day 5 into his stay with me and so far he’s making great progress.  I know his owners will be thrilled when I see them for their mid-stay lesson today that he now has structured quiet evening hours, sleeps soundly without accident in his crate for the overnight times they requested, and has structured quiet morning times.   For their own health and age related reasons really needed to get him on a schedule where he had set quiet hours and a solid sleeping overnight.


BB snuggling on a blanket during quiet evening time

We’ve also been working on his leash walking skills, sitting for meet & greets, stays, fetch, learning to take turns, recalls, dog social skills and so much more.  He’s a really smart, fun and awesome pup!

Progress! With our stands


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Today, thanks to the assistance of a friend playing judge, Zora and I did our first as in Novice competition start to finish behavior as I goaled to train it Stand for Exam!! I’m thrilled!

Stood square confidently on cue, stay looking at me as I turn and faced her, stay looking at me as my friend approached, touched her and walked away (while their dog chased a ball and Tom wandered around), I returned to heel. Pause. Release. Yay!!!

And I have 9 weeks to get our sit stays up to par, our fronts built to straight from 50′, and a square finish, as well as continue to polish our heel, figure 8, down stay and stand for exam in loads of places and with varying distractions. I entered our first trial in obedience. 9 weeks. Sometimes it’s good to give myself a little pressure and a deadline. For the darn sit stay training especially. A deadline means I’ll actually follow through and train it for real.

Sleeping black and white corgi on the couch

Push the Ball


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Teaching dogs to push round objects with their noses is often such a fun training exercise and game.  The Advanced class had a great time with it last night, and as I just typed the instructions for it up for their homework, I thought I’d share it here as well.  These exercises are great mental as well as physical exercise.  Most dog’s history with round ball type things involves grabbing them with their mouths.  With these exercises we are asking them to think about ball type objects in entirely new ways!


Zora and I practicing her pushing a large grey physio-ball in the yard last summer


Exercise 1:

  1. Start with a dish with a couple of round ball type objects in it.  Usually tennis ball size is great.  You want a dish with a high enough lip that the balls stay contained within the dish easily.
  2. Place a few treats under the balls in the dish, and have a number of treats in your hand ready to go
  3. Let your dog begin to sniff out and eat the treats under the balls
  4. Each time your dog’s nose pushes a ball out of the way praise and drop a treat into the dish further encouraging more pushing of the balls with their nose
  5. As your dog gains confidence shoving the balls out of the way with their nose, gradually remove balls one at a time until just 1 ball remains in the dish and your dog is consistently pushing it around the dish.  Again reward with a dropped treat into the dish for each nose to ball shove.
  6. You can place your treats strategically to encourage more pushing if that helps your dog.
  7. If your dog picks up a ball with their mouth, it’s ok, simply place the ball back into the dish and sprinkle some treats under it once more.  Then make sure you have a very fast, very high value treat to toss in the moment your dog’s nose makes contact with the ball.

Exercise 2:

  1. You will need a ball about a soccer or basket ball or a beach ball size, and a dish.
  2. Place the dish so the ball rests on it as a pedestal.  Most dishes this means you flip it upside down so the bottom is facing up
  3. Place a treat under the ball, positioning it at first so it is easy for your dog to smell and know is there, then progressing as your dog is successful to the treat harder to know is there and more a reward than lure for pushing the ball.  You can stabilize the ball by resting your finger on the top of it
  4. As your dog pushes the bottom 1/3 of the ball with their nose to get the treat, the ball rolls forward.  The first 1-2 reps you can help the ball roll if your dog needs as your dog’s nose makes contact.  But if you do that only do it 1-2 times then progress to your dog doing the pushing without help
  5. After your dog is consistently pushing the ball off the pedestal by pushing the bottom 1/3 of the ball cleanly with their nose and muzzle (no feet, no teeth) begin to add your verbal cue as they make contact with the ball.  Mine is ‘push’ but you can use whatever makes sense to you
  6. You want your dog to push the bottom 1/3 of the ball as it helps discourage the dog from trying to bite at the ball.

Exercise 3:

  1. Using a yoga mat, towel or bath mat, roll the mat with treats embedded in each roll
  2. Encourage your dog to push the mat open using their nose
  3. As your dog pushes the mat unrolls revealing treats
  4. After your dog successfully unrolls the mat a few times and is understanding then do a repetition using your ball.  Have the mat fully rolled out and your dog pushing the ball the length of the mat.  Place a treat under the ball for each push to begin with.  And use your ‘push’ cue
  5. Vary between your dog unrolling the mat and pushing the ball the length of the mat
  6. The mat exercise can help the dog build up sustained pushing and strength to the push

As your dog understands that push is to make a round object move forward with their nose, vary the objects you have them push.  You can use different size or type balls ex: tennis, racquet, beach, yoga, softball, etc, or things like soup cans, get creative!

Work on generalizing that ‘push’ means to use their nose to shove an object.  You can even use this cue to teach them to turn on light switches, push the switch up.  Or to shut a door or drawer.  Push the door/drawer forward to close it.

Work on cue discrimination.  If you cue ‘push’ you are asking the dog to push the ball with their nose.  “Take it” or your grab cue means to grab it with their mouths.  “Chin” to rest their head on it.  “Kick” to use their feet to move the ball.  And so on.

Also work on direction of the push.  You can set up a couple of cones or other markers and teach your dog to push the ball through the ‘goal’.  Or to push it directly to you.  Or up a ramp.   Your dog will be a soccer star in no time!  😉


Showing up to class


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I’m always impressed when week after week, reliably, people and their dogs show up for classes. Have practiced homework. Have even just managed to get themselves out the door to come to lessons. Let alone to be on time, to actually be here as scheduled repeatedly. In awe that this approach to learning works for them. Totally grateful it does, as it means I have a business model, grateful and in awe.

Because, I’m terrible at it. If I sign up for a multi week class, I do so assuming I will skip at least 1/3 of the classes. Unless I have some other motivator, one that isn’t the joy of learning something new. If there is some other motivator, like fear, necessity, or a higher order goal that requires a stage where I have to check this box, one that isn’t linked to enjoyment, fun, self satisfaction, personal goals, then I’ll likely be more reliable.

Why? Because I find learning based on external accountability and some form of deadlines and expectation I do, practice and learn certain things in a time frame, incredibly de-motivating for me. Has been for as long as I can remember. Learning in such ways saps the fun out of it for me. It’s incredibly inefficient for me. Often frustrating. And requires significant planning and conservation of energy that would be more efficiently spent other ways. I can do it, and do it well, as my formal education transcripts show, but there will be fall out. The bureaucracy of it all drives me out of my mind.

Yet, I love to learn. And do so in many ways that are efficient and joy building for me.

But sometimes I forget how poor and unreliable I am as a student in the traditional way we often think learning and education is to happen. So I sign up for a class, all excited and prepared to jump in feet first. Then as the class goes on, and the structured requirements, limits, rules set in, I find myself avoiding, annoyed, apathetic, the fun and enjoyment of learning and the material quickly sapping.

Until I step back. Remember why I wanted to take the class in the first place. Remember it’s the bureaucracy I’m finding distasteful, not the material itself. Separate the arbitrary rules of the course, from the learning. Find the joy once more. get back to having fun with my dog.

And remain in awe of each of my students every single time they show up for class. Oh how I wish I could be like they!

Tom and Zora standing with the stream the just swam in behind them

2 Steps Forward, now only 1 Step Back

After the outcries from the disability community, Delta has apparently now amended their new service and emotional support dog regulations.


The amended changes haven’t gotten as much press as their initial regulations.  As I had posted about the original changes, I wanted to follow up.


Stuff that Sticks


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Dulce the spaniel sound asleep with her eye red from her third eye lid

Haw. The nictitating membrane or third eye lid on a dog.

The 4-H dog program was a big part of my life as a kid. And dog knowledge was a part of the program. Every fair we would be required to take a Knowledge Test in addition to being scored during showmanship on knowledge questions from the judge. At the large regional show weekend each year, each state would pull together a Quiz Bowl team. And have to say, I was a member of the winning team a number of years running. I was really good with that buzzer. Always remember, it’s not a German Shepherd. It’s a German Shepherd Dog. And the L in DHL-PP is for leptospirosis. And ring worm is not a worm, it’s a fungus. I knew more about the reproductive cycle of dogs than my own human biology. A friend once laughed to tears then gently informed me of some critical differences that I had assumed were consistent amongst the species, that for serious are totally not.

As such, I know a lot of weird and obscure things relating to dogs, their biology, history, naming, terminology, and such. I can tell you that little bump on the back of your dogs skull? That’s not called a knowledge bump. It’s the occiput. And that samoyeds when they are white with tan patches. That coloration is called biscuit (isn’t that freaking adorable?). Dogs have 42 teeth. And the different type of teeth dentition or bite each breed of dog is supposed to have. That the long fur that is on some terriers between their eyes, that’s called the Fell.

And that not only do dogs have a third eye lid. But it is called the Haw.

Because along with many other things I learned as a child, these bits of trivia super useful to know and take up mental space. Because every trivia night in bars across the country have a category of the glossary from the AKC Complete Dog book.

That said I do pride myself that I know how to use terms like paddling, flews and fiddle front correctly. Because I’m cool like that. 😉

Tick Patrol


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Tick Patrol reporting for duty!


5 black and white Magpie ducks ready to hunt bugs!

One of the draws for me to Magpie Ducks is their known foraging tendencies.  They’ll eat just about any bug they can get their beaks on.  Last year I watched one of them crunch an entire live cicada.  And those buggers are HUGE!

This morning within 10 seconds of being let out, they were on the hunt.  Ticks don’t stand a chance!