The dogs and I have been hard at work on some Training Tips videos! Head on over to my YouTube page under the Dog Training & Behavior Playlist. Let me know what you think!
Here’s one to wet your whistle:
the pipes the pipes are calling
from glen to glen, and down the mountain side…
Been singing this tune all week because we have Danny visiting!
Isn’t he adorable?! His family has been doing an awesome job with him, making my job as easy as can be this week. Which is wonderful.
Danny is a 3m old lab pup. His owners say he’s a “silver” lab, but really as silver is just a genetically dilute form of the chocolate coat coloration in labs, he’s a chocolate labrador retriever.
As most lab pups who have come through my door for training or boarding, Danny has benefited from learning about balanced reciprocal play and that dogs don’t enjoy having their heads jumped on as a way of greeting. Zora is, thankfully, a great puppy teacher and has been enjoying making Danny her minion. She tells him what he can and can’t do with her, and with some consistent reminder’s he’s steadily grasping the realities of dog social interactions. Just yesterday, for the first time, I saw him actually ask her politely if she would play with him, and it worked! She obliged. This morning, on the other hand, he forgot and tried the classic lab jump on her head, which yea dude, that’s a no go, she no like that.
He is a sweet moose of a pup. And a labrador in every sense. Sweet, a bit slow on the uptake, needs loads of consistent repetition, and is currently a puppy version of Jaws. Seriously, he tried to eat my concrete garden statue, ignoring the antler lying right next to it. He is for sure all lab.
Zora’s been on R&R for the past 10 days or so for a foot injury. Not sure how it happened, the most likely is either A. I stepped on her and let’s be honest, rather a high chance of that. or B. She really jammed it either chasing chipmunks or a ball in the woods, and let’s be honest, also high chance of that with the intensity she races after either of those.
After a visit to the chiropractor, about 5 days of snoozing on the couch and being left home from walks, her foot was clearly starting to feel better but she was still really low energy. I thought to myself, something else is going on here. My gut says she’s having a tick borne disease flare up as last year she came up positive for both lyme and anaplasmosis. Sure enough 3 doses of doxy later, she’s back to her normal energy demanding I let her DO SOMETHING!! Which of course is tricky, as her foot is still healing.
Mid week, after another chiropractor appointment, we got the go ahead to start doing bits of exercise. Can I say how thankful we all are that she can now be a bit more active?
Yesterday she got to do a bit of an on leash walk in the woods through the pine forest. Walking on the soft bed of pine needles. Watching for chipmunks she couldn’t chase. And was sound after that.
Today, we’ve added in some treadmill work. With the treadmill I can more easily observe how she’s moving and more easily control the speed she is moving at. Also, she loves the treadmill and asks me to turn it on every time we go in the cellar, so as she can’t play ball or run around like a nutter for the near future, if the treadmill is allowed and makes her happy, treadmill it shall be.
Suffice to say, this morning she was very happy.
This spring I’m working with a number of agility teams specifically on contact obstacles. Some of the teams are with young dogs that the handlers want to set a solid foundation for contacts on, some are dogs who are nervous, insecure or otherwise uncomfortable on contact obstacles, and some are dogs with inconsistent or non-existent behavior in the contact zone. These dogs are all learning how to move and keep their body safely on the obstacle
Over the years I’ve found, dogs who have been taught how to move their bodies and save themselves on the contact obstacles, rather than simply how to go across the boards from start to end, have increased confidence and in the long run more reliable consistent performance of the obstacle.
So, we start with a board. For these early exercises I like to use a 10″ wide 8′-10′ long board.
I do these below stages 1-5 with the board in various positions. Part 1 we work through these stages with the board flat on the ground. Part 2 with the board elevated on both sides so it is a flat elevated plank up on cinder blocks. Part 3 with the board as a tippy board with a moving fulcrum (piece of 1.5-2″ diameter PVC) under it. Part 4 with the board elevated on 1 end so it is a descending or ascending ramp (then vary the height starting with cinder block, working way up to various pause box heights and finally if available propping 1 end up on an a-frame ramp). Depending on the dog we may spend ample time at each part, or so a few simultaneously. Most dogs we do these exercises for a couple of weeks before moving on to competition style equipment, but we move forward at the pace of the dog. The dogs comfort, confidence and attitude tell me when we are ready to move forward.
Yes, I do the tippy board work before I do the ramp work. Why? because I want a dog confident in understanding how to control movement. When we start to eventually teach actual contact obstacles, I teach the teeter before the dog walk. I do NADAC agility, we have no teeter in competition, yet still I teach my dogs and students dog’s how to safely understand and operate a teeter totter, as I feel it’s important in a dog’s understanding of how obstacles work and how to control their bodies. Dog walks can flex, and shift, and make noise, teeters help a dog learn all about those variables.
Once the dog is comfortable with the exercise of each stage and each part, I then add in various speeds and obstacles into the board. Practicing each piece coming into the board at speed, and from other obstacles such as tunnels, hoops, jumps, allowing the dog to further learn how to control and manage their bodies on a narrow board.
Stage 1: Mark and reinforce any contact dog’s feet make with the board as you move up and down the board. Reinforcement is delivered while the dog is still on the board, and handler works to center the reinforcement over the board (either food reward or tugging is ideal in this situation over throwing a toy). Build value for feet interacting with the board.
Stage 2: Mark and reinforce when dog has contact with board with 2 or more feet, progressing criteria as dog is comfortable to all 4 on the board, as you move up and down the board. Reinforcement still delivered while dog on the board and handler works to center the reinforcement over the board. Build value for coordinating all 4 feet interacting with the board and maintaining interaction with the board (as opposed to tap and move off)
Stage 3: dog is now comfortable and has built value for getting all 4 feet on the board. Dog gets on board, and is cued to do a position change, sit, down, stand. Criteria is dog to keep all 4 feet on the board during the position change, once in position and able to hold the position. Handler adds in release cue (verbal) or another position change after reinforcement is delivered. Vary where on the board the dog is cued to do various position changes. At this stage also vary where the handler is in relation to the dog when they cue the position changes ie: ahead, behind, beside, a few feet away, etc
Stage 4: Dog is all 4 feet on the board and learns to turn around 180′ to start then building up to a full 360′ on the board while keeping all 4 feet on the board. Working on the dog being able to move their body in even more ways on the board. This is an especially important exercise for larger dogs.
Stage 5: Dog learns to back up keeping all 4 feet on the board.
By learning progressively how to move their bodies, move forward, move back wards, change position, turn around with moving, stationary, level and angled boards once we finally move to actual agility contact obstacles the dogs have an understanding and confidence that makes teaching the full height equipment so much easier.
There are loads of games you can (and I do) use to teach and reinforce the come cue (aka Recall). Round Robin, Restrained Recall, Tag, The Stalky Stalk Game, Hide & Seek, Treat Toss, The Bowl Game, and more. But relatively simple game my friends and I often play with the dogs on our walks is calling them back and forth between us.
The “rules” of the game are pretty simple:
The “if they want it” is because we’ve learned some of the dogs prefer to only gets treats from me, or from my friend. But they learn they will only get those treats if they actually complete the loop of run to the opposite person, then run back when called. So they race away when called to the other person same as the rest of the dogs, don’t really care or want that person or the food, but are thrilled to then be called back and get their treat then. Race away, race back, race away, race back.
How far apart we are to start depends on the dogs in the group at the time and where we are (ie what distractions are or aren’t around), and as the dog’s get into the game we gradually move further and further apart. Sometimes if we’re playing the game on the trails (vs in a field) the dogs end up racing around corners, over fallen logs, up and down hills and generally having a great workout.
The dogs quickly figure out in order to get a food treat they have to A. Go all the way to the human calling them, B. Actually go from Person A to Person B if they want a treat when Person A again calls the group, (except for Tom, he’s special, and as such his version of the recall game involves a sit stay and me moving away) and C. Ignore the other dogs around them. I’ve found this a great game for teaching dogs the value of not focusing on the dogs around them, I’ve done this game with dogs that have a tendency to want to chase or body block, and by the end they’ve stopped fixating on the dogs running around them and instead race as fast as they too can to get to the human calling them. We’ve even been able to time our calls with some of the regular dogs to build up to dogs passing each other without a second glance. It’s great fun for us all! (note, if a dog has a tendency to want to grab other dogs, they don’t play the game while other dogs are also running, safety first always)
Another piece we often add into the game is the dogs not leaving the present human until the other human actually calls them OR the present human sends them to the other human. This teaching of the send has proved useful on a number of occasions. The dogs all learn that if they hear the word “Katrin” and race to me, good stuff will happen. Or “C—” and they race to her, good stuff will happen. Or “J——” and they race to him, good stuff will happen.
We do this game close to every walk in the woods as it really helps to remind the dogs that coming to us when we call is a good thing, doesn’t mean the walk is over necessarily, and helps increase the dog’s value for the humans in the highly stimulating environments of the woods, fields and ponds.
A bonus of the game? The dogs get additional running time and end the walk really tired.
I’m a rather routine, predictable person. I find routines comforting and reassuring. I like having plans. It’s harder to get lost, lose things and be forgetful when life is orchestrated with many patterns. It’s no surprise I have any number of patterns I tend to follow when it comes to agility trials. Everything from how things are packed in our car, to setting up or breaking down our crating space. And of course pre and post runs.
Zora and I have what I call our Corgi Warm Up and Corgi Cool Down routines. She recognizes each phrase and the predictions of behavior it means. As I feel warm up and cool down is important with the canine athlete I thought I’d share our routines
Our Pre-Run Corgi Warm Up Routine
We have 2 types of corgi warm ups. One involving handling warm up and one involving stretching.
The handling warm up we do first thing of the day before the general briefing at the trial, and depending on the courses then set may or may not do it at other points before certain runs. During the handling warm up we find an open area, might be where the club has the practice equipment set up, might not, and we review various motions and cues. Switch, out, here, go, tight, wait, and so on. Get as in sync with each other as we can. If a particular course has a spot that looks rather tricky, we will practice the motions so that when we actually get on course there is a better (but not guaranteed as yesterday’s trial proved. LOL) chance I’ll handle it correctly. During our handling warm up I try to vary type and positions of rewards to further reinforce where on course I’d like Zora to be relative to me when we do that motion or cue once on the field.
The other warm up we do, this one we do before every single run, is our stretching warm up. Which includes portions for me and for Zora. We start off with some walking and trotting, then some moving in figure 8s to the left and the right. Next we do some leg, neck, tail and back stretches, and light muscle massage. From there we move to the ring as either we are first dog or last and there are now about 4 dogs to go. We jog to ring side for a bit faster movement. Once ring side we do some pivots, sit down stand position changes, hand touches, and turns to the left and right, working to ensure our muscles are warmed up before running the course.
By then it’s our turn, we walk to the line, Zora moves into her down, I cue her to “watch” which means look down the line my foot is pointing to show her where she’ll be going on the release. We get our “Good luck” cue to remove the leash from the judge. Leash off, I move to my starting position, and off we go!
Our warm up stretching routine usually takes about 3min. When we are first dog on the line, I have to time my walk through so I’m done with a minute left in the walk through. That way I have my 3 minutes as it’s usually about 2 min after the walk through ends to first dog, us.
Our Post-Run Corgi Cool Down Routine
Our Corgi Cool Down routine is similar to our warm up stretching routine, only done in reverse with an addition that makes Zora’s eyes sparkle. Aka Squeaky Ball. Squeaky ball doesn’t actually squeak. Maybe it does still now that I think about it. But Zora doesn’t squeak it. She holds it, carries it, and fetched it, no squeaking. She loves loves loves Squeaky Ball. It’s her special post trial run toy that she only gets now a days at agility trials. Oddly enough at home she likes it ok, but she loves it at trials. I think she’s associated it with trials hence it’s value there. At home she’d chose a tennis ball, at a trial she wants Squeaky Ball all the way. It’s a soft plush fluorescent orange or yellow (we have one of each so just depends which I happened to pull out of the bag) ball with a squeaker in it. Squeaky Ball is always part of our Corgi Cool Down routine.
We finish the course, the leash runner hands me Zora’s leash. I hold it out, Zora shoves her head into it, and we leave the ring together. Head on over to where we left our treats and Squeaky Ball ring side. She gets a couple of good girl treats then I say the magic words, “Let’s go play Squeaky Ball!” And she starts prancing. We jog together to the exit door or open area to play a little game of Squeaky Ball fetch. After our game, we do some body stretches, figure 8s, trotting, walking, light massage, Zora gets a drink and then quiet time until we do it all over again for the next run.
Do you have a pre or post exercise routine? Please share, I’d love to hear them!
A favorite dog of mine, Rose, who belongs to a good friend has been ill for the past couple of months. Steadily going downhill. Thursday my friend learned Rose’s symptoms were due to cancer. It beyond sucks. Rose is a lovely dog and only 6.
Because Rose hasn’t been feeling well for a while, and hadn’t been eating well or absorbing nutrients, she’s lost a lot of weight. Over 10% of her body weight. Closer to 20% at this point. For a dog who was svelte to begin with this isn’t good.
Thankfully her owner is now working with a fantastic vet (we won’t go into the way her regular vet dropped the ball on this situation). In addition to prescribing some meds to help Rose feel better, the new specialist vet has given an ultra digestible food for her to eat. One that her body can at least get some nutrients from. Which is great. Except it tastes like crap. And she’d rather eat other things, which unfortunately right now her body can’t actually use.
So, how to get a dog who is essentially starving and anorexic to eat food that will help her but tastes like garbage?
This is where Rose’s years and years of training history are proving to be a huge asset. Rose loves to train. She loves puzzles and thinking and problem solving. She also loved toys, balls in particular. And she loves games that involve her figuring out what to do in order to get the ball to be thrown. My friend has developed an awesome relationship with Rose these past 6 years, with training games being a huge part of their daily fun.
My friend had to go out of town this weekend, I had Rose and the challenge of figuring out: how to get her to eat food that tastes like garbage and she would rather spit out?
Knowing Rose as well as I do, I figured let’s try rewarding eating it with ball play. And see if that ends up reinforcing eating. The good old Premack Principle.
Then build up how many kibbles she has to eat in order to get the ball thrown.
It worked! So far she’s up to a handful of kibble individually hand fed to her at a high rate per ball throw.
Because the goal is for calories in to well exceed calories out for her right now, the ball throws are short to minimize how much energy she spends with the ball part of the equation. But for about 4 short ball tosses per session she’s willing to eat usually 2.5-3 handfuls of kibble now 4-5 times a day. Which is awesome. She’s actually eating and getting in calories her body can do something with.
And it is clear she has grasped its an if then equation. Every so often she’ll try spitting a couple out. When that doesn’t get the ball to happen, she’ll make a clear point to eat the next one. And get very happy when that does make the ball occur.
Thank goodness for training histories and a smart dog. Sure is improving Rose’s quality of life, even with cancer. Fingers crossed she’s willing to play this particular game for a long time more.
Rose this past fall when she was feeling her usual bouncy happy poodle self on one of our walks.
NADAC trial recap for the weekend. It was awesome!!! I’m over the moon, on cloud 9, still happy dance big grin, etc.
It was my clubs annual spring trial, so I worked and helped out more than I usually do at trials, but I think I did an ok job pacing myself over the 2 days. Saturday a good friend of mine who rarely does trials on turf was also entered and we crated together. It was nice to see him and catch up. There were a couple of new folks and it was lovely to meet them, clap and cheer for them, and get to know them. I hope they decide to come to future events as well. As always hubby was a huge help, I’m ever grateful he is so supportive of my agility hobby.
The courses this weekend were super fun. And a plethora of bonus boxes. It was awesome. Usually we are lucky if we see 1-2 boxes all weekend. Saturday we had them in touch n go, both rounds of regular AND in weavers. Sunday they were in both rounds tunnelers, both rounds regular and BOTH rounds jumpers!! Seriously! 10 boxes in a weekend of 16 runs. And all of them felt 90% doable for where our skills currently are (which is also amazing).
I’m happy to report our winter training of go skills in many different contexts has paid off. I am so damn happy!! We struggled with those types of elements on boxes last season, she rocked them all this weekend!
Elite Jumpers, that final go line of the course OMG my heart sings as it does for so much of this course:
I found repeatedly a hole with turn always at big distances. Especially when there was a closer draw obstacle. She’d lock onto the draw. But I was pleased despite the lock on she was able to respond most of the time to my lie down cue. I started using that after the first round of touch n go where on the resend she could not shift her focus and wasn’t really listening but guessing. So good things to work on.
Elite tunnelers, that turn away with the green tunnel draw, got us both rounds. 1st round she made it to the mouth of that green tunnel where I downed her and redirected back out. This round was better as she didn’t fixate on that green tunnel and I’ll take the change she did do asking me for help.
Elite Weavers, so much awesome happened this round!!! But again the tunnel draw
Elite Regular, again over the moon about so much of this! Struggled with some of the push outs
And fingers crossed I think we maybe earned a passing distance challenge regular run on Sunday! Still waiting for final determination from NADAC but I felt comfortable enough with it to try submitting it for bonus review. We shall see.
Elite Regular distance challenge:
A reader posed a question about best practices for introducing a new dog to their family. Especially with regards to their existing dog. Congrats on the new family member! Here is some general advice I give folks and honestly, what I practices I follow when introducing a new dog in my own household.
Now in my own situation, my dogs are used to very high traffic of dogs coming and going. But I’ve found when I add a dog to my life that will be a permanent addition, my crew has always assumed the dog was a visitor until about day 14. Then I’d practically hear them say, “Wait, what? This one is STAYING?! For real?! You’re kidding me?!” And then depending on the dog they’d either “Here we go again,” or “Why do you hate me so? Life was so great before and now this?!” or in the case of Tom practically cry, “What did I do to deserve this?! Why, oh, why is this happening?” There is also the dog that will go, “NO WAY IN HELL!” Those dogs are definitely more challenging and higher risk factors. I’ve worked with clients numerous times in such cases.
Regardless, my point is, don’t assume it’s all great for real in the first couple of weeks. Those are your honeymoon period. If you’re lucky. So many times when I was working with behavior cases full time I’d get the call, “Every thing was going great! I don’t understand?” Basically it boils down to, “Transitions are hard,” “change is hard” so dogs will tend to not let their guard down as much or take their time sorting out the situation, then as time progresses and they get more comfortable things will often shift.
So here are a couple of my general ‘rules’ when I have new dogs in the house:
Those are my basics for introducing a new dog to my home and lifestyle. Now some basics for introducing the dogs to each other. In this I’m assuming your pre-existing dog enjoys other dogs, and has had generally amicable relationships with other dogs in the past. And you have had some assurances from whatever caregivers new dog had prior to you that new dog enjoys other dogs and has had generally amicable relationships with other dogs in the past. If you know your pre-existing dog or new dog isn’t thrilled with other dogs, or has had past interactions with other dogs that did not go well, well that’s a whole nother ball game and well beyond the scope of this post. In such cases, I strongly recommend professional assistance, guidance and advice prior to bringing the new dog home, and throughout the transition period.
This post is meant to provide information on what I do when adding a new dog to my life and frequently recommend to clients with dogs without any prior dog on dog behavioral concerns. But, dog training and relationships aren’t one size fits all. As always, dogs, their people, and their lifestyles are very individual. So if you are considering adding a new dog to your home, these tips might get you started, or at least help you think about the processing of integrating dogs into your home in different ways, but please reach out for more individualized coaching. Learn more about the services I offer visit Maplewood Dog including remote private sessions or check out the referral listings through IAABC.org for a behavior consultant local to you. All the best! 🙂
We have a yard again! A yard snow free and dry enough to train in! Agility practice here we go! WooHoo!
I signed up for an online 3 month long Big Distance course with an instructor I’ve worked with before in person at her seminars. Lisa Schmit of In the Zone Agility. She’s very well known in NADAC land for her bonus skills, training and work not only with her own dogs but also with students and helping people build their own big distance skills. As the timing of her class seemed perfect for my yard being once again usable, I know Lisa’s approach and that her input has been helpful to me in the past, and the price of the class was right, I signed up.
Today we worked the Out Lesson 1
The out tunnel after the pinwheel gave me trouble. I’m kind of stuck on how to build further. I know if I do that extra step push we’ll get it, the times I tried it without the extra step push there was confusion and the out tunnel didn’t happen. I don’t really know which would be the best next stage for us. Do I keep doing that extra step push? Do I try to fade it? If I do keep doing it, how do I do it in a way that allows our distance to continue to grow? And she’s not taking my out cue the times I was trying to cue it prior to the hoop, she was consistently coming through that hoop either already locked onto the closer tunnel entrance or cuing off my foot when I turned it too much to then switch to the hoop. How to build the response to the out and my cue timing so she’s taking that pinwheel hoop thinking about the correct tunnel entrance already. I’m looking forward to Lisa’s feedback and continuing to think about how else I could have approached it, and working through the challenge.