Monday, December 6, 2010

Zodi's Poles

I wanted to post some video of Zodi's weavepole training. It's taken about 20 sessions (each less than 10 minutes in length) to get from no poles to weaving 12 poles with all kinds of entries, crosses and even a jump to those entries and crosses. I've never had a dog that learned 12 poles so easily with that kind of independent performance right from the beginning. And I've never taught weavepoles using 2x2's before but I'm sure I'll use this method again. My next step is to help her figure out her footwork, I think she's going to find single-stepping easier than jumping through but first I have to figure out how to get her to try it. I plan to switch to a set of channels and see if that will get her reaching out a bit. Stay tuned.....

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Training Plans

Now that I've finished trialing for awhile (my next trial won't be until mid-January) I'll have more time to focus on training my dogs. I have lots of plans for each of them.


I really want to re-work Devon's A-frame and dog walk. I think it's too late to teach him a true running contact since he's been doing a stopped one for so long, but I do want him to run through the yellow on his a-frame and possibly his dog walk, too.

To do this on the A-frame I'm going to throw a toy out for him as he comes over the top and use a stride regulator to help him relax and extend as he comes over the top. If he does that, he'll land further down the down ramp which will mean that if he takes just one more stride he'll hit right about in the middle of the contact zone.

For his dog walk I'm going to just encourage lots more speed and drive and not give his "touch" command until he's just starting the down ramp. If he doesn't stop at the bottom, I'm not going to mark it much, just ask him to wait while I lead out and then start running from there. That plan will have to change if he starts leaping off but hopefully he won't get quite that carried away with himself :-)
I'm going to change the teeter from a 2 on/ 2 off to a "go to the yellow, ride it down and come off straight when it hits". That's sort of what he does now except that sometimes he pops off the side, especially if I try to front cross it. I'll be practicing a lot of crosses, both front and rear as well as pushes since those are the easiest for me to do.

I'm also going to be doing some jump grids with Devon in an attempt to help him with his ETS on spread jumps. I also need to work on being able to send him further to tunnels. Because of all the AKC courses we've been doing, he's gotten used to being able to run very close to me which will be a problem on USDAA courses and also means he can only be as fast as I am which ain't that fast :-)

I'm sure I'll think of other things as well, these are just the things that stand out the most. My goal for Devon is to have him running a good bit faster by this Spring. I want to increase his Standard yps by at least 1.5-2.0 seconds right now he's very slow because of his stopped contacts. His Jumpers yps I'd like to increase by 1.0-1.5 secs. If I can get him to work away from me more, I think that should be within his capabilities.


My goals for Zodi are to continue to train her weavepoles so that she's doing 12 and single stepping. She's already doing 6 poles with all kinds of entries, crosses and even allowing me to layer jumps while she weaves. I can't believe how easy and quickly this has been to teach her. I can only assume it has to do with the method I used (Mary Ellen Barry's version of Susan Garrett's 2 x2 method) because this is the first time I've used it and I've never had a dog learn so quickly or well.

I also plan to do more jump grids with her. She really needs a lot of help figuring out where to put all those legs and how to collect. She's very good at extending, though, that shouldn't be a problem. I also need to work more on teaching her the turning cues. She's not bad but it takes her so long to get going in another direction that she's going to need to get those cues pretty far in advance. I'm guessing that learning how to collect will need to go hand in hand with this so that once she knows the turning cues, she can respond appropriately.

I think Zodi should get more trial exposure, too, in easy peasy classes like AKC Novice. I want it to be so easy that she has nothing but fun and positive experiences so she'll learn to love trialing. I may intentionally send her off course just to prevent her from qualifying into Open too soon. It's too easy, in my opinion, to wind up in Excellent with a dog who just isn't ready to be there and that can take a lot of the fun out of it for the handler and the dog. I think it's better to take the time to teach the skills they'll need in Excellent/Advanced/Masters while you're still trialing somewhat below the dogs's abilities.

I'm really looking forward to this break from competing. It's really taken a lot of energy to keep going to trials every weekend on top of a full 40 hour work week plus teaching plus household duties. I know some people who thrive on competition but for for me it's more fun to only trial about once a month. And if I'm not enjoying it, how can I expect my dogs to have fun? So we'll be doing stuff like hiking on the weekends which is my favorite winter activity.

I know many people who get depressed in the winter but for me it's a time of rejuvenation and relaxation. A time to reconnect with family and friends after the busy Fall. I find the cool air exhilarating and love coming in to a warm house after a brisk hike on a cold day. And with fewer trips and trials, there's more time to spend just enjoying the company of my dogs and my thoughts.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Thoughts on Trialing

I've been trialing just about every weekend for the past couple of months so I should probably write an update while things are relatively fresh in my mind.

My goal with Devon this Fall is to qualify him to go to AKC Nationals in VA in March 2011. I've never run a dog in any national competition so I thought it was something I'd enjoy and it's only a 3.5 hour drive at a location I know well from having attended three Clean Run Camps there.

In order to qualify, I need 6 double Q's, one of which I got back in August. My next trial after that was a local USDAA trial so my Q's there didn't contribute to the 5 I still need. Last weekend I trialied at a small outdoor trial in VA and didn't Q at all. I'd like to blame it on the poor footing and unlevel rings but I'm not sure I can. And this past weekend I attended just one day of a CPE trial as a way to test out what would happen if I just ran really hard with him and gave him a lot of forward motion cues. I did see him run faster and happier but I also saw him pop off his contacts and actually bail from the upside of the A-frame.

It's no mystery why he's doing this; it's because I've been quick releasing his 2 on/2 off stopped contacts in an effort to reduce the stress I feel waiting for him to get into position and/or pop off them. The quick realease worked for about 4 trials and then started producing their own stress since he now really has no idea what I want him to do. I thought I could squeak by with this band aid approach to his contacts just long enough to get my 6 QQs and then I was going to take some time off and retrain a managed but moving contact (not a true running contact but not a stopped one either).

But now I don't think it's going to work and I'm in the position of having entered a whole bunch of trials hoping to get the QQs which puts a lot of pressure on me to qualify in standard which isn't good for our contact performance. So now I'm really not sure what to do other than to try to reproduce what I do in trials in practice which is really hard to do unless I can go to drop in classes which is the only time he gets excited enough to pop off the contacts and allow me to figure out if I can mange them somehow.

I'm pretty mad at myself for doing the quick release thing. It's not like I don't know better and couldn't have predicted this happening. It's really due to the pressure I'm putting on myself to get these QQs for the AKC Nationals. I wish they didn't base their qualifying on QQs but they have to have some way to keep the numbers of entries down or you'll have week long Nationals the way USDAA is doing this year.

On a happier note, my Dobe, Zodi had her agility debut this weekend at a CPE trial. I entered her in Jumpers and Standard and was very happy with her performance in Jumpers and about half as happy with her performance in Standard.

Edited on 11/15/10 to add:

I've trialed several times since I first wrote this post and have acheived three more QQ's, not a great success rate but not surprising considering how much pressure I feel to get the Q. I have two more trials to get two more QQs but I don't think I'll be too disappointed if it doesn't happen. I've learned a lot this fall and feel a lot more comfortable trialing than I did. Part of that is just getting more practice and being able to predict what Devon will do as a response to my handling.

And it's not like I was expecting to be really competitive at nationals, I just wanted to go to my first nationals as a participant rather than as a spectator. I think it would be fun and I know Devon would enjoy seeing all those dogs and people. He's such a sociable dog and loves making new friends. But truthfully, I'm not sure I want to spend the money just to get the t-shirt, if you know what I mean. I do think it would be a good experience for me to go and see how I react to that kind of trialing situation--whether or not I actually enjoy it--and to learn first hand how it feels to step to the line at a Nationals.

I've considered withdrawing from the last couple of trials but that was mostly when I wasn't running very well and getting nervous. Now that most of our runs are pretty good, I feel like I'd like to face the challenge of this type of pressure. This weekend I'm going to Charlotte to a large indoor trial and the following weekend I'm flying to Springfield, MA to run in the big Thanksgiving cluster there. Since my sister lives only a couple of hours away and because I can actually stay with family, it's something I've thought about doing for several years. So, I've decided to go for it and let myself committ to trying right up to the last possible run. I think the worst thing that can happen is that I spend some money I don't really need to be spending and the best thing that can happen is that I have a great time and feel successful.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Back In The Saddle

Figuratively speaking, that is. This past weekend (Thursday-Sunday) was my first agility trial since May. I'm kind of surprised at myself for taking the whole summer off of trialing but I did it for a number of reasons. Mostly I did it because it's just too hot to be outside here from June-August and even into September. We do have indoor trials during that time but trialing indoors has its drawbacks. Crowded and nosiy crating for one thing, sitting around all day inside for another. I spend 40 hours a week inside at my job and once the weekend arrives, the last thing I want to do is spend it inside listening to dogs bark and squinting through the fluorescent lighting. So you might wonder why I chose to enter a 4 day indoor trial at all, much less as my first trial back after a long layoff.

For one reason, I saw it as a opportunity to give myself multiple days to get back in the groove of trialing and for another I thought it was in the type of arena that I'd been used to. It was held at the Greensboro Coliseum where I'd never been before and I had the (mistaken) idea that it was like the indoor stadiums where you see the large indoor trials in the Southeast. Places like Perry, GA and Concord, NC. But this was a smallish building, similar to an indoor soccer place but without the glass partitions between rings. It had nice footing, similar to running on a well padded carpet but with more grip but boy was it noisy.

We were all packed in there tightly and there was very little room between the crating area and the rings since people would stand in the aisles watching the dogs run or chatting with their friends. We also got some spectators from next door where there was a conformation show. It was a little frustrating if you were in a hurry to get somewhere, there was often only room for one dog to pass through at a time. But I didn't hear or see any altercations and people were generally very good trying to keep the aisles clear. But it was hard to see what was going in the rings without getting up and winding your way through all the people and dogs and did I mention it was noisy? Plus we had to pay $5.00 each day just to park which seemed really steep and I don't think was mentioned in the premium, only in the confirmation. But none of that really bothered me, I was just glad to be running my little buddy again.

And we had some good runs, although I was pretty rusty and am terribly out of shape from not getting any exercise for the past 8 weeks or so. It's been such a hot and humid summer--even more so than usual--that it was a real problem getting exercise for the dogs or myself. A lot of people around here have been buying pools for their dogs so they can swim them regularly in clean water. I love the idea and may do it next year. Here's one of the courses we ran:

And here's the video that goes with it:

Devon ran really well all weekend in every class and only did a couple of naughty things such as completely breaking his startline on one run, jumping over the contact on one A-frame when I did a front cross on the downside and barking on the table (although not nearly as much as he used to do). I, however, was pretty rusty and slow but not too bad for being so out of practice.
My goal for the fall trials are to be as consistent as possible without micromanaging the run. I'd like to get him qualified for AKC Nationals which means I'll need 5 more double Qs between now and November. I think it's definitely a reachable goal considering how he's running. Once we get there then I'll start worrying about getting the most speed out of him I can.

He was a lot slower this weekend than he was in the summer/fall of '09 but the courses were very twisty and technical unlike most of the ones I saw last fall. But one thing I know I can improve is the speed of his contacts. I started out by trying to teach him running contacts but quickly switched to teaching a 2on/2off when he proved to enjoy springing off the end of them so much. He is a naturally upright dog--he runs with his head up naturally--so it seemed much easier to teach him a stopped contact than to try to change his natural running style. However, I haven't seen another 12" dog with a stopped contact in, let me think... years, so I'm going to have change that behavior. Hopefully all the years of stopping on the contacts will work against his natural inclination to sproing off the end of the board and I can just stop stopping him rather than have to actually train another behavior. But as someone said to me this weekend, when you have a running (or a non-stopping) contact, you have to be prepared to have them miss it at least once in awhile. It's the trade-off you make for the extra speed and fluidity but it's something we'll have to work on if we're going to be anywhere near the competitive times.

So, I learned about some holes in our training this weekend that I'm working on this week and I can't wait until the new AKC table rule goes into effect (any position will be allowed on the table as long as they don't jump off it). He'll still have to do a down on the table in USDAA so I plan to continue to have him lie down, but the judge will start counting a lot sooner after September 15th. And in spite of the less than fabulous trial site, I'm really looking forward to our next trial in about 10 days. It's a USDAA trial so it means a lot more classes which I think will really challenge our stamina and skills but I'm still excited about getting out there with my best buddy and trying our best.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What's Happening at Cedarfield?

Some interesting things have been happening at Cedarfield over the last 6-8 months. It was about that time that I invited a friend and fellow agility person, Sue McKinney, to use my field to teach some of her classes. She had lost access to the place where she was teaching and I was hardly ever using my field so I thought at least I would get a little something from the field rental and also it might encourage me to get out there more frequently myself.

Sue teaches lots of classes and does a great job of putting the "fun" into fundamentals whether she's teaching agility, rally or pet obedience. Her students seem to love coming out to Cedarfield where there's a lot of room and green grass and trees. Consequently, she's gone form teaching just a couple of classes on one night a week to 4 or 5 classes on two nights a week.

As the field got more and more use, Sue and I decided we'd go ahead and invest in some lights for those dark winter nights that make it so hard to get any training done after 5:00. We bought four of these kind of lights: and even had an electrical box wired to the outside of the nearest building so we could switch them on and off easily.

It's been amazing having lights out there. Not only does it make training possible, it makes having classes possible all year long. Sure, sometimes it's cold and wet outside but our winters are pretty mild so there are relatively few nights when it's too cold to train or teach outside. The other good thing about holding clases outdoors is that during the good weather it's so nice to be outside to enjoy it after being cooped up inside all day. Not only that, teaching outside allows us to price our classes competitively which is so important in this economy.

And it's made it so much easier for me to train during the winter. Since I still work full-time at my "real" job. It used to be a race for me to see if I could get home, change my clothes and get the dogs outside to run around a little before it got dark. Now, I don't have to break the speed limit driving home and even have the time to set up a course and run it if I want to. And since there's little to no mowing in the winter, the amount of time I have to spend on upkeep is minimal.

In addition to the lights, I recently invited another trainer, Hannah Branigan, to join our association at Cedarfield. She mostly teaches Obedience and Rally in addition to doing behavior consults. I've been taking one of her Obedience classes with Zodi and really enjoying learning the new ways of doing things. I used to do Obedience with my first Dobe, Jemma and my second, Haven but have been away from it for many years. I used to think it was fairly tedious and boring to train compared to agility but Hannah has so many fun games to play that her classes are nothing like the ones I took many years ago. For one thing, they are taught with totally positive techniques--no collar pops!--and for another, she uses shaping for almost everything. Another plus is that it's something I can practice in the house during these really hot days of summer. Today it's suposed to feel like 109F with the humidity factored in. No way you can do agility in that heat!

So now that there are three instructors teaching at Cedarfield, it's inspired me to expand our classes even further. When the weather cools off a little, I'll be offering a tracking class (something you have to have a lot of property to do)and possibly regular agility and rally run-thrus in addition to Sue's and Hannah's classes.

I'm also hoping to host more seminars like the one recently with Sassie Joiris from NY. I'd like to offer more learning experiences that can be shared by people interested in more than one dog sport. After all, dog training is dog training. In other words, whatever kind of training we do with our dogs tends to increase our enjoyment of our dogs and isn't that what it's all about?

We're also in the process of planning our first open house at Cedarfield which is really exciting since it will offer lots of different activities and will also be a benefit for a good cause. I love the idea of pooling our resources as trainers and instructors. I think we can accomplish much more together than individually and we can also learn from each other as we go along. And, let's face it, when we stop learning and just focus on making money, all the fun goes right out of it.

Anyway, these are exciting times for me as I try to reach out into the dog training community around me. I love the feeling that I'm connecting lots of dots into a cohesive picture, hopefully a picture that includes lots of happy and satisfied people and their dogs.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sassie Joiris Seminars

July has been a really busy month, I've had something planned every weekend so I'm just now getting around to posting about the two seminars by Sassie Joiris that I hosted here in NC in conjunction with Paws 4 Ever in Mebane, NC.

I have been wanting to bring Sassie down here for a couple of years but had to wait until July 10 and 11 to see it finally happen. Truth be told, I was just as excited to meet Sassie in person as I was to host her seminar. I first "met" Sassie online through her blog ( a few years ago and was immediately drawn to her way of training dogs and people. Sassie doesn't follow anyone's rules when training--except one which she shared with us on Sunday in the Agility ABCs seminar--she considers the situation and the individual and then draws from her experience and knowledge to come up with a way to train whatever needs training. She's one of those rare individuals who isn't afraid to think outside the box and I doubt she's ever given up on anything that she's decided to do.

On Saturday there were about 30 people present for the Talented Tricks seminar. Some were experienced dog trainers, some were people who had never been to a dog training seminar in their lives. Everyone seemed to be fascinated with watching Sassie's demonstrations of the way she trains her dogs and then in trying out those methods themselves.

Sunday's seminar was billed as "Agility ABCs" and again had a good mix of experienced and novice trainers. During Sassie's lecture/presentation she shared her one rule of dog training. I hope I'm not giving away an state secrets if I share it with you now ;-) Sassie never asks her dog(s) to do anything for her. Rather she offers them the opportunity to work with her. Meantime they all have access to each other and according to Sassie, "an obscene number of toys" 24 hours a day. And yet they struggle to be chosen to work with her for a treat or two.

The "secret" to developing this kind of focus and drive to work is fairly simple. You play with the dog and if they get distracted by something or someone else, you withdraw your attention and sometimes your presence. And it works! We did this with dog after dog, all ages, all breeds and time after time the dogs would start out working and then get distracted (sometimes with Sassie's help) so the handler would leave the room and stay out until Sassie called them back. Soemtimes it would take just one or two absences, sometimes many more (the younger the dog, the more quickly they learned that inattention to the handler caused the handler to leave the room)but each dog learned to keep their focus on the handler.

I've since used this with Zodi whenever I work her outside where she's very likely to get distracted by the sounds and smells of the nearby wildlife, people driving up in their cars, etc. And even inside she'll sometimes decide not to return the toy to me when I throw it for her so I get up and leave the room and even though she's in there with that toy and the others, when I come back in she's sitting there not doing anything. I'll then throw the toy again in just the same way and she'll bring it right back to me.

And I even used it at agility run-thrus last weekend which are in a large field. As I removed her leash at the startline she took off to investigate and I left the ring closing the gate behind me. I just stood there neutrally in plain sight until she came ans stood by the gate for about 30 seconds. I went back in again and she again took off to go look at a bar setter so I left again but this time stood behind a a large young man so she couldn't see me. The third time I went in she was glued to my side, did a very nice stay at the startline and a few nice sequences, too.

I'm so excited to have some way to fiind a way to foster the kind of focus and desire to work with me that I've been able to develop in my ohter dogs just by rewarding them for their attention. Zodi has just never fit that mold. There were times whenI could have had a ribeye in each hand and she still would have ignored me. Now I feel perfectly comfortable using normal treats and toys knowing that I have a very clear way to communicate to her what I want.

So, thanks, Sassie, I was close to giving up with her and now I can imagine us actually being able to compete in agility one of these days.

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Weekend with President Obama

An Inspiring Weekend with the President, BRAC and the Starters/PI Handlers.

President Obama and I were both in Asheville, NC this weekend and at times were only a few hundred yards apart. He was there on vacation and I was at an agility trial across from the airport where they parked Air Force One. So although I'm sure he was completely unaware of the agility trial, we were in approximately the same location at some point during the weekend.

I can't speak for how his weekend went but mine was wonderful. I was at a USDAA trial given by a local club called Blueridge Agility Club (aka BRAC, at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center. The trial was held indoors on a packed dirt surface in the McGough Arena. This particular agility club has been in existence since about 1992 and is known for putting on a well run trial. BRAC must know and believe the quote "An Army marches on its stomach." (attributed to both Napoleon and Frederick the Great) because they are also famous for the food they provide their volunteers. That may be one reason they are more successful at attracting volunteers than some of the clubs that provide only the bare minimum of snacks for their workers.

There are a lot of elements that go into putting on a well run trial but in my opinion nothing is more important than how the club treats its exhibitors. Exhibitors have more choices than ever about where to trial these days. During the Spring and Fall especially, people in this area can trial every weekend in either AKC, USDAA, NADAC or CPE so if the clubs want to keep attracting handlers to their trials, they need to keep this in mind and use good customer service techniques. In my opinion, BRAC is especially good at this.

Maybe there should be a quote like this: "Behind every good agility trial stands a good trial secretary". BRAC's trial secretary, Peggy Franklin (" one of the best. I love the way she sends out not only a running order with the entry confirmation but a trial timeline so you can see what time each class will be running. This is so helpful that I don't understand why it isn't standard practice. And Peggy is always quick to respond to any email you send or question you have and if she's ever grumpy I've yet to see it.

The Blueridge club members in general are friendly, hard-working and generous. The club even went so far as to issue credits for future trials when their December 2009 trial was hit with several inches of snow. Not only did they issue credits for those of us who couldn't travel to the trial, they even issued credits for those who were in town but had to miss classes because they were late getting to the arena. I've never heard of another club doing that and I've been trialing since they began holding agiltiy trials in NC. That sort of behavior doesn't go unnoticed or unappreciated by the average agility competitor.

One thing BRAC can't take credit for--or can they?--are the good results I get when I trial there. This past weekend was no exception. Devon not only qualified in 6 out of his 7 classes, he finished first in 5 of them and 2nd in the other. He also qualified in the Grand Prix which means he now has all his qualifiers to attend the USDAA Nationals in Kentucky this October. I would love to attend Nationals this year. I've never been to a USDAA Nationals and I think it would be a lot of fun and very inspiring.

Not that I didn't find plenty of inspiration at this trial. This weekend as I watched the Starters/PI Jumpers class that took place near the very end of the trial on Sunday from my ring crew chair, I focused on the handlers' faces as they flew by me intent on sending their dogs over "my" three jumps and into the tunnel. What I noticed was the intensity with which every single person brought to their run. No one was taking this run for granted, no one was just training in the ring. They each really wanted to do the best they possibly could out there even though--as far as they knew--very few people were watching. I felt truly inspired by their eagerness and ability to celebrate this one run. I intend to try to keep those faces in mind every time I run my dogs from now on.

Thanks, BRAC, for another great agility trial.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


I recently decided to start a blog just for the purpose of sharing some of what I've learned over the years from the many excellent teachers and trainers I've had the opportunity to learn from.

Like many agility competitiors, I started out "in horses". I started riding when I was 3 and rarely missed a Saturday morning riding lesson throughout the time I lived at home. I was a horse crazy girl who matured into a horse crazy woman so it shouldn't have been a big surprise to my family when I left the University of Rochester after 2 years to enroll in a full-time, live-in stable management and riding program in Maryland. I was determined that I would make a living with the beautiful creatures I'd loved all my life. The two years I spent at the school were among the best times I've ever had. In fact, if I could go back and do that again, I'd happily do so.

Unfortunately, the reality of trying to make a living by managing other people's riding and boarding facilities meant working for less than a living wage and working every holday and weekend. It didn't take long before I realized that my parents had been right all along. They had tried to tell me that if I truly wanted to enjoy horses, I should make them my hobby and not my profession. (Nowadays that may not be true, there are so many more opportunites open to women now than there were when I was young.)

So, I sadly gave up the idea of being able to spend all day, evey day with horses and went back to school. During that time I worked as a veterinary assistant, an animal shelter employee (heartbreaking) and then started my own business as a petsitter. The petsitting (which was a brand new idea in 1980 when I started Companion Animal Services)led to giving lessons in Obedience and was the beginning of my particpation in dog sports.

I got my first "performance" dog (a dog I had intentions of competing with rather than training only to be a good companion)from the shelter. I asked them to call me if they received a Doberman as that was a breed I'd always been attracted to but never owned. Almost all my dogs up to that point were aquired by adoption as adults and I trained them unconsciously by spending a lot of time showing them what I wanted and then praising/rewarding them. I had taken lessons with a client's Golden since my own dogs were an elderly GSP and a three-legged mixed breed and now I felt ready to get my own, very first Performance Dog (that's how I thought about it, in capital letters).

Jemma was found by someone hanging around a rural garbage dump and brought to the shelter. Since they had no information about her, she had to stay a week before they could allow me to adopt her. What a long week that was! I met her the day she was brought in, fell in love with her instantly, and then barely slept all week worrying about whether she would be reclaimed. Luckily (for me and for her) no one had any interest in reclaiming this little waif with long ears and no tail (obviously done by someone with no idea how to dock a tail) and she got to come home with me. Jemma turned out to be everything I wanted and then some in a performance dog. She was a fast learner and a beautiful heeling dog. The static exercise were a breeze to teach her and we easily got our CD on our first three tries with scores above 195.

Just about this time she became very suddenly completely lame on one leg and was quickly dagnosed with a ruptured ACL. At that time (1985-6) the method of fixing a torn ACL was to use stainless steel wire which left her very little mobility in the knee. She couldn't sit other than to rock back on her hip with her leg stretched out in front of her. I tried to continue with our Obedience training but it was just too hard without a sit so we started to doing nursing home visits with a group of people from the local kennel club.

I found these visits very emotionally draining and so, I'm sure, did Jemma. But we kept them up for years because I could see how much the residents enjoyed having a dog to pat. In fact they mostly seemed to appreciate the opportunity to reminisce about their own dogs, long dead or sadly given up when they entered the nursing home. I still feel so sad today when I think of how forgotten our old people are. And I'm convinced that I'd rather die than live without my dogs. I don't understand how we can be so cruel as to ask people to give up all animal companionship in return for the care they need as they age.

Happily, there were also the wonderfully fun visits we did as part of our volunteer Humane Education visits to local schools. Jemma and I would go to elementary schools throughout the county and talk to kids about the importance of controlling the pet population by spaying and neutering our dogs and cats and also talk about the kind of care these pets needed to be healthy and happy. One of Jemma's best traits was the way she would become very still as soon as anyone patted her. Her eyes would shine and she would quietly generate the most profound pleasure in the attention she received. She especially loved it when, at the end of my talk, I would allow all the kids to come up and pat her together. I never saw her happier than when she was surrounded by a sea of kids all stroking her with reverential gentleness.

Along with these types of activities, Jemma and I started learning about AKC Tracking as a sport. We were very lucky that a wonderful woman from the Kennel Club (an AKC Tracking judge)took us under her wing and taught me a lot about how to lay and map tracks, how to figure out scent behavior according to the topography, ground cover, weather conditions, etc. and then certified us for our first test. I guess there is such a thing as beginner's luck because not only did we get a spot in the first test I applied for but passed on our first attempt. I was more thrilled by that one title than I have been for any other I've acheived and I still have the certificate we got from the AKC.

My next dog was Haven.

Haven was a special dog in every way. I bought her from a breeder in Oregon on the advice of a friend and named her Haven after a character in a book. I intended to do Obedience with her, the way I tried to with Jemma but fate stepped in when some friends invited me to join their agility club in 1990. Once we started really learning the obstacles, there was no turning back.

Once I started agility training, I never went back to Obedience and Tracking fell by the wayside, too. Agility was more like the Equine Eventing I used to do, more fast paced and exciting. And there was so much to learn! This was the beginning of my "seminar years" as I like to call them. Alone and with friends I travelled all up and down the east coast to attend agility seminars and camps. I went as far north as Canada, New York, Ohio, Massachusettes and Pennsylvania. Stayed closer to home in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Then drove south to Georgia and Florida. At each seminar and camp, with each teacher, I learned about agility and dog training. I must have spent hundreds of hours (I'm not going to even talk about the dollars) and driven thousands of miles to listen, learn and watch these talented individuals.

I just couldn't pass up a seminar or camp. In fact I'm not sure you could name a teacher I haven't worked with at least once. I was so hungry to learn as much as I could from whoever was willing to teach me that I would go anywhere for a semianr or camp. And I had a great time travelling and meeting people, making friends from all over the US and even a couple from England.

Haven was a wonderful dog and probably the smartest dog I've ever had. She was the ultimate companion because you could take her anywhere and know that she'd always behave impeccably. She had a natural grace and dignity that never failed her. Even at almost 16 years old she had a regalness that most people noticed right away. But she didn't like travelling to trials, she much preferred to stay at home and do agility in the yard with just me and my other dogs for company so I didn't try to force her to be something she wasn't.

Because Haven was a little soft and retiring for agility, for my next dog I looked for one who had too much energy to be a typical pet. I wanted built in drive and boy did I get it. His name was Simon and he was a handful from the day I brought him home. Where Haven never carried on when left in her crate, Simon screamed his head off. He also never stopped moving when he was out of his crate. At the time I didn't know enough to realize that he needed to learn lots of self-control behaviors, I just thought this was what a "high-drive" dog was like. He was also reactive to other dogs and people from a very early age despite all my attemps at socialization. He was never a dangerous dog--he never even came close to biting anyone--just very noisy and reactive. Because he was really such a little scaredey-dog, I never could quite understand why people who didn't know him were scared of him. But he did have a very intense look and a very deep voice so he was pretty convincing to those who didn't see right through him as most agility people could.
Despite the problems I had managing Simon around other dogs and people, I really enjoyed training him and the two us shared a deep bond, maybe deeper than I had with any of my other dogs. I'm sure one reason was his dependence on me and the other was the many long hours we spent training togeher. Simon was my seminar and camp dog; the one I took everywhere. And one thing I never worried about when travelling with Simon was that anyone would harass me. Just one WOOF! and look from Simon and no one was brave enough to approach if I didn't give the OK. Needless to say, I didn't do any Nursing Home visits with Simon :-)
Simon and I had a lot of first experiences together. He was the first dog I took to the Masters level, the first dog I took to agility camp, the first dog I felt was fast enough to compete with the Border Collies. I had hopes of getting the elusive ADCH with Simon, something that wasn't as easy to get at that time as it is now when there are trials every weekend with double Standard and Snooker classes.

But unfotunately, just as it seemed that we were getting somewhere, Simon was diagnosed with Canine Cutaneous Histiocytosis. At that time there was hardly anyone in the country who knew about this disease much less had any drugs to treat it. The only thing they could suggest to (hopefully) keep it in check and prevent it spreading to his internal organs was Prednisone. Keeping him on a dose that would control the lesions but not ruin his quality of life was a constant struggle and it was heartbreaking to see what it did to him. Finally, at only 6 and a half years old he died during emergency surgery to repair some adhesions which had formed during an earlier surgery to remove an intestinal blockage. Even 10 years later I can hardly bear to think about his last few months. I was completely heartbroken when he died and didn't think I could ever allow myself to feel about another dog the way I felt about Simon. In some ways I never have.

While Simon was still alive, I decided that if I was going to spend so much time doing agility, I should really get a Border Collie. I had gotten to know the breed well since I'd been doing agility and admired their amazing athleticism and drive to work and play. I thought that I would rather adopt a rescue dog than get a puppy because I felt strongly that there were so many nice dogs in rescue that it only made sense to adopt my next dog.

I was lucky to contact a Border Collie rescue group just at the time that they were looking for another home for a dog that had been in rescue from a very early age and had been passed around due to his fairly pushy nature. Once I saw Jaime I was convinced he was the perfect agility dog. And still, after 12 years, I'm convinced I've never seen a more athletic dog.

In a lot of ways Jaime has been the easiest dog I've ever owned and in other ways, the hardest. Although he lives to work for me, he doesn't really want to be patted or fussed over very much. He's happy to curl up at my feet and sometimes will be very calm and gentle but mostly he likes to work and the harder, the better. He would have been a fantastic sheep dog. He would have liked nothing better than to work all day and then lie by the fire until it was time to work again. And he loves agility. At thirteen he's still sound and still ocasionally competes. And he is the dog that finally allowed me to acheive the ADCH I'd always wanted. But it was a bittersweet accomplishment since I had really hoped to do it first with Simon who had been dead only about a year when Jaime got that final Jumpers leg. But Jaime has taught me so much, more than any other dog I've had, and they've been some hard lessons, too.

Most people who know me know that I keep a "short" list of about 25 breeds that I say I'm going to get for my next dog. I just don't understand how peope can limit themselves to one or two breeds when there are so many cool dogs out there. For about as long as I've had dogs I've always wanted to have a terrier. I love their fiestiness (if that's a word) and the way they strut around with such self-importance. But for as long as I've had Dobes, Dobe peolple have warned me away from getting a terrier. Whenever I would tell someone who had Dobes that I wanted a little terrier, their face would grow very serious and they'd shake their heads somberly and tell me that it would be a big mistake to try to house a Dobe and a terrier together. Even the terrier people said that so I thought I'd just have to forgo having a terrier until I had no Dobes. But then I started doing agility and I saw terriers everywhere. Mostly Jack Russells but others, too, and they seemed just fine with other dogs--at least certainly no worse than any other breed. So when Jaime was about 6 I decided to get a Parson Russell Terrier which is almost the same as a JRT but possibly a little less feisty and with longer legs.

I can truthfully say that I've nver seen a cuter puppy than Devon. When I picked him up at the airport and looked inside his tiny crate, my fate was sealed. From that day to this I only have to think of him to put a smile on my face. He's such a happy-go-lucky, friendly and handsome little personality that he's usually welcome whereever there are dog people.
And contrary to what I had heard from many sources, he was the easiest dog to train (other than Haven) I've ever owned. He's very dependent on me, has to be wherever I am and makes me feel like I'm the center of his universe. His love of intereaction with me has made it easy to train him and easy to live with. I can take him just about anywhere other than where there's deep running water. For some reason, he has an obsession with jumping into pools of water and splashing and barking until you force him to come out. And if the water is a river or ocean, he has no understanding that he might not be able to get out which has led to some pretty interesting experiences over the years.
Other than that little quirk of occasionally trying to drown himself, Devon is a very biddable little dog and that makes him a good agility teammate. I spent a lot of time on foundaton training with Devon which I didn't really know how to do with my other dogs. In fact the words "foundation training" weren't ones I had ever heard until Jaime was about 5 years old when many of the mistakes I made in his early training were already irreversible. Terms like "impulse control" were brand new in the agility literature when Jaime was competing.
Just about the time I got Devon, there began to be a lot of conversation (and controversy) concerning handling systems. An instructor had introduced mt to the Greg Derrett system of handling and I followed that faithfully with Jaime for over 3 years going to lots of seminars and camps to learn it and apply it. However, after awhile I realized that my progress with Jaime had hit a plateau and I couldn't seem to move past it. Some of the trouble was caused by his early training (or lack of training) but some was due to his own lack of biddablility (for want of another word), some to my imperfections as a handler and some to the system that didn't take into account dogs like Jaime who tend to ignore training cues when hyped up on adrenlin.

Since this system didn't seem to be working for Jaiime and because I had nothing with hich to replace it, for awhile my agility training with Devon floundered. I knew I needed another system of cues but was at a loss how to come up with my own system. I knew I didn't want to go back to just trying this and that move but I also didn't feel that my old system would work very well for Devon either. I felt it relied too heavily on training every behavior needed on an agility course rather than on the intuitive action and reaction I'd been used to feeling with Simon in the past and when I rode horses.
I had been hearing a lot about Linda Mecklenburg's system of handling at that time and knew that many people used it and were very successful with it so I decided to attend one of her Foundation Training seminars. I'm so glad I did, it was one of the best learning experiences I've ever had.
Linda's system seems to rely more on the natural kind of cues that most people used to use long ago in agility--before everything got so technical. If you run forward, your dog "feels" that and also runs forward. If you stop, your dog should, too. It mimics the way people dance with each other, getting physical cues from each other's movements rather than from one person telling the other what to do. At least that's my very imperfect understading of it. It still requires training the dog to look for certain cues and to respond in a cetain way depending on the feedback offered, but it seems far more intuitive and less reliant on training to me.
And since I've been using the ideas I learned at that seminar, I'm much happier with the way Devon and I are running as a team. We've become far more consistent and now I find that if I want to qualify on a particular course, I usually can. My goal now is to get much faster so that we can be really competitive.

And as I work on that challenge, I have another young dog to train in agility. I got Zodi in response to missing having a Doberman around the house. As much as I love Devon and Jaime, it just felt like something was missing. I really had to search for Zodi because I was afraid of getting another Dobe with serious health probems or temperament issues and there aren't many careful Dobe breeders around who would let their best puppies go to a Performance home. I had interviewed several Dobe breeders over the past few years and found that most of them weren't even willing to talk about letting me have their best puppy unless I would co-own it or send it out with a professional handler. But I was determined to find a puppy so I emailed everyone I knew and asked them if they knew anyone and wound up finding a puppy much closer to home than I could have hoped. When I first saw the litter I didn't know which of the two bitch puppies I would get but I knew which one I wanted. One was very shy and timid and the other was all over the place, exploring and jumping all over her brother. Luckily the breeder decided to keep the shy one (I don't know how she turned out) and I got Zodi.

Zodi is two years old now and is as sweet a dog as you'd want to meet. She has a wonderful sense of humor and enjoys herself whenever she can. She's also nothing like either Haven, Jemma or Simon, being far more independent and more easily distracted from training. If a bird flies by or a she catches sight of a bug, she's off to investigate. It mostly makes me laugh when she does things like this but it has slowed our progress toward being ready to compete in agility. Luckily I've learned a lot of patience over the years and know that there's no hurry and that the fun we have together is all that's truly important.

So, that brings me up to the present. I'm currently doing a little of everything; teaching, training, competing in agility, traveling and spending time with friends and family. I am especially enjoying teaching people just starting their agility training. I remember so clearly how exciting it was to learn to communicate with my dog in such a unique way. I also remember just how difficult it was to find good instruction back then and how far I had to travel to find it. So I strive to be the best instructor I can be and share all the experience I have gained while at the same time knowing I have so much more to learn. That's why the subtitle of this blog is "Live to Learn".