Posted by: jility | April 29, 2013

The Precarious Progression of the Previously Petrified Pankies

Pankies puppy test

Pankies showing zero interest in the toy at her temperament test

Her story is far from over. Our work is far from finished. The road ahead of us is a long one with lots of bumps and turns in it, but I think I can see the Autobahn in the distance!

Some of you have followed the trials and tribulations of Pankies (AKA UPGRAYEDD). The ride has been a roller coaster at best. There have been many times I have wanted to throw in the towel and quit. Then I would think about how much I love agility and that she is my only competition dog at the moment. Also, and a bit less self-serving, is the fact that the bolder she gets in agility, the easier life will be for her in general.

I have written many blogs about Pankies. My hope has been to help and inspire those who have similarly fearful dogs with zero drive. I have learned that training a dog that is fearful but has drive or a dog that is confident but lacks drive, is a LOT easier than training a dog that is both fearful and driveless. That is a lethal combination and not one I EVER want to tackle again as long as I live! Now, I do thank the Universe for sending me this incredibly brilliant but humbling dog, but my humiliation level is more than full so I would ask for an easier dog for my next project. PLEASE?????

When I kept Pankies from my litter, I knew she would be a tough one to train. I kept her because I didn’t want anyone else to have to deal with her. She exhibited some major behavioral issues at 7 ½ weeks old. I bred the litter from my MACH 2 bitch but, because we live in the Global Warmer, there was no room to whelp a litter. A friend whelped and raised the litter for us in exchange for a puppy. We made the two hour drive to visit the puppies every week. We were so very excited!

Mel picked out Pankies when she was a week or so old to be his next agility dog. She was terrific too, until 7 ½ weeks that is. On one of our visits, Mel went to play with her just as he had in the previous visits, but this time she didn’t want to play. He snaked the tug toy on the ground but she just stood there like a statue. When he went to pat her, she growled and tried to bite him, then she ran away and hid. She refused to come out with the rest of the litter. She just sat in her hiding place staring into space. When she did finally move, her tail was tucked and her ears were pinned, and she would bolt from one place to other trying to find a better hiding place. We were speechless and heartbroken.

One of the first things I did after I brought her home was to fly with Susan Garrett to her puppy camp in Canada. In hindsight, this was much too much for Pankies to handle. At the time, I didn’t realize just how fearful and different Pankies actually was/is. While sitting in the waiting room at the airport, Susan suggested I try to get her to play with me. Nothing I did worked. Pankies would just sit there like a stuffed dog (ironic because she is scared to death, even today, of stuffed dogs). Finally, Susan took her and tried to get her to play. Susan tried for a long time. She did everything she could to get Pankies (then called Uppity or Up for short) to play. She even rolled around on the floor with her. Pankies just stared into space as if Susan didn’t exist. Finally, Pankies got up and wandered over to an old man sitting on the other side of the room and sat in front of him. Susan and I just looked at each other. I was crushed. If Susan Garrett couldn’t get her to play, WHO COULD???? Certainly not me! I am just a mere mortal. My disappointment grew.

Susan partnered me with Lynda Orton Hill for the camp. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. Lynda was supportive and empathetic but didn’t let me wallow in my sorrows. Again, I had no idea just how much work Pankies would end up being. I had NEVER had a dog like her (and I have had a LOT of dogs in my lifetime!). I cried many times during that camp and I am NOT a person to cry at all! While everyone else was playing with their puppies and doing the work, I was running up and down the building doing everything I could to get Pankies to tug. Finally, I figured out that if I gave her fake “pankins” on her bottom, she would get really pissed at me and growl and I would stick the toy in her mouth and get her to tug. Hence the name Pankins, which morphed to Pankies.

I left Canada an emotional mess. All my hopes and dreams were tied up in my litter and I had no choice but to take the problem child. I watched as the other puppy owners did great things with their littermates and listened to them gush about how they had the best Poodle on the planet! I wasn’t jealous, that is not my nature, but I was sad and dripping in self-pity.

I worked on the tugging but she would get angry with me and run away most of the time. If she coughed up a treat, that was the end of any training for days. She would look at me as if I had caused it! She held a grudge like nobody’s business and made training, something I used to love, a dreaded chore for me.

The behaviors I could get with treats were OK, but as soon as the toy came out, she would tug for a split second, then quit and get angry with me or run away.

Meanwhile, we would throw the ball for all the dogs. They fought over which one would get it. Pankies had no interest in the ball or any other toy. She would chase our Border Collie, Crush, who chased the other dogs while they chased the ball. Chasing Crush was the ONLY thing that Pankies loved to do on the planet (besides eat her meals). She lived for chasing Crush and would run right on her hip barking at her.

Chasing Crushie is the BEST!

I continued to try training her but hit brick wall after brick wall. One time at a Susan Garrett seminar in Washington, we were supposed to be shaping a simple behavior. Pankies got confused (something she HATES more than anything else!) about what I wanted so she bolted out of the arena. I went after her and could see her projectile urinating and air snapping as she ran for her life. She went from standing there calmly, to panic mode in the blink of an eye for no apparent reason other than confusion! When I caught up to her, she stood still, paralyzed with fear. She was trembling all over. Her tail was tucked and her ears pinned and lips drawn. When I reached for her leash, in her panic, she tried to bite me. I hadn’t seen that behavior since she was 7 ½ weeks old.

Later in the seminar, we were to do recalls. I placed Pankies in a sit (She wouldn’t let anyone else hold her and she had a great sit stay so I just used that) and led out. When I called her to me, she ran in the opposite direction. I couldn’t catch her! Somebody else had to catch her for me! She wanted nothing to do with me. Had I seen this behavior with anyone else, I would have bet you the farm that they were mean to their dog! I was humiliated, mortified, discouraged and a bag full of other emotions, none of which were good.

Life went on and so did my struggles. If you want to read more, just do a search on my blog for Pankies, Pankins, Uppity, Up or UPGRAYEDD and you will find them.

One day while we were throwing the ball for the dogs and Pankies was chasing Crush as usual, one of the dogs brought me the ball and dropped it into my hand. At first I didn’t think a thing about it. Then I did a double take. It was Pankies! WTF??? I threw it again and by God she brought it back and spit it at my feet. She repeated over and over again but eventually learned in one session, to put it into my hand. How had this dog gone from no ball or toy drive at all, to knowing exactly what to do?

We never looked back. I finally found something SHE loved to play with. At first, I didn’t use the ball in training. I continued to struggle with the tug toy. I was building her love for the ball AWAY from agility instead of putting contingencies on it. Pankies taught me that a reward has to be something a dog loves or it is not much of a reward at all! It is up to the dog to tell us what is rewarding. We can’t force a reward on them! If a dog has some tug drive, we can certainly nurse it along and grow it. If, however, they are scared of it or hate it as she did, we best get creative!

I was in the middle of training her to weave using the 2×2 method when we took a turn for the worst. She started out fine, but when things got difficult, she would quit on me. I didn’t want a dog to hate weaving so I got creative. I used the one thing she had learned to truly love more than anything, including chasing Crush! THE BALL! Pankies had learned to love chasing and retrieving that ball on her own terms. I had not forced it. When I introduced the ball to her 2×2 training, it went to another level. She went from walking slowly through the weaves to this in a few short weeks.

Sure, I still think tugging is THE BEST form of reward, assuming the dog is on the same page, but a reward is a reward, whether it be tugging or the ball. The ball has some major limitations when it comes to rewarding, but it is still better than offering a dog a reward it really doesn’t much like.

I can now tug with Pankies when she is going into the ring. I taught her to tug on her leash (THANK GOD I DID!) and to bark at me while on the startline. Both of these things keep her mind off all the scary dogs outside the ring and on her job INSIDE the ring. The funny thing is that once the run is over and her adrenalin stops pumping, she comes back into her real world of vigilant fear and her entire being changes. I can no longer touch her and she won’t tug. It is as if she has woken up from a trance and realizes there is danger all around her. All she wants are her treats. It takes a good 30 minutes or more before I can once again pat her or touch her on her head without her ducking to avoid my hand. Watching Pankies’ behavior is fascinating to me.

Pankies got her novice agility jumper titles in three straight runs when she first came out. One of her runs was 19 seconds. We went right into open (a big mistake). She got her first Q in open on her first try. Then things went to hell in a hand basket. She began to stress because courses were more difficult and Pankies HATES uncertainties! The more handling involved in a run, the more she would quit or bolt. Things got so bad, she would sit on the startline and refuse to leave! I have no video of that because I made Mel hide, but I do have video of her a year ago when she wouldn’t even sit at the startline! I tried to get her to tug on her leash but she would have nothing to do with it. A friend taped this while Mel hid.

I continued to try to run her and we continued to struggle and suck. If she did run, she would do one or two jumps, then run around jumps or run the fence looking for a way to escape her torturous time in the ring. It was heartbreaking and humiliating! We took her to UKI trials where she could have the ball and ASCA trials where we could train. I would just go out there and let her do whatever she wanted. Sometimes she would jump and sometimes she would just run around. I didn’t care. I just wanted her to have fun! If it wasn’t fun for her, it wasn’t fair TO her!

In our first ASCA trial, I just let her do her thing and went along for the ride and told her how wonderful she was.

Here is her second day of ASCA. This was a HUGE improvement!

Here is our first time back in AKC. My plan was to do a few jumps and leave. I wanted to put one handling move in there to see how she could handle it. She LOVES serps so that is what I chose for her. She handled it very well.

As long as she had her ball in training, she was fine and could work through ALMOST anything. Take away the ball and FORGET IT! She has shown the same behavior with the teeter. At first, she had a BRILLIANT teeter. She would slide it like a BC. Then one day she had a fly off. That was the end of the teeter. We retrained it from the beginning and got her to do a great teeter until something else scared her and that was that. I have retrained the teeter nearly a dozen times now but every time something is not quite right, she quits and we start over.  Once in a UKI trial (where I can use the ball), she came flying out of a tunnel and up the dog walk. Evidently, as most young inexperienced dogs do, she mistook it for the teeter. She went into her crouch in anticipation of the tip. She smashed her chin on the top board, bailed and refused the dog walk AND the teeter from then on out. Back to the drawing board.

Here it is in slow motion:

In Pankies’ world, things MUST be as expected or they are evil and life threatening. What you see MUST be what you expect to get. If not, FORGET IT!

Last year I worked with Julie Cantrell of Aldaron Essences and she formulated some flower essences for Pankies. I saw a HUGE difference almost right away! I quadrupled the dose and she seemed a lot more comfortable. Her runs got better and better and she got more and more confident with each run. I didn’t care if she qualified or not. I just wanted her to find the fun. That went for me too! I put her back in novice preferred. I figured that way I wouldn’t care about the outcome so I wouldn’t transfer MY stress to her. That really helped. Here is her first AKC novice preferred JWW run. To keep her stress to a minimum, I didn’t lead out very far.

You can see she still looked for a way out for the ring at one point, but was a world better!

The next day she was even better. She even tugged a bit on her leash.

I knew we had turned the corner.

I continued doing as many matches as I could with her. The more I could use her ball in a trial situation, the better she got. We limped along with little improvements here and there. We have had MANY backslides along the way. I tried taking her off the flower drops once and that was a disaster! A plane went overhead while on course. She looked up and ducked, then quit. I thought we were back to square one, but she recovered. Each time I introduce something new to her, she panics about it. Eventually, she learns to accept it or even love it! Not sure that will ever happen with the planes, trains or automobiles.

As recently as March of this year, I was ready to put her on puppy Prozac. A veterinarian happened to be tented next to us at a trial. I mentioned it to her but her reaction was DO NOT do it! She said she had seen great results using the DAP collars. You can read about them here.

As soon as we got home, Mel ordered one for her to try. I was amazed at the difference in her behavior at trials! I still have to keep her FAR away from other dogs (she is PETRIFIED of dogs) and as happy as I can make her, but the difference in the ring was remarkable.

This past weekend, was the best she has ever run. Here is a run in which she Qed and placed third. She even growled with joy as she was approaching the weaves.

It was not, however, her best run of the weekend. That was an NQ on Sunday. It was by far the best she has ever run at a trial. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help her at the end of the run to know where she was going, so she crashed a jump. The bar rolling on the ground scared her, but unlike the old Pankies, she recovered and looked for and took the final jump all on her own! I was SO proud of her!

Here is the same run in slow motion (sorry about the long lead out wait. It wouldn’t be bad if I were a swim suit model instead of, well, me). The slow motion also really shows all my handling errors. I need to get better about my rear crosses THEY SUCK! You can see her react slightly after the bar rolls but her recovery is fabulous!

Pankies got her MXJ this past winter but still has not run in standard <sigh> but I hope we will eventually get there. Perhaps next year it will happen.

I could go on and on and on about my Pankies. I love her so. Someday, I might even write a book, but, as I wrote earlier, her story is far from over. We are a work in progress. As of this blog, we are retraining the teeter for the umpteenth time! I fear she may never see the inside of a standard ring, but we will keep trying. Who knows, perhaps someday she will learn to love the movement, the noise and the uncertainty of whether it is the teeter or the dog walk. For now, we will keep plugging along and hope that our struggles will help others who are going through the same things.


COI Pankies


As you can see by some of the comments below this post, I have taken quite a bit of flack about my training of Pankies. Yes, I have made a lot of mistakes along the way with her. I didn’t know any better. I pushed her when I shouldn’t have and I placed her in situations that caused her great angst. I regret that. However, everything I did and continue to do with her, was and is done because I truly felt and still feel that the more confident she gets in her training, the more it will transfer to everyday life.

It has been suggested that she never should have been a performance dog and should be in a pet home. I disagree with that. Pankies wouldn’t have lasted long in the average pet home. The first time she went after her human or bolted or panicked, who knows what would have become of her? One weekend she and I were attending a workshop and stayed in a motel. I was pottying her when I heard a train approaching. Before I could get a stronger grip on her leash, she also heard the train, panicked and bolted. She broke away from me and took off running as fast as she could. She was also projectile urinating and air snapping as she had done in the seminar the year before. Luckily, the motel was on a dead end road and it was early in the morning. She ran to the front of the motel and stood in the entryway shaking like a leaf. Another time we were driving on a highway with all of our dogs when a boulder fell off a truck and took out the driver window. All the dogs jumped and looked, then went back to sleep. The noise was loud from the wind coming in the window and it was a while before we could pull over safely. Pankies panicked. She drooled, shook like I have never seen a dog shake, her ears were pinned and she was glassy eyed. If she had been able to jump out of that window, she certainly would have. None of the others cared.

I am doing the best I can with her. I have taken her to veterinarian behaviorists, non-veterinarian behaviorists, BAT trainers and more. She now has the skills to look at me and tell me when she needs to move away from what she perceives as danger. She is ALWAYS in a hyper vigilant state, but it has been almost two years since she has had a panic attack. It is not only when she does agility that she is hyper vigilant. She LOVES agility, tracking, hunt training, rally and nosework. She now SCREAMS with joy as we approach any of the training facilities we attend. It is my opinion, and obviously there are those who disagree, that all the training I have done with her, has helped her to become more comfortable in her own skin and THAT is a very good thing for her.

I truly adore this dog. If she never competed in anything I would adore her. I believe that learning to deal with stress and pressure in training, has helped her immensely to deal with the everyday things in life that she sees as stressful.

So, judge me if you must, but I will continue along the same path with her and we will learn as we go. Meanwhile, she gets mentally stronger and happier.

Here is a run from Memorial Day weekend 2013. She was really happy!


  1. I’ve trained up three dogs for agility. And I’ve made mistakes with all three of them. You go in with good faith and you do your best. If you don’t optain the result that you’re hoping for there’s always someone there to tell you how you went wrong. Heck, even if you DID get the result you wanted there is always someone ready to tell you how you ought to have done something,

    The truth of the matter is that none of us is omniscient. We all do our best. Sometimes we ask too much or push too hard. Other times we ask too little which is often just as great of a sin. Not enough challenge inhibits growth. It’s very hard to gauge how much is too much.

    I have a girl that I’m training for agility. If she were human I’d say she has Aspergers. She’s a lovely, confident agility dog, but is painfully shy with strange people and dogs. I’m doing a constant dance of exposing her to people and then backing off to see if it backfired or if, like soft steel, she tempered and became a bit stronger. There’s a bit more trial and error in some dogs than others.

    Would I have done the same things with Pankins that you did? Of course not and who cares anyway. Good luck with your girl, and ejoy the heck out of her!

  2. I am surprised to read the negative comments here. It sounds like you have, and are, doing a wonderful job with a very challenging dog. Agility has helped many many fearful dogs be more confident (in the very careful way you are using it) and I am sure that you will continue to help Pankies find the joy in that, and in life.

  3. I think you are amazing and your work with Uppity an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your journey. Kay & Poodle boy Max

    • Thank you Kay 🙂 I truly appreciate the kind words.

  4. I found this sad rather than hopeful. Did you ever consider that she simply is not a performance dog? That she would be less stressed simply being a plain old dog with a family? Rather than an agility dog traveling around in an RV?

    She peed herself. and snapped. and tries to leave. Maybe she’s trying to tell you something. Maybe she doesn’t want to do this. Building confidence is great but it doesn’t have to be in the competitive agility ring.

    “…,comes back into her real world of vigilant fear… danger all around her…It takes a good 30 minutes or more before I can once again pat her or touch her on her head without her ducking to avoid my hand.”

  5. I am a professional canine behavior consultant; one of my personal areas of interest is assisting handlers whose performance dogs are having stress and arousal issues with performance. I’m sorry to say I found this account disturbing. There is no doubting the hard work you’ve done with Pankies. However, I also read here an account of systematically pushing this dog into situations she found uncomfortable to terrifying, and solely for the benefit of her human. She was forced to do this without the benefit of professional consultation with a behavior specialist and without medication that could have greatly reduced her anxiety. Even though she is improving, I hope you will consider talking to a qualified veterinarian about medication.

    • I have consulted several veterinarian behaviorists! I have taken her to BAT training and discussed medication with several different veterinarians and behaviorists.
      I am sorry you find my work with Pankies disturbing. I have found it to be an incredible experience. Pankies has gone from a basket case to a much more confident dog. In her everyday life she had trouble coping. She panicked bolted under every day circumstances, not just work circumstances. I see it differently than you I guess. I see my work with her helped her in her every day life to become more confident and comfortable in her own skin. The more work she does, the more at ease she gets and that has helped her to live a better life. She is a much happier dog now than she ever was before. I think that is a big plus for her and for me.

  6. That was beautiful. In slow motion you can see her slow and falter after the dropped bar… but then BAM the spring is back in her step and she’s off again! I love it. What a great team you are.

  7. AWESOME !!! You have worked so hard and it shows she wants to run for you and that shows in each of her runs you should be a proud mom I always say it is not about the Qs but the journey towards them congratulations to the both of you a good team

  8. As someone who has a fearful and unmotivated border collie, I so appreciated every word (and video) in this post. Congratulations on your successes — you are my hero! I’m glad there is someone else out there just as stubborn as myself who won’t give up on these dogs.

  9. Hi Global, Helen, both you and Mel sure have the patience ! Both of you are so excellent with the “girls” ! And, their enjoyment is obvious ! Watching the small herd play with the big ball was fun to watch ! They were having a ball ! May the joy, for all of you, go on forever ! Ron

    • Thank you Ron! We have a lot of fun 🙂

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