Jack Sprat could eat no fat.
His wife could eat no lean.
And so between the two, you see,
They licked the platter clean.
Agility has been my life for the past fourteen years. Animals, particularly dogs and horses, have always been my life. I love them and I love training them. I love how they want to make the person they love smile. Dogs know when we smile and are happy with them. They also know when we are not happy with them. They may not know WHY we are unhappy with them, but they don’t like to displease us. It is our job to teach them how to make us happy, which in turn makes THEM happy.
The biggest compliment somebody can give me is that my dog looks happy when working or just hanging out with me. That is my goal in life. My dogs deserve to be happy. If they are unhappy because I am unhappy about a performance or behavior, then it is MY fault and MY fault alone!!! I do not want to punish my dog verbally or physically for my shortcomings as a trainer. In my mind, that is just not right! Dogs can’t distinguish the difference between us being angry with them or ourselves. We need to hide disappointment, no matter what the cause.
So, what does all this have to do with Jack Sprat and his fat arse wife?
I love training foundation on our dogs. Sir Cussalot HATES it! He, however, is BRILLIANT when it comes to the aftermarket behaviors like weaving, running contacts and other advanced behaviors. Other than training weave poles, I have little interest in the aftermarket behaviors. I want all the hard stuff out of the way before the puppy is old enough to begin the work on the obstacles.
With the exception of Barque and Xoom, I have trained all the foundation work on our dogs. Sir C has done all the work on Barque and Xoom, but has declared that his days of teaching foundation to puppies are over. He said he will stick to what he does best, AFTERMARKET stuff! As a former electrical engineer who designed satellite trackers and other very complicated things, he expects things to just work. Show a puppy the table a few times and they should have it right? Do a few end behaviors on the contacts and you have instant understanding. Show them a treat once in a while and you get brilliant focus! Well, dog training doesn’t work that way. They AIN’T ELECTRONIC MACHINES! It takes consistency and countless repetitions to solidify and maintain behaviors.
Now, he will spend countless hours perfecting their skills once trained well, but the initial training to get the skill is another story altogether!
I prefer getting the skill and spending the time there but hate maintaining them. So together, we make a pretty dang good team; just like Jack Sprat and his fat arse wife.
As Bob Bailey says, “Some people are good at getting behaviors and some are good at maintaining them, but few are good at both.” Or something like that. The BRILLIANT Bob Bailey also says, “Training is simple but not easy.” He is right on with both! Of course he is right on with all things animal training. The man is a training genius!
I LOVE Poodles, particularly standard Poodles. I love almost everything about them with the exception of all that hair. I would like to see better structure, but that is for a different blog. Rather than mess with the hair, we just shave it all off. I have actually had some show type Poodle people get very angry with me because we shave our Poodles SHORT. They ask why we don’t just get a short haired breed! BECAUSE I LOVE POODLES! I just hate all that hair, especially the dumb ass dome head look!
We let our Poodle puppies have some hair until their big girl coat starts to come in, then it all has to go!
Cute and cuddly fuzzy Poodle puppy
All growed up with her Sinead O’Conner look
Sir Cussalot loves Border collies. They are too serious and too quick for me. I do LOVE training them, however. My perfect dog would be a Poodle with Border Collie structure (or close). Someday I may see what a Borderpoo is like but that too is for another blog. Oh wait! I already wrote about that in “Mutt or Magic” and “Mixed Breed Hell” if you want to know my thinking on it.
But I digress.
The first requirement for my next Poodle puppy is that it has ALL of its body parts intact. I will never again have another Poodle with a docked tail or amputated dew claws! They NEED and deserve all their body parts, not just the convenient ones.
I also want a confident pup with great drive and structure. That is what I was going for when I bred my own litter of standard Poodles four years ago. I doubt I will ever breed again because I know if there is a defective puppy in it as there was in my last litter, I will keep it to spare anyone else the anguish of dealing with it. Breeding is NOT for the faint of heart!Pankies (UPGRAYEDD) has turned out to be a super agility dog, but the road to get here has been laced with mines.
My first agility dog, Isabella who just turned FOURTEEN on March 1, 2014, was a difficult dog for a first time agility person. She had over the top prey drive and I had no clue how to train focus, drive, self-control or anything else for that matter. I started with instructors new to the sport who didn’t know much more than I did. We put squeeze cheese down the teeter and dog walk, led them over the Aframe on a leash (same on the other contacts too) and taught weaving using the hand target method. I can’t believe we EVER got into the ring let alone Qed! My first instructor didn’t believe in stopped contacts (2on 2off) but had no clue how to train a good and reliable running contact. We had HAIL MARY… contacts and most of the time Isabella leaped gleefully from the top of the Aframe. I never understood how that was better or safer than a good 2on 2off. It was the blind leading the blind leading the blind.
I still believe that a properly trained 2on 2off is a lot easier on the dog than running contacts because running contacts take MANY MANY more repetitions to train AND maintain than a correctly trained stop. It is also a lot easier to train a 2on 2off than running contacts! I laugh to myself when I hear somebody with crappy stopped contacts exclaim they are going to train a running contact. If you have trouble with a stop, good luck with running contacts! Sure, some dogs just do them and make their handler look brilliant, but most take longer than any other behavior to get right. I watched Sir C for years when he was training Crushie to run her contacts. He trained her for two or more years before he ever dared to break them out at a trial. She has a stop and a run! Now that is the aftermarket stuff I HATE training but at which Sir Cussalot excels!
Sir Cussalot and Crush winning a recent USDAA Master standard class
Eventually my first agility instructor and I parted ways and I went from instructor to instructor until I found our current instructor of the past twelve years, Stacy Winkler. She opened my eyes to things I had never considered! Rewarding builds behaviors???? WTH! I thought you just showed them the way and they should do it for the sake of doing it! I never thought about breaking down a behavior into tiny pieces and building on that! What a concept! We did more talking about training theory than actual training for the first several lessons and I was mesmerized by every word! I LOVE talking training theory! It was like nothing I had ever heard before and it forever changed the way I looked at training and my dogs! How lucky I was to discover this brilliant instructor and how fortunate we are to still have her as our instructor! We are so blessed for that. I know I can ALWAYS ask her a question and I will get a thoughtful answer that makes perfect sense to me. She not only answers all my questions happily, but ENCOURAGES questions! Some instructors think questions are an assault on their knowledge rather than just a question! I have had more than one instructor get very angry with me for asking questions. I find it unacceptable! I am there to learn and if that involves a question or two, so be it. I expect an intelligent answer. That is exactly what I get from Stacy and I SO appreciate that!
So back to Isabella.
There were times when I thought we would never get it right in the ring. We were HORRIBLE early on before we found Stacy. Isabella would often run away from me in the ring to look for ground squirrels and gophers when we were in Southern California. In Washington, a good mole hill was always a great distraction. One time she was going full speed in the ring and slammed on the brakes to sniff a couple of TINY dead toads. Birdie feathers were another great distraction for her.
We struggled and struggled. Slowly we got better, but those critters were always there to distract her in the ring. Then one day when Isabella was about four years old, out of desperation I decided to experiment with something I had seen when she was about a year old. I wasn’t sure if it would help or not, but it was worth a shot.
It was a video I had found when I was searching for a better way to train Isabella. I had been doing obedience with her and the instructors were jerk and pull with praise types. I knew there had to be a kinder and gentler way. The video was called “Choose to Heel.” It showed a woman just walking around inside a building and a dog running loose with her. Every time the dog came over to her, she clicked and treated it. Eventually, the dog realized that all the wandering and sniffing was not nearly as rewarding as walking next to this woman and getting treats for paying attention and focusing on her. I thought it was brilliant at the time, but never thought to apply it to agility for focus.
I was at a trial where there were ton of gophers. One actually had popped its head out of the ground at the end of the dog walk while Isabella was coming down the ramp! Well, Isabella took one look at that little bastard and took off. She ran from gopher hole to gopher hole which led her out of the ring and on to bigger and better rewards in the ground. I stood there watching as she disappeared into the distance. I knew calling would do no good. I just threw up my arms in surrender and walked after her. I finally ran her down because she was too busy digging out a critter to notice me sneaking up on her! I grabbed her collar and knew I had to do SOMETHING different!
I couldn’t let her off leash in the wide open spaces of the park, so I did my Choose to Heel variation on leash. I walked around with her on a long leash. I allowed her to look into every critter crater she wanted. I just stood watching her, but as soon as she even looked in my direction, I said, “YES!” and gave her a treat. It took a few sessions for her to get it, but eventually she did. The best part was that I got it too! Like the song says, “I can’t make you love me…” but you sure can manipulate things to make the dog WANT to love the work! It was at the moment when Isabella started to look towards a moving gopher hole but chose to look to me instead, that the light bulb truly went on and everything Stacy had been telling me for years sunk in! REWARDS BUILD BEHAVIORS!!! THEY SURE DO! BINGO!!!
Isabella went on to become MACH Penhurst Queen Of Spain MXC MJC EAC O-EJC NTC OGC AAD JM RA SA RS-E JS-E RN CGC HIT VCX but had to retire at six due to health issues. I still miss running her! She became a GREAT agility partner and taught me so much.
MACH Isabella, Queen of Spain. My first agility dog and the silhouette on my coats and avatar
So after that, I used this method with all of our puppies over the years and got incredible focus with each of our following agility dogs. It was just something I did religiously. It strengthened recalls, focus, work ethic and my relationship with that puppy. I never once ask them to look at me or tell them to leave it. I just wait and when they look up to me, “YES!” smile and treat or tug. It is THE most important training I do with our young dogs! My friend Claudia asked me what I called it. I said I don’t call it anything. So Claudia named it “Choose ME!” and that fits it as well as anything else.
The other thing I work on with puppies are lots and lots of restrained recalls. I reward for them coming to my side and I also yell “GO!” as they approach and then throw a toy or ball ahead of me and move forward as they pass me to get the toy. That is the beginning of independent work, something I truly need because I can’t run a lick!
I do tons of front crosses while walking my puppies and post turns and put words to the post turns so they can distinguish close work from distance work (the close work is much more difficult for me to train than the distance!). I teach directionals to fluency as well as other verbals for various things I need because I can’t run.
I train the table to be so exciting the puppy LOVES it and loves that down position. I LOVE training the table, sit stays and contacts. I truly enjoy training a balance between drive and self-control. The secret is to make the control positions as much fun as everything else! Punishment or verbal threats do not a fun behavior make. I love to see a dog so excited to go they are quivering and ready to explode, but they stay because they love their control position as much as the release. I am lukewarm about training weaves, although, pretty good at it if I do say so myself. Sir C is brilliant at training weaves! There’s that Jack Sprat thing again. We use Susan Garrett’s 2×2 method to train weaves. I have used every other method on the planet over the years, but think the 2×2 method is by far the best. We don’t even bother to train weaves until our dogs are at least a year and a half. It takes only a couple of weeks so why rush and put unwanted strain on immature soft tissue? We are so “lucky” to always have great weaving dogs that love to weave more than anything.
I do Susan Garrett’s Crate Games right off the bat. I keep an extra copy of the video in my car in case a friend or somebody I like would benefit from it. Crate Games are a terrific way to train that quivering sit and explosive start to little tiny puppies. They learn early on that control positions are a ton of fun!
I do lots of shaping behaviors. That teaches our puppies that failure is an option and not the end of the world! I love teaching them to back up while lying down. I call it “THE LOBSTER!” Pankies loves it. It is something I can do at trials while waiting between classes. The pups learn to work in a vulnerable position with lots of dogs, people and commotion around them. It really helps them when they start to trial for the first time.
I spend months and months training the end behavior for contacts before my dogs ever see a contact for real! Most of our puppies are well over a year old before they ever get on the real contacts for the first time. They learn the end behavior away from the contacts before they ever get near the real thing.
I am ALL about patience and foundation. Another great Bob Bailey saying, “What they learn first they learn best” is ALWAYS on my mind! I try to do things right the first time, but sometimes I have to learn the hard way. That was certainly the case with my current agility dog, Pankies (AKA UPGRAYEDD).
Her fears were overwhelming for her. In the beginning I managed to make tugging an aversive for her. She associated tugging with all things agility and learned to hate agility training as much as tugging. I was convinced that the only way to have a great agility dog was through tugging. Pankies taught me otherwise. If a dog does not find what you offer rewarding, no amount of force will change that! Sure, you may eventually get the dog to tug, but you will have a much happier dog if you use something the dog TRULY finds rewarding! Work on the tugging AWAY from agility and just have fun with it. When/if they learn to LOVE tugging, then use it in training. For super high drive BCs and such, forcing the issue might be fine, but for a dog like Pankies, it is the WORST thing I could have done and I paid the price, as did she! It took me quite a while and a major shift in thinking to realize that I would rather work for a thousand bucks an hour than be paid in Brussels sprouts! YUK!!!! No amount of telling me how wonderful those horrid things are, or forcing me to eat Nature’s nasty nuggets would make me like them! So why not just skip right to the thousand bucks and toss the Brussels sprouts in the trash? That would be a win/win situation in my book.
Pankies will now tug going into the ring. It keeps her mind off the monsters lurking in and around the ring before her run. I also taught her to bark at the start line. It keeps her focused on a job while I lead out a million miles. In some of the videos, you can see her turn around to see what made noise behind her, or if a dog outside the ring is getting too close for her comfort. There are so many demons in her head.
There are plenty of studies out there that have proven dogs understand our facial expression and body language. They actually read humans better than humans read humans! I always try to smile when I train. Stacy used to have to remind me to get rid of my “poopie face” on more than a few occasions! I didn’t even realize I was doing it! I work hard to smile at my dog and be the most fun I can be and it has paid off ROYALLY!
Pankies has gone from a fearful, insecure, reluctant dog, to an amazing dog in every single way! Just a year ago, she would barely run a lick at trials, now she is on fire!
One of Pankies’ runs from last year when she was incapable of doing a course at a trial
Here is a run from this past weekend where she ran a whopping 6.3 yards per second with me hanging on for the ride
It took four years to get her where she could do contacts at a trial. I hadn’t entered her in standard until a few weeks ago because she was incapable of doing the teeter or dog walk in competition. She got confused the first time at a match a couple of years ago. She thought the dog walk was the teeter and went into her slide but realized too late it was not the teeter. She smashed her chin on the board and bailed, never to do either again in competition for the next two years.
Is it the teeter or the dog walk Gramma???
Pankies needs to know exactly what she is doing or it is a NO GO! She was not sure which obstacle was which at trials, a common thing for young dogs, but not acceptable in her oddly wired mind. I had tried in FAST classes, but she would have nothing to do with contacts. At home she would slide the end like a BC! She was OK at class, but NO WAY at trials. She managed to do one or two when under cover at a City of Industry trial a while back, but refuses when outside.
Pankies just says NO to contacts at trials
While I have been sick from the chemo treatments, Sir C has been training her. He would take her out with the other trialing dogs and put them all in an x-pen near the teeter to watch. With all the dogs screaming, he would do Crushie on the teeter, then Pankies. She got better and better and had more and more fun! Sir C would take turns doing the teeter with the dogs so the ones in the x-pen would scream for their turn! IT WORKED LIKE A CHARM! PURE GENIUS ON HIS PART!
This past weekend, Pankies not only did the teeter in competition, she finished her novice standard title in three straight runs with three straight wins, all at 100%! THANK YOU SIR CUSSALOT!!!! You are an AWESOME JACK SPRAT and your FAT ARSE WIFE’S HERO!
What a difference a few weeks make!
It is a good thing I spend a TON of time training verbals to fluency or I never would have gotten her around that course! I was a million miles away and had to direct her through some tricky parts, especially the four obstacle discrimination to the table. She came flying out of the tunnel looking at four obstacles, but got the correct one when I told her table. What a good girl she is! I am so glad I waited until she was ready.
This past weekend, somebody asked me why Pankies would now do the contacts if under cover but not outside. I told them they would have to ask her that because I have NO clue what goes on in her mind. I have learned I don’t need to know either. I just need to keep my Pankinstein happy.
I believe in taking all the time it takes to build a great foundation away from the equipment before getting to the obstacles. It is worth every second spent building that solid foundation. Without a solid foundation, the house will crumble and fall.
This blog was inspired by Blog Agility Blog Events current topic “Starting Your Puppy.”
To see other blogs on the subject, please visit the website at:
Helen Grinnell King