Monday, June 26, 2017

Why foundations in dog sports matter ....

(sorry for the gap in blogs - June was crazy busy here ... sigh  I anticipate being back to twice monthly posting!) 

"Start them right", "Make sure you do your foundation work", "Build those blocks" are the types of things you may have heard when thinking about  foundation work for dogs.

BUT WHY? Why is it important to invest time, learning, and energy (sometimes oh SO MUCH energy) in foundation work?

It would be easy to be trite and say something along the lines of foundations lay the ground work on which all other work is born. And while that is correct it is not complete. Foundations do so much more than train your dog.

Of course foundation work teaches your dog building block skills. It's about  building those basic skills you will revisit again and again and again as you layer them into whatever sport you want to play. Pick an example - any example will do but let's look at crating just for fun. By building the skill of your dog happily being able to be in a crate  you may have beginning of stay (a la Susan Garret), a way to safely and comfortably confine your dog in a car on a warm day (in the shade, under supervision, with water - yadda yadda ). You may be building skills for confinement in case of injury, or wild small children house guests  or any number of other possibilities. Happy crating is great foundation skill not just for dog sports but for life itself !

Foundation work  helps your dog's condition by laying the ground work for building correct muscles, and condition.  I  don't mean starting puppies on equipment or even doing  whole lot with them ... but basic walking, climbing on, over and through things and learning to control their bodies  allows condition to be built slowly with dogs learning about their own bodies.

 Foundation work builds relationship  through early games, play and training you get the best opportunity to experiment. See what works for your dog, for you, and decide how to combine those two sometimes disparate points of view.  Consider, if you will. the skill of your dog  playing with toys, you and food. A dog's ability to play with whatever you are able to offer in any given moment creates  a way to appreciate each other and to reward great work. The act of building these varied skills through many different games and opportunities will help establish relationship and strengthen your bond.

Taking the time to do things right from the start is frustrating. It feels pointless - what if you don't WANT to show in dog sports at the end of the day? You'll never get the time back that you invest in lovely heeling, or great independent weaves, or staying at source  - BUT. and it's a big but - it's WAY easier to take the time to teach something right than to try to reteach it. Brody's weaves are my  most often referred to example of this. Brody weaved quite well. As long as I was on his right side and right beside him as he did his thing. I never knew there was any reason he should weave alone when I started teaching him and by the time I realized it would make both our lives easier he had hundreds of weaves under his collar done just the way he liked them. Sigh.

Rushing things, skipping steps are not doing yourself or your dog any favours in the long term.
Slow down. Think. Plan. Then Do.

Put another brick in the wall. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Whispers in the Wind

FDSA has a saying "be the ripple"  it's right on the banner for the school.

 I have to tell you the students blow me away with the way they keep right on rippling and whispering and shouting from the tree tops. (The instructors are a pretty incredible group too rippling away; I am always humbled by my inclusion in that group).

I pretty actively promote good self care - I have truly come to believe that without self care you have nothing ..your well will run dry and so will your energy and spirit. So when students are having a tough time they KNOW they will hear - what have you done for you today?

Maybe it was doing laundry, maybe it was walking the dogs. Lunch with a friend, tears with family no matter what  - there should be something. I don't know what the answer will be but I push (sometimes pretty hard) for there to be something for you when things are hard.

One of my wonderful students decided that 10 minutes was all she could do - and it would work best for her to carve it out of a work break  so Self Care 10 was born.  The idea of just 10 minutes a day for HER. Listen to something, read something, watch something, put her head down and shut her eyes  - it didn't matter WHAT, just that it was.

Then she got "caught" at work and her boss asked her what she was doing. Bravely she explained Self Care 10 and discovered her boss loved it. And borrowed the idea!
Talk about a whisper ... what an awesome thing eh?

Ever grateful, ever awed by the amazing people I get to work with.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Play is Life

Or is Life Play? That sounds sweet eh? But the reality is play is not easy or intuitive for every one.
The very definition of play includes the pursuit and attainment of fun  but there are plenty of instances when play is only fun for one participant.

Elements of play include:
  • anticipation
  • surprise
  • pleasure
  • understanding 
  • strength 
  • poise 

Each element relates to the others and can  move "the game" forward as this neat little graphic from The Strong illustrates so well.

Play has  many emotional, social and physical benefits. Canines and humans alike feel better after a game, we are better able to interact with others through play and our bodies appreciate the physicality of play. Mental challenges enrich us both as well - and can tire us out. Mutual play can be wonderful. It can also be hard work - as we learn each others rules, preferences and develop the ability to balance together in an harmonious dance of joy. An oft held belief is that humans are the "only" species that plays as adults. The dogs, horses, cats and parrots here all beg to differ. The amount of play and the purpose of play evolves as we (all!)  age and change no doubt but play is a valid and important use of time through life.

Play can be personal and individual ,,, as Sampson so ably demonstrates when he grabs a stick on the lawn or this crow does

Play can be group

and it can cross species too.

Play is a demonstrably important aspect of  learning for many species. Predators learn to hunt through play, horses learn social manners through play, and children develop all kinds of skills through games, Birds learn skills including their song through imitation and play. Creativity, ingenuity and critical thinking are all enhanced by play.

Sadly, life tends to choke some of the fun out of play as we grow. Play isn't equally easy for all children nor all adults. (Nor for that matter all horses or dogs - the two non human species whose play I have observed and worked with).   But, and this is a critical concept .... play is a skill. Yes there is an element of art to it -  intuition and guessing can work well in play - but there are actual definable skills that can be applied to principles of play. Play can be learned. Play can be taught.

Learning appropriate play is as important for young humans as young dogs. Revisiting basic play principles and learning to work together is one of the fundamental key concepts embedded through the classes at Fenzi Dog Sport Academy, Courses with names like Obedience Games, Heeling Games, Relationship through Play, Focus Games, Training with Remote Reinforcement, and so on fill the list of course offerings. Many, if not all, of the amazing instructors use play as a tool to help build relationship and mutual appreciation of the work of a given dog human team.

                             (my magic wand is STILL out for repairs - much to my chagrin!) 

This term alone (classes start June 1) there is a Toy Class,  Cookie Jar Games and my newest general offering Don't Worry: Be Happy which looks very hard at the human side of play.  It builds human play skills (which will enhance dog play skills too - have no doubt of that)  by breaking down what play is for humans, why it matters and further considers strategies to enhance play skills for people. Toy, personal and food play will all be assessed particularly in light of individual team differences. When, why and how to use play and when to call it quits with grace are also topics. I'm looking forward to taking my personal love of play and my drama teacher training and applying it to play in an online class.

There is room in gold, and there is always room in bronze.Registration is open so if you want to explore, enrich and understand play better you might want to sign up!

I have blogged about play a great deal over the years ... the word "play" in search pulls up over 6 pages of posts ... the posts range widely but cover all kinds of divergent and dog focused thoughts. 

Saturday, April 08, 2017

The Mad Hatter Learns Stuff

and so will you ... I asked a genius I know to explain the differences and similarities between barn hunt and scent work ... believing as I do that the person and dog in any sport have a relationship - both contribute and both are vital to success ... I wanted to know if she felt the same way ... 
She, Sheila, was kind enough to write a guest blog post on the subject! Enjoy - I know I did ... 

How is a raven like a writing desk?  Technically speaking this riddle has no answer – famously from Lewis Carroll’s Adventures in Wonderland, it is steeped in crazy nonsensical logic.
Alice ends up at a tea party at which one of the arguably craziest characters, the Mad Hatter, asks her this now famous question…
When Alice asks him how, he admits that he does not know – he was just asking.
This is how I felt when Andrea asked me “how is barn hunt like nosework?”  Indeed, I wanted to respond with the same chiding remarks as Alice gives the Mad Hatter: “I think you might do something better with the time than wasting it in asking riddles that have no answers.”
Knowing Andrea and her Mad-Hatter-ness, I knew she wouldn’t accept such a simple answer to her query.  (Sheila should know how simple, and lazy, I am!)

I have been involved in both sports – Barn Hunt and Nosework (or Sport Detection) – since both were first introduced to Canada.  I had the privilege of being involved in some of the first trials in each sport in the country, and work with some of the best trainers and judges in both sports.  My herdy mix was one of the first titled nosework dogs in Canada, and my terrier mix is the top Barn Hunt mixed breed dog in Canada.

Both sports are similar beasts for sure.  In Barn Hunt, the dog runs naked in a course of hay bales and must find a certain number of rats, complete a tunnel, and climb within a set time.  In nosework, dogs must find a certain number of hidden essential oils and alert within a set time.
The two sports can benefit each other heavily – often I encourage my barn hunt students with specific issues (and no access to rats) to try nosework.  I equally encourage my nosework students to branch out into barn hunt!  They are complementary.  

You certainly can’t have Barn Hunt without nosework.  To be successful in barn hunt (as my scruffy partner and I have had the pleasure of doing) you really benefit from a strong bearing in scent theory and dog behaviour around scent.  Barn Hunt is also a sport which relies heavily on those two factors that Andrea drilled into my head as a student – timing and reward placement. 

Barn Hunt is also a sport where you need to delicately balance your drive and energy level as a team – screaming at a high prey drive dog to GETITGETITGETIT is going to send them over the top.  Standing in the corner with a solemn and distracted worker is going to get you timed out.  I am not sure who first introduced me to this concept of balance (it was likely Andrea – take classes from Andrea, is the lesson of this post), but it is essentially this:  Rank your dogs energy level (when hunting/searching) on a scale from one to ten.  Your job, as an effective partner, is to ensure that when you add your dogs number with yours the total equals 11.  So my terrier works rats at about an 8-9.  I walk around the course following him, watching him, but unless he has missed an area of the course or I see something I want him to check, I rarely speak to him (other than our party at the end).  I have to keep myself at a 2.  My puppy is a little unsure in the ring so I cheerlead her more – praising her for checking areas and doing obstacles.  This is a skill that was also engrained to me in nosework training.

When I started doing Barn Hunt the sport was trained primarily as a drive / instinct based sport.  Essentially, throw the rat in front of the dog.  If they go nuts – terrific!  You get to play.  If they don’t – wave the rat in their face.  Still no reaction?  Maybe this sport isn’t for you.  Fortunately for me in those early days of training my dog was one of the naturals.  My herding mix played nosework for years, and it is truly one of his favourite games.  I threw him in a Barn Hunt ring “just to see what happened” and, based on our training in nosework, when faced with containers in which only one is different (in this case, had a rat), he did his formal alert on that container/tube.  I was surprised, but not shocked considering how similar I considered the two sports.

Fortunately there are a lot of trainers now teaching the sport with the same methods of nosework – target to scent, commitment to odour, methodical searching.  This is great for opening the sports to dogs without natural prey drive.  And in my experience many of the dogs trained with these methods are more methodical and do not face some of the struggles as the high drive dogs (especially when facing distraction tubes).  You can listen to a fantastic podcast between renowned Barn Hunt judge Liz Carter and  nosework instructor Stacey Barnett and their thoughts on this topic (which are similar to my own) here:

REALLY, one major difference between the two sports are that Barn Hunt uses live rats rather than essential oil.  (If you are concerned about rat safety, there are manymanymany things written on this topic – I assure you the rats are well loved, cared for, and protected as central to the sport – I wont go into it here but am happy to answer questions or concerns).  The use of live quarry isn’t important in the base terms of “ find target scent, alert!” however, Barn Hunt adds the challenge of distinguishing between live rat + bedding and just bedding – so the dog must distinguish rat smell vs live rat smell.  This is a challenge that is not thrown at beginner nosework competitors.  It would be akin to distinguishing between week-aged scent and fresh scent.  Possible, for sure, but difficult.

Indeed, distractions are all over the place for the novice barn hunt dog.  In addition to dirty bedding tubes, the dogs must ignore whatever scents are present in the bales and ring.  Unlike nosework, it is nearly impossible to keep a Barn Hunt ring completely sanitary of distracting odours. When I started training nosework it was drilled into us to use gloves and never contaminate anything ever.  In barn hunt you are using bales – that possibly were pulled from storage where they were lived in by mice and cats and goats and whatever other animals inhabit a working farm.   Perhaps the farm dog marked every single bale.  Maybe mice were running tunnels through them (this has happened in trials).  Who knows how many humans or animals touched them.  The tubes move all over the course throughout a trial so there is residual odour everywhere.  Etcetera.  Your dog must ignore all of these distraction scents and only hit on live rat.  Impressive skills when you think of it that way, eh?

Barn Hunt has truly changed my perception on keeping scent areas sanitary and about how many distractions dogs can deal with. And how soon.  It really brings home that “beef stew” theory of how dogs smell (you smell stew, they smell beef and carrots and onions and garlic and…)

Along this it is also important to note that many people are often concerned that teaching their dog barn hunt will increase their prey drive.  Or that barn hunt will ruin agility because often agility is run in barns.  These are the two big hesitations I see in people considering the sport. I think to both concerns I would answer that it is quite the opposite – have a dog who sniffs in corners of barns during agility to find the mice?  This gives them an outlet.  No bales? No mice!  Also giving high prey drive dogs an outlet for that energy creates an easier to live with housemate.  I live with 6 terrier things in a house with 7 rats in the basement.  They all know they are there but is it a constant struggle to keep them away? No, they are normal happy dogs because they have a time and space for that.

The only other (major) difference between the sports is the requirement of obstacles – dogs must climb with all four feet on a bale and complete a bale tunnel at some point in their run before time is up.  These challenges seem more minor, but I have seen more dogs struggle with that tunnel than any other aspect of the sport.  Dogs are clever creatures and learn very quickly that there is never a rat in the tunnel – so why bother going there!  This is an added training challenge for sure.  And is easily remedied (pro tips here) by rewarding your dog with a rat for doing the tunnel!  Do the tunnel – boom a rat appears.  My terrier now runs through the tunnel to clear the course (a Masters level skill) because if there are no rats on course – maybe running through the tunnel will make one of those magic ones appear!

Essentially, I think to answer Andrea’s initial question – though perhaps nosework is nothing like barn hunt, barn hunt is indistinguishable from nosework from a training and dog behaviour perspective.  Andrea may not know but was just asking – and perhaps (hopefully) my answer brings up more questions and opens a dialogue between the two sports.  My ultimate goal is to slowly lure nosework people into the sport so – join us!

WHOA - thanks so much Sheila ... I learned tons .. and will have this to reference now too! Thanks!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Excuse ME!

Pardon me; forgive me; I didn't get around to it;  the judge doesn't like me anyhow;  it doesn't matter I didn't practice; my dog has never understood that anyhow; well, you know he's the wrong breed for that; she's too soft to be competitive...   the excuse list is long. Endless in fact.

And then there is the whole issue of motivation ... where does your motivation break down? Planning? Direction? Activation? Intensity? Continuation? Persistence?   Ways to get  back on track vary depending on where your challenges are  .. and we can work through and find solutions that will work for you!

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I wish my magic wand would get repaired and back from the shop - life would be so amazing and wonderful if I could just wave it around and some motivation would waft down on people like magic fairy dust ....

or heck even if I had a magic pill to just cut through excuses and get to work ... wouldn't that be awesome! I don't.

Sad eh? But the next best thing I can offer you is the course No More Excuses that I teach over at FDSA  Last time I looked there was one more Gold (working) spot left but silver had room, and bronze is unlimited ...  practice truly helps - and this course gives you lots of opportunities to select and rehearse the things that matter to you! There's lots of thinking,  processing, planning and reporting in the class ... but there are also lots of chuckles - and I can pretty much promise you  - you are NOT alone!


I am going to be a sneaky deaky and let you see the list of course lectures ... some are long and some are short ... but there is some MIND BLOWING science backing up some of the good stuff I share ... it's pretty likely more will get added, and things might move around - students often need things in slightly different orders class to class - and I'm nothing if not flexible and adaptable!

  • Terminology and word choice 
  • The components of motivation 
  • Your blocks may have purpose 
  • Planning an Overview 
  • Blocks and Challenges 
  • Time Management - know yourself 
  • Time Management - planning
  • Time Management - distractions 
  • Time Management - last thoughts! 
  • Finding those Blocks 
  • Andrea's Self Help Rant 
  • Grief ... 
  • Know yourself 
  • Dealing with Disappointment ... 
  • Be good to yourself - Self Care Review 
  • Why rewards can fail and some more on "brain stuff " 
  • Networking 
  • Realistic Optimism 
  • Accountability and The Importance of Record Keeping 
  • The word “Try” 
  • Handling Challenges 
  • Setting your Sails 

I'd love to see you over at NME - I'd love to know what you believe your biggest blocks are - by all means let me know in the comments ...

Saturday, March 18, 2017

a little bit of filming fun

at the farm yesterday

it was for a hoof webinar series for Heart Equine Academy Online Learning for horse people!

I  pulled together a little making of video (there's volume  - but I captioned it too- all the learning all the time!) ... the horses and dogs were amazing ... the barn was scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed  and I think looks pretty darn good ...

Give it a watch and let me know what you think!

I'm going to be teaching over at HEART too - a confidence course - aimed at horse people but lots of great info and tools for anybody struggling with anxiety and fear (In fact we get into the difference between the two). It's a PACKED course ... with more being added all the time ...  fear is so pervasive in horses  - as is anxiety generally .. an auditing spot  is  $50  and  a working spot is $100  (and look at me making links to both levels so easy!) You already know I'd love to see you - but maybe there is another course you'd love to take? (ever wanted to draw better? there's a course for that!)

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Lessons from Terror ...

Dora had what for us humans would have been a very bad, no good, horrible week.

She has always been terrified of the vets (turns out she had her puppy shots there and for whatever reason that became a VERY BIG DEAL in the lizard, primal bit of her brain). My crew has been largely healthy lately and while Dora has come with us to the vets and worked on being comfortable and relaxed a few times my best plans to REALLY WORK on this kept getting pushed to the back burner. A great example of  real life procrastination to use for classes but not very good for Dora or for me. Sigh.

Then disaster. Her hind dew claw was growing strangely and hurting her. Because it hurt her she wouldn't let me touch it, or soak it, or even look at it pretty quickly. (Yup - you know we'll go back to the drawing board there too). The last last thing I wanted was to take her to the vets, knock her out, traumatize her and then have to repeat that process regularly. I thought a little, worked on handling a little more (not very successfully) and decided now was as good a time as any for Dora to be spayed. (beyond the dew claw needing attention a friend of mine had a run in with mammary tumours with her girl, I had a nightmare about Dora having a litter of coyote puppies and a rescue I work with had a case of pyometria - any one reason would be enough - four together was PLENTY of cause to pull it together). Anyhow - long way to say I called to book appointment - thinking we'd have time to work on "stuff". We ended up with 3 days. Whoops. So I kept working on handling and calm, and we went for a lot of walks. A lot. A whole lot of walks.

D day hit ... and off we went. I declined preoperative blood work knowing full well they wouldn't get it from her awake and I didn't want her under an extra 20 minutes. Sigh. We weighed her and off she went. I set myself up in an unobtrusive corner of the waiting room in case they needed me. Not 3 minutes until I got the beckoning finger - ":Can you hold her so we can get her pre- meds on board?" Of course. Then she and I sat and waited for them to kick in. She fought it hard but the drugs prevailed  and off to la la land she went.  I read and surfed the web and quietly waited hoping I wouldn't be called again ... but an hour later "she's waking up, she's really thrashing .... can you come hold her?". I have recovered plenty of post surgery patients and usually it's about 10-20 minutes before they crash for a solid sleep. Dora fought the return to sleep for a solid 45 minutes. The clinic staff nearly gave up and offered to send us home. Hell no - she'll get there ...  and she did. Poor fierce terror.  She fell asleep and I raced home for a couple of hours of peace.

She was happy to see me when I picked her up - wagging and walking determinedly if a little drunkenly.  My orders were to keep her quiet for 10 days. I laughed. They wrote a prescription for a tranquilizer.

Dora has been gracious and gentle and oh so very sweet. We've moved a large crate to my feet - where the multiple beds usually are and she snoozes away in there - even when the door is open. She shares the crate with Yen and Sally if they want. She is missing her walks and whimpers when we head out - but has adapted to being on leash amazingly well for potty breaks. Yesterday we walked around the house yard on leash. Very exciting!

We've made a point to take her out in the car to entertain her brain and she's slowly getting less scruffy and more plucked as we sit and hang out together.

She's not despairing over the change in her routines, she's not fretting over the odd ouchy she obviously feels. She's not even frustrated by being asked not to lick her wound. (I acclimated her to the Elizabethan collar carefully and slowly - when I walked away from her she had it off before I turned around). For a sensitive, feral, hard to handle, somewhat opinionated terror terrier  she's handled this situation with a grace and aplomb I did not anticipate.

Being afraid does not make the difficult things go away. Fretting and stewing and spinning does not improve the outcome. Planning, and thinking ahead, goal setting and being organized those are the keys to getting ahead. Sometimes  on a very bumpy route it's true but still essential elements to being successful.  The events of the past week have reminded me of all this. Through the brain of one very good, very gritty, terrier.