Friday, October 13, 2017

Webinar wonder

I don't know if you have been inundated of late with webinar invitations but I have - if I wanted to learn about expensive programs to organize retreats, use funnels, use Pinterest, get in touch with my spiritual self, self publish a book or about a million other things there's a webinar for that! I've signed up for a couple that caught my interest - course building ones mostly (because - um educator here - you know) and have picked up a tip or two in the process. Many of them are VERY formulaic and  a couple of presenters pretty obviously have a lot less experience than me at  applying pedagogical principles. Le. Sigh.

Some have been pretty good. If I walk away with two or three applicable things I am thrilled, if I get a solid reminder of things I already practice and feel validated that's great. Always in these webinars I end up feeling a little badly because the whole point of the webinar is to SELL some lovely sounding, very pretty program for a lot more money than I have for discretionary things right now(anybody want to trade vet bills?). So while I might covet the program and appreciate the pitch I have to be satisfied with the pearls.

Then what do you know? I get invited to present a webinar for FDSA. Not to sell anything but to teach stuff - right up my alley eh?



How cool.   You can sign up right here! But you have to promise to both say hi if you attend and to let me know either what you liked best or how make it better after you watch it. Deal?

How terrifying. But wait, I love workshops and doing keynote addresses. Media is one of my things. As long as the internet cooperates I've got this. So I say YES. Firmly and clearly and get given a date (October 19, 2017)  and we ask the FDSA students to choose between 3 topics - all get lots of votes so I decide to start with number one on the list. R+ for humans  - so MUCH FUN!



(and so important)

I've got the slide deck ready to go. It's a pretty wide ranging webinar - think of it as a keynote address rather than an intense workshop which looks at dreams, planning, goal setting, motivation, record keeping and ends with working together  on tools to help you!  It isn't the same as any class I've taught but it's true to my take on all this head stuff. Don't expect a cure all ills magic wand waving by self help guru tirade. You are way more likely to hear my self help rant and yet come away feeling empowered with a strategy to help you move forward.

I am probably most excited to introduce my way of considering and using process, learning, performance and outcome in a way that's clear and understandable (or you can ask questions RIGHT THERE  - LIVE ... OMG what have I agreed to?) I'm not talking much at all about some of the things people probably expect me too - brain research, gratitude, personality types - they might come up - in fact I hope they do-  but it'll be because of questions not because of inclusion in the webinar slides. I've worked in question time at different stages and will be asking questions for people who show up to think about (because - um - ME) One of the things I like most about my presentation is it's relevant to everyone - at home trainers, instructors,  scent, agility, barn hunt, coursing, conformation ...  no matter what role dogs play in your life and what role you want them to play it's got something for you. It just occurred to me the framework could easily be applied to horse sports too..  It's not just for nervous people or world class competitors - whatever your jam there's a pearl or six in there just for you!


So, being me, and a life long learner and all I've been attending the FDSA webinars as I  am able. They have been great. informative, interesting, enriching and engaging.  The price point is right ($19.95 USD) and the access to them is for a full year and extended from the time of the last webinar you sign up for. You have to sign up  before the webinar no matter when you intend to watch it but you don't have to watch it live to get access.  There are some great ones coming up (dare I say including mine? ohh that little Imposter Syndrome Gnome raises his head - I'll stare him down this time) .

October 19th - 9 pm EST  I really do hope you can join me live, but even if you can't I''d love to share my info with you, Sign up, Invest in yourself just this once!

Monday, September 04, 2017

Dog Training Task Cards - the first three decks are ready!

Does motivation get you down?
Just run out of steam part way through a training session?
Not sure how to start a session? 
Stuck for new ideas?



Well well - help is at hand!

Not sure what to do with  the classes you teach?  Trying to figure out how to help students do better?

Dog training task cards to the rescue!


Three editions are ready to roll out: Play (pictured above) Foundations  and Scent/Nose work. There's a deal for buying all three too!


Put the fun and spontaneity back in training -- get some help getting off the couch and playing with your dog 


Deck Choice

Motivation has three key components and dog training task cards can help you with each step 

Direction - use task cards to get you up and taking action - you can set your goal in terms of doing "at least 2 random cards' and see where it takes you 

Intensity -- use the cards to build a warm up or cool down component to your training ... or to give you a fun mid week routine to play with 

Persistence - you've run out of steam and can't think of what to do? Grab your deck of cards and take action! Use your deck once or twice a week to keep yourself moving  forward. 

Break free of training ruts ...  put together a  custom plan that suits your needs and training level - there is flexibility built right into the cards so you can take a step back or challenge yourself with ease

The cards are in an electronic book -  4 cards per page and black and white to make printing easy - print them, out - laminate them or print them on card stock  and put them on a ring if it suits you! 

Each deck has 32 cards  most of which will lend themselves to adaptions and tweaks - so it's well over 50 activities per deck!  Three decks are ready now   More (rally, barn hunt, sports foundation and agility) are in the works already and there have been some inquiries about more advanced decks too ...  

Foundation Training 
32 activities that will tighten up your training and let you focus on performance not planning.



Scent Work 
32 activities that take the thinking out of setting hides and challenges to make nosework training easier on your own (or with a non dog helper who can set some hides for you!) 


and a Play Book! 
32 cards to help to choose a way to play or a play activity to add to your training plan. Food, personal and toy suggestions are all covered. Up your play game having fun with the deck.


You should get one. Maybe you should get all three ... did I say there's a deal on three ;)


Deck Choice

Friday, August 11, 2017

Old Dogs

This Old Dog

Heart ache entered on soft paws  
Cold nose, kisses, wagging tail,
Ever so worth it 

A, Harrison




Measuring Up 

A third of my life, 
A moment in time.
Seventeen years 
A heartbeat at my feet. 

Fame, and glory
Car rides and trials
Walks in fields


My rockstar

is gone

Nothing is left to measure. 

A, Harrison






"It's just a dog" they said 
"He lived a good life" they said/ 
"Good thing you have other dogs" they said. 
"He was really old" they said. 
"You were lucky" they said. 

They can't begin to know.

A, Harrison





and the Auden poem comes to mind as well 

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.



Thursday, August 10, 2017

How will you know ....

One of the questions I am often asked is in regards to euthanasia, and that is "how will I know the time is right?"  and honestly, even with years of experience and many many euthanasias under my belt, my most honest answer would be "you won't".



That's not to say you won't have some pretty key indicators that will work for you and your animal partner ...  things like


degree of pain,
awareness of surroundings,
mobility,
pleasure in the environment,
appetite,
your ability to cope with increasing needs.. all of those things will contribute  to your decision of course but there is no piece of paper that suddenly appears to say TODAY. is IT.




Ideally our animals, and human, companions will pass away peacefully at home with no assistance beyond pain relief but I have to be honest and tell you that I only have that experience once with Dumont, I  wish it every time but it's not the way the cookie crumbles around here, and it's really not a reasonable expectation either. We can be kinder and more compassionate to our animal family than our human family in most parts of the world and while that is a heavy burden to bear it's an important one to stare in the face occasionally.

What do I mean by that? I mean think it through. Where are your lines? Knowing ahead of time helps. (Only a little but any bit of help is a good thing).


  • If a dog can't get to bed or out to the garden what accommodations can you make?
  • If a dog spends long hours with their head pressed on a wall is that acceptable?
  • What can you afford? Both financially and emotionally? You absolutely need to identify these things. 
  • If your dog falls over occasionally are you ok with righting them, steadying them and repeating again and again through the day?
  • If kibble no longer is tasty is there quality of life with tempting daily and possibly force feeding or doing fluid therapy?


Only you know your own answers  and to be completely frank what is acceptable for one dog may impinge greatly on quality of life for another even in the same home. Brody was a goer and doer, if he fell over he stared at me til I righted him and then trucked on again. I can't imagine Thea thinking that was at all acceptable. But she has needed to be tempted to eat off and on her whole life. Brody never once turned down a good meal.

I always thought Brody would tell me he was ready by not eating but he ate, and ate, and ate right up to his last hour here. Instead he told me very clearly he had had enough of hurting. His pain meds weren't enough and his mobility was decreasing by the minute. He started to lose feeling or strength in one front leg as well as his back end and I knew. I heard myself sharing a piece of wisdom I heard long ago "it's better three days too early than one hour too late" and I knew - deeply and viscerally.



I called my most amazing vet clinic who found me an appointment 3 hours later and I said. Um. Stephanie heard my um and said "come now'. I will be forever grateful.  Everything was ready - I walked in holding him close and he, the dog who hated grooming allowed his leg to be shaved, we made no effort to insert a catheter, no effort to tranq him ... he was ready and he was gone as the euthanol hit his system. My best vet, My best tech, Me. Brody. Tom and the amazing staff on standby and close at hand. I've had lots of experience with death and this was truly a "good death" it was quick, it brought comfort.



I am bereft. My heartbeat at my feet is missing. Tom and I have lived with Brody more than half our life together. Life will never be the same.


Yet, still, somehow even today,  I would choose this pain over not having loved and known and cherished our little devil dog. The doors he opened for me, the things he taught me, I will be forever grateful.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Make it So ... living a positive life with dogs

Dogs here live a life of  agency  but sometimes being their doggy selves has to be put on hold and they NEED to conform to expectations.

There are plenty of instances you might think compliance was critical but it isn't  ...

Sam leaping through a guest's open car window to look for a wrapper? Not a big deal.  We tell people to roll up windows and give them the reason.  If they don't believe us and a large golden leaps through their truck window - so be it.

Thea insisting on lying on a big dog bed so a big dog has to find another spot? Big whoop.





but then there are those other times ....

Like the  times enumerated in this blog that Brody has been unhappy to be groomed or when Sally slinks away from a painful eye treatment  or won't  take a pill no matter the  inducement. (you might know how much I dislike the word try  - yet here it fits!)  If Dora has to suffer a nail trim (we are still working on confident nail trims - never have I had a dog so slow to accept this!)  Maybe it's  when Sam is offended and barking at the horses because they might steal his stick ... Or, or, or .....  you get the drift .. the  perfect dogs aren't always perfect as shocking as that is.

These moments happen in life, no matter who your dog is, what your bar is (some people could  live with some of the things I feel are essential to work through - and others probably have a much longer list of problematic behaviours)  and no matter how you train.

But I take comfort from being a positive force-free trainer... so my thinking has to be adaptive, and flexible. The same answer will not work on a soft scared dog as on a dog determined to have agency over whatever. Yelling and screaming are out ... as are striking the dog - I'd like to say obviously ... but there are days  that my old nemesis of a hot temper flares deep in my core and I need to stop and breathe for a second or twenty. Then I think and problem solve.

The solution varies and sadly is not always immediately offering the behaviour I want in the way I want.

Brody sometimes simply needs to be held fairly firmly to get groomed. He gets treats and short sessions and all the "right" things but sometimes I have to hold him pretty firmly to trim around his eyes.  Sally sometimes is forced to take a pill - I smear peanut butter on the roof of her mouth let her work it for a second then pop the pill in her mouth  hold her jaw shut and smooth her throat. Dora gets kid  glove treatment .. dogs are cleared (she will redirect frustration on occasion) and I trim nails ... not all of them but more than one ... big meanie that I am. When Sam is leaping around  the horses and yelling I walk up to him, ask him to stop and if he can't I  snap a leash on him and lead him away. I don't reward him by luring him with a toy or food, nor do I get angry. But I certainly don't allow this unsafe behaviour (for both horse and dog) continue.

None of these things happen often. But they do happen.

Finding the balance point between positive and permissive is not easy, It's personal. But it's important.  I am a positive trainer. I work hard to stay a positive trainer. With foresight and planning there are times I will make a management choice that gets something essential accomplished. I think about it hard, plan it carefully and then implement it - along with a training plan to remedy what I can.

(and in the midst of a dog fight, animal attack or any other such thing  all bets are off the table - control the anger if you can - but do what you must to end the situation and keep yourself and the animals safe!)



Monday, July 17, 2017

the Mad Hatter Podcasts

yep -  I did TWO podcast interviews in relatively short order ...

and then started this post - and left it sitting in draft form way too long ...

the first podcast was Hannah Branigan's:  Drinking from the Toilet  (yes THAT Hannah Branigan!). Probably the best name ever for a podcast about dog stuff eh? It was a riot - Hannah wants a sitting around the dining room table tone for the conversations so she didn't share the questions ahead of time although we did bounce around some different topics to discuss. We covered a whole lot of stuff - and we laughed and talked over each other some. Whoops!  But there is a wide range of material in it - and I really appreciated the opportunity to talk to Hannah (we had NEVER spoken to each other before the podcast - which truth be told made us both a little nervous to start.)


Podcast link - HERE ... but I had to share the cover too - Hannah picked that lovely Len Sylvester Photo with no prompting from me at all <3 nbsp="" p="">

Give it a listen and tell me what you think!

Then the lovely Melissa Breau  interviewed me for the FDSA podcast. More fun was had, by me anyhow, and Melissa didn't have to work too too hard on the editing board.



We talked a lot about the human half of the team. In any sport - not just agility.
You can listen to that podcast HERE ... or read the transcript if you prefer - warning - I say "right" a LOT!

I have no idea of the reach of either podcast - and to be honest I don't much care - if I was able to give one person an idea to test that will help them be the best partner they can be for their dogs I am happy.  I suspect I might have given a few more than two people some ideas though!

Give em a listen ... tell me what you think - help me do a better job if I get another invite ever!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Does your dog lie? What to do if they do!

What a tangled web we weave ourselves sometimes ...  becoming the best partnership possible involves a whole lot of flexibility,  thinking, learning and planning ... as well as the recognition that  things aren't always going to go perfectly. Sigh.

photo credit Len Sylvester 

Do dogs lie?
Dogs  may ignore what we KNOW they know ... ("I can't hear you"   at the dog park comes to mind)  but they don't , maliciously or  hatefully set out to lie to humans. That said, there is some pretty good evidence dogs can be deceptive. On purpose.  This flies in the face of my beliefs generally and strikes me as pretty anthropomorphic but  some evidence suggests I am wrong about canine honesty. There was a study that determined that dogs could protect their own interest by choice (they got to choose which food to take a human partner to  - that partner then (predictably to the dog) either kept the food, shared the food or with their own companion gave the dog all the food). The dogs choose which box to take which partner to carefully,  suggesting they can be deceptive to protect their own interests.. Anecdotally I  know am not the only person to live in a multi dog house where one dog is very good at distracting another away from a chew or bone. " Woof Woof - who is at the door??"  and then a sucker grab of a coveted item. Many of us may realize that our dogs will only take "forbidden" objects when we can't see them do so.  There was another study about  this which further illustrated that dogs understand humans can't see well in the dark.


The very definition of "lie" in the context we are discussing is to purposefully deceive. So if one is to believe the studies, and come on, SCIENCE ... why yes, in certain circumstances and for specific reasons (to get that awesome primary reinforcement of  FOOD) it appears dogs can, and do choose to deceive  us.


BUT .... when you *think* your dog has lied to you about a training or trialing (or filming as illustrated here!) problem  evaluate your position on this thought. The word lie has negative associations for humans and connotes a deliberation in intention that  may not be true to training or competing. The pejorative feelings the term evokes may also be unhelpful for problem solving. Anger is rarely  never a constructive solution (and to know me is to know how rarely I am that absolute)   What other words might fit the situation you are characterizing as deliberate obfuscation (fancy word eh?)?



This is an instance that applying some, or all, of the W's of journalism to process events will keep your thinking moving forward instead of spinning down a rabbit hole. Applying this framework and working through these reflective  questions will help you decide why your canine made the choices they did and determine what your part in the issue was as well as give yourself some answers to apply to a plan to move forward in the future.

Obviously we aren't story telling to ourselves , or anyone else applying this technique but it can be a helpful (and easy to remember way) to hunt for information. Often to reduce our stress and anxiety when things go wrong it can be helpful to have an easy framework to process the events. This framework is useful for instances of communication breakdown between dog and human - including "lies".

Let's look at each of the Ws and that final  H to determine how to best use them in this context.

Who matters in this situation? (free pass to working on this answer - you, your dog - you as a team - those are the answers to this one!). It's important to start here though as that reflection will ground you and remind you why you are taking the time to do this even if all you want to do is cry in your car.



What happened?  (Who misread who? What factors influenced the events of the "lie"?)  If you have video watch it carefully. If you have a friend or coach who saw it ask them what they saw. Brody once ran under an aframe instead of doing a tunnel. I was shocked, and pretty confused. I left the ring and thought hard about what part of the course he did that on and exactly what had happened. I walked back onto the course and felt the sand with my hand. It was burning hot.  I had asked him to run on  boiling sand surface and not realized. By looking hard at what happened I was able to understand why is happened. (not to get ahead of our list here) 

Brody  literally made so few mistakes on course I remember them to this day. 

Where did you first get confused? By delving into this W some unexpected answers about what caused the miscommunication to occur.may become apparent.


When did you believe the 'lie"? This matters more than you may think. I was watching a friends Nosework  trial video and  with hindsight being 20/20 her dog stopped and really was interested in the hide but then moved on and spent much the same amount of time with a similar indication on a drooly spot on a different car. Sigh. The handler believed the misinformation over the right answer  perhaps because  time was ticking? They'd moved around the whole site? The dog's style was similar to the alert? She felt badly and was wondering if she'd already missed it? I haven't asked  how committed to believing the last indication she was ... but it might make a big difference to choices she'll make going forward.

Why did it happen? What has happened in the past? Does false information end the potentially stressful search? Were you stressed and anxious?  Was your dog hot and unable to perform normally? Were environmental conditions confusing in some way? Spend awhile working on this question because it's where a plan for addressing moments like this will come from in the future.

which segues very nicely into

How are you going to use this information to become a better team?  The learning in a "lie" matters. Your canine partner is not doing anything other than sharing information. Stress (for either or both or you) , a gap in training, an off day or a simple error can all create results we don't want. This framework will assist you in your quest to be the best team you can be - even in the face of adversity.


Use the framework to decide what to test to reduce the "lies". A plan for stress reduction? More training in a skill? More generalizing and proofing? Application of these questions and reflection on the answers  will help you decide what to test and change first. This technique is easy to test, and can lead to greater clarity (and therefore results!)