Saturday, November 28, 2015

Be Fair.

When you get involved in a sport with a partner you add a great deal to the natural challenges of tackling an athletic endeavor. When you get involved in a sport that involves you being the direct teacher of your partner you add another layer of trials. When that partner speaks a different language and is in fact a different species altogether your task  is nearly off the chart of possible.  Or at least it feels that way at times.

I'm sorry the judge didn't see the person who beat you miss an entire loop of the spiral. But weren't you lucky the judge didn't call that pretty iffy contact? Maybe that judge just really doesn't like grey horses. Another judge will love them. It's called Life.

But you picked the sport. And, like it, or not, you picked your partner. And, accept it, or not, life happens. 

So. How are you fair to yourself and your partner?

1. Be realistic. If you've never trained a dog before you aren't likely to be the top of your chosen sport two months after you discover said game. 

2. Train for success. Miracle methods don't work. Simply wanting to be good at something simply isn't good enough to have perfect runs. 

3. Build a toolbox custom designed for you. I mean that figuratively. Know what you will do to keep yourself and your partner in the best state on show day. Have strategies that will work for you to be calm, emotionally together,,  focused, or whatever you need. Have warm up routines that are built to aid your success (Engagement is an issue? Know that? Do something about it.) 

4. Find your self discipline. Then use it. Luck is hard work. Success is harder work. Self discipline includes things like practicing good self care. And, sadly, all the work in the world won't always result in success or good luck. (See ^^^ "Life isn't fair" ) 

5. Use good judgement. Know what a reasonable plan for progression might look like and be honest at least with yourself. If you arrive and a situation isn't going to work for you in the now don't say "let's just try it" and then be upset if your dog or horse reacts exactly as you thought they would. 

6. Avoid excuses. Something didn't go as expected? By all means figure out why and what to do about it but it's happened. Move on. No matter if your dog has never smelled horse poop or a carnival ride was beside the show ring. You had a cold and felt crappy? So sad too bad - not an excuse. 

7. Accept that there are bad days. The flip side of that is, if you do your work, there are also good days. Shake them off and carry on. 

8. Absorb the great around you. Take classes. Participate fully. Watch video.  Ask questions. I live in the middle of a lake. There is no one around me to train with. I have online friends who I ask questions of, and discuss video with. We share training ideas and plans. 

9. Learn from the days it doesn't work. There are take aways from every situation and a likely big one will be "I didn't think of training with that happening". So make that happen. Get your partnership used to as many variations as you can while working happily. The time invested truly does pay off. 

10. Celebrate the days it all comes together and life is fair and wonderful and success is YOURS baby yours!!

Friday, September 18, 2015

And the beat goes on ...

Fall is always beautiful at the farm 

Everybody is relaxed and content

lots of running 

the old guys enjoy the sun and come for short walks very happily 

lots of shaking 

lots of swimming 

lots of just enjoying being together outside and life 

(lots of chores too - but hard to take pictures while doing chores) 


Thursday, August 06, 2015

5 ways to Overcome Performance Based Anxiety

Anxiety sucks. It cripples, disables and renders people without hope, optimism or courage. It invades the brain and controls functionality.

Everybody suffers from anxiety to some degree or another - about something or another.

I taught a course on presentation skills many years ago. It was a small intelligent group of people and it was my first time teaching this particular thing. Very early on we did 1 minute spontaneous speaking points. The second person in the room chose to discuss his anxiety. Not a word of a lie. He changed my life. EVERY single student in that group suffered from some type of anxiety. About something. We ended up spending a fair bit of time developing strategies around anxiety reduction in general terms and then more specifically around presentations. It was an incredible group and certainly one of those times I learned as much as I taught.

A long winded way of getting to a brief list of my top 5 ways to help students reduce anxiety headed into performance based, animal partnered events. (and you might be like me - find clinics more stressful than shows!!)

5. Breathe. Good Air in. Bad Air out, Just a couple of cycles will make a difference but the quieter a place and the more time you can put into breathing properly the more significant the impact will be.

4. Get in Touch with your Senses ( See how I did that?) .  Touch. You have a partner whose therapeutic value is well documented. Pat them. Do some TTOUCH with them. Your heart rate will drop and they'll enjoy it too.  Touch is a well documented stress reduction technique. Even just the act of putting lotion on your hands or hand sanitizer or sunscreen is calming so if your animal partner is not available for a pat don't despair.
In fact think about you and your senses and see if hearing, tasting or smelling might be good to add to your arsenal as well. Hearing music evokes memories - of calm or happy states. Mints are also a calming taste according to some experts, Perhaps some aromatherapy in the car will help the journey be less stressful.

3, Count down ... pick something, anything. Birds, red cars, a breed of dog, a colour of horse - something that will be where you are. Count 10 of them (or more if you have any or are really anxious) . This will distract you from your anxiety and potential downward spiral.

2. Accept that plans change and life happens. Work hard on accepting that some things will be out of your control and that sometimes valuable learning comes from mistakes. Sigh. Sorry.Not sorry.  But in some ways this may be the most important piece of the puzzle.

1. Be prepared, Know where you are going. What you are doing. Have lists and things organized and ready Pack ahead of time. Have some cash for whatever you forgot, Identify your stressors and figure out how to address them ahead of time. You can never plan for everything but the better your plan is the smoother even blips will be.  Visual the good that will happen and use your support systems to enjoy the experience. Be prepared to celebrate the victories you have - even if it seems tiny and simple.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Where's the button? 5 factors that may help you build work ethic in your animal partner.

The concept of  "Work Ethic" came up today on a FB group I belong too.

As one wise sage pointed out, if everyone is working from different definitions the answers will look varied. So, let me clarify. When I speak of work ethic I mean that notion that work is worthy of doing well and investing time in. Now of course if you read this blog regularly at all you know my immediate challenge with this as it applies to the dogs,  I play with my dogs (and horses). We don't do much work at all. So, in real terms Work Ethic to me is being willing and able to bring an intensity to the table, a desire to do whatever and do it well. For reward? Why not. Sometimes the act is reward enough sometimes payment is needed. I am ok with either and don't believe that Brody (who very much likes to be paid) is lazier or less motivated than Sally (who finds the action of work itself motivating usually). The current canine and equine crew vary. A lot. Their single biggest commonality? They bring their A game to the playing field more often than I would expect. (Sometimes *cough* Sally *cough* more often than I would want - if you'd asked me if I'd ever build a house with tweaks to foil a too smart dog I would have laughed at you - 9 years ago anyhow!)  That intensity, drive, willingness to work is pretty neat to see in such a diverse crew.

The alarming part? The only truly concrete thing the dogs here  have in common is that they are all dogs nobody else wanted (well Thea was wanted but only by Paris Hilton wannabes so ... same difference really).

To delve into this more I did some reading on work ethic in humans and found a neat little article that identified 5 key factors involving a work place work ethic. Being me,  I've adapted them for our animal partners and will illustrate with examples from the canine crew here.

Integrity  trusting your relationship (obviously a two way street) is worth the work so you have to be willing to invest the work. Brody is likely my best example of this. He is the least obviously committed to work here (although honestly he is always ready to give it a go - he just isn't as pushy as some) yet he could come out day after day and be absolutely rock solid. A little Q monster in many ways. 

Sense of Responsibility accepting their own role in the work being done and contributing to moving things forward. Yen gets this big picture concept. She loves to work but absolutely understands that I can't and won't make her work. The choice to work is hers. And she chooses work and assignations with me with a whole-hearted joy that makes every one around her laugh. Six fluffy pounds of shivering with anticipation is pretty darn cute. She carries far far more than her weight in play training. 

Emphasis on Quality Always willing to do that little extra to ensure the work is the best possible in human terms. In canine and equine terms I equate it to not giving up when the going gets tough. Not opting out but figuring out. Sampson took awhile to develop this aspect of work ethic. A long while. His first summer with me every single one of my training videos had shots of him running past the work happening. Sigh. He's a different dog now and I am grateful for the lesson that work ethic is not always apparent in early days. This video illustrates the development on work ethic over Sam's first summer with us, Not the intention of the video but even so there you have it.

Discipline Focus, commitment, and drive might be terms that you are more familiar with in a canine context. I would add bravery and desire here too. Thea is a total Type A. At 7 pounds of chihuahua soaking wet she continually shocks people with her intensity. She is assertive and opinionated and has never said no when working. Scenting, agility, basic manners - no matter. She may or may not be interested but she is going to give it her all. 

Sense of Teamwork working together with an eye on the complete picture - It took Sally awhile to get this - those early 40 fault runs had nothing to do with a lack of work ethic and everything to do with the fact she didn't understand we were team and I had the course maps!

So this is all fine and well but how the heck to develop Work Ethic? Wave my magic wand and take dogs nobody else wants, use a little tincture of time and see where you are? Pick a sporting, herding, toy, terrier or other group dog? Umm no - we cover all those types here and all have a solid work ethic. 

All I can say with any degree of certainty is that dogs who love to play train and are allowed to opt in rather than being forced seem to develop a stronger more disciplined work ethic than those who have ALL THE PRESSURE. It has been a very long time since a dog here has had to work with at any given moment. Even in class with Sally I usually had Brody with us and if I felt a diminished desire to play in Sally was happy to swap out dogs,  Usually I have a group of dogs sitting waiting (sometimes not so patiently) for their turn to play. Not being sure if they will get time to play or work seems to increase motivation to want to work. Even the terrier loves to DO STUFF. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Flip. Flop.

Yesterday it was about giving your animal partners time off. Today it is  the concept of  "self training".  I don't mean training at home on your own. (Though that can have issues too - nothing like some objective eyes to help keep you moving forward)  I mean the concept that the dogs trains themselves. By magic. Without your input. The Miracle Method,  Passive Training. I don't care what you call it - it isn't going to work by and large.

Osmosis is one thing - but there has to be something to build on, and from.

Playing Training is a partnership. A dance. A dialogue.

It's' relationship, engagement,  call it what you will  Dogs and horses cannot possibly figure out what we want and train themselves.

Yes lots of what we build on is instinctive ( sports like barn hunt and herding are obvious - but the concept is much bigger - moving away from pressure, wanting to be with us are just two examples) but without a facilitator to explain the rules how on earth can the team work as a whole? They can't.

Period. Full Stop.

If you expect ribbons and glory - heck if you just expect specific behaviour it's YOUR job to invest time in making sure that behaviour is known, cue-able and fluent,  Your JOB I tell ya. Hope you are listening!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Stop. Just Stop.

To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring - it was peace.  ~Milan Kundera

We all love to play with train our dogs.  It is our relaxation. Our fun. 
Competing is fun. We visit with friends, cheer their successes, console them if needed. We eat junk food (ohh maybe that's just me) and laugh with friends. What do our dogs do? They, largely, nap in crates. They get out they get warmed up, they get pottied, they compete. They then often either get huge treats and praise or thrown back in their crate dependent on performance to the judging standard. (Not to the training demonstrated, far too often to my mind).

The bigger and better (and richer?) you are, the more likely you are to travel long distances to compete. Then you travel long distances to repeat it. Then again. It's intense. You are at the top. You gotta go go go right?  Prevent performance erosion. If you aren't showing you are traveling or training. But ...

Travel days are not days off for your animal partner. They just aren't. Travel is stressful for everybody. 

Days off look a little different for each depending on the animal involved around here. 

Sally's days off involve her telling me what to do. 

Sampson's involve the pond. Or mud. Or, ideally, both. 

Some dogs will want to snooze the day away. Others will want to be active. They are invited to hang out while we work or come for a walk but they aren't made to come on a day off. 

Formal cross training days, no matter how much I love them, and I do, is not a day off.  If being groomed is stressful it's not a day off either. 

A day off is doing something (or nothing) unrelated to training goals and plans and just being. We are so very very fortunate here - our dogs can be quasi feral for a day or two or three and just be. Creating that in urban centers where leashes are needed and people are scheduled strictly is much harder. 

I truly do believe that breaks in working reinforce training, freshness and the desire to play our games. When was the last time you scheduled your dog(s) a break? When my animal partners are training and showing hard I schedule pretty lengthy vacations for them. Fitness work may happen depending on the animal but that's it. Three to six weeks of holiday. Twice a year if schedule is intense. A true day off or two even in the middle of the season. 

It's just the way we roll around here. 

We all come back refreshed. 
It's important. 

Terri Guillemets asked "Is everything as urgent as your stress would imply?" Take some time. Explore the options. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

time she ticks along ....

Relationship work,
Play training,
Positive training

They are all fun. They all lead to excellent results, sometimes with dogs that otherwise wouldn't be able to cope at all in the real world. BUT

and it's a BIG BUT

they are time consuming, detail driven, and need tweaking for each participant.

If I was teaching you how to use a shock collar I could simply say hit the buzzer but learning when and in what way to use play as a reward (personal, food and toy) or simply release expectations is a juggling act. The motley collection of critters I get to play with  train, illustrates that well I think.

Take your time. Expect it to take time. Celebrate the time it takes. Patience is truly a virtue in education - of all species!

I am glad I get to play with so many species (including humans) as it keeps my teaching skills sharp.

(this blog was titled before I found the music for the video - prescient or what?)

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

We have farm dogs - hear them bark?

I was in the barn last night puttering around putting away stuff from a show Sunday when Big T looked around and said "the dogs have a good life". It seemed self evident to me in that moment but got me thinking. Thinking is dangerous.

The dogs here have a great deal of freedom. There is a fenced yard which is mostly used at night to keep coyotes away from the little dogs as much as anything else. There is a pond the dogs can go splash in as they want.

The canine crew here largely has agency. That is to say they have the freedom to make choices many, many times in a day. Lie n a comfy bed? Awesome. Outside puttering? Fabulous. Want to come with me to see the horses? Big dogs always welcome. Want to hang out on the porch while the rest of us go for a walk? Terrific - have a good time. Need to rush to the chickens and make sure they are all still there? Suit yourself terrier. The list could go on  for pages and pages 

We ask them to keep themselves safe and encourage them to stay in either the pond field,  home field or with us but to be quite frank they take the responsibility for watching us pretty seriously. If the "travelers" hear a vehicle start up they come to see what's up. They are often lying in eye sight of us supervising what ever activity we are up to or perhaps nosing around looking for critters to scare or smell. 

They ask each other to play and they ask us to play.Sally, Yen and Dora love a crazy zooming chase game we all enjoy,  We ask them to play too. It's pretty unusual for any of us to blow off a reasonable request for attention. 

How has this somewhat feral lifestyle affected training? Well. Here's the rub. It's strengthened it. Behaviours that were offered because of insistence are now offered because they are asked for? For fun? For something to do? I don't know exactly but I do know the dogs are fully engaged in play training . The dogs celebrate their successes with as much joy as I do. Letting the dogs "dog" has given them more motivation to be present with us, not less. They don't sneak off or avoid us because if they really wanted to go to a back field we would all go out back (or those of us who wanted to would - and whoever didn't want to could hang on the porch or inside instead). The dogs' independence has enhanced their bond to us.  

My Mum noticed this change too. The dogs know her well but she's never trained or worked with them. Sam has a long history of being obnoxious a bit pushy with her. Today she told him it was too hot, he was too wet and he should just "go lie down". He looked at her and instead went and picked up a plastic tub to play with. But he left her alone. She saw Dora headed down the driveway and reported her location to me. I suggested she ask Dora to come to the barn if she was worried. She called "Dora" once, happily, and Dora instantly decided being with us was going to be more fun than whatever else she had been thinking of doing. A one call recall, that would make Susan Garrett proud, to someone with no history of rewarding her . 

I feel sometimes like we have gone back in time. To a fire pit where the canines chose to pair up with people for mutual pleasure and benefit. It's a pretty neat realization. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015


School's out for summer!

The agility field got cut the other night!

I have some workshops to pull together and some online teaching to do but my time is MY time.

The list is long of things to do for others, to get ready for fall. We have guests coming to stay.

It's all good.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Growing Confidence ....Tincture of Time

When Dora arrived she was sweet as sweet could be. Except when she wasn't. She terriered like a boss at times but also shivered and shook and was scared of so many things it was close to impossible develop a plan to start "fixing" her.

The first time she met Wilkie she hid behind me and SCREAMED for a solid 10 minutes.

She's lived with us over a year and I had ambitions to "solve" her issues with a program of careful desensitization and classes. Then I realized I lived in the middle of a lake, on a large farm, and had too many jobs already.

Little Dora was going to have to carry more than her fair share of the weight for fixing herself.


Blow me over with a feather ... not wholly, not to my usual standard but Dora is learning despite me.

She swims, She plays nicely. In the last month she has coped with lots.  Her Aunt Sheila came and stayed the night with dogs she has loved but struggled with (mostly her brother!) and she loved every minute of it. Two other overnight guests and my mum and aunt - also tick tick check check after a little yelling about being a terrier. She is accepting Thea yelling her rather than sharing beds and rarely rolls Yen even if overwrought. Her recall is quite incredible and her manners around farm animals and equipment improves daily. She sits, and crates without issue. She likes scenting and loves to play train. She has strong personal, toy and food play skills. She lets me trim her nails without eating me and I've recently started hand stripping her and still have all my fingers accounted for. We spend less than half an hour a month on anything but handling skills and perhaps 2 minutes three times a week on those. But we spend time together. She is walked daily, and does chores with us. She is handled in bed and fed in her crate. All those interactions in a safe consistent way add up it seems.

We had an emergency trip to the vets last week and while terrified and VERY wiggly Dora never once threatened to eat anyone even with our fingers and various implements stuck in her mouth.

She does the dogwalk and aframe confidently and  can ride the end of the teeter happily. She is booting through jump standards and driving forward. Some cut grass and some training time and I may have a young agility dog to play with. Who might even be able to play in public. As long as the judge and crew are quiet and still anyhow!

It's a pleasure to watch her confidence grow - it's quite funny to see it happen with so little conscious intervention from us.  

No great wisdom here. Just remember when things are tough a plan is important, consistency counts but when time can also be quite magical in the right situations.

Saturday, April 11, 2015


It really could arrive any time.

This was 15 days ago, Now it's mud and snow patches. 

Brody has decided it is here. He came bouncing along on a walk with us for the first time since Christmas and was so happy. He charged through puddles (by mistake) and got caught in a thorn bush - which was actually horrifying as he screamed and started spinning in mad circles getting himself so tangled Big T had to uproot the bush by hand while I held Brody still while pushing a way too interested Dora off us. That part wasn't fun. At all. Thea is waiting for even better weather thank you very much.

The agility equipment is visible and that field is pretty high so hopefully soon we won't do damage if we play on it. I'm taking Fenzi's stay course - did the first few things but haven't done much this week, It's tough balancing working full time outside the farm, farm stuff and training stuff. Housecleaning? What's that?

Maybe the garage will have non farm/workshop. stuff in it next winter. Well the canoe lives in there too!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Crossing a line?

Online learning is WONDERFUL. In all it's different formats: Recallers;  Puppy Peaks; Agility U. ;Fenzi Dog Sport Academy;  Building Blocks Academy; Handling 360. You are a dog sport person who wants to learn from the comfort of home? There's a way to do it.My view for many of my recent classes:

That said there are times I shake my head. One example? Charging to read a blog.
I get it. I hope this blog is special. But. In reading a blog there is no interaction. No chance for meaningful dialogue.

Sure the model that has me shaking my head works out to 91 cents a day. Less than a buck. Less than coffee. But is there a blog posted daily? A meaningful educational blog? I doubt it. If they are able to post three times a week, which is a pretty rigorous schedule to maintain for six months that works out to about $2.50 a read. Sigh.

Will there be lots of cute puppy pictures? Doubtlessly. I loved the Clean Run series that tracked a puppy's maturity and training over a year . I found it fascinating and educational and fun. I knew it was coming every month and it was often the first thing I'd read.

Will there be value in the blog? I suspect so. Will I be signing up? Nope. No sir. My blog started as a way to goal set and record keep a little. It's evolved into a platform on occasion and a connection to a broader community (thanks Steve for our Blog Days). It's introduced people to me and me to people  some of who I don't even know know me. (Funny aside - a very big name trainer(bnt), world athlete told me the other day she has known me longer than I have known her. She found this blog ages ago. Made me laugh and also made me wonder about the hundreds of people who read Agility Addict. I always suspected they were computer robots of some sort but they are real! Cool! Thanks so much. )

I feel like quite the curmudgeon today.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

when I turned 30

I knew everything the year I was 30.

I had experienced death, too much death,  loss of tragic dimensions, a successful career in which people were priming me for leadership.  Animals of all types had come through our door and gone out our door. I had done enough local media that I was (rarely) randomly recognized by complete strangers. I had this thing called life well in hand. I was called as an expert on all kinds of odd things.

Then I turned 31 and somehow everything I knew as absolute slipped gently away. I realized as I meandered through my thirties that appreciating what I had was much more satisfying than fussing about what I didn't have. That loving the people around me was going to give me more gratification than longing for them to be different. Grasping that co-workers who weren't tagged for greatness still had lots to offer me (and our employer) was monumental and has changed my approach to everything.

I've realized that the animals I assumed were challenging because other people couldn't live with them were often pretty normal, and that there are animals and people with scars so deep and issues so gargantuan they are beyond my help. I've learned sometimes all I can offer is a safe place to lay a head and a listening ear.

I learned to reframe things that bug or upset me (from little to big it works: my car needed a boost - how lucky I am to have a car; someone I loved die - the grief is this profound because the love was that deep) and be grateful for the opportunities and challenges that continued to shadow me. Gratitude. It's where it's at people!

I wish I still had a magic wand for all situations for friends, students and animals.
It was a simple year.
It was a great year.

I am grateful for it but I am glad it was only a year.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bystander Busybodies ...

Heard the adage "if you can't say anything nice say nothing at all"?

Pretty much the way my family worked, at least in public and I had no idea how grateful to be for that education until I started dog sports. I know inappropriate nosy comments happened at horse shows I attended as a youth but somehow I obliviously sailed through most of them. That was  probably a good thing as showing horse was very stressful at times for me. It would not have helped my zen approach to have been worrying about the things people said. As an instructor, adult and friend I am much more aware of them now. I care less personally, and hear more.

When I first started agiliting (why isn't that a "real word yet?) I heard comments in passing but knowing no one I assumed people were asking for feedback or good friends with the people offering thoughts out loud. Sometimes I'd drive home and reflect on a comment that seemed mean spirited rather than constructive and what the person's motivation for making it might be. Rarely could I figure it out. So I went with trying to be helpful.

As I taught more and worked with more diverse groups of people, developing a little more self confidence and assurance, I developed a mantra for dealing with difficult people. I embraced the concept "it's not personal". Sitting at hospital bedside's advocating HARD for loved ones I was careful to separate the person in front of me from my frustration. Doing so forced me to realize all the times people likely don't acknowledge it's not personal.  Issues in other people aren't about me. They are about them. I mean that with no attempt to deny responsibility for errors. In fact now I find it easier to accept responsibility for errors I make. My mistakes aren't personal; nor an attempt to sabotage anyone. The reverse is likely also often true.

However, and it's a BIG however, the nasty snarky comments that are not my issue, nor personal (they are often freely dispensed over the course of a day) are still thoughtless and often cruel. They are disrespectful and  hurtful and often cause pain.

As a person who may want to help someone THINK before you speak.

If it isn't any  (or even better ALL) of the above. Stop. Re-think. Re-phrase. Or walk away.

If you are on the receiving end of a comment you have a few choices  Some apply best if you know likely "hot zones" others work anytime anywhere. Test em. Comment if you have other great strategies to try.

  • ignore the comments (so easy to say and hard to do)
  • plug in earphones so you can be occupied
  • solicit a friend to chat to you if you pass through a "hot spot" of comments
  • line up a distraction for them before you enter the ring - have someone distract them during or after your run 
  • pre-empt them - that is if you get asked "what did you think?" answer " I really loved X Y and Z" 
  • try honesty "I'd rather debrief with my coach - thanks" " I need time to process" "I suspect my goals for the run were different than yours would be" 
  • put yourself in their shoes - what might their motivation be?

You got this. I know it.