Miles Run-throughs at Highgoal Farm, NY 12/26/08

I took Miles to run-throughs at an indoor arena the other night to see how he’d be with this type of venue.  It was VERY crowded with dogs and people everywhere and barking dogs crated all around the ring except for one side.  I had to wait for about 50 dogs to go before it was our turn!  I brought Miss Rue in first to play with her and work on focus and tricks.  She did great and didn’t care about the surroundings at all!  I even shaped her to “bow” amoung all of the distractions–little scum 🙂 
Miles on the other hand was very stressed when I brought him in to acclimate.  I have NEVER seen him this bad–he was vibrating with fear and shaking all over, poor thing.  I spent some time just doing TTouch and he calmed down enough to take food from me and do some simple tricks at which point we left and then played a little outside.  The rules for these run-throughs were that you couldn’t use food, but you could use toys/clicker/etc. (there is a trial there this weekend, so they didn’t want food on the floor).  I was a bit nervous about how he’d be when I went to bring him back in and I waited until the very last second to go get him.  Much to my surprise he was excited to come out of the car and didn’t fight me to go into the building or into the ring.   Anyway, here’s the video:

I should have taken more time and just played with him at first.  He was fearful of the tire for some reason and I let him stress about it WAY too long unfortunately.  I was happy that he was willing to come back to me and get frisky and seemed to want to work, but just couldn’t let go of his fears.  I was conflicted between trying to nag him to connect versus just letting him look around and decide for himself that he wanted to play.  Not sure what I should have done.  He was happy to get his ball, but then didn’t want to come back with it.  On the other hand, he tugged on it with me before the last two jumps.  He also chased the ball towards all the scary people/dogs at the end which was HUGE for him.  Furthermore, he carried the ball out of the ring to his treat bag, ate his dinner outside of the ring, and then barked at me to give him his ball back.  So all in all I think it ended on a good note, but I wish I had been there for him more while in the ring.  I’ll be renting a different indoor ring a few times this week and doing another set of run-throughs at another place next weekend.  I hope I’m doing the right things….


The Teeter–A New Approach


I’ve posted before about Miles’ teeter history and after 2 years, i believe that I’m FINALLY making progress.  Gosh I hope so!  We’re playing lots of games with this obstacle now…it’s almost like a jungle gym 🙂 

I started out this past summer by shaping Miles to play the “bang game” whichhelps the dog understand that they’re in control of the movement.  It went something like this at home:

That game got us pretty far, but Miles still had trepidation about doing the teeter in public (ie. class, run throughs, trials).  So my instructor suggested we try this game:

That game teaches the dog to tolerate movement that’s out of their control.  Again getting somewhere, but still not really there.  So we decided to try this:

I do believe that all three games are going to get us past this stumbling block.  The blasted teeter, our albatross.

So here’s our plan:
1.  Keep playing the bang game on all teeters we can find and gradually increase the amount that Miles has to jump up to bang it down.
2.  Keep playing the other end game with all teeters we can find while increasing the amount that I move it under him.
3.  Continue to play on our buja board and skateboard.
4.  Continue to countercondition Miles’ response to teeter noise as well as other loud sudden noises.
5.  Work through all of the stages of the “sliding teeter” game on every teeter we can find.

Wish us luck!

Weekend training update.

We took the pups to PBH yesterday to work on some training.  I’ve been admittedly slack lately with the shorter days and colder weather, so I felt it was due time to put in some more effort for their sakes. 

It’s been two years and Miles still won’t go on a teeter in public.  Well, that’s not true….I got him to the point of using a very quiet teeter during class until it broke.  With him on it.  Sigh.  It’s been an uphill battle to say the least.  Not only did we get off to a rocky start with this obstacle, but Miles has some underlying sound sensitivity as well.  Not to mention that I never started him out on a buja or tippy board.  Anyway, it is my goal to get this dog confident and comfortable enough that he’ll be able to perform the teeter away from home as well as he does at home before the end of the year.  So that was the first thing we practiced yesterday.

Here is Miles tentatively doing the bang game at first.  This was how I started retraining him at home.  He’s using the least scary teeter at the club (aside from the one that broke which is still broken).  I am not giving him any commands, but am shaping him to play with the end of the teeter and eventually to jump on and bang it down.  I realized after I started that I should have made it easier to begin with so I lowered it.  As soon as I did that his confidence blossomed.

Here he is just a short time after starting.  I’ve raised the drop of the teeter and he’s running and jumping on the end of it.  I will gradually lower the propped up end until he’s jumping on it with it parallel to the ground.  Then I will add a table to prop it up and start him from the table, then gradually lower the table until he’s running the full length.  Then I’ll do it over again with the scarier and louder teeter.

Lastly, I played a different game with the scary loud teeter working on him enjoying movement that is not in his control.  The first game teaches him to enjoy movement that he controls.  Again, nothing is forced, but he is rewarded for offering to get on the down end of the teeter and to stay on while I move it under his feet.  He only gets a cookie if he stays on the board, but he’s allowed to jump off if he feels uncomfortable.  I adjust how high I move it and I also “force” him off the end when I want to.  This does two things: it relieves the pressure by me making him get off, and builds his drive to start the game again for more cookies.  Here’s how it looks:

Next up, and along those same lines, I took Miss Rue into the arena to work on the buja board.  We have one at home that she’s been playing on for months.  This was our first time using a different board and “taking it on the road”.  As I did with Miles, the first session was low pressure and we started out from the beginning like we did at home (barely any tip).  I’m just shaping her to get on with all four feet.  Here’s the first session:

Quickly the game became this:

And finally this:

Notice in the last video I’m using a tug toy for reward.  I will tug with her for as long as she stays on the board.  As soon as her feet come off, the game ends.  Soon the dog realizes that they have to get on the board to start the game and they fight to stay on it as long as they can.  This teaches a dog to LOVE movement!

Next up, weave poles.  I’ve been working on weave poles for about the same duration as the teeter.  They are probably the most difficult to teach of all the obstacles.  I was first taught to lure him through a set of six straight poles.  This worked, but it did not teach any obstacle independence.  I had to be right next to the poles for him to commit to taking them.  Plus I had a hard time if the entry wasn’t straight ahead or if he wasn’t on my left.  Not exactly effective for higher levels of competition.  It was then suggested that I retrain using channel weaves with a target at the end.  Again it worked, but I still wasn’t getting very far.  So I tried Susan Garrett’s 2X2 Weave Pole method, which had an amazing effect on Miles’ understanding.  It uses shaping to teach the dog how to find the correct entry on a 2-pole set.  Eventually it builds to a series of 2-pole entries and gradually to a full set of 12 straight poles.  That was groundbreaking for us and then I found this system by Joe Canova.  I haven’t looked back since.  We’re now to the level of proofing the weaves against things like distance and distraction.  Here are some clips:

A warm up.

Adding distance and a layer jump at the end.

A warm up sequence.

Sequence with a rear cross before the poles and a layer jump.  He pops out at pole 10 in the video, but he got it right the next time through.

Finally Miss Rue got to work on flat work and handling with cones.  I did some restrained recalls with Doug holding her to warm her up and then some stays with recalls.  With the cone work, I started by shaping her to go around a cone in both directions.  Once she was offering that behavior I started adding the cue of my hand closest to her extend towards the cone to indicate clockwise or counterclockwise turning.  Then I worked on getting some more distance from the cone and finally sequencing to multiple cones.  Yesterday we worked with 3 cones and integrated front-crosses, sends, shoulder pulls, and I tried a rear-cross or two.  She did awesome!  In retrospect, I think I pushed her a little too far and should have stopped earlier than I did because I started to lose speed towards the end.  I always need to remember that she’s a tiny puppy with a short attention span 🙂

Cone work:

A buncha old videos to see how far we’ve come.

Miles and I have been training in agility for just about two years now.  He’ll be 3yrs old in December.  We started trialing pretty much as soon as he could in the Spring of ’07.  I’m not sure why we did that except that I was never warned otherwise, but we were clearly not ready.  As I’ve said before, the facility at which we began training was less than ideal and our last instructor there was awful at best.  We learned how to do the obstacles (except for creating a teeter phobia) and how to sequence them in a general way, but no handling techniques were really discussed.  Everything about our beginning agility career was rushed. 

We began training at our current facility in Feb. of ’07 and started to actually learn some things and gain confidence.  We did run-thru’s pretty much every Friday evening and Miles seemed to do fine, so we decided to enter a CPE trial hosted at our facility.  CPE allows dogs to enter once they’re 15mo old as does AKC.  This first trial was actually fairly successful!  We entered in a lower jump height class of 16″ rather than 20″ since Miles was still young and not jumping full height.  We did three runs:  Standard, Colors, and Wildcard all of which we Q’d and just had a blast playing.  This was a very small trial and well organized.

So you can imagine after that experience how surprised I was when we entered our first USDAA trial that Fall just after he turned 18 months old.  It was AWFUL.  Miles was sooo stressed.  We entered Jumpers only and I think we made it over about 3 jumps before he stopped dead in his tracks and wouldn’t do anything else.  He was VERY concerned by something going on in the adjacent ring, I think, and he completely shut down…whale eyed and panting.  My poor boy.  That was the first in a series of about 3 trials where something like that occurred.  I took some time off for the Winter and started back up in February.  In the downtime we learned more skills and I decided to give it another whirl. 

Here are two videos from a USDAA trial held 2/08 at our training facility.  The first is a Jumpers run and you can see him freeze up and shut down as we get towards the back of the ring.  This was actually an improvement!  The second is a Snooker run where Miles was obviously not happy about the a-frame or the judge or both.  He refused to go over the jump and then got whistled off.

Not so great.  Frustrated and upset I started reading more about fearful dogs and commited myself to rereading Control Unleashed and really working on the exercises.  I also started to integrate more play into my training sessions and warm up routines.  It became apparent that if I were to be able to change Miles’ views of trials, I needed to change my attitude and my focus.  Instead of worrying about completing the course, my goal became to keep him moving.  So if we missed an obstacle, so be it, we kept going.  I wasn’t going to correct anything as the idea was to keep it fun.  The following two videos are from a NADAC trial held at PBH in 3/08.  Notice I don’t do either course totally.  In Round 1 I tested him to see if he’d go on the dogwalk, which he refused so I turned him around and continued over a few jumps before ending our run.  In Round 2, I planned to avoid everything but the jumps and weaves and just make it a fast circle.  Unfortunately Miles went around a jump and lined himself up for the dogwalk which was not my intention, but he recovered well and I think really had fun.  It’s the first time that I had seen him actually RUN in competition and wag his tail at the end.  It was a stark contrast to the stiff trotting whale eyed dog I had seen in the past.  This was the beginning of our rehabilitation.

The following video is from a USDAA trial in 5/08 at our facility.  We nearly Q with this one, but miss the time by .3 seconds-ack!  You can tell he’s still a little stressed by missing that jump, but he comes back to me fairly easily and finishes the course 🙂  That was the end of the trial season for the Spring….

During the Summer is when I met my current instructor, Melanie, and started taking classes from her.  I signed up for her “Speed em Up” class and abolutely loved it.  Miles responded so nicely to the new skills we learned which integrated right in with a lot of things I was doing with him (ie. the push back start, focusing on speed rather than precision, etc.).  Here are some videos from an Advanced Jumpers course that we used for run-thru’s in June.  These were actually prior to starting the Speed class.  He’s moving along though…

Finally, after a summer of working on speed and confidence and CU exercises, we get our first USDAA Jumpers Q in 8/08 at PBH.  It’s not pretty, but he’s obviously confident and having fun.  I didn’t excute the first front cross well and I forgot where I was going after the first tunnel entry, but Miles forgave me for my mistakes and did great!

There were several other trials mixed in with all of these, but they are the highlights that really exemplify our progress 🙂

PBH NADAC trial 11/9/08

Well, this was our third day of trialing this weekend and I’m tired. I don’t know how people do this kind of thing week after week. I can’t hang! Must get more trial stamina…

All in all, this was another fantastic day for us. Again the weather was perfect–mid 60’s and sunny. No wind either, thank goodness since the arena was just winterized and covered in flappy flippy sometimes scaaaary plastic! Miles has a history of not being too fond of the plastic coated arena. Of course that was last year and he’s come along way, so who knows. Anyway, I had signed up for four runs which in and of itself was a lot for us, but to follow two days of trialing away from home and getting a title, this was a big deal. I had no idea how it was all going to go down, but my strategy was to keep it fun and happy (as usual) but also to get him on some contact equipment at a trial. He goes through times of being ok with contacts and not so ok. I was hopeful that with our recent successes and with Jumpers being the first run of the day that his confidence would be up enough for him to be comfortable with this equipment. Much to my excitement, lots of my training buddies were there today as well as my instructor, Melanie, who agreed to be my taping buddy. So I got all my runs on tape–woohoo!

So first run was Jumpers and the course was typical of NADAC, open and flowing. It was all jumps and ended with a long straight tunnel. After walking it, I decided on doing two rear crosses even though we sometimes have issues with them causing a slow down, it really made the most sense to do. Miles was more than happy to come out and play and just seemed to be oozing confidence. He even did “speak for the ball” near the ring!! He’s still not jazzed enough to really play near there, but he’s getting much better. We went into the ring and I asked for a couple of hand touches before removing his lead and running. He was FAST!! Holy cow, he was smokin’. As we finished our run, the timer and scribe shouted out 17seconds! We got a lot of complements on that run which turned out to be a Q and a 1st by a long shot. The coolest thing was that he was the second fastest dog for all jump heights, only .3 seconds behind Melanie’s Smitten–yowsers! He was moving out at 5.11yps.

Up next were Regular Rounds 1 and 2. We had a long wait because they did Elite 1 and 2 followed by Open 1 and 2 before setting up the course for Novice. The nice thing for us in NADAC is that there are no teeters….ever. The only question I had for Miles today was if he was going to do the other contact obstacles. With the home court advantage and coming off of 3 very successful runs for the weekend, I thought we probably had a good chance. If not, I planned out an alternative strategy taking off course tunnels if necessary to keep him moving. The first course started with a jump and then straight to the dogwalk. The dogwalk was the one that concerned me the most as it was the most frequently refused obstacle by him and this one is particularly bouncy. I lined him up good, pushed back, and we were off. And, he went right up the ramp–SUCCESS! The rest of the run was happy. He seemed to notice the judge from the a-frame and paused for a second before coming down, but he finished the course with joy and speed. Q and a 2nd place just a fraction of a second behind Val’s dog Air-E.

Round 2 was not so good. I could tell something was not right from the beginning. I think it was a few things. First, it was a very short time between runs which didn’t give him much downtime at all. Second, as I discovered right after the run, his tummy hurt and he had liquid poo. Third, I didn’t line him up right for the a-frame causing us to have to reset. Fourth, as he came out of the weaves he noticed the giant camera over his head. Lastly, he missed a jump which I corrected and I believe that led him to deciding against doing the dogwalk. He did do the last jump though which was right after the dogwalk…he just skipped the dogwalk. Oh well, he obviously needs more confidence with all contacts still. Will work on this.  The recorder malfunctioned so the video skips the first three jumps, but you can see all the areas where we messed up.

After the somewhat abysmal Regular run, I debated about even staying for the last run which was Chances. The course was tough with a very challenging distance portion that included the weave poles and then a tunnel/a-frame discrimination. The minimum distace for Novice is 10ft–sweet jebus! I had decided right away that if I was going to stay, that I wouldn’t even attempt the distance portion, but just cross the gamble line and handle it like any other course. The weaves were in the same postion that they were in for the last run, so my goal was to hopefully end on a success with having a good experience in the poles in that position. I decided to stay after I realized that he had the loose poo because I thought maybe that was the issue and now that he went to the bathroom he’d feel better. I was right. He smoked it and didn’t even blink at doing the weaves out in the scary area at all. Yay Miles!! Of course we didn’t Q because I crossed the line, but it was exactly what I wanted and he needed. Good boy.

Teamworks AKC trial 11/7-11/8/08: Miles earns his NJP!


What a weekend! Friday and Saturday were spent up at Teamworks for AKC. This was our second AKC trial and our second time at Teamworks. We were entered in Novice Preferred Jumpers with Weaves (JWW) both days. If we Q’d in both, we could get a title….pressure is on!

Friday was a beautiful day, upper 70’s and clear blue skies. I got to the trial site around 1:30 knowing full well that AKC trials tend to run quite late. I arrived just as they were setting up for Excellent JWW which had about 80 dogs entered, then Open would run, and then Novice. Fortunately I knew some folks there, so the wait was quite palatable. Plus the doggie swim pond was open–much fun for the Goldens indeed!

I grabbed a course map and my number when I arrived and then found a spot to sit down and study the map. Holy moley…it looked tough! I like to start with Miles and push him back some before we start running (push back and jam), but it didn’t appear to be possible with this course…I really needed to do a lead out. Miles has no problem staying, it’s just that we lose a little bit of the connection and his runs tend to be a bit slower. I decided to just put it away for now and concentrate on relaxing with the pups at the pond and soaking in the sun.

Finally at about 4:45, we were able to walk the course. Just as depicted in the map, there was no good way to start without a lead out. Fortunately, what I thought was going to be a 90 degree hard side entry to the poles ended up being about a 15 degree entry–no problemo. I walked it a few times and then went to get the boy. It was running small to tall, but there were only about 8 dogs entered, so I didn’t have a lot of time. We played with his orange ball near the ring and he was happy to tug with it and speak for it. He was EXTREMELY comfortable and seemed quite fired up. Unfortunately, no one I knew had stayed after their runs to watch Novice, so my new video camera wasn’t going to be used 😦 We got to the start line and I decided to leave him in a stand…he didn’t like what was happening behind him and as I went to lead out he crept up. I stopped him still with enough distance to clear the first jump thankfully and continued my lead out. I tried something new–a lead out pivot. I have never done this in class or anything, but have seen it done and thought I’d give it a try. It worked and off we went! I almost sent him into an off-course tunnel, but called him off in time. He slowed a little with the call off, but picked back up again to finish strong! Q and a 1st place for the boy with a speed of 3.77yps which is slow because of the little bobble before the tunnel. His title was depending on tomorrow!

I ended up staying in a hotel in North Raleigh Friday evening since Teamworks is quite far, but also because the girls had dance rehearsal in Raleigh in the morning and we thought it would just be easiest if we all stayed the night there. It was a Homewood Suites, but was set up like a huge hotel with 8 floors. We were on the 7th so a great opportunity for more elevator socialization for Rue and just general hotel manners. She, of course, did great! She discovered that the corners of the elevator contain much sought after treasures too–old tissues, dirty napkins, etc. She’s so scummy.

So Saturday morning arrives and it is POURING rain. And cold. Ew. Thankfully I had brought my rain coat, so off we went to the trial site. The rain got much worse before it got better and a lot of folks in the Excellent JWW class were scratching their dogs. It was quite slick out there and just miserable for the handlers and many of the dogs. As predicted, though, by the time they had finished with that class, the sky had cleared and the sun was showing signs of peaking out. As they got ready to set the course for Novice, the sun had completely come out and it was gorgeous–yahoo!

The course today boded much better for a PB&J start with two jumps leading straight to the weaves. I decided to rear cross the weaves to set up a smooth tunnel entry and then do a front cross on the landing side of the jump after the tunnel to get him into the tight pinwheel. The rest of the course was rather straight forward with a few spots for Miles to really stretch out and run. I was excited to run this one today because it looked like fun and something that would play to his strengths. Plus, my friend and training buddy Jasey was there with her Labs, so I was going to have someone able to record this run!! We had spent some time during the Open level using the warm up jump and playing with the ball and he seemed raring to go. So when I went to get him out for his run, I wasn’t surprised with his excited wagging and happy smiling face. We played “speak for the ball” and tricks for his breakfast. It was tall to small today, so the wait was very short and into the ring we go! Unfortunately the dog before us was out of control and got into Miles’ face a little bit which in the past has caused him some stress. He seemed ok, so I kept positive. I set him up at the start and he was very bothered by something behind him which I discovered after watching the video that there were folks and their dogs very close to the ring right behind us (they’re supposed to be at least 10ft away–grrr). Anyway, I got him focused and off we went. Everything was PERFECT and he was going sooo fast!! We finished well under course time–another Q and a 1st to get his NJP title with a speed of 4.5yps!! Hoorray!

I got so many compliments on that run. It felt so good to have people saying what a great dog he is and what a good handler I am. I always knew we had it in us, it’s just been hidden. Many folks asked who I trained with because the run was “so smooth for a Novice”–ha!  Sweet!

I’m not quite sure what happened to the video once I downloaded it, but here it is for what it’s worth.  Please excuse the pixely jumpies…..

Things that scare or concern Miles

“Reactive dogs are anxious, and their response is intense because they are freaking out.”

–Leslie McDevitt, MLA, CDBC, CPDT in Control Unleashed

 I wrote the following list back in January of this year.  The purpose was for me to have a better idea of things that bothered my boy so that I could help him with some or all of them.  I had forgotten about the list until I was going through some old documents this morning.  Here it is from 1/18/08:

Things That Scare or Concern Miles


  1. plastic tarps
  2. most things overhead
  3. baby gates
  4. dogs and people “suddenly” appearing
  5. dogs barking
  6. people holding umbrellas or with big/long jackets
  7. walkers
  8. dogs/people watching him run agility trials
  9. teeters
  10. things that move under his feet
  11. tunnels/chutes
  12. large, unknown objects
  13. nail clippers
  14. frontline
  15. bike pumping tires noise
  16. large maglite flashlight
  17. under the bed

That was then and boy does that seem like a long list!  We’ve come so far since then, it’s amazing.   Some of these I haven’t specifically worked on, but by working on his confidence in gereral the specific concerns have greatly abated. 

First, let me give a plug and a lot of credit to Leslie McDevitt and her book, “Control Unleashed”.  I was gifted her book for Christmas last year and was immediately hooked.   In her words, the Control Unleashed program is designed to help “dogs with issues” learn how to relax, focus, and work off-leash reliably in either stimulating or stressful situations.  I have found her positive training methods and innovative “games” to be refreshing and very helpful for us.  We haven’t worked through the whole program, but have been using ideas from it to mold our own.  On thing that Miles particularly benefited from was the Relaxation Protocol written by Karen Overall which can be found here.  Leslie uses it as a foundation, and I found it to be extremely useful in helping Miles to learn how to relax no matter what was happening around him.  I still need to do more work with this and need to work on it away from home, but have been admittedly slack since we’ve seen so much improvement thus far.

Back to the list though.  Most of these things have been “fixed” by systematic desensitization and counterconditioning (D/CC).  That’s trainer speak for reducing the emotion connected to the object/situation and then changing the dog’s perception of it.  It can be a rather long process depending on how strong the fear is.  For instance, it was rather easy for me to D/CC him to the maglite, yet we’re still working on the teeter.  Miles was “allowed” to develop a much stronger fear response to the teeter whereas the flashlight thing was just one episode and thus there was not much history of fear there.  I’ve always thought that it takes several hundred times more positive responses to something to equal a few negative ones.

So here is the revised list for 10/21/08: 

  1. plastic tarps on a windy day only
  2. dogs and people “suddenly” appearing when other stressors are present
  3. dogs barking only in some conditions where other stressors are present
  4. teeters getting better, but have had to break it into many steps
  5. bike pumping tires noise because I haven’t done anything about it yet

 Much better, eh?   I sure think so!