August 30, 2005


Dusty and I spent the weekend at the fifth two-day Herding Clinic at Uralla Showgrounds, under the tutelage of Robert and Jenny Cox. Pamela published my notes on the weekend on the Vicherding website.

The test/trial process is quite complicated in herding with the need to establish that the dog has 'herding instinct' before being able to compete in the trials. And it doesn't get simpler then, with various classes, and courses within classes, and different stock available. The rules will require patient study.

The Herdsman is a series of online articles covering many facets of the sport of herding from the American Kennel Club. Herding on the Web has lots of links to info.

August 25, 2005

Training Level One

I tested Dusty today on the behaviours that are mandatory to pass Sue Ailsby's Training Level One. Sue's training levels are written "for those who want a coherent training plan. They aren't aimed at obedience competition, or agility, or tracking, or any other particular sport or job. They're aimed at producing a dog who is a willing partner, eager to learn, happy to work, and having the basic civilization necessary to allow her the access she needs to do her job and to allow you the confidence to enjoy being and working with her." Sue says "These training levels are designed to produce a dog that is three weeks short of a title in any dogsport."

Level one consists of:
  1. Come from a partner to the handler a distance of 20 feet.
  2. Down from a sit or stand with no more than two cues, eg voice and hand signal.
  3. Sit from standing position on one cue only - voice or hand.
  4. Target the handlers hand with his nose on cue.
  5. Zen - stay away from a treat in the handler's hand for 5 seconds when cued before the hand is presented.
  6. Handler lists, in writing, five things she hopes to accomplish by working the levels.

Dusty passed the test with flying colours - we have been working on all of these except the handler list, so here it is after some thought.

What I want to accomplish is:

  1. A dog that is happy to be with me and work with me.
  2. A thinking, problem-solving dog.
  3. A dog that is confident in new situations.
  4. A dog that can concentrate on the job at hand despite distractions.
  5. A dog that can comfortably be at a distance from me or with other people.

August 23, 2005


With Steve's help (well it was more than help) I have added a summary of the AgilityNerd Blog topics to this Blog. This is a great resource - there are not many places where we in Australia can see examples of courses analysed and different handling and training discussed.

The latest posts feature courses from a Dana Pike advanced handling seminar. Steve usefully has a index to previous posts arranged by category so that you can find other courses or handling techniques from the archives.

With Helix Fairweather's Joey's Journal and Karen Pryor's Clickertraining I think we have most of our training needs covered.

August 22, 2005

Puppy Game #7

We have been having fun with Garrett's puppy game #7 - Come. She illustrates this in Shaping Success with a Cattle Dog.

We usually walk in the morning with Angie, a young neighbour who dog sits for me and whom the dogs know well and love dearly. Angie holds Dusty with one hand across her chest and an arm in front of her back legs. I move off, only a metre or two at first and talk to her to rev her up - "Hey Dusty-dog, whatcha doing back there?" sort of things. I then called her, sometimes with her name, other times with "Here", and started running.

I learned fairly quickly to hold out a tug toy as she caught up. Her instinct was to grip me on the ankle - which took some of the fun out of the game for me.

Garret's advice:
  • Use a tug toy as a reward rather than food or a ball.
  • Keep the tug toy hidden until puppy catches up with you
  • Vary the timing, the point after the recall when you start running, to eliminate body language as the cue to come.
  • Sometimes start with puppy in a down.

I'd also include Derrett's advice to turn towards puppy as she catches up to you so she runs across the front of your body. For Derrett, if you form a line with your arms held straight out to the side, behind that line is a no-go area for the dog.

Dusty, Show Dog

Our little outing in the show ring was an educational experience - a timely reminder that a behaviour isn't trained until it has been proofed against all possible distractions. Our lovely gaiting up and down the hall, along the lane, and around the park counted for nothing when I asked Dusty to gait while being followed by three strange puppies. I couldn't get her to face the front, or walk, let alone gait. We did better on our individual triangle, and she looked great on the run back to the judge, tail wagging, ears up.

Dusty was the only red amongst the cattle dogs. The judge asked how old she was - the other dogs looked almost fully grown. He said "first", "second" and pointed to Dusty, "third" and it was all over.

Now to find some people who will run along behind us (and I guess in front) while we gait.

August 18, 2005

A run on the beach

Beach Bums

Dusty rounds Thommo up

Thommo fetches the ball

Dusty's Breeder

Deb Harvey, Ikenheel Australian Cattle Dogs with Ch. Ikenheel Kiss N Tell ADM CDX ET HIT JDM

August 17, 2005

Ikenheel Fire N Spice

Dusty's sister Jenna, with her border collie playmate.
I think the sisters share more than their looks with mum.


I asked Deb about preparing Dusty for her show this week - and got some useful tips. I didn't want to turn up au naturale when everyone else had worked cornflour through their dogs coat, added eyeliner and boot-polished their noses. Deb suggested just neatening her appearance, but basically leaving her pretty much wash and wear. So Dusty will get a bath this week.

I bought a dog wash mit (it was on sale, how could I resist), and we have been playing wash, wash, wash with it, which they both enjoy enormously. See how they feel when I add water and shampoo. A petstore nearby has hydrobaths that you can use that streamlines the process. I use the Fido range of shampoos and rinses. Thommo has the Tea Tree Oil, and I picked up some of the Puppy Shampoo for Dusty. I also got some of the Herbal Rinse from the bargin bin.

Thommo would be bathed three or four times a year, but he swims almost daily. Thommo 'suffers' his baths. He'll come, and stand still, but he looks at you the whole time with a look that says "I thought you loved me. How could you torture me like this?" and then he will avoid me for the rest of the day as though I woke up with an overwhelming urge to bath things and will continue to do so all day until the urge subsides.

August 15, 2005

Cattle Dog Heritage

It's commonly believed that the early cattle dogs were a result of a cross with a dingo. This may be so, but my personal theory is that they were crossed with a number of native Australian wildlife, the genes of which appear occasionally in invidual contemporary cattle dogs.

Dusty's ancestor, the sugar glider, has passed on whatever gene is responsible for a drive to climb to the highest point of wherever she is and to launch herself into space when she no longer wants to be up there.

Thommo's ancestor, the wombat, passed on his athletic build and his interest in the environment.

August 10, 2005

Shaping a Stack

I haven't had a lot of success shaping a self-stack. I think my timing is out and my criteria are woolly to say the least - and it is hard to see how she is standing from above. So I'm going to work on just standing still on command and see how we go.

She is doing well with 'show teeth' I was reading Karen Prior on poisoning the cue, so we only do 'show teeth' once or twice a day - the act of looking at her teeth (an aversive) could overwhelm the reward, poisoning the cue. If she lets me look at her teeth then she is rewarded and I don't try to do it again that day.

And she is doing nicely at gaiting on a loose lead - unless there is something distracting around. Oh well, life wasn't meant to be easy. (Who said that?)

Dog Games

Thommo and Dusty are playing together - loud, chasing and wrestling games with neither dominating the other. Thommo actually seems to like lying on his back while Dusty goes for the throat. He is not a playful dog, and rarely gets involved in games with other dogs, so I'm really pleased with this. They like to start the day with a particularly boisterous game on and around the bed, though.

August 08, 2005

Early morning swim

The sand has shifted on South Newcastle beach, uncovering some large rocks, and on top of one was a perfect spa pool, about 150cm long, nearly as wide and about that deep. Thommo and Dusty were chasing seagulls so I was peering into the pool watching the various anemone and tiny fish, when splash! my reverie was destroyed by a little red dog frantically paddling her way across the pool.

I don't know if she intended to end up in the water, it may have just been a straight line to me. She did look rather suprised to be in the pool. She is getting gamer following Thommo into the water when he swims, but she doesn't go in further than her knees, she certainly hasn't been swimming before. My practice is just to expose them to the water and let them decide when to take the plunge.

August 07, 2005

Positional Cues Continued

Doing your front cross outside the box, in example 1, takes the off course jumps out of play. Ideally the cross should be done at the far wing of the jump, but anywhere along the blue line will be giving the dog directional information. Derrett would run inside the line of jumps to the finish, as he wants his dog to know immediately that if he is on the other side of the jump that it is a serpentine as in diagram 4. However he explained that this is a choice he has made, not to 'layer', and admits that the decision cost him the world championship, but the time saved by not having to do the false turn in diagram 4 pays off more often than not.

Doing the front cross inside the box, in diagrams 2 and 4 again directs the dog to the correct jump, but doing it along the blue line, and if possible at the far wing, also lets the dog know early the direction in which he will be going. Doing the front cross in the middle of the box will turn the dog away from jump two, without giving immediate information about where he is going.

Positional Cues

We had sessions on Derrett's positional cues with both Marion and Steve. Steve saw the positional cues as absolutes, and talked about specific cues - "Positional Cue Inside the Box", so I was more in tune with how Marion explained them - as relative to the dogs path.

Derrett's use of positional cues is based on the fact that you can give your dog information about not only which obstacle to take next, but where he is headed after that simply by where you position yourself on the course.

In example 1, by being in the dog's current path, he gets the information that he is to continue straight ahead.

In example 2, if you are at the near wing of the obstacle to the left, the dog knows not only that he is to take that obstacle, but that he is to wrap towards you and continue back down the course. You would do a post turn in this position, keeping the dog on the right.

In example 3, being at the far wing of the obstacle to the left is an indicator that the dog should take this obstacle close to the far upright as he will continue up the course. As you need a side change here a front cross is used to tighten the dog's turn. While the optinum position for the front cross is the far wing of jump 3, depending on your speed and the dog's, the front cross can be done anywhere along the line in diagram 4 - just so long as it is to the left of the second jump, and on the far half of the third jump your position will be giving the dog directional information.

August 06, 2005

Contact Training with a Target Cue

We had a couple of sessions at camp where I was able to work with Dusty on 'hand touches'. A hand touch is a useful tool in teaching a number of skills. Kay Lawrence recommends using a hand touch as part of a 'here' command, believing that coming to touch your hand is a more precise behaviour than just coming, and therefore easier to learn and more motivating to do. Hand touches are also one of the 'Teamwork Building Blocks' that Helix covers in her CyberAgility courses. Helix gives participants eleven pages of notes on teaching the hand touch. (Her excellent notes are worth the price of the course alone - plus you get the opportunity to discuss your training with her via chat, and she provides feedback on your weekly reports, you can even submit videos for analysis.) Susan Garrett has hand touches as the first skill to learn on the way to training contact obstacles.

Teaching the Hand Touch

  • Step 1 - Practice without your dog until you can present your target hand, click, reach for a treat, and deliver a treat with your target hand smoothly ten times in a row and time the session - with either hand.
  • Step 2 - Get the behaviour, a nose touch to your left hand. Hold your left hand out, palm facing your dog. As soon as he touches your hand with his nose click/treat and put your hand back in the same position as fast as you can. You want a 'high level of re-inforcement', that is, you want lots of opportunities to get a reward. Don't wiggle your fingers or make kissy noises, let him be 'operant', that is make the decision to do what brings the reward. The goal is 10 C/Ts in 40 seconds.
  • Step 3 - Get the behaviour, a nose touch to your right hand. The goal is 10 C/Ts in 40 seconds.
  • Step 4 - Change the picture. Present the left hand in a slightly different position. The goal is 10 C/Ts in 40 seconds. Present the right hand in a slightly different position. The goal is 10 C/Ts in 40 seconds. Repeat with your hand higher or lower, further away. Mix it up, so that each time you left hand is is a different position. Then your right hand. Then either hand. Be clear about your criteria - you want a firm press, not an incidental touch. At each change the goal is 10 C/Ts in 40 seconds.
  • Step 5 - Give it a name. Helix suggests that you use a cue like "touch". Others feel that the presented hand is in itself the cue, and that this signal can be used with other cues such as 'here'.
  • Step 6 - Take it on the road. Practice in different situations and locations of increasing distraction.
  • Step 7 - Make it harder. Have your dog at your side facing the same direction. Add movement so that he has to step to touch your hand. Increase the distance. Then add a turn-in-place so your dog has to follow your hand as you pivot. Eventually turn, take forward steps, take sideways steps, back up, zig zag and C/T your dog for coming to touch your hand.

As Helix says, hand touches are a useful life skill. They are an easy job your dog can do at the vet or passing the neighbour's lunging beast; they can maneuver your dog into startline position without having to man-handle him; they can warm him up and get the team connection happening; and they are a useful tool to teach other skills.

Once your dog has hand touches on cue, you can introduce a target. A small plexiglass square or disc is convenient and easy to fade, and it's neutral. The steps are the same as with the hand target, however it is even more important to practice without your dog as there is one more element to juggle and when you start with the target in your hand it takes a bit of dexterity to present the target, click, get the treat and reward the dog with the hand holding the target.

Teaching the Target Touch

  • Step 1 - Practice without your dog.
  • Step 2 - Get the behaviour, a nose touch to a target held in your left hand, then right hand.
  • Step 3 - Get the behaviour, a nose touch to a target held in your left hand, then right hand with your hand placed on the ground.
  • Step 4 - Change the picture. Remove your hand and C/T firm nose touches on the target on the ground just in front of the dog. This is not a distance excercise, the dog should not have to move to the target.
  • Step 5 - Give it a name. Again some instructors say that because this is a transitional behaviour and not an end in itself, it should not have a cue other than the appearance of the target. I'm not using a cue word myself.
  • Step 6 - Take it on the road. Practice in different situations and locations of increasing distraction.
  • Step 7 - Make it harder. Your goal behaviour is for your dog to stand still, without turning or moving his back feet and to press his nose against the target repeatedly, until you give a release cue.

Derrett/Garrett Agility Training

The ADAA camp was very much a refresher for those of us who went to the Derrett and Garrett seminar at the beginning of the year. Living in Australia those opportunities are fairly infrequent, so it is great that local clubs and instructors are prepared to put on camps that allow us to repair or refine techniques learned sic months previously.

Drawing on Garrett the camp covered crate games, perch work, contact training, and jump training. From Derrett we covered front and rear crosses, positional cues, and course analysis.

When Garrett was here she was working on the proofs of her book on agility training. Shaping Success has now been published. Unlike a lot of training books, it is an interesting read and you will probably finish it in one sitting, like a novel. As well as covering learning theory and practical training applications Garrett uses stories about her dog Buzz to both entertain and illuminate the points she makes.

August 05, 2005


My computer's power supply unit stopped functioning so I'm a bit behind with what we have been doing, but last weekend we all went to Heathcote for an ADAA agility camp. Heathcote is on the edge of the Royal National Park and our camp area was on a ridge with views across the park - the wealth of bird life, the deer on the lawn in the early morning, and the marvellous weather all added to pleasure of the weekend.

Thommo's torn toenail is slow to heal, and it's a long time since he had any serious exercise so he was excused from participating. So I audited sessions, ran my imaginary dog Blue in some, used some to familiarise Dusty with the trial atmosphere, and trained her in others.