September 25, 2005

Backing up.

It is important for agility dog to be aware of what their back end is doing, and to be able to shift their weight to their haunches for contacts, weave entries and jumping close to the bar. A foundation exercise in teaching this is the 'back-up' game.

Their soft-sided crates are in the living room so I used them to create a chute along the wall. I sat cross legged at one end and Dusty soon came up the chute to investigate. I held out a piece of chicken in my closed fist. She has already learned that the best way to get what is in my hand is to not touch it, so she had a sniff and pulled back. Click - and I threw the treat between her front legs so she had to back up to get it. (Click for behaviour, treat for position). She got the idea fairly quickly, as the chute left her with limited options. We had three short sessions and she was backing up to the end of the chute, about a dozen steps.

Today we tried it again without the crates. We started from scratch, rewarding any move backwards with a click and a treat thrown between her legs. She was soon up to three or four steps back as I gradually increased the criteria.

Then I was distracted and didn't click in time. She had taken several steps back and as I looked back to her, she droppd into a down. While I looked at her, wondering what I should do now, she had a 'lightbulb moment' and scooted back in the down position. Big hugs and lots of praise.

While I am training Dusty, Thommo practices waiting in his crate with the door open. I toss him a treat and a good dog when he is relaxed. I then put Dusty in her crate (door closed) and have a short game with him before another session with her.

Ruby's 17th Birthday

Nicola's red Australian Cattle Dog, Ruby, celebrates a long and happy life. Puzzle and Coogee (Labradoodles) just want the formalities over so they can have some cake.

September 24, 2005

Sheep Game

Practice working your sheep, coming to terms with pressure and direction. Your dogs will love the sheep noises too. There is also an office friendly version - SpreadSheep - that is silent and looks as though you are working on a spreadsheeet.

September 19, 2005

Stock Dog Handler's Workshop

Dusty and I went to a stockdog handler's workshop at Hampstead Station near Merriwa. Myself and a woman who bred kelpies were the only people there who did not work their dogs for a living. Everyone might have thought we were a waste of space, but they didn't treat us like that - making sure we took our turn, and offering help when needed.

The workshop was given by Greg Prince, Australia's most successful stock dog trialler. He was great. I've been to agility workshops where the instructor talks about effective, positive training but never thinks to apply those principles to the human students. Greg's patience and sense of humour never failed him.

Greg has a ten step training plan:
  1. Instinct (Bring it out)
  2. Teach the first command, `the call' ( a dog must come to it's name)
  3. Balance (To me) with no commands.
  4. The Stop (The most important command)
  5. Teach the sides
  6. Teach to come off balance.
  7. Force (Bark and Bite)
  8. Keep Off (7 & 8 are taught simultaneously)
  9. The cast
  10. Backing and Barking (The extension of 7 & 8).

He taught each step, then those who were up to that stage tried it and the others practised the step they were at. It was a good way of letting us see what we were working towards, without over-reaching ourselves.

Dusty seems to have the instinct, and a good call even in the presence of sheep. However when we started to work on balance we were using a rake as an indicator to change direction and go back behind the sheep. Whenever I put the rake out in front of her she thought this was a new game and started to bite it. Still, some dogs were so afraid of the rake that they left the yard, or cringed by the fence.

We have started to work on using the clicker to train her to change direction when the rake is placed in her path.

Agility Australia

Agility Australia is our favourite agility organisation. Their courses and rules are based on the US Nadac, but without many of the changes introduced by NADAC over the last year or so.

The courses are open and free flowing, and elite performance is primarily about being able to shave seconds off the time with precise handling, rather than being able to negotiate tricky traps.

They emphasise safety; there are no spread or broad jumps and no table obstacles. And they place a premium on sportsmanship; speaking harshly to your dog or to the judge will get you eliminated.

All of the events are significantly different. Agility Standard has a full range of equipment and requires distance handling, Jumping has only jumps and tunnels, Tunnellers has only tunnels, Weavers has tunnels and weaves, Touch and Go has contact obstacles and tunnels.

September 17, 2005


There has been some discussion on an Agility list I'm on on what to wear for agility. Like many others here I tend towards pants from Kathmandu, t-shirts and sweaters from McCartney's Dogs or Grimm Sport and a grass-sport shoe.

September 16, 2005

Working at a Distance

This week with Thommo, I am continuing to work distance exercises, particularly those that require layering obstacles. This one I started with him on my left and me wide of jump 1 so that I could run parallel to his path to the tunnel with my left arm extended. I handled 3-4-5 as a serpentine, which meant that he turned tight over 3, and I brought him home on my right. It took a couple of goes to get it smooth, keeping up forward momentum without travelling too far.

One of Sue Ailsby's level two skills is distance work, so I have also been doing that with Dusty. I shaped her to go around a tree stump at my feet then gradually increased the distance, and then practised on other posts and poles, working up to a distance of about two metres. Susan Garrett also has a similar "Get Out" game for puppies.

Helix Fairweather has a "Get It" game that also reinforces the dog for looking ahead, I'll look up my notes and start that over the weekend.

September 15, 2005

September 08, 2005

Distance Exercises

Exercise 1:
Mark a gamble line 1 to 2 metres away from a line of jumps, and place your dog between the jumps and line. Get as close as possible to the line, turn your feet outwards to facilitate this, and lean forward to get even closer. Now, send your dog over the jump; you may flail your arms wildly and scream as necessary. Continue until this approach seems pointless.

Exercise 2:
Set up a gamble line as before. Run as fast as you can towards the line then stop dead (think of a dog sitting on the roof of your car, as you stop, woosh, the dog will accelerate past you). Repeat until it becoms evident that just as your dog accelerates with you, it also stops when you do.

Exercise 3:
With the gamble line set up, run along it throwing an imaginary ball or otherwise flagellating your arms wildly in a windmill fashion. Continue until your dog is conned into believing you have thrown something, or you manage to affect weather patterns and create a wind that propels your dog over the gamble obstacles.

Exercise 4:
Learn the Laws of a Dog in Motion
  1. The dog turns when the handler turns.
  2. The dog tends to work on a path parallel to the handler's path.
  3. A dog ahead of the handler tends to turn back to the handler's position.
  4. The dog gets its speed cue from the handler's speed
  5. the dog gets its direction cue from the handler's body language.

Agility Training

We went back to training at a local club last night. I have problems with the club environment - I know the instructors are volunteers and everyone is doing their best as they see it, but I don't always agree with what I'm being told.

I first did some work with Dusty. We set up a seesaw plank on the ground, with about an inch of tip possible. I free shaped Dusty to put two paws on, four paws, take a couple of steps, a few steps, and walk along the plank. This was the sort of game she loved. We then did some front cross practice on the flat and then with two jump uprights spaced about two feet apart.

I put her in her crate and brought Thommo out and we stood and watched while a couple of dogs ran the exercise that had been set up to practice distance handling. He sat calmly at my side and I occasionally rewarded that with a treat.

I ran with Thommo - one jump, tunnel, jump - then tried the three obstacle sequence again but this time staying on the left of the first row of jumps. I got myself in front of the jump, and Thommo came across when I stopped moving forward so we tried again, from the start. When he came out of the tunnel I was heading back down with my left arm outstretched. He did the far row of jumps without hesitation.

An instructor suggested that I put Thommo away and work with Dusty again, playing tunnel games working on building speed and drive and enthusiasm. I don't think she was ready for that under those circumstances, she got quite hyped and lost all focus on me. So I took her off to the side and rewarded her for calm attention, gradually moving closer to the other dogs.

The other exercise that had been set up was to practice tight turns out of a tunnel. Thommo is fairly attuned to where I am so this exercise is easy for him if I get myself in the right position and cue him early.

September 07, 2005

Stockdog Trial Dates

24th September, 2005. Novice & Open, 8.00am start. Contact: Faye Gray, 02 6579 1961

7, 8 & 9th October 2005 at Gundy via Scone The trial will consist of a Maiden, Novice & Open section. Contact Richard Stokes PH 02 49923430

Erskine Park. 18 -19 Nov.2005 An encourage and Open event on each day sponsored by Pedigree. Contact: Mrs Barbara Stitt, 25 Howard Road, Minto Heights, 2566. 02 9603 2880

Erskine Park Nsw 25 - 27 Nov. 2005 Contact: Mrs Barbara Stitt, 25 Howard Road, Minto Heights, 2566. 02 9603 2880

Stockdog Training Contacts

  • WKC Board member Gary Milgate 07 4664 8032 does training clinics

  • Jim Marshall 02 6545 1406 who is happy to help members in his area.

  • Robert & Jenny Cox 02 6364 5164 who organise training session for groups

  • Victor & Arthur Hazlett 02 6783 0149 are happy to assist members in their area

  • Jim Luce 02 4844 7151 will be pleased to assist individual owners, organise small groups & give demonstrations

  • Greg Prince - 1 or 2 day Stock Dog Handlers Schools.  0427152759 or Follow up help and advice always available to students by ph on 02 6887 3677

  • Kevin Howell Ph/fax 02 6859 2311. “I am able to put on training days either here at home or if a group get together we will travel, all aspects beginner & advanced, yard, utility & 3 sheep. We also do demonstrations by  arrangements.

  • Colin Seis Ph.02 6375 9256 email Is happy to put on training days either at home for individuals or groups or travel elsewhere and cover all aspects beginners to trial competition.Demonstrations can be arranged.

  • WKC Vice Pres. John Gedye 03 5596 3588 who will be pleased to assist

  • Joe Spicer or Sharon Barry 0359 667464 or 0429 667464.

  • Barry Price 03 5576 4232 who is happy to organise groups of 10 beginners upwards.

  • Paul Macphail, Working Dog Education. 0418 335 306

  • Greg Prince. Contact Jean Moir 03 5668 8263

  • South Gippsland Working Dog Group - Hilary Steenholdt 03 5997 7378

  • East Gippsland Working Dog Group- Ron Heron 03 5157 1798

  • Warragul Dog Club - Geoff Price 0409 864 660

  • Mrs Nancy Withers 03 5579 1231 Nancy is happy to assist with training days, demonstrations and help individual owners around the Casterton district and nearby South Australian districts.

  • Martin Cash 08 8626 5021 near Streaky Bay S.A is prepared to conduct dog handling schools to groups west of Port Augusta and at his residence. Accommodation etc can be provided at home schools when necessary - Duration of school 1 or 2 days.

  • Ben & Lyn Page 08 8667 5484. Hold 2 day courses several times a year with additional ‘intensive coaching” days for small groups of farmers and students who wish to do “follow up” training. They also conduct mini trials and training days for the Flinders Challenge Working Dog Club. They are happy to organise demonstrations and/or exhibitions on their property or at requested venues.

Premack Principle

Susan Garrett, in Shaping Success, discusses using the Premack Principle - "In order to do what you want, you first have to do what I want". Expressed like this the principle is often referred to as Grandma's rule, as in "if you eat your veges you can have dessert."

The principle goes like this:
  • You can increase the frequency of any low probability behavior by making it contingent upon a high probability behavior.
So this principle tells us that you can increase the frequency of a behaviour of the dog's that is low probability (such lying still through dinner) by rewarding it with a behaviour that is highly probable (such as licking the plates).

The principle supports rewarding the dog with what they most wanted in the first place; it tells us to use the environment to reward the dog. For example, if your dog loves to swim in the lake, do your obedience exercises near the lake and send the dog for a swim as his reward. Or, if you are working on recalls, send your dog into the lake, call him out again and then send him back in as his reward for coming.

Positive training can too easily descend into stuffing your dog with food. It is good to remember that there are lots of things out there that are equally, or more, rewarding than food. Garrett publishes a list of possible reinforcers and suggests that you mark them in order of your dog's preference.

September 04, 2005

Other Commands

I got to thinking that if I'm going to teach 'no', there are some other commands that I could usefully add to our repertoire.

Chin - for when she realises that we are going to the beach. This command would ensure that she only licked my chin, and not my sunglasses so that when we got to the beach everything would not be a grey blur.

More sleep - Thommo knows this one and gives me another five minutes, but Dusty interprets it as a command to dig my head out from under the blankets.

Not there - When she wants to bury a bone, she wanders around with it in her mouth thinking about the relative merits of the sofa, the bromeliads, the magazine rack as hiding places. A 'not there' command would help her make an informed choice.

September 03, 2005


I've been watching Good Dog U - he believes in teaching 'no' as one of the first and essential commands. Not screamed in frustration, but quietly spoken as a cue to the dog to stop what it is doing. I have never used the command, it always seemed imprecise and I'd rather give a command to do something specific. 'Here' rather than 'no - don't chase the cat'.

But I think it might be useful for Dusty - a cue that says "That thing you are thinking about doing - don't do it."

They are re-building the road above South Newcastle Beach and have closed the steps off at the far end of the beach. Dusty ran up the stairs and under the barricade. I looked up from throwing the ball to Thommo to see her crouched ready to leap from a point ten feet above my head. I managed to run down to where the wall was lower and the sand piled a little higher and she followed me, landing her leap safely. A 'no' command would have been nice.

This evening, for a change, we went for a walk on Ash Island, choosing the path along the boardwalk through the mangroves. I'd walked Joel, Diesel and Thommo here regularly, but it was Dusty's first experience. Always, in the past, the dogs had walked along the board pathway to the clearing where there is a log seat and a grassed area for fetch games. But not Dusty. She leaped off the boardwalk into knee deep black mud, then despite my efforts to get her to stay, tried to jump up the metre plus and landed on her back - in the stinking black mud. I jumped down to get her and put her back on the boardwalk, but my shoe got sucked off in the mud. Before I could retrieve it, Thommo jumped down to see what was going on. I got him, muddy footed, back onto the walkway, found my shoe and hefted myself back up. Just in time to see Dusty preparing to leap off again on the other side.

A 'no' command might be useful.

September 01, 2005

Distance Work

One of the behaviours in Sue Ailsby’s Level 2 is distance work. So out in the street this afternoon with a couple of the neighbours I thought we could start work on this, to distract her from herding the two-year-olds. I set up a pole for her to go around and waited. She went over to it and touched it with her nose and then her paw – but as we’ve been targeting lately I didn’t want her to think that this was what I was after, so I waited some more.

It only took a moment before she moved past the pole, and I clicked when her shoulders passed it and offered the treat in front of her so she came all the way around for her reward. That was enough for her. I moved back half a step and she ran around the pole again. We gradually increased the distance, and she continued. Click/treat x 10.

We tried again with a lamp post, working up to sending her around the post from about 2 metres away. We’ll work on it again on our walk tomorrow, making sure she has the behaviour established before I put it on cue. That will give me time to think of a cue.


Dusty tries to practice her grip on Ange.

Agility Park

Newcastle City Council has put some agility equipment into the Tighes Hill off-leash area. It's in a nice spot - and I like the way you can sit on a bench with a beer, and send your dog up and down the line of obstacles.

It is more for adding some interest to a walk in the park, than for formal agility training, but I have been helping some of the regulars use it with their dogs and it may encourage some of them to try an agility training club. And Thommo gets to practise with distractions.