January 31, 2006

Aussie Dog Toys

Deb and I have been talking about AussieDog toys. Joel was buried with a plush pig that had been his favourite toy for six years. Thommo chooses one tennis ball and insists on only that one for weeks until a neighbourhood kid throws it too close to the stormwater inlet. So though we have had AussieDog toys for quite some time I didn't fully appreciate them until the canine mulcher came to live with us.

  1. The CAG ball - dogs love carrying this, and it's easy to throw.
  2. The Mitch ball - the nodules prevent choking if the dog should happen to swallow it, withstands vigorous chewing.
  3. The Turbo chook - you have to see a dog playing with this to believe how much fun it is.

Communicating with Dogs

Prof Daniel Mills has released result of research into the factors that affect a dog's obedience to commands. In the research the team trained dogs to respond to verbal and visual cues, and then tested them under variable conditions.

While the dogs responded fairly equally to either verbal or visual signals alone, when the researchers gave a verbal 'left' cue with a 'right' hand signal the dogs usually followed the hand pointing right, and ignored the verbal 'left'. If the researcher looked to the right as they pointed right the results were even more consistent, suggesting that dogs read the whole body, and don't just follow hands.

When the dogs reliably responded to the verbal cue alone, the researchers changed the cue word slightly; using 'chit' and 'sik' in place of 'sit', for example. The dogs did not respond as well to the variations, suggesting that slight differences in the pronunciation of words affect dog's understanding of them.

In further experiments, Mills and his team found that dog's rate of obedience dropped if the handler sat, or wore sunglasses, and if the command came from a tape recorder behind the handler, or if the handler was looking away from the dog. And with dogs that would come reliably when called from behind a screen, the level of obedience dropped significantly if commands were uttered in an angry or gloomy tone.

Of course, much research time and government money could have been saved if they had just asked agility competitors about this.

#17 ...

... on Dusty's list of 101 ways to piss Thommo off.

January 27, 2006


January's author on Dog Read was Susan Thorpe-Vargas, author of Genetics and Breeding Strategies: Essays for the Dog Breeder. We have had a wonderful month discussing genes and their mutations and selecting on phenotype. One thing that did not come up for discussion though was the digging gene, which seems to be dominant in both Darcy and Red Rose's lineage. Jenna has turned Deb's back yard into a hard hat area, permanently under construction. My back yard is paved, but by the time Dusty left our camp site last weekend it looked as though a colony of wombats had spent the weekend. And half sister Scarlet seems to have inherited the trait too. Though she obviously can't understand what the fuss is about.

Commitment point

In an article in Dog Sport Terry Simons asks "Where's the commitment?" He uses an analogy of driving on the street to explain. Usually when the light changes to yellow, we have time to decide whether to stop or accelerate through. But sometimes it is too late to make a choice - we are committed to driving through the intersection.

Your dog's commitment point is that moment when, with all four feet on theground, he makes an irreversible decision to take the obstacle successfully. Your verbal or physical cue should come at your dog's commitment point.

The effect if it doesn't can be explained using the driving analogy again. If you tell someone about the turn too soon, they make take the wrong turn or proceed hesitantly; if you tell them too late ... well we've all experienced that.

To find your dog's commitment point, Simons says to set up a circle or ellipse of jumps, making the pattern of jumps uneven so you have a bounce step, one stride, two strides, and even a-stride-and-a-half between jumps. Run your dog several times on this pattern, watching carefully where she takes off for the jump ahead of her. Make a mental and physical mark on this spot.

Your next step is to cue your dog to take the jump and then come to you. Do this at some time while running the circle. Make sure your dog is at a good speed and that she has taken several jumps prior to your call. Cue your dog at that point when you think she is going to take the jump successfully. Give your dog a verbal cue to come into you, and rotate your shoulders into the dog for a front cross. If your dog calls off the jump, your timing is too early. If your dog lands long and takes a couple of strides before turning into you, then you are probably late on your cue. If the bar comes down, then you were more than likely calling on top of the bar.

Videotaping the exercise will help you assess the commitment point even more clearly.

January 25, 2006

Patterns in Agility

The current, Feb 2006, issue of Clean Run has an article by Nancy Geyes on using the regularly occuring patterns on agility courses to train. We have done this with pinwheels, serpentines, diagonal lines, offset lines, 270s but I never stopped to systematically record the recurring patterns.

Nancy has done this, identifying 22 commonly occurring patterns, and has set up a CRCD template so that we can combine the patterns into courses in various ways.

January 24, 2006

Agility Toy

Dusty's current favourite toy is one that is excellent for use as a motivator in agility. It has length so it is an effective tug toy, it can be used to play 'smack a puppy' it can be thrown with accuracy ...

January 22, 2006

Motivational Poster


ramping it up
Originally uploaded by

This is crying out to be made into one of those motivational posters.

Turn Signal

One jump or two?
Originally uploaded by

You could probably snap a shot like this of Thommo and I. This dog has absolutely no idea that a left turn is required. Both handler and dog will be asking a moment later "What happened to you?"

January 17, 2006

Summer Camp

Last weekend was the three day Summer Camp at Le and Keith's. It has become our way of getting back into agility after the hot weather / holiday activity break. This year lived up to all expectations - great activities and top company and weather conditions that challenged our survival skills. I coped by mainlining icypoles.

Thommo, I had signed up for the 'handler focus' and 'obstacle focus' classes over the three days. These classes were designed to help us develop consistent body language to indicate discriminations and distance work, and to give our dogs practice in reading that body language; and to develop skills in doing set pieces such as serpentines and pin wheels so that the dogs did not have to be micromanaged through these. The challenges increased over the three days, and most of us developed in skills in a similar fashion. Not to say that we didn't have Le rolling on the ground in laughter at frequent intervals - but we persisted and took away lots of training ideas and things to work on to improve our teamwork. Under the revised ANKC Agility Rules
the Open Agility Class and the Open Jumping Class must contain a distance handling challenge, and much of what we did at Summer Camp was a rehearsal for this new class.

Dusty was signed up for one-on-one lessons to introduce her to the equipment. The way Camp was structured we were able to have a short lesson, take a break and then practice on our own for a while, before coming back for another lesson. This suited us perfectly. Dusty never got to the point of being hot, tired or distracted. Keith and Le saw the goal of the sessions as building speed and confidence. We have been working on particular performance criteria away from the equipment, and will ask for those behaviours at a later date. For the introductory sessions the goal was to get her to see obstacle performance as fast and fun. We also looked at getting me away from her while she did the obstacles: staying behind while she did the broad jump, getting her to come to me across the dog walk, and sending her through a right angled jump chute while I cut the corner - building independent performance from the beginning. She loved it.

She still demands my attention if she can see me. I could see my neighbours horrified looks as I walked away from her crate and she shrieked in that way that only cattle dogs can - but as soon as I was out of sight she settled into silent resignation.

Our final session of the camp was particularly spectacular. We had an inch of rain in twenty minutes and were unable to count 'one little second' between lightning flash and thunder clap. Kelly, Ben and Thommo were unperturbed - I think they already knew their people are mad.

January 13, 2006

Bathers Way

I bought a protective boot for Thommo's foot - I'm trying to leave it open to dry out - but have given up the campaign to keep it on during a walk. So we are walking on paved paths, no running or chasing. One such nice walk in our area is Bather's Way, the Newcastle end of the Great North Walk.

Why Does My Dog Do That

"Barking ... chasing ... rushing ... splitting ... gripping ... overflanking ... ignoring ... not stopping ... These are just a few of the negative things our dogs may exhibit on occasion during the training process.

Running ... hollering ... pushing ... repeating ... allowing ... grudging ... Well, folks, these are just a few of the negatives things handlers may exhibit while in the training process!

And, if you haven't guessed it by now, these things are, more often than not, closely related."

An article by Laurie Herbel in The Herdsman

January 12, 2006

Little Hats

Lots of good herding info, divided into categories: Wannabee, Apprentice, Journeyman, Master.

Herding Clinic

Last weekend Dusty and I went to our third herding clinic at Uralla with Robert and Jenny Cox. Wonderfully organized by Sue Selby. I was going to try Thommo with the sheep, but when we stopped on the way, he ripped that nail off again in a rocky creek bed. I had prepared him to wear a muzzle, putting in on for longer periods and rewarding him for tolerating it, in case he wanted to grip the sheep. In the end I put it on while the vet removed the nail completely, though it was probably unnecessary - he didn't look like he was going to bite anyone, just looked very sorry for himself.

We had been asked to come prepared to say what our dog had learned so far. Dusty's previous clinics had been at four months and six months. At the first she learned that sheep are fun. At the second she learned that she has some power over the sheep to control their actions. So at this clinic we were to start learning that this sheep herding game has rules.

Our first session in the yard was a basic re-familiarization. Dusty was allowed to follow the sheep around without any pressure on her. Then Robert said that she was focused more on me than sheep, that she was just going for a walk with me and the sheep. He told me to grab one of the sheep, which I did. Dusty bit me on the butt. When he could stop laughing Robert said, "See I told you she was focused on you." But it did transfer her attention. She very nicely returned a breakaway sheep to the group, and looked like she was herding.

Next turn, we used a sorting pole or stock stick to give her change of direction signals. Dusty is right-handed and naturally herds in a clockwise direction. We had done some work on this 'dry' clicking and rewarding when she changed direction when I put the stick out in front of her. But with the sheep it was a different story. Robert had a plastic bag tied to the end so it made quite a noise when he wanted it to. When she ignored the stick, he flapped it vigorously. She then decided she wasn't going anywhere near Robert or the stick. So we worked through this, calling her back to the sheep, presenting the stick and flapping it if she ignored it. I must admit I found this hard - "He's frightening my baby" - but I recognized that it was nothing compared to what a sheep or cow could do to an out of control dog. We ended the session with Robert giving her a pat and reassuring her while she investigated the bag up close.

Next turn was a real breakthrough. The bag was tied up against the stick, not flapping, and she really did respect it, changing direction when Robert put it out in front of her. We spent the session mainly working on my interaction with the sheep, moving them off the fence when necessary but otherwise standing in the centre of the yard, keeping to the other side of the flock from Dusty. Previously we had been more or less driving the sheep, with Dusty and I both behind the flock.

Last session of the day was a short, positive one. This group of sheep were a little friskier so Dusty got to have a chase of a couple of sheep that broke away. She had a nip at one out of excitement, but for the most part she worked at a steady pace. She didn't bark at all today. Last clinic she barked non-stop. I guess that is a confidence thing.

Day two was a re-enforcing of what we had learned the previous day; Dusty learned the first and foremost rule of herding is that the dog should be on the opposite side of the sheep from the handler; I learned to keep backing up to keep an eye on the dog and sheep, and turning squarely, so Dusty gets to go and "gather" the sheep toward me.

By the second session there were real signs of improvement. She was going between the sheep and the fence, I wasn't having to move them into the centre of the yard. She wasn't panicking at the sight of the flapping bag, but was seeing it as a signal to turn back - in fact she once gave it a little growl and a nip. She was moving out to go around behind the sheep, not moving directly towards them.

In our final session of the day everything went smoothly, and it felt like there was a flow to what we were doing. Robert suggested we keep the session short, ending the weekend on an upbeat note.

It will be a month before we see sheep again, but she is still a baby. There is no point in progressing beyond what she is mentally and physically capable of.

January 05, 2006

I think this one is mine!

Dusty and Thommo sort through the presents on Christmas morning.

True to form, Thommo got a rawhide and a tennis ball and Dusty ended up with the rest. She does look cute playing with her big furry pal, though.

Remote cookies.

When we first started playing this, Dusty was reluctant to leave the spot where she was first rewarded. I now leave a pile of treats at several locations, and go past a couple of these on our way to the reward spot.

We have started to do it with behaviours other than a sit. And we've extended the sit into a slight stay once she understood the game, by waiting a moment before clicking, and/or a moment after clicking before giving a release and going to get the treat. We'll continue to build duration.

Box Drills Redux

I though Steve's method of shuffling a random sequence for box drills was pretty good, but he has gone one big step further with a box drill generator.