April 30, 2006

Obstacle performance

We've been doing some jumping practice. Dusty has a nice jumping style, and we're developing it further with Chris Zink's Jumping from A to Z but what we've been learning this week is the jump as an on-course obstacle.

Before I can say that she 'knows' the jump I should be able to:
  • Send her over from 5m, straight and at angles
  • Recall her over, straight and at angles
  • Front cross before and after
  • Rear cross before and after
  • Wrap her around the jump upright to the left and right
  • Turn her right or left on a verbal only
  • Send around the jump, to jump back towards me
  • Call her around the jump without backjumping
  • Turn her to repeat the jump on a verbal cue
  • Get her to wait in front of the jump - lead out
  • Get her to run past a jump without taking it.

April 29, 2006

Opening sequence

This is the opening sequence of a UK agility course that was posted to an agility training forum. The discussion seemed to suggest that UK courses are more likely to feature these 'handler frighteners', while US courses are more likely to have discrimination traps for the dogs.

Not a sequence I have ever trained for, I must admit. Do I want to be the first judge to use it in Australia??

April 28, 2006

Tink getting round her sheep

I took lots of photos at the January Clinic, and turned them into a slide show using the Flagrant Disregard toys.

View slideshow

April 27, 2006

Please? I've got liver!

Originally uploaded by sig77.

Talk About Contacts

Originally uploaded by

I am getting the contact!

Harbour Seal

Originally uploaded by

Laika was standing on a rock when she crouched to beg for the ball to be thrown.

April 26, 2006

Structure and performance

A dog's weight to height ratio can be used as a measure of their athletic ability. You take their weight in pounds and divide by their height at the withers in inches. Metric Conversions The closer the figure to 1, the more athletic the dog's structure. A figure of 4 or more places the dog in the 'at risk' category for agility and other impact activities.

I think the important thing to take from the measurements is that if your dog is a breed that is tall and lightly built, it is going to be more athletic than one that is short with a heavy build, and is going to be able to maintain their performance for longer; and a lean dog will have an easier time in agility than an overweight dog.

Thommo is 2.9
Dusty is 2.0

Canine Fitness - Chris Zink

April 25, 2006


I'm used to Dusty scavenging along the beach, and usually call her back to a treat with a "Leave it!" command. But I was talking this morning and didn't notice what she was doing until I heard her whimpering and pawing at her mouth. She had picked up a piece of fish with two 3cm hooks in it. Luckily I was able to get it from her with no lasting ill effects - I have done lots of mouth looking with her from a pup, learning from my mistakes with Thommo.

Think of the laws, rules and regulations governing dog owners, and the general public who think they have the right to instruct us on them, and yet fishermen can use any area they like, and litter it with rotting bait, broken lines, discarded scales and innards and potentially dangerous hooks and sinkers. I'd rather step in some dog poo myself.

April 24, 2006

Agility in the park

We use skate parks and playground equipment to practice agility skills and build confidence. Under the Companion Anaimals Act dogs aren't actually allowed anywhere near children's playgrounds, so it's a matter of choosing our times when all the kids are in bed. Dusty enjoys it and will volunteer to climb the equipment if given the opportunity.

Obstacle performance times

In an analysis of obstacle performance times attributed to Kathy Keats, these times were given as what the average club performance should be to be competitive:
  • Dogwalk - Under 3.0 seconds for the average competitor.
  • Teeter (variance due to equipment) - Less than 2.0 is good for the average competitor.
  • A-frame - Less than 2.2 is good for the average competitor.
  • Weave poles (huge variance due to surface and spacing) - Average competitor is doing well to have 3.3 or less.

Something to aim for. Fastest times are 1 to 1.5 seconds less than this.

April 23, 2006

Training Plans

Jo Sermon has been reminding us of the importance of having training plans, so that we know just what, exactly, has been taught.

Melissa Alexander has usefully set out the steps in training various behaviours:


Cue: Initial cue - verbal "sit." Fully-shaped behavior will have a hand signal.

Description: On cue, Pax will drop into a competition-quality sit. Verbal will be used for non-competition situations, so a "sloppier" response is acceptable, though not encouraged.

  • Behavior specifics: Tucked, square.
  • Duration: Up to five minutes.
  • Distance: Respond to cue up to fifty feet away.
  • Latency: Immediate.
  • Position: Assume position from stand, down, or walk. Pax should not change his position
  • elative to me, except in specific situations where that is specifically trained. I should be able to be in any physical position.
  • Locations: Everywhere.
  • Distractions: Anything and everything. Especially distractions common in a dog show or performance environment. Must maintain the sit when being touched by strangers or sniffed by strange dogs.
  • Other: Must maintain even when I'm out of sight.

Training Plan: (Accomplish each level in multiple locations of gradually increasing distractions.)

  • Get the behavior.
  • Add the cue.
  • Shape for tucked.
  • Shaped for tucked and square.
  • Add the hand signal and proof.
  • Reduce latency.
  • Add duration of 15 seconds.
  • Add distance -- me leaving him while he maintains the sit - of 20 feet and out of sight.
  • Add distractions - holding sit while a ball (or bumper!) is thrown, while a dog or person walks past, while cars and other vehicles go by, when food is tossed, when a stranger comes up and touches him.
  • Increase duration.

April 22, 2006

Taj MuttHall Dog Diary

I found another Agility Blog "Finchester House's canines. Surviving and even thriving in dog agility. " Interesting reading, with detailed analyses of trial runs.

One point I picked up on was the writer's intention to work on "focus forward and head down in the weaves". We could do that with the clicker and thrown rewards.

Art Prints

Came across this wonderful Cattle Dog print - it could be Thommo and Dusty, right down to Dusty's right eye patch. Will add it to my list of birthday gifts for myself.

April 21, 2006

Agility Class

We really enjoyed class last night. Robyn had set up jumps, weavepoles with guides, and a short tunnel and directed us through sequences to practice left- and right-hand handling, changes of sides, and handler focus. The dogs enjoyed themselves - they had sufficient repetitions of a sequence to build confidence, and we worked on making it fast and fun. We did some releases from the table to build drive, and worked tunnel/weave sequences to practice happy weaves. Ray then took us for A-frame fun, where we concentrated on getting the dogs to come down the frame with their weight shifted to the rear. We didn't use our target, but Dusty was good at transferring her target behaviour to the frame, and waiting for her release to a thrown treat.

April 19, 2006

Nail File

Chatting about teaching the retrieve, someone reminded me of Shirley Chong's excellent instructions on using the clicker and back-chaining the parts of the exercise.

Looking around the The Well Mannered Dog site again I discovered a few personal 'keepers' including instructions for a Doggie Nail File that dogs can use to file their own nails. Dusty lets me do one foot without fuss, she then pulls away and I come back to another paw ten minutes later - but I have to have top treats. Thommo won't let me touch his feet at all anymore after a couple of injuries.

April 18, 2006

First birthday

Dusty turned one, and had a birthday cake to share with her herding buddies.

Birthday Cake

  • ground beef
  • oatmeal
  • beaten egg
  • minced garlic
  • chopped parsley
  • cottage cheese
  • cream cheese

Make a meatloaf from ground beef, oatmeal, egg, parsley and garlic, and bake in a two cake pans. Sandwich with low fat cottage cheese. Frost with low fat cream cheese.


The good Sisters of Saint Joseph did not teach me how to whistle, spit or swear. I have managed, over time to pick up the last two, but now need to whistle to direct Dusty at a distance.

I have seen people using the shepherd's whistle, but Connie Brannen's account - "I remember the first time I put a shepherd's whistle in my mouth--a silent little bubble dribbled out one side while my eyes nearly popped from the unreleased pressure behind the instrument." - makes me think I should try other methods first.

In The Other End of the Leash, Patricia McConnell says that universally people working with aninmals use a three-short-sounds call, so this has been our starting point. I've been practicing a three note whee, whee, whee as a recall. The Commander whistle people provide some useful sound files to copy.

Feed the Dog Meat.

Someone at the Working Dog Club recently put me onto Bucket O' Beef. It's been great for us. I order bones each week, and then if we're at home I'll get raw mince and add rice and veges, or if we are travelling I'll get the cooked buckets. It gets delivered to my door, convenient and cost effective.

April 17, 2006

Herding lessons

One of the humbling things about our herding classes is not what I don't know, so much as what I do know that I forget under the pressure of sheep, audience, enthusiastic dog ...

I know that the goal in training is not to control or coerce Dusty, but rather to help her learn to control herself. This is what I do in agility and obedience, but somehow in the sheep yard all I can think of is controlling her actions. In my defense I think it is a common beginner mistake to keep pressure on the dog , never giving him a chance to choose to do it right or do it wrong.

Robert's repeated instructions to me were aimed at getting me to put pressure on to correct her, and then immediately take pressure off the moment she responded. If she didn't need to be corrected then she was to be left alone.

As an illustration, in our first lesson he got me to stand at one end of the yard, and to just let Dusty bring the sheep down to me. I did find this hard, but every time I went to 'help' or 'correct' Robert would say "Stand on the chain!" and I'd go back to the dangling end of the gate chain. Left to her own devices, Dusty did very well. She brought the sheep down to us without fuss or bother. Robert pointed out that most of the fuss and bother was provided by me.

Herding Commands

We haven't taught many commands yet other than a whistle and 'Here' as a call to me, and a two hands raised and a 'Down' for a fast drop. Robert's method, which fits with clicker training theory, is that the dogs learn the behaviour before you name it. But for the future some typical herding commands are:
  • Away to me -- flank counterclockwise around the stock
  • Come bye -- flank clockwise around the stock
  • Lie Down -- Lie down or stop
  • Steady -- slow down
  • Walk up -- approach the stock
  • Look back -- turn around and go back for more stock behind you

I'm interested to see how many of these behaviours can be taught with the clicker away from the sheep. At the clinic on the weekend, Robert suggested that Dusty wouldn't have a drop yet, and for me to just go get her when we'd finished our turn. But I asked if we could try what we'd practiced in the park, and sure enough she had a great fast down.

Other herding terms

April 11, 2006

Handler moves session

We took four jumps to the park to practice some front crosses, but when I unpacked the bag one had a broken bracket. So I set up some three jump exercises, moving one jump to make angles more or less acute.

For Thommo I held his ball and tossed it for a lead change. With Dusty I lured with a treat hidden under my thumb for the first run, then tossed a treat container to tighten up the turns.

Play Fight

Green Eggs and Ham

One of the things I forget in training is to vary the circumstances. We train at home, in the park, at at training venues. But usually the circumstances are very similar.

Suzanne Clothier has an amusing reminder of the importance of varying the conditions:

I do not always heed commands
My dear but often silly man.
I might not sit if near a goat.
How could I lay down on a boat?
Perhaps I'd lay down in the house,
But not if I have seen a mouse.
Don't tell me "heel" when I've smelled fox
Or found the biscuits in the box.
I'd find it odd to hear words said
If you were standing on your head,
And wonder if "stay" means "do come here"
If you said it to me from a chair.
I cannot always just obey
Whatever silly words you say.
'Cause if I'm staring at the cat
I will not hear you - that is that!

We tend to see the verbal cue and/or hand signals as the cue for a behaviour, but our dogs may recognise other cues as being the important ones - body language, subtle movements, familiar settings ...

April 10, 2006

Obedience Trials

Dusty and I have started to go to obedience training at a local club. Most of the training is still done by jerk and shout methods, but there are a couple of instructors who offer 'motivational training' for small groups. Needless to say I knocked people over and trampled them when they asked for handlers who wanted to try positive methods.

We have enjoyed the couple of sessions we have had. The grounds are beautiful, and the weather has been marvellous. Dusty is in with the mainly six month puppies which she loves. I get asked why I didn't start her earlier, but the classes are large and there are lots of them so I though it was just too busy an environment for a young dog. Besides she was in class for show dog training and herding, and in the last few months agility.

Thommo got very bored with obedience, whenever he had the opportunity he would go hide under the car! So with Dusty I'm careful to mix it up. If she heels nicely then we have a game of tug. Our instructor is good at giving us all short turns and encouraging jackpotting or games between turns.

I've been using a variation of Alex Kurland's 300 peck system. One step in heel position / reward. Two steps / reward. Three steps /reward. Four steps / reward. Oops forging ahead. One step in position / reward. And then build back up again. This system can also be used for stays or any skill that requires duration.

We have been doing our homework. I've been working on the computer so it is good for us all for me to get up on the hour and do a minute or two training the dogs. But most of my classmates do little between weekly sessions. I'd find it very frustrating being a volunteer instructor for a club. I think I'd be giving detention.

The ANKC obedience trial rules will change in July. There is a new beginner's class Community Companion Dog Class so we might work towards that:

  1. Heel on Lead
  2. Stand for Examination on Lead
  3. Recall
  4. 1 minute Sit Stay
  5. 2 minute Down Stay

April 09, 2006

Swimming Fiend

After all my efforts to coax Dusty to swim, I am now expending an equal amount of energy stopping her from swimming. We were on our way to a dog show a couple of hours from home, so I stopped at a park just before the venue to let them stretch their legs. Dusty leaped straight into the storm water drain, and swam up and down while I waved treats onshore.

Luckily she is a cattledog, and grooming is not a huge task. A brisk application of a chamois and she was show ready. At shows I'm usually camped beside border collies, shelties, and the like and their owners are brushing and powdering in a flurry of activity while I read a book or teach Dusty a new trick.

Our pre-show grooming routine goes like this:
  • Brush with a rake to remove loose undercoat,
  • Bath a couple of days before the show with Fido's Shampoo and finish with Fido's Herbal Rinse,
  • Fluff dry the tail, let the coat dry naturally.
  • Rub through a tiny amount of Dog Polish, and brush.
  • Show day brush with bristle brush,
  • Slick with a chamois,
  • Polish nose and nails with Dog Polish.

Course Design

Computerless, I didn't have access to my Clean Run Course Designer. Some of the programs I have bought came with rights to load onto a second computer, but not CRCD. So I went searching for an easy to use program that was cheap or even free.

Flexitrack is a Swedish PC Windows application, and the only limitation on the freeware version is that you get a label on the page advertising Flexitrack. It had some neat features, and was easy to use. The Help actually helped, which is unusual in a computer program.

April 07, 2006

Stock Ramp

I'm back online!! Lots to catch up with as Dusty approaches her first birthday. Will post regularly over the next days/weeks with her progress in herding, agility, conformation and obedience.