January 30, 2007

Summer Camp Two

Our second Summer Camp with Canine Fun Sports dealt with skills to succeed in the Games that were introduced in ANKC Agility in 2006.

Summarised, we covered:
  1. Distance
  2. Discrimination
  3. Distractions
  4. Directions

January 24, 2007

Silvia Trkman

Negotiations are underway to bring Silvia Trkman to Australia. Often the promoters of agility seminars here ask you to sign up for a visiting instructor, without knowing more about them than what they have won.

Silvia Trkman has won plenty, but her website also tells us a lot about her training philosophy.

She says:

Many people ask why I don’t write a book… Here is your answer: because I can tell everything that I think is important for success in agility in 10 paragraphs:

  1. Develop a firm and trusting relationships with your dog .
  2. Properly condition your dog.
  3. Teach your dog tricks.
  4. Teach your dog obedience, obedience in high-drive of course.
  5. Boost your dog’s confidence.
  6. Don’t be afraid to do things your way.
  7. If something goes wrong, always remember it’s your fault, caused either by your training or your handling. That’s good to know since it gives you a power to fix it yourself too.
  8. Never forget that results don’t count.
  9. Dogs’ work best when they work for themselves.
  10. You want agility training tips? If you follow the advice from above, agility gets so easy that you don’t need those. Just go out and have fun with your dog!

The points are expanded on her website.

January 22, 2007

January 21, 2007

Calling all Pets

Calling All Pets on Wisconsin Public Radio features Patricia McConnell and co-host Larry Meiller providing "down-to-earth advice about pet problems, big and small, and fascinating information about wildlife, too."

Check the archives for a series of shows on "For The Love Of A Dog" discussing whether animals experience emotions just as we do, how to read a dog's facial expressions, and why we love our dogs so much.

January 20, 2007

Canine Campus Podcast

Canine Campus offers excellent audio 'lessons' from Deven Gaston, on dog training and behaviour modification. The most recent are reports from the US 2006 APDT conference, and include a geat summary of Patricia McConnell's biology of emotion in you and your dog.

Something to make productive use of those hours driving to your next trial?

For the Love of a Dog

For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend
Patricia B. McConnell Ph.D

McConnell presents a compelling combination of stories, science and practical advice to show how understanding emotions in both people and dogs can improve owners' relationships with their pets. This is more than a simple dog-training book: much of what McConnell discusses concerns how dog owners can learn 'the language' of dog by recognizing important signals and reading them correctly. She provides numerous helpful examples of how owners can observe dog behaviour, especially differences in posture and facial expressions, in order to help dogs be better behaved and help dog owners to be better handlers.

Dusty greets people she knows with bared teeth. Given that she is an Australian Cattle Dog, a breed given to biting first and asking questions later, this can be a bit disconcerting. My visitors anxiously asked “Is she going to bite me?” and all I could say in reassurance is “I don’t think so.”

McConnell describes her expression exactly in the section Smile for the Camera. Smiling dogs raise their upper lip vertically, wrinkling the skin of the muzzle and exposing the teeth. But the shiny, sharp teeth are accompanied by a relaxed body, a lowered head, friendly squinty eyes and a tail wag that starts at the shoulders.

She says that this is most likely the expression of a nervous dog anxious to please, and compares it to the grin of a teenager picking up his date for the first time.


I must admit to being caught out a number of times during Summer Camp by being asked to say, and then demonstrate, my cue for a particular behaviour. So:

Startline Procedure:
  • Position - lead Thommo with a hand touch as he doesn't like being man-handled, lift Dusty into place.
  • Stance - put Thommo in a stand, Dusty in a down. The cue means stand/down stay until released so no need for a wait.
  • Walkout - without looking back or repeating a command.
  • Take up position and look back.
  • Raise hand.
  • Say "Go!"
So now I actually have a procedure I can begin to train it. Better late than never I guess.

Release cue on contacts and table "OK"

Attention - "Tom" and "Duz"

Directionals - "left" "right" "out" "close"

Obstacles - "over" "through" "walkup" "teeter" though not routinely used.

Cues as Reinforcers

At Summer Camp we did some work on the timing of cues, which reminded me of the Karen Pryor article on the use of well timed cues as reinforcers in agility.

An agility run involves a long series of cues about where to go and what to do next. Some are physical cues—turns and moves by the handler— and some are verbal cues: “Tunnel!” “Weave!” “Left!” You have an opportunity to make each of those cues work in your favor by presenting it during (not after) some other behavior that you want to maintain or increase.

Of course if the dog doesn't know or understand the cue, it has no reinforcing ability. Cues have to be built carefully, consistently, and preferably off-course, so you as handler don't get fooled into assuming the dog knows what you mean.

The message is that you need to know what your cues are. Are you using moves? Fine, just use them consistently and also with appropriate timing, so you make use of their powers as reinforcers. Are you using both moves and verbals? Great, again as long as you know what the dog is really responding to and what is just superstitious behavior on your part.

Precision Steering

From Summer Camp with Canine Fun Sports

  • Use your arm to establish and maintain distance - arm out to the side, dog at a distance; arm beside the body, dog in close.
  • Use your finger to trace the dog's path, pointing at the specific point where you want your dog to be,
  • Keep your eye on your dog, maintain a connection between the two of you.
  • Use front and rear crosses strategically. Front crosses can tighten up turns, and speed up the dog. Your dog must be taught to allow you to cross behind.
  • Position yourself on the course to provide information about the direction of travel. eg Use the 'handling line' to do a front cross.

January 19, 2007


From Summer Camp with Canine Fun Sports:
Contact obstacle performance involves three separate activities: running across the obstacle, taking up the contact position, and releasing from the contact position.

Running the obstacle
When practising running the obstacle, the criteria are speed and confidence. Reinforce these with rewards.

Practice on planks, walls, and ramps away from the dog walk, scramble and seesaw to build confidence and speed.

Do not reward slow performance, even if the contact behaviour is correct. Start again and rev the dog up for faster performance.

Contact Position

Decide on a contact behaviour and train it well away from the obstacles. Start on the flat then use planks, ramps etc.

Reward the dog in position. But ask it to maintain position until released – the click/treat does not end the behaviour. Initially give the release immediately after the reward then build duration and add distractions.

After rewarding move behind the dog (before the end of the dog walk) so that as you release, you move forward past/with the dog.

Train independent performance from the beginning. Taking up the contact position should not be dependent on your position or on hand signals or body language.

The Release

Decide on a release word and use it consistently. Be careful not to combine it with a physical cue.

Practice the release with a target on the flat, and then on planks and ramps well away from the agility obstacles.

Release the dog with you moving in the direction of the next obstacle. Don’t release the dog with you standing still beside the contact zone.

Practice the release under a variety of conditions:

  • Release before you reach the dog.
  • Run past the dog and release.
  • Run past, stop and release.
  • Run past the next obstacle and release.

Thommo's collar

I now think the kids' new collars are the best thing since sliced bread.

I was downloading some photos from my camera, when Thommo starts nosing around in the waste paper basket tucked behind a cabinet. I called him out, but before he obeyed he got his collar caught on a door pull. He backs up fast, taking the cabinet with him, and leaving suspended in mid-air the processor, scanner, and camera. I throw my body in front of the cabinet, grabbing up the computer gear, and wedging the wheels with my bare toes - yelling "stand" with little effect.

Just before disaster struck, his quick release collar quick released.

Total damage - a broken lens filter, and a torn toe-nail.

January 07, 2007

Christmas Outfit -- Dusty

Dusty's new Rogz for Dogz outfit.

January 02, 2007

Christmas Outfit - Thommo

Thommo's new collar and lead are from Rogz for Dogz - from the Beach Bum range for large dogs, his pattern is Surf Saint Patch. The guys behind Rogz have a background in extreme sports and it shows in their great range of patterns and fun online catalogue. I found mine in the local PetBarn but they are available from a number on online stores in Aus.
Features I like include contoured plastic components for a comfortable fit, a breakaway clip for when the dogs are home alone is lockable for when you don't want it to suddenly come undone, a leash clip ring that is mounted in a way that limits strain on the clasp, and a reflective thread woven into the webbing.
Besides, as it says on the site, these outfits have some serious mojo.