Friday, October 13, 2017

Webinar wonder

I don't know if you have been inundated of late with webinar invitations but I have - if I wanted to learn about expensive programs to organize retreats, use funnels, use Pinterest, get in touch with my spiritual self, self publish a book or about a million other things there's a webinar for that! I've signed up for a couple that caught my interest - course building ones mostly (because - um educator here - you know) and have picked up a tip or two in the process. Many of them are VERY formulaic and  a couple of presenters pretty obviously have a lot less experience than me at  applying pedagogical principles. Le. Sigh.

Some have been pretty good. If I walk away with two or three applicable things I am thrilled, if I get a solid reminder of things I already practice and feel validated that's great. Always in these webinars I end up feeling a little badly because the whole point of the webinar is to SELL some lovely sounding, very pretty program for a lot more money than I have for discretionary things right now(anybody want to trade vet bills?). So while I might covet the program and appreciate the pitch I have to be satisfied with the pearls.

Then what do you know? I get invited to present a webinar for FDSA. Not to sell anything but to teach stuff - right up my alley eh?

How cool.   You can sign up right here! But you have to promise to both say hi if you attend and to let me know either what you liked best or how make it better after you watch it. Deal?

How terrifying. But wait, I love workshops and doing keynote addresses. Media is one of my things. As long as the internet cooperates I've got this. So I say YES. Firmly and clearly and get given a date (October 19, 2017)  and we ask the FDSA students to choose between 3 topics - all get lots of votes so I decide to start with number one on the list. R+ for humans  - so MUCH FUN!

(and so important)

I've got the slide deck ready to go. It's a pretty wide ranging webinar - think of it as a keynote address rather than an intense workshop which looks at dreams, planning, goal setting, motivation, record keeping and ends with working together  on tools to help you!  It isn't the same as any class I've taught but it's true to my take on all this head stuff. Don't expect a cure all ills magic wand waving by self help guru tirade. You are way more likely to hear my self help rant and yet come away feeling empowered with a strategy to help you move forward.

I am probably most excited to introduce my way of considering and using process, learning, performance and outcome in a way that's clear and understandable (or you can ask questions RIGHT THERE  - LIVE ... OMG what have I agreed to?) I'm not talking much at all about some of the things people probably expect me too - brain research, gratitude, personality types - they might come up - in fact I hope they do-  but it'll be because of questions not because of inclusion in the webinar slides. I've worked in question time at different stages and will be asking questions for people who show up to think about (because - um - ME) One of the things I like most about my presentation is it's relevant to everyone - at home trainers, instructors,  scent, agility, barn hunt, coursing, conformation ...  no matter what role dogs play in your life and what role you want them to play it's got something for you. It just occurred to me the framework could easily be applied to horse sports too..  It's not just for nervous people or world class competitors - whatever your jam there's a pearl or six in there just for you!

So, being me, and a life long learner and all I've been attending the FDSA webinars as I  am able. They have been great. informative, interesting, enriching and engaging.  The price point is right ($19.95 USD) and the access to them is for a full year and extended from the time of the last webinar you sign up for. You have to sign up  before the webinar no matter when you intend to watch it but you don't have to watch it live to get access.  There are some great ones coming up (dare I say including mine? ohh that little Imposter Syndrome Gnome raises his head - I'll stare him down this time) .

October 19th - 9 pm EST  I really do hope you can join me live, but even if you can't I''d love to share my info with you, Sign up, Invest in yourself just this once!

Monday, September 04, 2017

Dog Training Task Cards - the first three decks are ready!

Does motivation get you down?
Just run out of steam part way through a training session?
Not sure how to start a session? 
Stuck for new ideas?

Well well - help is at hand!

Not sure what to do with  the classes you teach?  Trying to figure out how to help students do better?

Dog training task cards to the rescue!

Three editions are ready to roll out: Play (pictured above) Foundations  and Scent/Nose work. There's a deal for buying all three too!

Put the fun and spontaneity back in training -- get some help getting off the couch and playing with your dog 

Deck Choice

Motivation has three key components and dog training task cards can help you with each step 

Direction - use task cards to get you up and taking action - you can set your goal in terms of doing "at least 2 random cards' and see where it takes you 

Intensity -- use the cards to build a warm up or cool down component to your training ... or to give you a fun mid week routine to play with 

Persistence - you've run out of steam and can't think of what to do? Grab your deck of cards and take action! Use your deck once or twice a week to keep yourself moving  forward. 

Break free of training ruts ...  put together a  custom plan that suits your needs and training level - there is flexibility built right into the cards so you can take a step back or challenge yourself with ease

The cards are in an electronic book -  4 cards per page and black and white to make printing easy - print them, out - laminate them or print them on card stock  and put them on a ring if it suits you! 

Each deck has 32 cards  most of which will lend themselves to adaptions and tweaks - so it's well over 50 activities per deck!  Three decks are ready now   More (rally, barn hunt, sports foundation and agility) are in the works already and there have been some inquiries about more advanced decks too ...  

Foundation Training 
32 activities that will tighten up your training and let you focus on performance not planning.

Scent Work 
32 activities that take the thinking out of setting hides and challenges to make nosework training easier on your own (or with a non dog helper who can set some hides for you!) 

and a Play Book! 
32 cards to help to choose a way to play or a play activity to add to your training plan. Food, personal and toy suggestions are all covered. Up your play game having fun with the deck.

You should get one. Maybe you should get all three ... did I say there's a deal on three ;)

Deck Choice

Friday, August 11, 2017

Old Dogs

This Old Dog

Heart ache entered on soft paws  
Cold nose, kisses, wagging tail,
Ever so worth it 

A, Harrison

Measuring Up 

A third of my life, 
A moment in time.
Seventeen years 
A heartbeat at my feet. 

Fame, and glory
Car rides and trials
Walks in fields

My rockstar

is gone

Nothing is left to measure. 

A, Harrison

"It's just a dog" they said 
"He lived a good life" they said/ 
"Good thing you have other dogs" they said. 
"He was really old" they said. 
"You were lucky" they said. 

They can't begin to know.

A, Harrison

and the Auden poem comes to mind as well 

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

How will you know ....

One of the questions I am often asked is in regards to euthanasia, and that is "how will I know the time is right?"  and honestly, even with years of experience and many many euthanasias under my belt, my most honest answer would be "you won't".

That's not to say you won't have some pretty key indicators that will work for you and your animal partner ...  things like

degree of pain,
awareness of surroundings,
pleasure in the environment,
your ability to cope with increasing needs.. all of those things will contribute  to your decision of course but there is no piece of paper that suddenly appears to say TODAY. is IT.

Ideally our animals, and human, companions will pass away peacefully at home with no assistance beyond pain relief but I have to be honest and tell you that I only have that experience once with Dumont, I  wish it every time but it's not the way the cookie crumbles around here, and it's really not a reasonable expectation either. We can be kinder and more compassionate to our animal family than our human family in most parts of the world and while that is a heavy burden to bear it's an important one to stare in the face occasionally.

What do I mean by that? I mean think it through. Where are your lines? Knowing ahead of time helps. (Only a little but any bit of help is a good thing).

  • If a dog can't get to bed or out to the garden what accommodations can you make?
  • If a dog spends long hours with their head pressed on a wall is that acceptable?
  • What can you afford? Both financially and emotionally? You absolutely need to identify these things. 
  • If your dog falls over occasionally are you ok with righting them, steadying them and repeating again and again through the day?
  • If kibble no longer is tasty is there quality of life with tempting daily and possibly force feeding or doing fluid therapy?

Only you know your own answers  and to be completely frank what is acceptable for one dog may impinge greatly on quality of life for another even in the same home. Brody was a goer and doer, if he fell over he stared at me til I righted him and then trucked on again. I can't imagine Thea thinking that was at all acceptable. But she has needed to be tempted to eat off and on her whole life. Brody never once turned down a good meal.

I always thought Brody would tell me he was ready by not eating but he ate, and ate, and ate right up to his last hour here. Instead he told me very clearly he had had enough of hurting. His pain meds weren't enough and his mobility was decreasing by the minute. He started to lose feeling or strength in one front leg as well as his back end and I knew. I heard myself sharing a piece of wisdom I heard long ago "it's better three days too early than one hour too late" and I knew - deeply and viscerally.

I called my most amazing vet clinic who found me an appointment 3 hours later and I said. Um. Stephanie heard my um and said "come now'. I will be forever grateful.  Everything was ready - I walked in holding him close and he, the dog who hated grooming allowed his leg to be shaved, we made no effort to insert a catheter, no effort to tranq him ... he was ready and he was gone as the euthanol hit his system. My best vet, My best tech, Me. Brody. Tom and the amazing staff on standby and close at hand. I've had lots of experience with death and this was truly a "good death" it was quick, it brought comfort.

I am bereft. My heartbeat at my feet is missing. Tom and I have lived with Brody more than half our life together. Life will never be the same.

Yet, still, somehow even today,  I would choose this pain over not having loved and known and cherished our little devil dog. The doors he opened for me, the things he taught me, I will be forever grateful.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Make it So ... living a positive life with dogs

Dogs here live a life of  agency  but sometimes being their doggy selves has to be put on hold and they NEED to conform to expectations.

There are plenty of instances you might think compliance was critical but it isn't  ...

Sam leaping through a guest's open car window to look for a wrapper? Not a big deal.  We tell people to roll up windows and give them the reason.  If they don't believe us and a large golden leaps through their truck window - so be it.

Thea insisting on lying on a big dog bed so a big dog has to find another spot? Big whoop.

but then there are those other times ....

Like the  times enumerated in this blog that Brody has been unhappy to be groomed or when Sally slinks away from a painful eye treatment  or won't  take a pill no matter the  inducement. (you might know how much I dislike the word try  - yet here it fits!)  If Dora has to suffer a nail trim (we are still working on confident nail trims - never have I had a dog so slow to accept this!)  Maybe it's  when Sam is offended and barking at the horses because they might steal his stick ... Or, or, or .....  you get the drift .. the  perfect dogs aren't always perfect as shocking as that is.

These moments happen in life, no matter who your dog is, what your bar is (some people could  live with some of the things I feel are essential to work through - and others probably have a much longer list of problematic behaviours)  and no matter how you train.

But I take comfort from being a positive force-free trainer... so my thinking has to be adaptive, and flexible. The same answer will not work on a soft scared dog as on a dog determined to have agency over whatever. Yelling and screaming are out ... as are striking the dog - I'd like to say obviously ... but there are days  that my old nemesis of a hot temper flares deep in my core and I need to stop and breathe for a second or twenty. Then I think and problem solve.

The solution varies and sadly is not always immediately offering the behaviour I want in the way I want.

Brody sometimes simply needs to be held fairly firmly to get groomed. He gets treats and short sessions and all the "right" things but sometimes I have to hold him pretty firmly to trim around his eyes.  Sally sometimes is forced to take a pill - I smear peanut butter on the roof of her mouth let her work it for a second then pop the pill in her mouth  hold her jaw shut and smooth her throat. Dora gets kid  glove treatment .. dogs are cleared (she will redirect frustration on occasion) and I trim nails ... not all of them but more than one ... big meanie that I am. When Sam is leaping around  the horses and yelling I walk up to him, ask him to stop and if he can't I  snap a leash on him and lead him away. I don't reward him by luring him with a toy or food, nor do I get angry. But I certainly don't allow this unsafe behaviour (for both horse and dog) continue.

None of these things happen often. But they do happen.

Finding the balance point between positive and permissive is not easy, It's personal. But it's important.  I am a positive trainer. I work hard to stay a positive trainer. With foresight and planning there are times I will make a management choice that gets something essential accomplished. I think about it hard, plan it carefully and then implement it - along with a training plan to remedy what I can.

(and in the midst of a dog fight, animal attack or any other such thing  all bets are off the table - control the anger if you can - but do what you must to end the situation and keep yourself and the animals safe!)

Monday, July 17, 2017

the Mad Hatter Podcasts

yep -  I did TWO podcast interviews in relatively short order ...

and then started this post - and left it sitting in draft form way too long ...

the first podcast was Hannah Branigan's:  Drinking from the Toilet  (yes THAT Hannah Branigan!). Probably the best name ever for a podcast about dog stuff eh? It was a riot - Hannah wants a sitting around the dining room table tone for the conversations so she didn't share the questions ahead of time although we did bounce around some different topics to discuss. We covered a whole lot of stuff - and we laughed and talked over each other some. Whoops!  But there is a wide range of material in it - and I really appreciated the opportunity to talk to Hannah (we had NEVER spoken to each other before the podcast - which truth be told made us both a little nervous to start.)

Podcast link - HERE ... but I had to share the cover too - Hannah picked that lovely Len Sylvester Photo with no prompting from me at all <3 nbsp="" p="">

Give it a listen and tell me what you think!

Then the lovely Melissa Breau  interviewed me for the FDSA podcast. More fun was had, by me anyhow, and Melissa didn't have to work too too hard on the editing board.

We talked a lot about the human half of the team. In any sport - not just agility.
You can listen to that podcast HERE ... or read the transcript if you prefer - warning - I say "right" a LOT!

I have no idea of the reach of either podcast - and to be honest I don't much care - if I was able to give one person an idea to test that will help them be the best partner they can be for their dogs I am happy.  I suspect I might have given a few more than two people some ideas though!

Give em a listen ... tell me what you think - help me do a better job if I get another invite ever!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Does your dog lie? What to do if they do!

What a tangled web we weave ourselves sometimes ...  becoming the best partnership possible involves a whole lot of flexibility,  thinking, learning and planning ... as well as the recognition that  things aren't always going to go perfectly. Sigh.

photo credit Len Sylvester 

Do dogs lie?
Dogs  may ignore what we KNOW they know ... ("I can't hear you"   at the dog park comes to mind)  but they don't , maliciously or  hatefully set out to lie to humans. That said, there is some pretty good evidence dogs can be deceptive. On purpose.  This flies in the face of my beliefs generally and strikes me as pretty anthropomorphic but  some evidence suggests I am wrong about canine honesty. There was a study that determined that dogs could protect their own interest by choice (they got to choose which food to take a human partner to  - that partner then (predictably to the dog) either kept the food, shared the food or with their own companion gave the dog all the food). The dogs choose which box to take which partner to carefully,  suggesting they can be deceptive to protect their own interests.. Anecdotally I  know am not the only person to live in a multi dog house where one dog is very good at distracting another away from a chew or bone. " Woof Woof - who is at the door??"  and then a sucker grab of a coveted item. Many of us may realize that our dogs will only take "forbidden" objects when we can't see them do so.  There was another study about  this which further illustrated that dogs understand humans can't see well in the dark.

The very definition of "lie" in the context we are discussing is to purposefully deceive. So if one is to believe the studies, and come on, SCIENCE ... why yes, in certain circumstances and for specific reasons (to get that awesome primary reinforcement of  FOOD) it appears dogs can, and do choose to deceive  us.

BUT .... when you *think* your dog has lied to you about a training or trialing (or filming as illustrated here!) problem  evaluate your position on this thought. The word lie has negative associations for humans and connotes a deliberation in intention that  may not be true to training or competing. The pejorative feelings the term evokes may also be unhelpful for problem solving. Anger is rarely  never a constructive solution (and to know me is to know how rarely I am that absolute)   What other words might fit the situation you are characterizing as deliberate obfuscation (fancy word eh?)?

This is an instance that applying some, or all, of the W's of journalism to process events will keep your thinking moving forward instead of spinning down a rabbit hole. Applying this framework and working through these reflective  questions will help you decide why your canine made the choices they did and determine what your part in the issue was as well as give yourself some answers to apply to a plan to move forward in the future.

Obviously we aren't story telling to ourselves , or anyone else applying this technique but it can be a helpful (and easy to remember way) to hunt for information. Often to reduce our stress and anxiety when things go wrong it can be helpful to have an easy framework to process the events. This framework is useful for instances of communication breakdown between dog and human - including "lies".

Let's look at each of the Ws and that final  H to determine how to best use them in this context.

Who matters in this situation? (free pass to working on this answer - you, your dog - you as a team - those are the answers to this one!). It's important to start here though as that reflection will ground you and remind you why you are taking the time to do this even if all you want to do is cry in your car.

What happened?  (Who misread who? What factors influenced the events of the "lie"?)  If you have video watch it carefully. If you have a friend or coach who saw it ask them what they saw. Brody once ran under an aframe instead of doing a tunnel. I was shocked, and pretty confused. I left the ring and thought hard about what part of the course he did that on and exactly what had happened. I walked back onto the course and felt the sand with my hand. It was burning hot.  I had asked him to run on  boiling sand surface and not realized. By looking hard at what happened I was able to understand why is happened. (not to get ahead of our list here) 

Brody  literally made so few mistakes on course I remember them to this day. 

Where did you first get confused? By delving into this W some unexpected answers about what caused the miscommunication to occur.may become apparent.

When did you believe the 'lie"? This matters more than you may think. I was watching a friends Nosework  trial video and  with hindsight being 20/20 her dog stopped and really was interested in the hide but then moved on and spent much the same amount of time with a similar indication on a drooly spot on a different car. Sigh. The handler believed the misinformation over the right answer  perhaps because  time was ticking? They'd moved around the whole site? The dog's style was similar to the alert? She felt badly and was wondering if she'd already missed it? I haven't asked  how committed to believing the last indication she was ... but it might make a big difference to choices she'll make going forward.

Why did it happen? What has happened in the past? Does false information end the potentially stressful search? Were you stressed and anxious?  Was your dog hot and unable to perform normally? Were environmental conditions confusing in some way? Spend awhile working on this question because it's where a plan for addressing moments like this will come from in the future.

which segues very nicely into

How are you going to use this information to become a better team?  The learning in a "lie" matters. Your canine partner is not doing anything other than sharing information. Stress (for either or both or you) , a gap in training, an off day or a simple error can all create results we don't want. This framework will assist you in your quest to be the best team you can be - even in the face of adversity.

Use the framework to decide what to test to reduce the "lies". A plan for stress reduction? More training in a skill? More generalizing and proofing? Application of these questions and reflection on the answers  will help you decide what to test and change first. This technique is easy to test, and can lead to greater clarity (and therefore results!)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sometimes you just have to: Why Videoing Yourself is Hard (and what you can do about it!)

So, in one of those synchronicities of life in the last 24 hours I have been asked not once, not twice but FOUR times about the need to video oneself. Many people hate it. And I get it. On every level.

Way back before camera phones even existed I had a university assignment that involved videoing myself. I refused to do it. The prof, saint that he was, worked so hard to accommodate me. I worked so hard to stymie him. Don't film your face he offered. I said no. Think of a creative way to share your info that doesn't involve your voice he finally offered. I don't remember how we finally came to terms but I know part of the filming involved me writing on a blackboard before the camera was turned on and me holding paper with printing on it up. Sigh. I was supportive, constructive and happy to watch my peers work. I even recall thinking it was a great activity for everybody else.

Fast forward about 4 years and I was organizing a walk a thon. I got invited to speak in our local TV show,  Breakfast TV. I said maybe and lined up a partner to take on the show to do the talking part. I figured I'd do animal wrangling (cute animals would get attention in all the shots of me that way) and my buddy would talk. Um. No. They'd only let one of us on and I was the animal savvy one who would keep cats and dogs where they belonged. Thrown in the deep end I would have been quite happy had we experienced a national power failure. The event and the animals mattered enough that I did the show. Survived. Got compliments from the lovely host of the show. Adopted the animals I had shown and the walk was a success. Sigh. I did that show and others many many many times, and while I never loved it the pain was worth it by the end. I recently did two podcasts and loved doing them ... but had that old familiar sense of dread when I realized I had said "yes" not "no".

A long winded way to explain that not only do I hear the concern about video but in my own unique way I totally understand it. So, that said, how can you work through your TOTALLY legitimate concern?

Break it down my friends - break it down. "But HOW?" I hear you lament.

Think about why you are resistant.
Are you worried about your body image? Your voice? The mess in the background?  Being interrupted mid  taping? (check each of those for me - especially the second!)  Identifying why you are worried will  give you a chance to address those concerns in a way that works for you.  It will also let you decide if you might want to throw things in a box, or set the camera on an angle to minimize what people see.

Decide why you want to video at all.
Is it to improve your training? Watch for a particular behaviour?  Measure your own handling?  Record keep so you can see gaps and improvement? Take an online class and get the most salient feedback for your situation possible? Create lovely memories that you can cherish?

Perhaps revisiting your reasons - YOUR reasons  that is - not the should be your reasons - will help you decide the pain of videoing and working through your angst is worth it. It's quite possible that the reason you THINK you want to video is not a sufficient motivator for you - looking for all the reasons video is good for you in your situation may help motivate you.

Plan for your comfort and success.

(this sounds a bit like a plan for training  your dog eh?) 

Do some videoing  - use whatever  tips and thoughts below will help you take action.

Start Small ... pick something you like doing, or are curious to see, and video JUST one minute or less  of it.

Ground yourself before you begin  Do a breathing sequence, or a roots to the ground physical grounding, meditate, or stretch. Prepare your body for what's to come.

Organize your thoughts ... know what props you want and what you want to film.  10 seconds of planning can make a huge difference to your video.

Test your set up. Run film of the space you are using and see what the boundaries are - perhaps put cones or other markers in place so you can see what the camera will catch. You might want to deliberately focus on your dog - cutting off your head is fine if the resulting video suits your purposes!

Admit your concerns to the people who support you  Maybe one of them will volunteer to film for you or lend you a camera ... or simply watch the video and point out the good things instead of every little blip you may find yourself obsessing about.

and hot on the heels of above - Ask for help - if you aren't sure what to film, or how to film or anything else use your supports to find the answers. Google is how I figured out editing in iMovie.

Build from success. Sure the point for you may be to show an instructor your struggles and get feedback but start with something you like, that gives you pleasure.  Create a memory video - or celebrate a success.

Fake it til you make it ... yup - put on your acting hat and do your thing. Pretend to be a trainer you admire (I can give you a long list of names if you want!) pretend to be confident and loving it. Smile and your brain will believe you!

(yes I hate this video, Yes I share it because I hate it so. The things I do for you) 

Remember you control this - you can ALWAYS turn off the camera, change an angle, erase a video instead of showing or even viewing it. You are your own boss here.

Take your time ... there is a way to edit every movie - in iMovie, movie maker or even as you upload to YouTube ... so set yourself up to catch what you want - you can edit the pause at the beginning and the wander at the end

This is getting long ... so I am going to wrap it up but I suspect there will be questions  - feel free to ask me ... and perhaps the answers will appear in part two or three!!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Why foundations in dog sports matter ....

(sorry for the gap in blogs - June was crazy busy here ... sigh  I anticipate being back to twice monthly posting!) 

"Start them right", "Make sure you do your foundation work", "Build those blocks" are the types of things you may have heard when thinking about  foundation work for dogs.

BUT WHY? Why is it important to invest time, learning, and energy (sometimes oh SO MUCH energy) in foundation work?

It would be easy to be trite and say something along the lines of foundations lay the ground work on which all other work is born. And while that is correct it is not complete. Foundations do so much more than train your dog.

Of course foundation work teaches your dog building block skills. It's about  building those basic skills you will revisit again and again and again as you layer them into whatever sport you want to play. Pick an example - any example will do but let's look at crating just for fun. By building the skill of your dog happily being able to be in a crate  you may have beginning of stay (a la Susan Garret), a way to safely and comfortably confine your dog in a car on a warm day (in the shade, under supervision, with water - yadda yadda ). You may be building skills for confinement in case of injury, or wild small children house guests  or any number of other possibilities. Happy crating is great foundation skill not just for dog sports but for life itself !

Foundation work  helps your dog's condition by laying the ground work for building correct muscles, and condition.  I  don't mean starting puppies on equipment or even doing  whole lot with them ... but basic walking, climbing on, over and through things and learning to control their bodies  allows condition to be built slowly with dogs learning about their own bodies.

 Foundation work builds relationship  through early games, play and training you get the best opportunity to experiment. See what works for your dog, for you, and decide how to combine those two sometimes disparate points of view.  Consider, if you will. the skill of your dog  playing with toys, you and food. A dog's ability to play with whatever you are able to offer in any given moment creates  a way to appreciate each other and to reward great work. The act of building these varied skills through many different games and opportunities will help establish relationship and strengthen your bond.

Taking the time to do things right from the start is frustrating. It feels pointless - what if you don't WANT to show in dog sports at the end of the day? You'll never get the time back that you invest in lovely heeling, or great independent weaves, or staying at source  - BUT. and it's a big but - it's WAY easier to take the time to teach something right than to try to reteach it. Brody's weaves are my  most often referred to example of this. Brody weaved quite well. As long as I was on his right side and right beside him as he did his thing. I never knew there was any reason he should weave alone when I started teaching him and by the time I realized it would make both our lives easier he had hundreds of weaves under his collar done just the way he liked them. Sigh.

Rushing things, skipping steps are not doing yourself or your dog any favours in the long term.
Slow down. Think. Plan. Then Do.

Put another brick in the wall. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Whispers in the Wind

FDSA has a saying "be the ripple"  it's right on the banner for the school.

 I have to tell you the students blow me away with the way they keep right on rippling and whispering and shouting from the tree tops. (The instructors are a pretty incredible group too rippling away; I am always humbled by my inclusion in that group).

I pretty actively promote good self care - I have truly come to believe that without self care you have nothing ..your well will run dry and so will your energy and spirit. So when students are having a tough time they KNOW they will hear - what have you done for you today?

Maybe it was doing laundry, maybe it was walking the dogs. Lunch with a friend, tears with family no matter what  - there should be something. I don't know what the answer will be but I push (sometimes pretty hard) for there to be something for you when things are hard.

One of my wonderful students decided that 10 minutes was all she could do - and it would work best for her to carve it out of a work break  so Self Care 10 was born.  The idea of just 10 minutes a day for HER. Listen to something, read something, watch something, put her head down and shut her eyes  - it didn't matter WHAT, just that it was.

Then she got "caught" at work and her boss asked her what she was doing. Bravely she explained Self Care 10 and discovered her boss loved it. And borrowed the idea!
Talk about a whisper ... what an awesome thing eh?

Ever grateful, ever awed by the amazing people I get to work with.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Play is Life

Or is Life Play? That sounds sweet eh? But the reality is play is not easy or intuitive for every one.
The very definition of play includes the pursuit and attainment of fun  but there are plenty of instances when play is only fun for one participant.

Elements of play include:
  • anticipation
  • surprise
  • pleasure
  • understanding 
  • strength 
  • poise 

Each element relates to the others and can  move "the game" forward as this neat little graphic from The Strong illustrates so well.

Play has  many emotional, social and physical benefits. Canines and humans alike feel better after a game, we are better able to interact with others through play and our bodies appreciate the physicality of play. Mental challenges enrich us both as well - and can tire us out. Mutual play can be wonderful. It can also be hard work - as we learn each others rules, preferences and develop the ability to balance together in an harmonious dance of joy. An oft held belief is that humans are the "only" species that plays as adults. The dogs, horses, cats and parrots here all beg to differ. The amount of play and the purpose of play evolves as we (all!)  age and change no doubt but play is a valid and important use of time through life.

Play can be personal and individual ,,, as Sampson so ably demonstrates when he grabs a stick on the lawn or this crow does

Play can be group

and it can cross species too.

Play is a demonstrably important aspect of  learning for many species. Predators learn to hunt through play, horses learn social manners through play, and children develop all kinds of skills through games, Birds learn skills including their song through imitation and play. Creativity, ingenuity and critical thinking are all enhanced by play.

Sadly, life tends to choke some of the fun out of play as we grow. Play isn't equally easy for all children nor all adults. (Nor for that matter all horses or dogs - the two non human species whose play I have observed and worked with).   But, and this is a critical concept .... play is a skill. Yes there is an element of art to it -  intuition and guessing can work well in play - but there are actual definable skills that can be applied to principles of play. Play can be learned. Play can be taught.

Learning appropriate play is as important for young humans as young dogs. Revisiting basic play principles and learning to work together is one of the fundamental key concepts embedded through the classes at Fenzi Dog Sport Academy, Courses with names like Obedience Games, Heeling Games, Relationship through Play, Focus Games, Training with Remote Reinforcement, and so on fill the list of course offerings. Many, if not all, of the amazing instructors use play as a tool to help build relationship and mutual appreciation of the work of a given dog human team.

                             (my magic wand is STILL out for repairs - much to my chagrin!) 

This term alone (classes start June 1) there is a Toy Class,  Cookie Jar Games and my newest general offering Don't Worry: Be Happy which looks very hard at the human side of play.  It builds human play skills (which will enhance dog play skills too - have no doubt of that)  by breaking down what play is for humans, why it matters and further considers strategies to enhance play skills for people. Toy, personal and food play will all be assessed particularly in light of individual team differences. When, why and how to use play and when to call it quits with grace are also topics. I'm looking forward to taking my personal love of play and my drama teacher training and applying it to play in an online class.

There is room in gold, and there is always room in bronze.Registration is open so if you want to explore, enrich and understand play better you might want to sign up!

I have blogged about play a great deal over the years ... the word "play" in search pulls up over 6 pages of posts ... the posts range widely but cover all kinds of divergent and dog focused thoughts. 

Saturday, April 08, 2017

The Mad Hatter Learns Stuff

and so will you ... I asked a genius I know to explain the differences and similarities between barn hunt and scent work ... believing as I do that the person and dog in any sport have a relationship - both contribute and both are vital to success ... I wanted to know if she felt the same way ... 
She, Sheila, was kind enough to write a guest blog post on the subject! Enjoy - I know I did ... 

How is a raven like a writing desk?  Technically speaking this riddle has no answer – famously from Lewis Carroll’s Adventures in Wonderland, it is steeped in crazy nonsensical logic.
Alice ends up at a tea party at which one of the arguably craziest characters, the Mad Hatter, asks her this now famous question…
When Alice asks him how, he admits that he does not know – he was just asking.
This is how I felt when Andrea asked me “how is barn hunt like nosework?”  Indeed, I wanted to respond with the same chiding remarks as Alice gives the Mad Hatter: “I think you might do something better with the time than wasting it in asking riddles that have no answers.”
Knowing Andrea and her Mad-Hatter-ness, I knew she wouldn’t accept such a simple answer to her query.  (Sheila should know how simple, and lazy, I am!)

I have been involved in both sports – Barn Hunt and Nosework (or Sport Detection) – since both were first introduced to Canada.  I had the privilege of being involved in some of the first trials in each sport in the country, and work with some of the best trainers and judges in both sports.  My herdy mix was one of the first titled nosework dogs in Canada, and my terrier mix is the top Barn Hunt mixed breed dog in Canada.

Both sports are similar beasts for sure.  In Barn Hunt, the dog runs naked in a course of hay bales and must find a certain number of rats, complete a tunnel, and climb within a set time.  In nosework, dogs must find a certain number of hidden essential oils and alert within a set time.
The two sports can benefit each other heavily – often I encourage my barn hunt students with specific issues (and no access to rats) to try nosework.  I equally encourage my nosework students to branch out into barn hunt!  They are complementary.  

You certainly can’t have Barn Hunt without nosework.  To be successful in barn hunt (as my scruffy partner and I have had the pleasure of doing) you really benefit from a strong bearing in scent theory and dog behaviour around scent.  Barn Hunt is also a sport which relies heavily on those two factors that Andrea drilled into my head as a student – timing and reward placement. 

Barn Hunt is also a sport where you need to delicately balance your drive and energy level as a team – screaming at a high prey drive dog to GETITGETITGETIT is going to send them over the top.  Standing in the corner with a solemn and distracted worker is going to get you timed out.  I am not sure who first introduced me to this concept of balance (it was likely Andrea – take classes from Andrea, is the lesson of this post), but it is essentially this:  Rank your dogs energy level (when hunting/searching) on a scale from one to ten.  Your job, as an effective partner, is to ensure that when you add your dogs number with yours the total equals 11.  So my terrier works rats at about an 8-9.  I walk around the course following him, watching him, but unless he has missed an area of the course or I see something I want him to check, I rarely speak to him (other than our party at the end).  I have to keep myself at a 2.  My puppy is a little unsure in the ring so I cheerlead her more – praising her for checking areas and doing obstacles.  This is a skill that was also engrained to me in nosework training.

When I started doing Barn Hunt the sport was trained primarily as a drive / instinct based sport.  Essentially, throw the rat in front of the dog.  If they go nuts – terrific!  You get to play.  If they don’t – wave the rat in their face.  Still no reaction?  Maybe this sport isn’t for you.  Fortunately for me in those early days of training my dog was one of the naturals.  My herding mix played nosework for years, and it is truly one of his favourite games.  I threw him in a Barn Hunt ring “just to see what happened” and, based on our training in nosework, when faced with containers in which only one is different (in this case, had a rat), he did his formal alert on that container/tube.  I was surprised, but not shocked considering how similar I considered the two sports.

Fortunately there are a lot of trainers now teaching the sport with the same methods of nosework – target to scent, commitment to odour, methodical searching.  This is great for opening the sports to dogs without natural prey drive.  And in my experience many of the dogs trained with these methods are more methodical and do not face some of the struggles as the high drive dogs (especially when facing distraction tubes).  You can listen to a fantastic podcast between renowned Barn Hunt judge Liz Carter and  nosework instructor Stacey Barnett and their thoughts on this topic (which are similar to my own) here:

REALLY, one major difference between the two sports are that Barn Hunt uses live rats rather than essential oil.  (If you are concerned about rat safety, there are manymanymany things written on this topic – I assure you the rats are well loved, cared for, and protected as central to the sport – I wont go into it here but am happy to answer questions or concerns).  The use of live quarry isn’t important in the base terms of “ find target scent, alert!” however, Barn Hunt adds the challenge of distinguishing between live rat + bedding and just bedding – so the dog must distinguish rat smell vs live rat smell.  This is a challenge that is not thrown at beginner nosework competitors.  It would be akin to distinguishing between week-aged scent and fresh scent.  Possible, for sure, but difficult.

Indeed, distractions are all over the place for the novice barn hunt dog.  In addition to dirty bedding tubes, the dogs must ignore whatever scents are present in the bales and ring.  Unlike nosework, it is nearly impossible to keep a Barn Hunt ring completely sanitary of distracting odours. When I started training nosework it was drilled into us to use gloves and never contaminate anything ever.  In barn hunt you are using bales – that possibly were pulled from storage where they were lived in by mice and cats and goats and whatever other animals inhabit a working farm.   Perhaps the farm dog marked every single bale.  Maybe mice were running tunnels through them (this has happened in trials).  Who knows how many humans or animals touched them.  The tubes move all over the course throughout a trial so there is residual odour everywhere.  Etcetera.  Your dog must ignore all of these distraction scents and only hit on live rat.  Impressive skills when you think of it that way, eh?

Barn Hunt has truly changed my perception on keeping scent areas sanitary and about how many distractions dogs can deal with. And how soon.  It really brings home that “beef stew” theory of how dogs smell (you smell stew, they smell beef and carrots and onions and garlic and…)

Along this it is also important to note that many people are often concerned that teaching their dog barn hunt will increase their prey drive.  Or that barn hunt will ruin agility because often agility is run in barns.  These are the two big hesitations I see in people considering the sport. I think to both concerns I would answer that it is quite the opposite – have a dog who sniffs in corners of barns during agility to find the mice?  This gives them an outlet.  No bales? No mice!  Also giving high prey drive dogs an outlet for that energy creates an easier to live with housemate.  I live with 6 terrier things in a house with 7 rats in the basement.  They all know they are there but is it a constant struggle to keep them away? No, they are normal happy dogs because they have a time and space for that.

The only other (major) difference between the sports is the requirement of obstacles – dogs must climb with all four feet on a bale and complete a bale tunnel at some point in their run before time is up.  These challenges seem more minor, but I have seen more dogs struggle with that tunnel than any other aspect of the sport.  Dogs are clever creatures and learn very quickly that there is never a rat in the tunnel – so why bother going there!  This is an added training challenge for sure.  And is easily remedied (pro tips here) by rewarding your dog with a rat for doing the tunnel!  Do the tunnel – boom a rat appears.  My terrier now runs through the tunnel to clear the course (a Masters level skill) because if there are no rats on course – maybe running through the tunnel will make one of those magic ones appear!

Essentially, I think to answer Andrea’s initial question – though perhaps nosework is nothing like barn hunt, barn hunt is indistinguishable from nosework from a training and dog behaviour perspective.  Andrea may not know but was just asking – and perhaps (hopefully) my answer brings up more questions and opens a dialogue between the two sports.  My ultimate goal is to slowly lure nosework people into the sport so – join us!

WHOA - thanks so much Sheila ... I learned tons .. and will have this to reference now too! Thanks!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Excuse ME!

Pardon me; forgive me; I didn't get around to it;  the judge doesn't like me anyhow;  it doesn't matter I didn't practice; my dog has never understood that anyhow; well, you know he's the wrong breed for that; she's too soft to be competitive...   the excuse list is long. Endless in fact.

And then there is the whole issue of motivation ... where does your motivation break down? Planning? Direction? Activation? Intensity? Continuation? Persistence?   Ways to get  back on track vary depending on where your challenges are  .. and we can work through and find solutions that will work for you!

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I wish my magic wand would get repaired and back from the shop - life would be so amazing and wonderful if I could just wave it around and some motivation would waft down on people like magic fairy dust ....

or heck even if I had a magic pill to just cut through excuses and get to work ... wouldn't that be awesome! I don't.

Sad eh? But the next best thing I can offer you is the course No More Excuses that I teach over at FDSA  Last time I looked there was one more Gold (working) spot left but silver had room, and bronze is unlimited ...  practice truly helps - and this course gives you lots of opportunities to select and rehearse the things that matter to you! There's lots of thinking,  processing, planning and reporting in the class ... but there are also lots of chuckles - and I can pretty much promise you  - you are NOT alone!


I am going to be a sneaky deaky and let you see the list of course lectures ... some are long and some are short ... but there is some MIND BLOWING science backing up some of the good stuff I share ... it's pretty likely more will get added, and things might move around - students often need things in slightly different orders class to class - and I'm nothing if not flexible and adaptable!

  • Terminology and word choice 
  • The components of motivation 
  • Your blocks may have purpose 
  • Planning an Overview 
  • Blocks and Challenges 
  • Time Management - know yourself 
  • Time Management - planning
  • Time Management - distractions 
  • Time Management - last thoughts! 
  • Finding those Blocks 
  • Andrea's Self Help Rant 
  • Grief ... 
  • Know yourself 
  • Dealing with Disappointment ... 
  • Be good to yourself - Self Care Review 
  • Why rewards can fail and some more on "brain stuff " 
  • Networking 
  • Realistic Optimism 
  • Accountability and The Importance of Record Keeping 
  • The word “Try” 
  • Handling Challenges 
  • Setting your Sails 

I'd love to see you over at NME - I'd love to know what you believe your biggest blocks are - by all means let me know in the comments ...

Saturday, March 18, 2017

a little bit of filming fun

at the farm yesterday

it was for a hoof webinar series for Heart Equine Academy Online Learning for horse people!

I  pulled together a little making of video (there's volume  - but I captioned it too- all the learning all the time!) ... the horses and dogs were amazing ... the barn was scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed  and I think looks pretty darn good ...

Give it a watch and let me know what you think!

I'm going to be teaching over at HEART too - a confidence course - aimed at horse people but lots of great info and tools for anybody struggling with anxiety and fear (In fact we get into the difference between the two). It's a PACKED course ... with more being added all the time ...  fear is so pervasive in horses  - as is anxiety generally .. an auditing spot  is  $50  and  a working spot is $100  (and look at me making links to both levels so easy!) You already know I'd love to see you - but maybe there is another course you'd love to take? (ever wanted to draw better? there's a course for that!)

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Lessons from Terror ...

Dora had what for us humans would have been a very bad, no good, horrible week.

She has always been terrified of the vets (turns out she had her puppy shots there and for whatever reason that became a VERY BIG DEAL in the lizard, primal bit of her brain). My crew has been largely healthy lately and while Dora has come with us to the vets and worked on being comfortable and relaxed a few times my best plans to REALLY WORK on this kept getting pushed to the back burner. A great example of  real life procrastination to use for classes but not very good for Dora or for me. Sigh.

Then disaster. Her hind dew claw was growing strangely and hurting her. Because it hurt her she wouldn't let me touch it, or soak it, or even look at it pretty quickly. (Yup - you know we'll go back to the drawing board there too). The last last thing I wanted was to take her to the vets, knock her out, traumatize her and then have to repeat that process regularly. I thought a little, worked on handling a little more (not very successfully) and decided now was as good a time as any for Dora to be spayed. (beyond the dew claw needing attention a friend of mine had a run in with mammary tumours with her girl, I had a nightmare about Dora having a litter of coyote puppies and a rescue I work with had a case of pyometria - any one reason would be enough - four together was PLENTY of cause to pull it together). Anyhow - long way to say I called to book appointment - thinking we'd have time to work on "stuff". We ended up with 3 days. Whoops. So I kept working on handling and calm, and we went for a lot of walks. A lot. A whole lot of walks.

D day hit ... and off we went. I declined preoperative blood work knowing full well they wouldn't get it from her awake and I didn't want her under an extra 20 minutes. Sigh. We weighed her and off she went. I set myself up in an unobtrusive corner of the waiting room in case they needed me. Not 3 minutes until I got the beckoning finger - ":Can you hold her so we can get her pre- meds on board?" Of course. Then she and I sat and waited for them to kick in. She fought it hard but the drugs prevailed  and off to la la land she went.  I read and surfed the web and quietly waited hoping I wouldn't be called again ... but an hour later "she's waking up, she's really thrashing .... can you come hold her?". I have recovered plenty of post surgery patients and usually it's about 10-20 minutes before they crash for a solid sleep. Dora fought the return to sleep for a solid 45 minutes. The clinic staff nearly gave up and offered to send us home. Hell no - she'll get there ...  and she did. Poor fierce terror.  She fell asleep and I raced home for a couple of hours of peace.

She was happy to see me when I picked her up - wagging and walking determinedly if a little drunkenly.  My orders were to keep her quiet for 10 days. I laughed. They wrote a prescription for a tranquilizer.

Dora has been gracious and gentle and oh so very sweet. We've moved a large crate to my feet - where the multiple beds usually are and she snoozes away in there - even when the door is open. She shares the crate with Yen and Sally if they want. She is missing her walks and whimpers when we head out - but has adapted to being on leash amazingly well for potty breaks. Yesterday we walked around the house yard on leash. Very exciting!

We've made a point to take her out in the car to entertain her brain and she's slowly getting less scruffy and more plucked as we sit and hang out together.

She's not despairing over the change in her routines, she's not fretting over the odd ouchy she obviously feels. She's not even frustrated by being asked not to lick her wound. (I acclimated her to the Elizabethan collar carefully and slowly - when I walked away from her she had it off before I turned around). For a sensitive, feral, hard to handle, somewhat opinionated terror terrier  she's handled this situation with a grace and aplomb I did not anticipate.

Being afraid does not make the difficult things go away. Fretting and stewing and spinning does not improve the outcome. Planning, and thinking ahead, goal setting and being organized those are the keys to getting ahead. Sometimes  on a very bumpy route it's true but still essential elements to being successful.  The events of the past week have reminded me of all this. Through the brain of one very good, very gritty, terrier.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I love ...

I love agility

I love nose work

I love having dogs that are easy to get along with and a pleasure to take places

and I absolutely adore having dogs that can run off leash, here,  in the middle of nowhere, with no concerns about them at all (we watch for hawks and coyotes though!)

Why then with all these things mattering so much to me am I focusing on helping people's mental game in my current dog sport teaching life?**

Students  want to be more grateful, or less anxious. They want to win it all - or don't want to be overwhelmed with feelings of grief if they have a bad run. They ask about becoming better planners, or how to goal set. They wonder about trialing in new places or mentally coping with difficult people or difficult dogs/horses.  These are such good, important questions. There are fundamentally three reasons my focus has become the head side of things in my online work ...

 1) I end up doing all these things in nose work, or agility, or nice house dog, classes anyhow. I've ended up with years of practice of embedding some of my key principles into, hmm, let's call them "life lessons". As but one example - if you nag your dog and aren't happy with performance it's going to influence every single aspect of your relationship - relationship/play is where it's at for me ... and having your head in that game is an important element - no matter your sport!

 2) My fundamental belief in differentiation - that is the understanding that every single living being has it's own best way to get things done ... I have a Self Help Soap Box I drag out and jump on regularly ... Self help gurus are wonderful if they think the same way as you. If their methods work for you you feel golden and invincible. The sad, and real, flip side of that is no one method works for every single being. When we are talking about TWO partners it's even more complicated. A panacea, a cure all, for all is impossible. Many people become disappointed, not in the guru, but in themselves when methods fail - and quite honestly that breaks my heart.

 3) My worlds collided when I realized there is a need for people to help dog (and horse) sport people find confidence, courage and get organized. My day life for - eep - more than half my life- has involved a great deal of counselling and support for others. Many courses, certificates, and formal training in all kinds of things have added up an interest and background that serves me well while I design and write courses and then help people face down issues they struggle with. The range of my training has been enormous - brain development, depression, eating disorders, suicide prevention, sleep hygiene, good nutrition, building confidence play skills, conflict resolution, career planning, .... and on, and on, and on. It seems I am a life long learner.

My students, clients and friends keep bringing me back to this "stuff" too. We evolve together. And that's pretty beautiful. I have some natural empathy too - I have been nervous enough to not grab opportunities, I have lived what others have called a "life of loss". In the soap opera of my life there aren't too many challenges I haven't had a little close hand experience with.

Handle This is about to start at FDSA  - my 14th term with the school  and it's the introduction to planning and goal setting course - we start delving into more and more of the HOWS ... building from the whys of All In Your Head, and getting ready to drill into individual issues in Infinite Possibilities, No More Excuses and the other classes I teach

Come check out the school - come check out one of my classes! I'd love to see you there. I'll be kind, and helpful. I promise!

** full disclosure - I learned many years ago in both my day job and my rescue work that reinventing how, and what, I did helped me stay fresh ... the main reason you see new offerings from me fairly often!