January 2018

February 2018

March 2018

This month I discuss how much training is too much for our dogs, a training tip on how best to walk a course for your dog, and the first of many student brags. Click here for the full newsletter.
In this newsletter I address how our goals and expectations for our current performance dogs may not be what our dogs are capable of.
Do you know what CCC means? Read my training tip to find out. Click here for the newsletter.
Read about how your goals may help you become a better agility team and a training tip on using rewards. Click here for the full newsletter

June 2018

This month focuses on increasing your dog's speed on the course, some truly amazing brags, and learning how much connection you need to give your dog during a run.

April 2018

This month's article is lengthy but worth the read. I discuss how to make your dog a priority in your handling for courses. There are lots of great student brags and an important tip about maintaining your connection to your dog while handling. Click here to read more.

May 2018

How does accepting responsibility for your dogs' performance affect the way you handle and train? This month focuses on placing the blame where it is deserved. Click here to read more.

September 2018

July 2018

August 2018

This month's article is the first in a series that I hope defines proper trial behaviors for handlers. This month focuses on what a personal Q means.  My training tip for you hopefully clarifies what connection means from your dog.  Click here for the full newsletter.
  Get to know your fellow canine competitors and their humans! This month, we feature one of the two dogs our training school is named after. There are lots of great brags listed and my training tip includes information about giving your dog a "cue" when he/she needs that information. Click here for the full newsletter.
This month's article is the second in a series that I hope defines proper trial behaviors for handlers. This month focuses on how to better support your fellow handler. My training tip for you is about seeing your dog's commitment.  Click here for the full newsletter.

October 2018

November 2018

December 2018

This month's newsletter continues with proper trial behaviors focusing on entering your first trial. I've also just taught my first OneMind Dogs Handling Techniques 1 Seminar which was a huge success. Lots of my amazing students have brags to share as well. Click here for the full newsletter.
Our newsletter focuses on Mental Training for agility. Check out OneMind Dogs for more information about this class. We also have lots of great brags. Click here for the full newsletter.

January 2019 

February 2019

March 2019

April 2019 

I'd Rather Have a
Happy Dog
Part Three 6/28/17
Thanks for sticking with me, this is the last entry for this thread. Last week’s blog focused on protecting your dog from situations that could cause major failures. I wrote about Rumble and doing my best to be the owner he deserves. Today is about the joys and perils of being a positive dog trainer. This entry is the real reason I started this blog.

I hope that my first two entries set the stage so that you truly understand what makes a dog trainer a positive trainer. The love and respect that I have for my dogs is what drives me to be a better trainer. I have been a proud dog parent for more than 16 years. In those years I have fallen in love with agility. Agility is my passion! The bond that this sport has created with each of my dogs is so unique. I don’t think words can accurately describe what this bond is. This bond is a feeling that you just get.

Do all of my dogs compete successfully in agility? No, I have had many setbacks and failures in this sport. However, I feel I have an obligation to listen to my dogs. Not all of my dogs enjoy agility as much as I would love for them to. I have been met with lots of disappointment and sadness over a dog who cannot or will not compete. Yes, this is a direct reflection of my abilities as a trainer with that dog at that time. That failure does not reflect on me as a human being. That failure, also, does not reflect on my dog as a symbol of his self-worth. That’s a hard realization, but it’s an important one. If I feel this is true, then I also feel the opposite is true. When one of my dogs does amazingly well in a competition; that also reflects my abilities as a trainer at that point in time with that dog.

I brag on social media mainly because I never know when we’re going to have that moment of awesomeness again and I want to grasp a hold of it. In the next run, we may be a disaster. Having an amazing run also does not reflect on me as a human being. I am not an all-star agility competitor because I had a few good runs. I am also not the world’s worst dog trainer when we royally screw up.
Another common complaint that I hear from forceful trainers is that they don’t want to carry treats around with them forever. Well I don’t carry treats all the time, or even very often. When I am in active training, yes I always have a reward ready for my dog and I don’t consider this an inconvenience. If you feel as though having a reward available for your dog in training is too much trouble, then maybe you need to rethink dog ownership. There are many more tiresome parts to owning a dog than treating them during training.

Many times on social media I see trainers get in heated discussions over training techniques. Usually this begins with a video of a dog demonstrating a trained behavior. The dog is also exhibiting lots of different stress signs. These signs may include stress panting (seeing the rear teeth while panting), wide eyes, ears flat or a stiff body with slow movements. Typically, positive trainers immediately see these signs and realize that the dog was forced to perform. If you remember from my previous posts, I believe dog training should be full of choices.

Most often, positive trainers attack force trainers for their methodology. This results in force trainer getting defensive and wondering why this alleged positive trainer is so aggressive to another human being. Aren’t we supposed to be positive to everyone all the time? Well, in a word, no. This goes back to my priority of my dogs being happy. Again my opinion, but many positive trainers get aggressive when trying to get their point across because of concern for the welfare of dogs being trained with negative methods. Compassion towards fellow humans is forgotten. Their stress is also important. We know that under stress dogs stop actively learning. The same is true of humans. If we want to influence others, we need to discuss differences rationally—not attack, which will shut down communication. And, it’s just as important to listen to what the other side is saying.

I think we can all agree that social media is not the best place to try and change someone’s mind. If you’re unsure of this, feel free to read all of the political posts on Facebook. Instead, model what you think dog training should look like. If you see a video of a dog who is forced to stay (based on the plethora of stress signs) post your own video of your dog demonstrating the same behavior, minus the stress signs. With this post, kindly explain how you trained it. Instead of attacking and disagreeing on training methods, instead ask questions of the trainer. Ask the trainer’s reasons for their methods. Discuss, don’t attack. The best we can hope for, as positive trainers, is to make a difference in a dog’s life.
Look, everyone has an opinion and as much as I enjoy diversity in life, I still think all dogs deserve the opportunity to be happy.
What does all this have to do with being a positive dog trainer? The answer is that I put my dog’s needs first. I make sure they are having a great time in whatever we are doing together. In my opinion this is what drives people to train using positive reinforcement instead of force. It’s a completely different frame of mind as a dog owner.

I think I’ve made clear why positive trainers don’t use force in training. The primary reason that I’ve heard from force trainers as to why they don’t use treats in training is that they expect the dog to perform based on respect for their trainer. This concept of “respect” is very confusing to me. When at work, I don’t follow instructions because I respect my boss, I do this because I want to continue to get paid. If I get paid well, I tend to work better and harder. I also tend to enjoy my work more. It’s these differences of opinions that creates such a divide among trainers.

Look, everyone has an opinion and as much as I enjoy diversity in life, I still think all dogs deserve the opportunity to be happy. We, positive trainers, want so badly to stop the stress in dogs that are trained by forceful methods. We get so worked up and frustrated that we stop communicating effectively and start yelling. This is not okay in my book. If I’m training my dog and I start getting upset at my dog, I need to take a break and reassess my approach. The same needs to be true when communicating with dog trainers that use different methods than mine.

What’s the moral of the story? Just this, as a positive trainer, my dogs’ happiness is more important than any trick, title or ribbon. My dogs’ happiness is more important than me.

So, back to this Harvard grad. I like to have educated, respectful conversations with other trainers who have different opinions on how best to train behaviors. I find that being bossy or demanding is never a way to communicate, even though sometimes it does feel good to get angry with those that I don’t agree with. That’s not the most professional or mature thing to do.

We had a long, long conversation about training. We focused on things like aggressive behaviors, such as growling and lunging. We also spoke about recalls. Those were the main behaviors that I was struggling so much with with Rumble at that time. He actually met Rumble that day. I entered the building where he was, Rumble on leash and I worked slowly with Rumble treating him for not reacting aggressively to this stranger. It took a few minutes but Rumble then stood close to this man, relaxed and not aggressive while we spoke.

I'd Rather Have a Happy Dog
Part Two 7/20/17

I hope you enjoyed reading my first blog and I’m glad you’re back for more. My take home message from last week was that failures don’t have to mean everything and you can still set a positive example when things don’t go according to plan.

Many years ago I had a really meaningful conversation with a young man. I don’t recall his name, but he claimed to have a degree in Animal Behavior from Harvard. I never checked his credentials. He was a self-proclaimed force trainer. I think he used positive reinforcement as well, but was very open to many forms of punishment, specifically a shock collar for most training.

Let me distract you with another tangent first. I have a perfectly perfect dog, Rumble. With many other families Rumble probably wouldn’t be alive today. He has major aggression issues, to put it lightly. He displayed aggressive behaviors towards me, other people and most other dogs. I really struggled with Rumble. I struggled with the right way to train him, to address his aggressive behaviors and I struggled to figure out how to live with a dog like him.

I tell people that the hardest thing I had to do with Rumble was to love him. Once I figured out how to love him, that meant I accepted him for who he was. I didn’t try to “change” him and I stopped struggling. Instead I tried to help him be happier in his own skin. I want to make sure you really understand what I'm saying. Once you truly love someone you accept them for who they are, flaws included. At 10 years old, Rumble is very happy. He successfully and happily lives with seven other dogs, a cat, and my husband. Many of these dogs are “new” to him and he gets along and plays with them regularly. It’s amazing to me how well he’s adapted to my life. I can’t praise him enough.
The Harvard grad kept giving me scenarios where Rumble would probably do something “wrong” and asked me why I wouldn’t “correct” him using punishment. He tried to make it impossible to use positive reinforcement, such as me entering the building just now without treats available. My answer was very simple. I told him that I wouldn’t put Rumble in those situations. I would have left the building immediately. Am I some magical being that can control the universe? Of course I’m not. Am I a fairly responsible dog trainer? I would like to think that I am.

If a behavior is very important to me then I do my best to make sure that we (my dog and I) are successful and I can positively reinforce that behavior. Example: Rumble’s recall is no good if he sees another dog nearby. Why wouldn’t I use some type of force to correct him when he tries to lunge aggressively at that other dog instead of coming to me? Without getting in to respondent and operant conditioning, here’s how I break it down. Rumble is on a leash if there is any chance that another dog may be near him. If he behaves aggressively and I don’t have any type of reinforcer then I can pull him to me and try to calm him. If he is so upset that he can’t be calmed, I remove him from that environment as quickly as possible.
Remember that story about Denny from last week? Ok, then if I caused Rumble to “crash” that’s because I chose to put him in that environment knowing that other dogs may be near. Rumble doesn’t go on walks in the neighborhood. He gets plenty of exercise in the safety of his back yard or at my agility field. Could there be a random stray dog at the field? Sure that is a possibility. So, I always do a “look see” before releasing him in that area. It’s my job as his owner to ensure his safety.

I think one of the hallmark differences between a mostly positive trainer and those that use mostly force is that for positive trainers, we are doing this because we want to enjoy our time with our dogs. We find joy in training them. In my opinion, many “force trainers” train to gain something for themselves. They want titles and ribbons, fame and glory, even if it’s just on Facebook or YouTube, that they feel is a direct representation of their self-worth. I don’t train my dogs and compete with them to show others how amazing I am. I train my dogs in order to enjoy their enthusiasm for whatever game we’re playing.

I'd Rather Have a Happy Dog
Part One 7/14/17

Have you read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein? If not, stop reading this article and go read it. This will still be here when you’re ready. Ok, so you have read it? Great, now we can talk.

In the book, Denny is loved by the wonderful dog Enzo. At one point in the story Denny is recalling a bad accident he had while competing with his race car. He got nicked by another driver and crashed. It was a really important race and basically ended his career. When he told others this story, they felt sorry for him and asked if he was angry at what happened to him. His response has stuck with me all these years. He wasn’t angry at what happened to him, because he was at just as much at fault as the other driver.

Explain, you say? Ok. He put himself in the physical position on the track of being close enough to the other driver to risk interaction. It was his decision to drive in that area at that time. Could he have stopped the accident? Sure, by not being there, that would have prevented the entire incident. Bottom line: you have full control over your situation if you take a step back and realize that you are in control of you. You also control how you react to something that’s “happened to you.” This is true in life and in dog training.

Do you want a more personal dog example? Ok. I recently stepped to the line in an agility competition with my 16 month old phenomenal Border Collie Clever. She is an amazing dog and an incredible agility companion. I knew she was a bit stressed but I figured once she entered the ring and saw the obstacles she would “get over it” and play with me. The same thing has happened in practice so I figured she would be fine. I took off her leash, Instead of beginning our run, she panicked and ran to the back of the ring and hid behind a tunnel.

Could I have prevented this? Sure, I could have not taken her in the ring knowing that she was a bit stressed. But what’s done is done. As soon as I assessed the situation, I happily ran toward the exit and called her to me. I grabbed her leash and you know what? She came running to me. As soon as I could, I grabbed her up and praised her for being amazing. I couldn’t have been happier with that performance than if we had just gotten first place at a national competition. I had to hold back my tears of happiness. Once that euphoria wore off, I was disappointed in myself for putting her in that situation. I set her up to crash. She had no choice. Dog training should be full of choices.
Did I mention I am an agility instructor whose facility is about two miles from the trial site and that many of my students were at that show watching my run? Well yes, that is true. Maybe I should have been concerned that I was doing a bad job (or all too real job) of demonstrating my agility training and handling skills to my students and potential students by having my dog essentially shut down and stress out in the ring. I wasn’t even slightly concerned about this though. I only thought about it after I was home. My thoughts? I think I set a great example of how to react to a “bad” situation. I also think I set a bad example of how to prevent situations like this. Six of one, a half dozen of another.

We should set our dogs up to make choices, good and bad. Success and failure are both important outcomes. The difference is, failures shouldn’t have permanent or long-term effects on our dogs, just my opinion. I hope Clever is not permanently affected by that stress. We are taking some time off from trialing, so we’ll see. There are very few behaviors in dog training that I consider so important that I am willing to use force on my dogs to teach them. Had I been that type of person, I could have forced Clever to do some jumps before leaving, but thankfully I’m not.

No one said that being a positive dog trainer was easy. What’s the saying? “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.” That’s how I feel about dog training. Using mostly positive reinforcement works, but in some situations, it take more time than using force. Yes, I said “mostly” in that previous sentence. Did you catch that? I hope you did. I use time-outs, I yell at my dogs if they’re being too loud or obnoxious. I may put my hands on them to get their attention. I will never use force on a dog if I think that force would stress the dog significantly. That’s very subjective but its real life as far as I'm concerned. Force training like positive training depends on the dog, not on what we think is a reward or punishment. 

I’ll give you two examples. One, Clever does not find much joy in food, she is crazy for her disc though. If she did something really well and I offered her a food reward she is not likely to take the food let alone repeat that wonderful behavior. Food doesn’t count as positive reinforcement for her. Two, an old method of punishing dogs is to hit them with a rolled up newspaper or magazine. My oldest Border Collie Keegan, for some reason, finds this very exciting and tries to bite the magazine. If he was naughty and I tried to hit him with it he would find it fun and reinforcing not punishing. Training is only as effective as your consequences, negative and positive. I choose positive. In the next two articles you’ll learn a little more as to why this is my decision for my dogs.
For me, my dogs are more important than I am. What that means is that my dogs being happy and having as much of a fulfilled life as they can is the most important part of being a dog owner. Titles and ribbons are fun and all, but not more important than my dogs. I will quit being a dog trainer the day I sacrifice my dogs’ well-being for my own personal gain.

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