Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I'm slew-footed.  If I'm facing due north, my left foot is pointed northwest.  That's just the way it is.  It runs in my family.

In grade school, one of my classmates did a takeoff on it.  "Here you come, " he said.  And he walked with his left foot ridiculously angled to the left.  Next, "Here comes your mother."  Same comical walk.  Finally, "Here comes your grandmother."  Hilarious.  And spot on.

I grew up and eventually got into dog obedience competition . . . where the dog heels on your left.  (You see it coming, don't you?)

Early in my obedience career I took my Novice A dog Honeybear to Chatsworth, California (Los Angeles area) for a lesson from Karen Price, quite possibly the top trainer in America at that time.  And a super-nice person.  Karen commented on the disruptive role my left foot was playing as we heeled.  Once we established that I couldn't do a darn thing about it, she told me that her husband Lenny was slew-footed, too.  She added that it's common in Jewish men.  I think it's kind of neat that I'm featuring a little piece of diversity at the south end of my left leg.

When we got home, Honeybear and I posed in the backyard for a photo.  In the picture, Honeybear is seated in heel position.  I'm standing with my heels together, both toes pointing straight out at 45-degree angles.  I captioned the photo and mailed it to Karen.  The caption reads, "Ready!"

It was Debby Boehm who first discovered that my dogs, especially Bebop my first border collie, learned to maintain heel position by jumping over my left foot.  (Given Bebop's penchant for forging, I have to think he was jumping my left foot with his hind legs.)

Suffice it to say, across the years my slew-footedness has been a conversation starter, laced with a lot of yuks

Fast forward to the present.  My border collie Bravo! has been a really nice heeling dog.  Two years ago at the Yuma shows he stormed through three consecutive rings without losing so much as a half point on the heeling portion of any exercise.

But later we began regularly to get scores of 195.5 in the B classes, accompanied by losses of 3.5 points on the heel-free and signal exercises.  I was constantly exclaiming, "Think what our score would have been had we not lost all those points on the heeling!"  But I didn't seem to be able to fix it.

Enter Geri Zuckerman.  She's been showing Portugese  water dogs in obedience for as long as I can remember. Geri is a certified public accountant who lives in La Jolla, California.  I see her when we show in Southern California and occasionally when she shows in Arizona.  If we were to play word association and you were to say, "Geri Zuckerman," the words that would pop into my mind would be "quiet, genteel, very much a lady."

Last November we showed in the obedience trials of Phoenix Field & Obedience Club.  As usual, we featured our 195.5/3.5 runs.  Geri was there and was seated at ringside on Sunday when Bravo! and I were in the ring.

When we got home, Barbara said, "That lady who was sitting next to me watching you and Bravo! in Open B made some interesting comments about your heeling."  I knew she was referring to Geri.  My wife told me a little bit more about what had been said.  It whetted my appetite.  I wanted to hear the whole thing, directly from the source.  So I called Geri.

Early in the conversation she was quite reticent.  I think she was embarrassed, afraid she might insult me or hurt my feelings. She assured me that, "I couldn't possibly ever compete with you guys," meaning those of us in the B classes who were rabidly chasing OTCHs.  She also emphasized that she would never dream of trying to tell me anything about how to heel my dog. (Which is exactly what I wanted her to do.)

After I finally convinced her that I really wanted to hear what she had seen and commented on to Barbara, she opened up.

In a nutshell, she told me that my left foot seldom  came down in the same place when we heeled.  With the result that, "Your poor little dog is trying so hard to figure out where to be."  That made sense.  Several judges have told me that while Bravo! neither forged nor lagged in their rings he kept drifting in and out as we heeled.

Geri suggested I find a parking lot with white lines and practice by myself, heeling alongside that line, making sure my left foot always landed on the line.

There was a corollary to that.  Ever since I was a newbie, learning to heel with my first dog, it's been pointed out to me, ad nauseam, that when I halt I step into my dog.  I've explained to people that I carry the stepping-in gene.

Geri was quite timid about all that she had to offer that evening, but she was also quite helpful.  The next morning found me on a soccer field, heeling by myself along the white lines.

Those lines were fine for starters, but they wouldn't always be there.  My solution had to be self-contained and portable.  So I began practicing heeling with my left ankle brushing (sometimes whacking) my right ankle with each step.

The biggest problem I've had so far has been forgetting  my "touch" as soon as I step into the ring.  The judge says, "Forward," and I blitz out.  Touching my ankles is the farthest thing from my mind.  Generally I think about it again halfway through the heeling pattern.  (Do they make an electric collar for handlers?)

Nevertheless, something good is happening.  Beyond tattered pants cuffs and scraped ankles, we're suddenly back to losing only a point or so on the heeling exercises.  And shortly after I began abusing my ankles we won two important Utility B classes.

Sometimes help comes when and where you least expect it.  Thank you, Geri Zuckerman.


Thursday, July 21, 2011


1.  I get quite a few responses to items I post on this blog.  Unfortunately, most of them come to me directly via email.  I'd rather they went to the comments section so that everyone could see them, but I've heard from several people who say they can't make it work.  One person said, "I've tried to leave comments several times but they don't stick."

Welcome to the club.  This morning I tried to respond to Amy/Layla the Malmute using the comments section; I can't make it work, either.  Not that that's any criterion.  I told someone the other day, "If I were told that my life depended on my computer sophistication, I'd begin getting my affairs in order."

I wish that right here I could insert a paragraph that says, What you need to do is . . .  But I'm clueless.  Posting a comment here is much more challenging than training a dog.

2.  I'm never sure whether the Amy/Layla the Malamute comments are coming from Amy or Layla.  They are always quite intelligent and right on target.  Which makes me conclude they're coming from the dog.

Back to their comment.  The only times I've seen Terri Arnold in the competition ring were when we competed against her at the Gaines.  I believe someone could drive an 18-wheeler down the center of the ring while Terri and her dog were heeling and the dog's attention would never waver.

I agree with Amy/Layla and their friends; people fail to produce attentive dogs almost exclusively through lack of effort (including the effort to find an instructor who has the knowledge and the skills to teach them properly).  My biggest problem with students has been lack of commitment.  The person shows up for the lesson and the first sentence out of her mouth is, "I haven't touched him since our last lesson."  They don't last long.

Yep, so many people are seeking instant results.  Unfortunately they never get to experience the joy that comes from the journey.  Which means that their dogs simply are objects to put titles on.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Writing in REMEMBERING TO BREATHE:  Inside Dog Obedience Competition (chapter 8), I said that the three most important elements in successful competition obedience training are attention, attention and attention.

That book was published in December 2003 and was the culmination of two years of  writing, rewriting and more rewriting.  So I probably wrote those words nearly a decade ago. At the time, referring to the role of attention in competition obedience training, I called myself a believer, an evangelist.  But I know now that I had seen only the tip of the iceberg.  It has taken me the ensuing decade to plumb the depths of what attention and focus can mean to success in the obedience ring.  And I'm certain there's more to come.  Some would call it attaining enlightenment.  But I don't think it's that deep.  It's about getting it.  And so many in our midst never do.

It's about believing in and religiously adhering to a few simple truths.

For instance, the first competition obedience instructor I had, Debby Boehm, asked me, "Willard, if your dog isn't watching you, how can you expect her to know what you want her to do?"  Later she pointed out that, "It's physically impossible for your dog to sniff if she's watching you."  What could be more fundamentally sound than that?  Simple truths about attention that propelled me along my journey toward dry-behind-the- earsness.

On the other hand, how often do you see this in the ring?  The handler is heeling along -- no, lurching along -- while the dog is all over the ring, sniffing, gawking, wandering around.  Not connected with the handler in any way that would allow the poor, confused animal to have a clue as to why he's out there or what's expected.  I know people who have been in the sport 30 years and they've never gotten it.  Either attention has never been part of their training or they've chosen to ignore it.  Thirty years, a series of dogs, same unsolved problems every time.

Occasionally one of these people who has had one year of experience 30 times will utter a sentence that includes the words "my students."  I cringe.  I want to say, "You teach?  With what?"  But I don't.

Moving right along . . .  Today I differentiate between attention and focus.

Attention is a more generalized activity. (And it is active.)  I want my dog connected mentally, watching me (and not with glazed eyes), tuned in, alert to what I'm going to expect next.

Focus is more intense, more "pinpointed."  A step up from generalized attention on the seeking-perfection continuum. Think of it this way: Focus is attention on steroids.  And it has physical connotations as far as the working dog's posture is concerned.

At the time I wrote REMEMBERING TO BREATHE, the concept focus was not on my mind.  The first time I heard it used in a specialized way in relation to competition obedience training was during a conversation with Helen Phillips.  She was talking about problems dealing with teaching one of her border collies perfect heel position.  Helen referred to his "focal point."  I listened but I was clueless as to what she was talking about.  Then she went on to say she was having trouble teaching him correct head position. (I knew that dog.  He heeled with his head straight up, as if he was looking at the sky.  I used to refer to him as "The Weather Man.)

Although I didn't understand, anything Helen said raised my antenna.  It all came together much later when I saw Louise Meredith practicing heeling with an armband that had a little stick protruding.  That little stick held a treat -- the dog's focal point as he heeled.  That target helped him form the habit of perfect head position in perfect heel position.

Although I learned this from Louise, the technique originated with AnneMarie Silverton.  Appropriately, she called it "pinpoint heeling."

My God, I've just referred to Louise Meredith, Helen Phillips and AnneMarie Silverton -- three of the giants in our sport.  How could you not hunger to assimilate anything they had to offer?

After I had watched Louise a few times, I blundered into the classic mistake.  I asked her where I could get the armband/stick device (sometimes called a "heeling helper" or an "attention stick").  I saw it as just the thing to fix my chronically forging border collie Bebop.

I received the item, put it on and away we went . . . to nowhere.  It didn't work. And the reason it didn't work, as I eventually learned, was that pinpoint heeling is a process, not a Band-Aid.  A many-months process -- one that's best started on day one of training if it's to be done right.  When I had observed Louise heeling her dogs the day before shows with the treat on the stick, it was the final step in a multi-step process. (I've explained the process in detail in chapter 17 of OTCH DREAMS:  The Agony and the Ecstasy of Life with Competition Obedience Dogs.)

To summarize:  The goal of this process is to get your dog to focus on your armband as you heel.  The armband becomes a training aid, the only training aid you are permitted to take into the ring with you.

I've devoted a lot of space here to focus as it applies to heeling  That's because isolating the heeling process offers a great way to highlight the application of narrowly focused attention.  But focus -- sharpened, narrowed down, intensive attention -- is important in so many other ways in competition obedience.

You're giving the signals in Utility. At the very instant you give a signal, Rover shoots a glance at something outside the ring, misses the signal and you flunk.

Muffy sleepwalks through the scent discrimination exercise and randomly grabs an article.  It's a long ride home.

As you pivot for glove two, Max is window-shopping instead of looking at you.  He diverts to glove one.  Oh well, tomorrow's another day.

As Fluffy saunters toward you on the drop on recall, she's intent on sniffing the ground.  She doesn't drop. "@#!*&$*#*!"

A final analogy.  It's a sunny day.  Take a sheet of paper and a magnifying glass out into the backyard.  The sun is everywhere.  Now hold the magnifying glass so as to focus the sun's rays on a small spot in the center of the paper.  Soon the paper will burst into flames.  That's how focus can help Fido's performance in the competition obedience ring.


Thursday, July 14, 2011


This post links an unlikely trio of subjects:  scent articles, soft poop and prednisone.

As an arbitrary starting point, let's choose April 18 of this year.  That morning I posted "Scent Articles + Focus = Gangbusters!"  I wrote about the stunning difference preparatory focus had on Bravo!'s performance on the scent articles.  I was referring to his success in practice; he hadn't blown one in the ring in nearly three years.  I had begun insisting he watch me, without so much as a flicker of a glance away, from the moment we began to set up for the exercise until he left my side, headed for the pile.  That, and that alone, had increased his string of consecutive correct retrieves from a handful at a time to -- at the point of the post -- 614.

At that point I had no idea how far he would go before the party ended.  He popped off 709 before he missed.

This is not a brag; I'm reporting it to establish the backdrop for what has happened since.  On May 12, immediately following his breakfast, I took Bravo! out into the backyard to do what he nearly always does early in the morning (and latter in the day after his dinner).  That morning he had what I began referring to as "the soft poops" -- to distinguish what I saw there on the ground from diarrhea, which it was not.  He did the same thing each of the next four days, every bowel movement.  On the fifth day Barbara dropped off the first of several stool samples for our veterinarian.

We are now in the ninth week of the problem, which includes really scary weight loss.  Yes, we've run the gamut of tests and medications and diets.  We did an abdominal ultrasound a couple of weeks ago, which led to the diagnosis -- a mild case of inflammatory bowel.

Shortly thereafter we put Bravo! on prednisone, which is cortisone in drag.  A few words about cortisone:  It's a steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal cortex.  Used correctly and with restraint, it can be a blessing for your dog in the management of autoimmune, allergic and inflammatory disorders.  Used excessively it can have nasty side effects -- including inhibition of the adrenal glands, resulting in dependency on the drug.  To say nothing of Cushing's disease and Addison's disease.  Both can be fatal.

All of which explains why we explored other treatment options first, then introduced prednisone cautiously.  We began with a "loading dose" of 5mg. per day for five days.  Following that we planned to give Bravo! 5mg. every other day.  But at the end of the loading dose the results could summed up in one word: zilch.  Recently we upped the dose to 10mg.  More about that later.

Now let's shift gears.  Rewind 11 years to the time when Bebop, my first border collie, was temporarily on a low dose of prednisone.  At the time, he was actively showing in the B classes.

A friend who knew Bebop was on prednisone said, "I saw an article about a study that demonstrates that prednisone diminishes a dog's scent discrimination ability.  Is Bebop having any trouble with scent articles since he's been on prednisone?"

Bebop had a reputation in competition obedience circles as a lightning-fast-working, accurate scent articles dog, and I had noticed no drop-off in his ability to succeed at the scent discrimination exercise.

Fast forward now to the present.  After Bravo! blew number 710, I kept on counting.  He had done so extraordinarily well that I wondered if he might just rack up 999 out of 1,000.

When he he started on his loading dose of prednisone, he was well into the nine hundreds and hadn't missed again.  And with that old question about the effect of prednisone still on my mind, I was curious to see how he'd do.

It didn't take long.  On the third day of the loading dose, Bravo! blew an article.  Before that miss he stood at 955 out of 956.  And he blew another one the next day.  Considering his overall performance in the months leading up to that point, I didn't think it could be a coincidence.  So I immediately set the articles aside until he's off prednisone and has been for a while.  I don't want to expose him to the negative psychodynamics of being wrong when he's the victim of physical factors he can't control.

Then I searched the Internet to see if I could find the old study that linked prednisone to decreased olfactory acuity in dogs.  I couldn't come up with it.  What I did turn up was a study done at Auburn University in the early '90s.  Their findings showed no link between prednisone and olfactory function.

A training buddy who is also a veterinarian doubts that Bravo!'s sudden failures had anything to do with prednisone, particularly at the 5mg. level.  "Maybe you had something on your hands that you didn't know about," she speculated.  No way!  I'm far too much an over-the-top Type A for that to be possible. (Note that I'm one who carries his own soap when he travels to out-of-town shows -- and not the only one, by far.)

Might the knowledge of the reported prednisone-smeller link have influenced my demeanor as we practiced articles?  No to that one, too.

So I'm sticking to my guns.  And posing these questions.  Apparently somewhere in the literature there is a study that links prednisone with olfactory diminution in dogs.  If you have access to it, would you share it with the rest of us via the comments section below?

Likewise, if you've had a dog on prednisone and doing scent articles at the same time, would you please share your experiences?

And Bravo!?  Since we've increased the prednisone dosage to 10mg., he's doing much, much better.  It's too soon to start dancing in the streets, but . . .


Friday, July 8, 2011


I first encountered Helen Phillips some two decades ago when I was still trying to figure out which end of the leash you fasten to the dog.  OK, I had mastered that, but not much more.  Cliches like "wet behind the ears" and "green as grass" were right on the mark.

At the time, I was training my Novice A golden retriever, Honeybear.  But I had seen border collies.  As a spectator, I had watched the amazing dogs of Janice DeMello and Helen Phillips sparkle at the Gaines in Denver.  I was smitten.  (How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm . . . ?)

But I was so new, so green, so naive.  Would a border collie and a golden be compatible in the same house? I wondered.  I voiced that concern one night at class.  A friend said, "Helen Phillips has both, you should talk to her."  And she gave me Helen's phone number in Arvada, Colorado.

Helen's reputation preceded her, reinforced by the smooth-as-silk excellence I had seen at the Gaines.  It was with considerable trepidation that I placed the call.  Looking back, I consider my query that morning to have been a dumb question.  If Helen did, she didn't let on.

We talked for a long time, and Helen gave me her comparative assessment of the two breeds.  Border collies won in a landslide.  Of Gunner, her great, but by then retired, obedience golden, she said, "Goldens have that vacant look in their eyes.  Nevertheless, I consider Gunner to be my dog."  Then she went on to rave about the pizzazz that is border collies, from those intelligent eyes all the way back to the tip of the tail.  I came away from that telephone conversation impressed with three things.

First, there should be no problem with Honeybear and a border collie under the same roof.

Second, I had to have one of those extraordinary dogs.

Finally, Helen didn't blow me off.  Didn't treat me like a nobody (which I was) coming at her with a dumb question.

My next encounter with her came when Honeybear and I were in deep doo-doo.

In 1993 HB and I qualified in Open and entered the Gaines Cycle Central Regional Dog Obedience Championship in San Antonio, Texas.  I was dancing in the streets.  But a few weeks before we were to leave for San Antonio HB suddenly began retrieving the dumbbell , heading back to me, then spitting it out ten feet in front of me.  Panic!  Here we were, bearing down on the biggest competition of our lives and my dog was spitting out the dumbbell.

I called Helen.  She listened to my tale of woe.  Then she said, "When a dog does what you've described it's because something awful has happened when she's come to her handler.  What are you doing when Honeybear gets back to you with the dumbbell?"

"Well," I began, "HB is a mouther.  She comes in, sits in front of me, tilts her head back and rolls the dumbbell all the way back in her mouth.  Then she begins to roll it around back there.  She looks like a cow chewing it's cud."

"Then what do you do?"  Helen asked.

"Recently someone suggested I smack both ends of the dumbbell when she starts to mouth,"  I replied.

"And what kind of dumbbell are you using?"

"Hard plastic," I said.  I had gone to that kind because it didn't show gouges, tipping off the judge that here's a mouther.

"I would imagine the plastic is vibrating in her mouth and hurting her," Helen said.  "Besides, smacking the ends of the dumbbell shouldn't be used as a correction for mouthing;  it should be used as a correction for refusing to give up the dumbbell when you tell her to release it."

She then suggested a series of steps to rebuild Honeybear's positive feelings about the retrieve.  I did all the things she suggested and within a few days HB was carrying the dumbbell all the way back proudly -- tail wagging, head held high.  The crisis had passed.

For as long as I've been in the sport, Helen has been one of America's great teachers of competition obedience.  Both in person and through her writings.  She has written a column in Front & Finish ("The Minority Point of View," a play on the fact that she's Jewish)  since long before I came into the sport.  For 35 years she edited and wrote a column in the newsletter of the Mountain States Dog Training Club -- which accounted for the fact that that little club newsletter had paid subscribers all over the United States.  I was one of them, for from Helen's writings there has always flowed a seemingly inexhaustible stream of common sense and sound advice about dogs and training dogs.

Several years ago I asked Helen what she was charging for a private lesson.  Her answer surprised me: $20. That was far, far below the going rate, particularly for an instructor of Helen's stature.  So I must have responded with incredulity.  "Willard, I don't want anyone to be deprived of lessons because they can't afford them," she told me. 

Somewhere in these paragraphs I should mention that Helen, a former obedience and tracking judge, has OTCH's, MACH's and other obedience, agility, tracking and herding titles numbering in the hundreds.  There.  I just did.

Recently Helen became ill enough to spend two and a half weeks in the hospital.  Home now, her rehabilitation  is paramount.  Rehab aimed at getting her back to a normal life.  At 78 years young, that normal life features agility.  And Helen has chosen what as the focal point for her rehab?  A new puppy!

Writing in her column in the current issue of Front & Finish, she explained her choice this way:  "Is there anything that will make us more quickly forget the distraction of ill health or life's little problems than having a puppy to deal with?"  That quote should be emblazoned on the wall of every rehab facility in the world.

They say, "Different strokes for different folks."  And I can't think of a more appropriate rehab modality for the splendidly unique person that is Helen Phillips.

You go, girl!


Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Here in Phoenix, Arizona, this is the time of the year when the cacti in the desert uproot themselves, come into town and hope the dogs mistake them for fireplugs. (That's a joke.)  As I write this, birds are sitting on the palm fronds outside my window, beaks open, wings raised, trying to cool off. (That's a fact.)

 All this week, the high temperatures here have ranged between 110 and 118 degrees.  Generally they hit triple digits before 10 a.m.  Bravo! and I train outdoors, and we haven't missed a beat.

Unlike cities all over the rest of the United States, Phoenix has never had an indoor training/showing facility that even comes close to meeting the need.  A sparkling, air-conditioned facility should have been built years ago.  The club that most logically should have picked up that ball and run with it is Phoenix Field and Obedience.  But . . . well, if you've read my books you know.  The mere suggestion of such an undertaking would have thrown them into a catatonic state.

The shining example I like to cite (and make no mistake, there are many others) is the pride of the Queen City Dog Training Club (Cincinnati). They got their act together several years ago and built a heated/air-conditioned facility with 9,600 square feet of training/showing space. (Check it out at www.qcdtc.org/building1.htm.  A few years ago the people at the Queen City Dog Training Club sent me information on how their project was put together -- the land acquisition, the financing, etc.  It's quite doable.  Just not here.

Anyhow, we train outdoors, year 'round.  And you should know, right at the outset, that never -- not once! in 21 years! -- have I had a dog react negatively to the heat.  Why?  Because I don't let it happen.  I'm ultra-careful.

I guess the worst has passed.  When I first started competition obedience training (bumbling?) with my Novice A golden retriever Honeybear, we trained on a polo field at Paradise Valley Park . . . in mid-afternoon . . . without a lick of shade.  I'd let the engine run on my Chevy van and turn the air conditioner all the way up. I didn't realize how lucky I was; that van could sit out there running like that in 115 degrees for several hours and never overheat.  We'd train for a few minutes, then Honeybear would spend a few minutes in the van cooling off and getting a drink.

My next van wasn't so accommodating.  It would quickly overheat. So I had had it less than a month when I coughed up in excess of $6,000 to install an auxiliary generator and air conditioner.  Then I spent the next five years coping with chronic generator and air conditioner problems.

When I brought my present vehicle -- a Chevrolet Express van -- I took it to Quality Van, a conversion company in Scottsdale, to have the interior outfitted just right to meet my needs, and to have an air conditioner and generator installed.  The shop foreman, knowing how I planned to use it, said, "I have something you might try that'll save you a lot of money.  We've installed them on police cars and ambulances, vehicles that sit idling for long periods."  What he was suggestig would cost less than $300 versus some $7000 for the auxiliary air-conditioning system.  Sure!  Why not try it?

The device, which consists of a small control installed on the front of the dash, is called an Advanced Fast Idle System.  It's manufactured by Intermotive Vehicle Controls in Colfax, California. The most recent information I have (and that information is several years old) is that the company recommends it be installed only in Fords and Chevrolets.

It's quite simple to operate.  The vehicle must be in park and the parking brake must be engaged.  Then you start the engine, press the yellow button and you're in business.  If the engine temperature begins to creep up, the fast idle system kicks in.  The engine revs up to 1,500 RPMs and holds that speed for 15 minutes while the engine temperature drops.

This is my fourth summer of dependence on that device, and it hasn't failed me.  Some have said, "But you're burning all that gasoline running your van's big engine instead of using much less gas to power a small generator."  To which I respond that $7,000 will buy a lot of gasoline, to say nothing of the repair bills I had last time around.

So much for the technical aspects.  The two key words essential to training outdoors here in our summer blast furnace are shade and early.  Which is not as simple as it sounds.  This isn't Seattle or Vermont.  Shade is a scarce commodity around here.

There's a park about ten minutes from our house with an abundance of early morning shade.  That shade holds until mid-morning.  Trouble is, our training area gets flood irrigation every other Monday from mid-April to mid-October.  The area stays flooded for about five days, making it semi-dry by the following Sunday.  Which knocks me out of my training spot of choice for most of every other week.

There are other parks with adequate shade.  But they have high-pressure sprinklers that go off early in the morning.  How long they run is a function of the water pressure in that area.  If the pressure is high, the sprinklers finish quickly.  If it's low, they run forever . . . while the sun relentlessly rises.  In any case, on a hot Phoenix summer morning, for quite a while after the sprinklers have run, the area is like a sauna -- not fit for man nor beast.

On many of the flood irrigation mornings I try to do what I can in the backyard, early.  I can practice just about everything there except gloves and directed jumping.  That's the problem with having progressed to Utility, your practice setup becomes much more complex.

The factors I've mentioned above are just a few of the dynamics that come into play as one tries to train outside in the desert in the summertime.  And then there are the foibles of the human contingent.

We have a Sunday morning training group.  It's been in existence for, oh, probably 15 years.  From October through April we call it the Wow Wob Bassackwards Utility Group.  On May 1 it morphs into the Dog Daze Gang.  Nothing changes but the name.

Well, that's not altogether true.  Late in June the temperatures become so brutal that we gather for Dog Daze at 6:30 a.m.  That's when we experience attrition.  And it's not caused by the heat.  It's caused by a lack of motivation, absence of commitment.  By an unwillingness to roll out of bed early and go train.

It's interesting to note that the three of us who are still cheerfully gathering on Sunday mornings at 6:30 -- Alice Blazer, Mindy Masch and I -- are the three who have the most titles -- by far! -- among the members of the group.  We've figured out that Woody Allen was right:  Ninety percent of success is showing up.  Even when it means rolling out of bed at 4:30 on Sunday morning.


Friday, July 1, 2011


The subject of the prohibition of tags on collars in the competition obedience ring just doesn't want to go away.

Madeline Mason, Kingsport, New York, is new to this blog, and she only recently read my comments under "The Matter of Anonymity," posted April 25.  She posted a lengthy comment. In part she said, "Tags usually clang and bang to some degree, and I could see a situation where a handler might be able to use that noise to his advantage as some sort of cue."

There you have it.  Each time this subject comes up -- and as I said in my post of April 25, I've brought it up multiple times across the past few years -- someone says something similar to what Madeline wrote.

No one seems to have the foggiest notion when or why that rule came about.  If the late Jim Dearinger, an oldtimers' oldtimer, didn't know when he was asked several years ago, surely the whys and wherefores are buried in AKC antiquities.

I can see it now:  One day in the distant past the powers that be at the AKC are gathered to focus their august wisdom on the rules for a fledgling dog sport called competition obedience.  The subject of collars comes up and somebody says, "If we let them in there with tags on their collars, someone's going to use those tags to gain an unfair advantage."  The others nod sagely.  Done.  Written in stone.

So here we are in 2011 and no one has a clue.  No one has been able to suggest what objective would be sought by using the tags to cue the dog while in the the ring.  No one has come up with what exactly one would train the dog to do in response to the presence of the tags.  Or how that training would be carried out.

Many Supertrainers (the best in the world) read this blog.  So let's play a little game of hypotheticals.  Pretend that collars with dangling tags are permitted in the competition ring.  And that it's permissible to use those tags in any way you want to enhance your dog's performance.

What would you want to accomplish?  How would you use those tags to try to achieve better scores?  And how would you teach whatever you're trying to accomplish -- not in generalities; what would be the teaching steps?

Please put on your thinking cap, shift into training mode and spell it out.  Post it in the comments section below.

Let's see once and for all if the best minds in the sport can make any sense of this.


(Personal to Madeline Mason:  If you'll email me at otchhb@cox.net, I'll put you on the list to get an email each time I post something new.)