Friday, December 20, 2013


Across 23 years in the sport of dog obedience I have made many new friends. Among those who read this, a small but select group -- my kind of people -- will nod their affirmation when I say that many of the most treasured of those friends are dogs. None more treasured than Gordy. Gordy was a big, sweet, goofy golden retriever. If I were to write here that Gordy had personality, I'd probably choke on it. The dog was a full-blown character. He owned Beverly Lewnau and the hearts of so many of the rest of us. Bev and I met more than two decades ago, students in a Novice class at Debby Boehm's Precision Canine. Both of us were trying to figure it out with our young goldens: Bev's Bunny and my Honeybear. Years passed. Bev and Gordy became my students in competition obedience. Lessons took place in Moon valley Park. Gordy would greet me by buzzing me -- not jumping on me, not grabbing my wrist, not presenting himself to be petted . . . buzzing me. Bev carried some of the accoutrements of obedience instruction in a cloth bag. Which, in the absence of a table, she'd place on the ground. Each lesson, without fail, Gordy's first order of business was to extract a glove from the bag and run around shaking it . . . all the while proudly showing it to me, just out of my reach. Those summer evenings were what competition obedience training should be. Fun. Sublime. Gordy learned easily . . . because he was having a blast. But if competition obedience had been jazz, he would have attained the stature of Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Ella Fitzgerald. Gordy loved to improvise. I remember the day he was sailing through an Open run until he retrieved the dumbbell, returned over the high jump, quickly took it behind Bev and played with it there. Gordy tended to start slowly in the ring. So we devised a little strategy to psych him up as they entered the ring, a few minutes of Bev-deprivation. I'd hold Gordy out of sight, some distance from the ring, behind a tent or a van. I'd deliver him to Bev the very instant the judge was calling their number. One day Bev and Debby Boehm were standing just outside the ring, awaiting our just-in-time arrival, when they noticed a large dog romping through the show. "That looks like Gordy," Debby said. Indeed. And there I came, some distance behind with an empty collar and leash in my hand. Make fun if you must but as I recall Gordy opened with one of his most upbeat heeling performances that morning. Gordy was just OK at obedience, but he sure had fun. He qualified. He got his titles. Bev and Gordy also did agility . . . and print ads . . . and TV commercials. But it was in the conformation ring where Gordy sparkled. In a breed where the rings are populated by dozens upon dozens of dogs and dominated by professional handlers, Bev showed Gordy to his championship and then some -- I mean big-time "then some." In recent years, at shows with 80,100 or more golden entries, Bev would study the catalog, and consistently there was no golden with more dog sports titles than Gordy. Several years ago, on a Sunday morning after our little training group had done our ring run-throughs, Bev startled me with a request. If something happened to her, would I take Gordy? Oh wow! That's a toughie. I loved Gordy; He'd be a wonderful addition to our little pack. But for that to happen Bev would have to die. That's heavy stuff. Barbara and I talked it over. "No," was not an option. Which is how we became godparents. A little over two years ago, Gordy was diagnosed with laryngeal paralysis. I won't detail it here; you can look it it up. But it's a no-win condition. Do nothing and the dog probably dies. Choose throat surgery and you end up with a bunch of nasty sequelae. Eventually Bev chose surgery. Gordy lingered at death's door for months. Frankly, those of us who were close to the situation quietly wrote Gordy off. But then things turned and Gordy became . . . well, he became pretty much Gordy again. One Saturday morning I was in Paradise Valley Park awaiting a student when across the park, at least 100 yards away, Bev got out of her van with her three goldens. There was sure nothing wrong with Gordy's eyes. He saw me -- at that distance! Bev took the leash off and he came running -- no, hopping -- all the was across that field, tail going furiously. That was one fine weekend. The word got around and everyone was saying, "Gordys back! Gordy's back!" Gordy's 13th birthday on October 18, 2012 -- a birthday few of us thought he'd ever see -- was way beyond special. Barbara wrapped a package with pretty paper and ribbon. I took it over there that evening. While the other dogs crowded around, Bev helped Gordy open his package. A glove! A well-worn, dirty glove. Gordy grabbed it out of the box and tore out the back door to settle down in the backyard. No way anyone else was getting near his glove. He kept it to himself the rest of the evening. Bev told me that when he woke up the next morning, magically, the glove was snuggled at his side. Bev had to say goodbye to her goofy, wonderful big guy a couple of weeks ago. Recently she said, "I really love my other dogs (Broker and Louie) but now the house seems so empty." Yeah. Willard

Sunday, December 8, 2013


It's been 115 days since my last post to this blog. Blame it on the computer. "Tecnical problems beyond my control." (Like broken sits.) The tiniest things can wreak the most havoc. You know that little vertical line that flashes where you're going to begin to type? (It must have a name, but I haven't the foggiest.) That little line refused to appear. We tried everything, to no avail. A couple of friends who know lots more about computers than I do tried. Zilch. The hills were alive with the sound of cusswords. * * * When the blog went on the fritz, at first I ho-hummed it. Probably nobody cared, anyhow. As you grind out something like this, you begin to wonder. Is there anyone out there? Or is it like the tree falling in the forest and nobody hears it? But as time passed I began to receive emails. For instance, late last week I heard from Shannon Rodgers Daspit in Des Moines, Iowa. She closed with ". . . please keep blogging, sharing, writing . . . it inspires and helps more than you'll ever know." Wow! That'll put wind beneath your wings. A day later "Aussie girl" posted a comment beneath the item I had shared on August 15,115 days ago. In part she said, "Discovered this blog recently and am waiting for more posts." Thank you Aussie girl, whoever and wherever you are. Late last January, on a day when you could float a catamaran in the ring (Yeah, here in the desert.) a prominent judge told me, "I have a puppy and I'm following your blog and using the same methods you're using with Presto!" Gee, I wonder how they're doing? So there is life out there in cyberspace. And the comments are much appreciated. OK, here we go again. * * * When last we connected here in this blogosphere, Presto! was 15 months old and I was thanking my lucky stars, and his, that he had turned on a dime and come when I called him off of a huge, intact male pit bull. At that point, his light bulb really hadn't come on. Oh, I was doing all the right things and Presto! was responding, sort of by rote. But I've found that there comes a point, actually an identifiable day, when suddenly the dog gets it. I could take you back a few weeks and tell you the precise day when that happened. Bingo! Suddenly Presto! had learned how to learn. And the tenor of our practice sessions changed dramatically. The most exciting feature of our training sessions now is the pure joy that 19-month-old Presto! exudes as he works with me. Example: scent articles. Presto! goes ripping out to the pile as fast as he can run. And as he goes, he gives a sharp growl. He attacks the pile, working at warp speed, comes back and presents the article by jumping on my chest. Many years ago my first border collie, Bebop, was also a lightning fast worker at the pile (accurate, too; in his career he got 340 correct articles in a row). Once we were showing in San Bernardino, California. There was a woman at ringside representing the Canadian Kennel Club. She told us she was observing American obedience as part of a study to possibly amend the Canadian regulations. The lady was standing with Barbara as Bebop and I did our thing in the Utility B ring. Later Barbara told me the woman shook her head and said, "I've never seen a dog work the pile that fast." Well, Presto! makes Bebop look like a tortoise. I love that enthuisiasm, it portends wonderful things for the future. But there's fast and then there's ridiculous. Lately I've been putting a flexi on Presto! as we practice scent articles. I think too much haste might make for waste. Better to slow him down a bit. But the unbridled joy with which he tackles everything we do is wonderful. Willard

Thursday, August 15, 2013

BRINGING UP PRESTO! Great Moments In Dog Obedience Training

Presto! is just over 15 months.  His training is coming along well, but there's nothing where I can look you in the eye and say, "That's solid!"

Last Sunday we were training in Cactus Park.  Presto! and I were about 30 feet from the sidewalk, practicing fronts.  I had my back to the sidewalk.  All of a sudden my little guy took off like a shot, right past me.  I turned and oh my God!  There was a guy with a huge, intact male pit bull on a leash.  I said, PRESTO! COME!  He spun and came directly back to me.  Whew!

Alice Blazer was training with us.  She said, "When Presto! saw that was a pit bull his entire life flashed before him.  That's why he came back."


Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Police in Florida have arrested a linebacker from Florida State University.  The charge?  Barking at a police dog.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Our neighborhood is crawling with rabbits.  Maybe hopping is a better word.  Ours are not the big jackrabbits you might associate with the Southwest.  They're the familiar cottontail bunnies I grew up with in Cincinnati.

They're everywhere around here, and our backyard is one of their favorite spots.  That's because it's mostly grass.  Here in Phoenix the (mountain) lion's share of yards are some kind of crushed rock with a smattering of drought-resistant plants. Cacti prevail.

So the bunnies think our well-watered grass is swell.  Actually, there's an exchange transaction going on here. The bunnies love basking in our backyard and the dogs love eating what they leave behind.  They go after it like it's a gustatory delicacy.  Which I guess is OK.  My vet tells me that rabbit poop is generally harmless; the parasites that come with it don't seem to bother dogs.

It's July here in the Sonoran Desert and the high temperatures have been ranging between 107 and 119.  Right now as I look out the window I see two bunnies.  One is stretched out full-length in the cool grass, hind legs stretched all the way back.  A flat bunny.  The other has dug himself a shallow bowl under a rose bush and he's luxuriating there.


He emerges from the back door.  Sees the bunnies.  They see him.  Nobody moves.  Presto! freezes.  High drama.  From the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail (what there is of it, given that as a puppy he chewed the white hair at the end unmercifully) his top line is low and flat.

His left front leg elevates, pointer-like.  Which is where it stays, suspended for a good 30 seconds.  Then, slowly, he lowers it.  Now the back right leg comes up.  It too stays suspended.  Meanwhile the rabbits remain frozen in place.

I've seen Presto!'s dramatic act go on for five minutes.  The bunnies fixed with his steely gaze.  Each of his paws taking its turn, raised, suspended, then lowered.  Across those long, theatrically charged minutes Presto!'s forward progress may approach six inches.  Or not.

One night a rabbit was stock still no more than 10 feet in front of my little guy as Presto! went through his stalking act.  The light was limited and my view of the bunny was partially obscured by a tall bush.  Cautiously I worked my way around to the side for a better view.  Only to discover that the bunny had his back turned to Presto!  The ultimate put-down!

Cheddar, my 11-year-old golden, occasionally gives the bunnies a half-hearted chase.  And Bravo!, my other border collie, can give them a run for their money.

One day I heard two of the rabbits talking.  One said, "Don't worry about the one in the red collar (Presto!), he's harmless."

Do we have herding instinct being manifested here?

The truth is the bunnies keep Presto! around for comic relief.


Saturday, June 29, 2013


Across the past several years I have posted to this blog 125 times, covering a variety of competition obedience-related items.  I hope at least some of those posts have been helpful.  Now I'm seeking your help.

Here in Phoenix we have a unique leash law -- constructed, by the way, with help of and strong endorsement of the AKC.  The AKC has cited it as a model ordinance for other cities to follow. (Section 8-14 of the Phoenix City Code).  I posted a four-part series to this blog explaining the law and the process by which it came to be.  It began on September 28, 2011 and concluded October 7, 2011.  It's available here in the archives.  Basically it allows anyone who can prove they're LEGITIMATELY training for an authentic dog sport to train in a Phoenix city park without fear of being cited.

Recently the Phoenix police, responding to complaints about off-leash dogs (not with legitimate trainers) running amuck in city parks in violation of the law, did a sweep and cited nearly 100 scofflaws.  That sweep has backfired.

A group (headed by a few who were ticketed) has started a "grassroots" movement to try to get a law passed that would allow designated off-leash hours in city parks.  All dogs would be allowed to run off-leash, unfenced, during designated hours.  The group mentions other areas where such laws are in force.  One is New York City where from opening to 9a.m. and again from 9p.m. to closing, dogs may run unfenced and unfettered in city parks.  The local group has mentioned Portland, Oregon and Boise, Iowa as other areas which have such laws.  There may be others.

Now then, I can just imagine trying to train for competition in an area where such a circus is going on. (By the way, here in Phoenix where today the temperature will crest near 120 degrees, the early morning hours are THE time to train.  I was in a city park before 6 o'clock this morning.)

So I'm wondering if some who are reading this live in an area where such a dogs-off-leash law is in effect?  And if so, what are your experiences trying to train in such an environment?

We are about to try to put together effective opposition to what seems to be gaining traction here. Your detailed information about what's happening in your area in the face of such a situation would be helpful.  I know some find it very difficult to use the comments section of this blog, so I would welcome your detailed information either by email  or by phone, 602-942-6069.  If I'm not right there, please leave a message and a phone number and I'll call you back.

I know trouble when I smell it, and I smell it now.  Your help would be appreciated by the entire dog sports community here in Arizona.


Monday, June 24, 2013

BRINGING UP PRESTO! Nik Wallenda and Competition Obedience

Just before 6:30 last night, as a helicopter carried Nik Wallenda to the starting point for his epic walk across the Little Colorado River Gorge, his wife, Erendira, told a Discovery Channel interviewer, "I'm so inspired by him, and I just hope that whoever watches him will also be inspired."

Well, he got me.  His tightrope walk could not have come at a better time for me.  His feat was the consummate inspiration; it cut to the very core of what I'm trying to achieve.

No, I'm not setting out to be a highwire walker.  I'm striving to attain what I call Dead Red Focus during training and in the ring.

Right before Wallenda got his 30-foot balance pole in place and mounted the wire, he said, "When I get out there, there's only the wire and me -- nothing else exists."  Exactly.  And I'm seeking that same perfect locked-in state.  In the ring -- as well as in practice -- there's only my dog and me.  Nothing can distract me.  That's the goal.

Then, for 23 gripping minutes, I watched him walk (1,500 feet above the rocks below, no harness, no net) focused on . . . well, focused on not falling to his death.  There is no greater focus, no greater mental discipline than what the world witnessed last night.

I may never attain that degree of focus with Presto!  But it's nothing more than a challenging test of will.  And I plan to get a cerebral hernia trying.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

BRINGING UP PRESTO! The Flip Side of the Seamless Exercise

I guess I can quote from one of my own books without seeking permission.  The closing sentences of chapter 8 in Remembering to Breathe are:

". . . I often ask those less experienced in the sport, 'What are the three most essential elements in successful obedience competition training?'

"Some may respond, 'A leash, a collar and a dog.'

"But the correct answer is attention, attention,attention."

Many in the competition obedience world get it.  Those with good dog attention get better scores.  You can tell that a lot of time and effort has gone into teaching those dogs -- and motivating them -- to focus on the handler and the task at hand.

What's missing is equal emphasis on handler focus.  If we expect unrelenting, bright-eyed attention from our dogs, shouldn't there be reciprocity?  Don't the dogs deserve it?

Yep!  But I see blatant, glaring disregard for that important element.

Here we have a group of people standing in a row, 12 yards from a line of dogs practicing Novice sits and downs. "Yaketty-yak."  It's a coffee klatch.  The dogs are right there in plain sight, but I wish I had $5 for every time I've had to call to a person in the line of handlers, "Hey So-andSo, your dog just went down."  

"Oh! So-and-So exclaims, surprised.  She goes and fixes her dog.  Then she returns and the 'Yaketty-yak" resumes.  And she expects what from her dog?

Then there's the the scent articles chit-chat.  The handler is rubbing up the article while making small talk with the judge.  Meanwhile Fluffy is gawking at, transfixed by, something outside the ring. At that point handler and dog are totally disengaged. Thirty seconds from now Fluffy is supposed to head for the pile sharply focused on getting the correct article.

Not once in more than two decades of showing have I had to politely tell a judge I didn't want to chit-chat while prepared the articles.  At that point my body language and demeanor say it loudly and clearly.  I have nothing on my mind except keeping my dog focused until I say, "Find mine!" and away he goes.

A big-time focus-buster in the competition ring is the temptation to check out those at ringside.  Who's there? Are they watching me? What do they think?  It gets infinitely worse when a neighbor or friend has come to watch Fluffy perform (screw up?).

A couple of years ago I decided to put the quietus on that and anything else that could divert my focus away from my dog when we're in the ring.  I created my own simple but hard-to-win game.  It's a companion piece, the flip side of The Seamless Exercise described in the preceding post.

It works like this:  I pledge to myself not to glance outside the ring.  Not once, not even for a second.  If I do, I flunk -- not an exercise but my own personal commitment.  One glance and for that time in the ring I'm an abject failure.  There is no justification for my existence.

Try it.  Not one glance in an entire run.  That's very hard to do.

What came out of this personal focus commitment paired with The Seamless Exercise was the realization that there's being there and then there's intense focus.

Being in the ring with your dog, setting him up for the exercises, parroting the commands -- that's not focus.  Intense focus is being locked in on your dog to the same degree you expect him to be locked in on you.  We're talking about exclusivity here, my dog and I being singularly focused on each other.

* * *

Something else, something totally unexpected, has emerged from my effort to lock in and focus on my dog to the exclusion of all else.

I suffered from ring nerves from the day I first walked into the ring with my Novice A dog -- that's more than two decades.  Dick Guetzloff recently told me, "You should only be nervous if you think your dog is going to screw up."

Well . . . yes!

Anyhow, I've read books written by Olympic gold-medalists.  Listened to tapes about athletic performance anxiety.  I've tried visualization, positive internal dialogue, deep breathing, psychocybernetics, and all the rest.


One afternoon during the time when I was showing Bravo!, I was talking to Louise Meredith and the subject of ring nerves came up.  Louise had recently attained an OTCH with a border collie named Luc, a dog she described as a real scaredy-cat.  "The whole time I'm in the ring with him," she told me, "I'm thinking, What can I do to make him feel better about himself?  Each exercise, each step.  So much focus on him that I lose my anxieties."

She added, "I think if you can concentrate on your dog so hard, on what you must give him, what you must do for him, you'll lose your ring nerves."

That advice dovetailed perfectly with what I was already committed to focus-wise that I immediately focused even more on, well, on focus.  And bingo!  That advice transcended  all the books, all the tapes, all the relaxation techniques that had netted me nothing for decades.  When I focus on my dog -- as Louise said, so hard -- the ring nerves can't penetrate.

And that, obedience fans, is the flip side of The Seamless Exercise.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

BRINGING UP PRESTO! The Seamless EXercise

In the first installment of this "mini-trilogy," I reported that Presto! is a learning machine, gobbling up everything I'm teaching him.  I also reported that he's strong-willed and distractible, a tough-to-handle combination.  When he's with other dogs and people, his head is on a swivel and I may not even exist.

Maturation will take care of a lot of that.  But my responsibility as I train him for the competition ring, is to assure that his development is moving in exactly the right direction.  Put more clearly:  "Here's the way it has to be, Presto!  You focus on me . . . now and forevermore."  Which, of course, is easier said than done.

Know that as far as distractible border collies are concerned this ain't my first rodeo.  Well into his obedience career Bravo!, while racking up titles, was his own dog between exercises, wandering around, sniffing.  I had a pat (glib?) answer for those who prodded me about allowing that to continue:  "Oh, Bravo! is like the major league pitcher who parties all night then shows up hung over and pitches a no-hit game."

Indeed, once I got him into position he was very accurate, very solid.  But eventually I attained enlightenment and got serious about training him out of that loosey-goosey habit.  Guess what.  When I had convinced him to sustain his focus between exercises, his scores went up.

How did I do that?  Through a process I named "The Seamless Exercise."  And that's what I have just embarked upon with Presto!  Here's how it works.

The concept is based upon the assumption that the training session (as well as the ring run, eventually) is a single exercise.  That Presto! is under command and expected to be attentive to me from the moment he steps out of his crate -- or out of the van if we are working out of the van -- until the moment the practice session or ring run is over.

That means I try to sustain his attenion regardless of what else is going on around us. No running off to sniff or visit between exercises.  No wandering even a foot or two away as I "reload," replace the treat on my armband during heeling practice.

If I have to go to the van or the setup to get something I forgot, I place Presto! on a sit or a down and expect him to be there when I return.  (At which point he gets praise and a treat.)

I'm putting a lot of emphasis on keeping him with me and attentive as we move between exercises.  He's learning "right here," which means at my left side, focused on my extended left index finger.  I may or may not have a treat cupped in my left hand as we practice "right here."  At times when we're practicing in a high-distractibility environment, initially I'll slip a leash on him at the end of each exercise and we'll "right-here" our way to the next exercise.

I've learned that sustaining focus between exercises is a lot easier than re-capturing it each time.  And highly beneficial to the performance of both of us.

What about play?  It's an integral part of The Seamless Exercise.  This morning we kicked off our session with a fierce game of tugging on the leash.  Eventually I said, "Give!"  He did.  Then, "That's all, we're gonna heel."  Presto! made no further effort to grab the leash.  Then I said, "Place!"   Presto! swung into heel position and away we went.  The entire transition took no more than 10 seconds.  I find that a fast-paced training session helps a lot.

This morning's training session -- early and in a shady park on this day when the high temperature here in the desert is expected to reach 110 degrees -- lasted about 45 minutes.  It included heeling, signals, holding and carrying the dumbbell, fronts, finishes, recalls, go-outs, a not-very-broad broad jump, lots of staying put as I moved around retrieving equipment and setting it up, and finally formal long sits and downs (four and six minutes respectively).

Interspersed in all of this were several bouts of tugging on either the leash or a rope toy; lots of soft petting and praise; and several interludes when I dropped to my knees and played with him.  Presto! loves it when I make farty noises with my mouth; he puts his paws on my shoulders and licks me in the face (or bites me in the nose).

During that 45-minute session I lost him once, near the end of the time.  After a couple of dumbbell carries he found something irresistible to sniff about 10 feet away, and he wasn't about to leave it.  I had to physically bring him back.

How long will I continue to build Presto!'s training around The Seamless exercise?  How's forever?  This is about building strong positive habits.  We know that a behavior that is not reinforced will be extinguished.  Not only will our practices be seamless, soon I'll carry the process into matches, and later into trials.

This is very easy to write about, much harder to implement.  It requires exhausting concentration and self discipline.  But as Presto! reached and passed his first birthday early last month I found myself spending a lot of time correcting his distracted (and adamant) behavior, a lot of time going and getting him and hauling him back into position.  Then doing it over again.  That's not good enough.

The Seamless Exercise is about prevention, which I've found is infinitely better.


Writing this reminds me that the subject of focus is not complete if we don't address the flip side, the handler's obligation to return the focus she expects from the dog.  Somewhere in the distant past of this blog I posted a piece on that subject.  But to round out the subject of The Seamless Exercise I should address that reciprocal obligation again.  Which I will.


Friday, June 7, 2013


In which Presto! screws up.  But not half as badly as I do.

First, let's introduce the cast of this little one-act farce.

Willard Bailey   Presto!'s person.  Well, as you will see, one of his persons.

Alicia Bauman   One of my competition obedience students.  Owned by Tristan, a big, happy golden retriever who is thundering toward his Utility debut.

Angela Hauert   Another student.  Teammate of Cole, a nearly nine-year-old golden who is about to finish his Novice A Companion Dog title.

Lynn Glickauf    Yet another student who's had 30 years in border collies, including two OTCHs.  Lynn is a snowbird from Chicago.  It was she who engineered the happy string of events that culminated last June 27th when she handed me eight-week-old Presto! in O'Hare Airport.


As Alicia put it, "Presto! chooses his friends.'  What she didn't say is if Presto! "friends" you, prepare to take a beating.  Presto! doesn't greet you, it's an explosion of euphoria, a love attack in which he takes no prisoners.  And his greeting goes on until you somehow (SOMEHOW!) manage to end it.  Alicia should know.  She and Barbara are the top two loves of Presto!'s young life.  I may be a distant third.

And then there's "the game."  Lynn and I began playing the game after her lessons with her two border collies, Danny and Timmy (Presto!'s littermate).

We train on large, grassy fields in city parks.  So I'd go out about 75 yards and call the dog.  He'd come flying to me and jump for a treat.  At which point Lynn would be calling, "Timmy come!"  And so it went, back and forth for maybe 16 reps.  Great exercise for the dogs and guaranteed to produce a well-behaved border collie for at least a few hours.  Presto! quickly joined the game, and when Alicia was around we'd play a three-cornered version.


On a recent Sunday morning, a few of us were practicing in a Phoenix park that has lots of shade and is close to the parking lot.  When Presto! was younger, Alicia would make herself scarce -- like behind a tree -- while someone else ran us through.  But that kind of dodging the issue can go on only so long.  On that recent Sunday, I said, "Come on, Alicia, run us through."

She registered doubt.  "Are you sure," she asked, "that'll be a disaster."

"Come on," I replied, "I think he's ready."  And he was.  Presto! made no effort to run to Alicia, even during go-outs practice when she stood inside the ring with a can of squeeze cheese in her hand..

"Wow!" Alicia said, "I can't believe this, his girl friend standing here with a can of cheese in her hand."

I had made a list of an assortment of exercises to practice, and the last one was the Novice stand for exam.  "No way he'll hold still for this," Alicia said.  But he did.  The exercise was perfect.

"Let's do one more," I said.

I had no sooner stood him when his attention shifted, riveted on the parking lot.  Here came Angela, hands full of training equipment, headed for our setup area.  Presto! took off like a shot.  Angela put her stuff down; I'm not sure whether she was petting him or defending herself -- a little of both I think.

Meanwhile I'm still standing in the ring, calling frantically:  "Presto! come!  Presto! come!" He wheeled and came blazing back.  Before I could catch him he turned and raced back to Angela.  He must have made that loop half a dozen times before Alicia said, "He thinks it's the game"



When I arrived home that morning I told Barbara the story.  At the point where I described Presto!'s first dash to Angela, Barbara interrupted.  "Did you go get him and haul him back to where he belonged?" 

I melted into a puddle of humiliation.  "No," I said, and the word hardly made it out of my throat.

That's always been one of my shortcomings as a trainer.  My dog pulls some major transgression during training and I turn into a spectator.  Shock?  Fascination?  A debilitating case of the duhs?  That's probably it.

I can quickly tell a student how to react, or as quickly say, "You missed a golden correction opportunity right there."

But me?  All too frequently I go catatonic.  Probably later that day -- or at 3 a.m. -- I realized what an opportunity I blew.


What was really accomplished that morning?  Presto! had a self-reinforcing, wonderful time playing "the game."  Which will lead to even more of a challenge for me the next time.

Maybe just the act of this public confession will help me snap out of my stupor next time a training "felony" occurs.


Next time:   The Seamless Exercise

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


The tenor of the earlier installments in this series about raising my little monster might lead one to believe every training session is devoid of heartburn, problemless, peachy-keen.  That it'll be tra-la all the way to our OTCH.

Believe that and I'll make you an offer you can't resist on a certain bridge.

Presto!, who turned 13 months old three days ago, is wonderful.  So smart.  A learning machine.  The lovingest dog I've ever had, suffocatingly so at times.  Want-to oozing from every pore. Never before have I encountered such a bright-eyes.  Look into those eyes and there's no doubt there's somebody home -- be warned, though, that somebody is VERY STRONG-WILLED.

At just one year of age, Presto! is ultra-distractible.  When we get into an environment with other people, other dogs, his head is on a swivel.  What do you get when you cross strong will with distractible?  You get a handful, that's what you get.  Tra-la it ain't.

We're in the practice ring, a few of us gathered to train on a Sunday morning:

Distraction  "Oh, look!  There's someone I just love.  Maybe she'll pet me."

Strong will  I will go see her right now, and by God nothing's going to stop me!"

It's our own little situation of nature versus nurture around here.  And I figure it's about 50/50.  Half of it's going to work itself out as the dog matures.  My contribution to that half is patience . . . and passing the test thereof.

But the other half is up to me.  As the maturation process runs its course, I need to make the ground rules clear.  What's expected.  What's verboten.  And introduction of a constellation of experiences called consequences.

Somewhere in the lines I've just written the words "firm hand" should have appeared.

The post you are presently reading is by way of preamble to the two that will follow within the next few days.

The first will detail a recent experience where the situation got totally out of control as my ultra-friendly little guy ran amuck. And how I botched it big-time.

The second will introduce a grand plan I'm now implementing to tighten the behavioral screws.  "Strong willed?  That's two of us, little man."


Thursday, May 9, 2013


This message is coming to you from the Voyeur Capital of the Universe.  Seventeen miles south of where I'm sitting the Jodi Arias murder trial -- 2013's opiate for the great unwashed worldwide -- drags on, now lurching into the penalty phase.

Meanwhile, I'm focused on my own transcendently more important trials:  working with a sweet but wild young border collie, helping him become all that he can be.

Presto turned one year old a week ago.  Barbara, my wife of 54 years, expressed surprise.  "I didn't think he'd make it," she said, "I thought he'd kill himself first."  But then, she's said that about each of our other border collies as well.  First Bebop, more recently Bravo!

True, Presto! is a piece of work, particularly at home.  He greets each new day by leaping onto the bed, giving half-awake Barbara a nice wet smacker right in the face.  Then he's gone before the "off" in the admonishment, "Get off!!!" can escape her lips.  Ah yes, my little guy and Barbara:  it's quickly become one of the great love stories of our time.  Don't listen to what she says about him, observe how she relates to him.

And don't you think for a moment that the little monster's training isn't coming along splendidly.  Aided in no small measure by Barbara's occasional prescence.  True, she's never trained a dog for competition obedience (although she and her little poodle Noche' did quite well in agility). And she showed Bebop in conformation, all the way to his becoming the very first border collie breed champion in Arizona.

While Barbara has neither trained nor shown a dog in competition obedience, she darn well knows sloppy when she sees it.  And on the occasions when she has time to watch us train, her role is to hold my feet to the fire.

Like this:  I might be practicing go-outs and my focus is on what happens (or doesn't happen) when the dog runs to the opposite end of the ring.  At times like that I may hear a strong rebuke:  "Why don't you have him in perfect heel position before you send him?"  Of course she's right.  In those situations -- in the interest of getting on with what I'm teaching -- I tend to start Presto! in the vicinity of heel position.  It's so helpful to have an observer who'll say, "Each time you have the dog in heel position you should insist that it be no less than perfect."

Or maybe I'm practicing finishes.  How comfortable it is when I'm practicing alone to not bother starting that little drill with the dog at a perfect front.  I can't emphasize too strongly how valuable it is to have someone who knows what to look for and doesn't hesitate to call you on the unintentional omissions that later would translate into pesky deductions in the competition ring.

So while the rest of the world is obsessed with the "trial of the century" (read circus of the century) I'm obsessed with trying to control the million miserable little details that separate also-rans from high-in-trial teams.

On the other hand, there's what I can't control, most notably Presto!'s ascent to maturity.  Right now, at one year, he's got a long way to go. Immaturity manifests itself in such things as distractibility.  I work on that in the ways I can.  By entering the all-too-few fun matches we have around here.  By heeling in front of The Home Depot and down the aisles at PetSmart.

But the lion's share of the answer is patience, waiting it out.  That's going to be tough for me.  Those who follow this blog know that Bravo! was at the top of his game when lymphangiectasia poleaxed him a couple of years ago.  An epic battle and nearly $12,000 later Bravo! is fine.  His diarrhea is long gone, his weight is back to normal and his coat is more beautiful than it's ever been . . . and he'll be on the very expensive drug cyclosporin for the rest of his life.  But unfortuntely I can't train and show him. Even the most benign training involves enough stress to trigger the diarrhea again.

So I have nothing to show.  Which means waiting out Presto!'s maturity is going to require transcendent self-discipline.

Yesterday we heeled in the dog food aisles at PetSmart.  Presto!'s usually nice heeling has never been worse.  It was pathetic.

Arias, schmarias, my litle guy and I have work to do.


Monday, April 15, 2013


The Demise of Veterans

Honeybear (my first golden retriever, my first competition obedience dog) finished her OTCH at the age of nine years, nine months and 25 days.  The first thing I did, right outside the ring gate, was drop to my knees, put my arm around her and tell her, "Honeybear, you'll never have to jump again."

Our road had been rocky as we entered the home stretch on our quest for the Holy Grail of dog sports.  Seven months earlier HB had had her right knee rebuilt following a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.  Then, eleven points from the finish line, she had mysteriously sustained a hairline fracture in a back paw.  And with 199 points -- one stinkin' lousy point from our goal -- she began refusing the jumps.  I credit acupuncture treatments by veterinarian Alice Blazer for getting her back on track to finish our OTCH

Clearly, then, on that glorious Sunday morning in Las Cruces, New Mexico, it was time to pull the plug on jumping.  But was it time, also, to terminate Honeybear's career in the ring?  NO! She loved working with me far too much for me to sentence her to couch potato status.  So for the ensuing three years and seven months, until she was well into her 14th year, we showed in Veterans.

When it finally became obvious that she was laboring -- and it came suddenly, in San Juan Capistrano on May 10, 2003 -- she retired . . .again.  She had shown in Veterans 28 times.  She had won the class 24 times, finished second three times and gotten up on the down once.  During her "second career" in Veterans, HB had averaged 197.8.

I hadn't been just pulling her off the couch and taking her to shows.  We had trained.  For Honeybear it had been as if nothing had changed . . . except now she was no longer jumping.  She was still "in there."  And she loved it.

During that period, we noticed an interesting phenomenon locally.  Entries in Veterans increased (from one or two to five or six).  People saw what was going on with Honeybear and they wanted to bring their dogs out, too.

Fast-forward to the present.  Since January of this year I've received 28 premium lists from dog clubs here in the far west -- Arizona, California, Nevada.  Twenty-one offered obedience.  Only one -- Vegas Valley Dog Obedience Club -- offered Veterans.  Clubs are now offering the new optional titling classes, which are attracting more entries than Veterans would.  It's a matter of time and money.  There's just no room for the old dogs anymore.


The Demise of Obedience

This is hardly new news, but it is what it is.  And what it is is troubling for one who has a wonderful puppy prepping to debut in competition obedience in the not-too-distant future.

Of the 28 premium lists I referred to above, seven contained unhappy surprises.  Those seven clubs had offered obedience as recently as 2012.  But not here in 2013.  That's 25 percent attrition among the clubs in the random sample I have in my file.

That's sad, too.  And scary.

The Lonliness of the Novice A Handler

I have a student who has recently brought her golden retriever out in Novice A.  Cole is well into his ninth year.  And happy, happy, happy.  I don't know how far we'll be able to go with Cole, but for right now it's pure joy to watch him frisk around the ring.

That's the good news.  The bad news is that with one exception Angie and Cole (who's a low-190s dog) have been the only team entered in their Novice A classes (here in America's sixth largest city).

Again, sad/scary.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

BRINGING UP PRESTO! We Graduate to PetSmart, Part 2

I must admit I'm a fan of PetSmart.  True, they're overpriced, but Presto! is my fifth competition obedience dog who has received part of his training (largely sits and downs and heeling) inside a PetSmart store.  The management has always been friendly, helpful and tolerant.

So one day last week, at 9:15 in the morning, Presto! entered a PetSmart store for the first time.  They open at 9:00 and I figured we'd dip our toes in the water when the store wasn't very crowded.  We'll enrich Presto!'s experience gradually over the coming months.

We traveled light on our first visit.  I had my dog, a few treats, a four-foot leash and a 2x3' mat with a rubberized, non-skid back.  PetSmart's floor is polished concrete (the better to clean up you know what).  Put a dog on a long sit on that surface and you can watch the hind legs slide out, out, out.  So we go prepared.

I kept it simple for our first foray. Later I'll carry a bag with a 30-foot long line and two signs in stand-up clear plastic holders.  The signs, to be placed in front and back of Presto!, say:  Please Don't Pet Me.  I'm Practicing Obedience.

Not that the signs will stop Brunhilde from lumbering over so that Tootsie, her 100-pound rottweiler, can "meet" my puppy (and thereby risk excision of her dog's Adam's apple.), but they do tend to keep most of the knuckleheads at bay.

Like everything else in Presto!'s training, his sits and downs practice at PetSmart will proceed in modest increments.  Ultimately I'll be 30 feet away at the end of the long line.  Then I'll drop the line.  And then I'll start incremental out-of-sight segments.

Once I've built the store managements confidence -- to say nothing of my own -- I may eliminate the long line.  We'll see. (That blog post will by titled "Stark Naked In PetSmart").

All this is taking place smack-dab in the center of the store, right where several main aisles intersect.  The neat thing is that about 30 feet away from the sitting dog is the area where they have parakets and other exotic birds for sale.  I can duck behind several rows of those cages.  Then, looking through the cages, I'll have an unobstructed view of Presto!, but he won't be able to see me.  What could be more perfect for practicing out-of-sight sits and downs?

By the way, all of this takes place with me between the dog and the front door.  A hair-raising chase inside (and almost outside) The Home Depot a few years ago infused me with instant enlightenment.

Our first little PetSmart adventure last week was a piece of cake.  I was at the end of a four-foot leash for a four-minute sit and a six-minute down.  A few people passed, oohed and aahed, and Presto!'s head was on a swivel but he didn't budge.

Later, when I have him in there with heavy traffic and maybe a forklift stocking high shelves one aisle over, it'll be more of a test.

For now, though, our PetSmart Phase is underway.  Tomorrow morning we'll add in a little heeling.


Friday, March 29, 2013

BRINGING UP PRESTO! We Graduate to PetSmart, Part 1

Dad burn it!  A line of dogs ain't no place to teach a puppy to sit and down.  But I see people trying to do that.  I'm not talking about teaching the dog to hold position during the group exercises.  I'm referring to watching little 16-week-old Fluffy get her first lesson (or even her tenth for that matter) in how to sit or down, for even a few seconds, with a golden on her left and a border collie on her right.

 Dumb!  Dumb!  Dumb!

Learning any new thing is hard enough for a puppy without having to succeed while being bombarded by the stimuli emanating from a line of dogs and their handlers.  The latter probably klatching at the other end of the ring, paying no attention whatever to their own dogs.

Once I watched a person who should know better trying to teach her puppy to down in the setting I've just described.  I'm not making this up; before she gave up about one minute into the fiasco, the puppy, yo-yoesque, had popped up 11 times.  And this was a veteran handler -- meaning she had one year of experience 20 times.

Moving right along . . . I have pretty definite ideas about how I prepare my dogs to succeed in the group exercises.

Presto! has learned basic sits and downs in the friendly confines of the backyard.  And I've gone one step beyond that.  Most of the time Presto! has practiced sits and downs in the PVC box that I also use to teach signals and go-outs.

Given those environmental constraints, the steps have been pretty routine.  Baby steps (literally) to increase the distance.  Lots of verbal encouragement and generous reinforcement with treats.  Feeding with my knuckles on the ground when reinforcing the down.

Along the way I've also practiced this in the park when distractions have been present but not overwhelming.

During this phase I've gradually worked my way out to 40 feet.  Frankly, this hasn't been a piece of cake with Presto!  As I indicated in a post I shared several weeks ago, Presto! does not seem to carry the staying-put gene.

Normally in my scheme of things the next step would be sits and downs in the center aisle at PetSmart.  But I jumped the track a couple of weeks ago.  I was curious to see how my little guy (then 10 months old) would do adjacent to the line of dogs at our Sunday morning training group. (Yep:  Dumb! Dumb! Dumb!)  Then I compounded my mistake by sitting him there --  about 10 feet from the closest dog -- with no leash, no long line, nothing but a prayer.

After I had chased Presto! around the ring (baby gates, thank God) a couple of times, I attained belated enlightenment.  And a few days ago Presto! and I practiced sits and downs in PetSmart for the first time.

Which will be the topic of my next post.


Saturday, March 23, 2013


The first time I was entered in the Gaines with Honeybear (The 1993 Gaines Cycle Central Regional Dog Obedience Championship in San Antonio) my wife Barbara looked around and said, "If all these people are having so much fun, why do they all look so stressed?"


I've often thought that what goes on outside the ring -- in private moments of agony (and there's plenty of that) or ecstasy, alone with our thoughts and our dogs -- may be more important than what goes on inside the ring.  After all, once we enter the ring what we are allowed to do is pretty well constrained by the regs and the judge.  What's more, by the time we're accomplished enough to qualify for a berth in a big national tournament what we do in the ring may well be executed largely by rote -- and thank God for that.  But what's going on in our heads and in our world outside that ring, well . . .

Which brings us to the recent AKC National Obedience Championship (NOA) and Jeremy Schuster and Mack.  Why am I sharing what follows?  Because I think it gives us rare insight into the emotional gauntlet competitors may be running privately while everyone else is focused on the splendid show that's unfolding inside the ring.

Jeremy is a lawyer in Long Beach, California.  He shows Rottweilers in competition obedience.  I've known Jeremy and Mack for a number of years, but not very well.  But well enough to know that when they show up at a trial the rest of us had better bring our A game.

Indeed, Mack recently became the first Rottweiler in the United states to attain the level of Obedience Grand Master.

At the close of the second day of the 2013 NOA Jeremy posted on his Facebook page some thoughts on his experiences at this year's tournament.  Many who read them were impressed that an NOA competitor had the self assurance, the ego strength, that Jeremy displayed when he opened up and shared the inner turmoil he had experienced outside the ring that day.  I'm reproducing those thoughts below.

First though, I'll clarify a puzzling comment he made in the first paragraph of his introspection:  "We started off the National Obedience competition poorly with me in a panic because I was told we might not be permitted to compete . . ."  I, like others who read that comment, said, "Huh?"  So I asked him to please drop the other shoe.  And he did.

Entering their very first ring on the first day of the event, Jeremy and Mack were blindsided by a boondoggle all of us have experienced.  Jeremy read the placards outside the ring and noted that he and Mack were fourth in.  Except that, contrary to custom, multiple absentees preceding them were not shown.  Soon the PA system summoned Jeremy to the ring where he was told he had missed his turn and might not be allowed to compete.

"Thinking of all that had gone into preparing for and getting to the event (Long Beach to Tulsa), my heart sank," he told me.  Just as he was blaming himself and wondering how to handle this sudden mess, he was told, "Go in now!"

"Right now?" he asked

"Yes, now!"

Jeremy continued, "So I ran into the ring with Mack, who had not been prepped and was likely startled, and we were rushed right into the first exercise -- the drop on recall which was toward the bleachers and alongside a pedestrian aisleway with everyone heading toward their rings."

The dog didn't focus, missed the drop signal and Jeremy and Mack began their fifth Invitational together with a big fat NQ.

Now let's return to Jeremy's unique stream-of-consciousness report following the second day of the tournament.

I've learned so much about training and my dog.  We started off the NOA poorly with me in a panic because I was told we might not be permitted to compete -- and likely that stress coming into the ring had a hand in the NQ we received there, who knows, but it was a bad way to start off a two-day competition.

Then we followed with modest performances.  Lackluster, really, and I was disappointed because I knew what my dog is capable of and I blamed myself for failing to get him the rest he needed prior to competition.  As Mack perked up in the afternoon, I felt a little better, but it was a challenge to be all I could for him after the NQ and a few of his opportunistic tourist finishes.  I ended the day mentally and physically exhausted, thankful for a few moments of his brilliance.

Today was better because Mack's attitude and energy seemed to be on the rise -- until after lunch when he "mailed in" two ring performances that I thought meant he was too tired.  Mack walked in on two exercises.  I was disappointed but not upset, as the dog had achieved most every goal I had set.  I figured, "Okay, it's over, he's too old and it was likely pushing it to try this competition."  Thoughts like, "I  should have known better," and the echoes of everyone saying, "He should have been retired,"  were in my mind.  I know I pushed him to finish off  the Obedience Grand Master title, but I was careful about how I did it (one day here, one day there, then a couple half days in a row) and felt as long as he was able I could be selfish and try for that title (he's the first Rottie to earn it).

After the second walk-in, and looking in the judge's eyes (who knew he was better, since he had done a 198 with her during the weekend trial she was judging just two weeks ago), I thought, "This is not my dog."  Honestly, I was a bit embarrassed at that point, mostly for myself for competing him.  Now I know why people opt to go out while on top.

I decided if we were going to "fail out," it couldn't hurt to at least give Mack a pep talk.  We went outside, tried an exercise (drop on recall) and he slogged along.  I said, "Oh, don't give me that, YOU"RE A ROTTWEILER, and I KNOW you can do more. "   I stopped Mack halfway and pushed into him.  He looked up, quizzically, as if to say, "Huh?" I said, "C'mon, Mack," and I advanced toward him again, tapping his chest with my knee.  I said, "If you're too old, fine, but if not, then show me what you've got."  He stepped forward. I pushed him back.  He growled and took a step forward, and I pushed him back a half step.  "You want to play or go home?"  A somewhat muted  "woof."

"What was that?" I said as I pushed with my hands and quickly stepped back.


"I can't hear you!" I said, and I tapped his chest and lifted him slightly.

"WOOF!" Mack said, hopping up and down like he does in his "food dance."

"That's my dog!" I said.  "So stay or go home? " 

 "WOOF!  WOOF!  And happy feet.

I didn't know if it would last once we went inside, but it was as if the switch flipped.  I could see it in his eyes and movement.  Suddenly the dog that had been mailing in everything for as long as I had been letting him (months, really) looked at me as if to say, "OK, if you really want to show them something, then let's do it."

We went into the next ring where we had to do signals (a crazy-ass heeling pattern; thank you Judge Curtis.) a glove retrieve and a drop on recall.  Total deductions: two points. Right into the next ring with another drop, a retrieve over the high jump (Mack's nemesis) and a broad jump.  Total deductions:  2.5 points, with the judge making a point of telling me he hit me for two points because of my signal.  So a near perfect performance from Mack in his eighth ring.

I shouldn't have let him "mail it in" the past few months.  I let him do his own thing and he completely coasted, falling off in performance to the point where I was ashamed I brought him out when all I had to do was remind him with some physical play to "get back in the game" and that we were really "together," as that was what he needed to see.  No pops, no jerking, no old school hang-the-dog.  This dog works with heart and soul and just needed hands-on to get him rev'd and to feel it mattered.  Now I'm embarrassed that I didn't recognize what was going on sooner, but I was caught up in everyone else's opinion of whether or not the dog should be competing.  But that's another lesson learned, and the methodology for dealing with this older dog will be one more tool in the proverbial training toolbox.

Abraham Maslow said words to this effect:  "If the only tool you have is a hammer, all your problems look like nails."  I've learned so much and recognize that I learned more today -- and hopefully will be a better trainer as a result.  I know I couldn't be more proud of my dog working with me and sometimes challenging me to find the right path, rather than going by rote or laying it all out for me.

Sorry Mack, it just took me some time to figure it out.  You're the greatest, not to mention likely the first Rottweiler or Working Group dog to compete in five consecutive events like this and earn first in the Working Group three times.  I hope you enjoy the mac n cheese and chicken n gravy tonight. :)

John Cox posted this comment:  "What a fantastic lesson for all of us to remember.  Keeping an open mind and perseverance are key elements in learning.  These dogs are our buddies and we need to believe in them and teach them to believe in themselves and us."

And Deb Girvin said:  "This story is worthy of some ink on real paper, for a re-read frequently."

Well, here it is.


Monday, March 11, 2013

BRINGING UP PRESTO! Pinpoint Heeling: What Was I Thinking?

If you are a devotee of Pinpoint Heeling or fully understand the steps, what follows may interest you, might even elicit a chuckle.  If the concept of Pinpoint Heeling is new to you, check out a series of posts -- called "Attention, Attention, Attention"  -- which I wrote in October/November 2011.  You can access those earlier posts by clicking on Blog Archive at the right of your screen.

OK, I've had it with my little monster stealing the treats off my armband.  So, several months earlier than I had planned, I've turned the stick (now hardly more than a nub) inward.  Now the treat is under my arm, and now the little thief gets it on my terms instead of his.  I mean, Presto! is a jumper to be reckoned with.  I'm 6' 5" and he can easily -- easily! -- leap from a sitting position and grab my nose.  And does.

It was with much trepidation that I turned the stick inward much sooner than I had planned.  Pinpoint Heeling, after all, is a process.  I think of it as maybe an 18-month process.  Maybe even longer to get the pinpoint in the heeling.  Shortcut it and you're risking a disappointing outcome. 

Uninitiated observers have no idea.  Late in the process, when the stick and the armband and the treat become obvious, people see my dog or my students' dogs heeling with their heads up, focused on the armband.  That's when they begin to hyperventilate.  Oh my!  All they need is to get one of those things, slap it on their left arm, take off with Fluffy and attain heeling nirvana.  Except it doesn't work that way.

They approach me:  "Can you tell me where to get one of those (magical) things?"  I've counseled with a few of them, to no avail;.  I can tell by the bulgingness of their eyeballs that they want me to shut up and give them the email address.  I have yet to see one of those mouth-breathers get a lick of good out of their quick fix.

It's a process!  And I had anxiety about short-circuiting it.  But darn it, the little hooligan was stealing me blind.

Which set me to thinking about what clutters our focus along the way.

On day one, ideally at seven weeks -- eight weeks if the puppy has arrived by commercial air carrier -- I'm holding a treat low in front of me, in both hands, and I'm backing up as the puppy follows the treat.  Soon we'll do circles and little figure eights around my legs.  At this point all the puppy has to do is follow the treat.  What am I thinking?  Cute! Cute! Cute!

By and by I swing him around to my left side.  Now the treat is in my left hand and I'm holding it about a quarter inch above his nose.  This isn't about heel position.  It's still about what Louise Meredith, the doyenne of this method, calls, "little follow exercises."  At this point the objective is for the puppy to be fixated on the treat, learning to follow it, but in the same zip code, that's all.  That doesn't require much thought on my part, except Cute! Cute! Cute!

Sometime later I begin to encourage my puppy to remain in heel position.  Suddenly I've hit a stage where it's easy, almost natural, to screw up.  I know that if I want my little guy to begin to identify heel position I must not let my left hand drift, I must not wave the food around.  That's harder than it might seem..  Particularly as I want my little guy to succeed and the natural tendency is to take the treat to his nose rather than insist he come to it .

So if I've been impressed with the importance of keeping the treat even with the seam of my pants, perhaps aided by grasping my pants with tha last two fingers of my left hand, where's my focus? On me.  On that hand and arm.  Concentrating on corraling that wandering treat.

And so it goes as I slowly -- we're talking several weeks at least -- raise the treat to belt level.  Once the treat is well established at belt level and Fluffy is focused on it, now's the time for the stealing circus to begin -- assuming the dog is prone to snatching the treat, and many are not.

Now I'm going to place the treat on the slightly beveled end of a seven-inch stick.  I hold the stick in my right hand, across my body.  My wrist rests firmly against my body, just above the belt.  As long as my wrist is securely in place, the treat is right where I want it, in heel position.  AND hanging out there unprotected, begging the dog to steal it.  In my world, the more Presto! tries to steal the treat the happier I am (to a point).  I know he's watching it and I know he has pizzazz.

What I want to happen is when the dog is heeling head up in perfect position I say, "Get it!"  Presto! jumps for the treat and I break him out.

I've worked with dogs who were hell-bent to filch that treat (and others who had to be coaxed to get it).  Remember, the stick is in the right hand.  That leaves the left hand free to fend off the little thief . . . if you're vigilant and quick enough.

Vigilant.  Ah, there's the rub.  Webster defines vigilant as "watchful and alert, especially to guard against danger, difficulties or errors."  Yep!  He knew about the treat hanging out there on the stick.

So now what am I thinking?  Is my focus on keeping Presto! in perfect heel position, reinforcing at just the right moment?  God no!  Every fiber of my being is on high alert, trying to keep that coiled-spring animal from snatching his reward on his terms.  Heel position, schmeel position, I'm focused on keeping the little stinker from stealing me blind.  And on remembering to breathe.

Several weeks pass.  Enough!  I'll show him!  I'll move the treat up to my armband, that's what I'll do.
What a joke!  This spectacular leaper could steal the treat if I placed it on top of my head.  Same drill.  I'm in protection mode.  I lurch along, appearing for all the world as if I have St. Vitus Dance as I recoil from each upward thrust of my little "Jaws."

It's true that I can hold my left hand out, palm down, just above Presto!'s head, thereby cutting down on the number of steals.  Notice that I didn't say eliminating them.  Let's see, the treat is on the stick so that my dog can focus on it.  And stay in heel position.  Right?  Now, in extreme defensive mode, my hand is fending off my plundering dog (sort of) . . . and blocking his view of the treat.  Unless he forges and looks back to see it.

 And what am I thinking now?  Well, beyond words that are bluer than the language in a hockey team's dressing room I'm focused a lot on having my hand out there, prepared to counter the next assault.  And occasionally contemplating a main course I might call Presto! stroganoff.  But darn little about putting the pinpoint in Pinpoint Heeling.

This goes on for a number of weeks.  Finally we reach the breaking point.  Process,schmocess!  I turn the stick around so the treat is securely under my arm.

Instant change!

Somewhat to my surprise, it's working. Why?  Because for the first time with this dog I'm focused on heeling, on the precision that Pinpoint Heeling implies.  I'm thinking about where Presto! is . . . in the horizontal plane, not the vertical plane.  On where exactly he is in relation to the perfect picture of the perfectly heeling dog.  I'm acutely aware of his head position, most importantly if and when he drops it, and I'm hair-trigger ready to correct when that happens.  As well as to give him the treat on my schedule.

For the first time in this process my mind isn't captive to the many physical challenges that inevitably creep into -- no, dominate -- our attention as we progress through the stages of Pinpoint Heeling.

Life is good.

I'm totally sold on Pinpoint Heeling as a way to teach heeling.  But sometimes ya hafta do what ya hafta do.  And sometimes it works.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

BRINGING UP PRESTO! Taking Stock, Part 3

This winds up our little journey through the hits and misses I've encountered as I've begun Presto!'s competition obedience education (and mine).

Retrieving  Until recently, if, when playing word association, you challenged with, "retrieve," my response would have been, "What Presto! doesn't."  It hasn't been my first experience with a non-retrieving dog.  My first instructor and long-time friend Debby Boehm likes to say, "Anytime someone brings me a dog that has retriever in its name I can be certain of only one thing:  that dog won't retrieve."

Indeed, Cheddar, my now-retired golden retriever, drove me crazy for a year as I tried to teach him to retrieve.  He then became a solid, dependable retriever in the competition obedience ring.

So Presto! hasn't panicked me; he's just frustrated me.  I'd throw a ball.  He'd take off after it.  When he caught up with it he'd lie down  and chew it.  If it was a tennis ball, he'd begin to strip the fuzz off  . . . and eat it.  I jettisoned all tennis balls.

He likes to play with Kong toys -- the black Kong toys and bones are the only toys he can't demolish in record time.  We have two large, round dog beds on the floor in the master bedroom.  Presto! likes to settle on one of those beds and play with a Kong toy.  One afternoon I got down on the bed with him and we both played with the Kong toy.  Pretty soon I tossed it across the room.  Presto! tore after it . . . and brought it back to me!  I was stunned, but not too stunned to toss it again.  Same result.  At that point I quit; I didn't want to stretch my luck.

But we did it again the next day, with success.  I soon learned that the little rat would retrieve, if the following parameters were in place:  we were in the bedroom, the game emanated from the dog bed, the retrieve object was his Kong toy, and I didn't press my luck beyond three tosses.

Pretty soon I was feeling my oats.  I moved the game into a hallway that dead-ended at a closed door.  That gave me a restricted area in which to play our little retrieving game.  From my knees about four feet back from the closed door, I tossed the Kong toy.  If Presto! brought it back, he received a treat.  Initially I was successful about 50 percent of the time.  On the unsuccessful reps, Presto! would run out to the toy, then without picking it up hustle back to me, anticipating a treat that didn't materialize.

By the third day he had caught on .  He was retrieving the toy every time and placing it in my hand.  Then I switched to a Kong ball.  He snatches it up and brings it back.  Now I've worked my way back to the end of the hall, about 20 feet.  He's still snatching the Kong ball and hustling back.

Recently I tried it in the backyard with a tennis ball.  He settled down and began to gnaw the fuzz off of it.  We still have plenty of work to do.

Distracted Recalls  Competition, schmampetition!  The most important thing you can teach a dog is to turn on a dime and come when called.  That "exercise" can save a dogs life when an 18-wheeler is bearing down.  I put Presto! on a flexi and walk him in the neighborhood or in the park.  Anyplace where he'll go to the end of the line and get really interested in something else.  Then, "Presto! come!"  Pop!  And when he gets to me he jumps for a treat and hears, "Good come!  Good come!"

Presto!'s response to coming when called has improved since I've been doing that.  But I need to do a lot more of it.  Typing this post has given me a kick in the pants.

One caveat:  This doesn't work well when done formally in a training setting.  The dog catches on to the game quickly.  You are where the treats are and he won''t leave you or go far enough to allow for a substantial recall.  It works best on an informal walk with natural distractions.

Household Manners  Oh, why ruin a perfectly good series of posts about obedience training?


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

BRINGING UP PRESTO! Taking Stock, Part 2.

When last we convened here in cyberspace, I had decided it was time for a little accounting.  A report on the State of Bringing Up Presto!  What's going really well and what has me banging my head against the wall.  To continue:

Go-Outs  Presto! began learning the Utility directed jumping go-outs during the first week he was here.  Why so early?

First of all, puppy go-outs are really fun.  The puppy gets to run a short distance as fast as his little legs will carry him, snatch a treat from a target, then run back to where I'm kneeling and jump for the treat I'm holding.  (But not very high)

Second, there won't be a difficult transition later on when the dog who has learned that heel position is a highly desirable place suddenly has to learn all that stuff about running away from me, going straight, going until I tell him to stop, then making a tight turn and sitting.  He's nine months old now, and he knows all of it.  More importantly, he loves it

Go-outs and heeling are tied for the things I'm most pleased with to date.

Fronts and Finishes  Honeybear went all the way to her OTCH without learning to front.  Had she been able to front really well, I'll bet we'd have finished a year sooner.  Truth be told, I've never had a really good fronting dog.  There must be something in the water.

We're working on it.  It seems to be coming  well with Presto! But who knows?

Finishes are another matter.  With Bravo! I have learned belatedly that finishes that looked great to me were actually lousy -- because I was lining him up with my left foot, which points to San Francisco instead of the North Pole.  Now that I know, I'm trying not to repeat that mistake with Presto!

How will the little guy's fronts and finishes be in competrition?  See you in the ring.

Stand for Exam  I guess the stand for exam falls into the same category as Presto!'s staying put problem. (See part one of this little series.)  Fundamentally he's a wiggle worm.  He's fine on the sit for exam; he has no problem with hands on him.  But on the stand . . . well.

The PVC box has so many uses.  So I've begun standing him in the box.  And here we go with the baby steps again -- tiny baby steps.  At first I've stayed really close to him, initially letting him nibble on a treat, then dispensing with the treat.  Meanwhile, someone was slowly circling me and the box.  A few days later I moved back a couple of steps.  Now the circling helper was passing between Presto! and me.  And a couple of weeks ago the circler began touching him lightly as she passed his left side.  Then touching him twice.  Now three times.

Sometime we'll remove the box.  Patience, patience, patience, I tell myself.

Taking and holding  This, too, has not been accomplished at warp speed.  When Presto! was very young, we played a lot with a metal spoon.  Just to get him used to having metal in his mouth -- preparing for eventual introduction of the metal scent article.

Later I got serious about, "Take it." (Said softly;  there's no loud, threatening verbiage in any of this.  I'm not one of those idiots who's yelling at her dog in the next ring.)  I started with the leather scent article because I think it's the most, well, "palatable" of the objects I want Presto! to hold in his mouth.

Sitting in a chair -- up at the front of the seat -- I gently pull the dog into a sit, up close between my legs.  Palm up, I'm holding the collar under his chin with the object in the other hand.  I want him to move toward the object; I'm not thrusting it at him.

We're talking many weeks here, maybe 30 seconds a day.  Patience?  Oh my God!  And finally a couple of weeks ago he opened his mouth and took the leather scent article.  Immediate release.  Lots of praise, then a treat.

Then on to coaxing him to hold it, not spit it out.  Two seconds.  Five.  Now ten.  And that's all I need.

A few days ago I switched, suddenly popping the wooden dumbbell in there.  Same holding drill.  No problem.

And two days ago I went to the metal article.  At first he wanted to spit it out.  But we're coming to grips with it now.  Think positive thoughts.

Next time:  We'll wrap up this little stock-taking review.


Monday, January 28, 2013

BRINGING UP PRESTO! Taking Stock, Part One

On the evening I flew in here (Phoenix) from Chicago with Presto! in a Sherpa bag, he was eight weeks old.  At 9 o'clock the next morning he was in the backyard having his first competition obedience lesson.  And I began chronicling his development in this blog.

Now I meet people -- competitors, judges, people I respect immensely -- who say, "I'm following your blog and I'm using the same methods you are as I train my puppy."  That's quite a compliment.  And it also brings a heightened sense of responsibility about what I write here.

So maybe it's time to take stock, to write a few comments about how it's going.  What's going really well?  What's giving me fits?

The Dog  Presto!'s just a few days short of nine months old now.  Beautiful.  Perfectly marked.  Smart, smart, smart.  But strong willed.  He wants what he wants and he wants it now.  Happily, what he wants and wants now includes working with me.  On the other hand, what he wants may be the cookie that's in my hand approaching my mouth.  Presto! has no qualms whatever about leaping from a sit and snatching that cookie just as it enters my mouth.

Well, I wanted the male in that wonderful litter of Wildfire border collie puppies who was the most full of himself, didn't I?   I got him.  Presto! is a lotta dog.

Heeling  I put a great deal of emphasis on heeling.  It's the first thing the judge sees in most rings.  And I believe it's the  make-or-break exercise in developing good dog attention.  On the morning after Presto! walked into our house on his eight-week birthday, I had a treat just above his nose and he was doing little follow patterns.  And loving it.

We've passed through a series of preliminary steps in the Pinpoint Heeling method and now the treat is on the little stick on my armband.  He's focusing very well on the armband -- unless there's something else of great interest close at hand.  (We'll talk about that problem below.) 

We started the heeling-development process off leash.  First of all, I find it much easier to direct the dog's focus -- and to try to keep him from stealing the treat --  if I don't have to commit one hand to holding the leash.  Second, we'll never have to go through the heartburn and anxiety that later on accompanies, "Oh my God, it's time to heel the dog off-leash!"  At this point some of our heeling practice is on leash, some off.

Presto!'s heeling development is going very well . . . as long as the environment is relatively familiar and there isn't a lot of activity around us.

Distractions  Presto! is a young, intact male border collie.  And the world is a fascinating place.  Which leads to gawking and sniffing and sometimes lunging, wanting to play.  It's not rocket science.  I simply have to get him in as many situations with distractions as possible and insist on his attention.  I'm doing that.  When there's a trial where of course we're not entered, I work him a litle bit outside the ring.  If we're entered in a match, I find it helpful to warm him up far longer than I've found necessary with previous dogs.  And when practicing, I'm trying to get him out of the backyard as much as possible.  We're making progress. Slowly.

Baby Steps  I know of people who have brought their dogs out in Novice at six months of age.  Successfully.  Good for them, but it doesn't happen here.  I emphasize to my students the importance of developing every skill, every exercise in tiny increments.  Making sure each block in the foundation is solid before trying to build on it.

Presto! is so smart, so gung-ho that it's tempting to forge ahead.  I've caught myself doing that a few times, and I've reminded myself it's a marathon, not a sprint.

Sits and Downs  I'm not talking about group sits and downs here.  Just a simple "stay put" for whatever reason.

The down-stay has been particularly tough for Presto!  Getting him down has been easy.  I taught him the concertina down in a PVC box and he folds back nicely.  It's convincing him not to pop back up that has been a trial.  Talk about baby steps!  After much futility, I began getting down on my knees in front of him, putting him down, staying on my knees and softly saying, "Good down" or Good stay."  Then my getting-up process began.  Getting off your knees and all the way to an erect stand in about ten painful increments spaced across several weeks is, well, painful.  Next came the backing up process, a step at a time.  Long story short:  The last few days I've been able to get Presto! to do a three-minute down (still in the box) while I'm back about 30 feet.

The sit problem has been somewhat different.  He'll sit easily and he'll stay while I'm there, no popping up.  But here's where rushing the process backfired on me.  He sat so nicely that I began leaving him for a recall.  Which he does like a bullet . . . if I can ever get him to stay put until I get where I'm going and turn around.  Not that he followed me; he'd be up and sniffing when I turned around.

So began the tedious process of going out short distances.  Turning.  Praising.  Then returning and giving him a treat.  Again, I've found that doing this in the PVC box is quite helpful. 

I would say that these stay-put problems have been my biggest challenges to date.

Next time:  More Taking Stock


Thursday, January 3, 2013

BRINGING UP PRESTO! A New Year's Invoice

On the first day of the new year, my true love gave to me . . . a bill.

Presto!'s Debt to Me

3 pair bikini panties

1 pair Ann Klein hose

2 pair socks

carpet at three doorways

1 watchband

1 '3x5' beige area rug

1 pair UGG slippers

and counting.

That, too, is part of bringing up Presto!

* * *

Coming in 2013, the third in a trilogy about real life with competition obedience dogs:  BRAVO!  Confessions of a Competition Obedience Junkie