Monday, May 23, 2011

Cooper's Type 1 test. The good, the bad and the VERY ugly.

Well, I certainly don't like to write about failures, but there it is, slapping me in the face.  Cooper failed his Type 1/CE USAR test last Saturday.  I posted my immediate disappointment to FB, of course, but it has taken until today to feel up to making a more complete comment.

With our late snows and not being on the rubble pile until recently, I stlll felt very good about the test.  He was searching well and problem solving, and barking strongly.  Tom built search boxes so that I could practice at home and not have a visual confirmation for Cooper when he alerted to scent.  I was quite confident that he would pass easily. 

We had several extra boarding dogs in the kennel and more barking commotion than normal.  I noticed that when I took Cooper out to train he was already tired, so several days before the test I moved him to the house where he could rest.  I elected to drive down the morning of the test in order to keep our routine, thinking it would feel like a drive to training for the boy.  Everything seemed in order for success.

We were third to test and arrived without too much extra time.  Got him out and pottied.  He peed again on our way in to test, so the excessive urination seemed out of the ordinary, but nothing more than that.  Persons testing are not supposed to be able to hear other testers, but due to the location I was parked I heard the dog before me bark for two subjects on the limited access pile.  I didn't know if there had been barks prior, or whether that dog alerted to food or clothing in the pile.  While no assumptions are drawn, in the back of my mind I was pretty sure that there were at least two victims there.  I reported in to the evaluators and Cooper seemed ready to go, on his toes and revving his engine!  At the limited access pile I had to remain in one area while Cooper searched, and stay there until he gave a bark alert of at least 3 barks to indicate he had located a live victim.  It was taking too long.  Cooper never takes that long to find a victim, I thought.  The evaluator with me said not to worry, that it had *only* been three minutes.  THREE MINUTES? Something was definately wrong!

He finally alerted, which allowed me to move to his location, reward, mark the spot and send him to "find another."  Only he wasn't searching as he normally does, following the scent to whatever reaches it was carried.  Instead, he stayed central, didn't push out to the perimeter even when I tried to get him to move there and he just stood there and looked at me.  I said "he's done", more to myself than to anyone else.  One evaluator said "what does that mean?"  I knew it meant what I said.  Cooper was done. Done, freaking done. Not working.  Need a dictonary?  Instead, I said that I was waiting for the time to expire, sent him out on one more futile attempt and then called time.  I knew we had missed at least one victim.

I felt like crap but put on a happy face and told Cooper what a good job he did. I gave my debrief to the evaluators.  I recommended that when the second dog is brought in to confirm the alert, that it search the perimeters because Cooper didn't push out that far.  Then one evaluator asked me how I felt about the search.  I FELT like shit. I FELT crushed, like a loser.  But what I told her is how I thought I did, not how I felt.  I lied and said I thought his body lanuage indicated there were no victims where he had searched.  The risk is that either they think I am a total moron for not reading my dog, or the confident bluff works in my favor if we pull off the rest of the test.

We had a brief rest and proceeded to the full access pile.  I began by walking Cooper off the pile and letting him airscent.  He alerted, ran up and barked at a location, then left it!!  He alerted to another location, which I marked and called.  I never called the first location because he didn't stick with it.  He has never left a victim like that. I suppose he suddenly got a nose-full of the one he ran to, a stronger scent, but in hindsight I should have either encouraged him or called it. I think that was a big mistake on my part, in not letting him know at that moment that he was doing a good job. There was a victim there.  I cut the search area from the top as the scent seemed to be rising, and he alerted at another victim.  This victim did not follow instructions, and actually answered me when I called out!  It was nice to have the confirmation at that point.  Cooper was not working independently as he normally does.

Then Cooper moved to a location downhill from the confirmed live victim and stood and barked.  I believed he was just barking at scent from the higher victim and verbally relayed that.  I do know now that there was no victim there and I don't know what else might have been going on. 

 Another teammate went next, and I watched as his dog moved confidently and quickly and was simply wonderful.  He barked strongly, and located the victims we had missed with ease.  At that same instant that I felt pride for their search, my heart sank.  It was obvious we were not going to pass and it made me sick to my stomach. I hate, hate, HATE these tests.  I enjoy trialing in schutzhund and when my dog doesn't pass, I can identify the reasons and know what I need to do.  In this USAR test, I had no idea how to fix things.  Cooper had worked so well in practice.  If it is a matter of the deeply buried victims having a more diffuse scent pattern, I am unable to train for that because I am limited by the rubble pile we use.  Unlike my teammates who live nearby, some within blocks, I have to drive over 2 hours each way just to do that much.  And I have been happy to do it, under the belief it would make a difference.  Jinx passed her Type 1/CE with the same group of people, though.  I have struggled to recognize Cooper in his own right in this area, and had developed trust in his abilities.  This test proved me wrong and rocked me to the core because what I believed I had was not there when I needed it.

I waited to be present when the evaluators were thanked, and the team members and the persons who passed were congratulated and received their certificates---- everyone except me.  And then I left.  In the rain, everyone was gathered under one small tent and I could not bear to run that guantlet of sympathy or silence in order to get my evaluation.  At other tests, there was privacy to make these discussions.  I drove north with my little dog, hoping the predicted rapture would swallow me up.

This was Cooper's second run at the Type 1.  The first time I didn't feel so bad to fail, as we had just completed our FSA and he was tired.  He searched extraordinarily well and I was proud of his work.  This time, I was left to wonder if I had been deluding myself, as well as wasting the time, good will and money of my team members.  Most of all, I felt I had let my team down. I am not one to run from a challenge but when practice looks so good and reality so bad, where do you go?  I am flat out tired. Tired of driving. I don't want to have to drive halfway around the country to be this embarrassed.

Going home and regrouping was in order.  Getting back to our roots. Cooper has a BH and a foundation in schutzhund, but I had put that on a back burner until after this test so that he was not barking at something he could see.  I wanted him to have every possible chance to succeed.  On Sunday we joined the schutzhund club training and relaxed.  It was so much fun!  I was happy to see he remembered his work and later this week I'll see what his tracking looks like.  Cooper turns 4 in August and I have to consider how many working years I have with him. People don't know what to say.... sorry?  better luck next time? My schutzhund friends and people who know me have sent messages affirming that I am a good trainer and we'll get it next time.  I'm just not sure what "it" will be.  

I still love my stripey boy.  And isn't that what is most important?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

ViVi goes to police dog training

Tonight I took ViVi with me to Police K9 training.  I thought it would be a good opportunity for her to travel, and to explore new locations and surfaces.  However, when I took out my camera to document the adventure, I discovered I had left the memory card in the darned computer. She simply moves too fast for cell phone cameras.  She seemed to enjoy herself, strutting around and tugging on her leash.  ViVi got to play chase and tug on the slippery gymnasium floor, too, which was excellent.  When she came in the door initially, she wasn't sure she wanted to walk on that shiny floor, but forgot all her hesitation once the toy was thrown.  I count that as a postive experience for little ViVi. 

Need a Clone and/or lottery tickets!

I think I need a clone. Or several clones. And I need to win the lottery!! This spring seems to have me running in so many different directions that I am looking forward to even a small gap in the action. However, I know that if I don't have a dog event or training pulling me to action, there are plenty of things around the house and property that need attention!

The events so far have involved Pre (male malinois) getting him to the various championships.  Therefore, the seminars have also included him.  We earned our IPO2 at the AWDF Championship and were IPO2 Champions at that event. At the Working Dog Championship, we fell short in tracking but had passing scores in OB and Protection. Our next big event will likely be the Regional Championship, and conclude the year with the Maliniois Nationals.  I did want to get that IPO3 behind us, and am considering our club trial.  Just not sure yet.

Different "followers" here have their own favorite dogs and I find people asking me about this dog or that....and aren't I still working them?  The answer is, yes, I am still working a large group of dogs but usually don't have the means to take photos. Unless someone else is taking photographs of the work, my own are relegated to walks and play.  And if I am taking pictures, I can't interact as much, so the camera isn't a part of my general play.

Marco (male German Shepherd) has been the traveling companion for Pre lately, because he needs the travel/hotel experience.  We practiced obedience at the Debbie Zappia seminar and protection with Greg Doud. We will be concentrating on obedience and tracking once I wrap up my USAR test this weekend.

Which brings me to Cooper (male Dutch Shepherd).  People and Paws SAR, is hosting a Type 1/CE USAR test this weekend in Milwaukee.  The weather has been horrible this year for doing any prep work at the rubble pile, but from our last several practices, I think working search boxes here has helped tremendously.  We fell 3 barks short out in CT.  Hopefully, my little stripey boy will bark loud and strong and locate all his victims quickly.  The test is on Saturday.  I really do not want to have to drive across the country for another test, nor do I want to have to do his FSA again.  It could be that I am just worn out, but I am not certain I could work up the energy to continue if we are not successful. Time and perspective is a beautiful thing, so tomorrow could look different.  Cooper did earn his UKC Conformation Championship, as well, so he is a good looking boy who also works.  He has a lovely temperament and is very sociable and confident.

ViVi (female malinois) will be leaving us in June, headed to liberal Madison with Sam.  Thank goodness for her conservative foundation or I might worry!  She is absolutely adorable.

Roya (female Dutch Shepherd) has been helping to raise ViVi properly, encouraging her to play and explore and correcting her when she is too much the brat!  When she isn't busy with puppies and jollyballs, she snoozes on a bed in the livingroom...or our bed... and tries to convince me she has not been fed yet.  She had a cancerous tumor removed last year and it is reportedly a slow growing type so I hope old age catches up to her before the cancer does.

Quinn (male malinois) retired from schutzhund and then earned his MR1 last year.  This spring he helped to train the new police officers in protection and had great fun. I still have thoughts of earning his FH.  Time and field accessibility limits how many dogs I can track with, though. We'll see.

Chica (female Dutch Shepherd) was supposed to have been sold as a detection dog, but the buyer kept asking for more tests, hip and elbows (all good), blood tests (all good)... and then decided not to get a new dog yet. ugh. I thought I might train her for HRD but at this point, for the price of the spay and to the right home, I would just like to find her a home.  She is a small girl, a very happy dog.  Kenneled now but she is crate trained. 

Ridley (female Dutch Shepherd) is a dog I got as a possible Cooper girlffriend.  The timing of her arrival was bad, as Jinx was sick and all my attention was on her, so Ridley took a back seat.  I've been working her all along, but not concentrating on her, so now its time to step up the work and find her a career calling.

The other dogs in the kennel are Tom's Small Munsterlanders.  There is a young adult male who would like a pet or obedience home. He is a soft, affectionate dog.

I will try to get some photos up here again soon of all the favorites so you can see how they have grown and changed.  I have some nice photos of Pre from the Championships, too, thanks to 5 Dogs Photography. Now you must excuse me, as I need to go buy lottery tickets and hope to win enough money to keep me in gasoline.....

WDC Closing

The final performances at the Working Dog Championship this morning sealed the placements, leaving Jason Wiggins in first place, Dan Cox second and Terri Limbaugh in third. The three of them train together in Kentucky and I had the good fortune to visit with them this weekend and found them to be such nice people. There were some exceptional performances throughout the event, and some that fell short. What struck me was the atmosphere of support and camaraderie that existed.

The weather remained cool, but at least we were much drier than on Saturday morning! I felt a little like one of the Three Bears! AWDF was toooo hot; WDC was toooo cold; I'm searching for the "just right" pudding! The weather was mostly enjoyable for the dogs, however, who were very spunky in the cool temps. Machtig Strom isn't a large club but still pulled off this major event, with help from a few sports friends. Jeff Govednik, in addition to competing in the FH Championship and a host of other duties, took photographs and each competitor received a photograph taken of their performance, commemorating the event. That was such a thoughtful touch! I was also a big winner in the raffle!! yayyy!! As I was leaving the stadium, Eric B asked how I did and said "you placed, right?" I started to say, no, we hadn't passed and he looked at me intently and said, "but you PLACED, didn't you?!" The answer is, YES, I did place. From last to first, each of us has a place and that place was at the Working Dog Championship. What a refreshing view!

Thank you to all who made this event a success, from Machtig Strom to each spectator who came to support the event! It was such a wonderful weekend of seeing my sports friends! I hope everyone has much success in this 2011 trial season and that you keep in mind all the lives you touch through the sport.

If you are experiencing withdrawal next weekend, don't forget the O.G.Bierstadt trial and Regional Conformation Show, held in Campbellsport, Wisconsin!!

signing out until the next adventure,

Deb Krsnich

Day 2 WDC-- Singing in the Rain

Day 2 started out with duck weather, raining and cold. I had made a little shopping trip after my arrival and chosen a new outfit to wear for obedience/ protection, to compliment the color of my dog. The label said "slimming", and I thought that sounded like a good thing. Needless to say, it was buried under 3 layers of clothing and a rain-suit so no one ever knew! I was in the first team on the field, and went to the long down. I know Pre doesn't like to be wet, and had gotten him out and made sure he was wet first, with the idea that he wouldn't need to shake. Not wet enough, apparently! While I was tucked away in my blind (after I was yelled at by Johannes for peeking through the hole!!) Pre got up 3 times, shook off, moved slightly and laid back down again. Unfortunately, each shake took him further from the down position and he lost all the points!

The field lay out was changed from the way we practiced it. Because people had complained at the previous National event that the curvature of the baseball diamond was a problem, they placed chairs with sandbags and tape to give the field a square configuration. The send away was in a different place, and they marked it with a white sandbag,so it appeared there was something out there for the dogs to run to. The blinds were now farther apart, because when we practiced the infield was covered with tarps to protect it for the game. Relatively minor things that the experienced dogs handled in stride. Less experienced dogs allowed themselves to be more distracted.

In the good news- bad news department, Pre rocked his motion exercises! At the AWDF he had become distracted and I did not sense that he had even heard the command, and so just froze instead of sitting. Today, he nailed it! There were other minor points taken, and I sure would have liked to have had those 10 points for the long down!! Still, for a dog who is attempting his SchH3 in his second stadium event, experiencing all the ins and outs of travel (plus the break down enroute) he definitely had some positive aspects of his performance. He was a good little man over all ,with 85 points to show for our efforts.

In protection work he earned 86 points. Pronounced courage and fast outs. The rest I can work with, such as the fact that he TOTALLY lost his secondary obedience! I can see heeling for obedience with great stimulation/distraction in his future!! So, okay, it wasn't the day... or weekend... I had hoped for but at the end of the day, I have a dog who didn't quit, who shows a lot of spirit but needs a little more control, that I really enjoy working. All good stuff.

North Central Region member Susan Dooling earned a qualifying score for the WORLD Championship qualifier!! Everyone needs to encourage her to declare and GO! For many of us, that would be the experience of a lifetime. You just never know if you will get that chance again. GO!! I was lucky to meet Susan's family, as well. Her 86 year old mother and two sisters traveled here to watch Susan compete. They must be very proud, and I think it is wonderful when family comes to see the sport we love so much!

There is one more flight to do obedience and protection tomorrow. Check the results page to catch up on all the scores. From our region we have me, Susan, Donovan, Bob Cook... I think that's it unless I'm forgetting someone? Two people I consider "honorary" members, because they spend so much time in our region, are Mike Williams and Roni Hoff. Good luck to Mike tomorrow!! ... and Michelle, you are STILL doing at great job!! (tell Wayne you got another compliment. That and $2 will probably get you the cup of coffee that Mike Williams owes me!! haha)

I am having a terrific weekend. I've met new sport friends and gotten to see so many really great people. Custom K9 Creations, where I bought my lovely pink vest at AWDF, had new GSD t-shirts and the artist was here. I met him and let him know how much I enjoy his work. He does fantastic schutzhund artwork! I ordered a video from Shellshots, too, so that I can make sure to address all those pesky point losses. All the judges have been strict, but pleasant. I wish everyone was able to travel and support their club or region members, or just be able to see the inspiring teamwork of some of the competitors. I'm not the best reporter when I'm competing myself, as I tend to either be preparing to compete, competing or.... talking. Are you surprised? I watch and ooh and ahhh at the excellent performances, gasp at the faux paux but don't take adequate notes to be able to relate to you a specific performance.

Next on our Regional agenda... the CHAMPIONSHIP! Also check out the GSD National Championship and the American Working Malinois Assoc Championship, held in Leland,IL. So, get out there and jump into your club trials and make plans to attend the Regional and National level events, if only to be inspired and meet great sports-friends!

Deb Krsnich

Friday Update from WDC and Mysteries of the Universe

***I thought I would post my updates from the Working Dog Championships here for the folks who don't subscribe to the lists where they were originally posted. Enjoy!***

What would a trip to a major event be without road drama? At least, for me! After my struggles to make it to Minnesota last weekend, I thought I had all that behind me. But nooooo.... the night before I was to leave for the WDC my van sputters to a stop, redlining the battery, on the outskirts of my town. Whew! Once again, the good news was that I was within walking distance of a bathroom, and could call my husband for help, without a tow! He put in a new battery and on Wednesday, I hit the road. This time I made it to Madison until I noticed that the battery light had again edged into the red and I coasted down a nearby off-ramp. Good news? Walking distance of a bathroom, of course!! This one required a tow to the local GMC repair, and I learned that the problem was not the battery, but the alternator! I hauled the fold-up crate into their waiting room, indulged in free coffee and bad court TV until they had the part in and made repairs. It only took a few hours, but it was late enough that my practice time had come and gone.

Not to worry! I called Michelle when I broke down, to advise that someone else could take my practice spot if they wanted. Al gave up his 6:30 spot on Thursday, so I was good to go. Michelle was super helpful in taking care of that. I was on the road once again. I love to listen to audio books when I travel and had been looking forward to this trip so that I could finish listening to "Know it all." I learned many interesting but obscure facts that I hope I can work into conversations before I forget them!

I am staying at the Super 8 in Davenport. It is near the stadium, very reasonably priced (dog fee only $5 per night) and has a great green space. I also have a microwave and refrigerator in the room, at a fraction of the price of the fancier hotels. It doesn't have a separate sitting room and expensive towels, but it's pretty darned nice.

The route from my hotel to the stadium is a lovely drive. The architecture of the older, brick buildings with beautifully landscaped yards and pretty tree-lined streets make the drive very calming. And who couldn't use that? Apparently there was significant flooding next to the waterfront as the sidewalks at the stadium are covered with dried mud and work crews are re-building parts of the parking area. The river view and the bridges are pretty, at least in the eyes of someone who doesn't have to drive over them every day.

Thursday was a 90-plus degree day, and I thought it was deja vu of the AWDF! The stadium is a baseball diamond, home of the River Bandits. It reminds me of trialing at Inselstadt, because the curve of the field is deceptive. What you think is straight... isn't. I got Pre over the jumps and did a send away, and Dave Kroyer (a total cheesehead-- who knew??) did a run-out of the blind and an escape bite for me in protection. The draw was held at the stadium last evening. To save money, the club did not produce catalogs but they have been quite good at keeping the scores updated on the website, along with having nice photos of the competitors. (go to "results" for that list)

After the draw, a small group of us... Mike Williams, Susan Dooling and Donovan, convened at the Texas Roadhouse, where Mike decided to make a bet with me regarding a red-haired female police officer handling a Dutch Shepherd at the 2006 NC Region Championship at Inselstadt. He claims to be checking his sources, but I think he can kiss his money goodbye on that one. I don't recall anyone but myself with a dutch shepherd there. Anyone? ka-ching!

TODAY WE TRACKED. I'm putting that in capital letters, and past tense so I can put the pain behind me. haha. First, let me say that I was in a really fun flight and got to visit with so many great people. Dan Cox and Jason Wiggins were in my flight, and both had very nice scores. Me, not so much! I had great hopes for Pre. He had been tracking so well but today he had a happy romp through the field instead. The temps were low, less than 60 degrees and the grounds were thick, lush green pasture grass on rolling hills. The rain that was predicted even held off! Craig Groh was the tracking judge and he was very pleasant to work with. Pre took off like a shot, but was clearly not tracking. He air-scented his way around the track but it was never convincing and he missed two articles, resulting in 59 points! Once he even pounced on something in the grass, and in general just had a terrific time out there as I was wishing for lightning to strike us! When I commented that I wish I knew what was going on in his head at that moment, one of my FB friends noted that is one of the mysteries of the universe. True enough! So there went our hopes of earning a SchH3 here.

Tomorrow our flight works in the stadium at 8..........hopefully cool weather and a spunky dog will be a good combination! Wish you all could be here to join us!

Deb Krsnich

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jollyball Wars with Roya and ViVi

I bought a couple JollyBalls for Pre, and found them coveted... and then absconded with... by Roya and her partner in crime, ViVi!  Roya is my almost-11 year old Dutch Shepherd who is the most awesome puppy teacher!  ViVi is the young upstart malinois, trying to forge her own identity as the offspring of accomplished parents.

At first, ViVi did not know what she was supposed to do with this strange pink toy.  Big dog is running toward it, so perhaps I should be doing the same? 

 Maybe I'm supposed to jump on Big Dog's head? 

Oh No! That's not it!

Oh, I get it!  I'm supposed to run very fast and try to beat the Big Dog to the toy... and the STEAL IT!


I am the Queen of the Lawn!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Traveling Shoes

The road to the Working Dog Championships took me to Minnesota last weekend. My traveling shoes will soon need new soles! Sarah TenBensel stepped up to organize the weekend seminar with Greg Doud under the MVSV banner and did a terrific job.

It was almost the "trip that wasn't". I had planned to leave in the o-dark-thirty hours of Friday morning to make the approximately 5 hour trek to the Twin Cities, as I had work obligations the night before. Midway through training with the area police dogs I work with, I recalled that I needed more Easter Bunny. What, you say? That is code word for the frozen raw rabbit patties that I feed my dogs on the road. I advised I would be back in half an hour and scooted off to the pet store. Blocks from my return, something sounded odd. I turned down my full-volume tunes, and heard "clunk.. clunk.... spit"... and I had to muscle around the corner as the van shut down along with the power steering! I glanced at the needle inching to the red zone on the temperature gauge. damn. Exiting, I immediately observed that things smelled hot. double damn. I won't bore you with the mechanical details, but the result was that my vehicle remained in a parking lot in Appleton until it could be towed back to Black Creek the next morning for repairs.

In the meantime, I was not only worried I would miss my opportunity to tune up prior to the WDC, but that this might also impact my travel to the event! The good news was that the problem was a blown rear heater hose, which emptied the radiator. It was repaired and I hadn't pushed the issue far enough to cause permanent damage. I was able to arrive by evening and even got in a quick session.

If you travel to an event at the MVSV summer location, I heartily recommend the Microtel in Inver Grove Heights. I used to score my room at a reasonable price. They are a dog-friendly hotel. It is approximately about 10 minutes from the training field, has decent green space for pottying the dogs, a cereal/donut/fruit breakfast buffet, AND there is a gas station across the road and an Outback Steakhouse across the parking lot that you can wak to in one minute. Very convenient!

It was wonderful to see everyone again! There is so much fun in watching the progress of dogs and handlers I've watched in the sport, and reveling in their new partners. Two of Mike Scheiber's children stopped at out and watched as Angeli worked Mike's dog, Jett. I think everyone held their breath a moment to watch this new partnership being formed. Some of the dogs I have watched for years are getting older and doing light training or just riding along now, while the youngsters take their place. No problem. Some of us humans are running a little more slowly now, too! Being Northerners, we complained that the 75 degrees of Saturday was too hot (we actually sunburned!) and then complained that it was toooo cold on Sunday. Since it did rain, I feel that was justified, though it felt a little like the Three Bear's porridge; I wanted the day that was "just right!"

The training was "just right', though. And additional happiness was generated when I learned Greg is moving to the Chicago area at month's end to join Bridget Carlsen. We were fortunate to be able to watch Bridget train her Goldens When Donna Matey and Jill Fryling showed up, I thought we had somehow succeeded in luring them back from the dark side, but they were just there to borrow Bridget for a private lesson!

I was pleased with the training I was able to do with both Marco and Pre. For Marco, it was another road trip in what I expect will be many for him; learning to travel and to get out and work in new places. He has a wonderful, full grip and we worked on building stamina in those grips and ended with a few psuedo-long bites. I chuckle at those, as they currently lack the rocket-like, laser-focused commitment of the adults and instead he moves in a puppy gallop despite a very focused beginning. True, he is a gigantic puppy, but a puppy-dog nonetheless. His body is a few strides behind his mind at that point! For Pre, it was nice to be able to work through the pieces with a crowd present and in a few days I will head to Iowa for the WDC. I see we have a few competitors from our region who will be competing there. Good luck to all!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Each Step is Important

This post is a result of teaching my club members a method that I saw demonstrated by Debbie Zappia, for teaching attention and position at heel. One of our members posted to the club list about the success she was having now that her dog believes the reward may be forthcoming at any moment and is not "checking out" on her.

I want to tell you how important the first step is; how important EACH step is.  When you begin heeling from a sit, unless the dog understands this, the head will naturally drop and they will likely walk without attention until the point where a reward is normally forthcoming, or a physical correction is made. The dog who relies on a physical correction to fix problems does not have to think. It simply waits for the leash pull, and responds. As a result, the dog learns that only when it feels a leash correction does it provide a behavior, instead of learning that behavior drives reward.

Our dogs are not born knowing this; we have to teach it.  The foundation of teaching is understanding that where we place our rewards tells the dog what we value.  If we begin walking and only reward after walking 5 steps, for example, the dog will only begin to pay attention at 5 steps.  We have told him, by withholding reward, that the first four steps are unimportant to us.  What does this mean?  When we are teaching, we must reward the FIRST STEP.  This is difficult for handlers who just want to get out there and go!  They feel that they are making progress by virtue of the number of steps they take, no matter what those steps look like.  It is hard sometimes to take that step backwards and make baby steps again, but the end product of beautiful, correct heeling, is worth it.

What we teach is consistent between all three phases.  In tracking, the first thing we teach is what tracking behavior is, and that each footstep is important and contains reward.  In obedience, the dog learns what heeling behavior is (position and attention) and that each step is important and contains reward.  And, in protection, we break down the striking, gripping and barking behaviors and underscore the same lessons. In beginning steps, the dog learns the behavior.  In the intermediate phase, they learn that the behavior can occur anywhere.  Finally, in the advanced phase, distractions are added.

The actual physical method that we are using, having gratefully borrowed it from Debbie Zappia, is difficult to explain and is better show in photographs, but involves providing a target for the dog and marking the proper behavior.  Next, the target is removed from the picture and comes back in after the behavior is marked, with reward.  It keeps the target and the reward on the left side of the body.  Ideally, you continue to run to re-load your treats, so that the dog learns to give you the behavior without having pockets of food, much as he will experience in trial.

Most importantly, as we shape the behavior, we must reward the first step before we can expect two steps with attention.  Don't tease your dog and never allow him to access reward. You will make a liar of yourself and he will not trust you, and will stop trying.

We must create "believers" of our dogs and not be predictable in where our rewards will appear.  How many of us have seen dogs that drag around at the end of the leash but suddenly come alive with attention at the halt? That is because the handler has not rewarded motion, but instead has rewarded the dog for the stops. Once we have shaped the proper behavior, we can demand more of the dog and he will know that his efforts will be rewarded.  For example, the dog has learned to respond to the motivational leash pops (which is not simply a series of nagging, but a specific action in conjunction with a behavior and reward) and you can use this to create the dog driving with their rear end underneath them and signal via markers that THIS is the behavior you want and will reward.

The people who train with me know how the system comes together.  Just remember, as you begin, that each step is important.  You will be evaluated on the picture you present which begins at that first step, so do not neglect it or try to hold your dog with physical correction; those will not sustain the dog through the routine. 

I challenge you to take that first step................together.