Friday, May 4, 2012


54 degrees and a wind of 21 mph and I thought "tracking!!"  When the wind is blowing, I get going, so to speak.  In tracking, the best attitude is to greet distractions and seeming difficulties as opportunities to learn.

 Especially when I am teaching the fundamentals of staying at the source of the odor, I like to make long legs cross-wise to the wind direction.  There is no reward where there is no human scent, and the dog learns to get themselves back to the source of the odor. In these windy day tracks the cross-wise legs are baited at random but quite heavily so that if the dog does leave the track there is reward when he returns.

Today we were doubly "blessed" by vehicle tracks across the area. If you have ruts, grain-cuts from lawn mowing, trails or other,  laying your track "cross-wise" to those is also helpful.  The dog is not rewarded for following those areas of heavy disturbance that do not contain the scent that he was started on, and he learns to negotiate those unrelated scent profiles.  I do not bait through those, leading the dog with food; I bait before and after the distraction.  If the dog is drawn off onto the rut/tire impression or whatnot, he very quickly recognizes there is no human scent there, and moves back to the track... where he finds reward.  

 I should note here that this is not a trailing exercise. By the time tracks such as this are run, the dog understands the scent circle exercise and knows that where there is no human scent there is no reward, and if he makes one step outside that area, knows to return to the area of human scent.  He has likely seen serpentine tracks as well as had unrelated people walking near the track layer when the tracks were laid.  He is beginning to understand that anything that does not contain the scent of the tracklayer is unimportant.  I stay close to the dog and if he does step off the track to explore another scent, I say nothing.  I do not physically or verbally correct him.  It is up to the dog to find the track and be successful.  However, he does not have 30 feet or even 10 feet to run around and air scent.  As I said, I stay close on the line and give him one or two steps before he feels back pressure on the line.  He needs to convince me that his direction is correct.  He pulls against the pressure to get back to the track... and the reward.  

On the track, I also start to give some gentle back-pressure on the line as the dog moves to a piece of food, building the same "convince me" pull. Just as soon as he gives me resistance, I release the pressure, he finds reward and I say soothingly "good."

In the photo below, taken with my cell phone as I was tracking with Buzz, you can see the track at an angle to the vehicle tracks, moving right. You can see it just at Buzz's right shoulder.

Any time you track, be grateful for distractions and challenges.  Just be sure to provide an opportunity for reward equal to the difficulty.  Once the dog understands articles, you can also alternate legs with bait, and legs with articles and use the articles to reward a successful movement through difficulty.  Create confidence for yourself and your dog and have fun with tracking!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sophie and Cooper-- the No Labels Tour

Not long ago, I taught a seminar for people who work with the foster dogs in rescue, preparing them for their forever homes.  I told them that, although the seminar was billed as "Clicking to Calm and Challenge" if there was a sub-title it would be "The No-Labels Tour."

Almost all my private lesson clients these days are rescue dogs.  There are many opportunities for the well-balanced, nicely behaved dogs but where do the rest go? Their owners try the local obedience classes, because that's what they've always done before.  Only this time, with this dog, the stimulation is too much.  Sometimes they shut down and mentally flee. Sometimes they lash out at people or other dogs.  In the worst case scenario, unskilled trainers advise the owner to put a prong collar on the dog and force it to march around in endless, yanking circles. Or they suggest the owner step in front of the fearful dog to block it's view or a host of other useless parlor tricks.

Without ever teaching the dog what our desired behavior is, it is patently unfair to correct it.  Don't tell me that your dog is "leash reactive!"  How can it be anything but reactive if it never learned how to sit or heel properly? Additionally, if your dog is fearful you must take him out of that environment in order to learn.  Group classes are not helpful to these dogs until they have the skill set to be able to perform alternate behaviors.

Enter Sophie.  I can't give you a full appraisal of what Sophie has been through in her training except that she attended *special* classes.  Her handler, Matt, started attending my schutzhund club training and showed him how to work with some of my dogs on basic obedience.  Matt is a quick study and grasped the concept of using verbal markers and the clicker.  Instead of maintaining her original label, Matt chose to teach her basic obedience using the same methods. He showed me the work he had done and demonstrated beautiful and correct heel position.  It was time to bring her into a group environment.  In order to make that transition, we first begin by pairing Sophie with a calm, obedient dog who is not going to make strong eye contact or threaten her.  The dog must first learn that it is safe working near another dog before you can ask it to hold things together with an disobedient dog. This is why group classes, filled with dogs that do not know how to sit and behave or heel, is a recipe for disaster for the dog that believes its life is in danger.

If the dog cannot sit in the face of stimulus or distraction, begin there.  Don't label the dog or make excuses, address the behavior in front of you.  With the many rescue dogs I work with, I seek to challenge them and their owners as we develop their confidence.  So here are some photos of a recent session with Sophie.  She worked opposite two different male dogs that day, Quinn and Cooper. We take the behaviors she knows and work them in the presence of different dogs; we do not ask her to learn new behaviors then, we merely change one thing in the environment to reinforce to her that she is safe and capable.  The photos below are of her session opposite Cooper:

The first photo does not show the attentive obedience Sophie is capable of, but she is not lunging, she is using calming signals by attempting to sniff the ground.  She discovered that Cooper was nothing important in her world, and turned her attention back to Matt.

If you are working a dog that responds aggressively toward another dog, the best place for you to be is on the RIGHT.  That is because any correction you give moves the dog to your right and away from the other dog.  It also requires the dog to look at the handler fully.  In this photo, I have just crossed in front of Sophie and Matt is about to make an about turn.

Both dogs sitting and giving their handler's attention.  Sophie is at a stage where Matt is using lures in the presence of another dog, so that there is ample reward for good behavior but you can see her posture is relaxed and open and she isn't worried about the dog nearby.  Since this was Sophie's first time working opposite another dog like this, we were also careful not to encroach on her parameters where she would begin to worry.

Pretty darned close, and no concern. The most difficult position for a worried dog is the down.  Not only is it a submissive position, but it does not allow for the dog to run for it's life quickly if circumstances require it!  If you have a dog who barks, the dog is the least helpful position for making calm because you do not have a means of enforcing quiet.  The sit position is a dog handler's best friend.  Sit= quiet.  You do not need to add an unnecessary command, it only serves to bring your own emotional state into play.  Simply teach and reinforce that no barking is allowed in the sit position.  Teach attention to the handler.  While I can address more about this in the future, that does not translate to the cutesy trick of having the dog sit in front of you as you wave treats.  Attention is not relative to the dog looking at your face because as you heel your face will be forward, and if the dog thinks it is only rewarded for being in front/looking at your face, you will struggle to keep it in proper heel position.

With Sophie obviously relaxed, we had some fun doing synchronized obedience!  We would count 1-2-3 and then.... spin... or down... sit... or touch!  Both dogs know the finger touch on command, which is also a very helpful tool.  As you can see, Sophie is totally into it.  Again, not a new behavior, simply taking something she already knows and putting it in a new environment.

1-2-3  SPIN

1-2-3   TOUCH!!


On the Cheap

In a lesson this week, we used a section of decorative fence, an end table and two bales of hay with a board for an impromptu agility course.  The decorative fence had slates, which, when laid on the ground were elevated slightly to create a walkway.  The end table because a "pause table" for positions.  The hay bales and board were a raised dog walk.

Not long ago, when I was teaching the foundation of the blind search I used a large plastic garbage can and a chair.  The moral of the story is that you don't need to pay ridiculous sums of money for specialized equipment in order to get good training done.  A couple pieces of PVC or stakes and plastic bags can create blinds and jumps.  An end table found on the curb can become a nice pause table.  You won't feel badly when you cut a few inches off the legs, either! 

 In USAR we love our "junk agility" and teaching the dogs to walk on unsteady surfaces.  This is good for  building confidence in any dog.  Got some old chain link, snow fence and some wood pallets?  Make certain you don't have sharp edges or places the dog can get stuck, and you have a nifty little environmental challenge course.  I think most everyone has a ladder at home.  Place the ladder on the ground, resting on a couple concrete blocks and you can teach your dog rear-end awareness which the cheapest cavaletti on earth. Fiber glass poles and hula hoops can create interesting weaves and guides.  And while we're at it-- if you want realistic tracking articles, visit your local Goodwill and pick up some small toys, old wallets, etc.

You can still drool over the catalogs, and bend the pages of the equipment you would love to have, but don't put off your training because you can't afford a thousand dollars worth of pretty plastic. Look in your garage, and do it on the cheap.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Jimmy runs blinds

Jimmy is a Boxer whose owner came to me because Jimmy needed more obedience and control.  Jimmy is a pet, who lives in a household with several other dogs and he also needs to interact with nieces and nephews.  His exuberance and prey drive were getting him into trouble with the kids.  Jimmy is a young male, so he brings that teen-aged enthusiasm.

Since beginning private lessons, Jimmy has learned many of the things we teach our sport dogs.  It teaches him control while finding an outlet for his energy.  His owner, Jay, also enjoys challenging Jimmy with new things to learn.  Recently we taught Jimmy to run blinds.  Actually we taught him first to go around simple obstacles such as chairs and garbage cans, learning the concept that he can "go around" anything Jay designates.  Jimmy won't be entering any schutzhund trials but this is a simple behavior that can be used to exercise Jimmy mentally and physically without having to purchase fancy or expensive equipment. I'm all about using common (cheap) items for training!

Today being a lovely day to be outside, I set up the schutzhund blinds.  I'm sharing these videos because I have seen people struggle with teaching blinds, and use long lines and prong collars to force dogs around them.  Here is a pet dog with minimal training, who learned in several lessons to run two blinds for a food reward.  

In this next video, Jay is giving direction from the center position, without moving as much to help Jimmy.  You can see that Jimmy gets stuck for a moment at the second blind, and then makes a good decision to go around.  He is then rewarded with his jackpot reward,  a soccer ball.

 I did not show the beginning steps of teaching the exercise, which were taught using food and clicker or verbal markers.  While it may not have the precision or speed of the final product we expect for competition, and I am particular with my own dogs on how they circle the blind, the point is to demonstrate that it is a fun exercise that can be easily taught to any dog who will work for reward, whether food or toy. Jimmy can do it--- how about YOU?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Narcotics Detection Class June 11, 2012

The next Narcotics Detection class at FoxTal Training Center begins June 11, 2012.  It is a five week course, teaching passive indication of narcotics. Contracts for the purchase of a suitable canine for the course must be secured three months in advance.  If interested, contact Debra Krsnich at

Friday, January 20, 2012

winter walk with the dogs

What does a Wisconsin dog owner do when the snow falls?  takes the dogs out for a walk, of course! I hope in the near future to regale you with tales of my dog-sledding adventure but since I have yet to order harnesses, that will have to wait.  Today I was on foot.

Marco had to run by himself.  I'm concerned that he would plow into Roya and injure her.  He is not malicious, but he simply gets the big body going and it doesn't stop.  And, it is better for him to spend time with me alone and being rewarded by me for attention.

 Fresh snow is something that brings out the joy and wonder in a dog.  They run, and scoop the snow up with their nose.  You can't help but laugh!

I took some photos of weeds in the snow and played with them in the photo program.  I saw a program on television the other day about a woman who started taking nature photos and turned it into a fabric and design company.  I tried to envision some of these photos as fabric.  I may find a company and check it out, if only for my own purposes.  I think they turned out pretty cool! The one on the left reminds me of an Asian silk.

 Cooper and Roya were able to run together.  Since she is his momma, he has more respect for her and doesn't body-slam her like Marco does.  This was Roya's first walk to the mailbox since her surgery.  Dark brindle dogs in white snow are not an ideal situation without flash but I did snap a couple pictures.  On left is Cooper, pretending to be a pointer.
And this is little Miss Mischief,  Roya, in her one-sy. Poor girl, you can see the pink stitches in her muzzle and the IV shave on her leg, but she was happy to be back outside with me, checking on the chickens (3 large eggs today!) and getting the mail.

Stay warm, everyone!

No Cancer for Roya!

This is Roya in her One-sy, napping on her fleece bed in the living room. We've had quite a week!  Following her initial visit to Dr. Strickfaden, I made an appointment to consult with my regular vet, Dr. Jay Peters at Countryside.  Had Dr. Strickfaden not seemed to back off in her belief of the accuracy of the bicom, I probably would not have gone.  The pronunciation of "no cancer" was good enough for me!

But since Dr. Strickfaden had pursued the Xray and blood-test and we discussed opening Roya up to see what was going on, including a quote of how much that would cost, I wanted to see what the comparable service with Dr. Jay would be.  He wanted to take another Xray, and this one showed her spleen back in it's normal location, though somewhat flattened. The question remained that something was out of order, so do we just open her up and perhaps find nothing? I figured we would spay her so that at least the invasive procedure was mildly justified. However, she would have to be opened up from sternum to groin so that Jay could view all the organs.

Last Thursday I took Roya in for her surgery. She weighed 50.3 lbs.  At around 10 a.m., Dr Jay texted to let me know he was beginning surgery.  The next notice was that there were no obvious tumors or vast ugliness (my term, unscientific!)  but there was some discoloration on the spleen and the liver.  We had discussed the potential options in advance and if he would have discovered huge tumors, metastasized to other organs, I would let her go on the table.  The last thing I wanted was to prolong pain.  Since since was not the case, he took the spleen (an unnecessary organ) , spayed her and took a liver biopsy.  It was all good and I allowed myself to think perhaps it was just an old dog thing.

A short time later, another call cast those thoughts aside when Dr. Jay said that he had cut into the liver and it didn't look good. Oh no!  Back to the C-word.  Taking the spleen is the protocol for cancer or benign tumors, which can also burst, but if cancer had spread to her liver we would be looking not at months for survival, but weeks.  Days.  Hey, I know!-- I Googled it!  With medical issues I like to know all the options and all the "what if's".  That way I can wrap my brain around what the best choices will be.  The surgery was long, lasting 2 hours.  Roya had lost alot of blood, as well.  I expected to be taking her home that afternoon, but that wasn't to be.  Her temperature had also plummeted and she was in a warming wrap and under blankets, being heated. She was also on IV fluids.  I called Tom to meet me there so we could visit her.  I did not want to leave her there overnight because there is no one there to watch her and check in on her, but I knew that was the best place for her.  There was also concern that she would throw a clot.  This was around 3:30 pm and she had not truly awakened from surgery.  Her eyes would briefly open, but there was not tail wag or recognition.  We petted her, told her we loved her and stroked her beautiful little ears.  We left, unsure that we would ever see her again.

I told Tom I wanted to sell any dog over 5 years old so that I would never have to go through this again.  In the past several years, we have lost Jinx, Digit and Ali.  Too many dogs.  Now I just had to wait until the next morning, for the phone call that would either bring good news... or bad.

Shortly after 8, Dr. Jay called to tell me Roya had made it through the night.  She wasn't out of the woods yet and he wanted to keep her on fluids for the remainder of the day, and I agreed.  I was scheduled to attend a seminar, so I spent part of the day trying unsuccessfully to distract myself, and tearfully relating the outcome of the surgery.  I wondered if I had done the right thing.  Did I have my baby cut from top to bottom, cause her pain only to die anyway? How long would we have?  I left the seminar early to meet Tom and go to pick her up, and that evening we were in our living room with Roya instead of our season-ticket holder seats at the hockey game.

Andrea D., from the Animal Referral Center, who had helped me so much with Jinx's rehab, gave me the one-sy in the picture.  I'm not sure who makes it, but it has been a god-send.  It has a rolled neck and a snap-crotch, so that you can just roll it up when the dog potties instead of having to pull it off, and yet it covers the entire tummy which a T-shirt would not do.  When Jinx was recovering from surgery, she wore an UnderArmor compression shirt, but we only need to protect the shoulder area.  I also got a soft cone from Andrea, but then Darcy B. told me about another awesome product, an inflatable neck roll, that we purchased at PetCo.  As it turns out, we never had to put any type of cone on Roya as she did not mess with her staples at all. Good girl!

Tom and I spent the week taking shifts of sleeping in the recliner or on the couch so that Roya could be comfortable and not have to be crated, and we could get her out regularly to potty.  She would get up and come to us when she needed to go outside.  We administered Clavamoxx twice a day (12 hours apart) and Tramadal rpn.  After the first day I learned my lesson about staying ahead of the pain.  I picked up raw meat patties and special canned food, because that made the poop easier to pass.  She had pooped when we picked her up on Friday and I was becoming very concerned when she had not gone again by Sunday!!  When she finally pooped Sunday afternoon, I think I was as happy as if she had become valedictorian! I learned that the pain meds can cause constipation.  Popping the pills down her throat was met with resistance; holding it out, wrapped in a treat, was met with suspicion; I finally just mixed them in her moist food.  The first time she discovered she had swallowed a pill--- too late-- she stopped and gave me an incredibly affronted look!  She walked away from the dish as if I was trying to poison her.  However, this is the dog who didn't meet a pound of bacon or 12 pack of Heartguard that she didn't love, so it didn't put her off for long and since then has become the means of delivering her drugs.

Yesterday she had the staples removed.  I held her front paws and she stood on the hind legs while Dr. Jay removed the staples.  She weighed in at 49.7 lbs.  The day before I had called for results of the pathology.  I was worried that he wasn't calling me because it was bad news, and wanted to tell me to my face.  The reality is that their phone lines had been down!  So when I called and they told me the results were on his desk, I held my breath.  I wanted to be prepared mentally for our appointment so that I could ask important questions with a clear head.  I held my breath and waited.  When he called back, the voice on the other end of the line said "no cancer!!" It took a minute to register!  What? no cancer? what had we seen? what had we cut?  I have a copy of the pathology report, but the bottom line is that there is no malignancy!  

It looks like Miss Roya will be celebrating her 12th birthday after all!  We will do a follow up liver function test, and examine holistic means of helping the liver.  I'm still babying her... making sure she gets her medication, tethering her to me when she sleeps on the bed so that she can't jump off, and getting her out to potty every few hours.  She is still sleeping quite abit, but after all , she is, what, almost 84 in human years.  She deserves the right to nap when she wants!  Tom adores this little monkey, too!  We bought steps at PetCo, so she can walk up onto the bed instead of jumping.  Such a baby!  Every time I think "no extraordinary means", I look at my dog and go that extra mile.  The surgery at Countryside, however, even with the fluids, keeping her longer, etc, was still $400 less than the Countrycare estimate.  And that $400 can go toward treats, food, and new stairs for the Queen....

On to the next adventure with Miss Roya! I'm so glad we have more time together.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Roya's trip to the Witch Doctor

Our old house-dog, Roya, will be 12 this summer.  She is a Dutch Shepherd, mother of our "B" and "C" litters, and Queen Ruler of the house. For the record, and though she may deny it, she has also been responsible for eating multiple packages of HeartGuard Plus for 51-100 lb dogs like candy and should be pretty well to those worms for life.  Recently she has been experiencing some anxiety.  During the summer, it appeared connected to thunderstorms or barometric pressure.  My vet prescribed two different medications to try, to see if one or the other made a difference; they didn't.  The behavior seemed to subside, however. Until now.  We would wake to find her standing over us on the bed, panting.  She seemed restless and unwilling to lay down.  It usually occurred around 3 a.m. We would take her outside, and she might urinate a little but it was without urgency.  Or we might be awakened to the crashing of items from the nightstand as she attempted to squeeze between the wall and the headboard. 

She has also had several accidents in the house if we do not wake up, but as distasteful as that is, the stools were firm and she is not incontinent.  She has a good appetite, and she still likes to play. 

Last year, Roya had two tumors removed.  In January, it was a spindle cell tumor from her footpad.  Spindle cell cancer is slow growing and from what I read, usually reoccurs in around four years.  A few months later, a lump appeared on her muzzle.  This one we removed in the office but did not send in for biopsy, because there is nothing I would have done differently for treatment.  Roya was such a good girl, too!  Dr. Jay injected the numbing agent (technical term!) and used the punch to remove it and she just stood there like a champ.

With this in mind, and recalling my journey with Jinx, cancer is always in the back of my mind.  I hate to think of it. Two years later, I can't even mention Jinx without tears. But something just didn't seem right with Roya, so I made an appointment with Dr. Strickfaden at Country Care Animal Complex for a bicom treatment.  I asked for an appointment with the Witch Doctor. Seriously.  I can't explain how bicom works, or why, but it does.  And it involves a wand that is similar to water divining.  The treatments work on electromagnetic fields and I believe they not only helped to diagnose Jinx but also to treat her.  I thought this would be a good first step, without invasive tecniques.  I spoke to Tom by phone as I was on my way and he phrased it perfectly.  He said, "Roya will like that because she likes it petting; and it's like internal petting."   She did like it.  She layed down on the floor and fell into such a sound sleep during the treatment that she twitched in dreams!  Dr. Strickfaden said that the bicom showed fear and pain, but didn't know what it was from.  I felt good when she said, however, that it did not see cancer.  Still, she wanted to run a blood test... and then Xrays.  Since we were there, I agreed.  The blood tests were actually good for an older dog.  The Xrays were something else.

The spleen is squished up on the left side of the screen.  It is enlarged, and not supposed to be there.  The stomach drops down in between the spleen and the liver on this film.  Dr. Strickfaden thought that there appeared to be a mass on the spleen and also the liver.

Needless to say, I asked "but the magic wand said it wasn't cancer?"  To this she was not so certain.  I think I had more faith in it than she does, at least at that moment.  She said that we could schedule an ultrasound at roughly $600.  If something was identified as out of place, we would still have to open her up.  I left to consider my options and will confer with my regular vet at Countryside Vet Clinic next week.  They do not offer the holistic options, but I have an excellent working relationship with them for all other treatments and use them as my primary vet.  I know that Dr. Jay Peters will answer all my questions without being insulted and will understand and accept my decisions.  As I understand it, anything on the spleen is bad.  A cancerous tumor leaves the dog with literally days to survive.  Even a benign tumor can rupture, causing the dog to bleed to death, as the spleen is so vascular.  If something is found on the tumor it is generally removed entirely for biopsy.  A benign nodule on the liver can be removed and life goes on for the dog.  So, we could open Roya up, spay her while we were in there, and cut what needs to be cut.  The ultimate question becomes what to do if a mass is found on the spleen?  Maybe Jay will just tell me that her enlarged spleen is nothing more than normal for an old dog and not to worry.  Yep, I'm going to go with that one.  The most important thing is not to lose this moment, for fear of the next.

For now, my sleeping beauty is stretched out on the living room rug, waiting for me to go to bed.  She gets a flower essence 4 times a day, to see if that helps with the anxiety.  Will I really even know? Possibly not, since it doesn't occur every day.  So the fact that she is not exhibiting problems does not mean that there is a problem tonight.   Sweet dreams.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

simple solutions in the shark cage

My poor hands have taken a beating, thanks to Marco and his gi-normous mouth.  In using food reward for training, I have suffered significant bruising and it has made training unpleasant.  I asked another trainer (a more well-paid, and therefore assumed to be more learned) for advice and was told to punch him in his snout and tell him "no".  Sometimes I did, simply because it hurt so much and I needed to tell him NOT to eat my fingers!  But it never seemed to have much of an impact, and a minute later he was snapping in big gulps at the treat.

Not training him was worse.  I resorted to trying a variety of gloves to protect my hands.  Normal, cop-kevlar gloves saw holes torn in the the thumbs. Not working.  Gloves meant for filleting fish protected my hands, but left me with cramps because they were so stiff that bending the fingers to grip the treats was tortuous. I found a happy medium with a lighter weight glove meant to protect from knives but the big lummax, though not piercing, was still bruising my thumb with his teeth. 

Viola!  I found the answer last night.  This may not surprise most men, who already know that duct tape is the answer to any question.  It was to mine!  I made a "thumb cast" by wrapping duct tape in a dandy little blanket, layer upon layer, around my thumb.  It fits nicely in the glove and I don't feel his teeth at all.  I tried it without the glove, and just the thumb cast and one time Marco grabbed and pull the bandage, to which he received a sound rebuke (rebuke sounds nicer than saying I yelled and gave his muzzle a whack!) and after that he took the treats very gently.  He does not respond by fainting away or being hesitant, but stopped mugging with his entire mouth.  It is possible that, since I don't feel his teeth, I don't expect to be hurt and therefore am not snatching my hand back, or something like that.  I don't know.  All I know is that my duct tape thumb cast has solved the problem that $50 gloves did not!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

baby helpers

Ah,well, we don't really have babies as helpers.  Or decoys who help babies.  What we have is inexperienced helpers. One, to be exact.  I think many clubs struggle to find good helpers and then to keep them.  If your club is in a rural area, you are immediately at a disadvantage. Statistically you won't have as many opportunties to draw from the population.  But every now and then the stars align and a prospective helper comes your way.  Barring back injuries and felonies, it's time to get busy training your baby helper. Which brings us to another problem. Not everyone is interested in using their dogs to train the new helper.  Oh yes, they will definately be first in line to use said helper once he is trained, but when it comes to risking any set backs with their dogs, they refuse. So it is left to the person who is willing to let the new helper practice on their dogs, to bring the skills up to a useable level.  Retired, experienced dogs are great for this.  Even just experienced dogs that can be worked on basic concepts safely.  The new helper cannot problem solve and has yet to develop cat-like reflexes to protect himself from the dog that releases and redirects or does not target well.  Problem solving is outside the scope of the new helper but it is not too early to begin to quiz them on how they will respond in the face of a certain behavior.  For example, you see the dog spinning on the back line, what should you do?  You are setting up a triangle-- where is the dog placed?  The question that leaves strong men quaking is "why did you do that?". 
When you find a man in relatively good health who thinks learning how to work with the business end of biting dogs is crazy fun, it's time to celebrate! So when a man with a martial arts background volunteered, I was thrilled.  We have only one other helper in our club, and he is only able to attend sporadically due to starting a new business and other obligations. Big dreams require consistent helper work. Enter Matt.
We had a really great training session tonight, his best so far.  The pieces are starting to come together and we can communicate without extended conversation.  Teaching a new helper is much like dance instruction, or so I imagine.  Since I have never taught dance, I could be wrong.  The first step is to learn a few basic, or "go-to" moves.  After that, put the moves in a simple formula. Maybe a swing step. Oh wait, that's dancing again. The magic triangle is excellent for this.  Which, come to think of it, sounds said it......a dance move. Or an adult film.
I digress. Tonight Matt was on it like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.  The moves were on the money! I barely had to lead.
Well done, baby! Well done!

Curse of the Director

Today I'm going to address the Curse of being Training Director. For all the directors out there, I'm sure you will be shaking your heads and nodding; for everyone else, I hope to inspire at least a little understanding. Sympathy, perhaps. I am addressing schutzhund club directors, but it could well apply to a range of other volunteer director positions within other dog sports.

The training director is an unpaid position.  It generally falls to the person with the most experience in a club. This can vary greatly.  Quite often the training director is the person who started the club, a dual role with being President. In larger clubs, however, there can be obedience directors and the helpers who direct their own portion of the training. Or there may be no direction at all, and members simply do what they want and attempt to emulate more experienced members to figure out what they are supposed to do.  When members leave to form a new club, the new director may have limited skills but yet be the most experienced-- or most vocal-- of the new group.

Schutzhund is a gathering of people who may have nothing in common outside a desire to participate in the sport.  Even that participation has levels of commitment.  There are the social butterflies, who care not to title a dog or subscribe to the "if you throw enough shit against the wall, something will stick" theory of training, whose main desire is to belong to a group, and visit.  There are the extremely focused and goal-oriented folks who yearn for the podium.  The solid club-level competitor also has a place.  They might not have a dog that will go to the Championship, but they work hard to be the best team they can be, and respect what their partner gives them. Outside of the sport, the members represent many different careers and personalities.

And yet the training director has to work with them all. There are essentially three routes that the director can take.  One to let everyone do their own thing. Training begins, people take their turn and call for a group as needed, or gunshots, but are not given any specific training guidance.  If they want additional help, they will seek out private lessons or seminars.  For the most part, they try to copy what they see someone else do. The opposite end of the spectrum is the director who specifically dictates what training method they will use and does not allow members to attend any outside training. Somewhere in the middle is the director who provides guidance on request, helps to steer and mentor new members, and supports the goals of all levels of members.

End of the year awards do not encourage people to accomplish more, or to remain club members.  Even personal gifts for earning titles, while seemingly appreciated at the moment, do little to motivate in the long term.  I think that the USA organization discovered this with their GEC awards, which passed on for lack of support.

The curse of the training director is that schutzhund is a sport of volunteers, and not a business.  The training director has neither the carrot nor the stick to emply to motivate members.  Some clubs do carefully select and restrict members and therefore may be better able to choose a specific personality but some are simply grateful for more bodies, and enough names on the roster to remain active! For years I have included goal-setting as part of our annual meeting. Because goals are best accomplished when they are made public and the assistance of the group is enlisted,as well as peer pressure, this works well in business.  Accomplishment of goals in business is tied to pay and promotion. For myself, I like to list my goals for the year so that I am actively working toward something.  Sometimes life gets in the way, as it has when my mother had a very difficult heart surgery, or when my favorite dog died of cancer, and maybe everything doesn't get crossed off the list.  It isn't a sign of failure if you gave it your best under the circumstances.  You pick yourself up, and move it over to the "to do" column.  However, that isn't the reaction I got from club members. Little by little, the goals became more modest. It was not encouraging them to reach for the stars. Because we cannot subscribe to the business model, I think the best training director may, in fact, be one who has learned that he/she is not responsible for motivating the members and that they need to take on that responsibility themselves.

The curse of the training director is also that he/she uses so much time and energy helping and directing other people, that the director's own dogs suffer.  They are the last to be worked, and sometimes not at all because you just don't have the energy left.  Going first is not an option, because members are not present and ready to train at the start time and therefore, being first would be like working alone with no group, or distractions. 

The curse of the training director is that he/she is responsible for organizing training and being present. Someone has to be standing on that training field who is in charge, whether it be to collect waivers or fees, to make sure things are done safely or direct training.  The director, therefore, may feel restricted from attending seminars or visiting other clubs or events.  However, the club members do not feel the same need to be there.  When they want to take a weekend with the family, or attend another seminar, they don't clear it with the training director; this one way street can lead to resentment and attrition.

What is the first thing you hear at a trial when a dog team either does spectacularly well, or struggles/fails?  "where do they train?"  And the fingers point right back to the club and the training director... if they do well, other people want to come and train there. If not, the fingers point at the lack of good training at the club.  If points are taken for handler error, the director is on the line when the handler claims they were never told of such a thing! Own a rulebook? no, but the training director should have told me! If you learn new methods at a seminar and want to share them, you are accused of being inconsistent. The directors I see who handle this with the least stress are again those who do not feel any personal responsibility for the difficulties of their members.

The curse of the director is also that they are part of the front line of representation of the parent organization. When there are rule changes, they are tasked with understanding the and relaying them to the membership, even if they do not agree.  When they remind members of the changes, they are likely to hear the backlash of those personal frustrations.  The director has to let those wash over him or her, and not take it personally, despite privately thinking "stop bitching at me!"  I would bet more than one training director would like to be the guy sitting back on the porch, or in the lawn chair, chatting with other members or complaining about this or that instead of ending the day with aching feet and back from walking up and down the field a thousand times, helping people.

The other curse of being a director? You can't give it away.  Of course, every now and then a young, enthusiastic member will actually want to take over this position! Bless 'em! I don't think I am alone in hoping that my club continues long past my existence in the sport. In another 50 years, I hope that the Fox Valley Police & Schutzhund Club is still on the active USA club rolls, led by a new generation. The curse is that the people who are just in it for themselves and not to further the sport, are unwilling to donate their time.  The ones who are observant and sensitive see that there is no way to please everyone and choose not to have people target them for personal failings or frustrations.  The smart ones see how much work it is, and how responsible you have to be about being present and just want to be one of the masses.  As much as the director tries to bring members on board by asking them to take on small tasks, and learn how the organization works, with the hopes of someday turning those over, for the most part people are not volunteering. 

To summarize, the curse of the training director is that they are placed, by virtue of stepping up and doing a job other people are unwilling to do, with no pay, in the dubious position of the hated "supervisor."  The "you can't tell me what to do" attitude is true when there are no employees, only volunteers.  If awards and goals fail to motivate, and spending time with members trying to teach new training methods only creates jealousy and resentment, what is left?

Let members take personal responsibility for learning about the rules and organization.  It's on the website; look it up.  Buy a rulebook.  Let someone else be responsible for organizing training and being the bad guy, or even just being present.  Feel free to attend other training and seminars and show up at club training when it is convenient to you.  Do not feel responsible for the success or failure of club members.  Don't care if they do attend other seminars and create problems; that's on them. Don't expect them to share what they learned, either, even if it could benefit the club. Unless someone volunteers to coordinate a seminar or event, do not suggest it or push members to improve.  Providing gifts and awards are a waste of time and only serve to create a false impression of a relationship that does not exist.  Don't think these people are your friends.  You provide a service and once they are dissatisified or fall out of interest, they will tell you that they never liked you or your advice. Ever.

Wow! Pretty damned depressing, isn't it? If you can be the person described in the paragraph above, you likely have a very strong personal self-image and if people don't like you or appreciate your effort, it is because they are ungrateful idiots and not because you didn't find a way to help them, to motivate them.  Their knowledge is their own journey and not your responsibility.  I have never been able to separate caring deeply on a personal level, from the sport and the work itself.  

 The real curse of the training director?  Caring.

Monday, January 2, 2012


It's hard to believe another year has passed.  I just don't know where the time goes. We think back to when we were kids and how each school year felt like an eternity, but summers were too short.  Now we leap from appointment to appointment at lightning speed and as soon as I flip the calendar to a new year I am greeted by scheduled events.  And when those events include trials and Championships, there is an immediate pressure to begin to prepare. I can look at 2012 and already know what I will be doing most months.  It is only January 2 and yet I have to look to 2013 to find a blank calendar.

I have a need to fill those blank spaces on the calendar. It creates quite a conflict. Fill the spaces, then look for a few hours of free time for ME.  I generally start out planning to set aside a particular day or days each week when nothing is scheduled, but inevitably there is a club member who needs help, or a lesson with a dog that just can't wait, and I add them.

I always begin a new year by reviewing what I have accomplished and what my goals are for the upcoming year, involving my dogs.  The more personal goals I write in journals I have kept since junior high.  In 2012 I trained and competed with Pre, a malinois owned by my friend, Sam.  We did compete in all the events that I had indicated in my goals, but were not successful in all.  At the AWDF Championship we earned an IPO2 and were IPO2 Champions.  That was a proud moment, to be on the podium at a National Event, and a first for me! At the WDC we did not pass tracking. We earned our IPO3 at the North Central Region Championship but did not stand on the podium there as I had hoped; neither did we do that at the AWMA Championship, where our participation was terminated due to injury following a dog attack upon reporting in.  Training Pre consumed most of my time. 

I had hoped to pass Cooper's USAR Type 1/CE certification at the test in Milwaukee in the spring, but it just did not come together. I wrote about it in an earlier post, and our performance really set me back.  I really wondered if I had it in me to carry on at all.  After taking some time to consider it, I decided that Cooper was up to the task and that I owed him my best in achieving that.  I thought about how the spring test had gone wrong, and how we could improve and we practiced those things.  In autumn, we traveled to Tennessee and were successful.  Not only successful, but we made an awesome pair and I felt good about our performance.  Cooper became my second dog trained to that level.  My search team boasts the only Type 1/CE dogs in the State, and two of us have trained 2 dogs to this level.

2012 will be a schutzhund year for Cooper.  He has the foundation in the sport, has his BH and also an RH1 which we earned this year, and since we don't have to recertify in USAR for several years, my plan this year--- my goal, as it were--- is to earn Cooper's IPO 1-3.  There is the WDC in April, the AWDF in May, our club trial in June, and then the Regional Championship and the Dutch Shepherd Nationals in the fall.  I have to see how his early spring training goes and then how he travels to big events, but he has been a good traveler and done well working in new environments.  It is all possible at this moment!  One thing that I need to look into is the UKC Championship and whether doing obedience with him is also something to investigate!

I have several other young dogs that are included in my goals for 2012; Marco and Ridley both need to earn at least a BH this year, or more.  Quinn is insisting he isn't retired and I have been using his talents to train a new helper.  He should be added to my list for some sort of title that is within his physical ability. He has so much enthusiasm yet that I hate to put him on the shelf.  I have debated on whether to train Chica to HRD detection but I would prefer to sell her just because I have so many other dogs to train, and Excel still needs a home. Until they are placed, I will continue to train them, as well.

So there. I've put it out there and you can feel free to hold me accountable.  If I don't meet every goal, I haven't failed if I have given it my best.  2012 promises to be a wonderful year!