Key Components of Training

I love dog training because — and I know I have said this before but it remains true — it is a creative endeavor requiring intelligence and a consideration of what constitutes ethical behavior.

Well, that is not exactly true because not everyone trains in creative, intelligent, and ethical ways — but it is true for me, and that is why I really quite love training dogs.

Sparkle is training for Utility (an advanced obedience class). Things are going really well — she has almost all the pieces, and we have even started to put some of them together.

But go outs have been perplexing. This exercise requires she run out to a designated spot and turn/sit to face me on cue.

I use a target to train it — like a treat or a toy — and this has worked well with my other dogs, but it was not working for Sparkle. The trouble is that she is FAST — so she would race out, grab the whatever, and barrel herself back; the sit cue didn’t really register.

Of course, I trained sit at distance separate from the “race out” part and it is fine. I do the go outs with a sit from short distance (1 - 2 feet) and it is fine. It is when we add in distance — which tends to up that sparkling drive and energy — that things don’t go as planned.

Here is where things get interesting (to me).

Whether she should or should not register the sit cue and do it (because I said so!) is irrelevant to me.

This matters. A lot.

When people think, “she knows this and should do it” they tend towards adding a negative and/or corrective consequence.

My ethical framework doesn’t permit that kind of thinking/behavior when training for performance events.

Instead, I am perplexed and puzzle things out (hence, training as requiring intelligence, creativity, and ethical behavior).

It occurred to me that my training for the directed retrieve was also a race to a treat (in a bowl), and then a fast race back — why would Sparkle think the go out was different?


This is another reason not to get all mean and snarky with a dog who is not meeting our expectations — because likely they are! Just maybe not the expectations we expected, if that makes sense.

I decided I needed to change up the picture a bit.

In addition to shaping, I used a lure to move her in the space from a short distance.

In addition to shaping, I used a lure to move her in the space from a short distance.

I used panel jump “bars” to create a bit of a physical barrier, and shaped the behavior (with a clicker and treats) of getting in the space — and then turning to face me and then to sit.

This is not a perfect sit because she should be straight but when shaping, you take baby steps towards perfection — not expect it instantly. Were you perfect the first time you did something?

This is not a perfect sit because she should be straight but when shaping, you take baby steps towards perfection — not expect it instantly. Were you perfect the first time you did something?

I will now start adding distance to it — in very small increments. She will master the behavior AND retain her pizzazz because both matter to me.

After all, her name IS Sparkle.

Sparkle August 2019 (1).jpg

Easy Daisy: A Draft Training Update

You may recall that I am engaged in an experiment of sorts to see if I can have Daisy ready to pass the Novice Draft Test in sixty days; the original post is HERE. We now have only 35 days before the test; this is a summary of the progress and plan.

Daisy is not “heeling” but is walking well on a loose leash by my side — and that is good enough for a draft test, which only requires that the dog : “…walk under control within arm's length of the handler at all times… on either side, in front, or behind the handler …”

The other component of that Basic Control part of a test is a Recall and as I indicated in the last post, I train the “wait” and the “come” as separate exercises; this is also going well.

Training a dog that I have not raised from birth is always interesting. Daisy is wicked smart and biddable to the extreme — a great combination. But so many things I take for granted are not in her toolkit because she was raised with different expectations.

For example, she did not know “down” and she understood “stay” to mean wait a few seconds before self-releasing. My others dogs understand — from the time they are puppies — “sit” and “down” and they also also understand those things are never self-releasing — even absent the “stay” cue.

On the other hand, Daisy has much better “house” manners than some dogs who shall remain unnamed.

Sparkle — practically perfect.

Sparkle — practically perfect.

And so Daisy has not only had to be trained but she has also had to “unlearn” things — luckily she lives to work and please.

Daisy literally runs into things because she is SO focused.

Daisy literally runs into things because she is SO focused.

As you can see from the photo above, Daisy is now pulling the competition cart. Last night was a typical “getting used to things” session. We practiced Basic Control and then did the entire straight driveway, which is almost 1/2 mile round trip.

Doing the driveway is so valuable, even though it is just a straight down and back. The cart bumps and rattles, and Daisy gets used to the “feel” of things without layering other needed skills. We enter and exit through a gate — this requires Daisy to stay while I open and close said gate.

Since we have done the driveway more than once, I have added additional skill training to it. We do stops — always a sit and always rewarded. I practice “slow” on the slight incline part, and “back” — one step only — on the slight decline part. I do slight serpentines to practice turn behavior. And at the end of the driveway I use the road to do two big circles that are heavily rewarded before we head back towards home.

Training a dog should always include breaking behaviors down and training components rather than expecting big clumps. And this requires a constant assessment of the Least Trainable Units of a given behavior, and whether the dog can handle a bit more or we need to slow things down. When a dog cannot successfully perform, we know to dial back.

Further, desired behavior needs to be noticed and rewarded — I think the noticing part is where most people need work. We tend to notice when the dog does something we do not appreciate — that is the opposite of what needs to happen to both maintain attitude and be successful. More on that soon…

Daisy is turning well to the left. Her right turns are supported in order to avoid a tendency to curl up in the cart instead of using her whole body to make the turn. This support comes in various ways — sometimes she needs my hand on her hip to gently push her rear to move along with the front as she turns. Sometimes — if the turn is wide enough — I can use a food lure to move her whole body.

Her stops are quick. Her backing is not yet independent but she is catching on. She is slowing on cue — yay! She is staying well for one minute and we are building time easily.

In other words, Daisy has a solid foundational set of skills. They are not as smooth as an experienced dog, but that is to be expected. She remain unfazed by the cart — that is key to being able to even consider a draft title in sixty days. I would say she is on track to be able to achieve the goal.

Draft Daisy.jpg

The things I will now focus on are as follows:

  • Daisy needs to practice Basic Control in other places. Therefore, in the next week we will go to two new places to train.

  • We need to begin to tighten up the turns; we can do this in our training yard by setting up cones.

  • It is time to introduce the Narrows — I will set that up as well.

  • She needs an independent back; this can be worked separately from the cart in order to get more chances to practice during the day.

There is one thing that is looming as a Disrupter to this Sixty Day Challenge: Daisy is also due in season within the next month. That, unfortunately, is not something amenable to training.

Problem Definition: A Choice

Dogs are such great instructors.

Last night I trained Claire for a bit, and that involved a bit of happy obedience exercises interspersed with retrieves and tug games and so on.

CLaire playing Aug 2019.jpg

By the end, Claire was hot — and I was inattentive.

As we walked back to the house, she made a beeline for a dirty, stagnant pool of water. I saw this coming but it was too late — water is a siren song to Claire and she was in it before I could finish “%$# Claire#$%$ here!!!”


There is nothing like a huge, stinky, muddy, wet dog right before bedtime.

This happens often enough that Claire knew just what to do next — she hopped right in the booster bath.

I am reminded that the definition of a problem is a choice. Further, how we define — or think about — a problem directs our feelings and the solutions we view as reasonable.

I had an initial burst of anger as Claire raced off to wallow, which I promptly recognized as a reaction to a dog not meeting MY expectations. Since I think it is not productive or reasonable to be mad at humans or animals for failing to meet our needs/expectations, I had moved beyond anger by the time Claire had finished her mud bath — and into chagrin.

WHEN will I learn to put Claire on leash between the training yard and the house?!

This is where problem definition points to solutions.

If I believe the problem is that Claire is naughty, I blame her — she is responsible for this unfortunate habit of pretending to be a giant, furry pig in the most disgusting of mud holes. That, my friends, is a cop out. Blame hands over control on a silver platter — it is a pattern of thinking that promotes negative feelings and helplessness.

My dog is NOT naughty — she is just muddy. Well, not any more since I gave her a bath.

Claire wet August 2019.jpg

Anyway, I view the problem as this — Claire’s ability to think/respond explodes in the presence of water, no matter how shallow or disgusting. Given that, I have come to two conclusions.

First, she must be on leash if there is water in the vicinity and I prefer she not have a Pool Party. In other words, my solution is to prevent the unfortunate behavior.

Second, water will be an excellent thing to “proof” her training. In other words, I can use water to train Claire to ignore distractions when working!! If she can ignore water, she can ignore anything.

I have already started this — at the moment, Claire is heeling well while ignoring the Pacific Ocean! Yay Claire. Yes, the Pacific Ocean is about 500 miles away but at this point in her training, that is about the distance required to keep Claire out of water.

Muddy Claire.jpg