Daisy Peel
Daisy Peel

Author Archives: Daisy Peel

Daisy has been on the forefront of the trend of online agility education, and her Online Classroom is one of the leading sources for those seeking to improve the quality of their participation in the sport from afar. Her instruction, whether online or in person, is widely sought after as some of the best instruction available for those at any level, with any type of dog.

Training In Ten Minutes, Episode #5

In this episode of the 10-Minute Trainer, we’re going to spend our ten minutes working on an obstacle that is often overlooked….the table. Personally, I find that spending my time working on fast sits and downs on the table is pretty boring, and of course, since I don’t find it exciting, my dogs don’t either! I do, however, want my dogs to perform any behavior that they can do on the ground on the table, and with equal zest and speed.  So, I want to do a lot of fun things that revolve around the table. And, it turns out that the table can also be a great piece of conditioning equipment.

Just spending time doing a variety of activities with the table, even if it is in my living room, will help bring the table up in value in my dogs’ minds. Ask yourself – have you given your dog the same amount of cookies or toy play as reinforcement for activities revolving around the table as you have for the weave poles or the contacts?

For most of us, the answer is probably no. There’s a reason many of our dogs gravitate toward contacts and not the table – think of the ratio of cookies spent on the contacts vs. the table! The following exercises are just some suggestions of how you might spend 10-minutes with your dog building value for the agility pause table without ever even working on a sit or a down position on the table itself. Enjoy!

Jump UP

Your dog may have no hesitation in getting up on the table when he has a good amount of space and can run toward it with some speed. But, will your dog jump UP to get on the table if he is close to it, with no motion involved? This exercise can serve double duty: helping to eliminate refusals your dog might incur for failure to jump up on the table when he gets close to it, and helping to condition and strengthen those muscles needed to jump UP.

 

  1. Start your dog standing near the table, with his nose so close to the edge of the table that he is touching it, or hanging his head over the table. You may have to take some time to get your dog comfortable being on the ground so close to the table; many experienced dogs will try to jump up on the table from a distance further away, where they can use horizontal momentum to get up on the table, rather than vertical lift.
  2. Once you’ve got your dog close to the table (perhaps munching away happily on some treats you’ve got in your hand), move your hand up and away, so that your dog has to jump UP on to the table to get back to your treats. You can coax your dog however you like – waggle the treats in front of his nose, encourage him verbally, or even push him back a bit to make the treats seem even more enticing, but the goal here is to have your dog jump up on the table from a location very close to the table.
  3. Once your dog jumps up on the table, praise him heavily, and of course don’t forget to give him some treats! But, save that last treat, because you’re going to toss it OFF the table so that your dog follows it.
  4. Most dogs will eat that last cookie and turn around instantly to try to get back on the table again. Make sure you’ve got yet another treat ready to go to keep your dog on the ground til he is quite close to the table, and then repeat the process again from step 1.

 

Jump DOWN

Jumping up on the table from a location close to the table itself is one thing. Jumping back DOWN is yet another. Of course I wouldn’t do this on any sort of slippery surface, and I will take care to make sure that my dog is safe. But, once my dog is up on the table, I can also place cookies close to the base of the table, on the ground, and release my dog off the table to get those cookies. This can be a useful activity for those with larger or more enthusiastic dogs that tend to push off the table horizontally when released, with such force that they knock the table back, causing it to slip out from under them.

 

Back UP

In AKC, the dog must come off the table with all four feet in order to be faulted. On more than one occasion, I’ve been glad that I’ve played this game with my dogs on the table! Occasionally, my dogs have miscalculated their speed on approach to the table (or I’ve miscued how much speed they should have), and have hit the table only to slip off again. But, thanks in part to this game, they know how to avoid coming off entirely, and can actually back themselves up on to the table. Be advised, this is a great conditioning exercise, but it also requires a great deal of strength – so start with a low table to start, and go from there. It also requires that your dog have some experience with targeting objects with his rear legs, or that he know how to back up.

  1. Start your dog on the ground, facing you, with the table behind him. It’s helpful to start by sitting on the ground yourself, so that your dog can focus his head down, which will make it easier for his rear to go up.
  2. Move in to your dog’s space, or ask him to back up, or, if he’s comfortable with it, physically place his rear legs on the table. If your dog is reluctant to do this but does know how to back up, you can soften the edges of the table with a towel, pillow, or blanket. Many dogs don’t want to hit their rear legs on a solid surface.
  3. Once your dog has his rear legs on the table, reward low, between his front legs, so that he has to look down to get his treat. And then, move in to his space again, and reward for any movement backwards that results in more of your dog’s body being on the table.
  4. Once your dog is on the table completely, give lots of treats and praise, toss a cookie off the table to get your dog back on the ground, and start over again!

With this exercise, I purposefully don’t lure my dog forward in to a two on/two off position on the table, because I don’t really want him trying to drive forward to such a position. And of course, I’ll make sure that I’m not doing too much of this activity. As with all other exercises, moderation is the key. What I really want is for my dog to get as few cookies as possible with this exercise, until his whole body is on the table, and then, he will get a LOT of cookies.

 

Wicket/Measuring Table Games

At some point or another, probably sooner rather than later, your dog is going to have to be up on an agility table, at a trial, OUTSIDE the ring, in order to be measured. So, in anticipation of this, include some measuring games in your table training repertoire. For this game, use a hula hoop cut in half, or a homemade measuring wicket made out of three short pieces of PVC and a couple of 90-degree PVC elbows. With your dog on the table, do the following:

  • Click and treat for your dog looking at the wicket
  • Click and treat for your dog moving his head toward the wicket
  • Click and treat for your dog ducking under the wicket

In each of the above cases, click for attention or movement toward the wicket, and then deliver your cookie such that the dog has to continue to move toward or duck his head under/through the wicket to get his cookie.

 

With your wicket, you can also reward your dog for:

  • Picking up the wicket in his mouth
  • Allowing you to touch his topline or any part of his body with the wicket
  • Passing the wicket above the length of his body
  • Resting the wicket on his shoulders while feeding him

Table Tricks

In addition to the activities above, there are many tricks that I teach my dog on the ground that I might also do on the table. For some of these tricks, marked with an asterisk (*), performing them on the table adds an added element of strength and coordination, depending on the stability of your table. But for all of these tricks, teach your dog how to do them on the ground first!

  • Sit Pretty or Beg (*)
  • Touch your nose with your paw (*)
  • Stand up on your hind legs (*)
  • Stand up and lift up one of your rear legs (*)
  • Stand up and lift up BOTH of your rear legs (*)
  • Put a toy in a small box
  • Take a toy out of a small box
  • Stack one food bowl inside another
  • Bark
  • Wave (*)
  • Lay down with your chin on the table
  • Lay down with your paws curled over the edge of the table
  • Down to sit
  • Sit to stand
  • Tug on a toy (*)
  • Hand Targeting

You can make this list even longer with the tricks that you’ve taught your own dog. Some tricks, of course, are not appropriate to do on the table, such as backing up, or rolling over, for obvious reasons. And you can see that on my list, a simple “sit” and “down” aren’t really even included.

 

In Conclusion

Of course, I do teach my dogs to maintain a down position on the table until I say my release word. And, I do a lot of exciting gyrations when they’re in a down stay on the table to see if, in a playful way, I can entice them to come off the table. When they do make the mistake of coming off of the table, however, because I have done all of the above activities on the table with them, they are typically quick to get back on the table. And, when they mistakenly come off, all of my gyrations stop suddenly, and I become far less interesting. Then, when they do hop back on the table, I’m quick to reinforce in their minds that the table is a really fun place to be! So much of the rest of an agility course can be so much fun for the dogs that some time spent specifically making the table a fun place to be is time well spent – and it takes very little time and space to do it.

 

Sit or down on a table should just be one of many things your dogs might do to earn a cookie while they’re up there. And, like any other behavior you might ask your dog to do as a trick on the table, sit and down should be viewed as a trick – cued with a smile on your face and praise at the ready!

Training in Ten Minutes, Episode #4

If you’re one of those people who, while at work all day, dreams about what you will do with your dogs when you get home, only to find that the time you had slips away from you between chores, children, spouses, and the other little necessities of life, then you’re not alone! In this series of articles, following the Bob Bailey motto of “Think, Plan, Do”, I’ll outline plans for skills that you can train in ten minutes or less, so that you can find the time you didn’t think you had to train your dogs!

In this episode of the 10-Minute Trainer, I’d like to share with you a few of the short exercises that I use with my dogs to make sure that we’re both on the same page with our understanding of location cues.

My dog’s understanding of location cues, and my understanding of location cues, are critical to both of our understanding of motion and how it is relevant to each obstacle on course. After all, if my dog does not understand what my location on the takeoff side of an obstacle implies, and if he does not understand what my location on the landing side of an obstacle implies, it may be even more difficult for him to interpret what a change from one of those locations to another on my part is indicating to him.

Takeoff Side Location

My location on the takeoff side of a turning obstacle, (a jump, straight tunnel, or chute) and my intent not to cross the plane of  that obstacle should indicate to my dog that the next obstacle, if there is one, is likely to be behind him, and I expect my dog to take that turning obstacle with the intent to turn and come back toward me. Figure 1 shows a couple of examples.

 

Figure 1

In Figure 1a, my takeoff side location indicates only obstacle A. In Figure 1b, my takeoff side location relative to A, and some motion to the right, indicates A and C, but not B. Contrast Figures 1a and 1b to Figure 1c, where I am on the landing side of obstacle A, and the takeoff side of obstacle B. In Figure 1c, my location relative to A indicates A and B – but note that my takeoff side location relative to B indicates only A and B, and not C, unless I move from this location.

Where Things Go Wrong

Often, our dogs’ understanding of location cues goes awry without our even noticing it.  As I like to say, we make agreements with our dogs on course that we’re not aware that we’ve made with them, until eventually, things progress to a point where a real problem has developed that needs to be corrected. Location cues are often such a problem.

One example of where location cues get confusing between the dog and handler, is when a handler begins to cue a pinwheel and a 180-degree configuration of jumps similarly. If a handler wants a dog to execute a pinwheel of jumps, forward cues are typically given for the first jump of the pinwheel, and turning cues are given for the second jump of the pinwheel. Compare that to how the first jump of a 180-degree configuration is typically cued; turning cues for the first jump are typically given, so that the dog does not consider a jump that may be present.  If a handler begins to cue a pinwheel as shown in Figure 1b, then the dog will eventually learn that despite the handler’s takeoff side location relative to obstacle A, which cues obstacle C and not obstacle B, the handler wants obstacle B. And, the dog will also learn that the handler’s takeoff side location relative to a jump does not cue a turn, at least not consistently.

The handler, through this process of slowly beginning to make the cues for a pinwheel look the same as the cues given for a 180, will lose the ability to cue a 180, because they are using 180 cues for pinwheels!

Another place where location cues get diminished is on the approach to tunnels. If a handler starts decelerating on the obstacle prior to a tunnel, never intending to cross the plane of that obstacle, and yet expects the dog to continue on and take a tunnel, very soon the handler will lose the ability to cue a turn at an obstacle prior to a tunnel with deceleration. See Figure 2.

Figure 2

Getting Back On Track

Reinforcing in my dog’s mind, and in my own, that my takeoff side location relative to an obstacle implies that obstacle and no obstacle beyond it – as long as I’m not showing motion with intent to pass the plane of that obstacle – is a simple task.

 

What You’ll Need

You’ll need for this exercise, a jump (wings preferred), a short tunnel, some cookies or a toy, and around 10 minutes. See Figure 3 for the set up.  In your set up, the jump should be around five feet from the mouth of the tunnel. If you find that you reach the end of this 10-minute session and your dog is still having trouble, then, in the next session, double the distance, and move the jump closer as your dog becomes more successful.

 

What You’ll Do

Position yourself behind the plane of the jump, as shown in Figure 3. You’ll be behind the wing, and not more than 6-12” from the jump. Position your dog as shown in Figure 3, not more than 5-6’ back from the jump.

Figure 3

Release your dog and cue your dog to take the obstacle with a verbal jump cue only. If your dog takes the jump and turns back to you after the jump, then praise and reward your dog, and move on to the next step!

 

In all likelihood, your dog will take the jump and the tunnel. In this case, do not praise or reward your dog. Instead, reset your dog, and yourself, and try again. Typically, I’ll repeat this 5-6 times to give the dog an opportunity to change his behavior, before changing mine.

The Next Step

If my dog was successful in the previous step, or if my dog has made the same error several times, then I will change my location to show my dog where I would be if I wanted the tunnel. See Figure 4. I will repeat this a few times, perhaps 3-4, so that my dog gets to take both the jump and the tunnel, and then I’ll go back to a takeoff side location and repeat a few times, so that my dog is rewarded for taking only the jump.

Figure 4

If My Dog Has Trouble

If I’ve tried the first step (Figure 3) several times and my dog does not seem to be understanding that my takeoff side location implies only the jump, and if I’ve tried letting my dog take the jump with a location as shown in Figure 4, and then going back to Figure 3, then there are a few things that I can do to make the tunnel less enticing to my dog.

 

  • Double the distance – I can double the distance between the jump and the tunnel, and then gradually bring the jump closer to the tunnel again, as my dog gains success in his understanding of my location relative to the jump. See Figure 5a
  • Go against the grain – I can change my own location relative to the midline of the jump, so that my dog is less likely to take the tunnel, and then change back as my dog gains understanding. See Figure 5b

Figure 5a

Figure 5b

Going Forward From Here

Once you’ve gotten this exercise down, so that your dog understands that your takeoff side location implies a turn, and your landing side location implies going forward, you can begin introducing motion, so that your dog also understands that motion from the takeoff to the landing side of the jump implies going forward, and deceleration on the approach to the takeoff side of the jump, with no intent to cross the plane of the jump, implies a turn, and not the next obstacle that may lay beyond the jump.

Beyond this, it is your job as a handler to maintain this understanding, through consistent application of your location and motion cues on a course, and perhaps by revisiting this exercise periodically. It’s one that I revisit every few months, just to be sure that I have been consistent with my own location cues! Be patient, have fun, and you can get a lot of mileage out of this simple exercise. Happy Training!

20

2019 Agility World Championships – Large Dog Runs Analysis

Chispa and I just got back from Turku, Finland, here we competed at the World Agility Championship for Team USA. It was an amazing competition, and although we didn't come home with a handful of trophies and ribbons (or even one!), we did learn a lot and had a lot of fun. She did amazingly well for such a youngster; at only three, she's just a bit older than Solar was at his first World Championship back in 2010, and the courses and training required are far more complicated now than they were back then!

Below you'll find the course maps from the event, as well as my video analysis for each run, including my thoughts about the course as I watched it being built, and after I walked it, as well as my thoughts on how each run went with Chispa, and how I'd do things differently or better! Each video is 15-20 minutes long, and you can watch it here OR download it to watch later (or both!).

Feel free to leave a comment or ask questions using the comment form at the bottom of this page!

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Building your own PVC wing jumps

So, you'd like to build your own PVC wing jumps, and you'd like them to look a little bit fancier than the standard rectangular or square design? Several years ago, I built an entire set of PVC wing jumps – I wanted them to look like European style wing jumps. I made one for each country I've been to in the course of my dog agility travels, which was more than enough for a complete set! Over the years I've seen many others adopt my design and build some gorgeous wing jumps. If you'd like to build your own, here's how!

FITTINGS

I got all of my fittings at flexpvc.com:

WING DESIGN

Each wing requires the following:

PVC Wing Design

  • 27″ Upright
  • 25″ Angled Wing Piece
  • 17″ Wing Bottom Piece
  • 8″ Outside Wing Edge
  • 8″ Feet (x2)
  • 4″ Top Piece

And requires the following fittings:

  • 1 x PVC Wye
  • 1 x 45-degree Elbow
  • 1 x 90-degree Elbow
  • 1 x 4-way PVC Connector
  • 1 x inside cap for the top
  • 2 x outside caps for the feet

All the pieces are 1.25″ in diameter/size

CONSTRUCTION

Get Some PVC, Fittings, and Jump Cup Strips:

I suggest you make a spreadsheet so you can calculate how many fittings you’ll need, and how much PVC you’ll need. Each piece of PVC I got was 10′, so I wanted to figure out how to use as much of a 10′ piece as possible with as little waste as possible, even if it meant mixing and matching what pieces I cut out of each 10′ length. Again, spreadsheets are your friend here. Once I realized I could dye the fittings as well as the pipe, and that there were colored jump cup strips…I went a little crazy. But it’s fun!

You’re also going to want to figure out what colors of jumps you want, fittings you want, and jump cup strips you want. Yep, you can get jump cup strips in colors to, CHECK IT OUT. 

 

Clip and Go Jump Cup Strips

You'll also need a way to attach the jump cup strips to your wings. I used these handy little fasteners:

Xmas tree fasteners for attaching jump cup strips

You’re going to want to clean the writing off the PVC. Acetone (a nasty solvent that you should take the necessary precautions with) works best, along with some steel wool.  Use clean steel wool or you’ll end up just getting ink all over a clean piece of PVC. Make sure you do this in a well ventilated area and don't let the acetone get on anything other than the PVC!

CUT YOUR PVC BEFORE CLEANING

Measure and cut the PVC – it’s much much easier to clean small pieces of PVC than long ones. AND, you may find you don’t care to clean it at all – if there’s writing on a foot piece, just rotate that piece so the writing faces the ground. If there’s writing on an upright piece and you’re going to put a jump cup strip there anyway, just rotate it so the strip covers the writing.

ASSEMBLE THE WINGS

Be ready to work quickly here as PVC cement bonds FAST. Carefully swab a bit of PVC cement (another nasty chemical) on the inside of one fitting at a time, and fit the pipe in to the PVC the way you want it to sit. Be careful – PVC Cement will start to lift the dye out of the PVC you just so carefully stained, so you don’t want drips!

Keep working til you’ve got your jump all assembled:

PVC Wings – painted and waiting to be filled

Before you drill the holes to push the fasteners through your jump cup strips and in to the uprights, make sure that a jump bar of your chosen diameter sits at the right height! Then, drill and fasten your jump cup strips in.

Completed wings waiting to be filled

FILL THE WINGS

I wanted something pretty, and paintable to fill my wings with.

I settled on a PVC mesh material. It’s a screen mesh, and comes in different colors and widths. Perfect! I ordered it HERE.

I figured that with mesh in these colors, along with some spray paint (that sticks to PVC!), I’d be set for my flag/country jumps. I used a piece of cardboard as a template, and cut out the wing shapes. Once I cut out the wing shapes, I used a lighter to burn the edges just slightly, to keep them from fraying.

Paint whatever design you want on your pieces of mesh fabric.  After the paint dries, put grommets in at each corner, and drilled holes in the PVC strategically so you can thread a zip tie through and attach the wings. Each wing has four grommets in it, and for each grommet, a hole was drilled in to the PVC fitting so a zip tie could hold the wing mesh in place – with the exception of the zip tie that is underneath the bottom of the jump cup strip (look at Colombia below, you’ll see what I mean).

Below are some images of the jumps I made. I hope you enjoy them, and that you can come up with your own creative ideas! All in all, the costs were a little tricky to track, but I’m pretty sure that each jump cost me less than $50 all told. I like to putter, so the distraction the building of them has provided me has been well worth it. They’re sturdy enough that they don’t tip over as easily as my other jumps, BUT, if the dogs hit them they WILL fall away, which is an important plus in my mind.

Have you built wing jumps using this design? Send me photos of your wing jumps to include on this page!

 

10

Loss Aversion…huh…what is it good for?

This content originally appeared in The Agility Challenge as one of my weekly newsletters – but it's an important enough topic that I wanted to share it with everybody!

Download this audio file for later

When I started the Agility Challenge this year, I wanted to center the philosophy and approach around K. Anders Ericsson's ideas presented in Peak: The New Science of Expertise, with respect to mindfulness and purposeful practice. Another great book I've enjoyed in the past year or so is called Top Dog: The Science of Winning And Losing. One of the topics that I enjoyed from that book was the concept of playing to win, vs. playing not to lose.

When you go to a competition, are you playing to win, or are you playing not to lose?

Now, some of you are going to say, “oh, I just want to have fun with my dog,” and to that, I say, 95% of the time, nonsense. Not that I don't think you want to have fun with your dog – that's IMPLIED. Without the fun, your dog isn't going to want to play the game with you. But, we all know you can “just have fun with your dog” in your backyard. We ALSO all know that the SOCIAL aspect of the game can be met without paying the money to step in to the ring. If you just wanted to play with your dog, you probably wouldn't enter it in competitions, which can be a pretty costly enterprise, once you add everything up. If you just wanted to socialize, you could just go and volunteer; much less expensive and arguably just as satisfying, socially.

So, let's just get that out of the way right up front. Everybody wants to have fun with their dog, but I'll wager that just about NOBODY who is at a competition JUST wants to have fun with their dog (of course there are always exceptions, but fewer than we'd like to imagine). If you're stepping in to the ring at a competition, or a trial, or a test, or whatever you want to call it, you're there for something more. It's totally ok to admit that, and I'm going to argue that it's a bit unhealthy to DENY that. I'm going to go even further out on my limb and say that I'm pretty sure that the reason that some of us say “oh, I just want to have FUN with my dog” is that we're putting up a safeguard in case of failure. “Oh, I didn't really care about that Q, I just want to have fun with my dog.” Poppycock, I say!

So, you're at a competition. You've paid the money – for the entry, the fuel, maybe a hotel. This is a big deal. You could do well (fun!), or you could crash and burn (fun?). Your dog could win it all (fun!) or poop in the ring (fun?). You're there for MORE than JUST fun – enjoyment being a necessary part of the equation. Or, maybe, satisfaction, or getting closer to a goal…similar to “fun” but not quite the same, but even so, worth chasing AND implied in all of those is that you're doing your best to make sure your dog enjoys the endeavor as a game, even if you're deadly serious about it (or wanting to get a title, or qualify for a big event, etc.). Now, are you going to play to win, or play not to lose?

Depending on where you are in the world, or where you're at in your agility journey, your answer may differ. If you're in the USA, it's more likely that you're going to play not to lose. You go in to the ring with a Q (qualifying score), and your goal is to keep that qualifying score, for a clean round. If you're in a European country, it's more likely that you're playing to win. You go in to the ring aware of who else is at the competition, and there's no prize for clean rounds. There are no titles. Bear in mind, this is a generality; the rules differ slightly from country to country, but on the wholethere is far less emphasis on clear rounds, and on their accumulation resulting in titles earned, than there is on winning rounds, and on their accumulation resulting in advancement to the next level.

In Germany, for example, where I've competed several times at local shows, including at the A1 level with Chispa (their novice level), there's no official recognition for anything other than winning; winning counts toward advancement. Further, at A1, only agility runs count. Jumping is often an ‘open' jumping class, combining levels A1 and A2. You might get a prize for winning, but it's not as fancy as the prize for winning agility (with contacts) and it doesn't count for anything other than personal satisfaction (and experience).

Sit back and think on those differences for a few minutes.

For those of you in a European country doing FCI agility, how would your handling and mindset change if you moved to the USA, where winning was of no consequence most of the time, and instead, keeping a clean round that you started off with was the goal? Are you currently looking at standard course time as your goal, or are you looking at how close you can get to the top time on any given day as a goal? Do you think you would feel more or less free to “just have fun” with your dog on course if you didn't have to think about winning to advance? Is it truly hopeless if you know your dog isn't as fast as the top dogs?

For those of you in the USA, how would your handling and mindset change if you moved to Europe, where you were faced with the notion that you HAD to win to advance, and that there are plenty of handler/dog teams who never advance beyond level A2? No MACH, or ADCH, or C-ATCH. Are you currently looking at standard course time as your goal, or are you looking at how close you can get to the top time on any given day as a goal? Do you think you would feel more or less free to “just have fun” with your dog on course if you didn't have to think about running clean to advance?

 

Would you take more risks if you knew that just having a clear round didn't count for anything, but that you had to be as fast and efficient as possible?

 

The authors of Top Dog discuss the idea of playing to win vs. playing not to lose throughout their book. Here are some of the points they make:

  • Bronson (one of the authors) says “risk-taking is a crucial quality of competitiveness.” Science shows that “if you focus on the odds, you tend not to take the risk,” he says. How does that play in to USA agility?
  • In addition to that, the book states that women tend to be really good at assessing their own odds, while “men are good at ignoring the odds.” This can be a good thing, though, Bronson says: “There's times in our life that ignoring the odds is crucial.”
  • Also, author Merryman points to women's skills at “careful risk analysis and ability to judge really well” as a blessing and a curse. She says that while they are assets on Wall Street, for example, those skills could also work against women. While men can tend to be overconfident, women “will apply that same careful risk analysis to her own work,” she says. “Rather than overselling herself, she's underselling herself.”
  • Bronson says research has shown that at a younger age, women handle competition better than men, especially at elite schools. “Kids keep score,” he points out. “They're very conscious of how they rank versus other people around them, boys especially so.” And “whether girls are on top or in the middle or slightly below,” he says, “they do terrific in elite schools.” Boys, however, struggle if they are not on top. “Being a little fish in a big pond is a particularly bad experience for them,” he says. “Girls can handle it.”
  • Merryman also says “There isn't an ideal type of competitor.” “Po and I write about how people can be playing to win or playing not to lose.”

Merryman goes on to say that the difference is that playing to win means focusing on success, whereas playing not to lose focuses on preventing mistakes. “I think it's easy to switch into that playing-not-to-lose mentality,” Merryman says, “but if you want to grow, if you want to challenge yourself, if you want to innovate, you have to force yourself to be playing to win.”

OK, well, that's all pretty interesting, isn't it? But, at the end of the day, let's be honest, although we are at a competition and we might be ubercompetitive, there are plenty of us who AREN'T. Even in Europe, where winning is much more heavily emphasized, not everybody is interested in making it to the top. That's totally fine! One of the big takeaways should be the last line in the above paragraph. If you want to challenge yourself, you have to force yourself to be playing to win.

Even MORE important, I think, is to consider which mindset might be more fun for your DOG, and which mindset might therefore be more fun for YOU as well. What are the ramifications for how you interact with your dog during training, during class, and during a competition, at all stages, if you're “playing to win” vs. “playing not to lose”? If you're operating under the assumptions that your dog is more likely to go faster if:

  • He's well trained
  • He's well rewarded
  • He's highly praised
  • He's having FUN

How does that factor in to a mindset of “playing to win”? If you take a good hard look and decide that yea, you are at least, some of the time, “playing not to lose,” how is that affecting your training, your creativity, your handling, your strategy, and the FUN you are having (or not) with your dog?

Even if your goals ARE title driven, how can the mindset of “playing to win” rather than “playing not to lose” affect your approach in a positive way?

Have you had runs where you're aware that you're playing to win? Have you had runs where you're aware that you're playing not to lose? What were the differences you noticed in your own mindset, ability to execute, overall performances? What were the differences you may have noticed in your dog's enjoyment, or efficiency, or overall performance?

3

Performance vs. Outcome Oriented Goals and why the difference matters

This content originally appeared as a weekly newsletter in The Agility Challenge – but it's important enough, especially at this time of year, that I wanted to share it with everybody! You won't be able to comment as directed (that was only for Agility Challenge Members), but, I hope that it gets you thinking about what you envision for yourself and for your dogs for 2019!

Download the video

Download the audio file

What are YOUR thoughts on how the idea of performance vs. outcome oriented goals applies to you and your dog? I hope this gets you thinking about how performance goals AND outcome oriented goals have a place in your planning for what's to come in 2019!

Podcast 21: How Chispa Got To The USA (importing a puppy)

Chispa in her sherpa bag, waiting for a cookie

Chispa in her sherpa bag in 2016, waiting for a cookie

Play

I've had several people ask me about the process of importing a puppy here to the USA. The Centers for Disease Control has stated HERE that in order for a dog to be imported into the USA as a pet, meaning, not intended for resale or commercial purposes, the following must be true:

  • The puppy has to have been vaccinated for rabies at least 30-days prior to arrival in the USA OR
  • The puppy has to have lived for a minimum of six months or since birth in a rabies free country.

If your puppy isn't from a rabies free country, then this means you have to WAIT until the puppy is old enough for a rabies vaccine, PLUS an additional 30-days. In Chispa's case, she came from Germany, which is on the list of rabies free countries, and travelled through The Netherlands (also on the list), and departed from AMS airport, in The Netherlands. So, all good from that perspective. Taco, my sheltie, came from Spain in 2018, and Spain is also a rabies free country by the CDC definition. So, all good there as well.

Of course, if you read the FAQ HEREyou'll see a lot of “mights” and “mays”. Basically, this means that if you are in a bad mood, or if the Customs and Border Patrol officer is in a bad mood, or inclined to show his/her authority, you may still have difficulty bringing your puppy in once you've arrived at your USA destination. In MY case, with Chispa, the border patrol officer, despite being shown printouts of all of the laws and regulations, which I'd printed out for just this reason, didn't understand the meaning of the regulations he was supposed to uphold, and put his foot down on making me sign a dog confinement agreement. Of course HE said it was for the good of MY puppy, that the government didn't want my puppy to die from exposure to rabies carried by a USA animal, but, sorry, that's hogwash. The confinement agreement is CLEARLY intended to protect USA animals from outside sources (and since when has the government cared about MY puppy over protecting its own interests? Right, guys).

So, I signed a confinement agreement. And after about 12 hours in a sherpa bag, Chispa desperately needed to get out and potty and poop (yep, she held it ALL that time). You can draw your own conclusions.

With Taco, I also had printouts from the CDC website, including an updated page that clearly stated that dogs who have lived in a rabies free country for a minimum of six months OR since birth did NOT need a confinement agreement. The CBP agent agreed with me after conferring with another agent, and Taco and I were on ourway.

All in all, bringing a puppy home from Europe was really not any more eventful than bringing a puppy home from any location. Then again, I've traveled overseas with dogs over a dozen times, maybe getting close to TWO dozen now, and so although there's always SOME sort of drama associated with the bureaucracy that needs to exert its will with the paper stamping business, I'm pretty comfortable with the process as a whole. The rules are pretty clear, but like anything, it comes down to knowing your rights, knowing your responsibilities, being cordial to those who hold the pen/stamp/power, and hoping that they're having a good day themselves.

Of course, that's just the paperwork/legal side of things. What about the trip?

Chispa had never been in a crate or a sherpa bag prior to me getting her, so I booked the flight home such that we'd have 48 hours before needing to get on a plane. This gave her some time to bond with me, get over the trauma of leaving her litter, and also gave me some time to work on getting her comfortable in her sherpa. I made sure to have some pee pads with me for the trip, and you can see one on the floor of her bag in the picture above.

On the evening prior to the morning of the flight, she had her last drink of water and her last bite to eat. She'd get some treats during the flight, but I wanted to make sure her bladder was empty. Yes, it's a long time for a little puppy to go without food or water, but a healthy puppy can stand that if it's a one-time thing. Shoot, probably lots of wild dogs/coyotes/wolves as puppies go far longer without food or water and are just fine. In any case. I made sure I had a little bullystick for her to chew on in her crate, and a little puppy kong, and some cream cheese to stuff in it. And, the day prior to the flight, Anna and Chispa and I walked around Enschede, Netherlands, Chispa in her Sherpa, getting used to the jostling. She seemed happy to look out at the world from the bag as long as she was on my shoulder and as long as I was moving. We took her to a restaurant for dinner the evening prior to the flight, and she sat in her bag quietly under the table while Anna and I ate, and while I waited for a phone call from USA Team Coach Nancy Gyes (hoping for that call, which I GOT!!)…the call that every team member hopeful anxiously waits for.

The hardest part of the trip really was the END. Chispa had to be in the bag, while I got antsier and antsier, standing in line for passport control. I knew she had to pee and poop. And I knew she'd fuss if I was standing still. And sure enough that's what happened. And the line took FOREVER. Double forever. And the CBP Officer, as expected, didn't understand the regulations, even though I showed him page after page after page. So I had to sign a confinement agreement. And now she is here with me, and although she seems to want to chomp on EVERYTHING, she clearly does not have rabies, is at no risk for communicating rabies, and is incredibly unlikely to CONTRACT rabies. All's well that ends well 🙂

Taco was just about as easy. His breeder was kind enough to give him cookies for going in to a sherpa bag before I took possession of him. When I arrived in Madrid, the breeder met me, with Taco, handed him over, as well as his paperwork, harness and leash, and some food and a toy, and we were on our way. I spent the night in a hotel room with Taco, and the next morning, we turned around and headed home. He also was able to hold it until we got to Atlanta, and, once through customs, he happily pottied and was fine for the rest of the trip back to Portland.

Do your homework, and be prepared for the worst, but also, know that it CAN work out!

I hope this helps you out if you're considering bringing home a puppy from Europe!

One year later

Fall Farm Dog

Going back and reviewing my videos, it seems that this time last year I was playing around with a mat as a foot target for the running dogwalk training. Here we are, a year later, doing some sequencing on the contacts. Nothing too fancy, other than working on dogwalk–>weaves, which is more of a weave pole problem than a dogwalk problem (although both have to be solid to pass muster!).

Timing obstacles doesn't really do much in the real world but it does provide a way to compare our progress to where we were at a past point in time, where we are compared to other dogs, etc. Having a 1.2 second dogwalk is kinda fun to brag on, but it doesn't really matter too much if we can't put it in sequence. Even so – brag: this first one clocked in at 1.18 even with a crummy approach by yours truly. Second one, best I can tell (based on head coming up at the end, it's pointed away): 1.18 again. Third, to the weaves: 1.84. Fourth: 1.82. Finally, 1.82. It's interesting to note the speed change when the weaves were put at the end of the dogwalk vs earlier, when it was just a jump, which she's more familiar with as an after-dw obstacle.

Bits and pieces, bits and pieces.

Age appropriate sequencing

Last Friday, before preparations for our first ever USDAA trial and 4th Oktoberfest trial went into hyperdrive, I managed to sneak some time in to finish up some pinwheel sequences with Chispa, as well as some contact training. No, she can't do fancy turns and such after the dogwalk or aframe yet. She can't even do those fancy turns and such PERIOD, let alone after a running contact. While I've started to work on landing side approaches with Chispa in bits and pieces, fancy stuff is nowhere near ready for sequencing. When I say “started to work on” I mean I've gone up to a jump set low, with some bacon and a clicker in hand, and have introduced the concept to her. I'm not keen on wild repetition with any behavior to start out with. I'd much rather teach it like a trick, let the dog think about it, puzzle it out, have fun solving a problem, get lots of cookies, and THEN when there is some fluency starting to develop, keep expanding the boundaries of the behavior. Crawl, walk, trot, run. There's an order to it.

As we leave the events of this past spring further and further behind (remember, surgery, all that?), and Chispa seems to be continuing normally, I *am* starting to think about long term agility. Maybe we will “make it” to those green green pastures someday. Maybe meaning, maybe *I* will be the limiting factor (well, more than usual). So, with that in mind, I've started to train some of the behaviors that I anticipate Chispa *may* need in a few YEARS. I'm still not in any hurry, because I don't anticipate her needing to employ these behaviors in a sequence for…years.

But, that doesn't mean I'm endlessly wrapping my 1.5 year old puppy (yes PUPPY) or working on crazy weave pole entries. Shoot, we're working on weaving twelve poles continuously at the moment. I just don't get the idea that young dogs MUST learn these things as young dogs or they won't learn them at all. There seems to be such a rush to skip over the basics. Nothing new, I suppose, it's kind of been that way for a while. I want understanding, not rote repetition. I want a teammate, not a robot. That takes time and understanding. I feel incredibly blessed to have Frodo to remind me of that even while Chispa and I are starting out. Frodo at this point knows so MUCH, and understands so much nuance that I never directly trained…and Chispa is very, very raw, but oh so fun.

Anyway, videos below. I'm shamelessly pleased with our pinwheels, and ecstatic with our contacts. It's a moment in time, a rung on the ladder, a step on the journey, and we're not settling in to or hunkering down to stay in this moment – we're moving on the moment we've mastered a thing, but it sure feels good to have mastered that thing as a step toward other things.

 

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