Mar 042015

durgin.dart.dsc1120.400Once you embark on the Way of Dog Performance Sports (obedience, rally, tracking, agility), certain things change.  Every cares about the health and well-being of their dogs—but when you’re asking for more from them—and when you’re planning your training around what you hope to accomplish—then not only do the obligations increase, but the whole matter is never far from your radar.

It would be easy to get bogged down on the details.  Continue reading »

Dec 032014

by Doranna

_DSC3932-(ZF-4919-11231-2-001).SM“The emperor has no clothes” has never been a popular (or easy phrase) to utter.  Not even in agility.

So we’re talking about continuing education (training) in this blog event, but first…let’s talk about those courses.  I promise this leads straight to training!

Anyway, you know the courses I mean.  During walk-through half the handlers are grimly unhappy and the other half are quite blithely and vocally certain that those who are unhappy would in fact be happy if they had only trained properly (or completely, or with the right system, or…). Continue reading »

Sep 032014

by Doranna
A Dog Agility Blog Event


Hard to decipher all the signage, but this was two rally novice titles with first and second place. Just starting the journey…

The Blue Hound Beagles are, primarily, agility dogs.
  But they looove tracking.  They clamor for obedience work.  Boy, do they want to hunt those ratties and chase that plastic bag lure! I’ve always done crosstraining with them to some degree, for both body and mind (but not for my wallet…).

Connery: CH MACH3 Cedar Ridge DoubleOSeven VCD1 RE MXC MJG MXP MJP XF EAC EJC CGC

(That is, Beauty Contest AGILITY AGILITY AGILITY Versatility with Tracking, Obedience, and Agility, More Obedience Stuff Rally Stuff AGILITY AGILITY AGILITY More Agility!)

Dart: Albedo’s Charter Member VCD1 BN GN RE MX MJB CA CGC

(Versatility with Tracking, Obedience, & Agility, More Obedience stuff Rally stuff AGILITY AGILITY Coursing! Continue reading »

Jun 042014

by Doranna

cb.dogwalkbay.crop.0058Qualifying!  Winning!  Titles!  W00t!  Rah!

Because hey, that stuff is fun.  It’s lots of fun.  The green Q ribbon is a revered thing.  Add a bit of placement ribbon color and…you know…


But if it was the only marker of success, I can’t imagine many of us would keep training, keep entering…keep running.  Keep on with our little public humility lessons.  Because with some dogs, those placement ribbons never come, and with others, the Q ribbons are a rarity, and with still others, the lessons in humility are ongoing. Continue reading »

Mar 052014

A Blue Hound Beagles Blog

(A Dog Agility Blog Event: Starting your puppy)

0405.31.connery.bone.19Talk about awesome reinforcement timing!  This past month, in some weird universal coincidence, big lots of people (okay, a couple) asked me exactly this–when did I start training?  How?  And now here we are, officially chatting about it for the Blog Event!

So here’s my easy answer:  I start my puppies the moment they come home.

Now, anyone who’s gasping, “She puts her puppies over jumps/on the a-frame/dogwalk/WHUTEVER” should just slap their own heads.   Just pause right now and take care of that little chore for me.
Continue reading »

Dec 112013

by Doranna & the Blue Hound Beagles
A Dog Agility Blog Event.  Sort of.

dogblogLast week the Dog Agility event went off as scheduled…without me.  Life Chaos came to something of a head last week (if one of many), and I regretfully not only didn’t manage the deadline, I didn’t even get started.

But this past weekend, I attended an agility trial that reminded me just how much the mental game matters.

As in, when your mental game is blown away, it changes everything about how you handle the events of a trial. Continue reading »

Sep 042013

by Doranna and the Blue Hound Beagles

(A Dog Agility Blog Event–stop by the event page to see what everyone else has to say! )

When this blog topic came up, I immediately thought about my first agility dog: Jean-Luc Picardigan, the boy no one ever thought could or would compete, due to his birth-related brain-injured strangeness.

Jean-Luc's joy.  Several of us cried over this picture, knowing how far agility brought this boy.

Jean-Luc’s joy. Several of us cried over this picture, knowing how far agility brought this boy.


Then I thought about Belle Cardigan, whose loss still seems so recent I could reach out and touch it. She wasn’t supposed to run again after her non-agility injury and partial paralysis at the age of five, either.

Belle, by Doghouse Arts

Belle’s first trial after “she’ll never run again.”

Well, in spite of his clumsiness, autism, and the very firm grasp of gravity on his solid little body, Jean-Luc ended up titling through his open classes in multiple agility venues. And Belle took a spot as #2 Lifetime Preferred Cardigan when she was awarded her grandfathered PACH title, in spite a trialing schedule that can only charitably be called “light.”

And then there’s ConneryBeagle.

Connery: ME!!

Connery Start Line

The Song of Connery


And there’s me.

Connery's Start Line Song



Thanks to vaccination-triggered immune issues, Connery had barely reached the age of three before his trusted vet and I opened quality of life discussions. And me…my life has been a merry-go-round of doctors doing more harm than good, and a recent diagnosis of long-term Lyme disease. (Whether it is or not is almost moot at this point.)

So screw aging (she says genteelly), and the all the big decisions and accommodations we make as it inevitably happens to us or our dogs. Because most of us, whether we think about it or not, practice those kinds of decisions all along the way.

Agility turned Jean-Luc from a gawkward, clumsy boy incapable of responding to any sensory input–a dog who at two and a half years old had no facial expressions, body or tail language–into a dog who could grin and wag and flip his ears around and interact.

But Jean-Luc wouldn’t have reveled in the complexity of Excellent classes. And so I retired him after his Open titles to continue playing in practice, which he loved so much that it was one of the very last things I did with him.

For him.

He was only seven when I retired him, but it was time. Agility competition changed his life so that he had a life, but when the balance of joy to not enough joy tipped over, then it was time.

One happy boy

One happy boy

At the time Belle was injured, I caught it very early due to her active training. Even so, her situation progressed so quickly enough so she was partially paralyzed before the correct diagnosis was made. But she came back from rehab stronger than anyone expected, and we all realized that she was better off in careful training than as a weak and vulnerable marshmallow. So…she ran.

Not that she didn’t have flares; she was in rehab as often as she was on full activity. Oh, man, did I agonize over making the right choices for her! I pulled her from more trials than I ran her in–but she wailed (loudly) at the injustice when she wasn’t allowed to practice with the other dogs. She wanted. And meanwhile I never made assumptions that there would be another trial, so each run had a sort of bittersweet uber-awareness to it.

Eventually, as Belle came eleven, the balance tipped and I made the decision I had been practicing for all those years–with only 100 points left to her PACH2. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make, but boy, was it hard.

(If the AKC had grandfathered those doggone placement multipliers and given her the same points & scoring received by all the regular class dogs all those years, she would have been pushing PACH3. Not that I’m bitter about this or anything, but that’s another blog…or not.)

Belle giggled her way through courses, as it should be

Belle giggled her way through courses, as it should be…

As for Connery…new meds and routines finally stabilized him. More or less.  His issues are ongoing, and so atypical that the obvious choice has usually been the wrong choice for him.  He’s paid a price for that–including two consecutive injuries caused by a drug that shouldn’t have had a systemic effect at all.

Along the way he’s inspired a fund-raising anthology, and he’s spent most of his life reporting his adventures on LiveJournal, Twitter, or FaceBook. (He’s been quiescent lately, but not because either of us wants it that way. Just…life.)

Connery: Facebook friends are BAWHSOME!

But between his hospitalizations and his illnesses and his injuries, he’s still become the second most titled breed champion Beagle on record (as far as anyone’s been able to determine). Of all the things he does, he loves agility the best. He’s known around here for his joyful song of self–at the start line, at the finish line, and at key obstacles in between.

So as of this fall, at nine years old, he’s back in the game (and off the meds that made him so vulnerable). As with Belle, I know things could change at any time. But for now, I manage his issues, I keep him strong and limber, and I watch his joy.


Connery, running forth. Photo by ByVine Design.

As for me…trials and training requires an exacting balance between what this Lyme body needs to keep going and what becomes too much for it. Friends ask, “Isn’t that too much for you?” And I say, “Yes. But if I don’t do it, it’s worse.” The dogs give me something to focus on, goals to strive for, and reasons to stay fit and active. During the bad times, I slack off or cancel trials. I never make assumptions. I weigh the costs against the joy.

So I figure when it comes to the decisions to be made around aging, no matter how you look at it, I’ve got plenty of practice.

Bet I’m not the only one.

I also figure there’s no need to make a big deal of it–I’ll just do what I always do, which is to make the decisions that seem right.

Really, whether it’s about the dogs or the people, it’s all about the balance of joy. Start there, and you can’t go wrong. So when it’s Dart Beagle’s turn (at three and a half, not for a while I hope!), or Rena Beagle’s (five), I hope the right thing comes obviously and easily. And I’m making sure they have lots of things they love, so when agility isn’t an option, they can still go tracking…or play in obedience…or maybe turn to therapy work. Because in the end, the Now is preparing us for the Then. We just have to listen.


Listen! You might even get a cookie, like Dart Beagle

Shoot, I bet I was supposed to write about changing training routines for older dogs or something. ;>

Jun 052013

by Doranna

Dear AKC:  This one’s for you.  

(A Dog Agility Blog Event: Improving Agility Organizations: I’m not picking on the AKC–it happens to be the agility venue in which I primarily participate.  Being active in agility, obedience, rally, and tracking means such choices must be made. (!!) )

push.567As agility trainers and handlers, we’re constantly re-evaluating what works with our dogs.  At least, we should be.  When things don’t work, then we change something.  And we do it quickly enough to keep small problems from becoming big problems, or else…boy, do we got big problems!

Another factor paramount in training is consistency.  Not only consistency in defining and reinforcing behaviors, but consistency in our criteria…consistency in who we are as trainers.  Our dogs know what to expect from us.

Or they should–!

Well, people are trainable creatures, too.

We respond to our circumstances and our experiences, and we make decisions based on those factors.  When trialing experiences are profoundly inconsistent, it matters.  When frustrations go unaddressed, it really matters!

Last year I wrote a r/a/n/t/ post about the last T2B course I ever ran, and why–after too many intensely technical and demotivating courses that didn’t in the least fit the published intent of the game–I quit entering my dogs.  I would love to take part in this game…if it only stayed more consistently true to its purpose.

I stopped running FAST for the same reason.  When it takes a calculator and a batch of experienced handlers bent over the course map, desperate to find any potentially successful strategy, then it really kinda isn’t fun any more.  It’s more like “taking things too far.”

So, dear AKC, pay attention to the courses you approve–and the message those courses give our judges about what you’re looking for.  Please make sure they fit the spirit of the game as you defined it in the first place.  Consistency is your friend, and inconsistency is just really annoying.

And when you hear this feedback–any feedback–not just from one person, but from a steady trickle of people, it behooves you to act on it at more than a glacial pace.  Because, seriously?  It took you a decade to institute the PACH?  I remember bemoaning the lack of it at the very first trial when preferred dogs were running.  It took how long to allow grandfathering from regular classes to preferred?  Both logistics that were more than sensible and obvious from the get-go?

And how long did it take before we didn’t have to prove our jump heights on the spot?  And while we’re at it, when will it be possible to shift from a B-class to an A-class?  Because, seriously, you’d rather write Letters of Shame taking away runs instead of allowing the easy entry fix?

These are the kinds of things that matter to us.  They change the decisions we make about our entries, about our dogs’ careers, about sometimes about our interest in the sport.

(You can bet I would have made different decisions about my limited entry money if I’d known the PACH would be grandfathered in a year after Belle retired–she was 100 points short of PACH2 not because she wasn’t perfectly capable of earning that title, but because with multiple dogs to support, I based my entry choices on the extended absence of any such title.)

At the least, the failure to respond to obvious clamor engenders a mutual lack of respect; at the most, it pushes people away.  And an organization like AKC should know better, if only from all that mutual love of dogs.  Re-evaluation and response…change, when necessary…and as necessary.  Not a decade later.

Consistency and responsiveness.  Because as with handlers and our dogs, it’s not just about managing, it’s about thriving.  And it’s about creating a kind of teamwork where handlers, clubs, and trial secretaries feel they matter.

It has nothing to do with our dedication to our dogs, or to our training, or to doing the very best for them–those things are ours to nurture–it has to do with that next layer, the competition layer.  Because when we matter, we invest in what we’re doing with all our hearts…sort of like our dogs.  And when we don’t, sometimes we just stand in the middle of the ring and stare at you and think, very loudly, “What jump?”


Mar 062013

by Doranna

With a title like that, you might be tempted to think I’m talking about the international editions of my books, or the cool covers that sometimes result when the book comes out in a different country.  But no.  Because when my life isn’t all about writing, it’s all about training the dogs.

Yup, it’s time for another Dog Agility Blog Event (One of the perks of participation is totally selfish–it spurs me to read all the other blogs, and to look at the subject a whole new way.  Check ’em out!)  This month we’re pondering the internationalization of the sport, a matter which brought some puzzlement in behind-the-scenes discussion.  “I’ll never compete internationally, so…?”

I am pretty darned sure I won’t ever compete internationally, either.  Never mind being good enough…I don’t fly!  Boom.  Grounded.

But I have a very strong belief in the strength of options.  Options when it comes to training techniques, training tools, training theory.  In fact, I feel strongly enough about having options that even when I run across a technique that makes me wrinkle my nose, I check it out.  You never know when some little piece of information will crop up as useful later on–another dog, another situation, another task.

Just TELL me what to do. Really. Then we'll all be happy.

Once upon a time (she says, by way of illustration), I was new to the idea of shaping behaviors.  Not to mention I had a young dog (ConneryBeagle) who didn’t like shaping behaviors.  Connery wants you to define exactly what you’re asking of him.  Do this; don’t do this.  He doesn’t like being asked to suggest things.  Furthermore, if he thinks his way is valid, he will suggest the same thing over and over and over and over and…look at you in disgust and quit.  Whereas if he does suggest an alternative to a previously defined behavior and you say, “Nope, do it this way,” he will then happily do it that way.

Our experimenting with shaping behaviors was very short lived.  Now that Connery is much more seasoned, I can give him broad hints about what I’d like him to do and then clicker reward, but that’s really a different thing, and I fade the clicker as soon as I can.  But at the time, I read up on it, learned about it…watched other people doing it, and tucked it away.

Fast forward a number of years, and along comes adolescent Dart Beagle–who has flunked being a show dog because he forgot to descend both testicles (this doesn’t surprise me; he’s inordinately fond of them), and who couldn’t be placed in a pet home because he vibrates with intensity.

(The number of people to use the word “vibrate” to describe him, completely independent of one another, is no coincidence.)

So lo, Dart came to my house where I love him fiercely and am willing to be humbled by his antics in agility.  And obedience.  And tracking.  And where in spite of all that, he’s also taken on the mantle of service dog.  (That’s another blog.)

On the other hand, Dart does not love the flash on this particular camera...thus the squint. But he does love the bucket, which--with shaping--he not only learned to balance on in a single session, he also realized that in order to balance on it, he'd have to flip it back upright when he knocked it over.

Dart looooves shaping.  Dart loooves figuring stuff out.  He loooooves knowing he’s clever and proving it.  And Dart LOVES the clicker.  Dart loves the clicker SO MUCH that I use it as a reward during times when he seems stressy.

The point being, if I hadn’t explored both shaping and clicker use just because it wasn’t right for my dog at the time, I wouldn’t have had the option to grab those tools when Dart came along.

So no, I’m not going to compete internationally.  And I don’t particularly like what I’ve seen–safety-wise, fairness-to-the-dog-wise–on some sample AKC Masters C courses (although I also saw one that looked like challenging fun).

But I’ve been watching videos on some of the international techniques, and I’ve watched the videos of world competition, and if some of what I see makes me think “what the effing F is the point of THAT?” it doesn’t mean I won’t look into it, see what proponents of such maneuvers are saying, and see where such handling is supposed to be optimally useful.

Because you never know.  One day it might be the perfect tool to help one of my dogs understand whatever lesson we’re trying to learn on that day.

Dec 052012

by Doranna
This is a Dog Agility Blog Event

Ten years after my introduction to agility, I’ve managed to acquire some equipment–jumps, some contact equipment, some tunnels.

And I’ve got a space dedicated to practice, such as it is–as long as I keep clearing the prickly pear, the yucca, the stick-tight burrs, and the stubborn juniper saplings.  The piñons, I run around.

But it wasn’t always that way–and even now, given that this area has a significant winter, desert adobe clay soil, and enough of an ongoing drought to kill all the stabilizing grasses, there are plenty of months when the agility yard footing is an astonishingly slippery clay sort of quicksand.

(You want to know how desperate I am about this footing?  I’m currently spreading horse poo to stabilize the soil on the way out to the agility area.  Oh yes I am!  Because walking on dried horse poo is at least possible.)

I love my agility area, but let’s just say I’m always ready to work around its challenges, just as I used to work around not having equipment at all.  For me, it’s all about breaking things down in a modular way–into component behaviors that build the foundation for the final, complex behavior.

That sounds very fancy.  But when I started doing it, I couldn’t have put those words together to describe it.  I wasn’t familiar with clicker training and the only agility instructor within 3 hours had left.  Then, as now, I did most of my training at home.

Under challenging circumstances, it becomes a matter of thinking about the pieces a dog needs to understand as part of the big picture–and particularly with regards to how that individual dog thinks.  With backyard pieces, you can lay a decent foundation for agility long before a dog is old enough to take jumps, wriggle through weaves, or face a full-height contact obstacle.

When I got ConneryBeagle, I knew I couldn’t target on contacts–in fact, I don’t even want him to think about putting his nose down at contacts.  He needed concrete, stable, environmental cues–not facing cues, body patterning, or amorphous concepts.

I used a single step in my house to teach him “run and sit with your butt on one surface and your feet on another.”  By the time he saw a contact obstacle, he had a very strong understanding of his personalized contact zone behavior.

Dart Beagle came to me with no idea where his feet were at any given moment.  He learned about those feet on the railroad ties that stabilize our startlingly narrow back yard (there’s a young arroyo behind us)–not only running along them, but perching in a neat down–feet tucked up, or no clickie-cookie!  For the same reason, he learned to climb and sit an upturned bucket; he learned to fling himself down on planks in the living room.  He walks curbs when we’re out, as well as those cement parking bumpers.


All those feets are tucked away--cookie time!

To this day, I keep a batch of planks leaning against the book case.  They served to teach a straight front (in progress), and to run ahead to his down on contacts.  They helped him understand the concept of the moving down and a straight finish–and I’m certain we’re not done with those things.


Dart, still figuring out exactly where his body is relative to the rest of the world... But he readily cleared the jump, so all was well!

Both dogs learned their running contact behavior in the house, and took it whole cloth to the equipment. To prevent contact leapage, they use a diagonal motion on the downside of the equipment.  Connery learned this at age five; Dart learned it from the start.  (Frankly, I never did have to worry about what Belle and Jean-Luc Cardigans would do on a contact.  Short legs and “keep ’em moving” meant a natural running contact.)

We did Dart’s early weave poles on the tiny patio outside my office (and inside the house!).  In the strip of a back yard–with its single jump–he first learned rear crosses, funky weave entrances, and “send to jump.”  To introduce concepts that will layer understanding in body use, attention, and release, and I use the walls of the hall, the back of the couch, crate entry and exit…all the pieces of their normal environment.  Dart doesn’t get dinner without performing some randomly chosen behavior–he not only needs the self control, he needs the constant structure.  So I’m using his basic needs to develop a daily reinforcement of bottom-layer agility and obedience skills.

You see where I’m going with all this.  I hope!  We don’t all have convenient training facilities; we don’t all even have backyards, or have them available all seasons of the year.

But we have our brains.  We know our dogs and how they think and what they need–and in fact, now that I’ve learned to think this way, I’d do all these things as foundation work even if I had a full-size agility yard out my back patio.

The house and yard–or apartment, hallway, and surroundings–are teaming with objects and circumstances just waiting to be co-opted into use.

Eventually, of course, the dog needs to put it all together on a course, and on real equipment–generalizing and proofing are necessary steps.  But if all the pieces are there, it’s suddenly not a big deal after all.


ConneryBeagle! Photo by ByVine Design.