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 »

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 »

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. ;>

Apr 012013

by Doranna

It never does get any easier.

But sometimes, it goes as well as it can.

This shouldn’t have surprised me, Belle being who and what she’s always been–utterly focused on being perfect.

In the middle of March, I learned of Belle’s illness and wrote her a bucket list blog.  What I didn’t anticipate was how well she’d respond to the new management.

At the time I wrote the blog, I thought we’d have a week with her–the changes had been coming so quickly even between the time of calling to make her vet appointment and taking her in, it seemed pretty inevitable.

But she did really well on the new mealtime protocol, and even better on the new supplement.  She luxuriated in her new access to the Forbidden Tripping Zones (AKA, “Sleep under mommy’s feet”) and what had been a rising edge of anxiety turned gentle.  She spent her mornings in the spring sun and her afternoons with me in the office.  Evenings she shared with the Beagles here in the office.

Hospice suited her.

It worked for me, too–quiet final days with my best princess girl.  Good days.  The only thing that truly bothered me was that I wasn’t…well, all teary-eyed and stuff.  Instead I kept smiling at her, and absorbing her presence, and enjoying her.  Didn’t seem quite right.

In the end, we got two weeks.  Each day presented subtle new changes, but nothing she found distressing.  First she stopped losing weight, and then she gained back what she’d lost in the first place.  For a couple of days, she seemed to be holding ground.  But really, she wasn’t.  And then there came a day when I knew it was close, and the next day I ambled out into the kitchen to feed her breakfast and she looked at me from her crate, and I burst into all the tears I’d been hiding.

So I knew, in the way that the heart does. 

After that I had to pull apart the pieces of the decision and second guess myself, but it turned out that everything still fit together, and after a morning of kisses from family and a chance to sleep out in the sun with her boy Beagles one more time, Belle’s Auntie Vet came to visit us and Belle quickly and quietly slipped away.

Good girl, BelleBelle.  Still perfect, after all that.

One last sunny snooze. Might not get any better than that.

Mar 182013

by Doranna

I’d thought that I’d write a blog this weekend, and I’d thought it would probably be about Dart’s first agility trial in four months.

It’s not.

It’s Belle Cardigan’s blog instead.

Miss Belle and one of her agility prizes...can't see, can't hear...but she can still smell the treats!

Belle is now just past thirteen years old, and we’re suddenly–very suddenly–getting ready to say good-bye. 

She’s seen a lot of changes in the past year; she’s now mostly blind and profoundly deaf, and I thought that explained some of the new behaviors that have crept in over the past couple of months.  And maybe to some extent, it did.  But suddenly other changes piled on in the course of the last week, and a visit to the vet quickly revealed the worst–the cancer that Belle has been hiding from us.  Never mind her gorgeous coat or the fact that she looked so good on her Christmas Eve birthday that I thought I’d have years more with her.

Belle was a gift from writer/breeder friend Jennifer Roberson at Cheysuli Kennels, way back when I first moved to the Southwest.  She was too small for conformation shows, but she grew into my first serious agility dog, and she marched through rally excellent and novice obedience with a steady stream of blue ribbons.

She was the first dog in this area to get a PAX (and that was the first PAX title that judge had given).

She was one of only 50 dogs to have a PAX2 at the time she earned hers.

When (in July of ’12)  AKC instituted the more demanding PACH title, she earned her first PACH and very nearly her second; she was at that time #2 Lifetime Preferred Cardigan Corgi.  When I retired her at the end of last year at the age of twelve, she was 100 speed points away from that PACH2 (and nearly a PACH3 with her double Qs).

This is all in spite of calcifying disk disease that struck when she was five years old and partially paralyzed her, a condition from which she was not expected to recover.  Between five to ten years old, she sat out more trials than she ran because of flares, and then the calcification stabilized.  (She continued to run agility at the vet’s behest; keeping her strong was the best thing I could have done for her.)

Belle is my princess dog.  My tries so hard to be perfect you want to cry dog.  My sweet, sweet little blue merle girl with the blue eye.  Bellicious, Bellevator, BelleBelle, Miss B, Princess Belle.

I’m not sure how long we have.  I know it’s not long enough.  And so I am making a bucket list for her, the things I think she most wants from her world in these scant remaining days.

  1. The Beloved Tripping Position

    Pleasant afternoons of snoozing in the sun.

  2. Evenings of snoozing in the forbidden “trip me” spot RIGHT BESIDE MY FEET at the standing station.
  3. Nomming down extra coconut oil, fish oil, and big heapings of yummy meats.  Her appetite is still fine, and she needs this tripled intake to maintain her otherwise rapidly falling weight.
  4. This includes Second Breakfast.
  5. Getting the office princess bed whenever she wants it, no matter who the boys think owns it (or what they think it’s called).
  6. Not worrying about piddling indoors because the office is now one giant incontinence pad.
  7. Many couch cuddles.
  8. Playtime with the mommy on the floor gently pinching her toes so she can pretend to FIERCELY BITE.

It’s a start.

PACH Cheysuli's Silver Belle, CD RE MXP5 MXPS MJP6 MJPS PAX2 XFP EAC EJC CGC (Belle)

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.

Jul 022012

It’s been an interesting Weekend with Dogs.

Belle Cardigan Corgi: i don’t think you have to tell this story.

No, really, I do.  It’s part of the whole weekend.

Belle: i will pretend i am not here.

Here.  Just hide over here in your Princess Bed.  Probably for the best.

The past weekend is proof positive: to live with dogs, you have to live humble.  And be ready to laugh.

We started the weekend with the 0-dark-30 wake-up call, so we could head out to lay track before it gets too hot to ask the dogs to run it once it’s aged (we’re working Dart at two hours, Connery at anywhere from one to two hours, Zoom our BC friend between two and three, and Coz the little Papillion at thirty minutes.  Interweaving the track laying & running is sort of an art.)  This weekend we were at the UNM campus, which is where the VST is held and contains great sprawling content opportunities–concrete, asphalt, grass, gravel, mulch…

It also has a freaking lot of uncontrolled off-leash dogs, but that’s a rant for another day.

It also has automatic water sprinklers.  These aren’t supposed to go off after 7am at a state institution, but as we found out while Coz was doing his little track…they do.  They really, really do.  (I present for your amusement the image of two handlers not only caught in this particular gantlet, but hunkering down to finish running the track, complete with outraged outcry as the sprinklers spun around to startling new orientations.  Kinda wonder what the passing students thought…)

Well, as we said at the time: we weren’t hot any longer!

Connery took his turn to bravely handle a freaking off-leash dog and overcome his concerns to return to his track, and then Dart ran.  For the past couple of sessions, Dart’s been struggling with the notion of tracking extensive hard surfaces–especially when it comes to concrete, which holds less scent than asphalt.  It’s been obvious from his reaction to these surfaces that the scenting experience is so different that he doesn’t consider tracking over it to be the same task.

This time out, I deliberately laid a track that was mostly asphalt and concrete, with transitions from one to the other–including stairs.  (Scent behavior on stairs is pretty outrageous, never mind concrete stairs.)  On another dog, this might not have been a good choice, but with this dog…evil genius that he is…there have been too many times I’ve presented him with a giant leap of performance criteria only to see the whole thing click in his head.

Had you been hovering over the campus on Saturday morning, you would have heard:


And there was celebrating by all!  Good boy Dart!

Belle: maybe she will forget about…well, nevermind.

Not much chance of that.

Dart came home to a bath, after which I took photos to use in the cover of the current Dale & Sully story.  And here you go, a peekview–up above!  Plus a view that I’m not going to be using, but can’t resist…

The cuteness factor here is far too great weapon to use casually, so it didn't make the cut for cover. But honestly--!

While Dart was drying, a fellow raw feeder came by with sheep bones that she couldn’t use.  It turned out to be a sheep skeleton, which fits into freezer space somewhat differently than a bundle of bones–it’s an interesting visual–but it was all very much appreciated.  Especially by the dogs, who will be exercising their jaws and flossing their teeth for some time to come.

Sheep bones come in handy another way, too, it turns out.

Door-to-door steak-selling Guy: Buy my stuff!

Me: Oh, so sorry…I just put a sheep skeleton in the freezers. No room!

Guy: *backs away…*

Hee hee hee hee.

Belle: she really did forget!

So, after this dogventure filled day, I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Belle: oh.  she didn’t forget.

Dart often wakes up during the night–half the time he’s fretting, the other half of the time he really has to go.  So the first wake-up call is always treated as valid, and I generally handle this without lights, without glasses…if I can help myself, without opening my eyes.

Belle: maybe it is all dart’s fault.

Belle is the only one of the dogs who isn’t crated at night–she’s a bedroom dog.  (Connery’s crate bedding routine helps to control his allergies; Dart’s crate helps to control…Dart.)  Last night that bedroom door was open, due to the heat and need for circulation, but she’s a very good girl, so…no big deal.

Belle: it happens to everyone now and then!

Me, toddling out to the kitchen to pull Dart from his crate and put him out through the mud room…in the dark…without glasses…: *SQUISH*

Me, a little more awake now: That can’t be right.

Let’s just say I turned on the light.

Pets.  Never a dull moment, eh?

Jun 062012

A Dog Agility Blog Event Post

anxiety!I’ve never been any good at competition.  Doing well means too much; it always has.  I’m one of those people who hands homework in early, stressed myself sick over tests all the way through college, ran my years of track plagued by moments of Fail though Trying Too Hard, and always aim to deliver my books early.

So when I started pondering obedience trials with my first Cardigan Welsh Corgi, it wasn’t a natural fit.  I forgot to breathe, my legs were too wobbly to move confidently, and my clever dog knew better than to think we were having fun.

Kacey (no more obedience for her!), Jean-Luc (the brain injured), and Miss Belle

Very early in that effort, a gruff steward followed me out of the ring to berate me harshly in front of all and sundry for a newbie error.  I went off to cry and that was essentially the end of my obedience trialing.

(For those who know AKC rules-yes, the steward faced disciplinary action, but the damage was done.)

Flash forward a couple years.  I was training brain-injured Jean-Luc Picardigan in agility as therapy.  No one expected him to function well enough to compete, but that wasn’t the point, and we were happy.  Then I started Belle Cardigan in classes about six months later just because she loved it.

Six months after that, I entered them both in a small trial, somewhat against my better judgment.  Not because of my concerns about them, but because of me.  I knew me.  And, in fact, Jean-Luc took one look at the unfamiliar start line and went into his autistic mode, freezing in place until I went to get him—unable to process the sensory input of the situation.  But that was okay.  We were there to enlarge his world, not break competition records.

But then I went out with Belle Cardigan—me and my nerves and my complete lack of confidence, tense and freaky and Oh My Gawd Everyone is Watching

And then Belle started to run.  Suddenly it was me and her on the course together, alone—and we were flying.

I came off that course a different person.  One who knows it’s not about being perfect (even when perfection is nice).  It’s about those moments of connection with the dog.  It’s about flying together.

A decade later …

Jean-LucJean-Luc has passed, but the agility changed his life in ways I can’t even describe.  Belle is freshly retired, 100 points away from her second PACH and, at the time, #1 Lifetime Preferred Corgi.  Oh, we could have eked out those final points.  But she’d become concerned over her own diminishing speed.  We weren’t flying together anymore—not truly.  We were just worrying together, and that’s not what this is for.

Now it’s two more dogs (and a breed) later, not to mention two (almost three) MACHs later, and a handful of other titles (including that obedience title, albeit with a different dog), with young Dart just starting his journey.

Cheysuli Jean-Luc Picardigan, OJP NAP OJC NAC CGC (Jean-Luc)

PACH Cheysuli’s Silver Belle, CD RE PAX2 MXP5 MJP6 XFP EAC EJC CGC (Belle)

CH MACH2 Cedar Ridge DoubleOSeven CD RE XF EAC EJC CGC (ConneryBeagle)

Albedo’s Charter Member TD RA OA OAJ CA CGC (D’Artagnan Beagle AKA Dart)

We’re also into tracking now, and ConneryBeagle is flirting with cat search and rescue—and we’re all enjoying the zen of it.  And if Dart Beagle is a little crazy and well-deserving of his Crytic Evil designation, those moments when we do connect on course and on the tracking line and in the obedience ring…well.  Those are out of orbit.  And changing the way I think about that is what makes it possible for that to be what it’s all about—for both me and the dogs.

We still aim to be perfect.  But we also take it on the fly, just being together.

PS But leave me my book deadline anxiety—and don’t ask me how far out from this Dog Writing event I had this blog written!

PPS Other blogs on this subject are linked at the Dog Agility Blog Events.


Mar 192012

A Dog Agility Blog Event Post

In training, I do my best when I’m in the middle of it, but find it all to easy to look back after I’ve done it. It’s the If Only game.  I bet you’re familiar with it.

“If only…”

…I had known [insert training technique here]

…I had realized sooner how to meet this individual dog’s needs.

…I had read this book, met this trainer, gotten this training tool…

Sometimes this way lies madness.

BelleWhile I didn’t start agility with any particular training philosophy,  I did do something else–I started with Jean-Luc Picardigan, an autistic, brain-injured young Cardigan Corgi.  In truth, none of the usual techniques worked for him–just a lot of guidance, a lot of repetition, a lot of patience.  Eventually agility changed Jean-Luc’s life and he earned multiple (unexpected!) titles.  But that’s another story.

The point is, when I started training Belle (AKA Miss Belle AKA Princess Belle AKA b-b-b-BELLE!), my sole experience with training for competition dog sports was based on this brain-injured boy.  So training Belle–who was a natural, full of glee and amazingly fast to learn–came very easily.


What I didn’t realize–what eventually became our major struggle–was how very, very sensitive and soft she is to the unspoken and the incidental, and how things to which she gave no real-time reaction (such as someone shouting to someone else across the agility training field during drills or class) added up to make a significant impact on her.

For in contrast to Jean-Luc–who was largely oblivious to all forms of communication until agility and even afterward required specific, direct (and unique) management, Belle assumes that all communication is directed at her.  And she takes on the worries of the world in the process.

Belle: Am I a good girl?  Are you sure I’m a good girl?  Someone raised her voice five five minutes ago.  I don’t believe you.

And you’d better believe she knew it when I was frustrated during training, even if I happened to be frustrated at the weather, another dog’s interference, or a stone in my shoe.

So even though I was working with a “it’s the handler’s fault” philosophy when mistakes happened, Belle’s extraordinary sensitivity–and her need to be perfect–meant that wasn’t enough in the long run.

Not that she didn’t accomplish awesomeness along the way.  She was the 20th dog to earn a PACH nationwide.  She’s a PAX2 dog who retired at twelve years old and 100 speed points shy of PACH2, and at that time she was #1 Preferred Corgi.  And this in spite of being out of the game more than she was in it, between her health and mine (that, too, is another story).

But what if…?

…I had better understood behavior-based training when I started

…I had found the book Control Unleashed when I started (never mind that it wasn’t published yet)

…I had understood the profoundly unexpected way Belle absorbs the weight of the world.

Belle on AlertI can’t change any of it, but thinking about it is more than an exercise in self-flagellation, even now that her single role in the house is to be the Princess.  Thinking about it means maybe I can do a little bit better the next time.  But still, there’s plenty of regret.  Because…

If only I had been able to ensure that she never, ever believed herself to be the least bit imperfect at all…

(Because she never was, you know.)



Feb 082012

Doesn’t sound like a life philosophy, does it?

Well, surprise!

Here’s the thing.  In agility, there are contact obstacles (A-Frame, Dogwalk, Teeter…).  And there are safety-oriented performance criteria for these obstacles:  The dog has to put at least one foot in the yellow section.  The teeter must hit the ground before the dog departs it.


Here’s the other thing:  Lots and lots of dogs love to leap from the top of the A-Frame, the teeter in mid-air, the dogwalk from some point that’s excruciatingly close to the yellow but not actually in it.

So we have lots of training methods to teach the dog to run into the yellow.  Touch pads, stride regulators, targets, and cookies and….

I don’t treat my dogs on the contacts.  They’re Beagles.  Do I need to encourage them to turn the dog walk into a slow sniffing exercise?  No, I do not.  I taught them to crawl, which is a diagonal movement and prepares them to collect on the downslope while avoiding the cantering gait (lateral gait) that makes LEAPING so inviting.  (I don’t know anyone else who does this.  I’m sure people are pointing and laughing at this blog).

On the teeter the boys have different behaviors suited to their personalities, but really, that’s not the point.  There are so many ways to train these criteria, and different ways suit different dogs.  That makes no one way THE RIGHT way.

BUT.  If your way is to use a treat at the end of a contact, and you do that by squeezing fake liquid cheese (yum) onto the end of the obstacle at a training yard that many dogs use, then IT IS THE WRONG WAY.

Because what do you think happens to my dog when he encounters your cheese molecules?  Yes, thank you very much.  It untrains him at the same time that it gives him exactly the idea I don’t want him to have: that obstacles should not be performed, they should be inspected for food.

Recently Dart Beagle ended up in a cartwheel because his front end found leftover cheese while his back end was still performing the obstacle.  Thank you, no.  Do Not Want.

Still waiting for the life philosophy part?  Here’s another way to put it, much older and maybe somewhat hokey these days–it’s called the Golden Rule.

(Do you know, I grew up with a school ruler that actually had the Golden Rule burned into the back.  I loved that ruler!  It was Sturdy.)

Do unto others, people.  Yea, verily, as you would have done unto you.

Or am I a dinosaur?

PS there will be no photos of cartwheels, as I will make sure it never happens again!  But here is a moment of Belle about to tell Dart Beagle that he’d better sit still for a face-cleaning.  This time I did not fix her evil blue flash eye!