Category Archives: Goal Setting

9 Skills to Teach your Novice Rally Dog

260549_10150212130698903_3270015_nAs a rally judge I have often observed that for some dog and handler teams, not having one skill can result in a number of point deductions and even disqualification.

For example, when a dog and handler team has trouble with left pivots, then they almost always have difficulty with left turns, about “U” turns, left circles and left finishes. When all of these exercises appear in the same course in a trial situation, this can result in a number of deductions because the dog lacks one technical skill – turning to the left.

Another example that comes to mind is the dog that is otherwise perfect but has crooked sits. I once unintentionally designed a CARO Novice Level (Which was approved) course that contained 15 sits! 15 crooked sits at 1-2 points each means that a team could lose 15-30 points. Depending on your dog, 15-30 points could be the difference between a qualifying score and a non-qualifying score. It could also be the different between a perfect score of 200 or a 180 because the dog lacks one important skill – Sit at Heel.

From a training perspective, I believe it is easier for our dogs if we teach our dogs the fundamental skills and before trying to attempt specific rally exercises.

Let’s think about that for a minute using left turns as an example. Your dog cannot read signs. He doesn’t know if you are going to turn 90 degrees, 180 degrees, 270 degrees or a full 360 degrees to the left. From his perspective you are just turning left and his job is to pivot on his front feet and tuck his rear to the right until you move forward. You only need to teach him a 360 pivot to the left, and you only really need to use one cue for all of the left turning exercises.

Now that I’ve got you thinking about rally in terms of skills instead of exercises, I know you are dying to know which skills your dog needs to learn. At the novice level in CARO, I break the 29 exercises into things down into 9 technical skills (with variations). 9 is easier than 29, don’t you think?

9 Skills for the Novice Rally Dog

  1. Heeling (Slow/Normal/Fast)
  2. Sit (Heel/Front)
  3. Stand (Heel)
  4. Down(Heel)
  5. Turn left
  6. Turn right
  7. Right finish (Go around)
  8. Left Finish (Swing)
  9. Stay (Sit/Down)

The good news is, most of these skills can be learned and perfected at home, in your living room. Once your dog understands the technical skills, and you can perform the exercises, your next step is to teach your dog the skills she will need to perform a full course, in public, at a trial or fun match with randomised rewards!


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Filed under Goal Setting, Problem Solving, Rally-O

Anti-Goal Setting

You would think goal setting with a puppy would be easy. I have this tiny ball of energy who is just jam-packed with potential…but I find myself struggling with putting together a “training plan” for her like I might for Bear.

Eventually, I would like for Epic to compete in rally, agility and herding with me. Less of a priority but still something we will train for are tracking, traditional obedience and carting.

I have friends with dogs that were in the rally and/or obedience ring (and qualifying) by 6 months of age. The dogs appeared reasonably well prepared and not overly stressed so I have no real problems with this.

And yet, when I look at Epic, who has been on this planet for all of three months (and with me for all of three weeks) I can’t imagine going into the rally ring with her in three months. Not because I think she lacks intelligence  or ability but because she is still learning so much about the world around her.

On top of this, there’s the fact that I had so much trouble along the way with Bear and stress at trials that I am hesitant to rush things with Epic. I want her to be comfortable and confident no matter what I ask of her, no matter where we are and for this to happen, she needs to learn at her own pace. As far as I know, there are no shortcuts when it comes to building confidence and I don’t know any dogs who have benefitted from being pushed past their abilities at any point in time.

As a result, I have been working with Epic in in short training sessions through the day on some basic behaviours for a pet, conformation dog or sport dog. Sometimes we work on these things while the daycare dogs are watching /playing from another room, sometimes we work on them at lunch time by ourselves. We have been working on these things at work, at home (indoors and out), and when we are out and about if people want to see what she can do. These behaviours include:

  • housetraining (go pee/poop on cue outdoors)
  • kennel up
  • sit/stand/down
  • come
  • hand touch
  • foot target (2 paws on mat, 1 paw on Easy Button)
  • follow me (lead up to both heeling and gaiting)
  • handling for grooming/vet/conformation ring including body, legs, feet, ears, teeth and nail trimming and, hand stacking.
  • sit pretty
  • spin/turn
  • paws up
  • roll over
  • sit/stand/down for meals, to be released from crate and to go outside.
  • Doggy Zen (lead-up to “leave it” and an overall great self-control exercise)
  • interaction with puppy-appropriate obstacles (ladder, ramps, cavaletti, tunnel, wobble board, fitPAWS equipment)

I’m not working them in any particular order and I’m not overly concerned about practicing everything everyday but we’re working together and most importantly, Epic is learning how to get what she wants (and she wants SO MUCH) by offering me appropriate behaviors.

My business partner also as a puppy who is about a month older than Epic. We haven’t had a huge conversation about our respective training goals but it does not appear that they are in a huge rush to get into the ring either.

If you are reading this and have a puppy now (or added one to your family in the last year or so) do you (or did you) have any goals for your puppy with definitive timelines? I’m curious.


Filed under Goal Setting

CARO Rally Seminar in Red Deer, Alberta (October 19-20, 2013)

I am so thrilled to announce that I will be delivering a CARO Rally Obedience Seminar hosted by the Wicked Canine Dog Sport Company next month!

The seminar will take place in a riding arena (TONS of space for dogs) and will cover all levels (Novice-Versatility) – and a fun match!

All are welcome, mixed breeds, pure bred, new handlers and experienced handlers.

The seminar flyer and registration form can be downloaded here and you can contact Audra Sinclair ( for more details.

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Filed under Goal Setting, Problem Solving, Rally-O

Trial Season Insanity: Can I avoid it?


I have posted very little in the past few months.

My training with Bear has been neglected due to work related and personal things. we’ve been doing a bit of trick stuff here and there at work, but nothing even remotely structured. Now that spring is here and our first trial of the season in a few months, I have trying to plan carefully.

You see, I have this problem of entering a kajillion trials and tests in the spring and early summer and then hating myself by the end of September.

The scenario goes like this: I have a fabulous weekend out at a trial and then one week later things at home and fall behind: Laundry piles threaten to take over the bedroom, dish piles threaten to take over the kitchen, I eat out more than I should (which begs the question – how did those dish piles get there). In addition to the housework avalanche, getting up at 5:30am becomes more difficult than it already is and I spend many drives home from work in tears – because I am tired and over stretched – and I have only myself to blame!

Not. This. Year.

This means that I need to make sure I don’t do something stupid like book 8 weekends of events in a row. I also need to plan better for my precious weekday evenings. My goal is to plan to be home at least two weekends a month – every other weekend if I can – and so far, I have been plugging events into my google calendar keeping this in mind.

With Sean out of commission for 4 out of the past 6 months, most of the cooking/cleaning and laundry has fallen to me and I have learned that preparation goes a long way towards reducing my weekday stress. I spend a few hours on the weekend cooking lunches for the rest of the week and wash, dry and fold laundry all in one go pass the vacuum around the house and things don;t seem to get too far out of control. Miraculously, in the past few months this has become habit and I have free time on weekday evenings that I have not has since I opened Prairie Dog Daycare.

Am I the only one that drives myself insane doing something I love? Is there anyone in the world who can do it all…or do these people just exist in my head?

Hopefully all this planning will reduce the fall insanity a teeny tiny bit. if not, you knowhow they say, “admitting you have a problem is the first step”? I figure I can always try for the second step next year if things go horribly wrong in a few months…right? RIGHT!?!?!

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Filed under Goal Setting, Health & Safety, Musings, Problem Solving

Looking ahead at dog related goals for 2013

Now that things are slowing down (relatively) for the winter I’m taking some time to consider what I would like to work on this year. I had  look at my 2011/2012 goals and, while we worked  little bit on all of them, the only ones we achieved was fixing the back up 3 steps for rally and getting started with Nose Work. Two is better than none right?


What  have discovered is that it’s really hard to stay motivated to do something when that something has no real application in our competition lives or our daily lives. I have given up on the long stand/down – we aren’t likely to ever compete in any event that requires either exercise. Same goes for retrieving.

We are at a point in our competition/trialing/testing career that there are more things we could do than I have time or money for. Planning ahead will allow me to invest my training time and money on things that:

  • Will keep Bear fit and healthy.
  • We enjoy.
  • Will make life easier for us (by us I men me!)
  • Will help us to be successful in the competition ring.

To this end, here is a list of things I’d like to try accomplish in 2013.


  • Improve weave pole entrance at high speed.
  • Improve Bear’s ability to focus when highly aroused.

Health & Fitness

  • Improve Bear’s overall fitness and muscle tone with FitPAWS equipment, his backpack and his cart..
  • Improve Bear’s flexibility by performing daily stretches.
  • Keep up the with Bear’s daily supplements.


  • Teach Bear to identify and indicate human scent indoors.
  • Improve stamina and focus on longer tracks (<100 yards).


  • Reduce (or eliminate) barking at work.

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Filed under Agility, Goal Setting, Health & Safety, Herding, Problem Solving, Rally-O, Scent Work, Tracking, Training

COKC Agility Trial – September 15 & 16, 2012

Last weekend, Bear and I were entered in our first 2 day agility trial in many years. We were entered in gamblers, snooker, standard and jumpers on Saturday and gamblers, steeplechase, standard and jumpers on Sunday. I was unsure what the weekend would be like, especially since we had missed the last two classes before the trial.

8 runs over the weekend and most runs were less than a minute long. This means less than 10 minutes of work in the ring but the 12 hour days left us both exhausted. I won’t bore you with the run by run details breakdown because I think I sum the weekend up fairly easily.


Bear wondering when he can RUN again.
Photo by Marne Birch

Needs Improvement (I’m not using the word ‘bad’ anymore)

  • A bit of wandering, sniffing and general drifting from Bear, especially in Gamblers on the send out.
  • We only accomplished one weave entry out of 5 all weekend.
  • Arriving at 7am and finishing at 7pm was a long, tiring day.
  • Our distance work is non-existent in the gamble. I know we can do these distances in practice but after running the opening sequence Bear is a bit over the top which means lots of barking at me and not so much looking  for the obstacle.


  • No barking and lunging in/out and around the rings in a very busy trial environment.
  • No apparent lameness – and I was stretching poking and prodding.
  • 100% on all contacts with a couple of rear crosses, something relatively new to us.
  • All the rear crosses in jumpers worked well for us I am glad we got to do a lot of work on them in class.
  • No knocked bars.
  • 3 qualifying runs
    • 1 Starters Snooker Q (first of 2)
    • 1 Starters Jumpers Q (second of 2, on to Advanced Jumpers)
    • 1 Advanced Standard Q (first of 3)

I did not get any video recordings, but my friend Marne took some lovely photos during our qualifying Advanced Standard run.


Do you think he likes tunnels? I think he likes tunnels.
Photo by Marne Birch

Work Ahead

It is really clear to me that whatever 2×2 weave work we had done before is completely gone. Bear always got the weaves on the second try so it’s not the weaving but the entry that’s an issue. I am pretty sure I said I would work on weaves after the last trial and guess what, I didn’t – so I can’t really expect much improvement.

Now that we are at the Advanced level in just about every class, weave entries are going to determine weather we qualify or not.

Our next trial is another local one in November – I need to remember to get the 2x2s out of the garage and do some work!

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Filed under Agility, Goal Setting, Training, Trials and Tribulations, Triumphs and Sucess

Herding–September 12, 2012

Last Wednesday we made the trek to St. Norbert for our last chance at herding before the trial at the end of the month.

On the weekend we went down to Bottineau, ND where I purchased a stock stick so now I look like I know what I am doing. My stick is plain white with a black handle and it’s nothing fancy – it cost $13.99(USD) – but it’ll do.

After Bear’s sheep biting episode the last time we went herding, I decided that I would approach herding like I try to approach other high arousal situations. We did some settle work before it was our turn and in between runs. We played the “look at that” game with the sheep and were generally able to keep the barking down to a bare minimum outside the working area.

This week the sheep we were working with were less cooperative than they have been before – meaning that the instant we walked  in, they ran to the other end of the field and when we walked towards them, they bolted again. Bear was in quite the lather by the time everyone was settled enough to let him off leash. He managed to hold his stay, round up the sheep and bring them to me….then we actually tried a Herding Tested course which involves walking around the ring through 4 panels. The sheep were so sensitive that they did a lot of running which turns Bear’s prey drive on big time! However, I managed to position myself (by running) close enough to him that I could tell him to ease off with a verbal cue. I had to do this a lot and by the end of the run, between the running and hollering easy’ I was tired and my throat ached. That being said, Bear was very reasonable with the sheep – not nearly as much dive bombing.  Quite a few times, he tried to come around and head them off at the front but apparently, this was because I was using too much pressure to get him back off the sheep which meant he naturally moved to the pressure-free zone up front. Even with the flighty sheep, we were actually able to move them sheep around reasonably getting at least one sheep through each panel which would be a qualifying round at the herding tested level.

The second time around, we were on the same sheep, the dog before us had a real hard time moving the sheep off of the fence. They would stand and stare at him, even when he was literally standing with his nose almost close enough to sniff their bums. I was worried about these flighty sheep turned sticky because I didn’t know how Bear would handle things. Would he bite? Would he dive bomb? Turns out he did neither. He shoved his shoulder in between sheep and fence and nipped at the sheep, but not the high arousal, clamp down kind of bite like before. The instructor said this was acceptable, given the sheep’s reluctance to move. It took us a few tries to get the sheep off the fence but we managed to do it, get them around the course again and return them to their favorite pen. Bear was much more responsive this time, almost no barking.

This is it for us and sheep before the trial at the end of the month. I entered 4 Herding Tested runs and hopefully will come home with a herding tested title, if not, at least we would have had the chance to get out on sheep 4 times with a knowledgeable person. Hopefully I can convince someone to come with me to be my personal videographer/photographer.

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Filed under Goal Setting, Herding, Training