Tag Archives: reward

To Cue, or not to Cue?

A few weeks ago, I had a bit of training dilemma, followed by a training epiphany, followed of course, by a new training dilemma.

Training Dilemma #1

Epic and I have been working a lot on heeling lately for rally trials. Occasionally Epic will drift a tiny bit. Sometimes it’s a forge, sometimes a lag, it doesn’t seem to be consistent. I want to help her and so I say “Here Epic!”. This causes Epic to come to me, and then drift away almost instantly scanning the room. This part is consistent enough that I know it’s something she’s learned but I’ve been struggling with where the communication breakdown is.


After watching some video, I finally realized that “Here” is the cue I use to indicate there is food on offer and I’m going to throw it for her to snatch out of the air, or to chase along the floor. I have used this cue consistently since we started training. So consistently, in fact, that I can go to video of myself with 4 month old Epic and hear myself use it. To Epic, the cue I have been using does not actually mean what I want it to mean, which is “Pay attention,  something exciting is going to happen!” To Epic, “Here” means, “Pay attention because you are going to have to chase something soon, and you better be ready to catch it”. OOPSIE!

word meme

Training Dilemma #2

After some thought, I came up with a potential solution. In order to rectify the cue confusion, all I need is another word that means, “pay attention come to me, something exciting is going to happen”. Simple right?


Removing one word from my nervous chatty vocabulary is going to be really hard for me. I have major brain/mouth disconnect when handling either dog. I see something happen and plan to adjust my handling by spitting out an appropriate cue. Ninety per cent of the time, a different cue comes out or I spend so much time thinking about what I’m going to say that I spit the correct cue out at the wrong time, usually too late!

*Silent Scream*

As I write this, I wonder if it’s a nerves thing or if it’s some kind of processing disorder. Regardless, retraining my mouth is going to be really, really, REALLY hard. Like impossible hard. Or rather, impossible hard unless I break down learning to say the new word behaviour into tiny bits, much like I break down behaviours for any of my students, human, or canine. Right now, I’m looking at a three step process.

  1. Stop saying the old word when the behaviour occurs.
  2. Teach Epic the new cue outside of the heeling context.
  3. Learn to say the new word at the right time.

After some more thought, I realise that going through the process of teaching her this cue is going to be a lot of work, even if I work on steps one and two simultaneously.

I also realise that a “pay attention” cue is really useful and something I should teach Epic, but using the cue is going to cost us a lot of points in the CARO rally ring (and eventually the obedience ring), even if I save it for The Most Dire of Circumstances.

Especially if I save it for The Most Dire of Circumstances! If she’s so far gone in the ring that I need to use my cue once, I could live with it. Right now I can see myself needing it a few times and herein lies the problem: Teaching a new “pay attention and come to me” cue, to use when I find Epic is out of heel position, will do absolutely nothing to teach Epic to maintain heel position.

What is a blabber mouth trainer to do?

In the end I have decided to just stop ‘helping’ Epic with the extra cues if she drifts. That’s right. I’m shutting the hell up! If you know me at all, you know how hard this is going to be.

Instead, I am focusing on giving her as much positive reinforcement as I can when she is with me, in position. This means a click and a food, toy or play reward. Drifting means no cues, no begging, no pleading, no opportunity for reward. Sometimes I stop moving when she drifts, sometimes I take my cookies and “go home” by ending the session and thinking about how I can help her be more successful next time.

We’ve been working on this consciously for a couple of weeks and in practice I think this is really helping. In a “real life” scenario like the rally trial we attended last weekend, still revert back to the wrong cues and they were not helpful, as to be expected. Fortunately, they were not horribly hurtful. We did qualify once, but the second run, I was so nervous that I asked Epic for a wrong station. In over 100 runs, I have never once made that mistake once with Bear, but it’s not a surprising error when I consider hard I was focusing on trying to NOT use the useless cues. We have a few months before our next trial and now I know that I still have some work to do achieving fluency with my own behaviour (shutting up) as well as Epic’s (staying in position). Stay tuned for updates!


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Filed under Problem Solving, Rally-O, Training, Trials and Tribulations

Rally Course of the Week – August 23, 2013

CAROlogoNOVICECourse Details

Level: Novice (CARO)

Space Required: 50’x 50′

Designer: Ayoka Bubar

Download this Course: CARO 50′x 50′ Course – Novice (T13-001)

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Filed under Course of the Week, Rally-O

Rally Course of the Week – June 28, 2013

CAROlogoNOVICECourse Details

Level: Novice (CARO)

Space Required: 50’x 65′

Designer: Ayoka Bubar

Download this Course: CARO 50′x 65′ Course – Novice (T12-053)

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Filed under Course of the Week, Rally-O

Running Contacts à la Trkman: My thoughts

Since I spoke about running contacts in my 2012 wrap-up post,  I thought I would take some time to share what we did in more detail.

I had been toying with teaching a modified four on the floor before our training was interrupted in 2009. What I had been trying to work towards was a down on the end of all contacts with the front feet off the contact and the rear feet on. Since our return last year, I decided that, given Bear’s age and my concern over his structure, I would try to teach a running contact. The worst thing that could happen was that we would d be stuck with the contact performances which was non-existent.

The method we used

If you can be certain of anything, it’s that if a particular technique is useful in competition, has merits, 5 different top level competitors will come out with 5 different methods for training it – and most of them will put this into a DVD, book or seminar.

Regardless of whose method one uses, the end result is that you have a dog that will:

  • Ascend the frame
  • Descend the entire frame, without stopping
  • Placing feet in the contact zone on the way down.

Once I decided this was something I wanted to do, I did some Googling of “running contacts” among the results was a free explanation with videos and answers to questions from Silvia Trkman.

I will not get into the nitty gritty of the method, you can see it for yourself on her website. The basics of this method are teaching your dog, from the beginning that the two things that are rewarded on the a frame re 1.)speed and 2.) placing feet in the contact zone.

Bear and I went to a friends house to practice. I used a clicker to mark speed and foot placement and used a tennis ball thrown ahead as  reward. It was if the light bulb really turned on for him and in about 3 sessions I had him racing over and coming all the way down. In 4 sessions, I was able to add a bit of distance and I now had a relatively consistent behavior to reward consistently in class.

Consistent rewarding in class has lead to  a consistent performance of the a frame in a trial setting. I can only think of one missed contact in the last 3 trials


As far as I can tell there is only one main advantage for most teams when training this method and it is speed. In super high level competition, a 10th of a second can mean the difference between 1st and 4th place.

Speed is rarely an issue for us because we always finish with time to spare unless we have to redo weaves – another story for another day.

Aside from speed  there are two advantages for us:

  1. I don’t need to slow Bear down – he prefers to go and this allows me to reward him for good performance by letting him go!
  2. I think it is a more comfortable way for him to perform the exercise (my thoughts on this are below).

Pitfalls & Criticism

The following pitfalls. criticisms and challenges come from both the internet and my own experience.

  • Not being able to front cross on the a frame descent unless you can manage a significant lead out (my experience). This means you need to explore other ways to handle changes in direction after the A frame. The two that come to mind are the rear cross on the ascent of the A frame or a verbal cue (in/out, left/right) to tell the dog where to go before he clears the a frame.
  • Criteria is murky (internet chatter) – The fundamental difference between training 2o2o and running contact for me is the ability to move from marking a fixed position (nose on target) to marking a movement within a particular space (feet in the qualifying contact zone). I think that this makes criteria murky for the human. If you are marking behavior properly (clicker/sound/voice) your dog knows exactly what you want. The running contact requires your dog to learn how to adjust his stride so he can ascend and descend properly – then he needs to use this pattern every time. I knew Bear had this figured out his stride when he could consistently place his front feet t 1/2 way down the contact zone.
  • It takes too long to teach (internet): This took us 4 sessions, over bout 3 days, I think. The thing that became clear to me in the process is that the dog and handler team that have used shaping to teach various behaviors are at an advantage because they have a clear and consistent form of communication. These kinds of teams also tend not to focus on ‘wrong’ performances which I think is easier on the dog.
  • Judges can’t “see” a qualifying performance if your dog moves too fast (internet chatter): As a judge (of a much slower sport, mind you) I find these kind of comments insulting. The few trials I have attended around here, I notice that judges always position themselves well to see contact performances.  A contact performance that is borderline is always going to leave judges wondering, regardless of how the dog was trained. In my opinion, if you train your dog to land well within the zone on his way down you’ll have no issues. If, however, your criteria is ‘run down the a frame, placing one toenail on the top of the contact and launching directly to the ground’ then yes, I can see a judge calling it as a missed contact.

Why I think it worked for us.

I think there are a few reasons why this performance worked for us and I think that if your circumstances are different then it might not be the best choice for you.

  • Equipment: We had access to an real a frame to train on outside of class.
  • Bear’s size: Slowing down enough to stop quickly is difficult for a 90lb dog, especially a dog that does not have a natural tendency to ‘creep’ like border collies. There are large dogs that can do this but I don’t think all dogs can do it comfortably.
  • Bear’s structure: Having spent some time at a few structure seminars and doing some online research, I have learned that Bear has rather straight shoulders. According to Chris Zink, upright shoulders affect a dog’s ability to absorb the dog’s weight as his feet hit the ground.  This means that a dog h straight shoulders has to compensate with muscle which may or may not be able to support this kind of pressure.
  • Our communication style: We a lot have experience training all sorts of behaviors with the clicker. Bear is able to both offer behaviors and offer something different if the behavior he offers does not pay out. This means I can change criteria fairly easily. It also means I can mark and reward tiny incremental behaviors.

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Filed under Agility, Problem Solving, Training

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

2012 in Review: 12 dog related accomplishments

Now that we are officially into the year 2013, I have been thinking about what a huge adventure the year 2012 was for Bear and I. We tried some new things, we succeeded at some things, we failed at others. I smiled a lot, I laughed a lot, I cried a little. Below are some of the great adventures we had this year.

1. Bear became a senior: Bear turned 8 (ish) at the end of December so 2012 was his first year as a senior. Aside from some lymph node swelling (NOT Cancer thank god, just a viral infection, we figure) he has been happy, healthy and fit as a fiddle. That doesn’t stop me from worrying about every little thing or dishing out all the prophylactic supplements that I can.

2. We met sheep: Meeting sheep was fantastic – the fact that Bear did not kill a sheep was even more so! Bear’s Herding Instinct Test was probably one of the best ‘dog’ experiences of the year.


3. We went back to Agility: Finally, business at the daycare is steady enough and I have enough of a routine that I could make time to go back to agility. We are behind many dogs Bear’s age but we are still having a great time.

Think he's having fun? I do!
Think he’s having fun? I do!

4. We entered our first Tracking Dog test: This was not a great time in the conventional sense but I stuck my neck out there, it was a learning experience and I’ll be damned if we go back and fail (as miserably) next year. Tracking-Test_thumb.jpg

5. Bear recovered from an iliopsoas injury: Not sure what started it but we managed to recover nicely with the help of a great vet, a great canine rehab therapist and a great canine massage therapist.

6. I attended my first online training class: The challenge of teaching classes and owning a dog daycare is finding time to train and someone to train under. The online Scent Work class gave us a great opportunity to work on our own at something completely new!

7. I judged at my first out-of-town Rally Trials: I had the wonderful opportunity to judge 3 times in Regina, SK. and had the opportunity to judge some wonderful dog & Handler Teams.

8. I made the switch to Raw feeding: After much consideration and a period of feeding both raw and kibble, I made the plunge. In hindsight, it’s not as big a deal as some make it out to be and I am happy I have made the switch.

9. I retrained the A frame contact for agility: I used Sylvia Trkman’s running contact method and have been thrilled with results. Since we made the switch we have missed a total on one contact in the trial setting.

I love A-Frame photos, they always seem to highlight just how powerful a dog's hind end is.
I love A-Frame photos, they always seem to highlight just how powerful a dog’s hind end is.

10. I developed curriculum for 4 new classes at Two Brown Dogs:

  • Novice Brain Games – Foundation behaviours for any dog sport
  • Advanced Brain Games – Advanced foundation behaviours for any dog sport
  • CARO Versatility – An introduction to CARO Versatility Exercises
  • CARO Novice Working Level – An Introduction to CARO Novice (now called Rookie)  Working Level Exercises

11. Bear and I earned 8 New Titles:

12. I accumulated 37 Continuing Education Credits towards my CCPDT recertification: In a little over a year, I have actually completed the number of hours required to recertify in December 2014.  I won’t bore you with the complete listing but you can see some of the seminars I attended here.


Filed under Agility, Herding, Rally-O, Scent Work, Training, Trials and Tribulations, Triumphs and Sucess

Sniff It – Week Four

By now we have a regular Sniff It routine here – we do our homework every morning – Bear thinks this is a wonderful way to earn breakfast.

This week in our class, our first assignment was to make things more challenging happening for our dogs by adding more containers, more boxes and more containers in boxes. We are still only hiding one food filled container but the dog now has to find it! Our second assignment is to observe our dogs and see what kinds of ‘signs’ they give us when they have found the food container.

As far as the box searches go, I think things are going nicely. Bear will still occasionally pick up a container and remove it from a box but he always leaves it if it is not the correct one. As before, I remain neutral any time a container is picked up and only give him attention (and food!) when he finds the correct container.

With the container search this week, I have been waiting a little bit longer when Bear finds the right container to see what he does. He typically starts by scratching at the container with both paws and then eventually lays down. I think that having done some article indication work for tracking helped but it’s still cool to see the light bulb turn on! Now the next challenge is to get this behavior with containers hidden in boxes!

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