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Miniaturized Directed Jumping

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Here’s a gentle way to introduce your dog to directed jumping without jumps.  By including signals, recalls, drops, and multiple go outs, you’ll also do wonders for teaching your dog to follow your cues rather than patterning on a “picture.”

For the set up I show here, you’ll need a dog that understands four feet up on a platform, two feet up on a front foot target, and “around” for a cone.   Your dog will also need some type of a go-out past targets and the ability to move left or right with plenty of help.   The rest (signals, drops, etc.) are totally optional.  If people need it, I can do a simple video on how to get the dog to take basic direction to the left or right.

When your dog can manage this set up, substitute a jump for either the cone or the target.  Then add distractions/take it on the road.  And finally, spread the whole set-up out.  If you are short on space, you can practice this forever with cones and platforms, and if you have a small dog and 10 square feet of space, your house will work just fine.  If your dog has a nose touch/paw thwack to a stanchion, go ahead and set that up behind the platform (where I have the second foot target) and occasionally send to that as well.

If Brito were a bigger dog, I’d probably double the size of this set-up to give him a bit of breathing room, but Brito finds distances challenging, so this is just about right for us at this stage of training.  Separately, we work on full ring-length go outs and the mechanics of jumping.

Obviously this exercise is flexible.  Use the behaviors that make sense for your dog, and remember that the cones, foot targets and platforms are interchangeable – use the one that you and your dog like best.

This video is about three minutes long from a total session of about five minutes.  I left in the first 30 seconds, so you can see the transition period from acclimation to work.  Note that he drives the start of training.

If you want to see how I handle errors, you can see them at:  40 sec (no sit on cue); 56 sec (no sit on cue); 1:18 (loss of attention); 1:33 (goes to target without a cue); 1:54 (fails to go to second target behind platform); 2:17 (no sit on cue); 2:39 (loss of attention); and 2:50 (no sit).

Keep your Obedience Dog Moving!

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One of the easiest ways to suck the joy out of your obedience is to incorporate a lot of stays into your work.

It looks like this:

Want to practice recalls?  Leave your dog on a stay – walk 50 feet away, and call your dog.

Now let’s practice the broad jump.  Like this.

Set up in a stay.  Leave your dog.  Send your dog. Repeat.

How about a novice stand for exam?  Leave your dog and formally return to your dog each time.  While your dog stays.

If this is how you practice obedience, then 80% of your dog’s time is spent sitting.  Waiting.  Waiting for you to cross the ring.  Waiting for you to call.  Waiting for you to do something.  And 20% of your dog’s time is spent moving.  Since moving is the part that generates flow and energy, and sitting teaches the dog to chill, are you sure this is a good choice for your dog?  If your dog is just bubbling over with love for the sport, then you’re probably ok.  But if you’ve been complaining about lack of enthusiasm….it might be time to take another look at this practice.

I’m not saying don’t practice stays – definitely practice them.  A lot!  As an isolated exercise.  But when you want to work on an exercise like the broad jump, recall or stand for exam, SEND your dog (movement!) to the spot.  Now YOU get to wait and your dog gets to move; what a deal! Hopefully your dog zips right out so it’s not as tedious for you to watch your dog walking away as it is for your dog to watch as you leave.

There are three easy ways to send your dog.

  1.  Throw a cookie.  If you throw out a cookie, then when the dog turns back you can do whatever you want – just throw it to the starting spot.  If you want some formality, ask the dog to sit after eating the cookie.  Now it looks nice and formal.  But a lot less waiting.
  2. Send to a foot target or platform.  This is even easier since most dogs are trained to stop on their target – now do whatever exercise you had in mind; the dog is already stopped.
  3. Send around an object.  Same basic idea – dog is sent around an object at the starting spot and you proceed with whatever you had in mind from there.

If you train this way, you will be a whole lot more efficient because dogs move much faster than we do.  You will learn to think fast, because the entire pace of training will edge up and you will have no choice but to pay attention and be ready.  And finally, your dog will have a better time, which means when you do the exercise in a formal fashion – complete with leaving your dog – they’ll be more likely to stay engaged.  And if they do go to sleep on the formal stay then there are games for that too, but not for this blog post.

Here’s a video of Raika practicing the broad jump two ways; the first is with a folded stanchion to circle – that’s the fun way!  The second is a formal broad jump.

Raika – circle an object

and here’s a video of Brito practicing his broad jump to a full platform, to a cookie toss and to a cookie toss with a sit (not something we do, so that threw him a bit):

Brito platform or cookie toss


Competition Dog Sports Etiquette

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Sometimes novice exhibitors aren’t sure what is expected in terms of etiquette at competition dog events and indeed, there are a few unwritten courtesies that make it much easier to manage a lot of dogs in a small space.  This blog will address the topic of “dog show etiquette.”

It is absolutely possible that your dog loves everyone, doesn’t notice being stared at, and has no objections to being approached by rambunctious dogs.  It is also possible that your dog does even better in the ring when there is a dog thrashing his toy next to the entrance, but for others, any of the above scenarios can literally ruin their chances of qualifying.

It’s helpful if we manage our dogs and our behavior so that everyone can have the best possible chances of success.  We all make mistakes, so if you realize that you were playing too close to a ring and now the dog in the ring is staring at you…hey, it happens.  Apologize to the owner when the time is right, and be a little more mindful next time.

While some of you might consider this a training issue, keep in mind that a person at the dog show may already be quite nervous, so why make it harder for them than it needs to be?  Yes, dogs should be trained to tolerate normal levels of distraction, but good manners and basic sportsmanship suggests that it’s not your place to create them.

It’s not that there are things you cannot do, it’s just that we’re all in this together, so take a moment to be aware that other people may have different needs than you. Try and take their perspective.

I have owned friendly dogs, unfriendly dogs, crate guarders, worriers, rambunctious dogs, etc, and all of them took forms of management.  I do not ‘relax” at the dog show when my dogs are out; I pay attention, manage behavior as required and put them away when I need a rest.  I am responsible for my dog’s well being, both physical and mental, and I am also responsible for not causing harm to you or your dog’s physical or mental well being.

As you read through the rest of this article, one thing should begin to stand out for you….you must pay attention.  Always.  If your dog is out of his crate, then pay attention to what he is doing and where he is looking.  That’s your number one responsibility when you are in public with your dog.  So if you take nothing else from this blog, hold onto that one thought.  Pay attention.

1.  Keep your dog under control at all times.

Your dog should not be staring at other dogs or lunging (whether friendly or threatening) anywhere at a dog show.  This includes the parking lot, walking in to the building, where you set up your crate and when you move through the common spaces.  That means a short leash – 4 feet is pushing it.  Your dog should be walking nicely with you or held close if you don’t have LLW.  There is no reason why your dog should be scampering around 15 or more feet away from you on a Flexi.  If you are pulling a dolly and walking three dogs all at the same time, give some thought to whether or not you are in control.  If not, you’ll need to make more than one trip to your car or take fewer dogs to the show.

Your dog might be social but not all dogs want to visit with your dog and most handlers do not want their dogs visiting, regardless of how friendly they might be.  If you really really really want your dog to meet another dog then ask first!   If I want to talk to another person and we both have our dogs, then I put my dog on a reliable down stay a few feet away so that I can approach.  Most people take the hint nicely and keep their dog with them.

2.  Be aware of where you are standing

When entering or leaving a ring, give as much room to the next dog as possible.  The last thing the next exhibitor wants is a dog to dog interaction as they enter the ring.  You should not be “on deck” until it is your turn to be there, nor should you be standing in such a way that others have to get around you when it is their turn.  Move!

3.  Manage your dog’s crate behavior.

If your dog whines or barks in the crate, cover it!  If that doesn’t do the trick, then learn how to keep your dog quiet in the crate. That might mean sitting with your dog, dropping treats in the top at random intervals, or relocating your crate to a quieter (and possibly less convenient) location.  Better yet, train your dog to accept periods of crating, but while you work on that, you are responsible for managing your dog’s behavior.

Not only is it hard on the other exhibitors to have a dog nearby that is incessantly barking or whining, it’s also quite hard on your own dog.  Keep in mind that poor crate behavior is a sign of distress – if your dog is worked up and agitated at the show then it’s not likely that you’ll do very well in the ring.  Solve the problem!  It will make your own dog more successful and comfortable, and it will be much appreciated by your fellow exhibitors.  A bark here and there is no big deal – it’s a dog and dogs do vocalize.  But non-stop whining, barking, or even occasional lunging is a problem and you are responsible for controlling it.

If your dog crate guards, cover your crate, or isolate your dog so that others aren’t being lunged at every time they walk by.  If space is at a premium, place your chair immediately in front of your crate and then sit there, effectively blocking your dog’s view of other dogs and making guarding behavior much less likely.  If that is not sufficient to do the trick, then ask yourself if you’re really ready to be at the show.  Maybe you should be working on this issue in training instead of focusing on the actual behaviors required in the ring.

Along those same lines, do not assume that just because your dog doesn’t mind other dogs looking in his crate that this is universally the case.  Most dogs do not appreciate another dog looking in their crate when they are resting.  That is their home!  It would be like someone looking in your house windows when you are inside!  Give as much room as possible to other people’s occupied crates when you and your dog walk by.

4.  Consider Where and How you Play with your dog.

There is no problem with playing with your dog at a show, but be aware of the intensity of your play when you are near the rings.  That doesn’t mean you need to tiptoe and whisper, but take a moment to look around and see where you are before you start throwing food or playing a crazy game of tug in a small space.  Agility trials are more relaxed, but even there you should restrict the intensity of your play where the dog in the ring can see you.  Not only is this more fair for the person in the ring, it also prevents your dog from becoming a target – don’t ask for trouble!  Check with your instructor to get a sense of what is reasonable and what will be considered obnoxious by your fellow competitors.

5.  Is this a good time to Chat?

Some times are better to talk to people than others, so give some thought to when you approach someone to start up a conversation.   Remember, the other exhibitors may be nervous or very focused on their dog at a given moment.  If you wait until they are relaxed and not interacting with their dog, and definitely not when they are about to enter or leave a ring, you’ll find that most people are very happy to chat.

6.  Handling Other People’s Ignorance

Realistically, you are going to encounter people who aren’t paying close attention, and as a result their behavior will cause problems for others.  Here are some phrases that might be helpful:

“Your dog seems really agitated in the crate.  Have you considered moving a bit further away from the other dogs to help him calm down?  I’m also concerned that he appears to be upsetting some of the dogs that are going in the ring”

“My dog doesn’t like other dogs looking at him in his crate.  Could you tighten up your leash a bit?  Thanks; I really appreciate that”

“I need to get by you but your dog is on a long leash and my dog won’t be comfortable if they interact.  Thank you.”

You get the idea.  Tell the person what the problem is, offer gentle advice if they appear receptive, and be kind and appreciative if they make appropriate changes.

Do not EVER discipline or feed someone else’s dog without explicit permission, no matter how obnoxious their dog’s behavior is.  Talk to the trial secretary if you have a serious complaint, or speak with the exhibitor in a gentle fashion. Screaming at them may make you feel better but it sure won’t do anything to help the reputation of our sport.  And anyway, it’s mean and it makes you look ugly.  Let’s aim a little higher.

New competitors aren’t bad, stupid or deserving of humiliation; they simply don’t know better yet. We all did things when we were first starting out – we had to learn.  Help them!  And if you are an instructor, take a few moments with your new exhibitor and review these basic rules.  Better yet, practice and model them in your classes so that they become second nature.  We’ll all benefit and with time, maybe we can see more growth in our dog sports.

And on another note, instruction will begin for the October 1st term at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy in a couple of days!  Get registered now; we are offering 27 classes in just about every topic under the sun.  I’m teaching two very popular foundation courses,  “Precision Heeling” and “Relationship Building Through Play.”  We love to see new faces, so feel free to take a class and then join our very supportive Facebook group for Alumni of the academy!  Send me a note through Facebook if you need some help choosing the right course for your situation.

But…I can’t do that in competition!

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Here’s a phrase that I’ve been hearing lately:

“I don’t want to wait for engagement because I can’t do that in competition.”

So true.

It actually reminds me of the following phrase which I used to hear a lot but which is much less common these days:

“I don’t want to train with food or toys because I can’t use them in competition.”

While both phrases are absolutely true, the speaker is confusing training with competing.  It behooves a person who wishes to compete to move past training the behaviors and forwards towards a trial ready dog.  If you are relying on food, toys or offered engagement to get behaviors out of your dog, you’re not ready to compete.  It’s that simple.

“Training” is the process of acquiring behaviors while developing an emotional state of “want to” towards work.  We use food and toys to train and develop a good attitude, and we use offered engagement to refine our dog’s determination to get the party started without clutching a cookie or toy in your hand.

Food, toys and offered engagement all facilitate your training, but they wont get you into the ring.  You’ve only just begun!  Now you need to prepare for competition.  I wrote a six part blog on that topic which is now a PDF – you can find that pdf on Trial Readiness here for free.  And since free is free, you might as well help yourself.

If you’re still uncomfortable with the idea of working through training phases, some of which use food, toys and offered engagement, then there is one more reality I’d like to mention:

You cannot take corrections into the ring either.

So if you decide not use food, toys or offered engagement in training because you can’t take them into the ring, then by that logic you need to eliminate the use of corrections in your training as well. Exactly how you plan to get behaviors on a dog with no food, no toys and no corrections is beyond me.

Training and preparing for competition is never static.  While you are teaching one set of new behaviors you might be polishing anther set, and a third set might be the ones that are being prepped for competition readiness. That is all good and normal!  Don’t doubt yourself.  Just keep an eye on your training and be relatively clear on what you are trying to accomplish with each session.

If you want to train or polish a behavior, keep your cookies front and center.

If you want to improve engagement, keep your patience front and center.

When you have behaviors and engagement, then you can worry about preparing for competition. Anything else is putting the cart before the horse.

Silence Predicts…Action!

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If you compete in a dog sport where there might be “stillness” before you start work (obedience and rally come to mind), then you’ll want to teach your dog not to go to sleep when you stop moving.  Realistically, it’s likely that when you enter the obedience ring you’ll have to stand there for about 15 to 30 seconds before the judge sends you on your way.

Train for that.  Teach your dog that standing quietly and formally means that something interesting is about to happen and that they wont want to miss it!

In my classes I call this “exploding tree”.  The idea is to be absolutely inert – until you explode with energy.

In this video I show this with three dogs using three different motivators.

The first dog is Raika.  Because Raika is a driven dog who tends to heel very close, I throw her ball out and away from my body to prevent problems with crowding.

The second dog is Brito.  He’s a lower drive dog with a fragile temperament, so for Brito, I explode directly forwards and he chases me (and the cookie) to get it. Notice that I also give him cookies while he sits and waits quietly.  I’m doing this to help him learn to hold a sit – doing nothing can be rewarded.  But if that’s all I do, then his first steps of forwards heeling are likely to be slow and lacking energy.  Eating in position followed by an explosive cookie chase forwards takes care of this.  Note that I would not do with a dog that was prone to forging out of the sit.  I would simply reward in position.

The final dog is Lyra.  Her reward for exploding forwards is personal play.  Note that she makes horrible noises.  That’s fine – it’s her style of play.  What I care about is that she drive forwards when I do.

Most dogs do very well with this method and soon you’ll find that they are a good deal more attentive in heel position.  It’s not even important if they are watching when you do it- they’ll soon learn to watch you so that they can catch the first nano second of movement!

Melt Down

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I took Brito to  a formal practice run last week.  I wanted to see where we’re at in our training and what we need to work on.  Apparently….stuff!

I try to treat myself with the same kindness that I offer others, so let’s start with what went well.  Here’s a video of the off leash heeling:

I’m happy with that picture – he’s happy, crisp and engaged.  That’s what I’m looking for.

Now let’s consider the on-leash figure eight:

Something is clearly wrong here.  He’s avoiding sitting (the start of work), he is not looking at me, his ears look like satellites and his tail wag is low and unsure.

If you work with fragile dogs, you might want to prepare for something like this because meltdowns happen.  It could be the pressure of the figure eight posts.  It could be the handler transmitting nerves down the leash.  It could be the formality, or the building, or the low rate of reinforcement.   And while it’s important to figure it out for your long term goals, it’s also important to have a short term strategy, to get you through the situation with minimal damage.

Here were my options:

  1. Jolly him out of it.  Over the years I have watched a lot of people jolly their dogs to try and recover them.  And as far as I can tell it never actually works.  So for me, that option is off the table – it’s a waste of time and it adds inordinate pressure to an already stressed dog.
  2. Bring out food or toys.  That might work for some dogs and is a perfectly fine temporary strategy, but if you have to do that, then you better do some hard thinking about your training.  You have a serious hole, and you don’t want to compete until you’ve figured out why your dog is reliant on the sight of a reinforcer to feel better.  But if it gets you through the moment, then what the heck.  Do it.
  3. Wait.  Just wait – comfort your dog, and see if they move past it.  If you run out of time, then that’s fine.   Leave the ring at that point.
  4.  Leave.  This is actually a more viable option than most people recognize.  Leaving the ring without judgement would have been an excellent option in this scenario.

I opted for #3.  He wasn’t so far gone that I felt that I was doing harm, and I really wanted to see where he was going to go with his behavior.  Since I was paying for a set period of time, no one really cares how I choose to use it.

Looking back, what I probably should have done was released him back to exploration – given him about two minutes to acclimate inside the ring (his first time in this ring), and then, if he requested work, gone forwards from there.  If not, simply left when time was up.

That’s why having a plan in advance is useful – it’s hard to make good choices on the fly.  Next time I have a plan.

That’s the answer that makes sense for this dog under these circumstances.  Brito became unsure.  In a case like that I want to give him a chance to feel comfortable AND I want to give him a chance to request work again.

What makes sense for your dog?  I don’t know.  Why is your dog struggling?  Fear? Curiosity?  Distraction?  Lack of reinforcement?  Start there – once you have an answer to that, you’ll be able to progress.  Just make sure you have a plan or two in mind before you head for the ring – even a practice one.

I went home a little bit depressed.  Would I ever get this dog competition ready?

And then I watched the tape.  What seemed like a total and complete meltdown didn’t look so bad after all! Our on and off leash heeling was downright cute, as was his stand for exam.

Why is it that our human brain is so determined to dwell on what goes wrong rather than what goes right?  My plan is to hold in my head all of his wonderful effort while I simultaneously work towards strengthening his weaker spots.  My goal is to have even more bright spots at our next run through.  I’m excited to get  back to work!  I got what I needed – information on where to go next.

Now it’s time to go there.


It’s a Puppy, not a problem

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Where is it?  The article?  It doesn’t appear to be here?

As I started to write about this topic I thought about the challenges faced by pet people who truly want to do what is right for their dogs, but they’re not sure where to start.  Advice on the internet is plentiful, but it varies dramatically in quality, and even the best advice is not always well organized or easy for a person to find.

 To help bridge that gap, I started a new blog yesterday.  The purpose of that blog is to help well meaning pet owners learn to raise their puppies intelligently, with the end goal of an interactive and well trained pet.

This article (It’s a puppy, not a problem) is really equally relevant to a pet or performance dog owner, but since that blog is shiny new, and I’d like you to visit it so you are aware that it is available as a resource, the article is there.  Not here.

So.  You can find today’s article, along with my introductory post explaining my intentions for that blog at:

If you’d like to share with your clients or friends with pet dogs, then feel free to refer them to whichever blog makes the most sense.  Over time, the pet blog will also contain content and will be organized in a manner that makes it very useful to professional pet dog trainers as well.  I hope you like it.

You might find that it is helpful to “follow” one or both blogs so that you will receive an email notification when I publish something new.  Simply click on the button on the upper right side to follow – enter your email – and that’s it.


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