About Dev

I am insanely passionate about two things in life: Art and Dogs. I am a full-time visual artist which affords me the opportunity to take my 2 Australian Terriers, Jake and Lil, to work with me. A typical day involves taking many short training/ play breaks from making art, which clears my head and gives me a energy boost. Over the years, it has become apparent that the process I use to create art is the same process I use when training my dogs. Both evoke creative, out-of-the-box thinking, heightened awareness and observational abilities, patience, determination, focusing on the process vs. an end goal, the willingness to fail, the desire to succeed, never accepting defeat, and the development of specialized mechanical skills.

Takoda found two lost gloves which had been dropped during a SAR mission a few weeks ago

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Takoda continues to amaze me with both his talent when it comes to using his nose and brain for Search and Rescue and his understanding that he needs to communicate to me when he has found something.

Two days ago, a fellow member of Front Range Rescue Dogs and I took Takoda to the area of a recent SAR mission to see if he would be able to find two gloves she dropped while providing field support for a dog team that day.  We both thought we had the GPS track of the dog handler to go by but when we arrived at the site, we realized neither of us had the track on our GPSs so we searched using a printed map which showed the dog handler’s track.  Without the GPS track to go by, we knew the deck was stacked against us since our accuracy with a map would not be nearly as good as with a GPS but it was a beautiful day for a hike and even though we came up empty handed we were able to narrow down the search area.  Afterwards,  we downloaded our tracks to see how well we did covering the area around the dog handler’s track.  The yellow track is the dog handler. The cyan and purple tracks are from the Friday search.  The pink track is from today’s search.

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This morning the map above was the first thing I saw on my computer screen and after reviewing the tracks again, I spontaneously decided to give it another shot, this time having the benefit of the dog handler’s track on my GPS and a smaller search area.   An interesting side note (to me at least) is the southern drift of the pink track occurred when I let Takoda choose the direction of travel on our way back to the car.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was headed in a pretty straight line towards the car both times I let him “drive.”  Pretty cool.

My strategy today was to loosely follow the track of the dog handler but to choose the easiest path  up the hillside through a bunch of downed trees and dense areas of foliage.  My reasoning was the field member’s path would not have been identical to the dog handler’s path so I didn’t need to be super precise in following the dog handler’s track.  Also field support generally walks a parallel path to the dog handler off to one side or the other, so I picked whatever side looked more appealing…. where I’d have chosen to walk if I had been field support that day.

Based on Friday’s search, we put the highest POA as the steepest part of the hillside. This area had dense forest with a lot of downed trees, making the gloves unlikely to spot even if we walked close by.   Regardless of the odds against me spotting the gloves,  I took time to look around while walking through that area but my main focus was keeping an eye on Takoda.

The gloves turned out to be one tenth of a mile west of our highest POA.  On Friday, our tracks indicated we had been within 35 feet of the gloves, once on the way up (south of the gloves) and once on the way down (north of the gloves).  I wish I had put a  GPS collar on Takoda to see if he came close to the gloves on Friday.   I’m guessing he didn’t, based on the ease in which he found the gloves today, but I still wish I had the GPS collar on him.

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(above) The view from the approach to the first glove.  Takoda took a sharp left turn before hopping over this section of downed trees.  He had been heading for an easier route over the trees to the right and I was going to follow him.  His abrupt turn caught my attention and lucky for me I followed him because…..

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After Takoda hopped over the downed trees, he did an about-face and started trying to crawl under the tree to the left to get to the glove.   I didn’t see the glove at first but he kept trying to reach it with his paws which drew my attention to it.

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(above) detail view of the glove.  It was either dragged there by an animal or was wind blown into that crevice.    There is no way I would have found it without Takoda’s help.

I think I was stunned and couldn’t believe he found the glove in that crevice.  After rewarding him, I made my first mistake.  I said FIND ANOTHER and he took off immediately while I stayed with the first glove to take photographs.  URG.  I should have waited to say FIND ANOTHER so I could follow him.  By the time I looked up, he was standing about 75 feet away looking at me while I was packing up my gear.  This is when I made my 2nd mistake. I should have just left my gear, and gone up to where he was standing and come back for my stuff.   Instead I kept packing and he came running back to me before immediately turning around and returning to the same spot up the hillside.  He stood there looking at me again before running back to me again.   It appeared he had found the second glove but then came my 3rd mistake.  I said SHOW ME  and started following him up the hill.  He must have assumed by my different response and cue, that I wanted him to bring me the second glove because that is what he did with great enthusiasm.   At that point, he had run back and forth between the glove and me three times and maintained eye contact while standing over the glove, waiting for me to come up there (I assume) and when I said SHOW ME,  he tried something different.  I rewarded Takoda for finding the second glove and then said something like WHERE WAS IT? at which point he took off and returned to the spot where he found the second glove.   How smart is that?  Pretty smart I think.

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(above) the location of second glove

(above) second glove find

(above) going back to the spot where he found the second glove… which I was able to confirm by dog tracks in the snow.

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The gloves.   May they rest in peace.

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Mark Training Demo Videos. I’ll be adding more videos to this page over time.

Marks and Contacts:

(above) December 24, 2016. The purpose of this video is to show how a dog’s weight shift back when stopping on a Mark bucket is nearly identical to the weight shift back that needs to happen for a dog to perform a safe 2o2o on an A-Frame. The video with a Mark bucket was slowed down to match the speed of video with the A-Frame to better show the comparison. Training a dog to stop on a Mark bucket is an easy way to train a dog to use his body correctly for safe stopped contacts (2o2o or 4on), without subjecting the dog to endless repetitions over full-height equipment.

(above)  Takoda doing 4on the A-frame.   Note his position when going over the apex.  He is in control and collecting in preparation for stopping at the bottom.   One foot came off the A-frame to help him stop at the bottom, which I’m totally fine with because it’s really hard for a dog to drive that deep and stay 4on.  I decided to train 4on vs. 2o2o because occasionally young dogs speed get the best of them and I was betting on the fact if I trained Takoda to do 4on, if he couldn’t completely stop 4on, he’d gently step into a 2o2o.  If he was trained to do 2o2o, he’d either hit the ground super hard or leave the A-frame when he over-shot.  I cringed when Jake, my first agility dog did that and I think it put a few years on his shoulders and elbows.  Anyway, I love how Takoda went all the way to the bottom of the A-frame even with me lagging behind.  I also loved how tempted he was to come off the A-frame as I kept walking by, but he stayed put.

(above) One final comparison.  A straight approach to the A-frame and a row of 16″ jumps.  It’s amazing to me how similar my dog’s jumping form is in both scenarios.  I’ve found the same to be true with Lil, my Australian Terrier. I don’t know why those little glitches in motion are showing up during slo-mo.  The motion is smooth until I render the final composite. URG.

Marks and Jumping:

The thing that is so profound about using a Mark at the end of a jump grid or any sequence for that matter is the dog is focusing on and running towards a “behavior” vs. a “reward.”  This keeps the dog in a thinking/ working state of mind all the way to the Mark… and beyond since the dog needs to wait on the Mark while the handler walks over to deliver the reward.

(above) December 24, 2106. Lil’s first time jumping after taking a few months off from agility.   The Mark should have been two strides away from the last jump vs. one stride away as seen in this video. You can see that Lil doesn’t have time to rock back before hitting the Mark at the end of the grid when the bucket is so close to the last jump.

(above) I set up this bounce grid to test Mark bucket spacing. Placing the starting Mark where I’d naturally position my dog for a jump grid worked well (obviously). The ending Mark seemed to work best when placed a couple of strides after the last jump (in Lil’s case about 8′ away).

(above) Lil, one stride between jumps.

(above) Although Takoda was exposed to SS puppy grids way back when, I don’t do much jump training with my dogs. The video above is of Takoda bouncing over 16″ jumps.   The spacing of the jumps in the first two reps was tight and awkward looking but it didn’t seem to faze Takoda’s enthusiasm. The thing I like best about using a Mark at the end of a jump grid is how the dog continues to weight shift back vs diving over the last bar to get to a toy or food target placed on the ground. I think its clear that starting with a “super sit” on a Mark works great for insuring a nice weight shift back from the start.  I think everything is easier to see with a long-legged dog like Takoda vs. a short-legged dog like Lil.  Although I find it useful to watch both dogs to see how different their jumping styles are.. due to radically different body types.

Mark Training Videos

(above)  Mark Demo using a single bucket. Very basic skills being practiced by both of us! For me this session was about trying to remember to reward in heel position.

(above)  Adding more fun stuff and handling variety to Mark training.  Once a dog is reliably running to the Mark, sticking his landings, and waiting to be released, you can start adding more handling variety by mixing in something for the dog to wrap, like a tree, a barrel or a cone.  Handle from every position and if your dog understands your handling from every position and continues to maintain criteria on the Mark, you can begin to increase distance / speed.   You can see how much fun this is for my dog (and me). This is how the two of us developed our shared handling language that worked beautifully when we started running full courses.

(above)  Once your dog enthusiastically runs to Marks, sticks his landings, and waits until releases, put the behavior under stimulus control.  Heeling in close proximity to a Mark bucket is challenging mental work for the dog, but worthwhile for sure.  I like to alternate between heeling by the Mark and sending my dog to the Mark at trials before we run, especially if my dog’s attention is wavering.   It doesn’t take much space and you can work your dog on-leash, right in front of his crate before heading towards the ring.

(above) More advanced Mark training.   This video was shot at the tail end of a long Demo so Takoda’s enthusiasm was not as great as usual.

(above)  Lil, a barrel, and 2 Marks, January 24, 2015

(above) Sitting on a Mark before releasing reminds a dog to push-off from the rear vs. pull from the front.

(above) Mark training translated seamlessly to a flattened A-Frame

(above)  Introducing Pinwheels using Marks.   Takoda was nearly 4 months old.

(above) Group Mark session.  Takoda had a hard time staying on his Mark when Jake moved.

(above) Early weave pole training session with Takoda using 2 Marks.  He was a year old in this video.   He learned to weave using Sharon Nelson’s method which focuses on teaching the dog how to bend/ curve his spine with elbows under his weight vs. pushing his elbows out side to side at extreme angles.

(above) Takoda being introduced to hoops and a Mark.  He was 15 weeks old.

(above) another rep running through hoops to Marks

(above) Takoda’s confidence was growing rapidly that day!

(above)  Mark bucket on the end of a flat plank.  Takoda was 3 months old.

(above) Group Mark session.  Takoda was 10 weeks old.

(above) Takoda early Mark sessions.  He was 9 weeks old.

(above) First Group Feeding Session.  Takoda was just shy of 8 weeks old.

The Benefits of Mark Training

Takoda_mark_12-18-16I recently posted the following on the Canine Jumping Forum Facebook Group.  The post generated a slew of questions, which I included at the bottom of this post along with my answers to make information easier to find in the future.

I do a lot of Mark training with my 3 dogs and have seen first hand how well it teaches dogs to collect, load, and use their rears to brake. I have recommended Mark training to agility friends (for various reasons) and they have seen improved contact performances, weave pole entries, jumping styles, and start line stays. As a result of all these experiences I think Mark training can help dogs with jumping issues (including dogs that leave out strides, jump early, stutter step, launch, dive over bars, jump long and flat even when a turn is coming, and even dogs with moderate perceptual issues). If a dog is still participating in agility, I believe the dog will benefit from Mark training (both physically and mentally).

I learned about the benefits of Mark training from Sharon Nelson, who gave me permission to share her words on the Canine Jumping Forum:

Owners will go to every seminar and try to solve their issues that are both mental and physical for their dogs. If it is my seminar, most will admit that they didn’t do their mark training (or stopped using marks the moment “equipment” started being used). If it is a training list to solve problems then no one will consider using marks for mental and physical conditioning. They will jump at the chance to try a new “move” from the handler or new fitness training using new Fitpaws equipment. I think Fitpaws can do great things, but it cannot mimic a dog in full motion and engaging muscles for stops and turns. You can strengthen those muscles, but that doesn’t teach the dog how to use them in motion. It is like training a race horse to run, but never putting them in a starting gate until the race day.

In the horse world, it is all about foundation. It is fully understood how the foundation MUST be there in order to get physical and mental excellence. But in the dog world, people go straight to the advanced moving steps long before they have any foundation for the dog to be mentally and physically prepared. It is all about getting to do all of the “handler moves” with little concern for the dog’s body.

The incidence of dog’s being injured and taking time off for “rehab” is at an all time high. Agility should NOT ever cause injury to a dog that is physically capable of doing the sport.

Early take off syndrome is rarely the real issue. But it is a cool name. A lack of physical strength and ability to correctly use their body is frequently the issue. But it is easier to be part of a group with a cool name than to do the basics using foundation exercises.

Mark training is really fun! But too many just do the minor work and if their dog will put their feet on a mark, even if done slowly and with no enthusiasm, they do believe that they have done their mark training. Mark training is all about the steps of combining the highest level of eager enthusiasm (EE) and impulse control (IC). It is that EE-IC that creates that high level of speed combined with accuracy. And so much of that “accuracy” is because of the dog’s ability to correctly use their body for collection and tight turns. Collection is used for those contacts, weave entries, and tight turns.

People will do a lot of “conditioning” while the dog is doing static exercises or going on long jogs on hard surfaces. But dogs also need to also do the training that engages the actual body parts needed for the actual behavior. But most dogs will just be run at jumps and expected to go over them without the strength training from “running” mark training. -Sharon Nelson

TIPS on mark training to improve jumping style (physical benefits): Gradually increasing the dog’s speed by increasing the distance between mark buckets will teach the dog how to brake from the rear, which is the same action (rear feet deep under body) needed to load for jumping in an arc vs. jumping long and flat. In order for marks to be effective to train a dog to load more effectively, the dog must target the mark with his front feet and stick the landing vs. knock over the mark or run past it, then turn around to place front feet on it. If the dog is running super fast, and sticks the landing, his rear feet will take a small secondary hop once his front feet have hit the mark, which is a good indicator the dog is braking from the rear…along with the fact that the mark bucket didn’t move or flip over.

TIPS on mark training to improve mental state: Dogs that “stress up” benefit from the “emotional anchor” Marks provide. Sharon has written extensively about the physical, visual and auditory changes that occur when dogs become over-aroused. Sensitive dogs that “stress down” may begin to worry about jumping after knocking a bar or crashing into a jump. For these dogs, using Marks in training increases their confidence. Adding mark buckets after a single jump, a row of jumps, or at the end of sequences offers these dogs something positive to focus on… the Mark and path to the Mark vs. staring at and worrying about each jump, which can cause stutter-stepping and/or launching in an attempt to avoid hitting the scary jump bars.

More and more handlers in NADAC are incorporating Mark foundation training in their practice routines with successful competition dogs and youngsters just starting their agility careers. I am hopeful this post will encourage non-NADAC peeps to try Mark training with their dogs to experience the benefits first hand. I don’t think they will be disappointed… and what do they have to lose? – Devorah Sperber, Moderator of the Canine Jumping Forum

(below)  Takoda’s first group mark session at 8 weeks old

The slowed-down video below is NOT an example of adding speed to Mark training. At 0:37, you can see my 9 week old puppy beginning to learn how to use his rear to stop with his front feet on a Mark bucket. He was also learning about impulse control.. not releasing on my other dogs’ motion.

Below is my puppy jumping 16″ a year later. He had just started doing a little jumping at the time I shot this video. You can see how well he knows how to use his body to jump in extension and in collection… independent of handling.

Q. How does this transfer to the over-arousaed dog in a show environment? This can be done as part of the warm up routine or while waiting to go into the ring, but I don’t see its applicability during the actual run.

A. Mark training can change a dog’s mental/ emotional association with agility obstacles. “Emotional Anchor” is a great description of what dogs look like when stopping on marks after being higher than kites. I’ve seen the highest dogs on the planet learn to “keep their heads” much better at trials after doing Mark training with full speed and enthusiasm/ balanced by impulse control as described by Sharon Nelson. I believe jumping issues are the result of a combination of physical and mental issues. Mark training works on both at the same time. I hope you try it for yourself. I was not a believer until I tried it with my 2 mature dogs and saw remarkable changes.

Q. Tell us more. My young McNab is higher than a kite at shows. No fun to even run her she’s fine till I walk in the gate and it’s all barking not looking forward on some things. Jumping off the side of DW and Aframe. Has a beautiful teeter tho. She’s just so excited to go. Got all her Novice titles right away and I even took a year off and just do play time and walks and some conditioning. And she’s such a good dog. When your sending over the jump are you sending to the bucket? Are they supposed to stop with there front feet on the bucket them swivel around and come back?

A. That second video just shows my pup’s jumping style. I was throwing a ball as a reward or recalling him back to me. I could have sent him to a mark.. and followed by walking over to him to deliver a food reward while he waited on the mark. He has done a ton of that but would have made for a long, boring video. I have seen remarkable results with dogs like yours.. dogs that are fine until they see equipment, or walk into a ring, or see another dog running. I’ve seen barking, spinning, charging and even biting dogs calm down enough to keep their heads as a result of Mark training.

Q. Ok, I really need to do some. So can you give me a start.  I am more than ready to get going on this. Hope it helps.

A. To start, you will create value for front feet on a mark bucket. Once the dog gets that, you can gradually begin to add distance/ speed alternating between sending (lateral and forward) and recalling from greater and greater distances and with the handler in various positions.. close to the mark and far away until the dog races full speed with enthusiasm ahead yet sticks most of the landings. If the dog knocks over the bucket by not collecting, no biggie.. just no reward for that rep. If it happens a lot, then you have progressed too fast.

Q. This work is very interesting to me. I have a lot of trouble convincing my boy to rock back for collection and he wants to come in sliding on all fours. I have done some recalls to sit in front of jumps to try to help but I like the look of this. He has done all the pivoting on a perch so has a lot of value for this already. Once you can get speed on the flat do you put this in front of a jump?

A. You can have your dog sit with front feet on a mark, butt on the ground, sort of a “super sit” which causes the dog to really rock back. You want to do a lot of super short sessions where your dog demonstrates great speed and enthusiasm while also collecting on the last stride and using his rear to brake. Then add at least 2 more buckets so you are sending or recalling your dog from bucket to bucket (adding handler motion.. and handling the dog’s path like you would for an agility sequence). Then you can start adding jumps between the marks. I’d start with the dog at a comfortable distance from a jump (on a mark bucket) and place a second Mark bucket on the landing side of that jump about 10′ away from the jump for a medium sized dog. You may need to tweak the spacing to start. Consider adding the jump (and eventually more jumps) as an experiment… and keep mixing in a bunch of Mark to Mark sends to keep the dog’s focus on anticipating collection.

Q. What are the buckets? They look like feed tubs from Tractor supply.

A. Yes. The ones in the video above are the small size (good for mini dogs). There are medium and large buckets. I have some of each… which I use for different scenarios. The medium sized ones are great for my medium sized BC.

Q. I want to try this thing.  Never heard of it before so can you please tell me how tall should the targets be approximately?

A. A lot of companies make them. The size I like best is “4 Quart”. Here is a photo:

4_quart_mark_bucketQ. I *really* like the idea behind this exercise and have to admit I’ve never heard of it before… foundations or advanced training. I think I will try to get some video of my girl(s) doing this after they understand the position and play it in slow motion to see how well they actually shift their weight. it looks like the marks are maybe supposed to be somewhere between wrist and elbow height? Anything other pointers for a “good” mark?

A. I’d love to see videos! The cool thing about mark training is you can see collection and weight shifting in real time. Mark buckets are basic feed buckets you can buy at any feed store (and Walmart or so I’ve heard). Get the medium sized one for BC sized dogs. The tiny ones are great for my mini dogs and I used them with my puppy but they are a bit small to expect a larger dog to race up to and not knock over (although I do use them once in a while with my BC).

Q. I’m going to try it too, just a little confused on how to do it and start. It’s something I can do with my girl as I don’t have my equipment right now and she loves working and new things. Do we start with a clicker? Or just go from bucket to bucket.

A. from another member: I figure I’ll just jump in and teach the position… shaping it and building lots of value/enthusiasm for front feet on the mark with rear feet moving around it (clicking for movement, teaching pivoting into heel position, etc) and then start having her run (short distances to avoid too much momentum) between buckets. Then build up to changing my and my dog’s positions, distance from, speed, etc as my dog approaches the mark. Not sure if that’s the “right” approach to training it but I think the main components of the game are position (front feet sticking the mark), intense enthusiasm, and independent performance…

A. from me: Pivoting is not important for the purpose of teaching collection. Its just something I do with my dogs via ST! Once the dog is offering front feet on the mark, begin adding distance.  The main components of the game are position (front feet sticking the mark), intense enthusiasm, and independent performance. Please share your videos on the Forum. I’d love to see what you are doing! Love everyone’s  open-mindedness to something new!

Q. I’ll take some video of current jumping form as well as set-point form. After a while of working the Mark training I will video jumping effort again and see if my girl seems to be connecting the dots at all

A. I wouldn’t mix Marks with Jumps until your dog can reliably run full speed ahead to a row of Marks (the more the better but at least 3) and is able to stick her landings on each bucket with you standing past the last bucket. This will let you know she has figured out HOW to go from extension to collection.

Q. I’m still having trouble seeing how this transfers from a training situation to a trial. Do you gradually increase the number of obstacles between markers until the dog is running full courses? Have multiple markers within a sequence or course and not release the dog to the next marker until the dog has calmed down? And then this dog will ultimately be able to self regulate its arousal while running a 20 jump course at a trial? A standard course would be different than a jumpers course because in standard there are stopping points were a dog could self-regulate on the contacts, table. I googled this and could not find any information on the use of markers, pedestals, platforms, etc in this context. I would really like to see a before and after video of a retrain (a dog that was already trialing) of a very aroused dog using using this method…I do think that this is worth playing with as a strengthening exercise and an end of run “anchor”

A. Info about Mark training has been available through Sharon Nelson’s on-line seminar group for a few years now. At first I’m sure many people were skeptical and I understand why. I asked myself “What could be so profound about a dog doing nothing on a simple prop?” But my natural MO when presented with something new is to test it and see for myself. So I did, and was floored by the mental shift that organically happened with my 2 mature dogs… and I didn’t even know Marks had a “mental component” back then. I thought they were only about teaching dogs to collect. The thing I think you are missing is what makes Marks different than other “props.” A mental shift occurs naturally when dogs have had experiences standing with their front feet up on a Mark Bucket. The posture of the dog, front feet higher than rear feet in the classic Rin Tin Tin pose, “grounds” the dog. Added to the mix is impulse control, as the dog learns to wait while the handler walks over to the Mark to give the dog a food reward. My description may not sound that different from your description: “….and not release the dog to the next marker until the dog has calmed down” but it is different in one significant way. With Mark training, once the dog has enough experience standing on a Mark bucket, she feels like she is in control, because she is. Once Marks have been integrated with agility obstacles (scattered around practice courses), dogs that “stress up” will begin to offer running to a Mark when they feel themselves getting too high instead of charging at their handlers, barking, spinning, or racing around grabbing obstacles. So instead of a dog that experiences stress automatically spiraling upwards out of control, Marks create a new behavioral chain: Dog starts feeling stressed. Dog runs to a Mark and stands still, which is calming and she finds herself quickly back in a good working state of mind. The dog learns how to lower her stress/ arousal by being still as experienced on the Mark. With enough experience, the dog can be asked to DOWN at a trial and the stillness has the same positive affect (vs. being punishment). In a trial setting, Marks are great for mentally grounding a dog before and after a run. I also like to use 1 or 2 Marks with a practice jump, to warm up my dog’s brain and body re: GO ONs and WRAPS. A dog facing a Mark bucket and asked to wrap the jump and come back to the handler vs. jump and go on to the mark is a great discrimination warm up. Once a dog is proficient with Marks, even just heeling a dog by Marks is a great mental warm up. Dogs become HUGE “bucket sucks” so heeling around Marks and not getting sucked onto one, lets us know if the dog and handler are working together as a team… but this is a side note.

Q. This sounds like a lot of fun, even tho we are working on a specific thing. I cant wait to get started. You know I have been doing Something like this with my dog, on my discs, but have asked her to sit and face me, so this is going to be some retraining for her.

A. BUY AT LEAST 3 MARK BUCKETS. You may end up wanting even more. I think I have about 13 in total which I keep in various places (my car, my house, my yard). One thing I have not mentioned is the benefits of rewarding dog in heel position vs. when dog is facing you. Its easy enough to do since the handler is walking over the the dog on the Mark to reward. Sometime hard to remember to do it though.

Q. Do you use them on a practice course after the dogs are good on them, and can you explain a little how you would run the course with the buckets out there.

A. Here is how I introduced my puppy to agility obstacles. After running him between Mark Buckets, I started putting a single obstacle between the Marks and VIOLA he took whatever was in his path (hoops, jumps, barrels, and eventually weave poles). Marks taught him to have great forward focus and to run straight lines in response to my handling. I didn’t realize it until he started trialing but we both learned EVERYTHING we needed to learn about handling as a team using just Marks, Hoops and Barrels. He learned back-side jumping (not that we use that skill), sends, go ons, wraps, swtiches, and backs (turning away from me in a 180) and he understands my handling close up and at huge distances.. all due to early Mark training. He is also a great jumper and performs contacts beautifully because of how well he uses his body (from Mark training). His start line stays are rock solid because of Mark training. He doesn’t lose his head at trials due to Mark training. He breezed through Intro, Novice, and Open without a hitch and is competing at the Elite level due to Mark training. Marks are the most profound training tool I’ve come across in the 8 years I’ve been doing agility. A tool best used throughout a dog’s lifetime vs. a prop you use for a while to “fix a problem”, then stop using it. Really watch your dogs when doing Mark training and you will be as blown away as I have been.

Q. And so in other words when you send them you dont want them to turn and face you, to stay in the forward position, this is going to be hard for my dog that always insists on looking at me for what to do or treats. Can we train it without treats or wean them off treats?

A.The hardest thing to train on Marks is the dog targeting the Mark and NOT spinning around to face the handler. You can recall the dog to a Mark, so the dog lands squarely on it and is still facing the direction she was running. You then walk back to the dog reward. I work on forward focus using 3 Marks in a row. I send my dog to the first Mark, and quickly release to the next Mark. After a few reps my dogs figure out they may be continuing on in that direction and will stop turning around to face me BUT this is very advanced and not really necessary since the Mark does not have a front and back like say a contact has. Its round and thus non-directional. So the dog is correct to spin around to face the handler when sent to a mark. In this scenario, the handler puts herself in heel position when rewarding the dog vs. asking the dog to move into heel position. Marks are GREAT for dogs for training dogs to stop looking at the handler. While the dog is running towards the Mark, she is looking AT THE MARK, not the handler. The dog learns to do this with obstacles too.. but first things first. Focus on the basic Mark foundation training. You will notice changes in your dog without having to “train” them.

(below) Link to indoor Mark session with 3 Marks in a row. Takoda was 4.5 months old.

(below) link to blog post with videos of Jake and Lil working 3 Marks (same set up as above)

https://artanddogblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/12/mark-practice-indoors-on-a-rainy-day-june-12-2015/

(below) Takoda at 13 weeks old working on a flat plank with a Mark. Notice how his body stays facing forward while waiting for me to catch up.

(below) Takoda at 5.5 months first exposure to a pinwheel using Marks:

I had an AH HA about Marks as a result of Q & As: If a dog knocks over the mark bucket when released, have the dog sit before releasing for a few reps so they learn to rock back and push off from the rear vs. push off from the front. Then go back to standing releases and if your dog is like my 3, the dog will continue to push off from the rear (like from a sit) because the dog now knows HOW to get running as fast as possible.

(below) an example of releasing from a SIT:

Q. Are you telling him sit or waiting for him to offer it. And no Moms a feed bag, I like that. I realize that it may be thought that working a course with this may slow a dog down, but I look at it that a dog may be more thoughtful that is fast, and a slow dog eager to get to the next one. The reason it should work for me is that I am living at a place where I can’t throw a toy or ball as my dog takes off with it, doing a victory lap, lol, and I can’t have her doing that till she brings it back to me. We did that a lot when she was younger, but I was somewhere that she could run around. But in a way it was self rewarding, she is very head strong when it comes to her training and my main goal now is to not let her think she’s so much in control of me and what we are doing. Does this make sense.
And this does remind me of what Stuart Mah the great agility trainer once told me, to put targets around your course, even with a treat on them to keep your dog focused ahead, and work what he called city and country driving.

A. I’ll telling him to Sit in the video. I think most, if not all people would agree that a thinking dog makes for a better agility partner than a dog that goes over-the-top when entering the agility ring. A thinking dog has impulse control and understands that agility is a team sport that involves GO, STOP, GO vs. GO, GO, GOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I learned a lot from Stuart Mah! Lil’s earliest training was based on stuff I learned from him. Once a dog has worked on Marks, they make GREAT proofing props. My dogs are total “bucket sucks.” I regularly heel Takoda around Marks to test his understanding of heeling. This is another thing we do at trials for mental warm up.

Q. I’m really interested in this. My dogs never quite figured out the “rock back” part of a 2 on 2 off contact… especially the Aframe. It’s more a “run to the end and slam your front paws down…. or jump it… whatever.” Is there a way to incorporate this into contact training?

A. Absolutely. Prior to Mark training I didn’t think it was possible for a long-backed AT to stop safely on an A-Frame due to the extreme angle. But after doing a bunch of Mark training one winter, both of my ATs stopped very nicely (4 on) the A-frame. Mark training helps by teaching dogs to brake from the rear vs. brake by slamming front feet into the ground (2o2o).

Q. Dev- can you expand on how you use your mark bucket at a trial as a warm up. My boy is versed in mark buckets and I have thought about bringing to a trial just wasn’t sure how to implement them in a warm up.  I also want to use them for his jumping as that is his least favorite class.

A. Jumping is Lil’s least favorite class too! I like to use the marks in conjunction with the practice jump.. on the landing side of the jump.. about 10′ away then I alternate between GO ONs and WRAPS sending forward to the jump and laterally away from the jump. It lets me know if my dog is paying attention to my handling vs. just running to the visible Mark bucket. The things I do most often as a warm up after walking around for a bit are 1) pivots back and forth from heel position on my left to heel position on my right (moving my feet accordingly so my dog’s front feet stay on the mark as they rotate into heel position on the new side. This is great for focus and also for warming up their muscles. 2) Sends and Recalls to a Mark to rehearse the physical contact performance/ braking from the rear. If I have time to go outside to an off-leash area, I’ll take my dog and a Mark and add speed/ distance running to the Mark, mixing in some fun heeling stuff, especially if my dog seems a bit too high. Another thing I find myself doing more of with Takoda is heeling around the Mark mixed with releasing him to GO MARK. He REALLY wants to GO MARK on his own so its super challenging for him to heel within inches of it.. but he can do it (good boy). I think its a fantastic mental warm up to remind him that agility is a team sport!

Q. I’m sure I will be checking back in with this from time to time to see if I realize any new pointers that I may overlook initially. One question for you… my really intense “stress up” girl was introduced to this yesterday. We just did a quick learn position, then began adding intensity to “proof” the position before adding in handler variables and/or more Marks. However with adding in any intensity (any distance but calm handler, no distance but mentally rev’d, etc) I noticed my girl hits her mark in a crouched position almost laying her chest on the mark itself with front legs laying flat on the top of the bucket. She’s not tipping the bucket with this approach and I can’t tell how much weight is actually shifted to her rear or not but it’s certainly not a “standing” on the mark with front feet. Granted, she has been learning a lot of teeter behavior of “run to the end and wrap paws around edge” so that I *do* get a low center of gravity and hopeful weight shift so she may be offering this because of that… do you think I shouldn’t reward any attempts with this crouched position and when I do reward maybe give it to her high in an attempt to reward her standing up? Or does is matter and might fix itself as we progress?

A. I’d click (or say YES) when her front paws hit the mark but then reward her in such a way that she gets the food when standing upright on the Mark. I don’t think it will take long for her to skip the crouch. One more thing to pay attention to is how your dog takes the food rewards from your hand. This is something extremely valuable I learned from Sharon Nelson.. and is a great indicator of a dog’s mental status. If the dog starts taking food harder, gets grabby, or refuses food, you know she is not in an ideal working state of mind…. at which time I suggest shifting gears and working on THAT while your dog is standing on the Mark.

One other thing… I wouldn’t intentionally try to “add intensity” or do anything to rev up a dog that tends to go over the top. You want your dog to associate Marks.. and Agility with a good mental state vs. crazed… like the state of mind your dog would need to have while herding.

Q. On a side note I am really excited to see how this might benefit my young gun later in her career. I can already tell she will very much be a stress up girl and she gets aroused easily, LOVES to train and doesn’t care to think too much. She’s very athletic and intense which translates to sloppy with her body because she can get away with it. She will be my first personal “high” dog to trial with and I can just imagine how this Mark training might benefit her in learning how to *use* her body and stay grounded mentally even when highly stimulated. I don’t want to take away her excitement and arousal for the game, but it is my job to be a good trainer and make sure she can work with/through it. LOVE the fact that this can be done both indoors and without the picture of obstacles at first!

A. Mark training is invaluable for dogs like the one you are describing Alice! It doesn’t take away drive It helps dogs focus their drive. It also helps avoid injury.

Comment by me: One other benefit of Mark training that I didn’t realize was even happening until I started trialing with my youngster is we learned everything we needed to know about each other in terms of handling before he ever saw a jump or contact.. all done with Marks, then Hoops and Barrels. BTW–for non-NADAC peeps…. handling a barrel is like handling a c-shaped tunnel. The only difference is a barrel has an infinite number of entries and exits (which you can handle). How you handle a barrel and tunnel are identical in terms of what the dog needs to see before he runs behind a barrel or ducks into a tunnel.

Q. My first experience, my dog stood nicely on the first tub, sent to the second spin around and sit, its worse when shes on my right side, on the first tub I am right there so shes in good position. when I release her to the second one, she rushes too much to get there and even tho I am walking forward, they are only about 10 ft apart she gets there to fast and spins around looking at me and sits. So I got the idea to put her on a leash so when shes incorrect, I just get her back and attempt it again and when its right give the treat, So I am at this point helping her be right and keeping her under control till I feel comfortable to take the leash off , better to get more sessions correct at this point than a lot of practicing failures, so she will know what is right and what is wrong. This is really hard and going to try to keep sessions short, and a few times a day. Wow, what a challenge. Oh and I am waiting for her to look forward to the second mark before I release her so she gets the idea to look forward not at me.

A. Its OK that your dog runs to the Mark ahead of you and its fine that she turns around. Its VERY advanced to expect a dog to continue to face the way they were moving when the handler is behind.. and not at all important in terms of the core foundation skills she will be learning. If she beats you to the Mark, which she should be doing when sent, put YOURSELF in heel position and reward at your side when you meet her at the Mark bucket. Its important that the dog has free choice and its great that she is running with enthusiasm to the Mark. RE: what she is looking at when you release her, this is not so important in terms of core foundation skills… but I get why you want her to look ahead given the issues you have had with too much looking at the handler.

Q. About that grabby treat my dog is really bad about that I learned that from Amanda Nelson at a Seminar I went to with her. I wont have any fingers left during this mark training, its something I have to work with her every single day. Shes still a little grabby but its somewhat better I try to make sure not to rush the treat to her to keep her in a better calm state, if thats possible.

A. I’m with Amanda.. and Sharon on this topic for sure. If a dog gets grabby on the Mark, consider that as important feedback and then change your training objective and deal with that issue until she is able to take food without taking off your fingers. This is an important part of what she will learn on Mark buckets in terms of regulating her arousal level if you train the dog that shows up for the session vs. focus solely on your training objectives and goals. I tend to start Mark sessions with my grabby AT with feeding kibble (piece by piece) while he stands on a Mark. Once he is able to take the food without being grabby, he gets to run to the next Mark, where I test his ability to THINK again before releasing him to another Mark. It may not be the most exciting training session to watch but it is super important to address the issue of over-arousal anytime it rears is little head.

(below)  Takoda’s first time running Elite Jumpers at 22 months old.  He breezed right through Intro, Novice and Open and am I am thrilled with how well he is running Elite Courses, especially because we NEVER run full courses during practice.  My yard is not big enough and I only have 4 jumps.   Takoda was challenged on this course for sure, and I felt a bit of hesitation on some parts of this course but felt super connected from the moment we entered the ring.  I am convinced all the Mark training we did early on.. and continue to do has contributed to Takoda’s early success in and out of the agility ring.

(below) Takoda’s first time running Elite Chances

(below) Takoda’s first time running Open X-Hoopers

Takoda’s Debut Running Novice Courses, October 28- 30, 2016

Takoda In ActionTakoda and I doing a little ringside warm up before a run.  Even though we are both a little blurry, I really like this photo, maybe because we are blurry!

After running Takoda in Intro at three trials and seeing his confidence and focus increase at each trial, I thought he was probably ready to move up to Novice.  I knew he had the skills but I was not certain he would be ready to demonstrate those skills in a new trial setting and at his first indoor trial. I was so nervous before the first couple of runs, I felt a little light headed.  Crazy but it reminded me of how I felt when Lil and Jake started trialing many years ago.  Fear of the unknown I guess.

After a couple of really nice fluid runs, I exhaled 🙂  and shifted gears from wondering what he’d do.. to viewing each run as an opportunity to “see what he knows.”  Turns out, he knows a lot.  I didn’t find a single hole in his foundation training all weekend long.  Beautiful start line stays, awesome contacts, and 100% connection on every run.  I am sure holes will show up in the future but running 18 classes over the course of 3 days really drove home how a solid foundation translates into clear communication between a dog and a handler.  I could not be more proud of Takoda!

Extreme Hoopers, first class on Friday

Weavers on Friday

Jumpers on Saturday

Chances on Saturday (my favorite run of the weekend I think)

Touch N Go on Saturday

Chances on Friday

Intro Tunnelers, last class of the trial on Sunday.  Takoda came into this trial needing one Q  more Intro Tunnelers Qs for his Versatility Award so I ran him in Intro.

takoda_intro_versatility_award_10-30-16A friend called Takoda the Cary Grant of Agility (or something like that) due to his smoothness on course.  I am still chuckling about that.

Takoda  earned another significant Intro title before this trial, with 10 Qs in Intro Regular.

takoda_intro_title.. and finally a cute photo thanks to Lindsey of Mountain Dog Sports

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CRAZY BUT TRUE!!!

This is a true story.  No embellishment what so ever. The only thing I added is a  reenactment video above and a random photo below because a blog post without a photo or video looks so BLAH.

Takoda (9 months old) on the Switzerland Trail, Oct 27-2015

Setting: My friend Heather’s campsite at a trial in SW Colorado last weekend. Heather had just finished packing up her tent and camping gear when she realized she lost her favorite mechanical pencil, the one she uses for crossword puzzles. She walked over to my RV to ask for a second set of eyes since she was pretty sure the pencil had fallen onto the ground. I agreed to help and offered a NOSE to go with the second set of EYES.   Whose nose? Takoda’s of course.

I asked Heather if she had anything similar to the missing pencil to use as a scent article. As luck would have it, she had another mechanical pencil, which was identical except for the color.   I walked back to my RV and prepped Takoda with his harness and long line.  I then walked him over to an area about 25′ away from her camp site and asked Heather to hold the pencil in her open palms. I let Takoda walk up for a quick sniff and said  GO FIND.

He immediately started pulling on the harness, quartering back and forth, nose to the ground, tail curled up and over his back, something he does when he is “on scent.”  Within a minute or two, he found a dog toy Heather had left by accident but he barely even paused to sniff it. He appeared to be on a “greater” mission.  He covered her entire campsite and beyond to a perimeter of about 10-15 feet, with minimal input from me.

Clearly the area was fully saturated with Heather’s scent, and the scent of her two dogs, since they had been camping there for 4 nights but after watching Takoda’s demeanor not change at all while he thoroughly swept the area, I felt fairly certain the pencil was not there and suggested we let Takoda search Heather’s car.  I have never asked him to search a car but I thought it would be interesting to see what he did (just for fun).

I asked Heather and a friend who was watching to open the car doors. Takoda walked up to the passenger door and put his front paws on the seat, showing interest in the bags on that seat. I assumed he did that because the entire car was so saturated with Heather’s scent. I thought he would show the same level of interest at every door opening, but when I brought him over to the rear hatch, he popped his front paws up, took a quick sniff and then dropped back to the ground. No interest at all. I found that interesting and took him back to the passenger door to see if he’d show interest again.   He did and this time after putting his front paws on the seat, he started puffing his cheeks and making a quiet clucking sound which is something he does when he is closing in on solving a complex scent puzzle.

Within 30 seconds, he used his front teeth to carefully extract a mechanical pencil from   one of the bags on the passenger seat.   I was blown away, even though based on its color, I knew it was the pencil we had used as a scent article. Regardless, Takoda had FOUND A PENCIL based on its unique scent in the midst of a giant scent pool… and since I didn’t know Heather had put that pencil in her car, I could not have subconsciously helped him find it.   It appeared he understood he was supposed to FIND A PENCIL and he found one. Heather and I were both blown away but that not the end of this story.

While searching the passenger area the first time, Takoda had also shown interest in a bag of garbage on the floor of the car, something I initially ignored.  However, after he found the pencil, we were having a big party by the car, when Heather tossed the garbage bag onto the ground so she could look for the missing pencil.  As soon as she did that, Takoda broke off from playing with me and alerted to the garbage bag on the ground.   We both mistakenly thought he was interested in the garbage so I walked him back to my RV, still praising him while feeling elated about his PENCIL FIND.

About 2 minutes later, Heather called out to me, telling me in a serious voice to come out of my RV. She had the bag of garbage in one hand AND the missing pencil in the other hand. She said after I left with Takoda, she decided to look through the bag of garbage and low and behold, at the very bottom of the bag was the missing pencil. She has no idea how it got there because the bag had been knotted up tightly. We were both flabbergasted. I asked her to put the pencil back inside the garbage bag so Takoda could alert to it again.  I brought him out of the RV and this time he got the reward he deserved… lots of praise and play… but that’s not even the end of this story.

The next morning Heather and I were having breakfast at the dinette table  in my RV. Takoda was sucking up to Heather in his usual fashion when his attention shifted to my TOPO map storage box which was under the dinette table near Heather’s legs.  After pushing his nose on a clear plastic compartment on top of the box, he started licking the plastic lid.  I reached down, opened the lid and pulled out my mechanical pencil which happened to be identical to Heather’s pencils.

Our jaws dropped when we realized Takoda had found yet another mechanical pencil, the day after the search for Heather’s lost pencil.   Did this mean he remembered searching for the scent of Heather’s pencil the day before?  I think so but the fact that he only alerted to it when Heather was present was even more mind-boggling. My pencil didn’t have Heather’s scent and it was in a closed compartment. Is that part a crazy coincidence or did Takoda somehow link the scent of mechanical pencils to Heather’s scent since both were intermingled during the initial search?   Who knows.   Regardless I continue to believe Takoda was born to do Search and Rescue.

I think WOW sums it up better than any other word.

A sampling of Takoda’s Intro runs. He turned 19 months old yesterday.

Photo by Ted Gotwals

Photo by Ted Gotwals

I had such a blast running Takoda in 16 Intro classes at Sunny’s trial in SW Colorado.    This was his second trial but at the first trial last month they only offered intro in a few classes (bummer but better than NO Intro classes).   Love the Beta format where you get to run the same course twice in a row.   It was so cool to be able to handle it differently the second time and see which provided more clarity resulting in a better and faster line.   Takoda did a great job all weekend long and earned High In Trial for Intro dogs.  Lil came away with High In Trial for Elite dogs.   Jake had a fun weekend too hanging out, going for walks.  FUN weekend!

 

 

Takoda’s First Agility Workshop

I ran Lil and Takoda at Lorrie Reynold’s distance workshop Sunday afternoon. Its the first agility event I’ve done since November, due to having sciatica for the past few months.  UGH but I’ve been going to a fantastic Physical Therapist for the past month and I’m finally seeing improvement.

Lil was totally jazzed and ran well but my timing was off.  I was often too early and called her off obstacles due to my being influenced by Takoda’s early obstacle commitment and longer stride length.  My timing improved as the day went on and by the end I felt more in sync.  Lil had a great time in spite of my learning curve.  I didn’t get any video of Lil’s runs but she was her typical great self.

This was Takoda’s first agility workshop.  He has not been in a class setting since November and has rarely run long sequences, so I had no idea how he’d do with a bunch of people sitting along one wall.. just a few feet beyond the A-frame/ Tunnel discrimination.  In his day-to-day life, he is living up to the name Takoda means “friend to everyone” in Sioux and I love that quality about him, even if it includes an occasional impromptu visit now and then.

I could not be more pleased with how well he ran.  I was surprised he maintained his focus as well as he did so well considering how close people were to the obstacles. He noticed them but mostly ignored them until the last run when he was mentally fatigued… and his puppy brain kicked in. He came when I called but he just could no longer resist wiggling and waggling his way to say HI.

I love how responsive he is to handling yet how committed he is to the path ahead.  It makes handling a piece of cake.

Yesterday pointed out to me (again) the huge difference between Takoda and Lil when it comes to distance.   Lil is willing and able to do big distance because of countless hours spent training and maintaining her distance skills, which is necessary to keep her confidence level high enough to drive hard when working far away from me.   In contrast, Takoda appears to be hard-wired to work at big distances so it didn’t take much training at all for him to be confident working away from me.   It feels more like I am just tapping into his Border Collie Brain rather than “training” him to work at big distances like I did with Lil.

This difference caused me to step back and think about what Lil would prefer in terms of distance.  Based on Sunday’s workshop I suspect she would prefer to run at moderate distances (15-30′) rather than doing  Bonus Boxes distances (up to 80′).    I’ll likely still attempt an occasional Bonus Box run with her, but I don’t think she is cut out to run Bonus Box distances run after run after run.   This is totally fine with me  because Lil is such a fun dog to run agility with, it doesn’t matter to me how we do it.

Happy First Birthday Takoda

“Time flies when you are having fun” certainly applies to puppies.  Looking back, its hard to believe how much Takoda learned during his first year on the planet.  Takoda means “Friend to Everyone” in Sioux and he continues to live up to his name.  It is such a pleasure living with a super-friendly, non-reactive dog…..not that Jake and Lil are super reactive or anything like that, but they are terriers and thus lean towards the barky side.   Through ongoing management, I keep their barking under control yet with Takoda, I don’t have to do anything.   He is just not barky.

When Takoda joined our pack at  8 weeks old, I remember thinking about all the things Jake and Lil know, and it felt overwhelming to think about all the life skills Takoda would need to learn to be a “good dog” at home, plus all the specialized training he’d need to participate in dog sports.   Looking back, I am wowed by how much he learned in the past year!   He has that winning combination of intelligence and the desire to work/ play with me, regardless of what we are doing.

The only bump in the road was a badly sprained knee on Dec 1.  I didn’t see what happened because Takoda was out of my sight for a  few minutes while out for a potty break in the backyard, but I assume he slipped on some ice since the yard was covered with slippery snow.  Three weeks of crate rest and being on leash 24/7 resolved the sprain, and I gradually increased his activity level back to what it was before the sprain.

Takoda and I ended up taking nearly 2 months off from foundation training for agility, which gave me the opportunity to step back and reflect on what I envisioned for our future lives.  It came as a big surprise to me that agility was not very high on my list of things I wanted to do with Takoda.  The top activities were: Search and Rescue, hiking, playing, hanging out, and training a variety of skills for the sheer joy of training.  I’m not giving up on agility by any means, but its just not my focal point right now.   That said, my friend Heather came over a couple of days ago to set up a sequence for an on-line course she is taking with Amanda Nelson.

All three dogs aced the sequence on the first try.  I was surprised to see they ran such similar lines even though Takoda is twice the size of Jake and Lil.  It was so cool to see all three dogs run with so much confidence, joy and enthusiasm.

One detail worth noting is how little the tunnel moves when my dogs run through it.. and I don’t use tunnel bags when training in my yard.  This is one of Sharon Nelson’s brilliant training tips:  Training dogs to run through tunnels without tunnel bags teaches them NOT to bank when entering and exiting tunnels.  Instead dogs learn to turn on the flat before they enter the tunnel and after exiting.  This skill keeps dogs from crashing and burning inside slippery or wet tunnels.

Lil

Jake

Takoda, 2 days shy of his first birthday

Takoda will be 9 months old October 29.

Takoda has been maturing in leaps and bounds this past month.  His work ethic and focus are sky rocketing and as a result, I’ve started trusting him off-leash in a variety of new environments.  My main objective in terms of off-leash behavior is for Search and Rescue.  A good SAR dog needs to be trustworthy when in sight and out of sight.

Its been so interesting to see the change in his facial expression over the past month.  Lately he has been wearing his “Border Collie” face most of the time :).  This new mature expression is gradually replacing his endearing puppy expression.  I already miss my sweet little puppy as he morphs into an adult Border Collie but I am loving getting to know this “new” adult dog who is blowing me away in terms of how fast and eager he is to learn new stuff.  I’m sure Takoda’s  inner puppy 🙂 will still make many cameo appearances for years to come and I am VERY happy about that thought.

This morning Takoda and I hiked on the Switzerland Trail which is the site of a historic 3 ft narrow gauge railroad line that was operated around the turn of the 20th century in the Colorado front range mining area near Nederland, Gold Hill, and Ward.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switzerland_Trail

Takoda (9 months old) on the Switzerland Trail, Oct 27-2015

(above) Takoda taking in the scenery while waiting for me to catch up.

(above) This was Takoda’s first time on the Switzerland Trail and his first time wearing a bear bell.  I think the sound of the bell took him a while to get used to but he’ll need to wear a bell when doing SAR work so I figured I might as well help him get used to it early on.

I really like how he checks in periodically and doesn’t get too far ahead.  I took the opportunity to practice some recalls early on in this hike to make sure we were a team.  I’ve seen more than one person searching for a lost dog on this trail.  Just the thought of that freaks me out.

(above) About one mile into our hike,  Takoda continues to check in and responds well to recalls.   When he disappeared over the edge of the trail, it was hard NOT to call him but I felt it was important that he come back on his own… which he did… albeit a bit further along the trail.   I was mostly using low-value food rewards (kibble) but I also brought a toy to use for a higher-level, higher-energy reward to mix things up.   Early on I mostly used kibble, thinking it would be better for Takoda to be thoughtful vs. in high prey drive.

One thing I am curious about after this hike, which I’ll be able to test by taking Takoda for another hike in the late afternoon sometime, is if he is focusing on the downhill side of the trail because as the air warms, it rises and carrying with it scents from the valley below.  The opposite effect takes place late in the day as air begins to cool and drops back down into the valley, so if Takoda is indeed air scenting, I would guess he would focus more attention on the uphill side of the trail late in the day.  It will be fun to see it that happens.  My other thought regarding why he might have focused more attention down hill on our hike this morning, is the view into the valley is more expansive and is thus more interesting to look at. 🙂

(above) I continued to say GOOD BOY whenever he checked in throughout the hike to let him know I like that behavior.   At this point, he tends to check in when he gets to be about 30′ ahead, which I really like.  He rarely lags behind, but when he does, he catches up when I get ahead about 15′.

(above) I wanted to see what he’d do if I said GO one time, and then just stood in position vs. following him.   He did exactly what I’d hoped he’d do.  He ran ahead, then realized I wasn’t moving with him,  and came back on his own.

Watching the video above, he appears to be offering “head checks” towards the path ahead between rewards.  I’m fine with him doing that.  The other possible reason for his head movement is because I’ve rewarded him when there is something/ someone in the distance…. but based on his energy level and the fact that he wasn’t really LOOKING at the path ahead, I think he was mostly offering the head whip as a “trick” or behavior.

(above)  While hiking, or working in the yard, I like to mix in some SITS, DOWNS, and STANDS at a distance to see if we are connected and functioning as a team regardless of the distance between us.  I forgot for the first half of the hike but when I finally got around to asking for a SIT I really liked his response.  What I liked most is I suspect he was NOT expecting/ anticipating hearing the word SIT after hiking 1.5 miles without being cued to do any positions.   While this was not his fastest SIT, I was very happy he was connected and listening.  Good boy!

We turned around shortly after this video to keep the hike short (3 miles) since my ankle is still healing and not ready for longer, more strenuous hikes or off-trail bush whacking yet.

After 5 weeks or so little activity, due to my ankle fracture,  It feels incredible to be able to go hiking and to be spending time out in nature again.  I experience a totally natural “Rocky Mountain High” whenever I spend time in the mountains of Colorado and its great to be able to share this time with Takoda, who appears to be having as much fun as I am.  And on top of this great feeling, I am thrilled that Takoda wants to stay connected when off leash.  Granted this is just the beginning of his off-leash experiences, and there will be plenty of proofing ahead in terms of distractions, but I think he is off to a great start.

Who would think a broken ankle would have another silver lining?

Earlier this week, I had X-rays and a follow up exam of my ankle and the removable cast is history plus I no longer need to let “pain be my guide” to avoid further injury. My ankle is stable enough that I’m back to walking and driving. 🙂

Takoda has been attending puppy agility classes for the past few months. My main goal is to expose him to a very challenging environment… a room filled with puppies. Takoda has done his fair share of running off to visit other puppies and vice versa but until this week, even when he was staying with me, I often felt I was on the verge of losing him.

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However, this week in class Takoda “felt” different. He had great focus and was fully engaged in everything we did. He even stayed engaged when another puppy ran over to him several times during one exercise. Takoda’s toy drive has always been stronger than his food drive so one thing that helped was using a toy vs. food. The reason I was able to use a toy is because I felt confident he would bring it back vs. run off with it.  On the drive home, I was thinking Why NOW? Why such a huge shift in Takoda’s ability to stay fully engaged with me vs. being distracted by other puppies? I concluded it was due to a confluence of events, many of which would not have happened, had I NOT injured my ankle.

I’m sure age has something to do with it (Takoda is now 8 1/2 months old) but I also think he experienced a burst of maturity during the eight days he spent at BC Bootcamp while I attended NADAC Championships. BC Bootcamp is my friend Heather’s house where Takoda was born and spent the first 8 weeks of his life.  His adult BC relatives taught him to respect their space when he tried to engage them in silly puppy play.  He was a quick learner and his Aunties were perfect teachers because they are not aggressive yet are very clear about what is and what is not acceptable behavior.

Another factor that contributed to Takoda’s recent personal growth 🙂 was that Heather (who happens to be a great obedience trainer) worked with him on obedience-style retrieves while he was there.  Takoda’s retrieves had gone from OK to terrible recently, which I attributed to his increased drive and being an adolescent. But when I returned from Champs, Takoda was happily bringing toys back and dropping them in my hand. Thank you Heather!

In addition to the great jump start at Heather’s with retrieving, due to my ankle injury I had extra time on my hands, some of which I filled by watching Michael Ellis’s training videos which helped me improve the way I play tug. In particular I started using Michael’s method of asking Takoda to release the toy and then stepping back and immediately releasing him to GET IT again. This added a whole new level of excitement and variation to retrieving and tugging and made it more fun for Takoda (and me) due to higher level of unpredictability.  It was funny that once I watched Michael’s video on tugging, I remembered that Sammy at YDS camp showed me this method last summer and I really liked it. I’m surprised I forgot about it.

But that is not all. Another contributing factor re: Takoda’s new level of maturity was a chance visit by my behaviorist extraordinaire friend Sue S. who was passing through Boulder a few days before we left for Champs. She has always been my GO TO person for head-scratching behavior issues (me scratching my head ..not the dogs). During Sue’s visit, she helped get us over the hump so Takoda and the ATs could live in the same country 24/7 vs. need to be separated by a wall (a dog gate) unless I was working with them, due to their inability to “just be” together when not working.

The issue had been that Takoda’s silly puppy antics (energetic play bowing)  caused the ATs to bark at him which caused Takoda to get more amped (play bowing with more gusto), which caused more barking…..  Sue saw the issue as Takoda not taking the ATs seriously.  I asked “why not? and she said because he doesn’t have to.   The timing of Sue’s visit was PERFECT because she showed us how to interrupt the play bowing and subsequent barking and then after a few days of vastly improved “group dynamics,” Takoda went to BC bootcamp where he learned from dogs his own size that just because dogs are accessible, doesn’t mean you should try to engage them in rambunctious puppy play.

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So the silver lining re: my broken ankle turned out to be huge! I would never have left Takoda with Heather had I been able to walk and train enough to keep Takoda mentally stimulated while at NADAC Champs.  Plus I would not have been sitting around watching dog training videos because the weather has been extraordinary. I would have been out hiking for sure.   Takoda has a ways to go before I consider him mature 🙂  but as my good friend Lynn S. pointed out:  I’m miss my sweet, goofy puppy once he morphs into a full-blown adult.. whenever that occurs.