Show report

Scoop and I had a great time at the Portland AKC trial. I have been to that show almost every year since 1996, and this was one of the best ever. It is indoors on good matting, the same as the AKC Nationals. The courses were fun, the Time to Beat demo on Saturday night was perfect, allowing the handlers to run as often as they liked for $5. a run for charity. Some of the 2010 World Team Members (and coach:)) were at the event and we offered to run other handlers dog for a further $20. donation to the World Team. Those dogs that were willing to go round the ring with us had a great time as did we!

The weekend ended with ISC jumpers which I obviously do not enter with my dogs because as the World Team Coach I believe it would be inappropriate. However fate stepped in this year. My 7 year old BC Ace tied with a team for first in Excellent JWW and the course was torn down before we could have a run off. The ISC jumpers was offered as an alternative for the runoff and we gladly accepted. We ran at our 20 inch height at the end of the class, and thankfully had a fast and clean run on the challenging ISC course as the very last run of the entire show weekend. The grandstands cheered, and Ace and I had a blast.

Scoop was a pretty good boy. We made our debut in Novice standard and got 2 out of 4 legs. The wheel sort of fell off the last two standard runs. A ticked broad jump, refusal on the teeter, a tunnel off course when I was trying to reset to take the teeter, and a couple more bumbles in there as well.  We did get our third Novice JWW leg and got to move to Open JWW the last day. We had a pretty nice run but pulled a bar. You can watch our run here.

It took Scoop a couple runs to get used to the mats and the indoor trial setting as he has never trained in that environment. My bad, I should have made some trips to work in that kind of setting, but we got lucky anyway and he adjusted to the different footing just fine. He didn’t show as much speed or turning ability as he does on grass, and he added some extra strides I wish he would have left out, but fine for his first experience on mats. The first two days they held the FAST class as well and we qualified both times. So the weekend results were fairly nice for my green green boy. 2 Fast legs, 2 standard legs and a finished title in jumpers over the 4 day event.

Today is a training day. Scoop’s 2o2o behavior on the DW and teeter were pretty funky at the event. He stopped short on both contacts and reached back between his legs and nose touched the board. Two things going on there. First, I think the surface change from wood to rubber was something he thought was odd and he just doesn’t have any reinforcement history on that surface change. And maybe a bigger reason is that last week when running the contacts he was stopping with his feet barely off the board in 2o2o, and when he reached between his legs to nose touch, his nose came back almost to the board and I inadvertently marked that exaggerated behavior. Whoops!!

I am going to do a refresher course this week on 2o2o to remind him how far off the board his feet should be and that he needs to touch straight to the ground not reach back for the board. We already had one session this morning and it went well, but I have the plexi target out and we are just working on proofing on a flat board. I need to get the target away again, and proof on lots of different surfaces. This morning we worked wood to cement. I will drag out a long rubber mat to work on later, and I am going to skip wood to grass training for a couple days.

I am thinking about which alphabet drill to work on today….maybe letter “J”.

Thank you Mia for sending the nice photos of Jerry Ross from Santa Barbara a couple weeks ago. Can one ever have enough dog photos? Nah!

If you got to run your baby dog at a show on the weekend I hope you had as much fun as I did and that your dog did perfect start lines like Scoop did, and played every time you asked as well. If you accomplished that then the weekend was a successful one.



poisoned cues

It’s been raining for the past 6 days  and I am tired of training in the house and sitting at my desk. Thank goodness we have a rain break today and we can get outside.  I couldn’t think of any excuses for not getting all my office work done that I have been putting off, so that is what I have been doing all week. Scoop has had to make do with one wet walk in the rain each day, and playing at games here in the house. Jim and I have also watched a few movies; District 9 (interesting) and something else that must not have been too relevant as I can’t for the life of me remember what it was.

I also re-read Steven Pressman’s The War of Art, and I watched Dr. Jose Rosales-Ruiz’s dvd The Poisoned Cue.  As yet the after effects from “war..” haven’t much been felt, since I still have unfinished writing projects this week, but I have a start since I am sitting here updating Scooby’s blog. If you have not read The War of Art, you should. My friend Sandy Rogers gave it to me, and I find if I read it once a year (should be two or three times) then my resistance to finishing projects diminishes greatly! It is such an easy read, and a joy to find the inspiration in his pages.  Resistance to writing, or painting or saving the universe is futile for weeks after you finish this easy read.  

Another inspiration this week was in watching Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz Poisoned Cue video. Apparently Karen Pryor first coined the term, and I located her technical description of the poisoned cue on her website, but Jesus’s video was a lot more explanatory. Of course it is 2 hours and 44 minutes long, hers is just one page:) The poisoned cue is pretty much a description of what the term means. You take a perfectly well trained cue, and poison it using not very nice training methods like coercion or intentional or unintentional punishment, instead of positive reinforcement.  You can poison a cue, like your dog’s name, or your recall command using punishment, and voila, your cue creates stress and displacement behaviors  instead of a  joyful responses to your cue. One newish negative buzz word Jesus discusses is command. I think that Karen and henceforth others, are saying that a command now has the connotation of a behavior which was taught not using positive reinforcement. I might argue that I can teach a command using  positive  reinforcement without poisoning the word command🙂 but anyway, we all know that cue is the new command, just like brown became the new black in clothing choice a few years ago. Whatever the terminology, mixing up the use of positive  reinforcement  with corrections in training can get you into big trouble.  

It is possible to poison your cue, poison your training aids like leashes, or poison an environment. In our sport it is probably possibly to poison the entire competition agility ring. I know I have seen the start line, the bottom of the contact obstacles or weave poles poisoned many times. All you have to do is punish the dog for not staying in a 2o2o position at the same time you are trying to clicker train him to nose touch in the same spot, and voila! you can unknowingly poison the cue touch. Just saying the word touch could make  your dog slow down, leap off the end, lick his lips, or head out to sniff the nearest bush. Correct your dog for coming out at the 10th pole, and in short order you can have a big weave problem getting your dog to go beyond pole 10. Punish the entry and your dog will stay as far away from weave entries as he possibly can. You have all seen the ‘exhaust circle” that some dogs do to avoid making an entry error. Poisoning can happen after just one correction, and poisoning can happen by accident. The dog who injures himself or gets frightened on a piece of equipement, can effectively poison the obstacle, and subsequently the training or show environment. You don’t need to beat your dog while training to get stuck in a poisoned quagmire, but the effects are the same.  

Jesus’ video had some great demonstration of how cues are poisoned, and good ideas for getting out of some of the situations, like reshaping the behavior and totally changing your cue . What I really liked in the video is the method they used to train some simple behaviors using cues which were taught using positive reinforcement, to reinforce and teach other behaviors. The example was done to show the difference between a positively reinforced and a poisoned cue. One of his students demonstrated using a recall command cue to teach a new behavior. The principle being that any cue you have taught using r+ you could use entirely to teach another behavior.   So I did my own little experiment with Scoop.

I decided to use his “break” (release from position) behavior to teach him to walk over to a chair and lie his head on the chair.  The behavior  and cue of Break would be used instead of a click.  Scoop is normally rewarded for almost every  response to break, so that fits the criteria that you can use a positively trained behavior, and henceforth the cue for that behavior, to reinforce another behavior. Scoop’s criteria for break is that when he hears the word he stops any behavior he is doing (like sitting) and comes to me and is rewarded with a game of tug or a treat. 

This is how my Scoop experiment went.  I have cookies and a clicker in my hand and am standing a few feet from a chair. Cookies and clicker  in hand and me standing still are Scoop’s prompt for “game on let’s shape something”. He immediately offered to step towards the chair, I said break and when he turned to me I clicked and he got his cookie when he got to me. I was able to shape him going all the way to the chair one step at a time, and lying his head on the seat, in one short session. The skill of going to the chair was not difficult, but I really was surprised that rewarding him for break given at the same time that I would have clicked while shaping the behavior, would work that easy. Yeah, I saw it on the video, but till you do it yourself, it does not count:) The next day I tried using his name, another behavior which was taught with reward in a positive fashion, and I was able to quickly shape him to go to a wooden tub and put his head inside it. Again, it took just one session of a few minutes. I used his name at the same point that I would have clicked and it worked the same way. After I said his name as the replacement click, he came to me and I said yes and gave him a treat.  

In the video they show a dog’s reponse to shaping behaviors using approximately the same methods as I described in my extremely shortened version, but at the same time they also showed how the dog  responded to shaping behaviors with a recall cue which was taught with some coercion.  The dog  was recalled to the handler and if the response was not perfect, it was gently forced to come to the handler by pulling on it’s harness until the dog reached the handlers front, then the dog still received a click and treat after the punishment. This essentially “poisoned” that recall cue (turning it into a command). A totally different word was used for the cue for this forced recall to make it different from the positively trained recall cue, and make it obvious during the test when the command was used for shaping as opposed to the positively trained recall.  Using the same methods described above using the cue to reinforce another behavior, they tried the same shaping experiment using the “poisoned cue behavior”. (no coercion was used while they shaped the new behavior) The results were obvious. Stress, some displacement behaviors while working, slow performance and an unhappy attitude were all easy to see in the dogs performance in the video.   The dog did learn the skill through shaping using the negatively reinforced cue, but the difference in the performance of the  behaviors was very evident.

I will definitely watch this video again, and I suspect I have not condensed and described it well enough to have you think you now know all there is to know about poisoned cues.  The hostess on the video is Alexandra Kurland, and her commentary about horses while unnecessary for us dog trainers, does not interfere in any way with the interesting lecture and information that Dr. Rosales-Ruiz is sharing.  You can find the video for sale on Kurland’s website,

So you know this is not all I thought about or did today, here are some of the photos from our adventures on the ranch today. Every winter if we get enough rain (we did!) we get a big pond at the bottom of our property. The dogs love to play in the water. It is great exercise when they run through the 18 inch deep pond, I wish it would stay all year long.  My photos aren’t as great at Marcy Mantell’s that I usually share with you, but they are the best I could do.

I hope it isn’t raining or snowing  where you live but if it is, do some reading or watch the great Ruiz dvd to learn more about  animal training. 


 let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!
 the pond
cute Scoop!
Panic in the front, then Ace and Scoop all stacked up
Having a run



Jim pruning

Rammy and the ewes watching it all

Time Flies


Time flies! Can’t believe it has been 6 weeks since I wrote about Scoop. I was away from home 30 out of the last 50 days. On a handful of those days Scoop was with me at agility trials. The big adventure was the trip to Europe and the World Championships for two weeks, which was immediately followed by a trip to Colorado for a week and then Portland  for three days. I am glad to be home, and have been enjoying every training moment with Scoop.


Luckily even though my blog has been suspended in time, Scoop’s training has not suffered the same fate. He looks and acts sort of grown up! He was 7 months old yesterday. He weighs 35 pounds and is over 20 inches tall. And really, really good news, no more tape and glue on his ears:)


Scoop seems quite mature now until I take him into a way too stimulating environment .  At home he is silly and playful, but will train attentively for a very long time. He has a lot of control… unless I am trying to demonstrate a specific agility move with someone else’s dog during a very serious dog agility lesson. Then he might be naughty enough to warrant being taken back to the house rather than get to hang with me in the field while I teach. At agility trials like one I went to today, as long as he is on his toy or I am actively reinforcing him with food for behaviors he is really great and attentive. His biggest distraction right now is greeting people. He wants to visit with everyone, and truthfully that also means jump on them. Short leashes, lots of rewards helps, but the issue is ongoing. I think I will ask for some help from friends tomorrow, to see if I can get in some reinforcements for sitting before he gets a chance to jump up to greet everyone.

We play and train as often as possible. That means we spend individual time together at minimum a few times a day when we are together. He hangs with me in my office when I am working indoors, and if I have a break that doesn’t include training him, he likes to cuddle on my lap. Well, sort of on my lap; those legs dangle off to the side cuz they are so long. I really like his willingness to settle down and cuddle. Mostly my dogs aren’t that fond of cuddling. Well Jack and Panic would sleep under the covers and crawl under my skin so to speak, but Wicked , Riot and Ace count the dog minutes on their toes, hoping I will let them off the couch, out of my arms, and onto their dog bed on the floor where they can act very non cuddly. Riot at 14 still wants to be right next to me all day, but cuddling is out of the question. She is too cool for that.


New stuff for Scoop

Scoop will drop his head flat to the ground and hold it there on the drop command. Since he also knows feet means to put your front feet in my hand, or up on a table or chair, I can now combine those two cues to make some fun tricks. Feet on the chair from the sit position, and then head down can be say your prayers. Feet in my hand, and head dropped low between his legs is sort of exaggerated praying while stretching. His body looks sort of weird on that one, so we don’t do it too much. He will also walk with me on his hind legs while his front feet are in my hand. That is another trick we do only once in a while since he is standing on his hind legs while doing it. I think the moral of the story is that anything that is much of an athletic feat is trained but practiced minimally while he is still all legs and growing like a weed.




Walk backwards.

Scoop now takes some steps backwards on cue. I use the command walk. I shaped it like this. I sat in a chair and waited for him to move one foot, then I clicked and gave him the treat. I watched his feet and waited for the movement again, then clicked. As soon as he started to understand that he was reinforced for taking a step backwards, I upped the ante and only clicked after he moved one foot and then the other, so I went from marking one step back, to marking two steps back. I decided to reinforce the beginning steps of walk by him returning to me for his reinforcement cookie. That way he was already reset to move away from me again. There are different ways to reinforce walking backwards and to pinpoint where the dog should move backwards to, like the dog walkign backwards and placing his rear feet on something like a rolled up carpet, towel, or a board. Sometimes I have used gates to help a dog walk backwards in a straight line, or I have trained while using a wall on one side to help in getting the dog straight while going back. At times I have reinforced all motion away from me and at the point of the last step I wanted to reinforce, I did not let the dog come forward, but moved quickly to the dog to hand him the treat. Anyway, this time I just decided to mark only straight steps back and reinforce from my hand with Scoop coming to me for the cookie. I counted steps before I clicked, continuing to build till I got up to 5 or 6 steps. At that point I switched to throwing my reinforcement toy or cookie to him. I had to be careful on delivering the reward to him or I got a head turn away from me when he caught the reward. Since I would really like him to go straight back and not curl or turn, I want to reward him while he is in straight line directly in front of me.

This is still a work in progress. Sometimes he sort of hops backwards on the first few steps. I want him to go quickly but take steps not jump backwards. I like to teach this behavior as it uses the dog’s rear end rather well and is a good athletic endeavor. I am not trying to strengthen his rear, or build muscle, I won’t do enough of it to do that yet. But as he grows older I will use it for strengthening, and it will probably be part of my warm up drill before I go into the ring.

I have lots more stuff to write about with Scoops’ training, and I hope I will have time to do it in a much more timely fashion rather than waiting 6 weeks to tell you how he’s doing. On my list: toy control games, recalls, using high value toys that put my dog over the top, and lots more.

I have three more days of agility coming up this weekend and Scoop will be with me . I hope my show report on Monday is that his greeting manners have made a remarkable improvement! I hope you have as great a weekend with your puppy as I am planning on having with mine.