what I know now and wish I knew then…

At 4- That my passion for dogs would turn into a career.

At 18- How I wish I had taken a path to an advanced degree in animal behavior, I would surely love to have that piece of paper now!

In my 20’s- To train every behavior long before you ever need to use it. It took me some time to discover that you don’t train door/gate behaviors when you want to go out the door with four dogs crowding you to go for a walk. That you don’t train stays when it is imperative that your dog do so. That you don’t teach recalls when you really need your dog to come to save his life. You don’t wait to train your dog to tolerate physical exams while you are at the vet during an emergency. Train it BEFORE you need it.

30’s- That training with compulsion will take you three times as long as training with rewards.

  • First you lose the time you took while trying to force your animal to do something
  • Next you lose the time it takes to rebuild your relationship and reestablish the trust you destroyed
  • And now it still takes the time to teach the behavior the right way using reinforcement, right after you extinguish all the bad behavior and start back at zero


  • That teaching my students to play with their dogs would be way more important than teaching them to weave
  • The importance of goal setting and record keeping. I wish I had a better paper trail of where I have been and what I have done to teach skills to my dogs and what I was thinking at any given day, month or year in my career. I’d have started keeping better training logs and diaries.
  • Don’t bother to teach the dog what you don’t want him to do, just teach him what you DO want him to do. It takes twice as long to teach while moving in two directions at the same time.
  • I wish I had been able to look into the future and see where one short trip to Europe with Scud in 1996 on the AKC World Team would change my entire life!

Mid forties- I would have jumped on the first plane to Arkansas to train with Bob Bailey, instead of waiting 10 years

Late forties- That foundation and groundwork is the most important part of agility training, obstacles are easy.


  • That standing still would be one of the most important lessons I would take away from my first week of training with Bob Bailey.
  • That Chicken Camp and Bob Bailey would be the most valuable of ALL my animal training lessons!
  • That training is a mechanical skill. (Bob Bailey)

Mid 50’s- That any dog can learn to retrieve if you understand how to use a clicker and some cookies.

Late Late fifties- How important massage is to my dogs’ and my own health

Last year – That my youngster Scoop would seem to be recovered from all his health issues and look as good as he did in training today.

Two months ago- That a sure fire way to insure that he stays sound would be to get a new puppy that I really was not quite ready for!

Last month- That focusing a little too much on food training and tricks can set back your game of tug with your puppy.

A puppy?

Last week-That even though I didn’t give her 100% of my heart for the first month for a variety of reasons, that it would be inevitable if I brought a puppy into my life that she would be mine and I would not be able to give her back.

Yesterday- That I might as well introduce her to everyone since she’s here to stay!

Meet Pie.

Photos of Pie by Lali Miramon

This post was inspired by blog action day on the subject of “If I knew then what I know now”.


I hope your career with your dog mostly has you looking forward not back, but sometimes it is fun to dream……



one thing leads to another

It started with 5 border collies and a potential short walk round the field. How it ended was not how it was planned. It took lots longer than planned to get to the field because everyone has to wait for a release through all the gates, and we had a couple anxious dogs who did not want to wait for releases, so we trained gate behavior for a while. Finally into the field, and as long as we were there anyway, why not  head down to the pond.

An hour later, 5 tired wet and muddy dogs needed to get dried off. Why not put them in the dog tub first, and get the mud off their legs, and as long as they were there, might as well, give em a full bath, and while they were getting dried on the grooming table why not do their nails. It is now time to feed dinner, so we might as well stay in the dog room and feed, then clean all the bowls, and fill up the weeks’ pill container for Panic and Riot’s pills and of course noticing we were low on a prescription it was into the office and call for a script refill.

This mornings training with Scoop felt the same way. How about a few minutes of target training in 2o2o on the little contact training box thingy in the living room. We started with nose touches to a target while he was in 2o2o on the box. Lots of cookie rewards and then a game of tug in between nose touches. Then on to nose touches with a release and toy throw, then a little bit of sloppiness on the target before  the release to the toy and we are back to multiple nose touching for cookies in place on the box. I tried some tugging in 2o2o position as a reward for the touch and his back feet came off the box. A short session of reinforcing keep your back feet on the board while we tug, and then we went back to try to put it together.

All systems go til Scoop wouldn’t drop the tug  toy on cue when I asked, so we had a session of tug/leave/click/treat/tug/leave/click/tug etc. If Scoop doesn’t relinquish the toy happily and quickly, using it as a reinforcer for the targeting isn’t going to be fun for either of us. Invariably training sessions go where they need to go. I have a starting plan, know what I am going to reinforce and how, but where the training leads me at times is not necessarily where I saw it going when we started. That’s ok. I don’t mind filling in the blanks, and taking a detour when something needs to be reinforced. At the end of  training this morning my disc targeting behaviors were improved. So was Scoop’s understanding that he can keep his back feet on the board and still be able to tug, and the toy release got some needed reinforcement. I usually do that a few times a week anyway, I just didn’t plan on doing it this morning.

Now we had a fun training session that ended with Scoop asking for more and we can head to the field for a walk, and some gate training, or maybe to the swimming pool and maybe a quick brushing….

Thinking of swimming…. 55 degree water???

just a quick dip……


Following Orders

Scoop is 18 weeks old today. It sounds much better to have an 18 week old puppy that is almost 18 inches tall and weighs 23 pounds than a mere 4 ¼ month old with that height and weight! Is he going to be a pony or a dog? I am hoping for a regular sized dog of course and continue to negotiate with the universe about how tall he will be. The negotiations are pretty one sided, like, I am pleading for him to not go over 21 inches. Since his estimated full height may be beyond that, given where we are today, I now have my sights set on him staying below 22. He seems a physically balanced puppy, I am thankful for that! My first border collie Scud was 23 inches tall and 50 pounds. He had no problem getting round the courses rather successfully, so if I have another big one and he ends up as nice as my first, I will be happy. Scoops sisters and brothers are also about the same height and the littermates that were smaller last month have caught up now.

Following Orders

I have been thinking a lot lately about the order in which I am teaching skills to Scoop. I don’t want one behavior to interfere with the ease in teaching another one.  I had thought about working on his walk backwards this week. But since I am just in the process of putting a cue to his right turn, and then I need to proof it with the left turn as well as other cues, I decided to put it on the back burner. If I start shaping walk back before I finish the right turn I am sure I will have some cross over from him taking a step towards the right or a step backwards.

One of the prompts for him to start to turn to the right is me standing in front of him, clicker in hand. Since it is the only behavior I am actively shaping and there is no equipment or other position involved, it is helpful that if I look like I am in training mode, staring at him without moving, that he is expecting that we are working on the right turn.  Where we are at with the right turn:  I have added the verbal cue right, just as he begins the move. The next step is adding the cue word earlier and earlier until I am saying it before he is thinking about moving.  I hope today I can take that behavior on the road, and trust that I have it on cue, meaning he will only turn to the right after hearing the word right. Any other time he offers to turn right I will ignore it and he will only get reinforcement for doing the skill after I have asked for it. It took me a bit longer to shape the turn to the right then it took for me to shape the left turn. I am uncertain if that was because the turn to the left took precedence and because I taught it first, or if he just turns more easily in the left direction. I had no problem with him starting the right turn, I don’t think he ever offered to do a left turn when I was shaping right. Anyway, it just seemed to take longer to get him to move lightly and quickly to the right and get to a point that I could name the skill and finish it up. I wrote some weeks ago that I use the cue back for the right turn with my other dogs. Because I chose the release word break for Scoop, I decided that I would use the word right for him, as break/back are too similar.

 The order I have taught (or am teaching) some of his skills.

  • Release taught before positions (sit down stand)
  • Tugging before crate games are played
  • Recall before retrieve so that I could call him in to me after the pickup
  • Line up swing into position before heelwork so that he understands a position relative to my body
  • 2 on 2 off competence before targeting
  • Disc target before hand target

I have decided not to teach hand targeting until I have great disc targeting. I like hand targeting, I use it with my dogs on their stays to get them to jump up and touch my hand and then drop into position where they will stay. And it is an easy skill to add between exercises to reset the dog for something else.  I think I can get the same drive and reliability to a disc without doing a hand target which can complicate getting the disc target out of my hand. I am not going to really start the disc for a while, so in the meantime no nose targets at all for Scoop.

I won’t teach any tricks yet that involve him waving a front paw or cueing off a hand signal from me until I feel confident in his stays.  I am often holding treats in my “handbowl” (handful of cookies from which I remove one reinforcement treat at a time) very close to him while he is in a position or in his cage. Teaching him to move a foot before I have good sit stays might be counter productive. In each behavior I teach I try to consider if how I am teaching it, or any cue I might give, would interfere with something else he is learning. He is just 4 months old, I have plenty of time to teach any trick or skill I need for agility in due time.

I am headed off to Amsterdam tomorrow, and will compete next week in the European Open.  I hope my puppy won’t go feral while I am gone!  I know Jim will have a great time playing with him this week. Hope you are enjoying training your pup as much as I enjoy training mine!