Saturday, May 9, 2015

Strafe vs. Revolution in 2015 AKC ITT Event

Side-by-side video compare two all-out runs 
by Roseanne DeMascio and Tori Self

Two top competitors take on the final Round 4 course of this International Team Tryouts (ITT) event for AKC. 

This video by 4 Legged Flix show the runs side-by-side and then in slow motion for detailed evaluation. 

DeMascio uses some strategic blind crosses to get and keep the edge through most of the course but dropped bar after a too-close-for-comfort Japanese turn gives the run to a fractions-of-a-second slower Rev in the backstretch closing sequences of the round. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Myth of the Magical Rescue Dog

Shaun earning his first ribbons at an agility trial

Dogs with Serious Emotional Trauma Need Critical Care. So Why Do Some Dog Trainers Insist on Training them "Just Like Other Dogs"?

A popular dog training blog recently posted a rant about how the owners of rescue dogs were guilty of "coddling" them and how they should be treated "just like other dogs". 

That somehow, the deficits of non-existent socialization, reactive behavior, traumatic experience and lack of relationship knowledge somehow magically disappear.

Sometimes a "rescue" is more like a re-homed situation. And oftentimes, the dog doesn't have serious or unusual issues. 

But in those cases were serious problems do exist, I feel that criticizing owners for being to over-protective or worried is a convenient way for dog trainers to side-step the sometimes often complex and time-consuming issues of treating a dog with serious issues. 

Instead of helping the owner with the critical care the dogs badly needs, the new family often walks away with a band aid.

If the dog doesn't fit in the box of "normal dog training" -- training often developed to support the training needs of competition obedience dogs -- the new owners too often walk away with serious behavioral and socialization needs sorely unaddressed. 

Shaun in his peaceful older years

The story of Shaun

Our 17-year-old Toy Fox Terrier came to us at 2 years old after surviving being a pit bait dog. He had been starved, burnt with cigarettes and bitten. His life was probably not great before that point either. He was classed as vicious by the shelter when we adopted him.

But because my current dog at the time was dying of a brain tumor, I wanted to rescue something. So I rescued Shaun. Shaun had many severe problems. I won't list them for you, but if you can imagine it, he probably had it.

I got into dog training because of Shaun. I knew he was more than I knew how to handle alone. He did get better. He did go on to lead a somewhat normal life. He did earn his CD, Open agility titles and earned some of the first Toy Fox rally titles. He ended his career discovering something he really loved, APDT rally, where he retired with a High in Trial.

I can tell you about the things we managed (with difficulty) to accomplish. But Shaun was never a normal dog. 

He had nightmares, at night and in his sudden reactions to triggers of his formal life. His brain, I think, had been damaged by the experience of being attacked. Possibly from being shaken. He was an extremely athletic dog and an escape artist of the highest degree and we figured that's how he survived.

Shaun learned to enjoy life,
but still, the past haunted him

There are dogs that have gone through genuinely horrific experiences. Who never knew a trustworthy human relationship. Who have real physical and mental damage from their abuse.

My life and Shaun's were made harder by those who insisted that now that he was rescued that the past should disappear and he should be magically the same as a dog who was bred well and raised in a loving environment. 

It really was really because I found trainers who had worked with seriously damaged rescues that we were able to work within the reality of his true situation. But, honestly, he always struggled and was always the ghost of the dog he could have been.

The blessing was that at the end of his life, canine dementia stole away the bad memories. He lived in the moment and for those last two years he was feeble, but blissful. For the first time in his life. That was pain I did not train away. It was pain he finally lived away. He died in his adopted daddy's arms with a smile on his face.

Dedicated with love to Shaun 

Serious needs need to be appropriately addressed, not just wished away

I just don't want other people who have severely traumatized dogs to struggle, not getting the help they need, by people who have never had a dog with serious issues, and who insist they should just treat their dog like any other dog who has not had severely traumatic experiences. 

This is not fair to the person, who is probably trying very hard to treat things they don't understand. It's not sufficient for a dog who needs, in the training and emotional sense, critical care and not a bandage.

Here are some things that can help

If you have rescued a dog from traumatic circumstances, here are some things that I did for Shaun. I hope they will help you.
  • Look for a trainer with rescue experience -- Look for a person who has worked with all kinds of dogs from all kinds of backgrounds. A person with lots of titles might have dog training skill, but their experience might only be with dogs selected from birth from high end performance lines and raised in enriched environments. What's important to their agenda in dog training might not mesh with the urgent needs your dog presents.
  • Interview your potential dog trainer -- Ask specifically what successes they have had in rehabilitating dogs. Ask also about their failures. Someone who has participated in a deep way with the realities of rescues will be honest about both.
  • Look for a behavioral focus -- Ask your trainer what solutions they have for helping to socialize your dog, build the relationships and create plans to address specific behavioral issues. If the training program seems more directed toward skills needed to earn titles in dog shows, they might not meet the needs you have now. It's not that this type of training is a negative, and you might decide to pursue these skills some day. It's just that you first need someone who can help you triage your situation, prioritize the issues, and help you develop the skills to address and manage them.
  • Listen -- A good trainer will often tell you things you don't want to hear. Keep listening. Try it, even if it sounds like the funniest and most unlikeliest thing you've ever heard of. Dogs don't think the same as we do. And often, things that don't make sense to us, makes sense to them. Keep an open mind and give the strategy a chance.
  • Know when to look further  -- If your dog trainer seems to not have the flexibility or tools to address unusual or difficult issues, don't hesitate to break off the training relationship and find a more experienced or suitable trainer.
  • Try HARD -- Training and rehabilitating a dog with serious socialization, reactivity or other needs is serious business. You will need a plan. You will need to commit to doing the work. And you will need to work at it every day, most likely for the life of your dog.
  • Know your dog -- Even if you haven't known your dog long, you most likely understand more about him than you know. Trust your instincts. Trust the responses you see in your dog. If you come across advice you absolutely feel is wrong for you or your dog, you do have choices. You can ask for alternative approaches, or if the gap is large or serious, you can choose to find a trainer or system that better fits your need or lifestyle.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Equipment for a Starter Canine Fitness Gym for a Toy Dog

Samurai doing a sample workout in his Papillon gym

A friend asked me for suggestions for purchasing starter workout equipment for her dogs. Here is my response. It includes links to the equipment discussed and the reasons I like it.

Here's the text of the letter:

As promised, here are some suggestions for building a starter canine fitness "gym". For all of the inflated equipment, start out with item not completely inflated. Inflate more to make balance harder, deflate to make it easier). 

If you want to choose one item to start with, I think at this point, I would choose a K9 Fitbone. Second, 2 balance discs. Third, the PawPods. Fourth, the Get on the Ball Video. Five, the stretching video. There is a lot of stuff here you can make or have someone make for you a lot cheaper than buying. 

It's fun to have a selection of things so you can be less repetitious and let the dogs "play" on the obstacles, similar to the way Taylor was in his little video. I have to be very careful not to overdo with him. This would be awesome for the puppies! 

Supporting strength, balance and proprioception in an older Papillon

Except for cardio, they only need a few minutes, 2-3 times a week with this. The movements and weight shifts don't have to be dramatic. With Samurai, I'm really making the movements a lot more subtle to get him to shift weight to his weaker knee without having him start to compensate (by moving his leg out or roaching his back). 

Try to keep a flat back and good posture through all of the exercises. Fewer correct exercises is better than more out of position. Watch for shaking or compensating. This means the dog is tired. Keep it the workout short and sweet and quit while they're still having fun.

  • 1 or 2 small balance discs (these are really versatile)
  • 40 cm peanut (peanut should be longer than the dog standing square. Dog should not stand hunched up on the peanut. This size should work for most Papillons. If you have a larger dog, purchase for the size of the biggest dog). The eggs are harder than peanuts. Don't use a yoga ball. The dog can't stand square on it.
  • K9 Fitbone - 1 should be good for a Papillon. 2 for larger breeds. These are relatively new, but really nice. Especially since the dog can easily board on its own, which is harder than with the peanut. It's also more stable and if they lose their balance or an oops happens, the fall won't be as scary.
  • FitPaw Pods - These took Samurai a little bit to master, but Taylor loves them. They're great for teaching balance and some people use them to teach stacking. In our class, one point we learned is how difficult it is for an animal or person to stand still. Having the dog stand in balance on the pods or doing weight shifts is a really great exercise. You can also substitute tuna cans. You can also use human versions of these found in sporting goods stores.
  • Cavaletti - I'm sending a link to the product, which I purchased, but frankly, as is, they're difficult to work with for a dog of Papillon height. Basically, the dog is trotted over with one paw falling into each opening between the cavaletti. You space them the length between the withers and point of the hip. Basic height is below hock height. So...for Papillons, really low. So, the heights on these cavaletti are too high! So I end up taping bars to a yoga mat. Some people get little baskets at the dollar store that you can pop the bars into. Or custom make bar holders to height. Send over at a trot. Great for conformation to develop balanced muscling. Start with 6 cavelletti and work up to 12. Once the dog can do the trotting at the initial distance you can extend the width between the bars sometimes to work on an extended trot.
  • Wobble boards - You can make these a LOT cheaper. Great for puppies to play on to get them ready for working on the teeter.
  • Rocker board - You can also make these a lot cheaper. Just wrap a board with yoga mat material. These are great for doing incline work and teaching lateral leg raises (important for strengthening the medial hip flexors).


Get on the Ball - This is what I started with. I'm studying with the presenter right now. The moves here can be done on any of the equipment above (except cavaletti)
The Healthy Way to Stretch Your Dog - This is a wonderful video. It's really a good balance for the strength building exercises.


Should also include walking, trotting, hiking, swimming several times a week.
Cavalletti counts as cardio
DogTread - These are becoming popular and people are combining them with the balance obstacles above for advanced workouts. You can use a human treadmill for a dog the size of a Papillon but for larger dogs, the length of the bed won't be long enough for them to trot extended.

Hope this helps! Have fun with your dogs. :-)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

11 Promises to a New Puppy (Whom I Haven't Met Yet)

Samurai, when he was just a pup

Before you were even born, I made promises.

A promise that we would be a good match for each other.
I want you to be happy in the world we will create together.

A promise to let you be a puppy as long as you need to be.
I want you to enjoy those blissful months of puppyhood.
I want you to wander and explore,
your eyes filled with wonder.

A promise that I will keep you safe
but give you room to grow.
This will be hard. Sometimes I'll question myself.
And you will test your limits.
 But together, we'll move forward
on an important journey toward trust.

A promise to make careful choices about nutrition.
Caring for Samurai and our old Shaunie
taught me lessons about how important it will be 
to feed you well.
I will continue to study 
and try my best to make good choices
that will help you grow strong,
run healthy
and live long.

A promise to make good choices for your training.
Kid, I'm not perfect.
You'll find that out.
Probably, you'll laugh 
and have me scratching my head
at your endless mysteries and jokes.
But I will try.

A promise to seek out the best advice I can on your behalf.
I will think. Then plan. Then do.
I've been around the block long enough
to take a pass on some of the myths
that make sense to people
but not to dogs.
I'll try hard to find paths
that bring us joy
as well as lead us to our success.

A promise to keep you fit for the efforts I ask of you.
You can only perform well what you are physically able to do.
I will try to understand you
and find ways to help you be strong.

I promise not to push you beyond
what you can happily do.
What I will adore more than any ribbon, win or title
will be your smile.
What I will not tolerate
or permit for myself
is losing that happiness.

A promise of medical care when you need it.
A soft, warm bed for you to sleep in.
A family that will love you.
Arms that will always be open to you.

A promise that when the time comes, I will let you go.
It will break my heart almost more than I will be able to bear.
But you will be too good of a dog
for me to let you suffer.

Know this:
When you are gone, 
you will live in my heart forever
just as you are with me now,
perhaps before you were born 
and before we have even met.

Above all, always and forever,

I promise to treasure you
as the matchless treasure you are.

Adieu, my little one.
Until we meet,
I love you.

This blog is part of a Dog Agility Blog Action Day (DABAD) on performance dog health and happiness.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Do Papillons and Small Dogs Need Jumping Skills?

More than keeping bars up: Jumping skills help 
little dogs run with speed, accuracy and confidence.

The answer is yes! Jumping skills are more than not knocking bars. They are the foundation skills you need to guide your dog swiftly, safely and efficiently around the agility course. And while small dogs don't seem to knock bars as often, they often still HIT bars without taking them down. And that isn't good for your dog.

Have a young agility dog you'd like to get started off right? Want to move your handling from good to great?

Register for Mastering Jumping Skills: Foundation Flatwork. It's available now in Daisy Peel's Online Classroom. Sign up here:

This class is first in a series that will take you from a great start to running with mastery and confidence. And it all starts with FLATWORK.

I know Daisy and have taken her classes. She presents a first class learning experience for all sizes of dogs. This time, she's teaming up with agility icon, Linda Mecklenburg and world medalist Jenn Crank.

They will be teaching you a new approach that advances the methods introduced in Linda's books, Developing Jumping Skills and Developing Handling Skills. You'll not only have the skills to run today's tough courses. You'll have fun!  (Remember fun? :-)

Registrations are open now and classes start very soon.

On your mark. Get set. ZOOM!

I'm signed up with an auditing spot to pick up skills and additional motivation for Samurai (and yes, flatwork can be VERY motivating). I love flatwork because it lets my little guys experience the joy of running full out -- and work on skills -- without those pesky bars!

Even my little retired 4" guy, Taylor, will be able to have a little fun. Because, hey, no jumping!

Every dog should revisit flatwork once in awhile. And, it can get a youngster started like a speedy pro, right from the start. Take a look. Be one of the first to get the advantage of this innovative new approach. 

See you in class!

Monday, November 17, 2014

MACH Samurai

MACH Wingssong The Seventh Samurai MXB MJS OF T2B
Oct. 25, 2014

 Samurai earned the 20th QQ for his MACH at this trial. We celebrated at the trial with a cake decorated with the Japanese kanji character meaning, “Samurai”. The “i” in Samurai was dotted in red symbolizing the red sun symbol of Japan.

Samurai was named in honor of my Japanese aunt, Chieko, who passed away shortly before we adopted Samurai. His registered name was taken from the classic Japanese movie, “Seven Samurai”.

Samurai, who was a troubled, reactive puppy, was named after the movie’s character,  Kikuchiyo.

Kikuchiyo, the seventh samurai, was a brash, silly farmer. He only pretended to be a samurai, but in the end, he became a hero. We gave Samurai this name in hopes that he would someday find his way from being a crazy puppy to being a good dog.

It was a very long journey. Samurai’s reactivity made it difficult for him to go to classes. I trained him mostly alone and then added classes as a distraction. From the beginning, I didn’t dare hope that he would ever be able to go into the ring. Later, my highest goal for him was an Open agility title. Even earlier this year, I thought he might not ever have enough focus to have consistent weave poles.

Then, we nearly lost him summer before last due to chronic digestive problems that made it a constant battle to keep weight on his skinny frame. After being diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Disorder, we changed him to a raw diet supported by Chinese herbs. Samurai gained weight and became stronger. His tummy no longer hurt as much, so his attitude improved, too.

We are very proud of our brave little Samurai and look forward to many adventures to come.