Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Entry Fees... where do they go?

So this is not my usual type of topic for this blog but having read recent posts on lists from people complaining about entry fees and having recently experienced a fiasco with parking fees... I feel I have something to say on this topic.

I look at entry fees for various trials around our area and in the midwest (when I travel to trials at other places). If I know who is putting on the trial I will ask them about their expenses because I'm always curious about that. I'm always "shopping" for places to have trials and for ways to keep the trial costs down so I don't have to pass it along to competitors. My goal for ACTS trials is to break-even. As a business and not a non-profit or not-for-profit club I have higher overhead than they do when putting on trials at some venues. While the facility rental fees we pay here in the Twin Cities are some of the highest in the country we still have some of the lowest entry fees in the country. Certainly some of the lowest entry fees for a large metropolitan area. How long that may last is hard to say because the rental fees and expenses are continuing to increase.

This past March trial we learned that the parking police at the U of M had recently stepped up their enforcement and I was really worried that they would ticket our competitors and cost everyone a $20-25 ticket. That would have been horrible. We had been avoiding paying for parking because no one had been checking. Well at the last minute I had to buy a "lot pass" for 50 cars at $6 per car per day from the U. I thought long and hard about how to handle this unexpected additional cost. I decided to pass it along to exhibitors at a discount of $5 per car. It turned out that on Saturday the parking enforcement counted cars and found 73 there and so they charged me for the additional 23 cars at $6 each - but better that than ticketing everyone. I did not quite collect enough money in parking fees to cover this cost. Smaller trials like the ASCA ones may get by with paying for fewer cars on a lot pass and they pay significantly less in rent than I do so they also may be able to "eat" the cost of the parking passes more than I can.

One thing I've learned is that the rental fees Agile Canines pays to Leatherdale and SoccerBlast are among the highest in the country. Agile Canines is a business, not a non-for-profit, so I have to pay more for weekend rental at Leatherdale than the ASCA or MAC do. This is a rule of the U of M to charge less for the clubs. Simons Arena and the Isanti barn are also higher in rent than other places around the country. These facilities do not provide equipment rental either. At Leatherdale I have to pay $500 a day compared to $300 that the clubs pay plus $6 per car for parking. For an average ACTS trial that is 75 cars (an additional $450 per day). SoccerBlast charges all groups the same - $1200 per day and parking is included. When I research other areas and the rent they pay it is often less than than $800 per day and often this fee will include equipment rental.

The other factor that goes into entry fees is the cost of ribbons. For CPE trials where we use 500 qualifying ribbons per trial that is a large additional expense.

When you look at your entry fee and where the money goes keep the following in mind:

Judges are paid $1.00 per run (some AKC judges are paid more than this) as long as the dog is listed in the catalog/running order regardless if they run or not.
Clubs pay on average $1.00 per run to the parent organization for recording fees (AKC and USDAA have higher rates and different fee scales)
Ribbons for double flats you can figure that the Q ribbon is around $.70 to $1.00 and the placements may be less. Rosettes run around $3.00 each.
Toys per dog are about $2.00 each.
For an ACTS Leatherdale trial that has 400 runs a day you can figure that $1.25 of your entry fee goes toward rent (not including parking)
Then there are the judge's expenses - airfare, hotel, meals and judging gift. This varies a great deal but very often airfare can be as high as $500 especially for judges living near smaller airports. Often judges can't fly out until Monday morning so there are three nights of a hotel stay. So you can figure that at least $1.00 per run goes toward judge's expenses.

Look at the break down of where an $11 entry goes:

$11 per run
- $1.00 judge fee
- $1.00 org recording fee
- $1.00 ribbon cost
- $.25 toy cost
- $1.25 rental fee (indoor venues or outdoor venues with porta-potty rentals)
- $1.00 judge expenses
- $1.00 for miscellaneous expenses such as sanctioning fees, trial secy' expenses for paper, ink, software updates, general office supplies for the trial, gas and truck rental.
- $.50 per run for worker lunch (when it is not a potluck - $.25 per run when it is a potluck)

Then when you consider that 25% of all entry fees for an ACTS trial come in the form of worker vouchers... that amounts to a further discount of $2.75 in cash per run.
- That leaves a $1.25 per run in cash to cover additional costs that may arise - like parking fees at Leatherdale, new title pins and other special awards, costs for equipment maintenance and purchase of new equipment. This is why I felt it was necessary to pass along the cost of parking at a discount to competitors otherwise I would have lost money on the trial.

So before you complain about entry fees increasing you need to look at how much it costs to put on a trial. There is not much money (and sometimes no money) being made at the ACTS trials so I really do it because I enjoy doing it and I feel I am supporting the various parent organizations by doing so.

For 2010 there have been rental fee increases announced by some of the places we use for trials as well as other expenses increasing. Do not be surprised if entry fees start to increase later this year and into 2010. You may also see groups cutting back on things in order to help cut costs.

Other expenses that many clubs incur - paying trial secretaries (can be thousands of dollars per trial), renting equipment and higher recording fees to their parent organization.

In addition with the changes and improvements made in equipment requirements for the different agility organizations it is expensive for agility groups to keep up with these when putting on trials. Many clubs in the area are updating their equipment and adding rubber granules to their contacts and looking at purchasing displaceable tires and other things.

Often clubs have to set their entry fees before they even know how much all of the expenses will be for a trial and they have to guestimate what to charge based on previous events.

Agile Canines

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Course analysis - Challenger and Finals Rounds

Here is the link to the Challengers course:


This was a technical course where handlers had to push to be fast and clean. Winning this class was necessary for a spot in the finals for those who did not make the original cut for finals. Up to 12 dogs in each jump height are eligible for this class, which is open to the top 4 dogs of each jump height from rounds 1 through 3, that have not already gaiined placement into the finals based on three rounds of cumulative scores, provided they scored 100 in that round. Two clean rounds are required to be in the Challenger's class.

So the pressure was on for this class. The opening with the 1-2-3 serpentine into the weaves went well for most handlers. Lead-outs proved a distinct advantage for this sequence. A few dogs knocked bars here or missed weave entries but most did fine. Then on to the panel and wrap to the aframe. Having fast aframe contacts made a huge difference in saving precious hundredths of seconds. Once again the teeter proved problematic for the smaller dogs with many of them bailing off of it. All of the teeters were provided by J&J and in my opinion these are very heavy teeters for small dogs. All weekend long the teeter was a problem for many experienced small dogs.

Most handlers of all size dogs did front crosses between 9 and 10 and 11 to 12. The well timed crosses had the tightest turns and again made a difference in this close fast competition. Some handlers were in a hurry to get the front cross in between 11 and 12 that they didn't support 10 well and got run-bys on 10. The wrap to the tire and tunnel entrance were not a problem for most dogs. There were a couple of dogs who got hung up in the tire. Then the ending produced two different handling strategies. The majority of the handlers did a front cross on the landing side of 16 and then ran with their dogs on the right to the finish. Several handlers kept their dogs on their left for 15-16-17 and rear crossed on the take-off side of 18.

The crowd started cheering while dogs were on the dogwalk which got dogs running faster and there were many missed dogwalk contacts on that finish. Most handlers are pushing and the dogs are running fast. A handful of handlers celebrated a little too early and the last bar came down.

It was really fun to watch handlers really running all out and going for broke.

The finals run was a very technical course with a few spots where handlers could push for speed. The opening sequence of 1-2-3-4 was challenging. A lead out was definitely needed but many dogs were pretty amped and pushing the start line stays a lot. I was seated with a perfect view of this part of the course and could see many dogs looking past the first jump to the tunnel under the dogwalk. But all the dogs took the correct jump but I think many worried their handlers. Handlers had to work the chute exit because it was hard for the dogs to see the jump coming out of the chute and if the dogs came out too much toward the handler they could incur a refusal on #4 jump. Then handlers sprinted from #4 to the #7 tunnel. Handlers wanted to hustle to get to the exit of the tunnel because it was very challenging section of the course.

The 8-9-10 proved to be the most difficult part of the entire course. Many, many small dogs took the off course tunnel instead of the dogwalk. The number of dogs taking the off course tunnel decreased as the jump heights increased but it was not a "gimmee" for anyone. Some handlers chose to keep their dogs on their right from the tunnel to #8 jump and rear crossed the take off side of 8 and then pulled their dogs to the dogwalk. Other handlers sprinted to the exit and did a front cross and sent the dogs over #8 off their left side. A small number of handlers did another front cross between 9 and 10 to try to push their dogs off their right sides on to the dogwalk. This worked for about half of the handlers who tried it. What I noticed was that handlers were not decelerating to get their dogs to collect and check-in for the dogwalk cue. Many handlers kept racing forward and relayed strictly on verbal cues and dogs blasted into the tunnel. Two dogs at the last second looked up and noticed their handler was almost to the end of the dogwalk and went up the walk when they looked committed to the tunnel. Handlers who did a full reverse flow pivot (RFP) often pushed their dogs into the tunnel when they came out of the rotation (main reason why I find this to be an ineffective technique for this kind of obstacle discrimination). Handlers who did a bit of a turn and hand cue had some success but they usually also stopped or hesitated long enough to get their dogs heads. Overall I was amazed at how this very common set-up caused so many problems for otherwise experienced dogs and handlers. I suspect many people will be going home and training this sequence.

The other part that caught some of the medium sized dog handlers and some 20" dog handlers was that the panel jump off the dogwalk was a bit of a push. Many run-bys occurred at this jump as handlers were racing to try to get crosses in by the aframe and to push for speed on this otherwise straightforward sequence. Some handlers did great front crosses between the tire and the aframe and others did them on the descent of the aframe. A few rear crossed the jump after the aframe. Almost every front crossed before the weave poles. A handful of dogs popped out of the last pole of the weaves as handlers started racing for the finish line.

The clean runs were very close in time for every jump height. But there were very few clean runs - it was a very challenging course when handlers are pushing for speed.

It was interesting that they had a judge assigned to just judge the down side of the dogwalk. It would have been a hard course for a judge to judge alone - not a great judging path because they would be in the handler's way and with fast dogs it would be hard to judge the downside of the dogwalk and then get over to the downside of the aframe without getting in the handler's way. I also suspect that with the increase in number of dogs doing running dogwalks it is getting harder and harder to judge the dogwalk and at a competition like this you want to be sure you are making a good call.

I also noticed, because I was seated up high, that most of the running dogwalk contacts work well for the 42" contact but would not work well in a 36" contact (USDAA). This is a problem that I've encountered and I know Stacy Peardot-Goudy and Dana Pike have experienced it as well. Having a consistent running contact under pressure is very difficult. Many handlers were releasing their 2on/2off early to save precious time and I could see many dogs were leaving the contacts higher and higher up as the weekend progressed. I believe there will be a lot of contact training going on in the next several weeks by folks who were at the nationals. This is why I really believe that nationals events are the place when releasing early can help you achieve some goals and can make a difference in time and makes the price to pay worthwhile. That price being some going back to contact foundation for several weeks/trials to pay for it. The stronger the initial foundation of 2on/2off the less the price will be. The longer you release early, the higher the price. Some dogs can evolve into modified running contacts with early releases but many others will get pushier and pushier about leaving the board earlier and earlier. Again which way a dog will go depends on the attitude of the dog, size of the dog, speed of the dog, degree of foundation training on contacts, degree of reinforcement in trial settings, amount of trialing and many other factors. The other thing is that having a running contact requires a handler to be present at the end of the contact to direct the dog which in the case of the finals most of the handlers were athletic enough to run every inch of the course with their dogs.

Watching competitions like this can be very inspiring and can be very educational in terms of watching handling styles and moves. I strongly recommend getting your hands on the videos of the finals because this was a very challenging course. Sometimes finals courses can be all about speed and not as technical. This one was technical and therefore very educational in terms of handling and training.


Jedi's big AKC adventure comes to an end

After a morning massage and morning icing Jedi is cleared to run today's hybrid course. The course is called "hybrid" because it is a combination of standard and JWW. It has an aframe, teeter, weaves and lots of jumps in it. The activities start a half an hour earlier today and Sarah Fix (who many of you know as a NADAC judge) came in at 5:30am to help course build the four courses that needed to be built. General walk throughs start at 6:30am. They groomed the dirt so it was softer again today.

We are running in the last group of 12" dogs so I'm happy to have plenty of time to walk Jedi around with breaks in between so he is going to be loosened up for the run. I use the warm-up jump fairly early with him to be sure he is jumping and turning well and he is.

We go to the start line and I set him up at an angle to the first jump so he can see jump #2. I lead out to between 1 and 2 and then move laterally away from 2 to get in front of the right side of jump 3 for a front cross. I push him into tunnel #4 that is under the aframe and sprint to the 5-6-7 serpentine. I race him to the landing side of 5 and do my front cross between 5 and 6 on the teeter side of the serpentine. Then we go off to the teeter, chute to the weaves and then tire to the aframe. I push him on the descent side of the aframe to send him out to the hard left turn to the triple. Then I front cross between the double and single jump and race to the finish. I find myself dangerously close to the wing of the last jump and realize how Terry Smorch ran into it on his run with Remy. It really came up in the handler path much more than I expected when walking the course.

As for course analysis.... knocked bars seemed to the biggest problem for 8, 12 and 16" dogs. Bars came down in the serpentine and/or in the double/triple sequence near the end of the course. The teeter was not well liked by most small dogs and there was an increase in fly-off calls in the small dog group. For the big dogs not only were knocked bars a problem but the tunnel under the aframe was a problem when handlers were trying to get the dogs from the aframe to the triple. Pushing too hard or late front crosses caused dogs to duck right into the tunnel instead of going to directly to the triple. Some dogs had a hard time with the weave entry coming out of the closed tunnel.

I am happy that Jedi and I were able to end on a very fun and clean run. There were quite a few dogs who were sore this weekend and I think the footing played a large part in it. If you want a good overview of how footing affects dogs you should read Susan Salo's article in this month's edition of Clean Run Magazine. Dogs do take time to adjust to footing for running and jumping and in the case of this footing it kept getting harder and more lumpy over time. Dogs who ran early in the morning had better footing than those who ran at the end of the day.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Saturday AKC Nationals

On Friday Jedi slipped in a tunnel on his standard run and came out running slowly. A massage yesterday found that he was very sore on his right side. We iced him and applied heat last night. This morning he warmed up well and stretched well. He was a short striding slightly. His attitude seemed great. It was standard this morning.

If you follow along with the course diagrams on the AKC site... The start of the course is pretty straightforward with a tire, aframe and right turn to a jump. Jedi starts out fine. He is on my left as we make the turn to the teeter and I cross in front of the end of the teeter. Then he is on my right going back through the tire to the triple to the weaves. He starts to bark and to pick up speed. I do a lateral send on 10, the panel jump, and a front cross on the landing side of 11. Jedi comes in nice and tight over 11.

This sequence proved to be interesting for many handlers. I believe all of the 26" handlers did the front cross on the take-off side of 11. The 12" and 16" handlers I watched were split about 50/50 on where they did the front cross. Almost all of the 20" handlers I saw did the front cross on the landing side of 11. Keep in mind that while all courses were technically the same it is impossible to set a course identically. In my opinion if you could not leave your dog in the weaves and get far enough ahead for doing the cross on the take-off side then you didn't get a tight turn. Linda M. did it beautifully but she could leave her dog in the weaves. Unfortunately I knew I couldn't leave Jedi in the weaves that much nor would it serve him well to do so and therefore I opted to do it on the landing side.

Jedi is on my left over 12-13 and 14 tunnel. I pull him into the correct tunnel opening and take off to the dogwalk. I'm thrilled that he ran into the same red tunnel that he had slipped in yesterday and so I take off. I find myself cheering him on a lot on this course.

The next part proved to be the first difficult part of the course for many handlers. The 13 jump to the close side of the tunnel for #14 and then up the dogwalk. There were two main ways to handle it - one was to front cross between 13 and 14 and push to the tunnel or hang back and pull the dog into the tunnel. Jedi pulls better than he pushes so I opted to pull him. There were quite a few off courses at this point of the course as well as some very close calls.

The last difficult part of the course was still ahead. I use lateral distance on the dogwalk and found myself almost forgetting to get moving and I start running toward the take off side of the #16 jump so I can front cross. I get the cross in and successfully pull Jedi into the chute and then I do an impromptu rear cross between the chute and final jump in order to pull him over the last jump. It was a clean run and his time is 38 seconds - in the middle of the pack of 12" dogs. Jedi is not fast enough to be in the top dogs at this calibre of competition.

After the dogwalk, was a right turn to a wingless jump with a wing jump nearby making it a tight handler path. Then it was # 17, an offset wingless jump, and a discrimination between the #18 chute and the weaves. The chute angled out and it was a right turn to the final jump. This sequence was especially difficult for the big dogs and there were lots of refusals and off courses in this section. Many handlers were caught behind at the chute and there were lots of spins before the last jump - some close enough to be called refusals and all costing valuable seconds of time.
Many of the big dog handlers did rear crosses at the jump before the chute and again at the chute to zig-zag through the finish. If you couldn't leave your dog on the dogwalk it was hard to get in a front cross on the jump after it. Others were caught behind their dogs on the dogwalk and then it was hard to squeeze between the wing jump and the wingless jump after the dogwalk. Some of the handlers caused the dogs to pull in because they were trying to get around the jump and this brought the weaves into play more.

For some reason in the 12" class there were a handful of dogs who hit the aframe hard or at an angle and lost time and probably incurred some sort of minor injury as a result. I'm not exactly sure how that happened or what caused it.

Jedi seemed to be fine after his run. It is now raining hard and steady outside but fortunately no thunder. Jedi has had a chance to rest for quite awhile before JWW. The JWW course definitely has a lot of turns in it and requires handling. I walk it with 6 front crosses planned. The footing which is moist clay is getting really packed down and very uneven in many spots. Handlers are tripping and some are falling. Many of us are really worried about staying on our feet for all of the crosses needed. I warm Jedi up well, gently massage him and stretch him. He is not showing any signs of soreness. We set-up for the JWW course and I plan a short lead out so he'll be fast off the start. I do a front cross between 2 and 3 and send him out on the pinwheel of 3-4-5. He runs around #5 barking at me. I already know we are not in the running for anything so I opt to not fix it and I'm puzzled as to why this happened. If he runs around any jump it would be 4 because I didn't support it. It was a hard push and I wanted to front cross on the landing side of 5. Many small dog handlers opted to front cross on the take off side of 5. I go on to 6-7-8 pinwheel and he runs around 6 and 7 and is barking at me. I'm really puzzled and we are told we should try to finish as much as possible so I keep running as if he is jumping. He does the weaves fine and then one jump and I continue crossing and trying to find my way off the course as he takes some of the jumps but not others and is barking at me like crazy. It was very out of character for him. I immediately suspected he was too sore to jump. Fortunately he was scheduled for a massage in about a half an hour.

Jedi was massaged and was in fact very sore again. We suspect he landed and turned over one of the jumps and it hurt and he was taking care of himself and not wanting to do any more turning and jumping. We are now doing more ice and heat tonight and he is scheduled for a massage and check first thing tomorrow morning. It is very possible he is done for the weekend.

As for the course analysis of the JWW class... Anne Braue handled it with all 5 front crosses that I had planned and in the location I had planned but unfortunately Scream took the last bar. The front crosses were between 2 and 3 (or the lead-out that Anne took care of that one), landing side of 5, landing side of 8, end of the weaves, landing side of 15 and between 17 and 18. Today's JWW course required the ability of the dog to weave into the pressure of the wall and the ability of the handler to front cross at the end of the poles which almost every handler I saw did.

It was really a course made for front crosses. Those that handled it with rear crosses often had wider turns or lost time. There was a very fast dog in the 8" class who had a very fast time but it would have been even faster if she had front crossed, I believe. Her dog slowed down every time she slowed down to do a rear cross. I saw this very often with any cross, either a poorly timed front cross or rear cross will slow a dog down too much. Again timing is everything and it is so important to practice, practice, practice these so you can learn to do them both smoothly. If you always do one and not the other then you won't improve your skills. At this level of competition the time is measured in thousandths of seconds. Poorly timed crosses can cost time.

The majority of participants here are happy to be able to play on challenging courses and to be a part of the experience of being able to watch some top handlers and friends run their dogs. What was also fun for me to watch was the number of handlers who were able to use distance skills on these courses. That is a real challenge because the courses are tight and obstacles are often in the handler path. There were some handlers who are physically not able to run every step of the course with their dogs so they have done a lot of distance training with their dogs. It was also interesting to have courses that encouraged independent obstacle performance - like being able to run ahead to the next obstacle while your dog is doing the weaves or the dogwalk. It really expanded your handling choices.

Now back to more ice and heat for Jedi, eating pizza in the hotel room and hoping the winter weather will hold off so we can fly home Monday night!


Friday, March 27, 2009

AKC Nationals Friday

Jedi would like to report that spending several hours in a Sherpa bag on Thursday was not much fun for him. We flew from MSP to Raleigh and then drove for over two hours to Concord NC to our hotel. We got in around 8:30 pm to the humid and rainy south. Jedi was the happiest to get out and stay out of that silly bag for awhile.

We got to the show site at 6:30am on Friday morning and checked-in and found out crating spot. Jedi has a little pup tent for events like this. Pam was the support staff and helped keep us organized when she wasn't visiting with all of her friends from "back east". Actually we both saw a lot of people we haven't seen in a long time today which was fun.

We walked the jumper course around 7:45 am and then we were about the 70th dog to run. The dirt is moist clay. It is spongy to walk on but it is very uneven. Handlers were (including me) more worried about turning an ankle or twisting a knee. The dogs with their smaller footprint handled it well.

The link below will take you to the courses from today. There are four rings going and each jump height runs the same course in a ring so the 12" dogs were in one ring and the 8" and 24" dogs were in another ring and the 20" and 16" dogs each had their own rings.


The jumpers course proved to have a very challenging threadle that was set very close together and was followed by a 180 sequence. Many dogs and handlers incurred refusals and/or off-courses in this section of the course. Most of the Minnesota 12" dogs ran the jumpers with weaves run cleanly.

I was able to watch some of the 24", 8", 16", 14" and 18" dogs run the course. The larger dogs had even more difficulty with the threadle section of the course.

If you look at the course on the link and follow along... I angled Jedi at the start so he could see jump #2 from jump #1. I was surprised at how many people did not do this and had wide turns from 1-2. I did a front cross between 3 and 4. Then I did a bit of a lateral send on 5 and ran on the section of 5-6-7. If you got stuck behind the double at 6 it made it awkward. A number of handlers did a front cross between 5 and 6 and then a rear cross on the take off side of 7. I found by taking off and being in motion on the line it helped to speed Jedi up. I think I would do the same thing with my big dogs if I were running them.

I did a front cross between 7 and 8 and while I saw a lot of people walking it with a front cross there I saw very few people do it. For me it made a very tight turn off of 7 and then I used deceleration to have a tight turn to the broad jump at 10. Then it was just running with him on my right and I got ahead of him on the weaves, pre-cued with my left arm to let him know before he took off for 13 that he was going to need to turn tightly and he did. He came in nicely for the threadle. I didn't make the front cross I had planned for 15-16 so I had to rear cross at 16. But it worked well and I was very pleased with the run.

We ran the standard course (minus a table) in the afternoon in a different ring. Two of the rings are located in the large arena with lots of seating. The other two rings have standing room only around them so it is hard to hang out there to watch. It is very crowded and there are walls around three sides.

I ran about 21st in the standard run which is fairly early in the running order. I lead out a bit between 1 and 2 and sent him in the tunnel. He took a long time to come out of the tunnel and I heard a scratching noise in there so I think he wiped out inside. He was running but very slowly for the jump, tire and aframe that followed. I handled that line with him on my left side. There were many 12" handlers who did that. I watched almost the entire 20" and 16" classes and did not see anyone in those jump heights handle it that way. They all did a front cross between 3 and 4 which in almost every case caused a really wide turn and then also made a wide turn from the tire to the aframe. I'm anxious to set this sequence up to see if I can handle my bigger dogs the same way I did Jedi - handle it like a serpentine.

After the aframe Jedi picked up speed and I had him on my left going into the weaves. Then I kept him on my left and he read the turn and did the pinwheel and came in tightly to the serpentine. Then he was set up on the right (correct) lead so I wrapped him between jumps 11 and 12 and had him on my right side as we headed to the dogwalk. As in jumpers this wrap section proved to be the most difficult for handlers of all levels and more refusals and off-courses happened in this part of the course.

I proceeded to the teeter and crossed in front of the up side of the teeter and finished the course well. I watched the big dogs and many dogs had problems in this section of the course. Most handlers had to pull their large dogs to the teeter - several dogs went into the off course tunnel on the way to the teeter. Most handlers could not get to the end of the teeter to do a front cross so they were rear-crossing before or after the broad jump. Very few succeeded with rear crosses here because dogs either took the broad jump at an angle (NQ going sideways over the broad jump) or pulled their dogs off the panel jump that followed the broad jump and sent their dogs right into the chute. I was amazed at how difficult that was for many handlers and dogs. Those who were able to get the front cross in at the end of the teeter had the most success on the closing sequence.

On the standard course the fastest times were in the 30-31 second range for all heights. Ashley and Luka the Pyr Shep (Feisty's aunt) had an awesome standard run and ran as fast as the larger dogs. Tammy Cutsforth and her younger Golden Retriever had an awesome 30 second run on the standard course. Terry and Remy had a nice standard run but Remy got hung up in the tire and made us all gasp a bit but she is so experienced she didn't give it a second thought. There were many nice runs out there by Minnesotans. I'm having fun meeting dogs and handlers who have dogs related to Spring, Jedi and Windy. It is fun to have an AKC type catalog because it does list a lot of information about the dog's running including sire, dam, birth date and breeder which is fun for finding dogs related to my dogs and finding dogs who might be related to a dog I'd want to breed to Sinco. There is a half sister to Sinco and a cousin of Tay's here which is fun.

Now to crash for the night and get ready for another fun day of agility.

Monday, March 23, 2009

When to trial???

One question that I'm repeatedly ask is "Am I ready to trial?", well more accurately it is a question I wish I was asked more often!! But handlers need to be prepared for the answer if they ask. The answer will start out "it depends..."

1. It depends on your goals and your experience trialing a dog. Those experienced with training and trialing may trial a young dog in classes such as jumpers and tunnelers to "test" how well they hold a start line, how well they mentally function in the environment and how well they can handle the end of a run (i.e. do they come back to the handler readily). There are no expectations ofQ'ing and often a short course is what is taken rather than the entire course.

2. I think that those who are newer to trialing and training should wait until their dogs can do complex sequences in class well before even considering trialing. Ideally they wait until the dog is able to do 15-20 obstacle sequences well in class and can handle run-thrus and fun matches well. By well I mean that the dog can successfully complete all of the obstacles and the handler is able to perform front and rear crosses when running their dog.

When you make the decision to trial your dog you are making a huge transition. You are now entering an environment where the dog needs to understand delayed gratification. I teach my dogs "yes!" which means you are brilliant but keep working which almost always makes my dogs speed up. If you go from always feeding from your hand or bait bag in class at a high rate and then go to a trial ask for 14-15 obstacles in a row with no reinforcement you are going to lose your dog's attention out there. The concept of "bridging the gap" which I've talked about is key to transitioning from training to trialing.

Remember that every time you run your dog in a trial you are "practicing" behaviors. If your dog is missing contacts in a trial, running around obstacles in a trial, knocking bars in a trial or missing weave poles in a trial then they are "practicing" all of those behaviors. Dogs are very context specific in their learning which is both a good thing and a challenging thing. Dogs can very quickly become "ring wise" meaning that they can learn to do things like miss contacts, avoid weave poles and/or breaking start line stays very fast in a trial setting. No matter how much we reward these behaviors in training if the incorrect behavior goes uncorrected or conversely the good behaviors in a trial go unmarked/unrewarded then dogs will go the path of least resistance in a trial.

Trialing can become addicting because you may be able to earn a qualifying ribbon and/or a placement ribbon when your dog did not perform the obstacles as well as you had wanted. For example if the dog puts a foot in the yellow and jumps off but you taught the dog to go to the ground with two front feet on the ground and two on the board, the judge will not fault your dog's performance. However your dog has practiced a new behavior that is different from what you had originally taught. This new behavior can soon deteriorate into a dog missing the contact and/or a dog who is launching ahead to the next obstacle (which may be an off-course) without waiting for direction from the handler.

When a handler allows a dog to "practice" these new trial behaviors then a number of things can happen. In all venues the lower levels allow more time and very often more faults in order to qualify. If you are qualifying with a lot of faults at the lower levels it will make qualifying at the upper levels more difficult. In every venue it becomes more difficult to qualify as you move up in the levels. The times will get tighter and you will need to have fewer and fewer faults to qualify. So it will feel difficult to move up to the upper levels because the dog has practiced these behaviors in a trial setting which may not be good ones to have practiced to be able to qualify at the upper levels.

My goal with my students is that their first early trialing experience is successful and fun for both handler and dog. Not everyone wants to trial but for those who do I'd like it to be a positive experience from the start.


Trial season is picking up!

With the summer trial season almost upon us (yeah!!!) it is time to check our calendars and to check in with our dogs. We are fortunate that now the agility season does last all year long here in Minnesota. Several years ago that was not the case and we had about 5-6 months of agility trials and then 6-7 months off. However there are still more trialing opportunities in the summer months and more choices need to be made.

Our dogs need mental and physical rest as well as mental and physical conditioning. There are some good articles about it for human athletes and how the body needs time off to build muscle. It is difficult to know how much is too much for a human let alone for our dogs. We are all different. Some of you know this because you've had dogs become "muscle-bound" from having built up too much muscle and needing more rest time.

Overtraining syndrome is known in human athletes and with horses. There is some good information at www.sportsmedicine.about.com for how this impacts humans. It can cause physical as well as psychological problems. In reading about it in humans there are a lot of articles out there on this. Some of the symptoms in humans can be related to in dogs and are listed below. This is a list of human side effects that has been modified for dogs.
  • Washed-out feeling, tired, drained, lack of energy
  • Mild leg soreness, general aches and pains
  • Pain in muscles and joints
  • Sudden drop in performance
  • Decrease in training capacity / intensity
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Depression
  • Loss of enthusiasm for the sport
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased incidence of injuries.

Hopefully you have given your dog some time off this winter. All athletes need some time off whether it is one long stretch or periods of 2-3 weeks to rest. They need time for the muscles to rest and heal. Whenever we do a lot of active use of our muscles we create micro-tears. These are actually what is used to build more muscle however they can also go the other direction and develop into a major tear. So having some down time for these muscles to recover is important. All human athletes take time off from training and they may go and do a different kind of training that uses different muscles or uses the muscles differently. Having multiple activities to do with your dog can help provide this variety in muscle development and muscle rest as long as their are extended periods of rest.

Right now my dogs are on a break from trialing which I believe is the most stressful of the training activities we do with our dogs. Except for Jedi all the other dogs have four weekends off. Jedi will have three off. They are also only being trained in agility for a few minutes once a week during this time. Feisty gets occasional obedience training and Sinco gets occasional herding training. The training in different sports is a good way to work different muscles and to keep them mentally fresh. I feel this is important for both their physical well-being as well as mental well-being. There is one fluffy little grey dog who doesn't handle time-off well at all - she is bouncing off the walls. It is good that she has obedience training she can do for awhile. Well there is another fluffy grey dog who is too young for mental time-off - in fact he doesn't get enough mental activity! I need to work on that!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Reward, reward, reward!

After spending a couple of days doing a lot of distance training with Susan Perry it really drives home some important things about reinforcement. There are several key points about reinforcement and training that distance handling really emphasizes and without a good understanding of them it is hard to develop good distance skills.

1. Motivation: dogs must be motivated to do agility in order to have enough impulsion to work away from the handler.

2. Independent obstacle performance: dogs must be able to do all obstacles with speed and accuracy with the handler at a distance away from the obstacle.

3. Directionals: dogs must have an understanding of a lateral distance cue ("out"), a straight away send ("go") and a turn away/lead change cue ("switch", "left", "right").

In order to really train distance with your dog you also really need to understand some key principles of learning and reinforcement. Dogs need a lot of self-confidence to work at a distance from their handler so it is important to know how to gradually build that confidence and to maintain it with proper use of rewards. If you have a dog that lacks confidence, is stressed during training, is tired, is lacking understanding of foundation concepts, is not motivated to do agility or is physically sore then you will see an even more dramatic decrease in agility performance when you ask the dog to work away from you. It will magnify any issues you may have in your training program with your dog.

1. Placement of reward is critical in distance training. This is why I use targets a lot in the beginning because it is easier to get the placement right. I use an empty target that the dog has been taught to drive to and when the dog touches the target then the handler goes out to the target and rewards. I remember when I first met Pam. She came to me for help with distance training because she and Jedi were struggling to get those USDAA Masters Gamblers legs. It was incredible how something as simple as changing where he was reinforced made the light bulb go on. Before she would reward Jedi for doing distance by having him come back to her for the treat. He had a hard time staying out because of it. Once she started tossing her bait bag out to where he was then suddenly he was much more willing to stay out and work! He was not about to leave that bait bag!

2. Frequency of reward is critical in dog training in general and in distance training specifically. I hope by participating in the seminar I was able to provide a good example of this. I felt I was trying to reward my dogs at key moments when they did something well. Whenever I train I am not interested in completing the entire course. I have sections in mind that I think may be a challenge for us as a team and when that goes well I want to stop and reward with toys or food from me. If things don't go well and I need to regroup then I will reward my dog with a "screw-up cookie". In the case of this seminar because it involved a lot of distance I tried to keep the momentum going by jazzing them up and starting again especially if I knew quickly what I needed to change. If I need more time to think about how to fix something then stopping and feeding or tugging with my dog while I sort it out is a good way to keep your dog having fun. Too often students get caught up in wanting to finish the entire course.

3. Reward what you like. If you find yourself walking a course or sequence and thinking that a particular section will be a challenge for you and your dog then that is the part you should plan on rewarding when it goes well. This will build confidence for both the dog and the handler. I often hear students talking about that in class and then when it goes very well they get caught up in the moment and continue with the rest of the course instead of stopping and rewarding that brilliant sequence. Then the moment is lost to reward that brilliant sequence or obstacle performance. If you really like something the dog did, or something that both of you did then you need to mark it and reward it at that very moment.

4. Hierarchy of rewards. It is important to know what your dog likes for rewards and to have a hierarchy of those rewards. For example I have one dog who likes toys as much as food however there are certain toys that are more well liked than other toys. When the task I'm asking my dog to do is more difficult or when we are in a more distracting the environment then I will use those rewards that are of highest value to the dog. I want to be highly valued out there. I ALWAYS want to be more valuable than any agility obstacle out there. I never use agility obstacles as a reward - there are many reasons for this. I recommend carrying a variety of treats and toys to any training situation. If a dog is giving me good effort I may praise them but not feed them in order to keep them from being stressed. Verbal praise is a low value reward. I want to use the higher value of reward when something has been done well.

5. Use of agility obstacles as reward - NOT!!! The main reason for this is that I want to be the center of attention for my dog and I want to be the source of all rewards. If my dog is more interested in doing agility obstacles than in working with me then we will have a lot of team work problems on the agility course. Dogs will seek out obstacles to use to reward themselves and this will cause a lot of off-courses. Second I have seen in backfire too many times where a supposed favorite obstacle was used as a reward and that obstacle was not performed correctly or some other behavior occurred instead and now you've marked a good behavior with a knocked bar or missed contact or missed weave pole.

If you follow these things you will also create a random reinforcement schedule for your dog so that they never know when and where they will be rewarded when doing agility. This is key to creating a dog with a lot of desire to want to play the game. If a dog only gets rewarded after the last obstacle of a course then for many dogs you will see them run slower in the first half of the course and speed up on the last half of the course. Those dogs have learned that the reward only comes at the end. I want a dog to run fast throughout the entire course. This is why running short courses at trials works well to build in the random reinforcement schedule into a trial setting. This is necessary for many dogs. If you incorporate training in the ring in the form of short courses at trials then you will enhance your performance at trials because you've instilled a random reinforcement schedule in a trial setting. Some dogs will become stressed on the start line of a trial because they know this is the one place where they will be asked to do 20 obstacles without a reward and the pressure of doing that can be overwhelming for a dog. The more frequently you trial with a sensitive dog then the more likely you will create a dog who starts to stress at the start line or part way through the course. I don't ever want my dogs to feel stressed at the start line because they are worried about having to perform. I don't trial frequently and I will do short courses as needed with any dog.


Thursday, March 19, 2009


It was a fun two days having Susan Perry here giving a seminar on handling and distance. It is fun for me to put on seminars because I can work my dogs and watch my friends and students without having to be the one doing the teaching! Even though I couldn't help myself a few times chiming in about some things. Susan and I are very similar in how we train and handle so it was a very nice fit for me and my students.

Monday's session was on advanced handling and incorporated a lot of distance into it because that is what the participants wanted to do. One of the things that keeps coming up over and over whether I'm the one teaching it or someone else is the use of reward.
We set up the Elite Chances course from Sunday during the Monday session and we were able to try a couple of different ways to handle it. I figured out where I needed to be in order to handle it with Feisty. On Sunday, Jedi and I were one team of three who successfully did it at the trial.

The Tuesday morning session was on foundation distance training. It was fun to see the younger dogs out there working well in a new and distracting environment. There were older dogs there trying to learn some new skills. The skills are very similar to those that I have been having beginner dogs do. Sending around gates is a fun and good way to teach dogs the "out" directional cue. I tend to prefer the use of targets more than Susan because the target can be placed accurately where the reward needs to be - often if a toy is tossed it will not reach the desired location and sometimes it will even hit the dog or hit the obstacle near the dog.

The Tuesday afternoon session focused on advanced distance handling. It was fun to try an assortment of sequences involving distance. Chris and Winn handled one sequence entirely from the far end of the arena - very cool! We were able to work a number of different types of distance sequences and we all worked on our timing and position.

We all enjoyed Susan's pleasant demeanor and helpful insights. It was fun to see everyone put it all together to do some tricky distance sequences. There were a number of good reminders such as remembering to put pressure on the obstacle path and not the obstacle, "the line is not your friend" and you need to have independent obstacle performance in order to handle at a distance. We all tend to get sucked in right next to the line and/or get stuck putting pressure on the wrong point in the line to the distance obstacles.

I learned a new phrase "diaper dog" to refer to the dog that covers the handler's butt and does the sequence correctly in spite of how the handler directed the dog.

I had fun running my young dogs in the seminar and I was very pleased to see how well their distance foundation training was allowing them to work well away from me.


Friday, March 13, 2009


The only thing I love more than watching my own dogs progress in their training is watching my students progress.

This past Wednesday night I saw the best example of progress in agility training that I have ever seen. I have a student who has a dog who has not been the easiest first agility dog at all. He was reactive to other dogs which was very difficult for both of them. She was an excellent student and she did all of the "right" things and she went to the resources I gave her and they both gradually showed improvement. They were able to handle small group classes outside well. It was a huge challenge for her to learn about agility handling while working with a dog that was easily distracted by his environment. After she made some mistakes in his training with other people she asked me for some help from a behaviorist. I recommended she try to get in with Patricia McConnell or her disciples. She found that many of the techniques they had her do there were ones she had used early on but had lost touch with in all of the subsequent training and information. She got the confidence to stick with these techniques and after a few weeks of working on his overall behavior around other dogs and in distracting places they had the best class ever. They both nailed every sequence in the class on the first try. It was absolutely wonderful. Her dog was fast and focused and she was able to work on handling him. It gave me goose bumps to see it.

That is what really makes teaching agility so much fun. I have other students who have also made a lot of progress with their dogs. The biggest compliments come from other students who remark how well a particular team is doing and how far they have come in a short amount of time.

I've learned so much about working with reactive dogs from many people who have come into my life over the last several years and it is wonderful to be able to pass those techniques on to others. These are students and dogs who probably would have struggled in other classes or may not have been able to be in other classes. Most of these dogs are not truly aggressive but they tend to get overly stimulated by being around other dogs and are distracted by it. It is also good to know that the resources I have available to me have been able to help a lot of students. These dogs really take a lot of patience and a lot of time and when students spend the time with them and make progress like this - it is really a joy to see!

Spending time in small group classes and private lessons building on basic foundation skills such as loose leash walking, mat exercises, stays, recalls and games that build attention make a big difference. I used to avoid teaching these things by requiring obedience classes before allowing dogs into agility. However I have found that most traditional obedience classes do not really prepare dogs and handlers for off-leash training of agility. The dogs need to have a lot of respect and a good relationship with their handler in order to do well in agility training. Traditional obedience classes don't necessarily achieve this with all dogs.

Our small group classes are not chaotic and everyone knows how to work with their dogs and how to prevent dog to dog interactions from happening. When steps are taken to induce calming behaviors in a dog it can really help calm the dog and handler which helps with the behavior problem. A lot of the successful techniques may seem counter-intuitive but they have been proven effective in many cases. I've seen the "click to calm" or the "look at that" exercises work very well with many dogs who are reactive to their environment where it actually does teach an "auto check-in" behavior. Having dogs lick peanut-butter when they are aroused does actually serve to calm them down because of the licking behavior. It doesn't reward the dog for being aroused as some would suggest. It gives the dog an alternative mental state and behavior to do when in that situation.

Anyway, I'm very proud of Heidi and Gromit and the progress they have made and how much work she has done with him. The last class was a huge milestone for them and I'm so glad I was there to see it.

Retrain or desensitize?

As I prepare to put on our first NADAC trial of 2009 I am looking at my calendar and realizing that for the next 6 weekends the only agility trials my girls and I will be doing will be NADAC. I thought this would be a perfect time to work on Feisty's teeter performance.

I experimented with Feisty's initial teeter training and used a method I had heard worked well with small dogs. I held the board and had her drive to the end of the board and then I lowered the board. I started with the teeter low. Then after awhile I added in the drop part. Well what I hadn't realized is that Pyr Sheps as a rule (and they do like their rules) don't generalize easily. Dogs don't generalize that easily but Pyr Sheps are the extreme in that department.

While Feisty could do the teeter she had trained on very well, she balked the first time she did a different low teeter. The tip point was not where she thought it should be. While the teeter is a hard obstacle for dogs, ALL dogs need to get used to being on different ones early in their training.

I hadn't really thought about how I was controlling the tip point too much with this training method. I had once heard a well know agility trainer say that one should not let the dogs go back and forth on low teeters because the tip point changes in each direction. Well in retrospect I believe that is exactly the kind of training Feisty needed.

I still rarely hold a teeter for my student's dogs - letting them race to the end. I used to tape a target on the end and put cheese on it but when I had to use equipment that belonged to others I ended up holding the treats at the end of the teeter. I didn't have anyone who could do that for me with Feisty.

So after discussing my problem with Dana who said she ran into similar problems using the method I used with Feisty, I've decided to take these 6 weeks and work on Feisty's teeter. My goal is to speed up her teeter performance by at least one second. At times we have a 3-4 second teeter performance in trials. She stops at the pivot point and waits for it to tip.

Feisty has no problem with the "bang it" game - she will jump up and ride the board down at the end. She offers that readily on different teeters. So I have started her on a low teeter and I am having her run back and forth on it. Our first session was on Wednesday and she did get noticeably faster with each repetition. I am fortunate enough to own 5 different teeters so I will be setting those up as much as I can in the next few weeks to have her work on teeters that have different pivot points. I will also be adding counterweights on the various teeters to change the pivot point.

This program seems to me to be more about desensitizing her to the pivot point of a teeter rather than retraining her. I really want her confidence to increase so she will run through the pivot point instead of slowing down waiting for it to tip.

Oh and what am I doing all these weekends without a teeter in agility? Next weekend I will be doing my Shamanic Apprenticeship, the following weekend I'll be running Jedi at the AKC Nationals (the girls stay home), the weekend after that I don't have anything planned , then on Easter weekend Pam and I are going back to Lanesboro for a weekend getaway and then we have our second NADAC trial of 2009.

Now to get back to trial prep!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Different Dogs, Different Ways to Train

Once again I am learning from my dogs and from my students. It was a fun day yesterday being able to train my own dogs AND to have some students watch and observe. That other set of eyes can be so valuable and we as instructors often miss out on that.

Spring is a 10 month old Sheltie who is very outgoing and confident. He loves kids and people and he struts around like he owns the world. However from early on he has been afraid of going up and down steps. I don't have a lot of steps in my house so it is not easy to work on this. I discovered how severe the problem was when I stayed in a hotel on the second floor. All of my other dogs have learned pretty quickly how to go up and down stairs - a little luring and off they go. However after about 12 times (I was there for three days) he was just as afraid to go down the stairs the 12th time as the first time. Once he would start he was fine. He did a little better going up than down. I also started to realize that he was not jumping on furniture the way the other dogs do. He took a very long time to learn how to do the three steps out of the front door of my house. He took a few headers off of the steps which then meant a trip to the chiropractor for him. This is a puppy who is named "Spring" because he can jump/bounce in the air almost two feet off the ground.

He was also having trouble sending through hoops or jumps with poles on the ground and sending out to targets. At first I thought it was just a silly Sheltie puppy thing. I started to wonder about his vision. His left eye had always seemed smaller than the right and sometimes it was a bit runny. He had a clear CERF exam but was there something with his depth perception. I talked to Dana several times about this because she has a young dog who is experiencing similar problems but to a worse degree unfortunately.

Meanwhile Spring needed braces to correct a faulty bite - he had a lower canine going into the roof of his mouth. So he couldn't do much for 6 weeks while he had the braces in - he was limited as to what he could eat and he couldn't play with toys. I was starting to have real doubts about his future in agility.

Then the braces were removed and I noticed a remarkable change in his left eye within a few days. It was open more so it seemed closer to the size of the right eye and it was no longer runny. I also noticed that he seemed more confident on the steps than he had been. He also jumped on the couch and the bed for the first time. So it is possible that the problems with his bite was somehow affecting his eye and/or sinuses or something.

So I resumed his agility training. It was a major improvement. He no longer had a problem with shadow handling, He could send out to targets 20 feet away and he go around cones and could find the jumps with poles on the ground or hoops. In fact he started seeking them out for the first time. It was like he was happy he could see what I was indicating for the first time. He could do puppy jump chutes with no problems.

Then I started to raise the jumps up a little bit. He loved it and showed no signs of having trouble adjusting to the jumps. But then again he has always loved to jump in the air. In fact broad jumping is his specialty. In the house he will run and leap from rug to rug so he is sailing over the hard wood floor between rugs.

So a couple of weeks ago I wanted to introduce the low aframe to him. He balked at getting on it and I did some luring and treating for getting on it. He didn't seem to be getting it as quickly as other dogs do or as quickly as a confident dog like him would. Then when I was about done he leaped unexpectedly off the top of the aframe. He was willing to get back on it again but still lacked confidence. I decided not to do it again until my lessons with Dana.

I drove 7 hours to Chicago on Friday to spend a couple of hours taking lessons from Dana Pike. She is a great resource for me because she has trained a variety of dogs in agility and she too has experience with small dogs and with dogs who have unusual issues. So I spent some time with her working with Spring and the aframe. He was balking at the aframe more when he was on my right side than on my left. We wondered if that had to do with his left eye being closer to me or not. We did a lot of getting up part way and getting off. We wanted him to be able to get on confidently. He did much better on my left than on my right. When we had him doing the whole thing he was launching off the downside very high up (on a very low aframe) so we wanted to stop that rehearsal! So Dana put up low 6" jumps just a couple of feet from both sides of the aframe to help him not stutter step when getting on and to help him go to the bottom on the down side. It went alright but it definitely was going to take work. I left hoping we can train his mind and eyes to "read" the aframe and do it.

So Spring is my new challenge in agility training. I've attached a video of yesterday's training session which started out not going well. He was balking on the right side of me again and tilting his head as if to look at the aframe in a way to process what it was. But by the time we decided to video it so I could see what he was doing better then he started doing it very well. So maybe some practice and then a break of several minutes for latent learning to have an effect was what he needed. However I still plan to go very slowly with his contact training and weave training and I'm prepared to modify the program according to how he is responding to it. He may need different approaches than the average dog. Of course I haven't had an "average" dog yet so I'm not sure I know what that is!


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New to blogging...

Ok so I feel very old trying to keep up with all of these new fangled things like blogs, Facebook, Twittering etc. I used to be way ahead of the technology curve and the computer support person for a law firm back when personal computers were first being installed on attorney desks back in the mid-1980s. Now I feel behind the times. :( But just watch - I'll soon be Twittering!

So here goes as I start my first blog :)

This year, 2009, is going to be a fun and busy year for me. After not having a dog to trial seriously for a few years I now have three young dogs to trial. This past year I have been running Pam Vermeer's Sheltie Jedi while she recovered from two knee surgeries. It has been a wonderful experience because he is a great little dog.

Jedi is a fast and consistent little Sheltie. He has been well trained and he adapted quickly and easily to running with me. Together we earned his MACH II and qualified for AKC Nationals. We are going to run at the AKC Nationals at the end of this month and then after that he will go back to running with Pam. Jedi underwent two major dental surgeries and had 18 teeth removed in December 2008 and January 2009. It is amazing how much pain and discomfort these dogs will endure in order to continue to play agility. We had no idea how much he must have hurt until I started running him again in February. He is running with more speed and more enthusiasm than before and he is running like a two year old instead of the ten year old he is. He is even more bouncy and more joyful than I've ever seen him. He went to a vet who specializes in dentistry and who does digital x-rays and has a state of the art hospital. It was expensive but it was the best investment that could be made to see the huge change in the quality of his life. Watching him before one would not have suspected that there would be such a dramatic change or that this happy dog could show even more happiness in his life!

This year I will be running Feisty, Sinco and Cante. I love running these three girls. They are so completely different. Feisty is a 3 1/2 year old blue merle Pyrenean Shepherd, Sinco is a 2 1/2 year old red merle Australian Shepherd and Cante is a 2 year old black tri Australian Shepherd.

Then there is the newest addition: Spring, a 10 month old blue merle Sheltie. I had said I would "never" have a Sheltie because of the barking. Well never say never!! I'm eating my words! He is a wonderfully outgoing and confident pup.

More to follow on the musings, antics and teachings from these dogs and many others!