Some handlers biggest struggle is the start line. From dogs who are wanting to creep forward, to dogs who will barely let the handler get the leash off before bolting for the course.
Wall-E and I have been struggling with some start line issues this year, he can only hold himself for so long before he breaks, usually after a certain distance in my lead out.
For Wall-E I believe his start line issues stem from lack of confidence on the start line skill itself, and he is a young male learning to control his over arousal. So I have moved all of my start line work away from the agility equipment and I am focusing on building his confidence and understanding of the criteria for his start line behavior.
Wall-E has a pretty good moving wait, but it can be improved, and he definitely doesn’t fully understand the criteria for my Wait cue when we are moving.
The short video below is a clip from a live training session I did for my Coaching Group on Moving Waits.
As you can see from the video, he does a really nice wait for the toy that I have thrown, but as soon as I add movement, he loses confidence in the criteria for the wait cue.
Adding movement in my opinion is huge for really working on start line skills. Adding movement brings in an element of adrenaline that they feel in trials. If you are only working on your start lines in a very calm, manner, with very structured sits or downs. It might be time to bring in some movement and really build a positive association with your Wait cue.
I want to build his confidence for his wait no matter what I am doing, and really reinforce that he is only released on my verbal cue. I will be working on these moving waits away from any agility equipment until he is consistent and confident with waiting while I am moving, leading out, in front of him, behind him, in new places, with other dogs around, distractions, etc.
Once I know he is confident with the criteria in that setting, I will now start bringing in equipment. When I start to bring an obstacle into his training sessions, I will break everything back down into foundations.
So lets say with his moving wait, I am able to have him run next to me while I say Wait, with other dogs running nearby, in a new area, with lots of noise from kids playing.
When I increase the difficulty of adding say, a tunnel, into our training session, I am not going to ask him to do it at the high distraction level. I will go back down to easy steps and build his fluency with waiting in front of the tunnel. As I build his confidence in the skill, then I will start adding layers of difficulty.
I feel that most dogs with start line issues are lacking full understanding of the criteria. Add in, that some dogs also have issues handling over arousal, and that can be a mixture that causes dogs not holding their start line, bolting out of the leash, creeping, etc.
If you are having start line issues, I highly recommend taking it back to foundation steps and really work on their understanding of the start line criteria and what you want from them on the start line.
If you want to learn more about moving waits and start lines, check out the Fluid Motion Coaching Group!
This massage table is well over 20 years old. My Dad bought it for me when he saw how much passion I had for bodywork when it came to dogs.
I first started reading about massage when I was around 16, looking for ways to make my dog feel better. I read more, and more, took classes, talked to anyone I could, and quickly learned this was something I wanted to do.
Back then there were very few “distance learning” options for anything dog sport related, let alone massage. But I enrolled in every class that I could find, human, canine, equine. I knew I didn’t want to pursue human massage, but I was allowed to sit in on classes and study at a school in Idaho.
From there I have read just about every book that has been published on massage, acupressure, chiropractic, meridian therapy, ligament therapy, cold laser, and more. I continued enrolling in classes, finishing my certification for canine massage at three different schools, acupressure certifications, MLT certification (manual ligament therapy), cold laser certifications, as well as nutrition and herbology classes.
When Dad died I felt like I lost some of my passion for bodywork. He was always in my corner supporting anything I wanted to do, and helping me any way he could.
I eventually stopped having a booth at NADAC Championships, stopped offering bodywork at trials, and the massage table got packed away in storage.
And then in 2019, Nargles had a career ending injury and my good friend offered to help her with her MagnaWave PEMF (Pulsed Electromagnetic Field) machine. And something stirred in me again, I started researching the PEMF machine, started reading again, and felt that passion start to slowly come back.
I went into deep research on PEMF machines and how massage could combine with it to really help dogs. I enrolled in an online class the next year, working on friends dogs here and there. And then I just felt the need to start doing bodywork again. I finally bought the PEMF machine I had been researching, and I unpacked the table from storage.
20 years old, It has some wear, but that table has been with me from the beginning. So many memories of so many dogs on that table. And so many memories of my Dad, sitting at my booth at NADAC Champs, so happy to see me pursing something that made me so happy.
For the first time in years at a NADAC trial in April and one in May of this year, I offered bodywork sessions on my table, having dogs on it again brought a feeling of fulfillment and happiness I haven’t felt in a long time.
I am currently enrolling in another massage class to keep me up to date, and my skills honed. I also plan on getting my certification for Craniosacral therapy, another cold laser certification, and Myofascial Release. I am also researching the best way to combine massage & cold laser with the PEMF therapy sessions for performance dogs. I would like to also continue my canine nutrition certification, buts that on a bit of a back burner, as well as maybe certifying in equine massage, but haven’t fully committed to that yet…. 🙂
There are so many inspirational quotes and memes that all say “don’t give up on your dreams” or “follow your passion”. I never really took those to heart until now.
This little graphic is a very good representation of me and how it feels to have my battery drained. I love teaching seminars, going to trials, seeing my friends, laughing, and having a great time. But I pay the price for that with needing alone time. Time to recharge and give my mental space a break.
For me recharging usually involves being alone and watching some of my favorite tv shows, playing video games (I used to play World of Warcraft a lot for this reason, but not as much anymore) or lately knitting/crocheting and creating content for my Patreon group.
Being alone is usually the key here. Time and space to just let my mind rest and reset. If I can’t be alone, like if Jimmy is here, I usually go for a drive. Even just a drive to the “big” town which is about 45 mins away helps. I will listen to my music and just drive alone, usually to the pet store or the craft store, get a little something for myself or my dogs and head home. That can definitely help with the recharge.
So what happens if I don’t?
Well that is what is currently happening right now. I haven’t had a chance to reset and I feel like I am nearing a breaking point.
Last week was my virtual seminar, which was fantastic! I loved every minute of it! But during the sessions I am “on” while teaching and in-between I was usually on my computer answering questions from participants. So my brain was always in this “engaged” mode.
The same day the seminar ended, my brother and niece came to stay a few days. Which again, Fantastic! I love being around them, hanging out and having a great time. We spent a whole day just playing in the sand dunes and having a great time by the river.
I knew I was going to be drained after the seminar, and after having a weekend of company, but I wasn’t too worried, I knew I had multiple days of alone time while jimmy worked out in the shop to recharge the next week.
And then the Wifi went down.
And yes, I 100% know how that sounds. I sound like a whiney little girl who is upset I can’t use the interwebs. But what it meant was I couldn’t zone out to my tv shows, and what it also meant was a double in my work load. With no internet I couldn’t do review videos for my Patreon group, which meant writing all the reviews out, not a biggie, but definitely more work. It also meant going to town into a coffee shop to do anything online, which I need to do for my NADAC work as well as my personal training group. So that means crowded place, hard to focus for work, and more drain.
So as pressure and stress began to build with no outlet I became short tempered, irritable, and just plain whiney.
I ended up snapping at Jimmy, multiple times. And little things that should have been no issue, became huge issues that I couldn’t even begin to deal with.
So how does this translate to dogs? Dogs can experience the exact same thing. With more and more things draining their battery and no recharge, they can act out, be depressed, and snap.
Wall-E, my whippet mix, is a perfect example of this. He is the friendliest dog I have ever owned, there is not a human or dog that isn’t Wall-E’s best friend. He loves to play and visiting people makes his whole day.
But for as social as he is, if he doesn’t recharge his battery he becomes “weird” and needy. Things that don’t bother him do, and he is just “off”.
He has almost the same recharge needs as me, a quiet place where he can just chill. His main need to recharge is snuggling with either Jimmy or I, and just some down time.
Now if I were to try and run him when his battery is low? I get a dog who can’t give me any distance on a sequence, who can’t focus for the weave poles, and is in general just “off”.
If I feel this happening at a trial, his battery draining, I will try to take him out for a long walk as far away from everything as I can. Or make sure his crate is covered and give him some sort of chewy to focus on. But most important, I give him the benefit of the doubt during our runs. If he is not feeling himself, I pick up the slack and help him through. I also try very hard to let him recharge that night, hopefully a quiet hotel room and snuggles will help.
Recharging looks different for every dog, for mine its quiet, for yours it might be playing ball, or going for a walk, a chewy, or maybe doing tricks and brain puzzles.
Find what drains your dog, so you know when it’s happening, and more importantly, find what recharges them.
We will be discussing various methods of decompression and what it can look like in the Fluid Motion Patreon group this month, come join us at www.patreon.com/fluidmotion
A conversation between myself and a student today started with what the definition of “connection” was between a handler and dog. Eventually it moved towards “Heart Dogs” and what that means to the two of us.
The term Heart Dog is used pretty commonly in the agility world, and I am sure in other sports as well. It is hard to define, and even harder to try and put into words. Heart Dogs are the ones that touch us different, the connection between the handler and heart dog can be on a whole different level.
So as the conversation grew into heart dogs, what about the dogs who aren’t?
I have four dogs in my house currently, Nargles, Ally, Trip (he is technically Jimmy’s dog) and Wall-E. I love each and every one of these dogs, they are an integral part of my life and bring happiness that I can’t put into words.
Nargles is long retired from her agility career, and she achieved much more than I ever thought possible. She was an amazing distance dog and put her entire soul on the line every time she ran. And I love this little dog more than I can put into words. But is she a heart dog? No.
Ally is my tough dog, she came into my life to teach me things and to make me a better trainer. Her mission in life is to make me better, and I am, because of her. I love her “take no crap” attitude and the fact she wants to be a lap dog, but doesn’t want anyone to know about it. Is she a heart dog? No.
And before I get to Wall-E, we have to go into the past and talk about the last heart dog I had. Try.
Try literally showed up at my doorstep, I wasn’t expecting a puppy and a good friend brought her to me and said “this is a good pup”. I never looked back from that day forward. From the time she was an 8 week old puppy, something was different with her. We connected in ways that were far different from any previous dog. Her and I just knew what the other needed.
Years go by and Try won everything there was to win for a Stakes dog in NADAC. She did things and took me places I had no idea I could reach. But that dog could have never left Novice and I would have been just as happy.
Walking into the ring with her was different, it was amazing, it was connection beyond what I could explain to anyone.
So does that make Ally and Nargles “less”? Or that I don’t love them as much? Absolutely not.
I connect with them, I ran courses with Nargles where I was sure we missed something because the connection was so amazing that the run just flew by.
Heart Dogs connect on a different level, I personally don’t think that means that they are more loved, or a better dog. Just different.
Sometimes I see people struggling, as my student today was. That they may not have that connection that they have heard people talk about with their dogs. Or maybe they had it with a previous dog, but not their current one, so something must be wrong.
Connection is different for every person and for every dog. I do believe everyone will have a heart dog in their life, and you may have dogs who are not. But that does not mean you are a bad owner or trainer, its just a different connection.
So this brings me to Wall-E.
I watched videos of his litter, always drawn to this little pup that had unique and pretty markings. And then this one video happened, the breeder was letting them hear and see a vacuum cleaner. And all the puppies were checking it out, or staying back. And then there was Wall-E who was just trying to get the breeder to pet him.
I started watching that little brown puppy more and more, and falling in love with him. When we got there and she said he was the one that was left, it was like a hole in my heart started to repair.
When I held him that first day, it was different. It was the same feeling I had when I held baby Try. And again, I have never looked back.
Everything happens for a reason. My heart had been broken after losing Try, and I lost so much of my passion for agility after her loss and then feeling like I was failing Ally. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to have that same passion for agility again.
Wall-E is my heart dog. Him and I connect on a different level and when we run agility, even though he is still learning, I feel that connection.
We love every dog in our life, and connect on different levels with each one.
Cherish, learn, and love every connection you have with each dog, they are all magic.
During the month of November I am working on a content creating challenge, so for every day this month there will be a new blog post, video, or podcast! I am very excited to create so much new content for everyone this month! Its going to be great!
The first blog for November is going to be part of a series, and it will be covering how I will be helping to bring back Ally’s confidence and connection with me.
Connection, Confidence, and Trust between me and my dogs is the foundation to of my training with my dogs. And last year some of that was lost between Ally and I, so my goals over this winter is to try and rebuild it.
2019 was hard for Ally and I, and I made mistakes that eroded away some of the trust her and I had between us. When the pandemic hit and forced us to take the rest of the year off, this was not completely a bad thing for her and I.
I probably would not have taken the time off like I have if it was not forced upon me. With staying at home and no trials, Ally has pretty much just been hanging out all year just being a dog. I have noticed huge changes to her personality and general attitude, and I credit the months of doing nothing for that.
I also needed a break, I knew that our relationship was not in a good place, but I was not sure how to even begin to fix it. I had planned on just stopping training her, which I did, and that helped, but I think it helped because it was giving her the break she needed. I needed some down time to give myself time to think, and I also have realized that I need to reorganize and reprioritize my life.
So how has Ally changed?
She engages in play now, she wants to run and play with the other dogs, and me. She wants to cuddle and be around me much more than she used to. I took her out last week to play around on a small sequences I had built and much of her frantic, over aroused, and frustrated barks were gone. She will always bark, that is who she is, but I noticed she was much more “at ease” when we were working.
Same goes for me, I felt less stressed and pressured while training her. The goals I had for her are gone and I didn’t feel them weighing on me anymore. My goals for her were wrong and she desperately tried to tell me that, but I did not listen.
The year off gave us both time to heal, and figure out what we each needed. And while all this can sound odd when talking about a dog, I have learned so much from her, and I hope I can help others with her lessons.
The first lesson being that my dog will always choose their path in agility. And the second is that I need to listen.
In the next part of this series I will talk about some of the non agility things Ally and I are doing to reconnect, and what I am working with her on in agility to build back her confidence.
Just like us, I feel that dogs can get bored with the same food day in and day out. Along with boredom, feeding the same type of food over and over again, I believe, can also cause issues with our dogs health.
If I am always feeding my dogs a commercial diet of, Chicken, Sweet Potato, Liver, Eggs, Kale, and Spinach, my dog is missing out on key nutrients that are found in other foods.
While the above mix in a commercial food could be balanced and they would be “fine” eating this food every day, I feel that my dogs are missing out on nutrients found in a variety of other whole foods.
For this reason, I like to rotate. I rotate between flavors within brands and I also rotate brands. I like to find 2-3 brands that I like/trust and rotate my dogs between those brands. I have no real system for this. I might feed one brand for a couple months and then switch to another or I may switch brands every month. A lot of how I rotate depends on sales as well. A few of my favorite brands had a Labor Day sale so, I stocked up!
I love feeding Grandma Lucys and rotating between their flavors. They have a wide variety of not only proteins I can rotate through, but different carb sources as well. Grandma Lucys is currently my “main” food, meaning I have been feeding just their brand for quite some time and rotating within it. My dogs have been doing extremely well on it, and the picky whippet LOVES their formulas!
I am an ambassador for Grandma Lucys, but I truly love their products and have used them for years with my dogs. (their Artisan formula is what Try needed for her kidney issues later in life, and she loved it!)
Right now I am rotating between different flavors of Grandma Lucy’s each week because my dogs currently eat about a bag a week. (this can change depending on how much fresh I add to their meals as well) So, for example, I am feeding their Pureformance Fish right now and next week they will be getting the Macanna Beef.
I want to be able to rotate between different protein and carb sources for my dogs to not only keep the flavors interesting for them, but to also make sure they are getting all of their nutrients from a wide range of different protein, carb, and veggies sources.
None of my dogs have any protein or carb intolerances, so, I can rotate between grain and grain-free. I do feed my dogs varieties of food that include grain and they do quite well on it. I used to be very much against using grain in my dogs diet, but when I saw how much my dogs stamina and weight improved when I added some grain, I always use some in their diet now.
For a while, I will rotate on and off of grain inclusive foods, once again, trying to give my dogs a nice variety and wide rotation of different nutrients. I do this with my fresh and freeze dried toppers as well. I try to vary food as much as I can when adding fresh and use a wide variety of the following:
Ground meat (Chicken, Beef, Turkey)
I also rotate with different freeze dried toppers, which are fantastic when traveling!
Grandma Lucys has a fantastic 6 for $60 special going on right now, which includes 6-1lb bags of different protein and carb sources, all for $60! This is a great deal to try out the different Grandma Lucy flavors and start your dog on a nice rotation diet.
I love canine nutrition and I have been studying it on my own for the past 15+ years. My passion for nutrition started with my heart dog, Chance, when she was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma and I was told I had maybe a month, if I was lucky.
I spent that day and the entire night researching everything I could about canine cancer, which led a deep dive into canine nutrition. I hired a nutritionist the next day to formulate a cancer diet for her and my passion for helping my dogs through food hasn’t stopped since. Chance lived for four months after her diagnosis. While it was not nearly enough time, I truly believe that her diet and supplements helped her live past the couple weeks that was originally predicted.
From there my interest in canine nutrition only grew. I have fed just about every variety of diet to my dogs throughout the years
Cooked and Raw
Prey Model Raw
And everything in-between
With all the varieties of food I have fed, the most important lesson I have learned is, feed the dog in front of you; do what’s best for you and your dog.
I fed different types of commercial, from kibble to commercial raw and commercial cooked. I have had great experiences with some and terrible experiences with others, kibble and raw alike.
Currently, I feed my dogs a rotation of commercial dehydrated and freeze dried with mostly cooked fresh food added and minimal raw.
I am extremely flexible in what I feed and I judge no one when it comes to what they feed their dogs. I am a firm believer in doing what works best for you and your dog.
Why I don’t feed much raw anymore
I want to make this very, very clear. I am NOT against raw, at all! Unfortunately, though, I have not had the best of luck feeding raw, whether it is DIY (with recipes formulated through a nutritionist or formulated myself) or commercial.
I fed my dogs (at the time, Try, Nargles, and Ally) a full raw diet for about a year or a little more. I started with a meal plan formulated from a canine nutritionist and my dogs did “okay”. They held a good weight and their coats looked fine but they were just, okay. I moved to feeding them a diet I designed and again, just okay. From there, I went to a commercial raw, then to feeding the Honest Kitchen base mix with raw added. For most of the year I dealt with random upset stomachs. Their hair coat would look great, then kind of blah. Also, I didn’t notice it until later, but their stamina was not as good as it should have been.
After a weekend at an agility trial, dealing with Nargles’ HORRIBLE upset stomach that led her to the vet and a month later Try almost dying from salmonella poisoning, I threw in the towel on feeding a raw diet.
I switched my dogs over to a kibble and never looked back. The allergies that I fought with Nargles began to improve (and are almost non-existent now thanks to Herbsmith Allergy supplement). No more upset tummies, random diarrhea, or nausea episodes. By far, the biggest improvement was their stamina while competing; I never realized how tired they were. Also, while they were at a “good” weight, they were always thin and I always felt like I was feeding a truckload just to keep them at that “decent” weight.
When I made the switch to kibble, I decided to always add a variety of fresh foods, such as:
Eggs (raw and cooked)
Canned Sardines (and fresh when I could get them)
Cooked Meats (Beef, Chicken, Pork, Fish)
Fresh veggies and fruits
I varied between a few different brands of kibble, ultimately, in search of a couple of brands I liked/trusted and switch between then from month to month. (sometimes one brand for a couple months and then switch). I liked my dogs on kibble, they did well, and I was very happy with it.
Then, I went to SuperZoo 2019, a HUGE pet convention with everything under the sun, including lots of different brands and types of dog food. I was able to meet owners of various dog food brands, get to know them, ask questions, and I learned more than I ever thought I would. My biggest take away from the event though, Trust. I wanted to trust the food I gave my dogs and after I met the owner of a kibble I was feeding, I lost that trust, but I gained trust in other brands.
Currently, I am feeding a rotation of Honest Kitchen and Grandma Lucy’s with Simple Food Project as a topper. These are all brands that had already gained my trust from feeding them off and on over the years, either as toppers or while traveling. Meeting the owners of Honest Kitchen, Grandma Lucys, and Simple Food project only solidified that trust and made them a concrete part of my rotation.
I rotate between the brands and their flavors, and I love all three of them equally. I still add fresh toppers to their food, just as I did with kibble. And I have also started in the last month, using Honest Kitchen’s dehydrated toppers and Vital Essentials freeze dried toppers as well.
My dogs still get raw every now and then. I have a great source of chicken and beef hearts here that I add to their food 1-2 times a week, as well as raw eggs. I sometimes buy them ground chicken, turkey, or beef, but I always cook it. Pretty much the only thing I feed raw anymore is eggs, chicken/beef hearts, and some sardines when I can get a hold of them.
It breaks my heart to see posts on social media screaming that raw is the only way to feed, and all dogs should have raw, or that kibble should only be fed, or cooked, etc, etc. Every dog is different and should be fed that way, not every dog will thrive on raw. And not every dog will do well on kibble.
The only thing I will suggest to just about everyone, if you are feeding a commercial diet, add some fresh food, even a small amount. Even just adding an egg every other day will do wonders for your dog!
Cook too much chicken for dinner and have some leftovers? Give it to your dog! (no seasoning)
Grab some yogurt! or canned sardines!
It doesn’t have to be every day, but even just 1-2 times a week is fantastic!
I think rotation and variety is HUGE when feeding your dog (and yourself!) I try to vary what they get quite a bit, not only for their health, but to keep them excited about dinner time!
I am pro what works for you and your dog, raw did not work for me, but what I am currently feeding does. Could that change? Yep. Could my next dog not do well with my current feeding rotation? Yep, it could happen, and if it does, I will feed the dog in front of me.
Below is the general recipe I use for making fermented cabbage for my dogs, I started feeding fermented cabbage earlier this year and I see a HUGE difference when using it with my dogs!
I started with a general fermentation recipe, and for later batches I added the probiotic and really liked that as well! (Thank you Dr. Karen Becker!)
1 head of green cabbage
1 probiotic capsule
Salt (I like to use Celtic Sea salt)
Mason jars with a fermenting lid
Wooden pounder (optional)
Chop the cabbage into small pieces, saving a couple of the outside leaves whole, set them aside Try to make them as close to the same size as possible. I like to cut them into about 1″ size pieces, that is the size my dogs like.
Put all of your cabbage into a large bowl, add about 2 tablespoons of salt, this can vary with the amount of cabbage you are using, 2 tablespoons for one cabbage seems to work for me. I also open one probiotic capsule and add it to the bowl.
this is the long and hard part! If you have a pounder you can start pounding the cabbage, if you don’t have a pounder you can mash it with your hands. (this is what I do) I will work the cabbage for about 10-15 mins and then let it rest for about 10 mins, and then mash again for 10-15 mins. I am wanting the cabbage to have enough water worked out that we can use that to fill the jars.
once you have worked the cabbage, it should have shrunk by about half, now we get to fill the jars!
I use Ball mason jars, I like the 32 ounce wide mouth jars. Start filling the jars with your cabbage, gently pressing the cabbage down, we want to work out the air bubbles.
fill the jar until you have about an 1″ – 2″ gap at the top (headspace), as you press the cabbage down, water should be coming up to the top. If you don’t have enough to cover the cabbage, add a little from your bowl. (And if you don’t have enough water in the bowl you can use some tap water, I add a little salt to it if I need to use tap)
Now take your extra cabbage leaf, cut it down so it fits into the jar, you want it to cover your cabbage and hold it under the water. I then put my ferment weight on top.
Now just put your fermenting lid on and you are ready to go!
I have found that about 3 weeks is the perfect ferment for my dogs, they like the taste and it has been pretty consistent for me. if I ferment it too long they aren’t as fond of the taste as it gets a bit sour.