Winter has officially started at my house here in Eastern Oregon, which means outside training time for my dogs has greatly decreased.
While we still go outside for play time and daily exercise, with the off and on rain/snow, any agility training is off the table until spring.
For my dogs I enjoy having some forced time off during the winter. Not only do I feel that it is beneficial for my dogs mental health, I also strongly feel that having some time off is crucial for my dogs physical health as well.
Generally my trialing season slows down quite a bit after NADAC Championships in Sept/Oct. I will generally attend 2-3 trials in Oct and November, but from then until about March, my dogs have that time off.
Their time off consists of no agility training as far as obstacles, and no trials. But this doesn’t mean that they sit around the house for months on end doing nothing.
They still get daily exercise and play time outside, along with enrichment puzzles/toys 2-3 times a week. (more on why my dogs don’t eat all their meals from enrichment toys in a future blog)
During the winter I like to teach my dogs at least two new tricks, as well as work on strengthening their foundational skills. Teaching new tricks helps continue to build a working relationship between myself and my dog, as well as help with my dogs cognitive health by learning something new.
I strengthen their foundational skills like directionals, contacts, startlines, etc, by going back to the foundation steps of how I taught those skills. By taking your dog back to these foundation steps each year, no matter if they are young and in Novice, or in Elite, will help continue to strengthen and make those advanced skills even more solid.
The benefits both mental and physical of having time off from trialing, and obstacle work, to working on those foundational skills is huge, and has a big pay off for both you and you dog!
What are your plans this winter with your dog? Let me know in the comments below!
Wanna see what I am doing with my dogs this winter? Come join the Fluid Motion Coaching Group and join me in working foundations this winter!
In the first lesson of this Directional Series I will be talking about the foundations for how I teach my Out cue.
Out for my dogs means for them to move away from me, or take the obstacle furthest from me.
I like to begin with teaching an Out using cones, but you can start with a hoop as well.
First, like all your cues, you need to define what an Out cue means to you. As well as what your body language and verbal cue look like for your cue.
Because Out for me means for my dog to move away from me or take the obstacle furthest from me, I will start my Out foundations with a cone, and asking my dog to go to the far side of the cone.
The video above shows some beginning cone work with Ally. I am trying to really focus on using my lower body/feet to show her the path I want her to take around the cone.
To start, you can use either a toy or treats. I like to use a toy, as it can be easier to toss a toy to the dog to reward.
I want to take a step toward the dog with the leg closest to the dog, as I step toward the dog I will give my verbal cue “Out”. As my dog starts to move, I will toss the toy, or the treat to the far side of the cone.
I will continue working with this single cone, varying my handling positions (but always making sure my body language and verbal is clear. Do not put yourself in a handling position that would be an actual “Out”) I want to add distance to my cone to help proof my Out as well as build confidence in my dog for their Out cue.
Once I have proofed and built confidence with my dog on a single cone with their Out cue, I will start adding more cones. The videos above show working with Ally and Wall-E on multiple cones.
The above video shows examples of using multiple cones and includes a voiceover explaining what I am doing in the video clip.
Before I consider moving on to adding other pieces of equipment, I first want to make sure that my dog has full confidence in their understanding of the Out cue.
I will build my dogs confidence and clarity in the cue by continuing to proof my cone with with various handling positions as well as increasing distance.
Because I have built such a strong foundation for the Out cue, I can start bringing in other pieces of equipment and transferring my cue to those as well. I like to start with hoops, and then start incorporating the other pieces of equipment.
The biggest thing to keep in mind with teaching Out, or any directional cue, is confidence. Your first priority should be building your dogs confidence in that skill. Proof that skill with varying handling positions, and adding distance. If you take the time to really proof and build your dogs confidence at this foundation level, it will pay off down the road.
How many times do you watch your runs from a trial and pick out all the things that went wrong? Instead of all the things that went right?
I am very guilty of this and I have been trying to focus on the positive things that happened during the run instead of just focusing on everything that went wrong. And I will be the first to say, its hard!! I have to make sure and make a conscious effort to list all the good things that happened, but it has definitely helped my mental process during trials.
This doesn’t mean I ignore the things that went wrong, I will think about them, what happened, what I maybe need to go home and train, or maybe handle differently. I let those thoughts come into my mental space, and then I let them go.
I don’t want those thoughts of “all the things that went wrong” to occupy my headspace for the rest of the trial. Because if I let that happen, it will continue to loop for the rest of the day and each run could continue to loop those negative thoughts.
And what happens when those thoughts loop?
Well something happens on the next run, and “confirms” to us all the bad things, and that continues that negative loop.
And again, being honest, it is hard to let those negative thoughts go. But here is the thing I have learned. Let them occupy your mental space, sit with them for a certain amount of time, I give myself 5-10 minutes. And then move on, focus on the good things that did happen, and I mean ALL the things.
Stay at the start line? YAY!!
Hit their dogwalk contact? YES!!!!
Did that 180 sequences from 10 feet??? WOOT!!!
So for your next trial, try this, mull over those bad things in that run, give yourself a time limit, put a timer on your phone (thats what I do!) 5 or 10 minutes, and then shake them off and start going over all the good things! Take your dog for a walk, go hang out with your friends, whatever you need to do to shake off those thoughts and focus on the good stuff.
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 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.