The Story of Ally

Last year, in May, I drove from Idaho to Nebraska to pick up the cutest little tri colored Border Collie puppy I had ever seen. I was beyond excited for her as she is Try’s niece and I wanted another dog with the same lines as Try.

I had a name all ready for her, Allons-y (Ally for short) after my favorite phrase of the 10th 959046_10201277005465923_819266207_oDoctor in Doctor Who.  I had toys, treats, chew things, and of course puppy snuggle blankets.

I picked her up and started toward Colorado where I had seminars and trials lined up. She was a good little girl in the car, loved to run around at rest stops, and was pretty sure Try and Nargles were the neatest dogs she had ever met.

Once she settled in, I noticed she wasn’t the snuggly little puppy I had been dreaming about ever since I knew the litter was going to happen. Even at 12-15 weeks she had a very strong “work” drive and wasn’t really into the whole “puppy cuddles” routine.

This was beyond hard for me, anyone who knows me, knows I am all about cuddling andIMG_20140710_192929540_HDR snuggling and I love dogs who just want to be pet and lay on my lap all day.

This is not Ally.

Ally wanted to work. Ally wanted a job and in her mind Border Collies are meant for working, not hugs, kisses, and cuddle time.

Not to long after I got Ally, my life changed dramatically and I ended up moving to Oregon. With everything happening I barely had time to think, let alone do what training needed to be done with a baby Border Collie.

She did not get the foundation and the attention she needed as a baby and because of this the relationship between her and I became strained. I wanted a cuddly puppy and she wanted me to train her for a job. Life between Ally and I was very hard. I had a hard time working with her because I wanted to pet and cuddle her and she did not. I was frustrated, she was frustrated; I felt like I failed her and I didn’t know how to fix what I had done. Ally and I did not have a relationship because I didn’t work on it enough. I felt like I had failed her as her trainer and as her friend.

IMG_20140803_194619593After long talks with friends and so many ideas on what to do, i decided to go back and treat her as though she was an 8 week old puppy. Not as a one year old dog I had failed, but as a puppy who needed to learn about relationships and starting a foundation.

In the last three months Ally has become a completely different dog. Her and I have a very strong relationship that improved ten fold once we both started working together. She now loves to be petted after a job well done. I love how hard she tries and how she has started working for me and not just for herself or treats.1623798_10203166022970180_1571313801_o

Ally and I still have a long way to go. We are working on our foundation and training obstacles for agility is still a long way out. Without the strong relationship and foundation between us, teaching her obstacles would set us back. So we are learning to work together as a team, away from the agility field. She loves her TEAM training games and I have been teaching her Treibball which, strangely enough, has helped immensely.

10312435_10202389505764404_3771689340126124457_nShe is my success story. She is the story of a dog who brought me back and made me a better trainer. She is the story of the dog I thought I failed and she showed me otherwise.





The Long Road

I have taught many seminars over the years, and one thing that each one has in common is the search for the “quick fix”.

Missed contacts, trouble weaving, getting from obstacle #1 to #3. Everyone wants the magical answer to the problem over the course of a three day seminar. Heck I want the magic answer too!

But it is not something that is possible in that short of a time frame, as much as I would love for it to be. Training dogs, or any animal for that matter (people too!) takes time, and lots of it.

It is not something that can be tackled in a weekend or even in a month. Training a dog is a lifetime, every day is training, every moment. And in each one of those days and those moments your dog is learning, whether you know it or not. They can be learning great things that will strengthen the teamwork between dog and handler or they could be learning not so great things that can lead to that creep at the start line or those missed contacts.

Sometimes seminars can be difficult because many problems that need to be addressed are things that the handler will need to work on, not just for a few days, but depending on the issue, a few months.

A lot of the times a band aid can be put on the problem, a quick fix, that isn’t lasting, but can help get the dog and handler through a few trials if need be. And sometimes those quick fixes can lead to even more problems, the dog not fully understanding the behavior, or learning a new addition to the already problem behavior. And depending on the way the fix was applied, the dog can start showing stress behaviors, not understanding why something they have been doing for months is now getting them in trouble.

I am an avid clicker trainer, I love shaping behaviors and taking the long road to the end product. I am never in a real big rush with my dogs when it comes to agility, I like to take my time and let the dog tell me when they are ready to take that next step.

And sometimes the long road can be hard, I see people with dogs the same age as my young dog, getting not only their first NATCH but their second. And that competitive part of my brain will take over and say “Dang it! We are behind!” and that is something that I think all agility handlers go through, that little competitive part of our brain that will sometimes just sneak up on us.

But what are we “behind” anyway? Where is that magic timetable that tells us when our dogs should be earning this award, or that award? Every person is different, every dog is different, and the way each of us progresses through the sport is going to be different.

I am a big believer in the long road, look at that end behavior you want, a stopped contact, a solid start line, fast weave poles, whatever it may be. Now break that behavior down, into nice small little pieces, and teach each little piece until the dog has it down, as the little pieces become big pieces, those big pieces turn into your end behavior. And now not only do you have the end behavior you have been wanting, your dog knows it, inside and out.

Taking the long road may take a more time to reach your goal, but the journey will be great, and no quick fixes or band aids to be applied. 🙂



Nargles Taken by Gabby Graves



Pressure Points

The game of dog agility is all about pressure, applying pressure to increase distance or to create a turn, or relieving pressure to bring the dog into to you.

In my TEAM Training system I talk a lot about pressure and how to teach your dog how to read the various kinds of pressure, in daily life and in agility.

When I apply pressure on the agility course I am increasing the distance between me and the dog or preparing for a turn away from me. Applying pressure means I would be moving towards my dog, whether that is 3 steps toward the dog or just 1 depending on the situation.

When I relieve pressure I am bringing the dog in towards me, directing them to the inside obstacle of a discrimination or bringing them in for a turn.

When I walk a course I look at all the pressure points of the course, where do I need to apply pressure to create an efficient turn? Where do I need to relieve pressure to bring the dog into a closer line?

By breaking the course up into pressure points it makes it easier for me to see my key handling positions, the best positions to apply or relieve the pressure.

I will be going deeper into this subject in later blog posts, but the diagram below shows some examples of various pressure points in a sequence.

Also below is a Youtube clip from my TEAM Training Overview series that talks a little bit about how to use Space Games to teach dogs to respond to pressure.

Pressure Points
Pressure Points

Fluid Motion Command Series – Tight

Fluid Motion Command Series – Tight
I will be writing a series of articles giving an overview on how I teach my directional commands. In the first of the series I will be discussing how I teach Tight.
Tight for my dogs means for them to turn as tight as they can toward me, where as a Here for my dog means come toward me, like the inside obstacle for a discrimination. The diagram below shows an example of the difference between a Tight and a Here for my
Tight and Here
When I begin teaching a Tight I want the dogs to learn to tight as they can toward me, I also want them to learn to bend their spine, I begin with one hoop, I send them through the hoop and ask them to turn as tight as they can back towards me while bending their spine around the hoop. I then quickly progress to using two hoops, sending the dog through one hoop and then asking them to Tight back towards me through the second hoop.
Each dog will progress through the lessons at their own pace, when I feel the dog is ready to move on I will start to move the hoops further apart.
Before I progress to the next step I make sure my dog is performing the current step from varying handling positions, sides and distances.
The video below shows an example of introducing a Tight with one hoop.
Tight with two hoops
Adding Tight to a Jump
I will use a Tight in many different situations, but the core of the command is that the dog will turn tightly and I will then direct them to the next obstacle.
The diagram below shows a few different examples of where I may use a Tight.
Tight Examples
Tight Examples

Letting Go

In this post I want to talk about a couple of different things.  Pressure in the agility world and letting our mistakes go.

For me these two topics go hand in hand. I have a very hard time letting things go, I hold on to the mistakes I have made and roll them around in my head, trying to figure out ways I could have done things differently and what I need to do or not do in the future.

We all feel pressure in the agility world, from our instructors, from our friends, from ourselves. Most of the time our friends and instructors do not mean to pressure us,but we feel it all the same. We also pressure ourselves, to do the best we can for our dogs, to be a better handler, and a multitude of other things.

With that pressure, mistakes can happen, and when those mistakes happen the pressure increases making us more stressed.

For me I feel intense pressure to always do right by my dogs, to give them the best care I can, feed them the best food I can and so on.

Sometimes to our better judgment, we can let others influence us as to what we should be doing, or we feel pressure to do something because “everyone else is doing it”. I have let that happen to myself, you cave to the pressure and do something that your gut is saying you shouldn’t.

It can be anything, from how to teach your dog a contact to the food you are feeding, to if you should do a front cross. Anything that makes you feel stressed or pressured puts a kink in the relationship between you and your dog. Because you are feeling uneasy about what is happening or you would just rather teach something a different way, all of these things can hinder the game between you and your dog.

My saying in life is “Do what makes you shiny”, I say this because I love to be happy, (who doesn’t? 😀 ) And I love shiny things, shiny things make me very happy. So I want everything to be shiny between me and my dog, because that makes me happy and when I am happy my dog is happy right along with me.

I say this a lot at seminars, think about the way you are training your dog, does it make you happy? Are you excited to teach it this way? Do you look forward to your training sessions with your dogs? If you are teaching something to your dog and you aren’t shiny about it, I would think about a way to teach it that makes you happy! Because if you are happy, you will become a better teacher and your dog will learn the skill faster and with enthusiasm.

So this leads me to letting go of our mistakes, I have been in this boat; I felt pressured to do something, I made a mistake and I couldn’t let it go.

I wouldn’t let the mistake go because I kept telling myself the mistake wouldn’t have happened if I had just went with my gut, it became a vicious circle, I couldn’t fix my mistake because I couldn’t let it go and my dog didn’t understand what was going on.

I have also made mistakes in my training, try something new or different and then look at it down the road and say “uh-oh” to myself, I wouldn’t let this go either, saying things to myself like “why didn’t I see this before?” , ” How did I not see she was doing that during the exercise” etc, etc.

So I have worked hard this year to let things go, to make a mistake and to learn from it, to always follow my gut and do what makes me happy and is what I feel is best for my dogs.

The dog’s don’t know we made a mistake and we can easily teach them something new to help fix the mistake and they never know the difference.

Each person has a different way of letting things go, and it is something that I think everyone has to learn for themselves. I had many friends and family talk to me and explain about letting things go but I had to work it out myself.

One of the first things I did was tell myself that each mistake was an opportunity to learn from, to make me a better trainer. And to know that my dogs don’t know its a mistake, and it can be fixed.

I never realized how much not letting things go and giving in to pressure affected my training and trialing with my dogs, now that I know it, I can see the impact it had on me and how I can fix it.

So my advice to anyone who feels like they are letting their mistakes bog them down or feel pressured.

Think about all the things you are currently teaching your dog, do you like how you are training the behavior? (for example, do you like teaching your dog 2o2o or would you ratherNargles do a running?) Are you happy with how things are going between you and your dog while training? If you hesitate or say no, then think of different ways to teach a behavior that you enjoy doing.

I LOVE training with a clicker, so I will always try to train things with a clicker, because I truly enjoy doing it that way.

Getting over pressure is harder to do, but I try my best to find my “happy place”, find the good things and know that sticking to my gut feelings is what I should do, it is best for me and it is best for my dog.

Amanda Nelson

Treats vs. Toys

I use treats for almost all of my training sessions, most all dogs are food motivated, and you can provide a wide variety of exciting treats for your dog.

 So why treats over toys?

I am not against toys, and I use them sometimes in my training sessions depending on the needs of my dog. The main issue I see with using tugs, or toys for 100%  of the training session is that sometimes (especially the high drive dogs) can become so focused on the toy that they lose sight of what the training session is about.

I have used toys with dogs that need that drive and need to be turned on, but if I have a dog who is already “on” and has great drive, I want that dog to be thinking and learning during their training session. I have seen many a dog so lost in chasing their toy after a set of weave poles, after a contact etc, etc, that they can hurt themselves, and the handler won’t even know it until their adrenaline slows down.

But my biggest gripe with tug toys is the tugging itself,  from a massage and bodywork standpoint I have worked on so many dogs who have neck and back issues from the swinging and jerking that tugging involves.  And I will make a disclaimer here,  tugging is also great for dogs if done correctly,  let the dog do the tugging, let them be in control of their body and determine the speed and “roughness” of the tug.

When I tug with my dogs i keep my arm lowered, so their head and neck are in line with their spine, I don’t jerk the toy back and forth, I let the dog choose if they want to jerk their head.

Example of bad body positioning while tugging

I also don’t pull back on the toy, I will hold it for them and let them control on much they want to tug.

I think tugging is a great tool in agility, and I play tug with my dogs to help build strength as well as build drive if I need it. But I let the dog choose how to use their body with the toy, I don’t like to jerk them back and forth or raise them up in the air.

I also don’t believe that in order to have a high drive agility dog they have to play with toys or tug, I believe you should use what works for you and your dog; as a team. Some dogs need toys to build drive, and I am all for that, but I don’t believe it should be a “must” for every single dog.

Using food for training

The most common thing I hear when I talk about using food for training is that it will teach my dog to stare at me.  Some of the most amazing Superstakes dogs I know are trained with 100% food, it is all in how you use it.

When I am first starting out training a behavior the food will almost always come from me, depending on what I am asking the dog to do as the behavior progresses i will then start targeting the dog.

I use a clicker and a target in all of my training,  with targets; I do not put food down on the plate I teach my dogs to touch the target. Sometimes after touching the target they will come back to me, and sometimes they will go on to another target or to an obstacle.

Moving Wait

My secret weapon in my training is the moving wait.  (Click here for the Moving Wait blog post)

A moving wait is where I will ask the dog while running, either between obstacles or target to stop or wait. I am not asking for a certain position such as laying down or sitting, I am just asking them to stop.

So for example;   lets say I am working on a pinwheel, and my dog just performed it beautifully, and I want to reward them for it, i will tell the dog “wait” and I will run out to them to treat them, after i have given them the treat i will then return to my original position and ask them to continue on if there is more to the sequence or just finish over the last jump etc.

This accomplishes many things at the same time, I can give the reward to the dog while they are out away from me, not having to always bring them to me for a treat which can lead them to focusing on me. This is also the first step in building confidence for distance work, most all handlers ask their dogs to come into them for a reward, tugs and treats both. So everything that is fun always happens right next to you,  I want my dog to know that if they do something great I will run out to them to give them a treat, they don’t always have to come to me. This is an amazing confidence booster and the very first step to having a great distance dog.

The moving wait also helps me with the delivery of my food, because the dog never views the moving wait as a negative  (the dog sees it as “here she comes! I must be awesome!)  i can ask the dog to wait after they have done something I want to reward them for,  contacts, weaves, a great sequence etc, etc.

 Using Targets

I also use a lot of targets in my training sessions,  using the clicker i teach my dogs to touch the target with either their nose or with their feet.  I will then do some basic target work asking them to move farther away from me to touch the target.  I will then start bringing the moving wait into my targeting sessions. For example the target is 15 feet away from me, I send the dog to the target once they touch it i ask them to wait, I will then run out to them with their reward and treat them,  I will then go back to my original  position and call them to me or re-send them to the next target.

I want to create a thinking dog right from the very beginning of my training, by using the clicker and targets i am letting the dog work problems out for themselves. What this will translate into is a dog who can make decisions on the course without needing me to help them, which in turn can create a very successful distance dog.

Where and when to feed your dog

Another important key to training with food is to not always feed the dog in front of you, you want to vary feeding the dog on your side (both left and right)  and feeding in front of you, this way you won’t create a dog who is always trying to get in front of your legs to get their treat.

If I am treating my dog to the side (they are either on my left or right side) i will use the hand closest to them, this way I am not reaching across my body to give them the treat.

When I am first starting out with a young dog they will get treats very often, as they start learning the behavior I will start to vary when they get the treats.

So for instance, my dog does a set of weave poles, she does them all but not at a real fast speed. Instead of giving her the treat I will pet her and tell her how good she is but no treat. The next time when she goes through she will probably weave faster because she wants the treat she knows I have, this time I will give her the treat.

By not giving them the treat for every performance, even though it was correct, you create more drive; because the dog will want to put in 110% instead of the 85% they put in before.


So in summary i love using treats with my dog, they are versatile and most dogs are food motivated. I am also not “anti toy”  i do use toys, when I feel that my dog needs it, and if it works for us as a team.

This article was previously published in Clean Run Magazine – October 2011 

Amanda Nelson has been competing in agility for the past 18 years, she currently travels around the country teaching seminars and competing with her two Border Collies; Try and Nargles.   She also runs Fluid Motion Agility which offers two different forums, the Training Forum and the Canine Natural Health Forum, you can visit her website at

And….Wait! Again!

I had posted a previous blog about how I use the Moving Wait as the core of my distance training as well as using it for impulse control, this post will expand on that concept.

So one of the first things my dog’s learn as puppies is to do a Moving Wait, it is the base on which I build their Distance Skills, Directional Skills, Confidence Building, Start Lines, and Life Skills.

How is a Moving Wait different then teaching a normal stay (or wait)? 

When I teach a MW (Moving Wait) I teach the dog how to move, stop their feet and then move again. The difference between teaching a MW to teaching your dog to do a sit stay etc, is that most dogs don’t know how to apply the stay while moving.

So for example, you have taught a stay at the start line, but you have taught it with the dog in front of you already in a stopped position. So the dog learns how to stay, but not to stop while moving.

So I want my dogs to learn to feel their feet moving, stop, and move again.

I don’t ask for a position for their wait, I just want them to stop, Nargles most often lays down and Try will stand, either position is fine with me as long as their feet stop moving when I say wait.

You can see the beginning stages of teaching a MW with baby Nargles on the previous MW post here:

Using the Moving Wait in Agility

I will use a MW when I first begin teaching distance, asking the dog to wait when they are out in the middle of a course to go out and treat and reward them.

Why do I do this?

When you want to reward your dog where do you do it? Most handlers bring their dogs back to them, but what you really want to reward is that distance, so I want to reward them out there, this helps build their confidence, and confidence is the key to any distance training.

A lot of the times I will ask the dog to wait after they just did an awesome sequence at a big distance, for example; Nargles just did a pinwheel at 20 feet and she has never done anything at that great of a distance, I will ask her to wait after the pinwheel, I stay where I am, but i say “YES! Good girl! So Good!” , I will then redirect her back on course again. And sometimes I will go out to her to reward with a treat or a pet, I vary between going out to them or staying where I am and telling them how good they are.

By doing this I am building her confidence away from me at a distance, one of the keys is to continue working, if you go out to the dog to treat them you need to return back to your original handling position and continue on with the sequence.  Same with if you stay where you are and verbally praise them, you need to praise them and then continue on with the sequence, that is all part of the MW.

Life Skills

I use the MW for life skills as well, waiting before going out the door, waiting in the car while I unload things. I have also used it when walking or at agility trials if I need them to stop right away. Because I have done so much work with the MW both of my dogs understand how to stop their feet even with an adrenaline rush and how to control that adrenaline through the Impulse Control games we have done. The MW has saved me a time or two in emergency situations when I need my dogs to stop and stay there until released.

Impulse Control

I use the MW to teach impulse control as well, in the previous blog post I posted a Youtube video showing my dogs working with the Wait Game. I use this game a lot to teach impulse control, this game can also be used to increase motivation, increasing that drive to want to get the toy or food tube.

This Youtube video clip shows the beginning steps of teaching a MW,  using the MW as a reward during training and it also shows myself with Nargles and Try playing the Wait Game outside with more room.

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