The Run

The Run. Something every person who competes in agility wants. The amazing feeling of complete connection with your dog, a feeling that every team chases weekend after weekend.

So what is The Run?

The Run is a time where you feel completely connected to your dog, you are both so completely in sync that your don’t think about the course, your cues, or what you should do next, you just do it. Everything flows, your cues just happen, no thinking, just action.  And at the end of the course you wonder if you forgot a portion of it because it went by so fast. That is The Run. That is complete connection.

So how do you get there? How do you get to a place where The Run happens?

I have found after teaching for many years and traveling across the country, handlers want The Run to happen NOW. They want that connection and that feeling right out of the gate.

In my experience The Run usually doesn’t happen until the dog is around 5-7, for me it has happened with my dogs between 6-7. (this isn’t an exact timeframe, just a general range I have noticed)

Sometimes I think handlers try to rush that feeling, that connection with their dogs. In my experience  this leads to that connected feeling taking longer, the dog can feel that pressure as well as the handler and it can delay that connected feeling.

The Run with Nargles 

Getting to The Run is what creates that feeling, that connection. All the time spent training, and trialing, learning how your dog reacts to your movements and your cues, all of that together is what creates The Run.  It can’t be rushed, it can’t be forced. It is something that happens when you least expect it.

My Run with Try, bobble and all, this was it, The Run can have bobbles, it can have mistakes, none of that matters. It is about connection. 

Enjoy the journey that gets you to The Ride, don’t rush, don’t force, just let it happen and enjoy every second of it.

Amanda Nelson

Back to Shaping!

I have been doing lots of traveling this year, which has been amazing! I love going around the country, meeting new people, and working with a huge variety of dogs, it has been a great year!

I have really taken a step back this year and focused on my training methods and how I handle my dogs. I had a bit of a light bulb moment a few weeks ago when I realized that we as handlers (myself included!) always want the newest and best thing when it comes to training methods. We tend to go with what the new fad is, or we will change our training/handling because we saw someone successful at a trial using method A, etc, etc. 396109_4337131745240_1920488830_n

The lightbulb happened when I was feeling sentimental about Try being retired and looking back on some of her old training videos and past trial runs. When I realized how much of a thinking dog she is, how strong her directionals are, and the confidence she has at a distance, I went back through how I taught all her agility and life skills, she was taught completely through shaping (free shaping and luring) and targets.

When I started training Nargles I traded a lot of my shaping and targets for newer methods that were the “in” thing, she in turn, isn’t as strong in her skills, and I didn’t devote as much time as I should have in her base skills.

What it boils down to is this, (in my mind) you as the handler have to really like how you are training your dog, doesn’t matter the method, YOU have to want to go out there and work with you dog, train them, and be their teammate. If you aren’t happy with how you are training your dog, your dog isn’t going to learn that behavior as strong, and they won’t be as happy.

Your method has to work for your dog also! Just because method A works for Bob at class, doesn’t mean it is going to work for you. You may be able to take bits and pieces and form them into a method that you and your dog likes, but sometimes the whole thing just doesn’t work for every dog. Each dog is different and needs to have a method that is tailored to them!

For me, this means I will be going back to my roots of shaping obstacle skills and targeting for distance skills and sequencing. I love shaping, I love using a clicker, I always have! In the past years I have moved away from it, but I am taking it back to the beginning, back to where I LOVE to go out and work with my dog, because we both love the way it is being taught. 🙂


Feeding the Best

I have been getting quite a few emails about what I am feeding my dogs and some people asking for ideas on what they can add to their dog’s food for variety in their meals.

I am currently rotating my dogs between Fromm, Taste of the Wild as well as I and Love and You. (not a fan of that name. lol) I also add some of I and Love and You’s freeze dried raw food every now and again.  Along with the kibble and freeze dried I will add some fresh meat, veggies, grains (oh no! not grains!) along with cottage cheese, eggs, and some yogurt.

Mind you, I do not feed all of the above every single day or even every week for that
matter, I rotate between them, adding variety and whatever I happen to feel like throwing in their bowl that day.

Most of the time their meals consist of commercial (the freeze dried or kibble) in the morning and then some meat, veggies and dairy in the evening.

But sometimes they may get nothing but my homemade food, it may be raw, it may be cooked. And sometimes (this past week, for example) they may only get kibble.  A lot of what I feed them depends on how busy I am and how much money I have. Because lets be honest, money plays a pretty big factor in what we feed our dogs, and sometimes I just don’t have over $80 to spend on a box of dehydrated or freeze-dried food.

I feel good about what I feed my dogs, I think they look healthy, they are happy and they Winter Break love their meals. I like giving them a variety of different food options from commercial to homemade, kibble to dehydrated. It makes me happy and it makes them happy.

One of the very sad things I see happening in the dog world is what I like to call “food shaming”. For instance, if you don’t feed raw you aren’t doing the best by your dog, or if you don’t feed brand XYZ then you aren’t giving your dog the best. I think we are all trying to do the best we can for our dogs, we feed them the best we can with the money we have
and the time we have.

I have done just about every kind of dog food method there is, I have fed cooked, I have fed raw, I have fed only kibble, freeze dried, and dehydrated. I personally think there are some dog food brands that are overrated for what they are and I don’t think we need to break the bank every month to give our dogs the best.

Which is why I feed a variety, I feed what works for me, my travel schedule and my pocket book. My dogs are happy and I am happy, and in the end, that’s what matters.Nargles


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

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