The Power of a Few Kind Words

A lady came up to me on the trail today and told me “I like your dog”.

At an agility trial 20 years ago a lady came up to me before I went into the agility ring and said “I know you are busy getting ready to run, but I wanted to say that I always enjoy watching you before and after you run.  It is so clear that you love your dog whether you win or not.”

I thanked her, heard the gate steward calling and quickly went to the gate.  I was thinking about the course, but with overtones of thankfulness.  Nel and I won the class that day and I have never forgotten the kind words which meant so much more than the blue ribbon.

Blue ribbons fade over time, but kindness is always remembered in glorious color.

The person you were kind to five minutes ago is probably being kind to someone right now.

That person you took a moment to compliment on her beautiful gray-muzzled senior dog is filled with the love and memories an oh-so-cute puppy.  Fond memories of days gone by when passers-by would remark on how this dog glowed with youthful energy and vigor.   They both had a spring in their step as they walked away.

Dog people are mostly “love me, love my dog people” and sometimes take other people’s dogs for granted, but as moments are remembered it is so often the simple kindness of somebody saying “what a lovely dog” which stands out beyond the ribbons, titles or accolades.

How hot are your contacts?

In California AKC Novice is usually during the hottest part of the day.  USDAA Starters can be running at any time, but often happens after lunch. It’s not just novice dogs who need to be used to the heat though, USDAA Grand Prix Finals are usually held in the early afternoon.

Unless you wish to give your dog a nasty surprise for their first Novice runs or Grand Prix Finals, it is best to make it very rewarding for them to do a little bit of agility (no overdoing things, agility runs only take seconds) in the heat of the day.

Imagine a dog that is used to a group class in the evening experiencing their first agility run and their first warm rubber contact obstacle (surprise! no rewards in the ring) at a time of day when they are very used to napping.

This is why, in fairness to my dogs, some of my infrequent training sessions are a quick trip outside to reward a contact obstacle in the warmer part of the day.

I am currently teaching my English Shepherd puppy, Kelsa, (14 months) to love the seesaw.  She really enjoys jumping on the end and getting treats from the cookie machine (Treat and Train).  It was pretty cool early this morning, but by 10 am I realized that the weather had changed and it was already a wee bit too hot out there.  She was keen to get started, but I decided to have her wait in the shade while I felt the rubber contact on the seesaw.  I am so glad I did as it was too hot for my dog to comfortably hold a position with two rear feet on.

She was willing and able, but as the entire point is to generate a good first impression I decided to have her remain in the shade while I had a think.  I did explain what was going on and she was quite cool with the idea.

It is always good to have a think about what you are asking a willing dog to do because it is only fair and it also makes your training so much quicker and easier!  If in doubt about anything do stop and think and if you can’t think of a good reason to do it, then don’t.

This morning was a big eye-opener about the impressions our inexperienced dogs get from our seemingly ridiculous desire to ask them to run over rubber in the middle of the day.  While I was thinking I decided to get a towel and place it over the rubber down contact on the seesaw and see how much difference that made.

After a few minutes I tested it and it was considerably cooler and Kelsa was still keen to have a go at playing with the seesaw and the cookie machine so I let her do a couple of repetitions and then came back inside.

So if you have running contacts expect your dog to run faster in the heat and if you have stopped contacts realize that your dog may have a good reason for not wanting to hang around.

Rufus and the Fire Ants

This is just one story of a smart dog and his highly trainable human.

My English Shepherd, Rufus, was the dog who could go anywhere and do anything, but he did require some steering to keep him out of trouble in the foraging department!

I will never forget when we had just arrived in Houston, Texas for the Pedigree Grand Prix of Dog Agility.  Rufus and I had won the trip to USDAA Nationals with flight and hotel paid for by Pedigree Dog Food sponsors of the event, but were unprepared for the high humidity and wildlife of Texas.

Our first day in Houston and Rufus needed a walk outside before retreating to the relative coolness of our hotel room. What could possibly go wrong?  Two words may give you a clue:  Flexi Leash!

A short way into our walk Rufus managed to pick up a slice of bread which he managed to swallow just as I saw the fire ants that were crawling all over it! We were both stung as I tried in vain to retrieve the bread from his throat, but the biggest problem was yet to come.

As we prepared to run in Grand Prix the next morning I noticed that Rufus appeared somewhat off his game. He was not interested in his toy which was highly unusual. When we ran the course he was clean, but very slightly slower than usual.  He missed the finals that year by .75 of a second.

I was disappointed to be missing the finals because of a slice of white bread and a bunch of fire ants, but wasn’t I fortunate he was not allergic.

“Starting Over in Novice”


Good morning!

My best dog ever Trio just brought me a pine cone.  Of course, any of my dogs are “the best dog ever” if they bring me something and look so proud and happy about it!

Pine cones are to be treasured and this particular one smells beautifully of pine trees, but the topic of this particular blog is not pine cones.

Today the subject that springs to mind is training a dog to do agility and hopefully getting the opportunity to run in Starters/Novice.

I have heard some people refer to this momentous occasion as “going through novice”, but I think this makes it sound as if it is not a fun experience at all and simply something to “get through” before the real fun begins.  Looking back at the times I have been fortunate enough to step to the line and take on the first ever courses with my dogs I will never describe it as “going through Novice/Starters”.

Let’s see how many times have I done this?

Twelve USDAA Starters Dogs:

Saxon, GSD

Rufus, English Shepherd

Purdy, English Shepherd



Bracken, English Shepherd

Nel, Border Collie

TC, Border Collie

Bobbin, Pembroke Welsh Corgi

Stroller, Border Collie

Daz, Border Collie

Twiggy, Border Collie

Just Emma, English Shepherd

Watson, English Shepherd


Six AKC Novice Dogs:











That’s 18 trips to that precious Starters/Novice start line.

Hey, Wait! Make that 7!

Trio, the dog who just happens to be sitting in front of me holding a beautiful pine cone in his mouth looking so proud of himself, just “went through AKC Novice” before I even had a chance to realize we were there.  More about that later!

The point I’m hoping to make here is not how many dogs I have “been through USDAA Starters and/or AKC Novice competition with, but just how important it is to truly believe that the dog sitting in front of you, whether he is holding a pine cone or something unmentionable, is truly the best dog in the world.  Agility happens most of all between the obstacles and outside the ring.  Only a small time is spent in the actual competition so remain in the moment, relish the experience and enjoy it for all it’s worth, as it truly is an honor stepping to the line for that first time in Starters/Novice competition.

Okay.  Now I really have to get off the computer as the best dogs ever are being very quiet and patient.  Must reward that before it is too late!


P.S.  When I got my puppy, Trio, I had an interesting conversation with somebody who commented that “Now you have to start all over again!” as if it was something to be dreaded.  I was and have always been thrilled to meet a new puppy or dog, to develop that playful bond and to apply layer upon layer of mutual trust which hopefully will be the beginning of a fun and enjoyable agility experience.

Between the Obstacles

Welcome to my blog!  Excuse the dog hair.  It comes with the territory.

If you follow me on facebook you know I love my dogs and cannot resist taking their photographs, but what do they think and what would they say if they could finally get on the keyboard?

Well, as the saying goes, every dog has his day, but today I’m going to start the ball rolling.


The other morning a new student and her puppy came for a private lesson.  The two clearly have a great relationship blossoming.  The handler is intent upon doing the right thing for her puppy and the puppy is happy to play all the games with her.  With their combined positive attitudes I am confident they will enjoy the obstacles and more importantly, they will enjoy the bits between the obstacles just as much. 

I have each student answer various questions.  Does your dog like toys?  Does your dog like food?  Does your dog like other dogs?  Does your dog like other people?  The answer was a resounding “Yes” to all.

Next came the big question.  What do you like most about your dog?

Most handlers answer “Everything” or “Happy attitude” or “eager to please” or “he’s a fun-loving guy” or “she’s my best friend”.  These answers always make me smile and whether their intention is to go on to compete or not I know they are off to a good start in their agility careers. 

This particular puppy reminded me of a dog I had trained a long time ago.  After they left I wondered how many dogs I have introduced to agility or helped along the way since I started “teaching the occasional lesson” in the 1990s.  Going through the introduction 

sheets I found that number to be around 430 people and 450 dogs.  As I glanced through the sheets I remembered every dog and handler.  Many are my friends today.  Some have returned with several generations of their dogs.  I remembered how excited I was to get to know them and their dogs and to introduce them to this fun sport called dog agility.  

So there it is.  The reason I teach private agility lessons.  I enjoy helping dogs and handlers enjoy the sport, but above all, I enjoy teaching them to love the bits between the obstacles.

Have a great day.  Tell your dogs they are good.  Give out rewards as if somebody else paid for them. 

Talk to you later!

For more on the mental game of Dog Agility, check out “Because Agility is a Mental Game”.