January 2012

Heeling – Where’s the Value?

I taught the last weekend of four in the south of Sweden this weekend. It’s been a very nice experience, with great students that have a lot of fun together. The theme for the weekend was training for trials, so there was a lot of working on sequences and trial-like situations. We did also have time to work on details, and most chose to work on the heelwork. A common problem is that the dog choses the wrong position while heeling – walking ahead of the handler or drifting out to the side (dogs that hang to far back is usually just not motivaded enough). It’s common, and can also be hard to fix after it has become a habit. We did make a lot of progress this weekend though.

The first question we need to ask when the dog is not walking where we want him to is WHY? Why is the dog finding value somewhere else than where we want him to be? Our training is almost always the answer to why there is a conflict between where we wish the dog was and where he wants to be. It can either be an effect of us reinforcing behaviors that are incompatible with a good position – like teaching the dog that heeling is about watching our eyes. It can also be that we place the reward somewhere where we don’t want the dog to be. We might allow the dog to walk out of position to meet the reward coming from our right hand, or that we bring the reward to the dog (in a position we don’t want) instead of having him come to the reward (where we want him to be).

What you reward

It is of course important to reward when the dog is exactly where you want him. We often get annoyed when the dog does something we don’t like, but we keep rewarding it. How is the dog supposed to understand that we don’t want him there if we reward it? If the dog has found a position that we don’t like, we need to find a way to get him where we want him, so that we can reward that. You might have to start with the dog just standing in the right place, or place the dog on a platform next to you. You can also let the dog start behind you and then click and reward quickly when he is in the right spot – before he gets the chance to pass you and walk to far ahead. Re-training the behavior walking backwards can also be a great way to get a new start. Or maybe just reinforcing the correct position when you’re out on a walk.

Where you reward

Training a great heel is so much easier, and the result gets so much better, if the dog feels that the reward comes exactly where you want him. Placing the treat on the seam of your pant can be a good point for you to remember when training. I prefer to let the treat come from behind if the dog has a tendency to walk to far ahead. I usually keep a few treats in my right hand and then take one at a time with my left hand behind my back when I want to reward.

I used to reward in the opposite direction from where the dog had a tendency to go. Today, I’m more into rewarding exactly where I want the dog, but have some criteria for what the dog should do to get his reward. If I reward just by my leg, I won’t let the dog swing his rear end out when he is eating. I want him to keep his body parallel with me. I train this early, when I teach him rear end awareness with front feet on a platform, and when I start the backwards walking. It’s often a good idea to train your routine for rewarding before you start heeling training.

If the dog is good at ignoring rewards held in my hands, it’s so much easier to get good placement of reward. I don’t want the dog to think about the reward until it materializes in position. I can try to lure the dog out of position with treats in my right hand or behind my back, but the dog will only get them if he keeps a good position (I will then take the reward to the dog). I also want to test my dogs understanding of position by using external rewards like a bowl of food on the ground. I work with the dog very freely (I don’t start from halt and I don’t use a cue) and let the dog find his position by my side when I’m walking in order to get his “get it” cue.

New Foundation Class

First Foundation Class is now finished and we’ve had such a great time looking at videos and discussing training with the participants. We’ve covered a lot of topics and given everybody feedback on their level of training. So it’s not just foundations, we’ve worked on recall with stand, distant control and many more advanced skills as well as great foundation skills. This is what one of our observers had to say after the course:

“I enjoyed all the lessons, the videos and the discussions and learned a lot. I feel so sorry that I did not go for ‘working participant’ as the course offered much more than ‘basics’ in my opinion and the working participants got so much personal feedback and guidance.”

Next foundation class starts on March 5th and you can sign up now! Thomas and I are really looking forward to working with a new group. Click here to read more and sign up.

Epic learning a big lesson

Having three girls in heat in the house can be a challenge with three intact males. This is the first time that I have noticed that Epic really found girls interesting, and a new world seemed to open for him. Instead of trying to survive these days, we’re making the most out of this high value reward. Bitches in heat will be allowed in Swedish agility trials from this year, so it’s good to be prepared. I will let the video speak for it self:

Pogue Obedience Class III

I forgot to tell you that Thomas and Pogue went to an obedience trial yesterday to compete in class 3. They did a great job and got 290 out of 320 points, which is really good. They also won the class. Pogue was very happy and energetic and Thomas was very proud of him. He is now qualified for the highest class. We’re hoping that Pogue also will qualify for the highest classes in search and rescue, field trials and agility this year. I think he will!

Old picture of Pogue. I’ve bought a new camera that should arrive tomorrow and I can’t wait to take some new photos of the dogs.

Agility Trial in Torsby

Squid did her first trial of 2012, and her first since September, yesterday. It was a long day in a cold riding facility, and a long drive, but it was worth it. I realize that I have a lot to work on, her performance is far from how it is at home where she doesn’t get aroused by other dogs running agility. Last season, I felt that all the training i put in made a big difference and that it got better, but we’re back where we started at the beginning of this season. She’s acting like a different dog and the biggest thing is that she is ignoring decel and looking for tunnels and weave entries. It’s really boring training, but I realize it has to be done. I want to trial with the dog I have in training. Crazy Squid still managed to win both her runs and is now qualified for class 3 in jumpers. Exciting!

Obedience Jump

One of my online students asked me for ideas on how to teach the dog to always take the jump back, even if you for example throw the dumbbell badly so that the dog no longer has a straight line to you over the jump. This is one of the basic exercises that we do with our dogs. We let them run between the handler and a helper and we click for jumping. We gradually move to the side so that the dog has to think about what he is doing. If the dog runs past the jump, there is no click and the dog gets to try again.

You’re welcome to post any questions on this below.

What happens in 2012?

Every year since I met Thomas and started working with dogs full time has been amazing, and I’m sure that 2012 won’t be an exception. The challenge is to prioritize. There is so much I want to do, but way too few days. Weekends are especially rare, all weekends until August are booked and that’s before they even published any herding trials. If I want to do herding trials this spring and summer, something else has to go. Probably agility trials. It’s hard decisions to make! I won’t write down any goals for the year, that never worked well for me and things never turn out as expected anyway. But I will share some thoughts on what we’re going to do this year.


Fly (mother of Squid, Epic and Win) was mated with Ids in the middle of December. We’re expecting puppies in February. The latest report from Fly’s owner is that Fly is eating like a horse and steals food. Let’s hope that it’s a sign of pregnancy and that she is getting many puppies this time. She’s only had four puppies in both her previous litters, but one can always hope. We have high hopes for this combination, Fly has given us wonderful dogs and Ids is an amazing working dog that we just love.

…and Pogue becoming a father

Pogue, Thomas working cocker spaniel, is probably going to father two litters this winter, one in Sweden and one in Finland. Very exciting, we like Pogue a lot!

Agility trials

I am really looking forward to this year. Starting in February, I will have four agility dogs to run. Two in medium, two in large. One in class 1 (Epic), one in class 1+2 (Pogue), one in class 2 (Squid) and one in class 3 (Shejpa). I will have my hands full! I will prioritize class 3 with Shejpa to begin, she needs a few more results to qualify for this years Swedish Championship and we will try to qualify for European Open, which is held in Sweden this year. We’re also going to defend our team gold from last years Swedish Championships.

Squid is a little crazy right now after having such a long time away from agility last year. She was away with puppies from June until September, and we have done one trial since then. My hope for 2012 is that we get synched and find some stability. I don’t really know what to expect from her yet, she is much faster than last year, something has definitely happened there. First trial for Squid is on Saturday and that’ll be very interesting. Starting to trial with Epic will be really fun. I count on him finding new gears many times during the year and my job is to keep him as cool as he is now. Doing running contacts with a big, fast dog in competition will be another fun challenge. Pogue has a lot of capacity, but since I don’t train him much (it’s Thomas’ dog) we’ll just have to see what happens.

Obedience and Working Trials

I am not doing a lot of obedience right now, except for a little training for fun and coaching Thomas. I’ve realized that I should do agility while I’m still fairly young and fast. Obedience will always be there the day when the dogs or I can’t do agility any more. I still plan to make Squid an Obedience Trial Champion, but we’ve got plenty of time for that. Thomas is doing class III with Pogue soon and maybe he’ll start Win or Sarek too during the year. Pogue will also do search and rescue trials.


We hope that we’ll find the time to do herding trials as well. We’ve got several dogs with a lot of kapacity and it’s so much fun to learn more all the time. Training is fun and trials are fascinating. I just wish there were more weekends in a year.


I have tried to work less on weekends this year, to be able to compete more. We can hopefully do some more online classes, which will free a lot of time for training and competing. We’re doing some instructing abroad. Thomas will instruct at ClickerCamp in Denmark and I’m booked in Spain. I also hope to be able to go to the U.S. this year. Some places have asked me to come and I would love to. Since it’s a long way to go, I hope to be able to visit a few places in the same trip. Let me know if you’re interested (will probably be in the fall). At home, we’re still doing some weekend seminars and I also have a weekly handling class that I love to teach. We have so much fun.

Attending seminars

We love to learn more! We already have some exciting seminars booked at home. Jo Agnar Hansen from Norway is coming back to teach us more about herding. Vappu Alatalo will come back for a jumping seminar and Jessica Martin (FCI World Champion 2010) from Canada will do a seminar on dog training and handling here.

I’m really looking forward to 2012 and I hope you’ll follow us here.