How to fix slow reactions to cues

I went to Switzerland to teach last weekend and I decided to bring Squid with me. She hasn’t been on an airplane for many years, but she handled everything like a pro and was an absolute dream to travel with. I really feel like teaching is so much easier when I have one of my dogs with me to show things with. Especially when teaching in another country where my style of training might be very new and different, and also especially when there is a language barrier and things get lost in translation. Another awesome thing about using my own dogs when teaching is that things happen when I show things with them, and that brings up subjects that might have been lost otherwise. On Sunday in Switzerland, I was fortunate enough to have a student videotaping most of my presentations, which made it possible to share one of these great moments in the blog.

Squid was showing some distance control to the group when I found that her “up” cue really wasn’t working the way it should. She was slow to react, sometimes didn’t react at all and didn’t go all the way up in a nice sit. I quickly realised that this was because I have used the “up” cue a lot in her agility starts, trying to get her so sit up better before releasing her in a trial. And we haven’t done formal obedience in a long time. When I started competing in agility, I would wait for her to offer the nice sit up before releasing, but for the past years I have used the cue. Often many times before I’m happy with her sit.

Cues should function as “green lights” to the dog. They should be reinforcing and give the dog permission to start a behavior that they really like to perform. I never want to feel like I have to ask or beg the dog to do something. I realise that I use the term “poisoned cue” in the video in a different way than most people would, and I will stop doing that. A poisoned cue is usually defined as a cue taught with both negative and positive reinforcement. This is not the case here, the hesitation is just a function of poor usage of the cue. It still feels “poisoned” to me, which is why I used that term, but I need to think about something else (“yellow light”, maybe?).

The fix for a problem like this is easy when your dog is used to offer behavior, even if it’s already on stimulus control. I really feel sorry for trainers who never allow the dog to offer behaviors once the cue is added. How do you fix it without nagging more? Regardless of it’s a problem with reacting to the cue, or a problem with executing the behavior correctly, the solution is the same. Get the behavior offered, reward the good responses, fix any problems with execution while the behavior is offered, make sure the dog is really eager to repeat the behavior, and then – add the stimulus control back in and get the cue to function as a green light that allows the dog to perform the behavior she’s now very happy to show you.

I would often go through this process quickly right before and obedience trial, to make sure that Squid was very eager to perform the distance control positions (especially the first one). She always had really good distance control scores.

Here’s the video where you can see the before, the process, and the result. Really quick training with a big difference in before and after.


Epic’s American Adventure – Part 2

We’re finally back home in Sweden after three weeks in the U.S. We’ve had a great time, but it has also been difficult being away from home. Thomas lost his wonderful border collie Win, mother of five young puppies, to eclampsia two weeks ago. It was a great shock for us, and it was hard being away from home. The five boys are now five weeks old and are doing great. We have many dogs at home that are happy to help raise them, and Thomas has done a great job with them. We all miss Win so much though. Win was Epic’s sister, and the first dog born in our breeding. She’s been an amazing herding dog with great character.

Epic and I had fun teaching in Columbus, Ohio. We stayed four days after the seminar and did more training with friends, before driving to Washington, D.C to visit my brother. My friend Kristen and her golden retriever Griffin went with us on our road trip. Our dogs were very excited tourists, and really enjoyed our walks around the city. We walked around the National Mall, and also did some obedience training with a lot of distractions.


From Washington, we drove north and spent a night north of Philadelphia after stopping in Baltimore for the National Cryptologic Museum and a walk in Leakin Park. On Tuesday, we spend the afternoon in New York City, mostly walking the dogs in Central Park. It was very windy and cold, but we had a good time. Wednesday was spent in New Jersey, where we found an amazing state park to walk the dogs in. Weather was perfect and the view from top of Ramapo Mountain was breathtaking. Look closely at the horizon on the picture, and you’ll see the Manhattan skyline.


We flew home on Wednesday night and landed in Stockholm on Thursday morning. Flying Epic with SAS has been a good experience. No problems with anything at the airports, happy and relaxed dog and good service. It was almost too easy! I’m glad that I have another dog (Shejpa was the first) that doesn’t mind flying and that is happy to join me on long trips. I don’t regret bringing Epic at all. We’ve both had a great time! In just a few hours, I have to leave home and drive to the airport again, for a seminar in Norway this weekend. I’ll get back late Sunday night, and look forward to five days at home with Thomas, my dogs and the puppies.

Big thank you to Kristen who drove us all the way and joined us in all adventures!

Epic’s American Adventure

Epic and I are at Posidog in Columbus, Ohio, teaching obedience, problem solving and trial prep. It’s the first time I’ve brought a dog here (and my fourth time teaching here), and I’m very glad that I did. I chose to bring Epic because I know he doesn’t have any problems with flying. Squid doesn’t really like it, so she doesn’t have t, and Wilco is so young that I have no idea how he would react. I will try some shorter flights before bringing him on a long trip like this.


Epic was happy to get in his crate both before and after the long flight to Chicago. He was glad to see me, but seemed calm and happy when I took him out. I chose to fly to Chicago to get a direct flight from Stockholm. My friend Kristen picked us up and drove us to Ohio. We had a few days off before the seminar started, so we went on nice walks and had good training sessions. I feel that traveling with a dog really deepens the relationship. Being alone with Epic helps too, but I think the traveling is a big part of it.


We haven’t done much obedience before, but this past week has really been a boost to our obedience training. With both my obedience dogs at home, Epic has to step up and learn new skills. And he has! We’ve made lots of progress on heeling, retrieving, stimulus control and distant control. We’ve also played around with some bite work, as our friends here are into mondioring. Epic loved it the first days, but I think we did too much and made him a bit sore. He’s had a few days off and now we’ll try again. He loves tugging, but had trouble with the transition from leg sleeves to bite pants. The concept of clothing and tug toy in one blew his mind.

We have four more days of teaching, and really look forward to it. Then more training and a road trip before we go home.


In Sweden

We’re back in Sweden! It’s cold. We started by visiting Tyra and her puppies! They look very nice and now all I have to do is find a name and wait. Puppies are four weeks today and will be ready to leave in another four weeks. All puppies in Sweden have to be at least eight weeks before leaving their mother and siblings. For me, that is a good age. Having had a few border collie litters of my own, I think that eight weeks is a good age for them to go to their new homes. At that age, they start to act more as individuals and need individual attention and to expand their horizons. What are the rules/laws in your country? And at what age do you want to take your new puppy home?


We left the puppies and went to a forest on the way to my parents. Epic and Squid were very happy to stretch their legs and get out of the car. Sweden might be cold, but a great walk with the dogs in the forest is never far away…


We arrived at my parents house in the afternoon, and took a walk to the sea. Sweden also has beaches worth exploring! After a night here, we’re ready to head home. It’s been over five weeks since I left Fjugesta. I just wish that Thomas was home, but I won’t be seeing much of him for the next few weeks. He travels to Norway a lot, both teaching and working on his masters thesis.


On our way back (with some delays)

I’m sorry for not blogging during the past two weeks. I’ve had a great time in Italy. First I spent a few days outside Rome training my own dogs, walking on the beach and enjoying the sun. Then I taught three days of obedience at the same location. Lots of great dogs and handlers, and good discussions. I also had time to train my own dogs in the afternoon. Squid was quite affected by being in heat (she stopped for two weeks, then came into the peak of her heat a month after the first drop of blood) for a few days. She was tired and had a pained look in her eyes. I was a bit worried, but I gave her time to rest and after a few days she was back to normal. After the seminar, I spent a few days at another agility school outside of Rome. I trained my dogs (Squid was happy to do some obedience, and Epic got to do some jump grids and contacts. He’s looking good!).

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On Wednesday, I made my way back north to Malosco where we started our Italian adventure exactly one month before. Still snow there, but nice and sunny weather. We went for walks in the forest and trained agility indoors. On the weekend, I taught an agility foundations seminar for a great group of people. A few adult dogs, but mostly puppies. So much fun, and I think we covered a lot even though translating to both Italian and German took some time.


I started to drive home yesterday. Driving went well, until i realized something was wrong with the breaks. Tried to drive without breaking, and made it to Rostock where I finally found a hotel to check into just before midnight. Now, I’m waiting for my car to be repaired. Breaks on all four wheels are ruined and needs to be changed. Luckily, they had all the parts here so I hope to be on my way in a few hours. I set up an office at the repair shop. WiFi, coffee, dogs at my feet. Almost like being at home 😀 I hope to be in Sweden by evening, and back home on Thursday. I’m so grateful for friends helping me out with finding a good repair shop, offering me places to stay for the night and especially for having the best possible help with dogs and sheep at home so that I don’t have to worry about that (Thomas is in Norway).

Working with distractions

I drove to Rome yesterday, and spent today at the Italian WAO tryouts (with almost two hour break for cross-country skiing on my iPad, of course – new GOLD for Sweden!). Fun to see agility, and some inspiring courses. I spent some time playing with my own dogs too. Epic worked mostly on focus. He likes to watch small dogs run, and will quickly take his eyes off me if I want to work with food and not just high energy things and tugging. So the plan was to tug with him, and gradually introduce more and more food and more and more work between tugging. I was pleased with the result, and I think he did a great job! Here’s a really boring video of some of the things we did today (boring because it’s quite long, and because the camera is static):

Squid got to come out at the end of the day (she’s in heat, so I didn’t want to distract someone competing). She got to do obedience with some really tough distractions. There were dogs running all around her, but she did great! Here’s a long and boring video of her:

Naugthy Squid and Sightseeing in Bari

After our lovely day at the beaches that I wrote about on Sunday, I left Squid in the camper for a while, while I want into the house to get some work done (temporary problem with the WiFi in the camper). After work, dinner and some more work, I went back to the camper to take the dogs out and go to sleep. But Squid obviously thought that her day had been too boring and that she was hungry. She had torn apart and eaten from a big bag of coconut flour that was on the counter. She had spread the flour all over the floor, along with the contents of my gym bag. She had also eaten a hole in my favorite sweater, and ripped my favorite pants apart (because of small particles of food left in pockets).

She also seems to have found a jar of pills for dogs that have problematic stomachs, and eaten most of the pills. Some kind of self-medication. It didn’t seem to help much, because she wanted out a couple of times during the first night, and yesterday she seemed to be in some pain. She looks better now! It was of course my fault for forgetting about the flour on the counter. I was in a hurry that morning, and forgot to put it away. It does surprise me that she ate it though, but Epic was also interested in it, so it obviously tastes good. And the clothes – I should have put them in the suitcase, but I thought they were safe on the bed above the front seet. They were not…


Epic looking at the mess

Yesterday was a day of rest for the dogs. I got I guided tour of Bari by Italian friends. Afterwards, I took the dogs on some sightseeing around town. They are starting to act very civilized in the city. 😀 I then went to a shopping centre to buy new pants. But I did forget to try them on in other positions than standing up. This wasn’t a very good idea. I went to the gym for some training in my new pants, and in the first squat my new pants said “rrrippp” and got a hole in them. Of course, I wasn’t alone there, as the Italian men at the gym tried to comment my training (in a languate I don’t understand) all the time…


Walking along the water in Bari

Today has also been a relaxed day. A work out for Epic, and his first weave pole repetitions in almost six months. Rest for Squid because of her stomach. We watched the cross-country sprint from the Olympics. Were dissapointed when Cologna fell twice, but happy about two Swedish medals. Then we went to the forest for a walk again. And we didn’t meet anybody. Love it!


Tomorrow, I’ll teach an obedience seminar here. Very interesting, as obedience isn’t a big sport here in the south. I just hope that the language won’t be too much of a problem. Having a translator makes it harder to teach. It’s a bit like the game where you whisper a sentence to a person, who in turn whispers what he hears to a third person. It can get confusing. In the north of Italy, I have been working with a long time student as my translator. This makes it easier, since I know that she understands most of the concepts well. But we’ve still had some problems. I’m glad that she’ll come to Rome to translate next weekend. I guess I should work on my Italian some more, so that I at least can understand when things go wrong in translation…

I hope you enjoy our reports from Italy. I do miss your comments a bit, it feels like talking to no-one at times.

Tunnel Cup Visit and Beaches

This morning, we drove to Monopoli (south of Bari, on the coast) to look at a tunnel cup competition. A good opportunity to give my dogs some training in a very distracting environment. When I got there, I took the dogs for a walk around the competition (which was held on a soccer field in the middle of the city) and had a short session of obedience with Squid. Then I got back in the car to watch the men’s skiathlon at the Olympics. I love cross country skiing – on TV 😀 It was very exciting, and couldn’t have ended better. My favorite – Dario Cologna – is back from injury and won the gold, while Sweden’s Marcus Hellner won silver!


After that, I spend a couple of hours around the competition and trained both dogs. Squid worked on heeling, stand/sit/down from heel, long sits and distance control with a lot of distractions. She seems to like to get tasks to focus on when there are a lot of other dogs around. I think she likes not having to deal with dogs that she doesn’t know, and focusing on her work is a good way for her to do that. She did very well, and I was very happy that I could get her to heel very calmly next to a tunnel cup! Epic did well too. We focused on some engaging games (tug, circle work, sits and nose touches) and some relaxing. He also got a little work out for his hind legs in a set of stairs close to the ring. I had a lot of fun with both dogs, and it seems like my efforts to get them out in the world more quickly pays off!


When we were done with training, I drove south to find a beach to walk the dogs on. I found the most perfect beach, and there was no one in sight, so the dogs could run free and have fun for a long time. They loved it, and so did I!


I then took the car up the hills behind Fasano, and had a great view of the ocean and saw a lot of traditional houses and beautiful views. I didn’t find anywhere to walk the dogs, so we went back to the coast. I had a really nice lunch at a restaurant, and then took a nice walk by the sea as the sun set. We had a great day!


Foresta di Mercadante

I’m so glad that I took the dogs in the car and went to the forest for a walk yesterday. It surpassed all my expectations! Foresta di Mercadante is a forest planted on a hill, to prevent flooding in Bari. It’s also a beautiful nature reserve where a lot of energy has been put into tracks and signs. Even better – it felt like we were alone in the Forest. We walked for more than an hour, and the only ones we met were a bicyclist and a confused poiter with no owner in sight.

I wanted to give the dogs some active rest. It’s easy to train too much when you have the agility field right around the corner, but my dogs are not in shape to jump, run fast and dig in hard every day. I think soft trotting in the forest is an exellent active recovery for all dogs. And it was beautiful!


And working on balance 🙂

Squid got to do obedience in the afternoon. We’re working on a constant head position in heeling, and play around with games for scent discimination. A lot of good training for her, and it got even better when she found chickens both on the other side of the fence, and in our training field. That was a tough distraction for her!


The puppies by Tyra and Epic, that I have been waiting for for so long, were born two nights ago. I was really set on a female puppy this time, but all seven puppies were male. They are beautiful, and I don’t think I can say no to one of them even though he’s a son and not a daughter…

Tyra med valpar