Spot On K9 Sports

Fun activities for all dogs

Is 10 Too Old to ADCH?

Me with senior spots,
Jolie & Darby

Aging has been on my mind a lot lately. This October, I will celebrate my 41st birthday and 15th wedding anniversary. In February 2014, I will welcome my first child, a baby boy. It’s a fact that he will change my life – which has largely revolved around my dogs and agility till now – but merely a series of educated guesses on my part as to how exactly he will change it. Will I be able to devote the same hours to my other “baby,” my training business? Will I still have the time and money to train and show in agility? Will friends run the other way when they see me set up a play pen beside their crates and X-pens?


Jolie jumps 22″

Until I found out that I was pregnant, my main obsession was the window of time closing on my Dalmatian, Jolie, and I as we earnestly focused on earning her ADCH (Agility Dog Champion) in USDAA before she turned 10 years old in December 2013. She needs two Master Snooker Super Qs, one Steeplechase Q, and two more Tournament Qs. After a series of setbacks, including back surgery in 2010, heartworm treatment in 2011, and being attacked by another dog in 2013, it’s extraordinary that she’s doing agility at all, much less showing in the highly competitive Championship 22″ class.

Now that Baby Boy Lane is on the way, and my own agile ability wanes, our window of time is a mere crack of opportunity. Earlier this year, I was panicked and anxious at shows, suffocated by desire instead of appreciating time spent with friends and my pretty spotted girl. With the baby coming, I realized I had to either do something different or retire Jolie and cherish her as a beloved companion couch potato.

Thus, Journey to ADCH was born. This new Facebook community is for anyone working to attain their team’s ADCH or PDCH and could use some support and motivation from peers along the way. As the number of likes surpassed 100 within just one day, I realized that this had gone beyond me and Jolie; it was now about many other hard-working teams who had hopes, dreams and aspirations.


Happy girl!

The day after I started Journey to ADCH, Jolie, Baby and I attended a USDAA trial in Naperville, IL. She went 1/3, Q’ing in Master Snooker for the 10th time, but was too sore in her lower back to weave in Steeplechase and Grand Prix. Regardless of the outcome, at the finish of each run, I threw my hands up in the air, excitedly exclaimed, “Good girl, Little Monkey!” and we raced to her container of treats. There was no sign of the panic or anxiety I had experienced at previous shows. Instead, I was filled with joy and happiness at being able to run my dog, visit my friends and their amazing dogs, and yes, I’ll admit, obsessively check for updates from fellow Journey to ADCHers who were sharing brags and support for each other on the page.

After the show, I finally had the emotional clarity I needed to make an important decision. Jolie had earned her last Q at 22″; it was time to move to Performance 16″ and maybe – or maybe not – begin the Journey to PDCH. She will never again be the 8-month-old adolescent that leaped over the couch and inspired my then 30-year-old self to sign her up for agility classes. But our journey together continues, as does the varied and inspiring journeys of many other teams for whom I will be loudly cheering … all the way to the finish line.

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What Makes a Good Coach

“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” – popular wisdom

If you agree with that sentiment, I’ll wager that you haven’t yet experienced a great coach. Recently, I’ve taken up running again, an activity I enjoyed competitively in high school and college. It’s brought back a lot of memories of my high school girls’ cross country coach, Allan Goodman.

He was an excellent mentor despite many odds. For one thing, he was obese. He never ran with us like the boys’ cross country coach did. Instead, our co-captains lead the runs. When we did wind sprints, he drove his car behind us – one honk to go faster, two honks to slow down.

He was a bachelor, with no kids of his own, yet somehow he could not only relate to but inspire a group of awkward teenage girls. It didn’t hurt that he was a talented cook and prepared a carbo-loading feast the night before a meet.

He taught math, which generally isn’t the subject of choice for a gregarious leader. His quiet thoughtfulness and wry humor were perfect counterparts to our emerging social butterflies, eagerly seeking direction and approval.

In 1988, the Conant Cougars girls’ cross country team won the state championship. It was the first time in the team’s history that it had even qualified.  The following year, we came in second to #1 ranked Palatine. It was extraordinary.

Me & Brian after running 5K in August 2012.

“We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment.” – Jim Rohn

Since retiring my first agility dog and Dalmatian, Darby, in 2010 after earning her ADCH in USDAA, I have been unable to show regularly. My younger Dalmatian, Jolie, has suffered a series of setbacks, from lack of motivation to back surgery to heartworm treatment. My Dutch Shepherd, Ginger Peach, prefers showing off freestyle Frisbee tricks in front of a crowd than agility. Our newest pack member, Magnum the Border Collie, is only 10.5 months. He loves the game, but we’re still learning about each other. It will take time to become a team, both inside and outside the agility ring.

A trial once in a blue moon is not enough to keep in touch with my old agility friends, make new ones and experience firsthand the evolution in course designs and handling trends. Most importantly, I am not there to encourage my students. The majority are new to competition and would benefit from having someone in their corner.

At one point, I debated whether I should even be teaching a sport in which I was not actively showing. How could I best guide my students if I wasn’t out there myself, leading the way?

“Work the hill!” – Allan Goodman

As Coach Goodman proved, leading is it’s own form of doing. While initially disappointed that I did not have a teammate of my own to show, something remarkable happened. My students became my teachers, and their dogs became my teammates. Their enthusiasm and curiosity reignited my passion for this sport. The love of learning and the discipline required to practice it doesn’t require a competition-ready agility dog at my feet.

This past weekend, a group of my students attended the same trial together. They shared their collective wisdom about trial etiquette and how to remember courses. They cheered each other on during runs, celebrated Qs and the less quantifiable mini victories. They enjoyed each other’s company and friendship. Photos of happy people and dogs kept popping up on my Facebook news feed. It was extraordinary.

I think Coach Goodman would be proud.


“Hideous” Jumpers Course

dog agility excellent standard jumpers weaves course

We kicked off class with the Excellent Jumpers course (white circles). While my students walked, I overheard them describe it with colorful adjectives, such as “hideous.” One student jokingly inquired if I’d gotten into a fight with my husband before designing these courses.

Of course, their comments are all good natured – well, usually. As their teacher, I want them to succeed, but if perfection comes too easily, what have they learned? Besides, the point of class isn’t to run the course perfectly. It’s an opportunity to experiment with different handling methods or proof obstacle performance. Failure is simply feedback on what needs further refinement.

The Excellent Standard course from #4 weaves to #5 teeter is the perfect example. Dog after dog went up the off course dogwalk because students couldn’t (or wouldn’t) fade away to draw the path toward the teeter.

Take a look at these courses and let me know how you’d run #5-9 on the “hideous” Jumpers course, and #1-4 on the Standard course. Students, feel free to share your thoughts on running these courses and what worked best for your team.

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Small Space Handling Skills

dog agility training handling obstacle discrimination 270

Tuesday mornings, I teach private lessons for students whose dogs can perform all the obstacles, but the human part of the team needs help with handling. We use a small matted space (80 x 30) which is often used for group classes such as obedience, puppy kindergarten, nose work, tricks and rally. I find that the small space helps handlers gain confidence in their abilities more quickly, so they’re better prepared for larger spaces in the future.

This course presented a variety of challenges (see color-coded key). Usually, we think of a tunnel beside a dogwalk or Aframe as an obstacle discrimination. In this case, it was a tunnel and a jump, and an opportunity to practice tire turns and experiment with acceleration and deceleration

#1-5 was easy for all teams, with the handler performing a front cross on the landing side of #3. The 270 at #6-7 was smooth if the handler decelerated and rear crossed #6. A few handlers attempted to get ahead and front cross on the landing side of #5, but dog after dog read the forward motion as permission to take off course #16 jump.

Patient handlers who decelerated on approach to #9 tire were rewarded with a nice turn to #10 jump. Those who felt the need for speed sent their dogs right into the off course #13 tunnel.
The #14-16 line worked best for handlers who kept dog on their left, decelerated or didn’t even pass plane of #14 jump to ensure slight bend in dog’s path. Staying behind worked well for rear cross on take off side of #16 jump to follow through with 270 to #17 jump.

Some dogs went around the #17 jump if the handler stretched out arm to indicate it, instead of keeping arm at side and using shoulder to cue tight turn. Dogs would also go around #17 jump if the handler attempted a front cross on the landing side of #17 and kept moving parallel to the jump instead of moving away diagonally toward #18 jump.

Set it up in your yard or training space and let me know what most challenged your team!

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When the Teacher Is the Student, Part I

Last week, I took Magnum to his first agility class. It was disastrous. An epic fail. Worthy of many, many cartons of ice cream.

In hindsight, my expectations were so sky high they were from another planet. Since he was familiar with the facility, and had prior group class experience, I had assumed we’d be ready for equipment and short sequences, like everybody else. We had practiced foundation behavior and obedience skills since he was 10 weeks old. How much more prepared could we possibly be?

Did I mention that Magnum is my first Border Collie? And he’s nine months old?

I spent the hour feeling like I had never trained a dog before in my life. It didn’t help that I arrived just as class started, with everyone on the move just as we came in. Magnum scanned the room, increasingly excited by all the motion. I put our stuff on a nearby table and debated whether I should bring a crate in for him. He tends to resource guard his crate, so until I got to know the group dynamic, I decided he’d be better off on leash with me.

We entered the ring to warm up with a few basics: set up, sit, down, heel, tunnel … whoa! What? I didn’t ask him to do tunnel! And now he’s clear across the room chasing after a dog! He was so quick; I half blinked and he was gone. Where was my good little boy?

I mean, literally, where was he!?!

Fortunately, Magnum’s recall proved solid and he was back with me just as fast. I sighed with relief as I held his collar and clipped on his leash. I could feel his heart pounding. His eyes were wide and more glazed over than the donut I had that morning. His tongue hung out the side of his mouth. He was done.

After 10 minutes, we were completely overwhelmed. How would we handle an entire hour? I wish I had brought in the crate just to give us both a break. It was impossible to help him settle. The moment a dog zoomed through the tunnel or raced over the Aframe, he morphed into a lunging, barking Tasmanian Devil at the end of my leash. Somehow, I had positioned us right in the path of the sequence, so even though we were to the side, dog after dog ran right for us. There was no room to maneuver, so I took him outside.

He headed right for the baby pool and sunk down in the cool water. He looked far more relaxed, even happy. I wanted to be happy, enjoying this milestone together on what I hoped would be a long agility journey. Instead, I felt flustered and frustrated.

Our rest was short lived. The instructor came out to potty her young puppy. She drew closer as we made small talk. I watched Magnum for any sign of the reactivity that he has demonstrated with some dogs. In a flash, he was out of the pool and standing tall, eyeballing the puppy. I mean, seriously? This little fluffball is a threat? Already tired, and now nervous, because the last thing I wanted was a puppy having a bad dog experience, I blanked out. Total mind melt!

Even though I’ve successfully managed my own reactive dog for many years and helped numerous students with their reactive dogs, I could not remember what to do. I allowed my own emotions and expectations to overwhelm my logic and ability to act thoughtfully. The leash grew taunt. I couldn’t remember how to loosen it or get us the hell outta there.

Of course, Magnum lost it. He lunged, growled and barked. I, in turn, had my own tantrum. I walked away, embarrassed and angry. From a distance, I could hear my instructor chuckle knowingly. “Come back in when you’re ready!” she said.

She wasn’t about to reinforce my bad behavior and let me give up. Damn.


Thu Agility Class Courses

Although the courses are numbered here, I deliberately did not number them for my students to encourage them to use muscle memory instead of relying on or being distracted by numbered cones littered throughout the course.

Across the board, with all four classes tonight, the biggest challenge I saw was keeping the dog’s focus. For one team, I suggested that the handler ask her dog to perform basic obedience cues such as sit, down, watch me or tricks so they could be connected right at the start line. Staying connected is much more important than accurately following the course.

If you didn’t set your dog up at a slight angle in line with #2 jump, and didn’t have a start line stay, dogs turned back toward their handler and missed the #2 jump. Some handlers managed with a push, which wasn’t pretty. I prefer setting the dog up to see the second obstacle and a solid start line stay. We discussed the importance of regularly reinforcing the sit stay rather than waiting for the dog to fail (i.e. self release) and correcting him for it.

For Excellent/Masters course, front crosses after the teeter and landing side #6 jump tightened up the line. Several dogs were not cued to turn tightly coming out of the chute and took the backside of #16 (red)/#17 (black) nonwinged jump.

For Open/Advanced course, I specifically asked the students to stay on the right side of the dogwalk so they could practice rear crossing #10 jump. In some cases, the rear cross was successful, but the handler pushed the dog so far out that he missed #11 jump. For those handlers whose dogs did not read the rear cross, I suggested an exercise that can be done without equipment. First, ask dog to sit in heel position and tell them stay. Cross behind them and reward if dog remains in a sit and just turns his head to left. Repeat with dog starting on right side.

The straight line of #13-15 (red)/#14-16 (black) proved difficult for green dogs who aren’t yet confident about sending ahead to obstacles, or dogs whose handlers had to babysit the Aframe contact and consequently, fell way behind.

The 180-degree turn at #16-17 (red)/#17-18 (black) caused several challenges. A couple handlers cued their dog to turn too soon, so they took the wrong side of the #17 (red)/18 (black) winged jump. Others went in too deep and pushed their dogs wide. On the Excellent/Masters course, it continued to the weaves. The entry required shaping if the dog had not learned an independent weave entry at such an extreme angle. A few handlers went too wide with the shaping and inadvertently sent their dog over #16 (red)/#17 (black) nonwinged jump. Other handlers didn’t support the entry enough and their dog entered at the second or third pole.

The section from the weaves to the end proved to be the most interesting and challenging. Nearly every single dog turned left coming out of the tunnel, even if the handler called their name from the right side. A few continued on to the dog walk! Only one team out of 15 got it right the first time because she treated it like a gamble, as indicated by the red dotted line. Her dog had independent weave poles, so she was able to send to entry, then fade to other side of dog walk. By the time her dog finished weaves, she was near the tunnel entrance and it was clear to her dog where to go.  She also could meet her dog at the exit to change his lead from left (which was the direction of the tunnel) to the right and complete the finish jump. It was an extraordinary and impressive strategy, which inspired her fellow students to trust their dogs to weave at a distance so they could fade, too, and be at the tunnel exit to change their dogs’ lead.


Wed Intermediate Agility Class

In this morning’s class, students worked three short sequences to focus on a specific skill.

We warmed up with the white circle sequence, handling the dog off the right side. The biggest challenges proved to be getting stuck behind the wing jump at #1, which pulled the dog away from the correct tunnel entrance, and getting stuck behind wing jump #6, which pulled the dog toward the teeter instead of the chute. Because the dogs are green, they required more support to commit to each obstacle, thus challenging the handler to be able to get ahead.

At the pinwheel (jumps 4-6), if the handler rounded off their path, their dog would not commit to the #5 jump. If the handler went past the plane of #5 to ensure her dog would take it, often the dog went too wide to make the #6 jump. One student asked where she should throw her dog’s reward after the #5 jump; it should always be thrown along the dog’s path, so heading toward the #6 jump, but not so close to it that the dog doesn’t have room to jump it.

Next, those students whose dogs could weave 12 poles performed the red square sequence, which is a weave gamble. The handler could not cross the line to assist her dog. Also, the weaves headed into a wall, and the #3 obstacle required a tight 90-degree turn, both of which could cause the dog to leave the poles too early. The remaining dogs worked their 2×2 weaves with round the clock entries.

The last sequence (dark squares) presented a number of challenges, including so much space between obstacles 1-3 that the handler would fall behind, causing the green dog to turn back. Also, the flips for the #3 Aframe to #4 tunnel (rear cross), and #5 tunnel to #6 dogwalk (front cross), required good timing by the handler to create an efficient turn. The steeper Aframe presented a challenge for most dogs to hang onto their two-on-two-off contact position, whereas they all stopped beautifully on the dogwalk.

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Novice Trick: Ring Bell

Teach your dog how to ring bell to go outside. Magnum, my 15-week-old Border Collie puppy, demonstrates three easy steps! This counts toward your Novice Trick Dog title through Kyra Sundance’s Do More With Your Dog ( program.

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Advanced Trick: That Was Easy!

Magnum, only 14 weeks old, figures out how to tap an Easy button. Eventually, after he does a trick, my cue will be, “Was that hard?” and he’ll tap the button, “That was easy!” You can buy an Easy button from Staples for only $5.99.


Novice dog tricks

Congrats to my students on earning their Novice Trick Dog title!

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