Rally Ruckus!

I wrote about Ruckus in my last post, the visiting Irish Water Spaniel who is enjoying his new job with me in obedience and most likely freestyle.  He is smart and willing, and so I told his owner that, yes, I could have him ready for Rally Obedience at the National.  That National is now less than 3 weeks away, which means we’ve been busy compressing approximately a year’s worth (or more) of training into 4 months.  Can Ruckus handle it?   From the video below during last Thursday’s rally run-throughs, I’d say, absolutely!

Right now the challenge is weaning Ruckus off of his food motivators enough to get us through the time period of a typical rally novice run, which is a little over a minute.  The video below shows a first run with food visible, and then a second run with food invisible (but still on me), with one food reward in the middle of the course.   Fortunately rally allows the handler to use verbal encouragement, which Ruckus responds to exceptionally well.  For formal obedience, that will also need to be much reduced, but for now, I’m using all the tools I can.  I’m very happy with Ruckus’ attention, position and happy tail-wag throughout!


Ruckus is a highly accomplished show Irish Water Spaniel (Best in Show and multi-Best in Specialty Show + hunting titles), who is visiting us to work on his rally and novice obedience.  He’s a very willing, athletic young dog who has learned many obedience moves very quickly (scroll down for more on this).  However, understandably he has struggled to make the transition from his show trot with his head level to sustained attention in heel position with drive on the turns and circles.  I say “struggle,” but keep in mind this is something a young dog typically works on for many months, while I’ve had Ruckus for approximately 7 weeks.

Up to this weekend, he’s been doing “spoon heeling,” where he isn’t necessarily in heel position, but is licking a spoon of goodies while we work on head up and some driving in wide circles.  (For most dogs, this works with squeeze cheese.  Ruckus prefers liver pate.  Life is good.) He’s been making progress, but is still lagging at times in this recent video.  I’m also hoping to get him to move from a pacing gait to a trot.   Beyond that, I could just feel that he wasn’t quite getting it:

So I waited for the transformation–the proverbial light bulb moment when his mind and body would come together to give me what I was asking of him.   Of all places, it happened this weekend at a very noisy and busy obedience trial, with collies at their specialty show continually barking on one side of a horse arena, and  obedience dogs working on the other side:

Certainly there is still lots of food involved here, but Ruckus gave me 100% attention in a very busy environment, as well as drive and position.  In this lightbulb moment he moved from continuous reinforcement to intermittent, and a realization of how his body needed to respond when we turn or circle to the right.   (Ironically, the much harder turn to the left he has learned much more easily. Scroll down for a short clip of his turns.)  He is also very dependent on my voice right now, so that will also need to be gradually reduced, and I need to keep trying to get him to trot rather than pace.  Overall, though, I’m ecstatic!  Now we can start moving forward more rapidly with his heeling.

Other far more complex moves Ruckus has learned remarkably quickly.  In particular Ruckus is showing great aptitude for freestyle.  Below he is doing a “back,” which takes most dogs weeks if not months to learn to do.  It took Ruckus two sessions.  This is his third session on this move (along with some weaves at the end):

Another move Ruckus learned very quickly was lateral sidepasses, another freestyle move.  Like his back, he learned these in just a few sessions.  His speed and enthusiasm are notable here, especially for a bigger dog:

Back to obedience.  The obedience turns are taught separately at this stage, at first in slow motion.  Here Ruckus is working on his about turn and left turn.  Like the moves above, he has learned the more complex left turn very quickly, which requires the dog to pivot his rear while keeping his front in place:

Finally, his recall is coming along nicely, especially thanks for his owner Stacy Duncan’s field training, that solidified his stay early on.

Good boy, Ruckus!  I am so pleased with his very quick progress.  His intelligence and biddability are first rate!







The end of a dog’s working career is always extremely difficult for me to face, in ways that might be hard for a non-trainer to understand.   For years, usually from puppyhood, any particular dog I’m training will work with me several days a week.  I’ll plan out her daily  training carefully, take her to classes, assess and take joy in her progress, ponder over difficulties, make sure she stays in good physical shape, and after 2 to 3 years of preparation, ride the roller coaster of dog showing with her, a roller coaster that we hope to ride for many more years as she progresses up through the classes.  It’s a whole life that is at the center of both of our lives.  My dogs love to train and run to the training building door whenever I head in that direction.

Rozzie, now 9.5, has had this life from 8 weeks old.  But earlier this year, I noticed her difficulties with jumping on the couch and bed (she’s the one who gets to sleep with us), and twice I had to cancel show plans with her because of various health issues, worrisome but fixable.

With her utility titled earned in November, it was now time to return to training for both Open and Utility classes.   I was excited and hopeful for this coming year of competition.  But early in working the broad jump, she started refusing, pulling up and not being willing to attempt the jump.  The broad jump calls for different skills than jumping over a high or bar jump:


The dog has to fully extend across the boards, and there is more push off of the rear legs to achieve this extension.  Rozzie never had a problem with this jump before, so the refusal was worrisome.

A visit with a physical therapist (licensed for humans and canines) confirmed my fears: Rozzie should no longer be jumping.  She appears to be quite able and happy to do many of the activities required in obedience, like heeling, retrieving, coming to front, etc., but the upper classes require a lot of jumping.

So Rozzie is now retired from competitive obedience.  This decision did not come without some tears, but I knew the clock was ticking with her, as it still is with Journey.  My hope is to have many, many more years with her as my companion.  And this year, we will do some rally (although the upper levels do have jumps that are much shorter, so we’ll see how that goes), and right now, freestyle!  Some years ago I worked up a routine with her to a jazz song by Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto.   We’ll perform it as a demo for the first time at the Seattle Kennel Club, and then later at a freestyle show in May.  She’s really having fun with the practicing, and doing this means she still gets to run to the training building with the other dogs.


So you see, it’s not really the end of the story.  Not at all.




I started a draft a few weeks ago to reboot this blog, and found it full of tiresome excuses as to why I haven’t been blogging.  Instead, let me just say that Kani’s death 3 years ago seemed to drain the fun away from recording the training adventures with her and her offspring.  While the training hasn’t stopped, the blog did.  Enough said.

To reboot, I think it’s much more productive to celebrate the wonderful obedience year I’ve had in 2016 with my obedience buddies: Rozzie (Kani’s daughter), Journey, and Robbie (a new addition 2 years ago, an English Cocker).


Rozzie finished her Utility title at the very last trial of the year.  It’s been such a joy watching her confidence build in this challenging class, where there is a lot more independent work away from the handler.  Supporting her through her learning and showing process has been crucial.


During this year, she also handed me a beautiful gift: High in Trial at the English Springer Spaniel National.  While we were flunking Utility at the time, this win came from the Open B class.  This is one of those life-long memory wins, and I’m so glad to share it with this special little brown dog with the huge heart.


Journey was placed in a pet home 2 years ago (for reasons I won’t go into here), and so has been away from me for that time period.  But she came back this spring to stay, and I decided to get her utility title finished up, as I knew she would enjoy getting back to work.  She stunned me by remembering every single detail of the utility exercises, a feat that I don’t think I could accomplish if you took me away from obedience trialing for 2 years!  She finished her utility title in style, winning High Combined (highest score in Open and Utility) at the Irish Water Spaniel regional specialty for her 2nd utility leg.


Her 3rd leg came at in Lynden in early November.  She earned her Utility title on Saturday and Sunday we played with the “big dogs” for the first time in Utility B.  I was just proud to finally have a dog in the B classes for the first time in several years.  Journey astonished me by winning the class and earning her first OTCH points!


After years of wishing/hoping/waiting and training for a dog to be able to compete at this level, this accomplishment has been immensely motivating to me.  As both Rozzie and Journey are both 9, I can only hope they can continue competing in the next year.  Their hearts are certainly willing.

Finally, my  new addition to our obedience team is “Robbie” an English Cocker who came to me 2 years ago as an adult.  He’s learned quickly and has all the qualities of an ideal spaniel companion: biddability, smarts, natural retrieve, and athleticism.  Beyond that, he appears to be “bombproof,” handling the noises and other stresses of dog shows with aplomb.  At the Chuckanut show mentioned above, he finished his Rally Novice title with a 1st place.  All of his scores were 100’s.   The future is bright.





As Gael gets ready in earnest this summer to enter obedience competition, I’m fussing more than usual with her equipment: which collar to show her in, which toy to get her focused on me outside the ring, which dumbbell size (especially to reduce her mouthing of it). After spending way too much money on a fancy leather martingale and cycling through numerous toys that Gael either destroys in one training session or could care less about, I discover that really, simple is best:

Gael equipment summer 2014 002

That’s it. A canvas puppy bumper, a choke chain, and the dumbbell I started her with (after trying all kinds of fancy custom sizes), with a string tied to it for mouthing. She’s nuts about that puppy bumper, and the chain seems to be a collar she respects, unlike many buckle collars. Soon Gael decided she needed to be in the picture too:

Gael equipment summer 2014 004

Gael is currently on a no-food-during-training diet, and the results have been promising and fascinating. This training “diet” will go on for another week, and while I’m not seeing the brightness I get when I train with food, I’m certainly seeing commitment to the task and willingness to keep going. We had one terrible training session at the outset where she was quite sullen and had to be corrected into working, but since them I’ve been happy with her response. Her favorite bumper is really helping…

Gael equipment summer 2014 001

A more ragged, dirty bumper is not in my toy bag, but this favorite sure helps keep Gael up and working. In the meantime, I’m learning a LOT about praising her for effort, inserting play for good work, and in general trying to make myself more interesting. In some ways, especially when we work on her dumbbell mouthing, she actually seems to be concentrating better on the task at hand, rather than getting agitated about when she’ll get her cookie. I begin to wonder if the food isn’t actually a distraction for her. A recent snapshot taken at class on Tuesday night shows her really pushing through her figure 8:

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I never went through this “diet” with the springers, but these 2 weeks are revealing a lot about how much I tend to use food as crutch, and with a dog like Gael, a lot, or at least some of that food might be unnecessary and even distracting. Things that make you go hmmm….

For some reason the semi-annual shows at the Puyallup fairgrounds have been very good to us in recent years. This surprises me as the building is not always considered friendly to obedience dogs; many people complain of the floor literally shaking (it’s on the second floor), and with large entries the spacing can get tight. However, my current generation of dogs has fared well here, often earning titles with good scores and placements. These June shows were particularly exciting: after a looooong dry spell, Reardon finally earned his first utility leg. Utility is considered the “graduate school” for dogs, and Reardon has struggled with working independently at the required distance away from me. (Details on this will be in a different post.) Roz earned her Rally Advanced title with placements, and Gael earned her first Beginner Novice leg on Sunday. While Gael won the class and earned a 189, and did a respectable job on the initial portion of the heeling, her figure 8 was quite out of control. After that, she keep going with very nice work for all the control exercises (a sit for exam, sit-stay and recall). The problems on the figure 8 have led us into a current no-cookies-during-training plan.

However, I have to be very pleased with the final results of all three dogs. Here they are with their ribbons:

Puyallup June 2014 004