Rally Trial Outcome

Hi Everyone,

Sorry for the delay (gasp, it’s been nearly a month) since posting last, and entering, and competing at my first Rally-O Trial. For those that follow me on Facebook and Twitter well you know Petey did just fine – two runs, and he earned his first two legs, with a score of 183 and 186.

Things I learned:

The crating area is really tight. You can see what it looks like here. Generally the dogs in attendance that day were quiet, but there were a few that would bark sometimes.

Crating Area at Red Barn Event Centre
Crating Area at Red Barn Event Centre

Getting your dog used to crating is a must. Petey is decent at crating now. I can even leave him there and attend the competitor’s meeting, walk the course, go to the bathroom, etc. without hassle.

Petey in Crate
Petey in Crate. He’s stressed here, but settled quickly to sleep.

Warm Up Area. There was a space in the crating area reserved for practicing. I took Petey out periodically while we waited our turn to practice.

Practice Area Warm Up
Practice Area Warm Up

Things Falling Apart in the Ring. In the practice area, Petey looked as good and was working as good as the absolute best practice sessions I had at home or at When Hounds Fly. As it was approaching my turn to take Petey into the ring, he was in the ringside area awaiting his turn – we kept on practicing. Wooo, he looked hot. Sharp pivots, amazing focus, etc. So much so that other people in the area took note.

As soon as was entered the ring, I put Petey in heel position. The judge said I could start, and I took my first step forward and – Petey pulled like a freight train to go sniff the first station sign – they used terracotta pots to hold the signs up. I couldn’t help but laugh. I didn’t get stressed, but I suddenly realized that my expectations had to go down and I would need to go back to the drawing board.

Pretty much all my deductions that weekend were for tight leash, caused by Petey forging ahead to go sniff something interesting.

We did good enough to get a passing score each time. Here’s Petey with his two ribbons.

Petey and Ribbons
Petey and Ribbons


Get Terra Cotta Pots. They smell interesting. They’re novel. They look like little paint can perches. I need to proof them as things to ignore on the course. A lot of the tight leashes on my first run were caused by targeting the terra cotta pots.

Going back to ClickerExpo 2010 – Cecilie Koste had a few pearls of wisdom that I went back to. 1) Your dog should volunteer to get things started. No kissy noises or nagging or begging your dog to work – that reinforces a lack of focus. 2) Your dog is ready for trial when he performs perfectly the FIRST time, the exercises are backchained, and he is used to working on the required schedule of reinforcement. I am short on a couple of points here (future blog post?). Trial a dog like this too soon and you will have a ring-wise dog (a dog that knows no or limited primary reinforcement occurs in the ring. Or, I guess with correction trainers, that no or limited corrections occur in the ring)

Fun Match – yesterday with Mirkka, I attended a Rally-O Fun Match at All About Dogs. I tested out a few theories. The courses were CARO Rally-O Novice courses, and the environment really did replicate that of Red Barn. A few things I tried:

1) I waited at the Start Sign for Petey to volunteer to get started. Instead of feeling pressure to get moving, I left him sniff the area near the start sign. When he volunteered eye contact, I cued a few simple behaviors. He was ready. I was ready. We started the course. Much better. I have a feeling that at the trial, when I entered the ring, and I was asked if I was ready – I was, but Petey wasn’t finished investigating the area.

2) I stationed him in a crate, but kept the door open. He stays inside and is more relaxed than with the crate door closed. This might keep his anxiety down and allow him to save more for the ring.

We weren’t scored but I feel like Petey did much better at the Fun Match, so I am going to keep on working on some of these theories and get him ready some more. I’m going to wait till September before entering another trial at this point.

Last point: Red Barn Centre in Barrie is a great venue, and the judges, volunteers, staff, and other competitors at the CARO trial were really a friendly bunch of people. Not a single sour face at the venue. If you aren’t sure about trying, I would strongly encourage you to give it a shot!

Very last point: THANK YOU, Petey, for doing an amazing job. You have come a long way from the shelter rescue that didn’t even know how to sit.

Preparing for Rally Trial – Week 5 (Last Day)

Here’s a short update!

Petey had kennel cough (or perhaps just a cold) for a week so not much training until recently. But he’s as good as he’ll be for this weekend so we’re done.

All that’s left is to make sure I don’t choke. This is the first time I have done a “dog sport” but not the first time doing timed, scored competition. I used to be active in amateur motorsports. Appropriately, the sport I competed most in was autocross, which was also a solo sport and involved a sea of pylons.

ykwmotorsports.com autocross at powerade centre in

Things I learned from motorsports (especially autocross, since it looks like a confusing sea of pylons)

  1. Visualize the entire course in your head while you’re waiting your turn. I used to sit in the car and drive the course, including when to throttle, brake, turn, shift.
  2. Once on the course, look ahead! We were always at least two stations ahead in our head, so that nothing would surprise us, and we could plan our entries efficiently.

So hopefully my previous experiences will help me stay focused and cool.

All that’s left is to cue clean and consistently.

One exercise that I did with the Karen Pryor Academy was to demonstrate a ten part behaviour chain. We had to have the ten behaviours pre-selected, trained to stimulus control, and also cues clearly defined. When under pressure, there’s a tendency for our cues to change (due to stress, our bodies stiffen, our voices change tone, or we just totally  forget what the cue that we’ve trained for is) so the better we can define our cues and practice them, the more likely they will stand up under fire.

So here are all my cues for the behaviours needed for CARO Rally Novice. Within the rules of the sport, I chose them to incorporate verbal + visual components simultaneously, because Petey is terrible at verbal cue discrimination.


Sit (from Down) – Verbal “Sit” + Visual “Left Palm Target Up”
Down – Verbal “Down” + Visual “Right Palm Salute”
Stand (from Sit) – Visual “Left hand behind back, Right Palm Ahead of Nose” + Verbal “Touch”, then Tactile “Left hand pressure on rear end”
Front – Verbal “Front” + Visual “One Step Backwards” + Visual “Hands to Belly Button”
Finish Right (from Front) – Verbal “Round” + Visual “Right Hand Target”
Finish Left (from any position) – Verbal “Heel” + Visual “Shoulder Turn”
Stay – Verbal “Stay” + Visual “Left Hand Palm to Nose” + “Right Leg step forward”
Heel (from Sit) – Verbal “Heel” + Left Leg half step forward
Wish us luck!

Preparing for Rally Trial – Week 3

Quick update! With two weeks left to go, here’s what I’ve gotten done so far:

  • All of the basic behaviors are at a decent level of fluency
  • I actually did drive to the trial location in Barrie and did a class there, just to see if Petey could work in the environment. He can, so we’re good.
  • I have been training all around town, including training right in front of the house where there is an understimulated Doberman that barks incessantly, and also training right next to dogs playing fetch and wrestling.

So, finally, I am going to work on actual stations and signs. I started with Weave (four pylons) and magically I noticed that for this station, Petey started doing strange things with the first pylon. He jumps it, bumps it, bites it, paws it, you name it. All the stuff I have done so far always involve the pylons on my right, so I guess this threw him off.

To address it, I just broke down the weave station into walking through gates of pylons and then slowly closed the angles off.

Also, I came to realize that Petey also has limits. You’ll notice in the videos I start with two distractions. One is a tupperware full of beaver urine. The other is a stainless steel food bowl full of rollover. In the beginning of the training session, he pays no attention to them at all. By the end (last part of the video) he starts smelling and pulling towards them. I’ve got to ensure he stays rested and I don’t overwork him. As mental stamina fades in training, so does willpower!

And lastly with all the hard work lately, I try to make sure he has a lot of good downtime to sniff. Also I recently picked up a very nice Bowser dog bed from The Dog Bowl down the street.

Petey at Kings Mill
Petey at Kings Mill

Preparing for Rally Trial Day 2 – Luring and Pressure for the Stand

Today was my 2nd day having a chance to work with Petey to get him ready for his Rally Trial… now exactly 1 month away.

CARO Rally Novice is actually a pretty simple class with a fairly short list of behaviors. There is one though that has been missing from Petey’s repertoire for a very long time – a stand!

He has a long history of reinforcement for sits and downs (having started with him three years ago with a very “family dog/pet manners” orientation, stand was not a behavior I thought useful to teach), so up until this point, the instant any food/toys/training regalia comes out, he’s frantically offered sits and downs. If I used targeting to get him into a stand, like how Susan Garrett featured this on her Facebook page, the moment I clicked, he’d sink into a sit or down, unlike MANY dogs I’ve seen in class that hold the stand much more naturally.

At ClickerExpo this year, I attended a lecture by horse trainer Alexandra Kurland. She challenged the trainers in the room to teach a single behavior using multiple methods – luring, targeting, shaping, even modelling, and using pressure. I also attended lectures by Kay Lawrence on Luring and Targeting, and in the luring lecture, she emphasized that each teaching approach has pros and cons, and its dependent on the learner, the behavior, and the teacher on which is the most appropriate. In her own words, the quality of the final behavior is not determinable by the method used to teach it, assuming a sufficiently talented trainer.

Back to my elusive Stand with Petey –

In the past, I’ve tried shaping it, but he’s a squirmy little bugger, and has a tendency to tap his toes and wiggle around in between the click then treat.

Hand targeting was challenging as he’d sink into a sit well before I could deliver a treat to his mouth.

So, I just gave up on teaching him Stand. Fortunately, by committing to a Rally trial I forced myself to just do it, so last week I started. Here’s what I did:

  1. Worked on a raised platform to minimize forward steps. In this case I placed him on a stair landing, and I worked two steps below. A must for short dogs!!!
  2. I initially lured from a sit to a stand.
  3. Prior to releasing the lure, I applied downward pressure on his rear-end to engage his opposition reflex to push up, so he’d resist sitting
  4. When I felt enough upwards pressure, and he had maintained correct position, I released the lure.
  5. I removed the lure and simply used a hand target to get him up.
  6. In CARO you are allowed to touch to stabilize the dog in a stand, so all that is left of the downwards pressure is a very light touch on the rear as a cue to hold the stand.
  7. Finally!!! Enough duration for the CARO Novice Stand.

(At the 0:35 mark you can see what my rudimentary stand looks like now)

A definite pro of luring is you end up getting very clean, precise behaviors. No garbage behaviors have snuck in with Petey’s new stand. The bad rap that luring has is with trainers who don’t have an understanding of training to know when the dog is, in Kay’s words, “going operant” – at that point it’s time to switch to targeting or shaping.

If you haven’t heard of Kay Lawrence before – shame on you – but that’s OK, because I actually only heard about her for the first time last year at my first ClickerExpo. She does some really funky stuff with luring and targeting. I also looked at her YouTube channel and unfortunately the best videos she played at ClickerExpo are not on there – but I did find this – a 9 minute video of a student of hers showing her technique to teaching trotting for the show ring – using a “follow” target stick – that has a measuring cup at the end of it and a treat inside!


On the topic of pressure – I think I’m a few days away from not even having to touch Petey’s rear end to remind him to stay standing… but without that pressure during the early stages I don’t think I would have gotten any stand as quickly as I was able to. A few words about pressure – either body pressure or leash pressure – both are very useful tools. Prior to this, the only pressure work I had ever done was Shirley Chong’s “Give to Pressure” or Grisha Stewart’s “Silky Leash” – applying leash pressure, engaging opposition reflex, and then clicking/treating for the dog giving into lease pressure, counteracting their own opposition reflex, and moving into the direction of the pressure, vs. against it. At ClickerExpo, Michele Pouliot showed video of how guide dogs are trained not to pull on leash/give to pressure, so that a small pull in any direction of a guide dog will trigger them to promptly move into, away from, or walk backwards. The video she showed was amazing and unfortunately does not live on YouTube or anywhere else.

In a nutshell, I’m glad that I was able to dust off luring, and take advantage of body cues/pressure, to produce a serviceable stand for the upcoming trial in a short amount of time.

Finally Entering a Trial

Hi Everyone,

I’ve been on the busy side lately, with opening our second location in uptown Toronto on Avenue Road and Lawrence, getting our online dog training school, Treatpouch.com, off the ground, and attending ClickerExpo in Nashville… oh while I was doing that I also sat for the CPDT-KA examination in March (results pending). But all that is past now and things are settling nicely, so I’ve decided to enter a Rally Obedience trial scheduled over a long weekend in May (perfect, since we close the school over long weekends!)

The trial will be held at the Red Barn Event Centre in Barrie, Ontario; this is where Emily got her last leg in Novice and got Elsie her Rally Novice title.

Now the world knows, so I have willingly put a lot of social pressure on myself!!! Nothing like a little negative reinforcement for motivation!!!

I like being methodical about my training, so by my count, I have approximately 14 available afternoons for getting Petey ready for the trial. So I’m putting together my training plans of all the behaviors I need fluent and on-cue, and what criteria elements I plan to introduce to try to proof the behaviours as best as possible.

Before starting training, I decided to take advantage of Pavlov and I am in the process of conditioning both a special collar for Petey, and a special article of clothing for me. I won the collar at a raffle at Whattapup’s opening party. It’s made by The Hydrant, which is a Toronto-based collar/leash manufacturer. For me, I bought an inexpensive zip-up vest from Mountain Equipment Co-op to use as a poor-man’s training vest. I’ve just been putting on the collar, and putting on the vest, and feeding or training Petey.

Petey’s working collar by The Hydrant

The first “unofficial” training day was on Friday evening when I took Petey to Whattapup’s  training hall, as Mirkka had planned to do some training with our fellow trainer-friend Nancy after classes had ended for the night. Check – in a new indoor environment, with dogs milling about and even wrestling, he was focused and worked just as well as when at When Hounds Fly.

This evening was the first “official” training day where I worked on three behaviours primarily.

  1. Front – Just getting it reasonably straight and reasonably close, with a finger point to crotch as the cue
  2. Finish Left – Just getting it reasonably straight and tight with a verbal cue plus either the shoulder lean or left hand swing
  3. Heel – Working on building duration and around and over various articles (I scattered treats on the floor and left novel items around)

So far so good! I look forward to blogging more in this mini-series all the way up to the trial itself.