Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's Not You, It's Me...

Dear Eagle,

It’s not you, it’s me.



I attended a working dog seminar in New Mexico last weekend with Michael Ellis. It was an enlightening experience – quite humbling really. You see, I like to think of myself as a pretty darn good dog trainer. As good of a dog trainer as I think I am, I was hitting some walls in regards to my training with Eagle.

People in working dog circles have been telling me for months that Eagle will not make it as a working dog; that I should wash him out, sell him, and get a new dog. I was starting to believe them. I haven’t been seeing the results I’m looking for. He’s one month shy of a year old and I have been working with him since the day I brought him home from the airport at 8 weeks old. I’ve been feeling tired, frustrated, and defeated.

Still, I know there is something inside him, something special, and I just need to bring it out. I’m not just going to sell him. He’s a great dog as dogs go, and I’m attached to the black furry monster. Working dogs need toy drive. Eagle wants the toy, so I tried to play with him. Working dogs need food drive. Eagle loves food, so I tried marker and food rewards. I’ve been training and training and training. Why isn’t this working?

Enter Michael Ellis. It’s my turn to bring Eagle out and work him on the field. I had everything mapped out. I wanted to show Michael allof my dog-training prowess. Finally, he speaks the words I’m waiting to hear “Show me what you’re working on….”

I dive into my routine. I’m shakin’ and movin’, movin’ and shakin’. Michael waits about five whole seconds to bring my work to a screeching halt.

“You need to play with this dog.” Michael says. My heart drops. Owning every DVD Michael has ever produced, I know this is one of the first steps in his system of training. After working with Eagle for nearly a year, Michael is essentially telling me to start over. I whine, “But I have been playing with Eagle.” I have been playing and playing and playing. I have been desperately trying to get Eagle to play tug with me, but he will not latch on. He chases the toy well enough, but I need him to grip. Playing tug is the prerequisite for learning all the fancy obedience behaviors I was gearing up to ‘demonstrate’ to Michael.

“If you practice the wrong thing, you’ll keep getting the wrong results.” Says Michael. He showed me that I had not been executing the proper play technique. Insert palm to forehead here! What he is saying is true no matter what training technique you’re using. You only achieve the correct results if you are using the correct technique.

How many of us have fallen into this trap? Whether it’s the ‘left hand on the leash,’ or ‘dropping your slack and turning’ at the right time, or ‘moving in straight lines to teach Eagle to target to the toy,’ technique matters most. It is only when the handler masters the technique, that the dog can master the skill. When you fix your problems, you fix your dog’s problems.

So there I was, in all my glory, ready to show the Michael Ellis everything I had taught my dog, and he brought me all the way back to square one. I had not taught OR mastered the first step in training! To make matters worse, I had moved passed that first critical step, and wondered why things were falling apart. How many of us have fallen into this trap?

Teach, Practice (and practice, and practice, and practice), then Proof is the dog training mantra. Do not move on in training until you have mastered the previous skill. Unless of course, you are satisfied with inconsistent, mediocre and lack-luster results, then, by all means, forge ahead!

Next time your dog is having a training meltdown, consider the possibility that there’s something in your behavior that you need to change in order to correct your dog’s behavior.

I am happy to report that in just one week’s time, Eagle has come along leaps and bounds in his work. Once I fixed my problems, Eagle’s problems started to disappear.
Imagine that. ;)

Lisa Lucero owns and operates 5280 Hundesport LLC in Denver, Colorado, and also trains at Front Range K9 Academy in Wheat Ridge, CO. She can be reached at

Friday, May 20, 2011

Jad Update

Xanax (Alprazolam)....NOT so good for Jad. :)

This drug is in the same class as Valium, and some people and dogs seem to have a completely opposite reaction to it than what's 'normal'. Normal would be mellowness; a general sense of well being....fairy farts and jelly beans for all.

It actually hyped Jad up. Lovely.

I happen to also have this reaction to this class of meds, so at least I knew what was up when he was going wacky an hour into having taken it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Jad - the Great Whippet Mystery pt. 3


Jad goes home tomorrow. What a ride this has been for me as a trainer and behaviorist. I am sending him home with a lot more things to try, but still no sound diagnosis or prognosis. For myself, and for his owners, I'm splitting things into what we know, and what we still need to find out.

What we know:

1. When given a lot of environmental enrichment and exercise (ie., at my house, with a huge fenced yard and 10 other dogs), he is an almost normal - albeit somewhat obnoxious - whippet puppy. His energy is higher than that of the whippet pups I've raised, but not to any noticeable extreme.

2. Even on days he has less exercise/stimulation, from early morning to about 2pm, he is a pretty normal whippet puppy; same goes from about 10pm through the night.

3. His afternoon agitation is definitely beyond the limits of 'normal' in that he seems utterly incapable of controlling it once he's worked up.

4. Light (maybe only flourescent?) seems to play a part in this. When the lights are low, he is notably less agitated.

5. Slight compression/pressure seems to possibly help. I put him in a Thundershirt ( yesterday and got breaks within the agitation period of about 45 minutes to an hour, twice. ...this is significant, when you consider that normally when he is agitated, the agitation continues for 5 to 8 hours at a time.

6. Today, I am trying an antianxiety medication called Alprazolam. We'll see how it goes....

7. Mother Nature prevented us from getting to try him out on lure coursing this week - too cold, too rainy, WAY to muddy to be safe, so we'll save that for the "Things to try in the future" file.

8. When all else fails, train, train, train. He is now capable of a 7 minute down-stay. This doesn't 'cure' him, but the plan is to continue to increase the duration of the stays until he can have a long term, 'resting' job during his agitation. In essence, train him to train his body to longer periods of rest.

Things we still need to look at:

1. Diet may be playing a part in the problems, as he has had diarrhea coinciding with his agitation most afternoons. After just a bit of research, I am REALLY wondering if it's the gluten in his diet. If you're skeptical, check this out!

2. If this is a biorhythym or arcadian cycle gone awry, melatonin might help.

3. Treadmilling (where IS the treadmill fairy with a free treadmill when you really need her?!) may help - it will provide both cardio exercise, and repetitive motion - which he seems to like doing (digging, jumping, and butt-bumping things over & over) during his agitation periods.

4. Last but not least, another whippet (and saluki, and Italian greyhound, and briard) friend of mine has been following my posts about Jad, and sent me this link: It somewhat stands to reason that if the thundershit works, this may help as well.

So, with all these unanswered questions, why is Jad going home? Well, mostly this experiment was to determine if all he needed was more exercise and/or good doggy role models. We've definitely seen that while both are beneficial, they are not the only issue. The next step is to get him back into his home, with his own routine, and see if the above things will help.

With Chris & Michelle's permission, I will keep you posted on his progress!


Jennifer Hime owns & operates Front Range K9 Academy & Horsetooth Whippets. She can be contacted through

Friday, May 13, 2011

Jad - The Great Whippet Mystery/Experiment pt. 2

For some reason, the mighty computer gods killed Pt. 1 - so here's a quick recap:

Jad is an 8 month old whippet puppy who belongs to my clients, Chris & Michelle. They adopted him from a Craigslist ad after he had a rough start in life (possible puppymill beginning, leading into poor early imprinting experiences with humans and over-imprinting to extreme stimulation, leading into a several complete environmental changes over the first 4 months of his life...all leading up to now - where he's one kooky pup).

In spite of doing VERY well in obedience training, Jad is a bit of a mystery from a behavior perspective. He is staying with us at Horsetooth Whippets to see if some of our whippets' charm can rub off on him. :)

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Jad update:

So, I began this saga (in the missing pt. 1 blog post) with a rant about routines. I'm trying to sort through Jad's behaviors and figure out how much is habit, how much is puppiness, how much is learned, how much is poor genetics or poor imprinting, etc.

Here's what I know so far:

Jad is NOT a morning puppy. Typical of a lot of whippets, he likes to sleep in. In fact, after he eats his breakfast, he's all for a nice long nap.

However, when afternoons roll around, Jad wakes up to his true puppy nature. He is FULL of energy. And yet, there is an element of his behaviors that seems more extreme than normal puppy energy.

Having talked with his owner, Michelle, about this, I'll try to describe it:

Jad wants something. He wants it very badly. So badly that he will pace, whine, and jump (on doors, counters, furniture, people, trashcans, shelving units, walls, etc.), & dig (floors, bedding, grass, dirt, gravel, solid rock). He will do these activities ceaselessly.


Jad doesn't seem to know WHAT it is he wants.

When he's in this state of mind, he doesn't want to play (not interested in tug, fetch, tag, or anything else). This is weird in and of itself, since he WILL play all of those games at other times. When cut loose with the other dogs, he doesn't engage in play for more than a brief moment, and then is back to his repetitive behaviors. Even if he does engage in longer play with other dogs, his excess energy is not worn off, and when the other dog quits playing, he's back to seeking.

He doesn't want to hunt, forage, chew or eat. When offered food, chew toys, puzzle toys with food, etc. He very quickly loses interest and is back to pacing, whining, jumping, digging, seeking.

He doesn't want to go potty. Given ample opportunities both on and off leash, once outside he looks at you quizzically as if to say, "Why we out here?" When allowed back in, he's back to his desperate search for something.

He doesn't want to work or train. Normally a whiz at obedience work, Jad pouts, sulks, and shuts down if you attempt training activities with him during this mode.

He definitely doesn't want to sleep. If kenneled or back-tied, his seeking, whining, jumping, digging mode will increase exponentially. If ignored while restrained, he will continue protests for 3 to 5 HOURS at a time.

When it's time to go to bed, Jad recognizes our routine and amazingly settles right in. All of the dogs go to their individual crates, get a small treat (baby carrots for the chubbydogs, hard-boiled eggs for the skinnydogs, a 1/4" slice of a hotdog and a fish oil pill for each). Then the lights go down and all is peaceful - even Jad. After no more than a minute or two of restless circling and a bit of whining, he has gone right to sleep and stayed asleep through the night each night since last Wednesday.

Is he simply worn out from his exhaustive seeking exercises from the afternoon? Is he recognizing the routine of bedtime from the other dogs? Does light have something to do with it?

Wondering about the light thing, on Wednesday night of this week, I taught the final lesson of the day at the training studio with the lights off, just to give myself, my clients, and all the dogs a break of Jad's incessant whining. He definitely seemed quieter with the lights off. Will be repeating this experiment tonight. (Sorry, doggy clients Elway & Bella, we're having class in the dark tonight!!!!)

This weekend we are going to introduce Jad to the lure...wondering if what he WANTS so badly is to sprint? (The idea here is that when in doubt, have the dog do what it was bred to do. Thank God he's not a border collie, or I'd have to go rent some sheep!)

So...what will happen with Jad? Will turning the lights down low keep him quiet while his fearless dog trainer teaches class tonight? Will he run after the fake bunny this weekend and be cured of what ails him? Stay tuned.....

Jennifer Hime is the owner of Front Range K9 Academy & Horsetooth Whippets Kennels. She can be reached at

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Jad" the Whippet Experiment pt. 1

Maybe even more than us, dogs are creatures of habit. Establishing and maintaining good routines can greatly improve your relationship with your dog. This simple fact has recently slapped yours truly upside the head.

Since last Wednesday, Horsetooth Whippets (also known as my house & life) has had a visitor. "Jad" is an 8 month old whippet puppy who had a rough start in life. Possibly starting out in a puppymill (very sketchy details about his beginnings), Jad then went to live in Boulder, CO with a lady who owned and bred German shepherds. She cut this 8 week old pup loose with them until the weather began to grow cold last autumn. Only then did it occur to her that whippets are indoor dogs!

So, on to went the puppy - A puppy with questionable breeding, who'd spent his formative, imprint period outside with a pack of shepherds, but little or no time imprinting to being a house dog.

That's where Chris & Michelle, Jad's current owners, come in. They saw his listing on CL, and understanding whippets to be pretty good apartment dogs, adopted him. He was about 4 months old at the time.

Enter the dog trainer (me).

Chris & Michelle wisely chose to get Jad into training immediately. What none of us bargained for was this pup's unusually high energy, vocal skills, and downright doggedness (excuse the pun) for getting his own way. Not only was he one of the toughest whippet pups I've ever worked with, he was one of the toughest pups, period!

However, with lots of work & perserverence on Chris & Michelle's parts, Jad whizzed his way through level one obedience training. And yet...

And yet, Jad was still hyperactive a lot of the time at home. So much so that I was considering trying medication for this little guy - something I rarely consider in a dog so young. But before going to the med shelf, we decided to try one last thing. Why not have Jad come & live with my pack of 8 whippets (and don't forget the collie and the schipperke) for a week or so to give him a model of what whippets do.

Those of you who train with me are familiar with what whippets do. They sleep. They rest. They chill. A LOT.

So, it's been one week. How is Jad doing? Stay tuned for part 2 to find out....

Jennifer Hime is the owner of Front Range K9 Academy & Horsetooth Whippets. She can be contacted at

Thursday, May 5, 2011

So...You think you want a working dog?

So, You Think You Want a Working Dog?

You have been bitten. You’ve been bitten by the dog training bug, and you have decided to take the plunge and buy a working dog. Maybe you want to compete in Agility, or Dock Diving. Perhaps it’s a biting sport like Schutzhund, Mondio Ring, or French Ring. Your ambitions are high and your enthusiasm is wide. You’ve read the books and seen the pictures. You’ve spent hours on You’re confident and up for the challenge.

Stop right here! Adding a working dog to your life is a major decision! It will be a reality for the next 10 to 12 years, and it will remain a part of you for the rest of your life.

I did it. I bought a Belgian Malinois puppy. I bought a Belgain Malinois puppy from the best working stock, from the most highly regarded trainer in the United States. I bought Haiku du Loups du Soleil as a working dog to compete in Mondioring. Haiku is not only an athlete and a genius, but also an adrenaline junky. I have had her for nearly four weeks now, and have already come to some realizations that I would like to share with others considering adding a working dog to their lives:

The first question one needs to ask oneself before getting a working dog is, “Am I a morning person?” Working dogs are genetically encoded for high energy levels. These levels are called drive. There are different kinds of drives, but suffice it to say working dogs all have one drive in common – 6th gear, full speed ahead!

This high-octane activity starts as soon as the dog wakes up, and continues until they are put to bed (notice I said ‘put to bed’ as one of these dogs would never choose to sleep on their own accord).

As a working dog owner, you need to be prepared to exhaust your dog’s energy, as well as a great deal of your own. Do you work eight hours a day? You can easily tack on an extra four hours of dog-work (cleaning, feeding, training and exercise) just trying to care for and ‘take the edge off’ your drivey companion. Competing with your dog will comprise about 5% of your time as a dog and handler team. The rest of the time, you must live with the beast.

Exercising and training is tough to do in the house, especially if you value its contents. The second question you need to ask yourself is, “Do I enjoy the snow, the sleet, the sun, the rain, the heat, the hail, the humidity, the dry air, the pollen, and the cold?” You have invested in an energizer bunny. It keeps going, and going, and going. Your working dog cares not about the weather, so neither shall you.

Schlepping rain-gear, snow-gear, layers of clothing, sunscreen, and dog-training gear is a regular part of your day. Let us assume that you have the space (in the car, in the house, in the garage, and in the closet trickling out into the hallway) for all of this ‘dog gear,’ often lumped into the category of crap.

So, now you are full of crap, and have accepted that schlepping and working is a part of your new life because you are focused on the end-goal. Are you patient enough to understand there’s a long road in between? It takes years master any skill, and there are two parties participating in the learning during dog training. It takes practice to perfect your communication with your dog, and your dog has to practice learning all of the new skills you are trying to teach it.

Be prepared to work long, uncomfortable, frustrating hours with your working dog. Bernard Greenhouse, a world renowned professional Cellist at Julliard, was once asked “At 93 years old, why do you still practice Cello two hours a day?” Bernard replied, “Because I’m finally starting to see some improvement.” Studies show that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours to master anything – piano, ice skating, chess, even criminal behavior. Dog training is no different. You must practice and practice and practice. Therefore, the next question you ask yourself is, “Can I make time?”

All of this early-riser-dog-work-practice-schlepping-crap stuff is stressful! It’s best to take a Freudian approach and share your misery with others. Ask yourself “What human relationships do I need to form to be successful?” Get involved with other like-minded individuals. Join a training group or a club. Most of the skills taught in any dog sport require more than one set of hands, and eyes. It is much easier to stay on track and accomplish your goals if you have some help.

Speaking of help, no matter how much you promise, or how hard you try, going it alone with your working dog is impossible if you have a family.

Aaron Myarcle put it best on a web-board “Do you have the family support? The kind of support that isn't going to roll its eyes or make snide remarks as you leave for yet another Saturday at the club, when the kid has a ball game or the spouse would rather you be doing yard work? Do you have the kind of spouse that understands that the dog is the first priority after the kids, but before seeing that new movie, or going out to dinner, or having a BBQ with the neighbors? The kind of spouse that can be okay with skipping Cancun and going to Elitches, because you don't trust the local boarding facilities to keep your dog separated from the other dogs? The kind of spouse who will consider it the child's fault for breaking the ‘no running when the puppy is in the yard’ rule, instead of the puppy for pouncing on said running child? The kind of spouse who isn't going to say ‘Why do we even have a dog if the kids can't play with it’ after the ten millionth time you have to remind the kids to stay away from the dog's crate/kennel, or leave the dog alone when it's sleeping? To quit petting the dog, it's had enough? And that’s just dealing with the family.”

What about John Q. Public?
I was in Lowe’s the other day with Haiku. I was using a public space as a training opportunity and toting this around:

Understandably, people were very interested in her. But I’m interested in giving her the best training possible. I had to get downright rude with some people who tried to pet her after I asked them not to.

Don't forget those dogs you admire, you know, the ones on They were likely raised by ONE person, fed by ONE person, and only exercised by ONE person. They were trained by ONE person. Are you willing to commit to that, day in and day out? Those dogs you admire were raised by that one person providing the dedication, and leadership necessary to achieve their goals. Chances are they did not allow anyone who wasn’t directly participating in a training exercise to pet that cute little puppy. That means no playtime at the dog park, or pats by the neighbors on walks. Do you like to repeat yourself? Before you get your working dog, you should practice saying “No, you cannot pet my dog, he's in training….” about 200 times per day.

Another exercise you can practice and repeat often is reaching in to your wallet, pulling out a crisp $20.00 bill, and handing it to the nearest bystander. Let’s put aside food and vet bills for a moment, and strictly discuss the ‘working’ aspect of your new dog. Entering a Dock-Diving competition (one entry) costs $25, as does any Agility competition (AKC). A Schutzhund or Mondioring competition entry typically costs around $75. Most titles require several (3) qualifying scores. Club memberships cost money. Hiring a trainer costs money. That crap you’re now full of, costs BIG money. Every dog sport has it’s specialized equipment.

Now go ahead and factor in your food and vet costs. Your energizer bunny is likely to hurt itself, as it has little regard for personal safety. Irregular heartbeats, palpitations, and sucking wind in terror are part of my daily routine with Haiku as I watch her fall, tumble, stumble, spin, spring, bonk, leap, and juke through her little life.

Athletes have special nutritional requirements, to optimize performance. I buy supplements, and feed a raw, all natural diet. We can split these line items between cost and the ‘crap’ compartment, as there is an entire freezer dedicated to dog food in my garage. And oh ya, that stuff is expensive!

Now that you’ve really thought this through, and you have decided that you are game for early mornings, late evenings, schlepping, burning money, and heart palpitations, I leave you with Haiku:
There once was a little puppy
Her owner thought very lucky
She spring and she sprung
She worked all day long
And she cost a whole bunch of money.

This puppy’s name was that of a poem
Her handler thought ‘Now I can show ‘em’
A trainer I’ll be
Trying for Mondio 3
Practicing day and night until I’m done in.

Lisa Lucero is a professional dog trainer & behaviorist at 5280 Hundesport LLC & Front Range K9 Academy LLC. She can be reached at