Just Because They Can, Doesn’t Make it Right

Posted on 10/09/09 35 Comments

Last night Lynda (my friend and one our very capable Say Yes instructors) and I were on our way to a trial in Memphis, Tn. While driving, we had a discussion that made me think about a few tales I have been told recently (I don’t mean tales as in lies but as in stories that actually occurred).

You see Lynda is getting a new puppy soon so as she was driving she was going over the things she wanted to make sure she taught her new little guy first.  Recalls, retrieves, reinforcement zone and tricks where at the top of her list. Of course it goes without saying all of those would be after Crate Games and impulse control games like ItsYerChoice.  

As Lynda was telling me about her plans I realized she didn’t once mention things like tunnels, nose touches or seesaw games. Lynda was still only a student when I got DeCaff but she has been around as a good friend and employee to see me raise both Encore and Feature.

Feature at her breeder's home in England with her dam looking on.
Feature at her breeder's home in England with her dam looking on.

Obviously she was paying attention! Yes here we go again with Susan preaching about the merrits of raising your puppy to be a great family pet first and foremost. I get inspired to bring it up whenever I talk to people with their 9 month old puppies running full courses (including contacts and weave poles). 

Here is the thing, just because a Border Collie allows you to . . .  doesn’t make it right for you to do it. It is a test, don’t fall for it!

 Can you resist the temptation of throwing your puppy into the deep end of the pool thinking he can swim?

Time after time at my handling workshops I see dogs that have little to no recall under distractions, no retrieve and little value to follow their handler. It is all about the obstacles for those dogs as that is how they have been raised.  

Trust me this doesn’t make for a “faster” or “better” agility dog plus you still have frustrations with your family pet that will not listen!  This can change for anyone. Start with my recall article (a free download), Crate Games and Ruff Love. Then you are away to creating a very responsive dog who will be a pleasure for you not just in the agility ring but at home as well. 

For those of you that have mixed feelings about Ruff Love, once you have read all of my blog posts, re-read Ruff Love knowing a bit more about where I come from in my feelings for dogs. The book has been given a bad rap in some circles, perhaps I left too much up to common sense when I wrote it. The only thing that you might do differently is to take start with the Head Halter suggestions from the Appendix in Shaping Success and do that rather than the 3 days with the head halter on for 24 hours of the day.  The rest is golden and describes in great detail some of the games I play with my puppies as well as how I raise them.

Today I am grateful for a uneventful trip down here to Memphis!


  1. Kay Catlett says:
    Monday, November 29, 2010 at 7:10pm

    Thank you for reminding me about the things I SHOULD be doing, not just the things I want to do. Valuable advice, indeed.


  2. Janine says:
    Tuesday, November 10, 2009 at 2:09pm

    Thank you! It’s good to have these things stated in black and white to remind us what is really important. Having a great relationship with your dog and having a great dog to have a relationship with. Everything else is just a bonus!


  3. Amy says:
    Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 1:31am

    I have a copy of Ruff Love but never got around to reading it – I’ve not been happy with the relationship between my Tenterfield Terrier and I for a while now, you have compelled me to go home and read the book to see if I can improve our bond!


  4. Pamela Johnson says:
    Monday, October 19, 2009 at 3:02pm

    In Response to Michele! Great story! It brought tears to my eyes! I totally experienced the same type of thing with my BC and he is now like yours with me always. Thanks for sharing your story.


  5. Michele says:
    Monday, October 19, 2009 at 12:04pm

    “For those of you that have mixed feelings about Ruff Love, once you have read all of my blog posts, re-read Ruff Love knowing a bit more about where I come from in my feelings for dogs.”

    Ruff Love saved a failed relationship between me and my young BC. For a number of reasons (all my fault) we ended up not in sync in any part of our lives together. I could leave her in a strange room with strangers and she would happily sniff around and not once think about me. While because of my schedule I was unable to do all of the suggestions in the book or to the full extent. Within 3 weeks I had a dog that cared about where I was and wanted to be with me. Now 5 years later she is a 35lbs lap dog that follows me from room to room in the house and can’t stand to have a closed door between us.


  6. Jessica says:
    Friday, October 16, 2009 at 1:05am

    I totally agree. That is a lesson I learned with my BC, Kyla! (who is my 1st dog) She was 8 months old when I got her from rescue. It had been exactly a year since my friend’s BC who I had been training and competing with (in agility), passed away – and I was way too eager to do agility again. I started doing some low jumps and stuff with her after only about a month of us living together . . . and then I realized my mistake.

    We went back and just worked on relationship stuff and getting to know each other better. We also had to work on Kyla’s self control – she had n-o-n-e. If there was a toy present, she could not function (off in BC la-la land). It took around two months to really instill some self control. We worked on things like sitting and waiting at the door until released, a good recall, the beginning of crate games, etc. I’m glad I realized my mistake fairly quickly and we didn’t go on like that for too long. Kyla is about 3 1/2 now and the joy of my life. We still go back and play foundation-type games once and a while. I will keep the lessons I have learned so far with Kyla for the rest of my life.


  7. kathiekye says:
    Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 8:30am

    I started competing to soon. My girlfriend wanted me to go to trials together. I am now going to work on FOUNDATION before competing. Yes, we did qualifly but really we weren’t ready. This is my first Dog and she is a very good agility prospect. She is a red Aussie and has a grandmother that did well.


  8. Pamela Johnson says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 10:54pm

    I forgot to mention that the bond between dog and handler is also the most rewarding piece of training! 🙂 What would life be like without our teammate our best friend?
    Good Night Everyone!


  9. Pamela Johnson says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 10:49pm

    I love the quote that Glenda stated! I think that is so true! So many people want to rush their dogs training. I teach basic family dog classes and so many people want a young puppy to sit stay for a minute, at a distance, with distractions on the very first night they learn it. It drives me crazy! Training takes time, patience, and lots of love. Why rush it! Have fun with your dog, get to know him, and build that wonderful relationship. To me that bond between dog and handler is the most important piece of the training!

    Thanks for all the wonderful posts. I am really enjoying this topic!

    Have a great evening everyone!


  10. Lee Waterhouse says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 9:50pm

    Susan, your timing for reinforcement is impecible as usual!

    This is a perfect post for Inca and I right now. The people we started puppy class with have all moved on to intro to agility. I made the choice not to. I was feeling really good with my choice but this weekend I ran into them at a trial and hearing everything they are doing made me jealous.

    However, after attending Puppy Camp with you, the list of skills to learn and excel at is never ending, almost=) We are making progress. The other day at a cross walk, Inca sat in front of me and then immediately flipped over to my side and stared up at me. Hmmm…I think she is understanding the reinforcement zone. This was the first time in a long time she even attemped sitting in front of me.

    At the trial last weekend, Inca went along with us. We played crate games, heeled and learned how to walk through a revolving door. She had absolutely lovely restrained recalls near the ring that was running (not close enough to disturb the competing dog) and never even glanced at any of the people or dogs in her vicinity. She waited quietly in her crate when I took Apache out to run. We played tug with several different tug toys. All in all, I think that’s pretty good for a 7 month old puppy.

    I’m going to be patient and keep going through my puppy camp notes on things to train and improve. I know I have to get better at reinforcing on the correct side. Lazy me keeps reaching across my body. Today I introduced a pylon. Inca immediately started attacking it. Nose touch, hit it, body slam it, try to climb on it, try to knock it over. I called her to me and we heeled around it. Kind of rough, but a good start. Bring on tomorrow.

    I do miss having a set time that we have to practice for. In a very busy life it keeps me on track much better than left to my own devices. However, at the end of October, there is another puppy class starting.

    When are you offering a Skills Camp? That would be a good goal to get me on track to prepare for!


  11. Kate McGill says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 9:23pm

    I wish you could explain that to the rest of the world or at least the instructors out there !!
    I have had a lot of negative feed back because I pulled my 9 month old pup from agility practice and wouldn’t let her move forward in her training because I felt there was a lot of things that she still needed to learn other than jumps and weave poles.
    I would love to find a video/book on Shadow Handling with pups!!


  12. Glenda says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 10:35am

    I always remember that old saying – if you don’t have the time to do it right, when will you have the time to do it over?


  13. Bethany says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 8:51am

    I completely agree. I’m new to agility and will be bringing home a puppy soon so I’m busy planning what to do (this is my first puppy in 5 yrs). I was watching a friend having her bc herding tested last week and also there was a 11 week old bc puppy being forced to herd sheep! I say forced because the pup had little interest and had been put on stock regularly since 8 wks of age. The pup is also training heavily in agility, tracking, and obedience. Why would a 2 month pup be expected to do more than learn, explore, and develop self control?


  14. Angie von der SchoBären-Bande says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 3:04am

    It is sooooo good to read that there are more responsible handlers in the world. :o)

    I was so shocked at the WC in Dornbirn, as a large dog won which was running a parcours with 6 (!) months. And another dog competed which was trained to do the weave poles with 3(!) months.

    We had a lot of discussions here about it and I’m so happy to read that there are many handlers in common with me.

    Kind regards from Germany
    Angie and the SchoBären-Bande
    incl. Mae – who is one year old and still doesn’t know much about Agility


  15. Barb Duke says:
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 12:46am

    Thank you so much for this post. My BC boy has just turned 12 months, and I have had a great time with just letting him be a puppy, and learning his foundation stuff (though my bad – not thoroughly or consistently enough.). I was looking over the last couple of weeks at a couple of friends with their BCs, who to my mind are doing things with equipment much too soon, and it was so nice to come on and read this, to confirm that my gut instincts about my boy seem sound.

    The post also supports the approach we have been taking at my local dog club – to insist that people do some foundation training with their pups and adult dogs to build that focussed relationship before they go anywhere near equipment.


  16. Pamela Johnson says:
    Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 8:45pm

    I agree! I have a bc that is 2 and he is amazing at agility. Well I think so and I should since I am his mom. HEHE! Anyway, he has serious over arousal issues around other dogs and especially other dogs playing off leash. So, I am working through all of his issues before he even steps a paw in a trial ring. I am chomping at the bit and really want to run him, but I also really want to set him up for success and I know deep down he is not ready yet. So, I keep training and training and I hope that one day he will be ready for the ring. Either way, he loves agility and I figure the more he likes it and likes to work with me the better my advantage will be when I do enter him in his first trial. That is my hope anyway!
    I really enjoy reading all the posts and usually do not respond, but this topic really hit home.
    Thank you for the post!
    Pam & Bandit


  17. Pat Steer (Gaelen) says:
    Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 8:32pm

    Susan, it’s so crazy that we have to celebrate the common sense this post displays – but so often I see handlers rushing young dogs. The thing is foundation work doesn’t just apply to puppies. Re-homed and 2nd-hand dogs, and older dogs who are switching careers need the same careful attention and time devoted to foundations.

    I’ve spent the last three years working with a wonderful retired breed champion English cocker named M. Her sister is a Ch./MACH2, so I had great hopes for my new beautiful but very biddable spotted girl. Except that she had no language – no words, hand signals, or any standards of communication to speak of. She knew her name. ‘OK’ meant it was okay to go get her food dish. She understood “Quiet,” She was perfectly crate trained. She had a stand-still-look-pretty stack that she could hold, on finger cue, for up to 30 minutes.

    But she and I had to start at the very beginning with a leash, a collar, walk with me, don’t pull, come, sit, down, don’t bolt through an opening, don’t pee in the house, eliminate on command and on leash and in an ex-pen if necessary – all of the basics I teach puppies and expect a 4y.o. dog to know. We had to work through and master all of those basics and many others before I could spend too much time laying performance groundwork. It was a lot more than building a relationship with my new dog – it was building a bridge we could each use to communicate with the other.

    Two weeks ago M. earned her RA with placements, and she’s running in FAST Novice preferred. I’ve decided to run her at 12″ instead of 16″ because she is a more reliable jumper at the lower height. She’s taking direction, actively working with me, and her recall is (finally) not a heart-in-throat will-she/won’t-she proposition. But getting there has taken time. She’s telling me when she’s ready for more skills and more responsibility, and I’m really glad I’ve been able to work with her and give her the time she needs.


  18. Teri says:
    Monday, October 12, 2009 at 10:56pm

    “Ruff Love” changed my dog training and turned my now nine-year old Finley into the best house dog imaginable. I used the tools in “Ruff Love” when Finley was two and struggled with dog reactivity and car-chasing issues. (He ultimately went on to compete in obedience and agility.)


  19. Wishy says:
    Monday, October 12, 2009 at 2:58pm

    Puppies need FUN! Kids need FUN! We *all* need fun and fun changes behavior! Check out this video for yet still more proof:



  20. Julie W says:
    Monday, October 12, 2009 at 1:51pm

    Great post and a fantastic reminder. With my very first agility dog I searched so hard to find an agility class that would let me in before my dog was 1 yr old – I so wanted to get him on equipment. I did get him in a bit before he was one and of course started showing pretty soon after he “learned” the equipment – well it took us a year to get a Q.
    since then I have learned and could not agree more – what’s the rush! I have spent my time playing, working on recalls, flat work, tricks…
    All I can say is it has been the biggest pay off in the world. My next two dogs learned equipment in no time and when we got to the ring we actually looked like we knew what were were doing. The teamwork takes twice as long to build if not more.
    Thank you for all the great tools and this blog to remind us to use them with our pups.


  21. Linda says:
    Monday, October 12, 2009 at 9:31am

    How timely! My 20 mo. Cairn was in his 2d trial this past weekend. He had a great time visiting the judge and the ring crew–plus a few other distractions that ate up time. He’s entered in another trial in 2 wks (then we’re taking a break!), so I will be working on his recalls every day before the trial–and every day after!


  22. Susan Anderson says:
    Sunday, October 11, 2009 at 9:45pm

    Foundation, foundation, foundation, Wonderful and so very important to a successful and long agility career.

    Loved this blog.


  23. Jackie says:
    Sunday, October 11, 2009 at 2:24am

    I wish there was someone preaching this to the flyball and frisbee community!! Sooooo many flyball dogs are racing on or before their 1st birthday and disc dog people too are just so impatient to get their dogs out on the field.


  24. denise says:
    Saturday, October 10, 2009 at 6:14pm

    Thanks for this post, especially the info about “Ruff Love”. It’s been a few years now since you wrote it and you’ve mentioned how you’re always working on things, improving them, even those training tips that are already great. So, I’ve wondered how much of the “Ruff Love” book you still employ with your own dogs. Now that I know, I can go ahead and use “Ruff Love” as a great resource for my next puppy. Thanks!


  25. Trudie says:
    Saturday, October 10, 2009 at 3:52pm

    My 3 1/2 yr old dog who once had little or no recall under distractions is making beautiful progress.
    Because we are doing our foundation stuff
    There’s an expression “Fools rush in” (- and it’s true, often they do get the best seats) but in the long run what goes round comes round.
    This may sound silly but sometimes the most obvious and simple lesson becomes a revolution. For example, just lately he has REALLY learned to play “Mamma May I” rather than “Hey Dude” before going out the door. I make it a point to lead out while he waits. Now he knows this is how we start the basic little foundation jumping grids. It is becoming something meaningful.


  26. Zoey Trenkle says:
    Saturday, October 10, 2009 at 10:42am

    This is something I really learned during the skills camp. I no longer cared about my dog getting on any of the equipment because I could see the big picture, I could see where the building of strong foundation skills was going to lead. There were several trialing dogs at that camp who were having to go back to the basics. I thought that I better get the foundation stuff down now or else I’m just going to have to get back to it later after having reinforced weak foundation skills.

    When people first get into agility, they don’t have this whole big picture in mind, and they don’t care about it for that matter. They just want to do something fun with their dog and do all the fun stuff they see on tv. In the area I live in, dog trainers have to cater to their market, which is teaching the equipment to people like this. Not much of a market around here for agility enthusiasts to learn the foundation skills first other than general obedience classes. If you’re lucky, you have a local trainer who sees the big picture who you can at least take private lessons from.


  27. Donna says:
    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 11:04pm

    Fabulous reminder. I’m passing this on as a must-read to my puppy class. I’ve had people commend me at a couple trials lately about how under control my puppy is. When they ask how I did it, I tell them puppy camp and Its-Yer-Choice. Thank you so much! I don’t know where we’d be without it. Wait, yes I do… I’d be wrapped around his little paws!


  28. Kim B. says:
    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 8:14pm

    Even though I am not going to be getting a puppy for a little while….I am so glad that you always remind me of the things that I want to do when I do get one:) I truly appreciate it!!!


  29. Sally says:
    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 6:59pm

    Its amazing I have my second dog, an 18 month old BC and I guess I didn’t flog a lot of formal stuff with her to early. In part that was due to her shy and timid temperament and the fact I was seriously starting to wonder if she would be ‘triallable’. People from the time she was 5 months were saying she will never cope with trialling and I am better off to not set my expectations as such.

    Any way that was enough for me to doubt her and myself and why put the time and effort into a dog with specific skills who might never need them in the future. Instead we spent plenty of time going for long walks, playing tug in variety of environments, a huge retrieving desire, building a desire to want to work for the sake of work (not hard she is a BC), building focus. Yes she did the occasional built of agility equipment i.e. a handful of tunnels because she would come training with my older girl for socialisation but other than that she really didn’t start anything to formal until she was 8 or 9 months old.

    So now at 18 months she has never decided working is optional, she loves her toys, loves retrieving, she loves the game of agility and is coming along in leaps and bounds. People keep asking when I intend on trialling her but there is no rush. I still am devoting a huge percentage of my available training time to helping her accept people in the environment. No point in having the fancy stuff if she can’t do even so much as a hand target when she is in a scary environment – thankfully she has been out to trials since she was 9 weeks so I am hoping they become a predictable environment as she is happy to play tug and do practice gear.

    Any way yet another great blog post :).


  30. Emma says:
    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 3:36pm

    Thanks for this!
    I’ve been tempted a bit recently with my 5 month old puppy to start doing more of the “sexy” stuff and your post has really inspired me to get back on track. Today is going to be all restrained recalls and crate games!


  31. Pam says:
    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 2:34pm



  32. Kristen says:
    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 1:50pm

    Absolutely! My new puppy turned one year old yesterday, the very first thing things she learned were to play tug, to fetch, to go in her crate, to potty outside, to run to the momma, and that if you want something from momma, the only way to get it is to sit. From day one, she was learning that controlling her impulses earned rewards.

    Ruff love does put a larger burden of responsibility on the handler to work with the dog, but the core concepts are sound. You don’t want your pet or performance dog running off to pester anyone or anything simply because the dog wants to. And you have to make that your culture for living. Ruff Love tells you how to do that.

    My first dog did not systematically learn to control himself, so our agility work has been a slow struggle with my overamped boy. Spectators have commented that “I’m beginning to get better control of him.” Invariably I reply, “No, he’s learning to control himself.” That’s what Ruff Love is about, guiding the dog to learn to make good decisions and to control himself. I guess that might be hard to see if you don’t look at the underlying principles as opposed to the surface of the program.


  33. Tarja says:
    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 12:34pm

    This is a good reminder of the “dangers” of agility. My younger dog (1 year old norfolk terrier) is just starting and I have to keep myself from doing exactly these mistakes…Unfortunately I didn’t find your videos, books and blog when he was a small puppy, but happily in time for his agility training! So we do the basics and are happy with it!


  34. Andrea says:
    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 12:04pm

    Love this post!!!


  35. Soraya says:
    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 11:51am

    Oh how I so agree with you. It seems to be a particular malady of people with their second dog too – to start all the competitve stuff asap. You here people speak about all the pitfalls they’re going to avoid etc – but they don’t seem to have built into their plans letting a dog be a puppy first, develop its charcter – have fuuuuuuuun, learn about each other , before its “gotta get out there and compete”! I’m going to be sharing my every day life with any new doggie addition for way way longer than the amount of competitve runs we do. I want us to be able to get along together and enjoy each others company – and that of the other house occupants – canine, feline or otherwise……


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