Susan Garrett’s $5 Certainty Challenge

Posted on 12/31/09 20 Comments

Recently I was asked to give my advise to a fellow blogger (a brilliant blogger btw) whose dog Gustavo gives her moments of joy sandwiched between ones of frustration. From what I can tell it is a stress related behaviour and until further advised with a more thorough background by Laura, I am going in that direction with my advise. I decided to dedicate a few posts to Gustavo and Laura not because she is a close friend, nor is she holding any unusual photos of me that I wish to keep private and I am not even doing this in hopes of her adding my blog to her sidebar list of recommended blogs to read. No, the reason I am going to address Gustavo’s issue here is because I don’t think it is just Gustavo’s issue. I think what Laura is experiencing is common to many agility enthusiasts. Plus she has cleared the air about me and a nasty skort rumor.

For a more complete background on Laura and Gustavo you should visit her blog (it is absolutely ridiculously funny so it will be time well spent). For a background on what I consider a “stressing” dog let me just say a dog can stress “high” and get the zoomies or just leave you and start grabbing any obstacle that happens to be nearby (many dogs that stress high tend to grab tunnels if they are anywhere in sight). Other dogs may stress low. A low stressing dog may be more obvious because he will just shut down, or go and visit anyone or anything to avoid doing whatever it is you want him to do. Often times this dog will immediately put his nose to the ground. You may think your dog is usually interested in smells, but really that is an appeasement behaviour dogs use with other dogs they are feeling anxious and are trying to calm the situation.

Before we venture into some long drawn out process of desensitizing your dog, we need to evaluate just one thing. Aaah yeah sorry, it will be a long drawn out process since I sold my last bottle of “Susan Garrett’s Magic De-Stressing Pixie Dust.” So any of you that are prepared to put in the work to help your dog (it is all fun work btw), we first need to decide if you are the one leading your dog to Stress Island? By that I mean, are you taking an unprepared dog to an environment where he is bound to stress high and get the zoomies or low and just shut down or leave you? How do you know if he is unprepared? Video yourself at home. People who lament to me “he does it perfectly at home” may not even realize that their dog has rarely done it perfectly at home.  You may think he does because it doesn’t cost you anything to hop him back on the contact or pull him back and re-send him to a weave entry, so the reality of these errors is not as present in your backyard as they are at a trial where you are publicly listed as a NQ.


Once you have videoed yourself running a course at home and know he truly is “perfect,” take me up my $5 challenge.  To be really certain he has full understanding of his agility behaviours try the following.

Susan Garrett’s $5 Challenge of Certainty

  1. Ask 3 people (ideally agility instructors, even better if they are seminar presenters) for 5 of their best weave challenges and 5 of their best contact challenges (ideally with some good handling challenges mixed in). You should now have 15 challenges to try on your dog. It is important that you get all 15 of them from people you don’t normally train with so that the challenges will truly be unique to you.
  2. Before you attempt any of these challenges ask someone you know to watch you and keep count. Tell them you will give them $5 for every mistake your dog makes. Better yet, get them to watch and send the money to me! If you really believe in Mr. Perfection at the home, this little challenge should not bother the dog however it may put pressure on you. We need this pressure to get a true evaluation of where the weakness lies.


One of three things will happen here. One, you will both be perfect and you will not own any money to anyone and we will know it is a trial stress issue. Two, you will be anxious with the added pressure of the money and someone watching. Your anxiety will cause you to screw up or your dog to stress and we will know it is a mental prep issue. Three you will be brilliant but your dog will just be unable to nail the challenges (which points entirely at your dog training).


Either way you will have an answer. Do not cheat. Do not practice any of the elements of the challenges a head of time otherwise you negate the test and you will never really know with any certainity where the source of your dog’s stress is coming from. For the rest of your life their will be a void inside of you, a question left unanswered, a destiny left unfilled, all because you could not be honest with yourself. Okay, maybe not but it would be really cool to know the reason why wouldn’t it?

What’s that? You aren’t willing to put your training up to the $5 challenge? Hmmm then why the heck are you spending hundreds of dollars a weekend to trial a dog that isn’t ready for a stranger’s evaluation of your home training skills while others stand by and watch?  Get my drift? Train your dog first before you put him in a weekend trial. It is only fair to the dog you love. Guilt, guilt, guilt.

My brother Rob, wife Grace and my three nieces (Becky, Rachel & Joy) that that are coming to visit for a couple days (picture taken at least 20 years ago:))
A dated but fun picture of my brother Rob, his wife Grace and their three girls (Becky, Rachel & Joy) who are coming to stay with John and I for a couple days (picture taken at least 20 years ago:))

Once you have completed the challenge and passed (I would say a score of 12 of 15 is a pass) then we can look at other sources for your dog’s stress at a trial (so I will give you a chance to try this before we roll up our sleeves for more).

Today I am grateful for the chance to get together with my family tonight as my niece Amy is getting married so family coming to town!


  1. Chris Fuhrmann says:
    Friday, February 12, 2010 at 7:54am

    What a great point. It took me years before I understood that a lot of our off courses were due to stress. I like the idea of the $5 challenge to make training as stressful as trials. I would love to hear any other ideas you might have for helping handlers like myself not get caught up in anxiety and ‘NQ depression’ at trials.


  2. Sharon Normandin says:
    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 6:22pm

    Great post, Susan, and Marco, I love your response! Just started teaching two classes last night, one Foundations (finally the club is letting me teach one!) and Double Box, would like to share this with these students, help get them off on the right foot.


  3. CINDY says:
    Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 11:03am

    I definately have one of the low stress dogs. I even stopped trialling last season to try to bond more with my guy and see if I could sort out what was wrong. He only seems to have an issue at outdoor venues. I’ve been playing the agility game for over 10 years now, so I guess I’m a “seasoned” handler. Each one of my dogs is unique in personality, but this is the first one that’s shown me this type of stress at a trial. Funny thing is, at a trial I don’t feel like I’m stressing…..I will definately try the $5 challenge to see if it is me! I look forward to more advice and insight!


  4. Michelle says:
    Sunday, January 3, 2010 at 8:59pm

    Susan, I loved this blog entry! I felt like you were speaking directly to me during this blog (I know I’m not alone). I have a dog that I have retired from agility before he even began. He is only 2 years old. But, I thought he hated agility b/c he runs away. What if I were to tell you that he doesn’t do everything at home perfectly but he’s better. And when he’s in class he runs away or just gives up. When he is at a trial (only been there twice) he doesn’t get the zoomies he gets the I’m out of here run aways? Where would you start? I cannot wait to see what the continuation of this blog reveals.


  5. Beth says:
    Saturday, January 2, 2010 at 7:59pm

    I’ll take 5 also Susan……
    That was a great blog, Thanks every little bit helps from you.


  6. Kim Collins says:
    Saturday, January 2, 2010 at 4:50pm

    OMG I LOVE Gustavo! We saw her run him in Dixon last year! My friend asked her what kind of dog he was…she said “black”……LOL! He is amazing! We all fell in love with him. Too funny! Small world…

    Hope you and John and all the pups had a great New Years!
    Kim & Rob


  7. lynne brubaker says:
    Friday, January 1, 2010 at 11:15pm

    Yes Susan, send me 5 challenges too, thanks.


  8. Linda says:
    Friday, January 1, 2010 at 1:12pm

    Please send me 5 challenges.


  9. Lora says:
    Friday, January 1, 2010 at 12:18pm

    I’ve definately got one of those stress down dogs. I’ll take on this challenge. She may not go a perfect 15/15, but I’m certain she can “pass” in a familiar environment without other barking dogs around. Can’t wait to hear the follow ups to this test.


  10. Anne Stocum says:
    Friday, January 1, 2010 at 10:28am

    I just read Laura’s companion post…Susan Garrett “brain voice” and “x-ray eyes”? So true. LOL


  11. Trudie says:
    Friday, January 1, 2010 at 8:34am

    This is for Marco:
    I found your letter very sympa
    I’m from Canada but live in France (Rhone-Alpes) and I only got interested in agility 5 yrs ago. Me, I’m a lot older than 21, and with my dog 4 yo have only been in competitions 1 yr. and I haven’t your savoir faire !
    But , I love everything you said in your letter, it is all so true!
    I believe you will do very well !!

    Happy New Year, everyone !


  12. Kathryn says:
    Friday, January 1, 2010 at 2:59am

    OK, so some of you hoitier folks spent New Year’s Eve at gala soirees and others got cozy with too much Bailey’s (yecch) and a fireplace, but what did I do? Spent the entire evening with Laura’s blog. I now have scratches on my face where Ruby tried to claw the laughing away. (That’s how SHE deals with stress, just to keep things on topic.)

    But even without the risk of injury from a hepped-up border collie who thinks laughing out loud is a crisis in need of fixing, Laura’s blog is dangerous and should come with a warning. In particular, to mitigate the risk of aneurysm, there should be a cautionary note before sentences such as:

    “And they’re not using napkins.”
    “…suggest you may have been or are now a pirate.”

    Deadly, I tell you. Just deadly.


  13. Marco says:
    Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 11:09pm

    Well it’s not 2010 yet in Canada but it is in Europe (Belgium) so I wish you all a happy new year and particularly to Susan. One year ago I was very frustrated at the end of a trial with my dog’s performance. Of course he was 8 yo and there were many young dogs faster that him. But I started searching on the Internet and by chance I found Susan’s website. Since I’ve got all her books, dvd’s as well as Greg Derret’s dvd’s and Susan Salo’s dvds. I’m 21 and I started agility at 13 with my Malinois. After 7 years of challenges and national and international titles I felt like a beginner when I began to discover all that knowledge in dog training and agility training. Last August I ran in France my last run with my dog. The judge told to everyone I had done a beautiful run, not because I’d done two mistakes (a bar and a long jump) but because my handling was so good. It was the first time I ran the Derrett’s system in trial. Now on my free time (I’m still a student) I train a few agility teams with your philosophy and method. I tell to everyone this is the Susan Garrett’s method. Now I’m helping a friend of mine (who was 7th and the last FCI championships) to train better contacts with your philosophy and way of training. Some people come from far to train with me because I bring new methods, your techniques and methods. Now I’m waiting my new Malinois puppy who must born in the mids of January. My dream is to come to a Susan’s workshop when I work and I get enough money. I love Canada, I spend two months in 2006 in Alberta to learn English and I love the country music as well.

    So why I’m telling you all that ? I’m just grateful to God that had lead me to Susan (or maybe it was just by chance…), my dog is just another dog now, happier than before, and I love him so much. If I read your blog entries today it’s just because he has frustrated me and because I’m a perfectionist. I read, I feel and I live all of your pieces of advice. But beyond all that only one thing helped me to open my eyes on what my dog was trying to teach me for so many years… your video “The Journey”. I think everyone understands it in a particular way because of his life. Every time I watch it I learn a new thing. Maybe because English it’s not my first language, I don’t know.

    So I wish you all that Susan brings you the same things she brought to me since one year ago. Agility is not about winning, it’s just about being happy with your dog. When I tug with my dog I’m happy so I wish I could tug for ever with him and I know he will hold for ever if I don’t let his toy go of if I don’t cue him to drop.

    Happy new year to everyone !


    • Susan says:
      Friday, January 1, 2010 at 4:33pm

      Marco, thank you for your kinds words. I still remember last year when your email came in (as a matter of fact I still have it). I remember how impressed I was with all you had planned to do with a dog that was already 8 years old. How you were dedicated to improve your teammate’s understanding. What I remember most of all was thinking, wow, here is a young man that truly, truly loves his dog. It warmed my heart. Blessings to you, to Zafo and to your future puppy for much success. I hope to get to France sometime soon (possibly this year) and I hope that I will meet up with you my friend.


  14. laura, president of team small dog says:
    Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 9:10pm

    Handing out $5 bills might be cheaper in the long run than going into therapy. Maybe. Actually, not sure. It is the price of one margarita, that I know for a fact. Susan Garrett, we will be discussing your challenge coming up over at our blog!


  15. Kathy says:
    Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 2:30pm

    wow, great post Susan, my doggie Lizzie lives on stress island on the high zoomie side of the island….and I know what to do to help dogs that live on the quiet shores of stress island, but Lizzie has truly been a challenge for me, so it gives me a lot more to think about. BTW, if you ever get your magic SG de-stressing Pixie dust back in stock….I will be first in line to buy a case! But since that does not sound like it is coming soon, I guess I will have to continue to work with it!


  16. Andrea says:
    Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 1:08pm

    Great article Susan! Any ideas on how could I tweak this challenge to test our 11 month old for stress during home frisbee practice? She’s become a chronic grass eater after an average of 2 throws…

    We’re trying to determine if she just isn’t going to love being a “frisbee dog” or if something else is going on.


  17. Jean says:
    Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 1:04pm

    Would a Novice dog who will not return to his person at the end of a run in trials be stressing? He remains focused during the run. At the end he gets the zoomies and will run around the ring and up to the dog waiting to run. This is only at trials. They are getting Ed because of it.

    In practice, his junior handler has gone back to train an end of run behavior. From reading your blog,I am thinking they may have started trialing before they were ready.

    Sugggrstions appreciated.


  18. Mary M says:
    Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 11:50am

    I love this idea! Thanks for the inspiration.



  19. lynne brubaker says:
    Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 9:58am

    Yaowza! I can tell ya right off, I will be broke…..
    No, seriously, great challenge, good idea, I will try it. Thanks


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