Wow Have Things Changed Since 1998 . . . Or Have They?

Posted on 07/29/10 7 Comments

This is the final instalment of the interview I did in 1998. I hope it has been as much fun for you looking back as it was for me!

Question 11. What are your training/teaching/judging involvements in Agility now? i.e. how often do you train your own dogs, how often do you teach classes and how frequently do you compete in an average year?

Answer 1998: Luckily for the agility community I do not judge! My significant other (John Blenkey) is an obedience judge and I know the focus and discipline it requires to do the job well. I know my limitations and know this is something I would never be good at.

Realizing this gives me a healthy respect for the judges who do a good job of it. I do however love to teach. I teach obedience, flyball and agility each week here at our place.

Of course all of my students train their dogs with a clicker. I teach small group lessons and privates. I am also very busy doing seminars. I am very fortunate to have an understanding man at home (who happens to love dogs and does housework too!). Right now my schedule is very chaotic so I don’t get to train my own dogs as often as I would like.

Due to our long Canadian winter my dogs don’t get on agility equipment very often between December and May. Training does not necessarily involve agility equipment. There is a lot of things I do for agility without having the equipment around.

Of course I also do a lot of training for obedience and flyball. I generally get to an average of 6 weekends of trailing a year. I think this year I made it out to eight. It is difficult to stay sharp as a handler when trialing so infrequently. I would like to get to more events but running 3 and now 4 dogs each weekend gets quite expensive, plus most of the trials I attend are between a 4 and 10 hour drive from home.

Answer 2010: Today in 2010 I still do not judge, the reasons remain the same as they did in 1998:). John has now retired from judging as well. After all of these years I still do love to teach. And I still give my dogs time off from agility during the winter, but it is now 8 weeks away from agility.

I no longer compete in flyball but still love and train obedience. My plan is to try and get Feature into the obedience ring at some point. I do feel my handling has improved since I have upped the number of trials I do in a year from six to about 12 or 14 (still not a lot of trialling by most people’s standards).

I think cross training is important for dogs to keep them physically fit and mentally sharp. For my dogs today that involves more walking, swimming and trick training.

Question 12. How different was it to start training your second (third? fourth?) dog for agility compared with the first time around?

Answer 1998: First time around all you want to do is run a course. You don’t get quiet so impatient after you have seen the evils of those training short cuts! I have always enjoyed the process of training a dog as much as I do competing. I think now though, I enjoy the training so much it is tough to let go and get into the swing of trialing a new dog.

Answer 2010: I think with my first few agility dogs there was the “unknown” element to each dog. Would I be able to train the dog to her potential? Today I have a lot more confidence in the process that has evolved around Say Yes. Methodology is constantly changing, but the basis remains the same solid, science based dog training that produces proven results. So the question today becomes how good will this dog be rather than will this dog be good.

As for my approach I still do tons of trick training which I have always done although today we call it “body awareness.”  Of course things like weave pole training and contact training is pretty much following our proven protocol. The one BIG difference is my strategic approach to jump training. It is no longer something I just let the dogs figure out for themselves. Today, thanks to input from Susan Salo and others my dogs have a plan of action to help go to their first agility trial as an confident experienced jumper. That makes the world of difference.

13. What methods do you favor for contact training, weave poles, jumping skills, and working away ability — both for your own dogs and your students?

Answer 1998: The methods I use for my student’s dogs are exactly the same as the ones I use for my own dogs. I put a strong foundation of control through passive dominance gained while playing games with my dogs. I love to play these games almost as much as the dogs do. Theses are games of chase, tug, racing a dog to a toy and things like that. It helps to teach the dog to enjoy working with the handler regardless if it is obedience or agility that they happen to be working on. Once the relationship has started to gel together we work on maintaining this level of enthusiasm while working on agility behaviours. I shape all the behaviours in the dogs with a clicker. So to teach weaving, my students use three poles and a clicker, shaping the dog each week. Right now I have a group of 4 students who have been in class 7 weeks and their dogs are enthusiastically weaving 8 poles with the handler on either side. Distance work is also shaped using a clicker.

Contact training is done by homework assignments on the stairs. The student first teaches their dog to touch their nose to a clear plastic target (no food on the target ever). They take this behaviour and work on a flight of stairs at home. The stairs act as the A Frame and the dog is backchained up them in progression. Dogs learn to do all their experimenting of coming off contacts at home on the stairs before they get a chance on an A Frame.

Again students aren’t allowed to correct either physically or verbally so the dog learns to work in an environment constant to the one they will work in while in the ring. This prevents a dog from becoming “ringwise” as the criteria for performance are always the same, as are the consequences ofinappropriate behaviour.

Answer 2010: I find it very cool that my approach to the training today is exactly the same as it was in 1998. (well all except for that “passive dominance” comment which I have no idea what I meant:)).

What I am getting at is that all of my training is still about games, every bit of it. From the recall (which many of you are learning about through the on going e-course) to games to teach handling fundamentals, to the 2×2 weave pole training to contacts. It is all about teaching the dog the balance between drive and control through a series of progressive games.

As I mentioned previously I use the principles of operant conditioning as I did in 1998 but today I use the clicker more strategically than I did in 1998.

Another massive difference in my training today is that I put a lot more focus on classical condition when I teach and train. That alone has made training much easier for both my own dogs and my students’ dogs.

Of course we no longer shape weave poles 3 at a time but rather have evolved to the more progressive 2×2 method!

Today I am grateful for a quiet house. Just John and I home alone now. I love having company but I also the quiet time of having the house to just the two of us.


  1. MJ says:
    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 12:03pm

    I’ll always remember showing my Boxers in Obedience under John who smiled at the innovations on obedience exercises they did, especially jumping back and forth on the retrieve over jump in Open before finally bringing the dumbell back.


  2. Janice DeMello says:
    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 10:46am

    John B was one of my favorite obedience judges as he had a good ‘eye’ for seeing the whole picture in a performance which included dog and handler.


  3. Clyde Thatcher says:
    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 10:04am

    Thanks for sharing the interview and re-interview.


  4. dog ear infection says:
    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 9:52am

    Thanks for that Susan, isn’t it amazing how the time flys by.Can’t believe thats been 12 years. Things sure have changed, lets see whats happening in another 12 years


  5. Bob says:
    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 8:45am

    John was an obedience judge, eh… I presume this means he also has a history of training dogs specifically for obedience? Do you and John see eye2eye on your philosophy of training? I ask because there are few top obedience competitors who don’t ‘proof’ their exercises with some sort of aversion.


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 9:04am

      Yes John did train dogs for Obedience and he still does the odd private lesson here today (mostly focusing on handling and what the judge looks for). Although our foundation of training may have had its difference when we met I can’t say that we have ever had a disagreement about dog training. I guess I have never really given it any thought. Likely because John was a phenomenal obedience judge with more of a social interest in dog training. He has always had a great appreciation for a dog that works with enthusiasm and that is what our program produces.


    • Sharon says:
      Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 4:28am

      I just thought I’d mention that there are excellent obedience dogs out there trained with zero aversives. My JRT was confirmed as the most versatilely-titled JRT in the world in the 90’s. He did obedience, agility, tracking, carting, sheep herding trials, natural hunting, UK working trials, weight pull, earthdog, etc. He was the #6 obedience JRT in the AKC in 1998 (also UKC #2 obedience, #1 conformation and later #1 weight pull), and was in a bunch of Purina ads and Hallmark cards. While living in the UK, he once beat 27 Border Collies in the same obedience class, winning a 3-way run-off. He was trained using Dawn Jec’s “Choose to Heel” method + clicker training + ZERO aversives.


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