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Finding the Joy

Posted on 08/05/10 38 Comments

In her third and final instalment (for now:)), Helen shares some of the key lessons she has learned up to this point of her journey with her pankin’ pants poodle puppy Uppity.

At one point when I was very frustrated with Uppity’s slow progress,  I was talking to Susan on the phone and whining to her about how discouraged I felt. Susan asked me if I loved Upp. I told her I did! I loved her very much! Susan asked me what I loved about her.

I thought for a second and answered with a long list of things. I love her loyalty to me (all of the rewarding and time we have spent together has created a dog that adores me and is glued to my side now), I love her joy and Poodleness and how she comes over to me and puts her head in my lap while I am sitting and so many more things.

Thinking about why I loved Upp, took my focus away from my feeling of despair at the time and back to why Upp was worth the effort I was putting into her. If she never did agility I would still love her. I had to find the joy in the process and not worry about the outcome!

Here are some of the things I have learned on my journey so far with Uppity. We have a LONG road ahead us and I expect the trip to be full of great learning opportunities for both of us.

KEEP MY SESSIONS SHORT! Sometimes 15 or 30 seconds was all we did! I needed to quit while she still wanted more. Now we can work longer but it has taken quite a while to get to this point in our training. There is no magic time, it depends on the dog and their level of enthusiasm.

NEVER listen to people who tell you to give up! If you keep training that dog, the worst that can happen is you have a better relationship with your dog. I LOVE agility but I love my dogs more and there was no way I was going to “place” Uppity so we were in it for the long haul together.

SHAPE! SHAPE! SHAPE! I had been told to shape Uppity to do silly behaviors over and over but, being lazy, I didn’t shape much until Upp was about 7 months old. That was a HUGE mistake! “Shape early – shape often” should be my rule!

DON’T GIVE UP! When Uppity didn’t want to tug, I shouldn’t give up! Be creative and be FUN!

BE STRATEGIC ABOUT YOUR TRAINING TIMES: Train before breakfast and before dinner! Many times I trained using Uppity’s meals (I feed raw so it was messy but worth it!). Upp is a chow hound and she loves her meals more than anything in the Universe!

Susan had me break up her meals into small portions, put them in her bowl and hide the bowl near where we were going to train. As soon as I got amazing tugging, we would run to the food bowl and she got to eat what I had put in it (but only when the tugging was AMAZING). We did this every day throughout the day for weeks until she developed more value for her tugger.  I great tugging meant Uppity would be GROWLING and squealing with joy while tugging.

SMILE! I have found that if I smile and laugh while training, it is hard to get discouraged. The more fun I have, the more fun Upp has! When I watch Susan train her dogs, she has more fun than any hyper kid I have ever seen at a birthday party! Susan’s enthusiasm when she trains is infectious and so much fun to watch!

GENERALIZE THE GREATNESS: Take my dog to as many unfamiliar places as I can and work on behaviors she understands. Find new parks, schools, Home Depot, etc.

Take her to seminars and agility classes and crate her with a bowl of food on top and a sign reminding people to feed her as they walked by with a dog no matter what Upp was doing  but say nothing to her. Upp was very fearful of people and other dogs and was showing some signs of fear aggression. This helped SO much!

STRETCH YOURSELF: For the first time in my life I taught a dog to walk on a loose leash! That was very rewarding! Uppity got lots of treats and I got a dog that doesn’t pull me along like a sled dog! Everything I have taught her to date has added big money to our relationship bank.

The best thing I have learned from this experience?    FIND THE JOY IN THE PROCESS!

Wow, what a great read. Thank you so much to my student and friend Helen King for having the humility to allow us to share her journey. I can tell by the comments that many of you have enjoyed reading Helen’s story as much as I enjoyed witnessing the transformation.

Today I am grateful for students that don’t give up on their dogs; who allow their dogs to teach them how to laugh out loud while they train.


  1. Emmi says:
    Saturday, October 1, 2011 at 10:33pm

    I adored reading this; it was very inspirational!


  2. Christine says:
    Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 1:54am

    thanks again. Some years ago we learned the same from two labs. once we understood they developed great and were the best conpanions and working dogs we could have dreamt of till very old age.
    Much fun on your journey and thanks for sharing and incouraging.


  3. Brenda Farrington says:
    Monday, August 9, 2010 at 10:04pm

    Hey Helen! We miss you down here – thanks for the great ideas on tugging… Gadget is not a great tugger – and I’m not good at “keeping at it”… so I am looking for all ideas to help – Gadget is a chow hound, so this might work!


    • Helen King says:
      Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 1:25pm

      Have you been searching for that magic tug pill Brenda? ;). I know I did for Upp’s mom for three years! Sadly, I never found it LOL. So, I just got creative and made a great tugger by putting her favorite squeaky tennis ball (PetCo and Pet Smart sell them) inside a holy roller and attached a Crash Test Toys bungee to it. I used the medium holy roller. She loved it! Now she will tug on anything.
      See you in November 🙂 and TUG ON!!!


  4. Barb Stanek says:
    Sunday, August 8, 2010 at 12:51pm

    I was recently at a Debra Miller-Riley water seminar and she mentioned “training for joy.” Both the trainer and the dog should be having a blast! I couldn’t agree more, but hadn’t heard it verbalized that way! And now I’ve heard it again! It is the new mantra of my pet obedience classes. And I have always tried to make it a mantra of my own training with my own dogs.


  5. Bronwyn says:
    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 3:55am

    Thanks so much for sharing


  6. Elena Urzi says:
    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 2:09am

    All your comments and experiences to run the games are an invaluable source of wealth for all of us!!!! My old dog, a German Shepherd of 9 years, seems reborn in making games and has created a certain rivalry with my young bitch, a 2 year old Australian Shepherd, he is a dog that did not like to play too now does it!!!!!! What are generous our animals:-))))) Sorry for my poor English … but I don’t have many opportunities to use your language and I are rusty .
    Thank you hellen for your history!!!!


  7. jigsaw says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 11:45pm

    It is wonderful to read your story Helen and the successful outcome, thank you for sharing. I think probably most of us can relate in some way to your story. I wish you and Uppity continued success. And I must remember to have more FUN!!


  8. Mary M says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 9:08pm

    Thanks for sharing your story Helen!

    Great reminders in this last installment 🙂


  9. Deb says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 6:02pm

    Helen I also want to thank you for sharing your story. I was also at the puppy camp with a dog who didn’t want to tug but at that point he was a willing and enthusiastic partner for everything else. Early this spring he just shut down and didn’t really want to do agility with me at all. At our first fun trial he left me to sniff (totally out of character behaviour for him) after that it seemed that I had to encourage him over each obstacle. Both my instructor and I were at a loss to explain his loss of enthusiasm and when everything medical checked out I was almost ready to stop training agility with him as I felt I was just dragging him around the obstacles. Suddenly, one day he was back – my happy, willing partner. I still don’t know why he shut down or what changed to make him enjoy training again (I did try a LOT of different things) but I’m happy to have him back.

    Tug is still a work in progress and nobody would call him a high drive dog but he does tug with me now and enjoys it so I’m hoping in time it will become higher value.


  10. Penny Mead says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 5:46pm

    Helen, thank you for sharing your story. You and Uppity have Uplifted me!! I have a different special journey with my own youngster, Tiger, and reading your story has again reminded me of how lucky I am that there are so many brilliant people out there willing to share their knowledge, their time, their joy and their love.

    Penny Mead
    Sydney, Australia


  11. kathi says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 4:25pm

    Helen, thank you so much for sharing Uppity’s story. I have followed your series of posts here and truly admire the love and commitment to your dog that shines through in your words. The part of today’s post where you write about thinking about all of the things you love about your dog really hit home, partly because of a post here on Susan’s blog, Behaving Gratitudinaeously, that asks some very similar questions. I had bookmarked it a while ago and somehow stumbled upon it last month when I was at a low point with one of my dogs’ training.


  12. Shelley says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 3:39pm

    Helen, I’d really like to ask something. Does Uppity leap up at people alot? I have been trying for a very long time to stop Zach doing this but often when I ask for advise from training people I get told ‘oh it’s a poodle thing’ …Ok I can accept poodles like to prance and dance but I can’t accept that there is nothing I can do about it. I’m only just learning Susan’s way so if this sounds ignorant it’s because at the moment I am! I just wondered what your thoughts weren’t on it, as Uppity has not been as easy wee poodle for you.


    • Helen King says:
      Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 8:46pm

      We have 6 standard Poodles, a Border Collie and a feral dog we rescued. They will all jump on people because it is something I have not trained and I don’t really care much. It is not a Poodle thing, it is just bad manners LOL. I have found that the best way to teach a dog to stay off is to do Its Yer Choice by turning your back or giving the dog an “incompatible behavior” like sit or go to a mat. Actually, I am the wrong person to ask when it comes to house manners. 🙁 Our dogs need more structure in their everyday living LOL.


      • Shelley says:
        Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 9:23pm

        You have a nice pack!!! Zach’s an only dog and I’m sure he hates it, if it were down to him he would spend his whole life playing with other dogs. Yes, bad manners they I have now spent 3 years trying to correct! I think part of the trouble is I don’t have enough people I can use with him, alot of my friends are nervous of dogs so would be no help at all. When he is at training club he gets so excited his tail propels him off the floor and boing boing! I do not like it, I fear he will hurt someone and as you rightly say it is bad manners. I need to find more people who are able to turn their back on him like you said. I either have people who are terrified of him or people who cannot keep their hands off him. His excitement increases so much thta he can no longer here instructions or anything, even favoured treats he will not take he just lets them drop out of his mouth – he wants the person – the ultimate! I need to have better trained people! Thanks though for saying that really it isn’t a poodle thing at all.

  13. Liz says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 3:29pm

    Helen-you are ‘Poodleworthy’…keep up the good work!


  14. Lori Kline says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 3:18pm

    Thank you very much for sharing your story!

    I have a question though, do you or Susan think this is something more common among dogs than one would think? I mean not to the degree that Upitty displayed.

    I am a part time trainer, helping select individuals with behavior issues, usually a relationship issue and difficulties learning.
    Right now I have two dogs, both pure breds (different breeds) that come from excellent lines. Both disengage when they fail or think they fail at something. One dog’s parents it turns out are known to do this.
    I found it interesting to see this in both dogs with behavior issues. I think the problem is that their disengagement can look like disobedience or stubbornness when in fact they need to remove themselves from the situation for a bit.
    Both owners tried to control more which just made the matter worse. Just curious.



  15. Sydney says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 1:03pm

    Thanks Helen & Susan, I knew I needed to keep sessions short, smile, continue working on tug etc. etc. with my youngster. BUT it is so hard to do! This course and Helen’s story will get us there. I had a GREAT 3 second tug this morning. Question – when you run to the treats do you just let go of the tug?


  16. tarcika says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 12:51pm

    THank you Helen for writing all this. I see myself in your words on so many levels. The lesson you and Uppity share with us is any dog’s lesson, I think, because it changes the point of view of everything. There was a blog post Susan wrote some time ago, I can’t remember the title, but it said never say what your dog isn’t, always say what your dog IS.

    And there was another post a blogger with shelties wrote about her 15 month puppies (she kept two in her litter). She said they are in some ways the least trained puppies she ever had in terms of where she was in agility, but have the strongest foundation. And that all they did was okay, they could do no wrong.

    I thought that was just beautiful. It reminded me that I DO love my puppy to bits and beyond. He comes from a line of shelties that is in my mind one of the best in the sport, I joke that his breeder is the French agility team sheltie provider. My pup’s uncle just won European Open last weekend, older sisters (already competing) just leave me in awe. I still pinch myself every day to make sure he has been really given to me.

    And yet I had many struggles with him as a puppy, because I just didn’t know better and was not a partner I could be for him. He also did not tug, at all, just didn’t want to grab things (I used his love for chasing, just ran and he started grabbing on). Wish the e-program came out this time last year:) But that’s not a problem. I can try so much harder, go back to do so much more playing. Your pots about all the things you did to make Uppity tug just made me see there is so much more room for improvement – for me!



  17. Sharon Stevens says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 11:49am

    Hi Helen….
    It was great to read your story. knowing you and how mich you have dedicated your life to your dogs…what lucky dogs they are!!!!

    It’s so true our fur kids are the best teachers we can ever have especially about how to live our lives in the present and embrace the joy of every moment!

    Thanks for the reminder…..Duke sends his love!

    Sharon, Duke and Peri


    • Helen King says:
      Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 1:26pm

      Thanks Sharon! I hope to see you this winter.


  18. Eeva says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 11:44am

    Helen, thanks for your lovely story. I agree with you that finding a joy with each small step is the key. It’s not easy to fit in with a dog that is not an average one what comes to training progress.

    In my case it took some time to learn to ignore pressure coming from outside agility world. But when I saw flashes of how my dog could perform, that gave me power and motivation to continue, year after year. In terms of trial results our agility career was not successful. But the joy and fun we have shared during those years whenever training agility is immeasurable. One of my best memories is from one class, seeing my dog to fly over jumps at an amazing speed, brave and beautiful, full of joy. That was agility at its best. For me and my dog. And that’s what counts 🙂


  19. kathy says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 11:39am

    Wow! Thanks Helen (and Susan). Somedays I feel like you are jumping out of the computer speaking to me 🙂 after a frustrating class last night I feel ready to get back up and focus today. My 3 1/2 yr male BC does not lack the desire to play quite the opposite. So we will march on and enjoy the process! Thanks for the pep talk. Kathy


  20. Helen King says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 11:00am

    Thank you to everyone who wrote to tell me how much you enjoyed and/or related to my story about Little Miss Uppity Puppity Piddles When You Pat Her Pankin Pants Poodle (how on earth am I going to get THAT out as she is heading to an off course tunnel? ;). I thought her mother’s name (Charisse Poodle) was hard enough to say.
    I am so glad our story has helped others in the journey to train a difficult dog. Upp has and will continue to teach me more than any other dog I have ever owned and I am SO grateful for her. She is a dear sweet blessing in my life.
    Thank you everyone and especially to Susan for asking me to write about Uppity. It has been a very cathartic experience!
    Happy training everyone and BEST OF LUCK to Susan and Lynda at Nationals!


  21. Jean Emery says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 10:06am

    Thank you Helen (and Susan) for putting your and Uppity’s story out there for all of us. I feel like I have just accidentally stumbled into my first AA meeting. “My name is Jean and I too have had a puppy who didn’t want to play or work with me.”

    As you so clearly describe, it’s alternately disappointing, frustrating, saddening, maddening and demoralizing–and, unlike you Helen, it was hard for me to admit or share with others, since, of course, my dog’s “failings” were my failings. However, I stuck with it. (The word rehoming came up with us too, but I could never live with that.) So with the help of a couple of close friends I could share this with, I learned to keep sessions shorter and shorter and shorter–sometimes being grateful to get the smallest amount of engagement. I did do lots of shaping, and sometimes I wondered if that might be working against me, but with perseverance Brill is turning out to be a great dog, who reliably tugs most anywhere, and because of the small-step-at-a-time focus on shaping and foundation skills, she has the best recall, contacts and handler focus of any of my dogs so far.

    Because I also have stretched out our timeline for getting in the ring in order to give her plenty of time to mentally mature, we haven’t trialed much yet. (She was two in June.) I had a flush of anxiety when at our first trial, she would not tug while we were getting ready to run, so I switched gears and asked her for a lot of those tricks we had shaped over the past few months. Her own stress quickly faded as she ran through a snappy routine of the oh-so-familiar hand touch, sit, down, stand, back up, right, left, bless it, side, close, etc. So even though I didn’t have the tugging machine I wanted on the line, she ran with speed, drive and enthusiasm and qualified on nearly every run. As we start to trial more this fall, I expect that she will give me more and more tugging at the line as her confidence blossoms.

    What was the major turning point for us, at about one year, was this: truly, deeply accepting who SHE IS. Not what I wanted her to be, not what I had hoped she would be, not what I was trying to make her be–but sincerely and honestly accepting the individual dog she is, with that acceptance coming from deep in my heart.

    Does she still frustrate me, when she won’t work with enthusiasm in my backyard, or won’t do that third repetition of the sequence so I can get the timing a little better? Sure, but now I catch myself, smile and let it go. And this experience has certainly given me a new perspective and more empathy for students who come in with focus and engagement issues with their own dogs.

    So Helen, as they say in those confessional support group sessions: thank you for sharing!


  22. Helen Verte says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 10:04am

    I love this story as much as I love Uppity’s name and her lovely Poodle tail. It’s hard to find Dobies and Aussies with tails too! I’m going to try your training tip on tugging and having the bowl of food at the ready to reward a great tug-fest. All your lessons learned are enlightening, and I especially like the one about smiling while training. It does make a difference to both the handler and the dog. Continued success to you and Uppity. 🙂


  23. Pat D says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 9:41am

    Kudos to you Helen for being willing to learn and acknowledge what is REALLY important in your relationship with Upp! And to Susan for helping you find your way. Thank you for sharing, what an inspiration you are!
    Pat D
    Atlanta, GA


  24. Lee Waterhouse says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 8:50am

    I have followed your and Uppity’s story all along and have such respect for your tenacity.

    I am workign on one the same lessons as you. My young poodle,Inca, is teaching me the power of short sessions.

    The people at agility class think I am nuts because Inca stays in her crate while I listen to instructions and plan what I am going to do, then I release her and we immediately get to work. We get a few repetitions of brilliance and I send her right back to her crate. Classmates ask why I “waste” so much class time with Inca in the crate when I am paying for each minute. It definitely works for us.

    It has been hard for ME making the committment to short sessions because my older boy, Apache would have worked until he dropped dead. I literally had to force him to rest while working.

    So this learning is all mine and I am getting much better!


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 10:20am

      @Lee if only others would learn the lesson you will get MORE out of your class if you dog is crated for more of it. Set up quality working sessions rather than a larger quantity of time rehearsing crap (by the way for those that don’t know — I say CRAP! so much Lynda O-H game it an acronym; Continually Rehearsing Ambiguious Performances gives you CRAP!


      • denise crook says:
        Friday, August 6, 2010 at 5:42am

        love the acronym – CRAP it’s so true

        love this story – some dogs are sent to us to make us better people and better dog trainers

  25. Kathleen Dahmer says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 8:28am

    For soon to be 30 years I have had kuvasz. I have the breed I do because it is the breed I choose to live with. They are remarkable dogs. Believe me, I know how you feel.

    NEVER give up. Always remember to value and enjoy your journey. You will get there. The titles are the icing on the cake.

    Am looking forward to hearing more about you and Uppity in the future.


  26. Deborah Smith says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 8:19am

    Thank you again for sharing. I need your words of encouragement this morning. Last night at class a lady was trying to step over the ring gating instead of going around to the end. Sizzle was off leash, and just ready to begin. Sizzle has come a long way at class and does very well there. Sizzle was by the gating. It all came crashing down with a large bang as the metal stantions also fell. Sizzle freaked. Would not let me do the collar grab game that she has been doing soo well. She would come to me but her ears and body position and tail said it all. She ran to her crate. She did recall out of the crate to come to me to run the agility course. I treated and praised and played. So I guess as I type this, there are some things I can be thankful for. She showed some recovery! She didn’t urinate all over the place. And thank goodness for the timing of your blogging and Susan’s course. I share your pain at how hard it is to continue when they give you that “look”. Your blog today is so relevant to give me that kick in the butt to remind me to think about how I do love this little dog dearly. She snuggles and is very loving. She greets me at the door with toys to play. I have rejoiced at each step we make together. But darn it some days are harder than others!!!! This path must be to teach me patience with my dog, with myself, and with others. I look forward to the day with its challenges and successes.



  27. Rachel says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 7:56am

    Living in a throw-away society and a world of quick fixes, it is such a joy to hear your story. Thank you for not giving up on Uppity who needed you so desperately. You’re an inspiration.


  28. Shelley says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 7:28am

    You are amazing! A truly inspiring lady, thankyou x


  29. Natalie Kirkwood says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 6:55am

    Really enjoyed your story. I have been taking my own journey of a very similar nature. Happy to say we are making progress too, although it was almost halted when Spaghetti went missing while I was in the UK for 7 days (I was 20,000kms from home), but having got him back, he recovered within seconds of seeing me. So grateful for the time and effort I put into our relationship. We still have a long way to go, but it is all the minute steps along they way that have built a lot of trust in him. Love tugging for dinner, that really helped us make some real progress in so many things. He will be 3 next month and am still looking forward to moving our journey forward.


  30. Jane n Bobs says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 6:42am

    We lost our beautiful bitch last week and its left Bobs my youngster with who I’m working this course with, completely
    bereft and totally uninterested in the
    world at the moment, so I want to say
    thank you Helen for your inspiration to carry on…it really is the small steps
    that build upto the giant leap.


  31. Esther H says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 6:22am

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I recognize lots of things that you learned. I often say my dog is my Zen master and teacher of how to enjoy life. I find your story encouraging and it helps me to refocus on the positive things I have with my dog.


  32. Sam Pouw-Turner says:
    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 6:16am

    Helen I have so enjoyed your story!! Thank you so much for sharing. Your story is very inspiring and has already added extra joy to my training!!


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