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Stressing in the Real World

Posted on 08/03/10 22 Comments

For the last six months or so I have been observing my friend’s struggles and successes with her new Standard Poodle puppy. I thought her story was one that could help a lot of people so I ask her to share it with all of you. Here is Helen and her story.

When it was time to add another standard Poodle to our pack of six dogs, I searched high and low for a breeder who had well built, great working Poodles who would not dock tails or remove dew claws. That search came to a dead end very quickly so we decided to breed out own litter. I bred my Agility Poodle Charisse to a great hunting Brag. She produced eight puppies for us and we had great expectations.

My husband, Mel, decided he too would like a puppy so the plan was to keep two! Mel fell in love with the little black girl with the red collar so she was going to be his from the beginning. I was going to wait and see which one to take. After all, I had bred this litter to get my dream dog so I wanted to be sure I chose the right one.

At about seven weeks of age, something changed drastically with the little red collar girl. She became fearful and shy and wanted nothing to do with us when we visited the puppies (a friend had whelped the litter because we live in our RV full time). I decided that this was not the dog for Mel (or anyone else for that matter). She was the only puppy that didn’t tug and she had little interest in toys. I liked her structure and hated her temperament. Had it been anyone else’s litter, I would have walked away without a puppy but, in my mind, I had no choice. I had to take her.

The standout in the litter was a big white female. She tugged, retrieved anything and everything you asked, was incredibly bold, confident and outgoing. She was perfect for Mel. I have to admit I was a bit envious that he had this great puppy and I had what everyone considered the “dud” of the litter.

We brought them home at eight weeks and shortly after that I flew with my puppy to Canada to Susan’s Puppy Camp. The puppy was a bit big for the sherpa but somehow, I managed to shape her to love it. I fed all her meals in it so by the time we got to the airport, she loved her little sherpa bag. She traveled like a trouper without a peep. Once at camp, little UPGRAYEDD (2 Ds for a double dose of Poodle power 🙂 was overwhelmed by the other puppies and dogs and scared to death to go into the building the first few times.

I watched as the other puppies tugged and played and performed the behaviors and games with great gusto! I had a great camp partner in Lynda Orton-Hill (who was in camp with her own puppy) and she helped me through my pain as I just tried to get my puppy to interact with me any way I could.

At one point I just broke into tears because Uppity didn’t even want to come out of her crate, let alone work. Lynda was so wonderful and encouraging. Had it not been for her, I might have given up right then and there. I will be forever grateful to Lynda and Susan for their help.

Things went from bad to worse with Uppity. She didn’t tug or retrieve and there was no drive to work or focus at all. I worked hard on Susan’s foundation program. We did tons and tons of recalls and shaping and collar grabs and shadow handling. There were times when just getting her to look at a tugger was a win. She often just turned her back on me and seemed to sulk. She would refuse to even look at me! When she did look at me I felt it was with dislike or fear for what we were doing. Had I seen another dog react the way Uppity did, I would have sworn they beat their dog!

I knew better and kept working at getting her to come around. I was told by some that perhaps I should give up and find her a good pet home or forget tugging and just use food. I know that tugging is the best way to build great drive in any dog so I was bound and determined to keep trying. I remember the first time she actually pulled a little on a toy! You would have thought I won the World Championships! I learned, as Susan keeps reminding us, to rejoice over the little successes.

Susan kept encouraging me and helping with games to build our relationship. We would eventually get some great tugging, then do some simple behavior, then try to tug again and she would have nothing to do with the tugger or me. I never knew what would set her off or turn her off. To say she was a roller coaster ride would be an understatement!

At one seminar we did with Susan, we were trying to shape a simple behavior and Uppity freaked out for apparently no reason, bolted with her tail between her legs and then urinated all over herself. I tried to bring her back but she snapped at me in pure fear, urinated some more and then just shut down completely. I tried a recall (something at which she usually excels!) and she not only wouldn’t come, SHE RAN IN THE OTHER DIRECTION!!!!

It was THE most humiliating moments of my agility career. I put her away and had a good cry. Once again, it was suggested by some that I place her. She was about eight months old at the time. She had shut down many times along the way but this was by far the worst. I was beginning to think everyone was right and I might never get her working reliably without her shutting down.

But then I had my great epiphany. I will share my turning point with you tomorrow.

Thanks Helen, today I am grateful for Helen offering to share her challenges with everyone!


  1. Annie says:
    Friday, August 25, 2017 at 2:15pm

    If anyone is looking for the follow up it is here: http://susangarrettdogagility.com/2010/08/the-road-to-recovering-from-stress/

    Took me a while to find it so I hope this helps someone.


  2. Daisy Peng says:
    Thursday, August 19, 2010 at 3:49am

    this is/will be a incredibly amazing story to me.


  3. Christine says:
    Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 1:42am

    Thanks for sharing. You are not alone. I went to see my breeds speciality on an other continent. Then found a litter with my old dogs lines and again went oversea and took time to fetch the puppy. Now he is quite a lot like your pup especially in the group I am the trainer. 😉 He will perform and then not take the rewards. Nontheless he is a great personality and teacher.
    When I got my previouse dog and spent some time with her breeder (a wonderful Canadian), there was one pup like yours. I did TTouch with her and she changed like a miracle and is happy for some years now in a home with kids and hunting.
    All the best and thanks


  4. Sharon says:
    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 6:08pm

    Helen thank you for sharing your story. When I read your post I felt I had finally met someone who knew what I was living. You have given me hope. Can’t to read the “rest of the story.”


  5. Kari says:
    Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 10:50pm

    Thanks for sharing. I also have a rescue BC who I have struggled with fear issues and shutting down, though over the months we have made great strides we still deal with so many set backs. Our girl is a very talented girl who could go really far, but fear holds us back. For example, because of fireworks being shot of over the last month or so, she is terrified to go outside after dusk and has had a few accidents overnight. Her fear of other dogs makes it impossible to go to classes at this time, but honestly she is the sweetest little girl who has really taught me a lot and changed our lives. We will continue to work and make slow progress in hopes that we can change her life. Whether we are ever able to compete or not, we are still very glad she is in our lives.


  6. Shelley says:
    Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 7:03pm

    Thanks for taking the time to share with us…..I can’t wait for the next part!!!


  7. Deborah Smith says:
    Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 5:57pm

    Helen,I don’t know if you remember me. I have the mini Poodle Whisper. Whisper and I had a great time earning MACHs and placing at the AKC Nationals. Whisper is not feeling well these days due to heart problems. I had to take a couple years off from serious competition due to care of my elderly parents. I am now ready to get back into competition but have two fearful rat terriers. I am learning a lot about not assuming anything about a dog’s behavior in what they believe to be stressful! When my Rat Girl Sizzle ran out of the agility ring the first time at I show I could not believe it! My Rat girls are young and we are making progress in small steps. I look forward to hearing more about your progress and the steps you are taking.
    This course has already helped my Rat Girls Brigit and Sizzle! We went to a fun agility run. Best of all I was able to reward them for coming to me in the ring. I had practiced Susan’s pregames. While I did have treats in the ring, it was a huge step for them to stay focused.


    • Helen King says:
      Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 6:03pm

      Hi Deborah,
      Yes of course I remember you! Whisper is a great dog indeed! I am sorry ot read she is not doing well. It seems like just yeasterday she was competing.
      I wish you the best with your Rat Terriers. I am sure you will do well!


  8. Andrea says:
    Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 5:01pm

    Helen, you have me hooked, I can’t wait to find out your epiphany. I think Upgrayedd is very lucky to have found herself such a dedicated person to love her and train her.


  9. Pat D says:
    Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 11:09am

    Thank you so much for being willing to share your story with others. Reminds me somewhat of my older dog Storm. He eventually got so stressed over weaves that he would not leave the start line. Then I ran into to Susan in VA at one of the first CleanRun camps and she gave me a plan for him. I followed the plan, he got over it and although he has been retired for several years, he still loves to “play agility”. Stress is strange creature! I can’t wait to hear what happened next!
    Pat D
    Atlanta, GA USA


  10. Jaime says:
    Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 11:07am

    How wonderful of Helen to share her story.

    I would encourage anyone who has a dog that doesn’t handle stress well (particularly dogs that stress “up”) to have their dogs tested for secondary Addison’s disease. This is NOT traditional Addison’s – it is a problem with the pituitary gland and the production/control of stress hormones. There is a specific blood test for the condition. The condition is becoming more prevalent in working breeds, according to my vet, who is studying this disease after her own dog tested positive.

    Treating this condition in my GSD wasn’t the solution to all our problems – but I did see an increase in her ability to be thoughtful when overstimulated. I hope this helps someone!


  11. Deb Bogart says:
    Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 10:25am

    Thank you for sharing Helen. This sounds exactly like my aussie Storm. I was told over and over by people, including my instructor, that it was obvious that I just wasn’t training him. I was told to give up on him and that I would never get him in the agility ring. He is only 4-1/2 and still not where I would like him to be in agilitly, he’s exactly where I want him to be as my dog. When I would even bring out the tug toy in public he would roll over and urinate on himself. He did this until he was about 2. I don’t have as much time to play with him that I would like, but he has come very far. I try to incorporate everthing I learned in the 5 camps/workshops I have already attend at Say Yes and every piece of material Susan has provided. It is slow progress for us, but it is there and getting better and better. He is now tugging at the practice jump at trials and is in Excellent in AKC and 3 Masters classes in USDAA. I can’t wait to hear what your epiphany was, as I know I will incorporate that into my training as well.



  12. Michelle says:
    Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 9:09am

    Thank you for sharing your story and I can’t wait to hear part II. I met this puppy this summer and from what you are describing she has made great strides. I remember you telling me a little about her but you also made sure I wasn’t “soft” with her. Best of luck with her. Do you blog about her? I would love to see your progress.


    • Helen King says:
      Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 6:13pm

      Hi Michelle,
      No, I don’t blog about Little Miss Uppity Puppity Piddles When You Pat Her Pankin Pants Poodle (that is her official name given to her by my granddaughters :). I have found that if people approach her in a soft manner, she is more apt to shy away than if they approach her boldly as if nothing is wrong with her.


  13. Barbara says:
    Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 8:18am

    Helen, I appreciate you sharing this. For several reasons, but mostly because it reminded me to keep my current training challenges in perspective. Thank you.


  14. veronica says:
    Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 5:54am

    Brought back some memories from 2 of my dogs.Can relate to this. It was a devastating experience ( and not over yet).Many times I thought I had made a mistake choosing this dog.I am still working though this with one of my dogs.It has been a long and devoted journey, involving much research on understanding dog behaviour and how they learn.
    She is now 3 yrs old,tugging ( not at all venues)Some places she still gets a bit anxious and won’t interact with toys.And recalls quite well instead of going “bush’
    She is a different dog now,with heaps more confidence.We have started trialing and the future looks promising.The training has been a lot slower than other dogs.The hardest for me was to build my relationship with her to get her trust and that seems to have aided with her developing confidence.
    Very challenging but also very rewarding for both of us.
    I have gained a team mate and also a wealth of knowledge in order to bring about this change in my dogs behaviour.
    I used two main pricipals.Susan’s methology on ” value” and utilising it.
    The other knowledge came from Susan’s book on “Ruff Love”.I read this some time ago.
    Very appreciative of any knowlege Susan can share.
    Thanks again S
    Thankyou S


  15. Barbara Currier says:
    Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 2:20am

    Thank you so much Helen for sharing this story. I have had the same journey with my BC, Brazen. At our first puppy camp she couldn’t focus at all due to stress and over stimulation. I spent most of the camp in tears and my angel was Tracy Sklenar. She has been my light at the end of the tunnel through this whole journey. Where would we be without these great Say Yes! instructors. I too was told by many to rehome her but my opinion was she didn’t ask to be like this so it is my job to find a way to make her life enjoyable. She is doing better now but she still struggles out in public but we keep working. When she climbs into my lap and looks at me with those beautiful eyes I know all the tears and heart ache is worth it;-)


  16. Jeanie Burton says:
    Monday, August 2, 2010 at 11:37pm

    Thank you Helen for sharing your story!! It is really helpful to know that there are others out there with similar struggles. My rescue BC mix was adopted at approximately 1.5 yr old and I have been working/playing with her for 1.5 yrs. I hoped that she would be my next agility dog, but after 1.5 yrs I still can’t remove the leash in the yard without her running off. I’m am really excited about this ecourse and I look forward to reading the rest of your story!!


  17. Joanie-Leigh Elliot says:
    Monday, August 2, 2010 at 11:22pm

    Helen – I can hardly wait for the good news… I feel so sad right now thinking of this poor wee scared girl – scared enough to urinate on herself! What an awful way for her to feel and tough on you as her partner.

    And.. thank you for breeding poodles with their tails. I am waiting for my next dog and it will be a poodle with a tail. I found a breeder who believes the same as you.



    • kay acres says:
      Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 7:34pm

      I have a standard poodle with a tail. I bought him from Katrina Shumacher in Prince George, Canada. She breeds good standards and he is a lovely blond (red/ wheaton). I am competing at the Ex. level with him. This is my second year, and I am already an agility addict. He loves to tug, but wants to be stonger, smarter, faster, than me (which isn’t too hard) He will shut down on the toy and tug if he isn’t happy with the way the game is going, or if he is just tired of it! In my effort to engage him I am the “bad dog trainer” that Susan talks about. Kay


  18. Helen says:
    Monday, August 2, 2010 at 9:18pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. I recognise my dog in some of what you write. He will turn off if it gets too much for him and then it’s very hard to motive him to want to play after he’s decided no more. Which makes me feel awful!
    You made me smile when you wrote about your excitement when Uppity actually pulled a toy! Bob had issues with playing outside the house, I can remember the first time he tugged a little bit in the park, I was so excited! I made a note of it on my calendar.
    I’m looking forward to your next post!


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