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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!