Author Archives: Terrie

About Terrie

Current passions • training my Schipperkes (conformation, agility) • writing poetry • Feldenkrais and related sensory disciplines

To failure…

A dog trainer recently declared that she was a member of the ‘Failure Club’. She failed to build a solid recall with her dog, and now she was using an electric collar.

I’ve struggled with failure too. I’ve avoided it. But failure finds you even if you run and hide. By avoiding it, all you do is avoid the edges of your life. The edges that define it.

So in praise of failure, I have written this poem about my biggest failure in recent life, my dog Zeke.

Here’s to Failure. (Raise your glass)

I failed to carefully research the breeder and the genetics of my dog,
But I succeeded in doing that with my next dog.

I failed to recognize ignorant advice when he was a young dog,
but I successfully identify it now.

I failed to protect myself from being hurt,
but I succeeded in learning how to minimize the risk.

I failed to protect others from harm,
But I succeeded in learning better management.

I have failed to make my dog calm in the outside world,
But I have succeeded in building his confidence and joy at home.

I failed to recognize his physical pain, for too long,
But I am successfully treating it now.

I have failed to enjoy public success with my dog, no ribbons, Q’s or trophies,
But I have succeeded in becoming an excellent trainer.

I failed to notice how casually human-centric I was about animals,
but I’ve succeeded in growing my respect for their pure magnificence.

I am humbled by my failures.
I am lifted up, by my love.



Front yard rally…

Just got my own set of Rally cards. Already having so much fun creating my own courses, and learning how they all fit together. 


Chaining Recaller Games together

For the past few days I’ve been working on chaining recaller games together. I am gaining some fluency. I’m also getting better at knowing which games I should use when. I am more accurately assessing Zeke’s arousal levels.

I wanted to start out with RZ games, (mostly for my own convenience) but I’ve found that is too low of an arousal game to play at the beginning of a training session. PB and J works better as a beginning game, leaving a calmer game like RZ for the middle or end.


Right lead…

I’m thinking of ways to encourage the elusive right lead (assuming it’s not painful or physically difficult for him). Just running faster has not produced any results. (Well, except that I’m getting in better shape)

So I’ve decided to teach a target stick so I can ‘lunge’ him around me in circles. That will allow me to see his action a bit better.

Slow walk, trot canter…

This was our second session of the day. During the morning session, I realized that relying on my sense of feel was better than looking at him, to see if he was in balance. Also, a natural kind of leash holding emerged, where my inside hand held the loop and the clicker and my outside hand held the lead (rotated arm) allowing the lead between the two hands to make a level line in front of me. My elbows were at about 65 degrees and were relaxed, hanging close to my sides. With this length of fuzzy lead, that meant that he was in a perfect place by my side. There was no tension in the line in those moments, and it felt great.

In Right circles, canter, he stayed on the left lead. This is typical for him. He predominantly (90 percent) favours the left lead.

During the noon session, he briefly cantered on his right (approx. 3:30)  for about a half circle. Then he tried twice to switch sides. (approx 3:50) When I persisted in putting him on my left, he again cantered only on the left lead. In the left circles at the end, he is definitely cross leading.

I wonder if this behaviour is an indicator of pain or poor balance.

Micro shaping a head drop

Alexandra Kurland’s body awareness work with horses, and the concept of micro shaping on an extremely subtle level, both for the handler and the animal, has captured my imagination.

For a long time, I’ve observed Zeke’s movement under various conditions, and have often wondered if he was showing hind quarter and back pain. Although he’s five years old, he moves his body awkwardly, in many ways, often running into people, my other dog and objects.

This video shows my 3rd session in microshaping a head drop. I was trying to sharpen my eye, to notice smaller behaviours, but as I watch the video, I see how many of them I still miss, or am not quick enough to mark. Nevertheless, I am pleased with our progress.

The video is almost three minutes, and to some, it might be akin to watching grass grow. We have a few old patterns to have to work through before we can get to the new behaviour of head dropped, relaxed, in line with the spine.  One is his brain map (habit) of following the treating hand. Another is the brain map of looking at me.

Energy Schmenergy

At a recent agility trial I was helplessly drawn towards a group of people who were oohing and awing over a joyously friendly puppy, attached to an equally happy human. Who wouldn’t love bringing a well adjusted happy puppy out for socialization? Loads of positive reinforcement for everyone.

As I knelt down and cuddled and petted the pup, the usual puppy training talk was going on over my head. I tuned in when I heard…

“With Brutus (her other dog who was easily pushed to aggression) I really have to watch my energy! When I call them out of play that’s getting too rough, I have to use my ‘happy voice’ all the way.”

There was lots to like about that.

Monitoring play? YES! Calling them in and out of play? YES!
Using happy voice, making the experience joyful? YES!

Using your energy? Not so much.

Energy is another one of those words that comes loaded with different nuances depending on context and the user. The petroleum industry has a defined meaning for energy, but when you hear it applied to humans, super natural phenomenon and invisible forces it can get complicated.

As a person who practiced martial arts for over two decades and submitted to the healing powers of an accupressure and acupuncture, I’ve been heavily exposed to the concepts of chi and subtle energies in the physical body that can be manipulated and redirected. Can you see them or scientifically prove their existence? Not so far. Have I personally experienced healing through those methods? I have. Do I believe in their existence? Maybe.

So why am I unhappy with this person’s use of the word “energy’ when working with her dogs?

Because it makes it easy to blame people for not having the ‘right energy’ And because it’s very easy to blame yourself for not ‘projecting calm energy’ when you’re afraid and just want to get things right.
The word ‘energy ‘ is so open to interpretation and judgement. It can discourage people who are new to dogs or just facing a new challenge with their dogs because it’s so vague.

It’s easy for certain dog trainers, who purport to have control over this ‘energy’ to seem more powerful, more magical, than ordinary mortals. Watch how they ‘project their energy’, causing your usually difficult dog to follow them angelically. You, poor soul, lack that access to power. That’s why you need them. Ka Ching!

What would I prefer instead? I remember listening to the amazing Dr. Susan Friedman last summer. Specifics, Bob, she’d say. Just exactly what do you mean, in terms of observable behaviors, when you use the term “energy?” What postures, movements, speed and direction go into the basket of behaviors which you are naming as ‘energy?” Rather than asking me to project concepts like  ‘confidence, calm energy, leadership” let’s talk about what those things look like in observable body language, voice tone, breathing patterns or demeanor.

Behaviours are both learnable and teachable. But if a trainer says “you have to project your calm energy”, especially when you have a lunging and screaming dog at the end of your leash, it’s nearly impossible. Projecting ‘calm energy’ is like catching a moonbeam.

So the next time someone says, oh, you’re not projecting the right kind of energy…maybe, just for fun, ask them a few questions. Ask them what body language behaviors they are looking for. If they can’t specify the behaviors you need to teach yourself, consider moving on to someone who can.

Training dogs is learning to communicate with them. It’s about careful observation of both yourself and your dog, over time, and noticing and adjusting your communication to get the best understanding and relationship with your dog that is possible at that moment in time.

Pour your energy into that.


Leash handling

True confession. My leash handling sucks. I’m trying to develop more sensitive hands and am exploring the amazing Shirley Chong’s exercises for improving my skills and my dog’s sensitivity to pressure.

What do fish trainers know?

When Zeke was about ten months old, I took him to a local conformation and obedience trainer; a person who made their living by showing, breeding and training dogs. She gave classes and seminars and was widely regarded as an expert. I was looking for answers. Or even better, a magic wand.

She asked me how old he was. Ten months I said. Oh, she said confidently, we’ll fix him. I felt hopeful and grateful. I described my journey with him so far; all the things I’d ‘tried’ that had so little success, including clicker training and she said, Ah, what do fish trainers know about dogs? And clicker training? The dogs are just throwing behaviors at you, just junk behaviors. Looking around the large arena filled with people and dogs that had come to learn from her, I felt affirmed in my decision to come to this expert. 

She was the last ‘big name show competitor’ trainer I ever turned to. Zeke’s behavior continued to worsen in spite of my best efforts to ‘fix’ him according to her suggestions, all of which involved the application of corrections on a choke chain.

A few months later I stumbled onto a ‘pet dog’ trainer who was offering reactive dog classes. She set me on the path of management and positive reinforcement training, which then led me to attending a Clicker Expo, and discovering the amazing world of science-based behavior training. But that trainer’s bold statement has stuck with me. And the more I’ve read and studied the work of multi species trainers, from Bob and Marion Bailey to Ken Ramirez, the more I’ve marveled at it.  

Animal trainers developed and practiced positive reinforcement and applied behavioral analysis literally decades before dog trainers began to accept it. That makes me wonder. Dogs have been our loyal companions, living in our homes, willing to do anything we ask for thousands of years and yet many of us still view them with suspicion, fearing they are wanting to dominate and challenge us. Why have dog trainers been so late to the party?

I wonder if it isn’t a question of motivation. After all, if you’re working with an animal like an orca, or a silverback gorilla that can kill you in an instant, you might be bit more motivated to find a way to communicate with it.

Anyway, today I know the answer to that person’s question. Fish trainers? They know a lot.

Zeke on a skateboard.

The Vancouver Island Animal Training Association promotes January trick training month. I’ve been meaning to teach Zekie to ride a skateboard. It’s a great way to challenge his coordination skills. I found the mini skateboard at a second hand shop.