1 year!

Taken by Marshall Smith
July 20th marked mine and Zuma’s one year anniversary with disc.  One year ago, I was peer-pressured into entering my very first disc dog competition at the Hopkins Raspberry Days festival.  Zuma and I were far from prepared, we had only dabbled with disc in the field by our house.  Our rudimentary leg vault was backwards, our scoot was wonky and she couldn’t flip.  Oh, and nobody told me that freestyle meant you had to bring your own music!  However we had fun, we rocked out to “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” and showed the Minnesota Disc Dog Club what we could do.  We walked away with first place in both novice toss and fetch and freestyle that day and I was hooked.

I believe my introductory post to the MNDDC forum was something along the lines of how I didn’t really want to get serious with disc training, I was just in the sport to have fun.  My real interest lied with agility, disc was a way to waste spare time.  Safety was my biggest concern, I would hate for my dogs to get injured in this pass-time sport and be unable to compete where it matters.

Oh my, how times change.  I couldn’t keep away from disc, I couldn’t just dabble.  This summer has been a shining example of that.  The girls and I have taken the summer off of agility so that we can focus on disc.  Even in just this season, both Zuma and Zinga, as well as myself, have improved dramatically.  Our first competition for the year was last May, it was bitter cold, windy and down right miserable.  I lacked essential handler skills like disc management and flow, but I learned from that experience.  Our latest competition landed Zinga with a qualifying spot to the Skyhoundz Disc Dogathon Worlds with a 1st place in Bullseye.  Before that, Zuma qualified for the USDDN Worlds in both freestyle and toss and fetch.  I am happy to say that we are slowly coming together as a team and I am so incredibly excited for the rest of this season.

Both agility and disc have one huge element in common, teamwork.  Both sports are geared around handler and canine working together in perfect harmony.  Each and every time I see a fantastic example of this, whether it’s a clean agility run on a tricky course or a dropless freestyle routine, I am just in awe at the possibilities of teamwork.  Whichever sport I am consumed with at any time, I hope that the teamwork between my dogs and I can stand up to that potential.  My goal, regardless of sport, is to show people what can be achieved with a little hard work and understanding.

I’m starting to get the agility itch back again, it was only a matter of time.  The last disc competition for this season will be in September, just in time to start getting Zuma and Zinga ready for a winter of agility trials.  I’ll just have to cross my fingers until then that they haven’t forgotten much.

Zip Tie!

My what big ears you have.

My what big ears you have.

Well, we’ve officially had our new addition for 2 weeks now.  Zip is fitting in so well in our household and I cannot say enough good things about this puppy!  It’s always a scary venture importing a young puppy from halfway around the world, you never really know what you are getting.  Luckily, we had great and accurate information from his breeder and he is exactly what we were looking for.

The husband is taking the reins on this one as I still have my hands completely full with the merle girls.  He’s doing an impressive job so far!  Zip has some great focus and impulse control developing and has natural drive for both food and toys.  He’s already crazy for disc as well.

A couple of other brags: he doesn’t whine in the crate! Even after spending 3 days on an epic journey, he has no bad feelings towards being crated.  Also, he has had just a few potty accidents and is already letting us know when he has to go outside.  Koolies are geniuses. 😀

One other thing I love about this little guy is that he’s fearless.  A friend’s exercise peanut fell on him in a new, loud environment.  Instead of being startled, he bounced right back at the peanut wanting to play.  Confidence is surely not lacking with this guy.

Disc Fun!

I’ve been focusing entirely too much on disc lately. I blame the sport for that, it is incredibly fun, unique and challenging.  Perfect when you have bouncy little merle dogs that need both mental and physical exercise on a daily basis.

Zinga has started to learn the basics.  I introduced her to rollers (a throw where the disc rolls on the ground rather than flying through the air) but wasn’t having very much success with amping up her excitement.  Switched to low throws and she became as addicted as I have!  I’m careful to keep her from jumping as she is only 6 months old, her growth plates are far from closing.  Too much jumping at this age can have devastating consequences on her growing bones.

Here’s our latest video showing her progress with go around’s, drops and tugging.


Zuma and I have been having fun adding sequences to our freestyle routine.  We are also working on adding tosses to our vaults and perfecting her flip catch.  I am extremely happy with our footstall and it can be seen in this video!


I have been putting off updating this blog because I couldn’t bring myself to write this post.  It’s been a month since Classic was euthanized, yet some days it seems like just yesterday.  Time heals all, I’m told, why doesn’t it hurry up?

Here’s the story for anyone who hasn’t heard it, a quick summary as I don’t want to have him remembered this way but rather for the fantastic dog he was.


Classic always had adverse reactions to strangers, even when I first had him at work with me as a puppy.  It wasn’t something bred into him, it wasn’t a socialization issue, it was just the way he was.  I turned many places for help, made many mistakes along the way, and finally helped him past his issues for the most part.  However, as most people who are in the behavioral world know, there rarely is a 100% cure for problems like his.  Management, desensitization, classical conditioning all helped him cope with daily life and for unexpected surprises that happened along the way.  However, there will always be that situation that you failed to proof for, or that situation that catches you off guard.  That’s exactly what happened a month ago.

We were hiking off leash in an area we had hiked many times before.  In fact the majority of the pictures I take are taken in this area.  It is a little known nature preserve where we hardly see anyone and even when we would pass someone on the trail I never had any problems recalling Classic.  Even though it was a rainy day and the chances of encountering anyone were even slimmer than normal, I still took my usual precautions to prevent any reactions from Classic; leashing up when I couldn’t see far enough ahead and practicing recalls sporadically.

Then he trotted over a hill, the girls trailing behind him.  I took note that their body language was loose and neutral so I didn’t call them back even though they were quickly out of sight.  Suddenly, there was an awful scream.  I ran down the hill to see my dad standing just past a large log with Zuma standing next to him.  As I got closer I see that Classic is sitting about 15 feet away, holding his front leg at an odd angle, keeping it off the ground.

My dad had come through the woods just as the dogs were moving down the hill, Classic rushed at him.  He was running flat out when he crashed through the log that was just 3 feet from where my dad was standing.  Just 3 feet and he hadn’t attempted to slow down.  He knew my dad, he grew up knowing my dad but that didn’t stop him.  Only the log did.

Classic never bit anyone.  I never gave him the opportunity so I can’t say that he would or wouldn’t.  Our lives were spent managing him, people weren’t allowed in our house without extensive precautions, we couldn’t go on vacation without worry.  He came first, always.

We weren’t able to get a car to bring Classic out of the park as the gates were closed and locked.  He did his best, as he always had, to do as I asked even though it caused tremendous pain.  Radiographs showed that his 3rd metacarpal was dislocated and fractured, his 4th metacarpal was fractured as well.  The direction of the dislocation complicated matters because even if we were able to put the bone back in place, there was no way it would stay there on it’s own.  Any pressure on that leg would result in it dislocating again and again.  The orthopedic surgeons we spoke to weren’t hopeful, maybe if he was a smaller dog or if it were a back leg, but the front leg on a great dane?  Not a chance.

Due to the one in a million injury and how that injury occurred we decided the best option was to end his pain, both mentally and physically.

Classic may have been a dangerous dog, but that’s not what defined him.  He was exuberant, loving, protective, thoughtful and above all, Classic.  There is a huge dane sized hole in my heart and no dog will ever come close to filling it like he has.

Adjusting Training for the Dog

Owning a great dane and two herding dogs forces me to adapt my training style to fit my dogs in order to help them be as successful as they can be.  For instance, while training Zuma, I can be much more liberal about increasing criteria and I know she will stay in the game and continue to enjoy the shaping process.  I don’t have that luxury with Classic.  He is a very sensitive dog who tends to “quit” in shaping sessions if he is wrong once or twice and he requires a very methodical, deliberate increase of criteria.  It has taken me a while to figure out Classic’s needs and to adapt my style to match his but I feel like we are there and are actively training again.

A couple of factors have contributed to Classic’s new love for the training game.  Amping up the reward value, keeping sessions short and gradually increasing criteria have helped him stay in the game and so far has eliminated the majority of stress signals he was exhibiting during past training sessions.  In this video, we are retraining his heel position.  In the past we have struggled with removing the front paw target and maintaing clear criteria for the position.  Because Classic needs a very defined criteria and “heel position” wasn’t clear enough, I changed the behavior to having him touch his shoulder to my leg.  Right now this is creating an exaggeration of the position as he’s curling his rear end around, but that will fade once we add more straight line heeling in.  We are able to move away from the paw target (tiny scrap piece of paper) and as long as we move back to it after several repetitions he doesn’t stress.  At one point he is unsuccessful several times in a row you can see him start to lip lick and he becomes more hesitant.  Once I saw this, I moved back to the target to help him become successful again and he was right back in the game.

As much fun as it is to train Zuma and Zinga, I learn far more from my sessions with Classic.  One day he will be great, in the mean time, we’re just enjoying the ride.

Zuma: New Title!

Zuma completed her Novice Agility title this last weekend at the St. Paul Dog Training Club AKC trial!  It was an impressive run with just a couple bobbles but one specific moment to be proud of.  The sequence was three jumps in a straight line to a tunnel with a 90 degree bend.  From the tunnel exit the only thing the dog could see is an off-course tire jump and I needed to get her to make a sharp 90 degree turn out of the tunnel to take a broad jump instead.  Because it was a straight line into a relatively straight tunnel and I know that Zuma tends to take the first thing she sees out of a tunnel (we’re working on that!), I realized that the likely hood that I could be where I needed to be when she came out of that tunnel was slim.  However, I was able to send her to the last jump in the line to the tunnel and cut over to the broad jump sooner than I had hoped and got her attention and saved her from the off-course!!  We did have one refusal due to non-collection before a jump and her running past it instead, but that’s ok, just another thing to work on. 🙂

Sadly, I don’t have any pictures because I forgot to pick up her new title ribbon and thought it would be a sad picture without it.

Zinga: 18 weeks old, current training

I have been working on a lot of different behaviors with Zinga since she came to live with us 2 months ago.  Mostly we have been free-shaping random tricks to help her learn about her body and about the learning process.  She is always super quick to catch on and is a joy to shape.  We have also been working on more traditional behaviors such as stays, impulse control and heel.  Last night, we hit the public beach to work on these around distractions.  Here are some quick videos of her current status.

This first video is teaching her to come back to heel position or to do a hand touch before running out to the water between throws.  She has progressed so much in this aspect, I was having difficulties even having her come out of the water before.  By the end of this session (after this video) she was bringing the bumper back and then immediately moving to that heel position on either side rather than running back into the water.  She was also holding her heel position for up to 15 seconds without breaking.  Right now we are releasing her prior to throwing the bumper, eventually we will work towards throwing the bumper and then releasing her.  We will continue to focus on impulse control with her because the more training we do the more intensity I’m seeing.  I have a feeling that her start line stays are going to be hair-trigger and one of her biggest difficulties unless we get a good handle on it now!

The second video is a short clip of her right side heel.  We are practicing both sides in preparation for agility, oddly she is tighter on her right side than her left side so I will have to look at videos of both to see if my reward placement is off.  This was our first time adding turns in, hence her detachment during the turns.  I am very happy with how she connected back to me and stayed focused for the most part even considering the kids playing on the playground and the gnats annoying her.

The last video is just a quick down stay taking advantage of the distractions.  She did break right away to go to where there were some treats lost in the grass, however she refocused quickly.

Overall, I’m very happy with where she is at this stage.  She’s going to be a rockstar and I can’t wait to get into more serious training with her!

Zinga on Ducks

Zing has been visiting JoAnna Yund at Training Camp Inc to learn about sheep and herding for the last three weeks.  This week to help encourage her to chase we decided to try her on the ducks.  She did really well and was actually a pain to catch when we were done!  Here is the last 30 seconds or so of our session including me trying to wrangle her at the end.

Zuma Disc Work

Here’s a video of today’s disc session with Zuma.  We have been working on the reverse figure 8 for a while using treat rewards and this is our first session with the disc.  It is a lot more difficult for her to wrap my right leg and tends to get sticky, so we have been doing a lot more repetitions on that side versus the left.  I also threw in some drop-it practice as she has a hard time not bringing the disc directly back to me.  We have been having difficulties with her flip catch as well and I’m so glad I video’d this session as it proves it’s entirely my throwing that is to blame.  I need to throw a flatter arc so that she isn’t likely to just back up to catch the disc but rather track it and complete her flip.

After we shot this video, I had one more treat session working through the figure 8.  We were able to get 4 consecutive turns with very smooth transitions.  I’m confident we will introduce this into our disc routine soon!

House Guest

We have had a house guest for the past week, a 4 month old Rhodesian Ridgeback named Fonzie!  He’s been an absolute delight and seems to be a very easy going puppy.  I do admit that he may have picked up a bad habit of incessant barking this week from some other not-so-well behaved puppy I know,  **ahem, ZINGA**.  I was very glad for this socialization opportunity for Zinga as we don’t have a lot of opportunities for her to play with puppies her own age and I believe it is a crucial step in learning proper bite-inhibition.

Anyways, here are some pictures from the weekend!