Little things make big things happen

Over the many years I’ve been living with and training my dogs for the sport of agility, I’ve learned by experience and from instructors the concept conveyed by legendary coach John Wooden…”It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

Whether you call it “foundation” skills or “the basics”, the little things in agility and everyday life not only determine success in the sport but influence our relationship with our dogs. Some people think foundation skills are just something to “get through” so they can go onto more exciting things. Or through inexperience simply don’t know what to work on! That is understandable and expected.

I’m going to say it…agility is hard! And as the sport grows and changes, and dogs get faster, it seems like the list of highly honed skills required to do agility is ever growing. Fortunately, leaders in our sport are exploring new and better training methods so it never gets boring! And I will add, each dog is an individual and while one dog learns a skill easily and for life, another challenges us our skills at teaching one or more of those little things.

Personally, I find embracing the little things a lot of fun! The bonus is that it builds a positive relationship with my dogs because they know when I find joy in that perfect toy retrieve or that perfect one jump performance or super long lead out in class. My joy builds their confidence and love of the game. Ignoring the little things and expecting success without them can lead to frustration, blaming the dog or simply quitting.

Coming up in a series of blog posts, I’m going to explore some of these “little things”. I plan on organizing the topics in roughly the order that I introduce them to my puppies. But there won’t be a single “little thing” that isn’t revisited as the puppy matures into a young dog, a competition dog and a champion. My goal is to give you some new ideas to chew on and to inspire you to find the joy and satisfaction in teaching the little things well and to keep coming back to them. Stay tuned and if you like, subscribe to this blog to be notified of each post by email.

List of Posts:

The Release Word – the first step toward impulse control


Learning through choices

Taking the long view

Needless to say, like all of us, my September 2020 is different than I had planned for, hoped for, or expected. Summer vacations, family get-togethers, agility events, agility workshops, social gatherings with friends…all canceled or strictly limited due to the pandemic. While it would be easy to get depressed, pessimistic, grouchy or super stressed (and all of those emotions have visited me in short bursts), I’ve been largely successful in nurturing a positive attitude and a growth mindset as I wait for the new normal to kick in.

Maintaining gratitude hasn’t been as hard as you might think as my family is healthy, my income is secure, my community is responsible in following the “pandemic” rules and I’m hopeful that this will all be over at some point relatively soon due to the brilliant work of our medical researchers.

I’ve taken this gift of time to get better at photography, build a new website for an environmental non-profit Genesee RiverWatch (I’m a board member), start a vegetable garden, explore and commit to an online workout program (12 weeks and counting!), and unearth my bicycle to take advantage of the wonderful biking/hiking trail that is just minutes from my home.

Through all this, my dogs have both kept me sane and produced heartache. We said good-bye to our beloved Sheltie Breeze on July 15th. At 16-1/2 yrs old, he had lived a long good life. While his last year was a little tough, mostly he had a great quality of life, spreading joy to anyone he met – who said shelties are shy and reserved? Because of Breeze’s talent for agility, he provided me with all kinds of adventures, long-lasting friendships and travel to places I would probably never had visited. Czech Republic anyone?

Border collie Nick and I were having fun doing agility as the weather improved after a late spring but recurrent front-end lameness starting in mid-June brought all that to a halt by early July, just as he turned 5 yrs old. After a mid-August trip to Veterinary Orthopedic & Sports Medicine (VOSM), I knew we were in for a new, unwanted and unexpected adventure. At the end of September, Nick will have PRP/Stem cell injections in his left carpus and both shoulders along with left shoulder arthroscopy. He’ll be in hobbles for 12 weeks (!) and then rehab will follow. I don’t know of an acute injury that caused the issue, but the diagnostics indicate that the carpus had been sore for a while and the shoulder was secondary. Perhaps I would have picked up on that if I had done my regular rehab vet checks that were canceled due to the pandemic. Nick was certainly good at hiding his discomfort. It’s so sad to think of a young dog missing out on 6+ months of “action”. And yet, and yet – a big lesson to learn here – he remains a very happy guy!

Which brings me to Tai. Tai is 10-3/4 yrs old, retired from agility at age 9, and we are trying new things. We are working on Nosework skills with awesome instructor Julie Symons and he has had a few herding lessons. He’s very good at scent work but I’m not sure about herding :-). He has a long history of “don’t chase things” and I worry about him getting hurt. We’ll stick with it for a while and see what happens.  Just being able to do things with him at this age is a gift.

So what is next?  I’m taking the long view. I’m hoping to dip my toe into teaching again soon, so stay tuned for that news.  Surely, Nick’s rehab will nearly be a full time job and I’m hoping with the great team of Dr. Canapps at VOSM and Thera-vet that we’ll get where we need to be for an active lifestyle early in 2021. I’ll enjoy Tai’s elder years and who knows, maybe a puppy will be in our future. We’ll keep on plugging along with the conviction that 2021 will be a better new normal.


Nancy Gyes Workshops March 13-15

Nancy Gyes will be in Rochester, NY for workshops March 13-15, 2020! Nancy is the AKC World Team Coach, co-owner of Power Paws Agility in California, author and dog trainer extraordinaire.  Here is the schedule:

  • Friday Morning – International / Premier Drills & Skills
  • Friday Afternoon – International / Premier Sequences
  • Saturday Morning – Got Foundation? – For older puppies (8 months plus) and any age that wants to revisit foundation skills. Tunnels, wings or low jumps only.
  • Saturday Afternoon – Masters Handling
  • Sunday Morning – International / Premier – Skills and Sequences for the most efficient path
  • Sunday Afternoon – Masters Handling

Note that each of the half day sessions will be limited to 8 working spots.  Auditors are welcome too.  The workshops will be held at Five Points Training in Rush, NY, just south of Rochester.

Payment in full will secure your spot. I will not cash checks until 2 weeks prior to event. Working spots are not refundable after February 12th unless the spot can be filled with another working team (I will keep a wait list).


Spring Classes at Game On! Dog Training

Happy Spring!
I know it doesn’t feel much like Spring here yet in the Northeast but it will come eventually so let’s talk dog agility training.  With limited winter training opportunities have you built up a list of skills you want to work on – either handling skills or dog training skills?  I certainly have!  As an instructor, I would like to help get you off to a good start.

Game On! Spring Class information

Online classes

1) Nick’s Boot Camp – A jumping program for technical sequences. This course has 6 lessons with 3-4 exercises in each lesson designed to give you the foundation blueprint for achieving efficient and safe turns, even on technical courses.  You will build your dog’s understanding of how to physically manage turns on technical sequences including wraps, threadles, backsides and serpentines; and at the same time you will build the physical and verbal cues that you will use as a handler to prepare your dog for the turns.

2) 2on2off Contact Behavior – This course describes a step by step method of teaching a reliable 2on-2off behavior for use on the dogwalk, A-frame and teeter in dog agility. There are 6 lessons with multiple parts per lesson. Whether you are starting out a puppy or need to re-train an adult dog or just clean things up a bit, this course will help.

Online classes

Outdoor classes start in May – near Rochester, NY.

Check it out details here!

Never mistake activity for achievement. —John Wooden

Today, I read an article by James Clear (he always makes so much sense) about the difference between “being in motion vs taking action” and thought how applicable this is to dog training.  Have you ever gone to a trial or a class and faced a handling challenge that would be soooo much easier if you had a) more independent weave poles;  b) a better start line; c) lateral distance on the dogwalk;  d) an efficient collection cue;  e) left/right directionals; or — fill in the blank.

The article highlights the difference between studying, researching and planning the steps you will take to get a result— being in MOTION….and the ACTION you take when you actually get the dog, pick up the training bag and head to the field to train that skill.  Being in MOTION can give us the feeling of accomplishment but unless we take ACTION, we will never get the results we want.   Just like my brand new spin bike – carefully researched before purchase – won’t give me the results I want unless I take ACTION to get on the bike regularly – even after the novelty wears off :-).

Remember the great John Wooden quote above:  “Never mistake activity for achievement”.  Here is the full article…ENJOY!

The Mistake Smart People Make: Being In Motion vs. Taking Action

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