Update: Milo and my first Rally Obedience Trial was cancelled

Thank you for your good wishes and support. I was notified a couple of days ago that this whole trial was cancelled. This cancellation is a significant bummer because I really wanted to trial in Saskatoon and I planned much of my summer travel around this event.

I have to remind myself that the travel has been, and continues to be, wonderful and that there will be many more opportunities for Milo and I to strut our stuff in the ring.

I’m looking at Canuckdogs.com for another Rally event for us to enter.

Found distractions: Proofing for our upcoming Rally Obedience Trial

Milo and my first Rally Obedience Trial is fast approaching. We’ve been training daily and can do all the exercises with cheerful and brisk focus. Our biggest challenge will be distractions around the ring during the trial.

German shepherd dog heeling beside a woman in blue jeans between a coop full of chickens and another dogLuckily the universe provided us with an outstanding set of distractions for practice. And by ‘the universe,’ I mean my brother and sister-in-law’s farm. Milo has a strong prey drive and a history of dog reactivity. So, we spent a week performing Rally exercises using Louis the Dog an obstacle and the chicken coop as a backdrop. By the end of the week, Milo could heel around the dog while the chickens were flapping and clucking toward their dinner.  Good boy!

Of course, something could still knock us off our game during the trial, but it is good to know that we worked hard and did our best to be ready.

German shepherd dog jumping in the air to catch a treat. He is almost vertical and is taller than the jeans wearing woman holding his leash

Milo’s reward for all that work was to jump for a piece of chicken…

Training outcomes July 25 – August 2: We know the novice rally signs

Milo and I spent the last week heeling through figure eights, and weaves, and spirals. I am happy to report that we can do all the Novice Rally exercises and I can read all the signs.

The biggest challenges for me will be keeping track of our left and right turns (I’m not joking) and remembering to speed up when Milo starts to lag. This feels backwards. When Milo starts to slow down my tendency is to slow down as well and tell him to hustle up. But, he catches up more quickly if I ignore him and walk faster.

I’ve heard people give different reasons for why this works. Some say

  • that it adds more forward energy to the exercise,
  • that the dog doesn’t want to be left behind,
  • that it makes the exercise more interesting for the dog, or
  • that the dog imitates the handler.

All that I know is that if I slow down, he slows down even more, and that if I surge ahead, he’ll break into a trot to keep up. It’s a case of do as I do, not as I say.

I wish I had video of me and Milo. In my imagination we look like this team when we go through a serpentine weave:

Training plan for the week of July 25: The novice rally signs

As I’ve said before, my goal is to earn a Novice Rally Obedience Title with Milo. In a Novice Rally trial, the judge creates a course of 10-15 obedience exercises and evaluates a dog-handler team as they work through those exercises. According to the Canadian Kennel Club

The chief objective of rally is to provide a fast-moving and motivational activity that demonstrates the competency of handler and dog in performing basic obedience exercises without requiring exact precision for success. 

This German Shepherd earned a perfect score on a novice course.

Most of these exercises Milo and I have been doing for ages. The fancier heeling patterns will need some attention, and I need to keep working on Milo’s engagement in new and distracting environments.

Also, there are signs that indicate which exercises a team needs to perform. Some of them are pretty obvious, and some aren’t. I need to study.


So, the plan for this week is pretty straightforward:

  1. Practice engagement in distracting spots.
  2. Work on our Figure 8 heeling pattern.
  3. Familiarize ourselves with the signs indicating various exercises.


Training log: Road trip potty breaks as training opportunities?

If you’re new to this blog, you should know that I’m in the midst of a massive road trip with my German Shepherd Dog, Milo. So far this month we’ve put on about 2 000 km.

Black and tan German Shepherd Dog in a green canvas crate in the back of a dirty SUV.

Milo happy in the vehicle.

At times, Milo can be like the Energizer Bunny on Speed, so it is surprising how good he is on these long rides. He’ll whine with excitement if he thinks we’re going swimming, but other than that he settles down pretty quickly for a nap. Every hour and a half or so I pull over, give him a bathroom break, a drink, a quick walk or a game of tug, and off we go again.

It occurred to me that I was missing some pretty good training opportunities with these breaks. After an hour in the truck Milo is a little bored, a little lonely, and super drivey–why not make use of that?

So, breaks are now mini-training sessions. They look like this:

I pull over, pop on his leash, and let him have a quick sniff and a pee. Then, right away, we do a bit of focused heeling and he gets a mighty game of tug. Then we do just a couple of other things–only for about five minutes–with lots of reward play. Once we are both out of breath, I give him a drink, pop him back in his kennel, and we drive for another 150 kms.

Milo seems just as happy after these mini-training breaks as he is after our non-working breaks, maybe happier since he gets to think and I spend the break time paying close attention to him.

Do you see any pluses or minuses with using these breaks for training? Any suggestions?

Training log—oops

This past week I was so caught up traveling with Milo that the whole notion of working with Milo fell by the wayside. Oops. That’s OK (right?), everyone needs a vacation. Today we got back in the groove, at least a little bit.

German shepherd dog with intense and happy facial expression.

Milo is very much ready to work.

When I asked him if he was “ready to work,” which is our cue that it’s training time, he lit up like a Christmas tree. Evidently, he was ready to work.

I didn’t have a plan, so this was more like farting around than working. But we had fun.

  • We did some obedience basics: sit, down, stand.
  • We did a few recalls on a long line, which are also practice waiting and coming to front.
  • And then I laid down a couple of tracks and he worked them out.

Training is usually a lot of fun for both of us, I think because it requires that Milo and I pay single-minded attention to one another. It is actually quite a feat of interspecies communication: I ask him to do something, and he figures out what I’m asking and does it. We work hard at understanding each other. When the communication fails, we learn, and when it succeeds, we celebrate. The best thing about today’s session though was Milo’s happy face.

Training outcomes June 25 – July 1

As I predicted, this was a fun week. Milo and I worked hard on engagement. It amuses me to imagine saying the last sentence in a serious voice because the ‘hard work’ was playing with him all over town. He was a Good Boy! in Victoria Park. Yippee! He was a Good Boy! on King Street. Yippee! He was a Good Boy! on the soccer field. Yippee! As you can see, it was extremely difficult work. tug 2

A while ago I went to a few training sessions with an extremely well respected Schutzhund competitor and trainer, and she mentioned at the end of the first workshop that Milo really loved me. I didn’t know what to make of that. I suspected it was sort of like complimenting a job candidate on his suit–you know, when you need to find something nice to say and have to dig deep to find it.

“At least your dog loves you…”

But it wasn’t that at all. A strong bond with your dog makes training easier.

When I was a student, I had some professors who I was very fond of. I looked forward to going to their class, I wanted to learn from them, and I wanted them to think well of me. It is not surprising that those were the classes where I earned some of my best grades.  These days I try to be one of those professors when I teach university students.

And funnily enough, this is what I’m going for when I teach Milo too. I want him to want to learn.

My advice? Go play with your dog!