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Remember: I do not ride or train horses!

April 6, 2017

“The key isn’t in the amount of movement, but in the amount of relaxation in the movement. Asking for even a tiny range of motion in a relaxed state is 10 times more effective than asking for a large movement in an non-relaxed state,” (Jim Masterson,)

Remember: I do not ride or train horses!

But, the more we demand greater understanding we often find the gems from other fields of knowledge. It is in this exploration that we improve our own knowledge.
I have just finished a book by the author referred in this article (Dr. Gerd Heuschmann: Tug of War: Classical Versus Modern Dressage): MANY of the same points we are facing in dog sports:
“The hunt for success and recognition doesn’t allow time and space for thoughtful, quiet work with the horse and a naturally orientated training process.”

Success in dog sports is all about wins, titles, record breaking achievements: greatest number of wins, youngest dogs to win ****, team inclusion, whereas we should orientate our energy to the sports having benefit for the dog as an individual level as well as at a species level – how dogs are perceived.

“Everyone, trainers and riders, must agree on the training goals: we want to produce horses that are relaxed, content and healthy and who bring their  riders joy in the dressage arena or in other venues as reliable pleasure horses.”

If you have now snorted because dog sports are not your interest, consider that the protocols develop in dog sports WILL find their way into everyday life for every day “pleasure” ownership of dogs.

Social media selectively shows successes in tricks that entertain often at a cost to the dog, the perceptions of what dogs are and what is normal behaviour.
Often because there is a degree of copying but more often because this person does not have an interest in the long term welfare of their dog this type of self-promotion can cause long term harm in the name of fun and status.

The dedicated sports trainers are enjoying fit, active, healthy dogs in older life for much longer than 20 or 30 years ago. This has taken knowledge and understanding to develop the correct foundations, build the right muscles, structure, balance and mental capacity for competition or performance work.
How many young dogs are retired or withdrawn early because of the rush and unbalanced training they have endured?

It's my drum and I want to bang it

Many trainers are falling into the same trap as described in this article. I can speak with authority on heelwork to music and freestyle. They are training the “big muscles”, the heel positions with unstable, often immature, dogs that do not have the foundations to sustain the postures. A disproportionate amount of time spent on movements that are flashy or entertaining at a cost of simple, structurally necessary movements that build strength and resistance in the supporting muscles.

We commonly see dogs competing at all levels that vocalise during movement, trying to communicate in the only way they know how, that they are NOT happy. Either struggling physically with the balance or speed requested or under the unprepared mental stress. The response is so often “shut up”. A barking dog is penalised in our sport. A barking dog is desperate. Judges are often unable to tell the difference between happy barking as an expression of joy and arousal and stress barking as an expression of discomfort.

Sports with our beloved dogs or horses should never be at the animal’s expense of their mental or physical well-being. We need to ensure that when human nature gets carried away with the euphoria of success that the dog is protected from the thoughtlessness and extremes. Trainers, organising bodies, judges and competitors all have a responsibility to dogs.

(But I am not so sure that my mental well-being is suitable challenged when reading this article and coping with a flashing advert on fungal infections pop up. No I have not been searching for it)

If you want to excite your interests:

I am introducing and running workshops on dressage for dogs:
Association British Canine Dressage:

I have a course running through the summer on teaching sports dogs the foundation skills:

If your dog is already competing:

More thoughtfulness:






What to learn? Where to study? Which Conference? How to choose?

March 31, 2017

This is a regular question when mixing with the trainers and professionals of tomorrow. There are more folk wanting to move into the business and fullfil life goals to be able to work with dogs and their people. Unfortunately the “make money whilst I sleep” crowd are also aware of this and seeding the market for the less discriminatory, or just plain innocent, who can be parted from their time and money.

I have spent some fruitful hours accompanied by sharp teeth sucking when browsing around the offers in front of us today. Although a course, conference, seminar, workshop could not be reviewed without personal attendance, there are some surface symptoms in the marketing that I would like to hi-light for the unaware.

I run a variety of courses:

  • face to face at my barn, covering 5 days, monthly and others on a weekly class basis
  • online courses for nine years, single webinar events, 8 weeks and 2 years.
  • seminars presenting international speakers from evenings to 3 day events.
  • cruises, (oh yeah) for deep immersion and a great holiday combo

I have been doing this for forty years in one form or another. I first attended a dog training course in the seventies, qualified in the college teaching system and worked as a college inspector. I have presented around the world at conferences, seminars and workshops. I currently enjoy being an online student in self-directed learning format.

Mid-nineties saw the introduction of specific canine courses into the college environment and the next decade a maturing of the online options to study. The conferences and seminars are breeding with great fertility offering lush options to change your life.

I thought it might be quite useful to share my views from all sides on the availability and potential pitfalls when investing money, and sometimes serious, hard earned, sweat inducing money, into an unknown future.

I should give a warning that my scepticism may surface.

We don’t know what we don’t know!

I watch the TV dog shows less and less. I can recognise the quick and dirty fixes, the not-seen-on-camera moments that are displayed in the dog’s body language. The pseudo experts loved by the camera but coached by the off-stage trainers. These shows are not aiming to educate but to provide controversy, conflict and “good TV”.

Try to become consciously aware of the hidden agendas behind the shop windows. Marketing will tell you what you need to know to get you to part with your money, after that their job is done. The marketing may not match the reality.

My experienced view has also led me to distrust other topics about which I have an innocent level of knowledge. We don’t know what we don’t know.

The quantity of time and money you invest, and the value of that investment to you, should be reflected in the research you can do before signing up. Having a go for forty quid for an afternoon is not the same as investing twelve hundred pounds, three weekends and five hours a week study for five months.

Be a nuisance, check it out, research the providers, course designers, teachers. Ask questions, ask around, ask friends.

Reviews and endorsements

These are not always what they appear to be.
Are they to be trusted?

A publishing company requires their under-contract authors to provide reviews on other products in their stable. This is no more than selling a name and reputation for the benefits of the company. Reviews should be unbiased. But if they are printed permanently on the cover of a book then you can be sure they are specially selected.

Endorsements are usually some sort of association that benefits both parties. A product will endorse an event or person because it is of benefit to them by association. The endorsers may not have the expertise to know if the person is the expert they profess to be.

Peers’, friends’, colleagues’ reviews and recommendations are likely to be more of value. You should know something about the reviewer to know that they share the same values, interests and ethics for the recommendation to be valid. Experience is also a key element, if they have little experience of subject knowledge, courses or classes the first one they attend may seem revolutionary.


Software management. These are the techies behind the hosting, functionality of the courses, study format etc. There is often serious long term investment to get the product to market and this money needs to be recouped. They are probably not informed in the topics of their courses to know what is good quality learning and what is a cash machine. They will often out source for their  course material.

Curriculum course designers. This should not be hidden. If there was a degree in dogs (from training to genetics and everything between), and I am investing thirty thousand pounds and three years of my life, I want to know who is writing the individual units, what their experience is and their view points on many related topics. I want a CV of that curriculum author. Their experience, views and preferences will be threaded through the course curriculum.
This is important at every level from classes to seminars.

I made the mistake of presenting for 3 days at a facility that the previous month had hosted a trainer whose beliefs were the polar opposite of mine. Although folk travelled a serious distance to attend because they had researched my background, they were side by side with local folk were also faced with a complete turnaround in their understanding and expectation. The owners of the facility did not have the experience or expertise to recognise there was going to be conflict, there was no long term curriculum generated by the various speakers. This can also happen at conferences with mixed speakers. The host should have good subject knowledge to recognise where they may be conflict between speakers that is simply unhealthy for the event and promotes a toxic atmosphere.

Personally I am very careful when accepting conference invitations until I know who the other speakers are going to be.

Course teachers, tutors and assessors. This should NEVER be hidden. Part of my college work was participating in the team of higher education inspectors. One of the critical points we assessed was “does the teacher have confidence and depth of knowledge in the subject?”.

It is common practice in college to use a teaching qualified teacher in as many courses as possible, often stepping in to cover. The courses are often written by the teacher with the subject knowledge, and then the material is just delivered by another teacher, who may have no more knowledge of the subject than the cleaning staff. A lack of subject knowledge is a weak point that any self-respecting student can reveal with a little pointed questioning.

Your investment should have teacher qualified teachers AND subject experienced (I hesitate to use the terms subject qualified as at present it does not exist).

A teaching style often reflects that teacher’s learning style. Don’t expect a highly practical course from someone who is academically orientated and vice versa.

Is this going to benefit you as a person?

Are you going to feel that you are developing as a learner? Online or remote learning is not for everyone. It takes discipline to prioritise the time to study alone and complete the training and/or assignments.

Have you got the time to contribute to the learning and experience of the whole group? Everyone in the classroom has shared responsibility by proactively engaging in the course, getting the work done, training the dog, completing assignments. This takes time. (read here )

Is the course a pre-set recipe format

… or could the bones be fleshed out in different directions?

Online courses often have an international flavour which requires different understanding of dog cultures, different environments where dogs are kept and quite different laws and beliefs. This can enrich the learning process where the topic is examined at depth allowing for many different view-points and angles of approach.

Unfortunately when looking through some of the available courses their curriculum is very specific and narrow, limited to one lifestyle with dogs. Even within the UK a dog with a country lifestyle and expectations can be quite different from an urban cousin.

Who is going to benefit from this seminar / course?

Dogs in general or the providers?
What are they teaching?

Very often the course is about delivery of the subject to a specific student model. We want to be able to learn as individuals as we the learn the subject.

Often courses share how this person does whatever they do. This promotes the copy-culture, the recipes for success. Rarely does it allow you to learn the necessary skills to develop in your own right. Recipes do have their place as a structure, but equally they can inhibit learning. Courses can have the same effect. Multi-choice assessment are the reverse of recipe teaching in that the answers must fit the specific expectations. It may not explore your abilities to assess situations, evaluate the learning gap, identify the activities that can teach the skills, what knowledge is sound and what may be superstitious – for either a dog or a person.

What is the agenda of the providers?

Off the shelf “modules”.

Having been at the sharp end of marking assignments my eye is well trained to see familiarity and pings into “this is someone else’s work” red zone. Courses are sold and traded as much as any other commodity between online providers.

I appreciate that events need to pay for themselves, cover all costs and hopefully leave something in the bank to “pay it forward” to organising the next event. But often the casualty of a cash based motive is the learning quality. Success is measured by number of attendees or certificates awarded, not the quality of learning. (One of my reasons for abandoning college based teaching was the system that rewarded quantity of students over quality of learning).
A symptom of the cash-over-learning agenda will be a poor ratio of students to teachers.

The other aspect of this is the well intentioned providers not putting sufficient planning into the business model and begging for folk to come along, sign up now, early bird offers, special discounts, bring a friend, buy 2 get 1 free. Most of the single events such as seminars will not be making their break-even until close to the date of the event. A nail biting time.

Organisers have to commit to a contract with well-known speakers and the penalties for cancellation wipe out any “pay it forward” savings. The closer to the event for a cancellation the greater the penalty.

As a speaker that does travel and book events 18 months to 2 years ahead these “oh, we cannot fill the event” cancellations are a major disruption. Speakers often ration themselves travel wise or arrange a cluster of events on the same trip.
As a provider, organiser, speaker and attendee – play fair, get your booking early, be sure to support the learning over cash opportunities. As we know, reinforcement works. If you want to have access to these events in the future support them.

Planning an event may begin 2 years before the event. This may clash with other events in the same area, at the same time, or in close proximity. There is only so much to spend on education, learning and jolly weekends.

Check list

All courses should clearly state:

  •             Eligibility for refunds, cut-off dates, percentages, costs of “administration”
  •             Complaints system, re-assessment opportunities and conditions
  •             Quality assurance in providers that have multi courses and tutors.
  •             Equal opportunities to learn, be assessed

Watch out!

redflagHeavily discounted courses. I found one offered at a 92% discount. This may indicate some desperation, last chance, or simply nothing to lose. I cannot think they are paying a course tutor anything reasonable at that price.

Out of date websites. Particularly those that use past students or certified attendees as advertising. On one site the listing was 5 years out of date, which does not give confidence to the content of the course material.

Go for it

If you read the outline of a seminar or a course and have a visceral response – butterflies, heart beats fast, then sign up!

Very unscientific, but you are more likely to grow as a person when learning from an inner spark than a logical “qualification”.


July 5, 2016

I glanced at this phrase whilst researching and it stayed in my thoughts for several days. It set the grey matter off on its own holiday.

incentive 1


This equation is valid for both us and our learners IF the consequence is predictable and under our control. I am motivated to go shopping to a specific store that I know will be able to supply what I am seeking. My incentive is the acquisition of the goods, and with the consequence under my control I am motivated to make the trip. Our dogs will also be motivated when the consequence is reliable and under their control. Greet the person, jump, bark and social interaction is assured.

But if our incentive to train is solely dependent on the consequence we could loose motivation. We train our dog for a event, competition, approval of others. We travel, we compete and we are successful.

We travel, we compete and now we are not successful. Our incentive to train will become diminished. The consequence overwhelms the incentive, and our motivation is at the mercy of the consequence.

incentive 2

We shop and cannot find what we seek, our motivation will diminish because the process of the shopping is entirely wrapped in the success of the find.


The dog trains and has an expectation of a specific reward – a game, the toy, the chase, but instead receives a piece of kibble, or a pat on the head. The next opportunity to perform that behaviour and the motivation is diminished. But if our incentive is independent of the consequence our motivation will stay at peak.

We enter a competition to enjoy the activity and use the opportunity to evaluate our training progress. Consequences of that are reliable, success, wins are a bonus.

Our dogs train to enjoy the connection, the process, the shared activity. This is a reliable consequence, treat, games are the bonus.

If we are training by using the consequence as the incentive, “here is a treat, will you lie down”? The behaviour not only relies on the cue of the consequence to be present, but will lose incentive if the consequence is withheld – for a variety of reasons: slow response, incorrect response etc.

If we enter an event purely to achieve wins and places, which are not under our control, then our motivation is dependent on the behaviour and values of other people.

If we complete assignments to achieve grades and endorsement then the benefit of doing the work for that assignment is drowned in the consequence. Our incentive begins with seeing the benefits of doing the project. Getting the grades and feedback is important, but not our sole incentive.

Chickens peck and scratch a thousand times a day, because the incentive to peck is in the pleasure of the activity, sharing the activity and exploring. The additional consequence of A Find is the bonus that stretches the pecking beyond 250. We could label it as an intermittent schedule, but then we are (arrogantly) assuming that incentive is solely managed by the consequence.

I think not.


I hear too often blame being attributed to failure because there was no treat, no toy, to play. No motivation.

I cut the grass and work hard to find the incentive in the activity, getting exercise, enjoying the garden. Not the consequence of finishing, or the negative consequence of procrastinating – a continual visual reminder of overgrown lawn. By “re-modelling” my incentive, I find the default procrastination is becoming a memory. Of course a small portion of the incentive is in the consequence, the outcome.

incentive 3

I train my dogs because of the shared process, the activity, the pleasure. Not for any other consequence, likes on YouTube, drawers of rosettes or peer approval. The pleasure is intrinsically wrapped in the pleasure my dogs demonstrate that evolves from constructional, positive training. No confusion, no frustrations, no failures.

If our motivation is low perhaps we have tied our incentive too closely to a consequence that is not under our control or is unreliable?


incentive gareden


If as trainers, we place our motivation entirely in the consequences, then we are likely to consider that the same model for our dogs. Sometimes we need to let the obvious consequences step aside and allow the incentive, that we can influence, inspire our motivation.

Positive training has every opportunity to motivate itself through a clear incentive and bonus consequences.

About Time

February 2, 2016

One Special Boy

beloved nan

Quiz and her beloved Grandson, Time. She doted on him, making sure he grew up to be all that he could be.

Time is a son of Flink, who is a daughter of Quiz, who was a daughter of Kiwi, who was a daughter of Flite, who was a daughter of Abacab, who was a son of Purdie, who was a daughter of Bob.

Bob was my first collie and started me in competition Obedience. He took me to Crufts Championships in the main ring in 1979. Not a green carpet in those days.


Crufts, no green carpet, extremely cold in February, and yes, I had dark hair, but still a collie!

Crufts 2016 I will walk the main ring with Time, his g-g-g-g-grandson, in the Heelwork To Music competition finals.


Heelwork sings to me right at the heart. I always experience a quickening beat. It is an experience of synchronised balance in movement. It brings a touch of dance, a touch of musicality, and always a smile and warmth.

Training for a sport focuses the mind and discipline. I consider it requires us to study, practice and study some more. The learning never ends.

When you have a passion for something it takes you along paths you never dreamed would be a part of your future. Paths that have lead to studies across many fields that come together and contribute to the whole.


We can not be satisfied with being “just trainers” we need to learn how to analyse behaviour, build a teaching curriculum, study stimulus control, experience disciplines of performance arts.


Time is trained without correction. He is taught with reinforcement, in his case this is food and contact.

He has a very strong “eye” which is the classic collie predatory state. Toys and anticipation of games sets off the eye which would put him into conflict for heelwork behaviours.


We play, we plays lots, but not for heelwork training.

I build heelwork with physical fitness, from the foundation of standing in balance, through walk, trot, rotations and lateral movements. He is always correct, he is always reinforced.


He has only ever tried to be what I want him to be. He is the culmination of training many, many dogs in activities that taught me more about dogs.

He knows no error. Error is only feedback letting me know what training, cues or changes I need to make.



He is a product of breeding dogs balanced for the sport:

with a sound structure that won’t be stressed by the extremes and minute stresses of repetitive actions that sport practising demands.

with a temperament that blossoms in the performance environment. Collies are not always suited to noisy, indoor venues surrounded by spectators.




Genabacab Light Merlot.


Wonderful boy, carrying the heritage in his blood and in his heart


A little fun with the camera: enjoying training


Ah. I hadn’t thought about that ….

December 28, 2015

Sometimes we are force to appreciate that our own understanding of something is far ahead of the common thinking on a subject. Sometimes, it smacks us right between the eyes.

For example: the common courtesy of not allowing your dog, who is very friendly, (aren’t you lucky?)  to run up to other dogs that you know nothing about. Parking your car where it causes other road uses inconvenience. We could call this “being stupid”, “thoughtless” and this certainly applies to a small percentage of the population. I have faith in the majority of people who do want to be considerate and live harmoniously in their community. How do we become considerate and thoughtful? We need information and we need to know what information we need to know to become informed.

Many of the rules and guidelines that are an integral part of driving are designed to keep people safe. Speed limits are there for good reason, warnings about “do not change lanes” on motorways, are there for a good reason. In the experience of the combined road managers, these restrictions, rules or guidelines are implemented as a result of a potential or serious consequence.

One motorway I drive regularly has multiple junctions where motorways combine. Very fast moving traffic that has to merge. Two key components of high risk of accidents. If you then add “adverse weather” such as fog, heavy rain, or freezing conditions the risk components multiply.

I read a detailed report of a serious multiple traffic collision at a junction that made my hair stand up on end. The outcome was recommendations that all motorway junctions have lighting. I read this 40 years ago and it still stays in my mind. When I see “do not change lanes” my frustration is quickly built by the drivers who ignore this (and of course use the space I have left in front of me as the perfect slot for them  ….grrrrr). But then the question becomes are they actually aware of the risk and potential consequences? Would they still take this risk if they were? Do we have frighten people into take care and consideration, or is that just knowledge?

Does the person who lets their dog run into your dog have the knowledge of the consequences of their (non) action and do they have the skills to make a change?

The common practice of bagging your dog’s faeces is a “modern” change, mostly bought about as a reaction to the infection risk with the toxocara canis. Most thoughtful dog owners are going to walk their dogs, be prepared and are willing to clear up.

But there will always be a percentage that does not comply with this element of living in a community:

  1. They consider it does not relate to them (“after all it is out of the way ….under a tree”)
  2. They cannot be bothered (“what am I supposed to do with it”, “there are no bins, so I shan’t bother”, “they pay other people to do this”). There are always good reasons to be found to not bother. I wonder if they put as much energy into the solutions as they do to the avoidance …..?
  3. They like to defy the common policy, simply because they can, the risk of punishment is small enough.
  4. They are not “in the moment”. Day dreaming, worry about a life situation, over stressed. Bag-less …..

But perhaps we can reach those border line people who simply were not aware of the consequences or had not considered them. The wheelchairs users who have their wheels coated in faeces and then want to go into a restaurant, the pushchair with poo-wheels where the child can run their hands, and of course the driver on the motorway who now has a shoe full of poo warming nicely in the car heater.

Ah. I hadn’t thought about that. When the consequence is likely to relate to them, we can expect more consideration. Often as teachers we need to explore their world to find a consequence that they can relate to. Poo-on-a-shoe is an everyday consequence, poo on wheel-chairs are not.

We have to consider different tactics to combat thoughtlessness, and of course seek to reinforce thoughtfulness.

Many of us are directly or indirectly involved with training dogs “on the social fringes”. For whatever reason they do not appreciate unsolicited social advances from either people or dogs.

These advances can vary from being completely unacceptable, potentially life changing, to just selfish.

When Merrick was about 16 weeks old I was faced with an oncoming situation that had the potential to be life changing for her. I was coming along a tow path by a canal. This is only about a meter/yard wide, with fencing on my left and canal on my right. Coming towards me was a guy with two boys on bikes, one with training wheels. The older one was quite a way ahead, the younger one being supervised (Really? Training wheels alongside a canal …. that should give you an idea of his risk assessment abilities). Additionally the family was made up with two large, boisterous lurchers. These were jumping in and out of the canal barges where people were eating.
On viewing this and within 3 seconds I sought avoidance. My puppy bitch was NOT going to be exposed to this selfish use of community space. My route for avoidance was to open a gate into someone’s back garden and let myself in. I was prepared to risk that embarrassment for me than the potential fallout from a full-on, unescapable assault from bikes and dogs.

This type of skill assessment process needs practice. Would that we could have a freeze button to have the time to assess the components speeding towards us and then sort through the possible solutions.

I doubt the guy was actually that thoughtless. He was taking his kids and dogs out (at 12am on a Tuesday morning). He chose an area where it was safe from traffic, but he may have not considered barges containing picnickers. He may have considered that he had enough control of both kids and dogs to manage any situation (don’t we all). Sometimes we do not know what we cannot manage until it occurs. That’s one of the reasons we do fire drills.

Maybe, if I could have had his full attention for a moment and explained the consequences of his behaviours he would have changed the situation. I would then wonder if he had the training in place for an appropriate response from both kids and dogs – that would take considerable preparation.

When we have a situation that continues to build our frustration it takes thoughtful effort to bring about a change. That thoughtful effort will make you feel a little better than dwelling on the negative frustration, but sometimes that level of frustration has to drive us to the point of encouraging change for the better.

Our dog communities share space. A pre-license to make use of shared space should be earned.

Dog folk have to be aware of the non-dog folk using that space. Equally dog-folk have to be aware of other dog-folk. How can we make the changes:

Avoid it. This tactic is excellent for the days when the frustration level is going to spill over. We can also do a short term avoidance by simply escaping in the moment if it is available to us.

Education. Are we making a judgement that this is deliberate thoughtlessness or simply an “I really did not know, my apologies” situations. If a person has a friendly dog, do they fully appreciate:

~ that not all dogs are friendly and the actions of their dog can have life changing consequences on your dog?

~ that you have been working for weeks on this dog with a good program to be able to walk down the road and not cause issues for other dogs, and that their moment of inconsideration has set you back months.

~ if this becomes the norm for this park / woodland / beach, then the local council may draw up a byelaw that requires all dogs to be on lead AND under control.

~ that blasting up to another dog is a discourtesy. Dogs would not normally do this*

*dogs would greet each other with a more cautionary protocol of standing off at some distance and enquiring about closing that distance. If the opening enquiring did not receive a positive response a diversionary tactic of marking the nearest object is often employed and the dogs then go their own way. But because we walk with dogs on leads directly towards each other without this courteous stand-off dogs have not learned to develop this normal dog protocols, it has been overridden by human protocols.

If you have to explore consequences that relate to the individuals try the “have you any children / grandchildren” approach. Would you like a 12 year old child in your care, to be exposed to inappropriate behaviour from an adult?   It should bring consideration to the moment – remember the “excuse” for inappropriate behaviour is often “I was just being friendly


Put your energy into change, not complaints. Seek solutions and let’s reinforce the thoughtfulness.

Changes can happen and will happen when we add our collective ideas, actions and energy together. Recycling is becoming the norm, not the exception. Dog diets have become “grown up” and for dogs, not just re-purposing unwanted human foods.

We have all experienced the feeling of learning and changing – something we did in the past because we considered it the right thing to do at that time. We can view it retrospectively and appreciate that we did not know what we didn’t know, at that time. So let’s give strangers that consideration – an innocent lack of knowledge.

How you open their eyes to this is another story.

Learning something new

November 24, 2015

A Joy or a chore? 

That rather depends on how steep that mountain is perceived to be eh?

I was blessed for a while to be able to live and work in the most astonishing place – up on the Brecon Beacons. Several times a year we gathered great flocks of sheep off the hills, and just for fun instead of work, we trained for search and rescue on the same hills.

photo Jeremy Bolwell

These hills were curved, pudding shaped, what you thought was the top often deceived you as you approached the false summit to realise you had only survived the first 25%. The rest of the hill was out of sight.

Hay Bluff, Black Mountain and The Offa's Dyke path from Capel-y-ffin

Hay Bluff, Black Mountain and The Offa’s Dyke path from Capel-y-ffin. Photo: Martin Mackey (3)

At times we traveled to North Wales and, for fun remember, stomped up and down the sides of Snowdon. Scared the crap out me – the top was always on view (weather permitting), hostile and far too far away.

Quite oddly the Snowdon guys used to feel most uncomfortable on the grass slopes of the Brecons – aka The Ankle breakers!

Learning something new can present us with motivating challenges or hostile threats. The threats can be felt because we are presented with an overwhelming amount of stuff. The peak of Snowdon for the lone traveler, unfamiliar with the territory or the easier routes, can resist the experience. But accompanied by regular climbers the journey can be mutually enjoyed and achievement shared.

One day trip to Snowdon we were faced with a quite evil route dropping off steeply on both sides. This did not fill me with confidence since I was under tow of an enthusiastic Gordon and I spent most of my time with my head focused on the next stone in front of me. But when one of my companions started to point out the small vegetation, microscopically hiding for self preservation, the journey started to change. We did make the summit, slept over night with Gordon firmly tied to me and enjoyed a dawn of all dawns, then the clag came down and we descended in cloud for the next 5 hours!

Depending on our comfort zones – somewhere between pure academia or pure practical we find ourselves learning something new. An academic can explain in language we do not understand (for me that hostile Snowdon landscape) but find a common interest that brings the journey alive. The practitioner full of skills and experience can see more than ankle breaking grass slopes and teach those easy step techniques that hill shepherds have learned over hundreds of miles.

All our teachers need to remember to turn around and enjoy the views – point out the achievements, see the geography, explain the geology and try to understand the behaviour of sheep!

Whichever hill or mountain you decided to climb, keep your feet in touch with the point of the journey. It is not about getting to the top – that may be a bonus, but keeping yourself mentally fit, taking a side track to look at a waterfall, feel the Roman paved road under your feet and learn something you did not think you would learn.

Come learn with us:

January Training  Thoughtfully: Jesus, Alex and I will begin with a topic, but most likely it will side track to a waterfall. We will all stand around, take pictures, ask questions, taste the water, sit under the Mountain Ash tree, have a sandwich and tea from a flask. Learning will happen.

Often it takes one small nugget of information that can shift the bedrock of your training and everything takes on a slightly different perspective. New thoughts come into view, the horizons comes a bit closer, and underneath that pebble that you have just knocked is a micro-fern.

More details on the topics:

January also begins the two-year online course. This may be your Snowdon, but the journey will be traveled with wonderful companions.

One of this year’s students sums it up:

I had a long drive today and was thinking about how much I am enjoying this course.( I started by really puzzling and struggling to think of a better way to teach poorly paw) I am enjoying how much it is pushing me to think through the topics at hand. Think and re-think, take in and ponder all of the generous comments and videos. It is not easy, but so different and so much more fulfilling than classes that teach a formula, or “how to”.  It feels so luxurious to have the time to thoughtfully experiment. I feel like I am slowly building a scaffolding of understanding which underpins all of my training.

I am rather amazed that this all has taken place in this “Moodle world”.  Although it would be most wonderful to be able to meet in person…when I see each of your names and posts I do feel that I have come to know you and your terrific dogs

Enrollment and more info on the online course. Christmas Gifts can arrive as learning packages – education is never wasted!

If you are attracted to learning-mountains take a good map along with you. Research your possible routes and options, meet fellow travelers and make sure they want to share the journey at your speed and will enjoy stopping and looking at the view. I do not remember any pleasure from the days of climbing hills with the super fit speed merchants that only wanted to get to the top first.

The type of mountain you take on is your choice, be comfortable with the learning style, walking or climbing or a mixture of both, a sense of achievement should be guaranteed.

Still laughing

April 5, 2015


Dreaming of new dramas?

Dreaming of new dramas?

Just a year since M arrived with us. I recall that first week of her innocently sleeping besides my bed in her puppy crate. I have fond memories of wondering how life will pan out over the next few years …

”On my toes” is the answer.

Yes, indeed Madam.

We can all have plans as to how we would secure certain behaviours, and then along comes a learner who throws out the book. She likes to learn her own way. She certainly ensures I go with the grain not against it.

After sharing videos of her tutoring, my learning, I think more folk at the Spring Conferences – ORCA, Expo, are “wise” about Gordon Setters. I now have my licence for surviving teenagers.

I took her along to a breed championship show in January. The entry fee is modest when considering how much learning and experience we gain. She gets to see an enormous collection of different breeds, some close up and some at far distance. All were viewed with fascination of course. To reach the Gordon ring we need to pass the Irish Setters.

Dogs at breeds show are shown in the morning, bitches in the afternoon; you can show a bitch in season, hence the second billing. Many of the dogs waiting for the Irish ring were young male boys in full Spring vigour. She thought heaven had arrived. Folk are standing around catching up after the Christmas break and certainly not paying attention to this Fit n Fertile Thing selling her wares by a mere raise of eyebrow. She handed out her FB details to everything she saw flashing her single status.

It took some nifty wrapping to make a string basket out of my 6 foot lead to manipulate her past and thankfully I found another way to escape the building.

One of the difficulties that youngsters experience when growing up is the ability to manage energy. This does not only mean understanding how to stop to avoid crashing into things, but also when to reserve energy for a later needs and adventures.

She can now, with the help of dark Winter mornings, start the day with a short garden challenge spotting every essence of the overnight visitors, and then come inside to settle down whilst I breakfast. This was not the case 6 months ago, when we needed at least an hour of adventure before we could settle. This involved a visit to the chickens ensuring the eggs were of respectable quality, apple tossing as we went around the orchard, chases with the nannies, first breakfast and supervising my turd-collection skills. A cold, frosty lawn assisted in shortening the outsides needs.

Frosty morning in the orchard

Frosty morning in the orchard

Through the day I mix short bursts of play and energy expenditure and schedule rest times directly afterwards. Six months ago evenings were often high energy opportunities to fly around the back of the sofa and fling toys.

Nature’s sedative, dinner, is at 4pm during the Winter, as soon as it becomes dark she does settle quickly for the evening and then is completely gone for the rest of the night. Nothing sleeps quite as deeply as a Gordon. The only evenings she stayed alert was to watch Crufts on the TV. Dinner will slide on now the clock’s have move forward so that her feed time is about 1 hour before dark to ensure I have some peace for part of the day.

As much as possible I avoid extremes highs of excitement and extremes of energy needs – such as long distance exercise. I also avoid long periods of enforced rest. Even when I am in the Barn for workshops she usually has access to the garden, unless extremely cold or wet, and the company of her nannies, Flink and Time.

Time overseeing his charge


She will travel with me on errands with occasional outings around car parks, or our local villages and garden centres. But most errands are 40-50 minutes of resting in her crate in the van. I like to think variation and the avoidance of extremes builds her flexibility of tolerating these energy changes. Adults have learned when to value sleep, rest up for later energy needs and enjoy naps when the sun is shinning. I wish we could “pre-sleep”, that would be more than useful.

It has certainly be an exciting year and also very, very precious. She is a wonderful companion and teacher, full of the minute-to-minute happiness and makes me laugh every day.

Her bedtime ritual is a drama of her own making. She has of course, a luxury Orvis bed that was tailor made for her body and it is her preferred choice for the night. But we begin with the stage being set as I potter around the nightly rituals. She rests on my bed waiting for me to dive in. Well, not so much dive these days as shuffle down.

As my feet explore under the cover they creep up onto her waiting place of leisure. Surprise washes over her body, not only ONE burrowing beastie, but TWO sneak up on her. We then have a passionate story unfold of stalking, hunting, pouncing and defeating the under-sheet army.

Every night. Really …… ?

Fortunately after her final curtain call she retires to Orvis and lets the “defeated” army rest for another night.