Sunday, November 8, 2009


Here's a new fun fact about Darcy - she can scale about a seven foot dog run. Great. After agility on Tuesday night we decided to have her board at Windy City so she could play on Wednesday and I would pick her up in the evening when we had basic obedience class with Janice. Apparently when one of the people from agility went to check on the dogs that were boarding before locking up on Tuesday night they heard a whining. When they got to Darcy's run she was perched at the top crying. Who knows how long she was up there! Well, they grabbed a few other people to help get her down and put her in a run that had a top. When I picked her up the next day she seemed fine. What an adventure!

Sunday, November 1, 2009


With the possible craziness of Halloween we decided to board Darcy from Friday to today so not much to report on those days except for the funny picture of Darcy showing her true form that Windy City sent us.

But prior to dropping her off Darcy threw me for a loop. My mother in law came into town on Thursday afternoon and Darcy proceeded to bark at her constantly. I tried to look at it as if I were looking at a client's dog but I couldn't figure out why she was doing it. At first I thought she was nervous so we started doling out treats but then I looked at her body language and she didn't seem scared. Then when Darcy crawled up in her lap and was fine it threw the fear thing out the window. The only thing it kind of reminded me of was when she did a little demand barking when she first came into the house. We stopped it quickly by ignoring her as soon as she made a peep but by the time I thought of this we were already planning on taking Darcy to Windy City so I didn't really test that theory. Regardless it was insanely annoying.

Friday was a rough day because of the barking, a busy day volunteering at my son's school and a little altercation with a neighbor (thankfully not dog related!) so when it came time to do an agility fun run that night I just didn't feel that connection with Darcy so we passed on it. My frustration level from the day was just too high that I thought being out there in front of everyone and having Darcy not respond would push me over the edge. Taking a step back now I should have separated training from all the crap of the day but I'm still human! :) We are starting a new obedience class with Janice Triptow this week so we'll have a new start then!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Today we found a new talent that Darcy has. She can not only get herself out of the crate but if another dog is in the crate she can get them out too. Oh and she can open doors with knob handles. I left to take our son to school and go for a run so I put Bella in the crate and closed our office door. When I returned Bella was out of the kennel and the office door was open. With the office door open the girls helped themselves to the contents of my training bag which was a bag of treats (thankfully mostly empty) and a bag of rawhide chips (not so empty from what I remember). I guess we will just have to see if she continues to bust Bella out or if it was just luck. And I might have not shut the office door all the way. If that isn't the case I think we have to put the baby-proof door handles back up again just when our son grew out of them...

Another interesting event recently is that Darcy got her picture taken for the One Tail at a Time calendar and it scared the crap out of her. When we signed up to do it I was more worried that she would barrel around the studio knocking stuff over. As usual, she keeps me on my toes and would barely move at the shoot. Oh except to run away from the photographer and bark at her. Nice Pit Bull! They said they got some good pictures so we will hope so! Check out their web site when they are done so you can buy one and support the rescue pups!

Friday, October 2, 2009


Here's a recap of the last week. Trick class on Saturday went well. One big difference between training Bella back in the day and what I'm experiencing training Darcy is that Bella offered up LOTS of different behaviors. She was always on the move. Darcy on the other hand, tends to just stick with one or two behaviors. The trainer in me knows that this is because she hasn't been trained before (or possibly wasn't trained with positive reinforcement) so she doesn't realize that she can get good stuff for more than just Sit and Down. For those of you wondering what positive reinforcement training has to do with not easily learning new commands here's the explanation. When a dog is trained using predominantly punishment (yelling, hitting, leash corrections, shocks...) the dog becomes afraid to try new things in fear that it may be the "wrong" behavior. Often dogs trained like this will for a while seem very well behaved because they just sit there but when you try to teach them anything else they are very reluctant because they don't know when they will get hurt.

So I've been trying to play the "do something new game" (not a good name I know!). This is where the owner just grabs a handful of insanely good treats and waits for the dog to do something different. The dog sits and gets a treat but if they sit again they get nothing. They have to do something different. That may be tilting their head, scratching their ear or even sniffing their butt. Once they get the idea that they can try different things it is much easier to train because they become creative. Here's a video of Darcy playing the game:
With Bella I remember often starting out teaching one behavior but she did something cute so we taught that instead.

On a different note, we are trying something new with leaving Darcy alone. We are trying her without the crate. Yikes! Suddenly she started freaking out in the crate again and now we can barely close the door on the crate because it is so bent out of shape. Unfortunately we can't even baby gate her into a room (which is what "trainer Lisa" would recommend) because she jumps or climbs over our gate. I've left her alone on the first floor twice now (once for over two hours!) and so far so good. I am very worried because the other day while I was home she chewed a 3 inch diameter hole in our living room couch. I think I will get one of those Kong launchers to keep her busy and we'll hope for the best. That is what the really educated trainers say - "hope for the best"! :)

Friday, September 25, 2009


Darcy is getting on my nerves. No the best thing to say as a dog trainer but its true. She is always SO busy. Yesterday she chewed half the head off of Cutie Anna, one of my son's favorite stuffed dogs. We didn't tell him and thankfully we were able to find Cutie Anna II online and bought another. If anything chewable is on the floor it's fair game. Toys, shoes, papers... Oh and if anything is in the garbage that is her's too. We bought garbage cans with lids to thwart her from getting diapers and "feminine products" from the garbage and as she proved this morning she can open them. We have no idea if she put her paw on the little step to open it or nosed the lid open to get a dirty diaper and a box from a bar of soap but they ended up chewed and littered all over our bedroom floor.

If I were my trainer I would tell me to work with the dog. She will never get better if she doesn't learn what she is supposed to do. I join the many that don't listen to my advice... :)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Today was a busy day for Darcy. Hopefully it will make her sleepy tomorrow! First we picked up Justin (our son) from school and she did markedly better in walking. I did remember treats this time but she really has no interest in them when we are outside. Too many squirrels to watch I guess.

When we got home Darcy and Bella had an INSANE play session in the backyard. I don't think I have ever seen them both that tired. They were cashed out on the couch for the rest of the day.

I finally got Darcy up to go to agility where she rocked. We did some simple courses but worked on some new concepts like getting the dogs to take a number of obstacles ahead of them even if you aren't next to them. Before that we did a course that involved both the "a frame" and the dog walk which have been a bit difficult for her. Last class she discovered the joys of the "a frame" but today she really got the dog walk. After multiple tries with me on one side, Polly the instructor on the other side and Kim at the end of the dog walk for her to target on she finally plowed over the thing. It is crazy how fast that dog is. She got to the top and then just left me in the dust. I was so proud of her!

Lastly Darcy stuck around after agility for Puppy Parties. Her boyfriend Capone, the Neopolitan Mastiff, was there so they played like maniacs. Here's an old video of them playing together:
Courtesy of Capone's blog Capone's House. We'll see tomorrow how resiliant she is!

Monday, September 21, 2009


No work on Sunday since I was training other people's dogs for about twelve hours but Monday I took Darcy to pick up my son from school and she did great. The walking took a bit longer since we had to keep stopping when she pulled. I probably should have brought treats to help her stay focused on me. Even a trainer forgets!

All the other parents were interested in the new dog. I can't imagine what they think of me bringing first my Rottweiler and now my Pit Bull to preschool. The great thing was that his teachers thought she was very sweet so hopefully I can get to talking to them about using the dogs to teach the kids animal safety and things like that. A lot of the kids are extremely good aroung the dogs (asking if they can pet them and petting the dogs backs) but some just run up and pull on them. I know both Bella (our Rottie) and Darcy have no problem with it but many dogs would. I would also love to get both the dogs in the school for kids to practice reading to. Bella would love it since she adores kids. Darcy just likes everyone.

Anyway, not so much about training in today's post. Kind of sleepy and writing just train of thought stuff. Hopefully it's interesting... :)

Saturday, September 19, 2009


This week was a bit of a bust as far as training. My son and I were sick all week so not much was done with Darcy until today. One a good note we didn't have anything bad happen. One shoe was chewed but I've had them for about ten years now and haven't worn them in a VERY long time. They were about four inch wedge sandles which are not really conducive to dog training or being a mom.

Today we did start a trick class at The Anti Cruelty Society. Darcy did wonderfully. We learned Crawl, Sit Pretty, Back Up, Bow and Yes. We attempted to do Shake but she either layed down or chewed my knuckles off (I had a treat in my hand in hopes she would paw at my hand to get it out) so I didn't pursue it much. We are really trying to restrict her from jumping so any activity that gets her front paws off the ground is not so good. She barely did Sit Pretty (sitting up on her haunches) so we probably won't work on that one much either.

So you can see what she learned here is a video of her demonstrating her new skills:

Monday, September 14, 2009


My day started today at just a little past midnight with my son coughing uncontrollably. That was off and on until 7am when we "officially" got out of bed. That kind of start is not the best mind set for training. BUT I actually did work Darcy a bit. My husband has been very annoyed with Darcy's dedicated interest in the garbage, the open dishwasher and my son's toys so I finally started working on the command "Leave It" with her this afternoon.

I put her on leash (for control), pulled the kitchen garbage out from under the sink and walked her towards it. When she was about a foot away I told her "Leave It" and then walked backwards away. It took me through the dining room and almost to the front door but eventually she turned around and looked at me which got her a click from the clicker and a tiny piece of string cheese. The next few times got a little better and after about eight times I couldn't get her to be within a few feet of the garbage. Of course the problem is when she is not on leash so I dared to try it with the leash dragging and with me stepping briefly out of the room. She made a relatively slow beeline to the garbage but I told her "Leave It" and picked up the leash and she looked at me and walked away. We then repeated all this with the open dishwasher with about the same response. We'll keep working and she if Cutie Anna, Poochie Woochie and Cookies (my son's stuffed dogs) will survive long enough for him to grow out of them.

We also had some good experiences with the kennel today. Two times in the kennel that were about 2-3 hours each and when we returned it was only moved a few inches and she seemed relatively calm. We are still doing two stuffed, frozen Kongs, a quarter cup of dog food sprinkled on the crate floor and the Comfort Zone but we will wean off those in time. No rush on that since she could still use a bit of weight on her!

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I was at work all day today but Darcy did manage to get into some mischief before I even left. Apparently my husband woke up to the wonderful smell of poo. That was a new one for Darcy! Thankfully that little present was not too messy considering what has been coming out of her last night and the rest of the day due to my over-salami'ing her at the CGC test yesterday. That on the bedroom carpet would not have been pretty!

Some time soon we really need to get the carpets replaced. But it brings up the age old question of when is a dog "fully" housebroken. I can say that I have no idea when that is. :(

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Well I won't keep you in suspense - we did NOT pass the CGC Test. We did prove my theory that the "Sit, Down, Stay" portion is what kills everyone. She would not lay down to save her life! She rocked the the first three tests which involve people approaching and/or interacting with her. We had a little stutter when we were doing the "Out For a Walk" because she wouldn't sit at the start. She doesn't really have to but she is so awful walking on leash that I needed every advantage I could get. We did it over again and she pulled but apparently that was not enough for us to need work. I think I would have failed her on that though!

She did great on walking through a crowd but then came the dreaded "Sit, Down, Stay". Her down has been shaky so I was practicing it the whole time we were waiting for our turn. When the evaluator came to us she suddenly found the ground the more interesting than ever. She just wouldn't stop sniffing! I finally got her into a sit but then she noticed the ceiling. I don't know what ACS does to their surfaces but it is fascinating to Darcy! When it was obvious she wasn't going to even look at me we did the coming when called which she aced. Then back to the evil "SDS" and the floor and ceiling took over her brain.

The evaluator went on with the test and she did a very good job. She started to cross in front of me to see the other dog in testing her reaction to another dog but she got back in line and did great. The other surprise was that she was good with the supervised separation. Apparently she just stared at the door I went out of. I guess her crate issues do revolve around the crate. We will try to let her out of the crate when we aren't home but I need a little more assurance that she will be fine since we have a brand new couch in the room she's in...

The great news is that two of our clients passed the test! Tito the Shih Tzu (pictured here) and Gracie the Dachshund. We are so proud of both of them! I guess it's true that those who can't do teach! :)

Friday, September 11, 2009


Unfortunately not much training this week. I plead getting back from a trip and my son's first week of school as reasons for not keeping up with my plans. You can see how much it took out of us! It's really not the best timing to slack since tomorrow we are taking the Canine Good Citizen Test and she definitely needs practice. She was in the kennel a good amount and didn't move it much at all. We are still using the weights and the Comfort Zone but have stopped any kind of music. Maybe she really dislikes classical? Whatever makes her happy works for me!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Just a little post today since I didn't get Darcy out of the kennel until after my class at about 8:30pm. But when I did get her out we did a "fun run" for agility with Stacey Hawk's class. She did two runs total. Her first one was a bit rough. Plus she took a dump in the middle of the ring though she had literally just gotten out of the kennel so I can't be upset with her about that. The second run was fantastic. I got my front cross in with ease, she didn't knock over any jumps and she took the A Frame like a champ. She's really starting to get her confidence with this and it is great to see!

Monday, September 7, 2009

9/3 through 9/7

We are out of town now and won't pick up Darcy from the kennel until Tuesday, September 8th so not much to say about her training. We will see what kind of mental condition she is in when we pick her up!

While we are gone here is a picture of our son saying goodbye to his date for his uncle's wedding!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


We are leaving on our trip tomorrow and dropped Darcy off at Windy City tonight so there wasn't much time to train. I went through one hot dog in the kennel and pushed a tiny bit more time (paused about five seconds after walking ten steps away) and she only barked once. When she started barking I just put my hand on the door of the room she was in and waited for her to quiet for a split second. When she did that I burst in and let her out of the kennel.

She did have to be in the kennel again today and with the weights she moved it about three feet again. We'll see if we can get that down to nothing!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


In light of our issue with the kennel yesterday I vowed to work Darcy more on the crate training. Every day I am going to cut up a hot dog and she will get small handfuls of those thrown in the kennel throughout the day. I did this about five times throughout the day and she did well. I got to the point of locking the crate door, closing the door to the room she's in and walking about ten steps away. Then I would come right back and let her out.

When I did have to leave I tried blocking the kennel in the corner of the room with two 25 pound weights. Sometimes if dogs realize they can't move the kennel or break out of it they stop trying which calms them down. It helped a bit. She only moved it about three feet.

Tonight I confess that I skipped my agility graduation. We are going out of town for the Labor Day weekend so I had a bunch of last minute things to do. One of those was to get a pedicure so I guess I can't be too upset when students miss my class graduations... Though we will be starting a new session in a few weeks so there will be lots more graduations!

Monday, August 31, 2009


In addition to this adorable picture of Darcy and our four year old son (don't Pit Bulls eat children???) here's some dog training math:

1 Beggin Strip of work on the agility plank
+ 3 hours in the kennel
= kennel moved 5 feet and turned 180 degrees by Darcy

Partly because of this we decided to board Darcy at Windy City instead of keeping her home with the sitter that will be there over Labor Day when we are out of town. She would have to be in there a minimum of five hours so she would lose her mind. Or hurt herself. It's more money but I'd rather pay that than have a dog that is totally traumatized from being in the kennel so long.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Living with dogs is all about up's and down's, strikes and gutters. Today was one of the "down" days. No training done at all. The bad part was that Darcy had to be in the kennel for four hours and when we returned she had moved the crate about five feet, chewed the carpet pad from under the carpet and gave herself a huge bump on the top of her muzzle.

I'm doing Comfort Zone in a diffuser right by the kennel, classical music in the room and at least two stuffed Kongs in the kennel. I think we might add some Rescue Remedy to take more of the edge off. Obviously more training too. My goal is to cut up a hot dog a day and throw tiny handfuls into her kennel throughout the day so she is happy about going in the kennel. We will see how that progresses!

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Today was the last Canine Good Citizen prep class and we skipped it. Such a good student. My reason sounds so silly too. While folding laundry I jacked up my shoulder and just didn't like the thought of wrestling a 65 pound dog for an hour after that.

To make up for it (a bit) we worked on walking down to the Walgreens near us. Once there we sat outside the door watching all the interesting people walk in and out. At first I just wanted her to associate good things with all these different looking people so I popped her a treat each time she looked at a person. Once she was relaxed I started working with her on basic commands like sit, down and stay.

To work on the walking on leash I found out that we can't use treats much because she ignores them. She is much more interested in finding out if every movement is possibly a squirrel. The method that works best for her is give her only a specific amount of leash and then when that leash she gets tight we come to a stop. As long as she walks on a loose leash she gets to keep walking forward and continue to explore the world. The first half a mile is torture but after that she gets much better.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Today in agility Darcy finally got over the A frame. She is such an interesting dog in that she is so goofy and confident in some situations but so freaked out in others. Loud noises, big trucks, all make her cower. But she walks up to every person on the street with total confidence. From experience with clients conquering these agility obstacles will not only tire her out but make her feel more confident.

One interesting thing I'm noticing about her is that especially towards the end of class if I use really high valued treats (ham this time) she takes them quite rough. Not too fun losing the skin off my fingers! I will have to work on finding some good rewards for her that don't get her too crazy.

The new experiene for me is being able to have a dog that can just hang out in a group class with other dogs. With Bella we always had to be hiding in the corner and avoiding all the other students with her reactivity. It's so relaxing to be able to actually talk to the other owners and not feel sheer terror when my dog looks at another dog. Dog reactivity is not a fun behavior to deal with!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


So now that I've caught you up I'll try to go day by day to keep track of the work that I've done with Darcy.

Today Darcy spent a half day at Windy City for day care. With our other dog Bella having such poor socialization skills I really want Darcy to continue to play well with other dogs. Plus she has so much more energy than I have time for so the day care helps with that.

My work with Darcy today consisted of doing a bunch of passes on an agility board that Stacey Hawk gave me to practice with. The board is about a foot wide and four feet long and has the same surface as the dog walk and A frame. I want to get Darcy comfortable walking across this board so the obstacles are easier for her. We just worked about five minutes on it but at the end was walking across with all four paws on the board.

With successes there are always pitfalls. Darcy's trouble being left in the kennel is not getting better but, as with everything, it is my fault for not working on it. Today I put her in the kennel for a few hours and when I got home the tray was out of the kennel, the kennel was moved about five feet and there was a ton of drool (I hope!) in the kennel. I really need to just put her in there for short periods of time while I am home so she gets comfortable with it. But even now as I sit here watching Spy Game on TV I'm still not doing it. I swear after I sign off I will put her in for a second... Best intentions are always the situation!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Darcy: In the beginning

One day while out running I started wondering what a chef cooks each night for the family dinner. Or how a preschool teacher educates his or her own children. Then I wondered if people would be curious how a dog trainer would train her own dog and Educating Darcy was born. My name is Lisa Collins and I am a Certified Pet Dog Trainer and owner of Collins Canine, Inc. On June 27th, 2009 we took a two year old Lab/Pit Bull mix named Darcy into our home. She has a wonderful temperament but didn't appear to have much training so we started from scratch. I thought I'd start this blog partly for my own documentation (so I remember how much work it is when we think about getting another dog!) and in case other dog owners are interested in how a dog trainer trains her own dog. In this first post I will catch you up to speed on what we've worked on in the last two months.

Here's Darcy's background. In January she was found stray by the Kane County animal control. They were having a hard time finding a good home for her so they enlisted One Tail at a Time to help. While waiting for her new home Darcy was boarded at All For Doggies, one of the facilities we train out of. I met Darcy there and when One Tail asked for a home to foster Darcy we immediately offered. When she got along wonderfully with our 8 1/2 year old female Rottie, Bella and our four year old son, Justin that sealed the deal.

We started with the basics like Sit, polite greetings (she's a jumper), and housebreaking. Sit was a breeze for her. Polite greetings are still a work in progress. Thankfully she rarely jumps on people except for my husband and I. Sixty five pounds of muscle coming through the air at you can be intimidating! To work on the jumping we focused on having her sit for EVERYTHING - getting her food, toys and any attention. We would also turn our backs and walk away when she would jump. Since she is such a social dog just turning away from her is all the draw back that she needs to stop the behavior. She's getting better which is all we ask.

The housebreaking has been interesting. Our other dog Bella has always had issues with that because she is a stress pee'er. When she feels uncomfortable (usually when she's left alone) she makes herself feel better by urinating. Some of us relax with a massage, she pees. Gotta love her! Darcy picked up the concept of eliminating in the back yard pretty quickly but she also enjoys using the carpeted upstairs so we need to put a baby gate up to block her from going up there unless we are there. Funny we just took the baby gate down from our four year old and now it's up again... My only concern right now is that she will rarely eliminate outside our back yard. We will go for three mile runs and she won't go until we get home.

Speaking of running, Darcy has been a wonderful and frustrating running partner. Wonderful in that her natural pace is just slightly faster than mine so she gives me a good work out but frustrating because most of the run she is either trying to chase squirrels or she is so freaked out from a loud truck that she runs into my legs. We are getting better at that too. On Tuesday we did three miles and it only took an extra 15 minutes of stopping each time she pulled on leash and also slowing down to a walk when there was a loud vehicle so I could praise her as it went by so she started making good associations with these scary things.

As far as formal education, we are on our fifth week of agility class with Stacey Hawk at Best Friends Windy City. We are also taking a Canine Good Citizen Prep class at The Anti Cruelty Society since from the moment I met Darcy I thought she would make a wonderful therapy dog. We take the test in a little over two weeks and as a CGC evaluator I fully expect us to fail but it's good practice anyway!

So that's all for now. In future posts I will go into more detail about how I am training her to do certain things so keep checking back!