Sue Ailsby is a retired obedience and conformation judge. She has been "in dogs" for more than 54 years, having owned and trained everything from Chihuahuas to Giant Schnauzers. She has trained for virtually every legitimate dog sport including — and guys, this really is quite the list — sled racing, schutzhund, hunting, tracking, scent hurdle and flyball, carting, packing, agility, water trials and herding, rally, conformation, obedience, and nosework.
Sue is an internationally known speaker on the subject of humane training for dogs and llamas, and has been fundamental in introducing clicker training to Canada.
To be released 8/3/2018, featuring Sue Ailsby, talking about Rally.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we’ll be talking to Sue Ailsby. Sue is a retired obedience and conformation judge. She has been "in dogs" for more than 54 years, having owned and trained everything from Chihuahuas to Giant Schnauzers. She has trained for virtually every legitimate dog sport including — and guys, this really is quite the list — sled racing, schutzhund, hunting, tracking, scent hurdle and flyball, carting, packing, agility, water trials and herding, rally, conformation, obedience, and nosework.
Sue is an internationally known speaker on the subject of humane training for dogs and llamas, and has been fundamental in introducing clicker training to Canada.
Welcome to the podcast Sue!
Sue Ailsby: Thanks Melissa. It’s great to be here.
Melissa Breau: I’m super-excited to talk to you today. To get us started, do you want to tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Sue Ailsby: I have Syn — that’s for synchronized, not for bad — who is a Portuguese Water Dog, 7 years old. She’s finished with conformation and Rally and drafting, and she’s now working on nosework and the highest level of water trials.
Serra is my yearling Giant Schnauzer who’s probably going to be a puppy until he’s 6 or 7. He’s doing foundation work through the training levels. He’s learning to swim and do nosework, and he’s working really, really hard on remembering not to french-kiss people.
Melissa Breau: That would be a good thing with his size to learn not to do!
Sue Ailsby: Yeah, it would be nice.
Melissa Breau: So I was hoping today to talk a bit about today, since I know your Rally 1 class is back on the schedule. Obviously I read that huge list — you’ve competed in a lot of different dog sports. How did you get started in Rally?
Sue Ailsby: Well, when you do everything, you have to try everything that comes along, and once you’ve tried it, then you can decide whether it’s going to be fun for the current team you’ve got or not. And every one of my dogs has really enjoyed Rally. It is fun. Since I had dogs already with obedience titles, it’s an easy transition to get into Rally, so we got into Rally and they enjoyed it and we did it.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. What is it about Rally that appeals to you that’s led you to go through the whole process of developing a course on it?
Sue Ailsby: Well, as I said, it’s fun. And a lot of the behaviors in Rally are really foundation behaviors for all dogs, like sit and down and come and walking on a loose leash and brief stays.
A lot of people try it because it looks easy, and then give up because they don’t have a swing finish or the attention they need from the dog. Since those are behaviors that make life with a dog easier anyway, I just want to spread the love.
One of the things I really like about Rally is how casual it is. It’s great to qualify, it’s great to get a good score, it’s really great to impress people with a good run, but it’s easy to fail, too. So failing becomes sort of normal, like you’re not in there going, “I lost more than 2 points, so I’m a failure and my dog’s a failure.
Out of non-qualifying performances, if out of ten non-qualifying performances, I’ll bet my dog has screwed up twice and I’ve screwed up eight times. After one of my performances, a judge stopped me to address the audience before I left the ring, and she said, “That was truly one of the best 1-2-3 step backwards I have ever seen! I hope you were all watching. It was so good! Unfortunately, that wasn’t the exercise the sign called for, so this is not a passing score.”
Melissa Breau: That’s so funny!
Sue Ailsby: People come in and say, “But what if I fail?” No big deal. Everybody else has failed. Why shouldn’t you?
Melissa Breau: Right. You mentioned in there that it’s friendly and fun, and I think that’s certainly one of the things that most people find about Rally that appeals to them. It’s a little more friendly maybe than some of the traditional obedience venues, for lack of a better phrase, I guess.
Sue Ailsby: It can get kind of competitive sometimes.
Melissa Breau: A little bit, a little bit. I was hoping you could talk a little bit about some of the similarities and differences between the two sports, if somebody is debating which one they want to compete in, or which one they want to compete in first.
Sue Ailsby: OK. You don’t have to decide between Rally and obedience, because practicing for Rally, if you’re aiming for obedience, you can practice for Rally and it’s certainly not wasted practice, and if you’re doing obedience, you’re learning stuff that you need to learn for Rally anyway, so you can start working on one or the other, or both at once, and decide later which you want to do, if you just want to do one of them.
Obedience, the difference is in the focus of the sport. Obedience competition is about precision. Rally is about lots of different behaviors in a flow, more like you’d use for going for a walk. As a former rider, I’d say obedience is like dressage: Can you make this movement perfectly? Rally is like western trail class: Can you do this behavior here and then that behavior over there? Can we get through this course together? It’s the togetherness that brings on a good performance, so you’re working on a team, basically. Which you are in obedience, too, but I think it comes a little more naturally in Rally.
Melissa Breau: Some people start in Rally and then move into obedience, or like you said, you got your obedience title first and then you went back and did the Rally titles for fun. Kind of interesting how they’re different but similar.
Sue Ailsby: Mm-hmm.
Melissa Breau: I can’t talk about a sport without getting into foundations. I feel like every interview I do, that’s the word that comes up, over and over and over again. I’d love to hear your take on that for Rally — what skills you consider foundation skills, or what are some of the skills that dogs need before they begin training for Rally?
Sue Ailsby: One of the things that I really like about being part of the Fenzi Academy is that none of the instructors do things exactly the same way, and yet, more than any other group of instructors that I’ve ever met, the Fenzi instructors believe in foundations right across the board.
You don’t start with fancy stuff, you start with the foundations, and the fancy stuff grows naturally out of it. As a foundation to begin Rally, I’d like the dog to know what the clicker’s for. A general understanding of sit and down and focusing on the handler. A dog who has those skills already is going to progress.
Really, for any sport, focus is a foundation. When I don’t have the dog’s attention, I’m not working on anything but focus. If we’re doing a pivot, I’m trying to teach her a pivot, and the dog’s brain is on a kid walking by, we’re not working on pivots. The fact that I wanted to work on a pivot is really irrelevant. We’re working on focus. Until we have focus, there’s no other work happening.
Focus is the primary indication of teamwork between the dog and the handler. I’d rather walk into the Rally ring, or any other ring, with a focused dog who knows nothing else than with a dog who knows all about the sport behaviors but isn’t on my team yet.
Melissa Breau: That’s something a lot of people overlook. They do train at home, or whatever, and they get a lot of skills on their dog, and then they go out in the real world and they can’t replicate those behaviors because they’re missing that piece of the puzzle.
To put aside the dog for a minute, though, I know that you also talk a little bit about handler skills, and you mentioned earlier that goofing up at the Rally ring, there’s a good chance it wasn’t the dog’s fault. What are some of the things that handlers need to teach themselves in order to do the sport?
Sue Ailsby: There are sport-specific things and there are training-specific things. I’ll talk about the training-specific things first. Pay attention to the dog. Look at the dog. Think about the dog. Ask the dog. Believe the dog. Respond when she asks you questions. Take her questions seriously. You don’t understand her question? That’s OK. She doesn’t understand you half the time, either. But she’s still in there trying. Let her know that you’re trying too.
If she keeps asking you a question and you keep giving her the same old answer, you’re not answering her question, because if you did, she wouldn’t have to keep asking it. It drives me crazy when some dog is sitting there, “I don’t understand you! What are you doing?” and they keep going “Sit, sit, sit.” It drives us all crazy, actually.
As to what the person as a handler needs to learn in Rally is the rules, like you do for any sport. But the hardest part is walking into the ring and having to read the signs. The judge is not telling you what to do. You walk up to a sign on the course and the sign will say, “Sit. Down. Sit.” That means you have to get your dog to sit and down and sit back up again. When you’ve done that, you walk on to the next sign, and it can be really hard to remember to take your dog with you, to read the sign, to get the dog to do what he’s supposed to do before he does something he’s not supposed to do. It gets really complicated. For that reason, once a week we have a practice course in the class, based on the behaviors that the dog’s been working on that week.
Melissa Breau: I certainly imagine getting in there and trying to read on your feet and stick with things — it can throw you for a bit of a loop sometimes if you forgot what comes next or misread a sign in your haste or because of nerves.
Sue Ailsby: And since you’re doing this all on your own, you think about walking on, and suddenly you realize you’ve walked past the previous sign, and then you either skip it and don’t qualify, or you have to back up and hope you can see what it says on the sign or try to remember it. It’s really not as easy as it looks without practice.
Melissa Breau: I know in the syllabus for the class you have a comment in there about mirrors, and you recommend students invest in a few cheap mirrors. I wanted to ask how that comes into play or what that’s about.
Sue Ailsby: That’s about looking at your dog. Your eyes are 5 feet off the ground, your dog is 18 inches off the ground, and there’s no point in wondering later why the judge took five marks off for crooked sits when you have no idea whether your dog’s sitting crooked or not, and you can’t see from where you are. If you have a mirror 5 feet away from you, you can actually see what the judges is seeing from fifteen feet away. So you can see crooked sits. If you can see a crooked sit, you can work on crooked sits and maybe not lose those five points. Or lose them. That’s the nice thing about Rally. If you want to say, “You know what? My dog’s having a good time, I’m having a good time, I don’t care about those five points,” then you don’t have to work on them. But at least you know that they’re happening.
Melissa Breau: The Rally 1 class is the first in a series. I was curious how you’ve broken down what people need to know into the different classes and what specifically falls into that Rally 1 class, what students should expect to learn the first session.
Sue Ailsby: The first class is about foundations — back to foundations. The behaviors that we meet in a novice-level Rally test are really based on basics, foundations, focus, learning how to handle courses, training for the dog and the handler.
In the second class we get into advanced competition behaviors, heeling while walking backwards instead of forwards, drop on recall, around and over and through different objects, the two-dozen different ways to change heeling sides and turn around. That’s where it really gets to be fun.
Melissa Breau: How do those skills then progress as students go through the series?
Sue Ailsby: That’s one of the things I like best about Rally. Every behavior in the advanced levels is based on the foundation behaviors from the novice levels. It was really well set up that way. You and your dog are heeling. You and your dog do a 180-degree turn to the right or to the left. That’s novice. In an advanced level the question is, can you turn left while your dog turns right or vice versa? If you can do that, can you do it twice in a row?
As you may have realized, my middle name is “foundations,” so my training is all about getting the novice stuff solid so you don’t have to be desperately trying to get a more advanced behavior later. The advanced stuff, as I said, should flow naturally from what the dog already knows. So we start with an easy behavior, and then we make it more difficult and more difficult as you go up through the levels.
Melissa Breau: I believe when I was reading over the description you also said that there’s a lot of crossover between the different venues. Is that right? You cover skills that cross venue, right?
Sue Ailsby: Right. It’s not specifically for the different Rally that we have in Canada or in the United States, or people in Europe have taken the class because they wanted to do online Rally. I went through as many different Rally venues as I could find, read the rules, picked out the behaviors, and there are places where in one venue you have to stop before you do this, but that’s a rule change. That’s not really relevant to how the dog is trained. We’re pretty much using behaviors that are across the board, so it should be useful for anybody, no matter where they are.
Melissa Breau: Anything else you want to share about the class — either what you’ll cover or who should take it?
Sue Ailsby: We’ve had classes where most of the dogs already had a Rally title or two, and we’ve had classes where very few of them had really any training at all. So what we get is what we’ll handle. We’ll go with the flow and hope we can show everybody how much fun they can have in the Rally ring.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. I’ve got one last question in here for you, Sue. What’s a lesson you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?
Sue Ailsby: Oh, I’m always getting reminded of things that I forgot. I don’t want to be boring, but I have to go back to foundations.
My Portuguese Water Dog has been on bed rest for three weeks, and yesterday I discovered she has completely forgotten the idea of stay. She’s 7 years old, she has titles in five different venues, and she can’t remember how to stay. My Giant Schnauzer, we’ve been camping for two weeks, he’s been walking with my husband on leash in the forest, and he has completely forgotten that he used to have a beautiful loose-leash walk. I would be absolutely hysterical about both of these problems right now if it wasn’t for the foundations.
My Porti has water trials coming up in a month for which I have to travel large distances. The Giant Schnauzer puppy weighs 100 pounds and I just had shoulder surgery. I need those behaviors. The good part is that I’ve put a lot of effort into foundations. I know that I can shoot back to the beginning and I’ll have those behaviors back in less than a week. I don’t have to get all excited about it and “Oh, oh, oh, what am I going to do, what am I going to do?” I’ll have them back in less than a week.
So the one thing that I always am reminded of is “Do not forget your foundations.” That’s it.
Melissa Breau: I think that’s a good reminder, and it’s nice to hear that I’m not the only one who struggles sometimes occasionally when the dog seem to forget that they have a skill. My German Shepherd’s notorious for that particular bouts of memory loss.
Sue Ailsby: Yes.
Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast Sue. I really appreciate it.
Sue Ailsby: Thank you Melissa.
Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in!
We’ll be back next week, this time with Dr. Jennifer Summerfield to talk about behavior medications, chat about them before she has a webinar on those the following week, so you guys can get a sneak peek.
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Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!