Hi. I’m Cloudine, owner, certified trainer (CPDT-KA), and instructor at In Joy Dog Training. In Joy has been in business for 10 years, but my professional experience with animals extends beyond 20 years, Needless to say, my background story is a little long:
My introduction to animal training started with horses when I was just 9 on a lounge line. I learned how to “sit” before ever being handed the reins to a horse’s mouth, and thus began my appreciation of how critical good foundation training is to excellence. Being so young, I was a malleable, receptive, unencumbered sponge, with access to strong instruction that allowed me to advance in leaps and bounds. Soon I was riding 2-5 horses a day, 4-6 days a week, working as an instructor and training and exercising peoples’ horses for them, with the goal of becoming an Olympic level horseback rider. My abilities and luck offered me such exceptional opportunities as traveling to Germany as a working riding student for two top level riders (Herr Plaege and Colonel Herr von Ziegner). After 8 years of riding horses, I switched to driving horse-drawn carriages…in downtown Chicago.
I have to tell you, there is nothing like driving a horse down a city street, pulling up next to someone lost in thought, having a bad day, and surprising them with an obscure sight and a funny remark. Words cannot adequately describe what such an experience (working with a flighty animal in impossible conditions, while entertaining passengers) taught me. Never a dull moment, I assure you.
After over a decade of working with these incredible animals, the horse and I parted ways. It wasn’t until my own dog needed something more from me that I began looking into what we could do together. She was a really well behaved and I thought a typical obedience class unnecessary and uninteresting, so we tried agility.
Agility is a blast. The focus is on fast accuracy and fun, and for that you need real self-control and confidence from your dog, which can only be taught by making your dog “smart” by teaching them through systems that allow the dog to be a participant in the learning process. It’s positive, fun, effective…and we grow continually. You could pursue this sport for decades and keep being challenged. There’s no end to the learning for you, me, or the dogs. It’s my kind of sport.
Agility is an intense sport. There’s a very high percentage of shoulder and hip injuries from the strain of lots of jumping, turns while landing, last minute changes of direction due to imperfect signals (it happens to everyone all the time), and taking off to sprint at the drop of a hat (often without sufficient time to warm up). Which has led me to my current priority: K9 conditioning.
While I’ve had fitness plans for my animals throughout the years, it wasn’t until recently that I seriously started researching the topic. My BC Irie is my second dog with a soft tissue injury that only presents for the slightest moment before disappearing entirely. With the adrenaline a drive-y dog has, they can move through their day without showing any signs of a problem. Every so often I’d notice the injury and rest the dog from strenuous training. Before she was even a year old, this led me to a couple new sports: Rally-FrEe and then Freestyle.
I was excited to have something challenging and fun to do with my dogs that wasn’t high impact. With so many behaviors required of Rally-FrEe (and cart de blanc with Freestyle), I had to became a more efficient and thoughtful trainer. There’s no default into left side heel with a sit in these sports. In fact, heel can be in left, right, front, behind, perpendicular, or reverse heel at either side! It requires more than the dog guessing and luck to keep a dog from getting confused (which leads to frustration and stress) We’re about the JOY, so I had to step up my skills.
During my initial pursuit into the sport, I was ordered to arrange my first freestyle routine (I didn’t want to, it looked kinda dorky). Freestyle is a free form compilation where dogs are required to perform easily upwards of 30 behavior tricks back to back, without a single treat or toy. I now love Freestyle as it teaches me so much about how to build behavior chains and delay reinforcement while keeping a dog motivated. It is quite a skill to be able to get a dog enthusiastically working so hard! This is one sport where I feel like an utter beginner. I aspire to put together cool routines where the dog and I are actually dancing…where we have a freedom of movement within all that heeling precision. The truth is, that heeling often goes undetected by the average person who is otherwise too busy loving the clever tricks and flourishes. Hey, at least there’s something for everyone. It’s also a great sport to test my dogs’ training by performing demos in tough environments…which is my main goal whenever I sign up for a competition.
But, I come back around to wanting to figure out my Irie’s injury. One day an idea struck me. I thought, what if I try to pinpoint the weakness by working through different conditioning exercises? Meanwhile, continually trying the next recommended vet. My hunger for information could not be satisfied. I researched the different instructional programs available and decided to work with The Northeast K9 Conditioning Academy (I’m working towards my CCAA CCAS certification). Their program differed in ways that I liked, focusing on the whole package. They teach how to design conditioning programs, and I knew they weren’t in the pocket of the makers of conditioning equipment. The last thing I wanted to do was become a Fitpaws saleperson! I devoured the program and keep supplementing with lots of other resources, too.
My background gives me an advantage in training the precision for conditioning exercises, something that it appears the public struggles with. You could hop on youtube right now and find authorities advertising their conditioning instruction and see lots of stress exhibited by the dogs…even people with all sorts of training in positive reinforcement are using video of a stressed dog! Don’t they have footage of the dog happy!?! That’s probably because the fine motor training is not easy. But, this is just an average problem to a Freestyler 😉 !
I pride myself on teaching in a way that goes beyond just running around and having fun with your dog. It’s important to me that you develop comprehension…and that the dog knows what he’s doing (not just guessing well). Regarding the subject of conditioning, we have to be picky about pesky details, because you can make your dog’s weaknesses worse by practicing poorly. On top of that, there’s a great responsibility to each team to provide them with ways to overload the systems conscientiously, to see progress without hurting the dog but to also push enough and not be overly conservative, to get everyone in the habit of taking better care all around (from actually doing a proper warm up every time to knowing how much is too much to increase the workload). I’m very passionate about the subject because I want to help and the results can be a longer and healthier life with your best friends!
I’m grateful to so many, especially the many dogs that I’ve had the privilege to work with over the years. Rather than owning a large number of dogs, for years I preferred working with other people’s dogs, getting experience with all sorts of temperaments, all sorts of histories, and various training agendas. For years I took a 2-3 extra dogs with me on my daily hikes. We worked on recall and whatever other fun stuff we felt like doing. I successfully provided dogs off-leash freedom and never had an incident.
Competition is an enormous time commitment, and I don’t have the desire to be too active at shows. Agility can be enjoyed anywhere that you have equipment set up. So, there is no need to regularly invest entire days at a competition, unless that social environment is what your into. However, I enjoy Rally-FrEe and Freestyle so much that I compete and judge for RFE. In Sept 2017 Irie acquired her Grand Championship (there are some fancy letters to put behind her name, but I don’t know what they are).
It’s important to test dogs in tough environments, not just in the show ring but in real life scenarios in various locations on a regular basis. Training to the point that your dog can function out in the world is necessary to help ready dogs for competition. But, more importantly (IMO), it teaches your dog about how to behave/function so you can then include your dog more in your life. This is a circle, the more constructive experiences your dog has, the greater his ability to “behave”. The better your dog can “behave”, the easier it is to include him more. The more you include him, the better he gets. But, if you only train at home or a training building, you won’t be able to reap all the benefits dog training has to offer.
Above all else, I want training to be a joy for everyone who does it. Good training is play. Within that play we cleverly add all sorts of challenges that teach a dog to develop impulse-control (otherwise known as obedience), to think and listen, honoring the individual dog for her talents by sculpting them into worthwhile outlets that are enjoyable for both you and the dog while teaching your dog important skills. This leads to a relationship with your dog where your dog sticks with you, not because he has a leash on, but because he wants to. Because you never know, it might be time for another game! 😉
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