Breaking Good

speech-bubble-mdThe broken brain. It is Teh Stoopit. It looks at things it’s known how to do forEVER and it says, “I got nuthin’.”

When it comes to the dogs, I can often see it coming…if not always.  “Nope, can’t teach this new skill right now, because it will break something that I need in the immediate future.”

When I was teaching agility and rally, I saw broken dog brains all the time. Dogs learning how to back up would forget how to sit. Dogs learning to stand from sit would forget how to finish to heel. Dogs learning to stand from down would forget something else altogether.

“But he knows how to do this!”

It wasn’t pretty.

But it wasn’t bad, either. It was breaking good.

I’d tell them this: There’s only so much room in there. Learning how to do new things takes up more room than knowing how to do them. So while a dog is learning, they temporarily eject stuff to make room.”

Okay, I’m sure there’s an actual scientific explanation for that. Don’t ask me. I like my version, anyway.

Connery’s renewed work with Open obedience isn’t of this nature–which is one reason, at his age, I was willing to sneak it in there. I actually taught him all the basics back when he was three, before the attack that broke us both bad for a very long time. (The one that so ironically occurred as we were walking away from purchasing the fancy collar and lead for him to wear in Open obedience.)

So he needs encouragement and polishing and confidence, but the skills have been there for seven years and more and I didn’t expect the work to break his brain and so far it hasn’t. (Maybe, in the end, it still won’t be right for him; he’s never lost the extreme concern about scrutiny from either dog or human in the wake of the attack, and some judges watch Very Closely indeed.)


Dart, on the other hand, is learning new skills. Like, he’s learning blind crosses in agility and that broke his heeling in certain profound, publicly humiliating, and quirksome ways.

So when his broad jump broke wide open, it could only mean there’s something processing behind that over-active brain of his. I just don’t know what it is.

Still. It wasn’t pretty. He can:

…Run over top the boards…

…Run eagerly to put himself in heel in spite of the very difficult angle of approach for this…

…Run around the outside of the boards…

…Sit and look blankly at me…

And each time I fixed one thing, he’d come up with another.

Really. I have no idea. But at this point, I’m not “fixing” the broken pieces. I’ve gone right back to the beginning: One flat board. Two. Several boards stacked. Two leaning against a central third…


…and then three in a row. And three in a row with gaps. Jumping them no matter where I am or what I’m doing.

Plus, the VERY BEST TOY.


When Dart does things, he doesn’t do them halfway. It’s not in his nature. So by golly, if he’s going to break a skill, he’s going to break it creatively. And thoroughly.

But it’s not a bad thing. It’s really not. It just means he’s processing something else, even if I’m not sure what it is.

So all in all, it’s a sign of progress. It’s breaking good!

(And that’s what you can tell yourself the next time you’re staring blankly at your computer thinking, “I know how to do this–!”)



The Right Bitch Trio by Doranna DurginDoranna’s quirky spirit has led to an eclectic and extensive publishing journey across genres. Beyond that, she hangs around outside her Southwest mountain home with horse and beagles who compete in agility, obedience, and tracking.

She doesn’t believe in mastering the beast within, but in channeling its power. For good or bad has yet to be decided…

Doranna’s ongoing releases include Nocturne paranormals and joyful new indie efforts–like the special BVC release of the Changespell Saga, and reader favorites like Wolverine’s Daughter and A Feral Darkness. Whee!

Not coincidentally, Doranna’s latest release at BVC has DOGS in it!



Breaking Good — 2 Comments

    • He’s pretty pleased with himself, having figured out in this session that clearing the jump with room to spare = Awesome Toy while ticking it with a lazy landing does not = toy. So there he is, flying. “See me doing this?”

      (I think he did pretty well considering that his handler was all bent over with a camera in front of her face saying, “Yes! JUMP!”

      I expect him to have to figure it out all over again next time, because he’s not quite there yet. And you’d think we would have done this stage before, but it’s never been necessary. Sometimes when a dog does things right it’s not because he groks exactly what’s right about it, it’s because that was his first impulse and he never had reason to question it…until now…