In addition to being a cast member with The Canine Stars, Shannen has had a long and successful career history in the dog world. The highlights of her career include winning six consecutive Alberta / NWT Regional Championships and one Canadian National Agility Championship. She has also competed at three World Agility Championships, winning two Bronze Medals at the IFCS Worlds in Belgium in 2008.
Jack entered the world of dog sports in 2004 as a recreational agility participant, but has also had some success as a competitor as well. Jack is a one-time Alberta / NWT Regional Champion in agility and a four-time Agility Nationals Steeplechase finalist.
We have six dogs in our performing pack. Each has his or her own personality and quirks that make the training experience and approach unique for each dog. The members of our performing pack are as follows, with age in years as of September 2020:
Rifle is the newest addition to our pack and is in training. He is a large male German Shepherd with great structure, athleticism, confidence and intelligence. He shows promise in Frisbee and as a well-rounded, multi-purpose dog, much like Ravin.
While none of our dogs can be categorized as “rescues”, four of them (Toro, Lethal, Ravin and Rifle) came to us as a result of their being rehomed by people who realized that they could not meet the dog’s needs in life. Of those four, Lethal, Ravin and Rifle have been easy to train and easy to live with.
Toro, on the other hand, is the most difficult dog we have ever experienced. Every approach, every tactic, every conceivable thing that any good trainer could ordinarily expect to work for any other dog fails spectacularly with Toro. By far, he is the most stubborn, incorrigible, defiant, self-absorbed dog we have ever worked with. Toro’s sole purpose in life appears to be to do whatever Toro wants to do. And yet, he is a walking contradiction: he is gentle, sweet, affectionate, bomb-proof around children, and an amazing canine athlete – arguably the best canine athletic talent we have ever had. He’s just difficult.
Toro has certainly found his forever home with us, which is good, because training him will require considerably more time than training any other normal dog.
Our favourite Canine Stars Show is the Calgary Stampede. It is a venue where people from around the world come to just celebrate and have a good time for 11 days every year. We have had the pleasure of meeting many great competitors and entertainers from other performance venues at the Stampede, but the most memorable highlight to date has been sharing our backstage area with Light Balance from the Ukraine in 2019. What amazing performers and incredibly nice people they are!
We like to start early with a puppy and teach them to go to a target plate. We use it to show the puppy that sometimes the behaviour we want isn’t done right beside us, but somewhere away from us. It is also one of the most important tools that we use in agility for training contacts.
We start by dropping a plastic lid from a margarine container onto the floor. This isn’t loud or scary enough to spook the puppy, but it does get its attention, and the first reaction is normally to go over and sniff it. Once that happens, we put treats and small morsels of food on the plate and let the puppy eat them directly off of it. Then we pick the plate up and move it, but now, put a treat on the plate immediately when we put it down. Once the puppy goes over to pick the treat up, we use a clicker to mark the exact instant in time that its nose is on the plate. We repeat this for a few minutes until we can start fading the food reward out and simply mark the behaviour with the clicker. The first few times that the puppy puts its nose on the plate and doesn’t find any food, its natural response will be to look up and / or over at us, whereupon we will come over and give praise and put a treat or two on the plate. We can eventually (typically within minutes) pick up the puppy, walk across the room, put the target plate down, walk back, put the puppy down and let it go over to put its nose on it. The last step is to have the puppy offer the behaviour and then return to us for the food reward when called.
This training builds on the above marker training, except that now you replace the target plate with a towel, doormat or bath mat and expect a sit or a down on the mat from the puppy before giving the reward. (The sit and / or down is assumed to have already been trained.) The objective is to get the puppy to make an association with the marker as a place to go away from you and sit or lie down while waiting for the next command. A marker is also useful in more advanced training to assist the dog with identifying where to perform a drop on recall. From there, the main variable will be the time expected for the puppy to remain on the marker.
We believe marker training is important for people who want a dog that will just go to a place on command and wait or stay there while, for example, they answer someone knocking on the door.
Jack does not train tricks, other than to have a dog weave between his legs while waiting for a Frisbee to be thrown. He also teaches a “go-around”, in which the dog will run around his body behind him and then proceed forward to chase the Frisbee. To have a dog start chasing the Frisbee coming out of a weave or “go-around” is less stressful on the dog’s knee joints than an immediate 180-degree pivot from full stop to full speed would be.
With respect to protecting knees, it is important to remember which dog uses which method to initiate the Frisbee chase, and the larger the dog, the more important this is. A dog that has been taught the “go-around” will always be safe for the handler to work with, whereas one that has been taught to weave between the handler’s legs can cause a serious knee injury to a handler that is expecting it to “go around” as opposed to “through”.
Shannen teaches a variety of tricks with her dogs, but with the transition in our pack from small dogs to large dogs, we find that we are all happier doing those things that require a lot of running and jumping, leaving the tricks and freestyle routines to the many extremely talented performers in the cast who specialize in those skills.
Jack began training dogs in 1992 and competed briefly in obedience trials with one of his two Rottweilers. In 2003, Jack acquired his first two agility dogs, Ransom (aka “Wimpy”) and Riddle (aka “Wingnut”), so that he would have something to do rather than sit at trials all day watching Shannen compete. Wingnut, an Australian Cattle Dog cross, was a blindingly fast and potentially brilliant warrior on the course, but her failures were even more spectacular. She never ran a course that had obstacles that she couldn’t destroy, one way or the other. By contrast, Wimpy, a red tri Border Collie, quietly went about his business at a less reckless pace and still found a way to win his class at the 2008 AAC Alberta / NWT Regionals, qualify for and compete at four AAC National Championships – including the Steeplechase Finals – and even come within one run of winning his class at the 2010 AAC Nationals.
Shannen has been involved in dog training for over 40 years. She bases her teaching on developing a solid foundation between dog and handler with trust and confidence. She has written a series of Agility Training articles which are used as handouts in classes and seminars. She has participated in agility camps and seminars all over North America to keep updated on training and handling dogs for dog sports. Agility is a passion for her and she strives to show students what a great sport it is to play with their dogs.
As for her own dogs, Shannen has had a very successful agility career. Her Papillon “Target” won the 2008 AAC Agility National Championship. He earned more points than any dog and any breed at that year’s National, giving him the TOP Dog Overall Award. Target also won every single Regional Championship he ever entered.
In 2003, Target and Shannen made history being selected for the FCI Canadian Agility Team. That was the very first time Canada had sent a team to this prestigious event to compete. The event was held in France and the entire Canadian Team showed the rest of the world just how good we can be. In 2004, they repeated and went to Italy to compete. In 2006, they were again selected to represent Canada on the World Stage, but Target sustained an illness that prevented him from attending.
In May 2008, Target and Shannen were named to their 4th Agility World Championship team and went to compete in Belgium. Target won a Bronze Medal in Standard and a Bronze Medal in Team. They ran a total of 9 times and finished the event with 9 clean runs. Belgium was a wonderful experience for them and a great way to retire a truly great Agility Champion.
Let the dog choose the game it wants to play, based on what interests it, excites it or motivates it. Not every dog loves every game, so don’t expect to have a championship dock diver with a dog that doesn’t like to swim, for example. It’s easier to build on what the dog likes doing than it is to train a dog to gleefully do something it doesn’t like.
When not performing with The Canine Stars, Jack is an engineering consultant in the Oil and Gas Sector of Alberta. Jack’s primary hobbies away from work and away from The Canine Stars include recreational sports, billiards, and high-end audio.
When not performing with The Canine Stars, Shannen divides her time working at two jobs: (1) teaching agility at a dog-training facility, and (2) working as a veterinary assistant / behavioural consultant at a local vet clinic. Her primary hobbies away from The Canine Stars include horseback riding and competing in Cowboy Challenge events.