The rules we use to learn from language are very different from the rules that create success when we are learning from reality for ourselves or when we are teaching a dog to learn. For example, we learn sequences from start to finish using language. If we’re baking a cake it might be Step 1: Put 2 cups of flour in the mixing bowl. But if I’m learning to jump off a bridge into a river, I start on a dock and learn how to hit the water first. I start with the last thing and get it right. We don’t expect to start to learn by jumping off a bridge, and recipes don’t start with ‘Put on the oven mitts to take the cake out of the oven’. But when we are teaching a dog, that is what we are doing. If you want this cake then you have to put on the mitts. If you want to tug then you have to go over the jump. We tie a condition to a motivator and then we back-chain additional conditions because for every step, for each progression, the motivator has to come last. We get good at entering the water and then we try jumping from higher, step by step, same idea. This is very different from the way we learn using language. To become effective in training we need to understand how we solve problems when we are learning by observing the results of our experiences, without language, because this is how the dog learns.

There are actually two distinct ways to learn from experience and observation (LEO) and their rules are just as different from each other as they are from the rules of language.

Picture LEGOs . I want to put together a building. There are all kinds of parts that I can combine to build pretty much any size and shape of building I can imagine. When I need to add some doors and windows I’m not going to build them, they have all kinds of prebuilt doors and windows that are far better than anything I can construct from parts. Next I need to apply strategies, techniques that prevent my roof from caving in. These three characteristics; advanced complex behaviors for essential purposes, building blocks that can be manipulated, sequenced and combined to create everything else possible, and strategies that solve and simplify difficult problems, are genetically inherited for learning from experience and observation by all animals. Genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger.


The prebuilt parts rule. They make things functional fast. These are the connections in our brain that link a recognized pattern to a known response. They can be inherited or created and new associations are learned quickly. For a dog being trained a new behavior using this style of learning, reliable performance can be obtained from three successful repetitions in a row and it is the fastest way to achieve results. A common use of this is clicker training an offered behavior. The dog does something like scratch its nose. You click and reward it. The dog repeats it and gets clicked and rewarded. You both do it again and then after three successful repetitions you are ready to attach a cue to it.

When creating a behavior you design the situation and provide the motivation that results in the dog presenting it. The objective is to have the behavior associated with a sound, body language or a physical object. You set up an experience where the dog will most likely succeed. First repetition the dog guesses successfully and gets a reward, second rep the dog repeats the behavior and gets another reward so it knows it guessed correctly. Now the dog is pretty confident, you can see it in their demeanor, and when they succeed a third time, once again, the association can be permanently established and given a unique identifier, a cue. Sometimes it is necessary to provide the space for the dog to fail so that it can distinguish the correct behavior, which can add a few repetitions.

Now you can proceed to the next step where you change one thing to advance the dogs behavior closer to the desired outcome. Once again you create a situation where the dog is most likely going to succeed. The dog can quickly step through creating associations and advancing sequences using this pattern.

But this is where an important rule for advancing associations comes in. When you extend the behavior you are building by making changes the meaning of every established cue, body language, verbals and visuals, must remain the same. You cannot change the associations you have already established without confusing the dog and reducing their value. In LEO, reality does not contradict itself and in training everything should have one meaning. Established knowledge does not change, it does become better understood. This is built into the dogs expectation.

To a young dog adding distance, whether between the dog and person or the dog and an object, is the same as adding a new behavior and usually requires a few iterations. An experienced dog often learns to add distance in a single attempt. In the literature I have found numerous references to a dog being conditioned in a single repetition for a variety of behaviors. Once cues and associations have been established dogs can throw them together like we throw words together in a sentence.


Placing a cone on the front corner of a flyball box to force a dog to turn tighter is a simple example of using conditioning to learn. With this style of learning you create a situation where the dog cannot fail to perform the behavior. Through repetition the dog eventually does the behavior reliably and the training aids are slowly shaped out. In more complex situations conditioning is used to replace previously undesirable behaviors with new behaviors. To be permanently effective training usually requires advanced techniques such as variable reward schedules that take a significant amount of time.

We can use conditioning to learn how to do anything we are capable of. For example placing, sequencing and combining finger movements to play a musical instrument. The repetitions we use to perfect timing and movement are a voluntary form of learning by conditioning and it is the way they are meant to be used.


New research on dogs is uncovering advanced strategies in the dogs repertoire that are applied to learning by conditioning. Visual learning, their ability to mimic, Do As I Do, has been clearly demonstrated by the Family Dog Project in Budapest Hungary, the largest dog research group in the world, and it is one of the most powerful tools in reducing the number of repetitions required to learn an ability. Find someone that knows how to do what you want to learn and copy their behavior. The researchers did not teach the dog to mimic, it inherited the ability. They created a situation where the dog recognized that we also know how to imitate and that it is an activity we can do together. That’s a very high level of understanding of a different species. Fifteen years ago virtually the entire canine research community expressed the opinion that there was no research demonstrating the dogs ability to perform visual learning, and yet some dogs can recognize it in us.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about Chaser the Border Collie:

Chaser could identify and retrieve 1,022 toys by name, which was the result of a years-long research effort initiated by Pilley on June 28, 2004. Pilley documents the following milestones as Chaser’s vocabulary grew over time: 50 words at 5 months, 200 words at 7.5 months, 700 words at 1.5 years, and 1,000+ at 3 years.

Chaser began to understand that objects have names at five months of age. At this point, she became able to pair a novel object with a novel name in one trial, although rehearsal was necessary to log it into her long term memory. She recognized common nouns such as house, tree, and ball, as well as adverbs, verbs and prepositional objects. Based on that learning, she and her owner and trainer Pilley continued her training, demonstrating her ability to understand sentences involving multiple elements of grammar, and to learn new behaviors by imitation.

Dogs from a variety of breeds have demonstrated the ability to mimic but not all dogs can learn it.

Using the same name for different objects would have made it very difficult for Chaser to learn the strategy we are using and significantly diminished her ability to use names. Chaser also demonstrates that dogs can make a virtually unlimited number of associations to verbal and visual cues. I have stopped treating my props as merely physical objects and started giving them precise unique meanings and I no longer use the same prop for two different purposes. That way I can work on combining them in different ways to create new behaviors.

The only animal that has evolved a lot of sophisticated pattern recognition and strategies specifically creating an understanding of humans is the dog. Apparently different dogs have different abilities. Applying this in training is not very effective with any other species.

Examples Using Training g-Whiz on the Ramp

Our dog g-Whiz was trained mainly by creating, advancing, sequencing and combining associations where each step required very few repetitions. Prior to this video I nailed down the ramp and placed the stride regulators. I sent Gee to the ramp twice and then remembered that I needed to video and that I wanted to add the vertical post. It has no effect whatsoever on Gee’s turn but Tooie’s team uses it so I wanted him to get used to it.

From Gee’s perspective I sent him twice without the post and then added the post. This was the first time I added a prop where I wanted him to ignore it. He made the wrong choice and went around it. So I didn’t reward him and without hesitation sent him again and as you can see without hesitation he made the correct choice the second time, got rewarded, and never went around the post again.

If I had been concerned about him making the same mistake over again I would have stopped him, reset and focused him and then released him. And if I thought that wouldn’t stop him from making the mistake again I would have removed the stride regulators and done a few turns close up. But I knew that for Gee this was a no-brainer. There are only two choices which he is used to, they are not subtle, and he understands that not getting rewarded means guess again.

If I had wanted him to go around the post then rewarding him would have set that behavior. In this case not wanting him to go around the post required two tries. In one case it could be referred to as conditioning in one repetition or in two repetitions for the other. Either way it had occurred it was a result of me linking a recognized pattern to a choice between two known responses and this is the way g-Whiz was trained to learn. If I had mistakenly rewarded him for going around the post, I would have had to resort to a bit of conditioning to correct the mistake and create the proper behavior.

Typically when training with a flyball team what you would see when he went around the post would be someone placing the post in a better location or adding another barrier such as a person to force the dog to make the right choice as they create a tighter turn. This is necessary because most of their training has relied on conditioning. Making additional changes to the training aids means that you are no longer changing only one thing at a time which forces you to use conditioning, reinforcing the notion that it is necessary. But you can clearly see the advantage of training by advancing associations from Gee’s example.

There are a few other things I would like to point out. This was in 2011, it was Gee’s second training session on the ramp and the first one was months ago. This was the first time I tried using a pair of stride regulators to condition a dog’s take-off point when jumping onto the ramp, so I placed them where I felt they wouldn’t interfere with his run. He jumps from too far away. The top of his arc is a way in front of the ramp which creates poor rotation. The top of his arc should be where he contacts the ramp.

I normally only do two training sessions on the ramp and then transfer the turn to the flyball box. But this time I added a third session to fix Gee’s striding. I moved the stride regulators closer together to set his take-off point closer to the ramp which dramatically improved his rotation. It is still a bit too far for this situation but when he is approaching faster with a flyball box it should be about right. Angling the stride regulators properly doesn’t interfere with their run back. It improves their approach and they tighten their turn because the wider they turn, the further they have to jump to clear them. The next training session will transfer his turn from the 35 degree ramp to a 55 degree flyball box which will increase the speed of his rotation and his propulsion off the box.


Ordering the Sequence

Any time you need to modify an existing behavior you have to condition it to create the desired changes. By properly arranging the order you use to create and advance the associations needed to train a behavior you can eliminate the need to alter what has already been learned which prevents the need to condition.

Here is an example.
It is very difficult to train a tight turn on a ramp in one step. What normally results is a wide turn that needs to be tighten, which is modifying an existing behavior and requires conditioning. A more effective solution is to use associations. You create a 180 degree turn on the ground first and associate it to a physical cue and verbal. This can be done in three two-minute sets and you can add distance and combine a send cue at the same time. Then you combine the behavior, the turn you taught on the ground, with the ramp using the same physical prop and verbal. You now have a reliable, tight 180 degree turn on the ramp in five two-minute training sets with no need to modify anything.

As you advance the development of your behavior, each step gets tied to a new cue. Because they are being replaced the old cues can be dropped rapidly. It’s not like conditioning where modifying the behavior relies on the props or cues and removing them too quickly results in the dog going back to its previous behavior.

Under stress a dog will revert to its original behavior. This is a problem with conditioning that does not occur when you train by advancing associations. If at the first of training a dog begins with a behavior that it thinks is successful then that behavior becomes associated to cues it gets from the situation. We use conditioning to alter the behavior but under stress it has a tendency to go back to what it originally knew as successful because the same cues are still there. But if I have a dog that begins with a problem on the ramp, that problem is associated with the ramp. When the dog is doing a nice turn I transfer it to the box. The only association the dog has with the box is a proper turn and there is nothing to revert to. Also because the turn on the box is experienced as a new behavior it is now linked to the box. I can remove the other cues that created it fairly rapidly, the props on the ground in this case, and the dog won’t change its turn. In the twenty years that I have been training turns this way Tooie has never had a dog do anything but a proper turn in competition, they have never reverted to any previous problems.

When I discuss training times it probably sounds like I think training quickly is important. I don’t. I have experimented quite a bit with this way of training and I have tried everything sensible that I’ve seen other people do. How I’m describing my training is based on one thing. When I got the best results, this is how I got them. Going quicker made things worse and going slower usually did more harm than good. It was our dogs that set the pace. It is just a nice bonus that getting the best result can be very fast.

Introduction: My Reasons for Blue Cedar


The motivation for our breeding program comes from our love for dogs and all they represent. But this is not about that. It’s an overview of my rationale for how our breeding program got to this point plus an opinion or two.

This web site originated as a way for prospective buyers to see photos and videos of our puppies to help them make their decisions. Over the past 17 years it has grown but hasn’t changed a lot. I added a few pages to help the people who bought our puppies with their training. Next came a couple of posts to try to explain why our lines are developing such reliable characteristics but I need to rewrite them. From the beginning my goal has been to show anyone who was interested what we did and what the results were. If you want to know what happens when you cross six breeds over a bunch of generations, here are the pictures, videos and health records of our results.

Now I would like to tell you some of my background and what I have been doing with our dogs.

When we started the breeding program I had no idea what to expect. I graduated with an honors High School diploma in a 5 year ‘Science, Trades and Technology’ option. I went on to graduate from Vancouver College for Computer Electronics, B.C.I.T. for Process Control, Automation and Instrumentation and I earned my Bachelor of Science from the University of Saskatchewan where I was focused on biochemistry and genetics but took a lot of extra courses that didn’t apply to my degree; psychology, philosophy, education and a few from the Veterinary College that’s part of the U. of S. Their developmental embryology course was one of my favorites.

I consider education to be a luxury. I didn’t go to school to get a job, I got a job to go to school. I bartended night clubs to support Tooie and the kids through my entire university education in Saskatoon. I made good tips and I made good grades. At the same time Tooie was a mom and took part-time classes to complete her Animal Science degree. Then I was a house husband for a couple of years while Tooie got her Bachelor’s in Education. She also took extra courses in Early Childhood Education and English Second Language.

I thought with that background I had a thorough understanding of breeding, the strategies and methodologies, so everything I observe should make sense. But Tooie brought home a couple of flyball height dogs and everything changed. What I saw were numerous contradictions to what school taught me to expect, which meant my knowledge from years of university was still seriously incomplete, not wrong, everything was still applicable, but lacking.

 Twenty years ago the internet was still new. No one was posting on Facebook. And only a couple of litters of sport mixes had been bred, BorderJacks and BorderBorders. Not only were there no BorderWhippets, every single person that I talked to for years thought that crossing to Whippets was a terrible idea, except for one couple that saw the potential.

In Pahrump I took groups of our dogs running 9 hours a day, 6 days a week, 10 months a year for 10 years out on the open Mohave desert miles from people. I watched house dogs turn into a pack. I saw alpha dominance in the home turn into alpha protection in the wild. On the desert the alpha dog is the glue that holds the pack together. All the others are routinely checking on the alpha and their direction and parallel their movements. Under a threat, typically a coyote, everyone rallies behind the alpha which is why they need the alpha to be the strongest dog. I was constantly changing the members of groups around so I saw how easily the dogs adjusted without any hostility once they had adopted a pack mentality. Although there was one lone incident near the beginning, I was out with a group of seven dogs when three dogs mutinied and demoted an alpha.

I saw followers become leaders and leaders become followers depending on what the pack encountered. When we went into a new area the most adventurous would take the lead. If we encountered a person the most social dog in the group took the lead. It was very interesting watching their complex dynamic social interactions.

I got to compare purebreds with their crosses and watched inheritance working through generations of dogs out on the desert, playing and working together to hunt effectively. And then I watched them all turn back into kennel dogs with counterproductive behaviors during the hot part of the summers.

Small dog sports require short periods of acceleration and maneuvering with speed. Maximizing them requires a trade-off with top speed and endurance. They depend on conflicting physical and biochemical characteristics. There was a lot of hunting and chasing on our runs and on the desert it is almost all in plain sight. I got to watch it a lot and knowing everyone’s history helped me determine how inheritance was creating what worked best. It took a few years for me to learn the basic rules guiding physical inheritance in our lines and get good at predicting the outcomes. Learning which combinations of characteristics gave the best performance was my main focus on our runs for the first while. There are different ways to create similar results.

How dogs learn from experience and observation (LEO) without language has always been what I wanted to understand most. We are very slow at learning this way compared to dogs because we are taught to rely heavily on language. I don’t want to downplay the value of language. I just want to point out that the rules governing how we learn from language are very different from the rules governing LEO. Since most of our dogs don’t compete I have had a lot of dogs that I can experiment with. Creating different ways to uncover their learning skills, playing with different training strategies, has been my greatest enjoyment.

The next step was applying what I was learning to puppy development and figuring out how to create the best first 10 weeks of their life.

Searching for a genetic mechanism built on randomness that allows the predictability in inheritance that I was observing was the stumbling block. In 2016 I went back to studying new research and found the observations and theories that explain what I have been experiencing. It’s a combination of Dr. Raymond Coppinger’s theory of the dog’s process of speciation along with punctuated equilibrium plus the genetic toolbox and hierarchies of dominance in the control of developmental genes. The Man And Dog video in my TV section has Dr. Coppinger discussing a bit of what he’s learned. I am hoping to expand on the other topics.

No education is required to be an expert in learning from reality, almost everything that is alive is surviving incredible pressures. What you should learn from school are advanced strategies that accelerate learning through observing what happens in the real world. The key to discovering new information is in creating the situations that allow you to experience what you want to learn and later successfully predict outcomes. The basic rule is that reality does not contradict itself. And right there is the basis that Blue Cedar was built on. I had no idea what mechanisms would be in play, but I was going to figure out how to make small companion dogs with the ability to get a gold in world’s agility. Doing it by combining my choice of six breeds without inbreeding is a great challenge. What has resulted is the expression of the characteristics that I feel will lead to our offspring’s success. The reason changes have happened far faster than I was expecting is because I’m selecting for dominant traits. The best times on our flyball height dogs have dropped from the low 4.0’s to the low 3.7’s in a few generations.

I have been working 16 hours a day, 365 days a year for a long time taking care of our dogs with Tooie. Every day is a race. Since we started we have sold on average around 10 puppies a year. It sure looks crazy seeing it written down. I’m not very good at business. I hope this helps to explain what’s been going on behind the website and why.



Anytime I took a group of Border Collies out for a walk on the desert they spent most of their time playing herding games with each other. If a jack rabbit got spooked and jumped out they would pause briefly, watch it run by, scan the area and then go back to their herding game. A herding dog needs to stay with the flock so this is exactly the behavior you want and it has been bred into the breed. Not chasing the rabbit is a genetic characteristic, it is automatic and does not need to be trained. But it had recessive origins and was generated, maintained and combined with other desirable traits through inbreeding until there was a large enough stable population for it to become a breed.

Take a Jack Russell Terrier for a walk on the desert and it immediately begins hunting. When it flushes a rabbit (desert rabbits are very fast) it will chase it forever or dig until it gets to a burrow and it will not stop. Once again this is genetic, does not require training, had recessive origins and is exactly what you want if your terrier is protecting your farm.

When I take the offspring of a cross between a collie and a terrier for a walk, they hunt. If a rabbit gets flushed they join in and try to catch it but if it escapes they will give up the chase when it becomes futile and go back to hunting. So I have broken two purebred genetic behaviors. They no longer display the collie behavior of not chasing, and they don’t show the terrier behavior of not stopping. The offspring have a copy of the genes from both breeds so what this shows is that the terrier behavior of chasing is dominant to the collie gene so the collie behavior isn’t displayed, and the gene that creates the terrier’s obsession is recessive, gets masked by the collie’s dominant gene, so they go back to hunting for new prey.

If I want to train a Border Collie to chase rabbits, it is going to take a lot of work, a lot of conditioning, because that behavior is no longer genetically wired and I have to construct it. Likewise, if I want to train my terrier to be distracted from its prey, it is going to take a lot of training, a lot of conditioning. The offspring however is wired for both behaviors and as such it sees them as options that it can choose. It understands both chase and don’t chase as well as stop and don’t stop. So I can train the offspring both to chase and not chase by putting them on different cues and have it perform either, and I won’t need to use the repetitive conditioning techniques to train either behavior. The dog can learn both responses quickly because it has genetically got the understanding for both options.

I want to train my companion dogs. I want to teach them which behaviors are appropriate, at what time and under what conditions. I am not trying to develop a working dog designed to do a specific task with as little training as possible. I am trying to develop masters of versatility that are able to understand as much as possible and to have as few blind-spots as their genetics will allow. So I don’t want the recessive automatic behaviors that characterize the working breeds. In the same way that I believe combining the dominant physical characteristics of the six breeds I am using will give me the best performance for the activities we are interested in, I think combining their dominant behavioral genes will give me dogs that are the quickest to train because they will be aware of the greatest variety of experiences and have the potential for the largest variety of responses.