Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sick Day

I was sick yesterday with a nasty cold but still managed to get the dogs out on a walk and get them all groomed, as well as do some Open training with Noel. It's amazing how I can find the energy for training but not cleaning the house. :-) This weekend is our annual Halloween fun match and I'm starting to get ready for that, in between grooming dogs and taking care of Eva. It's always a fun event that I look forward to every year. We top the match off with a costume parade and pictures of all the dogs in costumes. Yes, they hate it, but I always tell my dogs that it's only once a year and they can suffer a short time for their mom (that's me) who loves them. By the emails I've been getting it sounds like we'll have a good turn out, especially for Rally and Obedience. I'm going to do a Novice run through with Noel. Even though it's in our building it's still much more formal than a regular practice so it will be a good test to see how ready we are. Hopefully the weather will hold and we'll have a beautiful fall sunny day.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Weekend activity

It was a busy weekend! Saturday was the HSNEI (PAW) walk fundraiser event and despite the rain it seemed like a good turn out. Scott did agility demos with Maya and helped people teach their dogs some of the agility equipment. HSNEI is in need of volunteers as usual, but especially foster homes and transporters. Transporters are needed to pick up and deliver dogs out of town to different rescue groups. We're not able to do any fostering right now because of then number of dogs we already have, but I did volunteer to help with transporting.

Sunday was a club practice and potluck in Elkader (postponed from Saturday due to the rain). What a gorgeous day! I've been having Noel practice full Novice run throughs for her breakfast every day, so that's what we did at the club practice. I was very happy with how she did. Still a few minor tweaks to make before we're ready for competition but we're pretty close. Scott and Sula are getting ready for Novice as well and they also had a good run through yesterday.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Herding lesson

Everyone who herds with their dogs always says that it is an activity that will make the relationship you have with your dog evident. Noel and I had another practice today, along with Scott and Paloma. I should have known that after our last lesson was so calm and under control that this one would be a little more active (understatement). Noel was full of it, and being the control freak that I am, I can't seem to stay cool and collected like I need to be. The more she escalates the more I escalate, which causes her to escalate more and then I escalate more. You get the idea. It wasn't pretty. My instructor came out to help and she has everything under control within seconds. My lack of talent as a shepherd is astounding. Scott and Paloma on the other hand, had a very calm practice - they both did great. Scott joked on the way home that maybe it's because Paloma is almost 11. I responded that maybe when Noel is 10 we'll be able to be calm too. Then again, maybe not.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Training a deaf dog for competition

Let me introduce Maya to you: she is an eight-year-old, quite nearly all white, Australian Shepherd mix who is completely deaf. She is a wonderful companion and great working dog. She has earned a couple of agility titles, has her open obedience title (UKC CDX), and a tracking title (TD--from AMBOR). She is also a terrific trick dog, being able to "stand tall," "wave," "bow" (Japanese style--I spent a bit of time in Japan in the past), "speak," "whisper," and "play dead." Currently we are working on her UD . In fact, we are doing much of the same kind of training that Carmen is doing with Noel--Maya is progressing nicely, though we have had plenty of hiccups along the way.

Deaf dogs are becoming more common in competition venues--I've seen them in both agility and obedience. Gone are the days when people believed that such dogs should not compete and can't be trained, though these attitudes still persist among some: when Maya was a young puppy I remember a few people insisting that I have her put down because her deafness would compromise her quality of life; others have wondered whether she really can be successful in performance sports. I can tell you with confidence that Maya's quality of life has not been affected--she doesn't know anything else, but deafness; after all, she was born deaf. Moreover, her scores for her CDX were all over 195, the highest being 197.5--she is definitely a capable competition dog. Most people, however, understand that deafness is not really a handicap, and I can tell you it makes dealing with noisy distractions very, very easy :-).

Maya has taught me a lot--she is a master at reading body language (most dogs are) and because she is so attentive will respond to the slightest twitch I make. She is particularly sensitive, so I have to be very conscience of my body especially when she makes a mistake--she knows immediately if I am disappointed or frustrated (two emotions that always make things worse when it comes to training).

The primary challenge in working with a deaf dog is knowing what hand and body signals to use for various commands. Most people figure something out for basic obedience and as long as they remain consistent, the dog usually learns these signals very quickly. It becomes more of a challenge when you are competing. What do you use, for example, when you do a "go out" for utility? Signaling the dog to go out to the end of the ring seems fairly easy, but then what about the sit at the end of the "go out?"--figure that one out--after all the dog is not facing you when you give the "sit" command--and, as you might have guessed, it helps a great deal if your deaf dog can see your signals....Maya and I are figuring something out...fudging it really...but you can see where a bit of creativity comes in handy.

Anyway, more about Maya and the rest of my crew later.


Scent Article training Part III

I think we've got it! We did three sends today. The first to a scented metal article, in which she scented the pile, found the correct one and brought it back! I stood there with my mouth open, recovered from the shock and we celebrated with a huge reward. Second time sent to a leather scented article. This time she found and indicated the correct article so I went out and rewarded her, and she picked it up and brought it back. Another big reward. Third send was to another scented leather. She went out, searched the pile and brought it back. Jackpot! Tomorrow we'll move it out to the training room and see how it goes in another location.

Rain, rain, go away!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Scent Article training part II

Possible break through today? Or maybe luck - we'll find out tomorrow. This morning we did three sends to a scented metal article. The first one she was confused and I had to point to the correct article, then asked for her indication, then rewarded. Second send was better, she continued to "guess" and happened to sniff and indicate the correct article but I'm pretty sure it was by chance. I ran out and rewarded. Third time, although still a little hesitant, she used her nose and indicated the correct article - I ran out and jackpotted, then asked her to pick it up and bring it back to me which she did, and I gave her a big reward again. Woo hoo! Then we quit for the day. I was happy, she was happy with herself too, a much better practice than yesterday. We'll find out tomorrow if it was just a fluke or if she's starting to understand what I am asking of her. Either way, she's trying really hard to figure out what I want so I'm feeling positive that we'll get it soon.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Scent Article training

Noel and I have been working on scent article training, along with Scott and Maya, to prepare our dogs for Utility. For those of you unfamiliar with obedience competition Utility is the third and most difficult level and requires several dicrimination exercises. In the scent article exercise the handler (me) puts their scent on a metal or leather dumbbell and places the scented dumbbell in an area around several unscented articles. The dog is required to search the pile and bring back the one with the handler's scent on it. No matter which method is used to teach this exercise, and there are several, all with their own merits, there will come a point of confusion for the dog as to what they are supposed to do. Noel has been plugging along easily in her training. She has a strong tendency to use her nose and I expect that when the exercise is clear to her that she will have few problems with it. However yesterday we hit that bump in the road where she has absolutely no idea what I'm asking of her and she is guessing and trying her best to figure it out. The method I am using for her involves tying down the unscented articles to pegboard with fishing line. So if she tries to pick up the incorrect one she is met with resistance. Let me tell you something about Rottweilers.... they often like to use their brute strength to get things done, and this was no exception. She tried to carry the entire pegboard back to me by retrieving an incorrect article. We are practicing about three short lessons per day until we can work through the confusion. I'll keep you posted on our progress.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Back to Herding

After taking a year off from herding with Noel, to be a new mom again, we started up again last week. Sheep herding with dogs is extremely hard work. The more I do it the more I realize how little I know. There is so much to teach the handler and the dog, as well as learning about stock in general. We had a wonderful time at our first lesson back. We worked in a trial size arena and both Noel and I seemed pretty comfortable in that space, even after a year off. In fact, I think we came back more calm than when we left (this is a "we" effort!). Our second run we practiced in a pasture area with more sheep. I won't give you all the details but just mention that the sheep ended up down the driveway and we decided neither Noel nor I are ready for that much space to handle. The difference between obedience practice and herding practice is that in obedience we can go out and have a perfect practice - that never happens in herding. This has been a difficult obstacle for me to overcome, because I'm a perfectionist by nature and I'm slowly learning to let things go, accept the good and work harder on the bad. But when things do go well, there's not a better feeling because I know we worked HARD for it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Working for food

There is a top obedience competitor that teaches to use your dog's food for competition training. We always have advocated making your dog work for his food in some way, but I often forget to save it for formal training time. If you have a dog that loves his/her dinner, it's a great way to get more animation and enthusiasm, especially for heeling work. This morning I prepared Noel's food as usual, then took her out to the training room. I set her bowl of food on the table, which she saw, and then did two long heeling patterns, one on lead, one off. Her attitude and precision was wonderful, even better than when I use her favorite tug toy or hotdogs. We've done this in the past many times and always get the same enthusiastic and intense work. I am sold on this and am going to practice this on a more regular basis as we're preparing for the Novice ring.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Skunky Encounters

We've had so many encounters with wildlife this month! Last night on our walk near our own property, we decided to take a newly cut trail. It was mowed about 3 feet wide and ran alongside some field fencing. Noah and Paige were ahead of me on the trail by about 20-30 feet and Noel was a few feet in front of me. Noel suddenly pounced in the long grass along the fence line. I caught up with her to see her face to face (with the fence inbetween) with a skunk. I mention "face to face" because that's an important detail when greeting skunks! Since I was now standing about 3 feet from him I turned and ran in the other direction, yelling Noel Come! over my shoulder. She followed me and we stopped so I could assess the situation (did she get sprayed?) and by some miracle the skunk had chosen not to spray her. She was play bowing to him afterall, maybe he was ready to engage in a game? Unlikely. But now we were presented with a different problem. Noel and I were together on the path the direction we had come from. The skunk was in the weeks about 15 feet away, and Noah and Paige were on the other side of the skunk about 50 feet from me. Paige had stopped to watch what was going on and I had told her to stay where she was. Noah being deaf hadn't heard the commotion and was still sniffing around farther down the trail. I had two choices at this point. Either Noel and I had to walk past the skunk to get to the other dogs, or I had to call them past the skunk to get to me. Hmmm. Well I decided the dogs were going to have to take one for the team this time, I wasn't getting sprayed. period. I called Paige first, using my happiest voice, hoping to get her to sprint past the skunk so fast that she wouldn't get sprayed. However Paige is an expert at reading my moods and she heard the tension in my voice. She trotted slowly toward me with a concerned look on her face. She stopped near where the skunk was hiding to pull out a couple of burrdock from her feathering. The tension in my voice increased. "Paige Come!" I tried to say cheerfully, while turning and running away to get her to come faster. She made it safely and I told Noel and Paige to lie down and stay. By now Noah had noticed that we had turned back. I waited until he looked at me then gave him his hand signal to come. He trotted quickly to us. We all had made it and shockingly everyone returned home smelling the same as when we'd left. Whew!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

PAW walk

The annual PAW walk fundraiser will be Sept. 25, starting at Wayside Park in Decorah, at 10:30am. The Good Dog Center will be doing a demonstration starting at 9:30 and also help people teach their dogs some of the agility obstacles. I'll bring Paige for the demo. She's my most experienced agility dog and she loves any kind of demo where she is surrounded by people. She's a true social butterfly.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Obedience practice

Our club practice was fun last night. A small group but another good opportunity to practice in a different setting. Noel did well on her heeling which was the goal for us. Once again it was a beautiful evening and perfect for working dogs. We did group stays in Beth's garage when it started getting dark out. Scott practiced Utility with Maya and as usual she was eager to work. He also practiced with Sula, both Novice work and a little Utility. All three did well. Then Noah hung out while we held our monthly meeting.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

beautiful days

This is beautiful weather we've been having lately. I like to call it perfect dog weather. Warm enough for me, cool enough for them. We went on a walk this morning out in the fields and flushed out a coyote. It was about 100 yards away, and the dogs never saw it, so we didn't even have to practice our leave it. It ran a bit then turned to watch us, then disappeared behind some round bales. We hear them almost every night around our farm, but this is the first time we've seen one on our walks.

Tonight we have a training club practice at another club member's home, so Noel and I will get in some obedience practice in a new area. If the weather holds it will be a perfect evening. I'll post later about how the practice goes.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Juvenile Onset Shyness

Have any of you had a dog that has begun to exhibit signs of fearfulness or shyness after 6 months? I'm curious about Juvenile Onset Shyness, quite common in many dogs. With the proper socialization and training, many outgrow this. I think Noel has experienced this although at the time I wasn't sure what exactly was going on. She was a very outgoing friendly puppy, extremely well socialized, but around one year started showing signs of mild fearfulness in certain situations and greeting people. She recovered quickly in most situations so she wasn't an extreme case. Now at almost two and a half she seems to be getting back to her old self again, confident and outgoing, which of course I am happy and relieved to see.


just a quick test

Back to Herding

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Great book

I'm reading a new book (new for me anyway) by John Rogerson, called The Dog-Vinci Code. John Rogerson is a trainer/behaviorist from Great Britain. I attended a seminar of his years ago at a national APDT conference in Memphis, but haven't been to anything since. I have to say that this book is excellent, whether you're a trainer or pet owner. It is easy to follow and gives many great examples, but what I love about it is that it is so completely practical. It just makes sense. If you are looking for a fantastic book to help you understand dogs, this is it!


I received an update on Slammer today and he started agility classes already with his new owner! They are having a blast and I am so happy at how fast he's adjusted. He's such a good boy.

Scott and I have taken the summer off from showing and have been working on getting Noel and Sula ready for obedience competition. Both are doing great overall, but both have their own issues that still need some finishing touches. Noel needs to practice in a few more new places which we'll be doing in the next couple of weeks and we're still working on tightening up those crooked sits. Sula needs more proofing with distractions, especially during heeling. We've been practicing throwing toys and dumbbells around and she's getting better. We both miss showing but don't want any "surprises" in the ring. :-)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Placing dogs

I made some difficult decisions in August to place two of my dogs in other homes. My Collie Slammer had gone to live with a friend over a year ago but he and her male dog didn't get along well, so Slammer returned to me early this summer. I toyed with the idea of keeping him but he made it clear after a month or so that he wasn't happy here so I began a search for the perfect home for him again. At the end of August I received a call from a friend in LaCrosse, who happens to be a school principal, and her administrative assistant was interested in meeting Slammer. It has been a match made in heaven. Slammer is now a full time companion to Robin and her husband, their other dog and two cats, whom Slammer gets along with wonderfully. He spent all last week hanging out at the school during registration getting lots of attention from the kids and staff. He will be returning to agility competition with his new owner. The other dog that I said goodbye to is Bugs, my border collie. Bugs is an outstanding therapy dog but because of my crazy schedule she rarely has the opportunity to use this gift. She is now living in Iowa with LeAnn, a kindergarten teacher, her husband and three kids, and two golden retrievers. She attends the Starmont school with LeAnn everyday and is a therapy dog in her classroom. The staff and children love her, as do LeAnn's family, and it is a regular fight as to which of her kids gets to spend the most time with Bugs. She is getting 24 hour a day attention, not something that I could give her.

It's such a difficult decision let a dog go and I can't help but feel responsible for disappointing them in some way. But when I hear about how they're thriving in their new homes I know that I made the right decision.