7 Months

7 months, 7 days. Time for reflection. What an amazing "little" dog. She's suddenly half an inch taller than Stitch, and she's lost none of her élan.

A couple of days ago I was driving the Gator past one of the llama pastures. The llads all came running over to watch the dogs go by. Syn hasn't really noticed them before, but this time she watched them canter over to look at her and walked forward to the fence to get a better view of them. This worried my a bit as the fence here is made up of four strands of plain wire about 18 inches apart and Syn could very easily walk under or through it - and some of the younger llama boys are starting to feel that guarding is their job.

I very casually gave her our Zen cue, asking her to leave them alone, to come away from them: Syn, no. I said it gently and calmly. She peeled away from the fence and came back toward me.

Oops, not quite so easy. "Yeah, but they're cool!" and she turned back toward the fence. Once again I quietly said "Syn, no" and again she turned back toward me. She was good then for about 8 steps, but then the siren call of the llads pulled her back again. I said "Syn, no" a third time, and she came back AND FORGOT ABOUT THEM. Well, y'know, not really, but she decided to ignore them - even when we came by the pasture again on the way home. No fuss, no muss. Yes, I asked her 3 times, but she responded appropriately each time, and once she realized I was serious, she stayed with me. Good pup!

Four days ago I did a lecture and book-signing at the library. Stitch and Syn both came along. Stitch was her usual serene and impressive self. Syn was wonderful. In spite of 45 people, little kids, THREE media cameras and crews, she was totally with me and totally upbeat, willing to work - brilliant. She did the very impressive drop-a-handful-of-treats-on-the-floor, let-her-start-eating-them-and-then-give-the-Zen-cue trick. She backs off SO well and stands staring at the treats wagging her tail waiting for the click so she can go back to scarfing them up.

Two days ago we did a book signing in a local pet store. Stitch and Syn spent the afternoon on a table talking to people, occasionally being invited off to demonstrate Go To Mat or some such. Again, Syn was excellent - friendly, cheerful, well-behaved, fully able to concentrate in spite of chew sticks on shelves nearby.

She's ahead of Stitch at the same age in… her ability to stay with me when we're out and about. Her joy. Her ability to retrieve. Her understanding of basics - I'm very happy with the new Training Levels. Can't wait to get back to training.

Two days until we leave for Syn's first water trial. One of the most fun things I'm teaching her is a cue to find her buoy line - I drop the line while we're walking, keep walking on another 70 or 80 feet, turn around, ask her to sit - then I say "Uh oh! Where's your line?". As soon as she hears "uh oh" she starts looking for it. Don't know whether she'll trust the process enough by the time we get to the trial to go out 60 feet in the water if she can't see it before she leaves, but she's well on her way. Then home for one day and we're off to San Diego for 2 weeks, then home and sleeeeeeping… and then training basics again.

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Syn, Stitch and I spent the weekend at a water trial - daring stuff for September in Alberta. There was a practise scheduled for Friday, but when we woke up it was 5 degrees above zero with the practise due to start at 9. I used my 10 minutes at the site to play with Syn on land, toss the bumper for her on land, and walk several times around the ring. The first time around, I let her sniff and explore. The second time around, I got her attention and asked her to watch me and pay attention, and rewarded her by tossing the bumper. That went very well. She was cheery and enthusiastic, willing and happy.

By the time it was Stitch's turn, it was considerably warmer and I asked her to go in the water - well, that's a dumb idea and why would she want to do that? We went out on a boat and she willingly leaped off the boat, but it was clear she wasn't there to enjoy water trials.

Saturday morning, pretty chilly but doable. Syn was first on the line. In our 3-minute warmup, we did another round of sniffing the ring, another round of paying attention, several dry land retrieves, then she and I waded into the water and did a couple of very short (4 foot) bumper retrieves - just enough to get her wet and get her swimming.

The first exercise was the 25-foot bumper retrieve. She jumped out after it, stopped momentarily before getting more than her feet wet, looked back at me, but hopped out after the bumper when I told her to go on, got it and brought it back. Good good pup!

The next exercise was a 120-foot boat ride. She hopped up on the boat platform and stayed on it while I sat down. It was pretty wavy and the rower was fast, so the platform was wobbly. Syn wasn't happy enough with the feel of it to lie down for more than half a second at a time when I asked, but sitting up was acceptable. Hop off and walk back to shore with me - excellent.

Third, I left her alone (ALONE, ALL ALONE, NAKED AND COLD, SOLO, SINGLE, A-LOOOONNNNE) on shore being held by a steward while I went 60 feet out in the water on the boat (MOOOOM! DON'T LEAVE ME, MOM!) and called her to come into the water and swim to me, then climb up onto the boat. Umm, no problem with that one.

Finally, she had to swim 120 feet beside me, wading in from shore and walking out with me when we were done. Also no problem. And as we left the water, we heard the judge say the magic words "That's a Junior Water Dog!"

She was also entered in Apprentice, the second level, but was clearly not ready for it. It involves a lot more distance, stays instead of being held, etc. Apprentice is certainly not above her ability, but she definitely needs a bit more than 3 days' practise to get it. That's OK, I'm thrilled she got Junior, I didn't really expect it. When she appeared unable to perform a task (like a long retrieve), I went out and helped her. Even so, and I think partly because of the cold water and the fact that, as a pup, she has no blubber to keep her warm, I aborted the performances early because she started thinking that running around would be more fun and less trouble than doing what I was asking her to do.

Stitch, OTOH, was equally clear that even though she has done the Working level in the past and has the title, she was not prepared to do it again with 3 days' practise, nor was she prepared to do it in cold water. I'm pretty much of the opinion right now - considering her performance a couple of weeks ago in Rally and her performance this weekend in Water - that from now on she can do her REAL job (Service Dog), which she's good at and likes, and a bit of agility now and then, which she enjoys, and I'll concentrate my enthusiasm on Syn.