We take a weekend trip. It’s 4 hours by car in one direction, and staying in the camper all weekend. I was planning on leaving Stitch and Scuba in the trailer during the day, but the weather is awful (-5C, snow, and a nasty wind). This is the first trip of the year for the trailer and I’m not sure how much propane I’ve got. It would be pretty silly to use it all up on keeping the dogs warm during the day and then we all freeze to death at night!
I’m attending a spinning clinic – llama fleece into yarn, not ballet – and it’s held in a garage, so I take the dogs in there. I’m NOT looking forward to this, but Stitch really comes through. I put her mat down and hook her leash to a doorknob. She starts out whining, but when I take her by her cheek hair and snarl in her face, she actually shuts up, lies down, and relaxes. Both days I have to lay down the law once, and tell her to shut up once in a while, but the rest of the time she’s excellent. It helps that there’s an intelligent and bored child attending as well. The kid listens when I tell her only to talk to Stitch when she’s being quiet, and walk away when she whines. Aside from the weather, it’s a lovely weekend, Stitch is good, and I learn to spin!
It’s warmed up to 8 degrees when we get home, and we continue with our pulling-the-tire runs. She’s cold when she gets out of the dugout, but she’s always willing to go in and she feels excellent when she gets out, ripping and roaring, making huge jumps over tiny bits of stubble, and curling back frequently to “attack” Scuba.
Her last Obedience 2 class tonight. I arrive just after the start of the class before ours so I have time to work on her self-control. I put her mat down in the waiting/sitting/spectating area and start working on having her stay on it quietly. I start at 10 seconds, and work up ten seconds at a time. Up to 3 minutes, I toss her a treat when time’s up. After that I get up and go to her, giving her a treat and a little cuddle each time. Three times in 50 minutes, she forgets what she was doing and just wanders off the mat, but other than that, she holds the Stay, she stays down, and she’s calm and relaxed. Some pretty rank Goldens and Labs on halters come past her, lungeing and barking. This doesn’t bother her at all, she’s relaxing on her mat.
Her first conformation show is next weekend so I haven’t been practising Watch or Finish or Heeling too much. Graduation is an easy Rally course. Since she doesn’t know how to Heel at normal speed yet, I ask her only to walk on a loose leash and keep an eye on me during the Heeling portions. She has little difficulty with this. When she gets ahead of me, I say her name and she comes right back. I’m excited about how well she pivots on the left turns and left about turns. She doesn’t have an automatic Sit, but responds nicely to cues. It’s a couple of weeks now until her second set of agility classes starts.
The show weekend is wonderful. Stitch is entered in 4 conformation shows, Scuba in four obedience trials and two agility trials. Scuba passes three Novice trials with scores of 190, 193, and 196. She lies down on the Sit Stay when I move her up to Open, but getting her CD with all scores in the 90s is lovely. Then she gets two perfect scores in agility. On to Stitch. Stitch walks into the huge 4-part soccer centre with her bumpkin jaw hanging open. She’s comfortable with the noise, the dogs, and all the people, but would prefer that people allow her to approach them rather than the other way around. We spend an hour walking around giving people treats for her and having people hunker down to talk to her. By the time we’re done, she’s ready to do dental work on anybody who comes by.
She has no competition in the first three shows. I take her in the first one. She thinks she might be supposed to run ahead and not look at me, or maybe heel, so she compromises and runs ahead looking back. The judge grabs her face and opens her mouth to see her teeth. She’s about to object when I shove a wiener in her face. This annoys the judge but changes Stitch’s mind about how much of a problem she’s having. In the Group she remembers about not looking when she’s running, and she stacks well. In Puppy Group she does brilliantly until the judge’s last tour, at which she drops to the floor to scratch her neck.
I’m too busy with Scuba, so I pull Stitch in the next two shows. She actually sits in her crate without too much fuss – “sings” a bit, as our polite neighbour says, when I leave her, then shuts up. Her travelling is excellent, she’s quiet and calm in the car, good in the trailer, and eliminates on leash without fuss.
There are two other Portuguese Water Dogs entered in the fourth show, so I put her in. She goes Reserve to a very nice adult bitch and handles the whole thing very well. I see, however, that she’s very young. I see her in my mind as a 4-month-old puppy. I decide to shave her awful changing puppy coat off and let her grow up a few more months before showing her in conformation again. She’s shown me that she can handle it, that’s all I need for now. We’ll be going to the American National Specialty in four months, that gives her enough time to grow her adult coat in, grow up a bit, and keep practising.
On the way home, we stop at a little lake and spend some time playing. Scuba immediately hands me a stick to throw in the water, and Stitch goes in until she’s bobbing lightly. Still not ready to swim, and it’s c-c-c-cold, so I’m not going in with her. Once she’s wet and has a stick in her mouth, she starts doing laps of the beach. She runs about 100′ down the beach, curls back, passes me and goes out 100′ in the opposite direction. She’s so beautiful. Her coat is flying as she runs. How often do we get to see such complete, unadulterated joy?
Flying in private = good
Flying in public = not good
We start her second set of agility classes. This is an outdoor class. She’s happy to see the other dogs, people, and especially the agility obstacles. Being outdoors doesn’t change her focus or ability to perform and I have a very good time – until the first Australian Shepherd comes over to invite her to take flight. I’m not expecting the invitation, or the response, and she takes off before I can do anything. Four laps, five touch-and-goes and I get her back, reward the return, and we continue with the class. Two more invitations are issued and accepted. She’s not running away, by any means, she’s just running as she did on the beach. In this case, however, I’m not nearly so thrilled with her unadulterated joy. I need to think about this because I want to say HEY, BUBBA! **MY** DOGS DO **NOT** GALLIVANT WITHOUT PERMISSION! And I need to say this without destroying her enthusiasm for the work, her joy in the running, and her thrill to come back to me. I don’t want to shoot her down, but I do need to add traffic control to the flight of this bumblebee.
I’m away for nearly a week, which is good because it gives me time to think and no time to react.
For the next class, I put her harness on, attach a 20′ line to the back of it, drop the line on the ground, and forget about it. We get out of the car and I put effort into keeping her focused on me by rewarding frequently for looking at me. She’s really on me, focusing well on me and well on the obstacles. The long line slides sweetly through the obstacles and over the jumps The whole thing looks perfect. And then the invitation comes. She spreads her wings, jumps into the sky, and… I’ve stepped on the long line. Half a second after she makes the decision to fly, she meets the end of the line and stops. She turns to look at me, and I tell her what a great job she’s doing and give her five treats in a row. She’s now forgotten about where she was going, and she’s ready to continue playing agility. We keep going. The long line stops her twice from volunteering a likely-looking obstacle while I’m calling her in another direction, and it stops one more brief thought of flight. Throughout, I remain happy and rewarding, always with something fun to do when she changes her mind about running.
During the class, I step on the leash (on purpose) four times, all effective and reasonable halts when she’s sure she’s right and doesn’t have to listen to what I have to say. The leash-halts don’t affect her enthusiasm for being with me or her commitment to the obstacles. I’m very pleased with the results.
After the class, we go next door to a fenced area and I turn both dogs loose with some other dogs. Stitch really enjoys this. She runs, and runs, and runs, and runs… eventually we’re down to one well-trained Golden and my dogs. I ask the Golden owner to call her dog, and call Stitch as the Golden is coming. It takes her a minute to realize I’m speaking, but then she comes, gets a huge handful of treats, and then I tell her to go and she runs again. When I call her the next time, she comes without trouble, gets another handful, and flops to the ground. I put her leash on and we go home. SUPER evening.
All this week I’ve been shearing llamas. When I come in I’m too exhausted to train, and my arms are too sore for me to hold a clicker, regardless. I open the front door once and she dekes around me and takes off running. I’m too sore to run after her, and even though she’s safe enough, I can’t really just leave her to let her run because there’s feral cat poop all over the place – extremely rewarding. As I’m trying to figure out what to do, hubby comes around the corner on the riding mower. I highjack the mower, turn off the blade, and hunt her down. It’s not a fast mower, but she soon realizes that I’m following her everywhere she goes, and I don’t sound too pleased. She gallops cheerfully in front of me pretending I’m not there, but from the set of her ears I can tell she isn’t fooling herself. After about three minutes she heads purposefully for the front door. I get off the mower, let her in the house, and escort her unceremoniously to her crate. Ten minutes later (long enough for me to calm down) I let her out of it without a word, and ten minutes after that I invite her to go for a walk outside. I have a handful of treats and the keys to the mower. She stays with me. She stays totally with me. She watches the cats parading around but doesn’t go after them – five treats in a row. She watches the llamas as they line up to watch us go by, but she doesn’t go visit them – five treats in a row. She spots some cat poop she missed on her first pass, but doesn’t go after it – five treats in a row. We share a lovely short walk and go back in the house.
I’m finally done shearing, and it’s time for her next agility class. I’m tired and can’t be bothered finding her harness, so I put a collar on her and attach the long line. She walks out onto the field alternating between finding out who’s there already and watching me to see what I’m doing. Every time she watches me, she gets a treat. I stopped at 7-11 on the way to class and bought her a corn dog – this is going over BIG. Several times during the class she THINKS about taking flight, but it’s a shallow thought and the corn dog wins easily. Several times during the class I actually unhook the leash while she does a set of obstacles. She solicits a Mini Schnauzer and a Mini Dachsie who come a bit too close, and I step on the lead to allow them to escape, but she comes right back to me when she hears her name. I can also call her off obstacles tonight, so we can walk NEAR the obstacles instead of her having to visit every one we walk by. A perfectly lovely class.
To finish off the evening, again we turn the dogs loose in a large fenced field, but this time I don’t have to have anyone else call their dog in order to get Stitch back. When I call her, she comes – sometimes so fast I’m afraid she’ll go right through my knees, but she doesn’t. She gets half a handful of treats when she comes, and is then turned loose to run again. The sixth time I call her, she stands without fussing while I put the collar back on, and we come home.
For breakfast we go out in the yard without a leash and do some agility. Some of it is fun for her – she loves to do the full-height teeter, running it, riding it down, and standing glued on the contact waiting for her treat, and we do the tire and three bar jumps with great leaps. It’s easy for her to concentrate on me when she’s doing these active obstacles. We run short courses of four obstacles while I get further and further from the obstacles.
Then we do six upright weave poles. Not so easy for her. I’m using kibble, not the corn dog we used last night, and I’m shaping “macaronis” – go around the second pole, click/treat, go around the 4th pole, c/t, go around the 6th pole, c/t. She wants to be bored with this. There’s a ca-ca-CAT OVER… oh, right, weave poles. There’s a TRUCK going down the… right, weave poles. Say, where’s Scuba? Is she… uh huh, weave poles. I keep it very simple and click a lot. She’s got the idea, and the rapidity of the clicks settles her down until she’s really into the game and we’re doing six in THIS direction, turning and doing six in THAT direction with no hesitation – no hesitation in offering to do the obstacle. This is her first introduction to straight up non-channelled weaves and she really only has a small clue about what to do with them.
We haven’t done any free shaping in a very long time – probably because any tiny frustration produced whining and shaping is built on tiny frustrations. We tried it again and it went very well. She’s obviously out of practise, but the whining was minimal, very quiet, and seemed more of a mutter while thinking. It took her nearly 100 clicks to get past turning her head and go all the way into a spin – not what I was aiming for, but a start. She didn’t get stuck on the spin but went rapidly from there to the piece of furniture I was aiming for. I clicked her for touching the furniture ten times, then turned my back on it and waited to start her going in another direction. All that duration practise really payed off! She touched the furniture five or six times, lay down, crossed her paws, turned her head, finally did a very nice DownStay for 15 seconds. Finally she gave up and came around in front of me to find my face – click for that, and I started shaping her out toward the door.
In all I sent her to five different locations. She needs to work on shaping. She gets stuck on the previous behaviour and doesn’t want to change it. Once she realizes we’re on to something else, though, she leaves the old object behind. She defaults quite often to Down. My baby bumblebee has a default Down. Who would have imagined?
We go to the beach. It’s 8 degrees, heavy winds, drizzling, but hey, we’re going to the beach! Stitch is hysterical when we arrive. I put the harness on her with the trailing long line, but she rips it through my hand before I’m ready, and then she’s running to the water and along the beach, flying free. Since I’ve blown it by not having a good grip on the line, I at least have the sense not to compound the error by calling her immediately, AND my pocket is full of treats. After a couple of laps, I call her. She comes! I shove the handful of treats in her face and let her go again. I call her three more times, feeding her each time and letting her go. The last time, I ask her to stay around, but she turns to leave again and I step on the line. She tries three different directions and eventually figures out she isn’t going anywhere so she comes back to work with me. I ask for a Sit and reward it. I let her go again. She runs through the water until she’s shivering so hard I can’t see her outline.
I won’t say I could have gotten her back at any time at all, but when I did call her, she came at a dead run, and sometimes she was running away from me when I called her, and with another dog. I’m very happy with this outing (aside from the temperature). We sit in the car with the heater running to dry off and warm up. Maybe next time there’ll be sunshine and I can show her how to swim.
Another agility class. We start out with the long line on her harness. She’s excited to be at class, but ready to concentrate on what I want to do. I’m not totally prepared as I push my walker and assorted junk across the field to the course, but she stays with me. When she gets a little too far ahead of me, I say her name quietly and she turns back to wait for me to catch up. When we get to the course I settle down and get out some wiener to reward her for her excellent walk over.
It isn’t a relaxed class by any means. I’m at attention all the time, watching for other dogs to take flight. Several times I step on her long line, but she doesn’t know I did because she either watches them take off and doesn’t think about going herself or she doesn’t notice them because she’s watching me or focused on an obstacle.
Eventually I unsnap the line from her harness and she finishes the last 20 minutes of class without it. No mishaps at all. Lots of rewards for offering attention, for stays, for running obstacles, for calling easily off obstacles I hadn’t asked her to take, and for not accepting invitations to run. Twice another dog comes into her face. She spends 2 seconds giggling with it, and then turns back to me when I say her name. Big rewards.
After class she sits in her crate in the car during Scuba’s class without a word. After that, she gets to run again with Scuba and some Collies. She comes back when I call every time. Big rewards.
I think of the ongoing frustration of all the people with dogs who are constantly getting away and doing laps of the field and missing obstacles because they saw something more interesting. Two weeks ago (three classes) I saw myself in their company as Stitch accepted their dogs’ invitations to fly. I’m not saying I’m relaxed yet or that training is complete, but here we are with the problem solved, and with zero frustration, no yelling, no hunting her down, and no help from the other members of the class. She comes away from dogs, obstacles, people, and treats in the grass without a second cue. When we get home, I let her out of the car without her leash. She jumps out, looks at the cats and the llamas, and trots cheerfully up to the front door. What a thrill!
It’s been raining for a month now. Great for the crops, bad for puppies. It’s been a busy month for me as well, and not much time for dogs or myself. Things should settle down in the next week or so and we can get back to work. I think most dogs spend their lives as mine have the last couple of weeks – basically living their lives separate from humans, being fed, being let in and out, but no real conversations or learning. Warehousing. What a waste. I miss them.