The best-laid plans of mice and dog trainers… in my beautiful dugout with its new slowly-sinking dock for easy ins and outs, Stitch and I both develop Swimmer’s Itch, a small parasite that burrows under the skin. That puts a halt to the daily swimming lessons.
And I’ve decided that I am mentally capable of bumping her with the buckle collar to remind her of heel position without actually giving her a correction, but it isn’t how I want to play this game, so I’m not doing it anymore.
So, que sera, sera. Whatever she learns on the trip, she learns, and what she doesn’t, she won’t. I spend the last week packing and playing silly games with her.
We start on our trip. I expect Stitch will whine most of the way and I’ll probably strangle her before we get to the border. Scuba of course will be no trouble at all. And she DOES whine, the first four minutes. I’m driving a half-ton truck pulling a fifth wheel trailer, so no room for crates. I’ve got harnesses for each dog that buckle into the seatbelt slot in the back seat. This is new for her. If she’s ever been out of a crate in the car, she’s been on the floor in the back seat. She’s happy to be able to watch the scenery (more like she’s watching the road in case I do something stupid), and alternates between sitting up staring forward between the seats with her ears perked and sleeping in the same place with her butt on the seat, her chin on the console, and her front legs hanging down between.
This first day she has some trouble remembering how to pee on leash and on cue. I was afraid I’d only be able to drive three or four hours a day, but I’m managing several more without difficulty, so I resent having to stop every hour so she can stand in gas-station grass staring at me. Nevertheless, this IS a priority. I can’t spend the next month hoping she’ll pee, so I DO stop every hour, giving her 2 minutes each stop. Scuba rolls her eyes and gives me three drops of urine at each stop.
I have a folding crate set up in the trailer with a dogbed in it. Because Stitch didn’t pee during the day, she has an accident at night – on the dogbed. I have no facilities for washing it, and none for storing it in its present condition, so I toss it out. The first casualty.
The second day she starts to get the hang of it again. THIS is the way I want to travel – stopping only to fill up on gas and Diet Coke, water the dogs, 30 seconds for elimination, 60 seconds for a sniff break, and we’re back on the road.
When we’re safely ensconced in the campground, we discover a few minor things that will have to change if we’re to survive a month in such close quarters.
First, she’s going to have to understand in her SOUL, not just in her brain, that an open door is not an invitation. She knows this at home, of course, but a trailer door may not be the same thing. To this end, I open the trailer door while standing in the doorway, and trap her several times between my leg and the cupboard, only releasing her when she’s backing up. That takes a bit of the stuffing out of her enthusiasm for instant escape. Then I walk out, turn around, and give her a treat for NOT escaping. After this night, she’ll only make one other door-mistake the entire trip.
Second, we’re going to have to have a discussion about where *I* am going to walk and where SHE is going to stand or lie. This was never a problem with Scuba, who had to be taught to stay so I could walk around her without her leaping aside. I get a bit of a headstart on this unfortunately by stepping on Stitch and tripping over her. After that I make a point of NOT trying to walk around her, but poking her with my toe to make her move if she’s in my way.
Finally, she’s going to have to give my face a little more respect. At home, I guess, I’m usually sitting up or standing when I’m around her. Now, I’m either driving or walking or lying on the bed in the trailer, giving her freedom to lick my face, walk on my face, lie on my face, and play tug over my face. I start by feeding her her meals from my hand while she’s lying calmly on the bed, and progress to the bitch-solution – a snarl, a bark, a lifted lip. Mission accomplished.
We go across Lake Michigan on the carferry. It was a holiday weekend, and I didn’t call ahead in time to get the day ferry, so we spend eight hours in the parking lot waiting for the midnight sailing. Lots of time for both dogs to wrestle with toys and each other in the trailer. Stitch has a stuffed dog (Leroy) nearly as big as she is that she’s had since she was a baby. She flings Leroy around the small space – if she flings him high enough, it’s an excuse to get on the table or the counter to rescue him. I don’t know why Leroy has lasted for nearly a year when all around him toys are spilling their fluffy guts out on the carpet. Scuba doesn’t play with Leroy at all, which might explain it, save that Stitch is a champion toy-disembowler.
When we’re tired of being cooped up, we take a walk (lovely to walk two dogs on loose leashes!) and then check out the “beach” – a short stretch of sand covered with seagulls, ducks, and bird droppings. I spend several minutes with Stitch on leash discussing the merits of bird poop – a combination of NO! and clicking her for not eating it – then I let them off leash and start throwing sticks. Again, Stitch swims if she’s following Scuba, but not even the ducks can lure her in far enough to swim on her own.
Another nap and a drying-out period, and I take each dog in turn out on the pavement and do a 20-minute training session. Stitch’s heeling is remarkably good for being in a parking lot surrounded by semi trucks, RVs, and rowdy college kids, close to the lake and the birds, and with a large boat honking at us from time to time. Stays, recalls, stand for exam, sidesteps, backward heeling all nice. Retrieves are a little distracted.
Time to board. I dress Scuba in her Service Dog cape and, with some trepidation, lock Stitch in the trailer. Will I still have a trailer in the morning? Passengers don’t have access to vehicles during the trip. I could put her in the boat’s kennel, but I think she’ll be happier in her own “house”. The crew is very nice, and the girls each get a goody bag with a couple of dog biscuits and a scarf that reads “I got my seapaws on the SS Badger”. Cute, considering we’re on our way to the Portie National.
No problem. Stitch handled the night like an old pro. Obviously slept on the bed – Leroy, a tennis ball, and a dogbed are on my pillow – but other than that, all is well… except for the two missing apples that I had stuffed in a plastic bag inside a paper bag inside the coffee maker screwed under the upper kitchen cabinet. Well, there’s no doubt she’s a purebred Portuguese Water Dog.
Another half day and we arrive in the middle of Michigan at Stitch’s breeder’s new house. Wonderful basement with nothing in it but some agility equipment and a grooming nook. We have four days to play here. Paula, partner of Stitch’s aunt, the wonderful Hunter’s Hertie Gertie (add billions and billions of titles here), lives next door and has a private POND with no swimmer’s itch in it, a lovely beach, and a raft with ladders AND a ramp. The weather is hot, hot, hot (over 30 degrees every day) so we’re all eager to use the pond, usually twice a day. The first session, I just let Stitch and Scuba play while I tossed toys. The second session, Scuba stayed in the beach chair while I tried to persuade Stitch to go in. No go. Finally, I waded in and Stitch came after me. We did some quick, happy retrieves just short of swimming depth with me sitting in the water, lots of wieners, and some of Elaine’s wonderful venison (a breeder knows the way to a puppy’s heart!). Then we swam out to the raft and just played around with it for a while, Stitch climbing up the ramp, climbing down the ramp, doing stays on the ramp, coming off the ramp to me when I called her, etc. She began to get comfortable with swimming.
Stitch is a funny little girl. Bold as brass, tough as nails, soft as a feather. She loves the teeter so much she does it on her own in the yard. She’s perfectly comfortable snagging apples from the coffee maker under the upper kitchen cabinets. But she’s not entirely sure she can safely make the one step up into the trailer, she complained for two weeks before she got comfortable with the air conditioner on in the car, and it’s taken her two dozen times in the water to start feeling confident. By contrast, Elaine has a 12 week old puppy who walked down to the water and, following Elaine, waded right in and swam, not appearing to notice any difference between swimming and walking. The good thing about Stitch is that once she’s comfortable, she’ll be supremely confident.
By the third day, she’s doing consistent 40′ retrieves of her bumper, and 30′ retrieves of her buoy rope, SOME 50′ bumper retrieves, and an occasional 60′ retrieve. I was using Scuba to fetch the ones that went too far, until I noticed Stitch take a step toward one, stop, and look at Scuba, like – hey, YOU get this one. After that Stitch and I go out together to get the far ones.
Today Scuba and Stitch go off into the surrounding forest for a second – and come back covered with a wonderful, stinky, liquid cow pat. Fortunately Paula had the foresight to keep a bottle of shampoo at the pond!
The fourth day, she’s consistent at 50′, and over 50% on 60′ retrieves. Her underwater retrieve is about 80%. Swim With Handler is excellent – I’ve always considered this a loose-leash-walking exercise, only not walking and no leash, and she’s translated it nicely. We’ve been working on the boat platform using Scuba’s cart, and we solidify it on Paula’s boat.
One evening, we go into Lansing to an obedience fun match. It’s still very hot. My brain isn’t engaged and I’m not thinking about what the dogs need to perform. Scuba goes in and does her usual decent job, but I totally fail to let Stitch know what we’re doing there or why. Her Heel On Lead is a superb example of loose leash walking, but as we approach the Stand For Exam, the judge tells me I’m welcome to leave the leash on for the rest of the exercises if I want. “No, thanks, she’s not going anywhere, she’s just not heeling.” And that described the performance. Stand for Exam was excellent. Recall was fast and fairly accurate. Stays were fine. Heel Free was a bit better than Heel On, which isn’t saying much.
Friday we pack up and head on to Niagara Falls, Ontario, where Stitch is entered in a Draft Dog clinic on Saturday, and Scuba in a Draft trial on Sunday. Stitch has a good handle on the beginning behaviours, but she needs experience with the shafts on either side of her. I’ll duct tape two short pieces of PVC pipe to her harness a few times this winter and get her started in the spring. Still very hot. I’m desperately nervous. I’ve never seen a Draft Test before, but that’s no excuse. Why can’t I get my head screwed on? I’m not giving the dogs any support at all for the work I’m asking them to do. Scuba, of course, does just fine. The first Portie with a Draft Dog title! Stitch next year! and Brace Draft after that.