Syn @ 6 Months

Jul 20, 2011 | Syn's Story

By luring a show stack, I was getting a very nice show stack – but not significantly slowing down her little stamp-stamp front-foot-shuffle (which really looks like it’s pointing out that she’s standing: See, I’m standing! stamp-stamp, yep, that’s standing all right! The only problem with the stamp-stamp is that she gradually moves her front feet forward or backwards to a position I don’t want them in. Got to get rid of the stamp.

So this morning we went to shaping a silent-body (or, more appropriately, a silent-paw) stand.

I half-cup of her kibble is about 100 pieces, and a small handful is 10, which nicely divides a meal into 10 rounds of 10 clicks, more or less.

It took 25 for her to figure out she was being clicked for standing, and not for swinging her head, or wagging her tail, or stamping her feet, or sneezing.

Then she’d give me stands for 5 clicks, and then forget and take another 5 to remember again.

At 50 she had the stand, and we started working on minor duration. We got to 3 seconds. Every 15 clicks, she’d decide there must be some easier way to get kibble – lie down? Roll over? Look away? Oh! Oh! Dive into her crate (had to pull the door open first)… nothing. Dang, ma, what’d’you…oh! Stand!

I’m happy with 3 seconds for the first meal. Now I’ll give her a couple of hours to absorb it and work it from the beginning again.

Two observations. First, interesting to watch part of my brain screaming “her tail is down! Her feet aren’t square! Her back is hunched! She looks terrible! Don’t click THAT!” while the rest of me is cheerfully clicking her for keeping 4 on the floor for half a second.

Second, when I switched from clicking and tossing the treat for that half-second stay to clicking and handing her the treat, I immediately lost the quiet paws and went back to stamp-stamp as she ate. Note to self: at least one more session before you try handing her the treats again.

We shaped stand for half of lunch, and then tried the lured show stack again. HUGE improvement. Still some stamping, but it’s much diminished. She looks now like her feet are sticky – they WANT to stay on the floor. So much easier to get a good movement of her centre of gravity forward with sticky feet!

Then I tried the stand-the-dog-and-walk-around-her for Rally – and got it!! Well, 2 out of 3 times. Wow! Then I sat down and read the Rally rules again and there’s no Stand-and-walk-around in Novice. Which means I don’t have to worry about it, unless of course she aces Novice and I get to boost her up to Advanced. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA

Pardon me while I change my underwear and try to catch my breath.

Anyway, it’s utterly amazing what an improvement I got when I (dare I say it) made a plan and actually taught the little muffin something instead of just trying to get her to do it.

I have a vague recollection of having made this discovery forty or fifty previous times in my life.


I got a smack upside the head this evening. I went to a mall parking lot to meet a guy to buy a new used phone, and took Syn along – more for identification (I’m the fat broad with the brown and white dog) than anything. No treats. We got there about ten minutes early, so I tried working her rally behaviours. Well golly gosh. She looked like the quintessential country bumpkin. Wow! 2 people walking through the parking lot! Look! A hamburger wrapper blowing! A SEAGULL! She tried to pretend she was listening and working with me, but she actually missed me once, she was trying to give me a front while looking behind me at… something.

So tomorrow morning we’ll go back with a plan. Treats not evident but definitely present. Fifteen minutes of gawking time out of the car. Then a warm-up of Level 1 stuff – Zen and Touch and such, then some Watch, moving into short bits of heeling and some retrieve work in hand. THEN we’ll try some rally behaviours.

Sigh. Fortunately the 4-day show next weekend will include 2 days of conformation before her rally trials start, so she’ll have had 2 days of gawking, and I’ll definitely be letting her know that show sites (and parking lots) are places where treats might happen to a puppy who can pay attention.


And so we went on our Big Trip.

A friend arrived with an adult Giant Schnauzer bitch, a 14-mo Giant bitch (not her wrestling buddy), and an adult male Malinois. Syn was leery to begin with but has good experiences of Giants so quickly decided Marquee (the younger one) was worth a good romp. The Mal, too, was fun, though he tends to play rough when he gets going so he wasn’t allowed any free time (dog show coming up, y’know).

Then we drove 3 hours to my son and d-i-l’s, stayed overnight, and on for another 5 hours to Calgary. We got there a day early, so had lots of time to settle in, get the RV set up and find our way around the huge show site. Syn and Stitch were once again brilliant in the car. I love travelling with dogs when I have to occasionally check to make sure they’re in their crates – they’re so quiet I might have forgotten them at the last truck stop…

I had rented a golf cart – one of the smarter things I’ve ever done – to get around the show site in. There were trams but it was hot and nice not to have to stand in parking lots waiting for the “bus”. I could drive the golf cart right up to the grooming/obedience building, and close to the conformation and agility rings.

So we started. The Giant/Mal friend is one of the best groomers on the continent and has shown many Portuguese Water Dogs (and in fact evaluated Syn’s litter before I got there), so I got some excellent tips on shampoos, conditioners, and what to do about Syn’s floppy topknot and muttonchops. Spent most of the first show day grooming. Then – oh, frabjous day, I forgot the part where many dogs are usually absent the first day of a show and pulled up to Syn’s conformation ring just as the breed finished. Actually, though, that was a really good thing because if we’d made it in time, I would have taken her into the ring unsure of where she was or why she was there. Since we got there late but prepared, with treats, chairs, shade, etc, I just sat down in the shade and let her gawk for a couple of hours, rewarding her for looking at other dogs of various strange shapes and sizes. That helped a lot. Not enough it turned out, but a lot.

Stitch failed obedience by following me out of the ring on the down stay. She wasn’t happy. Don’t know what that’s about. Worried me a bit.

Both dogs rode brilliantly around the grounds in the golf cart, doing the queen wave at everyone we passed.

The next day I managed to make it to the conformation ring on time, and so did my friend who was going to handle Syn. Didn’t get a look, but Syn did very well in the ring. Hey, she says, we’re running AROUND the ring! How cool is that?!

Syn was very comfortable in the conformation ring, but not comfortable in the waiting ring. Too many dogs, too much bustle, too many people. I was afraid she might be a little jumpy in the ring because of how she felt in the waiting ring so after we were done, we once again went and sat nearby to watch the proceedings. I thought that I would move closer and closer to the waiting ring as she grew more and more comfortable, but…

There was an adult male Doberman sitting nearby. He was looking at a toy I was holding, so I handed it to him. He started staring fixedly at Syn with the toy in his mouth, then dropping it repeatedly in front of her. She’d finally decide to dare trying to pick it up, he’d say OH BOY! and she’d hurriedly drop it and cuddle up next to my leg again. They had just finished negotiating how to play with each other (and the area had cleared out considerably) when the big dog’s teenage niece came along. She and Syn took one look at each other and Just Knew. Too bad they were wearing leashes – they could have had a MUCH grander time without, though the time was grand enough as it was. And that’s all it took. Once Syn’s New Friends left, she had a new attitude and flirted with every single dog that walked anywhere near her, even pulling on the lead a bit to try to get closer to them. She particularly aimed for Giant Schnauzers, Dobes, and, apparently extrapolating, Rotts, Standard Schnauzers, and MinPins.

And Stitch failed obedience again by lying down on the sit. That’s enough of that, I pulled her from obedience the rest of the trip. Hello duh. Do I KNOW this dog doesn’t like surprises (yes, I do)? Did we PRACTISE obedience before we came here (no, we didn’t)? Do *I* deserve to get laughed out of the ring (yes, I do)?

The third day was huge, with all her friends in the Giant Schnauzer Specialty AND the all-breed show. The morning started with Stitch earning a perfect score in Rally Excellent and Syn earning a 99/100. Wow! Unfortunately they won’t go down in the record book that way since I lost 11 points on Stitch and 10 points on Syn for handler errors. They’re both looking for “I am handlercapped” t-shirts. Still, good rounds, and my widdle baby puppy has a Rally leg!

The handler/friend didn’t make it to ringside when it was time for Syn to go in conformation (she was still in the Specialty ring), so I had to show her myself – and I did, and it wasn’t awful. It’s been a long time since I even imagined I could run around a ring, but it actually wasn’t too bad (aside from the fact that I wasn’t wearing decent show clothes OR decent underwear – not cool to knock yourself out while running around the show ring). And Syn got Best of Winners for 2 points! EE HAH! A Rally leg and 2 points! Wow!

The fourth day Stitch got another Rally Excellent leg, Syn got another Rally Novice leg, and we were cannon fodder in the conformation ring. I was very happy with Syn’s conformation behaviour, though, and she was bold and confident in the waiting ring. My going-around-the-show-ring criteria is “she has to do a jackrabbit bounce at least twice or the outing was unsuccessful”. So far so good.

One behaviour she needs for conformation that we haven’t practised much, but which she picked up immediately in the ring, is the ability to move out in front of the handler, putting a couple of ounces of pressure on the leash so she knows where I am without having to look back at me. She got it. Immediately. And her Lazy Leash went completely out the window. It’s GONE. Between learning to put pressure on the show leash, a brief outing on a Flexi-lead, and her newfound attraction to other dogs, this day was enormously frustrating for me until I finally made a decision. Stop fussing and let her pull until these shows are over and we get back home? Or take several days off and remind her now of her job? Nope, I’ll stop fussing. She’s doing so well in the show ring I’ll wait until we get home to solve this problem.

Except I took the opportunity of Syn forgetting Loose Leash to get friend-evaluator to star in a video of teaching LL:

Now (sorry for jumping back and forth between IS and WAS – I should have written this while I was at the show, but it was pretty much get-up-at-5, work-all-day, fall-into-bed the whole time) we have 2 days to rest and drive 5 hours to Edmonton for another 4 days of shows.

What have I learned so far?

Should have practised obedience with Stitch. (facepalm)

Should have practised show-lead-walking vs Lazy Leash with Syn. It’s OK, but if I’d practised, I wouldn’t have remedial LL to do when I get home.

I’d like to send a bouquet of dog biscuits to those lovely Dobermans (and their very kind owners) who played with Syn and told her that dogs at dog shows aren’t really scary. In Edmonton a woman introduced herself as their breeder (she started the conversation by saying “So THIS is the brown Portie everyone’s talking about!”), so I got to tell her what I thought of her dogs.

Also to the Malinois who barked a lot and eventually convinced Syn that dogs in crates who swear at her really have nothing to do with her.

It’s very difficult for a 6 mo puppy to switch back and forth between conformation and Rally. Her Rally scores will be going down every day, I can tell. She’s not ready to switch, and she’s had no work on duration of behaviours – that is, performing for 3 minutes at a time with no treats. She’s going to start gawking. Still, I’m not assuming she actually knows how to do any of these behaviours, I’m sort of herding her through the courses.

She actually knows a lot. I can’t WAIT to get back to the Levels and teach her more. Dear little Tat.


At the Edmonton shows it’s all outdoors. We get set up with 2 tents, and I spend a TON of money getting back into dog shows (my 6 mo puppy DOES have 2 points, after all… ) – bought a hand dryer, a pair of fishtail scissors, a small grooming table, new shampoo and conditioner, a couple of shade cloths. And toys, of course, and… and…

we already have a couple of little red wagons.

This is one of the best things I’ve ever bought. In the early mornings I put all my junk in the wagon and both dogs – partly because I didn’t want to have to discuss Lazy Leash with Syn from the parking lot to the tents, partly because I didn’t want her legs to get wet from the dew before she went in the ring.

Anyway, the first day, Stitch finished her Rally Excellent title and I pulled her for the rest of the show. After that she had nothing to do but agility with my friend. Then Syn went into her third Rally Novice trial. She was doing fine, and in the middle of one exercise, she suddenly dropped her butt, threw up her head, and started running. Full of the joy of puppyhood, having gotten rather too little exercise in the last week, she cast off the surly bonds of earth and RAN. Fortunately she was on lead and in spite of my recent whining, she DOES know about Lazy Leashes, so she wasn’t flying around the ring, she was only flying around ME. She went a dozen times in one direction, then turned and went 8 or 9 in the other. I’m sure I could have stopped her, but gosh, she was having such a wonderful time, and I was just trying really hard not to wet myself I was laughing so hard. Finally she stopped and looked at me. “What are we gonna do now, ma?” Oh, I don’t know… how about finishing this serpentine? “OK!” so we went on and finished and, to my amazement (or perhaps horror), she qualified (with a magnificent 74/100), so that was her title.

And in conformation she got nothing but again did well, maintained her requisite 2-squirrel-jumps, had a good time and trucked around the ring brilliantly.

The next day, I took her in Rally again to try to redeem ourselves in the eyes of our fellow exhibitors, if nothing else. I heard this conversation: “Wow, did you see Sue Ailsby’s dog totally lose control in the ring yesterday?” “Hey, give her a break, she’s only 6 months old!” “Are kidding? She’s in Rally! She can’t be 6 months old!” And she did a decent job. That was definitely too many tries with no duration built up yet in the training, but decent nevertheless. One interesting thing was that in the EXACT same spot as the day before, her butt suddenly dropped and her head came up, but before she took off into the air I said Syn, no (our Zen cue). She looked at me, said “OK” and we continued on with the course, so when we were done she got a pretty lively snuggle for sticking with me. Got a lovely compliment from the judge about our relationship – that made my day.

And ignored again in conformation, but again she was exceptionally good. I really had thought it would take these 6 shows to get her to know which direction we were supposed to go in the ring, so we’re WAY ahead of the game.

The third day, since we’d pulled from everything but agility and Syn in conformation, we relaxed a lot. My friend took Syn in the ring and I got to look at her. Apparently in the last week she’d grown about 3″ of leg. In Calgary she looked like a nice solid happy puppy. This day she looked like Ichabod Crane with a big grin on his face, scrawny legs everywhere. Eeuw, time to go home and get used to that height. She’s almost as big as Stitch!

The last day we only had Stitch in agility. I pulled Syn from conformation and spent the day just hanging around. Talked about using PWDs as service dogs with the parents of a couple of cheerful boys. Then, while we were sitting in the shade watching agility, a pair of young ladies came to stand beside us (7 and 9? 6 and 8?). They politely ask if they can pet Syn and I agree. She’s a little leery, willing but uncertain. I’m not concerned about her damaging them, she’s had plenty of practise coming to me for protection when she’s getting overwhelmed. The petting goes well and the younger girl is eyeing the bungie tug toy I’m holding, so I hand it to her (I know by now that they have two Schipperkes). She holds it out to Syn, who immediately latches on and starts pulling. Soon the Syn and the kid are tugging around the area, Syn going mostly backwards, the kid going mostly forwards while firmly declaring “I will NOT let go! I will NOT let go!”, and her sister coming over to give her a hand once in a while, else they’d have wound up back in Calgary… much hilarity ensued, everyone had a marvellous time, and shazam, Syn had a g great experience with children. I owe part of this little victory to Wangchuk Dorji, our visitor from Bhutan, who’s been living with us for 6 weeks. He knows nothing about dogs, but loves them. He and Syn have been diligently teaching each other to play tug since he arrived. So to the wonderful Dobermans, the wonderful girls, and our wonderful friend Wangchuk, THANK YOU!

Oh, while we were there doing nothing much all day, we entered a Canine Good Neighbour test. And passed with flying colours. Good puppy! So now she’s Hunter Sync Or Swym At Dragonair RN CGN who (temporarily at least) dogs and children. That’s a successful trip!

And now what have I learned?

I’m feeling much better physically than I have in a decade. I can even show my own dog in conformation.

I WILL hold on to Syn’s joy with both hands. I will NOT allow it to escape.

She is one very smart little cookie – which is a good thing and a bad thing. Does she know she’s in the ring? Hey, she knew the EXACT SPOT in the ring where she had gotten The Rips the day before. EVERY experience has to be a happy experience with this little squirrel.

My RV is getting an upgrade. I love my RV, but it needs a generator and a real closet and some other fixes. What does this have to do with Syn? Look at it as a commitment to spend some time actually showing my own dog.

She’s a morning pooper ;*D Nice to know. And, having gone on leash for 2 weeks, she now thoroughly understands, and takes advantage of, the pee cue.

So now we’re home and we can relax and fix the Lazy Leash and other things and get back into the Levels work… oh, wait, no, we’re 18 days away from a water trial that I promised to support. Where? Yep, 8 hours away, back near Edmonton. I had hoped to have Stitch ready for Courier (the 4th level – Junior Water Dog, Apprentice WD, Working WD, Courier WD) this year, but it’s been so wet and mucky we haven’t even been able to get down to the water to practise – and if we could, the high water levels have destroyed my dock. We’ll be going to a lake for a “holiday” this week to see if Stitch remembers enough from last year to give a credible performance in Working again, and introduce Syn to the water. She’s doing all the Junior exercises – sort of. Today she retrieved a sinking toy from 2″ of water in the bathtub, she swims with me in the hot tub, and she can ride on golf carts (which are sort of like boats, right?), so we’ve done all the practising we can short of actually going in real water.

Ah well, I don’t care if she passes or not (I have a bridge for sale as well… ) but if she’ll have a good time playing water trial like she did playing Rally, I’ll put her in. If she won’t enjoy it, they can thank me for the donation ahead of time.


Ladies and gentlemen, I have a water dog.

Summary: I taught Syn to retrieve and come using the Training Levels. We worked halfway through Level 2 in everything. Last week we worked a bit specifically on retrieving her bumper, her buoy line, and a buoy. Last week we also worked for 10 minutes on retrieving her sinking toy from an inch and a half of water in the bathtub, during which I saw her begin to understand that she had to hold her breath or blow bubbles while her nose was underwater. Three times I took her into the swim spa (large hot tub set at exercising temperature rather than hot tub temp) and alternately held her and got her to swim, rewarding hugely. I showed her where the corner seat was and told her to go to mat on the seat frequently so she never had a chance to get tired or worried. Since the seat is perfectly situated (far enough under water) for her to stand on and feel safe but to launch easily back into swimming from, we practised launching a lot.

Today: I took Syn and Stitch to the beach. I was going to work Stitch first to let Syn watch and get used to the new surroundings, but she told me quite vociferously (not to mention vocally) that she was not prepared to sit quietly tied to a tree while Stitch got to chase bumpers – surprise, she’s very good at this at home. So I tied up Stitch and took Syn down to the water. It’s a nice little beach, with quite a long walk out (maybe 30 feet) before it gets to swimming depth for a dog this size.

First I let her sniff the grass, the sand, and the water. Then I asked her to get excited about a bumper and tossed it for her four or five times on the grass and onto the sand. Ee hah, she was very happy to be chasing down the bumper ad returning it to my hand. Even more excited to see there were wieners involved.

Then I tossed it just into the water. A bit of a splash. No problem with that. She lipped the bumper a couple of times before she decided she could pick it up out of the water just as easily as she’d done on land. She brought it back, got her treat, and I tossed it again into the water, this time a little further out. After 5 water tosses, I thought she might be getting a little slow (which is to say she was only jumping 2 feet into the air before pouncing on the bumper in the water) so I tossed it on the grass again. That revved her up enough that I went back to the “wet work”. Several times she grabbed at the bumper sideways, which meant that she had her entire muzzle underwater as she grabbed it.

She was having such a good time with the bumper that I tossed the buoy line in – no problem. In fact, it might have been more fun because she had to make a decision about where to grab it. Then I tried the big buoy ball that she won’t need until she gets to Working. Again, no problem. Even the heavy ball bouncing against her as she brought it back didn’t bother her.

OK, little miss, let’s try the sinking toy. I walked her into the lake up to my ankles, showed her the toy, rewarded her once for reaching for it, then dropped it into the water. One part was sticking up above the water about half an inch. No problem, and she remembered the bubbles. I moved it back and forth – she had a bit of trouble when the whole thing was an inch under the water – mostly with knowing where it was, I think, but she’s beginning to understand that if she reaches where she saw it drop, she’ll find it. At one point she reached under the water to get it, didn’t hit it, and then kept her head under the water for at least 4 seconds feeling around for it (that’s a VERY good thing).

Right, back to the bumper and some general silliness. Twice she was bringing it back to me so fast she tripped in the water and plowed in nose first, with her whole head underwater and her tail trying to teach her to do a somersault. I was afraid this would scare her, but she wasn’t bothered at all. (EE HAH).

And here comes the big test. Am I going to spend the rest of the week trying to teach her to swim? No, I’m not. With her beside me, rewarding her regularly, I walked into the water (what’re we doing, ma? We’re walkin’ in the water! You and me, walkin’ in the water! Fun, right?!). Yeah, sweetie, it’s all fun and games until someone winds up in a cone… with my heart in my mouth but no hesitation, I continue walking. She walked beside me, she walked beside me, she splashed the odd paw, and she was swimming. No hesitation, no fuss, no worry, no bother. Walking, swimming. Then walking again, heading desperately for shore… no, just walking, hanging with me, turning willingly back to where she had to swim again. EE EE HAH HAH!

We swam and walked for another 5 minutes and then went to shore. I had a friend hold her while I walked back out to swimming depth. I called her and she came into the water and swam like a little torpedo to me.

Further summary: she doesn’t have the distance she’s going to need for the water trial, but this IS, after all, the first time she’s ever seen real water in a real lake. She was brilliant. I’m SO excited. I was hoping we could go to the trial and (pass or fail) put on a reasonable performance and have her enjoy herself. If she couldn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t put her in the water. Now I think I’d have to kick her around the parking lot to convince her not to enjoy the experience. And she SWAM. And she put her head under water. And she retrieved. I am SO pumped.

Oh, Stitch was grand too. She remembered she could enjoy jumping off things (a dock in this case), and how to get back on it, and her retrieving, of course, was exemplary.

Another example of long memories, though. TWO YEARS AGO, in a water trial where Stitch didn’t think she could enjoy jumping off perfectly good boats, and in a fairly swift-flowing river, she was supposed to jump off a boat and retrieve a bumper, the buoy line, and a buoy that I’d “dropped” overboard. By the time I had convinced her to get off the boat and she’d retrieved the bumper and the line, the ball was long gone downstream. She chased it quite a way, but by then it was heading for “open ocean” and she had no hope of catching it. Finally in frustration she turned and headed for shore, sat down with a thunk and sat there glaring at me. The last thing I wanted to do was frustrate her that much, but it happened.

Today, she cheerfully jumped off the dock and retrieved the bumper and the line. There was a bit of a breeze and the ball was heading for the other side of the beach. She chased it a bit, then veered off and headed for shore. I invited her to get the ball, and cued LEFT for her to turn back toward it. She did veer left, but then headed for shore again. Again I cued LEFT and GET IT and GOOD GIRL and YOU CAN DO IT, and she did. She believed me. She went left and got the ball. Don’t THINK we didn’t have a big party when she got back to the dock!

So today was a truly superb day. I’m thrilled. If I can get Syn to Courier Water Dog with the joy she showed today… well, I think a lot of people will be thrilled.

Oh, and while I was gassing up the truck this afternoon (no internet access at the lake) I got notification that, out of 814 entries, my photo of Syn & Stitch is going in the Nutmeg PWD 2012 calendar (Google it, order one, this is the BEST calendar, and proceeds go to research). Meh, OK sort of day…

sinking toy buoy line


buoy ball

Photos cadged from


With NO idea what to expect, we go to the beach again. Will Syn have had nightmares about plowing along underwater with her chin in the sand and water over her eyes? Will Stitch have remembered how to get the ball without worrying? No and no, as it turns out.

When Syn spots the lake, she’s excited and ready to rumble. She wants to go to the water immediately, but she’s easy to call off… and call off… and call off. The third time she gives up trying to get me to go there and decides to stick around to see what sort of interesting things I’ll be doing on land. It’s important to work dry first. The lake is warm but puppy Syn has not the tiniest trace of a fat layer and gets chilled fairly quickly (compared to an adult dog with more body-per-square-inch-of-skin). We get some nice short dry retrieves, and start working on more distance. At Junior level the water retrieve is only 25 feet, but at Apprentice it’s 60 – a considerable difference. Junior is an introductory level. She doesn’t need Jr to enter Apprentice, and I’ve entered her in both. The longer retrieves aren’t a problem as long as she sees where the bumper lands. If she doesn’t see it, she runs out 25 feet and starts looking around there. With only 2 more days of water practise, I’m glad this is a problem we can work on at home on the ground. Another little problem is my nephew, who’s filming a documentary about our family. He’s come to the lake with me to video the training. A problem? No, but when Syn can’t find the bumper, he’s a bit more interesting than looking for it… not a problem, an opportunity to overcome distractions. ONE more small problem – her grip on the large bumper isn’t awfully secure, or she steps on the rope attached to it once in a while, so she drops it sometimes on the longer runs. Not a real problem, since she’s allowed to drop it, and she thoroughly understands that it’s her job to bring it to me, so it takes nothing further on my part to get her to turn around, pick it up again, and bring it all the way to me.

Then we move to the water with some short retrieves, then longer and longer ones. Same problem there. As long as she sees it, she’ll follow the bumper to Christmas and bring it back. If she doesn’t see it fall, she’s looking short. On the good side, if I wade in a bit, point, pretend I’m throwing it again, and urge her to get it, she goes out further, and as soon as she spots it, she’s off to get it.

Last, we try the sinking toy again. She’s eager to get it and perfectly willing to put her head under water to do that, but when the whole thing is under water, she can’t see where it is. She puts her head in the water 4 inches too soon and misses it. That could build up one of two ways – she could get frustrated and quit wanting to do it, or she could get used to the idea of only being able to find it when I’m holding it. We quit with her still bouncing and excited.

Stitch is fine on the retrieve, on the line, on jumping off the dock, but she’s very leery of the ball. She tries to change the subject several times, so we do short easy ball retrieves with nothing else involved and no weight on the ball line to hold it down (the ball at Working level has a weighted rope attached to it so the dog has to put her head under water while swimming in order to grab the rope to retrieve the ball). Five or six short, successful ball retrieves and we’re done.


Syn’s excited again today, but more willing to stay with me on land (wow, good pup!). I put our gear down just before we start and she’s grabbing things up and trying to hand them to me, eager to get started. We begin with straight bumper retrieves, going for more distance. She seems to have learned her lesson yesterday. Today she’s very carefully watching where the bumper’s going and we quickly get some good distance. 60 feet isn’t out of the question at all. Then I work a bit on having her stay while I throw and go on cue (in Junior I’ll be able to hold her harness, but in Apprentice she’ll need a stay). I ask her to stay, wait a second, reward, ask her to stay, wait 2 seconds, reward, ask her to stay, swing the bumper, hold the bumper and wait for her to swing back into heel position, ask her to stay, reward (rinse, repeat). She’s so excited it takes her 4 or 5 tries until she remembers what stay means while I wind up and toss the bumper.

On one particularly long throw, she stays well, but takes off just before I release her. I call her back – AND SHE COMES! Good pup! AND after she resets herself, she remembers where the bumper landed and is if possible even more eager to get it (when I release her this time). I’m so happy with her attitude. She’s so pleased to be retrieving that she’s spy-hopping on her way out to the bumper, and coming back to me so fast sometimes she skids. Very cool.

Then we go to the water. It’s very clear today so we start with the sinking toy. I drop it nose-depth, then muzzle-depth twice, then eye-depth, and finally full face depth. She’s retrieving it with no problem today. I’ll have to remember not to muddy up the water in our warm-up period at the trial.

Next I start pitching the bumper further and further – and again, no problem. The work she did on land translates to the water, she marks the bumper falling and heads straight out for it. She’ll need a 60-foot retrieve, and today we get a bunch of 60-footers and one 75 with no trouble.

Today the only Apprentice level exercise she has trouble with is a blind retrieve of the buoy line at 60 feet. She can’t find it. Of course, I’ve spent 3 weeks “losing” her line, saying “Uh oh, where’s your line? Look! There it is! Go get it!” so today when it’s in the water, I say “Where is it? Go!” and she doesn’t have a clue. Duh. I wade about 15 feet into the water before she figures out what I want and goes to get the line.

The only Junior exercise we haven’t tried so far is to have me sitting on a boat 60 feet from shore (apparently the water trial committee really likes the term “60 feet”) while a steward holds her harness, then releases her when I call her and she enters the water and swims out to me on the boat, then climbs into the boat. I don’t have a boat but had a long dock, so my nephew held her on shore while I went 70 feet out on the dock, sat down and called her. SUPerDOG! Cute little torpedo! No hesitation whatsoever. Didn’t try asking her to jump off the dock today, it was a bit chillier than yesterday and she was getting cold – and everything she did was brilliant, so we quit. She was MAD MAD MAD MAD MAD MAD that I put her in the truck and then worked Stitch, but she shut up eventually.

Stitch started out looking sort of pouty but picked up quickly. We did a lot of getting the buoy ball after jumping off the dock, and that went well. She’s got the hang of it again. Then I started adding more and more objects – in this exercise she has to bring me the ball, a bumper, and a line, all without getting back in the boat. Last year we had a hand signal which told her she had to get something else and another signal to tell her she was done and could board up. Today both of us started to remember the signals, and that’s another thing we can work on on land. Two more things to work on. She still has a tendency to spit the articles at me rather than hold onto them until I cue a release. And her final exercise is going off on another boat while the other boat moves (yes, 60 feet) away from mine. Then a bumper is tossed off my boat, she stays, she stays… and then I cue her to jump off, get the bumper, and bring it to me. I’m happy to say that she had some difficulty staying on the dock after I tossed the bumper. Why am I happy? Because anticipation of what comes next is always a MUCH better way to fail something than not doing it at all, or doing it reluctantly. We’ll do a little work on stays on land and it’ll be fine. Or it won’t. If she fails because she’s too eager to jump off the boat, it’ll have been a good day.


Today I got smacked in the face with preconceptions: a) my pup now has 60′ retrieves; b) my pup joyfully wades in the water and starts swimming; c) so does Stitch.

Yeah, well.

Those things DO happen – if I run through the entire training sequence, quickly, from the beginning when we start. It only takes 5 minutes, but we are DEFINITELY not past the place where it needs to be done.

We started with the underwater retrieve. No problem, Syn is glad to do that, partway up to her elbows in water and getting her face wet. OK.

So then I throw a bumper out about 40 feet. Um, what? But the water’s cold. But I’m dry. But it’s far away. But, but… I wade out towards it, she comes with me, and when she’s almost swimming, she’s wet enough to go get it. Duh.

So what do I do with Stitch? Same thing. I need a keeper.

Two good things about this. First, they both got back in the swing of things when I wised up. Second, this happened so I had a chance to learn the lesson. If it happened first the day of the trial, I’d be looking pretty stupid. Worse, the dogs wouldn’t enjoy the outing. Older and wiser? I hope so.