Syn @ 9 Months

Oct 24, 2011 | Syn's Story

Day before yesterday I went to watch a friend of mine at an obedience trial. She has a new dog and the dog was entered in Pre-Novice. I was minding my own business, enjoying her success, when I overheard someone say those magic words “post entries” – which means that you can enter the trial an hour before it starts rather than 2 weeks before. “Oh ho,” says I. “Syn could do this!” So I entered once for yesterday.

We warmed up that evening by doing a few sit stays and me walking around her. The morning of the trial, I asked another spectator to touch Syn on the head while she did a sit stay. I used one or two treats, but mostly playing and leash tugging to reward her for practising.

The exercises in Pro-Novice are… Heeling on leash. No, she can’t heel, but she has a pretty good Loose Leash Walk, and she gave it to me in spades, watching me closely through half of it and then doing a bit of gawking. In P-N you’re allowed to give a couple of extra commands for unimportant behaviours which I used to get her to sit each time we stopped. By the time we stopped each time, she was looking over THERE and so walked on past me a bit, then realized I wasn’t beside her so curled in front of me and stopped, staring at me. “Park.” plop.

Next are circles around two people standing 8 feet apart. First we made a complete circle counterclockwise, then an about turn and halt (“Park.” plop), then a complete clockwise circle with another halt (“P.” p)

Then the sit for examination. I asked her to sit, walked out to the end of my 6-foot leash, the judge touched her on the head (which should have resulted in a big leap and wild enthusiasm but amazingly, she gave a little shrug as if to say “Leave me alone, lady, I’m doing a sit stay here!”), I returned around behind her, and EE HAH.

Then about a 15-foot recall, during which she demonstrated her super SYNSYN! come, circled me twice, and plopped into a sit on her own.

Finally, a 30-second group sit-stay and she has a Pre-CD leg. I’m not sure we’ll ever finish the title – you don’t need the Pre-CD to go for the CD. Still, it’s nice to see the enthusiasm and enjoyment she gave me.

In a couple of weeks Stitch, Syn, our friend Fish and I will be doing a seminar in Manitoba. Part of that seminar will be an introduction to carting. Fish has been carting all summer, but Stitch hasn’t done any this year and Syn’s never done any at all. Today I dug out a couple of harnesses and got started.

Stitch hates surprises. I absolutely can’t slap a harness on her after a year-long hiatus and expect her to do anything until she’s had some time to remember what it’s about. Sure enough, I put her harness on her and she spent 10 long minutes standing in one place.

I didn’t expect Syn to have any problem with wearing the harness, and she didn’t, other than the initial “what the heck is going on here?” moment. She willingly poked her head through the collar and, after I explained that I wasn’t looking for her to floss my teeth, she stood nicely while I adjusted the straps. Then I got a couple of handfuls of their breakfast and tossed them on the floor – 400-pick-up is one of their favourite games and they each immediately forgot about the harnesses and dived into cleaning the floor.

I let them wander around the house wearing the harnesses for an hour or so, then we went for a short walk. Stitch went immediately into “draft dog walk” – slow and steady – while Syn galloped all over the yard, completely ignoring the harness.

On the way home, I fastened the two dogs together. They were each wearing a limited-slip collar (designed for sled dogs), which I tied together with a 6-inch line, and I snapped a singletree onto the withers of their harnesses so they were held about the same distance apart. The harness brakes involve waist belts, which I also fastened together. I was ready for Syn to have a problem with this setup – I had a leash on her, and good treats in hand in case she got worried – but she had no trouble at all. Stitch on the other hand – it was like harnessing a wild Thoroughbred to a small Percheron. Stitch plodded sedately and Syn galloped and pulled. Well, she learned that she CAN pull while she’s wearing the harness, and eventually Stitch got into a nice sedate trot and Syn fell into step with her and they looked pretty good for a hundred feet or so. We’ll do that again tomorrow and the next day and then we’ll start pulling a small car tire on a 50-foot line.

If I can’t floss your teeth, I don’t know WHAT the heck you want! She’s not nearly as stressed as she looks here.

Oh, a retrieve. OK, that might be fun.

Yeah! I can retrieve with a harness on! I’m a STAR! That look on her face says she’s about to ROOOO at me for making it so hard to have fun by putting “clothes” on her.


Two items of interest this week.

First, the cart/harness thing. Syn has worn her harness for hours at a time several days. She’s completely at ease with it, with me putting it on and taking it off her, and with me pulling on various parts of it while she’s wearing it. No big deal. Day before yesterday we went outside. I tied a 10-foot line on a small suitcase and took her for a walk while I pulled the suitcase. It made quite a racket dragging along behind us in the gravel. Syn spent several minutes walking sideways and trying to duck in front of me (not allowed, dogs who walk in front of me get run over – that’s in the Levels and she’s practised it ad nauseum). Be a little nervous if you want, walk sideways if you want, keep a keen eye on the monster behind us – all fine. Tripping me – NOT fine. Guess what, when I get tripped, I TRIP.

After a couple of minutes of me just walking, singing a bit, treating any walking NOT in front of me and/or aiming in the direction I was walking, she forgot about the noise and started to enjoy the walk. As we went along comfortably, I gradually shortened the length of the line until the suitcase was dragging directly behind us.

Yesterday we did that again and then we went for a walk with me pulling our dorsal hitch cart instead of dragging the suitcase. Back to the beginning – several minutes of walking sideways and trying to cross in front of me, several minutes of tripping over her and rewarding any appropriate walking. We did manage to go for our walk with her trucking along in front of the cart (which runs in silence, not like the suitcase at all), but she didn’t get to the point where she was comfortable with this monstrous thing behind her when we were turning around. Definitely NOT time to hitch her up.

My plan is to get her comfortable in and around the cart with more walking and shaping her to touch it, jump in it, use it as a mat, etc. We’ll also do more walking with Syn and Stitch harnessed together as we did last week. Then I’ll hitch Stitch to the cart and go for a walk with Syn on lead. Then I’ll attach Syn to Stitch with Stitch hitched, then hitch them both, and finally just Syn by herself.

Second item on the agenda: Syn has entered the 8-month-Puppy-Wobbles. Things that have never bothered her before are suddenly vastly frightening. This is coupled with her sudden intense awareness of who’s walking near our house and who is US and who is NOT-US. So far everybody at dog class and everybody in my house is US, and I’m not taking any chances right now taking her to the park or anywhere else she might meet someone who is NOT-US. And I’m being VERY careful with the whole cart/harness deal.

What this means to me is that a) she’s in a fear period which needs to be managed by not exposing her to things which might scare her and by not getting hysterical about her “freaky” reactions to innocent things; and b) she needs to be in the Leading The Dance regimen for a couple of weeks in order for her to remember that I am in charge of not letting anything bad happen to this house or the members thereof, so she doesn’t have to worry her little puppy brain about things like that.

Unfortunately that can’t start for a couple of days because I have to go out of town, leaving dogs at home, but I’ll start the Dance as soon as I get home.

Cases in point: she’s been picking up her dog dish and bringing it to me before meals for a month, but suddenly the dishes are kind of scary. She’s very excited about mealtimes, and when I ask her to get her dish so I can put food in it, she’s perfectly willing to get it, but she has to creep up on it as if it were about to bite her. She leaves her back paws WAAYYY back behind her, walks her front paws up closer to the dish, then does a “push-up” – lowering her body down almost to the ground so she can reach forward soooo faaaar to get the dish without getting too close to it. Once she’s got it, it’s safe and she hands it to me cheerfully.

She’s been jumping on the grooming table to be brushed, have her nails done, and be blown dry for months and months. This morning I gave Stitch a bath and put her on the table. Turned on the dryer and BAM, Syn scurried out the dog door. Now, she can certainly use the dog door any time she pleases, but this didn’t look like going outside, this looked like escaping with her life.

I immediately got excited about Stitch – running the dryer on her but also sweet-talking her and shovelling treats into her as fast as I could.

Jealousy, thy name is dog. Boy, that was tough. Does she come back in and possibly die by dog dryer? Or stay outside and miss out on the treats? Her sort-of compromise was to come in but stay close to the door so she could escape if she needed to, lying tense and distrustful. I tossed her a treat for every one Stitch got. I even blew the dryer air on her once or twice and she did nothing but raise her nose into the air stream. If I leaned toward her though, or reached toward her, she was gone out the door again.

Gradually she got to the point where she could come behind me and allow me to pet her, even to take a handful of hair near her neck and hold onto her for a moment. When Stitch was done and I turned off the dryer, Syn was all joy and relief, woo-wooing loudly and dancing around. She jumped on the table when I tapped it and I gave her a treat and put her back on the floor. I tapped again, she jumped up again, I turned the dryer on and blew some dust out of her jacket, gave her a treat and a cuddle and put her back on the floor. No problem.

Who knows who evil lurks in the heart of Puppy? The Shadow may know but I certainly don’t. Ah well, this too shall pass – if I don’t get hysterical about it.


Syn’s not afraid of the dryer any more, and comfortable with her dish again, but she’s decided she needs to sit/crouch when I’m putting her cart harness on. What a strange little person she is right now. (eye roll) Teenagers!

This morning she was entered in a CARO Rally trial – same as CKC that she was in 3 months ago, but harder to pass and I can use food in the ring to reward her after stationary behaviours. She went in the ring twice – once for her first Novice leg, and once with a friend for Novice Team. She got the Novice leg with no trouble – she may need a handler transplant, though. -2 points for a double command she didn’t need. Other than that, she was a bit distracted during the first half of the round. Not wandering all over, but a little hick-in-the-big-city happening, which was strange since that’s the building she’s had several classes in. She pulled herself together nicely, though. 189/200, and she was perfect in Team and we got that leg as well. Another of each tomorrow, and I’ve got her For Exhibition Only (not competing) in Advanced as well tomorrow.

I’ve been working the cart twice a day this week. We did the hitch-with-Stitch (sorry about that) thing, which was OK when they were going in a straight line, but not great when they tried to turn. There may be a minor advantage to having two shafts – the dog wouldn’t be so readily able to turn around and watch the monster cart chasing her down. I decided she needed some practise getting used to the cart, and to the fact that it moves and doesn’t kill puppies when it does, so I brought it in the kitchen and we started playing with it. First I clicked her for looking at it, walking toward it, touching it with her nose and her paw, going around it, thinking about retrieving it, and crawling under it. Then we tried “200 pick-up”, a variation on the card “game” of 52 pick-up. Basically the game is played like this: I toss a handful of kibble on the floor, and any available dogs see who can pick up the most kibble before it’s all gone. When you play it around a cart, it looks like this:

That involved some pushing of the cart on her part, and some gentle moving it back and forth on mine. Then I added Stitch to the mix, which resulted in a lot more movement of the cart while they were eating, and more energy as they competed with each other:

OK. Now she’s past “ooh, scary moving thing near the kibble!” and into “why is this stupid thing making my life so difficult?”. It’s time to try hitching.

Right. Still more interest in the kibble than in the annoying thing attached to her back. Let’s take it outside.

Hmmm. That’s a little… creepy. I add some wieners, some more kibble, and a few minutes of hearty schnoogies. She remains fundamentally unconvinced but within a minute or two is starting to pull out of her funk.

We did get the tail up high at the end, but this is the best I caught on camera:

She can sleep on that experience and we’ll give it another try tomorrow (if we’re not in the middle of a blizzard by then). Maybe tomorrow Syn can pull the cart and Stitch can gallop around her free and give her something to chase and keep up to.

By the way, here’s what it’ll look like when it’s finished:


As it turns out, we WERE in the middle of a blizzard the next day, so didn’t get any carting done.

I hope I can convey the real extent of what happened in the Rally trial that second day, though.

Syn was entered 3 times. First in Novice. Second in Novice Team. Third for practise in Advanced.

Novice: Since she was somewhat distracted the day before, I put a lot of effort into trying to get her UP, get her excited, get her interested in what I was doing. It wasn’t good. Actually from a competition point of view, it wasn’t BAD – 191/200, but I was very unhappy with it. She only made eye contact with me three or four times, she was about an inch behind where she should have been – which isn’t a big deal for competition, but meant she wasn’t In The Game, wasn’t enjoying it like I want her to.

Stitch’s worst “sin” in competitions is that she’s “dutiful”. She doesn’t enthuse, she walks deliberately. She isn’t miserable, but she’s not flamboyant. As a Service Dog, this is fantastic. As a competition dog, it’s fine but it’s NOT what I want. I don’t want quiet competence, I want joyful enthusiasm. I want her to lose points because she FLUNG herself into the job. Now it seems I’m somehow teaching Syn to work the same way Stitch does. My heart is broken. If I wasn’t in a large group of people I’d be sobbing.

Fortunately I have my best friend/coach/person-who-keeps-me-honest at the trial with me.

Once upon a time (last year, I think) I failed a water trial with Stitch before I ever took a step Stitch was marvellous in the trial, totally perfect. *I* failed by sending her to do the first exercise before the judge told me to. Bear in mind we’d been trying to get this title for 2 years. When I walked out of the ring, this friend made a gesture on her forehead and said “Do you know what this means in Ameslan?” No, I didn’t.

“Peabrain,” she said. This is the person I need. No sugar-coating. She’s up to this task as well.

“You’re not handling Syn,” she says. “You’re handling Stitch. You have to cheerlead for Stitch. Why are you cheerleading Syn? She WANTS to be excited. You don’t talk like a chipmunk on steroids when you’re training her. Why are you talking like that when you’re handling her? Go in there and handle the dog you’ve got in the ring. It’s like you always say ‘train the dog who shows up’. Well, handle the dog you’ve got in the ring, not the one you were showing last year.”

So I calmed down, stopped cheerleading, and made sure I gave Syn my eyes when we went in for Novice Team. MUCH MUCH MUCH better. When I came out, my friend said “That time SHE wanted to go faster. SHE wanted to get on to the next thing. SHE was cheerleading you!”

Then I felt like crying again – but because I was so relieved to have beaten the “curse”.

So now, instead of going home, I can think about the Advanced class we’re in next. She can’t actually compete in Advanced, since she’ll only finish the weekend with 2 Novice legs and she’d need 3 to move up, so we’re entered For Exhibition Only in Advanced just so we can try it and I can give her a little more food in the ring. Now I can afford to look at the behaviours she’ll have to do in the Advanced ring. There might be a Stand For Examination. She isn’t ready for that, so if there is one, we’ll do a Sit for Exam instead. No disruption to the flow of the class, the judge will cooperate, and since we’re FEO, we have no chance of passing anyway. There might be a Figure 8 with food bowls on the ground. That shouldn’t be a problem, her floor Zen is EXcellent.

Oops, there’s a moving drop – we’re walking along and I ask her to down. I keep walking, she lies down, and I continue walking around her and back into heel position. I try it once, with a cue and a gesture. Nope. She heard the cue but follows my hand. I try it again with just a cue. Nope. The walking-forward part is too important for her to be able to listen to the cue. So I sat down and while thinking about it, I leaned over to get a nose-kiss from her, and instead of kissing me, she lay down. Aha. Light bulb. If I bend over, she lies down! Cool! Let’s try it.

Sure enough, I walk along, I bend my knees and bend over and ask her to Down, and she hits the floor like a bag of hammers. I walk around her and we continue on. WOO HOO! We try it one more time and it works just as well the second time.

Oops again, there’s a bar jump. Now the jumps in CARO Rally are at a distance – handler and dog are walking along. Before the handler gets closer than 10 feet back from the jump and 6 feet to the side, she sends the dog, who goes out and jumps on her own while the handler continues to walk past the jump, never getting closer than 6 feet to the jump. They meet on the other side. That’s all she knows/knew about the subject. I put my chair out in the middle of the spectator section and lead her around it once. Then I cue her to go around it and she does. We work that another 4 times while I get further and further away from the chair, ending up maybe 5 feet from it (that’s all the room there is). Then I put the chair HERE and I go THERE and we try it again from the different angle. She’s got it. I’ll surely have to ask her twice, and go closer, when we’re in the ring with a PVC upright and a 12-inch bar jump. No big deal.

We go in the ring. I give her my eyes. She wants to go faster but she stays with me. She’s wonderful. She does the moving drop SO WELL I can’t believe it. The judge had checked to be sure we were FEO and I explained that she didn’t have her Novice title yet and she didn’t know these harder behaviours yet. Syn did the moving down so well that the judge wryly gestured her finger down her throat (it was a joke). Wow, I am PUMPED now!

We move on and eventually get to the jump. Showing Stitch on this exercise, the distances look non-existent. Why would anyone go closer than 10 and 6 feet to send a dog over a jump? Approaching the jump with Syn, the chalk mark on the floor showing me how close I can go appears to be at least half a mile from the jump. I can barely SEE the jump! I sidestep a bit to line her up, and cue Go Around! and Little Miss cheerfully trots out and jumps the jump! UnbeLIEVable! I yell WOO HOO and grab her when we meet up, giving her a big ol’ schnoogie. What a grand puppy! We’ll lose a TON of marks for me grabbing her, but even if we were looking for a qualifying score, it would have been worth it. Little Miss! Look what you did! OMG!

A few more exercises – the moving sidestep is one of her favourites – and we come to another…

Oops. A military turn. How did I miss that? This is an about turn. The dog is on the left. The handler turns 180 degrees to her left while the dog comes around to her right and they meet again going the opposite direction. Essentially the handler does a 180 to the left while the dog does a 180 to the right. Thinking on the fly, I stick out my right hand, ask her to target it, and use it to lead her around behind me as I turn, then stick out my left hand for a target to catch her as she comes around. Slick, smart, easy. It looks like she knows it. Barn cool, that’s what it is.

And… we get a 196. -2 for a crooked sit in there somewhere, and -2 for another double command. And… if she’d actually been eligible for the class and we’d been competing, she would have won the class.

So here are the many wonderful things that happened on this wonderful day:

1. I have a wonderful friend who helped me sort out what I was doing wrong.

2. I was smart enough to listen to my friend and stop talking like a high chipmunk.

3. She had the right answer.

4. Syn was trusting enough to believe me when I told her I wasn’t going to act like a rodent any more.

5. When I gave her what she knew from training, Syn’s performance was fanTAStic.

6. One of the key reasons for the Training Levels is to produce a dog who enjoys learning and who can learn fast – a dog who is perfectly happy with “3-minute behaviours”. Syn gave me that in spades today. She learned and applied two very different behaviours based on behaviours she already knew and was able to apply in different circumstances. She learned them very, very quickly and with no stress whatsoever. Not that I’m at all deluded into thinking she “knows” them, but by golly she was able to give me the behaviours.

7. The military turn was even better. She didn’t know it, we didn’t practise it, she just responded to what I gave her by doing what she knew how to do, and the resort was something different entirely. WOO HOO.


I’m still basking in what a brilliant day we had at the Rally trial. Stitch, Syn and I are now getting ready to go off for the weekend to do a seminar – it’ll be Syn’s first (at least her first as dog that can actually demonstrate knowledge of something).

A friend is taking the carts for me in her truck, so we had Syn’s last practise session this afternoon. Good timing, Little Miss! She walked off with the cart as if she’d been doing it all her life. She decided that the cart wasn’t there to hold her back, so she trotted off down the road exploring the horsey hoof prints, bird poop, and long grass in the ditches. When I called her she knew how to turn the cart around and came racing back full speed, forcing me to dodge as she went by, curling around again to meet me at a more reasonable speed. She spent a good deal of our walk motoring along in front of me (wait, isn’t that Draft Excellent stuff? Yes, it is!), going faster as I encouraged her, slower when I cued Whoa, and enjoying the whole outing with her tail up, flag waving. As before, the llamas all came to the fence to see what this strange 4-legged-2-wheeled circus parade was, and walked along with us on their side of the fence line.


Whoof, LOOOONG weekend! Syn was (mostly grand), eager to work, great at demonstrating things.

PRO: She had a grand time. She wasn’t afraid of any of the dogs. She was excited and interested and not at all concerned about the hubbub and commotion of the seminar. She did some grand distance downs, picked up anything I asked her to, walked nicely in and out of the hotel, was quiet and well-behaved in the car, ate what she should have, stayed hydrated, eliminated where I asked her to, wrestled relatively quietly with Stitch, and slept in the motel room without fuss.

CON: Really started to lose her reliable Go To Mat as the weekend wore on, we’ll have to spend some time reworking that over the next couple of weeks, it’s not something I want to lose. Also, pro or con, I reached the end of my patience with her cottony puppy coat. I think I spent every second of my down time this weekend brushing her. Between wrestling with Stitch and the wet snow, she is matting within seconds, so as soon as I got home I put her on the grooming table and whacked her whole jacket down to 2″. Tomorrow I’ll bath her, blow her out, and do a decent job on it.


We started our new advanced agility class this evening. At the seminar last weekend, they had some really yummy “doggy crack” – Kibbles and Bits, cut up cheese strings, wieners, dry cat food, Cheeri-os, and garlic powder all mixed together. Well, I overdid the garlic powder. Not only could everybody in the room smell us coming in, but Syn went right nutso over it. She had a VERY hard time concentrating on the course if her bait bag was anywhere in sight. Something else to work on – bigger distractions. Also it was clear she lost a lot of ground over the weekend while I was concentrating on teaching people and not paying much attention to her. She was more interested in the floor than in me half the time. She was more interested in other dogs than me part of the time. She forgot how to make eye contact, and she forgot how to focus on equipment. Yikes! We have some work to do!


I haven’t got my suitcase unpacked from the weekend yet, and my bills aren’t paid, but I’m almost caught up on sleep so this morning Syn and I started work on all the stuff we lost last weekend. I started with some heavy-duty floor Zen. I began by just testing where she was. Little monkey. I put a treat on the floor, cued No, sat back and started counting. She looked good for 3 seconds, then she nonchalantly lay down and… oopsie, her face was MUCH closer to the treat so she thought she’d just reach over and snag it. Dang, my foot was in the way.

So we started from scratch. It took 5 tries to get to 5 seconds, then we went up 3 or 4 seconds at a time directly to 20 seconds. OH! You were SERIOUS about that?!

While we were doing floor Zen, I noticed that she never once made eye contact with me, so I stopped with my treat hand on the table and just waited. Wow. It took her 11 seconds to think of looking at my eyes, and then it was only a tiny glance. We worked on that for 10 minutes, at the end of which she was (mostly) coming back to my eyes immediately after getting a treat, and holding on for up to 10 seconds. Ouch, that was an expensive weekend.

Finally I stuck out my foot to see if she remembered anything we’d done while starting her trick of matching my steps with hers. We’d gotten an inkling of touching my foot with hers, and she remembered that right away. *I* forgot something – I was supposed to remember to wear jeans when I was working on this. Or at least not my pjs. Double ouch. Anyway, a good job.

Tomorrow we’ll work on eye contact some more, and then on coming back to me when she can’t find a treat instead of forgetting everything and getting into the lost-treat hunt.

And I cut her body coat down to an inch long. I spent all my spare time last weekend brushing her, but between wrestling with Stitch and the wet snow, it was matting faster than I could brush it. She looks good. She’s skinny but her coat makes her look like a plush toy.


We got up to 2 sessions today. We started the morning workout with eye contact. Yep, it was gone. She immediately began looking around the room for misplaced treats. She’s got excellent stick-to-itive-ness, I’ll give her that. The first time it took her 27 seconds to give up on the floor and think of looking at me. Then another 8 reps before she started thinking of me first. At 10 reps, she started looking at me to make sure I was watching, then offering behaviours. She offered several very nice distance drops when I pretended to toss a treat over THERE, a couple of pretty two-on-two-off on the one step down into the parlour where I was sitting, but finally she started to figure out that it was my eyes that were paying off. Then I was able to start getting some duration and wiggling my fingers in her peripheral vision while she stared at me. Got up to 15 seconds of Watch.

Next we worked on the paw thing again, but this time I was getting her to paw-target my hand – better control than with my foot, easier to pull away when she presented her muzzle or the wrong paw, she was much more gentle pawing my hand than my leg, and it was easier to put the target in the right position to lure the correct paw up.

Finally I cued her to Chill (roll over on her side and put her head down – Relax). She’s got the roll well now, but still doing her I’m-doing-it!-I’m-doing-it! tail wag, so this time I was waiting for her tail to stop wagging. It only took 7 or 8 seconds, and she signalled the silence of the tail with a huge sigh, followed by shallower breathing. Got it! Maybe 5 reps, and she was down to 4 seconds of wagging before relaxing.

We repeated the same for her supper session, and she’d made big strides in between. She had eye contact immediately, and without working at it she gave me duration up to 15 seconds. We got to 20 seconds with no difficulty.

We did Chill next, and again she was better. After 3 repetitions, she was wagging for 2 seconds and then sighing, and she was able to stay relaxed for 15 seconds without working on duration.

We worked the paw again. I’m reaching for her with my right hand and clicking her for touching it with her left paw, then asking with my left hand and clicking for a right paw touch. She wants to reach out with her muzzle, of course, but towards the end of the session she was reliably reaching with the correct paw, and I started added the voice cues Left for her left paw and Right for her right paw.

Then I realized that my Level 2 Trick was morphing into Level 4 Target. Dang, that’s cheating. Oh well, I thought, I’ll think about it tomorrow.

I wanted to finish off with a little work on retrieving. I looked around to find something retrievable, and the first thing I saw was… the metal dog bucket that her kibble was in. I asked her to fetch the bucket yesterday and she tried but she’d never lifted it before and it was noisy on the floor when she tried. She bravely put her mouth over the handle but she couldn’t get it any further up than that. Couldn’t even pull it across the floor. That’ll make a good session – and we’re on carpet this evening, so it won’t make any noise. Oh, but it’s still got half her supper in it. That’ll make a mess if I pour it out on the table… but hey, that’s what Zen is for, right?

So, with the kibble in the bucket, I held the handle out and asked her to Get It. She started to put her nose in the bucket. I said No, Get It. She put the handle in her mouth. Good puppy! And worked quickly up to actually holding the bucket by the handle. GOOD puppy! I actually think the kibble helped. She was so busy thinking about not sticking her face in the bucket that she didn’t have time to worry about how scary the bucket might have been. Good session, lots of fun.

Kibble in the bucket. Kibble in the bucket. That’s HARD WORK!


Tonight we got Down To Business and tested a large number of Level 2 behaviours.

She has an Open obedience class coming up, and they’re going to be practising 1-minute sit and down stays, and she hasn’t done either one, so I’ll have to lead her gently into them, but tonight she passed L2 Sit and Down, which includes a 1-minute down at 20 feet. We had most of the others passed already, but the one that surprised me was the Relax. I expected Steps 1 through 3 to be fine, but Step 4 – dog settles for 1 minute, gets excited, and settles again for 1 minute – I was anticipated problems with. She’s good on the time, but it usually takes me several cues to get her to roll over onto her side, and then of course a few seconds for her to stop wagging her tail. That wouldn’t cut it in the testing department.

I read the requirements, then turned to her. She was in the wrong position. She only goes over on her left side, and her left side was up against the step. Well, that’s what testing is about, I guess, less than ideal conditions. So I cued “Chill” and BAM. She tried to go over, but as I said, she was in the wrong place, so she solved the problem by going straight down, dropping her hips away from the step, and then resting her muzzle on her left paw – which was as far over on her left as she could get, under the circumstances. And with that one cue, she stayed that way for the full minute. Zowie! At the end of the minute I got her up and tossed a toy and some treats around for a minute, then cued Chill again, with pretty much the same results.

Which only leaves Communication, which she’s passed but I’d like to do a little more work on before I leave it, and her trick, which has now definitely evolved into retrieving the bucket. Yesterday she learned to hold the handle in her mouth with kibble in the bucket. Today we had to back up some to continue the behaviour. First I took the kibble out, because it was plain she was going to drop the bucket at some point. What worries her is that the bucket swings, which makes it feel like a live thing hanging off her mouth. That makes it very difficult to walk forward – having a large living swinging bucket blocking her path. She quit a couple of times, waiting for me to put my hand on it to control it while she held it, so I did that. Then I replaced that bucket with a smaller one that I had padded the handle of (good ol’ duct tape). That went better, but we’ve got a few more days of work before she’ll be anywhere near confident of it. And then, tada, on to Level 3!

Oh, and that whole I’m-afraid-of-the-dog-dryer thing is long gone. Today I had trouble keeping her on the floor. Every time I walk past the grooming table she’s on it, ready to be worked on.


We tested out Level 2 Communication this morning, which is the last of Level 2 except the trick. Syn did the full retrieve, including bring and hold, of the bucket with her kibble in it, and did it with her tail wagging, but her approach to the bucket is still tentative – the whole crouch-down-and-leave-your-back-feet-way-back-THERE-where-they’ll-be-safe thing – so I want to work it at least one more day to get her comfortable with it. Chicklet, the bucket will NOT bite you when you start to pick it up. Actually, she’s comfortable and happy with the entire rest of the behaviour, so the creeping-up-to-the-bucket business looks very strange, but I want to get rid of it. A dog doing a trick (or anything else, for that matter) shouldn’t look like part of the process might get her killed.

We went to a drop-in conformation class this afternoon. Bear in mind that it’s been 3 months since we did any conformation, and even then it was sort of a puppy playtime event, culminating in one win and nothing else, except a good time. So I wasn’t expecting much – nothing, really – from her this afternoon. Well! It took four or five voice clicks to get her to stop thinking about plunking her little tushy hard and fast on the floor, but once she realized I was clicking for standing, something quite amazing happened. She stood. She stood across in front of me, leaned on the lead when I gave her the chance, and stared fixedly at the bait in my right hand. Occasionally I let off the pressure on the collar so I could use my leash hand to move a foot or put her tail right, and she stood very nicely while I did it. She let both a male and female “judge” go over her without any worry. When we started moving, I put an ounce of pressure on the leash and Little Miss went readily out into the pressure and trucked around half a body-length in front of me, studiously staring where she was going instead of at me.

Gosh, I barely remember teaching her any of this, let alone doing any significant amount of work on it, yet here she is, 3 months later, not only remembering it and giving it to me, but, IMO, doing it considerably better than she did when I first taught it to her.

Time out: Dogs were going nuts out in the yard, that’s par for the course. Must have spotted a snowshoe hair or a porcupine. Then the llamas started hollering their alarm calls as well and I went outside to find a moose wandering by. We generally have one or two male yearlings travelling through per year, but this wasn’t a yearling. It was a full-grown male with a full rack of antlers. I locked up the dogs and went out in the truck to see if I could get close enough to take a picture but it was too dark. You have to be very, very careful driving near moose, they tend to be a bit fussy about their personal space:

When the youngsters go by, you get an idea of how powerful an animal this is – they’re 7 feet tall – but an adult male with a rack is a totally different critter, being that tall and the weight of two horses. He eventually wandered off and I came back and let the dogs out into the yard again, but ten minutes later I had to bring them back in as they were revving up again and a moose who doesn’t like noise could easily go over or through my 5 foot dog fence to shut them up. What a magnificent creature. I always feel the day has been blessed when I get to see one.

Anyway, back to Syn. I happened to catch a look at her in a mirror in the training hall and hey, she looks GREAT in her new retriever trim, and she’s really grown into all that leg she was having difficulty knowing what to do with 3 months ago, and she’s got the attitude – I think I may have a show dog on my hands. Makes me more excited about showing her next spring. And excited about getting into Level 3. And excited about seeing a moose. It may be a good time to clean out the fridge with all this extra adrenalin…