Sunday, December 12, 2010

Nose work

Scorch and I are hoping to begin tracking early next year, but I couldn't resist starting some nosework with him now.

I started out very simply, with one of his highest motivators: the tennis ball. We started playing Chuck-it out in the field; then, I put him in a stay and "hid" the ball a short distance away. I released him to "find it", which of course he eagerly did. We progressed to harder and harder "finds" (with lots of chuck-it release in the middle).

The most amazing thing to see was what a default using his nose was when it came to problem solving. He started sniffing out the ball when it was out of sight in the high grass and would smell it out. It took a few tries before he began tracking my scent to get to the ball, but then he really began working my trail. The next time we try it, I'll put his tracking harness on so he gets used to it. He does look awfully adorable in his harness.

Open work is going well too, except for the broad jump. I really need to build one. His high jump is far more advanced. He thinks short jumps are for climbing over, probably due to his relatively little exposure. His drop on recall is getting nice, as is his retrieve. For utility, signals has improved tremendously. We really need to work on proofing.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Oh sweet sleep, how I missed you.

It has been a rocky month. I'm teaching a guide dog class right now, and pretty much the ENTIRE CLASS is sick with a bad head cold. On top of the students being sick, so is Chef and the other trainers. I'm one of the few that's been successful in fighting off, probably because I just came off a Z-pack for a nasty sinus infection.

Still, sleep has been my friend.

Scorch and I miss class terribly. I'm hoping to start up again in January. It just wasn't possible to make the new sessions with my teaching schedule. To keep us busy, I've been reading up on the "nose bridge". I'd seen a few border collie people having their dogs nose bridge at shows, but I wasn't sure exactly what it was. I figured it was a focusing technique, and it pretty much is, as well as giving the dog something to do rather than passively sitting there. I'm not sure if it would help us or add more frustration... I think it's worth trying. I think Scorch has a tendency to get overstimulated and winds himself up. If I can teach this properly, maybe it will calm him down.

I also think it's time to embark on some trick training. Both Scorch and I enjoy learning new things together, and that cute video of the Jack Russell inspired me. Plus, he doesn't have many "parlor tricks" he can show off. Our obedience routine doesn't quite delight people the way pulling off my socks might.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Introducing: Scorch CD RN

I finally have a minute to sit down and write about our amazing, emotional, victorious return to Orlando for our latest obedience trial.

Coming off of the high from the previous weekend's scores of 87 and 100 in Rally, we were raring and ready to go. However, during the week, my dad was hospitalized with pneumonia, adding a major layer of stress over the proceedings. Training was minimal in the week before the show; depression is a real pain. But buoyed by dad's improvement, we arrived in Orlando ready to do our best.

The Orlando Dog Training Club is a large, fairgrounds building. Compared to Sarasota, which has room for two rings, and St Pete, which has a divider between two sets of rings, ODTC is a massive, echoing space. There were 6 or 7 rings, and a massive amount of activity.

Entering the Novice A ring on the first day was nervewracking. ODTC was a place I used to train, but Scorch has never been there before, or been any place quite like it. When we started the on lead heel, and indeed through most of the exercises, I felt like I had a dog barely restrained. He was giving me pretty good attention, but was forging repeatedly and bouncing. Still, we got through the heel on lead and figure 8 ok. After being a little shifty during the setup, his stand for exam was steady, although he moved his feet right as the judge said "exercise finished".

Then came the off lead heel. Again, I felt he was right on the edge of control. Scorch was bouncy and there was a mischievous sparkle in his eyes. He started the "fast" without me and came completely out of heel position... but somehow, on the about turn, responded to my call to heel and we finished gracefully enough. I was proud of him for ignoring the Open ring Drop on Recall occurring right next to us. As we set up for the recall though, the lure of the Open ring was *nearly* too much, and the judge mercifully told us to wait until it had quieted down. Then Scorch gave me the best front and finish on a recall to date.

Stays were not a problem, and so Scorch became Scorch CD. No placement, but a new rosette and new letters to his name.


We had a little bit of a wait to try and burn off some more of his energy. I see so many people keeping their dogs in kennels to make sure they bring them out fresh and to reduce lagging. We do not have that problem. I need to keep Scorch burning energy. I don't want him too fresh.

Next came Rally Novice A. We were only entered once in Rally, so this was our only chance that weekend to finish the title. No problemo. Scorch's only mistake was a little bit of interference during the 360 left. We rocketed through fronts and finishes, halt 1-2-3 steps, pace changes, and turns. We finished our run with a score of 99, first place, and our title.

By the end of Saturday, I was the proud owner of Scorch CD RN.



I spent part of the afternoon at the hospital with Dad, then Bryan and I had dinner with Mom. Dad was improving and would get to go home soon; still, I was glad I happened to be in town that weekend. It worked out well, but I was exhausted.

Sunday was a long day. We arrived a bit later to the show but ended up having a much longer wait than I anticipated. Bryan is a trooper. However, there was trouble afoot. I had bought Scorch a new slip lead at the show, and the night before had taken his collar off to do some work with the slip.

I forgot to put it back on.

So we showed up at the trial with no collar on his neck. There was one in my bag, but it had tags on it. I went into the Novice ring with Scorch on his slip lead, unaware of the points it would cost me. His performance, however, was much improved on the day before. He gave me steadier attention, did not try to bounce ahead, and overall gave a beautiful performance.

After our nice on lead heel and figure 8, I handed the leash to the steward and the judge asked, "Is that dog wearing a collar?" My heart sunk. We waited while a Novice B competitor (with a lovely red border collie) generously took the collar off of her dog for us to borrow. I stammered out an apology and the judge said, "Don't apologize to me." I knew we were in trouble, but I held it together, put the collar on, and started our stand for exam. My wonderful, wonderful dog gave a perfect performance. His off leash heel was nice, with a brief lapse of attention, and he gave me another perfect recall.

We got a nice round of applause from the Novice folks (the only people left at the show), and the judge told me he docked major points for handler error, but that otherwise my dog was very nice and we'd qualified. I held it together until I'd give Scorch his treats, and then I went outside to cry.

I didn't have long to calm down. We were near the end and we had stays to get through. I calmed down and Scorch gave his usual rock solid performance. Then, when we came back to the ring for ribbons, I stepped on his foot AGAIN and he screamed. I fell apart. I got down on the floor and cried into his fur, then lined up for ribbons, tears running down my face. It was extremely embarrassing, but I stayed there. I don't even remember what the judge said, although I do remember he said something about Novice A being hard work and sometimes tears. But all of a sudden, he was announcing, "And in 4th place, with a score of one-eighty-something [my memory goes blank here], dog and handler 510."

I stood there for a moment, then looked down at my armband. THAT WAS US? Suddenly, we were getting a trophy, and a toy, and a leash, and a ribbon, and a rosette, and I was crying even harder, from shock and happiness this time.

I can't believe it. Not only did we achieve our titles, we even managed to salvage a stupid error on my part and come back with a placement.

We're now getting ready for Open. Dumbbell work has been great, on the flat and over the jump. We just need to raise the jump to full height, and broad jump needs A LOT of work. Out of sight downs are pretty good but I'm not fully confident on the sits. Drop on recall needs to be, erm, started.


But my little boy loves the new stuff we're learning, and I love working with him. I'm hoping to debut Wolfie in Rally next year as well, since I think his hips can handle that. Scorch is just about ready for Rally Advanced.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Most Aggressive Dog Breeds

My brief thoughts:
I will say as much as I love pitties and border collies, I'm not surprised by the presence of either. The pit bull is a much-maligned and mistreated breed, so the fact that bites occur isn't surprising.

I *am* shocked by the lack of chows, dalmatians, cockers, and GSDs. I would think all are more common than the Akita, and therefore would have a greater number of bites total. None of the other breeds are much of a surprise to me, just the omissions are.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Rally day 2

Today was the second day of Rally trials. I was still nervous, but feeling better about what we were facing and felt better prepared. This morning, I took Scorch out for a chuck-it session and did some obedience practice. He felt more "on" and focused. A lot of his frenetic energy seemed to have dissipated. Seeing that gave me a big boost, and we set off for St. Pete.

Our judge was Robert Withers again, and we had a wait while he finished up his traditional obedience judging duties. There was a fairly large Rally entry, and one poor pooch had diarrhea in the ring, so we had a lot of downtime. I took the opportunity to practice the elements of the course. It was a bit more complicated than the prior day's set-up, which I viewed as a positive; it seemed to be a course that would keep Scorch more engaged. My biggest worries were the spiral with the dog inside and the halt, 1, 2, 3 steps.

After some remedial "slow" work and a good leash correction during "fast" practice, we seemed to have the spiral tackled. I worked on smoothing out my handling for the halts and took slightly more deliberate steps. This seemed to help (as well as liberal amounts of bologna).

Finally, it was ring time. One of the stewards told me that I looked nice, and conspiratorially whispered that it drove her crazy when people didn't make themselves presentable for shows. I was pretty busy trying to slow my heart rate down, but I did register the compliment/gossip. I asked for Scorch to heel into the ring so I had complete control from the beginning. I kept my voice even and cheerleaded less. The judge asked if I was ready, and one glance at my dog told me all I needed to know: Scorch was locked on and ready to go. My "ready" reply intensified his gaze, and I HAD HIM.

Heel, halt, sit. One step with an immediate sit, then two steps, then three... perfect, quick responses, maybe just a touch forge-y but still in position. A couple of 270 degree turns to the left, a sit-stay walk around dog, a 360 right circle, no problem. Spiraling around cones with the dog on the inside... he held his heel position! I reminded him "back" and "easy" on the turns around the cones, and he was responsive without crowding. I began to get very excited as we came out of the spiral. Only one exercise left: front, finish left halt. I called him to front... and he gave me one of the straightest fronts he's ever done. Then he heeled up into a lovely flip finish, and we heeled to the finish line. I heard the judge's "YAY" that signaled the end of the run, and I got on the floor with my wonderful, wonderful dog.

We ran out of the ring to Bryan, and the first thing I said was, "That felt good."

While Scorch played/feasted on bologna, people came by to compliment our run. Everything was a whirlwind of activity, and my memory is a blur up until the point where the steward from earlier came up to me. What she said to me is crystal clear in my mind.

"I think you got a 100."

It felt like my head was floating away. Bryan and I looked at each other in shock and elation.

MY dog? MY dog got a perfect score his second time out in Rally? But I already knew... I knew it was perfect when we completed the left finish. I'd known then but hadn't wanted to hope. But it had felt so good.

We won the class yesterday. But today, I felt we REALLY, TRULY earned our blue ribbon. I couldn't have asked for any more. When we lined up for our ribbons, the judge commented that our time had been 1 minute and 9 seconds... almost a full minute faster than the next fastest time. He just laughed and shook his head. I laughed too and told him, "Well, he IS a border collie!"
He replied, "It shows! But you did a great job keeping up with him; you're a good team."

Yes. Yes we are. And hopefully, our teamwork will continue to shine through next weekend when we attempt to finish our CD and RN.

I asked for a picture with Mr. Withers, because I felt our first perfect score deserved documenting, and also because he was one of the most encouraging judges I've ever encountered.

I think he made the weekend a positive experience for all that competed under him, no matter how they fared. Let's hope next weekend is as amazing as this one.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Broad jumps and a Rally Trial

Only my dog.

Scorch and I had class last night, and the instructors set up the broad jump. Angie offered to put a short bar over the top of the jump, to prevent the dogs from ticking it with their feet (or trying to climb over it).

Scorch decided that, when called to jump, he would CLIMB OVER THE JUMPS WHILE GOING UNDER THE SHORT BAR.

I reiterate, only my dog. I wish I'd had a camera.

Anyway, we got the broad jump going better but I definitely need to build a set to start working on it at home.

Scorch's dumbbell work has improved tremendously, and he had several successful retrieves. He even made a liar out of me and retrieved it perfectly over the high jump. I was so sure he wouldn't... but he can make a liar out of me any time!

So TODAY was the first day of our Rally trial. I'd never been a competitor in Rally before, but I was somewhat cocky about Scorch's skills. We warmed up and everything went great. I was hoping for a score in the 90s (and maybe even the elusive 100). So into the ring we went (although despite my cockiness, I still had a crampy tummy and suddenly had the urge to pee).

The serpentine weave went well, and Scorch stayed right with me as I babbled at him. But then his attention began to wane. He was with me, but his eyes were wandering and I may have had a tight leash a few times. Still, he turned appropriately and I tended to get his attention back on 270 and 360 degree turns. The front and left finish (no halt) went ok, but later when there was a front and right finish, I lost him. I don't know what he was looking at, but he was whining and not watching me at all. I told him "front" and nothing happened. So we backed up for our one retry, and he sort of crooked fronted but ended up more in heel. I asked for a right finish and he didn't move. Sigh. So we went on to the final halt-stay-walk around dog, which he did perfectly, and then we were done.

The judge, Robert Withers, was really nice and encouraging. I was definitely frustrated, but I was always conscious that I never wanted to take any of it out on Scorch. So we ran for treats and the tug rope, which I played with him while I figured out if we'd NQ'd or not.

Thank god for my mentors. Bev and Fran were both warm and reassuring, and helped me understand the rules of NQ better. They thought I'd just get 10 points off (which was fine with me!). Bev told me to go and see if they'd written my score up yet.

So we went by the scoreboard and waited... and waited... we watched another couple of performances, and I prevented Scorch from eating an intact male lab that got in his face. Rally Novice A was a rough ring that day, and I knew I wouldn't be alone if I had a low score (or an NQ).

I heard one of the stewards ask another, "Do you need any other scores?"
"Yes, border collie 603."
She flipped through her paperwork. "87."

87?? Not only did we qualify, but when I looked over the board... WE HAD GOTTEN FIRST PLACE!! Granted, it wasn't our best performance, and I'm more proud of the second place we got in Novice a few weeks ago... BUT WE DID IT!


I definitely think I cheerleaded him too much. Scorchie is wound up enough as it is, and doesn't need any help from me. So tomorrow, we'll try again with a more formal presentation. I'm still so proud of him, and all we've accomplished. Now we have a blue ribbon tacked beside our 3 green qualifiers and our red second place.

Good, good dog! And I cannot stress enough what a relief it is to have amazing mentors. I encountered a teensy bit of bitchiness today, but it didn't bother me, because I have an incredible support system. Bev is becoming not just an instructor, but a friend. Scorch has even decided that her intact male Aussie, Jack, is NOT the devil. So I think that's a good sign.

We'll try again tomorrow!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Registrations and dumbbells

Post and run before work...

Last night we had a dumbbell breakthrough. We were able to put together the 3 elements we'd been working on separately: the pick up from the ground, the hold, and walking/sitting while holding the dumbbell. We finally got to the point where it was time to challenge Scorch a little bit and make him figure out what I wanted. I've worked away from having to keep my hand under his jaw for the "hold it", and I began to make him pick it up again if he dropped it. I'd been so afraid of breaking him, or making him not like the dumbbell, that I'd been playing it safe. Which may have put a really good foundation on him, because he was confident and happy last night. When we got to the point where he would pick up the dumbbell and bring it to me, we did a few reps of that, and then for the last one, I asked for a sit and hold... AND HE DID IT!!!!

We ended the session there and he got a good tug with his training rope (sorry physical therapist).

Also, I hope I got my registration in on time for the St Pete show (it was a little last minute... whoops), and I just registered online for the Orlando show... which was a little confusing. I think I'll stick to mail-in entries. I was planning to do one Rally and two Novice Obedience runs at Orlando but I might have an extra Rally run now... oh well.

We're ready for whatever is thrown at us!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

New Class

So Scorch and I are enrolled in the sequel to our competition class. He'd done extremely well in it, as the focus had been mostly on Novice-type exercises.

Last night, we were reminded of just how much more we have to learn. That is awesome.

I'm really thrilled to have such a challenge laid before us. We're really focusing on breaking down much more complicated behaviors. Teaching the dumbbell alone is making me a better trainer, because it's such a beautiful exercise that is so much more complicated than it looks.

Jack had always been thrilled to clamp down on the dumbbell. Hell, he would pick up a steel pole if I'd asked him to. The pit bull in him blessed him with strong jaws and a certain lack of sensitivity.

Scorch, meanwhile, is fastidious and sometimes known as "princess tender toes". He has to carefully dissect and ponder his raw meals before eating them. Here he is with a marrow bone I gave the boys after we earned our first two CD legs:

He would pretend to eat it, or attempt to gently, if Bryan or I came near.

But mostly he just laid there, wondering what the heck he was supposed to do with something so hard and tough.

Finally, I took pity on the pathetic pup (ooooo, alliteration) and put the camera down in order to HOLD THE BONE FOR HIM. With some encouraging words, he finally licked at the marrow and decided the bone was tasty enough to ignore it's unforgiving texture.

Wolfie, meanwhile, was in a corner going to town.

The point of all this is that Scorch is reluctant with the dumbbell. He will eagerly bump it with his nose, but taking it in his mouth was a process. Now I want him to hold it? "Please," he seems to say, "you're asking a WHOLE lot of me here."

I've considered buying a softer dumbbell, but he does seem more inclined to hold on to it now, so we'll continue. I just may have to get used to the difference between soft-mouthed Scorch, who lets the dumbbell gently rest between his teeth, and bully Jack, who left many teeth marks in this hard plastic monstrosity.

Since the dumbbell is still a work in progress, I sent him on a retrieve over the jump with a rope toy. Bev asked me if he would stay while I threw the toy, and I assured her, somewhat tentatively, that he would. So I commanded him to stay, threw the toy, and over the jump he sailed! Whoops. So I held onto him for the next couple of tosses until he remembered what "stay" meant. And we encountered a new problem. My jump-loving dog has decided he only wants to jump over towards the rope, and then he wants to run wide around it to return to me. Hmm. It could be because he's playing, rather than dealing with the more serious dumbbell, but I want to nip this early. So I'd send him, and as soon as his head moved towards the toy, commanded "Scorch JUMP", while moving myself closer to the jump. That seemed to remind him what he was supposed to do (and he only got a game of tug when he successfully completed it). I have plans (and the wood) to build a heavy duty high jump, but it looks like I may need a light one for the hallway too, so he doesn't have the option of going around.

Signals went well, and Scorchie was the only one who would consistently drop from a stand without moving foward. His signal sit from a down has always needed work, but we got a complete success after a few tries so we ended it there. Our foundation work in that respect really paid off. I'm going to be careful not to overdo the drop before our next show though, where we have stand for exams. We need to refresh that a whole bunch.

The broad jump is definitely his favorite, and it was cute when he went searching for the treat I didn't throw. He remembered it and is always happy to sail over them (although he nicked it with his feet on the first try).

We've got a whole lot of homework, but the new tasks are a refreshing addition to our Novice practice work.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dog beach

Yesterday was an adventure. The boys had a chance to earn their kibble (or raw chicken, as the case may be) by working with me on a dog distraction case. The dog in question is a working guide dog and the handler has been having trouble controlling him around other dogs. So out came the border collies. Both Scorch and Wolfie did a fantastic job playing distraction (especially whiny-butt Scorchie).

So I decided that since we were in Venice, we'd take a visit to the dog beach.

Now, we've never been there before, for a couple of reasons. First of all, Wolfie is not the most pleasant dog-park dog. He has that irritating tendency of thinking that "play" involves bowling over other dogs and grabbing anyone (canine or human) by the butt that happens to run by. Secondly, this was the real deal gulf, not the calm, reliable bay. The currents in these waters are stronger, although not as rough as Florida's east coast.

Still, it was the middle of the afternoon on a hot, still day, so I knew we'd be unlikely to encounter many dogs, nor large waves.

And what a day it was.
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Scorchie spent most of the day frolicking with his tennis ball toy and happily ignoring the other dogs.
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He's not nuts about the saltiness of the gulf (compared to the freshwater lake we used to have access to), but he will gladly cool off in the shallows and return soaked to demand more ball throwing.
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Wolfie, while not a total butthead, was definitely feeling his oats. He charged at a few dogs, and even bowled over a small one, but luckily the dogs and owners were good sports and recognized him for what he is: a social idiot. I realize that although he had a lot of positive dog experiences in puppyhood, he did grow up with Jack, and while Jack was a number of wonderful things, he was also pushy, loud, and occasionally aggressive with other dogs. Wolf learned a lot of bad habits from him, and they have been tough to break. He means well, but comes across so poorly, I often have to remove him or leash him up. Hence, our trips to parks are few and far between.

Once he got that out of his system (and realized no one wanted to play his version of tag, which involves teeth), my views of him were generally this:
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He spent a lot of time running back and forth in front of me, occasionally plunging into the water, drinking a bit of it while making a yuck face, and then diving face-first into the sand for a good roll. He had a big, toothy grin pretty much the entire time.

And apparently, the birds and squirrels in the backyard have made Wolf fancy himself a hunter. See that brown dot waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay off in the distance?
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Yep, that's Wolfie, after some long-gone pelicans. Birds were infinitely more interesting to him than they used to be, and he tried to swim after a few. His recall has diminished significantly since he's been retired. I think it's time to bring him back into the world of being obedient, if not the obedience world.

However, overall it was a successful day and it concluded with two sandy, hot, tired dogs (and the same can be said for their owner!).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dumbbell work

So since we only need one more leg for our CD title, Scorch and I have begun Open work. We had played around with Sue Sternberg's shaping the retrieve techniques, but hadn't taken it very far.

Tuesday night was our last comp class of this session, and Angie brought Bev in to work with us on dumbbells. She asked to see where Scorchie was with it, and he tentatively put his mouth on it and that was about all. I explained that we hadn't taken the dumbbell "on the road" yet but he hadn't gotten farther than occasionally picking it off the ground. His hold was non-existent. I'm glad I didn't push it, because he ended up being a little sensitive at first. But after a few minutes of gentle encouragement (and freeze-dried lamb lung), Scorch had a tentative but definitive hold. There were a few moments where he sat in front of me, gazing up at me, personifying that "want-to". Bev just smiled, shook her head, and kept saying, "This dog is just so cool."

We worked on a full broad jump for the first time, and I think that's Scorch's new favorite. I stood close to the jump, called him over, and tossed a treat straight back. He soon was eagerly jumping straight without a treat visual and coming nicely to front.

He went down on a sit-stay for the first time in a loooooong time. I had a feeling he might, because he'd lain down at heel a couple of times. So we did a 3 minute sit instead of a down, and he held it like a champ, even when one of the Daisy's got up and ran over to a dog retrieving a dumbbell.

I'm debating whether to take the next level class right now, or be able to feed myself. :P Our current plan is to show in Rally in St Pete the first weekend in October, and then Rally and Novice the next weekend in Orlando. Then maybe my mom can watch us get our CD and/or our RN. She hasn't gotten to come to a show since Jack's disaster in Jacksonville.

Fingers crossed! We're doing dumbbell work a few minutes each day and brushing up on coming to heels and fronts. Everything seems to be going well. Picture post coming soon!

Saturday, August 28, 2010


My boyfriend posted the video of Scorch's performance for me. 12 minutes of GOD I LOVE THIS DOG.

Monday, August 23, 2010

SOTC Trial, day 2

I'm still on a high from this past weekend. Day 2 had it's bumps in the road but as a whole, this weekend was a priceless experience that I will never forget.

We started the day driving through a veritable monsoon. The pouring rain did little to dampen our spirits though, and we were raring and ready to go when we arrived at the training club for our second attempt at a leg. Bryan offered to drop us off and park the car. I gratefully agreed, forgetting to remind him that my headlights weren't on auto (an omission I would come to regret later).

We settled in to watch Novice B. I had heard of our judge, Louise Botko, although I could not remember exactly WHAT I'd heard. Luckily, I found her to be warm, friendly, and fair. We signed in and waited for our class to begin. Thunder echoed in the warehouse-like building, and several dogs reacted. I kept Scorch occupied with tugging and obedience practice and he held up well. He spent a lot of the day in MY chair.

Novice A began, and I murmured to Bryan that I had spotted our biggest competition of the day. A pale yellow lab was putting on quite a show. I knew we'd have a big act to follow.

Remembering the problem that had plagued us the day before, I worked on Scorch's heel up, only rewarding him if he sat at heel. He would do it well a couple of times and then would move into heel and just stare up at me. After some experimenting, I found that he seemed to prefer the hand signal to the verbal command. A couple of weeks prior to this, it had seemed just the opposite, but who am I to argue at zero hour? Hand signal it was! We suddenly had the consistency I was looking for.

Once again, time flew and I suddenly realized the judge was smiling at me and calling our number. We took a few moments to make sure Scorch was in proper heel position.

Are you ready?
"Ready!" Scorch's eyes locked on.

What a start. Scorch was high-stepping, driving forward, quick to sit at halt. We had a really beautiful heel. Our slow was nice, about turns were prompt, and then he was bouncing next to me during the fast...


I blurted out, "I'm sorry!" and I don't think the judge deducted points for that. We continued forward and his heel definitely faltered... but my little trooper kept going. We had a no-sit, but at least he was paying attention to me. We moved on to the figure 8 and he was distracted by some barking dogs and threw in a no sit. But he regained his composure and finished nicely, although thankfully the judge said "exercise finished" before he decided to scratch an itch.

I didn't have any memory of the stand for exam. I only know what happened because of the video. But Scorch held steady for the exam and only moved a foot when I returned to him.

He turned it on for his off leash heel. I had my boy back for the most part, although it did feel a tiny bit off. Still, he came through nicely.

Recall... again that nervousness after I turned my back on him and walked away. Will he still be sitting in the same spot when I turn around? Yes, he stayed. The judge signaled silently to call him and again he raced in. Crooked front, but I called him to heel and HE SAT! A bit far forward but he flipped in and HE SAT!!!! Exercise finished and we had a praise party. The judge chatted with us briefly and echoed a sentiment Judge Happersett had expressed the day before: his off leash heel was far superior to his on leash. In this case, we lost 10 points on heel on lead and figure 8 (eek!)

We raced back for some treats and for other competitors to commiserate about stepping on my dog. One woman from SOTC had stepped on her flat coat the day before. I still felt bad, but I was glad I wasn't the only one. I previewed some of the video and realized our performance was a lot better than I had perceived it to be.

Back in the ring for stays. I had a brief flutter of panic when I realized Scorch was sitting slouched on one hip, but he held steady and passed the stays with no problem.

The ribbons and placements were handed out. Only 6 of us had qualified (out of 16). Scorch and I didn't place, and I wasn't expecting to... but we got a 187! Good enough for me, and good enough for our second leg!

We did it Scorch. You and me. One more leg to go and hopefully that will happen in October. Angie (who went High in Trial on Saturday by the way... go Angie!) said it's time to start seriously introducing Open and Utility work. We've gotten to picking up the dumbbell and that's about it. But showing Scorch is just about my favorite thing to do... I'm looking forward to many more accomplishments with my heart dog.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

SOTC Trial, day 1

Today was the first day of the Sarasota Obedience Training Club trials. Scorch and I were entered in Novice A, which started at 8am. My boyfriend was quite a trooper about having to wake up at the buttcrack of dawn in order to get there and get set up. Especially since we'd never been there before, I wanted to arrive early to have enough time to set up and acclimate Scorch to the venue.

I worried unnecessarily. Scorch took to the new location like a champ. He's always excited to be anywhere, so he had his usual couple of happy attacks but overall, he was calm and composed. He didn't have a single snarky moment with any other dog, even though a German Shepherd in a crate near us exploded with barking a couple of times.

Before I knew it, it was time for the walkthrough of the heeling pattern. The judge, Mary Happersett, was very brusque, efficient, and professional. She took time to talk to all the handlers and make sure they understood how things needed to be done. Scorch was the only Border Collie in the class. Competing along with us were a Boston Terrier, two Dobermans, two Shelties, a Newfoundland, a Standard Poodle, and a Flat Coated Retriever.

We were fifth to enter the ring, so I had four novice runs worth of nervous fidgeting, practicing with Scorch, and trying not to visualize possible disasters. We saw the Boston have trouble, a blue merle Sheltie excel, and another couple of tough runs.

While we were practicing, Scorch stopped sitting when called to heel. He would get into perfect position, and remain standing. We worked on it for a couple of minutes but he was still showing a concerning ratio of not-sitting to sitting.

I barely had time to contemplate that issue before they were calling for dog and handler 104. We lined up at the starting line and I called Scorch to heel. Crooked. So we turned a small circle and made some adjustments. I wanted to start out on the best note possible. Then the judge smiled and asked if we were ready.

"Ready!" Scorch's eyes locked onto my face.


"Heel!" And away we went. I'm not sure exactly what happened; I'll have to review the video... but at the first halt, Scorch failed to sit and walked a circle around me, coming back into heel position and sitting. Again, I didn't have much time to process what happened, because then it was time to forward.

And I had him.

All of a sudden, I had Scorch's full attention. He was bright, animated, and the subject of much admiration and conversation ringside. Or so I heard. I was in my own personal heaven, heeling with my heart dog, moving as one team.


We eased into a slow, steady pace, and he slowed rather than trying to sit! A big accomplishment considering we hadn't been able to practice that crucial part of heeling much due to my back. When I returned to a normal pace, he transitioned right with me. Turns were nice, and then time for a fast. He bounced along next to me happily. Halt, and then time for figure 8. I kept up a mantra in my head, "Watch their shoes, watch their shoes." Keeping my eyes on the stewards' shoes allowed my shoulders to give Scorchie cues about when to speed up and slow down. He bumped me a little when he was on the inside but otherwise was excellent.

Leash off and to the steward. I am much less worried. Time for stand for exam. Scorch stood promptly and held steady. 30 points in the bag; he didn't even shift a foot.

Heel off lead: even better than on. He was rapt with attention, driving forward but not too forge-y. And then it was suddenly time for our recall, the last single exercise.

Leave when ready. "Stay." I walked across the ring hoping to god he wasn't up or following me. I turned around and hallelujah, Scorch had held steady. The judge, bless her heart, mouthed and signaled silently to me to call my dog. "Scorchie front!" And he was off like a shot. Crooked but well within reach. Mouthing again, finish your dog. "Heel up!" Perfect flip into heel aaaaaaand... he just stood there. The judge bit her lip and waited... and waited... and it became clear he wasn't going to sit. Oh well, we still had qualified.

Exercise finished. I got on the ground and grabbed up Scorch and breathed into his fur, "Oh you wonderful dog!" Up walked the judge. "You did very well," she said. "There were 2 substantial deductions of 3 points for a non-sit, once during the heel exercise and with that recall. But other than that, he was fantastic. That dog has a lot of potential. A LOT of potential." I thanked her and left with an ear-to-ear grin.

Group stays... in the bag. He didn't move a muscle. In fact, in the entire Novice A class, only one dog got up for the stays.

And suddenly we were going back into the ring with the other qualifiers. 1st place went to the blue merle sheltie.

"And in second place, with a score of 191, is dog and handler 104."



You wonderful, wonderful dog! Now we have our first CD leg... I can't believe it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The night

Tonight's class was monumental in ways I can only somewhat understand. Tonight, Scorch and I clicked into a true team, moreso than I ever have with any dog. The dog you hear about that can almost read his handler's mind, that works hard to get into the "flow", that exudes the want-to, the desire to learn new things and streamline them and earn that cookie or belly scratch or cooing praise.

I'm not saying we had the most successful night of training as far as perfecting our routine goes. We still have things to work on and we will be gently, casually tackling them and reinforcing the most correct responses.

But tonight, Scorch really "got it". Got what this whole thing is about. He started paying attention to his positioning and realizing I was only reinforcing the straightest responses. He worked with me instead of just working for the cookies. I was a gimpy, painful mess from my physical therapy session today (damn you, sadistic man) and he still stuck with me at heel position as best he could. At one point, as he looked up at me with rapt attention, I saw my baby puppy, my adolescent leggy-monster, and my beautiful adult dog at the beginning of his prime all at once.

Angie was out with a migraine, so Fran taught the class. I adore Fran. She has a little blonde Schipperke (with a tail) who was in Intermediate with us. He's similar to Scorch in energy level and enthusiasm. She has another Schip and a Corgi who are trained to high levels of obedience, and is always available with advice or answers to questions.

She gave us some pointers on straightening him out in fronts and finishes, which helped a ton. We're pretty much polishing most of our act at this point and working on his forging (our biggest issue but I'm not too stressed).

I ended the night asking her how far to push working formally with him since I didn't want to overstress him for the upcoming show. It made me laugh because she gave me advice that I have given clients over the years dealing with basic obedience and manners: work it into the every day routine. Have playtime and occasionally ask for a front. Give him the ball even if he isn't totally straight, but if he is, jackpot him with treats and more play. Have him work a finish before dinner. Etc, etc. Make it casual. It was nice to hear my own advice turned back around on me.

The best part was what she left me with. She adores Scorchie's drive and passion and attention and kept commenting on it. She mentioned dogs who seem lackluster in the ring, who aren't having fun doing it, and she was thrilled to see us enjoying ourselves so much.

"If we can keep it together and keep it fun, I think he could be a really spectacular obedience dog," I said.

She said, "He will be."

Gimpy, Fatface, and Baldy

We are a dysfunctional trio lately.

Case #1: Scorchie has managed, on two occasions now, to get ahold of a wasp and presumably attempt to bite it. The first time, his face swelled to near-shar-pei levels, making him squinty, itchy, and miserable. He didn't learn his lesson, clearly. This time, I noticed the swelling and face-rubbing earlier and it only reached baseball-in-the-cheek proportions, thanks to a HEFTY dose of benadryl.


Case #2: Wolfie has two small hotspots and has been generally unhappy with allergies this year. A raw diet eliminated most of the problem but he still gets a case of the itchies occasionally. A brief bout with ticks has not helped any, and alas, I've had to cut away two patches of fur to allow the hotspots to breathe. Thus, Baldy. I have chosen not to embarass him with pictures at this time. As if the allergies weren't enough, some unexplained weight loss has led the vet to believe he has some weird tapeworm or other parasite... but he seems to be recovering from that at least. I can't have normal animals.

Case #3: Myself! My coworkers have bestowed the lovely moniker "Gimpy" upon me. My back has given me chronic issues but I've sort of learned to live with it. The limp this time crept on up me and finally one day exploded mid-step into a terrible sciatic attack. Following acupuncture, doctors, and various drugs later, I found myself in the physical therapist's office today being manipulated and examined in very painful, tear-inducing ways. Seriously, who cries in a PT office? I guess lots of people, because they didn't seem much bothered, but I was terribly embarassed. It's bad enough that I'm on prednisone, which makes me cranky, thirsty, hungry, cotton-mouthed, bloated, and broken out. Then I have to embarass myself by bawling at physical therapy? My fragile emotional state was wrecked further. Luckily the PT announced that I had a rotated, uneven pelvis and was able to pop it back into place. It's very tender right now but I have an easier time walking.

Oy. Enough whining.

I made a nice Goodwill find the other day, and now I have figurines adorning my desk that barely coordinate with my dogs... but I'll take it. The sable collie is the new addition that vaguely looks like Wolfie, and the border collie... well, he's sort of got Scorch's intense face, so I'll take it.

My little girl, my first doggie, Mugsy sits in the frame below them. She used to climb into my suitcase any time I took a trip. Both Jack's and Mugsy's ashes are on a shelf next to my desk... maybe to be scattered one day, maybe not.

Tonight is class with Scorchie. Hopefully I can walk ok for it. This post has been a bit all over the place... I'll try to keep the next one more on track with our training progress, because there is lots to report. Number 104 and 108 in Novice A classes! Not too early, not too late... sounds good to me.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

OK no more excuses. Scorchie and I are entered in SOTC's show August 21-22nd. I most likely have a herniated/slipped/bulging disc, so that has put a real damper on our training sessions (MRI results pending). Nevertheless, we had a run-through at the SOTC last night and Scorch and I would definitely have qualified. He got full points on stand for exam and the long sit/down. Slightly crooked front on the recall but a perfect finish (although I used a verbal and a hand signal... whoops). Some forging on the heel and very distracted for the start of the figure 8 but then we got it together pretty well. Heel off leash was no different than on leash, so I'm glad our off lead training has paid off.

Angie thinks we're ready and so do I. We may flub but I think we'll have fun. It's actually not at SOTC unfortunately; Scorchie and I are going to try to get to the St Pete club on Friday to at least try out the venue so it's not completely unfamiliar. If we don't get there, we're going to do some serious warm-ups before going into the ring. I think he'll do ok though. I'm waiting for my armband and program to come in to find out the judging order.

Scorchie made an ugly face at an intact Aussie but did not escalate and after a moment of realizing the Aussie was ignoring him, he settled right down. He wanted to play when we first got there, or when we were sitting around, but he was pretty much all business in the ring. I need to get some photos of him working but I get too focused to bother with the camera. I'll probably drag Bryan along on Tuesday, mostly so Scorchie can learn to focus with him there but also to have a photographer.

My baby is a big competition-ready dog now. *melt*

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Scorch and I took a few weeks off (to my dismay). Tonight I made time to take him to the train track field again. I've been re-reading Shaping Success and we worked on the Premack Principle tonight. We went out without a tennis ball, but of course he managed to find one.

Loose leash walking to the field went VERY well, probably the best it's ever been. We worked on fronts on the way and heel-up. A group on a porch commented that he was a good dog. *beam*

In the field, we worked on recall. I'm thinking of using the word "front" for my show recalls. That seemed to work better with Jack and let him know I needed a specific position. Right finish was a bit awkward, especially since I forgot what command I was using (finish? return? I think it's finish...).

His free heeling was excellent. We kept it in short bouts. On a break, he found the aforementioned tennis ball and I made him leave it, heel up, and/or stay before allowing him to take it. I used the hand signal for directional take-its to get him accustomed to that signal. I'll have to be careful to not always pair it with the release.

His stays overall were really nice, although he was a bit shifty when the tennis ball was out. We ended it on a high note. His loose leash walking fell apart on the way back when we passed a beagle, but he made friends with her, so I'm pleased.

A nice return to training overall.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Field work

Today, Scorch and I walked out to the train track field in our neighborhood. His loose leash walking in the neighborhood isn't where I'd like it to be, but it's not a constant battle at least.

- Initial on-leash heeling took some work. He was distracted and I was impatient. I realized I was expecting too much and backed down my requirements, as well as upping my treats.
- 1st long line recall: perfect stay, seemed to be heading right towards me, and then blew past me. He got a stern verbal correction/reeling in, then I led him back to where he started and firmly told him to stay. I went out about 20 feet instead of 30 and called him. He came in slowly but accurately, and I CR'd and treated heavily. Subsequent recalls were good. I have begun weaning off of directing him with my hands to "front" and instead am keeping my hands at my side. At first, he would veer towards my right hand and sit crooked. I backed up repeating fronts until he sat straight, then CR and treat. At the final recall, he came in fast and sat straight, so I jackpotted and ended it there.
- Long line stays went well. I had his focus and he didn't get distracted by the scents around him. The first time I went around to return to heel, he got up, but after that, he held his stay. I did several returns without releasing him.
- Heel free: I felt confident enough to remove his leash. Heel free went better than leashed heeling. He had excellent attention, maintained position pretty well, and shined on the figure 8s. We'll work on heel free more often and I'm going to work on correcting with the leash less often during heel on lead.

What today showed me is that I need to focus more on short, frequent sessions. We're going to work by the train tracks as many days this week as possible. Our goal will be training in that field at least 2-3x a week, and adding one new location at least every other week to begin generalizing.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

3rd Class

I was going to be so happy to record that Scorch made it through an entire class without snarking at another dog, but alas, he managed to get one in at the very last moment.

Class was great though! Only 4 dogs in class that night. Angie was out sick, but the assistant Mary Lou was there as well as puppy instructor Terry. I REALLY like Terry, and Jonathan agrees. He had some great insight, and really seemed to enjoy the dogs. I'd love to take another class with him, but I don't think he generally teaches advanced classes.

- Heeling around the ring was much improved. He forges a lot but generally keeps his attention and I'm having an easier time using my wrist on the leash to steer him into proper position. He's pretty good at the fast pace change, but kept trying to sit during the slow. Calling to front was excellent. About turn was pretty good, although Scorch can be a little frantic.
- Figure 8 was nice. My handling skills were pretty good I think. I maintained a consistent pace and Scorch did a good job of keeping his heel. Great halts.
- Stays were done next to Blitz, the intact ridgeback. I kept them about 10 feet apart. Blitz was up and down a few times, but Scorch kept his focus beautifully. During the down-stay, he got up to sniff some crumbs, but other than that his stay was flawless. He stayed when I returned around him.
- Recall was spectacular 3 out of 4 times. Perfect straight line, generally a straight front. On the 4th recall, he (for some reason) ran around the back of the assistant, forcing her to toss the leash over her head so she didn't get wrapped up. He still ended up with a perfect front, and gave everyone a good laugh. Hope that doesn't become habit though!
- The instructors talked about leave it/take it. I pulled Mary Lou aside and asked her about using the words "take it", because I'm teaching them in conjunction with the dumbbell. She and Terry agreed I shouldn't use it, and we came up with "here" when he's allowed to take the treats.
- I've been having a bit of trouble with stand. I have to put my foot out in front of him to make sure he doesn't step forward and it hasn't been sticking. Mary Lou told me I'd have to ask Angie about it, but said that Angie tries it during sit at heel and lightly taps their back feet to get them up. Even though I'd read that before, the way she said it finally clicked, and we got it to work. I was just patient and eventually got a kick-back stand, which I CR'd immediately. Then I continued to CR for a stand stay, and he held it long enough that I actually released him out of it. Success!
- Scorch's loose leash walking in the building was much better. I had paper towels as drool rags, which I used but his overall anxiety/drooling seemed to be reduced. At the beginning of the night, a few intact male dogs (including a young flat coat, 2 bull terriers, and a viszla) passed by and even sniffed him, but he maintained his focus on me. Blitz was near us several times during class, and he didn't react. But at the end of the night, Blitz passed very close while we were in a corner and Scorch reacted. I can't really blame him though. I should have been paying better attention.

This class has really made the obedience bug bite down. I think he might be ready to try for an RN soon. It's funny, because in showing Jack in UKC, I had to plan shows months in advance because there were so few anywhere in the state (and none were closeby). With AKC, there are a ton of shows coming up closeby in a very short time.

My list:
4/17-4/18, close 3/31

Zolfo Springs, Heartland Dog Club
4/24-4/25, close 4/7

5/1-5/2, close 4/14

St Pete (right before I go into my class at work)
5/8-5/9, close 4/21

6/19-6/20, close 6/2

Deland (only on here because it'd be cool to get Scorch's breeder out)
7/17-7/18, close 6/25

SOTC (my birthday!! how cool it would be to get titled that day)
8/21-8/22, close 8/4

And plenty more after that. My new goal is a CD and an RN by my birthday. I need to do his PAL registration asap. I need Bryan to help me set up pictures though. Fingers crossed. Lots of hard work ahead, but I think we can do it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

After class work

Accomplished today:
- Loose leash walking. That is long overdue without a prong collar. Working with a martingale. Started with sequence: leash tight, stop, Scorch looks back at me, CR and treat when he returns to me, resume walking. Definitely saw marked improvement initially. When responses began declining, worked on stopping and penalty yards. Wasn't much interested in treats.
- Sit stays on walk. This did help him resume interest in treats. Worked on staying across the street from barking pit mixes. Also seemed to help calm the fenced dogs down. First pass, Scorch was a bit stressed and had an initial bout of reactivity. Second pass, he successfully stayed although he turned his back on the fenced dogs and lifted a paw. The dogs went back to sniffing around their yard. Great use of calming signals.
- Returning to heel after a stay. Did 2 sets with treats in front of his nose. After that, just a verbal reminder of "good stay" and he held it perfectly every time. Calm jackpot. Worked it at several locations on our walk.j
- Stand. Worked on it in the house first and he was all over the place. Tried it on the walk and it went much better. Lured into a stand after returning to him on sit stay. He did a kickback stand perfectly and calmly.
- Take it/dumbbell. I've been working with shaping techniques, and he would tap the dumbbell with his nose but that was about it. Using Sue Sternberg's technique (sort of), worked on manual repetitions of putting the dumbbell in his mouth and quickly swapping it for a treat. Worked up to where he's reaching out and taking the dumbbell (and gripping about 50% of the time) reliably. Introduced the command "take it".

Recent pictures of Scorch, Wolfie, and Norman.


First 2 classes

It's been a long, long time since I've even looked at this. Time to resurrect it as my training diary.

After a long hiatus, Scorch and I are back in the training game. We've advanced to Beginner II class at SOTC (after trying Beginner I and discovering that we were skilled well past it).

Summary of our first class:
- Instructor Angie liked Scorch's name. She went around meeting the dogs and incorrectly called Scorch a "chunker". Once she put her hands on him, she realized he was all fur and is in stellar shape.
- Scorch showed a lot of frustration and anxiety with all the other dogs around. We worked on very tight heels/pivots to keep him engaged. Heel around the ring was mediocre. Auto sit at heel was good when focused or in a tight circle heel.
- Recall on a long line was stellar. He held his stay while I walked away, continually turning to tell him "good stay". He flew across the room when I called and landed in a perfect front. Repeat was the same.
- 1 min 30 sec group sit stay. He tried to lay down a few times but responded to a light pull up on the leash + 1 step towards him. He did not get up at all.
- 3 min group down stay. Perfect, with occasional verbal reinforcement.
- Heel up. Working on final positioning. He flips well but lands far back. Using luring to prevent him from getting incorrect positioning.
- Mild to moderate reactivity to intact male Ridgeback in class. Ridgeback is friendly but not well controlled.

Summary of our second class:
- Much more anxiety, drooling. Mild to moderate reactivity to Ridgeback, as well as small female Rottweiler. We worked on attention, CR (conditioned reinforcer) any time he looked at one of the dogs and then looked back at me without reacting. Also brought tennis tug rope.
- Heeling around ring was mediocre. Heeling in wide circles was better. Angie pointed out that I'm giving the CR when he's forging. She showed me how to lightly correct back with the leash to keep him in position. This forging seems to stemming partly from his anxiety. Auto sit was better.
- Group stays were good. I asked Angie if we could treat during the stay and she encouraged us to do so. He maintained his stay this time. Worked on holding the treat in front of his nose and returning to heel around him.
- Recalls on long line. He broke his first stay and Angie told me to enforce it. Perfect 1st front, 2nd needed adjustment. Still very enthusiastic.
- Worked on around the back finish. Not sure if "around" will be our word, although it's getting late to change it. Used to "finish". He quickly remembered how to do it, although still needs a treat lure to ensure proper final position. Worked on heel up as well, and discriminating between the two.
- Dog fight broke out between 2 intact males in the conformation class next to us. Heavy treat/CR with Scorch and then tugging with the rope. He handled it well, although all the class dogs were a bit shaken.