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*