Friday, December 16, 2011


I need to take some pictures today... I finally got Scorch a pegboard for articles. I was worried that he would get discouraged or have lowered confidence if I tied down the scent articles. But his confidence has gotten out of control, so it was time to take him down a notch. :)

Scorch has had some good, focused finds, but he tends to get so excited and amped up that he'll either air-scent quickly (which can lead to mistakes) or he'll just snatch and grab the first one he comes to. I didn't feel that he had a clear understanding or was careful enough, so when our instructor brought her pegboard, we gave it a try. What a difference it made!

We've had two sessions with the new pegboard. Lisa has me starting him with around the clock training. It makes sense when an instructor can put it into context. I'm starting him at 5 o clock every time so that he tends to make a straight line and search counter-clockwise. We've had some good finds and some attempted snatches, but last night he had such an amazing search. He'd attempted snatching a few times, and had even left the pile twice. He'd always gone back and found the right one, but he was still rushed.

So on the last send, I put the correct article at 1 o clock. He went to 5 o clock and the light bulb seemed to turn on. He carefully sniffed, somewhat counter-clockwise, somewhat through the middle. He almost put his mouth on 12 o clock but stopped before he made contact, thought for a moment, then sniffed over to the right article, and he KNEW. The comprehension dawned on his face, he grabbed it, and came running over. We ended it there... we'll see how long it takes to get there again today.

Scent articles are AWESOME. I love watching my dog figure it out. We signed up for the next Utility class, because we're ready and they won't be offering one again till later next year. The only thing that bums me out is that no one is teaching an Open class, and I really think we could use it. We're still practicing Open and getting ready for our next trial, but I would love a structured teaching environment. Apparently so would the Utility B people... so maybe someone will step up.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Go-outs and articles breakthroughs

Tonight was Utility class again, and we had some "ah-hah!" moments!

First of all, watching Scorch work articles is amazing. It literally takes my breath away, that MY dog is working scent articles. It's so fascinating to be working at something new.

I'm still putting a thin layer of cheese on the bar the first time, but I'm generally not adding any more for subsequent retrieves. We're up to 2 metal and 2 leather unscented. Scorch generally works the pile at first, but as he gets more excited, he tends to start "air scenting" and rushes it... but he's still right, so we're not too concerned with that right now. Lisa says I may have to slow him down in the future.

He also did a couple of "visits" but he did return to the article pile and went back to work. As he gets better, I'll start adding a retractable if I have to but I just want to build his confidence for now.

For go-outs, Lisa had me loop the (unfastened) leash around Scorch's chest to build some opposition reflex, and also to get me in an upright position where I could still restrain him (and quickly let him go). He did some of his best go-outs to date. Just a couple of weeks ago, he couldn't even FIND the cheese on the stanchion, and still wasn't sure about looking away from me. Now, he's marking when I tell him to ("Spot!") and leaving straight on the send ("Run away!"). We got to about 20 feet away, which is tremendous improvement from the 5 feet or so we were stuck at. If he keeps this up, we're about ready to start using less cheese and sometimes adding a sit.

Go-outs have been our biggest challenge, and it's taken some outside the box thinking, but we're seeing the results. I've had a hard time practicing because I don't have a great stanchion right now... I'm hoping to build something out of PVC and wood that will work, because the materials I have aren't cutting it. Money's been super-tight, so it's just had to wait. At least I know our work in the training building is starting to pay off, and I know our progress will be better when I have the right "stuff" at home.

I discovered that Scorch has a great signal-sit... as long as it follows a drop from a stand. Uh oh. So I'm working to separate those a little more. I've also taken signals on the road a lot more; we worked outside of a Target and he did well. Another night, we did signals outside of JC Penney's and he had more trouble. So in comparison, he was on fire with attention in class. He didn't mind being in a line-up of dogs at all, even with an intact male next to him. He gave me some great drops, and he was attentive but confused during the sit. I'm happy with the attention and progress we've made.

But there's still nothing like watching him work articles. :)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Beginner Utility work

I guess what's interesting about spending the past 4 years working on Scorch's attention is that now it's hard to get him to look anywhere else. We ran into this problem in agility, when he was supposed to target facing away from me. Now we've run into it again with go outs.

My instructor, Lisa, puts cheese on the stanchion, Scorch is in a heel position looking at me. I stare at the cheese, Scorch is in heel position looking at me. I go up and point to the cheese, return and Scorch is in heel position looking at me. Lisa makes noises and points to the cheese, Scorch is in heel position looking at HER, deliberately NOT looking at the cheese, then looking back at me.

Oy vey.

So after a couple of weeks of not making much progress, Lisa recommended we take him out of heel position entirely. She had me straddle him, lace my fingers under his chest, and lift him up slightly. AH HAH! That got him looking at the cheese. So I've gradually faded that position. We still have to start with an off-heel position somehow, but after a couple of go outs, he can be sent from heel. I'm using the word "spot" to have him focus on the stanchion. It's the word my instructor uses, which makes it easy to remember. I was going to use "look", but we play the "look at that" game sometimes with dogs he doesn't care for, so "spot" it is.

Speaking of dogs he doesn't care for... Scorch made HUGE progress yesterday at work. First, we were walking towards my office when my coworkers MASSIVE chocolate lab, Cooper, came galloping towards us (on leash). Even though he's neutered, he's still huge and Scorch froze in place. The fear on his face broke my heart. Cooper sniffed Scorch, who was stiff as a board, and then turned away, distracted by someone else. I encouraged Scorch to go visit, and he sniffed him tentatively. Once he realized he was neutered and not paying attention to him, I think Scorch relaxed a bit.

Then we walked into the office, and Brooklyn the boxer was sticking her head out from under Tara's desk. Scorch wouldn't even come through the door. No one else was in there, so I had to encourage him to pass her. He rushed past quickly and greeted his usual office-mate, Bentley. I let him off leash and eventually, curiosity got the best of him. He went over to sniff Brooklyn. She's female, which helped, and pretty gentle for a Boxer. Long story short, within a couple of hours, they were playing nicely together. What a HUGE step for a dog who was paralyzed by his fear of her.

We saw Duke the pit bull later, and Scorch politely declined to play with him. He kept his tail up and wagging though, so that's still a positive step forward.

Bliss with his fleece tug, a gift from a coworker.

In other training news, we've started scent articles!!!!!! It's really exciting to learn things that I've never gotten to work on with previous dogs, and I always dreamed of having a dog I could take to Utility. We still have to finish Open of course... but we're still having fun prepping and training. Scorch is still largely guessing with the scent articles. The nose games haven't quite kicked in yet. I'm using very small amounts of squeeze cheese, so hopefully it'll be easy to wean off of. When there's too little cheese, he starts guessing. I'm sure he'll put it together soon.

Directed jumping is also ten thousand times better than the last time we attempted it (which was the beginning of this year). The jump training we've done has paid off. Lisa recommended I do some directed jumping and put a dumbbell in Scorch's mouth too. Hopefully that will help with the Open jump refusals (only ever when he's holding the dumbbell, which makes me think it might be a comfort issue... he hated the dumbbell to start with after all).

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sunday: Open A and Rally Exc B

Well, Sunday was a better day. We got there early and met up with the boxer from the day before. We did some heeling together and stays. Scorch was fine with him; certainly not interested in playing but happily ignored his presence. I'll take that. The boxer's handler admired Scorch's attention and happy attitude. I had loved the boxer's pounce on the dumbbell the day prior, but that was the only part of his performance I got to see.

We went into the Open A ring under judge Harold Doan, who had previously judged us in Rally. Scorch felt much better walking in; calmer and more in control.

Heel free: This got off to a great start. His slow transition and first sit were great. He went wide on the about turns and bumped me on the left, but his fast transition and quick halts made me happy. Maybe he was a touch forge-y on the halts... it looked like the judge might have marked me off. It's funny, some judges mark us off and some don't... probably those with forge-y dogs who understand that it's my dog's default position. I also understand how it's scorable forging. But I'm VERY pleased with his heeling. We're working on tighter about turns.

Figure 8: Oh boy. Scorch definitely knows that the judge has the dumbbell and his bumping me on the inside turn was awful and interfering... the whining also started at this point. I guess it's good that he's come so far from the dog that thought the dumbbell was "icky" (and no force fetch... EVER). Time to start working with dumbbells as a distraction more often (especially HIS dumbbell).

Drop on recall: Late but I don't care. Hurray Scorch!

Retrieve on the flat: That was the worst admissible throw ever! But my little champ tore out after it, worked through a distraction and... didn't sit. But that was AWESOME, good boy Scorch!

Retrieve over the high jump: Well, at least he didn't anticipate! During set up, he whined and got antsy. He came back around the jump... and it was such a good throw too! Ah well, things to work on. I'm proud of him for being slightly less frenetic. Then I had to tie my shoe, and my boyfriend didn't want the world to see him filming my butt so... the camera goes haywire for a second. :)

Broad jump: Wellllll... he jumped 2 boards instead of 0.5! He was headed directly for the center of the jump and I think he second guessed himself. Oh well, we were already NQ'd. The judge said my dog needs some downers or prozac. :) Probably true! I get jazzed up and it goes right down the (invisible) leash.

Out of sight stays: WE DID GROUPS TODAY!!! HURRAY!!! Scorch sat next to the boxer. As soon as we left, the boxer laid down and was really close to Scorch... but not quite interference close. The judge almost called the owner back, but decided he was ok. Whatever, because Scorch STAYED SEATED FOR THE ENTIRE THREE MINUTES!!!! Four out of the seven dogs laid down on the sit... not my boy!!!!

Then, during the down-stay, apparently the boxer got up, looked at Scorch, looked at the husky on the other side, and decided to go play with the husky. Hmmm, maybe it's a good thing Scorch told him off outside the ring... because if a strange boxer had tried to interfere with Scorch, he might have been missing a face. The husky and the boxer were both out of the ring when we returned... and my boy was holding his down-stay and hadn't moved an inch. SO PROUD.

Only one dog qualified in Open A on Sunday; but it was a very nice group of people and I enjoyed chatting with them during the stays.

After we were done, I did some quick tugging and heeling-with-treats, then I had to run over to the Rally walkthrough. The course was more challenging somehow (although we still have never encountered "heel backwards 3 steps"). I was happy to see a broad jump... that meant that Scorch would get a positive encounter with it. He kept looking back at "dad" during set-up, but boy when I said "ready", he locked on.

I took a tiny step on the 90 degree pivot, losing 5 points. Without that, we would have had a 98 and won the class... c'est la vie! It's funny, because I was most worried about the 180 degree pivot... so of course, I did that perfectly. Still, we finished 4th and completed our Rally Excellent title. :) As judge Withers says... YAY!!!!!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Saturday: Open A and Rally Exc B

We showed in Tampa this past weekend with mixed results. As great as Scorch performed at the Orlando trial, he's not just not quite ready for Open yet. The behaviors are there but the foundation is a bit shaky.

Saturday was... interesting. The venue is REALLY small; there's only room for 2 rings. The entry numbers were low but it was still crowded and the tension among the dogs seemed to be running high. There were a couple of near-fights soon after we got there. Then, as we were waiting for our turn in Open, Scorch had an unpleasant encounter with a boxer. I noticed that we were standing close by another dog, but didn't think much of it. Scorch sniffed his butt briefly and then refocused on me... but then the dog turned around and Scorchie realized the breed. Without warning, he snarked at the dog. The scars from the attack in August do run deep; I should have anticipated it but I didn't.

Anyway, the snark was very brief and the woman was, thankfully, very nice (and understood when I said my dog had been bitten). It almost looked more like the correction Scorch gives to obnoxious puppies. Unfortunately, the boxer owner and I realized that we were in sequential order and we would be next to each other during groups. We spoke to the judge, but she said the order would stay. So we walked them around a bit together, and then it was time for me to go into the ring, under Rose Doan.

Heel free: The judge said "forward", I said "heel", and as if on cue, two dogs got into a fight right outside the ring. REALLY? It rattled me and I'm sure it didn't help Scorch's anxiety, but in the video, he handles it very well. A lot of handlers say they're envious of his attention, but it did wander somewhat. His turns were wide until the last about-turn. He felt barely restrained at times, but in the video, his prance looks very nice.

Figure 8: Scorch usually has this one in the bag, but he bumped me on the inside turn. I realized on Sunday (when he was way worse) that he figured out that the judge has THEDUMBBELL. Whoever has THEDUMBBELL controls the universe, or something.

Drop on Recall: The judge called this one a bit late on some of the fast dogs, but Scorch nailed it anyway. Crooked front, nice finish.

Retrieve on the flat: This was great (and I even did a great throw!) until the finish. I didn't put my dumbbell hand by my side, and he tried to grab it while finishing. This might have signaled the beginning of the end.

Retrieve over the high jump: Aaaaaand here's where the wheels came off. He had been quietly whining at times, and the vocalizations became more audible during set-up. Scorch anticipated the send and I think he knew that something wasn't right. So he reverted right back to his old "come back around the jump" trick. He also decided to tug on the dumbbell.

Broad jump: I think Scorch's anxiety/excitement was through the roof at this point. I stood farther back from the jump than I usually do (I think I was having a confused day, haha), so he pretty much just skipped it. Again, I got the feeling that he knew it wasn't right... he didn't quite front or finish, and he went back to the jump, like "Wait a minute, I was supposed to do something here...". Our broad jump foundation is definitely weak and I think it just fell apart under stress. The judge laughed and said, "Well THAT'S an interesting way to do the broad jump!" I replied with, "Yep, that's a new one to me!"

We asked to be excused from groups due to the issue with the boxer. We did groups on Sunday, which I'll write about later, and Scorch had no problem with the dog (even though the boxer got up and visited another dog)! I'm glad we skipped the tense day.

I've always sworn I wouldn't be a "frowny face" handler... you know, those handlers who get done with a less-than-stellar run, put their dog in the crate, and walk away, or complain about it. The best part about our performance is that Scorch was happy; his tail was wagging, he was bright, and his attention was on me. We need to take our show on the road MUCH more and proof MUCH more; I think that will bring down some of the hyperness. As I get more experienced too, hopefully I won't send so much anxiety right down the leash.

But I know one thing; I am not a "frowny face". We went right out of the ring, got his tug toy, and played. Then we heeled with some treats. And then it was time to play at Rally!

Our Rally Excellent B run was great. We got a 95/100, which is the same score we got last time. I sent him a little late on the jumps, and I could have backed him up a little better on the lefts, but overall it was very nice.

Bob Withers was the judge (yay!) and as always, he made the ring a pleasant place to be. It was a fun bunch of handlers too, so we started saying we were the "Rowdy ring". One of my instructors, Fran, placed 1st with a score of 100. We were 2nd! Fran was happy that SOTC was represented in the top placements. I'm proud to be running Rally with the "big dogs".

Love this dog. I'll write about Sunday later (and Orlando's Rally Q).

Monday, October 10, 2011

Open A debut

I think I have decided that I will never FEEL ready to show... but sometimes, you just gotta do it anyway. That was the case with our debut in the Open ring. At least with the Novice A ring I had *some* frame of reference, from showing Jack briefly in UKC. But Open is a whole different monster... or at least, that's what I'd made it up to be in my head.

But Scorch's work was brilliant. I started to feel better when we got there and he was the BEST behaved he's ever been at a trial. Getting to go to work with me has changed his behavior in dramatic ways, and allowed us a chance to really work training into our daily routine.

We debuted under my favorite judge, Robert Withers, and he told me later that we were working on a pretty good score. I didn't stay long enough for scores to be posted, but I heard it was in the low 190s... good enough for first place probably.

Alas... the 3 minute out-of-sight sit-stay got us. Part of me is beaming with pride that he made it to 2 minutes and 50 seconds before laying down, and part of me is going, "Reeeeaaallllllyyyy? Ten seconds, Scorch?"

So that's a big thing we'll be working on before the Tampa show. But considering how hectic the week leading up to the trial was, I'm pretty amazed he did so well.

Video posted below!

Heel Free:
It was a bit frenetic but generally was ok. His forging has gotten so much better; his heeling demons now mostly consist of wandering attention. Kudos to him though for returning well to heel position when he found himself in an unexpected position. He made the judge chuckle quite a few times with his quick, precise adjustments.

Figure 8: I wish we could start with the figure 8. That really seems to be when he pulls it together. I REALLY like the way this looks. All I need to do on my end is smooth out my footwork.

Drop on Recall: It's a running joke with the people I train with that as soon as you send in the check for a show, something breaks. That was the case with our drop on recall. Then, two days before the show, we had a breakthrough and it came back. I didn't even want to write about it... didn't want to jinx it. But it held and he did it under the pressure of the trial.

Retrieve on the Flat: You know what my favorite part of this is? How I was lined up with the mat line right down the middle, and Scorch retrieved the dumbbell and came STRAIGHT down on that line. I don't know if his perfect front would have been as obvious by video without that line. I really wish I had stayed to see the score breakdown, because I like to think we got full marks for this.

Retrieve over the Jump: My throwing is better than I thought. Scorch still had to make a decision about coming over the jump versus going around it, and you can see him consciously make the right one. The leashwork my boss suggested was a great solution.

Broad jump: From the video, it sort of looks like he cut the corner but from my view (and the judge's!), he actually did have plenty of room to spare. The glowing pride I felt seems obvious even with my back to the camera, as I spread my arms to Scorch and showered him with praise. I saw one dog skip the jump entirely and run directly to the handler (former problem of ours!), and another dog carefully stepped between each board in a perfect straight line, and finished with a perfect front. This exercise really is harder than I thought it would be, and I'm thrilled with our result.

And then, of course, we had our stays. We got to stay in the building due to the torrential rain outside, which made me feel better. I did have images of turning the corner and finding a steward hanging on to my dog for dear life... but I was careful to put the image of a perfectly seated dog into my head. It was not meant to be that day, and I put the blame squarely on my shoulders for lack of practice lately. Mr. Withers came over to tell me there had only been 10 seconds left. Oy! Scorch's down-stay was, of course, perfect. Open A was a bit of a blood bath. 23 dogs entered and present, 4 qualified.

Still, we had a beautiful day. :)

Post about our awesome Rally Excellent run will be next!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Beginner Utility, class 1

Quick overview of what I learned tonight:

1. Scorch is SO MUCH BETTER BEHAVED since I started bringing him to work and using the Easy Walk harness. We haven't been to SOTC since the spring (agility) and not inside the building since last year. This class had a lot of observing time and he wasn't jumping out of his skin like he used to.

2. Easy Cheese on the ring stanchion: Scorch tends to want to target the floor instead of paying attention to where I'm telling him to look. Good response to the "run away" though.

3. Glove: Scorch marked the glove well and was allowed to "get it" because he had such a nice look. We'll work on increasing the time of the look and working to reduce looking back at me. Lisa was having us use "spot" to mark the go-out, but Bev was using "look". So Bev encouraged me to use something other than "look" for the glove. I guess I'll use "mark" for that.

4. Signal drop: The biggest eye opener was that even quick drops had the dog creeping forward. Several handlers, including myself, had to redefine what they consider a drop. Even if the dog doesn't sit first, even if the elbows and back end go down simultaneously, if it's not a fold-back drop, the dog will have moved forward almost a full body length. The feet don't have to move forward for that to occur. So we did some drops behind a bar. I told Lisa that I could guess that Scorch would put his paws on the bar. She explained that I needed to claim the bar as mine and tap his feet if I had to. His first drop was solid, but his second had a paw on the bar. I stepped towards him and he immediately popped up; I stood on the bar, tapped it with my foot and said "MINE". Then I asked for a down while I was standing on it... PERFECT. Lisa also kept stressing that it was important to "feed the floor" by dropping the treat between their paws, to help enforce the fold-back down. I'm going to try the bar again to help with our broken drop-on-recall.

5. Attitude: I saw a surprising amount of negativity, frustration, sarcasm, etc from other handlers. It reminded me to keep a good attitude and to smile at my dog. Maybe it's partially because Scorch is my Novice A dog, but working with him generally makes me happier, not angrier! If I'm frustrated, we're not going to get anywhere and I usually stop training for the day. But I'm going to really make myself more accountable for my attitude.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Well, we're entered to debut in Open A this Sunday. We're also working in Rally Excellent B (had to do a move-up because I chose A for some reason...).

I just did a mini run-through with Scorch outside to see how he would do more amped up, with minimal treats. We were in the front yard, but it was still more intense than our play-training sessions have been. Everything is looking great (even better than I expected!) except for the drop on recall, which has suddenly broken. It was never fantastic to begin with... I'd say there's a 50/50 chance he'll drop in practice, probably less in the ring. I've been walking towards him and giving a hand signal as well as the verbal, but he can't seem to handle it well when it's just verbal... maybe I'll try switching to just the hand signal? I don't know.

I'm more anxious about the out of sight stays, namely the sit-stay, but it's been going well on practice. I'd rather NQ on the drop on recall rather than the stays... but whatever, I'd rather not NQ at all so let's just go with that. :)

His dumbbell retrieves today were spectacular. He soared over the jump and tore after it on the flat... no hesitation, no anticipation, just absolute glee. Broad jump is going well, although we still rarely do a completely formal one. When we do, it looks good. Heeling has been better, less forge-y.

I'm also trying to integrate more play with ME versus toys or treats... he's still anxious and amped when I do it, but I think he's finally HAPPY about it at least, not just looking for other reinforcement.

We also went to North Carolina.

Love my Easy-Walk harness... makes managing excited border collies so much better!

Scorch was amped and anxious at times, especially with all the changes. We spent every second together for 3 days straight... I even got to take him as a demo dog to one of my meetings. But I had an evening meeting at a mall and had to leave him behind. It was actually really difficult after relying on him so heavily for company during the trip... but we both survived the bout of separation anxiety.

I've decided to stop letting him bark at cows... because while we were in downtown Savannah, a horse drawn carriage came around the corner. WHOA did Scorch ever dislike that. Hoofed animals did NOT belong in the city according to Scorch and he felt like everyone needed to hear all about it.

Despite the stresses, he was good company, and I think it was a good experience to have him work through that stress. When we reached our hotel in Savannah for the second time, on the way home, he visibly relaxed in the familiar setting.

I also took him to Jacksonville's Dog Wood park for the first time. That is my favorite park and I hadn't gotten to take him yet. He had a blast splashing in the lake.

It's also nice to be able to relax about my dog... there was a minor dog fight while we were there. Jack would have instantly leaped in, and probably Wolfie too. I looked up at the scuffle, then back at Scorch, who was just happily staring at me and wagging his tail, waiting for me to throw the ball.


I don't know if we'll have a spot in the upcoming Utility class at our dog training club, but for now we're having a great time prepping for Open and hitting the road.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Happy 4th birthday Scorch!

My heart beat...
8wksattention best friend...

...the dog of a lifetime...
8 weeks old

4 years old today. And very happy about it.

Even from puppyhood, he knew how to ham it up for the camera.





He was good company for Dad when things were changing. And he would never judge him for wearing mis-matched socks. :)

He is the best dog I've ever known. And the cutest.
My pics 018

So today, we played ball at the park.

Bryan came too. Those are not my legs

Scorch finally agreed that kiddie pools can be fun.

We followed up with a trip to Petsmart for some toys and treats. I even snuck in a few heeling sessions and drops-on-recall. For fun, we did a few moving stands, which we haven't practiced in a while, and he was fabulous as usual. Then we shared dinner at Cheeburger Cheeburger. Scorch VERY MUCH enjoyed his hamburger with mozzarella.

It was a great day, with a great dog, and a great boy. I can't believe 4 years has already flown by from when I first brought the little puffball home. I was watching some videos I took of him at 6 weeks old... already a tugging machine and connected with me. He even still runs exactly the same, just a little more gracefully now.

I love this dog.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Starting scent work & Open prep

Tonight's training was fantastic! My scent articles came last week. I've had to resist really playing with them a whole lot, because I don't want to mess anything up. But Scorch is so visual, we've started to work on teaching him to use his nose. Connie Cleveland has a great technique written up in Front & Finish, July/Aug 2010 and we're trying her technique.

Basically, her method uses metal cookie tins to teach the dog to locate a treat in a scented tin. The articles also get put in the tin, and the dog learns to alert to the correct tin to get treats. Eventually, all the tins get cookies (and articles) but only one is scented; then none of the tins get cookies and the dog is working for scent alone.

This time of year, I'm having some trouble finding tins in the stores; I suppose they're a seasonal item around here. So for now, we're playing with plastic containers. It's really fascinating watch Scorch problem solve. The lightbulb has tentatively gone on a few times, but I don't think the connection has entirely been made. We've only had 3 days of work on this, so I'm pleased.

We're starting Utility class next month, so it'll be nice to at least have a headstart with Scorch understanding that sometimes he can use his nose to work out a solution.

Our broad jump routine right now is about 4 reps of "Jump, *toss treat*, front" followed by a rep of "Jump, *no treat toss*, front". As long as we warm up with treat tosses, he's having perfect broad jumps. We've done some barrier work in the past and he tends to trample right over it, or avoid the jump entirely, so I'm liking this method right now. We'll see if the success continues. We have to make a decision about an October Open debut (under Bob Withers!) by September 21st... I think we'll be alright as long as nothing breaks between now and then.

His drop on recall is having a few blips. When I'm very firm with my "down!" and/or step towards him, he remembers what to do, but obviously I can't be gruff or move in the ring.

His go-out training with the target and PVC box is going great so far! I'm able to send him from farther out, which I think is actually helping him stay straight at the target. He's not tempted to keep an eye on me when I'm farther away.

I've also been asked to teach a tricks class. Which is great, except I haven't really had a "trick dog" since Jack. Wolfie knows "bang" and "wave" and that's it. So I've got to get Scorch working on some tricks if he's going to be my demo dog. All of my competition instructors have told me that tricks would be good stress relief for Scorch at shows too... I'm just always afraid of "breaking" something (obedience-wise).

So for now, we're working on a little "bang!". I'm trying to get him to lift his paw AT ALL for "shake" or "wave"... he thinks I'm testing him on "stay" and holds his feet even tighter to the ground. I've been manually lifting them but I might just work with a target for his foot and then try to take it away. That's one of the first tricks most people teach a pet dog, and all my dogs have known some variation of it... except for Scorch. Oh well. I also might try "take a bow", although I have to come up with a name that doesn't sound like our other commands. Part of me thinks it could help with his drop on recall/stationary drops by reinforcing that the front end goes down first, and part of me is afraid I'll break the behavior.

But there are plenty of people whose dogs known HUNDREDS of commands/tricks and differentiate between them all. My dog is definitely smart enough, *I* just have to be.

My precious boy turns 4 years old next week. It's been an incredible journey and I'm ready for so much more.
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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Training today

We had a good training day today; short but sweet. Most of what we've been doing has been throughout-the-day-type work: stays at my desk, heel-up while we're walking, random drops, etc. Now it's time to get back to regular sessions.

Willard Bailey, author of two of my favorite dog books, posted on his blog about his method for teaching go-outs. I've never liked the "treat on the ring gate" technique; it's just not for me. I tried it with Jack and he was very focused on the gate itself. While we never got to finish our training or get to Utility, it seemed like searching the gate for food is a behavior that would re-emerge under stress. I've seen it happen to dogs in the ring, and I can absolutely see it happening with my dogs.

I've done some targeted go-out work, and I've worked with boxes and barriers for our straight heels and fronts, but I hadn't ever combined the two. So my challenge to myself is to try Willard's technique and see how it goes. Basically, we're starting with 3-sided PVC box; I put the target and the treat at the far end of the box, and right now, I'm just leading Scorch up to it and telling him to get it. I want to work up to him running to the target in a straight line from a greater distance. When we add the turn-and-sit, the box (plus a long leash) will help get the desired behavior in the desired way. I also like teaching differentiation between "get the cookie" and "turn and sit".

So that's something we're building up to. The toughest thing that has always haunted us is that Scorch turns his body when getting to the target; he prefers to eat the treat while facing sideways. I may have to set up stronger, tighter barriers to work with this. It was a huge problem in agility too.

Anyway. Scorch's dumbbell retrieve was beautiful today. No laying down when returning to me.

The dumbbell is really a bit too big for him, but he's retrieving it happily so we'll stick with it for now.

On the retrieve over the jump, we've hit some snags. He'll happily leap over the jump to get the dumbbell but tended to run around it on the way back, especially if I threw the dumbbell crooked (and if you know me, you know the likelihood of that happening in a trial is about 99.9999%). He's so pressure sensitive that running towards him to intercept was making him hesitant about the whole exercise. Interestingly enough, I talked it over with my training director at work. Now, he comes from a much more... let's say "traditional" mindset when it comes to training. He's the epitome of old school, seeing as he was a K9 handler in the military and law enforcement. I fought tooth and nail to get clicker training into our program at work, and he has really come around to it. We've had some great training discussions.

Anyway, we discussed the jumping problem and he suggested putting Scorch on a retractable lead. Brilliant!

We did a few retrieves without the jump to make sure Scorch was comfortable with the lead. Then we started doing some jump work. He was doing fine until I threw the dumbbell crooked. Scorch starts to veer, leash gets tight...

...Scorch corrects his path immediately!

The next crooked throw needed no correction, and we ended that particular exercise on a high note.

Please excuse my disgustingly overgrown lawn. Our mower broke, and now our weedwacker is leaking gas and oil everywhere. Ugh.

Anyway, Scorch is very space-sensitive; I find it interesting that a light collar pull or pop is much less aversive to him than body pressure.

Another issue we worked on is glove retrieve. He tends to be a bit lazy with holding the glove and lets it sort of hang on his tongue...

I reminded him to hold, put my hand under his chin... much better!

His fronts and finishes were nice today too.

We finished with some broad jump work and out of sight stays. On the broad jump, I think I'm just going to have to toss a cookie or toy about 1000 times to get his muscle memory locked in. I don't feel like his motivation or understanding is quite where I need it to be. We had a great session today... I think now that we have so many things we're working on, training has gotten a lot more exciting for both of us.


Well, Scorch has had a few hiccups in his recovery from the dog attack. Not physical, mind you; he is healthy as a horse. But mentally, he has had a few setbacks that we're working on.

Right after the attack, he came to work with me. One of our techs had brought her extremely sweet, very non-threatening female Basset mix. So Scorch had his first strange dog greeting with her, and it went great. I also paraded in a host of strange dogs for board-and-train or dog sitting. All of this, he took in stride.

However, when he started regularly coming to work with me, things changed.

He didn't much care for Bentley, the 6 month old intact male Lab we shared an office with. Ok, yeah, he'd met Bentley when he was 12 weeks old and they were fine together, but now a lot of time has elapsed and Bentley is a teenager, so his intolerance is understasndable. He also didn't care for the boys Hartwell, 10 month old intact Lab, and Hamish, 2 year old intact Golden Retriever. But Scorch has never liked unneutered males, so I let that slide.

But Troy, the long-neutered, friendly, 5-year old Australian Shepherd? He usually LOVES Aussies! Two female Bulldog puppies in class? Why is he growling and snapping at them? The clincher for me though was Duke... the realization finally kicked in that we have some work to do. Duke is a rescued pit bull mix one of my coworkers brings in. He's young, playful, sweet, and neutered. Usually that would be Scorch's ideal playmate.

But we couldn't even walk past their office without Scorch hackling up and making a wide berth, usually while pursing his lips or even showing his teeth. Scorch was afraid of the dog who resembled his attacker, and was going on the offensive. Duke wasn't even bothering to get up when we passed by and Scorch was still freaked out.

So we've been playing the "look at that!" game, taught to us by one of our mentors. I think it comes from Control Unleashed, but I'm not sure. Anyway, every time we'd get near one of the dogs he didn't care for (especially Hamish and Duke), I'd tell Scorch, "Look at that!" When he'd glance at the dog, he'd get a treat. It only took a few repetitions for him to start tolerating their presence.

We have a play yard at work for the pups (heaven!) and while we had a group out there, someone brought Hartwell out. I was worried about Scorch... but I waited it out because Hartwell is such a NICE dog. Sure enough, with some careful supervision, Scorch decided he no longer wanted to eat Hartwell... instead, we got obnoxious, herding-type behavior (barking, heel-biting, increased barking when Hartwell would stop to sniff something), which Hartwell thought was delightful, so we let it go.

Then later, Duke came out to play. Scorch would start to play with him, then would get a little skittish and slink away. Duke, despite his youth, was VERY respectful of this and patiently waited for Scorch to come to him.

So... we're making progress. Scorch doesn't have to like everyone, and border collies are notoriously picky anyway. But I want him to at least ignore dogs he doesn't like; I never want my boy to be afraid ever again.



Sunday, August 14, 2011


So first, the bad news: Scorch and I aren't showing at all this month. We didn't have everything together (money, healing, training) to register for the shows, so I'm not getting my birthday wish. But we can start showing again in October. There aren't any shows in September due to DOCOF so we have a whole bonus month of work.

The good news, however, is that we are back down to three dogs. It was interesting to watch the interactions and reactions of the house dogs. Norman, of course, does not care much for strange interlopers but tolerated some more than others.

1. Mocha, in-law-pooch: 2 year old Chocolate Lab, spayed female. Mocha is a very submissive dog; you could possibly describe her as "wimpy". She has little concept of personal space, as with most Labradors, and insists on cuddling with the collies when she's here.



Norman has decreed himself to be the schoolyard bully when it comes to Mocha. He's the kid that steals her lunch money on the playground. In his mind, Mocha is not allowed to possess ANY toys. He might be willing to let it slide if she's holding a toy that isn't one he plays with often, but generally he'll launch himself off the couch to "correct" her when she decides to pick up a toy. He's gotten better about it as she's finally standing upright and not slinking around him all the time, but he's still a butthead occasionally.

2. Prince: 8-10 week old Golden Retriever puppy, male. Norman's tolerance for him was greater than for previous puppies. He sent Prince "ki-yi-ing" away a total of twice; otherwise, his corrections were appropriate, and Prince was allowed to possess toys. I'm guessing it's because Prince was a confident puppy, respected Norman's signals, and was generally a nice dog.

3. Jessie: 9 month old yellow Labrador, intact female. Now here was a dog Norman actually wanted to play with, probably due to being unspayed. Strangely though, Prince the puppy didn't much care for Jessie; he would play with her, but often got mad when Jessie would crush him with her body weight. Prince never lost his temper with the collies, but I had to pull him off of Jessie's face a few times (Jessie didn't have a clue and didn't seem to much care that there was a puppy angry with her). Norman still didn't want her to have his favorite stuffy, but she was allowed any other toy in the house. Occasionally, he would charge at her, barking and growling... which is his social-idiot way of asking her to play. You just have to know him to hear and see the difference, I suppose. His barks are less serious and he sort of "bounces" off of the other dog's body.

Norman still postures with Wolfie at times, and once even got into it with Scorch while I was out of the house. But generally, the house is at peace. Now that my back has healed up, I've upped his exercise routine again and I'm definitely seeing a difference. Just now, thunder rumbled in the distance and he perked up, then went back to sleep, unconcerned. Yesterday while we walked, thunder started rumbling and he was too busy focusing on his walk to really bother acknowledging it. What a huge improvement.

So. Back to Scorch. My new job promotion involves a lot of driving travel... and Scorch gets to be a road warrior with me. He already gets to come into the office (the first few days, I didn't bring him and was barraged with requests to have him join the "office pooch crew"). We're also taking a trip in September to Atlanta, GA, Nashville, TN, and Northern Alabama. It'll be great having my best buddy with me, and it'll also be good for training and proofing. I'm actually most excited about getting his loose leash walking more under control. On yesterday's walk with Norman, I couldn't find Norm's easy walk harness, so he was on a regular collar. I was really having to work with him and get on him for pulling... so Scorch's loose leash walking was the best it EVER was, due to the constant stop-start and reworks with Norm. I guess I need to start doing that with Scorchie too. DUH!!! Why can't I take my own advice? I have such a blind spot for Scorch I suppose.

I'll bring an actual camera with me... my cell camera is great, but my point and shoot is still better with dim lighting.

Photo time!
Wolfie standing in as demo dog while Scorch was injured.

Attempts at posing Norm and Scorch wearing bandanas my mom gave them... at least one dog likes the camera.



While at Red Fern Canines training center in Pennsylvania, I got to see a picture of a very accomplished Cairn! It's always nice to see people working their Cairns to high levels. If I could focus on Norman... err, and also control his dog aggression... I'm sure he would excel! He already has a great repertoire of commands. Anyway, this Cairn also looks just like my Mugsy.

Speaking of Mugsy, I found a baby picture of her. The Cairn that started it all, my first dog, my baby girl puppy.

And finally, puppy snuggles!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Getting back to work

Sometimes life throws curveballs at you and your dog, and you have to learn to roll with it.

I've been pretty shaken up by the attack on Scorch, but he seems to have recovered well and taken the whole thing in stride. There's something to be learned there. If my little border collie can be brave and move on with his life after a terrible bite from another dog, maybe I can learn to not overreact to things so much...

...yeah, right. I'll let you know how that goes.

On a brighter note, we got the ok to return to training. Scorch limped for one day, had a minor hitch in his step on day two, and by day three he could not understand why he wasn't allowed to romp and play. During that time, Animal Control continued to investigate until they found the owner and fined him heavily. The owner's father also reimbursed me for my vet bills. So there was a happy ending at least.

I'm starting to realize how stellar Scorch's drop on recall has become... and that I really need to work on EVERYTHING as hard as we've worked on that. I'm also trying to "take it on the road" more, but for now, I feel pretty good about it. His heeling has improved somewhat, but when he's excited and anxious, he reverts to his forge-y ways. Gee, excited and anxious, that NEVER happens at a show... -_-

I'm doing better at staying in a straight line and I think that's part of the reason Scorch's heeling has shown an improvement. Heeling works when the dog isn't afraid of being stepped on or bumped.

His broad jump is the fastest thing I've ever seen. I need to get a video of it. He jumps long and low; there's no little "hop" that I see most other dogs do. He flies over it in a way that looks like it's part of his normal stride. Right now, we're mostly working on jumping straight straight straight. I don't know if there's muscle memory involved but since Scorch is the King Anticipator, I've only asked for a front a couple of times. Everything else has been a straight jump for a toy toss.

Speaking of videos, I have an 8 week old Golden puppy living with me right now (he's not mine, he's from work!). We've had to have several incarnations of baby-gate containment because he's very determined to escape. Here is a video of his early efforts:

Note the carpet has some (cleaned) wet spots. He was baby-gated and had finally stopped crying. I was so proud, until I realized he was quietly waiting for me to emerge from the bedroom and play with him. Of course during that time, there were some accidents, but he was actually pretty good considering.

Norman's head is about to explode from all the dogs that have been coming in. Hopefully we'll be back down to 3 for a while... God, I remember when I thought 3 was a lot of dog!

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Writing this is really hard... we'll see if I can get through it.

First, let me start by saying that Scorch, Norman, and I are ok, and we're going to be ok.

Last night, I took the two dogs (Wolfie is out of town with Bryan) on one of our usual routes. A few dogs barked and charged fences, which provided me a good chance to work on Norman's attention. However, there is one house that contains three boxers and a pit bull. The house is ~600 square feet. There are plywood sheets on the windows (to prevent the dogs from going through them, I've always assumed) and boards over the bottom part of the doorway. The dogs always bark and carry on when we walk by.

As we approached the house, I was paying attention to Norman when I heard a neighbor scream, "Watch out!" I looked up to see the door to the tiny house was open and one of the boxers had almost broken through the boards. Before I had time to think, they were out. I scooped Norman up as the 4 charged us.

The boxers stopped. The pit bull hit Scorch like a mack truck, grabbed his leg, and started shaking it violently.

It's all a blur of hackles, sceaming (mine and Scorch's), kicking, neighbors jumping in. It seemed to last an eternity. One of the neighbors swatted the pit bull with a towel and, shockingly, that stopped the assault (and kicking didn't?). They told me later that the owner (who wasn't home) uses a towel to swat at the dog to break up fights in the house.

Those kind, saintly neighbors corralled the dogs into the house and came to check on us. Scorch was limping badly, although we couldn't find any punctures at the time. Everyone else was unharmed. I gave the neighbors my contact information and walked home.

If that couple had not been outside... I was screaming "HELP!" and no one else came... if they hadn't been there, the consequences would have been far greater. I can't even think about it... the very notion makes me want to vomit.

I have never NOT been able to stop a charging dog before. That dog neatly swerved around me and attacked with more force than I've ever witnessed. To her credit, her aggression is truly dog-directed; she demonstrated none towards myself or my helpers. But it is fierce and deadly. I am a terrier proponent, and a pit bull one at that. But that dog is out of control.

I've had a theory that the owner doesn't even live there full time, but the dogs do. They're fat, underexercised, and understimulated. When I got home, I called the police and filed a report. They sent an ACO to meet me at the emergency clinic, where we found 3 serious punctures and several smaller ones. The ACO went right to the house, where still no one was home. He saw the conditions, so I hope that alone sparks action. I'm sure I'll never see a dime for my vet bills, but I want to hit this guy where it hurts: his wallet. Those dogs are in a dangerous situation and every dog who passes the house is in danger.

Scorch had a rough night on Acepromazine and neither of us got much sleep. He went to work with me today and played the pathetic card VERY well. He was the darling of the campus and garnered sympathy everywhere he went. When people would fawn over him, he would grunt and whine; we joked he was "telling the story". We did a careful intro with a coworker's non-threatening basset hound that went well. I want to make sure he gets slow reintroductions to only submissive, gentle dogs.

This certainly puts a damper in our plans to debut in Open under our favorite judge. That was supposed to happen at the end of this month. Hopefully August isn't out of the question, but the most important thing is that my dog is ok. And also that the asshat owner down the street gets what's coming to him.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A special delivery!

This week's work schedule has been really rough... I have like 4 blog posts in mind and I just haven't had the time or motivation to write them.

So what perfect timing to receive a special package in the mail from Loretta of Full Tilt Border Collies! I knew I had won a contest on her blog, but I've been a little distracted lately, so it was a pleasant surprise to come home to!


I know about her husband's sock monkey fetish so I was sort of thinking that might have been involved in the prize somehow. :) But I had NO IDEA how amazing and extensive our prize would be!


I could barely get the dogs to hold a stay... Norman was especially amped up to get at the goodies. (And no, I didn't bother to sweep before taking these pictures)



Wolfie found one of the bully sticks and decided that nothing else was as worthy of his time.


Scorch predictably decided that squeaking the tennis ball repeatedly and loudly was the best way to spend his time.

Norman commandeered control of the sock monkeys and immediately concentrated on pulling the fringe off of their hats.


Unfortunately, Norman couldn't handle the concept of "sharing" so he's sequestered in his crate right now. He doesn't handle excitement well. There are still some edibles left in our box; Norm can enjoy his bully stick in private. Scorch has decided that the tennis ball is still more important (OH MY GOD THE SQUEAKING IS ENDLESS) for now.

The dogs have been very bored with my new schedule and this really made our day! One of the sock monkeys has a giant hole where his jaw used to be, but actually they're holding up really well to all the abuse!

Loretta, I cannot thank you (and Klink and Gator and Ace and Even and Lynn and Crackers and Vittles and the sheep too!) enough!