Thrilling moments

I experienced some thrilling moments with Tai today.   Not the thrill of competition – that is reserved for Breeze today and waaaay in the future for Tai.  These thrilling moments were about relationship.  You see, we go for long walks nearly every day and one of our favorite places is a series of open fields and woods that provide a good hilly workout and opportunities for the dogs to work their noses, sight and chase birds, paddle in a creek – which is actually not much more than a ditch, and sometimes make new doggie friends.

Tai has been going on these walks since he was about 8 or 9 weeks old.  I always bring treats and toys and practice recalls.  Sometimes I hide so that he has to find me and we have a party.  We practice sit stays when we turn corners as I scout ahead to see if the way is clear for 3 off leash dogs.   Sometimes, Tai and I go for walks alone.

Generally, I avoid late evening off-leash walks to reduce the chance of seeing deer but this morning we were “lucky”.  As we walked through the woods, 2 deer stepped across the path.  Tai was in the lead and saw them and took off on a run.  Honestly, if I had given it a moments thought, I probably wouldn’t have called him as it isn’t a good idea to call your dog if you think they aren’t going to come.  But, I shouted his name and amazingly he turned and spun back to me.  Big celebration.  Then a bit later, he was chasing a bird and went around a blind corner…again I called him and had a perfect recall to reward.  Yahoo!  See what  I mean about thrilling moments?  It didn’t stop there either.

One of the socialization issues we’ve been working through is that 6 month old Tai will – on first seeing people and dogs appear in the distance – alarm bark for a few moments.  This reaction to people and other dogs is reserved for situations where they seem to “come out of no where”.  He’s totally comfortable seeing people and dogs in other situations, like trials or in parks.  So, when we come upon others suddenly and assuming that I read the situation as friendly, I’ll release Breeze and Lacey to say “hi”, ask permission to let my “goofy puppy” say hello and then encourage Tai to “go see”.  He invariably settles down quickly and greets the people and dogs in a friendly manner.  I then call the dogs and we proceed on our walk.   This scenario was repeated today.  But with two big steps forward.

At one point, he saw a group of people and dogs in the distance and chose to ignore them, showing that he’s realizing it’s just no big deal.  And finally, our last encounter of the day occurred when a dog left his pack and ran across a soccer field to say hello.   Before I really knew what was happening, Tai joined Breeze and Lacey in meeting the dog halfway to say hi.   I stood still watching and Tai, after just a few seconds, turned to me and came running back, leaving all three dogs to choose to be with me.

Someday, it will be the thrill of competition that is noteworthy.   For now, I’ll take these moments as a sign that we are definitely on the right track.

The art of sleeping

This might seem like a strange topic in a blog about raising a border collie puppy.  After all, I’ve had BC owners seriously tell me they have NEVER seen their BCs sleep.   I interpret that to mean the dogs are sleeping lightly or maybe with one eye open.  They must actually sleep, right?  Tai rests well in his crate but when I’m in the room, he is watching me. There are infrequent occasions when I catch him deeply sleeping – usually in a position similar to this photo.  From one who positively marvels at the asanas obtained by my yoga instructors…I not only admire, but envy his flexibility.    When out of his crate, it’s comment worthy when he stops moving long enough to lay down and the prospect of this 6 month old puppy making the decision out of his crate to spend his time catching a few zzzz’s seems unlikely.   So, will he develop an “off switch” as an adult dog?  I think so and here’s why.

My adult shelties are active, engaging, smart little guys who are always ready for action and… they are masters of sleeping.  Anytime, anywhere.  When there is nothing else especially interesting to do, they lay down and seem to enter a place of complete peace.  Untroubled, relaxed, resting.  Modern humans, on the other hand, need to sleep for sound mental health but sometimes – or maybe even often – struggle with good sleep or enough sleep.  Being one of those modern humans, I admire my dog’s ability to sleep.

I’m reading the book “Cold” by biologist Bill Streever, “Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places”.  Based on their journals, he chronicles early polar explorers and writes “when one reads past the stoicism and heroics, the history of polar exploration becomes one long accident report mixed with one long obituary.”  Yep.  Many of the explorers kept journals and many of them didn’t survive.  There were exceptions and sleeping was a big part of the success.   Fridtjof Nansen was a Norwegian explorer who after reaching within 4 degrees of the North pole, turned south and overwintered by digging a hole in the permafrost and building a hut out of stone and bear furs.   Key to he and his companion’s survival (they even gained weight over the winter) was sleep…to a point approaching hibernation. Nansen wrote “We carried this art to a high pitch of perfection, and could sometimes put in as much as 20 hours’ sleep in the 24”.

Mammals burn fewer calories when they sleep.  This is probably why dogs are so good at sleeping.  Wolves are good sleepers too.  Winter observers on Isle Royale estimate wolves sleep 30% of the time.  And that doesn’t count what goes on at night.  Wolves, like many predators, live a feast or famine lifestyle.  When they are hunting they burn a tremendous number of calories and since food is not predictable, it is best to rest and preserve calories when they get a chance.  As Wolf biologist John A. Vucetich writes “When food is plentiful, wolves spend a substantial amount of time simply resting, because they can.  When food is scarce, wolves spend much time resting because they need to.”

So, that “off switch” that we dog owners talk about, is actually an evolutionary survival mechanism.  If like the wolves on Isle Royale, puppy Tai was walking 10 or more miles a day with a wolf pack instead of 3 or 4 miles with his human led pack, I bet even at this age he would enter a state of restful, eyes closed, slower respiration sleep when he had the chance.  The voluntary “off switch” will come along with adulthood.  I’ve got thousands of years of evolution to back me up.

Why won’t she write?

It has been over 1 month since I posted to this blog and of course, in the life of a puppy that is forever.  So why haven’t I written?  Well, I have sort of…the blog posts have floated around in my head  – actually quite well formed – as I’ve walked the dogs, set up courses, cleaned the house, weeded the garden jungle or while driving.   The challenge has been finding the time to sit down and transfer them from one virtual space – my brain – to another – the blog-o-sphere.  And since the topics are mostly “real-time”, there is little incentive to do so if several days have passed and so I wait for another topic to roll around and form and to converge with the opportunity to sit for an hour at the computer.   Right now, I’m out of town for a wedding, sans dogs and using the hotel computer while my husband sleeps in.

So, if my excuse is time…you are probably thinking…wait a minute…she’s retired so why wouldn’t she have all the time in the world?  I’ve found out it doesn’t work quite that way.  There are still only 24 hours in the day and without vacation constraints there are now even more options for spending my time than ever before.

So, Tai is now 6 months old.  He is about 20″ at the withers and weighs around 35 pounds.  He looks big to me when standing next to the shelties but tiny next to my friend’s German Shepherd. He still looks quite leggy but he’s  learning to use his body quite well.  He still has a puppy brain for sure but he’s surprising me at times that he actually knows some things and that his choices reflect wanting to be with me.  A gratifying feeling!

We work on relationship every day, in every interactive moment and in every training session…that is a given.  And as I watch him, I see where he is and I hold in my mind the vision of what he will be and fix my training priorities accordingly.  For example,  a priority for the next week will be getting him to soccer games to be around little kids.   He had plenty exposure to kids and babies as a 3-4 month old but needs more now as evidence by his reaction to my friends 2 year old.  He was very stimulated by her and it initiated prey drive….obviously not a good thing.  Another priority is desensitizing him to traffic.   He long ago moved from being afraid of it to being fascinated and now we’re into the border collie must stalk the traffic phase.  He goes into that mental place that is hard to reach.  So these two things will take priority this coming week and when I return from the Czech Republic where I’ll be competing at the European Open with Breeze.  See what I mean by fitting it all in?

Meanwhile…I’m still working his retrieve – getting better but not where I want it.  His drive into his crate is vastly improving using a tip from a friend to use a toy reward for driving into the crate…that is…tug inside the crate.  This is where the “vision” thing comes in….you might think…who cares if he doesn’t drive into a crate? I could make excuses like maybe he’s just too big to feel comfortable running into a small space.  But here’s my thinking…if I can’t get him to drive into a crate…how am I going to get him to drive to the bottom of the dogwalk?  So, crate games is a model where I can figure this out in a non-agility context.

We’ve been doing lots of other things as well… puppy jump grids, rear cross basics, circle work, loose leash walking, durations stays on a dog bed or in open crate, hand targets (now with distractions) and generally working around distractions.

Oh…and from his perspective one of the highlights…swimming.  A few weeks ago, I went to a creek with a big swimming hole to “teach” Tai to swim, prepared to go in and encourage him to the deeper water.   When we got to the spot, he looked, he waded in and started swimming.  I wish everything was this easy.   But wait…do I really mean that?   Nah..what fun would that be?  Right Tai?