A Natural Break

Each year in upstate NY most agility enthusiasts have break in our training imposed on us by mother nature.  It can be a good thing to slow down, to let body’s recover and to concentrate on cross-training activities.  We’re nearing the end of that cycle this year and soon (please, please, please), the snow will stay away and I’ll be able to get outside with nearly 15 month old Tai and train the way it works best…several short sessions a day.  It has been a LONG winter.

I also introduced a not so natural break in this training last week…the danglies that never dangled in Tai, were searched for, recovered and removed.  A 3 inch incision on his belly is healing nicely and HE is trying to tell me that he is good to go for a romp.  Just a couple more days to get to the magic 10 days post surgery.   That timing will put us in Lexington where the AKC Nationals will be held later this week. Virginia Horse Center – with it’s beautiful open grassy fields will be a nice setting for Tai’s first run since surgery.  Hope we beat the crowds so it can happen.   Here’s a picture of Tai at that site in February.

This break along with a Foundation Day seminar with Nancy Gyes and the ramp up to Susan Garrett’s Recaller 2.0 course has also given me some things to think about and plan for in our training.  Priorities include: Games to improve his toy retrieve and drive back into me including tons of retrained recalls (hope my husband is ready).  Revisiting and ramping up our crate game to an even higher level – which then become a tool to create that drive back to me; or to obstacles.  More deliberate “it’s your choice” distraction training to build his self-control around motion.  The notebook is set up and I’ll be record keeping on these items.

Some of you might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned training jumping, weaves or contacts.  That’s on the agenda of course and I have record keeping started for those too!  But that training is vastly helped by having a dog that is 100% engaged in his work,  and who has a well established reward system (e.g. drive to toy reward and bring right back to Mom for a great tug game).  Without those, the training goes slower and it can be frustrating.

Oh…in a few days Tai is officially old enough to begin trialing in AKC.  The thought makes me laugh but give us a few months and it will all come together.  That thought makes me smile.  Meanwhile, here’s to good training and here’s to reaping the rewards with fun and successful runs with Breeze at Nationals!

Another world

I’ve been in “another world” for the last 10 days here in northeast Florida.   No snow; no bundling up to go outside; plenty of sunshine and instead of cleaning up muddy paws, I’ve been sweeping sandy floors.    It’s been a heavenly change.

Tai has enjoyed his beach running but honestly, he seemed just as happy running in the snow.   Dogs are so adaptable and really very easy to please with some exercise of the body and mind.  A simple walk/run engages the dog’s “seeking” mechanism.  And in a new place, that is magnified…as they check out all the different smells of beach sand, seashells, jelly fish, starfish, seaweed and on and on.  And sometimes making new friends adds even more joy.

Exploring a marine and sub-tropical environment feeds my seeking need too.  With a training in biology and ecology, I love learning about and seeing first hand different ecosystems.  Water, water everywhere here in Florida…the salty ocean, the estuaries, the freshwater rivers fed by aquifers.    To native Floridians, seeing dolphins, manatees and alligators is everyday fare but for a traveler like me…it makes me smile and lifts my spirits.  And I swear the alert “look” in the eyes of the Sandhill Crane I had close-up in my binoculars yesterday reminded me of Tai!

If you are reading this blog, you are probably a dog lover and likely share my fascination with observing and interacting with the “other species” we live with.  That’s one reason why teaching young dogs (and old dogs too) is so much fun.  I had a chance to observe dolphin trainers last week…lots of joy there too!

Teaching Tai his 2×2 weaves has been a blast on this trip. The method (thanks Susan Garrett) makes so much sense and is so flexible…I just love it.  When we arrived here in Florida, Tai had value for the poles, knew his entries on 2 poles and was ready to go to 4 poles.  With a bunch of short little sessions sprinkled in between our sightseeing and hiking, Tai was shortly weaving 4 straight poles and nailing amazing entries.  Today we went to 6 poles.  He’s a weavin’ border collie!

Of course, he’s made some mistakes along the way but when that happens the “how to learn” process that started at 7 weeks kicks in…. he keeps trying and figures it out.   For me, that is the fun of dog training.  I present a challenge, he tries it, gets rewarded or doesn’t and tries again.  I observe his behavior…and react (hopefully) appropriately with a new challenge.  A little frustration is ok…hey, I didn’t learn ride a bike without some frustration along the way.  Or if we’ve gone too far too fast…make it a little easier. It’s an art that is based in science.  I’m grateful my dogs let me explore that world with them.

We’ll be heading back up north in a couple of days but with spring right around the corner, all is good and who knows,  maybe someday very soon Tai can try out his new weaving skills on the grass in my backyard!