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?

Am I smarter than my border collie?

Sometimes I wonder…Am I smarter than my border collie puppy?  Hopefully, you readers are answering “of course”!  And you might think I have nothing to worry about based on this picture of Tai.  LOL.

But the challenge  is…how do I get this – just turning 5 month old – puppy to happily do what I ask when often it is totally counter to what his basic nature tells him to do?  To Tai:

– Everything is a potential chew or tug toy

– Must chase birds

– Playing “keep away” is a fun puppy game

– All dogs must want to play

– Every person he meets wants a bear hug and a face wash

– Every body of water – creek, pond, ditch –  must be explored

– Should be outside all day

-The white dog living next store is the most fascinating being in the universe

– Cars and trucks move really really fast….maybe I should herd them!

No one who reads this list will be surprised as it reveals that Tai has developed into a normal happy confident puppy.  When he is “naughty” or better put… I see a training opportunity and I’m tired or maybe a bit frustrated, I give myself this pep talk: I’m  on a journey aimed at guiding Tai toward becoming a happy confident adult dog who will be a pleasure to live with using a maximum of positive reinforcement and a minimum of punishment.    I have already put a huge deposit into our relationship account and have many tools in my toolbox so I’m confident we’ll get there.

Example: the use of the head halter has accelerated his understanding of loose leash walking and circle work.  It allows me to immediately communicate when he is wrong and optimize the chance of being right to get reinforcement.  This means the ratio of positive reinforcement vs punishment is very high.  So rather than have a dog pulling me toward his new best friend, I can help him understand a little self-control goes a long way.  The next challenge is getting rid of the head halter.  I’ve started in low level distraction environments but frankly those are hard to find at this stage!

As I plot my next skirmish in the battle of human vs dog brain, my mantra is “reinforcement builds behavior; control the environment, control the reinforcement”.   Tai is doing a good job keeping me on my toes and we are both having fun along the way.

Time Flies

It’s been over 2 weeks since I last posted and a lot has happened.  Breeze and I attended the AKC’s Agility World Team Tryouts in Minneapolis.  I spent a wonderful week – without dogs!! — with my husband and two grown kids in Rocky Mountain National Park.

And just after we returned, I learned that Breeze and I were selected to join the AKC’s Agility World Team that competes in Germany Oct 1-3.   It’s been a fun, rewarding and exciting couple of weeks, to say the least.

And how is Tai?  Well, he spent a great week at Aunt Sherry’s and given that she has a pond and border collie playmates, I’m not sure he wanted to come home!

Tai is just about to turn 5 months old. He weighs just over 30 lbs and is roughly 19-1/2 inches tall.  His adult teeth are popping out all over and he’s getting just a wee bit independent as his confidence grows and he discovers the joys of the world.  Tonight we went to a favorite walking spot and he chased birds across a field – yes…he is very fast!  It was a joy to watch him and hard to believe he’s only 5 months old given how comfortable he is in his body.

Today was also the day that he heard a super fast dog go through a tunnel as we stood outside an agility ring.  That perked his ears up and gave me a perfect opportunity to work attention on the mama.

Training priorities haven’t changed much and they include impulse control games, greeting behaviors, hand targets, body awareness exercises and loose leash walking.  Establishing a good retrieve is getting higher on the list given how keep-away has all of a sudden become an attractive game to Tai.

Today I watched Justine Davenport’s 1 year video (click on “video” to get to it) with her border collie Summit.  A preview of where I hope I’ll be with Tai a year from now.  Great job Justine!  For those that don’t know…Justine is a Canadian agility competitor (and great dog trainer) who has been on the Canadian World Team umpteen times since she was about 16 yrs old.

One measure of Tai’s maturity are the disappearing pink spots on his nose.  Here is a collection of pictures showing that progression from about 4 weeks to today.   Amazing eh?

The good, the bad, and the ugly

I chose Tai’s name because his markings reminded me of the Yin-Yang symbol (Taijitsu).   Yin and yang are complementary opposites within a greater whole. This concept resonated with me because it supports the concept of acceptance (not judgment) and striving for balance of the parts within the whole.   So, why this title?  You’ll see as you read below.

The good: Tai is growing up fast.  Breeze and I were away this past weekend at the World Team Tryouts and my husband stayed home with Tai.  When I asked…how did it go?  Answer was: a lot better than last time, when Tai was not even three months old.  So, I guess that means he’s learned some things in the last 5 weeks!

He loves his crate and we are upping the distractions around the open crate door.  And he’s learning to relax in a sheltie size dog bed.  He tugs enthusiastically even when I have a fistful of high value treats in my hand or there are other dogs around.   His loose leash walking is coming along and we’re working through big distractions like other puppies or busy streets.   His greeting behavior is a work in progress since he’s so friendly people want him to jump on him.  So it’s as much about training people than the dog.  I even had to laugh when he jumped in my lap the other day.  We’ll get there.

His recall is great under most circumstances.  But his herding instinct is kicking in when I call all the dogs back together or even just Tai.  He’ll stalk Breeze and Lacey as they come back to me.  When we’re walking together I’m careful now not to use his name unless I’m sure I can control that.

He has several puppy friends and plays appropriately.  He’s even figured out how to get both Lacey and even Breeze sometimes to play with him, using different strategies.

The bad: nothing really.  He’s just growing up too fast.   Tai is 4-1/2 months and at that awkward stage…  His head is bigger than his butt and his butt is higher than his shoulder.   He’s all leg and I’m hoping he’s not going to be a 24″ border collie :-).   He moves nicely and we’re working on specific body awareness exercises like back up.

So, what about the ugly?  Two days ago,  it was a glorious morning with the sun shining and spring green everywhere.  We went to one of our favorite places for a long walk.  About half way through the walk,  it happened.  Well, we happened on it.  A fresh rabbit kill – dead and decapitated – maybe a coyote kill.  What do my shelties do?  Nothing.  Just a little sniff and walk on.  What does Tai do?  He picks up the rabbit head and joyfully starts running around with it.  Ok…at this point all reason is abandoned. I scream, I lure, I cajole…as Tai is gleefully playing keep away with this rabbit head in his mouth.   Having not trained a “drop” or “leave it”,  I’m left with nothing to hope for except a bigger distraction that will prompt him to  drop the head.  Lucky for me, he noticed the carcass, dropped the head and I was in position to grab his collar.  Whew.   Even though I feed a raw diet, that was just too ugly for me.

Yin Yang…acceptance of the whole.

Green Dog and a Trash Bash

Tai proved he fits well into our family as he joined my husband in picking up trash on a walk in Lake Ontario’s Braddock Bay Fish & Wildlife Management Area.  We applauded his  help with the aluminum can and joked that he is our “green” dog in more ways than one.  I will say though we were not so thrilled with some of the “biological” trash he later tried to eat.  With that in mind, we avoided puppy kisses for a bit.  You know what I mean.

We live in a beautiful part of the world and in an area rich in water resources.  Lake Ontario, or the Lake of Shining Waters as the Huron Indians named it brings us lake effect snow, cool summer breezes, beaches, swans, apples, peaches, cherries, grapes and wine.

In my non-dog life, I’m a board member of the Center for Environmental Information (CEI), a great organization that promotes environmental protection and stewardship in our region.  On Saturday May 15th, we are holding our 2nd annual Trash Bash at Durand Beach on Lake Ontario.   Volunteers will clean up the areas around Durand Beach, learn about the importance of the environmental protection of our shoreline and raise funds for CEI.    If you would like to VOLUNTEER or SPONSOR me, click here! Note: to sponsor me, just select the DONATE NOW button at the top of the page.   Your support would be greatly appreciated and any amount would be welcome!

Tai and I will be jumping for joy if you help!

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