Making ME more exciting.

I wrote a few days ago that Midge finds running and playing in the pond more exciting than I am and how depressing it was: IT IS! I was told (or read) early on in this Border Collie venture that a dog is a reflection of you as a trainer. That is something I should tape on my forehead so I remember it. You get out of a dog what you put into it.

I do think that Midge is to some extent catching up on the “fun” that she missed out on while pregnant and nursing the puppies. I will be the first to admit that a year and a half old is too young for most bitches to have puppies, but Midge is very mature and she did an excellent job of raising the puppies. It could have been a nightmare if she wasn’t. That said, she’s still a year and a half old and that is young. She is still, to some extent, a puppy herself. Another thing to consider about her age and the pregnancy is that it is out of the way now. I do not have to take a break from training her at a point where she may be competing. There’s also the adage, if you don’t use it, you loose it, and sometimes holding a bitch off until she is four years old (or older) until she has proven herself or is mature, is not always in the best interest of the bitch. A young bitch recovers quicker from pregnancy and nursing than an older bitch. I regress here.

Last night I took Gel, Midge and the puppies out into the back field. I had a Kong on a rope. Before I threw the Kong, I called Midge to me several times and asked her to tug, which she did. This excited her and she was quite interested in staying with me and playing rather than running off. I had to stop calling her in to tug because Heatwave was getting overly excited by his mother tugging and started tugging on Midge. I started to throw the Kong. Midge runs for it, but allows Gel to retrieve it. First I started to ask Gel for behaviors before I threw the Kong again, then I thought to myself, I’ll ask them both for behaviors. The only behavior that is solidly named in Midge’s vocabulary is “down.” I asked both dogs to down and then danced around, chanted words other than their release word, and then released them. I was rewarded with fast downs and rocket starts. Both dogs seemed to enjoy this game.

While we were out, I let the puppies have their time with the Kong letting them tug on it and carry it around. I came back with four tired canines.

I cooled everyone off, then brought them in. I put the puppies up in the ex-pen and let Midge and Gel be loose. That was a mistake. I went to the bathroom, Gel went with me, Midge chose not to. I came back into the living room and discovered Midge had been raiding the litter boxes, something she’s never done before (at least to my knowledge). I put her in her crate until I could be in the living room to supervise.

Both puppies slept in their crate overnight and they did well. They woke me up around 1:30 to go out and then slept until I got them up at a little after five.

This morning was my time to get a few things done. This week is going to be busy. Wednesday night I start an agility class and with the trial this weekend, I won’t have time over the weekend to get any housework done so I have to try to get it done during the week. I put Midge in the fenced-in area where I keep my sheep so she couldn’t run around doing her thing and left Gel in charge of the puppies for about an hour. I got a lot done in that hour. Then I put the puppies up in their run and let Midge out. We did some jumping drills, including jumping the tire. I set the tire at the height she’d be jumping (22″) and she happily jumped it several times. It would have been just as easy for her to go under the tire, but she didn’t! Midge and Gel are very competitive for my attention which I will use to my advantage. Jealousy is a good thing.

I am on the Clean Run mailing list at Yahoo Groups. It is interesting to read of the new training techniques that people are inventing. For example, a number of people are retraining the A-frame to a running contact rather than a stopped contact. I can see why they’d want to do that. Jamming to a stop from a 6 foot high A-frame is hard on the dog’s front end, no matter what type of contact you are doing. According to the list owner, they are going to be releasing a DVD of Rachel Sanders showing the method of retraining the A-frame. According to Steve at AgilityNerd who recently attended a seminar where Rachel Sanders demonstrated her A-frame method, “the dogs who are using this method come off the yellow almost parallel to the ground in a beautiful stride. It is much easier on their front ends. The dogs come over the apex and down in a controlled manner with an extended stride and don’t have to brake as required by other methods requiring a stop at the bottom (2o2o, etc.). The dogs are going fast, are always hitting the yellow, and seem to really understand the behavior being asked of them. Furthermore, as part of the training Rachel makes a point of removing all handler positional cues for the behavior so it really is an independent running A Frame.”

I have mixed feelings about Gel’s contact performance. It is solid, I know he understands what he is supposed to do. I trained the so-called “one rear toe on” contact performance and I like it, especially for a dog with his body type (long); but his contact performance is slow. If you go to AgilityNerd and read the September 21 entry discussing stride regulators and then look at the video, you will see an increase in speed over the A-frame when stride regulators are used. When my A-frame is complete, I’m going to try stride regulators to try to increase Gel’s speed over the A-frame.

I haven’t gone to AgilityNerd in a while so I visited it today and bookmarked the site. Steve always has interesting posts, exercises, etc. In a recent post, he mentioned this Blog, which I really liked. The author of the Blog, Simone, recently attended a Greg Derrett seminar. Would I ever love to attend a Greg Derrett seminar. I’d have to take out a loan to pay for it though! One thing really caught my eye: wide turns are a very strong indicator of the dog not being properly reinforced in the “reinforcement zone” which is a semi circle shaped area in front of your body and to the sides of your body. Simone went on to say, “I never really thought about defining that reinforcement area as so cut and dried, however the way Greg talked about the zone made it clear that for him the place the dog should always wants to get to and is trying to get to is that reinforcement zone (if of course you have reinforced enough!). This placed quite a new slant on things for me and showed that I have been a very much obstacle reinforcing type trainer when I think back to how I trained Raven.” Ha! That’s me, I created a very, very obstacle reinforced dog in Gel. In fact, working Midge freaks me out because she’s extremely handler focused. I am not used to that. I often have a hard time getting Gel to come in to me. Food for thought, especially given what I was doing with my dogs last night — rewarding for behavior away from me. One of my agility instructors, Meagan, is always reprimanding me for rewarding Gel with a thrown toy rather than coming to me to tug. I guess you always ruin your first dog, I’ve just done it in more ways than one.

Lots of stuff to think about. I wish there was more available in terms of support in herding like there is for agility. The Clean Run magazine is an absolutely phenomenal resource. The few working Border Collie m
agazines that are available offer very, very little in terms of instruction. Of course, working stock requires more hands-on support than agility, but in general, I believe agility is a much more supportive environment for me to be in right now.

Heatwave is going to his new home tomorrow morning. We originally planned for him to go on Friday, but the family is very anxious to get him, they have all their supplies, he’s ready to go, he might as well go sooner rather than later. The puppies are nine weeks old today. The picture here is of Scorch and Torch taken this weekend while on “Holiday” in Canada. They look wonderful!