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Last Saturday, I played judge for a Rally match at my dog obedience training club. It was fun. I enjoyed choosing and setting up the courses, running the people and their dogs through them, watching for errors where I might take off points if I were a real judge at a real trial, all to help my fellow club members improve their and their dog’s performance.

I discovered that I naturally see certain things, like inefficient or incorrect footwork on the part of the person, or the dog’s sitting at an angle at the Halts, rather than sitting parallel to the person. I saw incorrectly done stations and missed stations. But I realized later that I  hadn’t really noticed out-of-position heeling — as long as the dog was not really lagging for forging, as going along pretty much next to the person, I didn’t really see if the dog’s neck was right next to the person’s pants seam or not. Interesting…

But what I did gain was a pronounced appreciation for real judges. For their ability to stay focused, observe closely, treat every body with respect and kindness, all while standing on hard floors, for hours.

Thank you, judges.

I didn’t judge the whole time. In each of the courses, I took a few moments to run one of my dogs: Cooper in Excellent, Tooey in Advanced, and Carlin in Novice (sort of).

Each dog had a different experience:

  • Cooper: “Hah! I already have my RAE title. I don’t have to do this anymore. Except the jumps. I like the jumps. Let’s do that jump again!”
  • Tooey: “You really want to do this? You do? Really? Oh… okay…. But there will be food in the ring, right?”
  • Carlin: “Wow! Look at all these dogs! Smell all those treats! What are all those cones and signs all over the floor? Oh, you want some heeling? Ok, I can give you three steps. 1, 2, … Oh! Look at that puppy over there! Let’s go say hi!”

We all came home tired and ready for a nap.

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I took the three dogs out for an easy-does-it training day last Sunday. It was bright, sunny, and warm (weird for this time of year), at a new location for us. Mainly, I just wanted to see the grounds where some friends of mine train, and give the dogs a little time out running around.

Joan brought frozen ducks and a chukar to train with, plus a winger (essentially a giant sligshot) with which to fling the birds into the air.

We started with Joan’s dog, a Toller who has recently learned how wonderfully fun retrieving birds can be. Then Donna’s black Lab, Turbo, who several years got his Master Hunter title, is now retired, and just enjoying a bit of retrieving in the sunshine for the heck of it.

Then Cooper. You know, it’s a good thing we’ve stopped trying to train and compete in hunt tests with him. Despite the years of training, he is still as eager and as unsteady as he ever was as a young dog. It took quite a bit for me to get him into heel position and to stay there until I sent him for his birds. But, oh boy, did he love being out there retrieving. Such joy to do what he was meant to do, and if it meant being corrected and pulled back into heel position many times over, that’s OK. The retrieve is worth it.

Then Carlin got to do a couple of short retrieves. I am so glad that he’s happy to pick up and hold a duck. So many dogs hate the taste or texture of ducks, but not Carlin. I held him by the collar at my side while we watched the duck fly up into the air and then come down. As soon as the duck was launched, Carlin leapt up himself, eager to Go! Go now! Go right now! But I held unto his collar until is butt hit the ground in a sit, and then I sent him off to fetch his duck.

He went out and picked it up with no problem, then turned around to come back. About 3/4 of the way back, he decided that he really wanted to keep the duck to himself instead of bringing it to me, so he tried to swerve around me.

Carlin holding his duck - photo by Joan Armstrong

Carlin holding his duck – photo by Joan Armstrong

Fortunately for me and his long-term hunting career, he was wearing a 40′ leash, called a long line, so when he started to veer off, I grab the end and pull him to me.

Carlin returning with duck -- photo by Joan Armstrong

Carlin returning with duck — photo by Joan Armstrong

I let him keep his duck for a few minutes, petting him and telling him “Good hold” as he held onto it. Then I said “Drop”, and he actually dipped his nose a bit and dropped the bird into my hand (which was ready and waiting right beneath the duck). He got in a couple more very good short retrieves. Good boy.

Then Miss Tooey. First she did a very workmanlike single retrieve with the chukar — out and back at deliberate speed. Then a lovely double retrieve with ducks. She doesn’t rush, she’s in no hurry at all, but she gets her birds and brings them back.

Tooey returning with the memory bird -- photo by Joan Armstrong

Tooey returning with the memory bird — photo by Joan Armstrong

After that, my friends had to leave, but they were happy to leave me with the birds, so I planted them out in some tall grass for Cooper to find and retrieve. I do believe he was in heaven doing that, and could have done it all day.

But we had to head home — laundry to do, dishes to wash, rugs to vacuum — all the usual excuses for not training longer on a lovely October day.

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While Russ and Tooey were off hunting, I took a short dog-free trip to visit my cousin in Marin County in California. So I sent Cooper and Carlin off to camp at Classy Canines.

Jayme, who owns Classy Canines, was the person who groomed, trained, and showed Cooper at the beginning of his show career, so I thought Carlin would benefit greatly from her attentions. She’s also a fabulous dog trainer — her dogs have Rally, Obedience, and Hunting Test titles, so she knows where we want to go with Carlin. And plus, I’m hoping she’ll help Cooper learn the elusive Three Steps Backwards exercise for Rally Excellent.

And last but definitely not least, her boarding dogs get to go for daily runs in a multi-acre open space, and I knew both Cooper and Carlin would love that.

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Carlin and Cooper running with the pack — photo by Jayme Nelson

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Carlin and Cooper running with the pack and Cooper’s Springer buddy, Stryker — photo by Jayme Nelson

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Cooper — photo by Jayme Nelson

Here are Carlin and the most of the pack practicing their Sit-Stay for the camera.

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Sit! Stay! Camera click! Good dogs! — photo by Jayme Nelson

Cooper, amazingly enough, is not in the picture. Usually he’s a real camera hog. But instead, he was apparently off with his English Springer buddy, Stryker. They had flushed a pheasant earlier in the walk, and were convinced that they could find another one. Good dogs!

Russ, Tooey, and I are all home now, but the boys are still with Jayme. It’s a long story involving a broken-down truck and expensive repairs, but when the truck is fixed, Russ will go get the truck and the dogs, and we’ll all be home together again.

I’m sure Coop and Carlin will be very happy to be home, but I bet they will really miss running with Jayme and her pack.

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Cooper, keep on keeping on

At the last Obedience match I went to, after watching Cooper and I approximate pieces and parts of an Open-level run, my friend Donna said, “I know you lied to Cooper. I’m sure I heard you promise him that he wouldn’t have to do obedience any more.”

Yeah, well. That’s true. I did make that promise. And if he hadn’t started liking it, I would have kept my promise. He really seems to be liking going out to lessons and to practice, although that doesn’t mean he’s always paying attention or doing what I ask him to do.

Like last night. I wish I had a picture of it. I was out at a lesson, and instead of jumping over the broad jump as I’d asked him to, Cooper ran up to sit next to me, and gazed up at me with an expression of, well, of a boy who is looking at a girl he adores.

I wanted to laugh and smile at him, but of course I couldn’t. He hadn’t done what I asked him to do. So I turned away and composed my face, before turning back, leading him back to the jump, and asking him to jump again.

It seems that it’s not Obedience he likes so much, as (at least for the moment) being out with me doing something. And since “something” these days is Obedience, he’s thrilled to be doing Obedience. And sometimes, he even gets it right.

Tooey, find it

After Tooey got her CD Obedience title, I wanted to find something that she’d enjoy doing. Something that was so wonderful that she’d stop paying attention to the strange people and weird noises, and just enjoy enjoy herself.

She liked conformation because she got to trot around and show herself off, but when it came to being examined by the judge, that was not always wonderful. Some judges, she just didn’t want getting that close to her.

Hunting with Russ and me is apparently fun — usually there are no strange people out in the field and she gets to sniff around open country for birds and critters.  She seems to regard flushing and retrieving a bird as just the price she has to pay for getting to go out with us. Hunt tests are another thing altogether — too many strange people wandering around.

Obedience competition has, I think, worried Tooey. She wants to do well, and some things she does do very well, but with some exercises, she still not totally sure what she’s supposed to do. And then there has also been the matter of working in the ring with a stranger (the judge).

So, I decided to try Nosework.

You can predict how our first class went — strange instructor, strange (human) students, strange place (outside of a big-box hardware store), and weird flapping tarps and doors whooshing loudly open and shut. She was jumpy.

But it got better. She had three tries at searching seven cardboard boxes for bits of liver and hotdog. The first time, she had no idea what she was doing out there in the middle of all those boxes surrounded by people. But I told her to “find it,” and then she got a whiff of the hotdog, went straight to that box, and vacuumed up the bits of food.

The second time, she looked around a bit at the people and flappy things before getting into the search for food, but she quickly got down to work and found the food quite fast.

The third time, I got the leash put on her collar, and she practically dragged me over to the boxes. Who cares about all those strange people? I didn’t hear any flapping tarps, did you? And did you know there’s food in those boxes? Let’s go find it!!!

The second lesson went even better. Food was still hidden in boxes for her to find, but this time the boxes were placed up on ledges and set an angles. Even so, she found the food quickly each time at this lesson, too. Oh, and all those strange people, classmates and store shoppers alike? It was like she didn’t even notice. let’s get to work! There is food to be found!

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We’re getting ready for her first Obedience Novice B shows next weekend, so we’re practicing Stays. Here’s Tooey, looking a little worried, practicing her Down Stay.

Tooey-stays

After I gave her some treats, and told her “Good Stay!”, she relaxed a bit (although not quite as much as the hound to her right).

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Nothing important. No ribbons, no passes, no title or medallions.

Just a beautiful, warm May morning for some steady drills, long retrieves, and then some cooling water work.
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There she was, doing a quick heel around the cones in Rally class, when suddenly, a duck started quacking. Tooey stopped in her tracks, her attention totally off me, looking toward the area where the quacking was coming from.

The quacking stopped. After a few beats, I got her attention back, and we started heeling again. Then the quacking started up again: “Q-u-a-c-k, q-u-a-c-k, quack, quack, quack, quack.” Just like the mechanincal quacks that are used on wingers during hunt tests.

Tooey stopped again, focussed on the area where the quacking was coming from.

I could not get her attention. That quacking had her rivetted.

Finally, the right command came to me. “No bird,” I said. “No bird.” She turned and looked at me, as if to say, “Oh… No bird. Are you sure?”

The quacking stopped just then. Why? Because the owner answered her phone. She’d had it set to quack when that particular caller called, and being an obedient phone, that’s exactly what it did.

And Tooey and I got back to heeling.

Who knew we’d have to proof against quacking in the Rally ring?

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