Monday, October 26, 2009

Sunday Night Football

It's been a long time since I've just relaxed and watched Sunday night football. Last night seemed like a good night to do that. Page thought so, too. And you can see as the evening went on, she got more and more comfortable and took more and more space on the day bed! Yes, my feet (covered in a black and orange blanket) really are hanging off the day bed in that last photo and holding up Page's head. Poor Devon was curled up on the floor on a doggie bed thinking Page was VERY spoiled!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tracking: 2 out of 3 ain't bad

In the last three days, Devon and Page have had one bad track and two good tracks. Even though we had one bad track, I'm glad things are moving in the right direction - the good tracks have been the more recent ones!

I combined TDX tracking training at a state park an hour north with transferring our Belgian Sheepdog rescue to her foster home. It seemed like a good idea at the time, since I'd been planning all week to track there. What I didn't consider was the stress the girls had been under with the rescue dog. Page hadn't been feeling well and had gotten me up the previous two nights to go outside.

The day was perfect for tracking with rain the day before and drizzle that day. The temps were in the mid-60s. The cover was perfect. Due to our travel schedule, the track was 4.5 hours old when we came back to run it. That is older than Page has experienced, but not by much.

However, the wind had picked up and was blowing 15-20 mph. Page worked hard on this track, but chased the scent in circles with the wind. It took her 30 minutes to work about 120 yard down the track. When she found the first article, I ended the track.

I expected her to have worked out the issue with the wind blowing scent from our last track there. It was windier than our previous time tracking there, and I know the wind was a big factor. Page just couldn't lock into the track.

But I think stress was a huge factor, too. Page and Devon both had a big disruption in their routine with a new dog in the house. The rescue wasn't socialized with dogs, so she couldn't be integrated into the pack. Now that she is gone from the house, things are settling back to normal and I think the stress has dissipated.

A group of us got together to do VST. With Page not feeling well, I gave her a break and just tracked Devon. Actually, I also got to track Archie, too! Steve was out of town judging a tracking test, so we put a track in for Archie and drew straws for who would run him. I got the privilege!

Archie was easy to run (especially since I laid his track so I knew where it was), but the squirrels and his strength did make it interesting. When Archie locks on and decides to go, he decides to go and you better be hanging on! And he loves to chase squirrels, so when he spied two squirrels playing at the bottom of a tree on the other side of a parking lot, I braced myself. Luckily, he was a good boy and finished his track.

Devon had a lovely track that was about 265 yards and aged 3 hours and 20 minutes. She hasn't tracked in quite a while, and she's been sitting around watching her sister get to track. I think the time off and jealousy were good motivators. She looked fantastic!

Devon started beautifully, which was nice since I really didn't know which way the track went off the start flag. She locked in quickly and pulled me along the first leg and worked the first turn very nicely.

The second leg was also along an office building, and Devon was still dead on the track. This was nice to see because the wind which was around 15 mph was swirling around the building and parking lot. You couldn't tell it by the way Devon was locked onto the track.

Devon worked the non-veg turn very well and finally committed very confidently to the third leg which was a sidewalk along a parking lot. She found her metal article without any problems.

My tracklayer told me the track went on to the grass ahead, and I looked straight in front of me to a patch of grass across a driveway. When we reached the drive, Devon started her transition searching; however I thought her transition searching looked an awfully lot like a turn indication. When Devon committed left onto the grass, I turned to question my tracklayer only to find she'd moved from behind me to my right ... then I heard her say, "She's dead on the track."

Well it's a good thing my dog knew where the track was, because obviously I was clueless! I thought it went straight in front of us! Two more articles, and Devon was done and very proud of herself. She should have been. It was a beautiful track, and she even proved halfway through it she wasn't feeling well either!

Both girls had to be fasted for 24 hours and put on chicken and rice this weekend. Either it's stress or mushrooms in the backyard or a combination of everything. They don't seem to mind the chicken and rice (good thing I have a great rice cooker and split chicken breasts were on sale this week).

Page is feeling much better, so I decided to give her a confidence building track this afternoon. It's been a beautiful fall day with clear sunny skies, high wispy clouds and the trees are in my favorite period with lots of oranges and reds.

I laid a short 435-yard TDX track in my favorite place at a nearby metropark. After I put it in, I ran an errand to a nearby library, so the track only aged 40 minutes before Page ran it. It's a good thing I didn't run it any fresher, or Page would have killed me in that cover and in those woods! I've never had her pull so hard on a TDX track before!

Page flew through this track in about 10 minutes, including getting her line wrapped around a thorn bush that took me a couple of minutes to disentangle. She stopped at her articles, but I had to make her sit or lay down. I've never seen her track woods so fast or so confidently. I'm glad I ran this track, because it gave both of us our confidence back!

So, two out of three good tracks isn't bad for a weekend's training. We're supposed to have some good weather this week, so I think we'll get back out and do more in the coming days now that both girls are feeling better.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Devon's 5-star day

For the last two months, Devon has been "Library Dog" every Thursday evening. Her duties include wagging her tail and asking for pets from anyone she comes in contact with, and listening to children read. Some weeks we have a dozen or more kids who come to see her, and other weeks it's light and only one or two kids come by.

This week, Devon played hostess to 8 children, with six of them staying the entire hour! The kids read to her, petted her and did craft projects. Devon even got to say hello to an almost 1-year-old girl who walked up to Devon and grabbed her muzzle to look up to her. I was so amazed by Devon's reaction to this very little girl. She was very gentle and even laid down to give the little girl a better advantage for petting her.

The highlight of the evening was when the kids came over to present some craft projects to Devon. The kids laughed and cheered when Devon took their projects in her mouth and brought them to me. Devon was even presented with a paper airplane! The kids loved her "tricks" so much, one presented her with a star on her forehead. And since there were five colors of stars, Devon had to do four more tricks to earn a star in every color.

The photo here shows a very tired Devon ready to leave the library with her 5 stars on her head and carrying her new paper airplane. I told her she looked like Wonder Woman! Devon wore her stars proudly the rest of the evening. I found one on the kitchen floor, one was in Page's fur, another ended up on my shoulder and the other two were lost outside in the dark. The Library Dog slept very well Thursday evening!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How to save a (dog's) life

This week, we have had a new experience. On Tuesday, I got a Belgian Sheepdog out of a local shelter on behalf of Belgian Sheepdog Rescue Trust. She is 14 months old, and she is staying until Friday morning when I take her north where she will be fostered.

Ultimately, it's the wonderful people in animal shelters and animal control offices that save these dog's lives. In this case, it was a special animal control officer who in spite of all the information given to her didn't want to put a dog down.

The family told her the dog was snapping and biting them and she was vicious. When she arrived, she was in a muzzle, barking and snarling and spitting. But the animal control officer took her in after the family surrendered her and evaluated her. Even when the dog's initial reaction was to try and bite the officer, no one gave up on her. Instead, the officer started trying to find a Belgian Sheepdog rescue group.

Three days later, I met a different dog. I met a Belgian Sheepdog that was wary of people she didn't know, but who trusted those she had met just 24 to 72 hours earlier. She wagged her tail, she took food and she allowed them to love her. Within 10 minutes, she even came up to me and sniffed me.

By the time I picked her up on Tuesday, she was wagging and accepting and eagerly taking treats and greeting people. She has been a gem to have around the house, even though she's not socialized with other dogs. She is learning Goldens are pretty neat while safe in a crate or on the other side of a baby gate, but she's still not ready to be loose with other dogs.

This girl is going to make someone a really nice pet. She's loyal and loves people. She's free with licks and tail wags, and all she wants is someone to love and protect her.

I know I'm not cut out to work with rescues full time. My Belgian Tervuren Cammie taught me that years ago when I rescued her. I gave her everything I could, and in the end it still wasn't enough.

But this week my little Belgian Sheepdog gem has reminded me that everyone in the dog training community needs to give back to the dogs we love. We need to donate time or money to our rescue groups. If we get that phone call out of the blue, we need to return it and do what is being asked of us - or do more.

We have years of dog training and dog behavior experience to offer rescue groups. We know what stress looks like and we know how to get through it (good treats, redirecting behavior). We know our dog's behaviors and the quirks our breeds have. In this case, the family should have never owned a Belgian Sheepdog. Out of ignorance, they did so much damage. We have video cameras, and we know how to tape dogs. I had no idea how grabbing my video camera and taping a dog at a shelter would tell the rescue evaluators far more than a still photo would. We know dogs, and rescue groups need our expertise. And we need to give back to our dogs.

In the end when I transfer this beautiful Belgian Sheepdog tomorrow she will take a little piece of my heart. It's right there next to the piece the animal control officer gave her. But those little pieces of our hearts told her that humans can be trusted again. That she doesn't have to control her world; humans are supposed to do that for her. And humans are supposed to love her. And someday really soon, she'll find that love in her forever home.

A tough TDX track for Page

On Tuesday, Steve put in a tough TDX track for Ms. Page. He did it at my request, because I wanted to see how Page would run another blind TDX track (this was her second). The track was a total of 990 yards. It was aged 3 hours and had cross-tracks (thanks to Janet). The track had four obstacles, three road crossings and about 230 yards and a turn in a woods.

Page did a really nice job with this track. She did have her problems, but she was able to work them out. She blew past the second turn, which was an open turn into the woods. However, she did check up on her own and work back on her own to find the track into the woods.

In the woods, she worked very hard, investigating lots of scents. She either got spooked by something or stepped on something and was shaking a front paw. After stopping to examine it and finding nothing wrong, she continued tracking.

Page tracked true enough for me to see the article in the woods, but she didn't indicate it until I made her. She tracked on and again got spooked by a branch "getting her" in the rear. The problem was, she had to work past that branch to make her turn and get out of the woods. She handled that well and worked out of the woods and through some heavy cover back into medium cover.

Once out of the woods, she indicated her second article with a nose touch and then moved on. Well, at least it was an indication! The first road crossing was done easily, but just after that road crossing and turn, I noticed Page start to fade with fatigue. She had burned a lot of energy out in the woods, and she had gone 595 yards. This was where the test really began for Page. Did she have the stamina to finish the track?

Page worked the next road crossing just fine and didn't hesitate at the first set of cross tracks. She did flick her head right on the second set of cross tracks and she went past the next turn. I did see her curve toward the new leg, but she then tracked on. When she wasn't confident and worked backwards, I told Steve where I thought the turn was by her initial indication and he said I was right.

This is where Page's fatigue showed: she was less precise on her turns. The thing I was thrilled about was even though she was tired and it was hard, she never gave up. She continued to work that track hard. I bet the only way she would have stopped was if I had walked her off the track.

Going into the last road crossing, I told Steve I thought she was left of the track by what her body posture told me. Steve said I was correct. Page blew well past the last turn, but worked her way back to it and found the final glove. When she did, she put her front feet on it, nose touched it and then sat. A very nice indication for an exhausted tracking dog.

It was a tough track for an 8-month-old pup; but it was exactly what we need and asked for and it really showed me what she had in her. I was very proud of her work ethic, and my ability to read her. What a good, honest tracking dog I have!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Page, Tracking Dog!

Page earned her TD Sunday morning, the day after turning 8 months old. Page earned her TD at the Youngstown All Breed Tracking Club's Tracking Test under judges Debra Huff and Marilyn Johnson. It was a beautiful morning. According to, it was 33 degrees, mostly sunny, 82% humidity with a calm wind.

Page's track (pictured here to scale) was 465 yards long and aged 44 minutes. The legs were 140 yards, 50 yards, 115 yards, 50 yards, and 110 yards. The track was in a soybean field (dead, ready-to-harvest soybeans in dirt/mud with the dew). I was concerned with the lack of living vegetation on this track; but if any dog could do it, it was Page. She's been working TDX in woods and various cover, plus the non-veg VST tracks.

There were four tracks at this test, with two being in soybeans and two in alfalfa. A Cocker Spaniel drew the first track and did a lovely job. After initially tracking over the glove, dog and handler worked back to it and found it for a pass. A Field Spaniel drew track 2. This was the dog and handler's first tracking test. They did a lovely job until the dog went right instead of left on the last turn. A truly heartbreaking failure being so close to the glove. However, when the Field Spaniel did so well on this track, I was confident Page and I would handle the soybeans well, too. The fourth track went to a lovely little Border Collie who passed easily and quickly. Unfortunately I didn't get to see any of the track due to finishing my track and the rolling terrain.

The second track had just finished, and the judges called for me to move up to my track. We all had to move our cars to see the 3rd and 4th tracks. I pulled up first to get my dog out; the rest of the gallery followed.

We had to battle up an 8 ft. slope to get to our field and start flag. It was a quiet start since just the judges and the tracklayer were there. Our start article was a sock. Page ran quickly to the article and stopped over it until I picked it up and told her to "Track."

When I released her she was off like a shot in a straight line towards the 30 yard flag. I stood and waited for the 20 ft. knot in my line to pass through my hands before I followed her and it came way too quick. I realized my line had gotten a knot in it as I had dropped it at the start (I made sure it was straight twice before we got to the flag). Darn, I hate knots in my lines! They're distracting!

Page was tracking fast and straight as we approached the 30 yard flag, and she didn't miss a beat when she suddenly raised up and jumped 6 ft. in the air trying to rip the flag off the flagpole! Before I could react, she gave it a second attempt. What a devil! As I was chuckling, I said, "leave it and track!" Page stopped, turned and gave me a whithering look over her shoulder as if to say, "Geez, mom, you are no fun at all!" then dropped her head and tracked on.

As we reached approximately 90 yards, I was preparing for a turn any time. I absolutely didn't want to take this track or my dog for granted. We'd been tracking in a row of soybeans and I couldn't see a track at all. Suddenly, Page's head came up and back down. Then she lifted it up and flicked it to the left then back down. Was that a turn indication? I glanced to my left and saw a path through the beans next to me. Was that our turn?

Page's head came up again, and I slowed. She slowed. We both stopped. Ok, this must be the turn. Page turned and came back to me. Oh no, she had to have been past the turn! Page never comes back at me unless we're really past the turn. I backed up 2-3 steps. Page came back to me and stood next to me on my left and looked up at me. She's only done that one other time after she pottied on the track. Hummmm, what was going on?

I very calmly said, "Are we tracking?" Page's reaction was quick and told me firmly, "Yes, we are!" She trotted confidently out in front of me again, dropped her head and plowed forward (just like she'd done the one other time this happened). I followed; always trust your dog. I figured we'd either just blown past the turn badly or she was 100% right and that wasn't the turn.

When I heard no whistle, I knew my dog was correct. Another 40 yards and she gave me her traditional loss of scent/turn indication and easily found the next leg. In thinking through what happened, I remember Page occasionally lifts her head when tracking when she's very confident of where the track is. Steve suggested she had a nose full of scent and was just trying to clear her head a little. It appears to me she's very confident and just wants to take in the scenery a little!

I was so worried about missing that first turn, I took what she did as a turn indication and slowed, causing her to think we were stopping. This was just "test nerves" and me being too vigilant. It was a good lesson that I don't have to over handle my dog. She knows what she's doing and I just have to trust her.

The rest of the track was uneventful with Page tracking very strongly until the last turn. I expected when we crossed the rows I'd see the track more clearly, but I really couldn't. It's a good thing I trust my dog and she's a great tracker.

As we were on the fourth leg, I saw we were coming to the edge of a field. I wasn't sure how far we'd come, but I was looking for a glove any time. When Page indicated a turn, I wasn't surprised. She indicated left, but not as strong as her other turns. I looked left and saw a wider path up a row. This was back toward the road, so it made the most sense the track would turn left. However, I needed to trust my dog so I waited her out.

Page checked right and then went left again, but she still wasn't on that path I spied and she wasn't pulling me around the corner. I waited, but she stayed where she was and really wasn't pulling. I gave her a step figuring if this was correct she'd move forward and then hop on that path. She did move forward, but continued to the right of what I thought was the track.

Page got more confident as we went, but she was still right of what I thought was the track. Then she hopped another couple of rows to the right. I had a split second of doubt where I thought she was off the track. There was no way the track angled right, because it was angling out of the field and that didn't make sense.

But Page was so confident, I let go of my doubt. Trust your dog, not your eyes. How many times has a handler's eyes and mind failed a dog at a tracking test? I didn't want to do that to Page. I followed, and I was searching the ground around her for a glove. We had to be close to the end! With her weak article indications and the first dog who tracked over the glove, I didn't want to come this far and miss that glove!

As I was looking out at Page, we came over a small rise, and something light colored caught my attention right above Page's head. It was a light colored fence post and it was directly in front of Page in the distance. That gave me every confidence Page was correct in her path. I've laid enough tracks that I can pick out the obvious landmarks tracklayers and judges use.

A few more yards and Page pulled up. I could see she had her two front feet on a brown cloth glove. She pushed at it with her nose, and her tail started to wag. I just stood there for a couple of seconds and took in the sight of my beautiful puppy indicating her glove on her titling TD track. I want to keep that moment in my mind forever! That slight pause was enough for Page to drop onto the glove and look over her shoulder at me. Her face said, "Look, Mom! I found it and I even dropped!" She was proud of herself!

I let out a big good girl and yelled back to the judges she found the glove! I told Page how brilliant she was and waved the glove in the air. Page and even celebrated that glove with a game of tug. The gallery was still beyond a small ridge and couldn't see us, but we got great congratulations from the tracklayer and judges. I never did get the name of our tracklayer, but he was very, very nice and I appreciated his time that morning. Tracklayers work hard at tests, and I know they want their dogs to pass very badly.

All three remarked that Page was a solid tracker and did an outstanding job. Debra Huff told me I did a good job of handling. She said she knew I didn't believe Page on the last turn, but I was a good handler and trusted my dog and went with her. I accepted the compliment. I'm disappointed I didn't trust Page right away, but I appreciated that I came through for her and the judge recognized it.

In thinking through that last turn, I think I was in "training mode" and wanting Page to pull me around each corner like I expect in training. In a test, I know indications are going to weaken, especially as the adrenaline bleeds off and the track goes on. Page gave me two very solid indications on that turn, and I should have stepped in behind her faster than I did to give her the confidence she's correct and I trust her. That's a good lesson learned for our TDX work.

So Page's first AKC title was an enjoyable event. Three of the four dogs passed, which is a good pass rate for a TD test. The people were very, very nice and the judges laid good tracks. Friend and AKC Tracking Judge Rosemary Janoch even came by to support us and another team. It was good to see her and her new puppy, destined to become another great performance dog (he's very cute, too!). And best of all I learned a lot about me and my dog in our first test - most importantly I learned she's a great dog and I have to trust our training! It's solid!

Thursday, October 15, 2009


The bonus room where the computer and the day beds are has become our "family room." It's the place where the dogs nap and I work on the computer and occasionally watch TV. Since Ian is still intimidated by Page, the boys are often gated outside the bonus room. Today, Page is napping in her crate, so the boys have said, "Finally! We've gotten to sleep on the daybeds!" You see they wasted no time in taking over!

And don't feel sorry for Page. She's likely in her favorite sleeping position, shown here. How she can balance on her back and sleep, I have no idea!

Another TDX track this week for Page

I created a map of a fun TDX track Page and I ran on Tuesday. This track was at a local metropark. They have (finally) done some mowing in this part of the park so these pastures are at a reasonable length (like not waist-high cover).

The track was 780 yards long and aged 3.5 hours when we ran it. The first leg was 150 yards long, and it posed a lot of challenges. When I laid the track I was literally walking next to and over piles of deer poop. The leg ran parallel to a woods, and it crossed at least 8 deer trails into the woods.

Page handled this leg like a pro! She was pulling strong, which was a difference from the 3+ hour track a few days earlier. At the first big pile of deer poop, Page stopped to snack. I told her NO! Leave it! Track! She turned to me (with stuff hanging off her lips) and gave me a look that said, "OK! Thanks for informing me of the rules," then put her nose down and continued to track. That was the last time she stopped for poop, not even a sniff! And if she turned to the deer paths, she quickly leaped off of them for her own track.

Page handled the first turn easily and it was about all I could do to keep her slowed down so I could keep my feet. This 60-yard leg was in a open wooded area, and when I laid the track I saw mice jumping through the grass in front of me. Page never even stopped to investigate critters.

The second turn came quickly, and Page dragged me through a woods line where I nearly lost my hat and had to keep my eyes closed for fear of tree limbs. She handled this short 50-yard leg and immediate turn well. Unfortunately she didn't give me a very strong indication on the article. I knew where it was and made her indicate it. I was curious what she'd do on the next article that was somewhere in the woods!

We went 75 yards through another woods line and into a field for her fourth turn. This time, Page worked the transition out of the woods and to this fourth turn for quite a while. I'm not sure what the differences were here, but the grass did not seem to be as lush as what we had been in.

Once she was committed to the 90-yard fifth leg, she pulled well into the woods. I wondered how she would handle a woods entrance after the last track where she took a cross track up to a woods but didn't go in. Page tracked very confidently into the woods, so I have something for my mental Rolodex: If Page doesn't enter a woods the track likely doesn't go there; if the track does go into the woods, Page isn't worried about diving right in.

Once in the woods, Page did a good job tracking up to the woods turn. Woods with limited vegetation is one area where Page doesn't track strongly. She worked the turn, but she wanted to go right and straight ahead. I followed her forward, but she wasn't confident in her tracking; this was again something for my Rolodex. We moved back to the spot where she'd had the track just before the turn, and this time she worked the turn and took it left.

This 230-yard leg had lots of woods which made it not only long but difficult. There was also an article on this leg in the woods, and I didn't know exactly where it was. I was thrilled when Page indicated it immediately with a down. She got extra cookies for that.

Page continued to work the woods track meticulously until she was halfway through the woods portion, then she seemed to lose the track. I knew she was on the track because I could see one of my trail markers dead ahead. However, Page circled me fully about three times, which is very rare for her. I tried to offer her water several times, but she refused it.

Since she refused the water and was continuing to work the ground, I never offered her a rescent. This was my mistake. Once I finally gave Page a rescent, you could see the light bulb go on. It was like she said, "OH YEAH! THAT'S what I was looking for! It's right here!" Her nose went down, she immediately located the track and we were off like gangbusters! Again, something for my tracking with Page Rolodex!

That rescent gave Page new life on this track. She tracked strong out of the woods, across the hay wagon track and to her final turn. The turn gave her no problems, and neither did two more hay wagon tracks. Just as when we started, I had to work hard to keep my feet as she tracked the final 125-yards to the glove!

Page's article indications were very different on this track. The first and last article, she struggled to indicate and even started eating grass around them. However the woods article she indicated immediately before I even realized what she was doing. The difference in the articles was that the woods article has some residual kibble in it and the others did not.

I think I'm going to continue to use a couple of pieces of kibble in my articles with Page to help me get the indications I want. I never reward from the article, but I reward from my hand with a different treat. Page is still very young, and I don't want her to stress on articles. However, I do want to insist on a big article indication on training tracks so I get at least a minimal indication on test tracks.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Ian!

Ian is now 7 years old! He's still goofy. He still celebrates each morning in his bouncy way (which is why he sleeps in the dog room). But the little bit of white frosting on his chin has now moved up to his muzzle.

Ian has had a remarkable performance career. He was the second Belgian Sheepdog to earn an RAE title, and he has 7 (out of 10) double Qs towards his RAE2.

He is an incredible agility dog, about as consistent as they come. He has 43 career double Qs and 1,098 MACH points. Even more important he has qualified for two AKC Agility Invitationals and two AKC Agility Nationals. He's the only Belgian Sheepdog to ever make the Finals of the AKC Agility Invitational.

All this is remarkable because he's a bit people shy. I was able to work him out of most of this, but not all of it. I'm very good at predicting what Ian will react to: a man walking by with his toddler on his shoulders appears to be a two headed alien to Ian. Julie (Ian's breeder) tells me I'm good at thinking like a Belgian. I'm not sure that's a compliment!

I remember when Ian was 6 months old I was so frustrated with his "issues" I decided he'd make a decent pet, and that's what he was for a few months. But I couldn't help myself. I had to train him. Every dog in my house gets trained and gets titles, so I forged ahead.

And when I moved to Indiana and he decided all contact obstacles were evil, I continued to train him. I've had a lot of people tell me how remarkable I am as a trainer to have the patience to work him through that even though it took a year. But I have to admit that at the time Reece had blown out his ACL, and Connor wasn't doing agility at all. Ian was the only dog I had left to run, so I really stuck with him because not running him meant not running anyone.

In spite of his insecurities (and they are many), he's trusted me to lead him through everything. For that I am grateful. He turned into a remarkable performance dog who accomplished so much and gave me memories for a lifetime.

Now that I have two girls with incredible potential and a more limited budget, Ian's active career has ended. It's a bittersweet thing to know he's moving into retirement. And while he loves to work with me, I must admit there weren't many "new" goals for him to accomplish.

So now Ian runs agility in the backyard and occasionally at the kennel club. He's become an avid ball chaser and occasional farm dog with my Dad. He's still happy and still has a great joy for life. I guess now he's that great pet I said he'd be 6.5 years ago!

A good way to end our "field season"

This weekend was the White River Golden Retriever Club's WC/WCX test. Devon passed her first WCX test last year at this test, but I entered her again this year to support the club and have some fun. Page was entered in the WC, but I decided not to set her up to reinforce bad habits of keeping the birds and pulled her.

Devon made me very proud yesterday. It was nice to have her perform so well when Carolyn updated her titles in the catalog so her SH was right there after her name! Wow, it still feels good to see that title!

Devon was very steady on the triple, reading it well and turning to each station like a very seasoned dog to watch the bird go down. She was steady on the line until exploding to the bird when sent. She picked up both outside birds easily.

When she lined up for the third bird up the middle, she locked quickly. I started to inhale a breath to send her when I realized her head wasn't straight. I looked up to see where she locked. Sure enough she was locked on the first gunning station instead of the middle station. I patted my leg and quietly told her "here," and it didn't take long to change her mind and get her locked up the middle. I let her look up the middle and counted to 3 to make sure she was locked, then I dropped my hand and sent her.

Devon was about halfway out when one of the judges, Paul, said behind me about what a great job of handling I just did. Ed, who was one of the judges that finished her Senior Hunter agreed and said, "Good job handling, Deb!"

Devon scared me just a little by working left of the fall like she wanted to switch, but then she decided she wanted the bird a little worse and found it and came in. We were onto water!

I worked behind the judges for the WC test. This is my favorite job since it gives me an up close view of the dogs and handlers and what the judges see. Paul has judged our test for years, but since Mitch has judged with him and knows me, I've not gotten to know Paul well.

Before the test started, Paul said, "You're Deb, right?" I said yes, and he said he was going to call Mitch and tell him that I needed a Gold Star for learning my lessons well. He said he was just sure I was going to send Devon when she lined up wrong, and he was thrilled to see me catch the problem and fix it. He repeated what a great job of handling I had done. He was even more complimentary when I told him Devon was completely owner trained and handled, and I even put the force fetch on her.

It's really special for me to hear this compliment since Devon is my first field dog, and it's very special since it's someone who doesn't know me. It makes all the hard work worth it! Devon's rewards for the field work is the birds, and mine are the ribbons, titles and judge's compliments.

Devon handled a challenging water series very well, with just a little bank cheating on the memory bird. She honored well, too, and was one of 6 dogs (out of 18) that passed this year's test.

Today, she got a special "spa" treatment from Aunt Sheree. A bath and blow dry with plenty of kisses from Aunt Sheree and some extra massages, too. She's a pretty special little girl, and this was a great way to end our fall season.

Stupid Squirrel ... Devon's VST track Saturday

I had a nice 350 yard VST track for Devon on Saturday. It had 39% non-veg and was aged about 3.5 hours. I was excited to run it, because it rained the previous 2 days and I thought Devon would like this track. I didn't lay any chalk because it was a straight forward track and I wanted to see how Devon would handle it.

She started strong and after much checking transitioned out into the parking lot. She handled the turn on the sidewalk along the building much better and found her metal article in the grass.

She got back to work and had just started a lovely transition from the grass next to the building onto the sidewalk when a stupid squirrel jumped off a bird feeder next to the building, took off across the parking lot - and across Devon's track - and into the fir trees beyond the grass.

Devon wanted to take off after the squirrel, and I was able to hold onto the line without a rope burn. The only thing not making me want to kill her was how pretty she looked all at attention and fully focused on finding that squirrel.

I thought I could get her back to work until I realized the devil was sitting in the grass taunting her with his flicking bushy tail! Sigh! One of the things you learn about dog training is the best laid training plans usually result in you working on something you never intended to work on. So I took a deep breath and asked for a lot of patients and worked on focusing Devon back to the task at hand for the rest of the track.

Devon did finish this track and found her last two articles, which helped her focus. By the time she made it to the final turn, she was back to 90% focused. Still, she was a little "squirrely" (pun TOTALLY intended) for the rest of the track.

The fun thing about tracking and field work is the "variables" Mother Nature throws at you in every test and training scenario! Man-made distractions seem like a piece of cake compared to squirrels, rabbits and deer!

Page's TDX track on Saturday

On Saturday I put in a TDX track for Page at a nearby office park. This track was 865 yards long, and it was aged 3.5 hours when we ran it. The red line is a cross track I put in 50 minutes after I laid the original track. The obstacles were the road and sidewalk, a woods which we turned in front of (there's an old farm fence running through that woods), then a black-topped walking path around the ponds that I tracked on the edge of once then I went onto a second time. There were changes of cover from a variety of medium cover to short grass.

Page started very strong, but I noticed she didn't pull as hard as she does on fresher TD tracks. She also went farther past her turns before indicating loss of scent. Page rarely goes 2-3 ft. past a turn before losing scent. But on this track she did what is more typical and went 10-15 ft. past a turn.

Page check the first set of cross tracks to the left and then practically leaped off of them to the original track like she was on fire! She was horrified she'd gone onto something she wasn't supposed to. She searched a little wider for the track near the second set of cross tracks, so I'm wondering if the cross track confused her a little after she got past it on the second leg.

Once she refocused and found the third leg, the road obstacle was not any problem at all. She barely worked the transition before heading straight across the road almost dead on the track.

Page didn't indicate the first article as well as I had hoped. She actually tracked past it to the left about 5 ft., but I held her until she found it and indicated it. It was a different article than I had used the last two tracks and the article had no food in it. This likely resulted in a weaker indication. However she got a treat from me when she did indicate it.

The turn before the woods line wasn't a problem and neither was the turn through the opening. However, on this fifth leg, Page suddenly indicated a cross track and took it to the left very far to the woods. I went with her even though I knew it was wrong. I wanted to see how far she'd take me, and if she'd take me into the woods.

I will say had I not known this was a cross track (because I laid the track), I would have thought Page railed a turn and we were going into the woods. However, Page stopped at the woods line and didn't go in. She worked the leg back and then came back to the woods again, which on a test track would have made me think we went into the woods. I took a couple of steps toward her and the woods, wondering if she was going to go in. She thought more about it and then angled back to the track and continued strong.

I do wonder what I would have done had this been a test track. Would I have encouraged her into the woods? I don't think so because she never fully indicated that's where it went. And when she went back to the original track, she was very convincing and showed me good tracking form once she was back to it. I hope I would have been convinced once we were back on the track it was correct.

Although Page investigated down the side of the hill towards the pond, she handled both sections of the walking path pretty well. These obstacles happened well into the track, so she worked a little harder because she was tired but worked them out. Her article indication on the second article was stronger, as was her article indication for the final glove.

In all this was a very nice track. Page ran it in 25 minutes, and she did a lovely job. She's a solid tracking dog!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Cheap training treats

Over the years I've passed the hot dog training treat recipe along to several folks. As I was making training treats this morning, I thought it might be fun to post to the Dog Blog. So here goes...

Cooked hot dogs
A lot of folks use hot dogs as training treats, but they always grossed me out when they were raw and it's tough to drop them in pants pockets. Years ago a friend pulled some treats out of his pocket, and they were cooked hot dog pieces! And years later I've perfected the art of cooking hot dogs for training treats.

The advantage of cooking the hot dogs is to cook out the grease. Cooking 1) makes them a little healthier for the dogs and 2) easier to drop into your pocket. Here's my "recipe."

1. Cut a hot dog lengthwise into quarters, then slice into nickel-sized pieces.

2. Put two cut hot dogs in between two pieces of paper towel.

3. Microwave on high for 3.5 minutes. Adjust according to your microwave. You want them cooked so the grease is out, but not burned and crispy. BTW, the plate will be very hot when you remove it from the microwave, so use caution.

4. Wrap paper towels around cooked hot dogs and allow them to cool.

5. Place in snack-sized zipper plastic bags and store in freezer until ready to use.

If you catch a sale, a pack of hot dogs costs less than $3, and I can get 5 bags of treats per package. In an hour this morning, I sliced, cooked and bagged 3 packages of hot dogs. Yes, it's a little time, but well worth the savings!

Tiny cheese cubes
Again, using cheese isn't anything new for dog training. I prefer Mozzarella cheese or any white cheese (Swiss also works great if you can find it). It's lower in fat, and it holds up well in training. Yellow cheeses tend to get crumbly and greasy. I also like white cheese because it shows up well on my dark carpet in the training building.

1. Cut cheese into 1/4 inch slices.

2. Cut slices into 1/4 inch strips.

3. Cut strips into tiny cubes. I use a penny here for reference, but they are about the size of a Zuke's Mini Natural.

4. Place in snack-sized zipper plastic bags and wiggle the bag a little to break apart the cubes of cheese. Store in the freezer until ready to use. Yes, I really freeze cheese. It works just fine and the dog's don't care at all.

We have two local grocery chains who routinely put their 8 oz. of block cheese on sale for four packages for $5. It took me about an hour to cut all four blocks, and it made 9 bags of treats.

Freezer storage
I put all these snack bags of treats in my freezer on a special "dog" shelf. When I'm headed out to train, I grab a bag or two of treats. They thaw quickly for use in my training building at home or keep cold in a cooler pack for trials or longer trips. When I'm done, I just pop the unused portion back in the bag and then back in the freezer for the next training session.

My supervisors today
Actually all five dogs took turns supervising today, but Page and Devon stuck around the longest to ensure proper quality control. Now that they're the same height, I'll let you know Page is on the left!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

We have article indications!

Last night I had just enough time before sunset to lay a TD track for Page. It was 450 yards long with four turns and aged an hour. It was 57 degrees, the winds were around 7 mph and the humidity was on the rise at 62%.

I put a start article, two articles on the track and a final glove. That was really the only tough part of this track, and I am determined to fix this article indication problem Page has! This time when I loaded the Easter eggs, I only put four pieces of kibble in each. I want to start weaning her off the food in the articles as soon as I can, and I thought I should start by putting in less kibble.

Page pulled off the start line. Clearly she enjoyed a "fresh" 1-hour-old track and it showed all the way through with how much she pulled on the line. She came to the first turn marker, and she stopped and sniffed it. I use orange trail markers to mark my turns. Yeah, I know I can spray paint wooden cloths pins, but these are only $5 for 10 at Gander Mountain or Dick's Sporting Goods and they're less hassle than me trying to spray paint!

Anyway, Page has never been distracted by these markers on grass near her turn, so I thought that was unusual. Then when she came to her first article, she stopped and pawed at it. Well, this was good! She made the initial indication. Then she turned and looked at me, so I asked, "What did you find?" She thought about it for one more second, then she dropped on the article. YIPPEE!!

I told her how brilliant she was, collected the article and gave her a reward. She immediately turned and got right back to work. Wow, I was happy! On the second article, she again pawed and then dropped, but as I stepped towards her she popped back up. I made the split second decision to just stop and wait for the drop again. I don't want this great indication to fade as soon as I take a step!

Waiting her out worked. Page laid down and waited for me to come and pick up the article and give her a reward, then she was off tracking again. I was pretty much walking on Cloud 9 along with trying to hang onto the line.

It was getting pretty dark by the time we reached the end of the track. I knew where the glove was, but I couldn't see it in the fading light. Suddenly Page's head came up and she started searching frantically. I knew she had winded the glove and she has NEVER frantically searched for an article in her life.

After searching in a 3 ft area, she found it and dropped before looking at me! What a girl! This is exactly what I'm looking for in an article indication! She got a jackpot reward and plenty of praise!

This time coming off the track, not only was I thrilled that she ran the track in about 7 minutes and was precision tracking, but I was also thrilled with her article indications. This was the absolute best article indications she's ever given me. I'm also thrilled that after getting her treat for finding the articles, she gets right back to work. And in hindsight, I think her fussing with the trail markers at the turns was her realizing she had to indicate articles left by me. The trail markers of course have my scent on them.

My next step is to not load the Easter eggs with kibble on her next track. If she's still indicating articles, the following track will just have articles with no residual kibble scent. I'm really hoping we've had a breakthrough with the articles, because we're in a couple of tracking tests coming up later in the month! I want solid indications going into those tests!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: sleeping Goldens

I have never seen two Goldens enjoy nap time as much as Devon and Page do. Earlier this week I couldn't find Page as I was eating breakfast, and I found her a few minutes later on the living room sofa! Seriously, it takes weeks to generalize training behaviors from the training building to another location, but it takes Page no time at all to figure out my living room sofa is just as good to sleep on as the daybed upstairs!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ian the farm dog

In the last month as the girls and I have been traveling to hunt tests, Ian and Connor have been spending the weekends at my parents' house. Connor is a home body, and due to injuries Reece and Holly also stay pretty close to home. However, Ian is my Dad's big buddy. If Dad is outside, Ian wants to "help." Here are some photos of Ian supervising Dad power washing one of the mowers. I think he was also hoping Dad would find a baby pool to fill with water, but no such luck.

Dad has also taught Ian to "play ball." Who knew Ian could be such a good retriever? Since I keep forgetting to take a ball over to their place, Ian and Dad make do with sticks. Ian's finding a great second career as a farm dog!

A nice day for tracking

Sunday was a beautiful day for tracking, so I gave Devon a VST track and Page a TDX track. Both tracks were aged about 3 hours and 15 minutes. It was sunny and 61 degrees with an occasional wind around 8-9 mph.

Devon's track was short, approximately 350 yards. She started on grass, then crossed over a drive to a turn on a sidewalk then across a parking lot. Devon started well and went across the driveway nicely. She worked the turn for a while, but finally committed to the new leg and went confidently across the parking lot. The track was between two curbs, so it held scent for her.

Onto grass and a metal article for a reward. Devon handled this next leg along the front of the building very well. I took her from grass into the mulch flowerbed then onto the sidewalk in front of the building entrance then back into the mulched flowerbeds and back into grass.

Her next turn was again on a sidewalk, which she worked for a while. After going across a driveway to the island beyond, she turned and saw her plastic article which drew her to the correct leg. It was a bit of a cheat, but that's ok! She worked very strongly from there to the final leather article.

Page had a 710 yard track that she handled much better than the windy track on Friday. She started in short cut grass then went into medium cover. From there, she turned and went across a road, which she handled quickly and confidently.

Back onto the veg, she found her track into heavier cover easily. I then angled across some cut grass with a steep slope to a blacktop walkway. She had to fight not only the hill, but the scent on the walkway and a pond with ducks just below it. After investigating the pathway, she rejected it and moved back to her track and headed back up the slope into the heavy cover.

For her last turn, I was able to put her into a woods line with a turn just into the woods line. She worked this area but quickly found her turn and tracked out of it to the final glove.

Her article indications are getting much better. I'm not allowing her to move on until she gives me an indication. After asking for a "fetch" or retrieve, Page went back to her initial indication of a down on the article. While it's not what I prefer for a Golden, I'll take it.

Page is starting to understand that if she wants to continue to play the game, she has to play by my rules on articles. I'm sure she's thinking my requirements are absolutely the dumbest thing in the world, but she loves the game and she'll do it! It helps that she gets a reward when she does give me an indications.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Page is giving me more white hair!

When I first brought Page home, I realized I hadn't had a puppy like this since Reece, my border collie. Page is always up for an adventure, and if I don't make it exciting enough she will. It's a good thing I love this pup and that she loves me back!

Friday night after our adventures in tracking and at the kennel club, I expected Page to be tired. She curled up at my feet as I ate dinner, and I made a mental note that she doesn't usually snuggle so close. She must be tired. After dinner we moved upstairs to watch tv. Devon hopped up on he daybed to snuggle close, and Page put her front feet up on the other side of me to see if there was room for her.

That's when I got a good look at Page's face - what happened! At some point in the evening after they had eaten and while I made dinner, Page put her nose where it didn't belong! I think she got stung by a bee/yellow jacket, likely in the left side of her nose since that's where she was mildly sensitive to my touch. Most of her face was swollen, and I couldn't resist taking a photo of her.

Back to normal?
After a Benedryl and a good night's sleep, Page was back to normal on Saturday. However, normal is what I'm worried about! On Saturday I took Page with me when I took Devon to an obedience run thru today. The training room is upstairs above a kennel/doggie daycare. When you go up the stairs there is a lobby area to crate in and the training room is to the back and side. There is no view of the outside or the lobby below from the upstairs area.

I worked Devon for a while then got Page out to do some training in the lobby area. I worked her on leash but several times dropped the leash like when I was working stays. Then I decided to work stands so I wanted to work Page near a wall. I moved to a 4.5 ft solid wall that divided the upstairs lobby area from the open entrance below ... To my horror as I was about 3 ft. away Page launched herself over this wall!!

THANK GOD I had a leash on her and yanked her back as her front feet hit the molding along the top of the wall! She would have dropped straight into the building entrance one story below onto tile floors to the horror of me and the front office staff below. Who would have imagined any dog - let alone a 7 month old puppy would have thought to leap over a solid wall!!

Page has jumped on chairs and tables and cashier counters, but this takes the cake! We need more self control work, and she will now not be allowed to jump on (or over) anything without permission in the future! I've never thought about this before, because I like her boldness.

Once my heart started again, I continued working Page with a very firm grip on the leash! The more I think about this, maybe I should teach her a different water entrance for stick ponds, since she obviously hasn't inherited her mother Bizzy's good sense!

Back to tracking for Page

In addition to working all four dogs at the kennel club, I also laid a TDX track in a new park for Page. Now that the hunt tests are behind us, it's time to focus on tracking with Page. The temperature was 57 degrees, but it was very windy on Friday, with gusts from 12-17 mph. Page has never tracked in the wind, and I was interested to see what she'd do.

In total, the track was 635 yards long and aged 3 hours. I started the track in cover. It was taller, but some of it had died off and fallen over and there were clumps of tall prairie grass. The first leg was 90 yards and it went along the base of a hill.

Page worked very hard on this leg, chasing the scent as the wind swirled in the cover. I've always said I can never push this dog through any track; she works at her own pace problem solving as she goes. The wind was a big problem for her. She finally made it to the open left turn up the hill, but again struggled to chase the scent as the wind swirled through the high cover and down the hill.

The second leg was a long 260 yards, starting in cover, breaking into short grass at the edge of a picnic area, back through a corner of high grass (and an article), then into medium cover and finally through a section of very tall prairie grass before ending in very short grass for a left turn. Page worked this leg meticulously until she got to the turn on the very short grass.

I didn't mark the specific corner since the grass was very short. This wide short grassed area was used as a driveway for lawn care equipment, and it was bordered with very tall prairie grass on both sides. With the wind whipping down this corridor, Page lost the track and could not find it.

In a test, I believe Page would have failed the track on this turn. I rescented her several times and she took water, but she had very clearly lost the track due to the conditions that stumped her (very short grass and very high wind). I finally worked her through the turn and she caught the track again in some medium cover 15 yards down the third leg.

You could tell Page was a happier camper to get back on the track. She worked the second leg well (finding another article) until she came to another roadway of very short grass and some gravel. She again lost the track, but this time was able to pick it up on her own in the medium cover on the other side of the roadway.

Page worked the medium cover well, pulling strong through the third turn and on the fourth leg. She also worked the fourth turn well and onto the fifth leg until she had to cross that roadway again. As she did the first time, she worked her way across the roadway and picked up the track in the medium cover beyond it.

This last leg went into a woods line where the track ended. With the wind blowing through the trees and high grass, she was a little spooked by the noise of wind in dry grass and leaves. Large boulders looming at her from tall grass also gave her pause. But she worked through this area to her glove.

I want to say a little about articles, too. I've been thinking a lot about Page's lack of article indication. I've decided that I need to make her indicate articles on the track. She would prefer to ignore them because she loves the game of tracking so much. I've allowed her to do this since she was so young and I didn't want to sour her on the game. But at this point, I doubt I will sour her on the game; she loves it too much. And I need to make her play the whole game by my rules.

On this track, I laid two additional articles plus the end article. Each were cloth gloves, and each had a plastic Easter egg with kibble in the glove. The goal of the kibble was to get her to stop and indicate the glove, but not allow her to self reward on the kibble. When she indicated the glove, I asked her to 'fetch it up' which is a retrieve command she knows. When she did pick up the article, I gave her a different reward (cheese) from my hand. I put the kibble in my bag with the article, and she got that at the end of the track once she was back in the van.

This way of rewarding article indications worked just as I hoped it would. Page was confused by the "change of rules" with articles, but not enough to frustrate her from the game even with the high winds. I'm going to play the article game with these rules again before I give her another track, but I do plan to continue this routine with articles until I get the indications I want.

I do know Page will indicate someone else's articles when she won't indicate articles I have laid. I'm hoping by insisting she indicate my articles, I'll get a stronger indication on a track not laid by me. I would not want to fail a test because the stinker won't indicate an article!

In all, it took Page 45 minutes to work through this track. She worked very hard, and I hope she added more experiences to her tracking 'Rolodex.' One thing is for sure: she was exhausted after this track and slept soundly on the way home!

Making Ian's day

Friday was an open training day at the kennel club, so I decided all four dogs would get a treat. As I pulled on my shoes, Ian watched intently then turned and trotted obediently to his crate. Mom was leaving and he was getting left behind again. But when I asked if he wanted to go, he about turned himself inside out! Oh joy, oh joy! He barked and carried on until I took him into the garage and opened the crate. Once in the van, he laid down and waited for the adventure to begin. Connor wasn't far on his heels!

Page got worked first (since she had more adventures to come). In reviewing Page's training, I realized I haven't done any foundation work with her in a good two months since I've been concentrated on getting Devon's Senior Hunter. This lack of obedience has led to some of the issues I've seen in her field work. So Page is getting reminded of her earlier training.

I worked stays and releases to a tug toy. This went very well. I also worked at getting her into heel position. For agility, we worked sending through standards and coming back to me. She also saw a tunnel again and did a very good job even on a curved dark tunnel. I also put her on the table for an automatic down. She did a good job, but I need to get back to this kind of work on a daily basis!

Devon was next and we worked obedience. She had already worked the agility course, and she did a good job of it earlier in the week. I wanted to take her to a run through on Saturday, so it was time to revisit obedience again. She absolutely loves obedience. I think her love of the game will be what gets us through the titles. I like obedience, but I don't love it. Maybe Devon will make me love that game, too.

Next Connor got to come into the building while I reset the agility course for Ian. He had a ball running around and acting goofy. He took the lower jumps and ran through tunnels and the chute. I asked for the weaves, and he gave me about 5 poles. Weaves were never his favorite. He accidentally sailed over a couple of 24 inch jumps. This wasn't a wise idea, and I noticed later in the evening he was a little stiff. It's tough when you're 9.5 years old and out of shape!

Finally it was Ian's turn. After more than 6 months off, we were a little rusty. The course was a USDAA Steeplechase course. Ian handled it pretty well the first time through, even nailing a difficult weave entry. Once we were warmed up, he did a fantastic job on the second time through. Ian just loves to play any game with me. I should get him out more often since I know he's bored hanging around the house with nothing to do. At least I could make his day on Friday!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Where are the BIRDS???

Some friends met Thursday for field training in preparation for our club's WC/WCX test. Devon is entered in the WCX test to support the club and have a fun day since she passed her WCX last year. I had entered Page in the WC test, but I pulled her entry after last weekend's adventures. I didn't want to continue any bad habits in a test situation.

I arrived late, so I ran Devon quickly before going out to throw for everyone else. Devon got out of the truck and immediately stepped to the line to run a perfect triple. What a great girlie! At the end of the set-up, I decided to run Page on each mark as singles with bumpers. I hadn't planned on running her, again not wanting to continue bad habits. However, since it was a training session I knew I could make her mind and thought it might be a good idea.

Page flew out to the first mark, but had a long hunt for it. I expected it since the other dogs had searched for this mark due to the wind pushing scent over a little hill. However, my friends were quicker than I was to pick up on why her search was so long - Page didn't want any stupid old bumper when she could smell that the other dogs got BIRDS!!

Yep, I ran Page right after we threw real ducks for Archie on those marks! Poor Page. After she finally realized she wasn't going to find any birds out there, she did pick up her bumper. She did a super job retrieving the other marks. We changed the set-up and she again did a fantastic job of precision marking.

Being obedient to come back in heel position instead of returning to the general area she selects does need some work. I'm going to revisit walking fetch for a couple of days and then move back to pile work. Being consistent with pile work and drills this fall should work through her reluctance to play the game my way!

Page is going to be so much fun to run, but she will question me every step of the way! So different from Devon, but she will make me a better trainer!