Monday, December 31, 2007

Seven Months

Seven months have passed already. Where did they go to?

Dawn, Ellie's original foster-carer, came for the day over the Christmas period. We've stayed in contact with her since we adopted Ellie, sometimes swapping several e-mails in a week, and I know she frequently visits Ellie's blog to see how she's doing and to catch up on her progress. Ellie seemed very happy indeed to see Dawn again, as she hadn't seen her since the Autumn show, earlier in the year. She was happier still when Dawn came loaded with gifts!

Dawn and I took Ellie for a walk in the local field, which gave Dawn an opportunity to test her new camera. Here are a few pics from that day.

We've had to change her food to the Burns Active mix, as she just wasn't putting on enough weight using the standard mix. The "Active" is intended for dogs that have a more active lifestyle, as Ellie does. While she doesn't spend the day chasing sheep, she does do an awful lot of training, walking, and playing each day.

She will begin her formal training classes on January 08, if memory serves me well, and at that time Jan is also becoming a volunteer with the training group. This will give Ellie access to many more dogs and experiences.

We're eagerly awaiting the days of longer daylight. It seems, in these shorts daylight hour days, that we're forever getting up to walk the dog. Not that we'd ever mind walking the dog, but it can make for testing times when you try to schedule other things into your day too.

Ellie now trains much more for play and much less for food. I don't think that she has become any less interested in food, just more interested in play, particularly with tennis balls. It actually makes the training sessions more fun and more random so I'm pleased.

We've also started putting her videos on YouTube. I think they're great for seeing things from a different perspective and for correcting mistakes. You can see her latest video, where she retrieves the post from the doormat, below.

Again, we find ourselves waiting for the terrible period where legend has it that all dogs rip up the house, spit on your shoes, and steal the car. As yet, I have to say, she shows absolutely no signs of rebellion. None whatsoever. I like to believe it's because we ensure that she is never bored and never has too much unspent energy to burn getting into mischief. However, who knows, she may just be luring us into a false sense of security. Personally, I just don't see it happening with her.

If 2007 has been the year where we've introduced her to various training practises, then 2008 is intended to be the year where we start to drill-down and fine tune many of them. She wil walk to heel, for example, but she will often go out wide. We need to start correcting that.

We're still passionate about entering her into local shows, but not until we feel that she is ready. Her time will come.

We are also going to start giving her more freedom as of January 01. We're going to start leaving the bedroom door open at night. I suspect that, despite that, she'll still stay on our bed with us. But we trust her enough now to allow her to venture forth a little.

Her training mission for January is to retrieve the television remote control from a distance of at least two metres away, and return it to the hand.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Ellie TV - Day One

Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, grab your popcorn and your front-row seats. Ellie is now a movie star. :)

This video was taken a day after getting the new camera and so I wasn't at all accustomed to working with it. Add to that, the fact that I was alone with Ellie and so I couldn't zoom in at all, and it was a windy day, oh, and if that wasn't bad enough, a bloody aircraft flew over.

However, it does show Ellie doing some very loose standard training. I wasn't too strict as, to be honest, I wasn't even sure that I had the camera positioned well enough anyway.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Six Months

It's incredible to believe that Ellie is already six months old today. That means that we have had her for some 14 weeks total, as we got her at 12 weeks of age.

It's a bizarre feeling. It feels that we have owned her for years in the sense that she's now such an integral part of the family. Yet, she seems to have grown so fast too. In that sense, it seems like we've had her about six weeks.
She has now finished this season of her formal training classes. They will resume early in the new year. At the end of the current season, we are proud to report that Ellie won a prize for maintaining the longest "stay". Not bad for being the youngest dog in the class too.

Physically, after last month's apparent growing season, she seems to have slowed down again. She still looks quite puppy in her features to me. Though I think that is partly because she has short hair, and so her legs look really long.

A few weeks back, we ceased to feed her food from the bowl. She now earns her food throughout the day. We measure out her daiy ration in the morning, and then carry some with us all day long. This enables us to train her at purely random times, and be sure that we're not over-feeding her with treats.

It also means that she is far more attentive to us, as we are the source of food, literally. I maintain that, in terms of her training, it is the best thing we have done. It's brought her progress on in leaps and bounds.

Our early concerns about her behaviour around other dogs are now gone. She is perfectly fine with others - to a point. She is perfectly happy to ignore other dogs, and that is her preference in fact. However, some dogs don't allow her to do that, and they constantly try to get her attention. She will tolerate this for a few minutes. If they persist however, she will give out a cautionary nip. But it's certainly nothing that causes me concern. If the other dog behaves well, then it's not an issue.

During these darker days, we've had to cut her walks down to twice a day, or else she wouldn't get enough rest between walks, and nor would we. It's really muddy on the farm fields but does she care? Does she hell. She's happy as a pig in er, a pig-pen.

She loves to chase her favourite tennis-ball across the fields and get as dirty as possible. She walks the fields off-leash and has never once given us cause for concern. In fact, her recall is one of her strongest skills, along with her loose-leash walking.

We asked for a dog that would never get bored of walking or training, and that is most certainly what we go. A round of applause to Dawn, the initial foster-carer for Ellie, for perfectly matching dog to family.

Her list of skills is now at the following: (All are over 75% successful.)

Front (Come and sit in front of legs.)
In (Come and sit next to left leg.)
Finish (Walk around back of legs and sit next to left leg.)
Up (Climb on table, etc.)
Off (Jump off table, etc.)
Kiss (Lick face)
Shake (Shake paw)
Go to bed (Goes to lay on own bed.)
Shut the door (Closes the living room door.)
"In Your Tin" (Goes into crate.)
Spin (Chases tail in clock-wise direction.)
Get the post (Fetches mail from doormat and brings to hand.)
Watch (Looks in face)

She is currently learning to stand on all four paws without moving. That is taking some doing, but as always, we'll get there. None of her behaviours are to competitive obedience standard yet, but damn, considering she has been with us for just 14 weeks, she is good - damned good! She still needs the hand-signal for most behaviours, but this will improve as she gets older. She's certainly doing better than we had anticipated at this stage.

Two weeks ago, we tested her on Sue Ailsby's levels - level one - and she passed with flying colours. We're now working towards level two.

In addition to her behaviours, she has learned to bath well and accept the blow-dryer. She has perfect door manners when going for walks, will stand perfectly to be stroked, have her paws checked, and her ears, eyes, and teeth checked, and doesn't try to force herself through doors before us. Better still, she has yet to chew a single thing that doesn't belong to her. We keep waiting for this infamous Border Collie bad-behaviour that so many websites and books refer to, but so far, we're just not seeing it - at all. Of course, there's still plenty of time...

Personality wise, Ellie is an extremely loving dog, and I mean extremely. She absolutely loves to cuddle in and fall to sleep on me, and to be honest with you, we love it too. She will jump on the sofa with me each evening for a brush, but always falls asleep once the brush goes over the back of her neck.

She's still quite timid, but this is improving as each week passes. So far, she's not as zany as I've seen some Border Collies. She's quite placid, takes her time, and rarely gets over-excited - unless she's playing with her favourite tennis ball. But even then, the second we say "that's it", she instantly calms as she knows that indicates the end of play.
The older she gets, the more indepedent she gets. There are several times that she will just go place herself in her crate during the day or during the evening. She doesn't seem to insist on following us from room to room either.

All in all, we don't have a single thing to complain about with Ellie, and here's hoping that the next six months are every bit as good as the first.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Formal Training Class - Week Five

As we were waiting for the instructor to arrive, once again, Ellie was accosted by the Ridgeback dog, which attends the same class. It isn't strictly an aggressive dog, though that depends on how you define aggressive of course, but it is most certainly out of control. Neither of its two owners are able to place any degree of control over it. You would think that, knowing this, the owners would take greater care, but no. Once again, we ended up with their dog running around us and entangling leashes. It's very annoying, because the owners should take more care.
After the usual warm-ups of sit-stay and down-stay, we introduced a new behaviour, having the dog walk around an object. In this case, a road traffic cone. Again, I have to say, Ellie just instantly grasped the concept and had no problems with it. I can't imagine why, because we haven't done this with her before.

We then practised the "go to bed" command. This was incredibly easy for Ellie, as we've actually been practising this for a few days at home now too. Though it didn't help that Christina gave us a sand coloured blanket on a sand floor! :)

Christina, the instructor, mentioned that Anna, the instructor for the previous puppy training course we attended, had been asking how we were getting on. Christina mentioned that we're top of the class. Yay for Ellie!

Christina then reminded Jan that the post for a training volunteer was still open for her, and she was eager for Jan to fill it, as they have a very busy year ahead, with demonstrations and exhibitions. Jan will be filling the post after Christmas.

As is usual, we finished off with some agility! Yay! Ellie loves her agility. As per usual, the loved the tunnel work and the jumps. This week however, the dogs had to jump onto a table after leaving the weave poles, and lay down on it.

Again, Ellie instinctively seemed to know what was needed of her, and needed very little prompting at all. We can't explain why this is, and if we could, we'd bottle it and sell it. It's like having a magic dog!

It was nice to hear Christina telling the other dog owners how much effort and hard work Ellie was doing at home between classes. I guess that means we're getting it right.

As always, we're especially proud of her, and thank our lucky stars that we found her. We were and are incredibly lucky.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Formal Training - Week Four

Last night, Ellie attended her weekly training class. Though it's supposed to be geared towards the Bronze award for the Kennel Club Bronze Good Citizen award, which gives quite rigid objectives, the training is really quite varied. So much so, that it's sometimes hard to see the relevancy. However, it is an opportunity for Ellie to mix with other dogs in a controlled environment, learn new things, and just have some fun. After all, all training is relevant when you think about it.

As per usual, we started by practising some of the basics, such as sit/stay and down/stay.

Christina, the instructor, clearly gears towards obedience and this is reflected in both her style of teaching, and in what she teaches. She is strict, and to be honest, we wouldn't want it any other way.

After warm-ups, we performed some close heel work, having Ellie come through a narrow gap between my leg and the wall and finishing with her head at my hip. This way, Ellie doesn't have opportunity to drift outwards, as the wall and the leg prevents it, and also serves to guide her into position.

Christina commented how good Ellie was at the above and I had remembered that we did it last week, yet the other people didn't remember or didn't bother practising. We practise religiously. In fact, there's little point in attending training classes if you don't follow through at home. Classes can only teach you methods. You still have to go home and practise the methods taught.

For the first time, Ellie got to perform a full agility circuit. She did all of this with ease, even jumping through a hoop which she has never experienced before. She was so excited and loved the praise that she received from Christina for her efforts.

The Ridgeback that accosted her last week was bounding around all over the place, but Ellie didn't mind at all as she had received the brunt of the Ridgeback's enthusiasm last week.

We then did some walking on a loose lead, with Christina giving commands every so often. A bit like traffic lights. Green = walk, Red = Stop and sit, Amber = Stop and down etc. Christina varied this so you never knew what was coming next. Ellie did splendidly, as this is something we have done with her since the very first day she ever went out on a leash.

We asked Christina about Ellie's slight problem of backing away when it's time for the lead to be put on after play in the field. And Ellie's lapse in concentration over the last few days when we've tried to do training with her in the house. Christina's first words were... "she's 5 months old now, believe me I nearly got rid of my collie between the ages of 5 months to 9 months". Apparently this is the time when they start showing a bit of puppy power! "Bear with it and relax and she'll come through the other end fine and dandy as long as we remain consistent.", she added.

Regardless, she advised that we just walk away if she won't come knowing the leash is going back on. Ellie is still at the age where she will think "Oooh, better catch him up", and so we should capitalise on that before it runs out. I think she's just getting wise to the fact that the leash going on means the play stops. Maybe I should just start taking it off again and playing some more, and keep doing that, so she doesn't associate the leash going on with the fun ending.

Overall, a really good class, and one that Ellie really enjoyed. She does love her agility!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Twenty-Two Weeks

At twenty-two weeks of age, it's now been ten weeks since we took ownership of Ellie, our Border Collie. As she continues to mature, she reveals more and more facets of her personality to us.

She has a placid nature, even nervous at times. She is a battery of energy, love, and affection, and never ceases to be ready for a little love and attention. Our trainer has constantly reminded us that Border Collies can be a little timid, particularly bitches, and we have to be especially mindful of this during training.
With many dogs, you can be quite robust if needed. With a Border Collie, they often can't take it. It's almost as though they take their mistakes personally. With Ellie, we have to train with an upbeat attitude at all times, even when she gets it wrong. if we were to mark an incorrect behaviour too harshly, she would almost cower and then refuse to perform any further. She is, it's fair to say, a little more timid that I would have liked, but she's still small, still young, and the world is still a very scary place to her. Anything can change yet, as she experiences more and more of the world, and grows in confidence. We continue to open her up to new experiences as much as we can.

Her toiletting is 100% reliable now. When she wants to go, she will tap the patio-window with her front paw, or if we miss that cue, she will whine at the door. Sometimes, however, she will put that intelligence to mishievious use, and just paw the door because she wants to go out and catch leaves; knowing, it seems, that we have little choice but to open the door for her, or risk a soiled carpet.

We're not yet seeing any of the infamous nipping traits that are synonymous with Border Collies. She isn't showing any desire to chase the ankles of anyone, nor chase any traffic. She will chase her ball and her frisbee, but that is to be expected, given that we use that as part of her play. Her jump is remarkable. Even though we don't go out of our way to encourage it, she seems to love doing it, and we can't stop her. She's quite remarkable at catching and jumping at the same time.

Her recall is perfect so far. There hasn't been a single instance when it's failed us yet, with or without other dogs around. When I go to the bin during the day, I open the front door to place items into it, and Ellie doesn't even attempt to go out of the house. In fact, I don't even bother to check now, as I know she won't exit the house without permission. I think that has come about as a bi-product of our walk routine. I place the leash onto her. Walk her to the door, give her a "sit-wait" command. I then exit the door, give a "come" command, then a "sit/wait" again. I then secure the door, before finally giving a "heel". So, in fact, she has never once walked through the front door (or the back) without someone going out before her, and under strict control.

Her once baby teeth are now being replaced by more robust adult teeth, and so she's spending a lot of time gnawing away at bones and inviting games of 'tuggy' as we call it, with her tug toys. One actually fell out before me two nights ago, as we were playing tug. Her tug games are now becoming more adult in nature too. She will hang on to the toy more and more, and even make some quite strong pulling motions. Once or twice she has tried to turn it into a "chase me" game, but I won't oblige, forcing her to come to me to continue play.

I expected her to become more detached as she stepped ever closer to adulthood. So far, this isn't the case. She loves her hugs, she is wild about licking, and loves nothing more than to be receiving affection. Though, she's used to our pattern of living and so doesn't try to get attention at inconvenient times. For example, as I write this entry, she is laying in her crate. When we are in the kitchen (the one room she is banned from), she will play with her toys in the other room, or sit waiting in the hallway. What she won't do is constantly pester. I'm pleased about that.

She's currently walking for about two hours a day. I've started taking her across the local hills and down the country tracks. It's a lovely place and she loves it. She gets to walk all the way around it off-leash, and again, if we experience other dogs, she's just fine, and chooses to ignore them, if they allow her to. Every now and again, we will stop, I will kneel down to enjoy the scenery, and she will sit, nestling in to me as much as she can, as though to join me in enjoying the moment. It's at those times in particular that I remember why we got a dog. They complete moments that might otherwise seem incomplete.

With regards to training, she is still attending weekly training classes. She must be doing well, as Jan has been invited to become a volunteer. This will mean that she can take Ellie along to more classes, as she helps out with other instructors. That can only be a good thing. She is showing a particular passion for agility. As part of the weekly classes, the dogs are encouraged to "play" with the agility equipment. It is the one time that Ellie is completely fearless, and as fast as an Exocet. The trainer is strongly encouraging us to perform agility with her when she is old enough. We've always maintained that I would like to do competitive obedience with her, while Jan would like to do agility with her. So she'll never be short of activities.

Much of the training at the moment is based on what the classes advise us to do. So there is a lot of work involved that encourages Ellie to come in close to us, doing front-presents, and encouraging her to be at the left heel. While Ellie is keen and enthusiastic, she's not yet one for detail and will usually perform in a lazy manner. For example, with a front-present, she won't walk the last few inches to make it a proper present. Instead, she will keep a distance. When sitting to the left, she will perform a 'lazy sit' where she looks like she is going to topple over at any second. The height difference between Ellie and I is still a challenge in training, given that I am quite tall, and well, she isn't. For the most part, it's okay. But on certain exercises, such as heel-work, it can make things less fluid than is helpful for either of us.

Her sit-stay is terrible. She will sit and then almost instantly plonk herself into a laying down position. Apparently, so I'm told, this is quite common with Collies too. As the next exam doesn't stipulate whether she stays in a seated or laying position, we'll settle for either, and so, for now, I have dropped the sit-stay exercise and just ask for a stay.

Physically, she's at that peculiar stage, between puppy and adult. Her legs seem far too long for her body, and her body seems way too large for her head. It may well be that she always has long legs as that is very much a short-haired working Border Collie physique. I can't imagine that anyone, who doesn't or hasn't spent time with her, will ever class her as a beautiful dog, and I would understand their thinking. Hardly anyone ever gueses that she is a Border Collie even. But, for us at least, and to her original foster-carer who still sees her from time to time when we meet up, she is positively gorgeous. What she might lack in physical beauty, she more than makes up for in character and giving of herself. Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder.

She is still being bathed frequently, so that we can ensure that by the time she is an adult, she's fully used to the bath, to the blow-dryer, and to having her claws clipped. It's vital that we expose her to it as much as is possible at this young age. She really doesn't seem to mind it at all now. Even the blow-dryer which would once have had her jumping out of her skin. Like any dog, she looks a little sorry for herself when she's soaked to the skin, but aside from that, no issues whatsoever. She may even learn to love it at the rate she's going!

On our walks, she now spends about 75% of the time looking up at me while walking. As she is getting a little taller, it's now a little easier for me to hold a food treat behind my left leg as I walk, encouraging her into the right position. It's paying off, as her heel continues to improve enormously. A good hell is so important to me, and so it is one of our most practised exercises. It can be so hard to undo poor walking habits, and so it's best to start as you mean to go on.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Week Two of Bronze Good Citizen Training

This week was week two of Ellie's Bronze KC Good Citizen training.

Aside from the actual training, Ellie also got to play on the puppy agility equipment. This consisted of three little jumps, the tunnel, and then three more jumps. She dashed through it and loved it. Christine, as ever, is promting us to do agility, as she feels that Ellie will be very quick indeed.

As part of the training, we did some close heeling and encouraging the dog to stay close to the handler. This was done in two ways. We are now practising these new methods every day. Sometimes it's hard to tell how these things relate to the actual KC Bronze test, but you know, it wouldn't really matter even if they never did. However, we're sure it will all come good in the end.

The simple fact is, that we are working with Ellie each week, she is getting lots more experience at working with other dogs, equipment, and in different situations. And, these things will all help towards competitive obedience, which is where my interest lies. Jan is more agility focused, and I am more obedience focused. Talking of which...

We must be getting something right, as Jan has been asked if she would like to become a volunteer at the course. She has accepted, subject to getting past Christmas first, as she needs to get some exam material completed for her work. Plus her shifts are set to change afer Christmas, which will make volunteering easier.

I'm not sure but I believe that volunteers get their training free. However, more importantly, it means that Jan will be able to take Ellie along to more classes and mix her with even more dogs, as a volunteer. The volunteers assist the actual trainers.

Socialisation Walk

A few pictures from today's socialisation walk. One of the many regular walks organised by her training class. The walk was in Wilsford.

The View Ahead

Ellie puts her tail to good use -- pointing out the direction we all need to take.

A few other walkers with their dogs. The German Shepherd belongs to Sabrina, one of the training volunteers.

Sabrina's German Shepherd again, with a Border Collie.

Ellie hides in Sabrina's shadow.

Ellie, Sabrina, and her German Shepherd.

Ellie, Sabrina, and her German Shepherd.

Ellie, Sabrina, and her German Shepherd.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

At the Show...

Today, we visited the long-awaited Autumn Show at Peterborough. Aside from being a golden opportunity for Dawn, Ellie's foster-carer, to see how Ellie has been coming along, it was the best chance ever for us to expose Ellie to thousands of new sounds, sights, smells, people, and more importantly, dogs.

I'm still not sure whether Ellie was more pleased to see Dawn, or Dawn was more pleased to see Ellie, but whichever way it was, they were pleased to see one-another. Dawn attended with her friend who had a Black Labrador, Britney, I think it was called. Sorry, I can't remember!
There were dozens upon dozens of stalls at the show and I can see how easy it would be to empty a bank account there, particularly us soft dog-owners. As it was, we just purchased Ellie another new bed. (Pictured above -- click to enlarge.)

Ellie surprised me. Once she got the initial excitement over, she really did walk very well amongst the thousands of people and their dogs. Only the sound of the merry-go-round spooked her a little, but we got through that soon enough. She even managed to focus when her name was called, as well as sit when told, and perform tricks to show off to Dawn!

I'm pleased to report that there were no negative issues with meeting other dogs. In fact, it was quite the opposite. As there were dog agility displays at the show, there were, quite literally, hundreds of other dogs there, and with the exception of one dog, all seemed really well-behaved. A credit to the dog-owning community. I can only imagine that Ellie's confidence can have been positively boosted through today's experience.

After about three hours however, Ellie really began to flag and she kept looking up at me, almost asking to be carried around. At that point we decided to call it a day. She'd done really well, made us proud, and we wanted to quit on a high-note. Suffice to say that she slept like a, well, like a dog, all the way back home. It's the longest walk she's ever had I think!

Overall, it was a really good day, and well worth the price of the ticket -- £7.50. Though, having seen the dog agility displays, it's just made me more determined to hunt out other dog shows. I'm hooked.

P.S. There are no shots of the show, because idiot here forgot to take the camera. Oh, and Jan has just caught one of Ellie's puppy teeth in her hand!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

18 Weeks Picture

Just a landmark picture of Ellie at 18 weeks of age. (Click to see it much larger.)

She's a little wet in the picture, as we'd just returned from running around in the local field, where there was a lot of morning dew for Ellie to slip and slide around in.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

First Night of Bronze Training

Ellie attended her first night of training for the Bronze Canine Good Citizen Award last night. It is so much better than the puppy training, and the instructor, Christine, is more demanding and exacting in her requirements. Though even she deserted her usual rule for dogs, and allowed Ellie to jump about at her when they first met. Ellie seems to have a gift for getting the attention of anyone she wants. However, that out of the way, it was very quickly down to business.

There are more dogs in this class, and all of them are far more adult than Ellie, but that has never stopped her before, and it appears to make no difference now. There is also much more interaction between the dogs on this course, as that is part of the test - to be able to walk on a loose leash around other dogs and people. I'm pleased to report that she got on well with all of the other dogs.

We learned to bring her in to a sitting position, between the legs, which we are naming "pull-in", as it is like pulling the dog in with both hands, only by using food as a lure. This will, apparently, prove to be very useful later on.

We then practised stays. The Bronze requirement is that the dog can stay for one minute, and so, on this course, they train for two minutes, so that when it comes to exam time, the dog should have no problems.

When I train her to stay out on the field, I don't go by time, I go by distance, but I shall start taking my stopwatch with me. At present, in the field, I can walk away for fifteen paces and walk around in a semi-circle in front of her at that distance, without any problem whatsoever.

Ellie got to play on a full agility set last night, with the instructor telling us that you have to imagine the sand is deep water, and you have to work out how to get your dog from one end to the other without getting wet. As per usual, Ellie showed no fear, and got straight into it, including running through a full tunnel.

We can just tell that this course is going to suit Ellie down to the ground. I know all owners must believe it of their own dog, but Ellie really did perform perfectly at the class, even getting praise from the instructor, because we have taught her to automatically sit when we stop while heeling. Well, actually, she sits when we tell her "stop", but it amounts to the same thing. I taught this as I want to always to be able to stop her in an emergency. The fact that she sits is more accident than anything else. All I wanted was that she stop dead in her tracks. It was she who chose to make it a sit-stop. Fine with me...

The course is a rolling course, and goes on until the dog is ready to take the exam. As always, we'll be working with her on a daily basis to give her as much help as possible.

She finally seems to have accepted being brushed now, and doesn't try to gnaw away at the brush. This is good as it's important for the Bronze award.

Overall, a really really enjoyable course and an excellent instructor who really takes the time to look at the smallest detail. Will try to get a photo or two next time.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Pain in the ....

Despite the heavy rainfall dripping down my face, it was a pleasant walk around the park this morning. That was until we met the dreaded Basset Hound again. I've written about it before; the owner has absolutely no control over it, and walks it around off leash. It then pesters every single dog it can, presumably because the owner is so damned boring, the dog would rather be anywhere but with him.

Anyway, this morning, enough was enough. Ellie was clearly getting stressed as she was on leash, and the Basset was bullying her. Usually I walk away but today I decided to give the owner a piece of my mind. It went something along the lines of...

Me: You know you're duty bound to keep your dog under control don't you?
Him: When did you arrive? You're a pain in the arse.
Me: I'm only a pain in the arse because you haven't taken the time to train your dog.
Him: Do you clean up after your dog? (No idea why he even asked that.)
Me: No. I don't need to, as she doesn't even soil outside of her own garden. But if she did, you bet I would, and showed him the two poop bags that I always carry around in my back pocket.
Him: Mumble
Me: Look, it's simple. Keep your dog under control, and everyone is happy.

He then walked away, with his dog finally on the leash.

This sort of guy really pisses me off. It's not the dog, it's the owner type. There was a different owner last night, with a really out of control Weimaraner, but the owner was pleasant, and asked if Ellie was okay, after Pickles, her dog, almost ran her over, at least made an effort to control her dog, and so we ended up chatting about her high-energy dog.

But this guy, he's one of those that drives me nuts. He makes no effort to control his dog, and walks around believing that it is everyone else's fault that his dog is so much trouble. Why am I a pain in the arse, for example? I suspect it's because I won't usually stop when his dog chases Ellie, so that he can casually walk over and collect it. No, I figure, I'm not stopping our training for anyone. If his dog follows me home then it's his problem, not mine.

People like him seem to be blind to the notion that it takes just one bad experience for a puppy to be emotionally scarred for life. I work damned hard to make me the centre of Ellie's world when we're out and about in the park. She's really not bothered about playing with other dogs -- as I'm more than enough excitement for her, and besides, other dogs don't look enough like a Frisbee for her. Why should I be expected to entertain other dogs, or allow Ellie to become entertainment for other dogs.

I fear that people like him don't learn until someone stands up to them. I hope so.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Canine Good Citizen Bronze Training Starts

Just a quickie - we've heard from the training centre. Ellie will start her Kennel Club Good Citizen (Bronze) training tomorrow night. All the more to keep her brain busy!

Ellie at 18 Weeks

According to my little script, Ellie is now 18 weeks and 6 days old. So, for the sake of this first entry, I'll call it 18 weeks.

Sleeping Arrangements
Up until the past week or so, Ellie has slept on our bed with us. However, over the past few nights we noticed a change. Instead of jumping on the bed with us, she started to put herself underneath the bed and staying there.

Then, by chance, Jan left a big fluffy dressing-gown on the floor by her side of the bed. We noticed one morning that it had an Ellie sized dent in it. So, we've donated both of our dressing-gowns to her -- they are huge fluffy things -- and she sleeps on them now, by my side of the bed.

She still seems to climb up onto our bed in the middle of the night, but then she gets bored of us turning over and so jumps back down again. I predict that by the end of the next two week period, she won't be sleeping on the bed at all. More importantly, it will be her decision, which is what we wanted from the start.

The fact that she is making this decision at all, tells me that she is getting more confident about her place in the family and in general.

In the Car
She still needs lifting into the back seat of the car. Now, if you happen to throw some bacon onto the back seat, she'll zoom in on her own. Otherwise, she plays dumb and expects to be lifted in.

For short to medium journeys she is fine. Anything over and 90 minutes and she'll decorate the car in a lovely shade of vomit.

There is no doubt that she's changing now. She's starting to get a little more rebellious. Nothing major and all just tiny little things but we can feel and see the change. She is teething now, and there are small gaps where puppy teeth once sat, and so, of course, she is chewing more. Touch wood, at this stage, she still hasn't chewed a single thing that doesn't belong to her. Not a thing.

She is becoming much more curious about the world around her and this is being reflected in her training, where it is becoming increasingly hard to maintain her attention.

For a puppy, she's quite a relaxed dog. Even when we visit other people in their homes, she doesn't run about. She's quite happy to lay down and chill out on her blanket. She still tries to jump up at people, and it infuriates me at times when you ask people to ignore the dog if it jumps up, and then they go and not ignore the dog -- effectively rewarding the dog for jumping up! Of course, they think they are being kind, but they're not. They are actually confusing the dog as it is usually taught (and expects) one thing, and then that person does something else.

She has her only real "mad hour" at about 21:00 each night. She runs about the room with toys in her mouth and generally tries to make a nuisance of herself.

Toilet Training
Neither of us can recall the last time she had an accident in the house. When she needs the toilet, she will sit at the back door and either tap the glass, or just whine. Don't laugh but I am going to purchase a cheap wireless doorbell, fix it low down on the door, and train her to press the button on the switch when she wants to go out. Why not?

She is able to hold her bladder for much longer periods now. Instead of dashing out first thing in the morning, she's happy to wander about the house now for a few minutes.

General Training
Our focus at the moment is getting her attention. We were taught, at the training class, to have a distinct sound (not a word) that we can use to get her attention. For the past two days I have been walking around with a treat bag attached to me, and making a "click-click" sound with my mouth. When she looks and me and comes to me, I reward her. Of course, it's important not to hold out the treat as a lure. After a while it should become a conditioned response. To be honest, she's already pretty hot on it.

Her skills repertoire now includes:

Rather obvious - to sit when asked.
90% reliable

Again, rather obvious, to lie down when asked. Her problem with this one is popping back up again into a sitting position. She's like a jack-in-the-box. I just keep her down longer before treating her in an effort to combat this.
75% reliable

Offering her front paw into my hand.
80% reliable

Spinning around in a clock-wise direction.
95% reliable

I offer out my hand (palm facing her) and ask her to touch it with her nose. This will come in handy later when we want to shape other behaviours.
60% reliable

Drop whatever she is holding in her mouth.
90% reliable

Ignore food, etc, if it's dropped to the floor.
99% reliable

Recall (Come)
have Ellie return to me on hearing a "come" command. She's pretty good that this because I use it all the time when we play in the field, and she loves her play to continue.
90% reliable

Stay (12 Paces)
She's bewilderingly good at this one. Even with mild distractions, I can ask her to stay, move away, walk all the way around her, and she won't budge. I even did it earlier, with a complete stranger walking up behind her. She didn't budge. As it's such an imperative command, we work on it daily while out and about walking.

Loose Leash Walking
Her strongest behaviour is still her loose-leash walking, unless there are children around, or people exciting her. Otherwise, she is an absolute pleasure to walk. We see squirrels each and every day at the moment. She's getting used to ignoring them now but she's still quite rocky with them.

With regards to training, I stumbled upon a new website the other day, with videos and instructions for teaching dog tricks. You need to join (it's free) but it really is very good. Dog Tricks Academy. Some of the lessons are missing (Level three and upward) but that's because the site is new and the guy is still adding them. Give it a look, it's time well spent. I don't think you see the lessons until you actually join, at which point you just click the "classroom" link in the header.

Formal Training
We're now waiting for a start date for the Bronze Good Citizen training and then we'll be starting Ellie on that.

Next in Training
Primarily, it's a case of continuing to strengthen her current skills.

I've just started to correct her for walking before she gets the "heel" command. As it is, she sees me step forward and then takes that as a cue to step forth from the seated position.

We need to continue to work with her focus. The world is an exciting place and we have to compete for her attention at the moment. It's hard to get a dog to respond when they're not even looking at you.

The next commands I want to work are "around" and "on your spot". Ellie will be expected to come 'around' to sit next to my left leg. It'll be a slow process as the process really consists of several small steps. The "on your spot" will be used for sending her to a small blanket we have for her. It's portable and so comes in handy when we visit other people. We can just lay it down and send her to "on your spot".

And Play Time
You'd be forgiven for thinking that it's all work and no play for Ellie. Think again. Let me tell you, she must be the envy of many dogs around where we live. We watch 95% of the dogs around here, pulling their owners around a playing field (not even the whole field at times) and that is supposed to be their exercise. Sod that. That wouldn't even benefit a cat!

Ellie goes out daily, in all weathers, at 09:00, 13:00, and 17:00. We like her to have structure and these times work well for us. When she's a little older, we may well add a 21:00, but for now, it works.

I usually take her rubber KONG Frisbee out with us, we do about five or ten minutes training on the field, then she hears the "break" command, and she's excited, ready for that Frisbee to be thrown! She is then off-leash and will happily chase the Frisbee for a good thirty minutes or so. Other dogs don't bother her when she is playing. Other dogs may approach her, but she's just not interested in them. Just how I like it actually.

I guess the point I'm making here is that because she does work quite a bit, her play is much more exciting and informal than for those dogs which do little training, and then can't be trusted off-leash, or are aggressive, etc as a result of it. I think, on balance, a dog would rather work hard and play hard, than not work enough and play rarely.

Behaviourally, I can't really say that Ellie is giving us any problems at the moment. I suppose if I had to struggle for a problem, it would be the size difference between her and I. It can make training quite challenging. Because I'm six feet tall, and she is quite a small collie, she can easily become quite intimidated if I stand over her, and so I have to remind myself of this. You can see this when I walk towards her after a "stay". I've had to learn to sort of arc around her a little.

It also means that treating doesn't go as fluidly as it could as I have to keep stooping down during some training exercise (heel work) and stopping. I think this is always going to be an issue and one that we'll just have to learn to live with, as she's never going to be a large Collie. You can just tell.

In Other News
I'm just in the process of ordering her a new dog bed. It's more padded than the one she has now. Much more padded in fact.

New Format

Inspired by another Ellie's Diary, about another Border Collie, named Ellie, I'm going to now change the format of this Ellie's blog, and chart her progress at various weeks.

This is because not much really changes from one day to the next now and so it will be more plentiful to write things up when there is more to say.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

And the winner is...

Ellie attended her last week of puppy training classes last night.

There was a small friendly competition, to see which dog had learned the best trick since the course started, six weeks ago. Each dog owner then had a vote. We're pleased to announce that Ellie walked away with the title (and the prizes), after completing her "spin" command, better than she had ever completed it before.

It almost seems like cheating -- having the only Border Collie in the class. They just seem to learn so damned quickly.

We'll now be preparing her to start the Bronze Canine Good Citizen course, as soon as possible.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Frisbee Number Two - Gone!

If there is one thing that Ellie loves more than chasing a ball around the park, it's chasing a frisbee around the park. Obviously she can't yet jump to catch it, but she sure can run for it!

We've been purchasing the rubber Kong Frisbees as they are kinder to Ellie's wee puppy teeth. However, there's one drawback, we keep losing them in a small ditch that is covered in nettles. So far, Jan has successfully lost one, and as of this evening, so have I!

On our morning walk a couple of days ago, I met up with another Collie (Alfie) owner. You can always tell the Collie owners -- they are the ones who have dogs fixated on a ball. Despite the fact that the owner and I were stood talking to one another, the two dogs were more than happy to ignore each other, in favour of chasing their own ball around the park. As always, I had to convince the other person that Ellie really is a Border Collie. I guess people just aren't used to seeing the short-haired variety. I had another person ask me tonight in fact!

Usually, as we play in the field on our 17:00 run, I spot a woman with a Black Labrador. I always feel for her as she clearly can't let her dog off the leash, and it drags her around like nobody's business. She always politely walks around the edge of the field, and I, sensing that she doesn't want to have to struggle with other dogs, tend to stealthily step towards the middle of the field, so that her dog doesn't try to pull so much towards Ellie. (Ellie completley ignores all dogs when she is playng.)

Tonight however, I met the woman and her dog head-on, as we were walking past the tennis-courts. She turned out to be a very nice woman, who once again had to ask what breed Ellie was. "A Border Collie", I replied, as I usually do. "She's very well trained, isn't she?", she noted. "I see you out here most days and she's incredible.". I think I almost blew her mind when I explained that Ellie was only 17 weeks old. I shall never tire of hearing people comment on her training and manners.

We work with Ellie daily and as I've said before, I for one, will never tire of training with her. It's just too rewarding to give up. I really do feel for those people who have dogs dragging them around the field. It can't be nice. That said, Ellie is only 17 weeks old and there is still plenty of time for her to show us her worst side. The best we can do is keep working with her, keep her stimulated, make ourselves the most interesting thing she knows, and hope for a little luck too.

We took her to the vet today, in order to get her weighed and just to get her used to going to the vet. She's put on just over half a kilogram in the past three weeks. I thought she might have put a little more on actually but no. I read today that the grooming parlour at the vet allows you to take the dog along to sit and watch, so that they get used to the sounds and such like. I think we'll do that next as we would like to get her groomed properly from time to time.

Her door manners are really getting good now. Whenever we walk, she has to wait at the front door when I exit, then wait for a "come" command, then come to me outside, then "sit" and "wait", as I lock the door. The reverse happens on our return. She will get a "sit" outside, then "wait", I will then enter the house, put the ball on the windowsill etc, and then invite her in. Tonight however, she excelled herself. I entered the house, walked all the way down the hallway, put my coat away, returned to the front door, and then invited her in. She did all that, even with children playing outside, making lots of exciting noise. Bless her. How can you not be impressed with that?

Her next big thing will be the East of England Autumn show. There will be lots of new people, animals, and sounds. I expect she'll get very excited for quite a while, but it's all good experience and learning for her. Her weakness, at the moment, is meeting people. She's a typical puppy and gets very excited. I'm not overly concerned about that at the moment. She's seventeen weeks old, seeing all new things, and is bound to get excited. That will lessen with age and experience. I think the show will help quite a lot actually.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Puppy Foundation Preparation

I've been studying the Kennel Club Good Citizen - Puppy Foundation course, in an effort to get Ellie prepared for it. This is the training course we will be starting as soon as we've finished the training course we're on now.

Exercise 1 - Reponsibility and Care
We are unable to practise for that.

Exercise 2 - Cleanliness and Identification
I always carry poop bags out with me, though I've only ever needed them once, and that was yesterday, after Ellie's usual feeding routine was interrupted by Sunday's trip 'Up Norf'. Usually, she toilets at home, as regular as clockwork.

Exercise 3 - Attentive Response to Name
I'm 100% confident of this already.

Exercise 4 - Play With the Puppy
I'm 98% confident of this aready. My 1% of doubt is only brought about because she sometimes gets over-excited still and accidentally mouths. We also haven't taught a release command for anything other than her tennis ball, for which we use "out" and she is 100% reliable.

Exercise 5 - Socialisation
I grow more confident of this by the day. (See end of post.)

Exercise 6 - Handling and Inspection to Maintain Health
We can pracfise more on this, particuarly with brushing, as she likes to mouth the brush all the time. But other than that, quite confident. She's certainly happy to have any body part handled.

Exercise 7 - Puppy Recall
100% confident. Her recall is spectacular - especially for her age. I can't remember the last time she failed to come back to me when called.

Exercise 8 - Basic Puppy Positions
100% confident of success.

Exercise 9 - Walking in a Controlled Manner
100% confident of success.

Exercise 10 - Stay for Approximately Ten Seconds
I've been practising this out on the playing field. She will currently stay for seven backward paces. Not sure how long that is, but I'm sure it's about ten seconds.

Exercise 11 - Take Article Away from the Puppy
Practise needed on this.

Exercise 12 - Food Manners
Practise needed on this.

Her socialising is improving. When I walked her today, we first had to pass a curious Poodle which was off-leash. The Poodle approached her while she was on-leash. It seemed quite well-mannered, and so I continued to walk past with Ellie. No growl or bark.

As we then turned the corner, a lady was walking what looked like a Staffordshire cross, off leash. Ellie began to pull forward, in an effort to catch it up for play I think. I turned around, which is what I always do if she walks in front of me. I then regained control and we went onto the field. The Staffie was quite ahead of us by that time.

As we started playing ball, the Staffie had walked around and approached Ellie. Ellie stood still and let it sniff her. I then gave a "let's play", and she instantly focused back on me, leaving the Staffie behind her. Again, there was no growling or barking. I really do think that she's getting more confident now.

The above photos were taken today, as we played ball. The second is where she's eagerly waiting for the ball to be thrown. Bless her, she'd sell her soul for that ball, I'm sure of it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Day 'Up Norf'

No bath for Ellie yesterday as we took her up to Oldham with us. The good thing about going to Oldham is travelling through Saddleworth Moors and Holmefirth. (The latter is where "Last of the Summer Wine" was filmed.) They are both absolutely gorgeous areas, and I've promised myself a trip to both with the best camera that I can lay my hands on. They also make for amazing dog walks as it's hills for as far as the eye can see. And right proper hills too! But alas, on this trip, it was straight through to Oldham to see Jan's parents.

Dog travel tip #1: Do not expect your puppy to travel in the car for 113 miles, on a full stomach, without decorating your car in a delicate shade of vomit. Bless her. She did really well for the vast majority of the trip, and then I turned around to find her trying not to lay in two large piles of vomit she'd unleashed onto the blanket.

I pulled her through to sit on my lap for the rest (remaining ten minutes) of the journey. I'm glad we didn't bath her before we left, as she had vomit all over her paws and tail. Yum.

Upon arrival, we cleaned up the car, washed the blanket, and no harm done. We then fed her again immediately as we were going to be staying a few hours and figured she'd be hungry after losing all her food from earlier.

As this was Ellie's first trip to someone else's house, I was expecting a bit of chaos to be honest. Hey, she's a puppy, and it's all new stuff to investigate, and Jan's Brother, who Ellie has never met.

You know what? She was absolutely as good as gold! She peed on the carpet but only because someone had closed the back door and she couldn't get out. Other than that, she made me exceptionally proud. Exceptionally so. She tried jumping up Jan's Mum a couple of times, but she knows our rules -- push her down, no eye contact, no speaking to her, and don't give her attention until she's calm. She soon got the idea.

For most of the time, she slept at my feet, as I had been drafted in to fix Jan's Dad's laptop. She even managed to not get over-excited at Jan's Brother and if anyone can wind a dog up, he can!

We left in the evening, and loaded her into the back seat again. Only this time she hadn't eaten so close to travelling. I'm pleased to report that she didn't vomit on the way back.

Tomorrow is her second social walk with the training instructor's dog, and then her third training class on Wednesday night. I extended her town walk a little further this morning too. I like to extend it each Monday so that she has a week to acclimatise to the increased pressure. This week sees a lot more crossing of main roads -- for which she has to sit at the curb before crossing. She pretty much has that sussed now. I'd say that out of ten attempts, she might fail two, where she just gets selective deafness and doesn't sit. We've been practising it though, as when I walk her to the park, I'll keep crossing the roads at random. I love to keep her on her toes. :)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Training Class

Ellie attended her weekly training class last night. There was the usual practising what had been learned the week before, as well as the introduction of some puppy-friendly agility equipment (as in no jumping). There were two small tents, where the handlers were asked to get the puppy to walk in and lie down. Ellie excelled at this without any real coaxing needed. Then there was "walking the plank". She wasn't too keen on this at the start, until the instrctor advised placing food along it, and encouraging her to take the food. That solved any inhibitions she might have had! She was over it like a shot, repeatedly.

The instructor, Anna, did actually advise us that obedience wise, we didn't really need to be on the course. We advised that we do practise an awful lot at home, and we do actually appreciate that that much of what is taught there, we can and do teach at home. However, the socialisation and advice is invaluable and for that reason we wouldn't miss it.

There are only two weeks left on this course. After that, we are going to sign her up for the Good Citizen Puppy Foundation course, so she can earn her first certificate, and then, presuming she fares well at that, the Bronze certificate, and so forth.

We have another walk pencilled in with the instructor for Tuesday morning, so that she can learn a little more from another adult dog. Talking of which...

I think I've figured out what Ellie's problem is with other dogs. She actually doesn't seem to mind other dogs, so long as they are perfectly under control. However, it's those dogs which seem to be pulling ahead of their handler, or are barking uncontrollably that she really doesn't like. I suppose it must be like us encountering drunk people. Their unpredictability can make us nervous about them getting too close. I'm presuming that is how Ellie feels about these "out of control" dogs, and that as she matures, she will learn to handle them differently.

I do know that I can walk right by well-behaved dogs without any incident whatsoever. We've seen this many times. Talking of walking...

An old lady stopped me on my way back from our morning 'town walk' this morning. "I've been wathing you from behind. You're doing really well with her.", she told me. Good ol' Ellie, you can't help but be proud of her when she helps initiate such positive comments from the public. I still have to pinch myself to remember that she's still only sixteen weeks, and we've only had her four weeks.

Her personality is really starting to come through now too. One thing stands out with her, above all else -- she absolutely loves her sleep! She loves her sleep and her lie-ins in the morning! If you get up to let her out, she'll oblige but she then wants to get back to bed. Lazy mare!

Yesterday, we woke up to find me laying face down in the bed, with Ellie laying along the full length of my back. At night she nestles around my legs, on the quilt. She can be quite a shy, even nervous at times, dog, but we're told this is not unusual for Border Collies, but at other times, she'll stop and demand attention from anyone and everyone. She does love being in the great outdoors, and she loves to know when she's doing well. She'll look up at you several times throughout a walk to find out if she's doing well.

She has now learned the trick we were teaching her -- the spin around. It needs refining a little but she's certainly got it. We've also been playing "find" games with her. I hide her ball around the house, cup my hands, let her sniff and say "find". She has yet to fail to find it. I still say that for as long as we are happy to work with her and give her new experiences, she will be happy to reward us with her obedience and really loving nature. I've never known a dog so pleased to see people in the mornings. You can't help but wake up in a good mood.

Last night, as I was walking her, we walked past the tennis courts where several children were getting their training classes. She ran up to the fencing where the children were and they made a big fuss of her. What amazed me was, despite all the fuss she was getting, when I called "Ellie, come", she did -- first time! Wow. Her recall is pretty good though as we use it each and every time she plays ball on the field. So she's used to "come" meaning "more play". I love training that isn't really training -- at least as far as the dog is concerned.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Getting On

Ellie had her bath and her claws clipped on Sunday. This is really the first week where we can say that she was perfect. She didn't struggle in the bath at all, and let me wash her all over, including in her ears. She was more than happy for me to towel-dry her, and then dry her with the blow-dryer. The only part she didn't like was when she turned around and the blow-dryer caught her in the face. Then again, not sure I'd like that either! Then she went downstairs and I clipped her claws. Our routine is that Jan holds her while I clip. After each clip, I give her a treat. She sometimes flinches at the sound of the clippers but not this week. All was fine and dandy.

She went for a walk yesterday with Jan, the instructor from her weekly training class, and the instructor's adult retriever dog. This was done to help her get over her nervousness with other dogs. Jan tells me that it went really well, and they're going to repeat it weekly for a while, and the instructor will change dogs at random, as she has three very reliable dogs to choose from.

This week has seen her walk extended a little, more towards the main town area. This is to expose her to more traffic, more people, and more dogs. I started her yesterday, and the the only thing that made her panic was an ambulance that went screeching by with the sirens on. That said, it made me jump out of my skin too! However, she very quickly recovered and continued to walk with me. I don't believe in stopping and making an issue of such things. I believe that if the handler makes an issue out of them, then the dog surely will. Best to keep on moving and pretend it never happened.

Jan took her this morning, and she reported that she encountered about four other dogs. Ellie was, apparently perfectly fine with all of them. It seemed like one woman, a Border Collie owner, wanted to stop and talk, but at this stage, we'd rather Ellie just got used to meeting briefly and casually and then moving on. When she has better social skills, then we'll look at increasing the length of each exposure. We're really looking at the Canine Good Citizen objectives, where the dog has to be able to walk around people and other dogs without making an issue of it. The more we do that now, the better her chances will be when we submit her into the different stages of the Good Citizen tests.

She's still practising her sit, down, spin, and wait commands and I have a treat bag constantly attached to me so that we can practise them at random times throughout the day.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Crate Move

Now that Ellie has responded so well to being in the crate, and given that it was getting harder to find things to do outside of the main living room each day, where my work computer is, we've now moved the crate.

The crate now sits in the dining room, which is always where we've intended it to be, but when we first tried it, Ellie really didn't like it there at all. So I've placed it in a position where she can see the kitchen and a part of the hallway too. This is another temporary measure, as ultimately it will be under the window but baby-steps never hurt anyone.

After placing her into it this morning and she seems to have benefited from the earlier crate training and being left alone for longer and longer periods. She went into it after my usual "go to bed" command, though I do still have to lead her in most of the time. I then went to my computer. She whined for the first two and half minutes but it quickly subsided. She is now in there, fast asleep as usual, after nine minutes and forty-five seconds.

At this stage, it is our intention that the crate be for daytime use only. Naturally, if she wants to climb into it in the evenings, we won't stop her, but we like to think that evenings are family time, and she is a very large part of the family.

Friday, September 14, 2007

At the Vet

Ellie had an unusually long walk this morning. We went to the playing field at 09:00 as per usual. When getting to the field we were met by yet another out of control dog, this time a basset hound, for which the owner had no control. It didn't do anything to Ellie, other than perpetually pester and goad her. We tried to continue walking past it, but it was a relentless creature. The owner finally caught a hold of it, and I gave my usual look of disgust.

There was also another dog (about the same size as Ellie and ten years old) and man on the field, and I'd noticed his dog hadn't ran to Ellie, but continued to play ball with its owner. We eventually got nearer to one another, and so I asked if the dog was friendly. After learning that it was, we let the two meet up. Ellie did her usual growl and bark, but then after that they sorted themselves out, with a few sniffs.

We then let them play ball together for almost an hour and a half! She seemed to be fine and dandy. She did excitedly nip at the other dog a couple of times, but then the other dog also tried to mount her her a couple of times, despite it being a bitch too! When I saw the nips, I verbally reprimanded her and pulled her away slightly, before letting them return to play. We both walked back together, as the other dog owner lives nearby. Ellie stuck to walking to heel, despite the other dog being behind her.

After coming back, I realised that she would be pretty tired, so we decided to load her into the car and drive her to the vets, while she didn't have the energy to get excited. She slept all the way to the vets. Once there, Jan went in first to make sure there were no dog-aggressive dogs in the waiting room. The last thing we wanted was to make it an unpleasant experience, for Ellie or the other dog. As it turned out, there were no other dogs there. The vets is really remote and very nice. It also seems to be having a grooming parlour built onto it. You can tell a lot of money has been spent on the place.

I led her into the waiting room and reception desk, where the scales were placed. I loaded her on with the vet assistant. She weighs in at 8.5kg. Not bad at all. We then let her sniff around before leaving. Overall, it remained a pleasant experience for her. We'll do that every couple of weeks for a while, and then make it monthly, then quarterly, as she gets older. We've also spoken about getting her professionally groomed once each quarter as well, and so we'll no doubt take her there for that.

At 13:00, when I usually walk her, she was absolutely flat out in her crate. However, because I want her to get used to the schedule, I woke her up and took her for a brisk walk around the park, and a small game of fetch with the ball.

She sure did sleep when we returned!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Week Two at Training Class

Wednesday night saw the second night of the training class. In addition to the two pups from last week, there was also a German Shepherd puppy. Ellie is, by far, the smallest of the pups there.

This week saw the introduction of teaching the pup to pay attention, and to loose-leash walking. The loose leash waking was quite funny in a way. Ellie walks on a loose leash three times a day, all the way to the park, then in it when she's not playing, and all the way home again. In class, she was asked to walk just three paces. She looked a little perplexed at being asked to do something so simple. Her loose-leash walking to heel is, without any doubt, her best command.

However, the next part of the class was some controlled introduction to other dogs. The dogs were effectively paired-up, so Ellie was paired up with the Doberman puppy. When two dogs were meeting up, all other dogs and their owners were put out of the way, to reduce distractions and stress for the pups.

This seems to be Ellie's weakest area. I've already been concerned once or twice about her reaction to other dogs, and the training class hasn't helped my concerns. She was the only dog to bark at the other dog, and the only one to want to hide away. The instructor has told us not to worry, and she has also given us her phone number, so that we can arrange to walk Ellie with her adult dogs, which are 100% reliable. She feels that she needs to learn some confidence from adult dogs. I've no idea why she's funny with other dogs. She certainly hasn't had any incidents with them since we've had her, aside from the Chocolate Labrador I suppose. Maybe it's a size thing, as she is the smallest dog in the class.

When we play in the park and she spots other dogs, she will bark and growl. However, I usually just continue to play with her and she stops. When we meet other dogs close-up, it does seem to depend on the breed. She met a retriever yesterday morning, up close and personal, as we passed one-another on the leash. All she wanted to do was hide behind my legs. On the evening walk, we met another two dogs, which came running up to her, while she was on leash. With them, she seemed fine. They sniffed, and she was a little nervous, but not too bad.

Anyway, we've called the instructor and left a message, so that we can begin to arrange some walks with her dogs. We can't afford to let this issue grow or go untreated, as there are so many other dogs around here. I suppose it's important to keep remembering that she is still only fifteen weeks old. But we certainly need to keep our eye on it.

Otherwise, she's doing great. She's now on twenty minutes alone in the crate and she's finding it so easy that she just falls asleep.

I watched a really inspirational video yesterday.

The author, Yolle555 is the most natural trainer I think I've ever seen. It's worth watching her other videos, particularly those with her Border Collie, Bu. It's impossible to watch them and not feel inspired to work with your own dog.

Another video of her dogs growing up with her. It shows how natural she is with her dogs.

If I can have just 10% of the relationship that she seems to have with her dog(s) then I'd be a very happy camper.

Ellie continues to grow at a phenomenal rate, as does her fur. Her fur is getting coarser and coarser as the weeks pass now. I guess she's preparing for the winter months. Dawn will barely recognise her when she next sees her! In fact Dawn will be better placed to see the changes in her than we are, as we're with her every day, and barely notice the changes.

She's eating well, and her appetite grows as she is playing and walking more and more each day. Next week, she'll start the daily walk that takes her into a more busy town area. We'll be walking from the house to the Pets at Home store each day. That will do her good as it's busy without being too busy for her.

We're looking at taking her to the vet's tomorrow to get her weighed. Of course, we could weigh her at home very easily but we want to take her to the vet each couple of weeks to do it so that she can start to become familiar with the vet building.

Bless her. Earlier this evening, I laid on the living room floor with her. She climbed into my lap, rolled onto her back, and fell asleep on me, her legs akimbo to the world! There's never a camera around when you need one.

We've been rattling our brain as to what trick to teach her for week five of the training class. It's a harmless little competition thing. So we've started teaching her to twirl. That gives us three weeks. Hell, she can walk to heel so I'm sure she can master a twirl. I am so competitive! :)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Clever Girl

The more I experience Ellie, the more I fall in love with Border Collies. They seem to be a simple breed in so far as their primary demand is to be challenged. It doesn't seem to matter whether it's mental or physical challenge (though they seem to prefer it to be mental) just so long as it's fresh and new.

For someone like me who loves to spend time with a dog, Border Collies are heaven-sent. Of course, I might not still be saying that in a few months when my dog is smarter than I am! But for now I am happy to marvel at just how quickly they learn. In fact, I would suggest that they are sometimes a little too smart for their own good. Sitting is an example of this. We made the mistake of trying to teach her to sit and down in the same training sessions. Now, she seems to want to predict what we want. We ask her to sit, and she does. But then she will lay down too, before we've asked, and even if we had no intention of asking.

To keep things fresh for her, I've been teaching her targetting over the past two days. I have a large piece of dowelling. I hold it out, and if she touches it with her nose, I click and treat. I'll do this for another day as she seems to have got the idea now, and then I will add the word "touch" to it. Then, once that sinks in, I'll get her to touch it for longer and longer periods.

The advantage of this is that it helps to teach so many other tricks and behaviours. For example, closing a door.

I've begun to expand her walk this week now. It only adds another five to ten minutes to the walk but it exposes her to a bit more mixed size traffic, cyclists, and people. So far, she seems fine with cyclists and traffic, but she sees a person and begins pulling on the leash, trying to get some full-on hot stroking action from them!

However, at least in the park, I can walk her to heel off-leash, as I did this morning, without issue. I limit the off-leash time however, as she's way too young to be given completley free-reign.

Jan and I took her to the park yesterday evening to play with the Kong Puppy Frisbee. She loved it. I thought she would get bored of trying to catch it, but she never did. She didn't jump for it, as her wee legs are still too fragile for that, but she did love chasing it. However, Jan threw it a little too far, and so we lost it in the nettles. Oh well, we had the backup tennis ball. (We use a bright purple one, as there are often-used tennis courts in the park, and I didn't want to give Ellie a fetish for normal coloured tennis balls -- for obvious reasons.)

Yesterday was bath day and it was much easier than the previous two weeks. She only tried to get out of the bath once, but that was short and once corrected, she stood there quite happily. In fact, I swear she seemed to enjoy it after a short time. Then came the towelling off, and she was very happy to receive that. Then the hair-dryer. Usually she struggles when that is turned on. This week however, there was a very quick attempt to gnaw at it, but then she just laid there and let it happen. I blow-dried her for about five minutes, as I like to quit on a good note.

Then came the claw clipping. She was great! In actual fact, because of the walks, there was only two claws that really needed clipping, so I did those and just touched the others with the clippers so that she could still go through the experience. My guess is that after a couple more sessions, she will be fine with having her claws clipped and being bathed. Victory!

We seem to be falling into a routine now and I think she's much happier for it. She seems to have set sleep time now, and boy is she sleeping more now that she is working at training and chasing balls across fields!

She did her twelve minutes being left alone in her crate at the weekend, and she coasted through it. It will be fourteen minutes today. As per usual, as I write this, she has fallen asleep at my feet under the desk. Bless her, she really does love it there. Ideally I'd like her in her crate but I'm not going to move her now. It's my fault for not putting her in the crate when we had finished earlier. I need to start remembering to do that!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Other Reckless Dogs

I don't mind dogs off the leash. I think it looks great to see a dog off leash and at one with its handler. However, the clue to my post is in that last line -- with its handler.

Once again, Ellie and I became the victim of another dog that could not be controlled by its handler, and another Chocolate Labrador at that! No, I checked, it wasn't the same one as two days ago.

Ellie and I were doing our morning training session in the playing field, as per usual. As we were practising the down command, I spotted something hurtling towards us at speed -- at least as fast as a grossly overweight Chocolate Labrador could run. (Why are all the Chocolate Labrador dogs that I see so grossly overweight?)

Ellie, as is now her custom, let out a little bark, before running behind my legs. I, determined that, despite the odds against us, she will not grow up having to be fearful of other dogs, regained her attention with her favourite tennis ball, and we continued to play, leaving the handler to take control of her dog. "Sorry", she said. Oh, how irritating that word is when you just know that the handler knows they have no control of their dog.

We continued to play, before once again spotting the same damned dog hurtling towards us. Now once I am willing to forgive as an accident perhaps. Twice in the space of five minutes? Not quite. That just tells me that the handler has no respect for other dogs or other dog handlers. I am a placid person up to a point. That point had now been crossed.

"He just wants to play", she told me, obviously believing that would invite a welcome response from me. "So does mine", I replied, "but with me, and you're making that next to impossible. You have a bloody leash, use it if you can't keep your dog under control.". At that point I headed further up the field as I gathered that she had no intention of curbing her dog's reckless behaviour.

It's just so bloody annoying and frustrating. I understand the "he/she just wants to play" dog owners, really I do. However, neither I nor my dog are there as entertainment for other dogs. We are there to enjoy the company of one another. It is not my job to train or socialise other dogs. Sure, I want Ellie to socialise but only with dogs that I have evaluated and in a controlled manner. That is why we spend money on attending training classes and will continue to do so throughout her life.

In fact, I don't really have a plan where Ellie plays with other dogs in fields to be honest with you. I want Jan and I to be the centre of her world, and we try to encourage that by playing interactively with her as much as possible. For me, good dog interaction is where two dogs can pass, perhaps sniff at one another, and then move on. I don't really see a need to go above that. Certainly not with the average dog in a field.

There might come a time when, over a period of several weeks, I see a dog and handler who I feel are in total control and therefore able to play with Ellie, but again, I'd rather that we were the centre of her world.

Anyway, I can't tell you just how perfect her walking to heel is becoming, both around the field, in the street, and at the side of the main road. I feel very proud to be walking her. It beggars belief doesn't it that a young puppy can walk to heel and ignore other dogs, but two consecutive adult Chocolate Labrador dogs cannot. It's no wonder we dog owners get such bad reputations.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Six Minutes Down and First Class

Ellie attended her first training class last night. The instructor was exceptionally good in ensuring that the pups weren't stressed in their introduction to the training arena. Each puppy and handler were guided into the area individually so that the puppy could see and sniff it without having to worry about the other dogs too.

Eventually, after all the dogs had been shown around the training began. At no point did the dogs actually need to meet up with one another or scramble about together at close distance. They only really encountered one another at a safe distance. Ellie was very good, and largely disinterested in the two other dogs, after her initial playful growl.

The training was very good and we've learned some new techniques. This week was about the sit, down, and stay (for one pace only), and clicker training, which we have been using anyway. The other two dogs in the class were a Doberman and a Black Labrador. An adult Golden Retriever was bought in to make up the numbers a little and give a little more dog presence for the pups to adapt to.

All in all, we think it's going to be a very positive experience for us and for Ellie. And more importantly, she gets new experiences, meets new people, and new dogs.

I took her to the park this morning to do her heel work. As usual, she performed it flawlessly. I'm going to have to start rewarding her only when she looks at me now, as she is actually getting too good at it.

On this afternoon's park walk she experienced a few distractions while heeling. The first was a parent and toddler. She naturally wanted to play with the toddler and veered off towards it. I gave a heel and she quickly followed again. The next distraction was a large Golden Retriever being walked (or rather the owner was being walked) a few metres away from us. I kept heeling with Ellie, changing directions at random. She made a couple of initial barks at the Retriever and then ran back into my legs, but after that, as I continued with the heel work, she just started to ignore it.

She must be good as the neighbour commented yesterday that she had seen us walking back from the park and couldn't believe that Ellie, a wee puppy, who we've had for less than two weeks, is walking to heel so well, while her own two dogs pull like steam-trains. Practise, practise, practise...

Also, during her walks, I now take her through a short passage of main road, where she gets to experience all sorts of traffic, ranging from bicycles to huge trucks. She now seems to be completely unphased by them and as far as I can tell, doesn't even notice them going by.

Yesterday I made the mistake of giving her a drink of milk mixed with her water. For a start she drank the whole lot in one go and then spent the rest of the day peeing. And today her toileting is runny to say the least. I won't make that mistake again!

Bless her, like us, she was so hot in the night. She woke me at 12:55, so I let her out. She peed and then I took her back up. She was so hot that she couldn't get comfortable and spent the next twenty minutes fidgeting, presumably trying to find a cool spot. I had decided that if she went much longer, I would either sleep downstairs with her, where it was cooler, or just run a quick cool shower over her. I opened the window, and she seemed to settle for that, and drifted off to sleep again.

her six minutes being crated alone this morning went perfectly well. I popped her in, closed the door, and sat in the dining room. Not a peep from her. When I went back in, she was laying down and so I left her in there. She fell asleep shortly after that. So eight minutes tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Two Perfect Heels and Four Minutes In

As you'll know from previous entries, I've been working on Ellie's walking to heel more than anything else. I think it's so important to have a dog walking under control. Not just for the dog's sake, but for others around it too.

Today, she did me proud, twice. I have walked her to the local playing field and back twice, both times she has walked almost to perfect heels. The times that I have to turn around are getting fewer and fewer each day now. The only times she really faults at present is if other people approach, or if other dogs approach. She just goes into wiggly mode and wants to play with them all. But, I can safely say that she is becoming an absolute pleasure to walk. We even have a small jog across the field, and she jogs off-leash by my side. As far as I can tell, she loves it.

When she's done well, she gets to play fetch with her favourite ball. I'm aware that as a puppy she's going to be more inclined to stay by my side now anyway, but if we can make the most of this natural instinct while it's there, it should just become second nature to her.

Today was the second day of her exposure to being left alone in her crate. With yesterday being a two minute duration, today was a four minute duration. I placed her in, and without fuss walked away, shutting the living room door behind me. Armed with my stopwatch, I sat and waited. After about two and a half minutes there were half-hearted attempts at whimpering, but really nothing serious. I then heard an exhale, the type she gives when she's settling in to lay down.

Sure enough, after the four minutes were up, I returned to find her laying down, playing with a toy. I deliberately go out of my way not to make a fuss of her when I return into the room, as I think excitement at that stage can only help raise excitement in the dog, and then break her concentration, resulting in her jumping about. Best to keep it all low-key I think. I've also started asking her to sit and wait when I open the crate door, so that there isn't a mad dash out of it. Six minutes tomorrow.

The Catch Up

We've had quite a busy few days so I've been missing blog entries in an effort to recoup some time.

Sunday saw Ellie's second bath and claw-clipping session. (Remember, we're fake-bathing her at the moment using just water, just so she gets used to it.)

Learning from the previous week's bath, I attached her long-line to the shower so that I could use both hands. It made a big difference and things went more smoothly. After coming out, I attempted the blow-dryer on her again. She is still no fan of it, but she was much much better this week than last. It'll take time but we'll get her there.

The biggest difference was in the claw-clipping. She took to it like a duck to water, and I managed to get them all done in one sitting. If it's as easy as that each week, then I'll be happy.

She's now losing that soft and fluffy puppy fur and it's being replaced with the more coarse adult fur. It looks funny at the moment as she's lost it all down her back and around her rear, but it's still soft and fluffy everywhere else. But boy is she growing - both in size and personality; though she's still all legs.

Jan attended the two hour theory part of the puppy training class on Monday evening. She came back extremely impressed with their set-up, methods, and demonstration dogs, which are in fact dogs owned by the instructors. It's made us more determined than ever to make sure Ellie does as much training as possible. We have decided that we'll put her through all the classes they have, ultimately including agility and competitive obedience, and we're also looking at completing each KC 'Good Citizen' course, starting with the Puppy Foundation one.

Tonight sees the start of the actual training classes. We're actually only going to be in a class of two, so Ellie will only have one other puppy to interact with. Because it was under-subscribed, the instructors did offer us a different evening, where the classes are a little fuller, but with Jan's shifts that was impossible. Anyway, they are going to bring a couple of their own good-mannered adult dogs too. There's also the first puppy socialisation walk on Thursday night. Jan's shifts may bugger this up but we're trying desperately to find a way around it, as we think it's really important to get her on them.

Talking of training, it's here where there is the most progress really. We've been busy clicking and treating, and the rewards are really paying off. After advice from the training class, we now also insist that she looks at us before she gets the reward. So she might be asked to sit, but that alone will not bring the reward, she has to look up into our face too. She picked that up yesterday without problem.

Her door manners are really good. I simply don't let her out before me. When we started, if she tried to dash out, I would close the door and give a wait command. She now happily sits at the door (often without prompting even) looks up, lets me step outside, and then waits for a come command. She does that on the front and back doors at the moment, though sometimes forgets herself on the front. But hey, we've only had her for almost two weeks.

Her car travel is excellent and we're exceptionally pleased about that. We really wanted a dog that we could take around with us and we sure have one. We've purchased a harness for her that fits around the rear seat-belt. While she sat quite happily without it, we wanted to be certain of everyone's safety while travelling. It doesn't seem to bother her at all. There's been no sign of the travel sickness that she exhibited on her journeys over to us from the Foster-Carer's home.

Yesterday, I had her attached to my belt while I washed the car. The reasons were that she can often be very nervous facing the big wide world. We open th front door, and she's overly reluctant to step out of the house. (I've had to do a lot of carrying which obviously I don't want to become a habit.) Anyway, there we were washing the car quite happily when I saw an extremely overweight Chocolate Labrador jump into my car boot, and then jump out, nosing little ol' Ellie onto her back until she submitted. To say I was bloody angry would be a gross understatement.

The neighbour came out, anxiously saying "sorry, mate" and trying to get a hold of his way too fat dog. I asked him if he was insane, and he, presuming I was joking, laughed a little. He then said "She just escaped when I opened the door", to which I abruptly told him that is what leashes and gates are for, before calling him a few choice names. I think he got the message that I detest irresponsible dog owners. Especially ones who can set my puppy up to resent or fear dogs through their lack of thinking!

Regardless, Ellie seemed to handle it quite well. She rolled over quickly enough, and I resisted the urge to pick her up. I sort of stepped in between the two so that the Labrador couldn't do much damage. Despite staying supremely calm for Ellie's sake, I was so bloody angry with the idiot, and I think he knew it. Might help if he actually walked his dog once in a while. I've never seen it walked yet. It's little wonder that it bolts out when it sees daylight, or that it is so unhealthily fat!

Anyway, aside from that, she seemed to enjoy exploring the front of the house, and getting soaked from the bubbles and water dropping to the ground from the car.

We took her to Pets at Home for the first time yesterday, actually to purchase the car-harness. Boy does she love getting attention! She actively hunts it out from anyone who looks even remote interested and casts her just the slightest glance. She may well end up being a lot of things, but I don't imagine that shy will be one of them. I carried her around to start with as it was her first time, and I thought she might be a little nervous. Was she hell. Once she realised there were people about, she wanted in on the action and wriggled until I put her down so that she could go and get her quota of strokes.

Right now, as I write this, she's done her usual trick of curling up under my desk and sleeping at my feet. She seems to love it under there. Earlier, she was curled up on my lap as I was typing.

Yesterday, we formulated our plan for getting her used to being alone. We're going to crate her and leave her alone each day, adding two minutes per day. That means that after thirty days, she should be able to stand sixty minutes. We did her first two minutes yesterday and she was perfectly fine. Today, it will be four minutes. I do make an effort to shut her into it each day though, so I think she's used to being in it while I move about the house anyway. I'm sure she's going to be just fine.

We've arranged to meet Dawn, the foster-carer at a show in October, where we can take Ellie along to see her, plus she's going to come over to see Ellie between Oct 1 and 21 too. I bet Ellie remembers her immediately. We're trying to expose her to various public scenarios between now and then so that she's not completely flooded on the day of the show. We're taking her away to a dog-friendly lace this weekend, so that will give her quite some exposure.

All in all, it's going really well. We're pleased with her learning, both in training, and in her learning how to behave around the house. She's lovely and sociable around people, and oh, she let me sleep in this morning! What more can a dog-owner ask for?

I almost forgot to add. Yesterday, I tried brushing her again. She doesn't seem to like being brushed and is far more interested in attacking the brush. However, after reading the two books we purchased from the training theory class, I decided to take their advice and brush her when she was already quite relaxed. Cheeky mare fell asleep on my lap, with me sat on the floor brushing her for half an hour! She has such a cheek...