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.

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