Saturday, November 29, 2008

18 Months Today

One of the great things about maintaining a blog dedicated to your own dog is that it can be used to record significant milestones in the dog's life so that development, temperament and growth can be viewed retrospectively as the dog progresses. Today sees another of these milestones, as Ellie reaches eighteen months of age, having been born on May 29 2007. So how has our timid and skinny short-coated Border Collie changed in the last six months?

Feeding & Weight

Ellie isn't motivated by food at all. She isn't greedy and food offers little to no incentive for her in training or in play. She appreciates the fact that she may receive a treat at the end of a behaviour, but the prospect of the treat does not drive her to try and succeed.

She is fed once a day on Burns mixed with a 'Nature Diet' wet food, once a day. Two months ago she weighed 12.5 kg which is at the lower end of the expected Border Collie bitch weight range of 12 to 19 kg.

Her body is 'filling out' a little more now as, by natural process of growth, less nutrition is going towards skeletal development. Being short-coated, she will always look abnormally thin when compared to a standard long-coated Border Collie but this is to be expected. I suspect it is because of this fact that most people we meet struggle to believe that she is a real Border Collie. If we had £1 for each time a person doubted her breed, we'd be supremely wealthy.


As the litter 'runt', Ellie has a natural tendency towards being overly timid. This personality trait has made, and continues to make, training incredibly challenging at times. You might remember that for the first few months she was scared of my height and so I couldn't stand next to her without her running up the stairs for safety. In this respect, she is, by far, the hardest dog I've ever trained.

Working with Ellie is a paradox in the sense that she learns new tricks and behaviours incredibly quickly (quicker than any other dog I've trained, I should add) but anything she learns can be undone so easily. All it takes is the wrong sound to be made, or the wrong word said in the wrong way at a certain point of the learning process, and weeks of work can be undone in an instant. She requires incredible levels of care and patience to ensure that she isn't spooked.

In terms of behaviours, like many Border Collies, she enjoys learning those behaviours which involve movement and action (such as opening doors), over those which require little movement (such as crossing her paws over).

All of the above said, there is no doubt at all that Ellie has recently become more eager and able to experiment with new activities. We have recently purchased her a large fitness ball and skateboard to help her with balance, and she's taking to both without any fuss or negativity. The skateboard is still a mystery to her, but she seems to be enjoying the fitness ball.

We have recently begun home-boarding other dogs while their owners go away on holidays. This has resulted in many different dogs coming to stay in our home with Ellie. So far, no negative incidents to report, despite having had some quite immature dogs that seem to enjoy bouncing on Ellie (and stealing her bed). With really calm visiting dogs, you barely notice a difference in Ellie as she prefers to be left alone. With the more bouncy and lively dogs, she tries to keep out of their way, but when needed she will issue a correction to the other dog to remind them that she isn't a trampoline. Considering she is only eighteen months of age, she handles these regular 'intrusions' very well indeed.

As has been the case since day one, Ellie is a people dog. If you ever see her running towards a dog and its handler, she will almost always go to the handler, not the dog. She doesn't really care for other dogs, but if there's a chance to get some stroking, she's there in a flash! I am hoping this subsides with age as I dread her jumping up at someone who is going to work in their lovely clean suit, only to find a pair of muddy paw prints decorating their legs. The trouble with this particular behaviour is that nine out of ten people reward it by crouching down and stroking her. Such is life...


As you will know from previous entries, Ellie has already reached the Kennel Club Good Citizen Bronze, Silver and Gold awards through our training classes. Originally, the plan for Ellie was to compete in competitive obedience events. However, given her timid nature, it's unlikely (though not impossible) that she will do well in this particular field. The jury is still out on this issue. It may be that she learns to love it and get enthused over it. Some of the best dogs I have seen taking part in C/O have been about five years of age, so there is still plenty of time for her to blossom. I just want to see that she enjoys it. There is no point if the dog isn't enjoying it.

What she does enjoy is the more energetic and active events such as agility. I also suspect that she would love flyball. Jan takes Ellie to Heelwork-to-Music classes as and when she can and Ellie seems to enjoy this too. Personally I don't like Heelwork-to-Music and so I don't get enthused about that particular pursuit, but each to their own. By three years of age, we will know where her real passion lies and that is plenty young enough to compete. She doesn't have to win anything, but she does have to enjoy what she does. That's mandatory.

I personally couldn't do agility with Ellie. It's too quick for me. It staggers me, the speed at which the handlers are able to think over the twists and turns. I think that knowing one's own natural weaknesses is important, and I'm not one of life's quick thinkers. I can admire the obvious skill and discipline that goes into agility but I don't think that I could successfully compete. I much prefer the less thrusting discipline of competitive obedience. I think agility would be Jan's thing.

Ellie is still attending regular training classes but this is really more for the socialisation and the fun, as opposed to training towards any particular goal. In the meantime, Ellie is my 'trick dog'. I know it's a much-maligned pursuit - teaching your dog tricks - but I love it, Ellie loves it, and I swear I know nothing better to help teach a dog confidence and to help cement a bond between dog and handler. I am disheartened that the pursuit is so maligned in some areas that 'trick training' is often described as 'fun activities' instead. This is because 'trick training' is considered, by some, as too demeaning, trivial, and frivolous. What nonsense! I am on a personal crusade to get people to enjoy, support, and respect the concept of "trick training" for dogs. It needs no disguise or euphemism. It is certainly no more demeaning than dancing with costumes to music.

In terms of what Ellie now does, here are the ones that come to my head. These are in addition to obedience commands such as sit, down, stay, come, and basic tricks such as 'shaking hands', etc.

- "Beg"
She sits up on her two rear legs and bum and assumes a beg position. She will respond to hand-signals or voice command. Though voice-command is only about 80% at present.

- "Socks"
She will grab your sock with her teeth, taking care not to catch your toes, pull it off and present it to you in a sit position, ensuring she is within reach without you having to move. She will do this will either or both socks.

- "Gloves"
She will grab your glove with her teeth, taking care not to catch your fingers, pull it off and present it to you in a sit position, ensuring she is within reach without you having to move. She will do this will either or both gloves.

- "Fridge"
She will grab a strap attached to the fridge door and open it for you.

- "Shut the Door"
She will close any door that you point to. (Used a lot after the "fridge" command.)

- "Remote"
She will retrieve the television remote control and present it to you in a sit position, ensuring that you do not have to stretch forward to reach it.

- "Kiss"
She will lick your lips.

- "Hug"
She will jump into your arms from the ground.

- "Taxi"
When you bend over, she will jump up onto your back, lay down there, and use you like a "taxi" to be walked around.

- "Wash Your Hands"
Stand at the bathroom sink with the front paws hooked over into the bowl.

- "Fetch the Post"
When the post comes through the letterbox she will retrieve each envelope individually and present it you in a sit position, ensuring that you do not have to stretch to reach it.

- "Spin"
She will spin around.

- "In the Wash"
She will place items of clothing into the washing machine. This behaviour is not yet as reliable as it could be.

- "Cross" (Currently Being Trained)
The idea is to get her to cross her front paws over.

- "Limp" (Currently Being Trained)
The idea is to get her to limp with one of her front paws lifted. Because of her lack of confidence and her not liking people stand over her, this is going to be a slow one to teach, but we're at stage two. We'll get there!

Almost all training is done with a clicker and tennis ball. The tennis ball is Ellie's most valuable item.


Here is where I would write and tell you about all the problems that most Internet forums tell us comes from placing a Border Collie, particularly one that comes from two working parents, in a domestic environment.

The truth is, we genuinely don't have any problems. There's no excessive barking, no separation anxiety, no excessive chewing, no obsessive fixation on shadows, no leaping of garden fences, or any of the many issues that are said to result from keeping the Border Collie in the home. I suspect that it's our trade-off for not having a more courageous dog.

It may sound a little idyllic, maybe even conceited, but in terms of behaviour we have no right whatsoever to complain.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Two New Toys

What do you do when you have a smart Border Collie who needs to have her brain taxed, but the weather outside is dismal and you're running out of 'dog toys'?

You buy an exercise ball and a skateboard for the dog to learn, of course. Here is Ellie showing off her new toys. We've only had them two days so we're still in the experimental stages. She will happily lean on the ball, and she's sat on it a few times, and even free-rolled it with her front legs, but she's not quite confident yet. She will get there in her own time.

The skateboard, she jumps on it and pushes it (particularly on the dining room hardwood floor), but I'm not sure she realises that it is her propelling it forward yet. But the good news is that she's scared of neither. Her confidence really is getting boosted at the moment. We'll keep you posted on progress for both items.

Apologies for the poor image quality but they were taken indoors on a really miserable day so the light was very low.

Photos from Ancaster Valley...

Autum Ellie
We took Ellie to a place called Ancaster Valley yesterday. The sole aim of the visit was to do some video work to add to her '18 month video' on November 29, where we'll try to demonstrate what she's accomplished in the last eighteen months.

It's a great place to work a dog as you're lucky if you see more than one other dog there at any one time. It's a massive wild grassed valley and includes a nature reserve. It's only unsuitable for dogs for a few months of the year, when they add sheep to the area in order to help manage the growth of the scrub.

I won't go into detail of what we did while there as that could ruin the surprise of the video on 29 November. All I will say is that Ellie is not really as timid and as wussy as she used to be. Her confidence is rocketing at the moment. She's still a timid dog, and probably always will be, but she just seems a little more prepared to try new things at the moment. You might also be able to see from the photos that she's not quite the skinny dog that she once was either. She's filling out nicely now.

Here are some photos from the day....

Reach for the Sky
Adding Some Bark
The Beggar
Autumn at Ancaster Valley

Monday, November 17, 2008

Puppy Agility Video from Silvia Trkman

I don't personally get excited by canine agility but I know some clever work when I see it. Once again Silvia Trkman is behind it with her new puppy, Bi.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New Video from Silvia Trkman and Bi

I see that my training inspiration, Silvia Trkman, has a new video out, showing the work that she has done with her new puppy, Bi. As you're watching, try to remember that Bi is still only 4.5 months of age. Staggering...

Talking of videos, I'm in the process of putting together a new one ready for November 29, when Ellie will be 18 months of age. She's learned quite a few new things since our last video! Watch this space.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Book Review: 101 Dog Tricks by Kyra Sundance

Heavily influenced by the likes of Silvia Trkman and her wonderful dogs, and Barby and her talented beagle, Xsara, Ellie and I are addicted to our dog tricks. There isn't a day that goes by where we're not learning or practising one trick or another. For example, last week, I taught her to open the fridge door for me "Fridge" and then close it "Shut the Door" when I'm done using it.

But when the cold and wet weather sets in, the choice of tricks becomes more limited and you have to begin to stretch your imagination a little more. Mine needed a little help, and so I decided on yet another book: 101 Dog Tricks by Kyra Sundance.

Finding books that are dedicated to dog training is a relatively easy affair, but finding books dedicated to the often maligned pursuit of performing dog tricks is a little more tricky. Thankfully Kyra Sundance has done such a magnificent job in creating this book, the relative absence of other titles doesn't seem to matter as much. It's one of the best books that I've ever purchased. In fact, I'll go one step further. In terms of practical 'how-to' books, it is THE best that I have ever purchased.

As the title suggests, the book aims to teach 101 dog tricks. It does this through the use of some truly stunning photography by an award winning photographer and some of the clearest instructional text that I've ever had the pleasure of reading. The pages burst with vibrant colour and step-by-step instructions that are laid out so that even the more junior dog trick enthusiasts could follow them. Each trick is carefully broken down into its essential steps, and is accompanied by a "tip" section as well as a "troubleshooting" section.

The book doesn't pretend to be anything other than a book dedicated to teaching tricks to dogs. There are only four pages at the start which give a concise introduction to reward and motivation and then it's straight into the tricks. Lovely!

The tricks are graded according to their level of difficulty. 'Shake Hands', for example, is graded as easy. A 'leg-weave' is graded as intermediate, 'Turn off the Light' is graded as advanced, and a 'Limp' is graded as expert. There are some tricks that may not suit the smaller dog, such as turning off the light, as height is needed. Thankfully, there are very very few tricks that can't be accomplished by dogs of all heights. There are also some tricks that require props such as a hoop, a skipping rope, a Frisbee, a step-ladder, a basketball hoop and a drum, for example. The vast majority of tricks do not require props but I thought it worth mentioning that some do. Though, for the typical dog-trick enthusiast, props make up half of the fun anyway.

What shines through the entire book is the quality. It is plainly evident that a great deal of care and attention (and money I suspect) has been spent in ensuring this book delivers on what it promises. Easy to follow, clear instructions, beautiful to look at, and packed full of new trick ideas for inspiration. Some day all dog instructional books will be as good as this one. Until that day, this is the leader for me, by far. Worth every single penny.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Now I'm a Proper Dog...


Regular readers of Ellie's blog will already know that Ellie is, it's fair to say, a bit of a wuss. Her gentile nature would, I suspect, appeal to many cat-lovers. As a puppy, she was never one to chase toys, chew socks, or hide poop in shoes. As a seventeen month old adolescent, she is almost nothing like people expect a Border Collie to be. There are no mad dashes of energy, no excited barking, no jumping onto the kitchen worktops, and no running away in order to herd anything that moves. No, she never runs away. Or does she?

As is often the case on a Saturday, Jan decided to walk Ellie across the local farm fields. It's a lovely walk that regularly attracts the attentions of dog-walkers, photographers, and twitchers (bird watchers) alike.

In the warmer months, the acres of sprawling farmed fields glow with tides of sun-kissed wheat swaying in the summer breeze. Occasionally the view will be punctuated by the sight of a dog tail frantically wafting over ears of wheat, as the dog searches for a ball, or chases vermin, with its nose to the ground, completely oblivious to anything that is going on outside of its own sphere of desperate searching.

In the colder months, the dogs become much easier to spot as they seem to delight in gathering clumps of wet mud from the ploughed soil beneath them. The more rebellious dogs prefer to roll around in the muddy puddles just because they can. I have no doubt that these same dogs return to their handlers only because they can't wait to get home and redecorate the walls and doors by shaking their mud-filled coats in as many rooms as they can before the effect (and therefore the fun) wears off. 

Reglardless of the season or the temperature, it's a walk that offers a leash-free blessing for any dog and an opportunity for reflective peace and tranquility for any dog-owner. Any season except for firework season that is. Firework season is universally loathed by almost all dog-owners, and many will go to quite extraordinary lengths to protect their dog from having to endure it. I even know of one dog-owner who confesses to getting into the dog's crate with his dog on Guy Fawkes Night in an effort to comfort the dog. Such is the effect that fireworks have on dog-owners, let alone on the dogs!

Jan and Ellie's usual peaceful and tranquil Saturday walk was interrupted by the sound of a firework in the distance. For some of us humans, fireworks are no big deal. Some of us even brave the cold damp and miserable evenings to gather around a bonfire and strain our necks to view the colourful effects and fill our ears with the wide array of sounds that they produce. However, to Ellie a firework is not just a firework. No, to Ellie, a firework represents the booming march of a murderous squad of Border Collie killers that have a particular penchant for smooth-coated border collies, especially if they happen to be named Ellie. This was no time for hanging around. The life of a Border Collie was at stake!

She instantly turned and began to run home, ignoring all of the desperate pleas and whistles from Jan who was trying to encourage Ellie to return to her. For a dog with such big ears, she can have incredible selective deafness when it suits her. Only she didn't quite make it home. You see if you are Ellie, life is a cocktail that consists exclusively of worst things and best things. Fireworks are the worst thing, in fact the sound of them can kill, thus they need to be avoided at all costs. Whereas being stroked by people who you've never seen before is the absolute best thing. It's like a magic potion that can cure all ills, including the sound of fireworks. And so it was that despite Ellie's best intention to navigate the mean streets of Lincolnshire and run home on her own, she couldn't resist interruping her journey by introducing herself to someone who she had yet to be stroked by. As far as Ellie is concerned, all people are in love with her and want to stroke her. Running up to them with a wagging tail is her way of lessening their pain of not knowing her. The woman kindly held onto Ellie and was about to call our telephone number from Ellie's collar, when Jan finally caught up and claimed her. Fireworks eh. Who needs them! Still, that was it for the day. Wasn't it?

A few weeks ago I decreed that Ellie would no longer be allowed in our bedroom whenever she wanted. She is now only allowed in it at night. To ensure this, her crate is in the spare room, and the door to the spare room is left open all day and night. The idea is that eventually she will spend the night in there too. As a result, I won't have to sleep in the small square patch of bed allocated to me by Ellie while she sleeps fully stretched out at the foot of my side of the bed. Thinking about it, I must look like a piece of ravioli. She's been getting the idea and she's now quite happy to retreat to her crate in the spare room during the day and in the evenings. Perfect.

Yesterday evening, I thought I heard her doing something upstairs but with Ellie being Ellie, I just presumed that she was chewing her claws, or rattling around in her crate. A while later, after she had come downstairs to lay on her bed, I noticed she was chewing something and pointed it out to Jan. Upon investigation, it turned out to be a toothrush head from my much-loved electric toothbrush. I wasn't too concerned as I presumed that it must have been one of the spare heads that I must have left around. Then I remembered that my toothbrush was recharging in the spare room. Even then, I couldn't believe that Ellie would have taken it from my toothbrush. It's just not Ellie to do that, she's too wussy. Jan went to investigate. Her silence confirmed to me that it was the head taken off my toothbrush. Not only that, but she had destroyed the fitting on the toothbrush so that no new heads can be affixed to it.

Jan came down and showed me the wrecked remains of my toothbrush. I looked at it and I looked at Ellie. She seemed really quite pleased with her efforts. 'See, I can be a proper dog too', she seemed to say. I couldn't help but laugh and actually feel a little proud of her for finally having the courage to chew something that didn't belong to her. Aside from that, it wasn't her fault. Firstly, I left it charging on the floor, and secondly...

I've been encouraging her to get nearer and nearer to my brush as I clean my teeth so that she will learn to like it. I figured that I could just use one head for her teeth and another for mine. So, in a way, I've encouraged her to fall in love with the minty freshness of toothpaste. As the saying goes: be careful what you wish for, you may just get it...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ellie Meets Mia

Mia II
As you will know from previous posts, we've been providing home-boarding for dogs. This entails looking after other dogs in our home while their usual owners go away. Sometimes it can be for a week or more, and other times it could be for only a single night. Regardless of the duration, as dog-lovers it's sometimes hard to believe that we get to spend time with more dogs, and get paid for it too! Not only that, but as a hobbyist photographer with a particular penchant for photographing dogs, I get a steady stream of subjects on which to practise upon. What is not to like about home-boarding?

The most recent addition to our list of home-boarding dogs was Mia. She was a seven year old GSD x Border Collie. Mia, for me, was the perfect dog. She was at the age where she is content with life, and is happy to sit and watch the world go by her. Though, Im must add, I've never met a dog that moans and groans so much in all of my life. She's a character through and through, down to the "woo woo woo" sound that she makes when she tries to initiate some play. She was also the perfect dog for Ellie. Not only was Mia a calming influence with her naturally laid-back nature, but she just wasn't interested in being with Ellie. That is how Ellie prefers things.
Ellie now seems to be getting used to having different dogs come and go, and in that respect it's good education for her. It also provides us with opportunities to train her in the company of other dogs, and improve her focus.

The next interested party is apparently a Daschund. If all goes well, that dog should be with us around the end of October for a couple of days. By the way, Ellie will be eighteen months old next month, so you can expect a big blog post then! :)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Kennel Club Good Citizen (Gold)

Ellie was entered for the Gold Kennel Club Good Citizen exam today. Sadly, it's a disappointing result. Only kidding, she passed with flying colours, and with no repeats needed. A repeat is needed if the dog doesn't perform any exercise as is required by the examiner.

An outline of the exam requirements is:

Exercise 1 - Road Walk
Exercise 2 - Return to Handler’s Side
Exercise 3 - Walk Free Beside Handler
Exercise 4 - Stay Down in one Place
Exercise 5 - Send the Dog to Bed
Exercise 6 - Stop the Dog
Exercise 7 - Relaxed Isolation
Exercise 8 - Food Manners
Exercise 9 - Examination of the Dog
Exercise 10 - Responsibility and Care

You can read full details of the exam requirements here.

Our thanks should go to all at ICC Training, in particular Christina, who has been our instructor week after week, since we first got Ellie. As you will know from previous entries, it took a while before the examinations for the Good Citizen scheme came about, but once things were sorted out, they've been as regular as clockwork, meaning we've been able to make rapid progress. Even more rapid than we'd planned in fact! We're about eighteen months ahead of my very loose schedule.

This result means that Ellie has gone as far as she can go with the Good Citizen scheme, and we have to start thinking about what we're going to do with her now, and what weekly classes, if any, we are going to enter her into. I am now going to return my focus to trick-training with Ellie. She enjoys learning new things, and I really enjoy teaching them. Jan is also looking to enter into heelwork to music with Ellie. That's not my thing at all, but we've reached a point where Jan can at least mention it without me bursting into fits of choking.

I believe it is vital that any dog attends weekly classes of some sort. It's not really about the learning, as much of that takes place at home anyway. You can learn the techniques at the classes, but you still need to go home and practise them day after day. Far more important, for me, is that the dog is learning to respond to requests and focus on the handler, in the presence of other dogs, and in a controlled environment. This is the sort of experience that cannot easily be engineered in a home environment. Any socialisation Ellie has learned has come about almost purely through attending weekly training classes. We don't really encourage her to play with other dogs as that could so easily result in her finding playing with other dogs more exciting than playing with us. Then the problems could really start. If you are able, attend a weekly training class, would be my advice.

Well done Ellie! We're so very proud of her.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Monty Mark II

You may recall, from a previous post, we had a JRT dog called Monty come to stay with us recently. Well, this weekend saw yet another Monty come to stay with us. Only this Monty was a five month old Pug.

This was the third dog we've had come to stay with us as part of our home-boarding. Being only five months of age, he constantly tried to get Ellie to play with him. We've always taught Ellie that we are the source of fun, and so she's not that interested in playing with other dogs, and she let this be known by ignoring all of his playful barks and bows. That is not to say that he gave up in his quest. He was nothing if not determined! :)

All in all, he was an easy dog to look after, and Ellie didn't seem to mind him. She corrected him only once, and that was with a quick snarl. I think she had grown tired of his badgering and so decided to give him a warning. He got the message, as dogs (particularly pups) generally do, with absolutely no harm done, other than, perhaps, to Monty's young pride.

I think Ellie is getting used to dogs just coming and going through our house now, and I'm sure she was pleased that Monty was the first dog we've had that hasn't stolen her bed from her!

Kennel Club Good Citizen Gold
Sadly, the exam for the gold, which was supposed to take place on Saturday has been postponed until next Saturday. We're disappointed, of course, but hey, it's another week of practise. Talking of which...

Back to Basics
It dawned on me a wee while back that Ellie didn't seem her usual self. She's never the most excitable dog at the best of times, but she seemed to be a little more subdued than usual, and was eating less. When I sat and looked at things objectively, I deduced that I wasn't spending as much time with her as I had been in previous months, either in training or in play.

I've now remedied this, through more regular clicking-training, mainly going back to basics and trying to make improvements in her basic skills. I'm also working at improving her latency, and just making things more fun and interactive. I'd let a lot of bad-habits slip in and so I'm now being far more selective over what I am rewarding. Regardless, she's a much happier dog now and is polishing off her dinners, despite eating far more in treats during the day!

Silvia's New Puppy
I'm not sure how I've missed this until now, but my training heroine, Silvia Trkman, has a new puppy, called Bi. She's documenting what she is doing with him throughout his development. It's fascinating to see how she interacts with her dogs. So natural.

It looks as though Bi has that crazy attitude which I know Silvia looks for in a dog. It's the same attitude that we were hoping for in Ellie, but alas, she is really very reserved, especially for a Border Collie. Still, that doesn't stop her succeeding; she just does it in her own unique way. :)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Chapel St. Leonards

Beach Runners
We took Ellie to Chapel St. Leonards yesterday. For a dog who was scared stiff of water for months of her life, she sure makes up for it now.

It was a good day for her, as it involved quite a mixed-bag of discipline. She had to behave in our friend's caravan there, she had to walk around the town on leash with plenty of other dogs around, and she had to play off-leash on the beach.

Her town walking was excellent. Despite being barked at by Dobermans and GSDs, she carried on regardless, and I really was very proud to walk her past other dogs and people.

However, there was a downside to the day too. Ellie was attacked on the beach by one of our friend's dogs. Luckily, it was muzzled, however, things did get a little nasty, though there was also a surprise too.
Ellie at Chapel St Leonards I
Ellie was fetching and returning the ball to me on the beach. The next thing I saw was her getting attacked by our friend's dog. Ellie retreated to between my legs and immediately dropped to a submissive position, which I was pleased about as it made controlling the situation much easier. At this point, we were quite some distance from everyone else. However, despite Ellie submitting, the other dog repeatedly persisted, and then its partner, another terrier (without a muzzle) joined in, though it quickly gave in.

To my amazement, our usually very placid (almost wussy) Ellie, decided that enough was enough and decided to defend herself. So much so that my attention had to switch from keeping the other dogs off her, to keeping her from biting them. While nobody likes to see dogs fight, I was a little relieved to see that she will stick up for herself when the need really arises.

After a few clashes, I managed to get hold of the other dog and secure him until his owner came and leashed him up. I'm pleased to report that no physical harm was done to either dogs, or to me. I'm not a fan of muzzles at all, but I sure am thankful the other dog was wearing one as I know that real damage would have been done had he not have been wearing it. Ellie and I immediately returned to playing and, as is typical with dogs, she seemed to have forgotten the incident two seconds later. She was perfectly fine with other dogs afterwards.

In other news, I've ordered yet another clicker-training book. This one, Clicker Training for Obedience, is one that I've been after for some time, but each time I've gone to order it through Amazon, it's been out of stock. I managed to look again at a time when they had two in stock! That should be arriving on Tuesday. I've been looking forward to it for ages.

Talking of obedience, here are a couple of videos of a dog and handler that I've been following for some time on YouTube. I love how Kaisa, the dog, is so focused on the handler. You can't help but admire that heelwork.

In other news still, Ellie takes her Kennel Club Good Citizen (Gold) exam on Sunday. Now, if she passes that will mean that she has done them all, and we then have to think about what we're going to do with her after that. The initial plan was to have her reach Gold standard by the time she was three years of age, and then her maturity will have settled in and we'll know just what sort of dog we have. As it is, again, if she passes, she will be only sixteen months of age. Either way, we'll continue formal training in something. We're just not sure what that something will be yet. I'd like to think that she could still come to love formal obedience. It bores her at the moment, but I'm hoping that because she's still so young and so she sees it as too dull and unexciting, when compared to learning tricks and running around.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Ellie Has More Company

Chase Me!
Ellie just can't seem to stop having her friends around to stay at the moment.

Monty, or 'Mr Burns' as I came to call him, was a Jack Russell terrier that we home-boarded from 27 August to 04 September. As you'll be able to see in some of these photos, they actually became quite close.

They most certainly enjoyed chasing each other around the freshly cut wheat fields on our daily walks. Monty may have been smaller and slower, but he could match Ellie's stamina any day of the week.
Ellie, of course, knew that she was faster in the games of chase, and so it was fun to watch her deliberately slow down as really she wanted to be caught, or at least keep Monty motivated enough to continue the game. Monty seemed perfectly happy to oblige.

Ellie has now found the joy of splashing in the local stream each day, regardless of weather. Of course, it's not enough that she plays in it. Oh no, I have to as well. I have to jump in with her and scoop the sometimes freezing cold water with my hand and throw it at her, so that she can catch the droplets. I'm now fully accustomed to walking home with my feet squelching in my walking boots. :)

And then, if Ellie played this game, Monty wanted in too. Only he was too small to jump in and out of the stream by himself, so I had to lift him in and out, which meant me getting soaked on the top half too. Lovely! Luckily for me, the weather was warm and sunny for most of the week.

In other news, Ellie goes for her Gold Good Citizen exam on September 20th. The jury is still out on whether she's really at Gold level or not, but she's certainly ready to try. If she doesn't pass, we'll at least know where the weaknesses are. We now have her Bronze certificate signed and delivered and are waiting for the Silver to arrive shortly.
Once she's achieved Gold (I'm optimistic as always you see) then we can return to focusing on training some new tricks! Especially as the weather is now getting worse and the daylight hours becoming fewer, as we step into Autumn.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ellie has Company...

Ellie has company for a week. Orla is a Nova-Scotian Duck Tolling Retriever that we are home-boarding for a week, while her owners are on holiday.

She's a great dog to have around. Like Ellie, she is trained to KCGC Silver standard (they both attend the same training school), and thus she really presents no problems either around the house, or out on our walks.

While they may not yet be best of friends, there's no falling out between them. I think they are both happy to just give each other some space and see what develops. :) They are both of a similar age and quite similar in their temperaments and attitudes.

Isn't that vibrant red coat gorgeous though?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

And the verdict is......

Drip Dry
If you have read our previous blog entry, you will already know that Ellie was to be tested for her Kennel Club Good Citizen Silver exam today.

Sadly, it's not the best of news. She passed, which means we now have to work even harder, in readiness for the gold. :) Got you going there for a second, didn't I? :)

She sailed through the exam, with no repeats required for any of the required tests. That's what I call a success. Go Ellie!

In theory, if my memory serves me well, we can get her tested for Gold in September. Whether she'll be ready by then or not is another matter though. We shall see...

Ellie Does Farndon

On the Bench I
We tool Ellie to Farndon yesterday. Farndon is a small village on the Fosse Way or A46 Roman road, 2.5 miles (4 km) south-west of Newark-on-Trent, on the banks of the River Trent. The name Farndon means "Fern Hill". It is thought to be the site of the Roman fort Ad Pontem or "the place by the bridges.

What was of interest to us, of course, was that there is a harbour and the river Trent there. And you know what that means, don't you? Yes, more photo opportunities! :)

She's a brilliant dog to take out and about. We never have to give a second thought to her running off, or how she might react to other dogs. She's just a constant and never gives us cause for concern.

Swans at Farndon
We met other dogs and, as usual, she showed little to no interest in them. She was even very good by the swans, which, to the best of my knowledge, she's never really encountered before. They were hissing at her, but she remained in a stay position, off leash, despite their protests towards her, while I took this close-up. What more could we really ask for?

Which leads me to my next big news of the day...

Ellie will be taking her Kennel Club Good Citizen (Silver) exams at 14:00 today. Yes, after only a few weeks of passing her bronze, we're going for Silver. We're optimistic that she'll pass, but dogs are dogs, and as we all know, anything can happen on the day.

I, for one, shall be delighted if she passes as, in my 'schedule', I'd pencilled passing Silver by the time she reaches twenty-four months (two years). She is now fifteen months, so she will be ahead of what I'd aimed for. I will, of course, post the results on the blog once I learn of them.

And finally, some pictures of Madam taken recently....

BW Close-up
By the Flowers
Ellie at Bourne Woods
Ellie at Bourne Woods II
Enjoy and wish us luck!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

At Dog Borstal with Rob Alleyne

We're lucky to call Rob Alleyne, from the BBC3 series, Dog Borstal, a personal friend. I also happen to be the one who designed and manages his website. As a result of this, we were invited along to see the filming of Dog Borstal for a day. Of course, we were able to take Ellie along too.

The picture to the left is the picture that Rob would probably pay me not to publish. It's fair to say that he's not the world's biggest Border Collie fan and so it took quite some coaxing to get him to be seen with one. But look at his happy face!

For those overseas readers, who probably aren't aware of Dog Borstal, it's a television series where dogs and dog-owners go to get some "tough training". These dogs are often those that have been allowed to run riot for far too long, and their owners are at their wits-end as a result. It's as much about training the owners as it is about training the dogs. Critics of the series argue (sometimes quite loudly and venomously) that the trainers are unfair to the dogs, or use out-dated methods. I don't personally agree with these charges, but each to their own. Rob is often described as the more placid and approachable of the three trainers.

While Rob and I often speak on the phone (actually we just do silly impressions to each other, with "Little Britain" characters being a firm favourite) it's very rare that we get to meet, because of the distance involved. Killing two birds with one stone seemed like a great idea.

It was a two and a half hour drive out for us, and boy is that camp well hidden. Though, with the help of SatNav, we managed to find it, and only needed to call Rob once we got on the site itself. The site is massive. Just so incredibly vast.

As we arrived, they were getting ready to shoot the exam for Rob's dog. We watched as much as we could, but were really nervous about having an enraged Director shouting "Cut, there's two half-wits in shot!".

What was immediately obvious is the immense number of people and the amount of coordination and organisation that goes into making what we see as a really simple sequence. It's incredible.

After watching the filming, we received the full tour of the complex, including the infamous kennels. Talking of which, I must add that the kennel blocks are much larger than they appear on television. I can also say that the dogs want for nothing in terms of their well-being. There are washing machines and dryers for the bedding, fridges, clean food bowls, grooming blocks, and the list goes on. Don't for a second, believe that these dogs are being kept in harsh conditions. It's just not the case.

After a spot of lunch at the expense of the BBC, we continued our tour, including the training room, and the offices of the trainers. Throughout this time, Ellie was in and out of the car. To her credit, despite being in the car for sometimes quite lenghty periods, she never grumbled once. More importantly, she managed to get all the way there without vomiting!

In the afternoon we went to the 'living quarters' of the trainers. We met Lynne Davis (and one of her dogs) briefly, as she was watching the tennis in the communal living area, with Mic Martin's wife. Oh yes, it seems like a really tough way to make a living doesn't it? :)

Shortly after, we got to let Ellie off leash and just walk her around the grounds with Rob. It's a staggering place to walk a dog. It seems almost limitless and you know that your dog is as safe as it's ever going to be. Again, to Ellie's credit, she wasn't in the least bit bothered by the very many rabbits around the place and behaved like the star that she is.

Did we meet Mic, you might be wondering? The answer is 'briefly, sort of'. As we were readying to leave, we were stood at the car with Rob. Mic pulled up in his car, said "Hi", and then went into the living quarters. He seemed either busy, or miserable, or busy being miserable. :)

Overall, it was a great day. It was great to catch up with Rob of course, but it was also great to see just how different things are to what we see on the final edited version.

Finally, as is often the case when I write about Dog Borstal, people will message me asking if I can get them and their dog on the series, or they ask me when the next series is starting. The answers are, no, I can't get you on to the Dog Borstal series, and while I do sometimes get advance notice of when the next series might be starting, I usually post that here in the blog as soon as I know. So, if I haven't posted the start date, it means that I don't know about it yet. Similarly, when the BBC are looking for new dogs for their next series, I will usually post details here too so that people have plenty of time to submit their dog for consideration by the BBC.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Kennel Club Good Citizen Bronze - Passed

Pink Tongue
We bring good news. Following the recent posts, where it was seeming impossible to get our Kennel Club Good Citizen Bronze exam date, we have since received our date, and indeed Ellie passed the exam last night.

She was a model dog throughout and carried out each exercise flawlessly. There were ten exercises - nine of which were all down to Ellie. The tenth one was about me answering some questions about dog ownership and responsibility.

The exercises were as follows.

1. Cleanliness and Identification
I had to ensure that I had poo-bags with me and the examiner came over and inspected Ellie to make sure that she had a collar and Identification tag complying with the law.

2.Collar and Lead
Ellie had to remain still and calm whilst I demonstrated that I could remove her collar without her running off.

3. Walk on Lead
Ellie had to demonstrate that she could walk on lead without pulling or becoming distracted.

4. Control at Door/Gate
Ellie had to demonstrate leaving and entering through a door calmly and on command.

5. Controlled Walk Amongst People And Dogs
Ellie had to demonstrate that she could walk calmly on lead amongst other people and dogs.

6. Stay on Lead for One Minute
Ellie had to stay for one minute whilst I was at least five paces away from her. This exercise is more a test of the dog remaining in the position that she has been left in for the whole minute.

7. Grooming
Ellie had to be groomed by me without making any fuss.

8. Examination of the Dog
Ellie had to demonstrate her ability to allow inspection of her body, mouth, teeth, throat, eyes, ears, stomach, tail and paws.

9. Return to Handler
Ellie had to be let off lead and return to me when I called her.

10. Responsibility and Care
I was asked various questions relating to responsibility and care of dogs.

It's been an exceptional ride with Ellie at all the training classes and the work has paid off. I'm so proud of her! Now we can focus on the silver. I just hope that we don't have to wait another year for the silver exam! :)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

One Year

Wow, we've owned Ellie for nine-months now. I know I keep saying it but the time has really flown by so fast. It doesn't seem that long since I was having to fetch her from up the stairs every five minutes.

So what is she like at twelve months of age? Is she the zany and crazed Border Collie that everyone warned us about at the start? Not at all. The truth is that she's a very sedate dog. In terms of training, she can be a little too sedate at times, and certainly nothing like the majority of Border Collies that you routinely encounter. It would help if she had a little more "zing" in her personality as working with a low motivation dog can be quite challenging at times. Still, dogs rarely come in perfect packages do they?

Being one year in, would we have done anything differently to what he did in this first year? I don't think so. The key thing that we decided on from the start was to discourage her from playing freely with other dogs.
Our thinking, or rather I should say, my thinking, was that for the first eighteen months I wanted Ellie to learn that we and we alone are the source of fun and excitement. I didn't want her to learn that other dogs can be more exciting, run faster, and communicate with her in her own language. We've all seen the view of dog-owners running after their dog when it has seen its best "friend" which it runs around with in the park. No, in this relationship, there is room for only one best friend.

Of course, we wanted her to meet other dogs and that is chiefly why Ellie has attended training week in and week out - to learn to be in the same area as other dogs, but in a controlled environment. Despite some people suggesting that we might be teaching our dog to be anti-social, I think that our gamble has paid off, and I would certainly repeat it in the future.

We now have a dog that can walk past other dogs, almost completely ignoring them. She will continue to play with me in the park, even with other dogs running up to her and around her. I can even call her into my left side when other dogs are thrashing towards her, barking and growling. She will get 'growly' only if other dogs don't behave with good manners, and begin to jump over her. On or off-leash, she's a pleasure to have around other dogs. We have exactly what I had hoped we would have in that sense. That is not to say that she is faultless; she does slip up from time to time, but it's extremely rare indeed and becoming increasingly rare as she continues to practise.

To this day, she hasn't chewed a single item that doesn't belong to her, and I really can't see her ever doing so. It's just not in her nature. Besides, she's never out of vision long enough to get away with it. :)

Her first season was interesting. She became exceptionally clingy with me, sometimes wrapping herself around my neck when on the sofa. Since she's come out of season, however, she's become a little less clingy than she was before she went into it.

Before the season, she would curl up on the sofa with me each evening, and always lay on the bed with us to sleep at night. Since her season, she tends now to lay either on her own bed, or on the spare sofa. When we go to bed, she now climbs under the bed and seems to join us in the very early hours. This change, however, might just be because the temperature has warmed up considerably and she's too hot to be that close to us. I don't really mind either way.

I Spy...
Ideally, by this age, I should liked to have been able to report that Ellie had passed her KCGC Bronze and perhaps even Silver exams. The reality is that we just can't get an exam date from our training class. I personally feel very frustrated that our schedule for her is having to be revised, and her training has been wasted (in so far as it's not been tested in a formal sense), entirely for reasons that seem completely out of my control. Unfortunately, the training class we attend is the only one in the area and so our hands are tied.

I still need to investigate whether we can get her formally tested privately by someone who is qualified and recognised to judge such things. It's the only way I can see of getting things moving in the right direction. I'm just not sure it's actually possible to do that. I can but find out...
The sunnier days appear to be bringing out the chestnut colour in Ellie's fur, particularly around the face. We've changed her feeding now to just once a day. She now gets her 250g of Burns Active in the evening, as opposed to being fed once in the morning and once in the evening. This seems to have remedied her leaving much of her food. My guess is that her belly wasn't large enough to warrant two meals per day, and felt full enough on just the one.

Finally, Ellie seems to be able to walk past people without feeling she has to get a stroke from them. We didn't really do anything to adjust this behaviour. We just left it for age and maturity to sort out for itself. That's not to say that she doesn't still love human interaction - she thrives on it, but it is nice not to have to apologise to everyone that we walk past. :)

We will have our first 'home-boarding' dog come to stay with us on 19 June. We've met him and he's a lovely seven-month old Rottie x GSD, or so it is believed. I think we're looking after him for about ten days or so while the owners go on holiday. He is a complete opposite personality to Ellie so that will be fun. They have met and they were fine together, though Ellie did seem to tire of his over-active jumping about. :)

We'll now be looking to have her spayed around October time. I bet she's so looking forward to that. Training-wise, I want to work on her latency quite a bit in the coming weeks. She will do most behaviours that we have trained her for, but she will do some of them very slowly indeed! I'm looking to test (and video) her Sue Ailsby Level 2 test this week. As you will remember from before, the sticking point was her "stand", but I think we've remedied that now. We'll soon find out.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Happy Birthday, Ellie!

Pretty in Pink
Ladies and gentlemen, fill your lungs with air, as it's time to help blow out the candles for Ellie's first Birthday.

Yes, Ellie is exactly a year old today. Where did that time go? Naturally, we couldn't let the occasion go unmarked, even though she is still a little under the weather from being in the final stages of her first season. We purchased her a new pink collar to match her diva personality, a new toy, and some treats. And we replaced the frisbee that we lost in the sea a few weeks back.

Now, doesn't she look a bobby-dazzler? :)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ellie Sketched

It's Ellie, but not as you know her. I was contacted a short while ago, from someone asking for permission to use one of my photos of Ellie for a sketch. Of course, I agreed, and this is the artist's end result.

Please do view the original copy from the artist's own page.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

In Season - Week Two

We're now in the second week of Ellie's first season. She's become extremely clingy while in season. Before her season, she would have been happy to sit on one end of the sofa while I had the other, she now insists on sitting on me, next to me, or, like a cat - on the cushion behind my back, curling around my neck. If I move, she has to follow, and she's really not that interested in going out. Personally, I can't wait to have her back to normal again.

So, once again, in the absence of any real news, here's a picture of the week to keep you going...

Crystal Eyes

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ellie in Season

There's very little to tell you about at the moment, as Ellie has started her first 'season'. She's grumpy, and she's lethargic, and so, for obvious reasons we're not working with her much, if at all. I also took her for her last walk today. Today was about as far as I dare push it until her season is over. She's become especially grumpy towards all other dogs she meets on the walk, and I don't want to risk that becoming a habit.

So, instead, I'll give you a picture of the week....

East & West


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Dinner for One...

Oh Waiter
Now that I have my new camera, I'm like a kiddie in a sweet-shop, much to the annoyance, I'm sure, of Ellie.

I'm sure it's because she's so well practised by now, but she is so malleable and really is extremely patient with me when I am taking photographs of her. Today, I thought I'd continue with my experimenting in black and white, and arrange a dinner-date for Ellie.
In other news, I think Ellie has finally come into season! I could be wrong, but I noticed a couple of red spots on the chair covers when I lifted her from it after the photo session. However, they might have been there before and they might be specks of paint or something else, so I'm not positive yet. It might also explain why she's been off her food a little for the past couple of days.
I Ordered a '73
* Late Edit: It's confirmed - Ellie is now a woman! She's in season at last!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Anderby Creek

A walk on the beach...
We took Ellie for another first experience today - the beach! We found an area of beach, about an hour and a half drive away, which allows dogs off leash, and is relatively deserted. It's called Anderby Creek.

She was sick in the car on the way there, but that was our fault for feeding her so close to leaving. Because we left so early we wanted to make sure she ate something before we went, to give her some energy for running around. On reflection, that was a very bad idea, and it would have been much better to wait until she returned before feeding her.

However, that didn't stop her from having fun once we got to the beach - she absolutely loved it. She was running, and running, and running...
Ouch! This sand is hot!
It also gave us a good opportunity to use the new camera again. However, many of the photos that we took weren't worth keeping, and even those that we did keep needed a lot of digital editing. The light on the beach was just very bland and hazy. I had to do a bit of artistic work on them and convert them to a platinum effect to mask the poor colouring. Still, the important thing was that Ellie enjoyed herself.

There was one victim however - our favourite frisbee. We lost it to the tides.
Service please...
After we'd finished playing on the beach, we went to a small cafe that is at the beach entrance. Luckily, they allow dogs in the gardens, as long as they are kept on leash. Again, this is a first for Ellie. I'm pleased to report that she was good as gold. She just laid down under our table and was no trouble whatsoever.
Who's blocking my sun?
When we were on the beach, we were only approached one other dog. As always, Ellie just ignored it, preferring to carry on playing with her ball, and jumping about. And boy can she jump!

Despite getting absolutely soaked through, I really enjoyed myself. It's great seeing Ellie experience new things and taking them in her stride. I know she enjoyed herself!

As always, you can view the full photo set in the gallery.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Eleven Months

Ellie Close Up
Ellie was eleven months of age yesterday. There is still no sign of her first season, though we're not overly concerned.

In terms of training, things are going well. Her levels of concentration are certainly increasing, meaning that we are able to expect more and more from her in training. For example, I was taking photographs of birds yesterday, and had her laying beside me. She stayed there with a "leave" command, even though I could see that she really wanted to chase them.

We still don't have a date for her Good Citizen Bronze exam, and I'm extremely disappointed about that. It's looking more and more like she is going to be over a year old before she even gets her first test. It's crazy. If she fails then Lord knows how much longer it will take us to get a second exam. I feel that so much time is being wasted. By now, we should be working towards the silver exam.
Ellie in the Park
As the warmer months are now setting upon us, meaning that we're able to be more active with Ellie, we've started adding small portions of beef dripping to her daily food rations. This will hopefully help prevent her losing weight during the sunnier months, and provide a little extra energy for the increased play.

She's now pretty much as we'd like her to be around other dogs -- ignoring them, preferring to focus on us instead. As we take her to more places over the coming months, I expect her to get better and better around other dogs and people. Thankfully, she does seem to be getting better at not jumping up at everyone she sees, trying to get some attention from them.
Looking Up
As you might be able to see from the photo to the left, Ellie is now looking a little less "stringy" and a bit more muscular. I put this down to a combination of age and exercise. Whatever the reason, it's good to see!

There are still no bad behaviours to report. All furniture is in tact, nobody has been bitten, no running off, no nothing. How lucky are we? I suppose if she has a fault, it's that she doesn't much care for sharing our affections. She wants us all to herself. If we stroke another dog outside, she will make it very clear that she's not happy.

In other news, we have a brand new camera and so we're able to take pictures of a much better quality now, and include some fast-action shots. (Our other camera was really a very basic point and click affair with no zoom capability.)

Ellie's car sickness seems to have improved. The true test will be when we take her to Jan's Mum's, as that is a pretty long trip, and she's been sick each and every time we've taken her to date.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Waterfall

With the sun shining for a second day, we decided to take Ellie to a small village called Anwick, about 15 miles away from us. There's a gorgeous river with a really powerful waterfall, that we knew she would love. Aside from the waterfall, you can follow the river for miles, and it's a beautifully wooded area.

Unusually too, the water in the river was absolutely crystal clear. We saw a few other people with their dogs, but Ellie is really getting very good at ignoring other dogs. She still, of course, loves meeting people with a wagging tail, hoping they will stroke her.
At the entrance where we joined the river, there is an old lock. This photo shows Ellie posing by the old lock handle that would have been used to open and close the lock gates. I must say that Ellie is getting exceptionally patient with me, happily sitting for ages sometimes, while I move around to get the right shot of her.

A rare shot of Ellie and I. We both decided that we would climb upon an old fallen tree trunk, while Jan snapped away. Usually, I am the one behind the camera, so this is a rare shot.

We've also got a lot of video taken over the past two days, but I need to edit it first.

Here's a shot of Ellie playing the part of a water-baby. She's really getting a passion for water now, which I'm exceptionally pleased about. You can also see in the photo just how clear the water was. It was lovely.

As always, check out the gallery for more images. There are some really good ones from today's trip.