Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ellie Puts Weight On - At Last

We took Ellie to the vet this morning to get her weighed and get some worming tablets. The last time we weighed her, three months ago, she had lost some weight, and was 10.25kg (22.5 pounds).

After that, we elected to change her food to the higher protein Burns Active.

In this morning's weigh-in, she totalled a far more respectable 12.70kg (28 pounds). That still puts her at the lower end of the weight range for a Border Collie bitch (12 to 19 kg) but there's plenty of time yet.

Funnily enough, on Tuesday afternoon, I thought her back legs looked less spindly than they have been, and then, Christina, our training instructor, said the same thing that same evening. I also think that her front legs are starting to gain a little thickness too. Finally!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

KCGC Bronze Training - Week Three

Tuesday night's training session was set in the form of a competition.

1. Stay
Ellie performed a stay for approximately 5 minutes whilst Jan was wandering around the barn.

Score: 10/10

2. Send to Bed
Ellie was sent to bed a number of times. Every time she went straight to the blanket that was posing as the bed and laid down without prompt.

Score: 10/10

3. Tricks
Ellie was required to perform three different tricks. We chose jumping over both legs in turn. A number of spins, and lastly offered a paw and held it steady.

Score: 10/10

All was going well....

Then it was time for agility. Each dog had two rounds each. Christina made both courses different and they were quite hard with a lot of turns involved. Alas, Ellie was let down on this one. She is so quick and Jan's coordination, in her own words, sucks.

Ellie, after the first couple of jumps went racing around the barn jumping over anything that was in front of her. Christina pointed out that if you're not one step ahead of a collie, they'll make up their own course - and that she did!

She tried really hard, bless her and she did really well all in all.

Score: 6/10 for the first round and 8/10 for the second round!

After the points were counted up we actually came in last place out of 4, but that was more down to Jan's clumsiness than Ellie's lack of talent, and the fact that neither Jan nor Ellie have really done agility in earnest before. Still, she was rewarded with a bag of treats, for her efforts.

In future, Jan will be writing up her own class notes, so they won't seem so disjointed!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New Video from Silvia Trkman

It should be no secret to regular readers that I believe the dog-training sun rises and sets wherever Silvia Trkman happens to be working at that moment in time. She's a legend as far as I'm concerned, and someone who constantly inspires me to do bigger and better things with Ellie.

Thus, I'm always pleased to see another video from her and her dogs. Here is her latest video, showing her dogs practising the Agility course.

Those dogs of hers move so fast that they should carry a Government health warning!

Eight Months

It's official - Ellie is eight months old today. In one respect, it seems like she's been with us for an age, and yet, in another respect, the time seems to have flown by.

Since the last monthly update, and as Ellie has still not chewed a single thing that doesn't belong to her, we have been leaving the bedroom door open through the night, so that Ellie can have the run of the house if she wants to. The fact is that she just doesn't want to leave the comfort of our bed anyway. Although, saying that, last night, she was determined that she would sleep under the bed. Suffice is to say that she hasn't abused the trust we've placed her in, yet. I just don't believe that she ever will, but we'll see.

She is now eating two meals a day, as opposed to earning her dinners as she had been previously. The reasons are simple enough: for starters, as we demand more and more complex behaviours from her, kibble becomes less and less of a valuable currency in return for those demands, secondly, because she's a naturally very lean dog, it won't harm her at all to earn extra food in addition to her regular meals, and thirdly, she will do many behaviours now for play, as opposed to food.

We've been experimenting with treats a little lately. Liver is cheap, but she's not prepared to work that hard for it. Chicken is a happy-medium. She's eager enough, but it's obviously not at cheap as liver. Now, lamb..... She'll work all day for a bit of lamb, though that is obviously too expensive to use as a regular treat meat.

In terms of training, my main focus at the moment is building her focus and enthusiasm during training sessions. I think she's naturally improving in this area anyway, through daily training sessions, but I'm also doing more to keep her attention as we train too. As yesterday's video shows, she's more than happy to work and focus, as long as you keep it interesting and keep it varied.

The three main new behaviours that she has learned this month are:

Retrieve and present the remote control on command.
Figure-eight around legs.
Jump over raised legs.

We've also just started to introduce her to walking on her back two legs, now that she seems to be more aware of her rear-end, and has improved balance. She can currently hold the position for about five seconds, though her legs obviously tire quite quickly, so she can't do it many times at the moment.

She's still attending formal training classes, pursuing the KCGC Gold award. (See previous posts for reasons as to why she's in the "Gold" class at such an early age, and without passing Bronze or Silver.)

There are still absolutely no problems to report. She doesn't chew, she doesn't pee where she shouldn't, she doesn't run off, she doesn't nuisance bark, she's always ready to work and play, doesn't run around the house like an idiot, and doesn't bite us. People keep telling us that she'll turn and our time will come. I keep looking at them doubtfully.

She is still an extremely loving dog who thrives on being close to us, and yes, she's still a bit of a wuss, though, I must say that I think even that is improving, albeit ever so slightly. I think it fair to say that she's never going to be the most courageous dog around.

I want to test her for Sue Ailsby's Level Three routine in a couple of weeks, to see where we need to focus. I think she will fail on the stand, and I'm really struggling to teach this reliably. I don't find the Sue Ailsby method of teaching it very easy to follow. Most other methods I see aren't concerned about whether the dog walks forward slightly or not as they stand. For the Sue Ailsby levels, it is important that they don't walk forward. It's not a walk, it's a stand. Maybe I need to make more of a concerted effort in this area. I'm 99% sure that once we crack the stand, she will be able to pass level three without any problem.

Both Jan and I are regularly stopped by observers who just want to tell us how impressed they are with Ellie, and with how we work her each and every day, rain or shine. I can't speak for Jan of course, but I think it's a nice thing to have happen from time to time. Though, it's equally important to remember that these people are not competitive judges, and so, just because they are impressed, it should not mean that we can get lazy.

Overall, a really good month, and one where Ellie seems to be a little more comfortable with herself, has increased energy, and a little more balance and rear-end awareness.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Ellie at Eight Months - Training Session

Ellie is exactly eight months old tomorrow. I thought it a fitting time to record a milestone video of her. Here she is during a training/play session, pretty much just going over behaviours she's learned over the past five months.

You'll notice that she's now going through the legs in a figure-eight fashion, as well as jumping over the legs (well, one of them at least).

Friday, January 25, 2008

Want to get on to the next series of Dog Borstal?

Rob Alleyne dropped me an e-mail this morning to advise that the BBC are currently looking for some more of Britain's troubled pooches to appear on the next series of the popular BBC3 series: Dog Borstal.

Those wishing to put their crazy canines forward for consideration, should contact:

Telephone: 020 8752 4875

Good luck on getting into the next series. Bad luck if you manage to get in, but end up with Mic Martin. :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Training Newsletter Item

Christina, our class trainer, recently asked if I would be interested in writing a small item for their newsletter. I submitted it, and it's been accepted. Here is a copy for the blog readers:


An account of how two dog owners, Jan and Maz, have turned their "little runt" into an up-and-coming Internet celebrity.


There is an old adage which tells us that what comes from our efforts is equal to what we put in to them. While some may question the merits and the validity of this wisdom, we, the owners of Ellie, a seven month old short-haired Border Collie, have no reason to.

We adopted Ellie, a twelve week old puppy, from a rescue centre, in May 2007. All that we really knew about her was that she was the "runt of the litter", and that she came from an accidental mating of two farm-working Border Collies. She was naturally skinny, had very long legs and "wonky ears", and her dew claw was still dangling from one of her rear legs. It is fair to say that she perhaps wouldn't have been the first choice of dog for many a dog owner looking for the ideal pet. However, when we met Ellie for the first time, we fell in love with her, warts and all.

One of the very first things we did for Ellie, was enrol her in the ICC Dog Training Puppy Classes.

During the puppy training, Anna, the trainer in the class, identified that Ellie may benefit from a little more socialisation with other dogs, and offered to walk with us, using her own dog, Max, as a good example for Ellie to learn from. It was at this point that we really knew that we had found the right training class for Ellie. After all, how many people these days are willing to give up their personal time, at no cost, to help others?

During the puppy classes, held by Anna, we were introduced to basic obedience exercises, such as teaching the dog to sit, down, and come. We already knew the merits of clicker training, and had already purchased a clicker each, as well as several books. We also got to enjoy the benefit of the puppy socialisation walk.

After successfully completing the puppy class, we immediately signed Ellie up for the Good Citizen Bronze training class, held by Christina.

By this time, the daylight hours were becoming fewer, the cold evenings were settling in, and many a class was held under the sound of rain hitting the rooftop. But still, nothing would prevent us from attending. We felt that it's part of the deal we each make with our dogs. If we expect a well-balanced adult dog, then we have a moral obligation to give it the best start. We have little right to complain about poor adult behaviour, if we fritter away the opportunities to teach good behaviour as a puppy.

It was during the KC Bronze training that we started to realise that Ellie really was becoming a very capable dog, especially given her very young age. Though our training has not been without problems - far from it. Our main issue has been Ellie's timid nature. For several weeks, she was scared of Maz's height, which meant that she wouldn't do any work that involved standing next to him and looking up at him, such as a finish, or moving in to his left leg. Aside from the stress it was clearly putting Ellie under, it was also making Maz feel bad. For quite some time, Maz had to train with her on the floor, and wait for Ellie's confidence to build up. For the most part, it has worked and he is able to train standing, without Ellie trying to hide, though she can still look quite worried at times. We just have to know when to stop and let her take a break. We have learned that training a timid dog really does offer some very unique obstacles.

However, despite her timid nature, there are two aspects of training where she seems to blossom: behaviours that require high-energy, such as jumping into Maz's arms and up on his back, and behaviours that require chaining several behaviours together, or were more complex in nature. Certainly, during high-energy behaviours, she appears to completely forget that she is a timid dog. Our suspicion is that her personality is more naturally suited towards agility, and not competitive obedience. We decided to test to see if our observations were correct.

We had already taught Ellie to go into her crate on command. However, Maz decided that he would test to see if Ellie would take it a step further and open the crate door for herself and step inside, and if so, how quickly she could learn it. He attached an old leash to the door, grabbed a clicker and some treats, and began to work with her. It took under fifteen minutes for Ellie to fully grasp what was needed, and she became proficient enough to demonstrate her new skill to Jan that evening, without any further practise that day. To this day, Ellie remembers this behaviour and carries it out when given the "In your tin" command, though she has obviously now practised it more frequently.

Since that time, Ellie has learned several new on-command behaviours in addition to what she has learned at the ICC Dog Training classes, including putting laundry items into the washing machine, jumping up and into Maz's arms, and onto his back, retrieving and presenting the television remote control, and shutting the living room door. She is currently learning to walk backwards, and there are plans to get her to start skateboarding, just as soon as we buy her a new skateboard.

We have become so dedicated to training Ellie that we purchased ourselves a small camcorder at Christmas. There were several people who were hearing about what Ellie was doing, through the blog that we have maintained since we first got her, but they weren't able to see it. Now we've rectified that, and she's starting to get a small following around the web. It's inspiring when we receive positive feedback from others. Sometimes it really is difficult to remember that Ellie is only seven months of age, and she's only had four months of training. Much of the trick training comes from the inspiration given to us by Silvia Trkman, the two times world agility champion, and nine-times national agilty champion. Some of the tricks that her dogs perform are, quite simply, just staggering.

Do we think that Ellie would be as proficient as she is today without the great people at ICC? We strongly suspect not. There is real and quantifiable merit in attending weekly training classes. We have goals and objectives to work towards, and we have someone like Christina to point out the tiny flaws in our methods, and offering solutions as to how to resolve them. And as we all know, Christina sees everything! What we do know is that we must be getting something right, as Jan has been asked, and has subsequently accepted, to become a volunteer at the classes. Something that she is very much looking forward to.

KCGC Bronze Training - Week Two

First night at the Good Citizen Gold class. As stated before, it's not that Ellie is up to that standard yet, but Christina recommended that the mix of dogs would be better for Ellie's timid nature. She was correct, and Ellie was indeed much better this evening.

As per usual, the classes started with some sit and stay work. Yes, Ellie can do this just fine, but the Gold standard is to stay for 3 minutes with 30 seconds of that, with the owner out of sight. Jan wandered off and went into the shop out of sight for about ten seconds and was surprised to find Ellie hadn't moved. I was surprised that she was surprised, as I frequently do this with Ellie in the local field. I put her into a position (usually a down) and then I hide behind a tree, or a small shed-type building that is used by the local archery club. I've never timed her of course, but I'm sure she could do three minutes.

Ellie then performed three rounds of the agility course. She did really well and it was Jan who let her down a bit by getting flustered with her turns! Ellie loves agility; it's the kind of energy burst that really fires her up (typical Border Collie).

It was then time for some raised paw work. Jan had to ask for Ellie's paw and not let her touch her, meaning that she just her to raise her paw and hold it there. Christina demonstrated this, and Ellie seemed to grasp it within a few minutes. (And again once back home.) Christina then advised to practise and pause for longer periods as she gets used to it. This is just a trick which can be adapted to go with....erm...heel work to music! (Note to self: I really must get to writing why I hate heelwork to music as much as I do.)

Then came some heel work off lead where Christina gave us commands for everyone to get the dogs to sit and wait whilst owners walked away and then back to the dog. We then had to do heel - sit - owner walk away - walk back to dog and around them - stop - and then get the dog to walk around the owner. All good precision type obedience stuff!

All in all it was a really good session and we're glad that Christina suggested we move groups.

Ellie Completes the January Challenge

In a dog forum I frequent, we have started to issue a monthly challenge to those who like to train with their dogs. For January, it was to get the dog to retrieve a remote control, or other suitable object, from a distance of at least two metres, and return it to the handler. It was not allowed to be an object that the dog had already retrieved before.

Here is Ellie performing her retrieval. I've shot the video in different locations, as some viewers of our last video were of the opinion that if you only train a behaviour in one location then that's the only way they'll ever do it. What nonsense. In the video, you'll see her retrieving it outside and on the stairs. It was the first time she's done either. How do these myths come about? They drive me nuts...

Enjoy the video...

Is too much socialising a bad thing?

The more I walk, train with, and play with Ellie, the more I am convinced that encouraging your dog to play with other dogs is suicide.

For months now, I have watched how different dog owners interact with and respond to their dogs, particularly when there are other dogs around. There are essentially two groups:

Group One
This group usually takes a ball or some other aid out with them. They don't talk to other people, they play with their dog, talk to their dog, and train with their dog. They are there because they want to be there, and they value the time with their dog so much that they don't like sharing that time with anyone.

Group Two
This group relies on finding a stick or two to throw for the dog, if they have to. Though it's more often the case that they just let their dog off leash, and expect any other dog, that happens to be in the field, to be a playmate for their own dog. Usually, they're more interested in keeping warm or dry than they are in their dog. All they are bothered about is doing their duty - walking the dog.

Now, there's nothing really wrong with either group, per se. However, how these groups behave does have a direct influence on how their dogs behave.

The first group, in my experience, have exceptionally well-behaved dogs. The dog has learned that the owner is the best fun. It's learned that, even if another dog runs right by it, it's never going to be as much fun as its owner is, and it will never throw a ball, day after day, whatever the weather. The dogs belonging to this group usually walk well on the leash, respond well to commands, and are focused on their handler. This isn't by accident. It's come about through regular interaction with its owner.

The second group, again in my experience, has the dogs we all dread meeting. It will run up to you or your dog, without any warning. If you throw a ball for your dog, it wants in on the fun too. And why wouldn't it? Its owner is boring it to tears. It's just a shame that you have to pay the price for that boredom. These dogs generally have a poor recall, because they have learned that other dogs are way more fun to be with, even if they're not a direct part of that fun. The owners of these dogs can't understand why you don't think it's great that they let their dogs interact and "play with" your dogs. After all, dogs love to play together, right?

Why am I writing this? I am writing it because I strongly believe that allowing your dog to play freely with other dogs is training suicide that you will ultimately regret. I have yet to see a single case that could make me change my mind on this particular issue.

Maintaining a dog's attention is one of the toughest things that any dog owner has to master. It's really tough. Once you start teaching your dog that other dogs can run faster than you, have no time constraints like you do, speak the same language as they do, and have far more energy than you do, you're on the slippery slope to moving into that second group of dog owners. Once there, no matter what you try to play, no matter what you try to train, all it will take is the presence of another dog, and your dog will be running off to play with it.

Do yourself and your dog a huge favour: use training classes for socialising, not your dog walks. Socialising, as far as your dog is concerned, should be no more than walking past other dogs confidently, and without pulling at the leash trying to play with it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

What size crate for a Border Collie?

Performing my weekly check of how people found this blog last week tells me that most people found it, asking the question: what size crate for border collie, in Google.

Again, in the interests of rewarding such questions, I'll do my best to answer.

We have a 42 inch crate for Ellie, and it's too big, by far. Bear in mind that dogs are usually larger than bitches, but I would safely suggest that the absolute maximum size crate you will need is a 36 inch, and you might even get away with a 30 inch for many Border Collies. It's not an exact science, as individual dogs vary within any given breed. Just don't spend extra money on a forty-two inch - it's way too big!

Keeping Training Challenging

I'm on of those individuals who just loves training. I can't get enough of it. The dog always tires of it way before I do. I can watch competitive obedience until my heart stops beating, and even then, I would want it showing on a small screen in the ambulance as they drove me to the hospital.

One of the challenges of obedience training is keeping things challenging, and I know of no better way of doing that than following Sue Ailsby's Levels.

The levels are designed in such a way that you always have training goals and objectives to work towards, and, presuming you follow them in the manner and using the methods advocated, will have an obedient, loyal, and happy canine friend at the end of it.

In essence, the levels are broken down into six levels:

Level ONE
Level TWO
Level FOUR A
Level FOUR B

To give you an idea of how they escalate in difficulty, in level one, the handler is given the following:

"The dog must Sit from standing position on one cue only (may be a voice OR a hand cue, but not both, and no extra body language from the handler). The handler may use the dog’s name to get her attention before starting."

By level Four B, it becomes...

"Dog Sits and stays for 2 minutes while the handler walks 40’ away, turns and faces the dog, and makes a formal Return. There will be two distractions."

Obviously, there are smaller steps between level one and level Four B.

Ellie is currently working towards level three, having successfully completed levels one and two. We are stuck on getting her to stand at the moment, but were it not for that, she could complete level three. Being a pedant however, I want to accomplish them all exactly as they should be.

Give them a try. They are great fun to follow, and really do keep you and your dog challenged.

KCGC Bronze Training - Week One

Ellie attended the second week of the new formal training season last Tuesday. It wasn't her best week, and her nerves got the better of her a little. Given that, Christina, the course instructor has suggested to Jan that she move her to the Gold class. Not because she's at a Gold standard, but because the dogs in that class are a little less intimidating for Ellie, than the two Great Danes, a Rottie, and a Mastiff. I don't personally mind this, as long as the learning pace is still within Ellie's reach. Owning a timid dog can be very challenging at times!

However, while there, she did do the following:

We then were presented with four different things to do.

1. Send away around a traffic cone. Perfect!

2. Stand on a low step, or sit on it, or balance on it with two paws. Jan sent her away to the step and she sat right on it first time.

3. Pick up an object and place it in a bucket. Ellie has been doing this trick on and off for quite sometime now, and so she remembered it. She happily placed the ball into a bucket.

4 Send away into the centre of a hula-hoop or jump through the hoop. Jan started to teach Ellie to jump through the hoop and although they only managed it a few inches from the floor and it looked like she was just walking through it, she did it without too much fuss.

In other news, it was a dark day in the Ellie household on Saturday. Yes, dear readers, Jan took Ellie to a heel-work to music class. I will save my comments on heel-work to music for another post.

After that however, Jan attended her first meeting as a volunteer at the training class. She came back particularly enthused and, with typical Jan enthusiasm, has put herself forward to work help out in difference aspects of the classes and related activities.

Overall, Ellie is in a mixed mood at the moment. My spider sense tells me that she may come into season soon, but it's been telling me that for a couple of weeks now. She seems a little "down" for want of a better description, and not her usual bubbly self. She is licking herself a lot more, and, certainly last week at least, kept looking for "nesting" places to curl up under, such as the table. This is very unusual for Ellie. On the other hand, she may just be growing up and becoming all hormonal. Time will tell.

Behaviour-wise, she's still the perfect dog. Still hasn't chewed a single thing that doesn't belong to her, still happy to train, and still the most loving dog that you could hope to know. But oh, that timid nature....

It also occurred to me that she's going to be eight months old in a few days. Wow, that went quickly.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Ellie the Water Baby

Yesterday, while walking Ellie around the local playing field, where we usually train and play, I noticed the ground was getting a little sodden. Despite that, I was still a little surprised to see just how much rain it had collected overnight last night. There is already a large pond in the field, but this morning, it was starting to look like there were two ponds.

Never one to miss a training opportunity, I tool it upon myself to encourage Ellie into the water as much as possible. Lord knows that I've tried to get her to venture forth into the pond before today, but alas, she's not quite brave enough yet, though she is getting braver on each attempt.

Here are some photos of her splashing around in the "new pond".

Ellie Featured on YouTube

Despite approaching my forties and working with websites and computers for almost all of my working life, I'm a relative newcomer to the video sharing website, YouTube. In fact, it's fair to say that I deliberately avoided it for many months. During that time, whenever I happened to see clips posted around the web, in forums, and on television, they seemed to be of teenagers who still find the fun in falling from a skateboard, farting to a camera, or, for the really talented, combining the two acts at the same time. Regardless of the act, I found it all a little puerile.

However, I was teased from under my cloak of avoidance by some really good dog-training videos, particularly those of AaseLange and yolle555. They convinced me that YouTube can be a tool for the greater good - educating and inspiring others to do better things. Since getting my camcorder I've become hooked; I am submitting videos like it's going out of fashion. Though, I should mention that will slow down as I become more selective in the future. At the moment, I'm treating it like a repository to house all of my efforts, until I decide which efforts are worth housing. Make sense? But anyway...

Obviously, as the Queen and I do not fart, and the only skateboard likely to find its way into the house would be for Ellie's use, I was unable to join the legions of teenagers and post videos of my farting from a skateboard, and so I've posted videos of Ellie and I working and playing together.

Overall, things have been positive and I'd quite forgotten the reasons for my initial dislike of YouTube. But then.....

Yesterday, for reasons that I'm afraid I have no knowledge of, one of our videos was "featured". I have no idea who features such videos, why they do so, or really what it means. What I do now know is that it's like waving a red flag to a bull in terms of bringing out comments from idiots. I receive email notifications when someone comments or subscribes to my videos. Yesterday, my e-mail inbox was pinging like a microwave during a teenager's three-course meal. At first, I felt quite proud, until I started reading the comments, that is...

I don't like acidic or caustic people at the best of times. They strike me as bitter, small, and very shallow. They need the energy that an offended response brings about, in order to feel worthwhile. They will go out of their way to search for posts and videos that they can respond to. They have to, as they need the "fix" that a good argument brings about. If left unchecked, they quickly suck all that is good out of everything that they infest. I've little time for these people.

I'm also struck by the futility of it all. What is supposed to happen after I read these comments? What does the author REALLY want to happen when I read his or her comment?

My guess is that I'm supposed to feel angry and pencil a rage-filled response. That's never going to happen as time is too precious a gift to waste on fools. Maybe I'm supposed to take the comment to heart and feel bad? Again, that's never likely to happen either. I read them, I wonder about the author's mental state at the time of writing, and I delete. I have found, over the years, the best way to deal with such people is to starve them of a response. That is, after all, their oxygen.

Out of well over a hundred comments, I was able to retain about twenty or so of them. That's how petty, bitter, and juvenile the others were. In fact, many of the ones I've kept aren't great, but I felt a little mean in some cases, in that perhaps I wasn't getting what they really meant.

The main theme of the comments was to ask me how the hell my "stupid dog video" got featured, as though I might have the answer. (If I did, I'd ensure that none were ever featured again, I can tell you.) One of my favourites, that I kept was:

It might be cool to train a dog to fetch like this, but I think it's not really something the dog would enjoy doing. I'm sure that border collies are not bred for this.

I can only presume that this is as opposed to the Golden Labrador, which, as we all know, has been bred over generations to retrieve remote controls.

I was going to reply but really, life is too short isn't it? Aside from that, someone else did it for me, and in a much more succinct manner than I would have:

WTF are they bred for? For some random family to feed and occasionly take for a walk?!?

That was something else that I noticed through my experience: the vast majority of people who post comments to YouTube, cannot spell.

So, there you have it, my YouTube experience. For the record, the comments are still coming in fast and furious. Though more furious than fast now.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

When should I start walking my Border Collie?

I was looking through my visitor statistics earlier today and noticed that nine people have found my blog through looking for the exact phrase "When should I start walking my Border Collie", in the last two days. Given that it's such a popular question, I'll do my best to answer it, according to my own experience.

I believe that a Border Collie, like any other dog, should begin walks as soon as it has had all of its puppy inoculations. (In England, this is usually around twelve weeks of age.) I can see no real merit in delaying things further.

It is important to remember that dogs must not be walked out in public, before their inoculations, in order to avoid the risks of parvovirus and distemper.

However, before your pup has the inoculations, there is nothing stopping you from carrying your puppy outside, in your arms. I strongly advise that you do this, to get it used to sights, sounds, and smells, prior to being able to walk outside.

Before your dog is able to be walked outdoors, you can spend the time getting it used to wearing a leash indoors and around your own garden (presuming your garden isn't used by other dogs). Some puppies hate the leash for the first time, some take to it like a duck to water. Make sure the leash wearing is always supervised, and that it is a lightweight leash to begin with.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Ellie's First Dumbbell Session

Her first proper session with a dumbbell. This was just about getting her used to it, and what to do with it.

Remote Control Retrieval - End of Week One

A video showing Ellie at the end of the first week of the "Retrieve a Remote Control" dog training challenge.

The challenge is to have the dog retrieve a remote control (or similar object) from a distance of at least two metres, and place it into the owner's hand.

Ellie has picked this one up really quickly, and I'm not really sure how much further we can go with it. We can perhaps:

Improve the sit position at the end.
Retrieve it over a greater distance.
Move the remote to different locations.

We'll keep on training it until the end of the month though. The more it's practised, the better she'll get at it.

Ellie Does Chores - Loading the Washing Machine

In this short video, Ellie shows off her latest skill - loading the washing machine with small items of clothing. She will do it without problem, and so I shall now start increasing the distance that she has to carry the clothing across. I have to admit, I like teaching her chores, such as closing doors, fetching remote controls, and loading washing machine. I think it's because I remember reading that Border Collies were unsuitable for assistance dogs, as they tend to move about too quickly. Thus far, I don't agree.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

First Lesson of the New Year

Ellie impressed before even setting off for her training course this evening; she jumped into the car without hesitation. This is very unusual for her as she had developed a bit of car phobia, bought about by her travel sickness. I guess you only need to be sick in a car so many times, before you reach the conclusion that the car is not a nice place to be in. Though she showed no signs of sickness last night either. Perhaps the break has done her good.

All new faces and new dogs in the class this time. Two enormous Great Danes, a Rottweiler, and a Mastiff. Obviously, all of them tower over Ellie. All very well behaved dogs all in all. Regardless of the size of them, Ellie wasn't phased at all.

Most of the lesson was spent doing refresher exercises of what we were doing before the Christmas break. Christina did a bit of a talk about the courses for the year and the fact that she had arranged three exams over the next twelve months for people to be tested on the Kennel Club Good Citizen levels. All in all a good evenings work, though it will obviously become more challenging now that the first week is done.

Ellie's New Bed Partner
Yes, it's true. We feed her, keep her warm, and enrich her life. But given the choice, she would much rather just curl up with a cushion!

And in Other News
The tripod for the camcorder has finally arrived. Boy is it tall! It means I'm not so limited in where I place the camera now, so I can get better angles and include more detail. I'll also be able to do zooms, without excessive shaking.

Silly Photos

Someone started a forum thread, suggesting that people post photos of their dog with different things on its head. It occurred to me that I've never actually placed anything on Ellie's head and tried to photograph her at the same time. After afew minutes, and numerous failed attempts, we got the following two:

Training Video - In the Car park

A copy of this morning's session. I like to use the local car-park as there are white lines that I can use as a gauge to measure how well she's doing at sticking with the heel.

Just for a change, I've added some music to the video. Sorry for the scary bit in the middle but I had to check I'd set the lens in the right area. :)

New Website and Back to School!

Ellie is back to her weekly formal training classes tomorrow. She's moving up from the KC Good Citizen Bronze scheme, to the KC Good Citizen Silver Level 3 scheme, as the trainer thinks that the bronze will now be too easy for Ellie. All things considered, I agree. It's better that she is kept challenged, and she can only get that by working above her current skill levels.

This course also introduces agility, obedience, and heel-work to music. Personally, I can't stand the thought of the latter, but Jan is all for it, and she'll be doing it. I find the notion of dancing with one's dog quite beyond bizarre. As a man, I struggle to dance with another human being, let alone with a dog!

As Jan is now a volunteer for the training school, all of Ellie's lessons will be free of charge. But, what I find more valuable, is that Jan will be able to take Ellie along to different classes when she is volunteering, and so Ellie will get a much wider experience of other dogs and situations.

In other news, I purchased a new domain and hosting for a new dog-related website that I've been planning for a while now. It will relate more to a British audience. More details of that will follow as I progress with it. I'm currently working on the design.

That Cursed Labrador!

Ellie and I were enjoying a lovely training session on the local playing field this evening. We're teaching her to walk backwards, in addition to her usual things.

There was a woman in the distance who seemed to be doing some obedience training with her Rottweiler, as I was doing some heel work with Ellie. The Rottweiler clearly needs a little more work as it came running over to Ellie, uninvited. Me, I gave my usual look of disapproval and moved further along the field to continue our training.

Shortly after, she stopped to talk with another woman who was walking her Beagle. Twice, she lost control of it, and twice it came running over to interrupt out training. But, she called it back, and it returned without too much problem. We continued to train and to play. Aside from these small incidents, and the fact that it was very cold, all was right with the world really.

Then, our nemesis, the one that Dawn will remember from our walk when she came over at Christmas, came running at us from nowhere, like a speeding dart. It ran right into Ellie. I had to shout at it, and try to get in front of it. Where was the owner? She was that far away, I couldn't even see her. When I did see her, she had a hugely long leash in her hand, and she was trying to watch her small child precariously balancing on her bicycle. This is becoming a regular thing now. This Labrador is bad enough now, and it's just a youngster. If she doesn't start to reign it in soon, she or the dog are going to end up in some serious trouble. In fact, the way things are going, I might be at the other end of it!

This bloody Labrador and its owner are really starting to irk me now. I've written before, I'm not the most sociable dog walker anyway. I like my time with Ellie to be just that. I'm there to watch her, to play with her, and to train with her. I'm not there to talk to all who pass me and walk up to me. I do appreciate that it's a public field and other people are perfectly entitled to walk their dog around it. In fact, many, it seems, think like me and are happy to do their own thing.

There have been a few times that I've stopped and chatted to other dog owners, but (a) it's incredibly rare that I do, and (b) I am very selective, and wait to see how their dogs behave before I even contemplate it.

What I don't like is other people forcing me to be responsible for their dog, as this Labrador owner is doing. I won't do it. I am responsible for my dog and my dog only. The owner doesn't even attempt to call it back. It's as though she really believes that every other dog owner loves to have his or her dog "playing" with other local dogs. Well I don't!

Some day soon, she will regret not keeping it under closer control, as I will simply lead Ellie home, and her dog will undoubtedly follow us!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

It's All in the Win...

I recently saw a poll on a dog forum. The poll asked dog owners why they got their dog. The possible answers were:

- I want a friend and companion.
- I need a dog for assistance, hunting, herding…
- I want to compete and win against other dogs and trainers.
- For protection.
- The dog just showed up one day and adopted me.

Anyone see a problem with at least one of those answers. Well, I did, and so I didn't bother to reply. This morning however, I noticed that someone else had the same thought as me and did bother to air their view on the subject. Their answer prompted me to air my thoughts on the subject in my own blog, as the last thing anyone needs is to read yet another protracted and verbose debate in yet another forum. Life is too short.

The problem is with the "I want to compete and win against other dogs and trainers." answer.

Are you too seeing what I saw and the other poster saw? Yes, it's flawed and ignorant in just about every way.

First and foremost, we see that age-old assumption that anyone who competes with their dog is utterly selfish, and interested only in winning.

Secondly, it infers that you can't have a dog for competition AND companionship!

Frankly, whenever I see this sort of ancient belief about competition, I know I'm talking to an arse and try to find an excuse to find someone more enlightened to talk with.

Look at all of the best competitors and you will see a common theme: they don't compete to win, and they're not interested in the results. The fact that they do win is incidental to the real point - the participation and the fun that the dog has.

The fact is that competition is now at such a high level that anyone who is in it just to win, will end up so regularly disappointed that they will lose heart in a very short period of time.

So, am I one who wants to compete and win? I'd certainly like Ellie to enter into competitive obedience, and Jan likes the idea of Ellie competing in agility. However, both of those mean absolutely nothing if Ellie herself shows no passion or skill in either area. She's only seven months at the moment and we're in no hurry to get into competition. It's far more important for us to give her basic obedience and life-skills at this stage.

It might turn out that she just doesn't like any area of competition, and if that turned out to be the case, it would be no problem whatsoever. And if she turns out to be a competitor but never wins a single ribbon? She'd still be our favourite dog who spends the evening tucked in between us on the sofa.

Isn't it time that this ancient misconception about dog competition, and those who own dogs that compete, was put to bed? I certainly think it is.

Do you compete with your dog? Are you often accused of caring more about the winning than the taking part? Do you constantly never place and still attend the competions? Why not share your views...

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Evening Training Session

This video is a "warts 'n' all" show of this evening's training session. The only edits are splits in the video to create titles. Other than that, you see the mistakes as they happened.

The beauty of video is that I can see things that I haven't been able to see properly. I can see, for example, that her latency (the time it takes from giving the command to Ellie carrying it out), is reducing. That's a good thing.

I had to artificially increase the lighting of the video as it was shot under artificial lighting and was quite dark. I think it's viewable though.

We both really enjoyed this evening's session. She loves jumping up on my back, and she's getting much better at it; being able to jump much higher.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Ellie Goes "In Yer Tin"

The following video shows Ellie doing two of her standard behaviours. The first one was in response to Jan's Mum making a comment that she wished Ellie could close the door, as she was chilly. So, I made it happen before she next visited.

In the second behaviour, Ellie opens the door to her crate and then steps in. She never leaves her crate until she's invited to do so. We call this behaviour "In yer tin". It just sounds better than "In yer crate". :)

Enjoy it...

Unedited Clicker Training Session

I decided to do some retrieve and hold work with Ellie this morning. I chose an object that she had no previous experience with, a purse.

We hadn't done any other training this morning. I was going to limit her to about fifteen minutes to see how far she got in that time. However, as you'll see from the video, she didn't need that long.

For some reason, my timing absolutely sucked this morning. Once again, Ellie is the star, and I mess up. :)

The following video is an unedited version of the training session.