Thursday, February 28, 2008

Now even more Ellie...

Yes, I'm pleased to announce you can get even more of Ellie, by visiting her Flickr photos album.

The images from that album are also now rotated in the right-hand column of this blog.

And.... another video. This is one of my favourites. Most of it was taken this morning, along our morning walk. We stumbled upon a small spring and woodland area yesterday, so I'm using it to get Ellie used to water. I think it's working. Enjoy it. :)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

KCGC Bronze Training - Week Six

Another evening of training at the barn. Thankfully, the weather was a little milder this week, although that didn't prevent Christina from getting us moving around.

We did the usual sit/down stay for a warm up. We then played musical chairs. Christina placed a number of chairs around the barn and we had to walk around the barn to music whilst Christina was instructing us to change direction. When the music stopped we then had to place our dogs in a sit/stay and go and sit on the nearest chair. This was a really good exercise in terms of getting Ellie to stay put whilst relative strangers were passing very close to her. She did really well, and other than constantly wagging her tail, she didn't move for the duration of the whole exercise.

We then practised some heel-work to music moves and then put the individual moves together. Ellie and I really enjoyed this much to the dismay of Maz who, bless his heart cringes every time I even mention heel-work to music!

The heel-work to music exercises comprised of Ellie walking around my left leg, me putting my legs together and then her walking around both of my legs, another step to the right and repeat. After that it was a few leg weaves and then finish. She did really well apart from feeling the need to do "cop-cop" each time she went between my legs. I'm busy hunting for a good piece of music to do our first dance to...

After this we had a go at a bit of fly-ball. Ellie absolutely loved this, as we suspected she might. It's fast-paced and energetic. She did really well but couldn't resist having a mad dash around the barn - something she usually does when trying agility. Personally, I think she'd be better at fly-ball than agility, but time will tell.

Lastly, we practised walking along a trestle. Christina held onto Ellie's collar and I, with a handful of food treats, led her along the walk. She did fine with this, but she did get a little nervous at the end, on the descent.

We seemed to do quite a lot this evening, and thoroughly enjoyable it was too!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Cop-Cop Completed

We've completed our February training challenge - to learn the cop-cop move. Here is the end result. As you can see, we started to to teach it in the backwards fashion too. Enjoy.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Nine Months

Ellie will be nine months of age on Feb 29th. It's been an interesting month in terms of Ellie's behaviour. This month, more than any other to date, she has shown the periods of high energy, which are usually synonymous with the Border Collie breed.

Before this month, we might typically get one period of high-energy per day, at around 20:00 each evening, and she had always been happy to sleep for most of the day. Now, however, she's awake quite a lot during the day, and she has several sessions of high-energy.

I'm sure there are some people who would hold their head in their hands at this prospect, but we love seeing it and openly encourage it. We were starting to think that perhaps Ellie was going to be one of those eternally moody and sedate bitches. However, it's looking like she might just burst yet. I hope so. I love seeing her when she's in 'full-throttle'.

She will now also "bully" us to play with her. This involves jumping up at me when I'm sat at my desk, or dropping balls or other toys at our feet, and then sitting and staring at us until we give in and play with her. Again, I can imagine people arguing that we shouldn't encourage this. However, I believe that it will help to encourage Ellie to be a little more forward - something that she certainly needs - and help overcome her naturally timid nature.

As is typical of the breed, her favourite form of play is anything that involves running and fetching, with a particular passion for Frisbee.
She had her longest session in the crate this month, as we went to our trainer's home for dinner one evening. We also learned that Ellie is not a natural gaurd dog. I had to smash a window to get back into our house, as the lock on the front-door had broken. Did Ellie so much as bark? Not so much as a whimper...

She's begun to offer a little resistance to some things, such as having her claws clipped. I like to correct these things as soon as they surface, and before they become real issues. To counter this, I am now touching her claws with the clippers and clicking/treating, on a daily basis.

Oddly, on one paw, she clips her own claws with her teeth. Yes, she's clipped them perfectly. Apparently, she's not alone. One of Christina's dogs also does this. If she could learn to do both paws, my life would be that little bit easier. :)
We're still awaiting Ellie's first season. Despite showing small behavioural changes which hint at her season coming along, it has yet to surface. She's also still to chew her first object that doesn't already belong to her. I suppose this is perhaps the trade-off we have for not having a more energetic and buzzing dog. Perhaps if she was more energetic, she might also be a chewer too.

Her training is still going well, and she successfully learned the cop-cop move this month, in just under fifteen days. Most training effort is now being focused upon getting her ready for the Kennel Club Good Citizen (Bronze) exam of March 29. Reading through the criteria, we're relatively confident. However, absolutely anything could happen between now and then, and even on the day. You just never know with a dog of Ellie's age. I suppose, if I'm concerned about anything going wrong, it's her getting too enthusiastic when she meets new people. I can already envisage her reaction when she sees the examiner. She just wants to jump up at their legs and get some lovin'.

I read an interesting statement about Border Collies the other day. It stated something along the lines of "Border Collies - the dogs want to be your mates, and the bitches want to be your Mum." How true that seems to be. But you know, we really don't have a single justifiable cause for complaint. So she's a bit more timid than we'd like, but you have to look at the benefits that brings with it. Sure, she's not even the most handsome dog you'll ever see either, but she makes up for that with her loving personality. She's always ready to lay down with you and get some attention, and that makes it all the more worthwhile.

So what are we hoping for by month ten? I'd like to see her continue to become more bouncy, and hey, if we can get a KCGC (Bronze) award in, that would be great too. :)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Baltic in the Barn

A very cold session in the training centre barn this week. Christina managed to keep us all moving for most of the time though. Thankfully, the class still went ahead, but there was talk of it being cancelled because it really was that cold!

A brief warm up session of sit/down stays and then we were off running around the barn with our dogs to heel. This was interrupted by Christina giving us commands to stop, sit, down whilst we were going.

We had a round of tricks. Every owner had to chose a trick that they knew their own dog could achieve and then the other dogs in the group had to try the same trick. We were going to be a pair of show off's at this point as Christina had already asked us to demonstrate "cop-cop" to her and the group - to Ellies credit, she did it beautifully and she's not used to doing that trick for me, so I was impressed also. That said, we chose to do "spin" as our trick - something which the other dogs were more than capable of doing.

We then did an excellent exercise whereby we had to walk around holding an object and use the object to pass to the other members of the group so that we could practise meeting and greeting people with and without dogs to train our own dogs not to respond in a negative way, i.e. jumping around maniacally. Ellie did quite well at this although I swear if her tail had been a machete, she'd have taken my legs clean off when Christina came over, it was wagging that fast.

Again, in a bid to keep warm, we did an agility course. For some reason this evening, Ellie was having none of it. She sat nicely at the start and made the first couple of jumps ok, but then she was off like a rocket around the barn. I guess she was colder than I thought. :)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Obedience Tests

A video showing the result of various obedience tests performed by Ellie.

She's looking quite miserable because (a) that's just how she tends to look, and (b) she's not used to training sessions being so quiet. However, the tests require that minimal cues are given. This means that in most cases, I can only give one voice command and nothing else.

I think Ellie thinks she's in trouble, because I'm not mu usual bubbly self during training. However, aside from that, I think she did great! Enjoy...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ellie plays at being goalkeeper

I filmed this video this morning. It's Ellie and I playing football and catch, and sneaking in bits of training.

It's really quite remarkable how she catches that ball, because her mouth, like the rest of her, is really quite small.

You'll see that she's mastered the cop-cop move now, and getting really good at leg weaving too.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Silvia Trkman Video - Winter Tricks

Once again, my training heroine, Silvia Trkman, shows us what is possible when you put the time in to build the relationship with your dog(s). Each time I believe she can't improve on her last video, she goes and proves me wrong. This video is certainly no exception. The slippers trick is just so funny.

Now there are absolutely no excuses for not training in the Winter! :)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

KCGC Bronze Training - Week Five

I went along to the training class with Jan and Ellie last night. Typically, I managed to pick a night which was mostly talking. It was mostly talking because Christina, the instructor, had been given the dates for the KC Good Citizen exams. The Bronze, which is the first one that we will take, will be on 29 March.

However, the lack of activity was offset by being able to just view the other two dogs in the class - a German Shepherd and a Rottweiler. Rotties are my favourite breed, with German Shepherds being my second favourite. The only reason that we don't have a Rottie is because of the ill-deserved reputation that they now have here in the UK. It doesn't worry me, but I don't want people crossing the street to avoid me. Further, if a Yorkshire Terrier grows up to be a lash-puller, nobody really bats an eyelid. However, if a Rottie ends up being a leash-puller, people take an entirely different stance. It's a huge shame and it's so unfair, it really is.

I did comment at the end of the class that the owners of both dogs were lucky that I hadn't run off with their dogs. But I did get to give each of them a bit of attention before the class disbanded. Then, moments after sitting in the car to return home, Christina invited me to meet another Rottie called Cookie, which had just arrived for the next class. It was worth getting cold again for. An absolute gem of a dog, with a stunning temperament; it was so docile.

While in the class, we did do a few exercises. Well Jan and Ellie did. I observed. There was the meet and greet, and I knew that Ellie wouldn't do well on that. That is her major weakness. She sees everyone who walks near her as someone who must want to stroke her. Her tail wags and she strains at the leash to get near them. I'm sure that in her mind, she's helping the person out by getting to them sooner. She just loves people. It's nice that she does, but we need to find a way to curb that enthusiasm. I think I might have to start some town walks again, where she will experience more people, and learn to ignore them. I also think that it will lessen with age too. Many dogs become less trusting of strangers as they move into adulthood.

There was the "send to bed", where Ellie did excel. She's done that since we got her pretty much, and so I'd expect her to do well in it. She passed the two-minute sit-stay without any problems.

There was a session of having the dogs walk past Christina, on leash, while she was holding food out in her hand. Again, any slight movement Ellie made towards that direction was to get to Christina, not the food. I've left plates of food in front of Ellie before today and she hasn't touched it, so I've little concern in that area. In fact, I think "leave" was one of the first things we taught her, and so it remains one of her strongest behaviours.

We also did an all over inspection of the dog. Ellie has usually been very good at this. However, and it might be because her season seems to be approaching, she seems to be a little sensitive around her back end at the moment. I'm going to focus on this quite a lot now until the exam, so that it doesn't become a major issue.

At the end of the class, each dog got the chance to run around a small agility route that Christina set-up. Only the Rottie really excelled in this, I must say. Ellie was awful, but then she is, by far, the least experienced dog at less then nine months of age. Everyone seemed to assure me that Ellie is usually much better than she was last night. Christina seems to share my view that Ellie isn't going to be far off her first season, as she seems quite distracted. But hey, I've been predicting her first season for a few weeks now.

However, what the agility run did confirm to me is that my heart really isn't in agility. I do admire those who can think quickly enough to get their dog around the twists and turns in the fastest time, but it just doesn't excite me. It wasn't just because I was watching and not participating. I just don't have the urge to participate in it either. I can see, for a start, that it needs thinking at a much faster rate than I am accustomed to thinking at, in order to be successful. But apart from that, it just didn't ignite me in the same way that competitive obedience does.

For me, there is something about competitive obedience that switches me on. I could watch it for hours, and I love the challenge of shaping a behaviour which, frequently, is completely alien to the dog. Agility just doesn't captivate me in the same way. Of course, that is one of the good things about dog breeds and dog-related pursuits. There really is something for everyone.

I think I'll need to go another class where there isn't so much talking, as, I'm assured, that they are usually much more engaging and active. It was just my bad luck to pick the night where the exam dates had come through. Still, it's really good to have the exam date. It was also interesting for me to watch how Jan interacts with Ellie in the class. She's much different to me and, I think, different to how she is at home to some extent. Usually, I am the reserved one and Jan is the outgoing one. However, when it comes to training Ellie (at least in the class), it seems to change. Jan seemed quite "stuffy" and unexciting, I thought. (Apparently Christina has commented than Jan needs to make herself more exciting too.)

I've learned through playing with Ellie in the fields, several times every day, that you have to be really exciting for her. For a start, she's young, and then she's a Border Collie. She needs to have a good reason to be near you and to pay attention to you, otherwise she'll quickly find something else to focus on. But then, who knows, maybe I would have felt more self-concious in such an enclosed area as the training barn too. (Actually, I'm sure that I would have as it's very me to do that.) I was just surprised to see Jan acting in a self-concious manner. It's not something that I'm used to seeing!

And so the next few weeks will be spent getting Ellie as ready for the KCGC Bronze exam as we possibly can. I'm reasonably confident that she'll do ok, but as is the case with dogs, anything at all can happen on the day.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Cop-Cop - One Week On

Ellie has pretty much got the idea of the cop-cop move now. All that remains is to practise, practise, and practise some more until the final challenge date at the end of February. I suspect that in a few days she will start to place her paws into place automatically, now that she knows what she is expected to do with them. Here'a a video taken this morning.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Cop-Cop Progress

Tonight was a real turning-point in teaching Ellie the cop-cop move. As mentioned in a previous post, the difficulty has been in getting her to place both feet in place at the same time. After all, once she has one foot in place, it's hard to tell her that she then has to do exactly the same with the other paw on my other foot. If I just sat and waited, hoping that she would get the idea, then she just gave up because she thought that the training had ended. If I tried to wiggle my foot then she would focus on placing her paw onto that foot, but also remove the other paw from the other foot. I was genuinely starting to think that we'd bitten off more than we could chew. But then, this evening, it dawned on me. It was one of those rare light bulb moments.

It dawned on me that I could do the thinking part for her. She placed her first paw onto me easily. What I then did was "scoop" her other paw with my other foot, and immediately begin walking and clicking and treating like a machine gun. Success!

We did it three times tonight to make sure that it wasn't a lucky fluke, and three times she got it right. I then tried again a few hours later and sure enough, she let me scoop her second paw with my second foot. So, I shall continue to do that for the next few days, and then eventually, she'll get the idea and she will begin to place her paw on the second foot automatically. But I'm now 99.99% certain that we'll have this move perfected in time for the end of February.

KCGC Bronze Training - Week Four

We started with some of the usual warm up exercises - sit/stay down/stay. Of course, Ellie did really well at this despite Christina wandering around trying to distract. We then did some trotting. This is a really nice exercise. Food treat at arms length and walk briskly so that the dog follows but because of the speed she breaks into a graceful trot. Very nice exercise.

We then did some recall presents, both sitting and stood up. After this, Christina did a talk about heel work to music and whether there was anything specific that we wanted to learn. A few ideas were thrown around the group and we decided on getting Ellie to walk backwards in a figure-eight around my legs. She does this forwards perfectly.

Christina explained the steps to take in doing this. One of the steps was to have her sit between my legs. However, there is a downside at the moment. As soon as Ellie sat between my legs, she thought that we wanted to do Cop-Cop which Maz is currently training her. I think she is going to have to do one thing at a time in this respect, but I look forward to her being able to walk around my legs backwards very soon!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Three Walks Per Day...

We first took ownership of Ellie in the Summer of 2007. The days were long, and the temperature was warm. We were walking three times a day and loving every second of it. As regular as clockwork, we would be out at 09:00, 13:00, and 17:00 each day. Then came Winter, and Winter being as it is, it stole the plentiful daylight hours and replaced them with darkness, dampness, and coldness.

It became impractical to walk Ellie three times a day, and so the midday walk was abandoned. I've really missed it. I know some people see walking their dog as a chore, but I've never felt that way; I love doing it. Sure, there are times when I'm really tired and every fibre within me is telling me that I'd rather sit in front of the television, being hugged warm by the central heating. But once I get walking, I'm always glad that I fought the feeling.

I've been, almost literally, counting the extra daylight minutes over the past few weeks, and this week there has been enough to resume our three walks per day. Hoorah! In fact, today was the first day, and it was like an adrenaline injection. Ellie seemed to detect my enthusiasm and performed some really good loose-leash walking for me.

February's Challenge Progress
We're still progressing with the February "Cop-Cop" challenge, though it's a difficult one. It's easy to get Ellie to place her left paw on my left foot, and her right paw on my right foot, but it's proving next to impossible to get her to put each paw on each foot at the SAME TIME.

As far as she's concerned, she's doing great. She puts her paw on my foot and I reward. Now, if I pause and hope that she'll do the second paw, then she'll just think that she's no longer getting rewarded for the single paw and stop doing the behaviour completely.

I'm going to speak to Barby I think, and see if I can get some advice for this one. If I place her paws onto my feet, she'll walk great on my feet. It's just teaching her to mount both feet at the same time that we're struggling with.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Video of the Week

I thought that I would start featuring a different YouTube dog-related video each week. These will be videos that have inspired me before, or from trainers and handlers who I most respect.

This week's shows a Border Collie being trained on position work, amongst other things. It's really inspiring to see a dog so keen on its handler.


In other news, the good news is that its my Birthday tomorrow! The bad news is that, once again, I shall have a throat-infection over my Birthday. (The price of having a Birthday during the Winter months, I suppose.) Though, the infection does seem to have lessened, but I'm still quite tired. The trouble is that I cough in the night and then that wakes me up, and then because I'm tired, I'm not healing as quickly as I might. A vicious circle. But I'm so, so tired at the moment, and I think it's starting to have an effect on our training.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Cop-Cop Baseline Video

The following video shows Ellie's first attempt at the "cop-cop" move, which is February's training challenge. "cop-cop" is a Slovenian term, used in children's books, to describe how big animals walk like bears.

By taking this first video, I can see where Ellie's natural strengths and weaknesses are, and where I need to focus my attention. She seems to accept the walking part quite naturally, and so I can focus on getting her to place her paws onto my feet voluntarily. I was impressed by her though. She needed very little physical coaxing to get her on my toes, and did stay there, pretty much, once we started walking.

Will we accomplish this one by the end of February? I think so, but I'm not as positive as I was over the remote control retrieval.

Friday, February 1, 2008

February's Training Challenge

It's the first of February, and so aside from meaning that my Birthday is only four more days away, it also means that the February Training Challenge has been announced.

The challenge is to teach Ellie the "cop-cop" move, by the end of February. (See video below.) I've been wanting to teach her this for ages, but have just always found other things that she seems to have naturally chosen for herself instead. I shall see about recording our first fumbling efforts later today, to use as the baseline video. Though we're apparently in for some snow and really quite harsh weather later today and over the next few days, so filming has to be done indoors, and it's not great light.

I should thank Barby who went out of her way to record that video for me yesterday, with her eager Beagle, Xsara, as I could only find videos that included it, but not that featured it solely.

In return for her efforts, I made a quick poster of Xsara in Photoshop. (Click to Enlarge)

In other news, my throat infection seems to be refusing to ease off. It's one of those which is more of an irritant than it is constantly sore. Not enough to be painful, but enough to irritate me and keep me awake at night. Then, because my glands are swollen, it keeps giving me an intermittent earache, albeit a dull one.

I've also just added the finishing touches to the new look and feel of the blog. I think it's a vast improvement over the old look. Hopefully, you do too!