Monday, March 31, 2008

Ellie at Ten Months

Ellie at Ten Months
Fanfare please; Ellie is now-ten months of age, so she has lived with us for a grand total of seven months. It's really no time at all, and yet it seems as though she's always been with us.

It's been an odd month and we've not been able to do as much with Ellie as we usually would. Ellie had a stomach upset for a week, where she was having to toilet almost every hour, and let me tell you, it was none too pleasant once it arrived! There were a few nights that we were kept awake because he kept needing to go outside to toilet. Because of her illness, she missed her training session, for the first time ever. We felt it best to keep her away from other dogs, given that we had no way of knowing whether her illness was viral or bacterial.
At the start of the month, I had a really stinking cold which knocked me out of play for just over a week. Then we had Jan's Mum come to stay for a week, and so, really, it's not been the best month for us.

As readers will know, from a previous posting, we took on a German Shepherd dog as a companion for Ellie. We're sad to report that it didn't work out. Surprisingly, perhaps, the GSD wasn't the problem in the least. In fact, we have to say that he was absolutely flawless in every way. If he was our only dog, we'd have been exceptionally proud to have him. Sadly, the truth was that Ellie didn't take to him - at all, and as we expressed at the time, she had to remain our first priority. It was always going to be a gamble, but one that we had to take in order to find out the reality.

Ellie would lay with him, no problem, and coexist with him in the same room. However, any attention, and she would nip at him, jump on him, and really act quite out of character. It became quickly evident to us that, with the GSD, we had the right dog in the wrong home. To his credit, despite all of her bullying, he never once retaliated. In fact, had he have done so, she might have learned a lesson and stopped, but he was just so placid that he wouldn't.

So what happened, more and more, was that he was having to sit on the sidelines, and couldn't really be a part of the family. Wherever he laid down, Ellie moved him on. If I stroked him, she pushed into the way. If I walked them together, she would nip at him all the way there. It was breaking our heart to see him sidelined all the time, particularly as he was trying so hard to get along with Ellie, and being so patient with her.

It's a huge shame for us as he had the absolute perfect temperament for us, and that is so rare these days.

We have re-homed him with a couple who have a more mature Cocker-Spaniel who, and the two seem to be getting on exceptionally well. I received a really lovely e-mail from the new owners this morning, which contained the line: "It was love at first sight when Jonny got home aswell, it just seems like he was the missing piece in our house", which reassured me that, as much as it hurt us at the time, we made the right decision.

It was incredibly tough leaving him with someone else. We now know how Foster-carers like Dawn (Ellie's original foster-carer) feel when they have to let go of their short-term charges. It's much harder than you think it will be after such a short time of attachment.

Ellie at Ten Months
Of course, we can't and don't blame Ellie for this. I suppose it's the price we pay for lavishing so much attention on her. But when you consider the alternative of not giving her as much attention as we have, then I have no regrets. I think that as a result of the attention she's received, she has overcome and achieved so much in the seven months that she has been with us.

I think, now, we need to wait until she is a little more mature still. But then, all the while, she'll be getting more and more used to having us to herself. It's a tough balancing act. It might be that we are never able to get a second dog. If that is the case, so be it. We may wait until she's around eighteen months. She will have been spayed by then, and then we could ask Dawn to look out for a suitable companion for us. She knows Ellie better than anyone, and she works with rescue-dogs.

His stay doesn't seem to have affected Ellie, now that he is gone. She still ignores other dogs when we're out in the fields, and at the park. I think that is perhaps how she prefers to be - aloof! I suppose you can't blame the girl for wanting me all to herself! :)

So, with regards to training, not much has happened this month, other than we've been perfecting the cop-cop, which she will now do any time, any place. As we walked back from our afternoon walk yesterday, I was walking her back in a cop-cop along the street. We've also got her through her water phobia. That has been a long-haul, but it means she can now go to far more exciting places with us. If the weather holds, we're going to take her to Beeston next weekend, to visit the River Trent. It's a gorgeous area and I know she will love it.

The weather is now warming up and the clocks have moved forward, and we're out more and more. I've been waiting for these months, for what seems like an age now.

Ellie's first season has still to materialise. Sometimes, we see her licking herself much more frequently and expect it to be "any day now", but we've given up trying to predict it. It'll come when it comes.

She's looking a little thinner than usual right now, due to her recent upset tummy, but now that she's well, she's starting to fill out again. When you're as small as Ellie is, you can't afford to lose too much weight!

Ellie also experienced snow for the first time in March. What did she do with it? She stood on her hind legs, and tried to eat it as it fell. She's so funny at times.

We didn't complete a training challenge this month as, after reading all of the suggestions, none of them really inspired me. I'm hoping they are a little more exciting for April so that we can get right back into the swing of things. If not, we'll just have to make our own up!

Dawn also sent us an e-mail to notify us that she had submitted one of Ellie's photos into a competition. She won "Best looking Bitch", or something like that. She's going to post the rosette to us shortly. Obviously, we'll grab a photo or two as and when it comes. But "best looking bitch"? The mind boggles. I guess it's as they say - beauty really is in the eye of the beholder!

Only two more months and she'll be a year old! We're still waiting for the "nightmare Border Collie" syndrome that we read and heard so much about before getting Ellie. I still say that I'll be completely staggered if Ellie turns into a rogue Border Collie. I just can't see it happening, despite what others say. I think that we were, in some regards, lucky to get one that isn't as high-energy or as buzzing as many do seem to be. On the other hand, training would have been much easier too, had she have had fewer fears and been less timid. It's a tough call. What I do know is that I wouldn't swap her for the world now that we have her.

The Water Baby

As followers of Ellie will already know, she's a very timid dog, and this means she has many more fears than other dogs might be expected to have. One of those fears has always been water. I've lost count of how many tennis balls that we have lost in the local pond, as they have landed in there, but then Ellie won't retrieve them, because that would mean stepping into the water.

As you will also know, we like to train a monthly challenge. However, none of last month's suggested challenges really grabbed my interest, and so I decided that I would really focus on getting Ellie through her fear of water, so that she would be more able to enjoy more locations as the weather is now turning warmer.

Just about each and every day, through the month of March, sometimes, twice or three times a day, I've been coaxing Ellie further and further into the local pond, in order to retrieve the ball during play. It's been very much a case of having patience while she has built her confidence up a bit at a time, but finally....

Today was the real breakthrough. She has been showing signs of real bravery in our local pond for a couple of days now, but today she really just went for it. I think I can safely say that she's over her phobia. At least at that depth anyway.

You can see the video below. There is also an extra feature at the end of the video, showing Ellie as she experiences her first snow fall.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

KCGC - Bronze Training - Week 8&9

After the Bird Scarer incident, we returned to the barn to find that the issue had been sorted out. No more loud bangs, and in the even of such, Christina had been given permission to go into the farmers field and turn off the offending item.

Over the last two weeks we have done lots of great stuff in terms of the Good Citizen Bronze award. Lots of sit/down stays. Ellie dies exceptionally well at this even when I wander out of site into the training centre shop and better still even when there are distractions around.

Last week we did an exercise whereby there were tasks spread around the barn.
1. Go to bed. Top marks for this one.
2. Recall present. Again top marks.
3. A number of toys were placed on the floor and owners had to sit their dog at the toys and then pick each toy up and place them a few feet away all without our dogs moving a muscle. Ellie did this perfectly and was rewarded with one of the toys at the end of the exercise.
4. Take a chosen toy and place it somewhere for the dog to retrieve. I placed Ellie's toy on a table as I knew that she gets the remote control at home from a height. When asked, Ellie fetched the toy every time.

This week, we had a similar theme. Christina had lots of tasks written on bits of paper mixed in with a few 'jokers'. We were all given a piece of paper and had to perform the task that was written. The idea of the jokers was that when we were given one of them we had to go to another dog and owner and ask them to perform a trick. We did two jokers and Ellie was asked to perform a twirl and leg weave. Both perfect.

The other tasks on the paper were:
1. Send away around a chair.
2. Get up on a low step and lie down on it.
3. Agility weaves.
4. Send away to bed.
5. Recall present.
6. Jump through a tyre.

Over the last two weeks, Ellie seems to have performed at a higher standard than usual. She seemed more focused and eager.

The bad news is that the date for the exam has been postponed. We don't currently have another date as yet.

I'm not sure whether she will be attending class next Tuesday as she has a tummy upset at the moment, and, assuming that it may be viral, we don't want to be responsible for spreading it to other dogs. Despite her stomach, she's not unwell, and it hasn't stopped her bouncing around in the snow, and playing as usual.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Two's Company....

We're pleased to report that we've acquired our second dog, and that, touch wood, it's going well so far.

Even when we got Ellie, we were thinking about getting a second dog, but we were advised against it then, as it was important for Ellie to be able to focus upon us, and not the other dog.

We needed a second dog to have quite specific qualities. Obviously, first and foremost, it had to get on with Ellie, as there is no way on God's earth that we would sacrifice her happiness or safety. It had to get on with other dogs and with people, as there are many other dogs in our area. It had to be a confident dog that could lead Ellie "by example". It had to in our quite small set of preferred breeds. This all called for a more mature dog, as opposed to a young pup. We felt that Ellie would have perhaps taught a young pup her own quite nervous responses. It didn't have to have perfect manners as we enjoy our training.

After quite some searching, we narrowed it down to another Border Collie and a German Shepherd. After some consultation, we learned that the Border Collie was a prolific fence jumper. As we have dogs either side of us, we felt this was perhaps too much of an issue. That was a shame, as he was an incredibly looking dog, and just full of bounce.

The GSD however, seemed worthy of closer investigation. A great many emails were fired between us and the current owner, and we all felt that it was worth seeing how the two dogs got on. A meeting was set for Monday 17th. We had agreed that if the two dogs didn't take to each other, then the GSD would be going back home with the current owner. If they did, then we would give it a shot. Luckily, neither they nor we, were in a desperate hurry to move things forward. The dog had to come first in both cases.

I had told the owner in advance that I would be performing tests on the GSD to make sure he was as she claimed he was, and she was perfectly fine with that. I felt awful doubting her word (she had assured me that he's really just a big soft giant) but when you go through a private rehoming, as opposed to through a rescue-centre, you have to take the extra time and effort to get to know the dog, as indeed the rescue-centre workers do. It is swings and roundabouts as to whether it's best to go through a rescue-centre, or whether to get a dog before it goes into the rescue-centre. Some dogs can be ruined by a stay in a shelter, whereas, obviously, for some dogs, it can be the making of a great new life. In the GSDs case, the owner had him from a puppy, and so it would have been a shame to subject him to a shelter, where he might have developed traits as a result of that.

After the owner of the GSD had taken a three hour or so trip to get to us, we met in the local playing field. I figured that would be best as if they didn't get on there, there was no way they would get on in the confine of our home. They did get along in the field, and off-leash too. This also gave me good opportunity to test the GSD to evaluate what we were getting. His recall wasn't great, for example, but I managed to rub him all over his body without any adverse reaction. I also got to test his training levels. They're not great, but we neither asked for, nor expected perfection.

Once we had finished in the park, we loaded the dogs into our respective cars and pulled up outside the home. If there was going to be a flashpoint, I expected it to be in our hallway, as it's quite narrow and long, and so the dogs would have little room to escape each other. We sent them through, and they were fine, other than almost knocking our telephone table over in excitement.

Once we settled, if any dog was the problem, it was Ellie. There was a lot of teeth showing when the GSD approached, and she nipped him a couple of times. The GSD just moved out the way and went about his business.

We then asked our neighbours to let their dogs out into their garden, as we wanted to verify that he didn't go dog-crazy if confined behind a boundary. Again, the GSD was fine, The neighbour even held his little dog over the fence. The GSD leant against the fence to investigate, but no more than that. He's an incredibly placid ol' boy. (He's four years of age and so he's seen enough of the world not to have to get worked up at the slightest things he sees.)

So, we all decided that it was worth leaving him with us. We're now really on a "probation period", I suppose. Jan and I have sort of agreed to give it until the end of April to let them settle in to one-another. If anything drastic happens before then, then we will call the previous owner and take it from there.

So far, things are going quite well. Of course, there have been a couple of flash-points, such as the first night of feeding, but I think if there was a score being kept, they've both evened out in terms of disciplining the other. They did both lay on the sofa together yesterday, briefly.

You might wonder why I'm referring to the GSD as, well, "the GSD". It's because, as I wrote above, we're giving it until the end of April to confirm that he's suitable for us to keep. If we do, then we will almost certainly change his name. Given his lack of training he will have learned to ignore that name in terms of training, and so we will rename him, and let him start with a clean slate. This isn't written in stone yet, but it's highly likely.

It hasn't really affected Ellie that much. She obviously walks around him with caution, but then it's only been two days. She still cuddles in with us on the sofa at night, she still has the bed with us, and so, for the most part, nothing much has changed.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Inspiring Dog-Owners and Trainers

You know, there is something that I have found to be generally true of the dog-training community. Each and every member of it believes they are the only right one, and all others have got it wrong. In fact, so well known is this case that a joke has developed around it:

"If you have three dog trainers in a room the only thing that two of them can agree on is what the third one is doing wrong."

However, once in a while, there are some who stand out above the others. They are the exceptional dog-trainers and dog owners who share a willingness to help others, are flexible in their approach, and have a natural flair for understanding, and working with, dogs. The fact that these people are so rare, make them all that little bit more special.

So which of these people inspire me? Of course, there are many people who do, for various reasons. However, the people listed below, for me, are the cream of the crop, in terms of how they have inspired or helped me personally.

Silvia Trkman
First and foremost is Silvia Trkman. She is everything that I aspire to be, in terms of working with dogs. Aside from her really quite amazing natural approach to motivating and working with dogs, what I have also admired about her is that she's never allowed herself to be dragged into the usual arguments and politics of dog-training.

She has, as far as I can see, just focused on her dogs instead, and ended up with incredible success as a result. It's also her philosophy that I admire. She states, very clearly, that there isn't a "right way" to work with your dog, and I think this is the part of training and living with dogs that too many people forget. Most people are so busy looking for that magic system that they don't realise the system is staring them right in the face - literally. The dog will show them that magic system, and this is what I think I have learned most from Silvia.

She also keeps it incredibly simple. None of the scientific mumbo-jumbo, and no dedicated following of the latest fads, or latest fashionable trainers.

I also admire that she's never bothered to write a book. The fact is that if she were to write a book, we, the dog-owning and training crowd, would buy it in droves, hoping that some of the magic will eventually rub off onto us and improve our sometimes lacklustre efforts. (For the record, I think the magic behind Silvia is not in her methods, but her actual core beliefs, attitude, and personality. I'm not convinced that those things can be taught to the level that makes Silvia the success she is.)

However, as she states on her site, her "methods" are so simple that a book wouldn't be worthwhile. I find it hard to fully trust any information or trainer when I know that they have a book to sell too. It's so refreshing that Silvia hasn't yet bought into that.

But then, let's not forget her agility accomplishments. Even if you ignore the several agility titles under her belt, (two-times world champion, nine-times national champion, and world team member since 1997) what she can get a dog to perform, in terms of tricks, is just beyond staggering.

I think it will be a very long time indeed before we see another trainer who is as naturally gifted as Silvia seems to be. Sure, we can all learn technical expertise and methods, but that 'natural' approach is so rare, and that is where the magic truly is.

Silvia Trkman Website

Now if you don't already know of Barbie, and her beagle, Xsara, you must have been living under a rock for some time. That clever beagle of hers is getting quite a fan-club!

Barbie is another one who, whether she realises it or not, we dog-owners often want to emulate. She has such a passion and enthusiasm for Xsara, and she's never afraid to echo that. Barbie isn't, as far as I know, a trainer. She has, however, learned under Silvia Trkman. That latter fact shows so clearly when you see the tricks that her Beagle performs, how she approaches training, and how she views her Beagle, Xsara.

To me at least, Barbie has never been anything short of helpful, sharing her tips and videos for others to learn from. However, what really touched me the other week, was learning how Xsara came to be, and how it all started for them. You can't help but be touched by the story.

For most of us, getting a dog is an incredibly easy affair. Some might argue that it's too easy. However, for Barbie, it was a long road to travel before she could get her first dog.

I can't help thinking that the waiting she had to endure helped to form the natural and enthusiastic approach she now has towards working with and living with Xsara, and giving Xsara such an enriched and varied life. After all, if you have to wait for something for so long, then you're going to treasure it all the more.

Again, I've never seen Barbie get involved in the politics of dog-ownership and/or training. Many of us will sit thrashing out our beliefs in the many dog-related forums that exist on the web. Barbie and Silvia seem to have figured out the secret here though - that's just wasting good time that could be spent bonding with your dog. It's taken me a while to realise that, but they have both taught me to a large extent, whether they wanted to or not.

Again, the results she achieves with Xsara are nothing short of incredible, and being able to read through her tips and thoughts through her website is invaluable.

Xsara Website

Cindy Jacobs
I first got to know of Cindy through YouTube. I stumbled upon her videos which she kindly shares there. I was immediately blown away by what she was accomplishing with the young GSD puppies that she trains. Cindy, or Cyd, as she is commonly known works only with puppies.

Now, I don't know that much about Cindy, other than to say that, when I first spotted her, I had the cheek to ask for tips in specific areas. I really didn't expect a response to be honest, but I tried my luck anyway.

Within just a few minutes, she had replied to me, and gave me some invaluable advice and tips, which, to this day, has proved to be worth its weight in gold.

Here in the UK, perception of a great many American trainers is really quite poor. This is largely down to Cesar Milan to be honest. The general perception is that many American trainers are harsh, use abusive techniques, and are a decade behind the rest of the world in terms of dog training.

Cyd, and others besides her, show this is really not the case at all. In fact, I was really quite amazed when I saw Cyd work. She talked to the dog so much. I never really expected this. There is no single barking of orders at the dog when Cyd works. She's like a Mother cooing over a baby, and it works. Yet, despite the apparent disorganised cooing, when you really listen to it, you hear that it's actually very structured and consistent. She just has a knack of making it sound all very friendly and loose.

I can't say that Cyd and I have exchanged many words, but when we have, her enthusiasm and sheer delight at doing what she does is so clear. You just get the feeling that she feels herself to be the luckiest person in the world, just to be able to train puppies. Wouldn't we all want to feel that?

Even last night, I needed some advice and so got in touch with her. She wasn't able to answer me specifically as it was beyond her area of expertise. However, she gave me the details of someone who could help, and sure enough, I was able to get my question answered through her contact. I know a great many trainers who would have pretended to know and just answered me with opinion instead of fact. The fact that Cyd didn't even attempt to was really very refreshing indeed.

It's her unselfish attitude and enthusiasm that inspires me, as well as the amazing work she manages to do with such young puppies. That takes dedication.

Cindy and David Harris' Website

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Dog in a Box

This short video shows Ellie's second session at trying to get her to sit in a box that is two-thirds her length.

The first session took place yesterday evening, and lasted for about ten minutes.


KCGC Bronze Training - Week Seven

We were a little early arriving to training this evening. Christina holds a class before ours so we sat in the car for a while to keep warm. As we waited, I heard the occasional loud bang that sounded like gunshots. Ellie's ears pricked up and she started to look a little nervous. I didn't think much of this as we would soon be inside training. However, once inside, the banging continued and sounded even louder as it reverberated off the tin walls of the barn.

Christina explained that this noise was the fancy bird scaring machine that was being used in the adjacent farm. Christina said that she has had to send a few dogs home from class as they have been spooked by the sound. I commented that Ellie was none too pleased about it either. Late last year, on Bonfire night and New Years Eve, hid under the bed to try and avoid the sound of the fireworks.

We tried to settle into some training, but alas, Ellie was becoming more and more agitated by the noise. At one point, she tried to hide in the agility tunnel!

Christina advised that it would probably be best if I took Ellie back home. I agreed with her as none of us want Ellie to develop a fear of going to the training centre. So, home we went. Ellie couldn't get into the car quick enough.

Quite what is going to happen if the bird-scarer is a permanent new addition, is anyone's guess, as it would mean that we'd be unable to attend training classes with Ellie. It's another price you accept for taking on a timid dog.

It's also valuable training time taken way from the pending Kennel Club Good Citizen exam on March 29.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

No fun without punch

If there is one thing that we can say abut Ellie, it's that she likes to be a part of the action. No matter how trivial or mundane the action might be, she will want to be a part of it, and will do her best to ensure that you can't really exclude her from it. Yesterday was no exception.

After our afternoon walk, which lasted for an hour and forty minutes, I thought she would be tired out, and so I decided to erect our new television cabinet in the relative peace and quiet.

Sure enough, as I might have expected, I'd barely got my tools laid out on the floor, before Ellie decided that she should help, and that I couldn't possibly do it without her assistance.

Of course, I could have told her to go away, or put her in her crate, but, you see, I like to encourage curiosity in a dog. When you train tricks like we do, you need to nurture that natural instinct to be inquisitive and to try new things out. Besides, it's always fun to see just what they will try and accomplish.

In just a few moments, she was climbing inside my half-erect cabinet. Even after I had put a shelf in, she decided that she could still fit in. Only when I got the doors on, did she decide that even she can't fit in any longer.

Suffice to say that I got the cabinet completed despite Ellie's 'help'. I'm sure she felt that she was really doing me a good turn. :)