A Beautiful Trial

Middle of November and it’s still consistently in the 60s – I’m pretty sure we’ve never had a Fall like this since I moved to Oregon … 23 years ago? It’s getting colder at night, but the days remain beautiful and mild. It really is lovely, but a little unsettling and kind of unreal.

We had a trial up in Ridgefield today, I can’t remember wandering around in a t-shirt in NOVEMBER at a trial before. Lots of rain and mud, yes, but not all weirdly nice out. It was such a nice day and me and the dogs had a great time. The courses were fun, there was no horrible spacing or bad contact approaches – so nice! Today we even had an AKC jumpers course that was interesting, how often does that happen?

Dogs did great, they held up their end of deal, lovely weaves, mostly lovely contacts (one missed running dogwalk from Bright, but that’s not really trained, so it’s not her fault), no knocked bars, and they were trying really hard. I have two just amazing agility dogs that love the game and I’m very thankful we get to play together.

I, on the other hand, just could not seem to bring it together. I ran 8 courses and screwed up like 5 of them. I overhandled Bright, I underhandled Navarre, I called too much, I called too little, I over indicated a turn, I didn’t indicate a turn enough – omg, I just could not get my shit together. And I was trying, but when I would try to fix what I messed up with the first dog, I would then mess up something else with the other dog. Bright and Navarre run VERY differently! So that was kind of comical, and the dogs were really trying their best, I just kept messing up silly stuff. 

Still, we had lots of great stuff too, we all had fun and I was happy with our runs other than little bits. I’m trying to think what I came away with as homework from the trial, but it wasn’t anything specific. I think using verbals is helpful – the last course I ran silently with both dogs, and both dogs would have done great if I had just called them – silly off courses I could have prevented. So, yeah, stay connected, work every obstacle, don’t assume – just lots of overall good advice.

I like the one day trial thing, especially with Premier in the morning, I feel like we got a full weekend of trialing in one day. We have another one day trial next weekend, I hope it’s just as fun. After that, we shall see. Probably do a day of the New Year’s trial too.

But December I’m thinking about herding, still looking for big field training opportunities for Haku. During my winter break from classes I will have more availability to get out and about, so I think I should try to dedicate my break to getting Haku ready for a border collie trial. Or, at least, attempting to.

It kind of breaks my heart that while Haku does do lots of running around hiking, he now spends more and more time just walking behind me on the trail. You know, like an old dog. He’s real happy about it, just doesn’t feel the need to be tearing around the whole time like the young crowd. Almost 9 and a half now, certainly not old, but not young either. Just love that dog, I don’t know if we’ll ever make it to a border collie trial, but he still is having a great time training.

And Navarre is still not my problem in herding, he’s Dave’s – but if Navarre does go on a herding vacation in December, I’d like to think he’ll come back with some skills and I should probably, I don’t know, work my own dog at that point. I used to think Navarre actually herding would never happen, but I think he’s going to prove me wrong. Now, doing it WELL is another story, but that’s never been a requirement. All these herding people seem to think he’s a better herding dog than Haku – so now we’ll see if that’s actually true.

However, I was contemplating for my next dog about getting a border collie actually bred for herding. But it’s a scary concept, I like having an idea about jumping ability, getting along with other dogs, being easy to live with and being able to deal with a lot of environmental stimulus – all of which is not real important when breeding for herding. However, Karen recently imported a herding dog from Wales, who is going to have puppies from a nice herding dog – and she seems really sweet and solid. So if all goes well, I’m hoping to raise a puppy from that litter next year. There is a certain amount of excitement when you’re talking about a puppy from lines I know nothing about, that come from far away and I have no preconceived notions about anything. Looking forward to it!

An Obedient Dog

Super proud of the baby, Navarre held it together for the obedience fun match over the weekend. I really expected him to be distracted and unimpressed, but he was trying super hard and actually seemed to be having a good time. Maybe not ‘agility’ good time, but still. If he keeps just being able to DO THINGS I may have to finally upgrade him from ‘baby dog’ status. He just keeps getting closer to the magical 4 year mark – it’s a really fun time.

He really hasn’t forgotten anything from his obedience classes as a puppy. I’m really glad he had those experiences, it was a great opportunity to teach him to work in close quarters with other dogs, and to have someone make sure I stayed at least moderately consistent. Ellie did a great job of exposing Navarre to a variety of different situations, even though we haven’t been in her class for like a year, he had the foundation to handle everything and I’m thankful.

So, yes, we have worked on line ups and ring entrances, and we have worked on heeling with a lot of distraction, and we have proofed stays and worked on transitions between exercises. We have trained the exercises too, of course, but I think I didn’t realize we had done so much ‘trial’ proofing already as well. Sneaky Ellie, I never noticed as I was too busy working on getting him into the game, but she was actually teaching obedience – I can’t say I was real focused on that part.

But I had a dog at the match! A dog that was with me and focused and not rolling his eyes at me. I’ll admit I was surprised how relaxed he was and how easy everything seemed to be for him. I was expecting much more drama, but mostly he was happy to be there and happy to show off his behaviors. Nothing was perfect, but I didn’t expect that, I figured our biggest hurdle would be getting the attitude and focus. Go figure.

So we did a Novice and Open run, Novice was first. I’ll admit it’s novel to walk into an obedience ring with a dog that is so relaxed. Haku is many things, relaxed is not one of them. First off, I couldn’t believe Navarre could line up in front the judge without wanting to oogle them. Yes, we have worked on that in his obedience classes, but outside of that, he really likes to say hi to people. But he was all business. His heeling wasn’t bad! It wasn’t as nice as he has been doing in practice, but light years ahead of what he had been doing before we really started working on it recently. Really though, he was happy to heel and I wasn’t dealing with a ridiculous amount of forging or lagging. Our fast is kind of amusing as we have had to work hard to get him to RUN, and now he breaks into this ridiculous floppy canter, but it works. That was my biggest question, could he heel in public for a extended period of time without turning into a forging maniac or just wandering off. Good boy!

Otherwise, the Novice exercises looked good for the most part. No problems with the stand for exam or figure 8, heel off lead was the same as on-lead. His recall … still his worst exercise. This was the only time he felt kind of off, I could feel him getting stiff for this exercise. I don’t know what it is, as he LIKES stays – why the recall wigs him out, I don’t really know. He still did fine, he still ran, but not like he had been doing in practice which was much more loose and happy. So more work to do there. We threw in another recall, and I thought he seemed a little more relaxed, but still not where I want.

Oh, and speaking of stays, we did the new Novice group stays, with back to back lines of dogs. So handlers holding leashes (I do actually own a 6 foot leash!). Navarre finds THIS exercise to be fun, his little tail wags the whole time. And he started sitting pretty on the long sit again. It’s really cute … but I thought we had fixed that. I give him points for improvising, but that would get him eliminated, unfortunately. And other than the sit-up on the stays, he would have qualified in Novice.

As for rewards, I rewarded in between exercises, but mostly with love, and then a quick treat. We did more fun rewards at the end when we did some bonus heeling and recalls. But I think he could have done the whole routine without any food rewards. He very much enjoyed going to get his frisbee afterwards, and after his Open run he dragged me out to find his frisbee again – didn’t take him long to make that connection.

For Open, that one is just a lot longer and more complex. He was having to think a lot more, as we haven’t worked on these exercises in like a year. I was actually pretty darn surprised he did so well – especially the broad jump, which he has a history of WALKING the broad jump – but he not only happily cleared it, he didn’t even do any cutting corners or anything. I was thrilled with that, and his retrieves were good. Fronts were a little off, but how novel not to have to wrestle the dumbbell away from him. Haku liked retrieving a little TOO much …

No issues with the new Open signal exercise, but the drop on recall … yeah, I don’t know what it is about recalls. Our first attempt he was distracted, looking over in the other ring at something (the only time he was really distracted), but even the second attempt he was acting like he had never heard ‘lie down’ before and was just uncomfortable looking. He did it but was highly unconvinced. So, yeah, we will work on it and also experiment if he’d prefer a hand signal instead. You know, it’s not like he’s a herding dog that is used to lying down ALL THE TIME. And this one we have practiced this week.

We do need to work on finishing to the right, which we almost never practice – yet always seems so much smoother to ask for in an actual sequence of behaviors. So he didn’t really recognize the signal or line up real well. We have issues in general of him lining up with his butt behind me – he takes the whole pivot your rear into me thing really seriously.

Still, thrilled with what he gave me, and we tried out some of the exercises I have never done before in a trial, like the stay to get your leash. In Open we tested the stand stay while you get your leash, as I hear that is what they are planning to change to in January. I think with a little polishing we could get through Novice and Open in competition. As in I think he’ll be decently prepared, not that we’ll be setting the obedience world on fire. Fun to play around with, but I don’t have the patience for precision – my main concern is a dog that is enjoying themselves and feels confident with the exercises. We will continue to work on it, but I may actually look at some trials sooner in 2018 if he continues to look good. I was very pleased by his maturity and focus, I’m feeling like he’s ready to give it a try. My baby is all growing up!

There is even some rare obedience video, which is really only interesting to me, but I am really happy with his heeling:

Love my Navarre! His sister just had a litter down in California – with Bright’s brother! And they just happen to be the cutest damn litter, good thing I’m not looking for a puppy. I’ll be ever so curious what they’re like, but at the moment all they are is ridiculously adorable.

Just out of curiosity, I finally made an appointment with the reproduction vet in Wilsonville to get the official status of Navarre’s balls. I’m 98% certain he’s got to be sterile, I can’t imagine those little things actually functioning – but it’s true I’ve never actually asked an expert. So I will, he hasn’t been to the vet since he was a puppy anyway, I think, wouldn’t hurt to have an exam. His appointment is for exam and collection, but I seriously doubt we’ll have to actually collect him to ascertain whether his little grapes could actually do anything.

A Perfect Fall?

Good lord this has been one very dry, very warm Fall. I just can’t believe it’s November! This week it was perfect, crisp mornings up to mid-50s during the day – partly cloudy with just amazing sunsets. The light is just beautiful, the trees so beautiful, the sky so beautiful – I really do love Oregon. I’m going to just say this is a mild Fall and not some sort of portent of doom for an ever warming planet. More enjoyable that way.

Dogs are loving the season, lots of training, lots of park/field runs as well as hiking and swimming – no more getting overheated, we can go forever. In this weather we can do it all. It’s a whole household of happy animals, including kitties in sunbeams – smiles all around.

I remain enormously happy with the robot vacuum. It’s gotten stuck twice, in really weird places that I don’t really understand how – it can get itself out of crazy situations – but in both cases when I came home it was more like just sitting next to a wall, no real obstructions anywhere. But most of the time it does its thing, and it does it well. The house looks SO NICE when I get home. And because you have to get everything tidied up for the vacuum when you leave, coming home to such a clean house puts me in a great mood. Easy to clean, surprisingly doesn’t get a ton of hair stuck on the brush (but easy to take out and clean anyway). There is no downside to the robot vacuum so far. I want everyone to get one now, as I had no idea they were this awesome.

More good news, sounds like Figgy is doing very well in her new household! Was really fun to see some video of her, she’s still in that super awkward teenage stage, but so much fluffier now. Knock on wood, sounds like she’s settling in and behaving herself, and they are enjoying her. Really makes me happy to hear she landed in such a great home. I almost got to play with a Belgian Shepherd puppy for a little bit, but, alas, didn’t happen. Would have been really interesting to see what living with a puppy like that would be like. We didn’t get to see that litter again like we planned, unfortunately. Hopefully there will be more puppies in the future for me to play with.

Agility this week we played with some Justine exercises again, I was pretty pleased with what the dogs were doing. I really like doing her proofing exercises and drills just for the challenge, we don’t really use those skills in actual competition, but they are fun to play with. If you want to see Navarre get REALLY HIGH, watch Robert run him – good lord! They are really fun to watch, Navarre doesn’t know what to do with a handler that actually RUNS – but he just loves it. Robert does a great job with him, and it’s really fun to watch Navarre run from the outside. That boy tries so hard! I have not been working on our collection homework, but we’ll get back to it at some point … when he starts going so wide it drives me crazy, I imagine.

Bright is also looking good, just happy and fun and occasionally way too creative. I can’t imagine life without the Brightness, she is such a joy and such a good, good girl. I entered just a couple trials, one day, but with some Premier. Hopefully we’ll get some fun courses. No particular trialing goals with either dog at the moment, but I do enjoy trialing and testing to see what we can do … assuming the courses are well designed and have some challenge to them.

USDAA nationals last weekend, UKI nationals this weekend. UKI definitely looks more fun – and much farther away, naturally. Tiny USDAA nationals this year, the east coast folks stuck to UKI, I think. And I think overall it’s just a more fun event, with lots of fun classes and lots of opportunity to advance, even if you didn’t qualify during the year. I don’t know how many dogs are in the event, but it certainly seems like a hell of a lot more than USDAA nationals. But UKI never seems to come to the west coast, so less likely for me to ever think about going. But, hey, I’m okay with that – big events are fun, but traveling … not so much.

In obedience, Navarre continues to improve – and seems to be enjoying the training more and more. I get less eye rolls these days when we attempt to work on things. He consistently shows up with enthusiasm and doesn’t seem like he’s just humoring me. So that’s been really fun, I like training new things and being able to actually work on refining heeling and fronts and finishes and things – so novel. I even signed him up for an obedience match this weekend! So that will be test, what do the behaviors look like in public? How much work is it really going to take to get him in an obedience trial situation? We still have 5 months until his theoretical debut, so it’s okay if it’s a hot mess – but I’m feeling all optimistic after lots of great practice this week. We’ll be doing a Novice and Open run at the match, which is a little silly considering we haven’t really practiced any of the Open stuff recently – but as long as we’re there, why not? He can, theoretically, do it all. But anything could happen. The goal is for good experiences, focus, enthusiasm and hopefully some thoughtful behaviors in public. I’m sure we’ll have homework after that.

Then we had a miracle in our herding lesson this week – Navarre actually fetching sheep with both an outrun and then actually not just shoving the sheep past Dave! Let us put in some disclaimers that Dave had to put a lot of pressure on him to start with to get him to actually respect that bubble, but it had never actually worked to help him voluntarily pace himself before. And, with that, Navarre has passed the two tests that I required for him to actually continue with herding once Haku retires – an outrun and being able to feel his sheep instead of just pushing them around like an oblivious dork.

Navarre has kind of snuck in there, he used to get the last 15 minutes of Haku’s lesson, and now we tend to split it down the middle more and more often. He’s actually making progress, slowly but surely. I still want Dave to take him for some training this winter, as I do think if he could actually just get to work on it we could get past some of the dorkiness. I’d like him to have an idea of what herding is actually FOR, he still doesn’t really know. But I think Navarre will get to be a herding dog after all. I’m not in any rush, but I’d like to eventually put whistles on him and actually train him for real. Eventually, in our slow meandering way.

Speaking of whistles, I think Haku needs some. We have an issue, which is Heather has a very tiny voice that doesn’t project AT ALL. So we went out to work on some longer outruns and lifting the sheep off of Dave and his dog … and Haku couldn’t hear me at all. And it’s not because he’s deaf, Dave couldn’t hear me either. I got nothing. So this is one problem that is putting a major snag into our plan to eventually do some border collie trials with him. This was not super far, about 100 yards, where apparently most people can still be herd with verbal directions. But not me. Sigh. Tiny voice strikes again.

And then the older the dog, the harder it is to put whistles on them, assuming we have enough time to do that. But the plan is to try anyway, and even if Haku doesn’t pick it up, I can still use him to practice my whistles anyway, even if they mean nothing to Haku. And then maybe I can research on how to project more with my voice, I’ve never actually attempted to be louder, maybe it’s something that can be taught.

So that’s one issue we ran into today, the other big issue is I think almost all the fields we have practiced in for years are probably not more than 75 yards, and Haku is pretty confident at 75 yds … but not so much 100 yds. You can really tell what distance we’ve practiced … and what we haven’t. He got better with some practice … but we don’t have access to bigger training fields. If we can’t practice it, he’s not going to get better at it. Hm. And we also need practice lifting off other dogs and people, which is what we were SUPPOSED to be working on, but that seemed less critical than the other two. So contemplating that problem, as we really won’t be able to do the border collie trials if we don’t have access to the type of bigger fields they are run in – and if he can’t hear anything I’m telling him anyway. So, hm. And it will eventually be an issue for Navarre as well, so I have to find some solutions here.

Still, such a beautiful day, the dogs just love herding, I’m doing better at not screaming so much – still enjoying herding this week.

Herding and Puppies

We had some unexpectedly lovely weather over the weekend, and I had a chance to work the boys on sheep multiple times and multiple days – which pretty much never happens. That really does help though!

Our new sheep, while adorable and so much safer and less painful than our other ladies, have their own issues. First, they don’t stay together, they were not a group when Heidi got them, so they often just go in separate directions – not helpful. Second, they are actually frightened of Navarre, so that makes it hard to herd calmly thoughtfully. Driving with them, even with Haku, is way hard.

First, Haku and I were all over the place, couldn’t get a straight line for anything. I’m having to fix things constantly, and we just never really got the hang of it. The next day, we finally got some relatively good driving, and that felt much better. I’m doing a little better with our turns around the post and not getting tangled up driving a straight line back out. But we ended up being able to do little triangle drives in both directions, with minimal frustrated yelling from me, but plenty of micromanagement. I’m stuck with continually lying him down as he keeps wanting to shut down the sheep on his walk-up. I now understand what that means, and Haku just does it all the time. So I have to lie him down to let the sheep free up. The good news is that I think I know a little better what is supposed to be happening with driving, the bad news is that Haku does not think driving means the same thing I do. Not sure what to do about that. Still, felt good we made some progress and I was pretty quiet and relaxed. Suddenly I’m all about constantly lying him down, need to stop that.

Navarre continued his EXTRA pushy behavior where if we did have the old sheep, they would have taken me out. He wasn’t slowing down for anything, and was diving in and getting super high and I just couldn’t work him close to the sheep at all. The good news, he can still do outruns without being a total goober … usually. The second day I decided to try a new approach, which was just working on little drives and marking the nice steady pace he gives for that (which he never, ever does with fetching). Which would have worked better if the sheep weren’t so freaked out about Navarre stalking them – they would either scatter and panic or turn and challenge when he was just calmly walking up. So not helpful!

Still, I was able to mark and encourage all the lovely calm pace with Navarre, and then we tried to switch back and forth from driving to fetching and seeing if I could keep any of the nice thoughtful pace when we flipped it around. To begin with, no, if I was involved he really thinks he should run me over with sheep – yet he’s so gentle driving! And he kept slicing and diving in at sheep and I gave him a few tries, but eventually he got ejected for that nonsense. I will take lack of pace on fetching, there is absolutely no reason he shouldn’t know by now that slicing, chasing and goosing sheep is unacceptable at this point.

The good news, he finds access to sheep very high value, and with that sort of correction (being ejected from the arena), he was much better the next time. I have argued with him over this kind of thing for years and he’s happy to argue about it, but at least with those kinds of behavior, I’m pretty much done with it. He was much more thoughtful after that, and we were able to do some baby driving and flip it around to fetching and he was a bit more thoughtful – certainly not as bad as he was at the beginning of the weekend. I’m always a little shocked when something we practice actually seems to help, so we’ll continue to play with it. When things actually go well, and the weather is perfect, herding is kind of fun. We’ll see how the winter goes …

Navarre may have had some lightbulb moments with obedience this week, “Oh, you want me heel all the way back here? Why didn’t you say so!” It could be a fluke, but all of the sudden I felt like he was actually offering better heeling, instead of me just constantly fixing and rewarding and not feeling like we were making any progress. Fingers crossed it continues, if we can smooth out the heeling the rest of the behaviors are more black and white. Recalls are better than they were when he was a puppy, but he still wants to stop too far away from me. And he will get better with practice, but whenever we start a new training session he does it again. Faster though, in general, and more into it. Never had a dog so difficult to train on such a simple exercise. Need to remember to work some group stays when we’re out with other dogs, that’s going to be another one that will require some work, I think. He’s never had a super firm stay like the other dogs, for whatever reason (yes, probably handler not being consistent …).

Just did a little agility this week, we’re still running league at the one barn which is just not interesting agility. We did some work with some of the Justine drills though, which is always fun. I was pleasantly surprised to see the dogs threadle proofing didn’t require much work. If I can the information to them, they will do it … usually. We had some where I was threadling and really taking off and they would skip the jump. Which seems to be their new thing, as they have both done it and even in competition. I really trust them … but apparently too much. Navarre got to run with Robert in class this week again, which is really interesting to watch, Navarre loves to run with him and is mostly very responsive.

Had the dogs with me for our car appointment this week, which I didn’t think would be a huge deal as it was just routine stuff and a taillight change. However, when I got there for our appointment they were already an hour behind, and then my simple tail light replacement turned into a huge ordeal of replacing the entire mechanism, which was not only expensive, but also very time consuming. Dogs got to hang out at the dealership for almost 3 hours!

We went for a nice long walk around the neighborhood, but considering the dealership is right next to the highway, it wasn’t real scenic. So I took the dogs into the lobby and there we waited (and waited some more!). Dogs did fairly well, and I get that they were bored – so Navarre got very whiny and fidgety. But they could settle and chill … until yet another person had to come ‘say hi’ to them – arrrgh. They would be totally relaxed and then someone would come over and they would jump all over them (which people don’t like – THEN DON’T COME TO PET THEM), and get all excited and I’d have to calm them down again. Like every 5 minutes for 3 hours. I read an article once than the reason that European dogs are much better behaved in public was because people there don’t feel the need to ‘say hi’ to every dog they come across. It sure does make it easier if people would just ignore them.

Early reports of my robot vacuum (Neato D5) are glowing! I love this thing, I really want it to keep doing what it’s doing right now, which is doing an amazingly thorough job of cleaning my whole house while I’m gone so I come home to a freshly vacuumed house – how awesome is that? I don’t know how long it will hold up, but I am thoroughly impressed at both the cleaning power and the pathfinding abilities – the technology really has come a long way. It gets to every part of the house and hasn’t gotten stuck so far – it’s very good at getting itself out of trouble!

The cats don’t hate it as much as the normal vacuum, and hopefully since it will be running every day they’ll get used to it. The dogs aren’t allowed around it, I don’t want them breaking it (looking at you, Navarre). I’m a little horrified how much it picks up EVERY DAY. How much hair can one house accumulate in one day? A LOT, apparently.  I had planned to use this every day and do a normal vacuum on the weekends, but I don’t know if I’ll need to, this thing seems to have a ton of suction. Fingers crossed that maybe I just won’t have to vacuum anymore? The real test is the long run, we shall see. It’s easy to clean, easy to take the brush off to remove hair, it charges and runs itself while I’m gone – so much awesome. So far, I’m totally in love with this thing, but I’m assuming the other shoe will drop in time.

And I love puppies! Got to meet a litter of 6 week old belgian shepherds and it was just so ridiculously cute I can’t even describe it. Some puppies are cuter than others and this litter was not only freakishly cute, but just bursting with personality and confidence – which is why I like the belgian breeds, I think. A couple are staying local, it will be fun to watch them grow. They are on my list of breeds I would get if the right one came along … but probably won’t. I do very much like them though!