Sunday, April 26, 2009

Can It Get Any Better?

Last weekend (April 18th & 19th) Reason was running in an AKC herding trial in Advanced B sheep.  The sheep were hard to pen and many experienced dogs and handlers weren't getting the five Katahdins into the free standing pen. On Saturday, we didn't get any further than the pen because I rushed the process and got them circling the pen and decided to retire our run.  But on Sunday, it felt like I spent almost the entire 10 minutes at the pen - patiently waiting for all them to decide that that was a safer place to go.  Reason was working one side of the pen and I had the rope and was working the other side.  He was patiently walking in a few inches and stopping as we would wait for the sheep to settle before I would have him walk up a few inches again.  The cold wind and rain was blowing hard and I thought my left arm that was holding onto that rope was going to get so weak that the gate would blow back into the sheep and scatter them away from that opening.  Patience, focus, and Reason listening to my commands finally got the sheep into the pen.  After the pen, these sheep set up for a shed really nicely and Reason came in and held the two on the end.  That was his HXBs title, which rounds up all the A course & B course advanced titles on him (he already had his herding championship).
Now fast forward to this past weekend (April 24th, 25th, & 26th).  It's a three day obedience trial at St. Paul Dog Training Club in South St. Paul, Minnesota.  Reason is entered in Open B and Utility B all three days.  The obedience trial has been designated as an AKC National Obedience Invitational Regional Qualifier (for more information on these events, click here). Reason just loves obedience and considers it just as fun as agility, which is why I love going into the obedience ring with him.  He gives his all on each exercise, burning rubber on the way out and just as fast on the way back to me. And he just floats at my side when he heels with me. 
It wasn't a surprise to me that this event drew in some of the best competition from the surrounding states along with a couple of dogs from states that required a flight into town. 
We started off on Friday qualifying in both classes with great runs, but a bobble in each class kept us out of the placement.  On Saturday, he was 1/2 point out of the placement in Open B with a 198 1/2 (1st & 2nd place was a 199 1/2, 3rd & 4th place was a 199). In Utility B, he had a great run but nearly grabbed the wrong article in his race to find it but figured it out quickly and got the correct one.  I was pleased going home on Saturday night knowing that we had gotten UDX legs 6 and 7.  When I arrived at the trial this morning, I found out that Reason was actually in the lead as the 4 top qualifying dogs for the Invitational invite. I was thrilled to know this and just focused on our performances for the day.  Our Utility B run was a great run, with a 198 and 4th place (tied for 3rd).  He had a decent run in Open B, but not good enough to place.  This gave us UDX leg 8 and the icing on the cake was that Reason ended up in the lead for the regional qualifier.  
Because of the number of herding and agility trials we compete in, there is no way that we could ever qualify for the National Obedience Invitational with a breed like the Border Collie.  What an honor to be able to qualify for this prestigious event in Long Beach, California from a weekend of trials like this. But then again, the honor really is that I have such an amazing and versatile partner, Reason.  
Obedience photos by Great Dane Photos.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Fog Has Lifted - Finally

I think we made it through the most challenging part of Schema's heat cycle being at day 18. The last four days, (including last weekend while staying in a motel all together) have been rough on Score.  Before this, he could be distracted from her through various means (mostly quirks that I could devote an entire blog towards). But during the breed able days, he was a butt seeking magnet and he was determined to mount her and efficiently get it done, so it was tricky around the house (and REALLY tricky in the motel) keeping them apart. I knew that my personal fun police officer, Mr. Reason, would not allow anything naughty to happen.  If Score even looked at Schema lovingly, Reason would let me know by growling and chasing him away.
This morning it was like the fog had been lifted and things were almost back to normal.  Score is no longer interested in her rear end and when they went outside to relieve themselves, this morning he did his own business and wasn't thinking about Schema's business. Right now Schema is on the couch chewing a bullystick and Score is by my side wanting to go outside and play.
Score has been such a good boy, always sleeping quietly through the night while he is in a kennel next to Schema's kennel in the bedroom and also while riding together in the van. The most difficult times for Score had been during the daytime when he was used to just hanging out. That was when there was a lot of whining and a lot of "want" (and lots of growling from Reason). 
Last weekend we were out of town at a herding trial and I could see the effects that the peak of the heat cycle had on him.  I could tell that he was mentally drained.  His flanks were more explosive and not soft when they needed to be.  And he wanted to hold on to the livestock instead of releasing them when he continuously refused to take the flanks I was giving him. His body was moving fast, but his brain was stuck. His runs on Saturday were not pretty, but his sheep run on Sunday was much better as he and I were a little more connected.
Schema's first (and last) heat cycle couldn't have happened at a better time (well, I suppose the peak of it, could have happened before our motel stay).  Besides the herding trials last weekend, the only other thing I have going on in April are obedience trials this coming weekend for Reason. All is well in this house right now.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Have you ever thought about the way humans and dogs deal differently with contrast or unpleasant situations in their lives?
Humans love to find reasons why bad things happen to them or to others. When they are embarrassed about a mistake or when the outcome in a situation is not what they expected, blame can be a convenient diversion. Humans have tendencies of dwelling and chewing on the bad things that have affected them. They continue to hold their focus on those thoughts throughout the day - analyzing and replaying the situation over and over again and only totally letting it go when they go to sleep at night. However, then they don't sleep well because that stress on their body won't let go. 
We could actually learn a lot from our dogs by observing the way they deal with contrast and unpleasant things. Dogs so cleverly divert their attention from negative situations towards things that are more reinforcing and pleasurable. That could be something as simple as a sniffing a blade of grass on the ground. They always know how to effectively shift their focus from the negative to those things that are much more appealing. And even when they are immersed into something fun, they continue to challenge themselves by seeking out things that might be even better. When something bad happens to them, they immediately move on without blame and naturally turn away and look for something more interesting. Dogs expect good things to happen to them. But when they find themselves in a predicament, they don't complain - they just keep looking for that expectation of all that is good.  And the wonderful thing is that they do eventually find it. 
When life brings contrast or things we don't want into our view, we have a choice.  We can choose to look at what we perceive as negative and continue to view it that way or we can be like our beloved canines and find a way to look at contrast differently.  If it makes you feel bad, then find something else to think about or try to think about that contrast in a different way.  
I remember a very long time ago when I used to get very upset when I would see someone driving a truck with a dog that was loose in the back.  Whenever I would see a dog running from side to side in the back of a truck going down the road in front of me, I would start getting angry at the driver. How could they risk the life of that dog?  I didn't want to be the one to see the dog getting thrown from the truck.  The entire situation would consume me and I hated the feeling that would come over me when I would see something like this. So, I decided to try to find a different way to look at it so I would not have to deal with that negativity.  I decided that the likelihood of that dog being thrown from that truck was very low.  I told myself that the person driving the truck obviously loved the dog because they were taking them along and the dog was not left at home kenneled or tied up. When I decided that I was the source of my negativity and by looking at the situation differently, I could feel better - well, it was the beginning of a new personal challenge that I took on. Whenever I am upset, I take the challenge of trying to find a different way to look at the situation.
One of my favorite quotes is one by Dr. Wayne Dyer:  "If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."

Monday, April 6, 2009

Wool Ewe Stay Or Wool Ewe Go

A sure sign of spring around here is when the sheep get sheared each year after a year's worth of wool. After not being worked or handled from late November until April, the sheep are frisky and decidedly not in favor of relinquishing their wool.  
It was a cool Minnesota day today with a northwest wind and temps in the 30's, but we were sweating after shearing, worming, and clipping hooves (actually the shearer did most of the sweating). 
I love this time of year.  The weather teases us with snow and temps below freezing one day followed by temps in the 40's and 50's the next day.  There is excitement in the air as we gradually transition from indoor activities into outdoor activities. The dogs are feeling their wheels as they run across the fields which is no longer frozen under them.  Life is good.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Can't We Just Be Friends?

I've had the opportunity over the years to observe a lot of dogs and trainers inside and out of the obedience, agility, and herding trials. Lots of the dogs are well schooled in the venue that they are competing in and many of the handlers are very experienced. What I notice most is not the greatness of the runs on course or the great training session, it's the relationship between the dog and the handler. Some people have a strong connection and relationship with their dogs and others have a very poor relationship.
With all the foundation training people do with their dogs in order to train the necessary skills, what would help the most would be to put more effort into building a stronger relationship between the dogs and their owners. That relationship is the key to getting great performances and just having a better companion. How do you get a better relationship? It's simple, become a better leader to your dog.
Dogs are not comfortable in enviroments without a leader and without structure. And depending on the personality of the dog, they will learn various ways of dealing and coping with any uncomfortable situation. 
Many humans will bring new dog or puppy into their lives and try to treat their relationship like a new best friend. My dogs most definitely are my best friends, but they only became my best friends because they respect my leadership and the structure that I provide them. I'm not talking about total dominance, I'm talking about balanced dog training - where we (the humans) are training the dogs rather than the dogs learning how to train the humans. Dogs think about life and living much differently than we do. They deal best with straighforward situations which are black and white. They do not do well with our human negative emotions and they do not understand our verbal world of communication, but they are masters at figuring out our physical communications (motion) and signals.
My dogs never cease to amaze me at their ability to watch me and figure me out. I remember one time where I went to turn on the lamp in the family room, only to find all 3 of my dogs slinking away to various parts of the house (I saw Reason's tail going around the corner, Gimmick went behind the couch, and Score went slinking off into the kitchen). "What in the world was THAT all about?", I thought to myself. It didn't take me long to figure out what they were responding to - that lamp never gets turned on unless the dogs were getting groomed. It just happened to be a stormy/dark day and more light was needed in that room. The brilliant interpreters that they are, my dogs had figured out the pattern. If you pay attention to observing your dogs and their reactions, it can make you a much better dog trainer.
Occasionally I will hear someone express that they have someone else bring their dog to the vet (or be involved in any situation that they view as negative) because they don't want to be associated as the bad guy. This setting up a poor relationship pattern with your dog and it is not being fair to your dog as they look to you as a leader. Dogs are going to have to deal with fun things and not-so fun things in life. That's the nature of life and dogs and the choices they learn to make. They deal with negative things by avoiding them - and that's to be expected. But if you are not there to help support them unemotionally through some of these required "not-so-fun" experiences, how will you be there to support them when they decide that they don't want to do something that is required or when they decide they want to do something that is not allowed in their day to day lives?  That will lead to training issues down the road in your favorite dog sport. 
When you train specific skills to your dog in agility, obedience, or herding, how will you help them understand the parameters of the skill you are trying to teach, if you are only exposing them to positive things?  How will they deal with the negative things or even the difficult or challenging things in life and in training, if you are intervening and not allowing them to make a choice? You might create a very dependent dog that simply can not deal with making mistakes or failing in any situation. These types of dogs will shutdown or slow down and stop trying as they stress out because they can't depend on you to help them.  Or you might create an entrepreneur dog that gets creative in dealing with things that they don't want to deal with or challenges their focus and skills.  These types of dogs can learn how to seek out and find their own reinforcers or fun things to do when they are not taught that the choices they make leads to outcomes that are even less enjoyable.  Neither of these situations is going to give you a great relationship with your dog and it will certainly create future training issues as the dog learns effectively how to avoid or resist those perceived "unfun" or uncomfortable challenges in the future.
Dogs deal better with negative situations by having a strong unemotional support system in a strong and dependable leader.  
Yes, training new skills should be done with positive associations and experiences.  But dogs should also be allowed to make mistakes along the way and eventually learn how to deal with those failures based on the outcome of their choices. Dogs that are never allowed to fail or make errors or experience negative situations, are much more of a challenge to train for any dog sport. Proofing games are an important part of training dogs to really understand the skills they have learned so they can perform in any environment and have a clear understanding of their job. However, you can't effectively or fairly proof a dog that doesn't deal well with failure or mistakes. And as a trainer, you must be able to allow the dog to work through mistakes without jumping in so quickly to try and help them.  Dogs that learn to keep trying when they've made a mistake are dogs that have great relationships with their owners.  There is a strong connection in place as the dog looks to the owner as a leader.  
So set aside some time and observe your relationship with your dog.  Are you too quick to try and intervene to make each experience a positive one?  Do you let your dog make mistakes and unemotionally give them the response that is needed to help them make better future decisions? If you are having issues in obedience, agility, or herding with your dogs, take a few moments and be honest with yourself about some of the relationship and leadership issues that occur around your house.  Sometimes honesty is the best medicine on the road to recovery.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Behold the turtle: He only makes progress when he sticks his neck out. --James Bryant Conant

I've had this blog ready to go for some time, but "time" is always getting in the way of starting. And since that's never going to change, something has to - so that will be me.  It's here we go....
I'd like to introduce my wonderful dogs, who contribute daily to my ability to stay grounded. They are my therapy, my comic relief, my dose of reality, my inspiration, and my lessons in life. I'd also like to thank Janice DeMello for breeding and placing my dogs with me.  I couldn't have asked for better partners.
Reason is a 9 year old black tri Border Collie.  He is my soul mate and sometimes I swear he knows me better than I know myself.  He is my partner in obedience, herding, and agility and he performs all of them with an incredible amount of enthusiasm and determination.  He is also my main help to sort and hold the sheep when they need shearing, medications, and various other chores.
Reason is a very talented obedience dog.  There is nothing better than going into the obedience ring with him as a partner.  The joy on his face when he is heeling, retrieving, jumping or performing any of the other obedience exercises is contagious and I feel priviledged every time we enter the ring together.  Looking into that little graying face as he awaits my commands - just makes me want time to stand still.
Reason introduced me to the wonderful world of agility and I am forever grateful for this new adventure.  Most people learn agility with slower dogs.  Reason does not do anything slow and agility is no exception. There is nothing more exhilerating than running a course together with my powerhouse, "Little Boy".
Score, a 4 year old black and white Border Collie, is the middle child in our house.  He is closely related to Reason as they have the same sire, Scheme and Reason's mother, Static, is Score's grandmother.  While Reason looks nothing like Scheme, Score looks like his Daddy's twin.  I just love his expressive face with his head that tilts as he tries to interpret what you are telling him. Score is an effortless runner.  He can power up to speed and run for a long distance and not even be breathing hard.
Score is doing some great things in agility -trialing in USDAA Masters and closing in on his MACH in AKC agility.  He qualified for USDAA & AKC 
Nationals this year, but I decided to trial closer to home.
Next year we are definitely going to Tulsa for the 2010 Nationals.
Score is also developing the skills and becoming great herding dog.  He has a great feel for his stock and the tougher the sheep, the better he is - he loves a challenge and he rises to all that I have presented to him. I'm looking forward to enjoying many successful years with Score in herding, agility, and even possibly obedience.  
In May of 2008, I couldn't resist bringing in the newest member of my family, Schema.  Schema is a black tri granddaughter of Reason and Score's sire.  She is out of a bitch, Posh, that I loved immediately when Jan decided to keep her.  My word to describe Posh when I first saw her was "stunning" as she reminds me of Static. Schema's sire is a powerful and talented dog, Bezel, who has the most incredible contacts I have ever seen.
Schema is an amazing little girl, who has a great work ethic and has a lot of natural talent working stock.  She is very athletic, determined, and yet she is very biddable and sweet.  I love watching her run as she is such a powerful, yet efficient and graceful runner.  I can envision that her jumping style will be very similar.
I've been working on a lot of foundation obedience and agility work with her and she just loves it all.  I'm excited for the new things we will learn as we grow together as a team.
That's a brief introduction to my dogs.  If you want to read more about me, you can read it here.