Welcome to The Real Time Canine, Part Two

Welcome to part two of The Real Time Canine. In this edition, I will describe the daily life of a Border Collie sheepdog prospect. In weekly posts using words and pictures, I will describe what they learn and how they learn it. Each pup imparts knowledge in their own special way, and through them I will give you insight into how I train a Border Collie Sheepdog from beginning to success.

As with Kensmuir Star in the original
Real Time Canine, you will be with us every step of the way as these talented youngsters acquire the confidence, willingness and skills necessary to attain my goal for them to become a useful working sheepdog and successful trial competitor. I hope you will join us and find useful tips and technique on how to train a sheepdog.

After a lifetime with animals, dogs, horses and livestock, I am happy to share my expertise with you. I have found success at sheepdog trials at home and abroad, and have trained dogs that went on to find success with others. To learn more about me and my dogs, please visit my BorderSmith website, and my BorderSmith Blog!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Week Three

Jed and Price, from 1 generation to the next

Jed and I learned a lot about each other this week. He's smart, I'm tough, but fair and completely consistent. These are the stand-out lessons. Jed learned the meaning of the word "cookie," and his ears perk up immediately in anticipation. About 80% of the time, I would say, he keeps his feet to himself. Unlike, Star, the last puppy I raised, Jed is not the least bit hesitant about coming to me when I call, and seems to prefer my close company.

5 Things:
  1. The sound of my voice
  2. An hour out
  3. It's all the same
  4. Quick release
  5. Quiet
One of the benefits of keeping Jed with me in the house now is that he learns what I sound like under different circumstances. I am able to interact with him, correcting him or praising him as need be, and he is learning the fundamentals of correction and encouragement. And those, of course, are the building blocks of training a working sheepdog. I give him a low growl when he chews on my rug, runs off with my shoe, or puts his feet up on the furniture. He gets my happy voice if he comes when I call, submits to being picked up without being chased, goes in his kennel without a fuss. When my attention is not directed at him, he is simply learning me. How I move, and what those movements mean. How I smell and what my actions mean to him. It is all fundamental to learning to please me, which will become oh-so-important when the real training begins.

Nice ear

Still sleeping inside at night, I began putting him in the dog yard for a couple hours at a time with the big dogs, and he did well. Whenever I sat him down inside the gate, I got a "huh?" look most of the time, but I have never heard a peep from him while he was out there. My dog yard has lots of big boulders just right for climbing on, and jumping over. I think this encourages balance and athleticism in my dogs, and I like to initiate that at an early age. I read a biography of Ty Murray, arguably the world's greatest rodeo cowboy. In it, he describes being utterly focused on his chosen profession from his earliest memories, and orchestrating exercises throughout childhood that encouraged balance. He walked miles of fence line, rode a unicycle, learned to juggle and trained with his high school gymnastics squad, despite never competing with them. He was single-minded in his pursuit to be the best, and he achieved that by a mile. My single-minded pursuit is for Jed to be an excellent working sheepdog off and on the trial field. I too will orchestrate exercises that encourage balance, strength and athleticism in him. He goes for long walks with the big dogs to encourage stamina. He has trouble keeping up, but not for long. I lay him on his back, then let him struggle to right himself, we play with a tug toy and he chases Dexie, who chases a ball. I don't yet know whether he has the talent to attain my goals for him, but I will make sure he gets every opportunity.

Routine is very important to dogs in their daily life. Stability gives them confidence and courage, and while I like to mix things up on the training field, the mechanics of living remain predictable. I feed Jed at the same times each day. And so he will like it, I always feed him in his crate. When he rides in the truck, I always crate him. Some day that may change, and he may earn the keys to the co-pilot's chair, but not yet. Good manners and respect first, privilege later.  We feed the animals in the morning, the sheep go out and in at the same time, we walk after we work in the big field. These things and more are constants in Jed's life. He can count on them, he knows what is coming and where is his place among them. He doesn't have to wonder, and most importantly, he doesn't have to worry.

Jed's breeder, Llona Brandenburg, did a good job of creating a naturally clean puppy. By that I mean a puppy that prefers not to soil his immediate living area. Llona provided a whelping box that allowed the puppies to move away from their main living area into another one designated by a low bump the pups had to crawl over to get to. When given the chance, Jed always empties outside, and always after moving a considerable distance from me. Yes, some dogs are naturally clean, but it never hurts to give that idea legs whenever possible. One of the ways I encourage cleanliness is to release Jed from his crate immediately upon hearing him cry, when it's been a while. If he has just been outside and fusses when first crated, that's another matter. But, if he has just woken up from a nap, or at zero-dark-thirty in the morning after sleeping for 3 or 4 hours, when he cries, he goes out. Jed has responded to this really well, and almost always empties the minute he hits the grass. Also, because he knows he will get out when he needs to, he is happier about being crated. It's a trust thing.

So, what about when he cries in his crate just after coming inside? I correct him. Not harshly, understand, but I give him a low growl to let him know I don't like it. I may tap on his crate, and there has been a time or two when I raised my voice, but I resort to that sparingly so that it means something when I do. In the first paragraph I mentioned that Jed and I learned a lot about each other this week. One of the things that I learned is that I can talk to Jed, and he listens. When raising any dog, observation is a critical tool that is all too often overlooked. I observed Jed, and realized that I can converse with him and convince him to abide by the rules. When he fusses, I may say "no" and get another bark. I follow that with "quiet" and may get a "roo, roo, roo." I come back with "knock it off," and by that time I usually get some quieter grumbling just before he picks up a toy and entertains himself. He must be quiet. I will absolutely not tolerate anything else. He may not bark...ever. You have to be stronger with some dogs than others to get your point across, but this is Jed's story. With him, you can talk it out.

Dexter and Jed - Two peas

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Week Two

 Lump of coal clay

It took exactly 2 attempts at corraling Jed in an exercise pen for him to learn how to claw his way out. I caught him the first time, grunting, reaching, twisting his body to inch slowly up to the top and make his escape. I put him down, and he gave up. Once back inside the next night, he soon started to climb. I plucked him off the wire enclosure and, once again, put him down, then stepped out of the room. What...what was that? Turning to see what was nudging my leg, it was Jed, of course, standing nearly on top of me. That was the end of the Ex-pen, rendered useless before I could ever relax.

I have a very active puppy on my hands. I've been worried about him not eating enough, and I shouldn't. He eliminates quite often, thank you very much, and is wearing me out with boundless energy. Even while he has learned to quiet himself when crated inside the house, he demands attention all the time. I decided today to tucker the little guy, and took him with me to the big field while I worked my dogs. He was very patient in his crate under the shade of tall eucalyptus trees that line my practice field, and I didn't hear all that much from him. Then it was time to walk. We were quite a site, the 5 of us. 3 big Border Collies, 1 tiny Border Collie, and 1 infinitesimal Miniature Pinscher. I just chucked Jed down and off we went, him on wobbly legs but keeping up... with me, anyway. Except for the occassional puppy-sit, he stayed by my side while the others wandered. Since I didn't have to worry about him, I had plenty of time to enjoy watching Dexter paddle and hop his way through hay stubble that's half as tall as he is. My plan worked. Once home, Jed ate and crashed. So did I.

Another big day in the big field. He's been asleep for over an hour now.

                       Little dog, big field                    

This week's top five:
  1. I stood by while Jed slid and fell, but he mastered the stairs on his own.
  2. Just buckle it and go. How to become comfortable in a collar and bungi leash.
  3. That's right, those are sheep that you smell.
  4. Calling Dexie on his bluff for the win. Sweet!
  5. It's never too early to learn how to please.
I give my pups lots of opportunity to figure things out on their own. Border Collies like, and need to problem solve. I could have saved time, made it easier for him, and carried Jed up the stairs. But I would have eliminated an opportunity for him to figure it out and learn on his own. I will almost always leave them to it when I have an opportunity to encourage critical thinking in my dogs.

I am very straighforward about introducing my dogs to new concepts. I do not see value in talking dogs into things. That seems more like begging, which doesn't engender their respect. To introduce Jed to a collar and leash for the first time, I could have used treats or clickers, or some some slower form of what might be perceived as a more gentle introduction. My belief is that way is more difficult for the dog. I will almost always choose short and sharp. Do it 1 time with enough intention for the dog to accept it, and move on. I expect that my dogs will accept the new concept. After all, I make the rules that they must live up to. I introduce the new concept, and simply move confident in my belief that they are accepting. With very little persuasion, my dogs have always complied, and I believe that has as much to do with my confidence as anything. Dogs follow my lead. If I am unsure, they are more. Insecurity can manifest in what looks to us like bad behavior or disobedience. Barking, squirming, whining, clawing, twisting or running away all to avoid a collar.  I picked Jed up buckled on his collar, which was already snapped to a bungi lead, and walked away. He never made a sound, and immediately began the process of learning to walk nicely.

Do I have any belief that little Jed, at 9 weeks, will become interested in livestock? No, but I will do everything to encourage it even from this young age, and I will be watchful. I'm lucky. I have an opportunity to raise my pups around sheep. They are simply always around, and the youngsters do not know any different. That way they do not become hyper-excited from just seeing stock, like some pups who never see them until it is time to start training. You are starting in a hole with those dogs. There were more than a few times this week when I noticed Jed watching my horse and sheep, and I saw him sniff the air in their direction a time or two as well. I will be watching for any sign of recognition.

Bravery is such an important quality in a stockdog. Sheep are sometimes cranky, rams can be mean, cattle are strong, and ewes with lambs can be downright dangerous. A successful stockdog will have the courage to face them all, without so much as taking one step backward. It is absolutely necessary in a top-class dog. Can you win dog trials without courage? It happens all the time, but winning dog trials does not mean a dog is top-class, and I would never breed one without it. At this point, Jed is not much bigger than 6-lb Dexter. Dexie is older, smarter, and very possessive of me. He got his bluff in early with Jed, intimidating him with bluster, snapping, and a growl that sounds like a garbage disposal.  By the end of the first week, Jed was standing flat-footed looking impassive when Dexter advanced, and I was glad to see it.

Pressure and release, pressure and release. That's how we train stockdogs to work for us. We apply pressure to let them know we are not pleased, release it when we are. If my dogs are put on sheep for the first time understanding that concept, and wanting to please me, my job as a trainer is so much easier. I introduced the theory to Jed right away. I tapped the crate when he was unhappy there. I ignored his mournful cries from the crate, then retreived him once he became quiet. Every single time he put his feet on me, I gave a low growl, and gently shoved him aside. When he stood still for me to pick him up, I praised him profusely. More praise for coming to me when I called him. He was born wanting to please me. Personally, I believe there is not a dog anywhere about which that is not true. But, sometimes we cross the wires, and through our own ineptitude and misunderstanding of dogs, we encourage the wrong behavior with poor timing, and end up with a dog we call bad. For me and Jed, it's simple. I consistenly encourage the good, and consistently discourage the bad. 

Another big day in the big field and the "keep away game" has begun. In other words, he's thinking about becoming hard to catch. I'm being pro-active about this, and I'm starting now. He just doesn't want to be locked away in a crate, which is what I do to him most times that I catch him. So, I've begun a catch, tickle, release program. As often as possible, while we're out walking, or haning together, I call him to me, give him much love, and set him free. It's working already, because he never knows what will happen when he comes to me, but it might be good!

Likewise barking. There are few things in life that irritate me more than a dog barking incessantly, or at all really. Jed has shown an inclination to bark at play, which I am discouraging. It's a v e r y bad habit, and better to simply stop it before it starts. Yes, it's irristably cute when Jed and Dexter play, with Jed hopping, running, and barking. What can it hurt, right?  It is not cute at all, however, when he's older and tied out while waiting his turn to work, let's say, barking his fool head off because he was never taught better. Or at a dog trail, when I leave him to run another dog, and he is standing flat-footed barking like Cujo and annoying the entire campground. We see those dogs at every trial we go to...right? It's rude, it's extreme bad manners, and I know absolutely that it's almost impossible to stop once it starts. It is SO much easier on the dog to dispatch this problem when they are young. Most importantly, however, if you expect to have a well-behaved dog at work, and on the trial field, they simply must be well-behaved away from those pursuits. You most assuredly cannot have one without the other, and there are no exceptions to that rule.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Week One

After what seemed like a very long wait, Jed has arrived. Over a year ago, I got on the list for a puppy out of Llona Brandenburg's Sweet, a daughter of one of my favorite sires, Stuart Davidson's International Supreme Champion, ##Star. In retirement he went to the stellar Canadian handler, Amanda Milliken, who used him on her deep bench of top-class bitches to produce some of the most successful Border Collies working in North America today. My former Moe is one of those dogs, and the main reason I chose to take a pup out of Sweet. If Jed turns out to be half the dog that Moe is, I'll be a happy woman.

Initially, Sweet was put to a Scottish import from Bobby Henderson named Shep. I am so familiar with his line, and was so excited about the cross, that I signed up for two pups, but the bitch didn't settle, and I had to wait. Next, with the help of veterinarian, Joy Thayer, Sweet was artificially-inseminated to Suzi Applegate's 2008 USBCHA Nursery Champion, Buzz. There were 3 males and 5 females as a result. Llona kept one of the males, and I had first pick of the other two.

"Breed for the outrun." That has been Amanda's premise all along, and her success in doing so is evident in all of her dogs, and their progeny. Llona delivered Jed to me one day when she drove the 60 miles or so from her home to work dogs with me. After schooling her young dog, she jumped Sweet out of the truck and we set up an outrun that was somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 yards. In a field completely unfamiliar to her, Sweet set out wide and fast, covering every square inch of that 100 acre field on the away-to-me side. Without so much as a hitch, she crossed a deep, brush-choked wash and rounded a low hill that obscured the sheep to land almost perfectly on balance and deep. I stood smiling as she quietly moved off with my stony Dorpers fetching them smoothly down the field. "Breed for the outrun," indeed.

Two days before Jed made the trip to San Diego, I traveled to Llona's home in Hemet to select my pup. It is said there are handlers who are able to deftly pick the most talented pup from a litter. I have no idea how they do it, but I believe they exist. I am not one of them, however, and settle for a crap-shoot every time. Then there is the school of thought that says "let the pup choose you." The instant I sat on the livingroom floor with all 8 pups loose around me, Jed ran straight into my arms, nestled his head between my ear and shoulder and began to tell me all about it in low moans. It seemed the decision was made for me and I was willing to go with it. I watched the others for a while, and Jed wandered off eventually sealing his fate by rushing back to the crook of my neck with just as much momentum as the first time. That was it. Decision made.

Star is the last puppy I raised and he is almost 2 years old as of this writing. I have forgotten what it's like to have a puppy around. Like child-birth apparently, you forget the sleepless nights, the whining, and the worry. Jed was up every 2 hours that first night, but by the end of the week had stretched it out to 4. At 8 weeks of age, he is sleeping in a crate in my bedroom, and has already learned to quiet himself fairly quickly once inside. He figured it out when I didn't respond at all to his ardent cries and mournful howling. I just left him to it, and patiently waited him out. I tell him "kennel," put him inside with a bit of kibble, and that's all there is to it. One way to teach a puppy to love the crate is to never leave him in too long. He gets lots of playtime and I take Jed outside to empty about every 2 hours, longer at night and if he is quiet. In that way he trusts that when he gets in, he will be allowed out before too long. Food helps too, but this pup is not my best eater, and I'm a little worried about it at this point. He tried cottage cheese and liked it, so that's how I'm getting kibble down him now, by topping it with cheese curd.

Jed's lessons began the minute I got him home. I began by using his name at every opportunity, and he picked up on that immediately. Always willing to look straight at me, he turns his head or cocks an ear when he hears his name. I use it a lot. If we're outside, and he runs to me, I clap my hands and say "Jed, here, here." That reinforces his name, and teaches him to come when he's called by putting a word to the action. It's never too early to learn good manners. Speaking of which, even at his tender age, Jed is never, ever allowed to put his feet on me. He hasn't seemed inclined to be touchy-feely, but this bad habit is so readily learned by dogs that it's never too early to begin deterring them. Dogs jumping up is a huge hot-button with me, because it is an overt sign of disrespect. If I want them to respect me working on and off the trial field, then they must respect me in all aspects of their lives. Better to start early, because once learned, it is very hard on the dog to talk them out of putting their feet on you. And it's so easy to do. Jed jumps up, I give an easy growl, shove him aside, and I repeat every single time he does it without exception. Consistency is the key, and I cannot stress that enough.

My mother taught me how to swim by throwing me in our pool. She expected I would not drown, and was right there to help, but it was literally sink or swim. I'm a really good swimmer. So it has been this week with Jed. He has gone where I have. I expected that he would follow, come when he was called and take walks with the big dogs. With one exception, he did not dissappoint. I put him in my quarter-acre dog yard to see how he would do, and he is just too small and just too young for that. Overmatched by the big dogs, he was intimidated when they howled at a passing fire truck, and he could not quite figure out his place in the hierarchy. I watched for a while, then brought him out to play on the lawn. For now, 6 pound min-pin Dexter is more his speed, and that's as it should be.