I saw a funny post the other day about how we talk to our dog friends vs. our non-dog friends.
My answer to the question ” what have you been up to?” varies based on the audience.
For my non-dog friends, I’ll say I’ve gone on a couple of weekend get-aways to visit friends. I’ve also been going to the beach a lot, trying to get back into a workout routine and researching organizations to start volunteering with in the fall. I try to sound like a normal person that isn’t doing “weird” stuff.
For my dog friends, depending on what I know of their dog activities, I will be more forth coming with my answers i.e. I’ve been training Maisie to be a Therapy Dog and have found an organization that I’m pretty excited about. I’ve gone through my own training with them and I’ll be tagging along this week to observe their program in action. Hopefully we will pass their dog team test so that we can volunteer with them in the fall. We’ve been going on a lot of training walks, in and out of stores and mixing up our destination to expose her to lots of different situations and people.For dog enthusiasts, I might elaborate a little more. Winn and I have been doing all kinds of advanced training over the last several months and have entered several different types of trials and have earned five titles. Right now we are focusing on Water Rescue training and are having a blast!
I’ve been around water my entire life and for about 10 years I worked at my local YMCA teaching 3-5 year olds pool safety and how to swim. I loved working with that age and I really felt like I was teaching them something that could save their lives. Now I’m exploring a different form of water safety by working with Winn and her natural instincts. It’s just for fun, she’s not going to be a lifeguard or a search and rescue dog, but I love swimming with her and having a reason to be in the water again.I’ve taken a couple of trips with her to learn the skills needed to enter and pass the junior level Newfoundland Water Dog (WD) test and have been working on a few of the skills included in the senior level Water Rescue Dog (WRD) test. (Last year I volunteered to help at the water tests in my area and wrote about those skills here and here.) She loves the water and has amazing instincts. We work really well together but being in the water is exhausting and I’m reminded that even though she’s a big dog, she’s still young and she tires easily. I’m also getting used to being in the water again so we are both working on building our stamina in the water and knowing when to call it quits.This week, I’ve been filling out entry forms for water tests put on by different regional Newfoundland clubs. Two are close by, about an hour’s drive and two are further away and would require a hotel stay. I hope to get into at least two, maybe three. My friend who has been doing this a long time and teaches water skills clinics would like me to go to Canada with her so Winn could also try for her Canadian Water Rescue Dog title. I think this year, we will just focus on her American title and consider that in the future. I’ll be thrilled if we get the title this summer, but I’m loving the bond we’ve formed and the fun we have learning new skills. I have high hopes for us as a working team and there are so many possibilities for us to explore!
I’ve been dog training a lot lately. I mean, A LOT.
Maisie and I are still diligently working toward becoming a therapy team. I must admit, I’ve been ready to throw in the towel a couple of times but then I take a breath and try to focus on how far we’ve come. We are sooo close, my greatest hope is that we will be able to wrap this up and get working very soon.Winn and I have been doing a different kind of training. We’ve enjoyed Rally Obedience and she has earned her Rally Novice and Rally Intermediate titles. We are at a stopping point with it for now because the next levels all include a jump and that is not good for her until she’s about two years old.
Since Rally has helped us form a great foundation as a working team, I decided to learn about what was required to earn an Obedience title. I observed a few trials when we were at Newfoundland National and the Beginner Novice level seemed to be a good match for our skills. Winn would be on leash and rally signs are laid out for the heeling pattern. It all seemed doable for us, but I would be limited on commands and signals, which is very different from Rally. In Rally, I can talk to her and encourage her as much as I want, not so in Obedience.
I printed up the rules so that I could have a clearer picture of what I should be doing and scheduled a couple of short sessions with our Rally trainer. The two exercises that I was worried about were the Figure Eight and the Sit for Exam. Both involve strangers and Winn can be a little shy.
In Rally, the Figure Eight is done around cones and we easily go around them with no trouble, even with food bowl distractions near our path. This test requires two strangers to stand facing each other instead of cones.
The Sit for Exam requires me to put her in a sit/stay then stand 6 feet in front of her while the judge approaches her and gently touches her head. Up until now, I have stood next to her while she is meeting a stranger which over time has gotten much easier for her.
We met with our Rally trainer to practice all of the exercises so that I could get used to doing them with the obediance guidelines. There are specific positions to hold my hands, some exercises allow one phrase of encouragement and others don’t. Most exercises allow either a verbal command or a hand signal, not both. All of that is new for me as a handler and Winn needs to be comfortable heeling next to me while we work our figure eight around people as well as having the judge approach her without me by her side. We had people from the training center help us and after practicing several times, we both were a lot more comfortable with what we needed to do.
Last weekend we entered a show to give it a try and we did pretty well! The funny thing for me was that it was held at a sporting facility that for many years was one of my lacrosse carpool destinations. My son played indoor lacrosse every winter with the same group of boys during grade school and middle school. When I walked in with Winn I had a major deja-vu moment. The crating area was in one of the basketball courts and the rings were set up on one of the turf fields. I couldn’t believe it! I sent my son a picture and he recognized it right away. My husband advised me to not let Winn lose her mouth guard. That made me chuckle.
Winn’s crate is pretty big and I found a great spot next to a Great Dane and her owner that I’ve seen before at trials. Once our hang out spot was situated, I wanted to walk her around on the turf so that she could get used to it. That was a new experience for her. We have always been on hard or padded indoor surfaces and the turf has a very different feel. I wasn’t the only one curious about how the dogs would do on turf, I watched mixed reactions from many of the other dogs and handlers around us. All of us had the same fear that they would feel free to potty on the turf, but I don’t think that happened. At least I never saw it happen which was a relief.
Our set-up for the week-end. I even had our Evanston Lacrosse blanket with us!
Grace and her tent. She competes at the Master level and is very mellow. Not every dog could be trusted in a tent but she was very good.
On Saturday, I entered us into a Rally Intermediate trial to use as a warm-up since we work well together in Rally and followed that with two Beginner Novice trials. Winn was great in Rally and scored a 98 (we even had a Figure Eight to navigate), one of our best scores! I quickly put her in her crate and went straight to the walk through for the first Obedience trial. We were the first dog to go, so I hustled back to get her and did my best to keep calm while waiting for the judge to call us into the ring.
We did pretty well, but the Figure Eight was the tough one for us. Winn kept stopping to smell the shoes of one of the stewards and I’m pretty sure I gave her several voice commands to keep us going. Fortunately, that didn’t disqualify us, but we did lose 8 out of 40 points on that. She lagged once (walked behind me) in the heeling pattern but every thing else was perfect on her part. The judge let me know that I should use a different hand position on our recall for our next trial but she congratulated us for qualifying (scoring 170 or better) on our first try! We scored 188 1/2 out of 200 and were the only ones in our group to qualify so I was really proud as we left the ring.
We did even better the next time around. We lost only 2 points out of 40 on the heeling, 4 points on the Figure Eight and 1/2 point on the recall (my hands were in the right position but my head bobbed a little) for a score of 193 1/2. She was perfect for Sit for Exam and the Sit Stay while I walked around the entire perimeter of the ring. Once again, we were the only dog in our group to qualify and I was so happy to score in the 190’s. I really didn’t expect that! We ended the day with three blue ribbons, which are fun tokens for the day, but two qualifying scores in Obedience on our first two tries were the best prizes in my opinionOn Sunday we entered 1 Rally Intermediate trial and 1 Obedience trial. Day 2 has proven to be more difficult for us as a team in the past and we were definitely more sloppy. We scored an 85 in Rally which I think is our worst score ever, but I really didn’t care because I was just using it as a warm up for our Obedience trial. The Figure Eight was a challenge, Winn actually stopped to stare at one of the stewards and I had to give her a quick tug to get her going again. Our heeling didn’t feel as crisp as it should have and I bobbed my head again on the recall, but we did qualify along with one other dog. We scored somewhere in the low 180’s and got second place. I forgot the score because all I really focused on was that we qualified and got the title (3 qualifying scores under 2 different judges)!I have to say, I really enjoyed the Obedience work. It’s a new challenge and Winn and I have a good time working together. We hung out with some friends who we’ve seen at previous trials and I connected with someone to start training with for Obedience. I’ve haven’t found someone in my area and this woman told me she teaches at a dog club not too far from my house so I’m planning on checking that out next month. She and her Doberman had such a perfect Figure Eight that the judge complimented her. She gave me a couple of tips but I know that we need a lot more practice to better master the timing, pace and focus that it requires.
As a special reward for Winn, when she does well in trials I whip through the Chick-fil-A drive thru and get her a small box of chicken strips. She loves them and now she knows what that red box is. On Saturday I was feeling so good about our success that I bought two boxes so that she could have one after Sunday’s trial as well (they are closed on Sundays). When we got home Sunday, I made her pose for a picture with all of her ribbons and then I went to get her reward. I opened the refrigerator and it was gone! I knew immediately what had happened. My son Thomas had eaten her chicken! I hollered down the stairs at him and he stared up at me like I’d lost my mind when I told him that was for Winn. His response was a logical one. He said, “I thought food in the refrigerator was for eating.” I had to laugh, just a little. Winn did find the empty box, and tore it to shreds looking for her prized chicken strips, but I found some chicken jerky in the dog treat bin that she also thinks is pretty delicious. That made her happy and was good ending to a very successful weekend.
Why do Newfoundlands wear life jackets while water training? This is a valid question! Newfoundlands are known as water rescue dogs.
This story was published in the New York Times in 1919 and is one of the oft-repeated Newfoundland Dog legends:
DOG LANDS LIFELINE, SAVES 92 ON WRECK
Swims from the Ethie, Aground Off Newfoundland, After Shot Fell Short.
CREW FEARED TO VENTURE
Fishermen Ashore Pull Wreck Victims Over the Surf —Baby Rides in Mail Bag.
The Ethie, which had been engaged in the coastal service between Curling and Labrador ports, went ashore last Wednesday during a gale while bound south. The wreck was not reported here until the shipwrecked passengers and crew arrived from Bonne Bay, all wires having gone down in the storm.
The New York Times Published: December 17, 1919 Copyright The New York Times
After reading this, it does seem silly to put a life jacket on a rescue dog, but those training for Newfoundland Dog water rescue tests do wear them for several reasons.
Control. Canine life jackets have a handle on top which is an easy way to grab a dog while training. They will also slow down an over-exuberant or anxious dog, allowing them to swim more calmly and focus on their handler while learning new skills in the water.
Wearing a canine life jacket helps to build strength and endurance. A canine life jacket creates resistance in the water when they are swimming. Swimming with resistance builds stamina, allowing them to swim faster and longer once it is removed. The extra buoyancy also helps fight fatigue so that as they train, they can swim for longer periods of time, keep good focus and build strength.
A canine life jacket keeps them buoyant when they have slowed down. While training, we may slow down to repeat exercises or reward with treats and the life jacket keeps them floating so they can focus on their handler during these times.
A canine life jacket reinforces an efficient swimming position in the water. Most dogs swim with their backs in line with the water but some dogs swim with their back ends in a lower position. A canine life jacket keeps their bodies in a horizontal position and also helps create awareness of their back legs making them more efficient swimmers as they use all four legs to propel themselves through the water.
It helps build confidence. Not all dogs are naturally good swimmers, even some Newfoundlands, and wearing a canine life jacket will help a nervous dog enjoy his time in the water while learning to swim in a proper position as well as building strength and stamina.
It helps them recover quickly when jumping into the water. One of the skills on the test is jumping from a boat. When they jump in, their head will likely submerge which can be startling for a dog learning this skill. The life jacket helps keep their head higher in the water and they pop up more quickly. It doesn’t usually take long for a Newfie to get comfortable with the sensation of going under the water and coming back up, but the first few attempts forms their opinion and if they decide they don’t like it, they may never do it again.
Since Newfoundlands are in the XL category, there are fewer canine life jackets to choose from. I purchased two different models to use and compare after reading many reviews and talking to other Newfoundland owners.
The first one is by NRS (Northwest River Supplies). I liked that it has wide bands that go under the belly rather than flaps with velcro that their long hair can get stuck in. It buckles at the top of their back and is adjustable on both ends. It also has a handy, zipper pocket to store a leash or ball if desired. I purchased it at L.L. Bean but they aren’t carrying it anymore. Amazon and Chewy have both stocked it recently and it is also available at the NRS website.The second one is by Ruffwear and is the most popular with Newfoundland owners because it fits their bodies well and is very durable. We have used this brand at the swimming pool they train at. My only complaint is that the buckles are very low on their side and I have to straddle them and reach under their belly to get it secured. I purchased it from Amazon.I planned to use both during our training season to see which one I liked better but I ended up reaching for the NRS jacket almost every time. I find it much easier to put on and it is lighter weight. It provides Winn with plenty of buoyancy without being cumbersome. The Ruffwear is a great jacket but it is more expensive and doesn’t fit her as well as the other one.
Another jacket that is almost identical to the NRS is Ezydog. I noticed a lot of European dogs using this one for training and when I was shopping I chose the NRS because it looked similar. I did compare them side by side when I saw one being used and other than the zippered pocket and color, they appeared the same. The straps are nice and long and went around a very large boy Newfie with no problem. Ezydog is slightly more expensive than the NRS but comes in a couple of different colors.
After using the NRS all season, it did start to fade to a perfect Nantucket Red . I like it because it reminds me of all of my childhood summers on the water in New England. For me, sun bleached means fun times, but if fading will bother you, I’d recommend the Ezydog in yellow.
Just to add a little more inspiration, I love this photo from the Italian School of Canine Lifeguards!
We went on a spring walk on Saturday. It was a glorious, sunny, cool day that was perfect for walking the dogs. The highlight of this walk was that we joined our local Newfoundland Club to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Everyone was encouraged to show their spirit by dressing in green for a costume contest.
I had a vision in my head and gathered up the supplies to create two fluffy skirts that would bounce and sway with the “Newfoundland Wiggle”.
12 yards of green tulle and lots of ribbon
1st one done!
2nd one needs a nip, tuck and fluff
They turned out exactly as I wanted and their movement was perfect!
Fortunately, we weren’t the only ones that dressed up (our dogs) and we found ourselves in the midst of a very festive group.
After we left the walk, Maisie and I raced to our training class. We are back in classes working toward being a certified therapy team. I decided to leave her dressed, figuring that the staff would be entertained by her outfit and they were! Her skirt proved to be a good distraction for at least one of the other dogs to work through, and Maisie had her best class ever. Maybe because she was tired, but I also think she was showing off because she felt special. She was exhausted from it all once we got home!
CGC stands for Canine Good Citizen. She and I met with a CGC evaluator and we had to pass several requirements without the aid of treats.
This was our second attempt, the first time, well that didn’t go so well.
Winn and I enrolled in puppy school when she was about 12 weeks old. She proved to be a quick learner. She really loves treats and rewards, making her very responsive when learning new commands. After we completed the course and she passed her AKC S.T.A.R. puppy test, we moved on to basic obedience classes. We quickly progressed up through the levels and after about 8 weeks, found ourselves prepping for the CGC test.
We took several practice tests, each time she did really well. We were so ready for this test and I had no worries about passing!
That day, when we walked in, I was so confident of success but Winn had a different idea. There was so much distraction, and I wasn’t allowed to regain her attention with a treat. Once she realized there were no treats, she completely checked out and was far more interested in watching and meeting all of the dogs that were being escorted in and out of day care. Mid-way through, after failing 3 of the first 5 tasks, I grabbed my treat bag and we continued on, using it as another training opportunity.
Did we over train? Did I push too hard too fast? Did I expect too much? I decided to let it go for a while. We enrolled in a rally class which allowed us to continue to bond as a team while we practiced and learned more obedience tricks. We had fun together and she continued to impress me with her willingness to learn. We entered a couple of rally trials and did really well, even getting her AKC Rally Novice title!Then, we went back to training and worked a little more. This time, taking it more slowly, mixing in our rally class and keeping a sense of humor. After 7 weeks, I scheduled another test. Two days before our test she went into heat! I checked with our trainer and she could test as long as she wore “feminine protection”. I knew this might be distracting for her but I decided to go. I figured if we didn’t pass, we still had one more week on our training package, we could review and try again. If we still didn’t get it, I’d just put it aside for while.
I left Winn in the car while I filled out the paperwork for the test. I didn’t want to bring her in until our evaluator was ready for us. We were quickly whisked into the private training room, walking by the main training ring that was filled with a beginner obedience class. Instantly there was a chorus of barking and howling dogs. I caught the eye of the trainer in charge of that class and she had a look of surprise about what had just happened. As the door was closed behind us, I burst out laughing. It really is a thing, a girl in heat will drive the boys crazy!I was a little nervous but Winn was calm, cool and collected. One by one, she performed each task perfectly. I went in knowing we might fail, but she proved me wrong and made me so proud.
These are the some of the components of the CGC test (these pictures and videos were from our last class before we scheduled the test for the first time, about 4 months ago):
Meet and greet a stranger: she has to sit and stay by my side while I meet someone and then do it again and let them pet her and touch her ears, mouth and feet. This was generally pretty easy but a couple of times when she was tired she barked at the stranger. She is still a puppy, even if she is a big one, so we kept working on it to make her more comfortable. After lots and lots of practice with strangers, we are both finally confident about this task.
One of the most challenging steps was approaching another dog and owner, sitting quietly while we talked and then walking away without lunging or approaching the other dog. This was the hardest aspect of the test for Maisie, Winn did pretty well in practice but often times she tries to kiss the other dog. She passed this perfectly, meeting a dog we had never met before. I was so proud.
Winn had to sit and stay (this can also be done with a down if that is easier for the dog) while I walked away and remain sitting while I walked back towards her and returned to her side. I walked away again and then called her, she should come quickly, then she must stop and sit in front of me without mowing me down and finish with a sit on my left side.
One of the most important aspects is loose leash walking. With a dog of Winn’s size and strength, leash manners are a must. We work together on and off leash, and she is such a good walker, in training sessions and around the neighborhood. For the test, we had to follow commands called out by the evaluator and also had to walk with a loose leash through a crowd.
The final component is supervised separation. I needed to leave her and be out of sight for 3 minutes. She can’t panic, bark, whine or pull away. She had no problem with this and waited patiently for me to return.
So here we are with our CGC ribbon, another wonderful accomplishment for this amazing girl!