Tag Archives: Dog training

Close but no cigar

I have this memory of one of my favorite teachers walking up and down the aisles in our classroom muttering “close but no cigar, close but no cigar, close but no cigar”.

As she passed out the pop quiz that she had given us the day before, I noticed more and more confused faces looking around the room. I knew something was off when she approached my desk, looked me in the eye and stated “close but no cigar”. I looked down at my quiz, took in a couple of correction marks and read the blaring red letters across the top of the page: close but no cigar.

That’s how she chose to grade that quiz. None of us had any idea how this would be translated in the grade book. There were more than a few stressful looks on the over-achievers that surrounded me in that room!

We were second semester seniors with six weeks left of school. This was her way of giving us all a kick in the butt and letting us know there would be no slacking off in her class. We were hers until the first week of May, and we still had Classic American Literature to focus on before we walked across a grand stage and got our diplomas.

Last weekend, I stood on one side of an obedience ring while Winn waited for me on the other. I put on a smile and gave her my very best, upbeat command to come to me.

She sat upright, eyes glued to me, waiting for my signal.

She stayed there, upright, eyes glued to me, not coming on my signal.

We watched each other for too long and then I had to give her one more command.

She proudly ran to me, stopped perfectly in front of me and gave me her prettiest sit. Then she waited for my next signal.

When she saw me wave my right hand, she ran behind me and sat in position on my left side. She looked up at me with her most loving expression.

I laughed under my breath and gave her a big hug when the judge said, “exercise finished”. That’s when I heard those words in my head. Close but no cigar.

We’ve got more work to do, she and I.

After receiving two qualifying scores the day before, I was overly confident as we entered the ring.

Winn was excited, our warm-up went really well. I had her attention and she was eager. Her performance of her off leash heeling was near perfect and the best it’s ever been. I was feeling so good, we were going to get her novice obedience title, Companion Dog!

And then she failed the recall….

You only get one try, and to be fair, I don’t think she heard me. She was positioned close to the judges table and there was a lot of conversation and ring noise behind her.

She was trying to block all of that out and give me her full focus, unfortunately, she just didn’t get my first command.

Her recall has never been something I had to worry about. Those are the things that always get you, the things you don’t worry about.

She performed the next excercises perfectly and then we were excused with an “I’m sorry, not today”.

So….we will keep training, keep working and keep trying. We’ve still got things learn and hopefully next time we won’t be “close but no cigar”.

First two legs down, one more to go!

Our year in pictures

January: Annie, Winn’s first Rally title, fun times in the snow, training and Winn’s Canine Good Citizen title.

February: Snow!! Hearst Castle and indoor swimming.

March: St. Patrick’s Day, a VERY tiring grooming seminar and chasing chickens.

April: Kansas City with Maisie.

May: Newfoundland National Specialty, meeting new friends and attending a water training workshop with our Canadian buddies.

June: celebrating Maisie turning 5 and Winn turning 1 on our newly designated Annual Dog Birthday in honor of Annie, more ribbons for Winn and Therapy Dog training with Maisie.

July: 4th of July and water training with our friends.

August: Lots and lots of training fun and our very first Newfoundland Water Test (we didn’t do very well, but it was a great experience).

September: Studying hard for our final water test, which was our most successful and a great way to end the summer.

October: October baseball and Halloween, Maisie and I began our quest to find all of the murals in town.

November: Thanksgiving, playing in the leaves and frolicking in the first snowfall of the season.

December: The most wonderful time of the year!

so long, 2018!

How is it that the year is over? In some ways it seems like it flew by and in others it feels like it’s been a very long year.

It certainly didn’t start out the way that I had hoped. I had such big plans for Annie. For the first time since we brought her home, she didn’t bark at my son when he came home for Christmas break last year. She had finally accepted him as a safe member of the family and was able to tuck her fear of men away when she saw him. That was huge!

Unfortunately, she developed an illness that she just couldn’t overcome and we had to say goodbye on January 12. Even up until the day before, I was convinced that we could find a way for her to recover. She deserved more time with us but that disease is incurable and I promised her that she would never suffer in our house. It was the hardest decision I have ever made and to be honest, I’m still not over it. It was the right decision for her but I mourn her loss every day.

I think I overcompensated for Annie by working with Winn. We went to a Rally trial right before Christmas and she brought home her first ribbons! After that success, we continued to train in Rally and she earned her Novice title. In May, We traveled to the Newfoundland National where she earned her Rally Intermediate title and more ribbons. In June, I printed up the rules for the Beginner Novice title in competition obedience and entered a trial. She did beautifully in that and earned that title as well!

Once the weather warmed up, I decided to try and train us both for a Newfoundland Water Test and she was a natural. It was much harder than I imagined it would be, but on our final attempt in September, she came as close as she possibly could to earn that title and I was so proud. We didn’t pass the test, but she was able to execute each and every exercise, and we had so much fun working together. She really is an amazing example of a working dog and she loves to learn new things.

Maisie and I had very active year as well. We traveled together to Kansas City in April for a blogging conference and she was so well behaved. We’ve been working for quite a while at trying to become a Therapy Team. At the conference, I met a woman who was a director of a Therapy Dog program and she gave me some great advice on what to look for in a program. She was very impressed with Maisie, especially when she didn’t react and stayed right by my side after she was lunged at by a trio of very loud French Bull Dogs.

I’ve had to put our training on hold several times over the past couple of years, but this fall I was able to finally make some progress with her. I found an organization that seemed like a good match for us and in October she passed their temperament test. I need to do some observation visits on my own and with her before we can be officially certified. Once I get those done, hopefully we can get to work sometime in the next month or two.

The holidays always seem like a whirlwind and this year was no different. I love decorating our house for Christmas and this year I made a wreath to layer over the mirror that hangs above our fireplace. I’m quite pleased with the way it turned out! (I have admired a similar one for the last couple of years but I felt it was too expensive, so I gathered the supplies and made a bigger one at a fraction of the cost.) It was the perfect backdrop for the many silly holiday pictures that Maise and Winn patiently posed for.

As I reflect on the past year, I am pleased to say that we’ve accomplished a lot of the goals that I had for 2018. I admit, I’ve had a harder time writing this year, Annie was previously my inspiration so much of the time. I hope that as 2019 rolls around, I’ll be able to keep the blog going, but most of all, I’m looking forward to more fun times with Maisie and Winn!

Back to training for round 2

Once we returned home from our first water test, I was antsy to get back in the water and train with Winn but we would need to wait for at least another week.

Reflecting on what we did well and what we needed to work on, I was most concerned that Winn would have a newly developed fear of water because of the run-in she had with the horsefly.  A couple of days before our next practice, I snuck up to the lake with Winn on a weekday when I knew there wouldn’t be anyone else around, brought her favorite toys and planned to just have play time in the water.IMG_7958When we arrived, she went right down to our regular spot, waded right in and was ready to go after her toys. What a relief!

IMG_5662We played with different toys for a while and I mixed in her bumper and life jacket just for fun. She wasn’t reluctant at all to go after anything I threw out for her so I was pretty confident the horsefly fear had been tucked away and as long as another one didn’t show up while we were testing, we should be fine.

The exercise that I knew we still would have trouble with was Tow A Boat.  After her reluctance to go to the steward at the last test, I knew I wanted to have different people give her treats from the boat to reinforce her approach.  The biggest issue for her has been dropping the bumper before she gets the boat up on the beach. I understand why she does this, if she’s able to walk, the people in the boat can walk too and are no longer needing to be saved. Now I had to figure out how to get her to take it further so I pulled out my training book and re-read all of the different suggestions on how to get her to pull the boat until I say stop.IMG_8390If I couldn’t get her to pull the boat all the way in before dropping the bumper, we would still have a chance if she picked the bumper back up and pulled some more. It’s not a very efficient way of doing it, but I would be allowed to keep directing her to pick it up and pull as many times as necessary until the boat was beached.  The telling sign is that the boat comes to a stop and the line is still taught.  If the boat drifts in and the line is slack, she needs to keep pulling until there is tension in the line, then the exercise is finished. I decided to focus on that. My first choice was to have her keep coming toward me in one smooth motion, but I wanted to have a back up plan so that we would still have a chance of passing.

Every night before dinner I placed her bumper on the ground and told her to “get it” and “come”. We would do this three times and then she got her food.  When she was doing this well, I tied her jug filled with water to the end of her bumper line. I would tell her “get it” and “come” and she would pull the line tight and then keep walking until I told her to “halt” and “give”.  Winn will do most anything for food so after doing this for several days successfully before dinner I started randomly calling out “get it” at different times of the day until I was sure that she really knew what to do and that she was willing to do it.img_8178Finally we were ready to get back to practice with our training group and we met up on Labor Day. Technically Winn still wouldn’t be cleared to mix with other dogs for another three days but I would keep her away while the boys practiced and then bring her down after they had done everything they wanted to do.  We always set up crates and keep the dogs separated when we practice since we act as each others’ stewards but I didn’t want her to be a distraction.  This was an important practice for all of us and we all wanted to do our best. Our next test was scheduled for that Saturday and this was our first practice with the boat in over a month (she was completely confused during the test in Indiana which was the last time she had tried the exercise).

The weather that day was terrible. Winn and I had gotten there early so that we could practice on our own before everyone got there. I had brought Winn’s jug and attached it to a blow up donut ring so that we could practice beaching on our own before it was our turn with the boat.  After all of the work in the house she did it perfectly! She kept pulling until I said stop and she even was willing to pick up her bumper from the ground and pull again.  Thank goodness our work at home was paying off!  Soon after that a storm came rolling through.  We all stayed in our cars watching the weather maps, hoping it would blow past so that we could get on with a practice. Normally we probably would have gone home but we all had things we wanted to work on before the test and the boat was there so we waited and eventually the skies cleared and it turned into a beautiful day.IMG_8431After the other dogs had all practiced I brought her back down for her turn with the boat. Our normally calm lake was pretty churned up with the wind and the storm and she wasn’t as confident as usual.  She swam out short distances and did everything really well but when we moved out further to the test distance she didn’t want to swim out. I decided that we wouldn’t go to the test in Michigan on Saturday, our friends hadn’t signed up for that one and would be practicing that day instead. Our club’s test was the following weekend (at the same location where we have been practicing) and I really wanted us to be our best for that one since it was our last chance.  It would be better for us to have a fun practice with our friends than try and do everything perfectly in a new location with the added nerves of being in a test.IMG_7618I was glad I made that decision because when we went back on Saturday she did have a couple of issues that we worked through and by the end of practice she was doing Take A Line and Tow A Boat perfectly. I wasn’t concerned about the other exercises so we didn’t practice them, I just mixed in her favorite retrievals to break up “the work”, which for Winn isn’t work at all.  She really loves being in the water and her energy level was great. She was swimming without her life jacket and was still really strong at the end of practice.  We were as ready as we were going to be.  She had mastered all six exercises in our first summer of training and I was so happy with all that she had learned.  If we could pull it off in the test, that would be the cherry on top.IMG_8460next post: test time once again!

Our first Water Dog test

The time had come for our first test. You can read about the six exercises that we would be doing in the junior level test here.

Winn’s heat had started 10 days earlier so we had to miss our final practice before the test in which I had hoped to work through a couple of small issues that would mean the difference between a pass or a fail.  I tried to make the most of our time confined to our house and yard which meant practicing “hold” with all of her articles plus a few fun items and pulling her jug around until I commanded her to give me her bumper.

We got up bright and early and hit the road on the day of the test. I was nervously excited and kept my expectations low, this was our first test and I was trying to think of it as a practice run. Once I knew how we performed in a test, I could work out any issues we might have in practice to get ready for the next one. I had entered three different tests, hoping we would be able to pass in one of them.

Check in was at 8:00. I brought all of our equipment down and placed it where the judges wanted it for our required equipment check, then I paced around waiting for the entrants meeting. Since Winn was in heat, a designated parking spot was set aside for us away from the test site and all of the other cars. We would be the last team to go, all of the other dogs would have their turn first without the distraction of Winn’s sexy time. (This is clearly stated in all of the rules so I knew what to expect even before we got there.)

As far as having a dog in heat, this was a great test to be at. There were only 6 dogs entered (many tests fill up with 20-25 dogs) so we would only have to wait about an hour and a half rather than all day before it was our turn. Everyone there was so nice, especially when they found out it was my first water test EVER. The woman in charge even brought a sun shade for us to drape over the car so that we wouldn’t get too hot while we waited.IMG_8293We were finally called and we headed down to the test site. My stomach was bouncing around with nerves, I was hoping we would do well and when I saw the scoreboard with no passing smiley faces I figured we were in good company if we didn’t. The head judge approached me and asked me if this was my first test. When I nodded, she reassured me that we all do this for fun and that at any time when she asked me if I was ready, it was absolutely fine me for me to say no. They would wait for us to be ready and I shouldn’t feel any pressure.

I was ready to get going and got right into position for the first exercise. Winn refused to sit, it’s not required but that’s generally how we start and I get her attention. The judge laughed and said she had great “standing heat” posture. We got through the Basic Control exercises with no problem (all of our rally and obedience training allowed me to not have to worry too much about this one) and were ready to move on.

Next up was the Single Retrieve. My first bumper throw was a dud and didn’t go far enough. Winn wouldn’t even go get it so I waded in, grabbed it and the next throw was much better. Winn approved and went right in for it, brought it back and placed it perfectly in my hand for me to grab. Whew, two down, only four more to go.IMG_5994For the Drop Retrieve, the stewards row out 50 feet with her life jacket and drop it on the far side of the boat. We have to wait for the boat to clear the area, then I point her to the life jacket and send her out to bring it back to shore. We stood on shore (she still refused to sit) and once I knew she had spotted it, I sent her out. It was all going really well until a HUGE horsefly appeared and started buzzing around her head. She started whipping her head right and left, up and down, trying to keep an eye on it and then she turned and charged straight toward me out of the water. I was able to grab her before she sprinted off of the beach (that’s an automatic fail and you must stop the test) but I could tell that she was freaked out. I wasn’t sure what I should do but the judge encouraged me to take her back out and have her try it again. I knew that was the right thing to do, I didn’t want her to now be afraid of the water so we went out together and when I was about waist deep she kept swimming on her own and retrieved her jacket. I met her back on shore and kept a good grip on her collar while we got ready for the next exercise.IMG_5700Take a Line can be a difficult exercise for a lot of dogs but Winn has been solid with it all summer when we’ve practiced. I hoped that she would be confident with this one and we could get back on track but as we stood on shore I had a really hard time getting her attention and focus.  The judge encouraged me to take our time, get her settled and let her know when we were ready.  I gave Winn some rubs and talked in her ear, she wasn’t fully attentive but she was better so I signaled that we were ready.  She didn’t want to take the line at first, but when she did, she turned and started heading away from the water.  I grabbed her collar and then once again, headed into the water with her to get her going.  Once I was next to her in the water, she seemed to register what she was supposed to do and she finished up on her own and I met her back on shore.IMG_6060So far we had passed the first two exercises and failed the next two so we were not going to pass the test. You must pass all six exercises in one test to achieve the Water Dog title.   We had two exercises left and I was thinking maybe we should just pull out since she was still nervous and looking for that terrible horsefly. I voiced that to the judge and she told me she would support whatever I decided but she encouraged me to keep going, Winn was doing well once she got in the water. In all of the exercises, once you let the judge know you are ready, you must have your hands off of your dog.  You can’t touch them again until the exercise is finished and then you can grab their collar and gently lead them back to the set up point for the next exercise.  If the dog leaves the beach, it’s an automatic fail and you have to leave the test.  Since Winn wanted to bolt, I kept grabbing her so she wouldn’t leave the area.  By putting my hands back on her, we failed the exercise, but we could still continue on with the test.  It’s always a good idea to keep going even if you don’t pass an exercise because you don’t want your dog to think that’s how we do it.  When she turned and left the water before completing her task (also a fail), I didn’t want her to think that was a good way to perform that exercise, instead I went with her and then she did what she knew to do and I met her back on shore and praised her that she had done a good job.  Did I mention that I also had a severely sprained ankle? Chasing after Winn in the sand and the water without my full physical powers was painful, clumsy and not very efficient.  I’m still amazed that I was able to catch her when she tried to run by me!

Tow a Boat was the next exercise and that one has given us trouble all summer. I knew going into the test that if we failed it would be on this exercise so I didn’t have high hopes that she would suddenly be able to execute it perfectly.  She did seem more settled when I sent her out to the boat to get her bumper but she hesitated a little too long so I went ahead and entered the water with her to get her going (when I entered the water, you guessed it, that’s a fail). Once she got to the boat she changed her mind and continued to swim all the way around the boat and then headed back to shore. She was supposed to swim to the boat, take her bumper from the steward in the boat and then turn and tow the boat to shore. Instead, she looked at the steward again as she came around from the back end and then kept swimming towards me.  The steward tossed her the bumper, Winn grabbed it for a second, but then spit it out and kept going.  She hadn’t ever done that before so I called her to me so that we could get in position for our final exercise.

Swim With Handler is a sweet way to end the test. It’s the one exercise that we do completely together in the water and I really love it.  She looked at me before we waded out and I knew that she knew we were almost done.  She swam beside me beautifully for the required 20 feet, not too close, not too far and when I slowed down and said “around”, she swam around me,  let me grab onto her and then she towed me in to shore. We ended on a high note and I was so proud that we had finished. Our first test was in the books! Yes, we had some mishaps that we couldn’t have trained for, but we kept going and she trusted me enough to keep doing what she knew to do.IMG_8295I was so relieved as I walked her back to the car. I got her settled in with her fan blowing on her, a fresh bowl of water and some of her favorite treats scattered around her and then I went to gather all of our stuff to get us packed up. I was sitting in the car with Winn, about ready to head home when the judge approached and knocked on the window. She wanted to let me know that she thought Winn was a very good working dog. She told me that the very best water dog she ever had approached the articles in the water in the same way that Winn had. She swims to the left of the article and then will turn towards the item to grab it before making another 1/4 turn back to shore. She said that’s not something that’s trained, it’s instinct. By doing that, she has less drag from the item as she turns to shore.  I thanked the judge for her input, I couldn’t believe she searched us out, and she told me she looked forward to seeing us in future tests.

I was so happy driving home that day. Everyone was so kind, encouraging and supportive and I love that Winn and I are figuring this out together.  She is an amazing girl and I think we have a really fun future ahead of us!IMG_8287.jpg

**For those that are wondering why Winn was in heat, there have been studies in recent years that recommend waiting to spay and neuter large breed dogs until they are 18-24 mos. old. The working theory is that hormones affect the growth plates and if this is done before they are full grown (which takes longer in large breed dogs), there is an increased risk of hip dysplasia, joint issues and bone cancer.  I am NOT an expert, nor do I have medical training but am trying to make the best decision for Winn’s overall health and am trusting the advise I have received from people that I do consider experts and who do have medical training.  I plan to have her spayed this winter, most likely with the minimally invasive laparoscopic procedure in which she will be getting a gastropexy at the same time.

You can read about these studies here and here, and for the sake of fairness, you can read another opinion from a veterinarian here that calls for more studies to be done before she recommends this for her patients.  There are risks and benefits associated  with surgery of any kind and I respect the right of every pet owner to make the decisions they think are best for their pets.