Tag Archives: Dog training

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.

I took a spill…

I tripped.  In my dining room. On a package.  That Winn dropped in front of me.

So, I guess it’s my fault for teaching her to bring in the mail, and the paper, and small packages, and shopping bags.

She’s supposed to hold them and give them to me once she’s inside, positioned nicely by the pantry to receive her treat. Recently, she’s decided she doesn’t want to hold them and would rather swing them around, drop them and pick them up, and maybe bring them to me.

One minute I’m walking through the house looking at my mail, heading toward the pantry and within a nanosecond I’m laying flat on my back, moaning in pain, unsure if I can get up and dealing with a huge dog standing over me licking my face.

Winn had a bubble pack in her mouth that contained a small box. She flung it and dropped it and I stepped on it just right. I rolled my ankle and heard something pop.

As I was sprawled out, looking at the ceiling and pushing away a big, slobbery head,  all I could think about were the hazards of having a big dog. If I didn’t train her to do this (and obviously we still need to work out some kinks) I would be happily going about my business with two healthy, pain-free ankles.

Ah, the hazards of having a big dog. And trying to train them to do ridiculous things.IMG_8130

So what have you been up to?

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.IMG_6995For 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.IMG_3514I’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.IMG_4455This 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!

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Winn and her training buddies Clarence and Cass–both featured in last year’s Water Weekend posts

 

Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

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.IMG_7172Winn 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.

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The turf field

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.

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 opinionIMG_7452.jpgOn 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)!IMG_7467I 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.IMG_7501

Why do Newfoundland dogs wear life jackets while water training?

IMG_7246This 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.

CURLING, N.F. Dec. 16. – The passengers and crew of the coastal steamer Ethie, numbering ninety-two persons, were brought ashore on a lifeline which was run out from the ship by a Newfoundland dog after their vessel grounded upon Martin’s Point.

Boats could not make the hazardous passage from the stranded steamer. An effort to shoot the line ashore failed when the line became caught. Men did not dare attempt the trip through the waters and so the dog was put overboard. Directed by officers of the Ethie the intelligent animal succeeded in releasing the rope and, holding it tightly in his teeth, fought his way through the breakers to the shore.

With block and tackle the Ethie’s crew, aided by fishermen on the shore, rigged a life-saving device, using a boatswain’s chair for a carriage. One by one, in this chair, ninety-one of the ninety-two persons aboard were hauled to safety. A baby, 18 months old, was pulled ashore in a 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.IMG_3547
  • 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.IMG_3746
  • 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.IMG_3859

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). They make top rated PFD’s (personal flotation device) for humans and use the same technology and products to make their CFD (canine flotation device).  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. I grew up in New England and I still have fond memories of our annual trip to Freeport.  I have trusted L.L. Bean to provide the very best products and have always been happy with my purchases.IMG_2927The 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.IMG_6633I plan to write a more detailed review on both of them at the end of the summer. Time will tell which one I like better.