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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.

Summer fun in the water

I knew that Winn was something special when she spotted the newspaper on the sidewalk, made her way down the porch steps and brought the paper into the kitchen for a reward. She was only 4 months old! I had tried to show her how to do that two or three times a couple of weeks before but I didn’t think she was getting it and figured she was too young and we would try again when she was older. That was the first time that she showed me she really was absorbing what I was trying to teach her to do and could put it together at a later time.  I was instantly aware that I had a true working dog on my hands and we could explore all kinds fun activities together.

Last summer I observed some friends water training their Newfies and then I volunteered at our local Newfoundland Club’s annual water test. I had never been to a test before and was just beginning to learn about water work with Newfoundlands but after that experience I was hooked!

When I got home from that test, I knew it was something that I wanted to do with Winn so I purchased a recommended book that was dedicated to training for the three different levels of the water test.  We played retrieval games with bumpers and a life jacket.  I filled her wading pool with water so that she could dunk her face for carrots and hot dogs as well as diving rings. We went swimming in a doggie pool during the winter months, throwing in different articles for her to retrieve and even doing a little jumping off of the pool deck to encourage her playfulness in the water.

When spring rolled around, I was excited to actually start training for the test. We have good friends who have enjoyed doing water and draft work with Newfies for many years.  They were teaching a water work seminar for the Central Ontario Newfoundland Club over Memorial Day Weekend and I decided that would be a great way to spend the weekend with our friends, learning new skills and being surrounded by fellow Newfie lovers.

They went through each of the different exercises and showed us how to break them into small segments.  We learned tips and tricks to practice on land as well as in the water, and each exercise was introduced to each team individually in a gentle and fun way.

Land work: practicing going out and around and revving her up by having fun with her fetching articles.

Learning Take A Line, one of the most difficult exercises:

Introducing the boat, taking treats and pulling it in:

Swim With Handler, our favorite exercise that we had been doing all winter at the indoor doggie pool:

When we returned home, we had to wait a few more weeks for the weather to cooperate but we were invited to train with two other families at a nearby lake.  We spent almost every Saturday or Sunday with them and Winn took to it amazingly well.  We each took turns with our dogs, helping each other out with exercises by acting like a drowning victim, dropping articles in the water or rowing the boat. IMG_8075.jpgAs the weeks passed, Winn was executing everything really well.  When she was first learning Take A Line, we put a long line on her to help guide to the caller, then swim around them and back to shore.  After only 2 or 3 times with the long line, she understood what she was supposed to do and after that I didn’t put the long line on again. She was great at retrieval, was starting to understand Tow A Boat and was perfect with the Basic Control exercises.  I even found myself giving tips to others on heeling and recall!IMG_7773Once I was pretty confident with our skills, I started getting more excited about entering a water test.  There were several tests planned in our area, all on different weekends so I started filling out the paperwork and entered 4 different tests with the hope of getting into and competing in 2 or 3.  In addition to our own club’s test which would be the last one of the summer, we got into one in Indiana and one in Michigan.  I really hoped that we would have success in at least one of them.

We continued practicing, fine tuning each exercise so that we were doing what was needed to pass and building her strength and stamina.  She wore a life jacket during practice and I was planning on taking it off and doing a full practice run of the test the week before our first water test in Indiana. I wrote a post a while back explaining why Newfies wear life jackets when they train and you can read that here. Everything was going according to plan until the night before that designated practice and Winn went into heat!  I knew it was coming sometime soon but I didn’t expect it that night.  We would have to stay home and wouldn’t have any more time in the water until we showed up for our first test.  I would just have to cross my fingers and go for it. That would add an extra layer of difficulty, she would most likely be more distracted and would have a harder time focusing on me.  I had also severely sprained my ankle the week before and had skipped practice.  By the time we tested, it was 3 weeks since we had been in the water and she wouldn’t be cleared to practice again until 2 weeks after we got back and that was the weekend of the Michigan test.  It was time to have faith in our skills and go out and have a good time no matter how it may end up!IMG_8091next post: our first water test!

Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day

Today is Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day.

The first dog that I fell in love with was Sabrina.  My parents brought her home right around my 10th birthday, so I always felt like she was a special present for me. She was a beautiful Malamute that made quite an impression on my family.  She gave us endless stories that still bring us laughs when we reminisce.

She was impossible to contain and she constantly escaped the yard to roam the neighborhood, leaving mischief and mayhem in her wake. She broke into multiple houses through doggie doors, doors left ajar, sliding doors that she could pull open and screen doors that she could push through. She knew when it was feeding time nearby and stole many meals from less assertive dogs. She ate one woman’s make-up, coming home with lipstick all over her face. My mother answered many phone calls from disgruntled neighbors. She hunted skunks and would bring them home and curl up with them in her dirt hole.  She smelled like skunk for months on end, we could never fully get the smell out before she would bring home another.  She preferred to be outside, especially in the winter.  We had her sleep inside but she let us know that she found it way too hot and would be happier in the yard. I can’t imagine how much trouble she would have caused if she wasn’t in the house at least some of the time! She was one of kind and I will never forget her.IMG_8259Bogart was my husbands bachelor dog and easily adapted to our growing and changing family.  He was so gentle but also had a talent for escaping and getting into things.  I wrote about him on National Mutt Day, you can read more about him here.7626C075-79E2-44B8-B7A1-9A8553501AABWhen we moved into our current house, there were two Newfoundlands in the neighborhood that I noticed while out for their daily walk.  I thought they were the most beautiful dogs I’d ever seen and after meeting and talking to their owners, I just knew that was the breed for me.

Bailey was my first Newfoundland. I wouldn’t describe her as having the typical Newfie temperament, she was loud, pushy and very domineering.  She respected me as the leader of our pack but she treated everyone else (human and canine) as be her underling.  I wish I knew then what I know now about training and handling a strong-willed dog.  She had the working instinct and she eagerly did her daily job of bringing in the paper. She also loved to carry in the groceries.  She would have been a wonderful Water Dog but at that time in my life I was consumed with raising my two young children and I was content to have Bailey as my house companion.  I didn’t take her out much, she wasn’t aggressive but she did try to assert herself as boss with other dogs and I wasn’t comfortable taking the risk of meeting another Alpha dog that would challenge her back. She behaved the way I wanted her to in the house and yard and I left it at that. She was the first dog that was all mine and I adored her.IMG_8258Charlie  was a Newfoundland/Labrador mix that we adopted several months after we said goodbye to Bogart.  Bailey was about a year old and we missed having two dogs. We think he was about three years old when he was found with another small dog in the woods in Tennessee and they were both transported to Illinois by a rescue group.  He was very thin when we brought him home and he was always a hunter, I assume because he lived in the wild before he was found.   We frequently found dead animals (squirrels, birds, possums and chipmunks) in the yard. He loved to be warm. He would curl up next to radiators and sit as close to the fireplace as he could get.  His fur would be hot to the touch, but he would be so content. He tried curling up with Bailey whenever he could but she was always hot and she would “kangaroo leg” him to get him to back off.  Bailey constantly bossed him around and he was pretty tolerant of her moods.  Occasionally he would let her know that he’d had enough and she would look so offended when he snarled at her.  She never really understood why there might be a problem, but they bonded well and depended on each other for the rest of their lives. Charlie curled up by my feet and died 2 weeks after Bailey died and I will always remember them together; they lived together and they died together.IMG_8257After losing Bailey and Charlie, I vowed to never again have two dogs close in age, the heartache was just too much.  When Maisie was three years old I found Annie.  Her age was presumed to be between 7-9 when she was rescued and she had been in foster care for a year.  After doing some internet research on my own, I believe she was 9 1/2 when we adopted her.  She was a puppy mill mama that was severely traumatized from years of abuse and neglect but she found a new life after she was rescued and blossomed in the two years that she was a part of our family.  The first time I heard the term “heart dog”, I considered all of my dogs as my heart dog, I love them all so much.  That was until I met Annie.  There was something very different about our bond, probably because she needed me so much and I was driven to show her as much love as possible to make up for all of the years that we didn’t have together.  She was very, very special and she changed me.  She made me a better person and those two short years were a lifetime for us. She will always be with me, she is my heart dog and I wish I had more time with her.IMG_1189

 

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

National Mutt Day

7626C075-79E2-44B8-B7A1-9A8553501AABToday is the day set aside to celebrate all of those wonderful mutts in our lives.

This is Bogart, the sweet boy who was our first dog.

He was my husband’s “bachelor dog”  but he and I became instant friends from the moment we met.

My husband got him from The Chicago Anti-Cruelty Society and they told him he would be 35 pounds, the perfect size for an apartment dog. In reality he was more like 70 pounds and wonderful in so many ways.

He was the most adaptable dog I’ve every known.  He accepted me immediately, loved both of our babies and adjusted well each time we moved until we finally settled into our current house.  He took everything in stride and welcomed each new person and situation as if it was meant to be.80123BFB-9F1D-4E71-9B81-4C06C416DB05He had so much energy and climbed trees trying to get to the squirrels. He actually took the bark off of one tree with all of his attempts! During my son’s backyard 4th birthday party, a baby squirrel fell into the yard (another squirrel story) and Bogart quickly grabbed it much to the horror of all of the children and parents in attendance.  I’m sure you can imagine the sound of the instant shrieking chorus! Our elderly neighbor heard the commotion and when I explained to her what had happened she laughed and thought he must have been so proud that he finally caught one. She loved him so much.

He had a sweet tooth like no other.  I had to ask my Grandmother not to wrap her homemade candy like a Christmas package after he found it under the tree, unwrapped it and chewed open the Tupperware.

He ate a pie off of my in-laws kitchen counter when they were watching him one weekend while we were out-of-town.  My husband apologized for the missing pie and the comment back was “what about the donuts?”.

Nothing was safe, no matter how high or well hidden it might have been. He found his way into the pantry, onto the counters and into drawers.  The refrigerator seemed to be the only deterrent for his super-sized sniffing skills.

He loved the children and was so gentle with them.  He quickly figured out that laying under the high chair at meal time was the place for constant, yummy rewards.  Occasionally getting hit by a dropped sippy cup was no big deal and an accepted risk in return.6E18CE6E-15CE-4933-A631-D3498DF4B510He was an absolute maniac in the car and unfortunately never grew out of that no matter how many times we tried to work through it. He ran side to side, pushing off the doors like a swimmer doing a flip turn.  Restraining him didn’t work, he escaped out of the harness we tried. Riding in the way back of the wagon was just as bad if not worse, he had more room to zip around with three windows to use as blast-off points. Our car would sway side to side as we made our way down the road and we got lots of crazy stares. The vet became our only planned destination that needed the car, anywhere else was just too exhausting.

He couldn’t catch worth a darn. Things would bounce off of his nose, head or the floor right in front of him. He howled at sirens, liked to scratch his backside against the bushes, loved to chase his tail and rolled over on command.

His hair was crazy and went in 1000 different directions.  He had a long curl between his eyes that we called his character.  I always wondered what kind of dog he was and I asked the vet what she thought.  Her guess was part Otterhound. We always described him as a “Benji” looking dog only bigger. When I dropped him off to be groomed one time they called him “Tan Dog”.  Whatever he was, he was the most perfect Bogart he could be and was with us for 14 years.

Thanks for the memories Bogart, you were the first one to steal our hearts and were one in a million!

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Christmas 2002 Bailey 5 months old, Bogart 13