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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.

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

 

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

 

Take your dog to work day

Today is take your dog to work day and since every day is take your dog to work day for me, I wanted to highlight someone who has created her own work environment outside her home and incorporated a space for her dog so that he can join her there too.IMG_7507I’ve known Lindsay for a long time.  She helps me feel young by covering up my gray hair. We’ve had a standing appointment for years, the only thing that has changed is the frequency as I get a little older.

I’ve watched her grow in her career through her promotions, salon changes, and partnership.  This year, she took the brave step of opening her own shop, and it’s wonderful!IMG_7510The space is light, bright and welcoming, and has a cool, relaxed vibe.  Capone is the shop dog.  He casually strolls around, sometimes greeting clients and sometimes sleeping through new arrivals. He has his bed situated by the window and may occasionally be found sprawled out on the couch.  Linmay Studio is at the top of my favorites list as a place to sit back and relax.  The mood is always friendly and I feel so pampered when I’m there.IMG_7508A few weeks ago, Lindsey had a special event to introduce Chad, her newly hired stylist, to her clients and she invited Maisie and me to stop by.  I have never brought Maisie with me to one of my appointments, I respect the fact that this is Capone’s place and when I’m there, it’s my time for me, I enjoy the break from keeping a well behaved dog by my side. Since Maisie is always eager to check out a new place and meet new friends, I brought her along as my sidekick for the event.IMG_7016Maisie and Capone got along beautifully, although he did try to claim me as one of HIS people which was pretty funny.  We had a nice time sipping Mimosa’s (just for me of course) and Maisie made herself right at home.  I admire Lindsay for following her dream and creating this space.  She had a vision, and took a leap of faith to make it happen! I look forward to many more years of “me” time with Lindsay and her shop dog Capone.IMG_6995