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!
I was so happy after our last practice, it was the first time all summer that we executed everything we attempted perfectly and I felt like we were in the best shape possible for the test.
Later that night I got a phone call with devastating news about a family member and I quickly made a plane reservation on the first flight possible. I had no idea what the future would hold and was slapped once again with the realization that life can change in an instant and we have no control when it does.
I returned home at the end of the week, forever changed and feeling completely out of it. The last thing on my mind was going up to the water test, but then when I thought about it, that was something that made me really happy so I decided to go and I’m so glad I did. When Winn and I are working together I don’t think about anything else and that is exactly what I needed so I packed the car and headed up there and was able to push all of my other emotions out of my mind.
It was such a relief to be somewhere so familiar. Our training partners were there along with several other people who I had gotten to know over the summer. The mood was one of excitement and it was great to be a part of it. This time was different for me because we got to be part of the “main camp” since Winn had finished her heat which also meant that I got to watch and cheer on all of the other entrants.This was a two-day test, we had entered both days and had two chances to make it happen. Saturday morning was incredibly foggy and we were delayed getting started but then it turned out to be a beautiful weekend. Each day was considered its own test but I’ll recap each exercise including both days.
On both days we had several dogs ahead of us before it would be our turn so I took Winn further down the beach to practice heeling and fetching to get her worked up and ready to go. We got a treat bag when we checked in that had dried chicken hearts in it and Winn thought that was about the best thing she had ever had in her life. By the time our number was called, I had her full attention and I was feeling pretty good about our chances for success.
Basic Control has always been something that we’ve done well but on the first day she started veering away from me and I had to alter my path to keep her in the required 4 foot radius. While doing that, I tripped over one of the cones and was sure that we didn’t pass. To my surprise, when I asked the judge she said we passed, but on Sunday we performed it perfectly which made me feel much better.
The Single Retrieve (bumper throw) and Drop Retrieve (life jacket off of the boat) didn’t give us any trouble either day, although Winn did stop for a drink on the first day on her way to her life jacket which almost caused her to time out. She finally got swimming with 5 seconds to spare and my heart going double time.On Saturday, Winn surprised me with Take A Line. She grabbed it from my hand and then turned and started to march out of the ring with it. Fortunately, I was able to grab her and steer her back to the water, but that was a fail. Our training partners offered to stay late with us and put a long line on her to practice it at the end of the day and I took them up on their offer. They wanted to stay and practice jumping off of the boat with their boy so once everybody was packing up and leaving for the day, the three of us were back in the water and I’m so glad we stayed. Winn tried to do the same thing two more times but with a gentle tug from the line she got right in the water and then seemed to forget about trying to leave the beach. The next 3 attempts went exactly as they should. On Sunday, her Take A Line was perfect and she passed that exercise!Tow A Boat was next and this was the moment we had been training for. I knew she could do it, I just wasn’t sure that she would do it. On Saturday she came close but the boat drifted in and she dropped the bumper right on the edge of the water. When I tried to get her to pick her bumper back up she just stared at me like I was asking too much. She had worked so hard and when she got the boat up on shore she turned to go say hello to the steward that was in the front of the boat. On Sunday, she took her time going out to the boat. Sometimes she stops to eat seaweed or look at a dead bug, whatever it was I think she forgot what she was doing and she started to come back to shore. I don’t usually use a firm voice with her but I wasn’t messing around when I pointed my arm to the boat and said “Winn, go out” and fortunately she turned back around and went to the boat. She did the most beautiful pull all the way in but at the last second she let the boat drift in and she dropped the bumper on the grass and once again looked at me like “I did it, are we done now?”. She just stared at me when I tried to get her to pick her bumper up again and then our time was up and the judge blew the whistle. It was the best she had ever done in a test and that was good enough for me. We had come so far, it wasn’t a pass in the judges eyes, but it was to me.Swim With Handler was our big finish both days. We didn’t get a new Water Dog title this year but we came as close as I could have hoped for. Next year we will reinforce everything we learned this summer and train for the senior test as well. I loved being in the water with Winn and she continues to amaze me with her abilities.
This winter we will go back to rally and obedience and I’d like to introduce her to draft work. That’s the next thing for us to figure out together and I’ve got a new book to read!
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.When we arrived, she went right down to our regular spot, waded right in and was ready to go after her toys. What a relief!
We 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.If 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.Finally 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.After 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.I 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.next post: test time once again!
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. As 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!Once 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!next post: our first water test!