An Unexpectedly Successful show season

The show season has now finished. It seems to be getting shorter each year. Last year we had one more show to go and Rafa won his second novice. This year wasn’t helped by my knee surgery in April. I thought the recovery time would be a few days but I had misread the information. So the boys have received very little training this year. We did manage to get to a few shows. I took my chances in the ring because I haven’t been able to train much and fast pace not at all. But both boys started to pick up some places and I told myself I would be more than happy just to get to shows and anything else would be a bonus.

It wasn’t until the middle of August that I was able to get out and train on a regular basis but even now I train very little heelwork. I managed to cope with a full day’s training which some friends had arranged with Herbie Watson, one of our top trainers. It was Herbie who suggested that I could ask a little more from Rafa. This involved concentrating on making sure Rafa kept a constant head position. Rafa being slightly built and a smoothcoat has to be so much more accurate than other dogs and just a slight change in head position can make it look as if he is losing accuracy. For the next couple of weeks we worked on it and I was able to click and treat for perfection having first ensured that Rafa started out properly.

Then at the end of August he won his first B. This came right out of the blue because I had stopped entering B. Rafa being the sensitive little soul that he is simply did not have the confidence to do sendaways under ring conditions. So we had been working on building his confidence away from the ring. But Stonehouse championship show entries closed early and we had one B left. I decided to take Rafa in and see what he made of the sendaway. In the event he did one of the best sendaways of the day and won the class. After that he just seemed to gain in confidence.

RAFA WINS A

He did have a minor setback at his next show when his dumbbell dropped in a hole and I had to help him. But on his next outing he won his first A and this was from an early draw – not an easy thing to do. By now the confidence was so high that he decided he could go and socialise in stays instaed of being rooted to the spot. Then after more remedial training at home we went to Plymouth DTC’s 2 day show on Dartmoor at the beginning of October. This is one show I love to enter win or lose because there is always such a happy atmosphere and the local hotel allows us to have dogs in our rooms.

It is usually accompanied by rain which has never dampened our spirits. Dog trainers are a hardy lot if a trifle eccentric! This year however it was unseasonably baking hot and we had to do what we could to protect our dogs from the heat. It did not bother Rafa one little bit. He won A again on the first day with Roy just half a point behind him in 2nd and on day 2 he nearly did it again but a rather messy scent relegated him to 2nd with Roy again behind him. But I was more than happy with the weekend because the win meant Rafa had won out of A so no more dumbells for him. I gave the next show a miss because we had a bonus A to work and he was drawn early in B.

So that left just one more show this year. It was again on Dartmoor but the show ground conditions are not easy to cope with being irregular and on a slope. Added to which it was extremely windy which didn’t really suit either of us. But Rafa tried his best and put in a really good round. He almost managed his stays getting up to touch my hand just before the end of the exercise. In the event we finished in second place. So we have ended the season on a high. Rafa has actually only worked two B rounds but finished first and second. So I am optimistic that after a winter of building his confidence and working on his C exercises he will come out even stronger next year.

RAFA WATCHES ROY

This year which started on a real downer with knee surgery followed by months of being unable to do much in the way of training has turned out to be far more successful than I had ever dared to hope. I am still not capable of containing the powerhouse that is Roy. But after saving my life he owes me nothing and as long as he enjoys himself I will continue to enjoy his company whatever he chooses to do in the ring. One thing is for sure, he has never been known to lose confidence or refuse to do any exercise and of course best of all, he has fun.

Jake is now 8 months old and his training has had to take a bit of a back seat. But he has been slowly learning his heelwork position and having fun around the shows. That is all part of his education. The kennel club accepted his name as Jabari (Arabic for fearless!) Jake. He is so like Roy in his attitude to life in general but won’t be as big although he is certainly not going to be small.

JAKE LOVES TO PLAY

I have been trying to get Jake out on his own with a view to building his confidence around other people so he can just concentrate on whatever we happen to be ding. So when our club ran the Kennel Club good citizens tests I took Jake along so he could do something on his own for a change. He thoroughly enjoyed himself. I really didn’t expect anything from him but he gained his bronze and silver awards which was a bonus. I wouldn’t normally take part in these tests but Jake will not be ready to compete for some time and it does him good to be out and about amongst other dogs and people.
The following month I took him to a breed show. Again it was purely for the purpose of socialising him. The show Border Collie is a world apart from the working Border Collie as is the case with many breeds. I had to spend an inordinate amount of time keeping Jake’s attention and preventing him from sitting. Having never trained him for she show ring he was not keen to keep still. But he did enjoy being fed for doing very little. So it was another positive ring experience for him. Needless to say as he bears little resemblance to a show collie he was unplaced in his class.

JAKE READY TO PLAY

The next few months, knee and weather permitting, I am hoping to be able to work on training for all three boys. We have already made a start. I have got together with a group of friends and we are hiring a hall occasionally so we can help each other with our training. I have decided to retrain Roy’s heelwork just as if he was a pup starting out. I am hoping this will help me to handle the power. But if it doesn’t he will still be my best boy!

Rafa is taking to his C work really well now. He was lacking confidence at first but recently a day’s training with Rob Bint helped greatly. Rafa now loves his distant control and positions on the move in heelwork. I am hoping the sessions with friends will help him gain enough confidence to be competitive.

Jake’s retrieve is coming along well and he loves doing heelwork. So perhaps late next year he too will be able to take his place in the ring. He has much more confidence than Rafa but I did discover one peculiarity. He will take off whenever he does not understand what is being asked of him. I think traditional trainers would have resorted to punishment.

I decided to ‘think outside the box’ assuming he was not deliberately playing up. He had a tendency to run whenever I changed to go right handed in heelwork. I found this out when I put a lead on so he didn’t have the option to run. So I just lured him round to the right a couple of times. After that it was as if a lightbulb had gone off in his head. He simply thought heelwork was left circles only. Now he has put it all together he is thoroughly enjoying himself. It was my fault for going on with left circles only for too long. I had not made it clear what I wanted. Dogs are funny creatures. Collies in particular have their little quirks. Once you understand them it makes life so much easier.

Unfortunately a couple of months ago we had to say goodbye to Keeta, our lovely old lady. She was sixteen years old and her kidneys had been failing. One day she made it crystal clear she had had enough so we had to make the decision to let her slip away peacefully. It is never an easy decision but it is the one last thing we can do for our dogs who give so much and yet ask so little of us in return.

I am now looking forward to the next show season when I hope to be able to get to more shows. Whatever happens I consider I have been very lucky to have such wonderful dogs. It does not happen by chance. I take great care to choose dogs from bloodlines I like and choose the pup that I can instantly bond with. It never ceases to amaze me that people choose a pup based on coat colour, markings etc. I think this makes pup selection a bit of a lottery. Without the right material how can we possibly hope to forge a successful partnership? (see my book – Your Perfect Dog – The Secrets). I am so happy that I have such wonderful dogs in my life.

TV TRIO

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A STRANGE SHOW SEASON

It is some time since my last posting and quite a lot has happened. This has to be one of the strangest show seasons I have experienced since I started competing. I have entered the usual shows but as the state of my damaged knee varies from day to day I have missed a lot of them. I do try to train the dogs but a few days ago when I was updating Onenote where I keep all my training notes I found one section had no entries for Roy since mid-July. I thought it was the sync software playing up. But it was simply that I have not been able to train him at home since then. Rafa has a few entries in this same section but not very many.

RAFA - A REAL SMOOTHIE!

So basically I am delighted with whatever results the boys achieve when we do go to a show. Roy is finally calming down a fraction and has been placed at most of the shows we have been to including a 4th place in a strong C class from running order 1! Everyone who knows us will understand what an achievement this was. I am not a morning person and Roy needs a lot of time to acclimatise or he takes over as only he can! Literally one or two things have prevented him from winning this season. I still live in hope!

Rafa always tries. But being the super-sensitive little soul he is things do not always go his way. He is still having confidence problems although it is getting better. We could have managed without his dumbbell disappearing into a dumbbell sized hole at our last show. He was totally freaked by it but even then he still came 6th in a big class. I had stopped entering him in B because he just didn’t have the confidence to cope with a variety of different Sendaways and training rounds I can do at home. Then because of one early closing entry we actually worked a B. To my amazement he did the best sendaway of the day and won the class. Now if we can just win 2 more he will be C only and will never have to retrieve a dreaded dumbbell again!!! Time is very much on his side however.

RAF WINS HIS FIRST B

Roy in the meantime has turned his considerable herding skills to a literally lifesaving event. We were walking in the forest with a friend who has recently had heart surgery, our two four month old pups and a very old dog. A rogue wild boar came charging at us from a fair distance. He wasn’t about to stop and we could only stand and hope. Then Roy ran towards him as it was obvious he was set on killing someone. The boar turned his attention to Roy and chased him off into the forest.

I was surprised that the ultra-brave powerhouse that is Roy should run off like that and had visions of those huge tusks ripping my poor boy to shreds. Then a short time later I realised my mistake. The boar broke cover up ahead of us and with Roy in hot pursuit headed off deep into the forest. I have no idea how my brave boy managed to turn the beast after luring it away from us. But he was totally unmarked and we were still rooted to the spot. It was much later before we realised just how much danger we had faced. I always said that Roy would give his life for me if necessary. Thankfully it wasn’t necessary and he certainly saved my life that day. Trifling things like wins at shows pale into insignificance after an experience like that.

Jake is five months old now and is growing rapidly. He has now moved on from puppy class and is enjoying classes with both pups his age and older inexperienced dogs. He loves training and I only have to produce his clicker and treats and he starts to run through his repertoire. I do not use much in the way of paraphernalia so all training is off lead. He wears a light leather collar to distinguish between training and just going out for exercise and that is all.

GET ME OUT OF HERE! JAKE AGED 4 MONTHS

I am training heelwork the way I trained Rafa on large mainly left handed circles, tossing a treat back so that he has to choose to join me in the heel position again. I think this is the easiest way to train not only heelwork but also the A recall. And it does allow a pup to make the decision to take part which I think is very important. Jake is going to be a very strong dog one day, just like Roy who carries some of the same bloodlines. I do not want confrontation but I do want a pup who wants to work with me. Setting things up so he thinks it is his idea is right for us. But he won’t see the inside of a competition ring this year at least. Time, as with Rafa, is most definitely on Jake’s side.

The show season is drawing to a close and although we have not been to many shows I am pleased with the way my boys have tried for me with not too much in the way of training. At the moment I am just keeping Roy ticking over and working on a more consistent head position for Rafa and of course trying my best to build his confidence. Over the winter I hope my knee will improve a little more so we can do more training. Jake will certainly need more time spending on him as he matures. For now he is just a baby so does not need too much in the way of competition training.

I was really looking forward to judging my first C but unfortunately that proved to be impossible. However I did manage to judge a really good quality novice bitch class last month and was pleased with my line-up. Our sport is not doing well for entries with the rising cost of fuel and the difficulty of winning classes to move up these days. So it is always good to see that there is at least strength in depth. In a class of over 40 nobody looked out of place and the winners were very good indeed. I am so pleased I have dogs but I fear the competition is just as hot in the dog classes. I will just have to work that much harder training Jake for when he does eventually make his debut.

JAKE AND MOLLY ON A WALK

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The New Boy

I can’t believe that it is already half way through the show season and we are still not competitive. We did get to a couple of shows but for the last month I have been side-lined because my knee recovery has suffered a bit of a setback. At least one of the shows was the not to be missed Carmarthen weekend where a great time was had by all. This show has very quickly become one of my favourites. I couldn’t cope with the rounds so we only came away with one third place. Roy took over as he always does when he knows I can’t manage. Rafa was unfortunately disturbed in stays on the first day but managed to complete the test on the second day in spite of another crisis of confidence with his retrieve. I was very proud of him because a couple of weeks earlier he had a fright in the ring and as luck would have it this was just as he was about to retrieve. It cost us a possible win. Rafa isn’t the bravest of dogs but as he is still only 2 years old he has time on his side.

Last month I was looking at adverts for litters when one of them caught my eye. I like to know what is being bred – Border Collies of course – what else? But occasionally I find a pup bred from some of my favourite lines and if the time is right then I may just go and look. This time although the time isn’t really right I went to see a litter of pups. Bred on a farm in the Brecon Beacons you would not expect pups to have had much in the way of socialisation. But as with Rafa what you expect and the reality are not always the same. I took a friend with me and we drove through some beautiful scenery finally arriving at the farm high up on a hill miles from anywhere. We were looking at a wonderful litter of Kelpie pups which were in a pen near the door of the barn – fascinated because they had an orphan lamb for company. So we didn’t immediately notice the Collie pups in the next pen.

As we turned to look a small black and white bundle of fluff flew across the pen and latched on to me like an exocet missile. I picked him up and said ‘this is my pup’ oblivious to the fact that there were others in the pen. I don’t know if Jake chose me or I chose him but he came home that day. I always find that if I have a strong reaction I don’t ever regret it. But it wasn’t impulse. The breeding was right. Ironically, Lisa who came with me had a similar strong reaction to Jake’s brother Tip. So what had started out as a visit to look at a litter ended up with 2 pups travelling home together, throwing up all over the cage and making a racket in the process. Roy and Rafa who were in the adjacent cage were not amused.

NINE WEEK OLD JAKE

Unfortunately when we had the pups for just a few days, Lisa was taken to hospital so Tip came to stay with us for a week. Jake was delighted to have his brother with us because the 2 really do get on famously. By now they were both seasoned travellers and came out in the car wherever we went. It has been incredibly easy socialising these pups. The work had all been done before we got them. Bred for brains they soak up training like a sponge. That does not mean that Jake will be entered at a show as soon as he is old enough. Just that he is very trainable and I will as always be taking my time.

JAKE AND TIP - BROTHERS WHO GET ON SO WELL

Jake’s great grandfather is Roy’s father with other lines in common as well. So the 2 are very much alike. Jake is totally fearless which has already almost caused problems for us. So training a rock solid recall has to be a priority. The day after we got him he sneaked out of the gate and down the track where I had taken him for a short walk. We were frantically searching for him when the postman drove up and asked if we had lost something. Jake was on the back seat totally unphased by his adventure. All this happened in less than a minute. That day I taught him that as soon as he goes out of the gate he turns back to look for a treat. I am so glad he is a quick learner. I think this is one of the many reasons why Border Collies bred from working lines do not do well in a town. They need space and this is rarely available in towns.

I always take my pups along when I go to training club and to shows so that they become accustomed to their future lifestyle early. But although I train every day Jake is the first pup I have actually taken to a class. Our club runs excellent puppy classes so I thought it would be a good idea to take Jake as part of his socialisation. Too many people wrap their pups in cotton wool and never let them mix with other dogs and pups so they end up lacking in social skills. Jake is a roaring extrovert and thinks puppy classes are loads of fun. Last week he ran into the main hall and introduced himself to the beginners as well. As I said before, he is fearless! But once I produce the clicker and treats I have his full attention. He has a phenomenal attention span for such a youngster. At time of writing he is still only 15 weeks old. He is going to be a bit of a handful as he matures but that is my type of dog.

Jake has now settled in to his new lifestyle and pack. He loves to play rough games so when Tip comes to visit he is in his element. But between times Rafa is happy to oblige being just a playful youngster himself. Molly loves to play with pups and although she will flatten Jake when she has had enough he adores her and has no fear of her at all. I often think that Collies were born to play rough games – so many of them do. Roy as usual simply looks down his aristocratic nose. He takes the view that pups should be born big enough to know the rules and totally ignores them until they do. Jake once tried to hang on to Roy’s ruff. He got one of Roy’s looks – that is all it took, no noise or fuss. Roy is now allowed his peace and quiet. Molly and Rafa have to take their chances. Keeta is far too old to be bothered so she is out of bounds to Jake.

RAFA LOVES BEING BIG BROTHER

Last week we visited the Sennybridge sheepdog sales, not to buy anything, just for a day out. There were some quality animals there and the prices were ridiculously low. This week we are hoping to go to the Welsh National Sheepdog trials. It is always good to see some of the best dogs and handlers in the world doing what they do best. We have quite a few shows coming up. I am hoping that the knee exercises will allow me to be competitive again sometime soon. If not there is always next year.

In the meantime training is restricted to what I can manage. Roy loves fast pace but that is not an option right now. Still heel position is heel position so pace should not really matter. That is what I keep telling myself! Rafa is once again getting his confidence back and is starting to retrieve happily again. Unfortunately he is not a natural retriever. So if anything does happen to dent his confidence retrieve is usually the first casualty. Fortunately he has never associated retrieve with scent for some reason.

It will be good to be back at the shows again win or lose. Jake has already been to one and had the time of his life. Now he is old enough to be taken to the open shows he can be trained around the showground and learn to concentrate with all the distractions. Shows can be fun for dogs but only if they are acclimatised from an early age. For an older dog to be suddenly dragged into a place where hundreds of dogs and people are gathered can be quite traumatic. Roy and Rafa happily leap into the car on show days. I do not expect Jake the extrovert to be any different.

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How we dealt with confidence problems

It is over 2 months since I last posted and the competitive year has now started with a vengeance. Unfortunately Roy, Rafa and I have been temporarily side-lined so our season is going to be starting later than usual – much later. Even when we do finally get going we have a lot of missed training to catch up on. We did get to one show in March but with little or no preparation we came away empty handed. Now I have had knee surgery at last. So I am hoping that in a few weeks I’ll be able to train my boys again. At the moment even static work is proving to be a bit of a challenge to say the least!

PLAY IS JUST TOO EXHAUSTING

Time out is probably not such a bad thing as far as Rafa is concerned. It all started in February. I was working on his retrieve because his return was not as fast as his go out. We had a wonderful 2 day training course at our club with top trainer Mavis Mills, well known for her positive methods. Naturally we came away full of enthusiasm. Unfortunately in the next couple of days I failed to notice that Rafa was going through a fear period. This is a time particularly noticeable in sensitive young males when the hormones are surging and a dog can exhibit strange behaviour and act as if the end of the world is close. In Rafa’s case he started to behave as if he had never learned to retrieve.

We had one last winter league match. As usual Rafa’s heelwork was very neat and so was his recall. Then came retrieve. The dumbell landed on one end and Rafa who had run straight out went into total meltdown and simply stopped in his tracks completely unable to cope. For once he was not in pole position. This left the team needing to win the final class to win the match. Fortunately Roy obliged and we just scraped through. Our team won the league and last week we were presented with a magnificent trophy at the league presentation evening, an event enjoyed by us all.

Rafa’s retrieve problem lasted a few weeks but fortunately it eventually came to an end and he is now back to his usual sunny natured self. He was never a natural retriever and I was beginning to wonder if he would ever regain his confidence. But he has come back stronger than ever. Training has had to take a back seat so my boys have had to pursue other hobbies for the past couple of weeks. Fortunately some of their favourite programmes have been on TV. And they have a lot of fun chasing round the garden playing with a log. Rafa’s confidence is so high now that he will even beat Roy to it and fly back up the garden to show me his prize.

ROY WITH HIS PRIZE

ROY WITH HIS PRIZE

I have noticed some strange hormonal behaviour over the years. One young dog I had would suddenly take off if you spoke to him at a particular point on his walk. He too was a sensitive soul. I wonder how many times dogs have been punished for things which are simply not their fault. I didn’t see Rafa’s retrieve problem as a dog who had decided he was going to ‘try it on’ or ‘be dominant’ so just waited for him to return to normal but at the same time working on building his confidence. I think it is just a particular mindset. Positive trainers try to work out how they can communicate better when things go wrong. Traditional or so-called ‘balanced’ trainers resort to corrections.

I think it is important to establish a relationship with your dog and this has to be one of honesty and trust. How can a dog trust if he is punished for doing his best? Because most dogs tend to give their best so long as they have a strong relationship with their handler. If they are constantly being criticised why should they keep trying? I wouldn’t. But so many people expect their dogs to keep trying even though rewards are rarely if ever forthcoming. I believe it is important to make sure that all training is geared to producing a happy and confident canine partner who works with his handler because he enjoys it not because he has no choice.

RAFA - A REAL SMOOTHIE!

Many judges dread people coming in to the ring to do a training round because so many end up with the handler constantly nagging the obviously miserable dog. Why people think this will help a dog to gain confidence and produce a superior performance I have no idea. We are not obliged to allow training rounds but most of us want to help. And as everyone knows there is a world of difference between training at home and performance in the ring. It is almost impossible to replicate the atmosphere at a show at home. Training in the ring done well can really help a dog’s confidence. And we all want to win but with a dog who is clearly enjoying himself not one who appears to be under duress. If one or more well thought out training rounds can help us to achieve this then the dog can only benefit and everybody wins.

I did think the standard at Crufts this year was higher than ever. Even those lower down the order looked happy and confident and definitely qualified to be there. No doubt the round set by judge Dave Howell helped because it was challenging enough to bring out the best in the qualified teams. No dog looked miserable as has been the case in years gone by. I thought the quality was outstanding and thoroughly entertaining. I do love to watch top teams performing well.

Unfortunately this is not a view shared by many. And I do understand that competitive obedience is not such a spectator sport as, agility for example. But perhaps this is more that people don’t understand the technicalities. Heelwork done well looks deceptively easy. Nothing could be further from the truth. I find it strange that the public find stays (that most boring of exercises!) fascinating but are distinctly underwhelmed by a brilliant heelwork performance.

However this is not confined to dog sports. I went to watch a dressage competition recently and was amazed to find that barely a handful of people were watching in each arena. And this was a championship event. At least at Crufts there are plenty of people enjoying themselves and soaking up the atmosphere. Until Crufts comes round again there will be a lot more championship shows and the race is now on to qualify for next year.

My ambitions for the year are more modest. I want to get back into regular training. First I need to work hard to rebuild the muscles in my damaged knee. Then I hope that Roy, Rafa and I can get to shows and have some fun. Any places this year will be a bonus although we will obviously be doing our best to win. I know that Roy will try too hard as usual. Rafa is gaining confidence daily as he matures. I hope that this year it will carry over into the ring. Whatever happens we are going to enjoy our days out at the shows.

SOME OF THE NEIGHBOURS

Just when you think you know your dogs well they sometimes do something to surprise you. A couple of days ago I was throwing a ball for my lot. Unfortunately I failed to notice they were looking away and the ball bounced awkwardly landing somewhere in the middle of a huge bramble patch. Bramble is most definitely a ‘no go’ area because it’s thick and practically impenetrable. But I thought I knew approximately where the ball had landed so I asked Roy to fetch it. I was completely wrong. Roy did find it but in a totally different place. He systematically searched the whole area. This may not sound like much but he kept going for nearly 15 minutes and all I could do was stand back and watch in awe. He was so thrilled when he eventually emerged with his prize. Words cannot begin to describe how much I love and admire this dog.

The photo above shows the actual area Roy searched. It is the whole of the left side of the track right down to the trees in the distance. That is some area!

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Roy and Rafa Positive Winter Training

What a cold icy winter we have had this year. I was so looking forward to going to a favourite show at the end of December but the weather forced its cancellation for a second year running. It seems such a long time since the beginning of December when Rafa won his second novice. It has been impossible to get outside to train most days for the past 3 months. The snow was bad enough but I think the ice was worse. It’s practically impossible to do neat heelwork on an icy surface but then we have had so much mud to follow.

It does appear that things are improving now though. I saw my first lamb of the year a couple of days ago and that usually means spring is on its way. The lack of training has been particularly noticeable with Roy who does need plenty to occupy him and space to move. He is a very strong dog and working with him is like trying to drive a Ferrari on ice at the best of times.

Rafa too has felt the lack of training but in a different way. He is an ultra sensitive little dog and with little or no outside work his confidence on return in retrieve and scent has taken a bit of a nosedive. I usually move around a lot to motivate him and this is not too easy to do indoors.

On the plus side we have been competing in a series of league matches for our club. Rafa winning out of novice meant he had to compete in A and I didn’t know if he would be as happy. I needn’t have worried. Rafa absolutely loves heelwork and he has won all but one of his classes and the last one he was in joint lead. As the other joint leader was a team member we tossed a coin and took 2nd place.

Apart from speed on return – something I particularly want my dogs to have – the one thing that has emerged from the winter matches has been return on stays. Rafa worries about strangers walking towards him and has been jumping up to lick my hand on return. It all started last year when dog ran across the ring to attack another. This happened 3 weeks running and after that strong winds blew tree branches down on top of Rafa’s head just as we all went back after the sit stay. At the end of the year a friendly dog invited him to play and forced him out of his stay.

All this has finally taken it’s toll. So at the moment we are taking every opportunity to improve Rafa’s confidence with carefully managed stays to help him. I am lucky that I belong to a very supportive club with some really helpful members. So Rafa has been rewarded for holding his stay when someone he knows well goes towards him then several people then someone he barely knows. We are building up gradually and Rafa in a few days has made tremendous strides towards being completely solid.

I know that old fashioned training methods would let him fail then punish him. I would not even do this to an ultra hard totally confident dog. Positive methods will always produce perfection if correctly applied. -whatever the type of dog. Both the keen powerful over confident Roy and the sweet sensitive little Rafa have been clicker trained from the time they came to me as pups. I don’t however use a clicker once a behaviour has a name. At this point I switch over to a ‘clicker’ word which also has the advantage of portability and you can use it without disturbing other dogs and their training.

I thought it might be interesting to compare Rafa when I first started training him at around 5 months and Rafa now. The first video shows how he was started with clicker and treats. Compare this with the one of his left turn training sessions and one of his winning A rounds at a club match. Roy has not been left out. The video I have included of Roy at the start of this article shows clearly how much work we need to put in before we can be truly competitive this year. One thing that never alters is Roy’s enthusiasm. I just love his attitude and I am very lucky to have him in my life.

Most of my training is done with both Roy and Rafa together. I find it helps to train with distractions right from the start and as both boys get on so well they really do provide a significant distraction for each other. Going to shows does not then pose too much of a problem as they both know how to focus. I find that it helps also to bring out their competitive streak.

However confident you are at training it is always good to have someone who is knowledgeable to offer an unbiased opinion from time to time. So training days apart from being highly motivational have a really practical purpose as well. I was disappointed that the weather prevented a day’s training before Christmas but in January a few of us managed to get to a training day with Rob Bint who is particularly good at noticing when things are not right and come up with some practical suggestions.

The one thing I have always been able to train particularly well is left turns. For some reason Rafa’s left turns were to put it mildly dreadful. This is borne out by the videos of the matches. I would never have picked this up so quickly on my own. So Rob’s help and advice has been particularly valuable. Ultra confident Roy has a tendency to over turn and I am so used to this that I would have carried on ignoring Rafa’s training needs for some time left to my own devices. We have just one more winter league match but not until the beginning of march so plenty of time to work on perfecting things.

Last weekend we braved gale force winds and rain coming down like stair rods and made a 400 mile round trip to a show. For the first time in a long time Rafa failed to gain a single rosette. It wasn’t that he didn’t try just a series of circumstances. He was disturbed in his A when someone bellowed at her dog to lie down and the dog appeared to leap into Rafa’s face. Unfortunate as this was he would still have been placed if he hadn’t got up at the end of the sit. He just couldn’t cope with someone going back to their dog before I reached him.

Roy was his usual wild self. I really wasn’t expecting too much from him because we simply haven’t put in the work he needs to be truly competitive. He even barked and jumped up around my ears in B losing most of his marks on this one exercise. Fortunately he was quieter in A and managed a third place. He amazed me by giving up his dumbell and scent cloths with no trouble at all and he didn’t anticipate a single recall.

Competitive obedience relies very heavily on accuracy and attention to detail. The only training which has been possible for the most part this winter has been tightening up work on presents and finishes and turns on the spot. The very thing that has slowed down Rafa’s retrieves has proved invaluable for Roy.

Now that the weather appears to be improving I am hoping we will be able to get out more and train. I have two very different dogs but both in their own way have their strengths and I love competing with both of them. I have finally managed to see a surgeon and I am going to have an arthroscopy on the damaged knee which I hope will restore me to full mobility. I do hope so because it would be good to lose all that excess winter weight I seem to have acquired! Both Roy and Rafa had a good show season last year in spite of everything. I am hoping for an even better one this year.
 

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Positive dog training and choosing the right dog works!

I haven’t updated the blog recently because to be honest there isn’t much happening at this time of year. But just over a week ago I managed to brave the freezing fog and go a fair distance to an obedience show. The show was a well run friendly affair and held in an equestrian centre just outside Blackpool. I don’t think I stopped moving all day because I had four classes so four separate sets of stays and 3 scents in addition to the four rounds.

We started early because Rafa was drawn in A. After the stressful journey I don’t think either of us were at our best. It was Rafa’s first time in this type of indoor venue and he wasn’t sure about it. So I took him in at lunchtime when it was fairly quiet and made sure he had a positive experience. This certainly paid off because when he went in to compete in novice later on he was more than happy and actually won the class.

So next year he will be working the higher classes. He clearly showed that he is ready because although our morning performance in A was less than stellar we still finished 4th.

Back down to earth with a bang though because Roy was so full of himself that I was hardly able to keep up with him. The lack of training showed. Roy needs much more than I can manage at the moment. Unfortunately the consultant had to cancel my knee appointment. It’s a shame but couldn’t’ be helped. I will now have to wait until next year. In the meantime it’s not too easy to cope with fast pace and multiple turns and even halts. So Roy in particular has been affected.

But the show was a welcome respite from the unusually cold weather we are having in most parts of the UK this year. If it had been held last weekend we wouldn’t have been able to go because we are snowed in here in the forest. I did have a training day planned at the weekend but that was obviously cancelled.

Roy and Rafa in the snowy garden

So my boys have had to be content with their walks. We are very fortunate that one of the boundaries to our property is woodland so my dogs can exercise all the year round whatever the weather. Training requires a reasonably flat dry surface though and at this time of year these are in short supply. It will be good to be back at our training club at the start of the New Year.

Being pretty philosophical both Roy and Rafa have taken up a new hobby. They love watching television. Rafa has been glued to the snooker and ‘Strictly come dancing’ and never missed a single minute. Roy has greatly enjoyed ‘One man and his dog’ but then he never misses a single sheepdog trial on TV and no sheep ever gets away!

Watching 'One Man and his Dog'

Although we can’t train outside we are still doing little bits of tightening up work indoors. Valuable marks are lost for less than perfect presents and finishes and positions and starts and elements of retrieve are also possible. So it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact at times it is hilarious as Roy and Rafa both try to outdo each other.Molly likes to make as much noise as possible and the sound level rises considerably. Everyone works round Keeta who is not about to give up her place to anybody.

The snow and freezing conditions show no sign of letting up and it already feels like an unusually long winter. But no doubt we will manage somehow. And they do say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! Before long the winter will be over and a new year will start.

Our training club has a series of matches over the winter so we will at least have something to occupy us before the next show season. In the meantime Rafa needs to gain confidence in scent and sendaways so there will be plenty to do before the next show season starts in earnest.

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WELCOME TO MY BLOG

It’s freezing at the moment in my corner of the world – a forest on the Gloucester/South Wales border. We have got off lightly compared with the rest of the UK but breathing freezing air is still unpleasant. So I have decided to write a blog and hope to add to it at least weekly.

I have been taking a look at a book I wrote last year and adding some illustrations. I see so many dogs discarded as being no good when in truth it’s simply the ignorance of their owners. My own chosen breed is very definitely misunderstood being far from easy to manage for the average owner. So I set out to write a book to try and help people make a more informed choice. It’s surprising how little most people know about choosing the right dog never mind training it to realise its potential.

Book Cover

 

I am very lucky that I share my life with my four Border Collies. The oldest one, Keeta, a red/tri,who is over 15 years old is really my husband Tony’s dog. She idolises him and follows him everywhere. In spite of several vestibular attacks she is still very much a part of our family. Keeta just bounces back and carries on regardless. She is almost completely deaf now and her eyesight isn’t what it used to be. But that doesn’t stop her commenting on everything that is going on in her life.

Keeta

Roy is 7 years old. It doesn’t seem long since I went to collect him from his breeder as a 7 week old pup. He’s strong and powerful and my constant companion. He has been placed at most of his last few shows and at last is (almost!) showing signs that he might be taking obedience competitions more seriously. His enthusiasm usually manages to deny us red rosettes because he finds it so hard to contain himself. But I wouldn’t want to change him.

Roy on his step

 

Molly is 5 years old and very much likes to be in charge. She has a very powerful personality and has just one rule in her life – everyone does what Molly wants when she wants it – simples! As a certain meerkat would say!! But she has good communication skills. I used to compete with her but rarely do these days because she prefers to do things her way. She makes me smile though and she is happy looking after Keeta at home instead of going to shows.

Molly

 

Rafa is the baby of the family at just 20 months. He was chosen for his wonderfully happy personality. Living with really powerful personalities like Roy and Molly could be a problem. But Rafa has no ambitions to be top of the heap and is happy in his role as deputy. He is also my constant companion, gets on brilliantly with Roy which makes for a peaceful life. His first season in competition has proved to be successful with a win and many second places. He’s still very much a work in progress and I have great hopes for him next year.

Rafa on his terrace

 

At this time of year there aren’t too many shows so training is winding down somewhat. Although I do wish we could get out to do a little more than just walk. Border Collies love their walks but they also need other things as an outlet for their considerable drive. For my dogs this is competitive obedience which requires the ability to focus and achieve great precision but at the same time show true enjoyment.

Rafa's first win

Roy probably does this to excess. Working with him is like trying to drive a Ferrari on ice.

Roy loves heelwork - a little too much!

Molly has far too much ‘attitude’ to be truly competitive although she is so intelligent she can pick up something new in an instant. Rafa is a sensitive little soul. He always tries to do things right and can worry terribly if he thinks he might have made a mistake. He’s proving quite a change from my other 2 head cases! It’s a long time since I tried to train a dog so sensitive. Having such opposites is definitely not dull and really keeps me on my toes. I hope to share our experiences.

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