Winter Tracking

Tracking in -12 weather equals dedication. Or maybe it’s just being Canadian.

Either way, Rogue and Arizona did a fantastic job today.

Our tracking instructor sent out an email on Friday to see who might be interested in tracking this weekend. Everyone wrote back to say they would rather stay indoors.

Being the brave souls we are, I said SURE!!!

This morning Huib and I put on several layers of clothing.

I also put jackets on Rogue, Canyon and Arizona. Normally, I do not make the goldens wear coats, but with the wicked wind, I thought the jackets were needed. No one complained, so I guess they also liked the idea.

The girls should have also worn boots, but I know they don’t like them, so I let that go. Maybe I should purchase some paw balm.

When we got to Second Cup, Laura was not far behind. She told us where she had laid the tracks and we headed over to the University of Guelph campus.

Rogue was up first.

I put her tracking harness on over her coat, clicked the line to her front ring and gave her the okay to jump out of the car. We walked over to her track, which was on Johnston Green, near War Memorial Hall. When we were a few feet from the scent pad, I asked her to “wait,” and clipped the line to her back ring. After a moment, I said “Check it out!!” She sniffed the area thoroughly and then started pulling me in a straight-forward direction, so I said “Find!!,” and we were off. She missed the very first article, a stick, but found the other three articles, a piece of leather, another stick and a leather glove. She did her corners well, turning one without even stopping to double-check.

I was worried about her enthusiasm and wasn’t sure how she’d do since we had not tracked in a month, but Rogue did an amazing job!!

Arizona wore her coat under her harness as well. Huib said she was a good little worker. She found all of her articles, a piece of leather and a glove. She worked her corners nicely, and only got distracted near the end when they came upon a bunch of squirrels having a discussion in a tree. Huib said he couldn’t blame her for getting distracted because the squirrels even distracted him.

Canyon will start learning to track in the spring, it really isn’t a good time to begin his lessons. Instead, he hung out in the car, watching the girls from a distance.

Winter tracking is good because you can see your foot prints and see exactly where the higher traffic areas are. So, when your dog has difficulties, you are able to figure out if maybe it’s because a lot of people walked in that area.

Rogue followed a few ‘cross-tracks,’ but easily figured out they were not part of her track. We were able to see that they were cross-tracks because of the boot prints in the snow.

Winter tracking also gives you an opportunity to see if your dog is using their sight more than their nose. Rogue and Arizona both use their noses more than anything when they track – which is a good thing to know.

I hope everyone is staying warm on this chilly winter day.

I am off to drink something warm and climb under a blanket and read a book.

Where Have we Been…

I know, I know, it has been a while since I last posted an entry. I really want to get back into regular blogging, but I am having trouble coming up with things to say.

My Web Wizard cannot seem to figure out how to fix the issue with me not being able to post pictures here, so I am going to try and use Instagram and share the link – it might take a bit though, the iPhone app is pretty confusing with a screen reader.

What’s been new with the ruled by paws crew?

As mentioned in my last entry, Rogue was attempted to earn her UTD (urban tracking dog) and TDX (tracking dog excellent) titles.

Unfortunately, 2016 was just not our year for tracking.

She did a really good job at her UTD test, but missed the first article – a knitted mitten. I saw some great work though. It was a pretty rough track and she wasn’t working in the most optimal conditions.

I’m not sure if I have mentioned it here before, but Rogue absolutely hates being wet. This makes it pretty difficult to work with her at times. She will do absolutely everything possible to avoid puddles, even stopping dead in her tracks, refusing to move until i force her to continue.

So, when we got to the test and it was not looking like the rain would stop before her turn, I took a deep breath and crossed my fingers.

We walked up to the ‘scent pad,’ I asked her to “Check it out.” She sniffed the area thoroughly, probably hoping for even a tiny treat. Then, when I felt she was pointed in the right direction, I said “Find.” She took off and we followed. The first half or so of her track was covered, I mean covered, in goose poop. I had to constantly ask her to “Leave it.” Despite the distraction, she followed her track quite well. There were a few spots where she had to work a bit harder to find the track, such as at corners, but I felt she did a good job overall. When we were nearing the last corner, the judge came up to us to say we were welcome to finish, but that she had missed the first article, so she would not be getting her title. We were sad, but we felt she needed to finish, so she would be able to feel as though she had done what I asked.

In early November, Arizona attempted to earn her TD, while Rogue tried for her TDX – neither were successful. When Arizona had her turn, she did the first 30 metres well, but then got distracted by the cow manure in the field. Even though Huib tried to refocus her, she continued to go back to the different piles she found, and even did some rolling. We are hoping with some time and maturity, she’ll be able to try again.

Rogue had a pretty tough track. Laura, our instructor, said the judge was a bit sad to see which track we were assigned. Rogue approached the scent pad, figured out which direction the track went, and then did about the first quarter to a third really well. She got stuck when we were supposed to turn into a field of corn stalks. The corn had been harvested, so the stalks were about ankle high. From her behaviour at that spot, I think she knew we had to turn, but felt it was too dangerous for me. If we had to fail, I’m glad to be able to say that we failed because she felt she had a guiding responsibility. I am going to work with her throughout the spring and summer to teach her that it is Huib’s responsibility to keep me safe when she is on the tracking line, and that she is only expected to follow the scent.

On November 17th I had my convocation. Huib went with Rogue and I. He walked with me in the procession with the other students, but when it was time for me to go up onto the stage and receive my degree, Huib walked me to the stairs and then ran to the other side to meet back up with us. Rogue did a great job of listening to my directions, so I think we probably looked pretty smooth walking across the stage together.

The rest of 2016 was pretty uneventful. I had a good birthday at the end of November and Christmas was quiet, but nice.

We had some friends and family come over on Boxing Day for dinner, but otherwise we didn’t do much.

Goals for 2017?

Most of my goals for this year surround the dogs and performance events.

I want to continue taking classes through Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. I took an obedience foundations class in October and right now we’re doing a competition retrieve class using shaping. I found the obedience class a bit lacking, but we’re enjoying the retrieve class.

I have tried to teach Rogue how to retrieve for a while, but this class has helped her progress further than I was ever able to do so on my own.

Arizona has been able to retrieve things for more than a year, but I find the class is tightening up her ‘hold,’ which will help us in field.

I also want to continue working through Sue Ailsby’s Levels Training Program. I have been casually doing them for a long time, but I never really started with Arizona.

In an effort to improve our obedience lessons with Susie, I decided to restart the Levels with Rogue and Canyon, while also working on them with Arizona. We have been doing short sessions, three times a week, for about two months now and I am seeing huge progress.

All three dogs are working on level 2. Each one is at a different point with the 14 different behaviours found in the level. Canyon tends to lag behind the girls a bit, while Arizona shines in some areas and Rogue in others. It has been a good experience for us all and I hope to continue this through the year.

Performance wise?

I want to enter Rogue in another TDX and UTD test. I also want to try field with her.

With Canyon, I would like to return to conformation, maybe even showing him myself. I would also like to do some tracking and enter an obedience trial with him.

I hope to continue doing field with Arizona, trying for both her WC and JH this year. I would have liked to also try for her WCI, but I need to make sure she has a really solid ‘stay.’ Arizona has progressed a lot in her levels work with me, so maybe we can try entering an obedience trial in the spring. Huib wants to track with her some more, maybe trying for her TD in the fall because the summer months are way too warm for her.

A personal goal?

I want to earn my PhD. The application is due in mid-February, so I’m going to start working on that this week.

To try and improve my chances of getting accepted to a PhD program, I am submitting abstracts to different conferences. So far, I have been accepted to present at the International Working dog Conference in April being held in Banff.

I also want to continue working on improving my physical health. I started walking on the treadmill three times a week, so I want to continue doing this, see how it goes and where it takes me.

The ruled by paws crew would like to wish our readers a safe and happy new year!!

Update on Tracking

Our winter wasn’t as cold or snowy as most, so we did get some opportunities to track. We didn’t really do any field tracking, but focused more on urban tracking.

In urban tracking the dog is learning to follow scent on short grass and pavement and in high traffic (or highly contaminated) areas. We tend to practice in school yards, on the University of Guelph campus or in local parks.

Rogue is loving it! And, she’s doing fabulously. We try to lay a track a few times a week and then we attend a private Friday or group Saturday tracking session, depending on Laura’s schedule.

If all goes well, we will be entering an urban tracking dog (UTD) test in June that is taking place in London.

I am trying to get Rogue to spend more time exploring the ‘scent pad’ by putting more food on it and by introducing a start cue “are you ready to track?” in an excited voice, and then once she looks at me, “FIND!!”

Some people ask their dog to ‘sit’ or ‘down’ before releasing them to start, but Rogue is usually quite revved up and she really doesn’t enjoy either of those cues. I know, you’re wondering how a service dog can succeed while disliking ‘sit’ and ‘down,’ well it’s because I try not to ask her for them unless we actually need to seriously do it.

So far we’ve done 2 to 3 hour old tracks between 200 and 300 meters long with a variety of surface changes and different numbers of turns. Rogue seems to be struggling with wind, with harnessing her enthusiasm, and, at times, with highly contaminated areas. We have a couple of months to go before the test, so we’re going to try and practice at least a few times a week, in different places, on different ages and lengths of tracks.

I really think Rogue can get her UTD this spring/summer, and then we’ll work towards possibly getting her TDX (or Tracking Dog Excellent) title in the fall.

Arizona has also started to track. We are practicing on short grass and pavement for now because it’s convenient, and it will help her in the end when she actually starts training for her TD, which is the first level of field tracking.

Arizona has a bit of trouble starting, but once she gets into the zone, she’s awesome! Huib has chosen to track with her on his own, and says she seems to be a more methodical tracker than Rogue.

The club here in Guelph hosts TD and TDX tests in early November, so I think we are going to try and enter both Arizona and Rogue.

We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, so stay tuned for more tracking news.

Field and Obedience

I apologize for the long absence, it’s been a really busy few months.

Over the past few months, we’ve been doing weekly field and obedience lessons with the goldens, and sometimes with Rogue as well.

We’ve made a great deal of progress!!

We’ve been working on: heeling, sitting whenever I stop moving, walking in a figure eight pattern, stays, recalls, and having the dogs pay attention to my body language because in obedience I cannot talk to my dog.

I still need to work on their heeling and sit-stay, but overall the goldens are doing really well.

Rogue has a great stay, but she seems to be confused about heeling, when I’m usually asking her to lead out when guiding, so Susie has suggested Huib work with her and I continue to work with the goldens. Huib has said he’ll do that and I think it’ll b a good challenge for him and a great experience for Rogue.

Now that the weather is getting warmer, we’ll start focusing on field and our obedience lessons will reduce to once a month.

In field, Arizona is doing fabulously!! She no longer hesitates about retrieving the duck, and rarely feels the need to visit the ‘gunner,’ choosing to return to me as soon as she has picked up the duck. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working on her ‘hold’ because she often drops the duck in front of me instead of giving it directly to me. In order for her to obtain her JH (or Junior Hunter), Arizona needs to be able to put the duck in my hand. For her WC (or working certificate) she can just bring the duck back and drop it near me. In order to reinforce the need to give the duck right to me, I’m starting to ask her to ‘sit’ as she approaches and then continue to ‘hold’ the duck until I say ‘give.’ She’s doing it really well at home, we just need to continue practicing it outside of the home.

Canyon has also been progressing well in field, but with his seizures Susie has suggested we not go for titles because he could have a seizure while swimming. We had been hesitant about the water portion of the test for other reasons, mainly because he tends to get hot spots after swimming, so when the seizure issue came up, we fully supported the decision not to work towards the titles.

The incident that highlighted the seizures as a potentially life-threatening concern, was that last night while Canyon was waiting for Arizona to finish her land retrieves, Canyon had a seizure. Usually his seizures only happen when he’s at home and relaxing, not when we’re out and he’s eagerly awaiting his turn. So, once this happened, we realized that his seizures could create a life-threatening situation.

Canyon still really loves field though, so we’ll give him the chance to take part in the lessons, avoiding the water portion.

Rogue does not hesitate to retrieve the duck, so I am working on her ‘hold.’ Currently, Rogue will run over to the duck, come back and toss it at me. I don’t think it will take too long for her to catch on to what I really want her to do. I am going to start by asking her to help me carry things through the house, like I did with Arizona when I was teaching her to carry things. I think in the end, this training will add to her actual skill set as a working dog.

With the warmer weather approaching, our field lessons will now turn into group ones and become our Tuesday evening activity.

Well, that’s what we’ve been up to in field and obedience. I will keep you all posted on our progress and hopefully I’ll get back to regular blogging soon.

Biting My Tongue

Do you ever wish you could push aside politeness and just say whatever is on your mind?

I feel this way a lot, but like a good girl, I continue to bite my tongue.

Yesterday we went to see Huib’s former co-worker. We had been out shopping and decided we’d drop in since we were in the area.

At first, the conversation was great. We all caught up and Huib and his former co-worker chatted about work related stuff.

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Do you ever wish you had listened to your dog? I sure do.

While we were chatting, Rogue had two accidents in the middle of the co-workers office – how embarrassing!!

In her defence, she had tried to tell me she needed the grass before we had entered, but she’s not usually one to relieve herself when not at home, so I ignored her – which turned out to be a bad decision.

Just a quick aside to show everyone that service dogs, and especially their handlers, are not perfect.
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Now back to my story.

Another staff member then came over and the discussion turned to my dogs and how I trained Rogue myself.

The woman told me that her kid has chronic pain issues and the doctor suggested she look into a dog. The kid would use the dog to protect the painful side, making space around them when out in public, and the woman thought the dog could also provide companionship since the kid has some anxiety issues. I thought this was an interesting idea, until the woman started talking about how she felt a therapy dog would be what the kid needed.

I didn’t know how to step in and explain the differences between therapy vs. service dogs. Terminology is a big part of my thesis research, so this was a great example to show that the confusion is real. People really do not know what the difference is between all of the different types of dogs.

Then, to add to the frustration I was feeling, Huib’s co-worker started talking about how her pet dog had been ‘certified’ as an emotional support dog for her kid. Again, I didn’t know how to step in and clear up the confusion.

If it wasn’t bad enough to hear that someone had their dog ‘certified’ as an ESA, she then went on to explain that the dog seems to be more stressed at times than her kid. What the…?

Why would you make your stressed out dog do something they don’t feel comfortable doing? And, who ‘certified’ this dog to do this job?

Boy, was my tongue ever sore by the time we left and got back into the car where I could vent.

Success!!

She did it!! Rogue passed her tracking test!!

She is now RLR Babe In Total Control TD CGN.

The test went REALLY well. Rogue was extremely revved before and during the test.

A gentleman asked me if my dog was ready for the test and I told him “I don’t know.”

It’s true, I didn’t know. Just like humans, dogs have their good days and their bad. I didn’t know what sort of day this was going to be for Rogue.

Well, it was a good day. Together, we made history. As far as I understand, I am the first blind person to track at a Canadian Kennel Club event.

Our track was 410 metres long and we finished it in just over 6 minutes. Huib and I were dying by the end, Rogue was freaking flying!!

I am SO proud of my little red girl! She has been a great friend and training buddy. Not only does she work well to keep me safe each day, she also works hard to impress me with her intelligence and willingness to try anything.

On Friday morning we are going to start training for the next level, TDX. If it is not too snowy or cold this winter we may also start training for our first urban tracking title.

**There are pictures from our tracking adventure, so I will see if Huib can help me post them in the next week or so**

Canyon’s Seizures

As mentioned in earlier posts, Canyon has partial seizures.. He has been having them for about 4 years now, with them becoming more frequent over the past year or so.

Up until this past month, his seizures tended to happen about every 4-6 weeks, so we had decided to keep him off medication. Last January, we started giving Canyon 100mg of Coenzyme Q10, and we aren’t sure if it really does anything, but it also doesn’t hurt anything.

Over the summer, Canyon went 15 weeks without a seizure and we were optimistic.

In early September he had a mild seizure, followed by another mild one 11 days later, but we were still optimistic.

Then, 10 days later, on October 2nd, Canyon had his normal seizure, we still weren’t too worried.

This morning, at about 1:49am, Huib heard Canyon getting out of his crate and felt uneasy about it, so felt him. We immediately got down on the floor and began the waiting game. Canyon often knows when they are coming, so warns us and we usually have between 2-4 minutes to wait before the real thing happens. Once Canyon’s usual seizure took place, he seemed himself and went to get up, but had trouble – now we were worried. I helped him lay back down and over the next 45-50 minutes he went through moments of trembling, just having a rigid body, and acting himself. Never once during this period of time did he lose consciousness or control of his bowel or bladder. It all seemed to effect his motor skills. After about 35 minutes, Huib put a 1mg tablet of Ativan under his tongue and we waited for it to take effect. He appeared relaxed and ready to move after 10 minutes, so Huib offered him a treat and asked for a couple basic cues, he did them eagerly and then started toward the door, so Huib walked with him downstairs and to the backyard. As he took a step outside, he raised his paw over his head and became rigid again, so Huib picked him up, called everyone back inside and then carried him upstairs. He gave Canyon another 1mg tablet of Ativan and hugging him tightly, we waited for his body to relax again. It did around 2:50am. Huib helped Canyon back to his crate (he sleeps in there with his door open) and we climbed into bed. Canyon slept for a couple of hours and then woke me up to go outside. I followed him and after he peed, we returned to bed and he slept until our alarm, at which time he greeted us with a ball, ready to play fetch.

We think it is time to seriously consider medication. We have made an appointment for 4:00pm this evening with Bianca, their vet. I am hoping she can suggest a medication that won’t make him extremely drowsy and hungry all of the time, but in the end, we just want our golden boy better.

I will keep everyone posted on his progress.

Won’t That Affect Her Work?

Won’t that affect her guide work?

This is a question I hear constantly when I tell other service dog handlers about the various activities I choose to do with Rogue.

No, it doesn’t affect her ability to guide.

When you have a good working relationship, like Rogue and I do, you can choose to do almost anything together.

Rogue knows the difference.

She knows that when her guide harness is on, or even if it is off and she’s just hanging out in my office at school, that she needs to be professional. She knows she can’t be sniffing everything, visiting everyone, or chasing small critters that cross our path.

Rogue knows that when her tracking harness is on that her job is to “find” the track and follow it to the “article.” She knows that she doesn’t need to be paying attention to anything else. She knows that it isn’t her job to keep me safe. It’s her job to find the “article” for me.

Rogue knows that when we are at a conformation show and she’s wearing a show leash and collar that it isn’t time to guide; it’s time to walk nicely beside Huib. She knows that when they stop along side other dogs in the ring, it isn’t time to greet them or to sniff around. Rogue knows it’s time to “stack” and let the judge check her out. She knows that Huib will let her know what is expected and that he’ll remind her if she forgets.

When we are at field training and she’s wearing just her martingale and leash, Rogue knows it is time to retrieve. She knows that it’s okay to run away from me and get the duck (bumper with wings for now), and bring it back to me. Rogue knows it’s not time to sniff for articles or show me obstacles, it’s time to “mark” (or look forward and see where the duck is dropping from) and then “fetch” it and bring it back.

It’s true that dogs are not good at generalizing, but Rogue and I have been working together since she was 8 weeks of age. We’ve practiced things in a variety of environments and we’ve learned what’s appropriate in each situation.

Rogue knows that I will let her know if she’s made the wrong choice. And, I know that she’ll turn to me for help if she needs help figuring out what is expected.

so, the answer is no, conformation, tracking and field work will not affect Rogue’s work.

And, if we decide to try something else it won’t affect her work either.

This is why I love owner-training. I can choose to participate in any dog sport I want with Rogue. With Cessna, this was not the case. I wanted to try out rally obedience, but her school said no.

For Rogue and I, the sky is the limit!!

***This post is not directed at anyone. The questions I’ve been getting just got me thinking that it was time to try and educate others. I am thankful for all of the questions.***

Field Training: Crazy Labrador!!

Tonight was Rogue’s official introduction to field work.

Last week, we had her with us because she had been at a meeting with me and we didn’t have time to take her home. She seemed to really enjoy herself, so I decided to see how she likes field work for real.

There were a lot of dogs present this week. There was Maverick (the duck toller) and his new little buddy Shelby (also a duck toller), Hank (the chocolate lab), Cassidy (the yellow lab) and her littermate Rainy (who is owned by Susie), Jayden (a female chocolate lab) and her buddy Reba (the fox red lab – darker than Rogue), Arizona, and of course, her buddy Rogue.

We arrived 15 minutes early, so did a couple practice runs with Arizona. Her first run was a bit rusty, but her second and third attempts were great.

No one had arrived yet, so we got Rogue out to practice, and she was TERRIBLE!! She ran right over to the bumper but instead of bringing it directly back, she ran around like a goofy puppy on the way. We gave her two more attempts and each one was worse than the last. We didn’t know what we were going to do.

When everyone had arrived and things were set up, Susie had us take turns working our dogs at their level. She had things set up like we were at a real trial and simulated what would happen if we competed.

Arizona and Rogue weren’t the only two at the first level, WC, Cassie is also just starting field lessons.

Arizona did quite well. She still tried taking the bumper to the “gunner,” but when they didn’t pay any attention to her she started back to me. Each time she dropped the bumper half way back, but then got it again and brought it the rest of the way. Her recall was MUCH better.

Rogue was okay. She ran directly to the bumper, but she didn’t pick it up immediately and on her way back she dropped it a few times. I will need to work on her “hold.” Her recall was good though. And, I overheard one o the other people say she has the drive to do this, so I’m sure we’ll get there.

Once everyone had taken their turn, we went to one of the ponds to work.

At first we didn’t think we would participate, but then we decided to take our turn.

I worked with Rogue first. She was SO excited!! She was very good about sitting beside me and waiting for the release word – “fetch.” She swam directly to the bumper, getting slightly spooked by a log under the water she bumped into on the way, but recovering quickly.

The problem came when she was coming back. Instead of swimming to me, she swam to the opposite shore – *rolls eyes*

Laura was the gunner, so tossed another bumper into the water and I got really excited, trying to coax Rogue to swim back in my direction this time. It worked.

Her second attempt was an absolute write-off. She sat and waited for the release great, and she swam directly to the bumper, but again she took it to the opposite shore. When Laura tossed another bumper into the water, she swam out to it, and again took it to her side of the pond. Then she tossed it again and Rogue swam back towards me, but dropped the bumper just before reaching the shore – Oh, Roga-Monster!

Getting down to the edge of the water was a bit nerve-racking for me, so when it was Arizona’s turn, I had Huib work with her.

Arizona is fine once she gets to the bumper, but she needs to get over the initial panic of not being able to touch bottom as she swims out.

Huib said she sat beside him and waited for the release perfectly. That once she got to the bumper, she did well at remembering who to return it to – Good girl, Airy Berry!!

When Rogue and Arizona weren’t taking part in the action they were not happy. Both girls were SO noisy!! Rogue quivered with excitement and talked constantly. Meanwhile, Arizona whined and at one point she was even screeching – Oh, Airy Berry, you are SO embarrassing!

Rainy and Cassidy didn’t take part in the water work, so once Jayden and Reba had their turns, it was dark so we packed up.

Arizona did well. She is really progressing in her lessons.

And even though we thought Rogue was terrible, Laura said she did pretty well considering it was her first time, so I guess things weren’t as bad as we thought.

Stay tuned for more field work adventures.

Classic Car Show

Tonight was the classic car show at The Village of Riverside Glen, where Huib works.

Arizona standing in front of a 1930s Frontenac. Arizona is wearing her pink Ruffwear harness and the car is dark green.

Rogue had worked all day at McMaster, so we decided to leave her home and take Arizona.

Arizona standing in front of an old grey Corvette and other old cars

Arizona was a rock star!!

She got to socialize with several residents and other visitors to the show. She slept under my chair for a while even though there was some loud music – they had an Elvis impersonator come to sing for the residents. Arizona was even patient while Huib and I helped put things away at the end. She walked nicely at my side and was a perfect angel.

With her behaviour tonight, it’s honestly hard to believe that this is the same golden girl who is a busy little bee when home.