Tracking Updates

I haven’t written about tracking in a while. We have been working on it though.

Over the past month, we have been tracking a few times a week.

Rogue is doing really, really well. Her work ethic is amazing and her focus is beautiful. We have been concentrating on urban because I have been hoping to test this spring. We got into the London test, which is this weekend. I am nervous about it, not because I think she isn’t ready, but it is supposed to get really hot this weekend. I think the temperature is supposed to be 30 degrees Celsius on Sunday and there is a risk of thunderstorms.

I am crossing my fingers for good conditions though. This will be our third attempt. I am hoping third time will be the charm. 🙂

Arizona is progressing well. Her focus and work ethic is improving every time we track. I think we need to start making her tracks a bit longer and begin adding in new elements like pavement, so she won’t get too used to the ‘easier’ stuff.

Canyon is still struggling a bit with the concept of tracking, but he is learning. Huib has been handling him for now, as it’s easier for him to help Canyon when necessary. Once he gets the concept, I will take over as his handler. I think he enjoys tracking, especially because he gets to find ‘toys’ along the way, also known as ‘articles.’

Once we get past this weekend, we will move over to field tracking. There aren’t really anymore tests until the fall, so we will have a lot of time to do some field tracking with a bit of urban mixed in.

I really, really hope Rogue passes on Sunday!!

More Water

This week’s field class involved some more water work.

We started the evening in one of Susie’s shallower ponds. Arizona wasn’t too sure about getting in, but with some extra encouragement, she did it!! She swam right to the duck, came straight back and held it firmly until I said “give.”

The second attempt went better, only a slight hesitation – GOOD GIRL!!!

When Ari was done, we took her back to the car because the mosquitoes were pretty bad. We forgot to put repellent on her and us. Huib found the dogs’ herbal mosquito and tick repellent in the field gear bag, but ours was missing, so we decided to try out theirs. It works surprisingly well, and doesn’t smell bad either. I think we’ll keep using it for now.

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With Canyon’s seizures, we have to be really careful about the stuff we put on him, as well as what we use around him, so we try to use herbal stuff when possible. There are tick preventatives for dogs, but all of them have been found to have pretty nasty side effects for dogs with seizures, so we have chosen to avoid using them with everyone. Instead, they get Revolution monthly (prevents heartworm, fleas, some ticks and some other parasites), and we have them tested each spring for heartworm and tick-borne diseases, such as lyme.

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After all of the dogs – 5 labs and 2 goldens (including Ari) – had their turn, we packed up the gear and moved over to a deeper pond.

Arizona had more trouble with this one. It took a lot of encouragement to get her to jump in, but again, once she was in, she was perfect!!

Her second attempt was a little worse. It might have just been because she had to go to the washroom, but when I sent her, she went to the edge of the pond, walked around a bit, then walked away and relieved herself closer to the trees. When she finished, I called her back, got her set up, and sent her for the duck. She barely hesitated before jumping in.

I am hoping that as we introduce different ponds, she’ll continue to feel more comfortable.

But, like everything else we do, we aren’t in a rush, so she can take her time getting used to things.

Too Cold

Today’s field class was in the water.

Arizona wasn’t so sure she wanted to go in…

It took a lot of convincing, both from us and the gunners…

Once in, she went straight for the duck, then swam right back to me. She came out of the water, dropped the duck at my feet, and waited. I asked her to sit, but she refused, so after a few requests, she finally did. Then I asked her to shake, blowing in her face, before asking her to sit again, so I could put her leash on.

Then, we did it all again.

It took even more convincing the second time to get her to go into the pond. I wonder if she felt it was too cold.

Once in, she went to the duck, came right back and handed it to me – Good Girl!! I took the duck, asked her to sit, then shake, and sit again, so I could put her leash on.

Now that the warmer weather has arrived, Huib and I are going to try and get Ari swimming at least a few times a week.

Despite hesitating to go into the water, Arizona showed a lot of progress. Unlike previous years, she didn’t refuse to retrieve the duck or to bring it right back. So we’ll definitely call this a WIN!!

More Field

Sorry for the lack of entries, but life got a bit busy.

Field class continues to be going well for Arizona. Other than some minor issues during an indoor class, she has been rocking the retrieves.

We have had a lot of rain, so a few weeks ago, we had an indoor class. There were about six dogs present. Susie had us begin by walking our dogs around the room at the same time. Ari was really excited at first, but after a couple of laps, she calmed down and I had her walking really nicely. She had no problems passing the flat-coats or the lab, but every time we passed a toller, she wanted to play, lol!!

After a bit, we were each given a couple of bumpers to practice the retrieve and ‘hold’ with our dogs. Arizona was really distracted at first, but then became unsure. There were some dogs barking and some owners being a bit more firm with their dogs, so I think it made her nervous.

After talking to a couple of other friends who use mainly positive reinforcement with their dogs, I think her reaction was a side effect of our training choices. All of us have noticed similar behaviours in our dogs, they all seem a bit more sensitive to seeing or hearing other dogs disciplined. It’s not that we do not discipline our dogs, it’s that we do it in a less harsh manner.

Once we figured out she was nervous, we stoped trying to get her to take the bumper, and just sat on the floor with her, letting her observe everyone else. After about 15 minutes, I did some level 1 behaviours with her, to get her back “into the game,” and offered the bumper. She took it!!

Susie then had us all line up and send our dogs one at a time to retrieve a duck. Arizona was great!!

Arizona is fine at shows and other dog events, so we aren’t sure if it would be worthwhile signing her up for an actual indoor group class, but we are considering it.

The temperatures continue to be on the cooler side, so we haven’t been able to do any water work yet. Arizona is rocking the land retrieves though.

While we wait for things to warm up, I am working on lengthening her ‘hold,’ and making sure she gets an opportunity to retrieve a variety of ducks. This week, she retrieved two very smelly, squishy ducks. I so badly wanted to refuse to take them, but obviously I had to pretend she was giving me the best gift ever, lol!!

If she continues to retrieve like this, then I think we are going to have a really good field season.

Biking

Last fall, Huib bought a bike, and then several months ago, he got an attachment for the dogs. A few weeks ago, he got the bike out and started teaching the dogs to run alongside him.

The first couple times he took them out, it was slightly warm, so he did not take Canyon out as long as the girls. With his seizures, Canyon runs the risk of heat stroke, even when the temperature is just over 20 degrees celsius.

Of the three, Arizona loves it the most. Huib usually goes about four kilometres with her. He says nothing seems to distract her, that no matter what they pass, she just continues going straight ahead. I think she loves the speed.

Canyon only tends to go about 1.5 kilometres. Unlike Arizona, Canyon thinks he needs to pull the bike, so Huib is finding it more difficult to adjust speeds with him. As they work together, he’s getting better, so hopefully he’ll stop being a pain soon.

Rogue usually goes for two kilometres or so. The first few times they were out, she kept pulling further away from the bike. I think she thought it was going to eat her, lol!! The last time they were out, Huib said she did a lot better, so I think he’ll probably start going further with her as well.

Guelph is a very hilly city, so poor Huib is pretty tired once he’s taken the three dogs out. They all seem to really like it though, so I think he’s going to try and get them out at least a few times a week.

Field Class

Arizona had her first field lesson of the season and it went GREAT!!

We have been working all winter on her ‘hold’ and on ‘delivering to hand,’ but we have not done any work with ducks since the fall.

There were about eight dogs, including Arizona and Canyon, who came to class. There were: 2 flat-coated retrievers, 3 duck tolling retrievers, a lab and our 2 golden retrievers.

Canyon was our muscle. We didn’t know how driven Ari would be to retrieve ducks, so we brought Canyon to encourage her. They are very competitive with one another, so he does a great job of motivating her to cooperate.

Since there were several new dogs, Susie had them all start by retrieving a bumper from a short distance. Arizona was all over this!!

The dogs then had to retrieve a bumper from a farther distance. “No problem!” says Ari.

Finally, Susie got out the ducks and had us all practice with our own dog.

I worked with Arizona, while Huib tossed the duck from a variety of distances. Arizona was freaking awesome!! Other than me fumbling and dropping one duck, she handed every single one to me.

After several tosses, we put Ari into her crate and got out Canyon. With his seizures he cannot do any of the water work, so he loves when we let him play.

Unfortunately, he was a bit of a pain in my butt and instead of handing me the duck, he’d come close, then turn and lie down to start mouthing it – bad boy!! I guess we need to work on this.

If this is any indication of how Arizona will do in field this year…I’m getting pretty excited.

Working Dog Conference: Presentation Day

We skipped breakfast and part of the morning, so I could focus on my presentation and so Rogue could rest more.

When I ran through my talk with Huib before we left the hotel, I was at 25 minutes with a lot of pauses to find my spot. As long as my nerves didn’t get in the way, I thought this time would decrease by at least five minutes when the time came to present.

Most of the talks before lunch were a bit more technical than I’d like, but the final one was pretty interesting. The presenter was talking about the work they have been doing on finding an effective way of decontaminating dogs after they have been exposed to some sort of chemical hazard.

Lunch was kind of boring. The curry flavoured vegetable soup was good, but the salad was a bit annoying to eat because the lettuce was really thin and difficult to get on the fork.

After we finished eating, Huib ran Rogue outside and I went back to my seat to read my notes again. When they returned, we went on to the stage, so Huib could show me the podium and show me what direction to look.

The presentations after lunch were probably some of the more interesting ones at the conference. There were a couple on service dog breeding programs, then a couple on service dog activities. For example, Colleen talked about research she’s doing with a program here in Ontario that is working with veterans and emergency responders.

I would like to do research with an organization someday. For now, I’ll just keep working on trying to get my name known.

At the break, I ran to the washroom and then got a drink before returning to our seats to run through my presentation a final time with Huib – I was now down to 20 minutes!!

I was the second talk after the break.

When I was introduced, Huib walked up to the podium with Rogue and I. He then went to sit at a table nearby, so he could easily control my powerpoint. We bought a remote for my laptop, so Huib can sit in the audience and control the powerpoint without anyone really noticing.

I had a bit of trouble getting Rogue to settle, but she finally did and I began.

I started to get nervous about a minute in, but I was talking about myself at the time, so told myself to stop worrying. I know who I am, so I didn’t understand why I was so nervous. The self-talk seemed to help because by the time I had finished introducing myself, the butterflies were gone.

I think my presentation lasted about 15 minutes or so. The committee person didn’t ring the bell to tell me I had five minutes left, so I assume I wasn’t close to 20 minutes. I also asked Huib to send me a text when I got to five minutes.

Rogue stood up and tried to lie back down in a different spot, but I forgot to change where her leash attaches to the harness. As a result, she barely had enough room to lie down – Whoopsie!!

Huib suggests we buy her a mat and teach her to lie on it. He thinks it is probably strange for her to be at the front of the room with people staring at her, so he thinks the mat work might help her settle. I agree. We’ll do it this week, so I can teach her to use it by the end of May when I have another presentation.

I think this presentation was the best I’ve done so far!!

I had to remind myself where I was heading twice, but otherwise, I remembered the whole thing. I also really tried not to just present the information, but talked about it.

When I sat down, a couple people came over to congratulate me and to exchange contact information. I really hope some of the connections I made will turn into something in the future.

There were a couple more talks after mine. When everyone was finished, we all got ready to go up Sulphur Mountain. The gondola was only a 10 minute walk from Rim Rock, so Huib and I chose to walk.

While we were waiting in line a few people congratulated me on a good presentation. I also got some comments and questions about Rogue. A lot of people like her harness and enjoy watching us work together. I guess our bond is really noticeable to others 🙂

When we got to the front of the line, we climbed into the cable car and prepared to go up. The ride was smooth and very pretty. I wasn’t sure how Rogue would like being in something that she could see out of on all sides, especially since we were really high up, but of course, she could have cared less.

This little fox red lab is amazing!!

At the top, we got out of the cable car and went to look around. It was a bit too windy to be outside for too long, especially since I forgot to bring Rogue’s jacket, so we did it in stages. Huib said the view was pretty cool. We got several pictures of Rogue and i, and one of Huib, Rogue and I.

I am not sure if it was the fresh air, but Rogue was pretty excited!!

After we had seen everything outdoors, we went up to the bar to grab a drink. I had a Pepsi and Huib had a beer. We sat with one of the people from the Service Dog Committee and then a few speakers. Dr. Reynolds had talked about sled dog nutrition earlier in the day, so I was excited to be able to talk to him a little more about his research.

At 7:45pm we all had to get ready to go back down the mountain. While waiting for our turn, I got to talk to one of the Pen Vet people. She really likes Rogue’s harness because it allows her to move freely. She also complimented me on my talk and said she really likes how fit Rogue is. While we were waiting, Rogue began doing her nose bumps, or ‘look,’ hoping I would give her a treat. I used her desire for treats to extend her ‘look’ more – we are now up to six seconds!! Some people asked why she was bumping me, so I explained that it is her way of giving me eye contact since I cannot see her.

On the ride down, Huib and I were alone with Rogue. Huib got a couple cute pictures of Rogue looking out the windows at the view.

When we got back, we walked to Rim Rock to catch the bus. Since we had not yet had dinner, we walked over to Subway and got falafel subs. I wonder why Ontario locations don’t have that option…

I was pretty nervous about presenting at this conference, but I’m really glad I did it!!

This and That

It has been a great weekend for tracking. The weather has been a bit icky, but Rogue, Canyon and Arizona don’t seem to have noticed.

Saturday afternoon we got together with Laura and Annie at the University of Guelph Arboretum. Annie hopes to do a test with Trixie and Maestro mid-May, so Laura wanted to get them into the fields. Since Canyon is learning and Arizona needs the practice, Laura invited us to come out as well.

Rogue absolutely loves tracking, so I couldn’t leave her out.

Canyon had a pretty rough tracking experience last week, so I suggested Huib handle him. Huib is able to see what he’s doing and Canyon isn’t as protective of him, so I thought we should try switching for a bit. We don’t know if it was the seizures last weekend, or the handling change this week, but Canyon did a fabulous job!!

I asked Huib what he does differently, and he said the only thing he can think of, is that he keeps Canyon close. He doesn’t give him as much line as I do. Next week, I will try it out and see if it makes a difference.

Arizona was next. Other than missing an article in a highly mousey area, she did a great job. She got a bit distracted in a couple of spots, but Huib was easily able to redirect her attention back to the track. Laura says she has really matured since November.

Rogue was the last to track. Like Arizona, she missed one article, but did the rest beautifully. Rogue’s missed article was covered with snow. It has been over four months since she last tracked in a field, so I was really happy with her work.

This morning we did some urban tracking with just the girls. College Royal is on at the U of G, so Laura had us all (Mary, Kay and John) meet at a high school.

Arizona was first. I don’t think she did anything wrong – way to go baby girl!!!

Even though she needs to earn her TD before she can try for her UTD, I want to keep her working on urban stuff. Arizona is a dog of habit, so if we focus on one thing too much, it becomes difficult to switch over to something different afterwards. That is why we try to always add new aspects to everything she learns, while continuing to practice stuff she knows.

Rogue was the last dog to work. After two consecutive weeks of mistakes, I had my fingers crossed for a good showing – she did not let me down!! She found all of her articles, stayed quite close to the track and found all of her corners. She went the wrong direction once, but only went a metre before stopping and letting me know we needed to go the other way.

I am still on the fence about entering the April UTD test, so we’ll wait and see how she does next weekend.

Canyon joined us, but he did not track. I think it can be easy to overwhelm a dog with new things, so I thought he might retain his lessons better if he doesn’t do consecutive days. I don’t know if it’s true, but maybe by not getting to work every time the others do, his drive will also increase.

I am SO glad the dogs had a good tracking weekend. It can be really discouraging to have several poor outings in a row.

Tracking Frustrations

This week we didn’t have obedience because Huib had to work late and I have been dealing with some weather-related migraines.

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This afternoon we had tracking with Laura and others. It was quite a large group: Sandy with Stewart, Mary with Cordelia, Annie with Trixie and Maestro, and then us with Rogue, Arizona and Canyon.

It was a pretty cold day, so Mary brought us all hot chocolate, Sandy brought yummy scones and we brought banana nut bread.

Laura laid tracks for Stewart, Cordelia, Rogue and Arizona before we all arrived, so they would have time to age. She then asked Huib to lay tracks for Trixie and Maestro, while Annie laid a track for Canyon.

Stewart and Cordelia went first. Each of them struggled a bit with their track, but did a good job overall.

Rogue went next. She did a beautiful job on her first leg, but then she got lost on her second and third legs. I’m not sure what messed her up, but it kind of frustrated me. I was probably totally over-thinking things, but I kept wondering if maybe we shouldn’t even consider entering the urban test in April. Laura said the area was quite contaminated and not to worry, and Huib feels the wind might have played a part, but I was still a bit frustrated with Rogue’s work – I’m such a bad handler, I shouldn’t have blamed her for the problems… Rogue did a great job on the rest of her track, so she definitely redeemed herself – good girl!!

I’m still not sure I want to enter the test in April, but I think we have a bit of time to decide.

Arizona was next. She did some great work, but then some not-so-good stuff. She almost missed her first article. Then she got really distracted by a bunch of birds, specifically a fat robin, lol!! I think she also found it tough working close to a fence line.

I’m not sure if it was the cold temperatures or the fact we were working in a school yard, but all of the more advanced dogs seemed to face some challenges today.

Canyon had had a seizure around noon, so we did an easy warm-up track to judge how he was feeling. His last seizure was a mild one on February 3rd. Added to the upcoming snowstorm that is forecasted to hit tomorrow, this is about his regular time for another. His seizure was one of his usual ones, with lots of drooling, muscle tremors, fixed eyes, but totally aware of things around him, and a release of his anal glands. Once it was over, he got up and started begging for my lunch, lol!! The warm-up track went well, so we decided to let him do the one Annie laid.

He found both of the articles and did a great job on the final leg, but he was pretty unsettled. I’m really hoping that as he continues to run tracks, he’ll return to his initial focused working that we witnessed a month ago.

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I’m not sure if it’s related to his unsettled work at tracking, but a couple of hours after we got home, Canyon had a second seizure. This one was short, but about the same intensity as the one earlier in the day. I think it might be the upcoming snowstorm that is causing him problems. I sure know it has been causing me issues, with constant migraines and nausea at times.

For both of our sakes, I hope Mother Nature makes up her mind soon and sticks with some sort of weather for a while before changing again.

Progress and Struggles

On Thursday evening we had another obedience class.

Class started with me working in the ring alone. Susie is trying to help me become more confident with the exercises. She is hoping that by practicing each week, it will become less stressful and require very little thought to complete. I do different heeling patterns, walking forward, stopping and turning in various directions. Susie thinks I am looking less uncomfortable each week.

Some dogs, like Rogue, cue off their human’s body language, so if the human knows what they are doing, it’ll be easier to avoid cuing the dog to do the wrong behaviours.

When I was finished, I called Arizona into the ring and we got to work.

Heeling is still an issue, but we have progressed in other areas. Ari did several sit-stays ranging from 15 to 30 seconds long. She stayed in place until I recalled her, and then she stayed until I returned and released her. I also used ‘touch’ to keep her attention off Susie and Huib as they made “beep, beep…” sounds, so I knew where the posts were for the figure eight.

We will get there.

Rogue and Huib were awesome!! Huib has really worked on keeping Rogue’s attention on him, and it has made a huge difference!! He needs to continue working on having Rogue stay until he returns – she gets up as soon as he comes close – but it’ll come. She just needs to learn that when we cue a ‘stay,’ she’s supposed to remain in position, but if we’re just walking around the house, she needs to MOVE.

To add a bit of challenge to our work, Susie suggested we both come into the ring. She had us go to opposite ends of the room and asked us to follow her instructions. Both girls were distracted by the other team. Rogue was distracted by me and Ari, while Arizona was distracted by Huib and Rogue.

We also did a ‘group’ sit-stay. Both girls rocked it!!

Susie says we will do this each week to give the girls some high distraction work. No one is more distracting than your best buddy and your other human.

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Saturday morning was Cessna’s annual vet check. I was worried about the large lump under Cessna’s front left leg. It has grown since last year’s appointment, so I thought Bianca might say we needed to have it removed. We were pleasantly surprised to find out she was not really worried, but said we would continue watching it. I am glad because she’s almost 13.5, so I don’t know if it would be good to do surgery, and I don’t think I could decide against it. Cessna is really happy, pretty healthy, and appears to have a lot of life left in her.

Bianca asked a lot of questions about what we are feeding Cessna and what supplements she is getting. She also asked about any illness or concerns. Cessna has lost a whole kilogram since last year, so Bianca wants us to feed her more and to bring in a urine sample. She didn’t have any concerns when she did the physical exam, but did voice her distress regarding Cessna’s coat condition. I told her it hasn’t changed in the past year or so, even though we have tried a number of different options. We will not be vaccinating Cessna anymore, but Bianca still wanted to run Parvo and Distemper titres, along with a geriatric blood panel and a test for Heartworm and tick-borne diseases. The results from the tests should come back in about a week.

After paying, we took Cessna back to the vehicle, and then brought each of the others in to be weighed. All three youngsters need to lose about four pounds!!

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In the afternoon, we had tracking with Laura.

Canyon was all over the place for most of his track. He found both articles and did some pretty good work the last 10 metres or so. I think it is just going to take time.

Once he gets the idea, he’s going to be great!!

Arizona was amazing!! She found all of her articles, did some surface changes (crossing over sidewalks), and barely overshot corners. Unlike Rogue, Ari only seems to go a foot or two past her corners before she realizes she has lost scent.

She stopped a couple of times to think, but Laura said that’s normal, so not to worry and not to rush her.

Rogue started off really well, but I think having to relieve herself caused some focus issues. She rarely goes to the washroom when not at home, but we fed them after Cessna’s appointment, so I think her schedule was off.

Rogue missed her first two articles, but found the others. She cut corners in several spots, so I think that might have been why she ended up on the opposite side of the sidewalk from her track at one point.

Rogue has had a really good couple of months for tracking, so it was about time for some mistakes.

I’m thinking about entering her into an urban test at the end of April, so hopefully we’ve got our struggles done for a bit.

Until next time 🙂