Puppy Update and Utility

My Border Collie puppy, Catcher, seems to have grown another inch each time I take him from his crate in the morning.  He has made an amazing progression from being walked on lead in the back yard in the early hours of the day, to running confidently with the older Border Collies on his own.  From his first arrival and introduction to the older dogs until just around four months of age he was either on a six-foot lead or dragged a 20’ long line.  One day I let the long line go and let him run around the yard on his own.  By then he had been taught by the older dogs how to interact with them respectfully.  There were some curled lips from the big dogs and Catcher’s order in the pack was defined.  The older dogs also received instruction from me on their behavior with this new puppy.  One day seven-year old Levi pushed a toy in the puppy’s face, enticing the puppy to grab one end and play tug.  Their relationship grew quickly from there.  The puppy and Levi are inseparable, running around, playing tug, or rolling in the wet grass in the morning.  It is fun to watch the puppy copy Levi and River’s behaviors, from shaking a toy to chewing on pine cones.  If the older dogs do it then the puppy has to try to mimic them.  Fortunately the older dogs are used to coming when called from the back forty so if I want the puppy close to the kennel all I have to do is call his older shadows and Catcher’s long, lanky legs scramble to follow the pack.  Catcher remains inside by my side during the day, not in the kennel, where he learns all facets of house training, i.e., don’t mess with the cat and stay away from the litter box, as well as to relax and be quiet.

Training is going well thanks to Leading Edge Obedience’ Joanne Permowitz, www.leadingedgeobedience.com, and Victory Hewlitt, who is a strong believer in “catching behaviors”.  They are pushing me to go beyond my expectations and believe that even a sixteen week old puppy can learn amazing things.  Catcher is retrieving his Open dumbbell, a glove, and metal and leather dumbbells already, so on Monday he was started on scent articles.  In the April 2011 digital issue of Front and Finish magazine, www.frontandfinish.com, I wrote about Victory’s Scent-A-Whirl method which she used to teach her dog articles starting at four months of age.  Sure enough Catcher also caught on right away to the game, making scent work fun from the very beginning.  On Monday we also started directed jumping, of course with the jumps set ridiculously low.  Border Collies thrive on work and this puppy keeps on asking for more. 

If you have ever watched Susan Garrett’s Crate Games DVD, www.susangarrettdogagility.com, then you know the concept of using a crate, box or rug as a safe zone.  One obedience competitor used this idea for teaching puppy’s Utility signals.  It also works just as well with big dogs to teach the dog distance work.  Here I have run into a snafu.  My drop signal is different from anyone else.  It was taught by Dave Elizares in Boring, Oregon as an alternative signal for people who do both field and obedience competition.  Picture someone holding a bean bag in their hand and throwing it toward the ground in front, bringing the hand from the left shoulder down directly to the ground in front.  It is a chopping motion instead of the hand up in the air drop signal so popular today.  At my age I am not going to change my use of Dave’s signal since it is ingrained in my mind.  To prove this signal is just as effective as the hand up signal I diligently trained Catcher MY way.  Sure enough that is Catcher’s default behavior in the box since I worked so hard on it.  Oh well. 

The puppy has been traveling with me when I show Levi in obedience trials.  Catcher amazed me in August at a two-day trial by remaining quietly in a soft crate.  I would have thought a young dog would have entertained himself by chewing his way out of the soft material.  Nope.  He was sandwiched between River in his crate and Levi in his own soft crate, chewing on a knuckle bone, or napping, and felt right at home. 

Levi and I recently had a great trial weekend in Biloxi,Mississippi, if you define great as making progress.  He is getting more and more confident doing Utility exercises under stressful ring conditions.  Jumping is his reward for all the heeling and signals.  We still have more proofing to do on go outs by keeping the gloves in the ring in training.  Go out means straight out and not to where the gloves ARE or WERE.  A problem I have to train through in Graduate Open occurs when I return to him after the short go out. If he is not in the center after the go out, when he sees me start to return to him he gets up and repositions himself dead center.  He knows if I’m coming back something must not be perfect.  I’m learning not to look at him when I return so as not to be in an “excuse me, you are not in the right place” fix-it mode.  He is such a smart dog.  Finally, finally, finally Levi did a perfect article in Graduate Open.  He needs the first article in Utility to be leather, which is easy for him.  After the reward of being right (my smile and praise), retrieving a metal article is not so hard.  I was asking him to do the hard work first which deflated him.  If he can’t find the correct scented article in three seconds he panics and grabs either anything or tries to shove several articles in his mouth.  I have often heard giggles from the audience!  I still have total strangers say they enjoy watching him work in the ring.  Yah, I enjoy it too when the entry fee results in a blue ribbon.  Levi has one leg in Versatility, two legs in Graduate Open and three “better luck next time” runs in Utility.  But we are having fun and making progress and that is what this is all about.

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