The relationship I have with my blue-eye/brown-eyed Border Collie, Catcher, is always evolving. He is a loveable, overweight (aka easy keeper), mush of a dog. He’s a rascal, a runner and, as the British say, very cheeky. He spits in my eye daily then swishes his tail and barks and grumbles with the cuteness that only a softie like me can love and accept.
I’ve owned two runners over my half century of dog ownership, a Golden Retriever and now this Border Collie, the supposedly easy to train breeds. Runners have their own agenda, their own timeline, and their own interests. But food is the line that binds us, Catcher’s weakness, his Archille’s heel.
Have you heard the term-to walk a dog down? When a dog won’t come when called you follow them until you can get up to them, take them by their collar, say come, let go (oh, yes), turn and they should follow. This has worked wonders with other dogs I’ve owned. Not with Catcher. I’m on two acres. That’s a lot of walking. But what works with him is to follow him, then when he turns to me I say here (without touching his collar) and I back up, not turning my back to him. If he follows, which at that point most dogs will because we then become less threatening, he gets a treat. I repeat all the way back to the gate. At no time ever, ever must I lose my patience. I have and it’s a waste of time, another word for a setback. Catcher does trust that I will never hit him if he does or doesn’t come. We’ve even learned to make a game out of this, where I’ll command him to weave through my legs for coming and then I give him a treat.
In obedience training Catcher decided off lead heeling was confusing and/or boring. Early on he’d just stop working. Now he has a cute default behavior. Default behaviors are those which a dog falls back on when stressed such as sniffing, yawning, barking, running and so on. Catcher’s default behavior is goosing me in the butt, trying to weave between my legs. As he’s matured (finally) I’m seeing less and less stress from him on off lead heeling. When he does heel nicely I release him to a tennis ball, which he loves and lives for.
We are settling down and enjoying our training. His hips aren’t the greatest so he’ll be shown in the PRE classes, which means low, low jumps and no stays. He’s a fun dog but not an easy dog, a great house dog and traveling companion. He’s still my S&I dog, stubborn and independent. He reminds me when I’m not being a fair trainer or if I’m too slow with praise or rewards by barking or grumbling. I laugh. We are almost in synch, a team. He’ll be fun to show, but I’m sure that darn butt goose, his default, will show up here and there. He does like the attention and laughter from the crowd even if it means embarrassing me.