With four Border Collies and a cat in my home there has to be a balance of affection, time, energy and care. The cat demands her space and time, not one to ever sit and sulk. She pushes herself on me, meowing her needs, dominating over the dogs when necessary. Tommie is the dog who sits back and sulks. If she determines that her outside run or her meal is a second too late, she lies near me, staring, her head between her front paws. Then I hear a sigh, a soft whine, another whine, which prompts the other dogs, usually Razzie the enforcer, to go to me and jump, push, annoy and remind me of their schedule. Tommie is not shy as much as she is afraid of being wrong, hesitant about being intrusive or being intruded upon. Does that make her a Diva? Perhaps it does, but she’s not mean and manipulative and when she gets a healthy dose of attention she is sincerely happy and joyful. She’s a keeper, for sure.
Training dogs every day reveals more about their character and temperament than letting them hang around all day, underfoot. Tom is fun to work, both frustrating at times as well as a puzzle. We are two species trying to communicate. Each morning I have a list of exercises to work on but sometimes Tom looks at me as if I’ve just asked her to jump over the moon. Then we step back, regroup and go back to basics, my plans for the day shot. She loves to be right, to play, to run. With that in mind I have to try to weave fun into a confusing training element. She and I have to trust, to be a team. Gaining the respect of a dog, working seamlessly together, doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years and we are just starting on our journey.
The one thing I can count on with my dogs is their ability to travel quietly to and from shows and adjust to different hotel rooms as if they are home. The dogs all settle in and go with the flow, no problems-so far.
I’ve mentioned before that traveling alone with Tommie has given us a tighter bond. When she is ready for her Companion Dog Excellent title we will leave the others behind so I can concentrate on her, something I will do with each dog as they start their advanced titles (as opposed to the lower titles we enter for fun and experience).
A well-known trainer, Terri Arnold, used to say to never train, “Poopy face”, which meant to never try to train a dog that wasn’t fully engaged with the handler, a dog that looked away, was bored, refused to work. One of her tactics to fully engage a poopy faced dog was to make them bark. Recently I started asking Tommie to bark between exercises when I saw her becoming anxious or confused. She loves to bark. The video isn’t the greatest quality since I was holding the Iphone, treats and Tommie was very close to me but you can see how excited she is. After barking I ask her to spin (to the left), twist (to the right), back, stand, sit, down, all done with my voice happy and upbeat. Tommie will often offer the behaviors so I’ll play the game.
On paper I have lofty goals for Tommie this year. She has advanced beyond the Novice level. Now I’ll be asking her to work away from me, retrieving and jumping. Recently I tested her by training her away from home, in an environment with lots of noises, a flag rippling in the breeze, a metal clip banging against the pole, cars and trucks with loud engines and people walking nearby. There is so much that I want to teach her but most of all I want sweet Tommie to trust me, to enjoy training and to keep offering me play behaviors. Each time I work her in a challenging environment is an opportunity for to bond and trust more.
One shouldn’t compare current dogs to dogs that have passed on, nor attribute past dogs as having been perfect. It is the memories that are perfect. Comparing former dogs to current dogs only leads to anger and regret. However, if done with a logical mind I feel it is okay. I’m saying this because I believe that there is a piece of Levi in Tommie. They look the same, in some ways act the same and they both have a love for life. Levi had anxiety problems too, afraid to be wrong, offering behaviors before being asked. But he had a great work ethic. Tommie gives me moments in the ring where I’ll look down and see Levi’s face, his happy grin. Sometimes I’ve even said, “Good, Levi”. But I believe each former dog is a connection to my current dogs. There is no denying it. I am the string that keeps them together so of course, there are times when Tommie becomes Levi and Razz becomes River, etc. When I go into the ring with a dog, in my mind I am bringing all the past dogs I’ve ever shown. When I come home from a show the current ribbons go up on the wall next to those of my former dogs. For now, sweet Border Collie Tommie is my puzzle, a little furry species that dances with me every day and at dog shows on the weekend. And so it goes……