Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Project Squirrel - when the woods are full of distraction

Project Squirrel is the code name for my ongoing recall challenge with Freya.

I’ve had a few requests to talk more about the challenge of getting a reliable recall around wildlife, and for us the big one is squirrels!

For those of you who haven’t met her, Freya is my dinky blue merle Collie. The only one of my girls who can hear and see properly – and that just means even more opportunities to get distracted.
Freya came from a travellers site via York RSPCA (thanks to Nikki for finding her for me) having already been a teenage mum.

Right from the start Freya has been super keen on working with me, very food motivated and fairly interested in toys (better if they squeak). She was quick to check in and seemed to tune in to a whistle within a few days.

Frankly it was all a bit too good to be true.

Then we went on a new walk in the forest (Freya on longline for safety).

Imagine the scene.

Collie standing below a tree, right forepaw raised like a pointer, nose pointing straight up.

Quivering with excitement.

Squirrel perched safely high in the trees, chittering away.

Let’s just say that I actually had to pick her up and carry her away from the tree…she hadn’t just gone deaf, it was as though she was paralysed!

That was about 4 years ago now.

Here’s a picture of Freya in Rannoch Woods on our recent holiday – off lead, staying connected and not obsessing about potential squirrel.

I’ll tell you more about the process we’re (still) working through, and I promise to be honest about the failures just as much as the successes.

Today’s secret tip is actually nothing to do with recall per se.

It’s all about having more fun, and a better relationship with your dog.

Just doing recall training and attention exercises can get pretty monotonous (for you and your dog).

Instead having a collection of tricks and fun stuff that you’re working on anyway, so going new distracting places is just a fab opportunity to practice, turns that round.

For Freya, taking tricks classes with Sian has really helped build our “fun” repertoire, and Parkour (jumping and balancing on/under/over things) was the perfect compliment.

Woods don’t just = squirrels now.

Woods = cheesey scentwork, chase mum, balance on tree logs, jump on benches, recall!!!, cuddles in the sun and more…

Have a fun week with your dog, and I’ll tell you more about Project Squirrel next week

Morag and the collie girls

P.S. if you want to get some of the secret sauce that Sian teaches, keep Sunday 8th October free and I’ll have more information on her workshop next week!

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

What Farah did on her holidays (quality of life for senior dogs)

You might have noticed the absence of emails and blogs for the last couple of weeks – I’ve been on holiday with my three collies.
Holiday time, or more specifically downtime, is surprisingly important. Without quiet time brains don’t get a chance to process all the information or learning – and that’s true for our dogs just as much for ourselves.
So the only “training” I worked on was Freya’s ongoing “Project Squirrel” (resist chasing the squirrel and come back when called). We had lots of new places in Scotland to practice and it went really well – more about that next time.
Most of my time was focused on Farah, affectionately known as the “little old lady collie” now. Farah is about 13 yrs old and bright as a wee button. However her physical body is slowly giving up on her (hip & elbow dysplasia, arthritis and heart issues). We need to balance medication, massage and acupuncture to keep her pain levels down.
Quality of life is our priority right now, and for the moment I think we’re managing ok. 

Here’s what Farah did on her holidays (in her own words)

“I started by supervising a canicross training camp in the Forest of Dean. While I enjoyed sleeping on my own air mattress I was less impressed at being told I couldn’t do any of the running – these youngsters have no idea how to do it right.

I’ve been out for dinner several times though I did have to chase down a waitress who foolishly took away my chips. The waitress stopped and apologised which made it a bit better, but I still didn’t get my chips back.* 

The chauffeuring has been better than usual with daily trips to good places, often with streams or rivers for me to guddle** in. I particularly enjoyed the morning visits to Loch Tay.

We stopped off on our way back from Scotland as it’s a long drive, and the room had a whole bed just for me – this is proper luxury retirement. Shall have to ask for my own bed at home…

Coffee and bonus cheese sniffing at cafes has happened fairly often (but could always be improved), so many dog friendly cafes make it much easier for me to have exciting days.

I convinced mum to get back into the kitchen and bake my favourite biscuits this weekend (cheese flavoured obviously) as she’s been a bit slack lately. I tested the dough several times, and then the biscuits – you can never be too careful.

One day mum did sneak in teaching a workshop, but I made
it clear this was not acceptable by eating her dinner roll, opening my medication pots and eating a whole tub of cocktail sausages at lunchtime***

It’s been a lovely couple of weeks, and I do hope my mum can keep up with this new lifestyle as I’m rather enjoying it….”

Notes and translations
*The chips were left over, Farah had already had several and didn’t need any more!
**Guddle means paddle and mess around in water
***I now know not to leave ANYTHING in the front of the van – she really is growing old disgracefully!

Have a wonderful week!
Morag and the collie girls

PS This is a great website with lots of helpful hints for your older or arthritic dog https://www.caninearthritis.co.uk/ 

Monday, 17 July 2017

What does real dog training look like? Going from excited barking to calm settling.

On Sunday’s TD Scentwork workshop, we had some pretty amazing teams working together. Every single dog and handler completed postal sack searches, large complex area searches, and vehicle searches.

More to the point all of the dogs settled calmly in the hall while the others were working. Some even dozed off!
That might not sound like such a big deal to you, but I can promise you it meant a lot to my handlers, and me.

So how did those dogs go from barking, screaming, howling, singing, pulling towards or lunging at other dogs to being settled calmly AND working off lead in the same room as other dogs?
Despite what popular television shows might tell you, it certainly didn’t happen overnight!
These were frustrated, excited dogs.
They desperately wanted to greet or interact with other dogs (and people), and expressing that frustration used to be their only option.
What we did was change how the dogs felt when they saw other dogs and people, and teach them some more appropriate responses (e.g. sit nicely rather than sing loudly!).
My owners have been practicing this stuff for months.
And it works.
Little practice sessions in easy places first, with a good rate of pay for the dog.
Then picking slightly harder places.
Having a clear training plan to follow, and checking progress at every stage.
I didn’t go in and see them one day, magically fix the problem, and then go back in a week to see “amazing results!”. I helped them understand why their dog was behaving in that way, and we worked together to change it. For good.

So by all means watch those television shows if you must.
But remember there has been hours and days of training behind the scenes.
Slow and steady progress makes for great results, but boring TV!

If you’re struggling to change your dog’s behaviour whether that’s getting them to come back reliably, walk nicely past other dogs, or settling while you eat your dinner, just drop us an email to info@wellconnectedcanine.co.uk and see if we can help you.

Have a wonderful week, and keep training like a tortoise!
Morag and the collie girls

PS Sian tells me that even on the great dog programmes like “Me and My Dog” there’s still loads of training that goes on behind the scenes. So if you’ve tried and failed to teach your dog those tasks, why not ask Sian for some expert help (info@wellconnectedcanine.co.uk)