Monday, 28 August 2017

Scything on a Sunday

Scything is apparently the thing to do these days.

Who wouldn’t want to cut grass in a very slow, energy draining way that gives you multiple blisters and leaves hitherto unknown muscles aching?

Actually, it IS great fun. Though I’ve not yet seen any Poldark-esque figures, and his technique really was all wrong!

Why have I been scything? Because a local community group I volunteer with looks after a couple of meadows in York (the Poppy Road Project). Jonathan (master scyther) from St Nick’s conservation team has been teaching us how to scythe with traditional Austrian tools as a way to care for the ground.

It’s meant learning a whole new practical skill from scratch.

You have to think about your knees, moving your weight, holding the scythe, getting it the right distance from the ground, leaning over it a little, not digging the blade into the ground, getting a really big arc, stepping forward in time with the blade, and sharpening the darn thing every 5 minutes. (and that’s just the stuff I remembered)

Jonathan makes it look genuinely effortless. His posture is amazing, the ground clears in front of him with terrifying speed, and he hardly seems to be concentrating at all.

I’m reliably informed that for lots of dog-owners, it feels a bit like that when one of our trainers borrows your dog to demonstrate something in class.

Suddenly your dog is doing this amazing stuff, the trainer is managing the leash + clicker + treats and looks relaxed.

Inspiring, but also potentially pretty frustrating!

Dog training actually isn’t that easy, and neither is scything. With a bit of careful guidance and trying stuff out you can get some results.

The really good stuff happens when
  • you’re given just one or two things to concentrate on at a time.
  • your trainer gives you super-targeted feedback, and doesn’t let you keep making big mistakes.
  • you feel able to try the new ideas out, and the support is there to help you.
I’m loving learning a new skill from a great teacher, and I really hope you get the same experience in our classes, workshops and 1-2-1 sessions.

Remember – dog training is our job and we do it every day of the week. If we make it look easy, that’s just because we’ve had a LOT of practice, and a lot of good feedback.

If you’re struggling, or feel stuck – ask us for help. You can guarantee that I ask Jonathan lots of questions during the scything workshops!

I hope you had a wonderful bank holiday weekend whatever you got up to.

Morag and the Collie Girls

PS the girls didn’t help with the scything, instead they supervised a Scentwork workshop on Saturday and enjoyed an early morning trip to the Yorkshire Arboretum on Sunday before I went to collect scything blisters.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Are you a belt, braces or both kinda person? Project Squirrel Begins!

When someone asks you if you’re a belt and braces kind of person, how do you answer?

Do you pick belt or braces for security in the trouser department, or are you happy to trust the failing button on it’s own?

I don’t need to know how you wear your trousers, but it is worth thinking about for your dog training.

Right now your dog is almost certainly doing something you don’t like, disapprove of, or wish they would stop. That’s the same as having a pair of trousers without a button – they keep slipping down!

While you buy a button, and learn how to sew it back on, you need a safe management plan to avoid flashing your lovely pants to the rest of the world.

And your dog needs a management plan that means they don’t keep practicing the stuff you don’t want (e.g. running off and ignoring your voice or whistle, in Freya’s case that means chasing squirrels and rabbits hence Project Squirrel).

Every big project of behaviour change needs to start with management.

This is the not-sexy bit of training that you might want to skip, but I promise it’s the essential ingredient you can’t afford to miss out.

How are you going to stop your dog practicing the stuff you don’t want – because practice really does make perfect…

Here’s just a few of the things I’ve been using in Project Squirrel – because I’m a belt, braces, grab my trousers and have leggings on underneath kind of woman.

  • Choosing my walks carefully – rabbit central and squirrel filled woods are out to begin with, I want quiet, fairly boring options
  •  Choose when I walk – avoid dawn and dusk when wildlife is more active
  •  Taking precautions – long line or flexi-lead + harness at ALL times even if the line is just trailing
  • Walking without other dog friends who encourage chasing games

And all of these things need to stay in place for the duration of the project. I only take away each layer when I’m 99% certain we’re ready for the next step.

Do you need help with choosing the best belt and braces combination? You can Borrow My Brain and get access to all those good ideas, and end up with a plan you can put into action right now:

Have a good week, and may your trousers always stay up!

Morag and the Collie Girls

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