Friday, July 27, 2012


"You're damned if you do and damned if you don't," said Mindy Masch.  It was during our Dog Daze training group several weeks ago. We get together at the crack of dawn on summer Sunday mornings.  We know a shady park, and that's where we train.

Mindy was commenting on the absence of my nine-week-old border collie puppy, Presto! There was no way I was going to bring the little guy out to a city park and put him down on the ground. 

That's the dilemma -- the Catch-22 -- we face with our young obedience-ring-bound puppies.  We weigh the benefits to be derived from being in a competition obedience environment -- the ring, the handlers, a surrogate judge, the other dogs -- versus the threat of possible infection lurking there.

You hear a lot about parvo around here, particularly in the spring and fall.  "It's so easy to transmit infection," says Chuck Toben, our vet for nearly a quarter of a century.  "A parvo-infected dog can shed and another dog can pick up the disease from the hair that falls to the ground."

Fortunately, Presto!'s litter was super-socialized.  Mike and Maureen Inman -- the people who are Wildfire -- saw to that.  Maureen teaches competition obedience, and her students would pop in and play with the puppies.  Mike told me he was staying home on his vacation to take care of (read play with) the puppies.  Jessica, their nine-year-old daughter, had a steady stream of friends coming in and out.  A couple of weeks before I picked up Presto! in Chicago Jessica hosted a sleepover.  It's safe to say the puppies were the featured attraction.

Nevertheless, I didn't want Presto!'s socialization to end when he became part of our household.

Twice, Barbara has brought him to Dog Daze for cameo appearances lasting about 30 minutes. He has never touched the ground.  When he wasn't in someone's arms, licking faces and being oohed and aahed over, he was in a crate which in turn was sitting on a thick rug.

And I've been inviting people -- friends and neighbors that I know come from infection-free environments -- to come to our house, meet Presto! and play with him.  One brought her six-month-old (dog friendly) border  collie puppy.  We turned them loose in the backyard and for a few minutes it was gangbusters.  Given that it was a 107-degree Sunday afternoon, we had to shut that little circus down after about five minutes.  Which was okay:  a tired border collie is a good border collie.

Presto! will get his third immunization shot on August 20.  The following Sunday there's a match in Flagstaff.  That'll be his coming out party.  Not that he'll be going into the ring  But he'll be fully present in a simulated trial environment for the first time.  He'll walk around, visit, get petted.  And he'll practice, outside the ring, a series of little puppy exercises that up until that time had been confined to the backyard.

At which point our Catch-22 will be history and it'll be time to run with the Big Dogs.


Saturday, July 21, 2012


The woman's dog is running loose among the setups at the obedience trial.  Oops! he just peed on a tent pole.  Turning inside out with embarrassment and apologies, the woman explains, "But he won't potty unless he's off leash."  Lady, please!  Train your dog.

So Presto! is making a substantial number of his forays into the backyard on a flexi.  The better to get that habit pattern established right now, just short of 12 weeks.  Also, the better to keep my little dirt-eating machine on the grass and away from the flower beds.  Particularly here in the valley fever capital of the world.

So much to teach.  And all at once, or so it seems.

Presto! was introduced to a children's toothbrush the first morning he was in the house -- at 8 weeks and one day.  The first couple of days he just played with it.  Now we brush.  Not that there's much there to brush, and brushing all those little needles called baby teeth isn't very significant.  But  Presto! doesn't fight the toothbrush.  A habit has been established that will serve us well for his lifetime.

Fortunately Presto!'s litter (four girls and four boys) was exposed to many people on a daily basis -- Maureen Inman's (Wildfire) students, her daughter's friends, etc.  So my little guy is used to being handled all over.  He loves to have his paws  held and stroked, doesn't mind a "pedicure." And I do plenty of handling where my hand is in his collar.

In fact, one of his exercises is a little "Get it!"  I kneel down and slip a couple of fingers under his collar (in front, under his chin, palm up).  The other hand holds a little treat above his head.  Saying, "Get it!" I pop him up to the treat.  "Pop him up" has quickly become a joke.  He likes this little exercise so much that I have to restrain him to keep him from leaping for the treat as it emerges from my top left pocket.  I alternate right and left sides.  Not only is this just one more fun activity with my hand in Presto!'s collar; more importantly it gets him jumping for treats.  Throughout his training there will be situations where I'll want to have him jump for treats -- it builds drive.

So much to learn.  And so much fun!


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

BRINGING UP PRESTO! A Yarn About Tugging

Long before the first time I held him in my arms and he gave me nonstop kisses, Presto! had really close friends.

His breeders, Mike and Maureen Inman, have a nine-year-old daughter named Jessica.  And Jess has a friend named Jenna.  As Presto! was handed over to me in O'Hare Airport, I was told that Jess and Jenna had given him his pre-adoption bath that afternoon. And that they had been his caregivers . . . and had fallen madly in love with him.

Jenna and Jess had made "cards" for me on sheets of colored paper.  One said:  Dear Willard, please take very good care of Presto! for us.  We know you will.  He is an amazing dog and we love him.  Thank you for taking care of him.

Along with the cards came a special toy.  Jess and Jenna had woven strands of colorful yarn into a little tug toy . . . just right for my eight-week-old guy.

That toy, made of yarn and love, became an important part of Presto!'s earliest lessons.  I used it to teach him to tug . . . and release!  Any dog can tug, but the trick is to control the game. -- to teach him to surrender the toy on command.

It took Presto! about one short lesson -- four reps -- to figure out that the word "Give" would instantly be followed by a little treat in exchange for the toy.  By the second lesson he was tugging with one eye on my left shirt pocket, from whence cometh the treats.  When the hand went to the pocket the tug toy was released. Proving for the umpteenth time that my border collies are smarter than I am.  But at eight weeks??!!

Yes, Jess and Jenna, Presto! is an amazing dog.  And yes, I'm taking very good care of him.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Bringing Up Presto! "Little Follows"

There's a rumor skulking about in the land that teaching heeling is b-o-r-i-n-g for the dog.  Shh!  My dogs don't know that.

Presto! and I arrived in Phoenix from Chicago on a Wednesday evening.  He had his first competition obedience lesson late Thursday morning.  Little fun things, each of which served as foundation building for the competition exercises of the future.

Embedded in that 10 minutes of fun was the important prelude (well, more like pre-prelude) to heeling.  Louise Meredith, the doyenne of all this stuff, calls this first phase "little follows."  Okay, little follow exercises on day one of my little guy's training.

With Presto! in front of me -- well, sort of in front of me, they skitter around at eight weeks of age -- I held a little treat in both hands, the treat plainly visible.  Way down there at nose level.  Then I took a few steps backward.  Presto! followed, straining to get the treat.  We did that a few times, the purpose being to get the little guy head up, focused on the treat.  Indeed he was; he was right on it.

By Friday morning I was convinced he was locked in and I started leading him in little figure eights around my legs.

Soon I added the piece de resistance for the little follows phase.  Now the treat ( PetBotanics, quarter-inch squares) moved to my left hand, between my thumb and forefinger. At this point heel position means nothing.  I go to him, meeting him where he is, positioning myself so that he's on my left side -- in the same zip code as heel position.  The treat is held maybe half an inch above his nose.

At this point I introduce the command, "Strut!"  That will be my command to move out when the judge says, "Forward."  Here at the dawn of Presto!'s heeling experience I only want Presto! to hear the word and begin to associate it with moving forward.  A few steps and Presto! gets the treat and a ton of quiet praise.

Except when I call my dog from a distance, all my verbalizations are quiet.  Those who yell at their dogs during training are simply betraying weakness and ineptitude.  And God help you if one of them is in the next ring when you are showing.

Yo! Great Dane owners.  Blessed is the tall dog.  I'm 6'5".  When Presto! is "heeling," head up, his nose is about 16 inches above the ground.  I have to think that right now my little follows must be comical to the observer.  So the photo above is a little treat for you . . . to give you your jollies.

Oh, my achin' back!


Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Presto! came home on Wednesday, the day he turned eight weeks old.  His training began the next day, at eight weeks and one day.  I would have preferred to start working with him at seven weeks, but the intransigent curmudgeons at  the FAA wouldn't allow the little guy on an airplane until he was eight weeks old.

Job One was FOCUS.  On ME.   And the time to start was now.

I sat on the kitchen floor, my back against the cabinets below the counter.  Legs apart in a V.  I held a treat (Pet Botanics from PetSmart, cut in tiny quarter-inch cubes) between my lips.  "Presto!, come!" Both hands in his collar, I guided him up the front of me so he could get the treat from between my lips.

Presto! thought that was swell.  He was doing exactly as I wanted, coming in, head up, looking me in the face.  Until the third time.  That was when he realized there was a treasure trove of those same goodies in my upper left shirt pocket.  So he fought to get there instead of my mouth.

Lesson learned . . . by me.  Henceforth when we practice that or anything like that, the treats will be above us, on the kitchen counter.  And I'll put them into service one at a time.

There was, however, a plus -- a big plus -- to that little incident.  When I begin to teach heeling I want the dog's focus to be on my upper left (on my armband in the later stages), and I want the treats to always come out of that top left pocket.  Not out of a fanny pack positioned God knows where.  I strongly emphasize this -- to the extent that I have female students who are driving up Old Navy stock because Old Navy has womens shirts with two breast pockets.


On that first day of training we also began restrained puppy recalls.  My wife Barbara knelt behind Presto!, restraining him with her hands clasped around his chest -- not holding him by his collar.  At the other endof the yard (or on 113-degree days at the other end of a carpeted hallway) I called, "Presto! COME!"  The puppy had to leap over Barbara's clasped hands to get going.  Not every puppy will leap out of there, but if they will it's a nice way to begin to build drive.

Presto! exploded out of the restraint and came charging to me and the treat I held in both hands.  And right there I caught a glimpse of the wonderful raw material I have to work with.