Friday, September 28, 2012


Last Saturday evening, three days past his five-month birthday, Presto! was entered in his first fun match.  I had him in two rings, Open and Utility.  Novice can come later.

The rings I had him entered in and what we did when we got in there reflected how I've trained him so far.  His training began the morning after we flew in from Chicago.  He was eight weeks and one day old when he had his first lesson.  His early training has focused on what I call "little fun things."  Things where he can move around, run, be upbeat.  The static stuff will come later.

We started doing little follow exercises.  First with Presto! in front of me, following a treat held in both hands as I moved backward.  Then little figure eights between and around my legs.  Eventually he moved to my left side (not focused on heel position, just following the treat between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand).  We went in straight lines and big circles left and right..

Those circles gradually diminished and now, three months into his training, they've become a loose figure eight.  The little follows have become "heeling," and turns have been added.

So on Saturday evening -- on leash and with the treat still close to his nose -- Presto! did a little bit of heeling and a figure eight in the Open ring.

Next I had him twist and spin.  Then we did what I call "laterals."  I regard the laterals as one of the most important things we do, which is why we started them on day one when Presto! was a tiny puppy.  I hold the treat in both hands, low in front of me, and sidestep a few steps to the left and to the right.  Presto! moves laterally with me.  I want him to (a) know he has a rear end and (b) develop good lateral movement on his back legs.  So I've incorporated that exercise into his development from the very beginning.  The result is his back end moves nicely and no part of his body lags as we move laterally.

Next I had the judge hold him about six feet out while I called him to front three times -- first straight in, then with my body (and feet) cocked first to the left and then to the right.  He almost always straightens himself out when I'm cocked to the left (his right).  He's still finding it a little more difficult to correct when my feet are cocked to my right (his left).  In my competition obedience career, fronts have always been the bane of my existence.  I'm hoping to nip that in the bud with Presto!

We ended our Open appearance with "Where's Presto!?" (a fun game I learned from Louise Meredith a long time ago).  The judge holds Presto! while I run to the far end of the ring, lie on my stomach, grip a treat protruding from my mouth, call, "Where's Presto!?" and quickly bury my face in my arms.  The judge releases the dog who runs to me, burrows under my arm and gets the treat. Presto! generally stays there long enough to get in a few good face licks.

Then we tugged out of the ring on the leash.  Plenty of quiet praise and petting had taken place between the exercises.

We began Utility with another short burst of what now passes for heeling, this time off leash.

After a quick series of weaves around my legs, it was time for go-outs.  Presto! has been doing go-outs to a target inside my PVC box (See my Aug. 22, 2011 post, The Many Uses of the PVC Box) since his ninth week. I kneel behind the sitting dog, my arms around his chest so he has to leap out to get going.  Then,"Away!"  He tears out toward the target.  I say, "Get it!"  Then immediately, "Presto! come!"  He grabs the treat from the target, spins and races back to jump for the treat I'm holding up.

The box remained in the ring for what I call "box work."  His sits, downs and stands have been taught (again from day one) in the PVC box, up front where the slightly raised bar discourages forward movement.  I'd like to think we won't lose points for traveling during the signal exercise.

Again, we tugged out of the ring.

Presto!'s first venture into competition obedience rings went extremely well. Much better than I expected considering there were three rings going simultaneously in a smaller-than-desirable space.  And the entry totalled 88.  Amid all that commotion, Presto! was focused 95 percent of the time.

I guess the highlight of the evening for Presto! was all the attention he got outside the ring.  Here's this ultra-friendly, cute-as-a-button, five-month-old border collie.  You better believe Presto! got to lick a few faces last Saturday evening.

Now we're starting to teach some Novice stuff.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

BRINGING UP PRESTO! The Socialization/Infection Puzzlement

"You're damned if you do and damned if you don't," said Mindy, a member of the Dog Daze Gang, our summer Sunday morning training group.  Alice the veterinarian nodded agreement.

The conversation was about exposing young puppies to the world . . . and to infection.

The herding breeds, if not well socialized at a very young age, can go through life shy, timid, fearful. I know about that all too well.  In the early 70s, while we still lived in Cincinnati, I bought a Sheltie puppy. From a reputable breeder.  Back then the only thing I really knew about dogs was that I liked them.  But we had a conscientious vet, and he told us how important it would be to get Ginger to lots of public places, around lots of people and dogs.

Lord knows we tried.  We took her on walks, to parks, to neighbors' houses.  But Ginger lived her life painfully shy and fearful.  She preferred to spend her days behind a chair in a distant part of the house.  I tied her to my desk while I was working there, hoping that steady presence would help her bond with me.  In vain.  For a while I got her to play ball in a carpeted hallway.  But one night the tennis ball bounced off her nose and she never played ball again.

The doorbell would ring.  Ginger would run to the door and bark.  As soon as we opened the door she would run under the bed and poop there.

All that has been on my mind as I have wrestled with the issue of socializing Presto! versus protecting him from infection.

Presto! was seen by Dr. Chuck Toben, our veterinarian of nearly a quarter century, the afternoon after I brought him in from Chicago.  Presto was eight weeks and one day old.  As he has done with every puppy I've carried in there, Dr. Toben cautioned me not to take Presto!  into city parks or other places frequented by dogs until he had received all of his shots.

I heartily agreed.  The risk was more than I was willing to take.  But I had a plan.

First of all, I knew that Presto! and his littermates had been exceptionally well socialized before they went to their forever homes.  Those puppies had been handled, played with, cuddled and loved by a small army of students and friends of the Inman family (the Wildfire breeders).  I wasn't done at the American Airlines ticket counter yet when I found out that Presto! loves everybody.  While those in line behind us shuffled impatiently, Presto! met, licked and was cuddled by everyone working behind that counter.  So I was confident about that phase of his socialization.

Here at home I sent out an email to select obedience friends and close neighbors -- people I knew would come from infection-free homes.  Presto! would be receiving visitors, I announced, and they and their dogs were invited.  Quite a few came and the visitation program went -- well, in at least one case, swimmingly.

The owner of Barbara's company, Encore Realty, came for lunch.  Thank God Bob is only DNA short of being family.  Bob picked Presto! up.  The puppy was hysterically happy to see him . . . and dribbled down the front of Bob's shirt.

Two weeks later Bob had fun with the episode when he brought it up at a staff meeting.  And on that morning, in an economy that is still sluggish, in that real estate office a rollicking good time was had by all.  Courtesy of my little pheenom.

Originally I had planned to take Presto! to a fun match in Flagstaff right after he had his third shot at 16 weeks.  But Chuck Toben, whose conservative approach has served us well across 24 years, 3 cats and 8 dogs, wanted to do one more inoculation before I turned Presto! loose in the competition obedience world.

OK.  But I was concerned that there was a big hole in my latter-day socialization plan.  Presto! had, in fact, been a social butterfly during the past few weeks.  But all that schmoozing and roughhousing and dribbling  had been done on his own turf (and on Bob's shirt).

So at 17 weeks we ventured out.  Not to the public parks and places like PetSmart but to "safe" but well-trafficed destinations such as AJs (an upscale grocery five minutes from home), Starbucks and eventually The Home Depot.

How would Presto! respond when at 17 weeks he encountered a world he didn't even know existed?  Our first -- and so far only! -- challenge came before we even got out of our own driveway.  The American flag in the front yard across the street was flapping in the breeze.  That spooked my little guy, and it took him about five minutes to get over it.

Outside AJs and Starbucks he met new friends who gave him a treat and petted him.  Later we heeled and wound up our visit by tugging on the leash.

On our first visit to The Home Depot we just heeled around, met new friends and got acquainted with carts -- normal size and those big ones -- rolling toward the parking lot.  Of course they had emerged from the big automatic doors that also didn't faze Presto!  And the big diesel trucks leaving the lot a scant 20 feet from us?  They evoked a two-second startle response, then curiosity.

By the second visit we were heeling in the busy, noisy area where contractors load their trucks shortly after dawn.  A bit distracting, but not frightening.  (I wish I could say that about the thunder that's been rolling through here during the monsoon season.)

The verdict:  Flapping flags aside, this dog has no fear.  On the 22nd of September he'll do two rings in a fun match.  We'll see how that goes.  So far, so good.