Today is Spy’s first birthday. We’ve celebrated with our first successful play session outdoors and our first ever session on backwards heeling. I teach heeling by walking backwards and having the dog follow me. One of the things that I love about this method is how it can be modified for any level, and how it encourages focus and engagement in training. I was very happy that Spy stayed with me through the training session, and that she was happy to switch between food rewards and play.
We started Foundation Class Online yesterday, and I have decided to follow the lessons with Spy. She’s definitely ready for it now and it will be great for her to try all the different behaviors in class. It will also be great for everybody in class to see how I work with her and what we’re struggling with. You can still sign up if you want to join the fun!
Right now we’re waiting for Squid to start whelping. She’s been restless and focusing on digging in the whelping box (although she also tried a tunnel and under the playhouse in the garden). It’s going to be a long night… Bet’s puppies are two weeks old today and have opened their eyes. We’re also in the middle of lambing and have gotten 10 lambs so far. All the babies are keeping me very busy.
Sorry for not giving you enough updates on what’s happening with Spy. It’s been a very intense time. In the past month, I’ve travelled to Canada, Switzerland, south of Sweden and Italy. I’ve hosted a seminar at home, delivered puppies and fought a persistent flu. The first lambs were born in the beginning of this week, and I’m getting ready to travel to Norway for the weekend. Since I’ve been travelling so much I haven’t had a lot of time to work with Spy. We have made a lot of progress in herding. She learns quickly and is very focused. Training for agility and obedience is harder, since I have to teach her everything from scratch. It’s not like starting with a puppy. A puppy is usually easy to reward, offers a lot of behaviors and progress is very fast. With Spy I’ve had to work on building food and toy rewards and for her to offer behavior.
She will now happily eat from my hand and can offer some behaviors. I’ve shaped her to put her feet on things and to back up. I didn’t introduce play until I felt that she was ready for it. I wanted her to feel safe with me and develop her playful side with the other dogs first. My first attempt at playing was done outdoors, which was a mistake. She wasn’t interested until I got Bud out and played with them together. Bud has been very helpful in training Spy. She looks up to him and relaxes more when he’s around. In some of our early training sessions she got worried and wanted to leave, but having Bud around and training him at the same time really helped in getting her to feel both safe and excited.
Next time, I tried indoors and was more successful. When introducing play, I use a soft toy on a long line that I can drag on the floor away from the dog. I don’t care if the dog actually grabs the toy – all I want is for her to get engaged and chase it. I try to use playful body language and to quit while the dog is engaged in play and still wants more. Here’s a video of our very first play session indoors (March 20). I was very excited that it went so well.
Another area that I focus on with Spy is her physical fitness. She is surprisingly strong and coordinated considering that she probably hasn’t been conditioned much as a puppy. I use our walks in the forest to build core strength, balance and coordination. We alternate between walking slowly on uneven ground off track, off leash running and balancing on fallen trees and stones. We have a beautiful forest just 5 minutes away where I walk my dogs. We rarely meet anyone there and it is perfect for conditioning. The ground is covered in moss and blueberry bushes and I spend a lot of time just walking slowly with the dogs behind me so that they have to lift their feet in a walk.
My number one priority is building a great relationship with Spy. It takes more time with a dog this age, but we’re getting there. Relationship is a vague word that some dog trainers avoid, but I think it’s important to talk about it and define it. For me, a great relationship with a dog means that the dog trusts me and feels safe with me. If something is scary, the dog looks to me for support and guidance. When Spy came here, her response to something that scared her (for example heavy machines working in the forest) was to run away and hide. With time, I want her to come to me when something is scary, and even more importantly – not get scared when seeing that I’m not. A great relationship is also about the dog viewing me as a resource. Someone who provides fun games and meaningful work in their life. Good things come through and with me.
So far, I’m really happy that I decided to take a chance on Spy, and I’m excited to see what the future brings for us!