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!
A few weeks ago, I got in the car and drove, drove and drove some more. Drove until I ended up on Ireland and met Spy, whom I previously only had seen in a shaky 90 second video. I randomly found Spy on YouTube one day. The video was recently uploaded and it said she was for sale, but there was no contact information or location. It was love at first sight, and I spent hours doing detective work until I finally found the ad on an Irish site.
Spy on an agility field in England
Epic and Bud joined me in the car and we did some sheepdog training on Ireland before heading back to England where we took some pictures for my upcoming agility book (in Swedish, sorry). We watched a sheepdog trial and trained some more before we headed home. My car broke down in Germany on the Autobahn between Bremen and Hamburg. I had to stop, call for assistance and try to find a place to stay with three dogs within walking distance from the auto repair shop. Spy had probably never been indoors before and it turned out she was in heat. Dragging all my luggage plus handling two male dogs and a bitch in heat through the small German town wasn’t easy. Spy got to sleep in the bathroom and handled it well. I thankfully got the car fixed in a day and we returned to Sweden on the Tuesday night, nine days after leaving Sweden.
Spy and Holly in the woods with Thomas
Spy has now lived with us for two weeks, and we’re still getting to know her. She’s 10 months old and hasn’t lived inside a house before. It amazing how quickly she has adjusted to life in our pack. She seems housebroken, which is remarkable considering how she’s lived before. Developing a good relationship with her is a work in progress, and very different from starting with a young puppy. I hope to make an agility dog out of her – in addition to sheepdog of course – but right now we’re just focusing on becoming friends and to even take food from my hand. It’s such a simple thing for a small puppy, but so hard for her. She enjoys food, but eating it from my hand is not very interesting and she doesn’t do it in all situations. The step from taking food to actually working for it seems even more difficult.
I bought her because she looked amazing when working sheep, and she does that well in Sweden too. She isn’t trained, but has a natural and mature way with sheep. I think she’s ready for training despite her young age. Our relationship will be the most important thing around sheep too. She needs to trust me and want to listen to what I have to say.
We got some more snow the other day… Spy herding sheep outside our house
It’s very exciting to get to know a new individual. There are new sides to her to discover all the time, as she gets more comfortable here. Right now, I realised that she gets very excited when Thomas is training and playing with Holly in another room. We might have to work a bit on staying calm when others are working. I hope that we can start to train and play together soon. She seems to be interested in toys, but I haven’t dared to try to play with her just yet.
Have you got experiences with starting to train an older dog that hasn’t been exposed to family life and training before? Maybe a rescue? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.
The three girls got their very first training session today. I’m not sure if you can call it training, but I played with them for a few minutes each. Of course, they have been playing with me a bit before, but nothing planned. All three seemed to enjoy playing. Holly is the most intense and most interested in toys. Ivy is more socially interested and really wants to cuddle. Fern is somewhere in between. I’m very excited to try a shaping session with each of them too, to see how they might be different there. The only “training” I’ve done is to let them eat some treats from my hands (puppies don’t really understand that concept until you show them).
They are 10 weeks now and obviously I haven’t done much training with them. I usually think talking about “puppies being puppies” is strange (what else would they be?), but that’s really what they have been until now. Just three puppies exploring the environment, playing with each other, interacting with the older dogs and sleeping in a pile.
The dogs and I went to Mora this weekend for agility competitions. I was just going to run Epic and Squid in class 3, but last week I asked if I could do a late entry and run Bud in jumping class 1 on Sunday morning. I feel that Bud is more than ready for class 1 handling, but he needs more work on some obstacles. My goal with him has been to be very well prepared for his first trial, so in that sense I failed. The first run of the day had both the tire and the flat tunnel in it, and I did not feel confident that he would do them on the first try if I was running normally. The tire was obstacle number two, so I could help him get that right and he did also do the flat tunnel on the first try (but with some hesitation). I guess we can consider it a good training session for the future. He dropped a bar on a tight turn out of a very fast line. I think I was a bit behind and maybe not as clear as I should have been.
The second run was with just tunnels, jumps and weaves, but with much more handling. It suited us better and I was very pleased to feel confident that I could handle him the way I would have with one of the older dogs. He was clean and fast enough to win the class! He behaved nicely before and after his runs and seemed to enjoy finally getting to run and not just watch others at a competition. Now we’ll train for another month before his next trial, where he’ll also get to try standard agility.
These are Bud’s three little sisters that are staying with us – at least for a while. They are 8 weeks old now and their two sisters Moss and Bracken are moving to their new homes. All three are just lovely and I’m excited to see how they will turn out. One of them (I don’t know who) will probably move to a new, great home in a month or so. Our reason for keeping three puppies is to be able to evaluate them more and decide which one – if any – will be suited for breeding and maybe sheepdog trials with us (or with someone else on breeding terms). If we decide that one of them are not what we’re looking for, we make sure that they end up in the best home possible with someone that is perfect for them. One big advantage in breeding sheepdogs and teaching/competing in other dog sports is that we know lots of great people that provide excellent homes. I really prefer to sell other puppies/dogs if I have the choice, as it is easier to make a perfect match when you know more about the dog.
I’m getting ready for a weekend of agility trialing tonight. I will miss the puppies. When I get back, I might try their first training sessions. It’s always very interesting to observe them in new situations.
Holly – loves to tug and play. Very happy and focused.
Fern – loves Thomas and would prefer to stay close to him all the time.
Ivy – went for an evening walk with me and my dogs tonight. The other puppies decided to stay by the house.
It’s November already, and unfortunately winter came early this year. It’s snowing, so my agility equipment is covered in snow and sheep have had to move indoors for the winter. Winters in Sweden can be really depressing, but I’m a bit more optimistic this year as we’ve got a new indoor agility facility just 15 minutes from home. I do some training on my own there, teach class once a week and train with friends every two weeks. Here are some clips of Bud from training with friends yesterday. Things are starting to come together. He’s responsive to my handling, jumps nicely, weaves with confidence, and did his first A-frame in a sequence yesterday! It looks like he’s figured out how to run it without flying too far over the apex (another “let the dog tell you when he’s ready” situation). We still have a lot of things to work on (like that weave situation that he didn’t understand, and always jumping the tire/wall jump/spread, and consistently doing perfect seesaws, and…), but we’re having so much fun getting ready for his first competition in December.
Bud’s five little sisters were born 8 weeks ago. They are absolutely adorable and so much fun. Two of them will move to new homes this week, and three will stay with us – at least for a while until we know more about them. I’m very excited to see how they will turn out. Raising puppies is a lot of fun, and a lot of work. I believe the most important things in raising good puppies is good genes. No amount of socialisation or stimulation will make up for breeding from nervous dogs. And puppies with good genes generally turn out really good even if they are raised with just basic socialisation. I’m not afraid to buy puppies from working farms in the UK. If it’s a good dog, it will turn out just as good as any dog from a breeder here.
What I think is important, and what I make my priority with my puppies, is that they get a lot of time outdoors where they can move, play and explore without restrictions. Where they are not slipping on slick floors and where they develop balance, proprioception and confidence. My puppies spend most of their days from 4-8 weeks playing and exploring (and sleeping!) in our garden (yes, even in the snow). I also make sure to let them meet as many different people as possible, including children. They get to hang out with their mother a lot and also with the other friendly or neutral dogs in the house. They get fed mostly raw, but also tries different kinds of kibble and other types of food. I’m convinced that Early Neurological Stimulation and things similar is pseudoscience, and while it probably doesn’t hurt it’s weird how many people will value that kind of thing over other many much more reasonable criteria for picking a breeder.
September is here. It’s so sad to say goodbye to summer, but at least this is the best month for adventures in the forest. I try to let my dogs spend as many days as possible with me in the forest. It’s good for us all. There is overwhelming evidence showing that human brains work best if we exercise. I’m sure the same is true for dogs. And of course: it’s not only good for our brains. My dogs get all kinds of exercise in the forest. Endurance from running, relaxation from trotting, and strength from walking on uneven ground and lifting their legs over rocks, fallen trees and the blueberry bushes that cover most of the forest floor. I try to get some of everything in our walks. Sometimes they run on their own while I mind my own business (usually listening to podcasts). Sometimes I ask them to walk behind me so that they have to walk and lift their legs. Sometimes we run together and they trot beside me. And then there’s the mandatory break for a group photo somewhere nice. I used to be annoyed with their long tongues ruining the picture, but I realised today that long tongues are a sign of happy, well exercised dogs.
Sometimes there’s a little too much of an adventure. We had a close encounter with a moose a couple of weeks ago. And on Tuesday, Bud was suddenly on three legs and in a lot of pain. We called Thomas who came to the rescue with a car while we carried Bud back through the forest. When we got to the car, he was still obviously in pain and wouldn’t put his foot down. We looked for signs of a snake bite, but found nothing. He wasn’t swollen and we couldn’t see any mark on his paw. I drove straight to our local (and very good!) vet, took him out of the car and he was… fine! Walked like normal, put weight on the leg and seemed happy. We drove home again and he’s been fine since. Very scary and strange. Snake bites are a constant worry during the warm months, even though we’ve never had a dog bitten.
The website has a new look and we hope that this will make it easier to read and prettier to look at. We’re offering two online classes this fall: Foundation Class and Relationship Building. These classes are great for anyone wanting to learn more about our style of training and about getting great results and having fun with reward based training.
I’ts the last week of August and the weather today reminds us that fall is here. Perfect for catching up with office work after a busy weekend. Living in Sweden means spending 9 months of the year longing for summer. Here’s a picture from July at my parents place by the sea. Bud loved playing in the water, but wouldn’t swim at all. When we got home, I put on my swimsuit, and put a life west on Bud. With some company and help, he learned how much fun swimming was and by the end of our first session he was swimming on his own with no life west.
It’s been a nice summer with great weather and visits from good friends. I’ve spent a lot of time at home while Thomas has travelled to Denmark, Norway and Finland to teach gundog seminars. Now is his busiest time with hunting and trials in the Norwegian mountains for Alot the GWP. Long road trips on narrow and winding Norwegian roads (slow, but the view is often amazing) for Thomas and his dogs.
I’ve had both time and weather for dog training this summer. Bud and I are slowly getting ready for agility trials, but I don’t want to rush it so he’ll probably wait until next year. He’s now weaving 12 straight poles and is starting to look fluent and fast. He is still a dream to bring to trial sites – quiet, calm and friendly. I hope it stays like that even when he gets to run.
Thomas and Volt working sheep in the sunset last week. Bud and I are also spending time with the sheep, trying to get ready for future work and trials. He is very intense and very talented, and I’ve learned a lot from him and the good trainers that have helped me with him. In two weeks time we’re expecting puppies! Fay is bred to Epic – same combination as my Bud. I really look forward to meet his new siblings!
I’ll try to update the blog more often this fall. Tell me what you’d like to read more about! And what online classes you’d like to see here.