Category Archives for Dog Training Update

Border Collie Herding Instinct Test — Clover Meets Goats

A couple of weeks ago, I drove Clover out to Valdemar Farm for her herding instinct test with our herding instructor Cathy Balliu. You can see the video highlights (and bloopers) below, but let’s just say Clover did much more harassing than herding. Here is a recap of what we looked for, what we saw, and what comes next.

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Alone Outside

You know how I so often say I’m grateful that Lilly doesn’t have separation anxiety (among all her other fears)? (I’d like to keep it that way.) Well, we learned last Friday that there is one instance when she VERY much minds being alone. The little stinker barked and howled for one hour, 10 minutes, when I put her on our (fenced) property after our walk … while I enjoyed lunch next door with a neighbor and friend who offered to give me a break from all the stress. Lilly didn’t like it one @#$#@ bit. Lesson learned.

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Weekly Training Update (Jan 29)

Lilly and I haven’t done any agility training for months now. In fact, I should go save our at-home equipment from the winter winds that have bowled everything over. I’m sure both of us miss it, and I’ll try to find time for a bit of weaving and jumping, wraps and pivots, bounce jumps and tires. Lilly surely needs the exercise and mental stimulation, but I’ve discovered another reason for a good, all-out agility run now and then. It prevents tripping around the house.


Maybe I’m moving unexpectedly in my stress and worry. Maybe Lilly is uber clingy from all my absences of late. Maybe we’re just terribly out of sync, but I cannot stop tripping over her.

Normally, the two of us move around the house and elsewhere with an unspoken ease. I move. She moves. I turn. She turns. I stop. She stops.

And, maybe most importantly, she stays out of the doggone way.

I think it’s a skill and a spatial awareness that comes with agility training, and it seems, we’ve lost our handler-dog sense of each other since we haven’t been on a course in ages.


The one body awareness thing I’ve been doing, though, is working on “steering” Lilly from behind. We never did properly learn to do rear crosses, being agility school dropouts and all, but I always marvel at handlers who can control their dogs’ movement from far away and behind. There is an older handler here in CO who is kick-ass at this. She clearly cannot keep up with her young, fast border collie, but she has such good distance control over him that it doesn’t matter.

I’ve started purposefully steering Lilly when we come back from our walks. She’ll typically stay at my side along the driveway, but then drops back when she realizes we’re going inside. As regular readers know, coming inside is a big issue for Lilly in the summertime, so we have to practice pieces of the behavior year round.

To keep Lilly moving forward, I’ve started tipping my shoulders and averting my gaze to relieve the “pressure” on her. She responds by moving ahead toward the house.

If she begins to veer, I tip my shoulders away again to get her on track.

It’s pretty funny. I don’t “train” it in a formal sense with clicks/treats/rewards, but I do praise her. I mostly practice what little I know about pressure on, pressure off, of body language to see if we can once again move in sync.

I’m sure people who don’t know the intricacies of dog training wouldn’t be impressed. To them, it probably would just look like Lilly going inside, but all of us know there is so much more to it.

I’ll try to shoot some video soon so that you can see her respond in real time.

Weekly Training Update (Jan 15)

I’m not sure this counts as a real training update since the ONLY thing Lilly and Ginko are learning these days is to handle us being busy, gone, worried all the time. I really wish I could write about the terrible things going on right now, but there are many reasons I cannot. So, please just know that we continue to need a constant flood of good wishes and mojo for pretty much everyone in our family. Those of us, under this roof, are mostly fine, if you don’t count bouts of crying, winter cold germs, unending/unimaginable stress and exposure to frustration from others’ despicable acts and incompetence. So, I offer just this brief glimpse into our world this week.

This post could alternately be entitled … Is this seat taken?

Last week, after many marathon eldercare days that meant being away for 10+ hours several days in a row, Tom climbed onto the sofa to relax. Lilly immediately jumped up to get her empty tank of loving filled. Ginko decided to join the snugglefest and actually SAT RIGHT ON LILLY. She wouldn’t budge. Neither would he … since both were desperate for some attention.

They stayed this way for about 30 minutes, until Lilly squirmed her way toward Tom’s head and out from underneath Ginko’s big butt.

You can see that Ginko is wearing one of the little fleece “coats” I dug out of our dog box. I made them ages ago for our late Dalmatian. It isn’t perfect, but it works to keep my old boy warm.

I’m happy to report that despite this drastic (and I can only hope short-lived) change in their schedule isn’t causing too much trouble behaviorally.

One of them did piddle in the house when we were gone one day last week. But, it happened on the painted concrete floors downstairs, and we were gone WAY longer than expected, so I didn’t sweat it.

I’m so glad that most of the time I can be home with the pups a lot. One of the downsides of that set-up, though, is that it can be hard for them when we are gone for extended hours.

Yet, I’m beyond grateful that both dogs handle it well. No separation anxiety. No destructive habits.

I’ve taken to stuffing frozen sweet potato fries into their toys in the morning, and that keeps them happy … I hope.

Weekly Training Update (Dec 18)

Lilly and I went to our last class of the year on Wednesday. And, I’m sad to say she had a rough time. It all started with a young, standard poodle who came charging at us (in play) right off the bat. We tried walking away, but Lilly ended up having to engage. She did fine at first with a relatively calm (yet stiff) sniff, but when the dog didn’t go away, Lilly decided to show her teeth and snark.

Honestly, I think the youngster didn’t know what to do with Lilly’s tension, so she just stood still, which is a pretty smart thing to do … really. It’s such a shame Lilly doesn’t always read things right and chooses to react.

It wasn’t anything terrible. Her lip curling and growling were actually pretty controlled. The dog eventually responded to calls to move away.

After that, Lilly seemed to settle in fairly well and work, but her heart just wasn’t in it, so we mostly kept our distance from the group.

After we worked on LEAVE IT and WHOA, the dogs practiced some STAYS. (You can see the poodle on the far right of this shot.)

Later, we worked on STAY with other dogs moving around, so I positioned Lilly near a tree, which meant people would have to give us wider berth as they went around, but I miscalculated the tree’s draw, especially for male dogs. So, Lilly ended up snarking at the yellow lab behind us in the photo above when he stopped to sniff the tree. Lilly thought he was a tad too close.

Poor guy. He wasn’t really paying attention to her at all and got hollered at (by Lilly) for it. He looked so surprised.

After that, she pretty much decided she had had enough and shut down in that uniquely Lilly way.

She slept all the way back to our part of town, so I ran a couple errands and then took her for a quick walk along the creek. Since it was mid-day, during the week, the path was pretty empty, so I let her have the full length of her training lead and just let her walk as she pleased. That improved her mood.

Still, I was pretty bummed. Blame it on the dark time of the year, blame it on the never-ending family medical drama that consumes so much of my bandwidth, or blame it on the cold, but I had hoped to end on the year of so much progress on a better note.


We may have a new contender in the friend department. One of the young guys who lives across the road just got a puppy with his fiance. The dog’s name is Toby, and he is a doodle of some sort (probably labra-doodle) and came from Kansas or Nebraska, which makes me worry about puppy mill origins, but he looks like a real sweetie.

I haven’t met him yet, but when they get back from their holiday travels (he is going along), I hope to see him in person and give Lilly a chance to meet him on her own turf. He isn’t a tiny boy, so who knows. His size and puppiness may be too much for her.

{Photos missing due to massive blog glitch. So sorry.}

Weekly Training Update (Dec 4)

I’m not sure this counts as a real training update, but Lilly learned to wear a sweater this week. I’m not big on dressing dogs up, but the seriously frigid temps here this week dictated otherwise. It turns out that it worked a bit like those fancy dog anxiety wraps. Lilly seemed pretty happy and pretty mellow in her sweater. She looks cute too.

{Photo missing as part of a massive blog photo problem. Sorry about that.}

I have to giggle about how well the sweater fits Lilly because Penelope was MUCH bigger, and it appears I stuffed her into this.

My initial reaction was that the sweater made Lilly a little sheepish, but at the end of the first day Tom said he thought she seemed happier. We tried baby onsies and a complicated thing with ace bandages to calm Lilly down at agility, but without the medications and without all the behavior modification we’ve done in that last couple years, the results weren’t great.

With wind chills just crazy below zero here today, I figure a little extra protection cannot hurt. I might look into getting her (and Ginko) more sweaters or maybe a coat. I could learn to knit, I suppose … you know, in my spare time.


Weekly Training Update (Nov 20)

Wow! What a roller coaster of a week this has been. Suffice it to say that all emotional extremes have now be exhausted, which is indeed exhausting. So, I only have a couple little training notes to share about our  CLEAN UP trick work.

Somehow, I’d forgotten that Lilly needs more mental work in the winter than at other times. It has been quite cold, and I have been quite busy, so she needs time to think and work and be rewarded even more.

In fact, on that subject, please check out my latest piece for HealthyPet. It’s called Making Dogs Think: 5 Great Ways to Engage the Canine Mind.

So, we’ve started playing and doing tricks while I make dinner. (Hey, a girl needs to be efficient with her time.) I pull a bunch of toys out of the basket and scatter them around the kitchen, then I ask Lilly to put them away.

We’ve had some trouble because I’m letting Ginko mill around too. Normally, when Lilly is learning something new, he needs to be out of the room. Now that she knows this trick, I figure he can be loose. So, between him trying to steal the toys, steal her treats, and generally getting in the way, we’ve had some funny CLEAN UP sessions.

Laughing amid everything is good.

Then, last night, Lilly made up a new game. I’m not sure what to call it, but she decided it was MORE fun to pick up the toys, jump up onto one of the kitchen chairs and sit there smiling with the toy in her mouth.

Clearly, I was NOT clicking for that behavior, but she did it again and again. Silly!

She also decided it was hilarious to pull toys out of the basket, instead of putting them in.

I am VERY tempted to teach that as well and call it MAKE A MESS. It’s probably a terrible idea because that’s not a behavior I want her throwing at me just for fun, but how much would you laugh if I told her MAKE A MESS and let her be a wild monkey with her toys, THEN asked her to CLEAN UP and put them all back.

Good party trick? Maybe so.

Poga NEWS!

I posted the update on Adopt Poga Social Media Blitz, and I fed the news into our Twitter feed, but just in case you haven’t heard, Poga got adopted last night. She was noted as being “on hold” Thursday afternoon, then by about 7 pm, her photo had been pulled from the humane society site. That, we assume, means she was adopted.

I haven’t heard anything, so there is no way to know if the attention we got for her this week is the reason she was finally adopted, but I’m and going to assume so.

I could NOT be happier.

Weekly Training Update (Nov 13)

On another remarkably warm Sunday afternoon, we again made time for class. While Lilly did not stay calm from start to finish, she bounced back better than she would have in the past from seeing lots of new dogs and from firecrackers. Yes, firecrackers in @#$@ November. Still, I ended up with a fat lip, after Lilly decided to jump her jitters out when I wasn’t looking. Rather than face photos that reveal Lilly’s mood by ear position and head tension, enjoy this gallery of butt shots — a tale of tail position.

Lilly indeed hopped out of the car on arrival and went into Relaxation Protocol mode. Once she got past shark-like grabbing, we headed toward the other dogs who were already in the park. I could tell she felt nervous because she began that prancing, fast-foot thing she does, so I asked her to SIT so that we could resume protocol work. She did, but when I glanced away to make sure no traffic was coming (because we were in the road when she got scared), something triggered her to begin jumping straight up, and she popped me right in the mouth.

Serious ouch!

So, of course, I cried out from both shock and pain, which only made Lilly more scared.

We managed to get ourselves back on track, but her bottom told me clearly how she felt.

{I’m sorry the photos for this post got lost in a massive blog glitch.}

I’m not kidding when I say that people have mistaken Lilly for an Australian Shepherd (a cropped tail breed) because she often tucks her tail so tightly to her tummy that you cannot see it.

She also did a fair bit of displacement sniffing to work through her fear. You can see the tail coming up.

Lilly’s tail came out fully once she got the chance to kiss on Gigi Moss (our dog trainer). We continued to work, with plenty of distance, from the many dogs in attendance. Again, there were only three adult dogs we knew well. The rest were new, younger classmates.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at the bigger class sizes now that it’s scheduled for afternoons (during the winter). I think fewer people want to get up early-ish on a Sunday to train their dog.

We worked on loose-leash walking. We worked on WHOA (stopping from a distance), which Lilly finally seems to be getting better at on the flat. We worked on fast downs from a run, while I continued to move. We even did out-of-sight recalls.

Since I was way on the other side of a hill and could not see Lilly until she got close to me, I asked Gigi how Lilly did, and she said she thought they were the fastest recalls she’d ever seen Lilly do. So, that’s amazing news. Bravo, Lilly bug!

But, while we were waiting for others to do their recalls, some rotten person near the park set off 3-4 firecrackers over about 2-3 minutes. Poor Lilly flipped out. She didn’t go into total flee mode, but she did get very, very upset.

I gave her food anytime there was noise, and I did my best to comfort her. Thankfully, it stopped, or we would have had to leave.

After a few nervous minutes, Lilly calmed back down. Here she is watching another dog-handler team come back after their recall. To me, she seems if not “confident” then at least not fearful.

I think it helped that Conto, the German Shepherd Dog we know and love, was at class. We haven’t seen him for ages because he and his mom have been busy with agility. Huge congrats to them for already earning their first UKC title. And, this big, handsome boy has gotten three FIRST PLACES. Whoo hoo!

Lilly feels better when Conto is around because I think she knows he will handle anything that comes up. So, thanks, big boy!

We were sad to learn that Conto’s best friend, Woody (the malamute), is recovering from knee surgery. That means they’re both missing each other the way we’re missing our Katie girl. So, we send our best wishes for Woody’s recovery.

Weekly Training Update (Nov 6)

I took Lilly to class for the first time in seven weeks on Sunday. She did great, even though we did not know the majority of dogs and many of them were young and somewhat wild. She did snark at one dog whose self-control is still under construction, but that’s no surprise. This pup was straining at the end of the leash, hopping around and looking right at Lilly.

Lilly had a nice breakthrough moment when she hopped out of the car and immediately seemed calm in her Relaxation Protocol mode. She sat. I fed her treats. She seemed completely balanced with the first piece of food. Sometimes, we go through a bit of a Shark Phase, but not that day. She hopped out with a calm, confidence I was thrilled to see.

We arrived early and walked around a bunch, but as classmates began to arrive, we took up a position on a grassy median, with plenty of distance from the youngsters. (I fell instantly in love with the young GSP in class. What a handsome boy he is.)

{Doggone photos for this post got lost in a massive blog photo glitch. Sorry.}

As usual, we kept our buffer zone pretty big, except for the two dogs we knew, including Lucky (whose brown-and-white butt you can just see on the right).

Here you can see a happy Lilly waiting for classmates to complete an agility-dog-walk-like exercise on a raised ledge. We typically go first or last so that Lilly feels less pressure from the group.

We probably didn’t need quite this much space from our classmates, toward the end of the session, but Lilly is clearly content to hang out.

So, it was a nice experience. After being so cooped up from last week’s snow, Lilly was happy to get out and do something.

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