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July 6, 2016

Everything is a bit of a blur when you’re raising two puppies at the same time, especially two border collie puppies who are just 13 months apart. In the ideal world, I would have had all or most of Clover’s basic training done before we got another puppy, but that’s not how things worked out. So, I’m sitting here with Clover now 2 years old and Tori 1 year old, and I’m taking stock of where we are now on the dog training front. Let’s just say I’ve not reached my goals, and I’m feeling rather bummed about it. Warning — long post ahead.

My disappointment with where we are is NOT from lack of trying. Plus, look how cute we are!

champion of my heart dog blog photos, copyright roxanne hawn

Puppy Kindergarten

Clover and Tori both started attending Puppy Kindergarten classes within days of their adoptions. Clover loved it, and I mean loved it, loved it, loved it.

border collie puppy at puppy class, copyright champion of my heart / roxanne hawn

Tori didn’t. I’m planning a separate post about it, but Tori has the worst car-sickness I’ve ever seen in a puppy. Yes, we’ve tried all the home remedies. Yes, we’ve tried both over-the-counter and prescription meds for it. She felt so horrible by the time we would get to class that she would flop down and not budge or play or anything the entire class.

car-sick puppy, copyright champion of my heart / roxanne hawn

Level 1 Dog Training

Both puppy-girls then took a 6-week Level 1 Dog Training class. Again, Clover had a blast and learned a lot in fall 2014. Tori attended her classes in 2015, but she was miserable, so most of her basic training happened at home.

Their loose leash walking skills still need improvement, but I can now walk both of them together, by myself. It isn’t easy, if they decide to pull at the same time, but we do 3 miles most days.

Level 2 Dog Training (Real-World)

We’d hoped that once Tori graduated from Level 1 that we could take both puppies to Level 2 classes, which are done on a drop-in basis and are held at various locations so that the dogs can practice their basic skills in real-world scenarios. But, Tori remains miserable in the car, so it isn’t worth the time and expense to drag her around.

Clover and I do still take some Level 2 classes here and there — especially recently because she seems to be going through a bit of a 2-year-old “Stranger Danger” phase, so I like getting her out in public and having good experiences to help her get past that.

This is Clover and her “boyfriend” Wilson during a class at an pedestrian mall.

border collie and australian shepherd, copyright champion of my heart / roxanne hawn

Flaws and My Baggage

What I’ve figured out is that there was a major flaw in my early work with Clover, in particular. Almost ALL of the people Clover met when she was very young had dogs with them. Now, she seems to think that people who don’t have dogs are weird and scary.

I had hoped that Clover having Tori around might mitigate the Stranger Danger issue, but we learned recently when a veterinary pal came over to visit (which is extremely rare at our house since it’s quite a trek up here) that instead Tori learned FROM Clover to be nervous. Both of them barked at my friend. Clover did eventually adjust and ignore my pal and run around with her toys alone, with intermittent barking at her. Tori? She just kept circling my friend and barking.

Lesson learned? Make sure your puppies meet just people, without any dogs around — at home, in public, and beyond.

The other personally stressful thing for me right now is that Clover is at the same age that Lilly was when her fears really flared up and became a life-long issue. I truly don’t believe that’s what is happening with Clover, but you can see how having Clover suddenly be fearful (or reactive) toward people dredges up some baggage for me.

Lesson learned? It is actually pretty common for dogs to go through later fear periods when they reach so-called “social maturity.” You just have to keep working through it.

Of course, everyone has opinions on why Clover is behaving like she is and what I should do about it. That’s not fun because much of the advice feels like blame.

We are working, however, on the 3-bark rule. Because I honestly don’t mind if Clover barks at people (or things that scare her), but once I tell her it’s OK, I’d like her to stop. You can read more about how to teach this, but so far, at least around the house, it works pretty well. She barks. I say, “Thank You” then “Done,” and she runs to me, away from whatever she is barking at — usually something she can see through the fence or out the window.

I’ll be curious to see how it works in a veterinary setting. Clover has ALWAYS had trouble in veterinary exam rooms — shriek barking at the veterinary staff. I’m told she is perfect if I’m not around, like when they take her to the back or when she was there for surgery. (Again, hard for that feedback not to feel like blame.)

We’ve also gone back to working on the Canine Relaxation Protocol and on much longer down-stays amid distractions (or with me out of the room).


Clover has still only had her 1 herding experience from last summer. She went into heat right after that, then had the LOOOONG false pregnancy, then we adopted Tori, then Ginko died, etc. So, we haven’t had time to schedule and drive her back out to work on livestock again. Our hope had been to take both puppy-girls this summer, but until we solve Tori’s car issues, that isn’t likely to happen, which is a bummer.

I might still take Clover, if I can find the time.


Clover was on a waiting list for 7 months to get into the agility class with the instructor my experience pals recommended. Tori is still on a waiting list, with no glimpse of a new class being formed anytime soon. (Disc dog might be more her event anyway, so we’ll see.)

We’ve been taking weekly agility classes for about a year now.

We definitely have our downfalls in agility — Clover wandering off to sniff or visit people in class. For an entire month this spring, she pretty much could NOT work at class. We’re not sure why, but she has been doing much better for many weeks now, so we’ll see.

I haven’t found quite the right level of engagement and running speed to keep Clover moving smoothly through the courses we do at class, but when she understands the task, she runs happily. Not particularly fast or anything, but happily. If I can get her to play and tug (before or after a run), often it’s only ONCE during class, then she loses interest.

My very amateur handling skills don’t help. I’m sure I confuse her at times, but we often just pretend like she is going the right way on course (even if she is off course) because she is pretty sensitive to getting things wrong.

She does NOT like to repeat things too many times back to back, so we keep things short.

I’ll have to write a whole post about how we taught weaving (using the 2×2 method) and how we’re teaching running contacts, but both are coming along nicely. It’s hard work, though, and takes daily practice.

Oh, and for a while now, she also has decided to bark in her crate when it isn’t her turn at class. Nobody likes that. It’s a drag when it’s your dog being noisy. Funny thing, though, a few weeks ago another dog was barking at class, and Clover was quiet — like she felt like the other dog was taking care of things. Goofball!

Here is a video from last week’s class, with some commentary about our mistakes added. There were a lot of them, but all in all, it was actually a good day at class.

We worked on running contacts outside before going inside to do a course. Clover even (accidentally) did the full-height teeter outside. It only freaked her out a little.


This feels like my biggest failure. Just about a year ago, I signed up for an expensive, year-long, online class that’s only, only, only about building engagement and rock-solid recalls. It means reading, videos, quizzes, and daily practice on the homework.

I signed up, in part, because Clover has shown interest in chasing cars, which is bad. Really bad. But, also because we would like to travel with the puppy-girls, and I would feel infinitely better no matter where we go, if I knew FOR SURE that Clover would come back to me when asked.

Plus, the idea of Clover doing her own thing at an outdoor agility event terrifies me.

Many things have gotten in the way of Clover and I working DAILY on recalls and the homework for our class, including:

  • Having to go back and do the Canine Relaxation Protocol
  • Working on agility training so that we don’t get behind in class
  • Adding a fair bit of daily physical therapy work to build her core and jumping strength
  • Raising 2 puppies, including at one point taking 4 dog training classes at once
  • Taking care of and losing Ginko
  • Work (because a girl has to pay the bills)
  • Other family things (day-to-day stuff and otherwise)

So, I’m probably going to start over with the class homework and pay for another year. (It’s cheaper the second time around, I’m told). And, try again … or at least keep working on it.

If you want to see what the class is like, they are going to offer the first few lessons (again this year) for free. 

I may do all the recall lessons with Tori too (or have Tom do them with her). Her recall has always been pretty good — a major personality difference between them. Clover is MUCH more independent. But, I want both of them to have reliable recalls no matter what.

Big Picture  

So, we’ve been busy … but not necessarily reaching my goals.

We really have accomplished a LOT. It helps to write it out here. I guess I’m saying that I thought we’d be even better than we are at this point. Faster at agility. Much better recalls. Not so much pulling on leash.

Both of the puppy-girls are SO smart.

So, any failings … are my very own.

They are happy and healthy, and we work on many of these training things daily. Not perfect, but we try hard. That says something. Right? Right!

smiling border collies, copyright champion of my heart / roxanne hawn

About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. love the site… we have a Miniature Daschund and we have been training him to stop pulling on his lead…
    It has been very difficult initially as we have had him from a puppy and he is a hyper active dog….
    Well, after doing a lot of research on how to try and prevent this , i created my website which reviews all sorts of Dog Training, Dog Training Equipment and General Walking Tips!
    All of which have helped us and Ralph (our dog) enjoy walking – especially in this glorious weather we are currently having!

  2. Love the last picture. Tori is being goofy lol. But here’s the thing. Most of us make plans and set goals and you feel like a failure because you haven’t achieved those goals in the time frame you wanted. But you list very legitimate reasons why the aren’t achieved. The death of one of your dogs, acquiring another puppy, extreme car sickness for Tori and Jay the fact that they are both border collies is probably enough of a reason. We don’t live in a perfect world and we always will have set backs. The difference between you and countless others is this: your perseverance. Hang tough Roxanne and give yourself a break. You’re doing a fantastic job!

    1. Thanks, Mary, for your kind words. I try to keep it all in perspective. I expect a lot of myself, so it’s hard to cut myself slack — especially when I see others making seemingly big strides.

  3. No failure here! I see a fantastic author, dedicated to all of the most important things in life . I see two wonderful dogs who love their life, try hard and succeed. Most of all I see a genuine feeling for all that is right in this world coming through in eveything you write., an innate ability to share with your readers, not only the good times but the the bad times as well. Many of the things you talk about we are experiencing with Raven and it so helps to see how well you have handled it. Congratulations to all of you for doing so well, and best wishes for more successes in the future!

  4. Wow Roxanne, you are a really good writer. Really good. But I guess you know that. The girls are doing great too. Thanks for the reminder about your fantastic relaxation protocol. I need to practice with Quinn and do some reminder stuff with Samson. Anyway, you might feel like a failure, but I think you’re doing great!! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Karen. I do often feel like a major failure, but I try to keep things in perspective. It’s a real challenge, though, to fit everything into every day (or most days) when you’re training SO many things at the same time.

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