August 6, 2014

Puppy classes and BAT training

This past month Vixey has grown and developed quickly. At 16 weeks she weighed 16 lbs and is now almost the same height as Vanilla. She has continued to be the brave, open and loving puppy with a couple boogieman phases added to the mix. I haven’t taught as many new tricks this past month but instead we’ve focused on life skills. After getting all our vaccinations in order we went to our very first agility foundation lesson and got a lot of homework with the cone. I’ll be teaching “out”-command with the clicker and the cone and also use the cone to help her read front and rear crosses. We also started a puppy socialization class which focuses on introducing all kinds of dogs, people and environments to the puppy. In the same class we also make them familiar with different surfaces and little obstacles like a ladder on the floor that they need to walk through or standing on a stool or go over an air mattress. This is great also when I think about the skills she will need for agility or even our sailing trips in the future. 

Of course you can’t learn everything on a class so I’ve tried to make sure that every week we do something new with her. This week’s agenda is to take her to the stables to see horses. Last week it was a nearby dog park to go on a puppy play date. I’m a little weary of dog parks though, so I’m not sure how much we will be going unless it’s to meet someone we know there. I’ve also tried to take her for walks in different places with different people and dogs including next to kids playgrounds, heavy traffic zones etc. She has always done great. But more than any of that I’ve tried to take her to places she can be off-leash. We’ve gone to Mt. Lemmon every weekend for a walk or a hike. She absolutely loves the forest! Our everyday walk around the neighborhood is on nice dirt roads which is great for having her off-leash and teach recall. Also there are cotton tails and quails and other critters that run across the road or nearby all the time so it’s been a great environment to learn to not chase anything.

Vixey in Sedona, AZ
Grand Canyon.
Our only issues have been the boogieman phases which usually involve some barking. For example, just on a normal day home she might all of a sudden realize that there are all kinds of sounds that she can hear from the outside. There have always been noises and most days she doesn’t notice them yet some days she thinks that every time the neighbor’s dog barks she needs to bark back. My first plan was to just ignore that. It didn’t help however, so I now have a squirt bottle next to my desk and it does make a difference. She hates the thing! Once in a while she also barks at dogs she sees on our daily walks. I think its half excitement and half insecurity. When she gets closer and can meet the dog she is great and meets dogs in a very nice manner and quickly gets into play mode with them. So far there has only been one dog that she has been timid about. It was another puppy, a lot bigger and more muscular than Vixey and very high energy and dominant in her play. Vixey did finally warm up to her enough to play a little but you could tell that she wasn’t totally comfortable with her. 

On the occasion that she barks or gets ready to bark to another dog on our walk, I’ve been using a method that is nowadays often referred to as BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training). The basic idea is to walk with the dog ideally using a long lead (I’ve often had Vixey off-leash though) and when you see signs of a possible reaction, ie. barking, you gently turn around before the behavior happens, maybe call your dog and treat. The idea is to replace the initial reaction to a situation with a new behavior like sitting, sniffing, looking away, whatever seems to work best for you and your dog. I’d used similar methods before and even started on with Vixey but never knew the name of the official training method until I had some conversations with the owners of Vixeys siblings. It’s been great for us and has made our recall even stronger. It also makes you have to pay attention to your dog’s body language in order to prevent the situation where reactive behavior could occur. And of course involves a lot of good treats when everything is going great. 

All in all though, I have to say that Vixey has been a really good, easy puppy. She travels great, sleeps through the nights, loves her crate, is basically house-trained with very few accidents, learns amazingly quickly, absolutely loves people, has a wonderful off-switch for a Border Collie and is really the most snuggly, loving little creature I can think of. And the bonus on top of it all is that she is not only best buddies with Vanilla but she has been able to melt Gins heart as well. How great is that! 

PS. I can’t wait for the agility season to start again in Tucson! Vanilla and I have learned a ton of new stuff since our last trial in April!


July 1, 2014

Twelve pounds and growing!

First weeks with Vixey have flown by faster than I expected. She is already 3 months old. A lot has happened since Vixey first came to us and I’m not talking only about her growing way too fast! But growing she really has done. She is all legs, ears and teeth right now and weighed a little over 12 lb at 13 weeks! A little devil running around the house, grabbing plants and shoes and mail while just passing by. Of course there’s been many great developments too. The most wonderful one is that Vanilla figured out that I “bought her a new toy”. Every day she and Vixey play around the house and the yard for hours, making my life so much easier. While Vanilla is playing the babysitter I can concentrate on work and other things I neglected for the first two weeks Vixey was around. After their morning play is done there is several heavenly quiet hours of three pups snoring around the house! Got to love their cute faces!

Photo by Maria Järvinen

Photo by Maria Järvinen
Training wise I’ve been trying to be more organized with Vixey than I was with Vanilla. Well. Obviously I didn’t know as much back then either. Right now one of our main goals is to extend the time in sit, laying down or standing. I’m using the clicker pretty much with all of Vixey’s training and it seems to be working really well. I’ve been also trying to get more and more away from the luring technique and add more of what’s called free shaping. It’s hard because I’ve done luring my whole life and I can feel myself being a little impatient sometimes when I wait for Vixey to figure out what is wanted. It would be SO easy to just show her and be done with it! On the other hand when she finally does the results are amazing! Also this will make us achieve the greater goal of Vixey learning to learn and offer different behaviors herself instead of waiting for me to show her what to do. I think this will be very helpful later on in everything else we do. I would love to hear some experiences of this though from people? Have you tried free shaping and has it been better?

On the socialization part Vixey has not met quite as many dogs as I’d hope she would’ve by now. She’s probably met around 15 different dogs and luckily none of the experiences have been bad. Some have not been very much into her but Vixey’s been pretty good at respecting them when they tell her to stay off their face. I’m still looking to finding some playmates for her even though there is a lot less pressure now that she and Vanilla are such good buddies. On the other hand Vixey has been traveling and going around with us a ton meeting many different people. We even did a 5 day trip to San Diego. The 7 hour car drive both ways went great, she was asleep pretty much the whole time. She loved playing in the grassy yard all day long and I’m sure coming back to the hot desert was a small disappointment! Vixey has also been to Apache Lake twice here in Arizona and last time she already figured out how to swim on her own! And long ways too! At 11 weeks old. I was pretty breath taken. I can’t wait for her to have all her vaccines so I can take her to our boat in Mexico and introduce her to the ocean. She has also become quite the mountain climber on our frequent visits to Mt. Lemmon. She runs after the big dogs as if she was born in a high alpine pine forest! 

 My plan for the next couple of weeks is to increase training a little bit and concentrate on recall, playing skills and some agility foundation work. She’s really good with toys with almost a natural fetch and she has a really good release from anything that’s in her mouth already so I’m hoping to add toys to her reward selection soon in a more structured manner. I’m so excited to go to our very first agility foundation training session at the end of the month! I’m sure Vixey is too since so far she has mainly been watching Vanilla being trained and she is not very happy with that situation :). Many things to learn before then though!

Here's a couple photos of Vixey since she was about 9 weeks old to today!

Photo by Maria Järvinen

Photo by Maria Järvinen
Photo by Maria Järvinen
Photo by Maria Järvinen
Photo by Maria Järvinen

May 27, 2014

Introducing Redtop Vixey

My little dirt eater!

Please let us out to play!
I had been looking for a puppy for a year. First it took me months to find a couple breeders that I really liked. I had preferred to find someone in Arizona and I did find a person that I would have loved to get a puppy from but she wasn’t planning on having any litters either at the end of 2013 or in the coming year. So I started looking elsewhere, found many breeders with great dogs, and finally a half a year later decided on a combination I thought was everything I was looking for. Fabulous herding skills with plenty of drive but calm at home and fantastic structure. Unfortunately that litter never happened. I got lucky, however, and there was going to be another try with the same dad and a different mom. I signed up for that immediately. The new mom was in some ways even better than the previous one. Now, I’m so happy and grateful to, after a year of waiting, officially introduce my new companion for life: Redtop Vixey (Redtop Riggs x Bell)! I feel very lucky to have met Patrick Shannahan last December at a herding clinic to make this all happen. Vixey has been home for 6 days and I couldn’t be happier. She is absolutely everything I wanted and more!

Puppy kisses!

When I first met Vixey she climbed on my lap and gave me the most wonderful puppy kisses one could hope! I had had my eyes on her already previously but wasn’t sure if we would “match” before meeting her. Stars were aligned and we connected right away! I spent hours with her that first day, watching her play with the cats, her dad and her siblings. She was so fearless and bold! Spicy little thing, I thought! Independent also, but not in a bad way, just enough to go around “herding” good ol’ papa Riggs. Then she would come back and spend time saying hi to me or chewing on my shoelaces. The whole litter of puppies seemed to have great temperaments and were so much fun to be around that I was reluctant to leave for the night. But I wanted to leave Vixey “home” with her brothers for one more night before taking her away. 

This really reminds me of Vanilla for some reason!
Going to herd papa!

Following the leader!

Kitty attack!

Relaxing with Blanco!
The next day our first adventure together started and I worried how it would all turn out. This was the first time I’d flown a dog in the cabin of the plane. I was worried about whining and barking or her being anxious but I have to say I wasn’t even half as nervous as I was flying Vanilla in the crate in cargo from Finland. And it all ended up going fabulously even though the plane was an hour late and our total time in the airport and flying took almost 6 hours. I was really surprised that there were no accidents and that she slept the whole way! It was actually a very pleasant trip down. Even the 2-hour car ride from Phoenix to Tucson went well. The only whining she did on the whole way home was right after we left Patrick’s place and lasted less than 5 minutes. I put the radio on and she fell silent and was quiet the whole way after that.  

Introductions to our older girlies went well. They were interested in her and she in them. After the first batch of curiosity went away, though, our two ladies decided to ignore the puppy. I suppose they figured out she might be staying and decided that running away from her or watching her from the top of the bed was much better. I was expecting Vanilla to behave this way since she has always ignored other dogs. The only dogs she ever loved playing with were her siblings that we saw regularly when still living in Finland. Since then she has gotten along with many dogs and even played a little with Gin, but never with the same enthusiasm. Surprisingly Gin, who normally LOVES to meet and play with other dogs, was also behaving this way. I suppose it’ll just take time. Luckily they are both treating the puppy pretty nicely. And Vixey doesn’t seem to care. She is endlessly persistent trying to make her way closer to Vanilla and Gin. Today she was already hanging on Vanilla’s fur when they were outside and lay next to her inside and as long as she stays away from Vanilla’s face everything is good. Gin is tougher but slowly warming up to her also. I remember my older BC Dani being like that with Vanilla for almost two months. So I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. Sometimes it’s just hard to be patient when you want something to happen so much! 

Since Vixey came we’ve started practicing our daily routines like house breaking, sleeping and waiting in a crate, being behind a gate, sitting and laying down, being alone for short periods of time, traveling in the car and waiting for food. I’ve found both Susan Garrets crate games and Mary Ellen Barry’s agility foundations to be extremely helpful in the first days of our coexistence! She has done really well with everything so far and is definitely comparable to Vanilla as a learner! 

I have a little fenced area in our backyard to keep her from roaming around, since we have plenty of coyotes running around and besides being dangerous themselves they can also carry parvo. Parvo is a little bit of a problem in Tucson and there has been several puppies that have been brought to the local shelters that were affected. It makes me nervous to take Vixey out so for now we are staying very close to our house. To make up for the lack of yard time (which has to be short anyway just because of the heat!) I have carried the puppy in a carrier around with us wherever we have gone. To the restaurant on Friday, on a hike on the mountain on Saturday, to agility practice today and all the little things in between. She has already met plenty of new people and loves to say hi to everyone. Now we just need to find some nice pups to play with.

I’m so excited to see what the future holds for us and ready for some new challenges!

Little monster!

April 9, 2014

Start of an agility career - or not?

NADAC trial in March 2014.

Within the last few months I have finally gotten into agility trialing with Vanilla. My nervousness levels are getting lower, well, with one exception being yesterday evenings NADAC mini-trial on an open field in a public park with plenty of other dogs and heavy traffic roads nearby! But we both survived and even ended up doing great! Lesson of the day? Don’t panic for two hours before your run because you’ll be exhausted even before you get on the course and you’ll make your dog nervous as well! Not good :).

To most of my Finnish friends words like NADAC probably don’t say much. And maybe agility in general is sort of a gray area. Hence I decided to explain the basics so it’s easier for you to follow our journey through the ever complicated maze of agility in the United States! 

AKC trial in March 2014.
First of all, the biggest difference compared to how agility is structured in Finland, is the fact that agility trials in the US are organized and held by several different organizations. In Finland it’s simple. All agility trials are held under the Finnish Agility Association and there are only two different course options (classes), standard and jumpers. The United States however, has many different ones with different sets of rules and regulation, their own titling systems etc. The three main ones that Vanilla and I compete in are:

1) USDAA trials (United States Dog Agility Association), which is the largest independent authority for the sport of dog agility and also the one that originally introduced the sport to North America in 1986. They have many classes including Standard, Jumpers, Gamblers, Relay and Snooker.  

2) AKC trials (American Kennel Club), which is almost as big nowadays as USDAA. They offer Standard, Jumpers with Weaves and FAST classes. 

3) NADAC (North American Dog Agility Council), which was founded 1993 and offers many classes and games including Regular (similar to Standard), Jumpers, Tunnelers, Weavers, Touch N Go, Chances and Hoopers. 

There are many more but I have more or less decided to concentrate my efforts on these three. Some people only do one but Tucson doesn’t really offer enough trials to concentrate on just one. It’s good practice too and also all different organizers concentrate on different kinds of courses. AKC has very tight courses which require good fast turns whereas NADAC courses concentrate on your ability to send your dog further away and work more independently. In order to compete in any of these events you need to register your dog with the organization in question. Luckily this is not very expensive and fairly easy to do. There are options for mix breed dogs as well so even if you don’t have a pure bred dog you can still title. 

Got our first AKC title in March 2014!
So as you can see the potential of gaining different Champion titles is a lot more varied here than in Finland, where you can only be a Standard or Jumpers Agility Champion. Here you can be a Champion under any or all the different organizers. Also you get titles along the way, after completing the Novice or Open levels before ending up in the Excellent/Masters/Elite level. In Finland the corresponding levels are called 1, 2 and 3. 

The third most important difference, aside from the structure and offered classes, is the scoring. In Finland you are aiming for a 0, which means a clean run with no mistakes, while here you aim for a qualified run, a Q. Qualified runs are scored in various different ways, for example in some cases starting with a score of a 100 and then subtracting your faults. But the main goal is the same, whether you’re going for a 0 or a Q. As long as you don’t make any mistakes you’re good to go!

Now that you’re a little more familiar with the system, it’s easier for me to brag about our results of course! ;). Not that there are many, but I have to say, I’m very proud of our start in the world of agility. From the one USDAA trial (one day), two AKC trials (both two days), one NADAC trial (one day) and one NADAC mini trial evening that we’ve done in the last couple months, we’ve been able to get several Q’s in several classes and are already able to move up to compete in Open level in AKC standard class and NADAC weavers class! This requires 3 Q’s from each class so, for example, out of our 4 AKC standard runs we Q’d on 3 runs and the same happened with NADAC weavers. So it is a marvelous start! I’m lucky that Vanilla, at the age of 7,5 years, is still as fast as ever and enthusiastic about working with me!

To be honest, I don’t think we have many crazy goals with Vanilla. Maybe there was a time when Vanilla was young and we were still doing Search and Rescue and Obedience in Finland that I pictured a wall full of her merits (well I still like photos of merits ;)) but since we moved to the US, changed our sports altogether and life happened in between, I realized that it really isn’t about the merits. Or what other people think. It’s just, and only, about having fun with your dog! Working towards a better relationship between you and your companion! There are many people that are more competitive and have additional goals, but for us, this is all we need right now. Fun, positive experiences together!

AKC trial in November 2013.