Takoda’s First Agility Workshop

I ran Lil and Takoda at Lorrie Reynold’s distance workshop Sunday afternoon. Its the first agility event I’ve done since November, due to having sciatica for the past few months.  UGH but I’ve been going to a fantastic Physical Therapist for the past month and I’m finally seeing improvement.

Lil was totally jazzed and ran well but my timing was off.  I was often too early and called her off obstacles due to my being influenced by Takoda’s early obstacle commitment and longer stride length.  My timing improved as the day went on and by the end I felt more in sync.  Lil had a great time in spite of my learning curve.  I didn’t get any video of Lil’s runs but she was her typical great self.

This was Takoda’s first agility workshop.  He has not been in a class setting since November and has rarely run long sequences, so I had no idea how he’d do with a bunch of people sitting along one wall.. just a few feet beyond the A-frame/ Tunnel discrimination.  In his day-to-day life, he is living up to the name Takoda means “friend to everyone” in Sioux and I love that quality about him, even if it includes an occasional impromptu visit now and then.

I could not be more pleased with how well he ran.  I was surprised he maintained his focus as well as he did so well considering how close people were to the obstacles. He noticed them but mostly ignored them until the last run when he was mentally fatigued… and his puppy brain kicked in. He came when I called but he just could no longer resist wiggling and waggling his way to say HI.

I love how responsive he is to handling yet how committed he is to the path ahead.  It makes handling a piece of cake.

Yesterday pointed out to me (again) the huge difference between Takoda and Lil when it comes to distance.   Lil is willing and able to do big distance because of countless hours spent training and maintaining her distance skills, which is necessary to keep her confidence level high enough to drive hard when working far away from me.   In contrast, Takoda appears to be hard-wired to work at big distances so it didn’t take much training at all for him to be confident working away from me.   It feels more like I am just tapping into his Border Collie Brain rather than “training” him to work at big distances like I did with Lil.

This difference caused me to step back and think about what Lil would prefer in terms of distance.  Based on Sunday’s workshop I suspect she would prefer to run at moderate distances (15-30′) rather than doing  Bonus Boxes distances (up to 80′).    I’ll likely still attempt an occasional Bonus Box run with her, but I don’t think she is cut out to run Bonus Box distances run after run after run.   This is totally fine with me  because Lil is such a fun dog to run agility with, it doesn’t matter to me how we do it.


Happy First Birthday Takoda

“Time flies when you are having fun” certainly applies to puppies.  Looking back, its hard to believe how much Takoda learned during his first year on the planet.  Takoda means “Friend to Everyone” in Sioux and he continues to live up to his name.  It is such a pleasure living with a super-friendly, non-reactive dog…..not that Jake and Lil are super reactive or anything like that, but they are terriers and thus lean towards the barky side.   Through ongoing management, I keep their barking under control yet with Takoda, I don’t have to do anything.   He is just not barky.

When Takoda joined our pack at  8 weeks old, I remember thinking about all the things Jake and Lil know, and it felt overwhelming to think about all the life skills Takoda would need to learn to be a “good dog” at home, plus all the specialized training he’d need to participate in dog sports.   Looking back, I am wowed by how much he learned in the past year!   He has that winning combination of intelligence and the desire to work/ play with me, regardless of what we are doing.

The only bump in the road was a badly sprained knee on Dec 1.  I didn’t see what happened because Takoda was out of my sight for a  few minutes while out for a potty break in the backyard, but I assume he slipped on some ice since the yard was covered with slippery snow.  Three weeks of crate rest and being on leash 24/7 resolved the sprain, and I gradually increased his activity level back to what it was before the sprain.

Takoda and I ended up taking nearly 2 months off from foundation training for agility, which gave me the opportunity to step back and reflect on what I envisioned for our future lives.  It came as a big surprise to me that agility was not very high on my list of things I wanted to do with Takoda.  The top activities were: Search and Rescue, hiking, playing, hanging out, and training a variety of skills for the sheer joy of training.  I’m not giving up on agility by any means, but its just not my focal point right now.   That said, my friend Heather came over a couple of days ago to set up a sequence for an on-line course she is taking with Amanda Nelson.

All three dogs aced the sequence on the first try.  I was surprised to see they ran such similar lines even though Takoda is twice the size of Jake and Lil.  It was so cool to see all three dogs run with so much confidence, joy and enthusiasm.

One detail worth noting is how little the tunnel moves when my dogs run through it.. and I don’t use tunnel bags when training in my yard.  This is one of Sharon Nelson’s brilliant training tips:  Training dogs to run through tunnels without tunnel bags teaches them NOT to bank when entering and exiting tunnels.  Instead dogs learn to turn on the flat before they enter the tunnel and after exiting.  This skill keeps dogs from crashing and burning inside slippery or wet tunnels.



Takoda, 2 days shy of his first birthday

Takoda will be 9 months old October 29.

Takoda has been maturing in leaps and bounds this past month.  His work ethic and focus are sky rocketing and as a result, I’ve started trusting him off-leash in a variety of new environments.  My main objective in terms of off-leash behavior is for Search and Rescue.  A good SAR dog needs to be trustworthy when in sight and out of sight.

Its been so interesting to see the change in his facial expression over the past month.  Lately he has been wearing his “Border Collie” face most of the time :).  This new mature expression is gradually replacing his endearing puppy expression.  I already miss my sweet little puppy as he morphs into an adult Border Collie but I am loving getting to know this “new” adult dog who is blowing me away in terms of how fast and eager he is to learn new stuff.  I’m sure Takoda’s  inner puppy 🙂 will still make many cameo appearances for years to come and I am VERY happy about that thought.

This morning Takoda and I hiked on the Switzerland Trail which is the site of a historic 3 ft narrow gauge railroad line that was operated around the turn of the 20th century in the Colorado front range mining area near Nederland, Gold Hill, and Ward.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switzerland_Trail

Takoda (9 months old) on the Switzerland Trail, Oct 27-2015

(above) Takoda taking in the scenery while waiting for me to catch up.

(above) This was Takoda’s first time on the Switzerland Trail and his first time wearing a bear bell.  I think the sound of the bell took him a while to get used to but he’ll need to wear a bell when doing SAR work so I figured I might as well help him get used to it early on.

I really like how he checks in periodically and doesn’t get too far ahead.  I took the opportunity to practice some recalls early on in this hike to make sure we were a team.  I’ve seen more than one person searching for a lost dog on this trail.  Just the thought of that freaks me out.

(above) About one mile into our hike,  Takoda continues to check in and responds well to recalls.   When he disappeared over the edge of the trail, it was hard NOT to call him but I felt it was important that he come back on his own… which he did… albeit a bit further along the trail.   I was mostly using low-value food rewards (kibble) but I also brought a toy to use for a higher-level, higher-energy reward to mix things up.   Early on I mostly used kibble, thinking it would be better for Takoda to be thoughtful vs. in high prey drive.

One thing I am curious about after this hike, which I’ll be able to test by taking Takoda for another hike in the late afternoon sometime, is if he is focusing on the downhill side of the trail because as the air warms, it rises and carrying with it scents from the valley below.  The opposite effect takes place late in the day as air begins to cool and drops back down into the valley, so if Takoda is indeed air scenting, I would guess he would focus more attention on the uphill side of the trail late in the day.  It will be fun to see it that happens.  My other thought regarding why he might have focused more attention down hill on our hike this morning, is the view into the valley is more expansive and is thus more interesting to look at. 🙂

(above) I continued to say GOOD BOY whenever he checked in throughout the hike to let him know I like that behavior.   At this point, he tends to check in when he gets to be about 30′ ahead, which I really like.  He rarely lags behind, but when he does, he catches up when I get ahead about 15′.

(above) I wanted to see what he’d do if I said GO one time, and then just stood in position vs. following him.   He did exactly what I’d hoped he’d do.  He ran ahead, then realized I wasn’t moving with him,  and came back on his own.

Watching the video above, he appears to be offering “head checks” towards the path ahead between rewards.  I’m fine with him doing that.  The other possible reason for his head movement is because I’ve rewarded him when there is something/ someone in the distance…. but based on his energy level and the fact that he wasn’t really LOOKING at the path ahead, I think he was mostly offering the head whip as a “trick” or behavior.

(above)  While hiking, or working in the yard, I like to mix in some SITS, DOWNS, and STANDS at a distance to see if we are connected and functioning as a team regardless of the distance between us.  I forgot for the first half of the hike but when I finally got around to asking for a SIT I really liked his response.  What I liked most is I suspect he was NOT expecting/ anticipating hearing the word SIT after hiking 1.5 miles without being cued to do any positions.   While this was not his fastest SIT, I was very happy he was connected and listening.  Good boy!

We turned around shortly after this video to keep the hike short (3 miles) since my ankle is still healing and not ready for longer, more strenuous hikes or off-trail bush whacking yet.

After 5 weeks or so little activity, due to my ankle fracture,  It feels incredible to be able to go hiking and to be spending time out in nature again.  I experience a totally natural “Rocky Mountain High” whenever I spend time in the mountains of Colorado and its great to be able to share this time with Takoda, who appears to be having as much fun as I am.  And on top of this great feeling, I am thrilled that Takoda wants to stay connected when off leash.  Granted this is just the beginning of his off-leash experiences, and there will be plenty of proofing ahead in terms of distractions, but I think he is off to a great start.

Who would think a broken ankle would have another silver lining?

Earlier this week, I had X-rays and a follow up exam of my ankle and the removable cast is history plus I no longer need to let “pain be my guide” to avoid further injury. My ankle is stable enough that I’m back to walking and driving. 🙂

Takoda has been attending puppy agility classes for the past few months. My main goal is to expose him to a very challenging environment… a room filled with puppies. Takoda has done his fair share of running off to visit other puppies and vice versa but until this week, even when he was staying with me, I often felt I was on the verge of losing him.


However, this week in class Takoda “felt” different. He had great focus and was fully engaged in everything we did. He even stayed engaged when another puppy ran over to him several times during one exercise. Takoda’s toy drive has always been stronger than his food drive so one thing that helped was using a toy vs. food. The reason I was able to use a toy is because I felt confident he would bring it back vs. run off with it.  On the drive home, I was thinking Why NOW? Why such a huge shift in Takoda’s ability to stay fully engaged with me vs. being distracted by other puppies? I concluded it was due to a confluence of events, many of which would not have happened, had I NOT injured my ankle.

I’m sure age has something to do with it (Takoda is now 8 1/2 months old) but I also think he experienced a burst of maturity during the eight days he spent at BC Bootcamp while I attended NADAC Championships. BC Bootcamp is my friend Heather’s house where Takoda was born and spent the first 8 weeks of his life.  His adult BC relatives taught him to respect their space when he tried to engage them in silly puppy play.  He was a quick learner and his Aunties were perfect teachers because they are not aggressive yet are very clear about what is and what is not acceptable behavior.

Another factor that contributed to Takoda’s recent personal growth 🙂 was that Heather (who happens to be a great obedience trainer) worked with him on obedience-style retrieves while he was there.  Takoda’s retrieves had gone from OK to terrible recently, which I attributed to his increased drive and being an adolescent. But when I returned from Champs, Takoda was happily bringing toys back and dropping them in my hand. Thank you Heather!

In addition to the great jump start at Heather’s with retrieving, due to my ankle injury I had extra time on my hands, some of which I filled by watching Michael Ellis’s training videos which helped me improve the way I play tug. In particular I started using Michael’s method of asking Takoda to release the toy and then stepping back and immediately releasing him to GET IT again. This added a whole new level of excitement and variation to retrieving and tugging and made it more fun for Takoda (and me) due to higher level of unpredictability.  It was funny that once I watched Michael’s video on tugging, I remembered that Sammy at YDS camp showed me this method last summer and I really liked it. I’m surprised I forgot about it.

But that is not all. Another contributing factor re: Takoda’s new level of maturity was a chance visit by my behaviorist extraordinaire friend Sue S. who was passing through Boulder a few days before we left for Champs. She has always been my GO TO person for head-scratching behavior issues (me scratching my head ..not the dogs). During Sue’s visit, she helped get us over the hump so Takoda and the ATs could live in the same country 24/7 vs. need to be separated by a wall (a dog gate) unless I was working with them, due to their inability to “just be” together when not working.

The issue had been that Takoda’s silly puppy antics (energetic play bowing)  caused the ATs to bark at him which caused Takoda to get more amped (play bowing with more gusto), which caused more barking…..  Sue saw the issue as Takoda not taking the ATs seriously.  I asked “why not? and she said because he doesn’t have to.   The timing of Sue’s visit was PERFECT because she showed us how to interrupt the play bowing and subsequent barking and then after a few days of vastly improved “group dynamics,” Takoda went to BC bootcamp where he learned from dogs his own size that just because dogs are accessible, doesn’t mean you should try to engage them in rambunctious puppy play.


So the silver lining re: my broken ankle turned out to be huge! I would never have left Takoda with Heather had I been able to walk and train enough to keep Takoda mentally stimulated while at NADAC Champs.  Plus I would not have been sitting around watching dog training videos because the weather has been extraordinary. I would have been out hiking for sure.   Takoda has a ways to go before I consider him mature 🙂  but as my good friend Lynn S. pointed out:  I’m miss my sweet, goofy puppy once he morphs into a full-blown adult.. whenever that occurs.

Lil and Hop-Along at NADAC Championships 2015

What a wild roller coaster ride NADAC Championships was for me this year.  It took a few days to process everything Lil and I were able to accomplish two and a half weeks after breaking my ankle. I also learned something new about myself… that my brain is very good at being in denial. I was certain my ankle would be well on its way to healing by the end of Champs (3 weeks), even though the doctor said healing would take between 6 and 10 weeks. I guess I needed to believe my ankle would feel better vs. worse to get me through each round at Champs.

After Round 3, my ankle really started hurting and I began to wonder if I’d be able to make it through another round and from that point on, I took it one run at a time. I barely made it through Round 7 and knew it would be impossible to run in the Finals. This was hugely disappointing but in hindsight, I should have stopped after Round 6 but its impossible to know where the sanity/insanity line is until crossing it. Enough about my ankle though. I’d rather focus on Lil.

(above) Pre-Champs Touch N Go

Before breaking my ankle I entered a few pre-champs classes. I decided not to scratch so I could see how confident Lil was running at a distance in this new exciting setting. She did very well.

(above) Pre-Champs Chances Q
(above) Paula Goss and Sharon Nelson (in the center of frame) are two people who have taught me so much about distance training and handling. Lynn Smitley was not at Champs this year, but she is responsible for encouraging me to attempt our first Bonus Boxes and continues to be a very good friend and great training partner (albeit from afar these days).

(above) Champs Round One. I made a handling error that caused Lil to “lose flow” which cost us our chance to earn a “Sash for Excellence” but we still Q-ed. We scored 104.12 and needed 105. I’d like to think I will NEVER make that mistake again.

(above) Round Two. Had I been quicker to step over the line, I might have avoided that off course tunnel before the barrel. Regardless of that bobble, I loved how well Lil ran this round. She had great drive and nailed the opening and closing distance challenges.

(above) Round Four. This was the LONGEST lead out I have ever taken and Lil held her stay with full confidence. I was so proud of her willingness to wait so patiently at the start line all week long while I slowly hobbled out to get into position.

(above) Round 6. The highlight of this run for me was being able to stay behind the bonus line the entire run when I didn’t even think we’d get through the course. We earned 29 bonus points on this run. In hindsight, I think Lil was distracted by my “hop, hop, skipping” and knocked a bar as a result. The only other fault on this run was a missed dog walk contact, which has not happened for so long, I can’t even remember when Lil’s last missed dog walk contact was so NO BIGGIE.

(above) Doggie Luge track in Woodstock. This is one of the many ways I train and maintain GO ONs / driving away with confidence and speed. This is NOT hardwired in Australian Terriers like it is with Takoda, my Border Collie puppy. Its been enlightening to see how much I am getting “for free” with Takoda. It makes me REALLY appreciate what Lil has been able to accomplish.

(above) A more complex Doggie Luge track in Boulder

(above) Lil at 5 months. At 1:11 she was already showing me what a great distance dog she would become.

(above) Another video of Lil at 5 months old working on baby contacts and sending to a mat.

Smoochies with Lil
Smoochies with Lil. Need I say more? 🙂

Sometime there is a silver lining.. even with a broken ankle

A week ago, I had a freak accident, which resulted in a ankle fracture (and a face plant which has since healed).    The timing was unfortunate.. not that any time is fortunate to break one’s ankle, but in my case the accident occurred 2.5 weeks before NADAC Championships. Not only was I looking forward to running Lil at Champs, but I was also looking forward to seeing and cheering on my friends from all over the USA (and Canada) who make the trek to Champs.  Attending Champs is like being at a 5 day long, super fun party with agility mixed in.  After Champs, I had planned to meet a very good friend in Interlochen MI, followed by a workshop with another good friend, led by Dawn Weaver in WI.  Having to miss out on all three of these fun events was a triple bummer for me.

So where is the silver lining?  My first thought was perhaps the Urgent Care diagnosis was wrong and my ankle wasn’t really fractured (OK I was in denial) but the diagnosis was confirmed by an Orthopedist 4 days later.  SIGH. The only good news about my break is patients can now choose between wearing a bulky velcro-laden boot or a plaster cast.  I opted for the boot which I take it off when not walking around and I am very happy with that choice.  The other good news I received that day was to let pain be my guide:  If it doesn’t hurt its fine to do and if it hurts don’t do it.  That guideline seems simple enough to follow.

I was very diligent the first 72 hours re: RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) and by day 4 the swelling was almost entirely gone.   I had also taken Arnica and Symphytum officinale from Day 1 which I think also contributed to the reduction in swelling.  After learning from the Orthopedist that I can let pain be my guide, the thought occurred to me that I might still be able to compete in Champs because Lil has some great distance skills and I might be able to get by without needing to run.  Of course I hadn’t been working on distance the past 5 months, as I prepared for Lil’s first AKC trial in 3 years (which she totally aced.. but that topic is covered in another post). Plus this year at Champs I entered Lil in the Standard division vs Starter Stakes, a distance class.

Given my injury, I decided to test Lil’s distance skills to see if I thought she would be able to read my handling cues well enough to be able to compete at Champs.  Here comes the silver lining part!  Lately I have felt that Lil has become a bit darty when running agility.  I can’t think of a better word to describe what I felt was going on.    It was like she was not 100% committed to obstacles or the path she was running.. and that she could pull off at any moment.  I thought maybe it was due to something bothering her physically.  But as soon as I started challenging her by running her at big distances again, the darty-ness evaporated and she went back to running with full confidence and commitment.  In hindsight, I think chasing me around courses is just not mentally challenging enough for Lil.  She is a very smart dog and I think she likes to use her brain.. and working at big distance necessitates a lot more thinking than chasing a handler around a course (not that I’m putting that style of handling down, because I really enjoy running with my dogs and getting to do some fancy handling).

Its funny to think had I not broken my ankle, I would not have gone back to training / practicing distance with Lil and I would have continued to worry that something was bothering her physically.   I would have gone to Champs feeling less than 100% connected to Lil and I’m sure that would have affected our teamwork.  Yet the other, more significant part of the silver lining is since we’ve started “serious training” again, Lil has gone from hanging out by herself in a dog bed during the daytime to hanging out with me on the sofa.  She is back to being her sweet affectionate little self again, a real Mama’s girl.

(above)  Lil running a Jumpers course at VT runs hosted by Mountain Dog Sports yesterday.  It was great for me to see how well Lil ran without me being able to run….or even move my feet very well.    I was very pleased with how happy she looked before, during and after each run and to see that sparkle in her eyes while she prancing proudly at my side as we made our way back to my chair.

I’ve always thought of training as a shared language between dogs and humans but until now, I had not realized how important it is that the language be meaningful / the training be challenging to have a maximal affect on the dog/human relationship.

(below) Lil playing a new scent game I’m playing with all three dogs.  I think its a great way to challenge their brains.

Scent Game

I have two very awesome friends who do Search and Rescue in New Mexico.  They offered introductory classes in SAR at Yellowstone Dog Sports camp in July.   After seeing Takoda in action at camp (he was HIGHLY motivated to find the hidden person), I felt SAR could be Takoda’s true calling in life since he loves people more than anything else and has a great work ethic.   Takoda and I will continue to work on foundation skills for the game of agility, but I am noticing that SAR is taking over my thoughts in terms of training… myself and Takoda.

After returning from camp, I looked into local SAR groups and found a fantastic group.  Front Range Rescue Dogs (FRRD) is a small group of very experienced SAR handlers and dogs.  The people are incredibly knowledgeable and very generous about sharing information with newbies such as myself.  They are all excellent teachers and the style of learning is fantastic…mostly experiential… learn by doing.  I LOVE IT!

They have 2 field practices per week, which get cancelled if members are called out on a search… which does happen.   Yesterday we met on hour outside of Boulder at 10,000 feet.  What an invigorating way to spend a day!

This morning I decided to see how Jake, Lil, and Takoda would do searching for a real scent article.  The following videos show my interpretation of a foundation game my SAR friends from NM play with their puppies.  I put half a bandana, that I’d been carrying around in my pocket for a week, under one of the pot liners, and kept the other half to let the dogs sniff before releasing them to GO FIND it.

Takoda did very well all three reps.. and found the article every time.  The coolest part was with each rep he seemed to get a better understanding of the game.  He became more amped with each turn and was vocalizing in this crate when Jake and Lil had their turns.  This is not typical for him at this point.. but not so surprising either considering how much he appears to love this game.

(above) Takoda’s 3rd rep

When I tried to get Takoda to come back in the house after rep #1, he balked and took off running in the other direction.  He NEVER does this.  The following video shows where he went in such a hurry. 🙂

Lil’s first rep was by far her best.  After that she started picking up the pot liners and flipping them into the air like she does with frisbees and toys.   Its a cute trick but not what I am looking for with this scent game.  🙂  She was able to find the bandana all three times.  It just took longer the 2nd and 3rd reps.

(above) Lil’s first rep.  When she found the article flipped it at my feet and didn’t want to tug but that is totally fine with me.  I was happy to reward her with food!

Jake didn’t seem to understand the game.  He ran in and out and around the pots like they were a mini-agility course.  It was very cute.. until he started marking.   Watching the video playback at 1:17 he did stop and look at me while standing in front of the pot with the bandana in it.. but he also did that same thing in front of other pots so I don’t think he was trying to indicate anything.  Next time I play this game with Jake, I’ll use a scent that is stronger and unique like vanilla because Jake did very well in nosework classes at Camp Gone to the Dogs a few years ago so I’m confident he’ll figure out this new game.  He just needs a slightly different beginning step.

(above) Jake’s turn   He is such a hoot!

Like everything else I’m doing with Takoda, I will expose him to a variety of SAR games now and then vs. having a rigid training schedule.  Seeing the lightbulb go ON this morning, I think he’s off to a great start.  If Lil was bigger, I suspect she’d make a great SAR dog.  She has a great work ethic and GETS the game.  My gut feeling however, is the Rocky Mountains are too rugged for a 10 inch, long-backed dog to be able to search for up to 10 hours a day running up and down steep slopes with boulders, loose rocks, etc.  So Lil will not be adding SAR her resume anytime soon.  I actually think she is currently busy enough with agility, daily walks or hikes, and a lot of RV trips!  Same is true for Jake.

Takoda’s first off-leash hikes and videos of group flatwork

(above) video of Takoda doing a little flatwork,  He will be 7 months old in a little over a week

In July, I took Takoda to a local agility facility four times to work him in a new challenging environment.  The biggest challenges of this environment are a herd of sheep in one adjacent pasture and a couple of horses in another pasture.   The first time there were other teams working and that was too challenging but the other times, we were alone so I was able to work on “passive attention,” a term I made up to describe a dog keeping track of his person without being officially asked to do so.   The reason I wanted to test “passive attention” is because he’ll need to keep track of me on off-leash hikes in the mountains and I don’t want to have to ask for a specific behavior like heeling (which is not practical on trails) or constantly call him if he gets too far ahead or behind. Ideally I want him to WANT to stay within visual range.

With no other teams working in the agility field the last few times we went, I thought it would be a good opportunity to see what Takoda would do off leash if I disappeared.  So as soon as his focus shifted from me to the sheep or horses, I quietly moved away and hid from his sight.  It didn’t take long (maybe 5 seconds) for him to notice I was MIA and he came looking for me.  He ran straight to the gate where we entered and stared at our car in the distance before realizing I was about 10′ away hiding behind a shed.  He looked so happy to see me and we celebrated our reunion with a BIG play party.

In comparison, when I tried the “sneak away” game with Jake years ago, he either didn’t notice I had disappeared or he didn’t care.  He just wandered around sniffing and marking. Its not surprising considering how independent and confident Jake is but I still remember how disappointed I felt at the time.

After Takoda and I had our BIG party, I started strolling around the agility field again and he moved along with me.  After a few minutes, his focus shifted to the sheep and I crept away and hid again (this time ducking behind a tunnel) while he stood at the fence line looking at the sheep.  This time he didn’t wait 5 seconds before coming to look for me and ran to the gate much faster than the first time.  It took him a little while to stop looking for me around the shed but eventually he found me hiding behind the tunnel.   After that I couldn’t shake him.   He kept an eye or ear on me just like I hoped he’d do while hiking off-leash.

Takoda’s maiden voyages for off-leash hiking happened this week and he passed all four tests with flying colors.   His natural distance is well within my comfort zone.  He runs or trots ahead between 20- 30 feet then turns to see where I am.  He is usually able to WAIT, SIT, or LIE DOWN on cue at a distance and his recalls have been PERFECT.  He mostly stays on the trial and when he leaves it, he doesn’t venture off too far before coming bounding back on his own.   He loves to pounce in tall grass.  Not sure what he is seeing or hearing…. maybe grasshoppers?  Regardless its very cute.   So far all of our hikes have been in less populated areas where visibility is good so I can call him before we have any close encounters with other off-leash dogs or bikes.  I think he’d be totally fine with bikes but based on yesterday’s test at a very popular off-leash dog hiking area, which is more like a giant field with paths more than it is like a hiking trail, he is not yet able to resist playing with other dogs who are in turn eager to play with him and each other.  Both times, when I tried to call Takoda away from playing, he immediately came running but didn’t stay with me due to his playmates being in hot pursuit and me not wanting to pull out a toy or food reward with other dogs so close by.   I won’t be testing him at places like that for at least another month.  Eventually, I know he’ll come when called and then stay with me around off-leash dogs but as my good friend Heather pointed out “He is still a puppy.”

For those of you who know me well, you might be wondering why I took Takoda to a place with so many off-leash dogs since I don’t take my dogs to dog parks and I don’t think dogs NEED to have a bunch of dog friends to be happy.  The reason I did it is because there is no escaping off-leash dogs in Boulder County.   They are everywhere so being around off-leash dogs will be part of Takoda’s experience.   I knew he’d be fine since he has such great dog social skills, but what I didn’t know is how he’d respond to cues around off-leash dogs.  Now I know the answer to that question.  I think Takoda is off to a very good start re: coming when called, even though he didn’t stay with me (due to playmates in pursuit) but I think he did really well for his first time around so many playing dogs.  He is such a great dog across the board:  super sweet, friendly, social, athletic, easy going at home with a great OFF switch when we are not working and an instant ON switch when we are.   Oh and did I mention how cute he is?  🙂

Below are short videos of Takoda working along side Lil and Jake yesterday.    Its only the second time I’ve worked the boys together on dual heeling and run byes… and maybe the fifth time with Lil.    I’m so pleased with how well everyone did!

(above) Four short videos of Lil and Takoda working together

(above) Two short videos Jake and Takoda working together

Takoda and Jake’s relationship is so different than Takoda and Lil’s relationship.   I think its mostly due to Jake being more amped up than Lil.  I loved how even when things weren’t going perfectly, all three dogs continued working vs. falling into spontaneous play with each other.  And aren’t they are three CUTE BEYOND IMAGINATION?  YES!  I think so!

Glimmers of maturity!

All three dogs have been so mellow all day long, after their big swimming adventure this morning at Coot Lake (everyone chose to get in the lake on their own) so I decided to do some group training this evening for their dinners. First with Lil and Takoda, and then with Jake and Takoda. The reason I worked with 2 vs. 3 dogs is because with 2 dogs I have a reasonable chance of regaining control if it all falls apart vs. with 3 dogs, they take on a pack mentality and egg each other on which can turn into game of chase, which rarely ends well due to Takoda’s bumper not lining up with Jake and Lil’s bumpers, if you know what I mean.

Lil and Takoda’s session started with some dual heeling, one dog on each side. I’ve been doing that with Lil and Takoda for a while and they both seem to understand their jobs so I decided to up the ante and play the game where one dog stays while the other dog runs by the staying dog. I was shocked at how well Takoda did. I could see he was really listening and when I said LIL COME, he looked like he totally understood I was not talking to him and he held his stay with just a tiny flinch.  And when I said TAKODA COME, he immediately raced toward me, no hesitation at all. Of course I didn’t have a video running but it is the same game as I have been playing with Jake and Lil for years, and I do have a video of them:

Jake and Lil last summer

At one point I really challenged both dogs by asking them to DOWN with their front feet touching (facing each other at 45 degrees), yet both held their positions and only one dog got up and raced towards me when I called that dog’s name. I also did some challenging leap-frogging reps where the running dog flew right by the staying dog at full speed and both Lil and Takoda were rock solid.  Yahoo!

Then I switched to Jake and Takoda. They have a very different relationship than Lil and Takoda have. I think the boys actually like each other, whereas I’m not sure what Lil thinks about Takoda. I think her main objective is to maintain control over him.. which is not easy at times given his size and puppy antics… but that is a totally different topic which I’ll post about when I gain insight into what I think Lil thinks about Takoda (and why I think that).  🙂

An early example of Takoda recalling past Jake when he was a little over 2 months old. This is BEFORE his inner BC started awakening.  He would not have been able to run by Jake without engaging him  at 4 or 5 months old.

With Jake and Takoda, I started off with the same dual heeling I did with Lil and Takoda. It went well with the boys that I moved onto one dog staying while the other dog runs by and they both did surprisingly with this too.  Each dog broke his stay one time as the session progressed but in both cases still came running to me vs. drifting into a game of chase. I suspect the number of reps had something to do with the one OOPSIE by each dog, and also the fact that Jake does not have the high level of impulse control Lil has… and because Takoda is still a puppy, he doesn’t have an abundance of impulse control either.  Regardless, I was thrilled with the high success rates of both sessions. I love seeing more and more glimmers of who Takoda will be as an adult, which of course are currently mixed in with a bunch of silly puppy antics.  The most profound glimmers of maturity are apparent when he is working.  I can see his strong work ethic over-riding his silly puppy antics more often than it did even 2 weeks ago.  He still has a long way to go in terms of consistency re: impulse control around his biggest temptations which are #1 people and #2 dogs, but it is cool to see glimmers of Takoda looking like a serious working dog vs. looking like a total blithering idiot but cuter-than-cute puppy.

Now that I think about it, I might be under-appreciating other signs of maturity.  Takoda is  able to hang out and chill for hours on end when we are not working.  He is mostly quiet when I’m working Jake and Lil, and he waits for us to wake up before making a ruckus.  He really is a great dog to live with.  I feel very lucky!

Takoda is 6 months old today

IMG_4292We celebrated by going for a short hike early this morning

IMG_4289(above)  Takoda looking very mature

IMG_4282(above) Yesterday in the yard, Takoda looked very much like the puppy he still is

Takoda_herding_instinct_test Takoda’s herding instinct test

Takoda_watching_lead_sheep_break_offTakoda thinking “Now What?”  He becomes very serious when working sheep

Takoda_herding_instinct_test_w_cappyTakoda working with Cappy

Takoda and Lil ringsideTakoda graduated to a larger crate (4 months old)

2o2o_3577Takoda offering 2o2o on his own while playing with a stick (3 months old)

Lil and Takoda hanging out ringside at the trial.  Jake was in the RV with Bruce at this time.

Lil and Takoda hanging out ringside at the trial (3 months old)

Group Mark Session, May 24, 2015Group mark session (between 3 and 4 months old)

dogs_in_moab_4_15_3457In Moab for Sharon Nelson’s workshop (10 weeks old)

Takoda munching on his favorite fuzzy chicken toy, April 29, 2015

Takoda munching on his favorite fuzzy chicken toy, April 29, 2015

Group_photo_4_8_15_3286Takoda hanging out with Jake and Lil (8 weeks old)

Takoda curled up on 3-23-15_3081Takoda (7 weeks old)  I had the good fortune to be able to interact with him from the age of 5 weeks old because the entire litter came for visits to meet a bunch of people in our yard.  By the time he came to live with us full time at 8 weeks old,  we all knew each other  well so the transition was smooth.

I decided to celebrate Takoda turning 6 months old with photos vs. text.   He has learned and done so many things over the past 4 months, the post would be way too long and boring to read.  Here are some highlights:

#1. Takoda continues to be a totally sweet, social, friendly, and biddable puppy with a nice OFF switch.  These were the reasons I wanting a puppy from this litter.  They were all that way.. and still are.

#2. Takoda and I are beginning training for Search and Rescue (SAR) after being introduced to it at Yellowstone Dog Sports camp a couple of weeks ago.  He loves people more than anything, and did really well in SAR classes at camp, so I think its fair to assume that Search and Rescue will be hugely rewarding.  For me, I love hiking and being out in nature with my dogs more than anything, plus SAR offers me the opportunity to put my dog obsession to good use while contributing to my community so I think its a good fit for both of us.

#3.  Takoda will continue taking herding lessons every few weeks.  He did really well in his first lesson.  I don’t anticipate getting serious about herding…too much to learn on the part of the handler plus I don’t have plans to buy sheep, which makes practicing easier, but taking lessons will be a fun way to see his hard-wiring in action.

#4.  Takoda started performance puppy class a month ago.  My main goal for him in class is to learn important life skills like being calm and quiet in his crate while other puppies are running around, to stay focused on me vs. wanting to play with other puppies when more than one puppy is working (very common in this class), and to enter and exit the building with composure vs. acting like a blithering idiot :).   He is progressing with these important life skills but we still have a ways to go.

#5. Takoda is doing very well with trained behaviors like SIT, DOWN, WAIT, MARK, heeling on both sides an knows a ton of tricks.  But anyone who is into dog training knows this stuff is relatively easy to train.  Given my interest in doing Search and Rescue with Takoda, my main focus will be on training a rock solid recall as well as good manners on and off leash.

Just thinking about Takoda makes me feel ridiculously happy.. but then again thinking about Jake and Lil makes me feel ridiculously happy too!   I guess that is why I’m so dog obsessed.  Its SO rewarding for me.