Spot On K9 Sports

Fun activities for all dogs

You Give Me (Puppy) Fever!

I knew I was in trouble when I was staying up past midnight searching Border Collie breeder websites. It seemed like all my friends and students were getting puppies. They were adorable, silly, and gave me serious puppy fever.

During another late night cybersearch, I found my puppy, a stunning blue merle tricolor. Latte was part of the “Coffee” litter. All eight puppies were named after coffee drinks, which I can’t resist, either! When I saw her eight-week-old photos, and that cute split face like my late Catahoula, Desoto, I was in love.

I got her at 3.5 months of age, and she was even more beautiful and sweet than I imagined. She climbed right into my lap and cuddled up. I nicknamed her Lovebug in that instant!

Latte has now been home for two weeks. We have been taking our time regarding formal training, just getting to know each other and building a strong bond. She blends into our pack of four dogs quite well. The seniors have done a good job teaching her the rules of the house, and giving fair corrections when she gets obnoxious. To my great surprise, Latte is helping my other Border Collie, Magnum, learn to relax. That is no small feat!

So far, she knows her name, although I have more work to do when she is in a more exciting environment, or when she wants to herd Magnum. She also thinks of me as a Pez dispenser, always doling out treats or toys when she makes eye contact with me, comes when called, or offers to sit. I taught her down, and she offered peekaboo (sit between my legs), which I use as a start line for Magnum. I think she feels secure there.

Starting this week, we’re going to focus on these training games:

• Break – release word as permission to move (out of crate, through a door, etc.)
• It’s Yer Choice – work through four stages (closed fist, open hand, treat on floor, treats in open bowl)
• Go to Place – offer to sit on a dog bed or mat, remain there until released
• Two-Toy Game – she learns to play with whichever toy I offer
• Paw Rub – treat for touching and rubbing all four paws
• Open Wide – treat for inspecting her mouth, lightly brush her teeth with my finger

I better stop there. It’s tempting to do more because puppies are such sponges! Of course, they have short attention spans, so our training sessions will be very short, about 2-3 minutes. It’s easy to overface them with too much mental exercise.

We are going on as many field trips and doggie play dates as possible. I think it’s important that puppies meet a variety of people, especially kids if there are none in the home. She is fantastic with my four-year-old son, and they are drawn to each other. When he makes funny sound or runs around, Latte is attracted to the noise and unpredictable movement.

I love hearing my son giggle when they’re playing together. He says her name so cute: “Laaaatteeeee!” Sadly, I did have to ruin their fun by intervening when she was tugging his sock off. He thought it was hilarious! She has a taste for shoes, too, so it’s been a good reminder for all of us to pick up and put away anything we value.

I’m incredibly fortunate to have little Latte. She is exactly what we needed – a ray of sunshine as my two Dals, Darby and Jolie, are in their sunset years.

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What Makes a Good Coach

“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” – popular wisdom

If you agree with that sentiment, I’ll wager that you haven’t yet experienced a great coach. Recently, I’ve taken up running again, an activity I enjoyed competitively in high school and college. It’s brought back a lot of memories of my high school girls’ cross country coach, Allan Goodman.

He was an excellent mentor despite many odds. For one thing, he was obese. He never ran with us like the boys’ cross country coach did. Instead, our co-captains lead the runs. When we did wind sprints, he drove his car behind us – one honk to go faster, two honks to slow down.

He was a bachelor, with no kids of his own, yet somehow he could not only relate to but inspire a group of awkward teenage girls. It didn’t hurt that he was a talented cook and prepared a carbo-loading feast the night before a meet.

He taught math, which generally isn’t the subject of choice for a gregarious leader. His quiet thoughtfulness and wry humor were perfect counterparts to our emerging social butterflies, eagerly seeking direction and approval.

In 1988, the Conant Cougars girls’ cross country team won the state championship. It was the first time in the team’s history that it had even qualified.  The following year, we came in second to #1 ranked Palatine. It was extraordinary.

Me & Brian after running 5K in August 2012.

“We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment.” – Jim Rohn

Since retiring my first agility dog and Dalmatian, Darby, in 2010 after earning her ADCH in USDAA, I have been unable to show regularly. My younger Dalmatian, Jolie, has suffered a series of setbacks, from lack of motivation to back surgery to heartworm treatment. My Dutch Shepherd, Ginger Peach, prefers showing off freestyle Frisbee tricks in front of a crowd than agility. Our newest pack member, Magnum the Border Collie, is only 10.5 months. He loves the game, but we’re still learning about each other. It will take time to become a team, both inside and outside the agility ring.

A trial once in a blue moon is not enough to keep in touch with my old agility friends, make new ones and experience firsthand the evolution in course designs and handling trends. Most importantly, I am not there to encourage my students. The majority are new to competition and would benefit from having someone in their corner.

At one point, I debated whether I should even be teaching a sport in which I was not actively showing. How could I best guide my students if I wasn’t out there myself, leading the way?

“Work the hill!” – Allan Goodman

As Coach Goodman proved, leading is it’s own form of doing. While initially disappointed that I did not have a teammate of my own to show, something remarkable happened. My students became my teachers, and their dogs became my teammates. Their enthusiasm and curiosity reignited my passion for this sport. The love of learning and the discipline required to practice it doesn’t require a competition-ready agility dog at my feet.

This past weekend, a group of my students attended the same trial together. They shared their collective wisdom about trial etiquette and how to remember courses. They cheered each other on during runs, celebrated Qs and the less quantifiable mini victories. They enjoyed each other’s company and friendship. Photos of happy people and dogs kept popping up on my Facebook news feed. It was extraordinary.

I think Coach Goodman would be proud.

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When the Teacher Is the Student, Part I

Last week, I took Magnum to his first agility class. It was disastrous. An epic fail. Worthy of many, many cartons of ice cream.

In hindsight, my expectations were so sky high they were from another planet. Since he was familiar with the facility, and had prior group class experience, I had assumed we’d be ready for equipment and short sequences, like everybody else. We had practiced foundation behavior and obedience skills since he was 10 weeks old. How much more prepared could we possibly be?

Did I mention that Magnum is my first Border Collie? And he’s nine months old?

I spent the hour feeling like I had never trained a dog before in my life. It didn’t help that I arrived just as class started, with everyone on the move just as we came in. Magnum scanned the room, increasingly excited by all the motion. I put our stuff on a nearby table and debated whether I should bring a crate in for him. He tends to resource guard his crate, so until I got to know the group dynamic, I decided he’d be better off on leash with me.

We entered the ring to warm up with a few basics: set up, sit, down, heel, tunnel … whoa! What? I didn’t ask him to do tunnel! And now he’s clear across the room chasing after a dog! He was so quick; I half blinked and he was gone. Where was my good little boy?

I mean, literally, where was he!?!

Fortunately, Magnum’s recall proved solid and he was back with me just as fast. I sighed with relief as I held his collar and clipped on his leash. I could feel his heart pounding. His eyes were wide and more glazed over than the donut I had that morning. His tongue hung out the side of his mouth. He was done.

After 10 minutes, we were completely overwhelmed. How would we handle an entire hour? I wish I had brought in the crate just to give us both a break. It was impossible to help him settle. The moment a dog zoomed through the tunnel or raced over the Aframe, he morphed into a lunging, barking Tasmanian Devil at the end of my leash. Somehow, I had positioned us right in the path of the sequence, so even though we were to the side, dog after dog ran right for us. There was no room to maneuver, so I took him outside.

He headed right for the baby pool and sunk down in the cool water. He looked far more relaxed, even happy. I wanted to be happy, enjoying this milestone together on what I hoped would be a long agility journey. Instead, I felt flustered and frustrated.

Our rest was short lived. The instructor came out to potty her young puppy. She drew closer as we made small talk. I watched Magnum for any sign of the reactivity that he has demonstrated with some dogs. In a flash, he was out of the pool and standing tall, eyeballing the puppy. I mean, seriously? This little fluffball is a threat? Already tired, and now nervous, because the last thing I wanted was a puppy having a bad dog experience, I blanked out. Total mind melt!

Even though I’ve successfully managed my own reactive dog for many years and helped numerous students with their reactive dogs, I could not remember what to do. I allowed my own emotions and expectations to overwhelm my logic and ability to act thoughtfully. The leash grew taunt. I couldn’t remember how to loosen it or get us the hell outta there.

Of course, Magnum lost it. He lunged, growled and barked. I, in turn, had my own tantrum. I walked away, embarrassed and angry. From a distance, I could hear my instructor chuckle knowingly. “Come back in when you’re ready!” she said.

She wasn’t about to reinforce my bad behavior and let me give up. Damn.

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