Friday, February 27, 2015

Happy First Birthday, Bandit

It was exactly one year ago today when I got the news I had been waiting for.  "5 males born via emergency c section.  All doing fine . . . Decent photos once we have all had some sleep."  A litter of 5 puppies was born and I was the 5th person on the deposit list.  I just made the cut - I was getting a puppy!

I wanted, more than anything, to be happy.  A new puppy born.  A puppy who was going to be mine in just a couple of months.  Puppies are happy news, something to be overjoyed about.

The last thing I felt was joy - even though I knew I was supposed to.  All I wanted at that moment was what I had wanted for the last month and a half - my Speedy back.  On that day I would have gladly traded a lifetime with my future puppy for just a couple more years with my boy.  There was a lot more bitter than sweet for me on February 27, 2014.

The universe could not be more different one year later.  I look back now on that day, and the 9 weeks that followed, with enough joy and nostalgia to make up for what I didn't feel back then!  Knowing and loving my puppy colors that time with emotions that I could barely fake at that time, much less feel.

I knew that then - I knew that when the day came when my puppy was in my life and I knew his name and who he would be that I would love him.  And I was certain that the time would come when I wouldn't trade him for anything else in the world.

And I say this now - being there is so much better than being back at that time, knowing that I would get there, but hardly having a shred of hope for it.

Bandit is my puppy, my little Bandito, my boy, one of my Border Collie boys!

I can hardly imagine life without him, and the days of Sammie, Speedy, and Maddie seem like a lifetime ago.

But today isn't about them - today is Bandit's day!

Watching him grow from just born (in pictures) to the day we met him, and then in person, was like a daily miracle.  So much of my year was spent looking at him to see, "did he grow again?!!?"

Tiny baby Bandit . . .

Photo credit:  E. Phares

7 weeks old . . .

Photo credit:  E. Phares

It has been quite a ride.  I remember almost every detail of his puppyhood.  And I can't believe how much he has grown and changed.  It really seems like just yesterday when I used to pick him up, tuck him under my arm, and carry him everywhere!  No more of that now - he navigates the world on his own four paws!

I can easily call to mind how he used to bite the yellow heads off of the dandelions in the spring and eat them, how he used to hunker down in the grass and watch Dean retrieve on the lawn, the long summer afternoons when he would nap in his crate as I watched TV, playing "pass the puppy" with him at training class, starting his training classes when he was still such a little guy, his first trip to the beach and him learning to swim in the bay, his first hike at King's Gap, and day after day of play with his hollee roller balls!

More recently we have started training together and I am amazed at what an awesome training partner he is shaping up to be - eager to learn, wanting to connect and jump into whatever we are doing together!

He has carved out a place in my heart that is just as big as Speedy's place.  And it is all his own place - Bandit is fully himself, an individual through and through.

Happy first birthday el Bandito!  I thank God every single day for this boy who constantly radiates joy and curiosity and an enthusiasm for living, and who has changed every one of us for the better!


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Happy 9th Birthday, Dean Dog!

Yesterday we celebrated Dean's 9th birthday.  I actually don't know the exact date of his birthday, but February 24th is a very close guess.  I have a certificate from a vet with a date when he was six weeks old.  Counting back, we got to this week, and I chose the 24th.  It's an easy date for me to remember since my wedding anniversary is on October 24th.

I can't believe Dean is 9.  It just doesn't seem like it could possibly have been all that long ago that Ben and I drove up to Glen Highland Farm with Sammie, Speedy, and Maddie to look for a young rescue to add to our crew!

I had chosen five dogs to look at, and I really didn't think Dean was going to be our choice.  I have never really been a merle person, and the pictures of him on the website weren't the greatest.  I chose him mainly because he caught Ben's eye and he was in the right age range.

When I first set eyes on him, I was blown away.  I literally said, "WHOA!"  He was absolutely striking.  Much better looking than he was in the photos!

Ben got to meet him first.  As we met each dog, the dog got to meet Speedy first, and Ben was out in the bigger area with Speedy.  I was off in a separate area with Sammie and Maddie.  We would let Sammie and Maddie join in once the dog had made it through the "Speedy test".  Speedy was hunkered down in the grass with several tennis balls that he had gathered, and he was busily chomping on one of them.  Dean went up to him and looked at him with obvious curiosity as if he were wondering, "what are you?"  Speedy snarked at him and went back to the tennis balls.  Dean cocked his head at Speedy as if to inquire, "what's that about?"  Speedy snarked again, Dean moved off, and we let Sammie and Maddie out to meet him.

But Dean ignored Sammie and Maddie at first and he ran up to me and gave me a big hug.  I threw my arms around him and said, "Aaaaawwwww!!!  I love you, too!"  Ben and I walked around the area with all four of the dogs and Dean fit in nicely, sometimes running with the dogs, sometimes coming up to one of us.

Ben fell in love with him right away, and I think I did, too.  We did go on to meet the rest of the dogs, and when we moved to the second meeting, there were two possible dogs on our list, Dean being one of them.  I requested that we see Dean again first.

Well, that was it.  I knew he was ours, and Ben was in full agreement.

We signed the papers, took a picture, loaded him up, and headed home.

It really is a perfect memory!

Here we are on Dean's adoption day . . .

On the way home . . .

Some early photos . . .

Really, it does not seem possible that he is 9 years old.

Dean and I have been through a lot together.  A lot of fun and great experiences, wonderful years of training and performance together, the challenges of his noise phobia and anxiety, the hard lessons that he had to teach, and just the joy of having Dean in our lives.  He has been there for me through some of the most difficult times of my life.

As we move into the senior years of his life, I hope he has many, many, many good years left.  He's my soft and sweet goofy boy and I couldn't love him more.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

One Sport

Some time ago I wrote a post about cross training, basically stating the position that I have chosen to train multiple sports for various good reasons, in spite of the fact that training for and competing in multiple sports with multiple dogs results in being a little "all over the place" with all of it.

This winter I got to experience something very different with Tessa.  We focused solely on one sport.  We trained for one sport, we competed in one sport - Agility.  Yes, we dabbled in the Cyber Rally-O Dance Divisions a bit, but we really didn't put anything into it.  We showed up at the building, shot our video, and went on with life.  All of our training time and energy went into Agility.

I really didn't make a deliberate choice to do this.  Tessa and I had been struggling in both Rally FrEe and WCFO Freestyle because Tessa is not a verbal dog.  She loves to be directed through body language.  I had tried, diligently, to make responding to verbal cues a fun thing for Tessa, but in the end we crashed and burned.  Continually trying to shove a square peg into a round hole over and over will sometimes lead to a good crash and burn!  Tessa and I got ourselves there.

So, I dropped out of Rally FrEe with Tessa, and Bandit took over her spot in the class.  There are no WCFO competitions until June, so we aren't really working with Freestyle.  So, we were left with Agility.  Weekly Agility classes, and lots and lots of competitions, throughout the winter.

And I noticed two things . . .

First, Tessa is MUCH happier.  She doesn't mind doing some Freestyle for fitness and fun.  I still have her do her spins and twirls and leg weaves and pivot platform and some heeling and side work at home just to keep the skills fresh, and to keep her flexible, but I am no longer pushing the verbal cues.

Any real training that we are doing is Agility related.  She thinks that's a party!

And if we pack up the car and go to a competition, it's Agility.  She lights up like a Christmas tree every time we pull into the parking lot at Periland!  She knows what we are there for and she is delighted.

Second, our Agility is improving!  Tessa's weave poles are getting faster, her jumping skills have sharpened back up, and she is just doing a nicer job overall.  Usually when we mess up in competition now, it is a handling error.

Just for the fun of it, I am having her do some of the foundation exercises that Bandit is working on for his online foundation class.  Check out how much pleased she is with this . . .

I would not go so far as to say I won't do anything except Agility with her.  I still enjoy working on Freestyle with her for fun, and I'd like to try more of the patterns with her.  And I would like to do more Cyber Rally-O this coming summer.  That will be good, since Tessa can struggle with the heat at times.

But right now she really is a one sport dog.  And I am finding it, to my surprise, to be very good.

Just 45 Q's to go for our C-ATCH!!  It's enough to be working toward.

And Tessa clearly approves!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Last Competition for a While

Yesterday Tessa and I went out to Bella Vista Training Center in Lewisberry, PA to compete in our last trial for a bit.  There isn't another that we will be able to get to until the end of April, which puts us into something of a break.

I just entered the earliest classes of the day - two rounds of Level 4 Standard.  One thing that I find extremely frustrating about Standard is that when we mess up on a Standard run, I always have a strong desire to get right out there and try it again.  Of course, you can't do that in competition.  Sometimes we are running a game or two after Standard, but that chance to try again at Standard is rare.

Granted, on a round, it isn't the exact same course, but at least with a second round of Standard, we get a chance to go right back out and attempt Standard again!

The facility had recently expanded.  Now there is a separate crate room which is HEATED!  After a whole slew of winter trials where the waiting was the coldest part, I did appreciate having a heated area for Tessa and I to park ourselves to warm up.  Really this was a "best of both worlds" situation for us.  Tessa likes to run in the cold.  I like to wait in the heat.

The only downside is that you can't watch anyone else run from the crate room, and I do enjoy seeing some of the other runs.  And, Tessa is not a dog I can leave in the crate room for long, so she and I did spend some time just hanging around in the competition room.  Thankfully, dogs were allowed in that area, except in the front row.

So, we got a nice mix of a place to heat up, a chance to watch others, and for Tessa to run in the cold!

Our first run wasn't too bad.  It started off going really, really well.  Beautiful, really!  Until we got to the weaves, which were also mostly beautiful.  The thing about weaves, though, is that they can be a thing if beauty but if the dog pops out before the last pole, they are faulted!  Tessa popped out just one pole before the last.  She hasn't done that in ages.  I got her back in and she did finish.  I thought we had NQ'ed at that point - but apparently we might not have?  I'm not sure.

Anyway, we did the rest as a yahoo run, which was gorgeous, except for a big off-course!  Tessa had fun, though, and it was a great warm up for her.

Here is the full run . . . 

Our second run went much better.  Tessa was just a little slower, but we did finish just over a full second under time.  I really enjoyed the second run because there was a jumping sequence that allowed us to use some handling that we learned on Thursday evening at class!!

Tessa hesitated just a bit on the teeter, but other than that the run really was flawless!

Here is the second run . . . 

This was our 5th Level 4 Standard Q.  We just need three more Standard Q's at Level 4, and then on to Level 5.  I'm hoping we might finish Level 4 Standard this spring.

Of course, as always, I was proud of Tessa.  I wasn't in the greatest mood but she was a trooper and she went out there and did her best on both runs.

For now we are going to focus on some conditioning so we can get back to competing at the end of April in top form and ready to fly! 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Confidence, Commitment, and Completion

I am signed up for three Fenzi classes this session, and have actually be doing a halfway decent job of keeping up with them this time around.

Bandit and I are taking Introduction to Agility, at gold, to supplement our live Foundation Agility class that I am taking here at the training building with our regular instructor.

I am signed up for the Transitions and Flow Freestyle class, at bronze, and I've been working transitions with Dean.

Finally, I am signed up for Foundation Weaves, also at bronze.

I originally signed up for the weaves class thinking that I was going to work Tessa through it to see if I could get more speed out of her.  But last week at training she blasted through a set of 12 poles faster than I ever thought she had it in her to go and I decided that I think I am going to leave her weaves alone!

So, Bandit is doing the foundation work for the weaves class, which is actually somewhat similar to what we are doing in class, but there is a heck of a lot more to it!

One of the concepts that the instructor in the weaves class has been emphasizing are the "Three C's": Confidence, Commitment, and Completion.

When I first read that, I thought, "well, of course we want those things!"  Now that I have been working though the class exercises a bit, it occurs to me that I have missed something critical in not focusing on these before!

The first exercise entails having the dog go back and forth through a 2 X 2.  The 2 X 2 need not be an actual weave 2 X 2, and I deliberately chose not to use an actual weave 2 X 2 for this.  For confidence, commitment, and completion at this stage, I looked for Bandit to be going back and forth through the object with clear purpose, enthusiasm, and an obvious understanding of what he was doing.  We got that quickly and progressed to two objects.

Here is a video of our initial work with two:

By the end of the session, he has the three C's down!!  Confidence, commitment, and completion!

Having gone through a good many years as an Agility competitor with one dog who was a hopeless weaver and needed a ton of help to get weaves done, another dog who was sometimes spot on and at other times seemed to have no clue about the weaves whatsoever, and another dog who is consistent in her weaves, but slow, I find this exercise quite intriguing!

First, we are considering entry.  Pretty soon these objects will get turned so the dog is "entering" with the first pole on his left.  Second, we are considering completion.  As I vary my position, he will learn that he is to go all the way through this setup, no matter where I am or what I am doing.  Finally, we are considering exit.  Once we turn the poles, I will click as he passes the last pole, so he will know he has completed the exercise.

I've worked with 2 X 2's before, but I have never encountered such a thoughtful approach to weaving!  I like this - confidence, commitment, and completion at every step.  Sounds like a recipe for exactly what I want in a weaving dog!

Bandit and I are off and running, and I am super excited!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

I Concede the Point . . . Border Collies are Easy to Train . . . As Long As . . .

After many years of staring back cross-eyed whenever someone stated that Border Collies are easy to train (for competitive dog sports/performance), I finally concede the point.  Yes Border Collies are easy to train . . . 

As Long As . . . 

. . . you have a Border Collie with a stable and rock solid temperament, training a Border Collie is easy.

 . . . you have a Border Collie who has the capacity to learn to take environmental challenges in stride (running dogs, thunder, etc.), training a Border Collie is easy.

. . . you have a Border Collie who can, without being taught, become intently interested in something in motion and then break his focus away from it to go on with life in his right mind, training a Border Collie is easy.

. . . you have a Border Collie who has natural resilience, training a Border Collie is easy.

. . . you have a Border Collie who is not bothered by the presence of other dogs, people, children, etc., training a Border Collie is easy.


. . . you have a Border Collie who trusts you, and can relax and be in the moment with you in every situation, training a Border Collie is easy.

. . . you have a Border Collie who has enough of a sense of self-preservation to be mindful of what he is doing, but not so much self-preservation that he is worried about what he is doing, training a Border Collie is easy.


. . . you have the experience to recognize potential issues when the earliest glimmers of their development appear and you have the know-how to casually move the dog past them so they don’t become a problem, training a Border Collie is easy.

  . . . you have experience with other dogs in the sport venues of your choice and you have some idea of how to train a dog to participate in that sport with at least some degree of skill, training a Border Collie is easy.

 . . . you have patience and are willing to work continually, often starting with the tiniest steps of training a behavior, training a Border Collie is easy.

 . . . you are willing to figure out your dog’s learning style and tailor your training to capitalize on your individual dog’s strengths throughout the learning process, training a Border Collie is easy.


. . . you are able to recognize when your dog understands a particular skill naturally and with ease, and when your dog needs more time on foundation to master a fundamental before moving on, training a Border Collie is easy.

. . . you have a healthy sense of humor, training a Border Collie is easy.

. . . you know how to let your dog be an active participant in the learning process while providing enough guidance that he doesn’t end up going in circles (physically or mentally!), training a Border Collie is easy.

Finally . . . if your personal expectation of “easy” really is, “reasonably do-able without having to take an excessive amount of steps to even make it remotely possible”, training a Border Collie is easy.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Something New: The Cyber Rally-O Dance Divisions

The highlight of my Christmas break this year was giving the brand new Cyber Rally-O Dance Divisions a try with both Dean Dog and Tessa.  When I first saw samples of this new Freestyle venue, I knew it was going to be right up Dean's alley!  But since I was filming, I decided to go ahead and let Tessa try out the Preliminary level, along with Dean.

The Cyber Rally-O Dance Divisions consist of fixed pattern dances.  There is no choreography involved.  You look up the pattern maps on the website, memorize the patterns, and then film!  There are three at the Preliminary level and all three must be successfully completed for the title.

One peculiarity of this type of Freestyle is that you do not submit your performance to the music that was playing when the pattern was performed.  In order to avoid copyright issues, you overlay a soundtrack from Youtube.  Honestly, I did not think this was something that I was going to like, but in the end I actually had a lot of fun with it.

Dean, Tessa, and I started out with the pattern that I thought would be the easiest, the Preliminary Figure 8 Waltz, which is a ginormous Figure 8 that takes up the entire ring.  Both of the dogs thought this was great fun.

We practiced at one training session and then were off and running filming for real at the next one.  Just a few takes for each dog - got a good one for each.

Once the videos were uploaded, I picked music for each.  Dean's music has a bit of sentimental value - it was Tchaikovsky, Waltz of the Flowers.  He watched Speedy and me dance to that many times and I even have a video somewhere of the two of them doodling to it together!

Of course the video was actually taken with Dean moving to one of his favorite songs - Smooth by Santana!

Here is Tessa's Preliminary Figure 8 Waltz.  This was actually not the music that I had on it for submission.  I found this later and just thought it too perfect not to use on this video!

It was a solid Q. 

Here is Dean's Figure 8.  Although this was the music that I put on this video, I did cut out the ring setup from the video.

Like I said - this was made for Dean Dog!  This was also a Q for us.

Full speed ahead, we went on in our next training session to video the Scenic Route Tango, also at the Preliminary level.  This was a much, much more difficult pattern to complete.  It was longer and much more technical.

Dean and I ran into a series of mishaps.  First, he disengaged and stopped to sniff on every one of the 270 degree turns.  We stopped that take before we were even 1/4 of the way through it!  Then, he was going strong and when we went to do the 180 halfway through the pattern, he sat!  Ooops!  Another strong attempt, and I noticed one of my hair clips had fallen out and was sitting in the ring.  I had no idea if that would NQ us (turns out it would not have), I stopped and started over.

After a short break, Dean and I went in and nailed it!

Dean's Scenic Route Tango:

This pattern was much tougher with Tessa.  She tends to lag on outside turns, so I knew she was going to need some "jollying along" for this one.

Even our best take wasn't quite as nice as I would have liked.  I'm also not crazy about my music choice on this one, but it is what I submitted.

We did qualify, although one of the three judges did vote "NQ".   You need two of the three judges to vote for "Q", and two did, so we earned the "Q"!  I was relieved because at that point I had run out of opportunities to film!

Finally, we did the 90 Degree Foxtrot.  Of all the patterns, this was the most difficult for me to remember.  Dean did very well with it, and got it after just a few tries, and Tessa did a pretty nice job with it, too.

Dean's 90 Degree Foxtrot:

It was a Q!

And Miss Tessa's . . .

Also a Q!

So, that earned the Preliminary Cyber Rally-O Dance Division title for both Dean Dog and Tessa.  We got some pretty ribbons, too!!

Tessa with her title medal . . .

 photo DSCN2829_zpsa5b798b4.jpg

Dean Dog with his three Q ribbons and title medal, hanging on our "ribbon tree" behind him.

 photo DSCN2910_zps86adbdd5.jpg

Bandit didn't really understand all the bru-ha-ha!  Clearly HIS toys were way more fun than ours!

 photo DSCN2913_zps25454c67.jpg

The thing that surprised me the most about this was seeing how excited Dean got about performing in a pattern.  The first time we would go through, he was like, "OK, we are doing this".  The second time, he was like, "I'm getting it!"  And by the third time, he was an old pro, very much looking forward to every move and turn because he knew what was coming and he was excited to make it happen!

Who knew that Dean would thrive on patterns?

Looking forward to doing more of this with Dean.  We are already training hard for the pre-bronze level!  I am hoping to be able to get video this coming spring.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Our Agility Winter and the Monkey Off Our Backs!

Tessa and I had quite the adventure this winter, entering trial after trial after trial!

We slumped a little bit in the late summer and fall, having some success, particularly in the games, but we stalled out horribly when we moved into Level 4 Standard.  Suddenly the Standard courses got too long, too complicated, and we just couldn't qualify to save our lives!  And I was still not in a great place emotionally after losing dogs last winter and every challenge seemed to be a lot worse than it normally would be!

This also came at a time when we were struggling with Rally FrEe and Freestyle and the whole verbal cue thing, and by mid-November I felt like Tessa and I were stalled out and going nowhere.

It started in August with the Artful Dodgers trial.  We ran a nice Standard course, with only a little bobble, and were significantly over time!!

That burst my bubble pretty good.  Suddenly it seemed that Tessa and I were going to have to come up with a whole lot more speed that we simply don't have.

Here is that Standard run . . .

So, the next time we ran Standard at the September Periland trial, I felt very rushed, and I managed to completely mess up the run by putting too much pressure on Tessa.  Turned out, we would have had plenty of time.

By this point, the fun was completely gone (from Standard - we were fine in the other games).  With the need for 18 Standard Q's at Levels 4 and 5 ahead of us, it seemed we were going nowhere!!

But we kept on.  At the October Periland trial, we did a bit better.  Just one off course.  Time was fine . . .

By now I was just feeling flat.  We needed 60 more Q's for our C-ATCH, 18 of them in Standard!  Being 0 - 3 in Standard after three months made it seem like Tessa and I were going to need years and years to get this done - years we probably don't have!

I had entered Standard, and two other classes on the Friday after Thanksgiving and then . . . I got a flat tire and wasn't able to go to the trial!

And even though that had nothing whatsoever to do with our actual trial performance, I was counting that as 0 - 4 in Level 4 Standard!!  A dismal record, especially for a team that rarely NQ's!

At this point I knew I had to reassess my attitude.  I was too hung up on trying to finish our C-ATCH.  I will be honest - I want this.  Tessa enjoys trialing, she loves Agility, and she is genuinely having fun on this Quest-for-the-C-ATCH-Title that we are on together!  She may not know what we are running toward, but she is a willing partner in the game.

But at this time, I was taking the fun out of most of it.  Even the games weren't as much fun as they had been because I felt like success in the games wasn't getting us where we need to be (although we do need every one of those game Q's!)

So, I made myself forget about it!!  I forced myself to focus on my lovely girl and on going out there to enjoy every minute, no matter what, with this beautiful dog that I have the privilege of stepping into the ring with.  I reminded myself of where she came from and I made the effort to appreciate that she is remarkable just for being able to do this!

The next time we ran Standard - at the Dulles Gateway trial at Periland in December - we finally did it!!  A Level 4 Q!!!

That felt awesome!!!  I still didn't like Standard - still loved the games so much more, but now I knew we could pull at least one out of three off!!

And then we earned another, and then a third . . . .

And then, at January Periland, a fourth Level 4 Standard Q!!

Throughout all this time, we also had some absolutely lovely game runs, including this absolutely lovely Level 4 Wildcard run from this past weekend!

Every time we trialed, starting with that one in December, we enjoyed ourselves more and more.  The more we went, the more I found I was able to enjoy each moment and appreciate the opportunity to run with Tessa.

We gained our confidence back.  We got our enjoyment back.

This series of trial after trial has come to an end and I love where Tessa and I are at right now!

Yes, I still have the C-ATCH in mind, but I am truly enjoying the ride, and am not so worried about how fast we get there.  God willing, we will not only have time, but we will get there while Tessa is still strong and agile.

Over this winter, we earned 14 Q's, four of them Standard.  We only need one more Colors Q at Level 5 to finish Colors altogether!  We finished Level 4 Jumpers and in doing so earned our first Level 4 Title!

It was just good.

Now I am looking forward to spending the rest of the winter, and early spring, getting both of us into better condition, and doing some fun team building exercises with Tessa.

I love where we are right now.  I love this road we are on!  I am so grateful for my beautiful girl who always gives it her whole heart!

I am thrilled that we threw this monkey off our backs together and we are enjoying this in exactly the way we should.