Category Archives: Trials and Tribulations

To Cue, or not to Cue?

A few weeks ago, I had a bit of training dilemma, followed by a training epiphany, followed of course, by a new training dilemma.

Training Dilemma #1

Epic and I have been working a lot on heeling lately for rally trials. Occasionally Epic will drift a tiny bit. Sometimes it’s a forge, sometimes a lag, it doesn’t seem to be consistent. I want to help her and so I say “Here Epic!”. This causes Epic to come to me, and then drift away almost instantly scanning the room. This part is consistent enough that I know it’s something she’s learned but I’ve been struggling with where the communication breakdown is.

Epiphany!

After watching some video, I finally realized that “Here” is the cue I use to indicate there is food on offer and I’m going to throw it for her to snatch out of the air, or to chase along the floor. I have used this cue consistently since we started training. So consistently, in fact, that I can go to video of myself with 4 month old Epic and hear myself use it. To Epic, the cue I have been using does not actually mean what I want it to mean, which is “Pay attention,  something exciting is going to happen!” To Epic, “Here” means, “Pay attention because you are going to have to chase something soon, and you better be ready to catch it”. OOPSIE!

word meme

Training Dilemma #2

After some thought, I came up with a potential solution. In order to rectify the cue confusion, all I need is another word that means, “pay attention come to me, something exciting is going to happen”. Simple right?

WRONG!

Removing one word from my nervous chatty vocabulary is going to be really hard for me. I have major brain/mouth disconnect when handling either dog. I see something happen and plan to adjust my handling by spitting out an appropriate cue. Ninety per cent of the time, a different cue comes out or I spend so much time thinking about what I’m going to say that I spit the correct cue out at the wrong time, usually too late!

*Silent Scream*

As I write this, I wonder if it’s a nerves thing or if it’s some kind of processing disorder. Regardless, retraining my mouth is going to be really, really, REALLY hard. Like impossible hard. Or rather, impossible hard unless I break down learning to say the new word behaviour into tiny bits, much like I break down behaviours for any of my students, human, or canine. Right now, I’m looking at a three step process.

  1. Stop saying the old word when the behaviour occurs.
  2. Teach Epic the new cue outside of the heeling context.
  3. Learn to say the new word at the right time.

After some more thought, I realise that going through the process of teaching her this cue is going to be a lot of work, even if I work on steps one and two simultaneously.

I also realise that a “pay attention” cue is really useful and something I should teach Epic, but using the cue is going to cost us a lot of points in the CARO rally ring (and eventually the obedience ring), even if I save it for The Most Dire of Circumstances.

Especially if I save it for The Most Dire of Circumstances! If she’s so far gone in the ring that I need to use my cue once, I could live with it. Right now I can see myself needing it a few times and herein lies the problem: Teaching a new “pay attention and come to me” cue, to use when I find Epic is out of heel position, will do absolutely nothing to teach Epic to maintain heel position.

What is a blabber mouth trainer to do?

In the end I have decided to just stop ‘helping’ Epic with the extra cues if she drifts. That’s right. I’m shutting the hell up! If you know me at all, you know how hard this is going to be.

Instead, I am focusing on giving her as much positive reinforcement as I can when she is with me, in position. This means a click and a food, toy or play reward. Drifting means no cues, no begging, no pleading, no opportunity for reward. Sometimes I stop moving when she drifts, sometimes I take my cookies and “go home” by ending the session and thinking about how I can help her be more successful next time.

We’ve been working on this consciously for a couple of weeks and in practice I think this is really helping. In a “real life” scenario like the rally trial we attended last weekend, still revert back to the wrong cues and they were not helpful, as to be expected. Fortunately, they were not horribly hurtful. We did qualify once, but the second run, I was so nervous that I asked Epic for a wrong station. In over 100 runs, I have never once made that mistake once with Bear, but it’s not a surprising error when I consider hard I was focusing on trying to NOT use the useless cues. We have a few months before our next trial and now I know that I still have some work to do achieving fluency with my own behaviour (shutting up) as well as Epic’s (staying in position). Stay tuned for updates!

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2012 in Review: 12 dog related accomplishments

Now that we are officially into the year 2013, I have been thinking about what a huge adventure the year 2012 was for Bear and I. We tried some new things, we succeeded at some things, we failed at others. I smiled a lot, I laughed a lot, I cried a little. Below are some of the great adventures we had this year.

1. Bear became a senior: Bear turned 8 (ish) at the end of December so 2012 was his first year as a senior. Aside from some lymph node swelling (NOT Cancer thank god, just a viral infection, we figure) he has been happy, healthy and fit as a fiddle. That doesn’t stop me from worrying about every little thing or dishing out all the prophylactic supplements that I can.

2. We met sheep: Meeting sheep was fantastic – the fact that Bear did not kill a sheep was even more so! Bear’s Herding Instinct Test was probably one of the best ‘dog’ experiences of the year.

Bear3_thumb.jpg

3. We went back to Agility: Finally, business at the daycare is steady enough and I have enough of a routine that I could make time to go back to agility. We are behind many dogs Bear’s age but we are still having a great time.

Think he's having fun? I do!
Think he’s having fun? I do!

4. We entered our first Tracking Dog test: This was not a great time in the conventional sense but I stuck my neck out there, it was a learning experience and I’ll be damned if we go back and fail (as miserably) next year. Tracking-Test_thumb.jpg

5. Bear recovered from an iliopsoas injury: Not sure what started it but we managed to recover nicely with the help of a great vet, a great canine rehab therapist and a great canine massage therapist.

6. I attended my first online training class: The challenge of teaching classes and owning a dog daycare is finding time to train and someone to train under. The online Scent Work class gave us a great opportunity to work on our own at something completely new!

7. I judged at my first out-of-town Rally Trials: I had the wonderful opportunity to judge 3 times in Regina, SK. and had the opportunity to judge some wonderful dog & Handler Teams.

8. I made the switch to Raw feeding: After much consideration and a period of feeding both raw and kibble, I made the plunge. In hindsight, it’s not as big a deal as some make it out to be and I am happy I have made the switch.

9. I retrained the A frame contact for agility: I used Sylvia Trkman’s running contact method and have been thrilled with results. Since we made the switch we have missed a total on one contact in the trial setting.

I love A-Frame photos, they always seem to highlight just how powerful a dog's hind end is.
I love A-Frame photos, they always seem to highlight just how powerful a dog’s hind end is.

10. I developed curriculum for 4 new classes at Two Brown Dogs:

  • Novice Brain Games – Foundation behaviours for any dog sport
  • Advanced Brain Games – Advanced foundation behaviours for any dog sport
  • CARO Versatility – An introduction to CARO Versatility Exercises
  • CARO Novice Working Level – An Introduction to CARO Novice (now called Rookie)  Working Level Exercises

11. Bear and I earned 8 New Titles:

12. I accumulated 37 Continuing Education Credits towards my CCPDT recertification: In a little over a year, I have actually completed the number of hours required to recertify in December 2014.  I won’t bore you with the complete listing but you can see some of the seminars I attended here.

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Filed under Agility, Herding, Rally-O, Scent Work, Training, Trials and Tribulations, Triumphs and Sucess

CARS AAC Agility Trial: November 17-18, 2012

Two weekends ago, after our disastrous attempt at CKC Rally, Bear and I attended an agility trial hosted by Canine Agility Racers here in Brandon.

I entered this trial weeks ago but to be honest, I was not looking forward to it at all – mostly because I was exhausted. A trip to Calgary plus the fact that Sean has been immobile due to surgery has meant a lot of work, a lot of driving, as well as, cooking, cleaning and shoveling snow for 2 when I usually have help. Did I mention I teach two classes a week and attend two with Bear (1 in person, 1 online). This leaves very little time for sleep and I felt like a zombie – a tearful, tired zombie.

I did go, however, because it is a local trial (no travel expenses), Bear has been working very nicely in agility class (when we can make it), and I was hoping we would qualify in at least one snooker run and be able to finish our SGDC title.

On Saturday, we started the day with a nice jumpers run, very little barking, no sniffing and only one refusal – I was very pleased.

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She who is late on the serpentine shall lose her knees. Photo by Tom Will

Then things went down hill with both Advanced Standard runs. So bad in fact that at one point, I just decided to call it and leave the ring. I was way too frustrated to deal with the amount of barking that was coming my way. To be honest, most of our problems were handling (my fault) weave pole related.

At the end of the day was our Starters Snooker run. I decided to try the 7 point obstacle 4 times. We managed to do it 3 times and collect 34 points overall to and earning our Starters Games Dog of Canada Title! We earned the first leg of this title back in New Brunswick in 2007 so I was thrilled to finish it.

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Bear and I with Judge Dave Langen after earning our Starters Games Dog of Canada Title. Photo by Tom Will.

On Sunday, things went a little bit better. Our first run of the day was the Advanced Gamble. We collected enough points in the opening sequence and made it to the third obstacle in the gamble but Bear could not leave the tunnel alone. The distance was not too far – he just could not think through his insanity. The Advanced Standard run was equally bad with a lot of general stupidness around the weave poles.

By the time we got to the Advanced Snooker run, I was hopeful…there were weave poles in the closing sequence but if we managed to complete the 7 point obstacle 4 times, we would have enough points to qualify – we went for it. The 7 point obstacle was the teeter which Bear loves and the 2o2o contact we have slows him down enough to keep the insanity at bay.  We managed to keep it together enough to get to the teeter 4 times so I decided to try for the closing sequence but stop before we even got to the weaves to finish on a good note. This plan worked and we managed to qualify for a second time that weekend in our first Advanced Snooker run!

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She who is late on rear cross shall lose her dog. Photo by Tom Will

The last run of the weekend was an Advanced Jumpers run. The first half of the course was a bit tricky…with some tight crosses and call offs but I knew if we could get past the first half that the ending would be fine, it was basically a giant jump line…Bear’s favorite! Bear was very attentive, there was a bit of grumbling at my late crosses but no barking and we finished the jumpers run cleanly earning our 3rd qualifying ribbon if the weekend.

Looking back, I am actually kicking myself for not practicing the weave poles more. If we had managed to get every weave entry, we likely would have Q’d in at least 2 of the 3 Standard runs over the weekend.

My winter agility project is to make our weave entries as predictable and successful as our contacts – in the last 15 runs, Bear has only missed a contact once….If we can do that, then I actually think we might be able to get to the Masters Level before Bear turns 10!

A girl can always dream.

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Filed under Agility, Results & Awards, Trials and Tribulations, Triumphs and Sucess

Wheat City Kennel Club Rally Obedience Trial – November 16, 2012

I decided to enter Bear in one CKC rally obedience trial at the Excellent level last weekend. We had successfully been trialing in different venues (besides home) without food on the course and I thought we might be ready.

I was wrong.

There were 5 dogs in our class. I knew the dog ahead of us and the one behind us so the honor exercise wasn’t a big concern. We did our warm up – Bear seemed focused and ready to go.

We approached the ring as a friend came in to say “hi”, I quickly said “sorry we’re going in the ring” but it was too late, Bear had spotted her and as soon as we were in the ring, he was looking for her  – or something else (anything else!!) in that direction.

To say the run was a disaster would be kind. Suffice it to say after a ton of sniffing towards the honor dog (too close for my liking) I took Bear by the collar and asked to be excused.

In hind sight, I probably should have signed up for floor time Thursday night and I should have asked to be excused earlier on in our run.

Compared to other recent ‘failures’, when I left the building on Friday, I wasn’t overly upset, surprised or humiliated…I was…ambivalent…I wasn’t thinking up plans for training for future CKC trials, or going over the performance to see where I might have done things differently – I was just glad to be going home!

This ambivalence combined with the high cost of CKC trials has led me to the conclusion that maybe I need to forget about any more CKC trials with Bear. We have so many other fun things to do right now that I can’t be bothered to waste any more time , money and energy on something that leaves me feeling so…blah!

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CKC and AHBA Herding Trials – September 28, 29 & 30, 2012

Two weekends ago, Bear and I attended our first herding trials ever.

We attended a few classes this spring and Bear is getting better and better with the sheep. I am also getting better at handling so I was hopeful we would be able to at least achieve either a Herding Tested title under CKC rules or a Junior Herding Dog under AHBA rules.

FRIDAY

Our first run ever went much smoother than I had imagined, we made it around the course, Bear did his downs when asked and did not even try to grip sheep. It seemed like the run lasted forever but we were done in under 3 minutes. In hindsight it was the nicest run of the weekend and the judge even said it was one of the nicest Junior Herding Dog (JHD) runs he had seen in a long time – I was thrilled! There is no score in JHD runs, it’s a pass/fail evaluation, but we received “good” (highest evaluation category) for each element of the course!

Our very first Junior Herding Dog (JHD) run on September 28, 2012

SATURDAY

Our first run on Saturday morning was a CKC Herding Tested run. Bear was quite rested and wound up so I decided to use my ‘down’ cue a bit more to keep Bear off the sheep. He was quite vocal and I was worried that between the barking and trying to come around to the front of the sheep, the sheep might just decide to make a run for it! Of course, if you ask Bear, getting the sheep to change direction is a wonderful game – but it makes for a less than smooth run.  That being said, we made it around the course in under 2 minutes and qualified in our first CKC run.

Our very first Herding Tested (HT) run on September 29, 2012

Our second run on Saturday was well after lunch, the sun was blazing and it was around 25 degrees. The heat did not dampen Bear’s enthusiasm and we made it through the run quickly and efficiently, earning our second Herding Tested Leg and our Canadian Kennel Club Herding Tested Title! My videographer was in the city shopping so we didn’t get a recording of the run – just imagine it was nice!

Our third and final run of the day was just around supper time – it was around 30 degrees Bear was fresh as a daisy and held it together (no gripping!!!) and once more, we made it around the course successfully, earning our American Herding Breed Association Junior Herding Title.

Our second Junior Herding Dog (JHD) on September 29, 2012

SUNDAY

After earning our Herding Tested title on Saturday, I decided to move Bear up into the next class – Herding Started. I already knew we could make it around the course obstacles – even if I was no longer allowed to lead the sheep through. What I was not certain of was whether we would be able to get the sheep out of the sheep pen successfully and safely or if I would be able to call Bear off the sheep. The pen anxiety was a result of a not so successful experience in a round pen and the call off concern was a result of never having done an off-leash call off.

The first run of the day was a bit nerve wracking. We actually successfully took the sheep out of the pen – I went in with Bear and gave him the easy cue as the sheep were nearing the gate and a down cue as they left. I then called him out of the pen into a stay while I closed the gate. By this time the sheep were on the other side of the pen – Great. Another less than successful experience came to mind. The one with sheep running all over the arena with a large black blur behind them. The one where I was running all over the pen and left out of breath and hoarse. This went on for about 5 minutes. I was able to collect the sheep and make it through an obstacle but the sheep were quite wild and running like crazy for the exhaust pen gate. Finally the judge said “thank you, that’s enough” and I managed to collect Bear and leave. I was thrilled with maintaining control in the take pen so considered the experience an education. Next time, I get sheep that wild, I will call it much, much earlier and leave the pen before Bear has the opportunity to be silly.

A few minutes after the run, I was told that one of the sheep in the group I had was actually removed from the trial flock the day before. She was young, too flighty and (I assume) likely to injure herself. I assumed that the luck of the sheep draw was part of the game but we were going to be given the opportunity to re-run the course again, once all the other classes were complete.

The second try of the first run was at least a million times better. The take pen was under control (Yay!), we made it around the course without the run looking like a game of sheep-bowling (WooHoo!)….and Bear actually walked away from perfectly chase-able sheep…YEEEHAAAW! We re-penned the sheep and I left the ring feeling so much better about things. I had no idea how herding is scored so I was not sure if it was a qualifying run but I was sure that it was a huge improvement from the first try.

Guess what? We QUALIFIED! I know we placed 5th, I can’t remember the score.

The second run of the day and our last run of the trial was even better then the one before. Sheep made it out of the pen safely, around the course reasonably and Bear heeled away from the sheep with me again! we qualified for a 6th time that weekend and came in second place, earning a pretty red rosette!

ALL IN ALL

herding

Bear showing off his weekend loot!

All things considered, I was (still am) beyond thrilled we earned two titles and I learned a lot about herding in general (saving that for another post). After watching some more advanced runs with some really nice scores (98-99) I can see we have a lot more to learn and I can’t wait.

Having been to lots of dog events, I am never sure what to expect when I go to trial in a new venue. Bear was the only Rottie there and actually only one of two dogs in the trial not in the CKC herding group (the other was a terrier).  I really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and how encouraging people were. A few people mentioned how nice it was to see a Rottweiler working and both judges mentioned the Rottweilers they had worked with/judged/evaluated and I have a few more kennel names to add to the list of people to check out whenever we’re ready for another dog.

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COKC Agility Trial – September 15 & 16, 2012

Last weekend, Bear and I were entered in our first 2 day agility trial in many years. We were entered in gamblers, snooker, standard and jumpers on Saturday and gamblers, steeplechase, standard and jumpers on Sunday. I was unsure what the weekend would be like, especially since we had missed the last two classes before the trial.

8 runs over the weekend and most runs were less than a minute long. This means less than 10 minutes of work in the ring but the 12 hour days left us both exhausted. I won’t bore you with the run by run details breakdown because I think I sum the weekend up fairly easily.

Table

Bear wondering when he can RUN again.
Photo by Marne Birch

Needs Improvement (I’m not using the word ‘bad’ anymore)

  • A bit of wandering, sniffing and general drifting from Bear, especially in Gamblers on the send out.
  • We only accomplished one weave entry out of 5 all weekend.
  • Arriving at 7am and finishing at 7pm was a long, tiring day.
  • Our distance work is non-existent in the gamble. I know we can do these distances in practice but after running the opening sequence Bear is a bit over the top which means lots of barking at me and not so much looking  for the obstacle.

Good

  • No barking and lunging in/out and around the rings in a very busy trial environment.
  • No apparent lameness – and I was stretching poking and prodding.
  • 100% on all contacts with a couple of rear crosses, something relatively new to us.
  • All the rear crosses in jumpers worked well for us I am glad we got to do a lot of work on them in class.
  • No knocked bars.
  • 3 qualifying runs
    • 1 Starters Snooker Q (first of 2)
    • 1 Starters Jumpers Q (second of 2, on to Advanced Jumpers)
    • 1 Advanced Standard Q (first of 3)

I did not get any video recordings, but my friend Marne took some lovely photos during our qualifying Advanced Standard run.

Chute!

Do you think he likes tunnels? I think he likes tunnels.
Photo by Marne Birch

Work Ahead

It is really clear to me that whatever 2×2 weave work we had done before is completely gone. Bear always got the weaves on the second try so it’s not the weaving but the entry that’s an issue. I am pretty sure I said I would work on weaves after the last trial and guess what, I didn’t – so I can’t really expect much improvement.

Now that we are at the Advanced level in just about every class, weave entries are going to determine weather we qualify or not.

Our next trial is another local one in November – I need to remember to get the 2x2s out of the garage and do some work!

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Our First TD Test – About as good as it could be…without passing

Before the Test

We met at a Denny’s for the draw. In tracking there is an advantage to an earlier track – early tracks are often aged less and are likely to have more dew remaining on the vegetation. Dew is good because moisture enhances scent.

Before the draw I got to meet a Facebook friend in person! Kristine travelled all the way from Calgary for the test.

I don’t know what I expected for the draw but the test organizers had four lovely mugs lined up, filled with dog cookies and wrapped in cellophane. We each chose a mug and on the bottom of the mug was the number corresponding to the track number we would be assigned. We drew 3rd track.

TD-Draw

Our lovely tracking test memento!

The Test

I got Bear out of the car, let him pee and then we had a few minutes to wait until the track was old enough. we walked the short distance to the scent pad, and I put Bear’s harness on backwards. Once I got it on properly, I showed him the scent pad and told him to find it.

I brought him back to the track once before the 2nd set of flags and we were off. Before we hit the second leg, Bear squatted to poop. I looked back the judge and tracklayer were standing watching but no whistle so once Bear was finished – we continued.

After the car, we drove en masse to the test site at Beaudry Provincial Park. The terrain is almost exactly the same as what we have here in Shilo. Natural prairie grass about knee high. We got to watch the first track, which I was looking forward  to since I’ve never seen a test. Luckily enough the team was comprised of a novice dog but a an experienced handler. From far, it was really neat to watch. It was obvious to me when the dog was on and off the track. there was only one little “discussion” along the way where the dog was certain the track ran along a ditch and the handler was not so certain. Eventually the dog made her point clear and the handler followed. They found the article and finished the track in what seemed like less than 15. It was very educational – training alone means I never get to watch a team work from far.

After track #1, I had to return to our original meeting point in the park because they had to lay my track and I would be able to see the tracklayer at work from track #2. The good news is that meant we would have a relatively fresh track. The bad news is that we would not be able to watch Kristine and her Rottie Teah and I would be alone in my car with my nervousness and anxiety. During our wait, I took bear for a walk, a pee, made sure he did not have to poop, gave him a drink of water and then cocooned myself in the car, checked up on Facebook and blogs I subscribe to distract myself.

About a half hour after they left me, someone came back to take me to our track.

The Track

I took bear out of the car and, since we had some time to wait before the track was sufficiently aged, I took Bear out for another pee and organised my tracking line and harness. It was fairly windy (I would guess 25-30km/h) and our first leg was into the wind. I got Bear inbto his harness backwards, then readjusted it, showed him the scent pad and told him to “find it”.

On the first leg we had some difficulty and I brought him back to the track once before we hit our 30m marker flags.  About 60 feet into the track, Bear crouched down for a poop. I stood, and looked back embarrassingly at the judge – expecting a whistle. Nothing came, so we continued. Before the test, I decided to go wherever Bear lead me. and about 80 feet in he circled a bit and then turned right…we continued on without a whistle so I assumed we made the first corner.

On the second leg, we progressed through some vehicle tracks and what looked like a place where deer had lain for a time as we moved forward, I saw the start flags for the final flag ahead and figured our corner was coming. Turning to the right would take us back to the road so I assumed at some point, we were going right.

Bear did turn right onto what I assumed was the third leg and then we had some more difficulty working into the wind and through some sort of animal droppings (goose, I think). Bear did a lot of stopping, starting, crossing back and forth, chewing (on lord knows what!?). We went ahead for quite sometime like this – it felt like an eternity. I tried using our find it key, I tried holding my ground and waiting for him to commit but he kept circling and coming back to look at me as if to say “what the heck is going on here?”. he also stopped to listen to train whistles and watch folks pass by on the road. It had been at least 10 minutes and he was starting to huff and puff so I just decided to let him go and see what happened. he found some sort of trail, urine marking a few spots along the way and about 60 feet later, we heard the whistle – It was over. I was relieved and disappointed.

Our very kind track layer Val, helped us find the article, even tough I wanted to race back to the car and cry. She also commiserated – her dog did not pass the TDX test on Saturday – she knew how it felt. I think if she had not been there, I would have packed things up and headed home.

The last and final track was right after ours and, after blowing my nose and wiping my eyes, I stayed to watch. The team was whistled off about as far into their track as we were.

At this point everyone headed back to ‘base camp’ for ribbons the judges comments and lunch. Of the four teams in the TD test, two were successful – the first team and Kristine with Teah!

To help myself not be overly disappointed, I have decided to summarize the day:

The Bad

  • We did not pass.
  • One person said she saw bear indicate the 4th leg and that I interfered with his work.
  • Once we lost the third leg, bikers passing by, trains and just about everything became a distraction. in the past, only prairie dogs have been a distraction for Bear.

The good

  • I got to meet a Facebook friend , her husband and her very sweet dog in person.
  • We got through 2 corners when I was aiming for one.
  • The first 3 legs were through some vehicle tracks and what looked like deer beds – these have been difficult for us.
  • This is the first time Bear has followed a track laid by someone else since the seminar we went to in 2010.
  • This was our first blind track ever.
  • The judge said I had very good line handling skills – moving when Bear was on track, planting when he was off track.
  • As expected, lunch was delicious and folks were very kind.
  • One of the host club members took some beautiful photos. I like the one below a lot. Originals are viewable here.
Tracking-Test

Photo by Jill Dicken

What I learned

  • A dog is not whistled off for eliminating on track.
  • I should give some thought to giving Bear more space when we work.
  • I was the only person training on my own.
  • It’s easier to spot a working vs. non working dog from far especially when that dog has a tail!

Next Steps

I am going to need to think about what to do next. There is another tracking test in Regina in about 4 weeks and then that’s about it until next year.

Right now I am feeling more discouraged than disappointed. Training on my own has it’s advantages but the biggest disadvantage is that there is no one to reassure me that I am on the right path, and that in time things will be fine, that my dog has talent but just needs more training…

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