A bit of Raven History

I’ve been meaning to write a blog entry for Raven’s background for a while now. Raven came to us at the age of 8 weeks, born on the 7th of March in the year 2000.

Raven at the age of 3 weeks
Raven at the age of 5 weeks
Raven at the age of 9 weeks

Raven was born in Southern River at Rhonabwy Kennels bred by Chris Fernando. I didn’t purchase Raven as Chris used my dog Bear on one of her bitches to produce the litter. I got to pick from the three girls in the litter of 5 puppies. Bear was 8 years old by the time he had his first and only mating yet he still managed to get the job done!
Bear is pictured above and below. He was one of the friendliest, most laid back Border Collies I have ever had the privilege of meeting and he was the one responsible for me striking up a conversation with my now 9 year strong partner Tim. Bear was also born in Southern River – in Llanwnen Kennels. His fancy show name was Llanwnen Jac B Nimble CD ADM JDX ET. Bear was born on the 10th of November 1992 and he passed away on the 29th of August 2003 suddenly and without any warning.
Bear lives on in his daughter, Raven. Raven’s fancy show name is Australian Champion Rhonabwy Raven Ov Bear CDX ADM JDM JDO ET. We have completed her show champion title, her Endurance Test title, her obedience title Companion Dog Excellent and we are working on her Utility Dog title. She has finished her Masters Agility and Masters Jumping titles and she is in the progress of finishing her Open and Games titles. Raven has alot of traits like her Dad, yet she retains her own very unique and individual character, she is very much a people person rather than a dog person. She has a few select Canine friends but generally she considers herself above most of her canine peers. Raven is now 6 and a half years old and still a maniac on the agility course albeit with a bit more control these days (most trials that is, she is always capable of making sure you don’t get too comfortable and reverting back to her fresh 2 year old absolute lunatic feral BC). Raven has taught me a massive amount about dog training and in particular about the importance of jumping. Below are some photos from various stages of her career so far.

Cypher’s Trialling record

Trialling started on the 8th of April 2006 when Cy was aged 18 months and 2 days, this table is updated to the weekend of August 27th 2006.

Class

Clear Runs

Placings

Trials

Novice Agility

5

3 x 1st
1 x 3rd
1 x 5th

Werriwa 22/04, Southern River 30/04, Bunbury 14/05, Nationals 10/06, Nationals 11/06

Novice Jumping

6

4 x 1st
2 x 2nd

Cloverdale 08/04, Perth 15/04, Werriwa 22/04, BC Nationals 23/04, Southern River 30/04, Bunbury 14/05

Excellent Agility

2

2 x 1st

Bunbury 13/08, CAWA 26/08

Excellent Jumping

5

2 x 1st
1 x 3rd
1 x 4th
1 x 6th

Cloverdale 09/07, ACWA 15/07, ACWA 15/07, Bunbury 13/08, CAWA 26/08

Masters Agility

Masters Jumping

Open Agility

3

1 x 2nd

Werriwa 22/04, ACWA 15/07, CAWA 26/08

Open Jumping

5

2 x 1st

Cloverdale 08/04, Perth 15/04, ACWA 15/07, CAWA 26/08, CAWA 26/08

Gamblers

Novice

1

Nationals 10/06

Strategic Pairs Novice

1

Nationals 10/06

Snooker Novice

CAWA Fundraisers Trials aka Cypher’s Most Excellent Adventure!

Yesterday the Agility Committee put on a double header agility and jumping trial like they do every year to raise funds for our own Canine Association. It was well attended with nearly 500 runs throughout the day. I was there at gates opening – 7am as being on the committee I needed to help organise the equipment and set courses. It didn’t help that on Thursday I came down with something and have felt pretty damn crook for the last 48 hours, maybe catching 3 hours sleep all night Friday night. So dosed up on Nurofen Plus (the one with the excellent somewhat weirdly effective Codeine in it) I arrived at the grounds with my brain in automatic pilot thinking only 1 step ahead. I had no idea how I would go today and really the way I was feeling at that point, running courses was the last thing on my mind.

So the morning trial rolled into a start and first cab off the ranks was Raven in Masters Agility. Given that I had no voice, and what vocal capacity I did have was saved for emergency calls on the course I’d decided that today they’d have to cue off my body just about the whole way. This didn’t worry me as running silent with Raven is usually far more effective, I didn’t know how it would go with Cypher but as I said one step at a time.
The Masters Agility course was really quite nice and flowing, unfortunately we didn’t finish it as we left as soon as she dropped a bar. She dropped the one before the dogwalk. I stopped went back and replaced it and we left the ring. Illness really helps one stick to one’s criteria like that!
Next up was Cypher in Excellent Jumping, again this was a really nice course that had some interesting handling challenges. Unfortunately I came to a complete halt in the middle of it, not because I got lost but because when I quickly glanced at a number to double check (whilst Cy was in a tunnel) it was facing the wrong way so I couldn’t even see if it was the right number. We wasted a good 5 to 6 seconds there at least. In the end I just went with my instinct and it turned out to be the right way, then of course on the nice straight line home instead of just sticking to “Go on Go On” – idiot me yelled “Go on, go on, out go on” and what did he do? He went out of course like the good boy he is! Needless to say that course was not successful for us
but Cy was a good boy how got lots of play at the end of the course.
Soon the Open Jumping course was ready for running – there were a number of complaints about this course in terms of the distance control being virtually impossible to complete. I had a go with Raven and when I yelled out, she went out but still couldn’t see the jump she had to go out to. They came through a fairly heavy collapsible tunnel then had to go out at quite an angle to jump a bar the was on quite an odd angle in relation to their position as they came out of the tunnel. Her speed and her moment taken to reorientate herself with the course meant that she whipped back to me and started barking wanting to know where to go. Needless to say we failed the distance challenge on this one :-)! Along with 53 other dogs so I didn’t feel too bad. There was only one qualifier and after going up to the line with him still wondering how the hell I was going to get him through this distance challenge, Cypher was the only one that managed it. He managed it simply by NOT listening to me who had some sort of vague half assed plan that once he was in the tunnel I would call him back to the line bring him around my legs and shoot him out to the jump. When he came out the tunnel he had sudden deafness to my calls of Cypher Come, kind of trotted over towards the ring ropes (obviously thinking about Saffi – the red and white girl Robyn had brought down) and ended up right in front of the jump he was supposed to do. So I just gave up trying to get him to come and yelled “Out Over” and so he did it! The only one out of 55 dogs to do it. What a cack! Not even my experienced Masters dog who is a very
competent distance worker could do it. That was really his only major moment of ‘boys brains’ so to speak and probably the one time in his career where it will actually benefit him! So he achieved 1st Place Open Jumping!
Next on the agenda was Masters Jumping and judge Mel Rhoden put up another really smooth flowing yet challenging course. Raven again made it round half way before she knocked a bar. So again we stopped, replaced the bar and left the ring. Following Masters Jumping was Cypher in Excellent Agility. This course ran really well, it was smooth, flowing and we both ran it well, he was very responsive to me and working hard. There were only 2 qualifiers on this course and Cypher managed a good time to win 1st place by about 25 seconds from the 2nd qualifier. I was very happy with the way he was running despite the fact that I wasn’t really energetic or vocal enough to show it!
Soon the Open Agility course was set and ready for running. The course really didn’t need alot of distance handling on it and it would be likely to have lots of qualifiers. Raven again was going great guns until she knocked a bar at the start of the distance challenge, we stopped and left the ring again. Cypher was the last dog to run this course and again like in Excellent Agility we ran like clockwork, he was on the ball with every signal and command I gave and looked to be having such a good time he let out a bark at me at one stage – his very first on course bark. That made me smile as it was a bark through sheer excitement and enthusiasm for what we were playing at. He did a nice course and gained a clear round and came 9th out of 19 clear rounds so very happy with that. Only two more to go for his ADO title now.
Then it was lunchbreak and time to set the courses for the afternoon’s trial. The first event we were to run in the afternoon was the Excellent Jumping course. Once again Cypher kept his form going and ran very smoothly for me, not only did we go clear and gain our JDX title we also won 1st place over 4 other clear runs. So for him he’d had 4 clear runs from 5 so far that day – I was starting to wonder when his fuse would overload! Next up was Masters Agility and Raven kept all her bars up this time, and ran clear. We only managed a 3rd place though because she decided to run the last four jumps according to her plan rather than mine which meant quite a bit of faffing about as I like to call it. It was good to go clear on a Masters Agility course for once though – the last time we did that was back in April!
Our next event was the Open Jumping course and I did a four jump lead out with Raven so that I could put her into a serpentine with me leading her from the front, she did this lead out really well and again we were going great guns till an odd angled bar was knocked about the 2nd obstacle into the distance challenge. We replaced the bar and left. The distance challenge whilst it didn’t look all that difficult had dogs doing all sorts of faults – splicing the broad, extending over a jump so much it took them past the next jump and missing the weaver entry. Cypher I handled with a two jump lead out and he again ran as smooth as clockwork – he was really firing on all four cylinders today (in his case I think he’s got 6!). There were no hiccups or wobbly bits for us and he ran clear for his JDO title today, not only that but he won 1st place again! Beating 4 other clear rounds, I was over the moon with him. I certainly didn’t expect anything else from him that day.
After Open Jumping the Excellent Agility course was set and Cy must have had enough by then I think. He missed his A Frame contact and then vagued out on me going round a jump that was set near the side of the ring, I went to run off on him and he came with me straight away so I just got him to redo his A Frame contact and then we did a couple of jumps on the way out as we left the ring.
The last course of the day (and by this point I was definitely grateful for that!) was Open Agility. Now Raven still needed legs for this so I had thought of a couple of options of handling it. The best way to complete a three jump box was to front cross on the dog as it completed a 270 and came over the bar at you and typically this is something I always tend to shy away from because when just going for a clear I like to play it safe and give Raven as much room as possible to clear the bar. However I saw this successfully done with two much younger and just as fast dogs. So I decided what the hell I’ll see if I can do it. And we did it! I was so impressed she kept the bar up but remembered not to stand around spectacting this wonderful event and we blitzed the rest of the course to win it. What a star she was! The 3 clear runs she had in the afternoon more than made up for the crappy morning trial we had. Cy again was the last dog to run and he was firing as well until I tried a “Raven” move on him that I haven’t really practiced and he popped out the weavers as I did it. I took him back to redo the weavers and did a more gentle front cross on him closer to the weavers as he was doing them and he was fine, he stayed in them. But then as I yell “A Frame” he decided to just gallop across the up plank coming off sideways! I gave him an “oi!!” and he did it again properly, but I think I knew by then he was probably a bit switched off. We finished the course though because I’d brought his tuggy lead
and I’d wanted to finish really fast and play a stong game of tug with him. He did finish the course nicely and we did have a big game of tug afterwards. I didn’t begrudge him this or any of his non-clear runs that day he’d performed well above my expectations that day – to say I was very proud of him would be an absolute understatement.
We have a trial next weekend (our first one with the games of Snooker and Strategic Pairs to be held in this State) and I’ve decided that until we’ve been trialling a bit longer I’ll just put this weekend’s trial to an amazing amount of luck. If he maintains his consistency next weekend on brand new trial grounds for him then I’ll know we’re getting somewhere.

Winter Wonderland

I’ve been scanning websites keenly lately in a bid to find our own personal ultimate dog sled holiday. Tim and I will be having a European Christmas this year and so far the best site that combines both the dog sled and the snowmobile fun in one tour is this one; Magic Lapland . It looks very picturesque and deliciously, whitely chilly. The very thought of being out there in the pristine, snowy wilderness with a pack of huskies running in front of you brings an excited sense of anticipation.

Stacy Peardot in Perth DAY TWO

Today Stacy indicated that she wanted us to work on various handling skills such as our shoulder movements, front crosses and rear crosses. First up though, she talked about an exercise that someone had enquired about the previous day to do with teaching dogs to flex from the middle of their spine leading to greater and more efficient turning capability over jumps and on the flat. We organised a witches hat or cone that was around knee height and we tried a couple of dogs on the exercise however Stacy needed a dog that wouldn’t care about where mum was and was a high toy drive, in particular willing to tug with her. I was asked to bring Cypher out (he apparently has a reputation for his somewhat insane addiction to playing tug, he’s not even 2 yet!) and although at the start he was watching me closely as soon as Stacy brought the tug out the game was on, she had him in the palm of her hand. Stacy would hold him by his collar (as an extra note here she spoke about making sure our dogs were completely unconcerned about being held by the collar, that we should be able to reach out and hold the dog by the collar without the dog feeling like it was being corrected or feeling uncomfortable). So she held him by his collar in her left hand, had the tug toy in her right hand (this was a half meter length ropey tug toy – I think this exercise would be better with a longer tuggy rather than a short one). She held Cy so that he was facing just to the left of the cone, then she brought her right hand and the tuggy round the other side of the cone (she herself was obviously positioned fairly close to the cone). When Cy could see the end of the toy on the left side of the cone and was raring to get at she let him go telling him to “Get it” in an urgent excited voice. As soon as he leapt for it she dragged it quickly round, nice and close to the cone, Cy chased it turning really tightly round the cone and he grabbed it and played when they were clear of the cone heading off at a 90 degree angle to the cone.

He turned so tight the cone got knocked over but Stacy repeatedly said that this did not matter at all, in fact it meant that he was turning as tightly as he could and so it was a good thing. I have tried to do a rough diagram in the image below to try and illustrate the dog’s path, it was important to remember to get that full turning body movement that you reward with the tug toy at the end of the dogs path here (indicated in red). Of course Stacy reminded us that we should be doing this both directions equally even though both we and our dogs will feel a lot more natural and smooth turning one way more than another.

Another aspect that Stacy really wanted us to become better observers of is identifying when a dog was bending or flexing and turning from the middle of his spine or was just trying to pull its body round the turn using its front. From watching when I did it with Cypher a few times myself the others were able to see the difference between the two. An obvious clue is how tight the turn was, every time he flexed from the middle of his spine the turn was tight, if he didn’t the turn was loose on the cone.

The next skill Stacy addressed was the See Saw performance (or teeter as it called in the US). The previous day she had mentioned that she was not inclined to be satisfied with the seesaw performances on the agility course and she felt that we could get them much better. So to get an idea of what approaches dogs were using she had us set up the adjustable seesaw so that it was on full height to begin with. Out of the 12 dogs I think she was satisfied that maybe one or two of them were doing them to the best of their ability. The rest were a mixture of either being very confident yet not understanding the bottom behaviour therefore were prone to fly offs and those that were still slowing down to look for that point at which the seesaw pivots and then moving off. So because the majority were of the latter type we adjusted the seesaw to it’s lowest height (about 10 inches off the ground at the end) and all we did to start with was just run our dogs across the plank encouraging them to just keep running instead of thinking about what they had to do. We did this a few times until the dogs were quite relaxed and running across the plank happily.

She then asked us to give our verbal cue to the dog that we used for the seesaw end behaviour, and if we needed to we were to quick release them with whatever our release word was. This is where Cy and I exposed our big gaps in our seesaw training. (I knew we would, I haven’t been happy with his seesaw training much at all, it relies very heavily on me saying down at just the right moment and it is something that is almost impossible to be consistently on the ball with due to the massive variation we have in our seesaws in this state when it comes to how fast they drop, I’ve been trying to nut out what to do with his seesaw for ages!). We ran at it again and I said “Down” just as he got to the end, he downed immediately however one side of his rear end was not lined up with the plank and he kind of half fell off it sideways as the plank hit the ground, then corrected himself and lay there on the end of the plank waiting for his release of “ok”. It looked awkward, ugly and dangerous, all the things that Stacy observed out loud and I agreed with.

The issue with him is not about flyoffs, he doesn’t really like doing fly offs at all, the issue is that I’m not sure about what exactly I want him to do on the seesaw. I’ve never had to actually think about the process or behaviour before. With Raven I just yell “Wait” she applies the brakes and then self releases as soon as the board hits the ground. Sometimes she slides it into the ground other times she rides it and as soon as it hits she’s gone. She has an absolutely fearless approach to the obstacle and it’s always done us ok in trials so I’ve never thought to refine it or demand anything more formal. I think she has picked up the idea somehow that she has to wait till it hits the ground before she leaves but I’m not sure how. We’ve had a few calls this year for seesaws but again they are rare enough that I’ve never been motivated enough to perfect her seesaw behaviour.

I know I want him to run straight up it, get near the end (not right on the edge or anything like that – a good 30cm from the end) lie down and then release on my “ok”. So Stacy recommended that I take him back to the lower sized seesaw (in training each week) and work on getting that down in a better place and trying to fade that verbal cue out by getting so many repetitions on the low seesaw that he just starts to recognise for himself the behaviour he is running to do. I know it is going to be a work in progress for sometime to come and it is clear that the more different seesaws I get to train him on the better.

She recommended that for quite a few others, the more older dogs though who have been competing in Masters she suggested a bit of gaffer tape on the end of the seesaw with a bit squeeze cheese on it to encourage them to run to the end of the plank and ride it. From an early puppy stage though Stacy uses a very basic shaping with the clicker on the end of an extremely low seesaw (2 to 3 inches off the ground at the most) and she’ll straddle the board at the end facing the pivot point. Then she just shapes and clicks the puppies for getting all four paws on the board (starting off with a click treat for one paw, then two and so on) until pup is virtually throwing their bodies onto the board to get the treat. Stacy went into more detail about what are her next steps but I’m afraid I didn’t take those notes down! I’ll have to see if someone else remembers what she said. Next Stacy set us up the Jumping sequence for the day. She didn’t have any numbers up on it to begin with and simply showed us the first exercise. See the image below;

Stacy then asked us all to run it just being aware of what our shoulders were doing and without ANY verbals apart from whatever word we use for the jumps (Hup, Over etc), but no names or comes. Just about every single dog managed this exercise without any trouble, a few handlers got caught up running into the uprights of the box in the middle but other than that I think maybe one dog out of the whole group actually went into a tunnel. Stacy was impressed with how we managed this exercise particularly after several of us had all voiced our doubts about how we would get around this circle!

We then repeated the exercise in the other direction without too much difficulty. Some of us tried to make sure we stayed off the inner box, however we were still aware of what our shoulders were doing and by being conscious of where they were turning we were still able to keep a hold of our dog. All this without a single yell of a dog’s name or of “Come” or “Here”. I said nothing with Cypher, I just ran since I don’t tend to say anything for jumps. It was a really good shoulder awareness raising exercise!

The next exercise was more of a challenge, especially since the dogs had been patterned at least 6 times by now on the previous exercise.

This one was tough, we were still not allowed to say anything other than the jumps and now we could say the word “tunnel” or whatever word we used for the tunnel. We were not allowed to say the word “out” ARGH!!!! I got round to #5 at least three times and then Cy would cut me off each time to do #14 instead of the tunnel. This was the ultimate exercise in teaching shoulder/body cue importance. The only way I succeeded in the end was when Stacy told me that I needed to turn my shoulders more inwards on #1 to #4 so that when I straightened up and virtually pushed my right shoulder out towards the tunnel as he committed to #5 then he could see a much different picture about our direction. Several of us also struggled to not use our “off arm” to indicate the tunnel, when your shoulder is pushing out there it was incredibly hard to keep the arm from following it out there! This exercise was very valuable and one that I will need to keep working on. We didn’t even get a chance to run it the other way I don’t think, because so many of us found this one such a challenge enough already. All that thinking hard, being so self conscious about what your shoulders were doing whilst still maintaining connection with your dog was a challenge to say the least!

After lunch we then looked at tightening up our front crosses with the following sequence.

Stacy broke this one down for us after we had all had a turn on this (some of us did it well, others not so well). I felt like I was leaving Cy behind on the turns from the box jump to the outside jump, but then I was all too aware that these front crosses were definitely not our strong point.

Stacy wanted to see dogs collect themselves nicely for the front cross turns into the box jumps and she showed us how to encourage this by just demonstrating jump #1 and #2. The handler would stand in line with the inside upright of #2, leg on either side of the bar facing out. Handler holds left hand up to indicate the #2 jump leaving the dog in a wait at #1. Handler releases dog and as dog comes over #1 and as he commits to #2 our right hand come up we step back with our left foot and using our right hand to indicate the turn we ‘collect’ our dog up from the turn and direct them over #3. For a few dogs (including Cypher) it took a few goes before we started to see them showing some real collection in a bid to turn tightly towards us.

Another issue a few handlers had was the dogs bypassing #4, #7 and #10 due to the handlers being so concerned about getting into the right spot to show the front cross turn to their dogs that they stayed close in to the box jumps, just kind of pointed quickly to #4 and then ran off expecting the dogs to do the jumps by themselves. This was a problem as the dogs were on such an angle coming off the inside box jump that the jump was hard to see let alone to try and jump. After several handlers were made aware of this they supported their dogs more by coming off the inside box jump with them and shaping their line a bit better to the jumps. It was interesting when I did a comparison of this exercise with both my dogs, Cypher did fairly tight turns off the inside box and fairly wide turns on the outside circle, yet when I did this with Raven she quickly tightened up her turns on the outside circle however just could not collect herself nicely over the inside box turns, and frequently flung herself over the next box jump. It was almost like with her she’d worked really hard to turn nice and tight towards me on the outside circle and then when I’d caught her after that she thought she was in extension mode again immediately.

Cypher just has no comprehension at the moment of any collection over jumps that are generously spaced apart, irrespective of where my body is. This was something that Stacy noticed and suggested that I do a lot more cone work with him. Again this is an exercise that should be repeated as many times again in the other direction.

The last challenge of the day was rear crosses on this course. See the next image;

This was a great course to run and one that felt as smooth as silk when I ran it with Raven on another day. Cypher and I managed to get around it but he felt slow and was turning like a Mack truck again. He was still switched on to me though so I had a few goes at the course. He managed to read the rear crosses well at #5 to #6 and #9 to #10 and #15 to #16. I felt the line he took over these jumps though could have been much more improved. The dog should not be jumping over #6 at an angle that points him directly at the end of the tunnel. He should be more centred over the bar and should also be on his left lead leg rather than his right, so that he can have an efficient line to #7. A few dogs had issues with handlers not turning their shoulders just at the right moment to get the dog to cross. Too late and the dogs went in the tunnel too early and you pulled the dog off the jump, we even had a few dogs run between the jump and the tunnel. Stacy got up and showed them what line they themselves should be running and she occasionally blocked a tunnel for dogs that had patterned themselves incorrectly to take the tunnel. They took the jump once correctly and then they were fine. Again this is an exercise you can (and should!) do in reverse.

And that was the end of our day and thus our time with Stacy. I really hope she comes back again, as once again I found myself picking up lots of good tips and giving more direction to my training. My goal after this seminar is to have a crystal clear picture of what I want Cy’s seesaw to look like, to walk courses aiming to use front crosses when needed rather than just thinking that it’s always going to be a rear cross, to teach Cypher to flex from his middle all the time. To reinforce my contact behaviour with both dogs – maintain criteria!! Thanks to Deb Kelly of Blue Moon Border Collies who helped make this experience possible and final thanks to Stacy for making the trek out down under!