Saturday, February 28, 2009

Report From Sydney

This is Sydney reporting on my latest activity. After talking about it for weeks, mom finally got around to “teaching” me about tracking. She means well but DUH – I am a dog and already know how to track.

She took me out in front where she had very nicely laid a trail of cheese bread for me. This is supposed to be straight -- does that look straight to you?!

I marched over and picked up the start article, just to show her that I know what I am doing. I then proceeded to follow the cheese bread with no help whatsoever – my mom just stood back, took pictures and was amazed.

I spotted the glove – Zoey has already told me that the glove is the whole point and that it is always stuffed with good stuff so I raced over and grabbed it.

Mom was all excited but I just wanted the food, and then I went back and found all the cheese bread I had missed in my haste to get to the glove. Just for good measures, I did the track a third time.

Mom called me but I had to really think about whether I wanted to leave my track or not. In the end, I decided not ruin my training – I have taught mom to give me a treat when I come -- and so I left my fun new track and went for the treat.

I suspect we will be playing this new game more often now and that is fine with me -- I am always happy to train my mom. Love, Sydney

The morning view from the deck...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Snow vs. Mud

I woke up to the ingredient for additional mud -- snow. Until it mixes with warmer temperatures and dirt, it is so beautiful and so I just had to get some pictures to share.

These first three are Zoey -- she is just a lovely, sweet puppy -- and extremely agile and athletic.

And here are cute Sydney, including one of her excellent recall!

And here is our oldest girl, Maize, who will be nine in July. She is Cadi's mom and Sydney's grandmother. Doesn't she look great?!

And here is Maize and her half-sister, Halo (age six).

Cadi is as bald as can be right now but she is still beautiful :)

Finally, here is a picture of Cadi, Zoey and Asia mixing it up and enjoying the snow...

The snow can be cursed because it will be even more mud, or it can be enjoyed because it is so lovely -- like most things, it is all a matter of perspective and attitude, isn't it?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

By Popular Demand

The van was able to come home for about a week but is now back at the mailboxes. As all the snow and ice melt, it is creating an impressive amount of mud and so we are back to driving Trusty Rusty, the big old four wheel drive truck, to/from the van. I know some people travel great distances to be able to go four wheeling -- we just go up and down our road and driveway for a mud slinging adventure in off road travels.

All the mud is not so conducive to training but we are doing our best. Tracking is going extremely well, although it is a very messy endeavor. Although we cannot drive the van to the house, we can track right out the door in all directions and that is really nice. I am getting three dogs ready to enter TDX tests: Asia, Cadi and Halo. In addition, Zoey is doing a great job and should be ready for her TD this spring.

Six dogs is a lot of work but I try to stay focused and organized, and so far none of us have gone crazy. Asia is a Beauty Queen and will be shown in Best of Breed at the Specialty (as will Cadi) and so I am working on her coat. This entails keeping her clean, brushed, conditioned, etc. But Asia is also getting ready for a TDX test -- this entails weeds, stickers, mud, and did I mention MUD? So I gave her a bath one day and got her covered in the mud the very next day -- let's all hope that mud is, in fact, a sparkly coat growing secret!

The puppies, Zoey and Sydney, are growing quickly. Their different personalities are fascinating. Zoey has emerged as a rather serious and sensitive puppy, while Sydney about falls over from her wagging tail and loves everyone and everything -- especially everyone. Zoey is very interested in being right and doing what she is asked, and Sydney is more of a free spirit. Sydney's training challenge has been recalls -- she is now doing GREAT. Zoey's training challenge is feeling more confident around new people -- she is also doing well with this. I am reminded that puppies -- and people -- come with a temperament, and our challenge is to embrace what is and learn to work with it, learn from it, and accept who and what the puppy, dog or person is. Too often we try and change those we love -- what a waste of time and energy that is!!

I have been getting some subtle and not so subtle hints about the Blog and so here are some pictures to make those people happy (and you know who you are!)...

Could these two pictures be any sweeter? This is Sydney with Galen.

I have very cuddly puppies -- here is Sydney on Zoey with Faith sitting up. Faith and Zoey are almost six months old!!

And here is three month old Sydney.

This is a picture of full sisters, Zoey and Asia -- can you see the resemblance?

And here is that crazy Karma cat with Zoey.

Finally, here is Zoey stacked up like a little show dog. This is the Super Model age -- tall, skinny, long legs -- but she is still a nice looking girl :)

I hope you are accepted for who and what you are, and that you readily give the gift of acceptance to others -- dogs and people. It is a rare gift indeed, and one we could all use a little more of...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cadi, We're Not in Utah Anymore

It is hard to describe the challenges of having two houses and no home. Going to Utah last weekend was so fun and yet it created yet again that painful need to disconnect and come back to Montana. All week I have felt out of sorts as I struggled to once again find my balance here in Montana; I sure wish Kim, my daughter and several of my friends would move here immediately -- then it would be perfect! But nobody seems inclined to head this way just yet, and so I am grateful that I have Galen and good people at work, especially Heidi, who provide some sense of connection during this difficult time of transition.

And I have my dogs :) The weekend in Utah not only messed with my head/heart but it also seriously interfered with our training schedule. My friend, Kris, pointed out that I actually got a lot of good training done -- Cadi ran agility, Zoey and Sydney hung out at the trial and got socialized -- but I still feel out of sorts about Specialty training. No matter -- tomorrow starts a new week! And in fairness to myself, I will say that I tracked with Zoey and Cadi yesterday and have done obedience with Halo this week -- but I need to get a new schedule up on the frig so I can have the satisfaction of checking off boxes and feeling like at least one thing is sort of orderly and under control!

Galen was the first one to notice that Sydney has a little star on her muzzle -- Nicole calls it her Lucky Charms star. I took this picture of it tonight to share with you -- can you see it?

And here is Sydney relaxing on my lap...

Finally, here is Zoey's foot in Sydney's mouth. How many times do we wind up in a similar position??! Luckily, most of our big foot-in-mouth moments are not captured in a photograph - and hopefully are also not imprinted in anyone's memory!

I hope you are blessed to enjoy ONE home with people and animals you love, and that any foot-in-mouth moments are quickly forgotten, no matter if you are the one chewing on a paw or getting nipped a bit.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sweet Valentine

Here is a picture that Gail sent of Murphy (Sutton) -- isn't he adorable???

I hope your Valentine was half as cute :)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cadi's Success and More Thoughts on Training

Cadi had a great comeback yesterday -- 12 weeks after having her babies she finished her Novice Agility title, making her a BMDCA Working Dog. This award requires that a dog have titles in three working events, one of which must be draft; Cadi has her TD, NDD and now an NA.

You can watch her jumpers run on YouTube -- notice that she knocks a bar when she looks back at me so she did not qualify in that run but it is still a fun run and really shows what she is doing (and how bald she is!):

Marti is so right that training a performance dog creates a relationship that transcends the ordinary, and this bond is the best part of working so hard to do well with a dog. This is another reason not to rush a dog to the ring -- while titles are nice, the journey is the best part.

And so I want to offer another opinion that may not be popular -- I see rally as the enemy of the inexperienced dog. Rally is a sport in which the dog and owner move from exercise to exercise, and the exercises are written on signs. This means the owner is paying attention to what? Not the dog -- the signs. And when an owner stops paying attention to a dog, a dog stops paying attention to an owner -- and attention is the single most important foundation skill a dog needs to learn. And so rally introduces inattention in the ring -- a terrible, bad idea.

My older, experienced dogs do rally -- I enjoy it but not with a young dog. I took Cadi in for her Rally Novice title -- the first time she was brilliant with attentive heeling, but that did not last in the next two legs -- I was reading signs and not paying attention to her, so she decided she did not need to pay attention to me. Consider how we extinguish behavior -- we ignore it. And so when attention is ignored, it will stop. I have seen this over and over in green dogs doing rally, and so I strongly discouraged it if an owner has any interest in doing obedience with the dog.

Sometimes owners think rally is something to do with a young dog -- and it is -- but know you are likely to pay a price for rushing a dog in to the ring just for a title. Laying a solid, steady foundation takes time up front but is well worth it in the end. Tracking is such a better choice for a puppy, and it certainly can mean an early title.

I know we are all so enthusiastic but better to exercise patience now then to spend months or years later re-training a dog who was rushed and is now stressed and/or does things poorly. Again, the journey is important and racing to get there is likely to cause one to crash and burn, so to speak.

Just my opinion -- I accept that others can hold different ones :)

I hope you are having a lovely Sunday, and enjoy whatever journey you are on.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine Day Thoughts

As you might imagine, a topic of discussion on the Glitterati owner list is training. Owners are attending training classes and of course, working on their own to shape good behavior in our sweet puppies. As a breeder and trainer, it can be hard to hear what puppy owners are doing or struggling with -- this is not a judgment but just reality.

When I got my first berner I was SO fortunate to start immediately with a very excellent trainer. She competed at the high levels of obedience I could only dream about, and so foundation work was solid, thoughtful and accurate. I learned to train a dog well -- not just to train the dog. Unfortunately, not all owners have good options for trainers -- as a breeder, that is hard.

There are pet dog trainers and there are trainers who understand the rigors of AKC obedience/agility/etc. -- there are good and bad of both kinds. A person who wants a family pet and nothing more needs to find a good pet dog trainer, but a person who aspires to AKC performance events should be very cautious about training with someone who does not actively compete (and do well) in the higher levels of performance events.

And so the first thing an owner needs to decide is goals. If the goal is a well mannered pet, then a good pet dog trainer is perfect. But if the owner aspires to perhaps one day compete in obedience, a pet dog trainer will set you back big time unless you go in willing to modify the program to meet the needs of the future competition dog.

I taught pet dog training classes for an excellent program, and I have helped people who have bigger dreams. The most significant differences are pace and precision. Pet dog classes go through things quickly and therefore teach sloppy exercises. "Isn't a sit a sit?", you might ask -- oh no, it is not. You would never know this in a pet dog class but if you train with someone who knows about competition and let that person know about your own obedience goals, you will learn that a sit is not just a sit.

On our website ( are training articles, including one that covers some basic exercises for puppies. It is good for puppies to attend classes, but primarily for the socialization. If an owner thinks s/he might want to do obedience someday, then all exercises taught in the class should be modified. Specifically, the owner should go at a much slower pace, breaking down each component of the exercise and making each of those parts 100% solid before layering the next component.

Let me give you an example -- recalls. Some classes teach the dog to come and then sit directly in front of the owner -- I see this as separate exercises with lots of tiny components. The "come" part needs to be fast and immediate -- that takes some training all by itself. The "front" (sitting directly in front of the owner) needs to be straight, tucked and the dogs needs to look up at the owner -- each of these things is its own exercise. And so what might be taught as one exercise in a pet dog class, I view as at least four separate exercises that need to be trained separately before they are ever put together. I could say this about every exercise taught by a pet dog trainer.

And so puppy owners are cautioned to go very slowly, and to get accuracy at each baby step of the exercise before moving on. Further, puppy training (and adult dog training!) needs to involve at least as much playing as training -- play is a great stress reliever, and it keeps training fun for a dog.

And so what should a puppy learn? Well, there are all kinds of things a puppy can and should learn -- and they are learning ALL the time, whether we are involved or not :) Twelve week old Sydney is learning house manners and fast, happy recalls. I am about to start tracking with her, and will share those sessions on YouTube. She is learning to be a show dog, and to walk nicely on a leash. I am teaching her that it is fun to interact with me, and to play tug with me.

Five month old Zoey is tracking very well. She is also learning to be a show dog, and her recalls are excellent. She knows sit already and I can lure her to a down. I will soon start "stay" with her -- that is hard exercise to expect a younger puppy to master, and trying results in all kinds of failure -- I train for success, and not failure and so I wait until a puppy is developmentally ready for success in an exercise. Zoey is also mastering the attention game -- this requires a dog to look at my face no matter what distraction comes along.

Asia is 18 months and she knows that attention game well. She also has a nice sit, down, stand, stay, come, and baby pieces of a front and a finish (return to my left side). Her show dog skills are superb, and she already has a tracking title and is now working at advanced levels of tracking. What is Asia not yet doing??? HEELING -- this is not a baby dog skill. I am just introducing heeling to Asia -- it will be months before I consider her heeling good enough to show.

There is no rush and rushing a dog results in stress, which is one thing that can sink a team faster than about anything. A stressed dog performs poorly and is inconsistent, and it is also very sad to watch a stressed out dog in the ring. And so I go very slowly, making things as perfect as possible before we ever step in the ring. I want my expectation to be that things will go very well, and to be surprised if something goes wrong.

And so train your puppies (and yourself) but think about goals and about normal puppy development. Liz shares that Tara (Geneva) is a Land Shark -- thank goodness she is a normal puppy! Redirect undesirable behavior and do not allow a puppy to rehearse what we do not want to continue. When Sydney starts grabbing my pants, I just stop -- she lets go, I step ahead and reward when she does not grab again. Remember -- this too shall pass. Puppies quickly move through their developmental stages, and the problems of yesterday are gone with that adorable baby, replaced with a gangly adolescent who has new issues/concerns that need addressing.

This week I have been really struck with how hard it is to accept that puppies and dogs I breed are not all being trained and raised by me. I have to let other people and other trainers raise these puppies, and it is hard, even though the owners are wonderful and well-intentioned.

I am in Utah this weekend to celebrate Valentine's Day with my wonderful husband, and also to celebrate my sweet daughter's birthday. Today Cadi runs in an agility trial -- our first since last summer and we are so not ready :) Sydney and Zoey are here with me, and the rest of the dogs are in Montana with Galen. Today's pictures are just a few I took during the past week.

Happy Valentine's Day -- I hope you let your sweeties (two and four legged) know how very much they are loved and appreciated.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Some Days are Diamonds, Some Days are Not (but emeralds are nice also!)

Today (Saturday) has been a productive day. We did our morning hikes and then I worked on my book prospectus (proposal). The book is coming along very well but I have learned I should probably send in a prospectus to a publisher and try to line up a "deal" of sorts. And so I worked on that and got quite a bit of it done while the dogs rested up for our busy afternoon...

Here are Zoey and Asia resting up for their tracking adventures.

And here is a cute picture of all three of my young girls -- Zoey, Asia and Sydney.

Sydney continues to be such a cuddly girl -- here she is using Zoey as a pillow.

After lunch it was time to get to work! My neighbor is nice enough to let me use some of her 20 acres to track on and so I laid a long track with lots of turns and lots of articles for Asia on about ten acres. Asia nailed her track, although she needs more work on picking up the articles. This is not a new problem. She got her TD at the Specialty last year and her article indication was terrible so at every stop across the country I was whipping out gloves and rewarding her for picking them up. I gave her only a 50% chance of passing because I knew she preferred to keep tracking rather than stopping for a stinking glove, but all that cross country rest stop training worked and she picked up her glove and got that title. Well, the next level of tracking requires that she find THREE articles on the track (plus the one at the start) as opposed to just one -- this is going to require some focused effort! But I was very happy with how she tracked and we will work on article indication as a separate exercise.

Zoey was next. I laid a four turn track for her -- the most she has done. There was not a lot of food on her track -- once a puppy catches on to the game the food can be cut back significantly, although I never eliminate food from a training track as I think it is such an easy and important way to motivate and reward. I used maybe half a banana in six food drops for a track of good length and she did great -- I was really proud of her. At the end of her track was a glove stuffed with steak -- she thinks tracking is darn fun!

I found a relatively good spot for a jump and practiced agility with Cadi and then with Maize. I used the jump to work with Halo on directed jumping and we also worked on signals (these are both exercises in the level of obedience Halo is now in).

Here is a picture of Cadi practicing her jumping:

Some days one feels productive and others not so much -- I have learned not to fight either kind of day. On days like this I feel accomplished, but on the days when making my bed seems like a lot of trouble, I end up feeling rested -- so both kind of days must be important. One thing I have learned with experience is to just accept whatever kind of day arrives and trust that the other kind will roll around as well :)

I hope that no matter what kind of day arrived at your house this morning that it was a good one, and one you appreciated!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Goals and Little Boxes and a New Blue Table

The second week of the semester and of Specialty Training is ending, and both are going well. I did not get all boxes checked off this week (just most of them) but I am happy with the progress given limitations of weather and terrain. Zoey's tracking is going very well, and Cadi also did a great job on a long track this week. Halo's utility work is coming along nicely and Maize enjoys doing the weave poles that are still quite snowed in. Asia got to track this week also, and she did a super job and had a lot of fun, and Sydney is 100% reliable with her house training. I think things are going well, and tomorrow starts a new week and a new schedule.

I like goals but I also recognize that one can be a success even when all the boxes do not get checked. A friend of mine doesn't like having specific goals because she feel badly when she doesn't meet them, but I think goals are important. They give us a vision to work towards, and it is okay if the path to a goal is not a direct one or a fast one. It took me 13.5 years from the time I started at a community college, seven months pregnant with my second child at the tender age of 20 (!), until I finished my Ph.D. and I only took one semester off (after my mom died). College is naturally broken down into steps -- and so each class and each semester represented very observable progress. I think I just got in the habit of seeing things that way -- in segments that when you put them together become something more then you ever imagined you could do :)

And so the goal represents the vision or the place I want to be, and then I break down how to get there and chug along one step (or one page) at a time. In that way, I do not feel overwhelmed (usually) and it is really amazing how much gets done if you do just a little bit every day. You know what they say -- the longest journey begins with a single step!

But sometimes we misstep, don't we?! This morning I got up to discover that I had accidentally left Asia out all night! My girls are never out at night or when we are not home, but I just did not notice she wasn't in when I went to bed. I got up twice to take Sydney out but I take her out the front and Asia was on the side deck (it is part of a fenced yard). My other dogs would have let me know about my mistake but Asia is not that way -- she patiently handles whatever and I imagine she thought, "well, this is a little strange but I guess I am supposed to sleep outside tonight" -- and so she did! I felt terrible but she survived her ordeal, and I will more carefully count noses before bed in the future!

And speaking of noses, I think Sydney has an especially cute one -- and it matches the rest of her. She is 100% house trained now -- crazy fast!

This is our sweet Mrs. Maize, grandma to Sydney. She is 8.5 years young.

Karma likes dogs and other cats, and here she is hanging out with the Head Feline Puppy Nanny, Noah -- that is Sydney giving her opinion about Feline Puppy Nannies sleeping on the job!

Our big excitement today!!! A new grooming table!!!! I had to go and pick it up from the UPS place as our road is still not okay unless one has four wheel drive -- and so my van is still at the mailboxes three miles away :) But isn't the grooming table lovely?? That is Girly, the cat I found at a Greyhound station in California over seven years ago, testing it out.

And here is sleepy Halo...

A couple of you have asked about Faith and here she is -- she is doing just great :)

Cadi got the tracking line and started a four way tug session with it. Can you pick out Cadi, Faith, Zoey and Sydney?

In this picture -- also of the tug session -- you can really see Faith's gray puppy coat -- look at it in contrast to Zoey.

I hope your goals include a fine day, which lead to a fine week and a fine month and so on... Thanks for visiting and for your comments.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Private Decisions, Public Choices

As many of you know, Asia (Halo and Zack, 19 months old -- full sister to the F Litter) looks to have a grade 1 elbow, although we won't confirm this until this she is two years old. If the diagnosis is confirmed, it means she has mild elbow dysplasia in one joint -- it is unlikely that she will ever have problems with it but it is elbow dysplasia, none-the-less.

Elbow dysplasia is common in berners -- at least thirty percent of them have it and likely more. Many, many breeders believe it is acceptable to breed a dog with a grade one elbow, and especially an exceptional girl like Asia.

It is easy to make decisions when the actual choice is not up front and personal, and that is why it is so easy to judge others and their choices. But I worry about how easily we are persuaded by our wants to change a previously firmly held, well thought out position -- some call it compromising but I guess I see it as a compromise of integrity.

Asia gives me the opportunity to practice integrity. In my view, integrity has to do with consistency -- does a person do what s/he values/believes/supports? Does s/he walk the walk, or just talk the talk? In other words, can you trust the person? I have always said I would never breed a dog without clearances so Asia is a test of sorts for me -- will I really not breed this beautiful girl if she fails her orthopedics clearances? Hopefully you know me well enough to glean the answer -- Asia will never be bred if she has elbow dysplasia, no matter how mild.

I was explaining that to my Utah vet and she asked, "why keep her?" This is a fair question but I was taken aback, even though I have been asked it before. Why keep her?! Why would I do anything else?! I made the choice to create Asia by breeding her parents (Halo and Zack), and I chose her to be my puppy. And then she chose me to be her best friend. Is her only value as a puppy producer?! No -- her worth is so much more than an elbow or a uterus.

And so Asia stays with me for her whole life and not simply as a "pet" but as an active participant in our working home -- she already has her Tracking Dog title, her championship and she is shaping up to be an exceptional obedience dog. I breed berners, it is true, but first and foremost, I love the berners that I have bred and they are not disposable.

I absolutely love Asia and appreciate her complete and total devotion to me -- just like her mom, Halo, and her grandma Abra. But Asia brings an unassuming sweetness that is surprising in her 98 pound body -- she is a gentle soul, kind and generous. Asia is the best aunt to the puppies, and her tolerant play with them is a big help to me. These two pictures really tell the story -- how many big dogs do you know would peacefully chew a bone with a puppy next to them like that? This is Asia with her little sister Zoey.

And although almost five times her weight, Asia is a sweet playmate for Sydney.

And also from this morning we have Sydney playing with Karma.

I guess Sydney did not like how Karma was playing so she decided to take her down by pulling the rug out from under her, so to speak -- good thing cats land on their feet!

I hope you have a person or a dog who is totally devoted to you, and that you see him or her as an opportunity to practice integrity and kindness. It is sometimes too easy to waste our good intentions on strangers, and forget the the real test of our character comes when only a dog, who cannot tell, or a person who loves us too much to tell -- knows how we act.

I challenge each of us to behave well, even in private and with those who will not tell...