I know, I know, I have books piled by my bed glaring at me waiting to be read. But here’s the good news: These two new books on Treat Search Tracking and Trick Training are the kind of books you can read a little or a lot, and take out what you want.
I have to keep this short, given getting ready for the first sheepdog trials of the season, my novel (2/3 to 3/4 done!), and oh yeah, spring and a gazillion weeds attempting a garden take over. But I couldn’t resist talking about these two books that I’m already loving, even when I haven’t come close to reading them from start to finish.
First, Super Dog Tricks by Sara Carson is a wonderful addition to all of our libraries. Sara and the Super Collies have blown us all away with her amazing stunt dog tricks, like balancing her dog on her feet as she lays on her back. I’ll tell you right now that’s never gonna happen at my house. My middle name is Clumsy, and I’d never trust myself enough to put my dog in that position. But I loved reading about how easy it is to play “footsies” with your dog and have them come through your legs and put their paws on your feet. Adorsable.
Here’s what I am doing, however: Looking through the book reminded me how good it is for a dog’s core to “sit up,” and Skip very much needs that kind of work. Right now I’m working him on balance board, but because of his bad heart and crummy hind end, the more I can strengthen his core the better he’ll be. We’re just getting started, but here’s a video of lesson #3:
I’m pleased with his progress, because his first session (which of course I wish I’d recorded) was soooo hard for him. Caution, though on this one: Not many reps please, it could be too hard on your dog.
Next, A Dog’s Fabulous Sense of Smell by Anne Lill Kvam makes me wish I had another hour in the day. She makes the best case I’ve seen on the value of teaching dogs to track a specific scent, as they would do in the wild. In her own words: “Many of the activities we have with our dogs include speed, excitement, precision and control but very little calmness and concentration.” I’m not sure about the concentration part, seems to me that agility and sheepdogs, for example, have to concentrate completely when working. But concentration and calm both together? Nope, not that.
She emphasizes that sniffing freely on walks is good, but not the same as “being in a search on a specific mission.” I love that she writes about the value for our dogs of “situational leadership,” in which whoever has the skill takes charge for that particular situation. I thought instantly of Skip’s work yesterday at a small “training” trial, in which he took charge of getting three wild-ass yearlings back into a pen when they were determined to fly across the field to their friends. I sent him to get them and bring them to the pen. He knew they needed to go inside without me saying anything, and in every way except with language, he told me, “I got this.” And he did. Nobody can read sheep as fast and as well as a dog, and if they can’t be allowed to do it on their own sometimes, you have no more chance of succeeding than if you are asked to sniff out a piece of kibble in a hay stack while blindfolded. “Situational leadership” as something good for dogs. Love it.
I’d love to do this kind of scent work with Skip, I think it would be good for him to focus in a quiet, calm manner. Regrettably, he does some of this when he sniffs out sheep poop to eat, which he absolutely seems to adore. It’s not really bad for him in small quantities, but . . . So I think what I’d do with him is use toys rather than food. He’s not that crazy about objects when outside (unless playing tug with Maggie, which is still off limits as they get back into condition from their injuries), so I think I’ll get the smallest Kong there is and stuff food inside. After, that is, the sheepdog training and the novel and the garden . . . But I love this book, and am going to settle down and read more of the text the rest of this week.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: As noted, sheepdog trial season is coming up, and last Saturday we were at Big Yellow Boots farm for a “Training Trial,” in which you were allowed to leave the post and help your dog if he or she got into trouble. And trouble was the name of the game, because the sheep were yearlings who hadn’t been worked much, and the field was full of sweet, spring grass that the lambs seemed to believe was worth being taken down by a pack of wolves, if they could just get in one more mouthful. They were also set out with grain, and many a dog couldn’t even get them to lift their heads up much less come down the field to their handler.
Skip and I ran twice, and it was good practice for the real trials coming up this summer. Our scores were nothing special (I don’t even know what they were); I was slow to respond, and he wasn’t perfect BUT he did some absolutely gorgeous work and made me all gooey because he showed as much heart and commitment as a dog possibly could. Maggie got to work too, although she thought the sheep were just ridiculous and told me so in no uncertain times when we helped do a little of the setting out. No one does side eye better than a dog.
Here’s a shot of Skip, hanging out and waiting for his turn:
Skip and Maggie are sound now (well, I’m sure with Skip, not 100% sure about Maggie), but out of condition. So we’re working on that as best we can.
Forgive my brevity, there’s a murder mystery to solve and some Creeping Charlies (that’s a weed to any non-gardeners, not a stalker) attempting to grow through the cracks in the windows and take over the living room.
I’d love to hear if you’ve read the books I’ve mentioned, the value you’ve found in tracking training, and whether your dog can sit up or not! I’m all ears.