As I type, a whole rack of dog towels is drying behind me, next to the woodstove.  Tis mud season with a vengeance and I’m getting tired of wiping off 24 feet multiple times a day.  Not to mention constantly sweeping up all the grit that comes in on the coats of 6 animals.  Even though I put straw down all over the yard, the underlying lawn has still been totally chopped up and a fair bit of mud still peaks through.  This is mostly because my roommate, concerned that the dogs might run off if she lets them out into the unfenced part of the property that I usually exercise them on, plays soccer in the fenced area.  Half of that little yard is an incline so the dogs skid and slide down it as they break hard to catch the ball.  Four dogs in that little space is pretty hard on the grass, and little is left.  I’m actually tempted to put down another couple of bales of straw and just reseed the entire plot come spring.  For now, the house is a mess and there’s really no point in doing too much about it until things freeze over.  It’s supposed to drop below freezing by this afternoon, and go down to -9C overnight, so that should firm things up!

This week I am up to my ears in grading essays.  Last night I worked until 4:30am, and today I have to try and do a solid 12 hours of work.  The same is planned for tomorrow.  I actually had a week prior to this to work on these papers, but I had another set to finish, plus teaching, several interviews out of town (for my research), a social engagement on Sunday for a few hours, and an agility workshop on Saturday.  I am not great at forcing myself to work ahead of schedule, and with everything else I had going on, I didn’t get nearly enough of these papers marked prior to yesterday.  So now the crunch is on.

Regarding the agility workshop, I took it with Kestrel with my old instructor.  I live too far from her to continue to train with her regularly, but I told her that if she ever offered one of her half-day workshops, I would love to come.  It turned out only to be about an hour and a quarter to get there, and the session lasted 4 hours, so it was worth it.  She trains with Susan Garrett and the workshops she offers tend to be modeled after SG workshops, so I get many of the basics of that training system without having to pay the exorbitant prices.

I actually have been rethinking my enthusiasm for some of the agility training methods I have encountered over the years.  In general, I love the positive methods focus and continue to embrace that.  This is especially true with agility, for which there is absolutely no excuse to use anything but positive methods (in herding, where you’re dealing with very strong instinct that can lead to injury or even death of stock or dog, some corrections inevitably end up being necessary).  But not all the methods are really all that positive.  As I wrote here, for example, I am no longer a fan of head halters.  I’ve also mentioned more than once now that I’m not convinced that Ruff Love is really all that positive, as it is based on keeping a dog lonely and hungry so that you can control it’s urges.  The claim is that it is not an isolation program, and if you are home full-time and able to focus on your dog above all else (for 8 consecutive weeks), then it isn’t.  And I do agree that controlling a dog’s means of self-reinforcement – in dogs who have developed issues because they self-reinforce in in appropriate ways – can be very important.  But the reality of implementing the program is that the dogs spends a lot of time in a crate with nothing to do.  Not only that, they must wear a head halter all the time.

I know of many people who advocate crating and not feeding their dogs prior to training to get their motivation up.  I simply do not agree with this, at least not in a high drive dog. I find that they work better if they’ve had some exercise and a big meal.  I know I can think better when I’m not antsy or hungry!  I always try to hike the dogs before doing agility or (especially) herding, and definitely feed them a good meal in advance.  A calmer dog means a clearer brain.

There’s a lot about all of the above that no longer sits well with me.  It’s interesting to observe how much I have changed my thoughts on many of these topics over the years.  I now also let my puppies just be silly puppies until they are well over a year, and don’t start serious training until they are close to two.  Yes, this is in part because I have so many dogs, but I also think this is better for the dog.  I like that I can just let the youngsters be pups, and gradually ease them into a more serious working mode as they are able to handle the pressure.  This is especially true because I don’t have a working farm yet, so everything I do with my dogs is for fun (but in anticipation of real work in the not too distant future).  I used to believe in doing tremendous amounts of training with a puppy to catch all those all-important imprint windows.  Now I just keep them out of trouble, put in a foundation of a rock solid recall and nice house manners, and leave it at that.

Because I have done so little formal training with her, I wasn’t sure what to expect of Kestrel at the workshop.  I have never had her in a class setting, and the last time she was in a cage surrounded by barking dogs was at the pound 10 months ago.  She doesn’t even have a sit stay!  I was a bit worried that she might get stressed or perhaps be so overstimulated that she wouldn’t be able to think.  I was also a little worried that the other people in the workshop might get annoyed for having such a green dog in a non-novice environment.  Especially since I won’t use a head halter to flatten her enthusiasm.

I worried for nothing.  Kess was a superstar!  She picked up everything I showed her in seconds flat and behaved like she’d always know how to do it.  She was calm in her crate and didn’t bark even when all the others were doing so like their lives depended on it (this was the noisiest group I have ever encountered!  At times we could not hear the instructor).  She worked beautifully off leash in close proximity to the other dogs, and after trying to go visit once or twice, completely ignored them.  By the end, she was going into her crate and sleeping soundly between turns, as if she were at home.  In fact, at one point my instructor complemented me on having put such a nice foundation in her!  Ha ha, if she only knew.  Then again, I guess she’s right.  That Kestrel is able to learn so quickly and behave so well is in part because of who she is (probably in large part), but also in part because of how I’ve worked with her since she’s come to me.  It may just be fluke, but it seems I’ve done something right.

My main purpose for attending the agility workshop was to spend some one-on-one time with Kestrel.  I feel that it is time for me to really start focusing on her and getting her up to speed with her training.  It’s been tough with the four dogs, but I have decided to put Mira and Ross on a lower training priority for a bit.  I just don’t have time to work them all with the same intensity right now.  I am going to start some Rally-O lessons with Ross in the new year, and get back to Mira’s training probably in February.  Right now, Kestrel and Hannah get most of my attention for the next month.

One reason for this is that I find it difficult to justify having all these dogs if I don’t do anything with them.  Ideally I would just have two, which is my number of choice in terms of having sufficient time to do what I would like with them.  So I need to step up to the plate and get going with training, or find a home for at least one of them.  The only one who really could go is Kestrel, and it would break my heart to give her up.  So I need to get going with her training.

One little project I’ve been working on at home is to get her to stop hanging out by herself so much.  So this week ,while I have been working, I have been umbilical cording her to me for an hour or so a day.  Mostly this involves tying her to my chair (umbilical cording is when you keep the dog on a leash that is tied to your belt) while I work, and having her sleep on a bed next to my chair.  Having only done this twice, I am already finding that she is coming over on her own now and staying with me.  I am very pleased about this.  Her main reason for going off on her own (I think) is that she is afraid of Ross, who is almost always at my feet.  By forcing her to stay near me (and therefore Ross) she is getting used to being in close proximity to him and relaxing.   I really want her to become a more relaxed member of the pack.

Well, I’m over my self-imposed 20  minutes of writing time so had best get down to those essays so I don’t have to stay up until 4am again.  Hopefully by tomorrow the ground will be frozen solid, and I’ll be mostly done this rather tedious task and able to look forward to the next.  Five more days of steady, heavy work, and then I can start to wind down for the holidays.  Not sure what I’m doing yet, but that’s a whole other issue.  Maybe I’ll write about it during a break later in the day.