Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Reality Bites, Cinder's First Tricks Class, & An Epiphany About Reactivity

Left to right: Cinder, Buzz (middle) & Gilley resting.
Some days I like to think my dogs will live forever, or at least, as long as me because I love and enjoy them as my truest friends and constant companions.  I have a hard time imagining life without any of them even though I know it is a reality I will have to face eventually.  However, the realist in me knows they have a limited lifespan and my boys are beyond their half-life point, reaching the category of “seniors.”  This is a sad reality for me as I know that from this point, my boys have very different needs.  They both still think they can run 

faster, jump higher and farther; last longer on the go, or, certainly as long as any young pup.  They would be wrong and I know that now more than ever.
     One often fails to realize what “beyond the half-life” really means.  It means they’ve reached an age which veterinary standards consider upper middle-aged to seniors.  My boys are now senior dogs at only 8 and 10 years old since the average lifespan of Border Collies is 11-14 years; and senior for them is considered to be eight years and older.  My beloved boys are aging seniors – ouch.  Today the reality of that is hammered home by witnessing Buzz and Gilley last night and this morning, following over three solid hours of rambunctious, rigorous work and play with Cinder yesterday.  Buzz was obviously tired last night, sprawled in his special “NO Cinder Zone” rest area, so soundly asleep he missed supper call twice before I checked on him.  Watching him as he struggled to his feet and wobbled his way to SIT to eat his supper, I could tell he was exhausted and sore.  Gilley also slowly made his way to his food dish, limping on his sore front leg, holding it up a little as he slowly nibbled at his supper too.  Cinder, in her youthful pup way was quick to gobble her supper and circled the boys like a vulture, hoping for their left-overs and getting none.  The boys resumed lounging the rest of the night and grumped at Cinder’s few efforts to entice them to play. The boys slowly began this morning slower, a little sluggish, and still a bit off in their strides.  As I watched Buzz, now nearly 11, walk from the breakfast bowl to lay at my feet, I saw his hips sway somewhat, almost uncontrollably for a moment until he stopped to stretch and groan; then came to lay beside my chair with a sorrowful moan punctuating his effort laying down.  Gilley, a little less pained than last night but still a little off stride, walked over to me for his morning love-fest with me a little slower than usual; and sat placing a front paw on my knee, head lowered atop it, resting while I stroked him.  The signs of my boys aging could not have been more obvious.  Both my boys have always been the living epitome of the Border Collie reputation as relentless workers and players of many physical games of daring, agility, speed, and constitution – until now.  Now, they clearly need less physical stimulation. Now, they are truly “getting too old for this sh—,” and need to scale back on their work and play.  This is a sad reality for us all.
     Sadder than the reality that my boys have reached an age at which their limits are defined by their diminishing physicality, is the fact that they are teamed with Cinder, a pup of 11 months and undefined limits of energy and youthful vibrancy.  The boys, undaunted by Cinder’s youth, are usually determined to keep ahead of her rather than accepting being able to keep up with her or letting her take the lead.  They seem unaware they will now pay a real, physical price for trying to best the young pup in games of physical prowess and endurance. I guess they feel they are her pack superiors and/or her mentors and as such, are trying to maintain their places ahead of their young apprentice in all things.  
     Brian (my husband) and I had a discussion about the need to consider more separate exercise for the boys that doesn’t involve Cinder accompanying them on their outings; and constantly challenging the boys to keep pace.  After about 20 minutes of discussion including what is or isn’t best for the boys physically, I ended it saying, “But YOU don’t understand.  I do because I AM that old, out of shape athlete that can no longer do what I once did so I DO understand: you’ll break their hearts by trying to shelter them from doing what they love because it makes them tired and sore.  Part of what’s keeping them from being more tired and sore than they are is doing the things they do.  Controlling how long or how much they do something may be good, but trying to eliminate their opportunities to feel useful and have fun will only punctuate their age with depression and reduce their vitality.  It will break their hearts.  When they truly can’t do things they love, that’s when we won’t take them to do them. Until they can’t do something at all, we can limit the time and conditions, but not the opportunities to go and do things.”  Brian conceded.  I said, “I’d rather they die happy than feeling old, left out and miserable. If they die working or playing, they’ll die happy doing what they love.”  This is the start of what I’m sure will be many more discussions about how the boys are aging and at what points we employ more limits or stop them from doing things; and start sheltering them from the reality that we all grow old and have to stop doing things we love eventually.  Reality bites and there's no way around it sometimes.
Cinder waiting at the door to go to class.
   Meanwhile, Cinder’s been doing well in her training and we began a class to learn tricks a few days ago.  It’s a four week class, one night per week to teach four tricks per week.  The class had space for 15 and only six signed up.  That’s perfect because it means we have more space, fewer diversions, and more time with the instructor. We didn't sign up as much for the tricks instruction as to keep her momentum of improving controlling her reactivity in the company of others-learning new tricks is the bonus. 
     When I got out our "school bag," Cinder headed for the door to our garage. This has become her habit upon seeing me get out our "doggy bag" each week for her obedience classes.
      Our "regularly scheduled" instructor had been called away on business and had one of her colleagues teach the first session.  We know and like that instructor too, so it was all good.  The first lesson included: high five, figure eight around my legs; placing a treat on the nose and flipping it to catch it; and jumping through my arms held out in a circle, close to the ground.  Cinder got the “high five” almost immediately and decided to capitalize on it for an abundance of liver bits.  She had high five down like a pro in less than five minutes.  The nose-flipping a treat to catch it…not so much.  She actually seemed to kind of hate that and never really cooperated or tried to figure it out-she was working more on how to get the treat any number of other ways (including continually offering high five to see if she got rewarded as earlier). We moved on to the figure eight around our legs. Cinder would do a circle around my left and could NOT be enticed around my other leg no matter what we tried.  I was SO disappointed-she ultimately laid down and disengaged from that exercise.  Gilley does that one so well and it’s fun.  I hoped Cinder would get that one easily and like it too but, she was disinterested.  The start of the jump through arms trick was interesting. Cinder jumps through a Hula Hoop and jumps over and on anything so I was sure she would learn and love the jump through our arms trick.  Nope.  She couldn't get past the first basic step of that one and would only try one direction when she tried at all.  I felt so disappointed when the end of class came and all we’d achieved was high five.  I was so busy with her that I didn't see the others to know if they had any better luck.  The instructor gave us all a pep talk about it and reminded us that we’re only learning how to start the tricks and once the dogs get those first basic steps of them, they will probably all progress to learning the complete trick quickly; so the need to keep practicing is key to the whole thing.  I knew that, but I really hoped Cinder would be a wonder pup and learn them all in one lesson, then perfect them all with practice like her uncle Gilley did.  Gilley was awesome at learning things fast and perfecting in practice.  Cinder, not so much-so far.  I guess that’s what practicing at home is supposed to be about – learning and improving. 
    After the class, our instructor talked with me on the way out. She said, “You forget that you’re working with a smart little girl who has a lot of stress just being around strange dogs.  She’s been doing great and despite YOUR disappointment, she did great tonight.  She totally got the high five immediately and the others didn't.  She at least tried to focus on you and what you wanted her to do.  Just because she didn't DO the tricks right away doesn't mean much.  She TRIED and she stayed focused on you the whole time without any reactivity during class. That's HUGE.  Cinder’s reactive and no matter how well she does and how easy it SEEMS to be for her to be here, it’s not.  She’s a Border Collie and they’re natural thinkers and problem solvers, but for her, the process itself involves a major problem she’s constantly trying to solve – controlling her world and the urge to react fearfully to things she can’t understand or control.  You may not realize it, but not reacting is a major accomplishment for her EVERY day, EVERY time she is faced with something new or out of her control.  It saps her energy and divides her processing abilities under that stress. You may try these tricks at home and have great success there that we may never see in class.  But, the more she does something, the more habitual it becomes, and THAT increases the likelihood that eventually, she’ll do those things no matter where she is when you ask her.  So, keep trying and don’t be so impatient or in a hurry.  She’s a smart girl and she’ll get there if you just keep trying. Give her credit for trying to stay on task and trying to figure things out.”
     Boy, did I need that reminder!  Cinder’s reactivity is essentially a disability and I failed to think of it that way!  Learning to control her reactivity is a continuous process that saps a lot of her energy and divides her ability to process things just like many humans and their disabilities!  Being disabled myself, I should have realized the effort Cinder’s constantly making just leaving the safety and known world that is “home.” Like a human, her disability presents challenges, but it is never an excuse-merely an explanation of cause.  It’s never a reason for failure or negative behavior, but it is the reason to have patience and seek alternative solutions if something doesn't work.  Cinder isn't a freak or faulty, she just has a disability which really means she’s differently-abled!  HALLELUJAH!  I've had another epiphany that could make a world of difference in understanding Cinder’s reactive behavior and help me help her more!  It sure helps to have professionals and others with experience with reactive dogs to help me learn how to improve Cinder’s life. 
     That’s it for this installment.  Again, not compelling reading about great or unique adventures, but life as it unfolds while continuing our daily journey of Raising Cinder.
Be good to yourself and others!


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Basic Obedience Class I - Cinder's Been There, Done That

     Eight weeks ago, Cinder and I embarked on the journey shared by many-participating in a basic obedience class.  While many complete similar training journeys successfully, I entered the class with serious reservations about whether or not Cinder could successfully participate in a group class without issues surrounding her reactive behavior getting us into trouble or kicked out.  After all, if my Gilley (who isn't reactive) was so highly prey driven he got us thrown out of our first couple of obedience classes before I found trainers who knew how to work with high drive herding breeds, I had reason to question Cinder's ability to make it through a class with her reactivity. However, I specifically chose to put her in a class with a known instructor that specializes in herding breeds and behavioral challenges because I felt if we could have success, it would be under her guidance.
     The first night, Cinder did much better than I anticipated, but had  reactivity issues with the little pups-the kind that are small, hairy, cute and yap a lot.  Cinder reacted to all forms of barks, yaps, yips and bouncy movement.  Basically, if she couldn't see the others or as long as they were quiet and didn't move, she was fine.  That made my job stressful since it meant ALWAYS having to keep Cinder's focus on me and when I couldn't, working hard and fast to reacquire it. Sometimes the task was easy and a few times I failed. However, all things considered, Cinder was challenging but did well most of the first class. That boosted my confidence in her and when we spoke with the instructor, she was encouraging too.
     Each class yielded new information and training tasks that kept us all busy encouraging our pups to learn in class.  Most of the time Cinder did very well with only a few brief moments of reactivity from which we quickly recovered. Rarely she would react so badly that she was in any way uncontrollable, but it sometimes felt that way at the time.  By the fourth class, I got things figured out with only rare instances of negative behaviors from which she recovered faster each time.  A few times I had a hard day and my patience and responsiveness were lacking so when Cinder reacted, the instructor came to our rescue and took over for a few minutes using it as a learning and teaching opportunity for Cinder and the class; and giving me a few minutes of respite to regroup.  Overall, Cinder's reactivity became less severe and less frequent while my ability to control her improved along with my confidence in her.  When I say, "control her," I don't mean the kind of control that is heavy-handed, stifling, or restraining.  I mean that I've become more adept at keeping her focus where I want it and not on things that escalate her to react. It requires getting her focused on me and her tasks rather than other things around her.  When she is highly reactive, we have to find a way to remove her or the trigger to a proximity that allows her to feel less stress and enables her to calm down and re-focus.
     Once we got past some of the stationary lessons and moved to more mobile activity, I feared the worst.  Cinder's at her worst with other dogs in motion coming her way-especially if they're also bouncy and barky!  However, once we began our walking work, Cinder rose to the challenge and we garnered some of the highest praises in the class on several occasions.  When others would pass us as we clipped along at my pace, Cinder would barely glance, if she noticed at all - she was generally focused on me. YAY.  A few times during our walking work, we'd have someone come too close while passing, or we'd need to "about turn" and be virtually on top of another dog who had been too close behind us, but Cinder was great.  I could often see in her eyes that she knew the others were too close and it bothered her, but rarely enough to make it worth her attention.  That's when I knew we'd made real progress as a team. I didn't care that we did or didn't achieve the same success as the others in the class because I knew we were doing our "personal best" every time. We achieved more than I ever thought we would at every class.  Most of the class specifics were things Cinder and I already worked on as individuals throughout our summer together before the class.  I had ONE primary objective in taking the class: determining Cinder's ability to participate in a group with other dogs and be controllable.  In my mind, if we actually learned new material, it was a bonus. Obedience is good for all dogs, but it's a pre-requisite for pursuing most other dog sports and activities.  Ideally, I'd love Cinder to learn agility-whether we compete or not (probably not).  To get into agility classes, she has to be able to pass the obedience classes first.  Could she even get through a group obedience class?  YES!!! And, we did learn things, so we achieved more than my original goals by far! Cinder went from being reactive to anything and everything all the time, to being far less reactive far less of the time; and she was definitely controllable.  We even worked on a line-up beside dogs on both sides of us (at least 4-6 feet between us) each of the last three classes.  The first effort was challenging because she kept trying to watch and bark at our neighbors so they wouldn't come near us (even tho' we were all going the same direction); but she was still controllable. The second time she was highly successful in the line-up games when I stepped up my game and got her to focus on me better. By the third time, we'd achieved peace with dogs working beside us, tho' clearly she was aware of their presence nearby.
     Finally, we arrived at our eighth and final night of class last night.  I found myself not wanting it to end!  It seemed as if we finally found our rhythm and we were finally doing everything in class without much stress. It had actually become more fun than I ever thought I'd have despite needing to continuously monitor Cinder and her proximity to others at all times.  Cinder finally got to the point of being quite happy to go to class too.  She especially liked being able to see our instructor and loved it when Marilyn would call her name (even more when Marilyn did something with her).  The bittersweet end of class seemed to arrive faster than all our other classes.  Marilyn created graduation certificates for each pup and handler, rolled and tied with a ribbon and a big dog cookie.  Cinder had the cookie eaten quickly even tho' it was the biggest cookie she ever ate! That concluded our first obedience class.  Cinder and I made it through eight weeks of class to achieve our goal - successful completion of a group class.
     Sadly, there are no classes for obedience or agility until January 2015 - the holiday season nearly upon us, it makes no sense to offer them before next year.  However, there is one fun class we signed up for with our favorite instructor for the next four weeks - "Tricks" class. We're to learn four tricks a week for a total of 16 tricks between November 10th and December 1st.  I'm sure we may already know a few of them, but probably no more than 5-6 of them and more importantly, we are still going to a group class with other people and dogs.  That will help keep our momentum for at least a little longer.  I'm not sure what we'll do about the classes in January.  If we're going to have a real winter in Ohio again this year, signing up for classes in January - February may be pointless for us since travel at night in bad conditions in our area is not a good idea for something you don't NEED to do. 
     It feels good to be able to say that Cinder is officially a successful group obedience class graduate. I think we both learned a lot more than I thought we would.  We both have more confidence in ourselves and each other as a partnership; and that was totally worth every minute and every penny!
     Next week, a new class with different objectives.  Can Cinder learn 16 tricks in four weeks? I guess we'll soon find out!  It will be another adventure in learning for us both.
       On the other hand, at home on our own, Cinder's displayed continuing desire to be my little "helper" around the house.  She continues showing me that my alarm clock and other alarms are on.  Additionally, she's displayed a shift in her mental learning skills by exhibiting an honest ability to now transfer meaning of a learned word.  We use the word, "hand," when playing ball or Frisbee with our dogs.  "Hand" means they are to place the ball or Frisbee in our hand.  I choose my training words with full intent and this is no exception.  Other word options used by other people include: drop/drop it, give, out, release, and others.  We use those other words for other applications.  If I want something in my hand I use the word, hand, to denote that.  If I want my dog to "drop it" that's a whole other thing.  Cinder took a few months to get the "hand" concept figured out reliably.  However, the proof she truly understands what it means is in her recent ability to transfer that meaning to other concepts beyond our games.  First, I dropped a kitchen towel while Cinder was in the kitchen with me and on a whim, asked her to "hand" and pointed at the towel.  To my astonishment, she did it!  We repeated the exercise several times equally successfully.  We've also successfully transferred it to a hairbrush, a pen, a bracelet, some cleaning cloths, a dropped fork, and several bags.  Each time she has fun figuring out how to hand the new item to me.  It's both useful and indicates a developmental shift in her ability to learn new information and how to use the new information.  It's a perfect time to do a tricks class!
     That's it for this installment.  It's not edge-of-the-seat reading, but it is reality in our lives as we continue the endeavor of Raising Cinder.

Be well and be good to yourself and others!



Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Pup I Really Wanted

It's been a few weeks since my last post so I thought I should write.  However, it's been a relatively benign few weeks and there have been few exciting moments since weather has been a factor in getting outside much.  We've had quite a lot of rainy days and of course, we're mid-Fall so it's also cooler.

I guess the most important thing is that since we began the walking work of our obedience, things have been a little different for Cinder and I so far.  I learned a somewhat different way of walking with her and controlling her that has been highly successful.  It's really very simple, but not what I was doing or used to doing since I still use many "old school" aspects.  I was holding my leash very old school:  Cinder at my left side; left hand holding the leash at hip level with the remainder of the leash across to my right hand, firmly holding the end.  Instead, I now gather the leash entirely in my left hand and hold it so that Cinder's head is slightly above level and she walks about four-six inches away from my leg on the left.  I'm not sure why, but it is more effective than the way I previously held the leash.

The upside is that Cinder is very comfortable going on our little jaunts and can be seen happily wagging her tail as we wind our way along the bike paths.  The latest test of her focus on me and her job versus attention to other strange dogs came last week.  One evening, as we began our work, I had Cinder in a "sit" and suddenly a jogger with an Australian Cattle Dog appeared.  As they came closer, the dog began lunging and barking at Cinder.  Cinder initially gave the dog a quick glance and when I said, "Cinder, let's walk," she very quickly looked at me as we began walking briskly.  With her attentively looking at me as I told her she was good and things would be okay while the strange dog passed beside us,  I was absolutely proud of her and if I could, I would've jumped around and done the happy dance because it was the first time she made NO reaction toward a strange dog outside of our obedience class! YAY!!!  Progress!  REAL progress!  We worked for about 20 more minutes and then we went to one of our play places and she was rewarded with a 40 minute game of chasing the flyer (a soft Frisbee) and even a little swimming.

This weekend, I finished the little items I decided to make for Cinder to have a Halloween costume.  I've NEVER in my life considered dressing ANY dog - not even bandannas.  I've always thought it was really pretty stupid.  However, friends say and get other friends to do the oddest things.  I decided one evening that Cinder would probably be akin to the Red Queen of "Alice in Wonderland"- the bossy little Queen who ran around saying, "Off with their heads!"  On the whole, Cinder's an extremely loving, loyal little girl, often very meek and sweet.  But, like most females, she also has a streak of bossy, demanding, little stinker, determined to get what she wants or know the reasons why.  It is in one of those moments, while I was conversing with a friend (who dresses her dogs for Halloween every year), that it struck me Cinder could indeed have a costume - as long as we could keep it simple and it would be red (which I hate) so she could be the Red Queen.

Bedecked in her costume, Cinder sat willingly and tolerantly for a brief "photo session." Yes, I made my dog a costume and I think it's stupid myself - but a bit of fun.  It was fun to see just what Cinder would let me do to her with regard to placing odd bits of clothing on her, including a red and pearl-like beaded crown denoting her royal status.  I began thinking about how well she cooperated and sat on our kitchen table (with a sheet on it) for the pictures.  Then, I posted some of the pictures on my Facebook page generating some fun conversations.  Her attitude was good and her facial expressions so matched her costume as the Red Queen.

I had to do a few other things after that and when I was done, I sat on the side of our bed, contemplating what chores I'd undertake next.  In that moment, Cinder leaped onto the bed easily landing quietly and softly. Then she came to me, placed her front feet in position to literally sit up in front of me and give me a hug.  We've been doing "hug" since she was very little. I'm sure she now equates "hug" as a means of expressing affection or the desire for attention.  At that moment, I gave her a hug and she spied my scratched, bloody hand.  She licked it very gently, repeating until my hand was clean of the blood.  Then she looked at me and laid her head on my chest, still sitting up in the "hug" embrace. I asked if she would lay down and get "on your back" for a tummy rub which she quickly obliged me by doing.  I rubbed her tummy.  At that point, I realized that my 10 month old puppy is everything I'd hoped she'd be and more.

I've been so busy worrying about her reactivity and all that it entails; how hard it is to take her somewhere compared to my overly gregarious boys, that I've sort of lost track of who she really is in the scheme of our lives.  The boys are so easy and go anywhere - everyone, human or dog, is their new best friend. For Cinder, people are new best friends to make, but other dogs and groups of children, not so much. I've been so concerned with how much training we could or should be doing; and generally trying to figure out how I could make her life better and help her learn the world won't eat her, that I kind of forgot we really need to just have fun together and forget about some of the other things more often. Life is short and we should enjoy it more.  I wasn't seeing my puppy for the wonderful girl she is. I'd wanted a Border Collie pup that I could say is the happy meld of both my older boys, Gilley and Buzz.  Two very different dogs could not be found in the same breed so it's amazing how much shared blood they actually have. Both my boys are utterly awesome-even according to other Border Collie people.  I wanted a pup that would have the brain power, loyalty, kindness, responsiveness, speed and agility of Gilley. I also wanted a pup that would have less intensity than Gilley because he has no sense of humor. I wanted a pup that would have the amazing raw power and sheer strength of Buzz, with his fearlessness about trying new things. I definitely wanted one with a heart to do anything and everything we may do-one who does whatever the job requires without hesitation.  Indeed, I got EXACTLY what I wanted when I got Cinder!  She really is the meld of the abilities of my boys.  She isn't quite as intelligent or intense as Gilley, but neither is she at all dim. She has all of Buzz's power and strength, with Gilley's speed; and both their big hearts.  Every single morning and evening-every time we're separated for more than a few minutes for any reason, she bounds to greet me with hugs and kisses as though I've been gone for months and just returned.  She won't even go out to potty in the morning without first coming to greet me with hugs and kisses.  When I am home, she is never more than a couple feet from me.  When she plays or works, she puts everything she has into whatever she's doing. She goes for everything with all the gusto she has to offer.  She's not afraid to try anything and if she lives, she'll do it again if I want her to.  When I'm hurt and bleeding, she licks the wounds with a care and gentleness I can't describe.  At night, we go to bed and she assumes her place, next to my leg (the boys also beside me, Buzz lays at my shoulder and rests his head on my chest; Gilley beside my torso, snuggled against me with his head on my tummy).  When we go somewhere, even with people she knows, Cinder clearly looks to me for security and approval.  When I call, Cinder comes.  She never just slowly meanders, she runs right up and sits in front of me.  What more could I really want of  her?  She IS exactly the pup I really wanted, turning into the dog I'd hoped for.  And she's only 10 months old, so what more may be ahead?  As for the reactivity issue, well, it's tough, but tolerable and manageable so I can forgive that one oddity about her.  After all, I'm FAR from perfect so I can certainly accept that she's a little less than perfect too.

At the end of the day today, I have the three best dogs in the world.  Each one very different from the others and all equally talented and special.  I'm very blessed to have them because they truly fill a huge void.  Without them, I'm not sure how I would get through life.  They are my joy.  They are my family.  I love them as much or more than many parents love their children.

As I said, nothing exciting happening lately-unless you consider the epiphany that Cinder is exactly the puppy I wanted to be exciting.

That's the update this time.  Just another day of life in the daily endeavor Raising Cinder.

Be well and be good to yourselves and others!



Monday, September 29, 2014

Cinder's New Job and Service Dogs

     Last week, I posted on Facebook that Cinder’s been exhibiting a new set of behaviors I want to foster.  I am profoundly deaf without my hearing aids and remain well below the normal hearing range with them. In fact, one evening last spring, while I was showering, Cinder absconded with one of my less than nine month old hearing aids and chewed it to unrecognizable bits.  Luckily, my hearing aids came with an incredible one year warranty/replacement policy and the $4500 hearing aid was replaced a few weeks later!  That escapade makes her among the most expensive Border Collie puppies ever!  However, maybe she’s decided she should make up for it by learning to help me around the house by alerting me to sounds I can’t hear.  This week I've been having a hard time sleeping and decided I should use my flashing alarm clock in case I didn't wake up in time for work.  Usually I don’t need my alarm clock-we’re up by 4:30-5:30 every morning without alarms. I've awakened well before the alarm each morning. Since I don’t usually set an alarm, I've forgotten to shut it off each morning.  Each morning, the alarm went off while was in the living room, drinking coffee and watching the news. Cinder began racing between me in the living room and the bedroom.  Each time when I've followed to see what she was trying to tell me, I've gone with her to the bedroom and she’s jumped on the bed, looked at the flashing, beeping alarm; and yipped at it, then looked at me.  That’s exactly the behavior of a Hearing Service Dog trained to alert someone to a noise-get the person’s attention and alert them to the noise and its cause by taking them to it.  Hence I posted on Facebook that perhaps Cinder’s behavior indicates a talent which I had not considered-to help alert me to noises and alarms around the house as my Hearing Dog.  ***Please note that I am not in any way intending to claim her to be a working, registered Service Dog, but more like a personal home helper Hearing Dog.  Real Service Dogs are intensively trained and registered.
     In response to my Facebook post, I've had several inquiries about my experience with a Hearing Dog or Service Dogs and information about Service Dogs.  This is my response, and I apologize for the delay:

     Yes, I've had a couple of Hearing Dogs. My last one was actually also raised and trained by me, my son, and canine behaviorist friends at Purdue University while I was an adult student there.  We trained a variety of Service Dogs of different breeds, ages, and goals.  I acquired my last Hearing Dog as an eight week old puppy from a friend who gave him to me as a gift for that purpose.  Normally people do NOT acquire and train their own Service Dogs so this was all by special circumstances and my association with behaviorists specializing in Service Dog training and research on different aspects of things that pertain to training quality Service Dogs.  I also happened to be one of the only people my behaviorist friends knew personally who had dog training experience and also needed a Hearing Dog.  My puppy became part of the program and study as my Hearing Dog.  He never retired - cancer took him at eight years old.  He was a Pembroke Welsh Corgi and the dog for whom my current Border Collie, Gilley, filled the void in my heart.  Gilley was never supposed to be a Service Dog for me-just my new “BFF.”  As it turns out, Gilley’s equally as intelligent, special and helpful to me – but not as a Service Dog.

      Qualities desired in a Service Dog vary. The most basic qualities are a dog with a pleasant and unflappable personality, possessing good health, confidence, stamina, intelligence, desire to please, and the likelihood of a good “work ethic.”  Other qualities are also required, but those are the basics.  Other qualities desired are generally characteristics that relate to specific Service Dog types and duties.  You don’t want to use a Chihuahua as a Guide Dog because they’re too small, but they may make excellent Seizure Alert Dogs.  When it comes to Service Dogs, there is no singular suitable breed because there are so many different jobs for Service Dogs and so many dogs that can fit the need.  Many programs make a point to use rescue puppies and young adult dogs too.  By using rescues, they achieve meeting program goals while saving dogs’ lives. 

     Service Dog puppies are generally raised by breeders and foster families who specialize in raising puppies intended for Service Dog work. Many Service Dog programs have a list of “approved puppy raisers” to whom they send available puppies to be raised until they’re ready to enter their program of specialized training. Puppies are raised by foster families until they're 12-18 months.  All Service Dogs are well socialized, obedience trained; and generally have their Canine Good Citizen certificates before they ever begin their specialized Service Dog training.  Some will go on to become Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs, Seizure Alert Dogs and many other specialized Service Dogs. Others are “cross-trained” to be Service Dogs for people with multiple disabilities requiring a combination of skills. 

      Each type of Service Dog is trained based on their size, personality, and particular characteristics needed for a specific type of service. Most Guide Dogs are taught the same basic skills of assisting their visually disabled human partners, but many are also taught added skills specific to helping partners with multiple disabilities.  Service Dogs are truly, “tailor made” with training for some “generic” skills and tailored training to fit the needs of human partners they will serve.  This ensures a disabled person obtains a Service Dog that truly provides things they need in ways that work for them with their disabilities and lifestyle needs. 
     By the time a Service Dog is fully trained and ready for a human partner, there is a huge investment of time, training, maintenance and expense involved.  Every effort is made to match dogs and humans that  are a good match together as working and life companions.  The average age of most dogs when finished with their Service Dog training is around three years old. Their expected life of service is generally five to seven years; and they are generally retired between 8-10 years old.  When retired, they usually are placed with someone else in another home.  The reason for retiring them to live in another home is that if they remain with their disabled partner, they often do not understand NOT working for them after a life of service with them. Retirement is meant to take them out of service and give them a pleasant retired life for the remainder of their elderly dog life.  

      People often wonder if a breed like the Border Collie, known for high drive and high energy can be a good Service Dog.  The answer is yes, if it’s the right Border Collie with the right training, matched for the right job.  But not every Golden Retriever or Labrador is a great potential Service Dog either!  It’s all a matter of a dog with the right set of characteristics for the job.  Energy level is not a criterion for inclusion or exclusion since energy can be channeled in positive ways.  Attitude and aptitude are far more important characteristics.

      Back to Cinder.  Could she be a real Service Dog? NO!  Cinder’s reactivity immediately disqualifies her from being either a Service Dog or a Therapy Dog.  A dog that’s unpredictable in any way is NOT a good candidate, especially if that unpredictability may also endanger someone.  Why would I consider making her my unofficial Hearing Dog?  I already have her and she is already showing me indicators that I could train her to help ME in MY home situation.  I would never consider any attempt to pass her off as a working Hearing Dog!  That is not the idea at all!  My thought is to capitalize on what she seems inclined to do for me already before I ever try to train her for more.  She is a Border Collie and needs a job so the more she can do, the more her job(s) can expand to give her a greater sense of purpose and expand her repertoire of skills to help her stay busy and have more purpose.  She can learn to tell me about various alarms, phones ringing, appliances making noises, doorbells, cars, and other sounds I can’t actually hear.  It’s not a physically demanding but they’re things she can do within our home to help me.  Since going out in public is generally stressful for her, I need to teach her things to occupy her in any way realistically possible.  Who knows?  Maybe she just really hates my alarm clock and wants me to shut the dang thing off; and she may not learn to alert me to other alarms unless she hates them too!  That could be the whole thing start to finish; and my idea of capitalizing on her as a helper may not be so great.  But I prefer to remain optimistic about adding, “handy momma’s hearing helper” to her list of skills if we can.

      I'm including some links to websites for Service Dog programs that have more information if interested in more/better information:

Assistance Dogs International (ADI)    http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/
National Service Animal Registry (NSAR)     http://www.nsarco.com/
Service Dog Registration of America     http://www.servicedogregistration.org/
The United States Service Dog Registry      https://www.usservicedogregistry.org/
Seeing Eye-Guide Dogs   http://www.seeingeye.org
Paws with a Cause   https://www.pawswithacause.org
Freedom Guide Dogs for the Blind   http://freedomguidedogs.org/
Dogs for the Deaf, Inc     http://www.dogsforthedeaf.org/
Circle Tail, Inc.    http://circletail.net/
Midwest Assistance Dogs, Inc.     http://www.midwestassistancedogs.org/
St. Francis Service Dogs     http://saintfrancisdogs.org/
Indiana Canine Assistant Network, Inc. (ICAN)     http://www.icandog.org/
Guiding Eyes for the Blind     http://www.guidingeyes.org/ 
Leader Dogs for the Blind     http://www.leaderdog.org/ 
Pilot Dogs, Inc.     http://www.pilotdogs.org/

Again, back to Cinder.  Cinder’s been doing pretty well with her obedience work so far; and the first two weeks yielded no significant reactivity issues.  However, I've intentionally been strategic in where we claim our spot during class so I've been able to keep her view of most of the other pups fairly limited.   This week, I’ve been asked to move to the middle of our class so I can see and hear as much as possible while our instructor addresses the class; and so we try putting Cinder in a position to see more dogs more of the time.  I’m not sure I’m ready for Cinder to more easily see more pups, but we can’t improve if we don’t test ourselves.  I guess we'll soon find out how it works tomorrow evening.  I think we both come home tired after class, but I'm not sure which one of us is more so.  Cinder naps for the 45 minute drive and is still tired when we arrive home.  Stress is a definite energy sapper-for both of us.  I'm just glad that so far, we haven't been kicked out of class because I have a reactive dog that can't control herself-yet.  I'm learning to celebrate every victory no matter how large or small.  Just because we do something well once doesn't mean it will always be repeated so we pray for more victories than non-victories.
     Whatever path we trod, we’ll go together as friends to the end.  Meanwhile, today was just another day in the on-going endeavor Raising Cinder.



Monday, September 15, 2014

Cinder-Obedience Class Starts & That's the News...

We haven't been doing a lot of training work these last few weeks because I started a new job and I still haven't got my schedule honed yet.  But, that's about to change! This week we start a puppy obedience class for puppies Cinder's age in which none of the puppies are allowed to socialize nose-to-nose during the class.  Even at 15 feet away, Cinder gets reactive so just the idea of other puppies in the same area simultaneously is almost incomprehensible to me right now.  However, our behavioral specialist is the class teacher and she says we can and will work through it.  I hope so - for Cinder and me.  We both need this class to keep us motivated and accountable for making quantifiable training progress.  I do all right training on my own, but Cinder needs the experience of working in company. We also need to break the monotony of our weeknights now that summer is over and the days are growing shorter.  Tuesdays will be our special evenings of work away from home each week for the next nine weeks.  At least one night a week I know Cinder will come home tired and quiet.  It will be good for us both.

Last week may have been our last good week of swimming at either of our favorite swimming ponds for the season.  One pond developed an ugly, thick, green scum covering the entire pond in two days so we don't go near that pond any more.  The other pond seems fine, but our temperatures dove into the 40's by night and the 60's by day with more cloud cover than sunshine.  I'm sure we'll have a few more days we can go to the pond for a little swimming time, but the regular days of swimming for fun and exercise are likely over for this year.  Now I'm working to figure out how I can continue keeping Cinder exercised and fit through what may be another long, hard winter.  Ho hum. 

The last time we had swim time at the farm pond, we were invaded by turkeys.  The turkeys were loose and for some reason, found our pond play intriguing and enticing.  A couple even came up behind me and pecked my leg.  Dang turkeys!  About 10 of them gathered and they were ruining our playtime because they wouldn't relocate and leave us alone.  Ultimately, it was Gilley who had enough and decided they needed a good herding.  In the midst of playing a game of flyer, Gilley seemed to instruct Cinder to quit playing to, "watch and learn."  She ran along with him, but at a little distance as he made his first large circles around the turkeys to begin closing up the flock.  He rounded up the turkeys and Cinder watched, fascinated by the whole scene as Gilley maneuvered the dang turkeys toward a corner pen area.  Several times Cinder thought to try helping, but her version of help wasn't helpful. I was able to call her off pretty easily, which was somewhat surprising.  Gilley got them almost rounded up and Cinder darted over to one before I could either nab her or recall her.  She suddenly slowed, crouched and "assumed the position" of the typical herder on duty, stalking the turkeys.  I couldn't get her to recall or break her focus so I had Gilley do it by having him herd her into the back of my open Jeep!  I'm fairly certain she was strongly considering personally inviting that turkey to dinner - or rather, to BE dinner.  Once Gilley got Cinder in the Jeep, he resumed his duty rounding up turkeys and getting them put where they belonged. Then he ran over and jumped in the Jeep with Cinder, where they both watched the turkeys; and the new barn cat who came to taunt them too.  That was Cinder's first time to be so close to any fowl; and see Gilley at work herding (not hurting) them.  I'm okay with how that went since it was her first encounter.  

Recently we measured Cinder and she has outgrown her Uncle Gilley by about a half inch in height and she's about 3/4 of an inch shorter than her Uncle Buzz. That means Gilley is now my shortest dog.  Cinder's only nine months old, so she could grow even more over the next 11 months.  I feel her current size is pretty perfect so if she's done growing, I'm fine with that. I love the density of her bones - definitely not fine and spindly, but neither is she so big boned she's awkward or masculine looking.  Her chest has good space; and she's pretty proportionate for a pup.  It will be interesting to see what she looks like next Spring.

Cinder's newest interests of late are her die-hard interest in chasing balls and soft Frisbees (we call them flyers).  She LOVES chasing flyers in the field and would do it endlessly.  She didn't have any interest in them at all before she started swimming; and her interest in the fields without the boys has been limited until the last couple weeks.  Now, she's a Frisbee chaser no matter where we play.  However, when she's with her uncles, she habitually races ahead to chase and catch the flyer only to hand it off to Gilley to return it to us.  It's quite interesting that she seems to feel the flyers are Gilley's to return to our hands, but they're all hers to chase and catch mid-air whenever possible.  However, all three dogs chase the flyer so it often becomes quite comedic to watch them all suddenly trying to avoid collisions at the last second; sometimes actually colliding or doing some odd jumps and contortionist moves to avoid each other.  A few days ago, Cinder literally had too much of a power run when the flyer suddenly dove to the ground and she tried to stop to nab it; and her butt went into the air as she slid on her face for about six feet in the hayfield! It was HILARIOUS to see.  She never missed a beat though. She got up and ran back fast enough to grab the flyer off the ground a split second before Gilley nabbed it - only to run half way back to us and hand it to Gilley anyway.  Goofy girl.  Without the boys, she's very good at the game and manages to bring the flyer back to us - or at least within a couple feet of us.  Gilley always hands it to us, but Cinder hasn't got that figured out yet. Perhaps Cinder thinks I need to bend my fat self over and pick it up since that's similar to exercise!

That's pretty much all there is to tell for the last three weeks, since I've started my job.  As you can guess, going to work all day and arriving home between 5:15 - 5:45 means we scurry to get the chores done before dark and that's about all we've managed.  By the time I hone my schedule, it will be dark by the time I get home.  Maybe we'll have to work on more tricks just to have things to do to keep us busy and something to share with everyone.  

Right now, Princess Cinder awaits her "Mom & Me" indoor ball game for the evening.  It's about 20-40 minutes of Cinder & Gilley playing ball while Buzz barks the whole time. Buzz gets tired from all the barking while Cinder & Gilley wish he'd quit being an obstacle in their way - but he catches a few that they miss...and he gives them to Gilley and Cinder. It's just another day in the continuing endeavors Raising Cinder.  



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Cinder & Star Trek-Both about a Mission to Boldly Go...

Sometimes it feels like I should open a post with, “Captain’s Logue, star date 08.12.2104,” as I continue (somewhat irregularly) the tales of raising Cinder.  It seems with our dogs, I am the captain of the ship in charge of all things dog.  Moving forward with updates of the last few weeks, this is Captain Chris advising you to grab a beverage and get comfy. Perhaps some “tea, Earl Grey” would fit this episode of Raising Cinder, a Border Collie Puppy as we journey on the more than five year mission to explore new worlds.
         As of last week, Cinder had a quick trip to the veterinarian on Monday because she had become sick with what I was sure was probably, and in fact turned out to be, a case of Giardiasis.  Since Cinder LOVES swimming and has been swimming most days to that point, Giardia was a pretty likely problem we were bound to encounter.  It’s a common issue with dogs that swim, wade, or drink from natural water sources like ponds, small creeks, and puddles. It typically affects puppies and elderly dogs or dogs with compromised immune systems more than “middle-aged dogs” so Cinder having it without the older boys getting it isn’t a great surprise. Additionally, she’s been given the lion’s share of opportunities for more exposure than the boys because I’ve been taking her on more outings than they’ve been on in an effort to concentrate on her training and reactivity.  Once we got the meds for the Giardiasis, 24 hours later and Cinder was pretty well back to normal, but I didn’t want to take her anywhere until I was sure she was past all symptoms.  Last week was a bit boring for both of us.
        Last Thursday, Cinder went on her first trek to the "horse house" without Gilley and Buzz.  While it seems simple, you have to know it's not.  There are 340 acres of farm for her to run off and become lost or engaged in bad situations; with an adjacent 200 acres of other farms on one side, 150 acre gun club on one side; and two highly traveled roads on two other sides. It could be disasterous to take a pup on an outing with that much open space flanked by serious dangers of the outside world. The boys have been raised there and have AWESOME recalls from distances so when Cinder's with them, we know she'll stick close to them.  It's a new thing to take a walk without them and be loose.  I had to try it.  We had a lovely little jaunt on the wooded trails.  I took a "flyer" (soft Frisbee) to see if she would engage in playing with it along the way as does Gilley.  I've found that taking walks with a flyer means Gilley and Buzz get about seven miles of running for every mile I walk.  I was hoping that could be true for Cinder too, even though her actually
bringing them back to me is a little less than perfect.  As it turned out, about a quarter mile in to our walk, Cinder began tugging at my pocket, wanting the flyer. Throughout our little jaunt, she played the game as I'd hoped-even bringing it all the way back to me, dropping it at my feet.  It was warm so Cinder needed a drink. She had to learn to drink from a plastic baggie since that was all I had to pour water in for her on the trail. We got back to car, parked in a field, and she wanted to continue playing the game
with our flyer. A few throws later and she began jumping to catch the flyer-something I hadn't thought she'd do.  I had to curtail the game because of her desire to do too much high, twisting jumping.  I have to admit, I will enjoy that with her when she's old enough to let her go for it with the jumps!  She has a mission to boldly go wherever she goes!

       Sunday evening, I decided it was time for all the dogs to have real baths, but I didn’t
really feel like bathing them in our bathroom because I didn’t want to clean up the mess afterwards.  Instead, I thought it a good time to go to the self-serve dog wash/car wash-it would be Cinder’s first visit.  Cinder’s had many baths so that’s not new. Going to the dog wash is new. It also meant using a ramp into the steel tub and back out; while also experiencing a different bath experience than those she gets at home.  When we arrived at the dog wash, imagine my surprise when I patted my hand on the ramp to the tub and Cinder got right on and up it, into the tub and sat down as if she’d done it many times.  She sat quietly and calmly for her bath and seemed to enjoy it.  I had no idea it would go so well.  Yay!
         Sunday night and Monday, I was deathly ill. I won’t go into detail, but my husband, Brian, was ready to take me to the Emergency Room.  I wouldn’t let him.  I said it takes three days of illness like that before I’m willing to go.  I slept all day yesterday.  None of the three dogs were away from me!  All three were on the bed, snuggled beside me.  When I got up, wobbly and sick, they assumed positions beside me and went with me.  Even Cinder, a seven month old puppy, was glued to me.  Instead of being her normal bouncy self, wanting to play all day, she snuggled on the bed by my feet and never moved unless I got up-for over 16 hours!  Brian had to go to work last evening in order for his overtime to be counted as overtime-something we desperately need with me unemployed. He’d wanted to crate Cinder in his absence, afraid she’d get into things or generally be too needy for me to rest. He called a couple times to check on me; and I’m sure he expected that although I’d said Cinder need not be crated while he was gone, he was sure I’d be crying for him to come home and rescue me from Hurricane Cinder.  I told him each time he called that she was still on the bed with me.  Cinder never left me and didn’t make any messes of any kind anywhere while he was at work.  He came in and marveled that we were all snuggled up almost the same as we’d been when he left.  One has to wonder if it’s just her nature to stay with me of her own accord; or was it the influence of Gilley and Buzz, my constant companions and guardians? Either way, staying with me the entire day without being bothersome and without leaving for even a few minutes to go potty, get a toy, or something is pretty impressive for a seven month old pup. 
        Today I am MUCH better and decided it was a good day to put Cinder back to doing our regular outings to various places in which we may encounter a few dogs in different settings so we can work on her reactivity. After over a week off from our reactivity work, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  First we went to the local farm store.  She was as good as gold with impeccable manners the whole time.  Alas, there were no other dogs there while we were there so it was a good experience overall, but yielded no challenge to test her reactivity.  We then went to PetSmart.  During the weekdays, PetSmart is fairly safe because there is a slow, steady stream of dogs-usually no more than three in the store simultaneously during the day.  That’s doable for us because it means we can find an aisle to retreat to away from other dogs for her to regroup if she is reactive.  They also have doggy daycare dogs in the play room with a viewing glass wall.  That is a good thing for us because Cinder can see, hear, and smell the other dogs but we have complete safety from them with built-in exits down the aisles. 
We went in the store and right away, there was an elderly woman shopping with her sweet Poodle.  Cinder saw the Poodle, but since it didn’t come toward her or bark, she seemed to think it was okay.  We were able to walk within six feet of it several times without her reacting at all; and without me having to redirect her.  Then we went to the harness aisle since it’s about time Cinder gets a larger car harness.  However there was a man and his dog trying EVERY harness style on his dog WITHOUT a leash on his dog while doing it.  We skimmed past that aisle fast! That dog seemed friendly and being off leash, I’m sure would’ve come over to Cinder if we’d gone down that aisle. I wasn’t willing to tempt fate that much. 
The last time Cinder went to PetSmart, she’d done pretty well sitting about 10 feet from the doggy daycare window, but closer presented enough tension that we walked by, but didn’t linger any closer than 10 feet.  Today I decided to push that envelope a bit.  We got about six feet from the window and she sat looking, alert but quiet and non-reactive.  After a few minutes, I moved her about four feet away.  Then a couple terriers just had to start jumping and barking at her.  The moment they jumped, Cinder was reactive so we had to walk away.  It took some work and a few minutes for her to quiet again.  We went back a few more times and each time, Cinder was good until another dog either jumped or barked-even with constant temptation of CHEESE.  I took her back once more and sat her at the 6-8 foot range and moved her away before anything could happen so we’d end on a positive note.  We went back to the harness aisle-guess who was STILL there trying harnesses on! So we bypassed that aisle and went down another with the Poodle on it.  She went past the Poodle again just fine!!! YAY! PROGRESS!  We then hovered on the main middle aisle and a Boxer came by. Cinder was non-reactive until the dog sniffed the tip of her tail, then she was startled and jumped up, but wasn’t reactive about it as the Boxer moved on. Yay!  Next a noisy, spastic Schnauzer came in.  I had Cinder sit and face the dog’s direction so she wouldn’t be surprised by him, but as he strained on his leash, I stepped back a few feet to keep him from getting in Cinder’s “air space.”  She didn’t react, but he’s the kind that would’ve elicited it if I hadn’t stepped back from him.  Basically, the only reactivity she expressed was at the doggy daycare dogs that jumped and barked.  Overall, one very great day at PetSmart for Cinder!  I’m not sure how or why things seemed better today than other visits, but whatever the reason, I don’t really care.  I’m just glad to see ANY improvements so I’ll take them and not worry about it.
Overall, Cinder’s growing up faster than I’d like.  At seven months old, it’s hard to tell by looking at her that she’s still a puppy.  I rather miss the little puppy she was last winter because of course, all puppies are cute and lovable.  But, I also love that even though she’s more like a young adult to look at, she’s still all puppy with gusts of seeming like an experienced old pro.  Her new discoveries and her improving abilities are always fun and entertaining.  Her loving, fun-loving prankster youthfulness combined with her devotion as a companion and friend never cease to keep us laughing.  Sometimes I think she’s got the raw deal, stuck in a family of two aging adult humans with two aging adult uncles. Sometimes I’m equally sure she’s the perfect fit for all of us.  Her loyalty and devotion were proven with my short bout of nasty flu.  Sometimes she is a bit “bossy.”  Most of the time she’s simply wonderful and we wouldn’t trade a minute with her for a minute without her.
Oh, I forgot to mention, Princess Cinder isn’t ALWAYS wonderful.  She managed to swipe and eat a half stick of butter from the counter this morning without even moving the glass butter dish on the edge of the counter!  However, the upside is that at least she didn’t steal and eat the stack of pancakes Brian had sitting beside the butter she stole.  Clearly, we have a counter-surfer on our hands!  I’ve NEVER had one of those so we are embarking on yet a whole other adventure in the ongoing endeavor of raising Cinder.

“Live long and prosper.”

End logue entry, star date: 8.12.2014

Captain Chris-out.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Testing: 1, 2, 3-Do we have Reactivity?

           Last night, Cinder and I had a minor adventure.  We went to Marilyn’s puppy class graduation night.  Marilyn wanted us to stay at the “perimeter” of the class, gradually working our way toward them in slow increments; retreating as needed to keep Cinder calm and quiet, focused on me.  The hope was we could get her close to the group and keep her focus on me instead of the other dogs, testing her limits.  We needed to see at what distance she would remain calm and see what activities might stir her up too.  Maybe we should refer to this as, "Testing: 1,2,3-Do we have Reactivity?"
               Initially, Cinder barked a few times upon arrival and I was concerned I’d need binoculars for distance viewing of the class. But, I “worked the program” until we were able to get within about 30 feet of the group.  However, as dogs would peel off from the group to do various things which meant coming closer to us, I had to work at getting Cinder to focus on me and stay quiet.  We’d back away and when she’d quiet down, I’d stop retreating.  Ultimately, we were always about 30 feet away from things most of the evening.  We were able to get closer and even worked near a couple teams for short times, but the closest for any length of time was about 15 feet away.  Even at the 30 feet, it was still a MAJOR improvement over the distances before Cinder would go off even a few weeks ago!
Once the initial phase of the class was over and they moved to some basic puppy agility skills and games, we were asked to do a few things too.  Marilyn had some kids’ pop-up play tunnel cubes with openings on all four sides, connected to form a long tunnel.  This is the way she likes to start pups learning about agility tunnels because the open holes allow the pups to see (and sometimes exit) and not be fearful going through them.  She had us come to about 8 feet from the tunnel and let another woman and her pup work the tunnel while I kept Cinder’s focus.  Then it was our turn.  Easy stuff for Cinder since she already goes through the regular tunnels at home.  However, the hard part for Cinder was when Marilyn took her from me to go to the opposite end of the tunnel to start her run.  You’d have thought Cinder was trying to avoid a killer bear!  She LOVES Marilyn, but when Marilyn tried to take her away from me, it was a huge fuss.  Marilyn succeeded, but not without some fuss.  Each time, Cinder was more than thrilled to come through that tunnel to me like a cannonball shot from cannon.  Then we had to sit close by while several other dogs also did the same exercise.
After the tunnel exercise, they’d set up a very low, puppy version of an agility dog walk consisting of three 12 foot boards and two solid flat concrete pavers for the elevating points.  The first part of the exercise was to walk across the boards, being sure the pups each made contact with the boards as they crossed them.  Then we made attempts to have each pup walk the length of them, just as you would want them to do for agility, using some kind of “bait” & holding it very low so they could look at the boards as they walked.”  So we stood close by as all the pups did that exercise, keeping Cinder’s focus on me.  Finally it was our turn and Cinder made it look easy. But, I’m convinced she would do ANYTHING for a piece of cheese!
That was the end of the activities so Marilyn had the group gather into a semi-circle around her while she gave the class Q & A time and wound things up with parting comments.  We resumed our place about 15 feet from the nearest pup. Cinder heard one of the other pups bark at something and she began to react.  Quickly we retreated and I regained her focus about 25 feet away and we worked our way a little closer, ending about 15 feet away before I could see her getting a little unnerved again.  At that point, the class was about to break so I took that time to gather our things and take them to the car.  After most of the people and pups cleared way but one, we made our way back to Marilyn and Karen (her assistant trainer for the class).  Cinder did well until we got about eight feet from the other pup and we had to retreat to about 15 feet again. 
We waited while the others finished chatting and were able to join Marilyn & Karen.  Marilyn asked Karen about an evaluation of Cinder from her perspective.  Both feel that Cinder’s young and we’re already working on the issues with some positive signs despite my frustration and our set-backs.  Both feel Cinder’s smart and athletic so capable of learning and doing a lot if I can keep working to gain her focus and attention consistently.  They reminded me readily that there WILL be challenges and set-backs; we will both be frustrated frequently along the way, but perseverance should pay off.  The both feel Cinder’s good with people, it’s other dogs that she doesn’t trust.  They both also said, “She is extremely bonded with you, so you’re her person and there will never be a doubt about that. It’ll be very hard for anyone else to get her to bond with them the way she’s bonded with you.” Marilyn then followed that with, “She gets utterly panicked about leaving you.  She’s getting a lot of her courage from you. It’s both good and bad.  You know why it’s bad, but the good part of it means that you can capitalize on that with her and in doing your training.”  Karen said, “She’s probably kind of a dominant female too isn’t she?”  I acknowledged that indeed, she is a “bossy, mouthy girl” that rules over the boys-to a point, at which time the boys let her know they’ve had enough and her puppy license is going to expire soon.  They both laughed and Karen said, “She’d be a perfect Aussie bitch because we call them ‘bossy Aussies.’” Both went on to reassure me that while many things may not be things Cinder will be able to do because the stress involved is not worth the work for her to try them, there are many other things she’ll be well able to do.  Pet therapy is definitely off the table for her-entirely wrong personality, especially once the reactivity issue became obvious.  Going to certain places and doing some things are not going to be enjoyable-for either of us-so let those ideas of things to do with her go by the wayside.  However, they said some of the top obedience, Rally-O, disk dogs, and agility dogs have reactivity issues so she could potentially still be good and even compete in those disciplines. We just have to go through all the training and take it all one step at a time, knowing we’ll have bad days and set-backs, but we have to keep working our way along.
Marilyn’s having a surgery soon and will be out of commission for an unknown period.  Hopefully by the time she’s back on her feet, I’ll be on a job and in a better position to try one of Marilyn’s group classes with Cinder.  Meanwhile, we keep working at the “homework” she’s given us and keep trying to build on our rapport when she’s out, in public with me.
Last night after the drive home, I opened the hatch of the car expecting Cinder to jump out.  Instead, she was SOUND asleep.  I tried to wake her and she was obviously too far out of it to jump out of the car safely and walk into the house.  I carried her into the house.  Once awake, she was ready to go potty; say hello to Gilley and Buzz; and head for bed.  She was EXHAUSTED.  The stress of being quiet and staying focused on me for two hours around all those people, dogs, and activities was more than either of us banked on.  For once, I KNOW Cinder was completely worn out at bedtime. 
 It felt better to go to the class and see that Cinder can focus on me enough to be nearby other dogs without instantly going off uncontrollably.  It felt good that both Marilyn and Karen feel Cinder’s reactivity is manageable and won’t preclude as many things as I’d initially thought it might-assuming we stay on track and keep working toward improving and managing it better.  It’s nice to know that I don’t have the weirdest dog ever; and many dogs are worse than Cinder.  Not that I want other dogs to have or be problems, but it’s nice knowing it’s a fairly common situation.  It’s nice that both trainers like Cinder and are encouraging me to not give up-letting me know that all the set-backs and missteps along the way are really normal and part of the learning curve. It’s nice hearing all this from people who have more experience with it and have that experience within the breed.  I’ve learned that Border Collies are breed apart from most others and if you don’t know and understand the breed, anything else you know about dogs may not apply to them; and usually doesn’t apply in the same ways.  If nothing else, our adventure to the puppy class taught me that we can learn to manage Cinder’s reactivity if I just keep staying the course of working with her.  It won’t be easy, but I’ve always loved a good challenge anyway!
So ends this update on our latest endeavors testing Cinder’s reactivity progress. This also concludes another day doing our best as we continue the endeavor of raising Cinder.