The First Time

There’s always the first time of taking a dog into the “real” ring that all the matches can’t really imitate, where there’s a real judge, an audience (however small), and the requirement for all the aids to disappear, at least temporarily.  I’ve learned to make these first times very targeted in my goals, and typically the most important goal is to ensure the dog is having fun, and that I think he’s absolutely wonderful.  After all, I’m planning on years of showing the dog, so setting the best tone initially is crucial.

Ruckus had his first time in regular obedience this last weekend, in the subnovice class of a UKC show.  While subnovice lacks the off-lead portion, it still is significantly more demanding than rally or AKC’s beginner novice class.  The voice and body aids have to either disappear or are greatly reduced, the judge is more physically present, and the duration of attention needed extends beyond these other classes.   (UKC subnovice does include an honor down and group sit-stay that is not included in the video.)

I’m developing a consistent system of weaning the dog off of food, toys and my voice (although they never entirely go away), and Ruckus is still working through that process. So I considered pulling him earlier in the week when we had a mediocre training day.  But that little moment of training “crisis” caused me to brainstorm some changes to my handling that made a big difference for him.  My ultimate goal is to maintain his joyful intensity in his work while also gaining precision.    The trick is to maintain duration of that attitude as the aids and rewards get more randomized.   The video below shows me that process is working!

Sure, there are green dog mistakes, like thinking we were halting when we moved into the slow, some slight lagging when he’s supposed to be driving, and botching the front after coming over the jump.  (Not my first novice dog to do that–the jumping is fuuunnn!!  Whoa, front, what’s that???)  But then he gave me a perfect finish!   Overall he earned a 196, a great score for his first time.

Overall I was thrilled with his attitude, effort and focus over a relatively lengthy period of ring time.  In fact his attention was better than I expected it would be.  Maybe he’s making that IWS training leap in understanding that I so often experienced with Journey.  We’ll enter the March UKC trial in the regular novice class, and then give AKC a try.



Fall Pictures 2017

I like to hold a photo shoot every year to commemorate my dog family.  Sometimes I get this done professionally, but this year decided to try it in the garden on my own.  I’m pretty happy with the result!

First, the 2018 obedience team!  Looking forward to lots of fun times with them next year:


Ruckus, Journey and Robbie

Next, the Irishers all on their own:


Ruckus and Journey

Then, my Gael, who was not very enthusiastic about having to stay still for so long when the fall fields beckoned….


And then the springers:


Rozzie and Reardon

Next, Reardon got a photo all by himself, just because he often seems left out of things (not that he seems to notice).  He’s still a handsome boy:


Finally, as a bit of an outtake, here’s one of Gael when she looked like she was about to take off:



Happy Fall, everyone!

Ruckus’ development from rally novice to obedience novice trialing has required a few major changes, the biggest one weaning him off my cheerleader voice.  He got too dependent on my voice in rally, which was not really his fault when I was using my voice (overusing, I think) to build up his animation and intensity.

But regular obedience trialing allows the voice only between exercises.  So we needed to gradually turn off my cheerleading voice while still maintaining his attitude.  Truth be told, I was seeing some lessening of intensity even by the end of his rally novice performances, so I knew we needed something to change.

So before this first fun match, we’ve moved to toys, specifically a frisbee that Ruckus loves.  I’m seeing much better duration and attention, and just an overall sense that Ruckus is “getting it.”  While I noticed when I watched this video that I was still using my voice a lot, it was less to cheer-lead, and more to remind him of what he needed to do.

The frisbee is now invisible in my armpit, but of course he knows I have it.  We’ll keep building duration and attention in different places, and eventually progress to the toy not on my body all the time.   I’m really happy with the progress and attitude I’m seeing here.



I’m frequently on the look-out for a “second sport” for my dogs, one that might be more freewheeling and less intensive than the obedience training we do.    This second sport needs to fulfill these criteria:

  • Doesn’t take up a lot of costly or time-consuming training time;
  • Ignites and utilizes my dogs’ instincts or drives (thus making it more automatically and quickly “fun” for them);
  • Simplifies my job as a handler;
  • Has some photo-op opportunities.

After all, we’re supposed to be having fun, right?  And what sport seems to possess all these qualities?

Dock Diving!

Actually this new sport isn’t all that new to me.  I’ve tried it out with several of the dogs over the past 5 years or so, all of whom love to swim and retrieve. But until recently, it always ended up looking like this:


Roz at a dockdiving event at Issaquah Salmon Days


When I really want it to look like this:

Ruckus airborne

Ruckus in a glorious dive off of the Cottage Lake fishing dock

For at last, I have found my dockdiving dog in Ruckus, the Irish Water Spaniel who came to visit last December and decided to stay.  Ruckus’ first formal event came at the Enumclaw shows in August at a NADD sponsored event, where he started out jumping 14′ and ended up with a personal best of 18′.   This meant he jumped himself into the Senior division in one weekend.  Quite a debut.  But more importantly, oh what photo ops there were, thanks to Richard Liebaert:


By the second time on the dock, Ruckus was shivering with anticipation while “on deck,” and his tremendous success and enjoyment fulfilled all the above critiera for me.  All I had to do was time the throw of the bumper correctly.  Pretty easy-peasy.

This inspired me to aim for an end-of-season dock-diving event in Vaughn, Washington at the end of September.  Jeff even made me a “baby dock” to use at a local lake:

Jeff's baby dock

Once or twice a week in August and September, a happy foursome of Ruckus, Journey, Robbie and Rozzie went Cottage Lake dock for practice and fun swims.  Ruckus continued to fly off the dock, while Journey and Robbie eventually got the idea, although Journey with more enthusiasm.

Then on September 30th, we drove out to the regional AKC approved dock-diving site, Brown Dog University in Vaughn, Washington:


Robbie  took the most coaxing.  Sure, he wanted to swim and fetch.  But oh, it was a long way down.  Finally he managed a novice leg by accidentally falling over my foot:

I had higher hopes for Journey.  She screeched in the van as other dogs were pulled out to jump.  She screeched more, dragging  me on the lead (my obedience dog) as we walked over to the dock.  She dragged me up on the dock and then…

Wiser, older dog common sense took over.  Why jump when you can simply sliiiide into the water?  Journey’s first “jump” (air quotes, air quotes) was 6 inches.  Then 18 inches.  Then at last 2 foot for a novice leg!


All of this high comedy was relieved by the star of the day, Ruckus, who showed the heavily lab-populated event what an Irish Water Spaniel can do:

And of course, more glorious photo ops:


And how did Roz do?  After many attempts to get Rozzie to jump off the dock, I opened the door to the ramp and let her have her swims her way.  Because we’re just here to have fun!









Rozzie, Reardon and their littermates, out of Duffy X Kani (Ch. Donahan’s Definitely in Style UD, NAJ, JH, WDX and Melchris Constitutional UD SH RN WD), turn 10 today, and I want to wish them all a very happy birthday!

This was one of David Hopkins’ experimental crossings of show and field springers, with their mother (Kani) being 1/4 field bred. While I wasn’t the breeder of record, I was very involved in the planning of this litter, and treasured every second of raising them.  Unfortunately the litter was troubled by some heartbreaking health issues as they matured, but this was also a litter of exceptional achievements.

Three out of the five earned their Utility Dog titles, with some all-breed and Specialty High in Trial wins along the way.  Two earned tracking titles.  Rozzie, Reardon and Tony, owned and loved by Sue Carlson,  were exposed to birds, and all showed strong potential.  Unfortunately, some mistakes with gunfire made Rozzie and Reardon gunshy when they were puppies, but despite that, Rozzie’s talents earned her three out of her four Junior Hunter legs before I felt the gunshyness would just be too much to overcome.   The other two girls (one in Spokane and the other in Virginia) while not participating in AKC events, demonstrated their wonderful temperaments by serving in some way as therapy/service dogs.  One visited nursing homes for many years, and the other was a special supportive companion to a young girl with an auto-immune disorder.

These achievements speak to this litter’s outstanding qualities as working and companion Springers, all of whom want to please their people more than anything.  I’ve certainly cried my tears over their setbacks, but I’m also deeply proud that they all possess the true heart of the Springer Spaniel.   Happy birthday, Shakespeare litter!




I’ve often thought that living my life according to the principles in The Lord of the Rings works pretty well.  And so a few weekends ago, I was reminded of this crucial scene where Faramir realizes he needs to release Frodo, so Frodo can continue on his quest:


How could this possibly relate to dog training?  The words Faramir spoke came to mind when I recently showed Gael, my Gordon Setter, in the obedience ring for the first time in a year-and-a-half.  That long break between the 2nd and 3rd leg of her novice title occurred to some extent because another older, soon-to-retire dog took precedence.  But it also occurred because getting Gael to perform according to the expectations I had was simply exhausting.  She didn’t seem to enjoy it, and I wasn’t enjoying it,  so why keep going?  I had never given up on a dog for the obedience ring before, but with other dogs taking priorities, and Gael’s obvious enjoyment in simply being a house and pasture dog, I gradually let those expectations go.

And as I let go of them this past year (to some degree subconsciously), Gael matured.  She now has less “happy feet” on her stays and a bit more impulse control.  This summer she seemed genuinely pleased to be re-included in the training team that heads to the training building.  And so I entered her at the Portland shows.

And she passed, which finished her novice title!  This happened with no extra commands needed on the heeling (a previous problem), no massive buildup to a special jackpot, and me being okay with Gael being Gael.  The on-lead heel had silly moments, but she improved with a solid off-lead heel and good recall.  I admit to some loud heart beats on the stays, but at the end, I walked around her, waited for the judge to say, “exercise finished” and we had our CD!



The next day I just wanted her to have fun in the ring, and so moved her up to Graduate Novice, which asks for some baby versions of the Open exercises.  And despite the fact that I had only reminded her of  some of these exercises quickly the week before, she passed again!


It felt like the less I expected of her, the better she did.  The more I took pleasure in who and what she was, without the pressures of all the expectations, the more she flourished.

And so, at very long last, we understand one another.  She might not be my High in Trial dog, but she will have moments of brilliance and will look beautiful doing it.  She is very fun to train, and while we can work on getting better, the unreasonable expectations are over with. To paraphrase Faramir at the end of the video, “Release her!”   We are on a new journey now.

I made a little video of her best work over the weekend just to remind myself of what she can do.  While the work here isn’t perfect, there are those beautiful moments of pure energy that is my Gael.

Rally Ruckus!

I wrote about Ruckus in my last post, the visiting Irish Water Spaniel who is enjoying his new job with me in obedience and most likely freestyle.  He is smart and willing, and so I told his owner that, yes, I could have him ready for Rally Obedience at the National.  That National is now less than 3 weeks away, which means we’ve been busy compressing approximately a year’s worth (or more) of training into 4 months.  Can Ruckus handle it?   From the video below during last Thursday’s rally run-throughs, I’d say, absolutely!

Right now the challenge is weaning Ruckus off of his food motivators enough to get us through the time period of a typical rally novice run, which is a little over a minute.  The video below shows a first run with food visible, and then a second run with food invisible (but still on me), with one food reward in the middle of the course.   Fortunately rally allows the handler to use verbal encouragement, which Ruckus responds to exceptionally well.  For formal obedience, that will also need to be much reduced, but for now, I’m using all the tools I can.  I’m very happy with Ruckus’ attention, position and happy tail-wag throughout!