Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Clearly not Sylvia Bishop

Yesterday it was 68 degrees. SIXTY-EIGHT DEGREES on March 6. The only drawback was the screaming 30 mph wind but still, since it was 68 degrees on March 6 I took the dogs out to play ball.

There’s only so much mindless ball-throwing I can do because A) I throw like a girl and B) I once gave myself a very painful case of tendonitis using one of those Chuck-It ball launchers. (Try explaining THAT to your doctor.) So pretty soon I started looking for training things we could do between ball-chasing episodes.

I hadn’t brought out a dumbbell or gloves and didn’t have any equipment set up but figured we could work some drop on recalls and signals. I was a fair distance from the house and didn’t want to take Jamie back to put him in the yard so he was going to have to be patient and hang out while Phoenix and I worked. Yeah. Right.

If you’ve ever seen the video of amazing Brit trainer Sylvia Bishop training one of her border collies while three or four other dogs run around loose, waiting patiently for their turn . . .well . . . that has never worked for me. My dogs are not patient. They do not wait their turn. They push and shove. They are sure the dog I’m working doesn’t know anything and that they know everything. Connor repeatedly shoved Jamie out of the way and would heel between him and me if given the chance. Jamie routinely pushes Phoenix out of position. Phoenix has just started to push back but is hesitant to push the Big Dog too much.

I needed to give Jamie a job to do while I worked Phoenix. Previous attempts at putting him on a simple stay have failed miserably. He ends up in the middle of whatever Phoenix and I are doing anyway.

But that didn’t stop me from trying it again. (Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results? That would explain a lot.) Jamie sat. Jamie stayed. I recalled Phoenix and dropped him. Jamie launched out of his sit and ran straight to front. Phoenix gave me an annoyed look.

I put Jamie back in a sit. I put Phoenix in a stand and walked away. I signaled a drop. Both dogs dropped. I signaled a sit. Phoenix sat. Jamie ran straight in to front. Phoenix gave me an annoyed look.

Okay. This wasn’t working.

Inspiration struck! Jamie could guard the ball!

This sounds stupid but it’s just the sort of thing he excels at. Jamie occasionally collects all the toys in the house and lays on them so Phoenix can’t have them. He will also occasionally collect shoes or pieces of laundry and lay on them. If he were a human, I suspect he might be a hoarder.

I put him on a down/stay and put the ball between his front paws.

Me: Jamie, stay here and guard the ball.

Jamie (grabbing ball and running off): I have the ball, I have the ball, I have the ball!

Phoenix: Party on! CHASE!

Me: Guys, come back here. Nix, sit. Jamie, give me the ball.

Jamie, chomping madly: I have the ball, I have the ball, I have the ball!

Me: Yes. Obviously. Lie down with it.

Jamie: ’kay. Chomp, chomp, chomp.

Phoenix: Hey! How come I have to work for the ball but he just GETS it?

Me: Age has its privileges.

Phoenix: Screw privileges. I want the ball.

Me: Heel.

Phoenix: No, you heel. I’m going to get the ball.

Jamie: Chomp, chomp, grrrrrr, chomp, chomp.

Phoenix: Never mind. Maybe I’ll go get a cat instead.

Me: I am losing control of this training session.

Phoenix: Ya think?

We actually did get things sorted out and managed a nice series of recalls, drops, signals and heeling while Jamie took his ball guarding very seriously. There’s nothing worse than an under-employed Belgian.


  1. I just came in from trying to train both dogs, while they were both loose. (Yes, I have failed at that before and yes I just tried again.) I set up the articles in a nice pile, turned around to send Bo, and the pile looked slightly different and Tip was mysteriously and worrisomely out of sight. in the middle of the lawn, with his purloined leather scent article. (sigh).

    Then there was the time I was practicing retrieves, and I had just managed to finally teach Tip how to take and hold a dumbbell. I threw it over the high jump for Bo to fetch and instead we both had front row seats to Tip zooming in and stealing the dumbbell. I got THE LOOK from Bo.

  2. FYI, my husband bought a used lacrosse stick for ball throwing. You can scoop it up with the end & not touch slimy ball. And you don't need to use much of your arm for throwing - no tendinitis. He had the same problem, so went looking.

  3. I thought I was a terrible trainer because I have to kennel one dog to train the other. They shove each other around while doing the same thing. No one pays any attention to the name before the command - they both do everything and shove me and each other around while they do it or they forget they are supposed to be working and start rolling around snapping, barking and acting like fools. It can be a little disappointing.

  4. Lol, this sounds like some days at my house. I am finally making progress with my lab that not everything is about him but it's a tough road.

    I audited a Sylvia Bishop seminar last year and she is a hoot! Loved her attitude and her way with the dogs. Her techniques worked well for the participants who had great relationships and observation skills with their dogs but I think they were very hard for the less skilled trainers who seemed to apply things more as corrections instead of positive body handling. Hard to explain but it was a very fine line and fascinating to observe.

  5. You're killing me! LOL! I only have ONE dog and it's a lot like this! :)

  6. Great Blog!! That was amazing. Your thought processing is wonderful. The way you tell the thing is awesome. You are really a master