Dash’s Cool Game

This problem-solving game is great fun for your dogs.  It also helps a dog reluctant to fetch balls to pick them up to get at the treat.  Watch!

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Dash is 8 months

The little pup is growing and growing.  Almost as tall as Cassie now, and it looks as though she might be taller.

Her training is going quite well, although I’m not spending as much time with her as I would like.  The skill sets I’m busy with at the moment are off-lead heeling, front finish and finish to heel, deliver to hand and remote sit as well as sight lines.

Heeling off lead:  I’m using a ball as a reward here because she gets very excited when heeling and tends to snatch at the food.  The ball reward works very well though.  You can see on the video clip how excited she is in the beginning, but soon starts to calm down and walk nicely.  She is still flaring out with her back legs but that should adjust with time and if it persists, I’ll go back to the food rewards once more so that I can click and treat better position and movement.

Using the perch as a tool for front and finish.

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Dash’s First Retriever Test – 6 May 2012

Yesterday we spent the day at a Retriever Working Test and Dash had an opportunity to show off her retrieving skills.  The test was organised by Sue and Dave Forder and Anne and Geoff Skelton and the venue was the wonderful farm part-owned by Geoff and Anne out in the Midlands beyond the Dargle valley.

What a wonderful place this is in the foothills of the Drakensburg.  Rolling hills as far as the eye can see interspersed with gullies and dams and every now and then herds of blesbok either grazing peacefully on the grass – still green, thanks to the late rains – or running across the landscape like the moving shadow of a cloud.

Dash didn’t disappoint me.  Totally focussed on the retrieve – “dashing” out at a great speed to the dummy and returning to me (also at great speed) to deliver (most of the time) to hand.  Of course she is still not steady and had to be restrained after the shot and throw until she was calm and could be released, and still a bit noisy, but very accurate in her marking and with a fabulous hunt in the longer grass, keeping to a really tight hunt with persistence that I have rarely seen in such a young dog.  I’m delighted with her, apart from the excited squealing when she takes off.  I’m confident that will improve with time and training though.

She ended up with a pretty respectable score of 71% and had a wonderful time during our breaks running with the older dogs.

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Like a Duck to Water

Alan has recently sent me this wonderful account of his December holiday.  I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.


Over the 2011 December holidays we spent a few quiet days at my Mom’s farm in the Dinokeng area (and if the truth be told, some loud ones too!). This gave young Zulu and I a chance to go on a lot of adventure walks in the Bushveld and some group walks with Paddington, Baloo, Jack and Peppa in tow.

Quiet time at the Farm

On our first day our friend Les (Peppa and Jack’s owner) and Jack joined Zulu and me on an amble down to a small dam a few hundred metres from the house. It has a nice small beach and even though it’s a bit over-run with Water Hyacinth, I thought it would be as good a place as any to get the little guys swimming. I waddled in to about waist deep and even though the day was as hot as Hades, the water was not, and I was glad I did not have a brass monkey with me.

I was just managing to coax Zulu towards me when Jack (now around 14 or 15 weeks old) glomped over my intrepid aquanaut and dunked him just as he was working up the courage to embrace his heritage as a water dog. These four-leggeds can really make you pay for small lapses in judgement and try as I may I could not get Zulu in the water past his chest for love nor money (or even Al Fraser’s jowl drenching dried wors) for the next 10 weeks!  By which stage, in total desperation, and much to Mike and Di Holman’s amusement, I took to swimming out into the Knoppies Dam (and not for the first time!) to get Zulu to follow me in.  Still, as I write this, Zulu is 27 weeks old and he persists with his unique brand of “puppy style” swimming which looks a little more like cat drowning than an otter gliding effortlessly along, a style, Louise tells me, is in his maternal line and I have no doubt that he will find out what his tail and back legs are for in the fullness of time.

Out of the water, the little guy’s confidence was growing by the second (a real chip off the old block) and he was boldly trekking out to explore the next butterfly, dandelion and on one occasion a rather startled leguaan that took his fancy. Fortunately he seemed to respond well to the sound of sheer panic in my voice and came bouncing back to me to see what all the fuss was about. So the next time he went trudging off I hid behind an old concrete water reservoir, and as soon as he felt alone he came hurtling back to look for me and from then on he started to keep an eye on me rather than the other way around!

Some more friends joined for a New Year’s bash, and at one stage we had a pack of six labs, two short two-leggeds (Simon and Becca), eight taller two-leggeds, all in various states of inebriation, and one Englishman who did not drink but suffered from acute cynophobia which I am a little embarrassed to admit amused me no end!

Jack and the Zulu Impi instilling Pure Dread in the Heart of an Englishman!

Zulu got to walk past herds of Impala, Hartebeest, and was almost but not quite totally unsteady when a duiker got up from under our feet but luckily I managed to grab the little bugger before he got going (Zulu that is, not the duiker). Like a true Zulu Impi, he started to toughen those soft Sandton paw pads on some real Thornveld. He also got to watch (while he was on lead) Paddington quarter and flush a covey of Franklin.

Fur Blind behind the Acacia on the Left

Life is not all biltong and birds for a young dog and the poor little pup was crated, in the car on game drives or on lead next to me for most of the time, much to Simon and Becca’s bemusement. Both of them gave me a stern talking to about my uncharitable behaviour towards Zulu and I must say I started to feel a bit like a canine equivalent to Ebenezer Scrooge, especially when Jack, Peppa and Abby kept whizzing passed in a yapping ball of rolling fur, but Les and Storme (Abby’s owner) had never had to go into line with the Paddington Express at “heel” and I would rather avoid the tribulations in my trials with Zulu.

Between my hangovers and his periods of incarceration, Zulu and I had two weeks’ worth of adventure walks, walking on a loose lead (or a not so loose lead when the Franklin broke cover!) and he had started to run sight memories in slightly thicker cover (15 to 20 or so metres) but most of all we are trying for the ever elusive grail of self-control (for the pup too!).


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Dash’s First Trial – April 2012

Since I had entered Cassie (Dash’s mom) and Teal (Dash’s grandsire) in the Labrador Retriever Kennel Club’s trial over the last long weekend, I thought it would be a great opportunity for Dash to experience the excitement, the gunshot and all the vibe that goes with a Retriever Trial.

She coped very well with the 6 hour-long trip in the back of the truck that she shared with the rest of her family and even though we had a number of stops along the way she was very glad to finally get out and really stretch her legs.  Even though she did not compete she coped very well with the gunshot and watched everything with the same intensity as her grand-dam did when she was a puppy.  We practised our heeling amidst all the distractions, and also practised sitting quietly at heel, watching the dogs working.  She accepted fairly long periods of tethering while I was working one or other of the dogs which is a very important part of her learning, particularly since I will always have more than one dog to run, and will, from time to time be expected to judge.

Teal and Cassie ran nicely and I was very pleased with them as it was a pretty tough course and they last competed in June 2011.

Cassie fetching the duck from across the river.

Settling Teal in line prior to the retrieve

One of the highlights of the weekend was that Dash’s littermate, Zulu, competed very successfully in the Puppy Stake, and came 2nd – much to the delight of his owner Alan and, of course, myself.  Very well done Alan and Zulu!!!

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April 2012

This gallery contains 2 photos.

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Dash is 6 Months

And getting taller by the day.  Never seen such long legs!

Puppy days are well and truly over and, as I anticipated, she is proving to be quite a challenge.  She has great drive and lots of courage – no problem scaling a near vertical bank, through a barbed wire fence and into thick cover to find her dummy.  Lots of persistence and will continue hunting until she has found it.  Wonderful nose but, I’m hesitant to say, very little self-control when we’re out in the field.

Now that I’ve established that she is a really keen little retriever and will bring her retrieves back to me and deliver to hand most of the time, the real work starts.  Obedience, learning impulse control, tricks to help with co-ordination, balance and strength.

I’m also working on her pivot, off-lead heeling, sit and stay and steadiness in the face of distractions and remote sits.  She gets the odd thrown retrieve, but most of all I’m concentrating on sight lines to help build her steadiness.  One of the “tricks” that have helped enormously with her delivery to hand is the nose target to my palm.  My palm held out facing her as she comes in with the dummy is her cue to push the dummy into my hand.  Her “Leave” exercise is also coming along nicely, and she will look away from food in my palm held in front of her.

This table gives an idea of some of the skills I’m working on at present with the breakdown or splits for each skill.

Exercise Splits/Criterion
Focus: Must find eyes and maintain contact for 20 seconds. Hold eye contact for 5 secs
Hold eye contact for 8 secs
Hold eye contact for 10 secs
Hold eye contact for 15 secs
Sit to Whistle facing 8 out of 10 reps with zero latency
Sit to whistle in heel position 8 out of 10 reps with zero latency
Sit and Stay – no distractions Maintain a sit at 5 paces
Maintain a sit at 8 paces
Maintain a sit at 10 paces
Sit and Stay at heel amidst mild distractions such as dogs playing in the distance Maintain a sit for 5 seconds
Maintain a sit for 8 seconds
Maintain a sit for 10 seconds
Sit and Stay at heel amidst strong distractions such as dogs retrieving or playing Maintain a sit for 5 seconds
Maintain a sit for 8 seconds
Maintain a sit for 10 seconds
Loose lead walking:  Walk on a loose lead for 40 paces with an automatic sit half way. Walk on a loose lead for 10 paces
Walk on a loose lead for 20 paces
Walk on a loose lead for 30 paces
Walk on a loose lead for 40 paces
Formal recall amidst distractions using whistle. From 5 metres
From 10 metres
From 50 metres
Pivot:  Find heel position from anywhere by moving back legs. Place front paws on tile
Place front paws on tile and make eye contact
Place front paws on tile and move back legs to circle thru 180°
Place front paws on tile and move back legs to circle thru 360°
Place front paws on tile and move back legs to finish in heel position
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