After passing his Stage 4, Zachary continued to make good progress and we worked on gradually building up his fitness levels. We also worked on his alerts and they were getting much stronger. Feeling confident that he could manage the distance, I put him forward for his day mock assessment – a requirement before he can do the national assessment. It was a big mistake!
Zachary set off on his mock with his usual enthusiasm and found all four of the “mispers” hidden in the forest along a 2km route, but instead of alerting when he found them, he stopped to sniff and pee at every tuft of grass. Hormones were raging and his mind was not on the job. He still wanted to find people, but wasn’t the least interested in telling me or taking me in to the mispers.
Since then we have gone back to basics and mostly he gets it right, but he is not consistent enough at present for me to think about assessments. SAR dogs have to be reliable.
Adolescence has taken its toll on Zachary’s general obedience too, so we have been working on building his attention span. I’ve started taking obedience lessons with Lorraine Bennett, and she has helped enormously. She describes Zachary as going from a smart little boy with with the top button of his shirt done up saying, “Yes Mummy”, to a teenage yob with his trousers hanging around his bottom saying, “Whatever”.
Our SAR training is ongoing, but now I am focusing on setting boundaries and teaching Zachary that good behaviour brings the best opportunities for fun.
It all seems “three steps forward and two back” but we are making progress and I know that adolescence won’t last forever. Hopefully with persistence and consistency we will both come through it a little wiser.
We passed our Stage 3 in December as hoped, and have now passed our Stage 4 with Zachary just under 9 months old.
Stage 4 involved searching 25 metres either side of a 1km route through a forest in order to find two “missing people”.
Zachary worked his socks off for the full distance of the search. He gave a lovely indication for his first find, but his indication for his second find was rather wishy-washy, partly, I think because he was getting tired. The assessor passed us but made it clear that such an indication would not suffice for the final assessment. I am now left with a dilemma: whether to work at strengthening his jump-up or trying to train a bark alert before we go for our mocks.
I will also need to build up Zachary’s fitness. He can easily cover well over 2 kms when on a walk. When playing with his best friend, Rommel, he covers ten times the distance of the walk as he leaps through the forest and doesn’t seem to tire. But a two km search is far more demanding. Zachary was fading at the end of just one km, and it would have been even more difficult had the weather been warm.
So our challenge is to extend Zachary’s fitness and focus to find up to four people over a two km route, and possibly change his alert. It means taking things slowly and making sure there is lots of variety in our training to keep his motivation and enjoyment up.
On the theme of taking things slowly, we stopped attending obedience classes in the New Year. Not because I have given up on obedience, but because the distractions of the class are really too much for Zachary to handle. I found myself having to spend too much time correcting him rather than helping him to make the right decisions.
Now we work on obedience in quieter circumstances so that I can gradually increase the level of distraction as he progresses. Already I am seeing an improvement. We will return to our class when I think Zachary is ready, but I am not in any hurry for this to happen. On walks I often sing to Zachary, “Slow down, you move too fast” (from Feeling Groovy), and it’s a lesson I must also take to heart. Both with SAR and obedience, I should not expect too much too soon; I need to slow down and enjoy the journey with my little man.
A lot has passed since my last post. I introduced a whistle for long-distance recalls, and trained it using high value treats. (Yummy cat food).
Zachary has now passed both his Stage 1 and Stage 2 SAR assessments. Stage 1 just involved him making a find. I had a fever on the day and was dosed up with meds. Fortunately Zachary was not affected in the least and made a nice clean find in good time.
Stage 2 was more difficult because Zachary had to make a clear and readable alert. After much “umming and ahhing” I finally settled on a jump-up alert, although my obedience trainers were not so keen on the idea. (They spend a lot of time and energy teaching dogs that jumping up is bad manners.) However, jumping up is something that comes naturally to Zachary. I spent the first three months of his life with me trying to teach him not to jump up with little effect, so it did not take much training to get him to use a jump-up for his alert. He likes that he is now allowed to jump on me although we still need to work on consistency.
Between the two assessments, Zachary also successfully completed a night search in a forest he had not been to before. His search track covered about 1 mile in distance and during that search he found all four sets of unknown “missing” people. (The “mispers” were young RAF cadets and so hidden out in the forest in pairs.)
I am hoping that we will get to pass our stage 3 assessment in December. I know that Zachary has the ability; it is up to me not to let my assessment stress transmit to him. In the meantime, we also need to work on obedience. His heel work with distractions is getting much better, but we need to work on his “stays”. We attempted the Bronze Canine Good Citizen Award today. He passed everything bar the one minute stay. It was my fault; I had worked on distance but not on duration, so that will be our training focus over the coming weeks.
We have much to do, much to build on, and much to learn, but we have taken those first steps and we are well-and-truly on the journey.
We had a fabulous training session on Tuesday. Zachary did his first two-body search which means he had to find two missing people, each about 25 metres off a path that went about 400 metres. It was a lot of searching for one so young, but he was focused and enthusiastic throughout and found both “mispers” in good time.
After the training session we went with others from the dog team for a walk in a nearby park to checkout another potential training area. We let the dogs loose to play. Zachary was so excited to be playing with his best friend Rommel, two weeks his senior, that all thoughts of mum flew out the window. Calling made no impact. Even running off in another direction only caught his interest momentarily. He ran half way towards me then turned around and went after Rommel again.
It was fortunate that Rommel is a well-behaved pup who would not stray far from his ‘dad’ and we were in a safe area, but I realised that I am going to have to do a lot more training of recall with distractions. Those lovely little recalls in the garden and in the hall at obediences classes do not translate easily into the exciting world of running free with one’s friends.
“Zachary, what are you doing?” is common refrain in our house. As a four month old puppy, Zachary needs to be watched every waking moment, else he is into mischief. Even when under a watchful eye, he is no stranger to misbehaviour: trying to dig up the carpet, leaping on the furniture, chewing the skirting boards, etc, etc.
Zachary operates a strange set of double standards. It is perfectly okay, in his ethic, for him to tire of my company and run off to dig up the fence behind the shed, or to run upstairs to attack the laundry basket. Finding things to do out of my sight is a great source of pleasure to him, and he is not the slightest bit bothered that I am not there to watch the fun. On the other hand, if I move out of his sight, even for a nano-second, I am clearly breaking his rules and he is quick to let me know that my behaviour is unacceptable. I am not even allowed to be on the other side of a glass door.
I would accept that it was separation anxiety if he he showed consistency, but he is more than happy to be separated from me when it is his own choice. Rather it is I who suffers from separation anxiety in that I am very anxious whenever he is out of sight because I just don’t know what mischief he is up to.
Zachary celebrated his four-month birthday at S&R training in Poppy’s Wood. His search jacket – made as small as it will go – is still rather too big but at least it no longer falls off him as it did when he first tried it on.
Zachary already understands the concept of searching to find people. He has a tendency to hare off down the track to begin with, and I have a few moments of heart in my mouth while I wait for him to reappear. I have started to encourage him to check back with me, for his safety and my piece of mind.
After his initial rush this morning, he started to search more methodically, taking more directions from me. He probably only pushes in about 10 metres from the path, but I am happy with that at this stage.
He seemed a little reluctant to push into long grass without any clear track, but when he picked up the scent of his “mispers”, his head went up, he clearly sniffed the air, and pushed through the grass without any need for encouragement. What a good boy!
When we brought home our “perfect puppy,” Zachary, we also adopted his bed-time companion, Tabitha. Tabitha is a plush ginger kitten and full of mischief. She is always doing things she shouldn’t and trying to lay the blame on Zachary, but he loves her, so we try to manage her antics.
Whereas Zachary like to be helpful in the garden, Tabitha just causes destruction. While Zachary very thoughtfully digs out a fish pond, Tabitha digs up the lawn. Zachary is always having to retrieve household items that Tabitha has taken into the garden.
Dirty paw prints through the house, bits of chewed up tissues, and even the occasional “accident” are all caused by our naughty kitten. Zachary tries his best to keep her out of trouble, but there is only so much a little puppy can do.