Making Progress

Zachary at 9 monthsWe 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.



Recalling the recall

Zachary looking like he could never do anything wrong.

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.

What are you doing?

“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 digging his way to China.

4 months old

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 posed in his jacket after we returned home from a successful morning at SAR training.

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!

Naughty Tabitha

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.

Tabitha 1st
Zachary baby-sitting Tabitha.

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.

Tabitha caught in the act of mischief while Zachary helps with some pruning.

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.


Tabitha 2
Zachary bringing Tabitha inside after she has been naughty.

Raising Zachary

I brought Zachary home when he was just 7 weeks and 6 days old. He looked and felt rather like a child’s novelty pyjama case. He was white and grey, very floppy, very soft and very fluffy. His black nose was like a large button, and his bright blue eyes could have easily been glass.Zachary 8 weeks

His breeder described him as a very clever and gentle Border Collie puppy. I don’t dispute the “very clever”, and he could be exceedingly gentle when it suited him, but I soon discovered that he was part kangaroo, and the other part, sabre-toothed tiger.

“Don’t let puppies jump” comes all the advice, in case it damages their joints. But how do you stop a kangaroo-tiger cross from bounding and leaping?  But it was the sabre-like teeth that were the most troublesome.

When it comes to puppies, I am no “newbie”, but I have mostly had German Shepherd pups in the past. Don’t get me wrong: German Shepherds can be chewers, and I have lost more than the occasional piece of clothing from an unsupervised laundry basket, but in my experience, Shepherds have always had the grace to wait until an item of clothing is off your body before shredding it.

Zachary’s speciality was shredding clothing while I was wearing it, and often shredding the flesh beneath. He is the first pup ever to have broken my skin. In those first two weeks he left me bruised and bloodied, with my clothes hanging off me like those of the Incredible Hulk.

There was no aggression, I hasten to add. His attacks were all driven by love. He would launch himself at me with unbounded joy, then sink his sabre-teeth into any skin or clothing he could grab and swing his body weight below. Gravity would do the rest. zachary bite

We are now seven weeks on and the tiger has mostly been tamed. He tries hard to remember his manners, bless him, although the kangaroo is still in evidence. But biting is now limited to chewing on my arm while I tickle his tummy. Our bite inhibition training is paying off.