Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lots of Random Thoughts... mostly on puppies

Yup, all my good intentions and plans of updating the blog REGULARLY with some thoughts are out the window or the door or the cat flap again.  Honestly, I have started writing three posts in the last month, but they are all sitting cosy in my draft box. Maybe in the far future some edited versions of these will see the light of day, but for now I don't think they should be published.  So instead you get another of my trademark warbled messy thought shares and updates...

Let's start off with they Psycho Chicken, also known as Devil Dog...  Man, I am enjoying this bats@#! crazy pup, she is just awesome.  Now it doesn't matter what you say, but it is damn hard to compare your dogs as pups.  Because in short, you forget.  When I got Volt, I promised myself that I would record his puppyhood... every damn second of it.  I came close I guess... I was reviewing old puppy vids and journal entries and growth charts and photos... and there are BUCKET loads full, believe you me.  At the end of the day though, you forget... you forget the 'entireness' of the puppy-hood if I can put it that way.  The little things in between that string the whole thing together as a whole.  With Chaos and Quake, I wasn't in much of a position to record all of it, so records are sparse, but in all fairness, I probably remember pretty much the same amount of stuff as I do with Volt, which includes about 70GB worth of vids, photos and writings...

I know that Volt and Quake would play themselves into exhaustion and pass out, you know, kind of like puppies are supposed to.  Volt was especially annoying, because he would crawl into tiny little 'Sheltie Spots' where no-one else would fit in.  Chaos has always been like he is now... he would play when you wanted, then go and lie in a corner, watching me until I had recovered from MY exhaustion and was ready to play with him again.  Psycho?  No she really doesn't believe in sleep.  She will spend as much time as you allow her, shoving toys in your face, fetching and retrieving.  It literally never stops, unless you put her in her crate...  and even then, she lies there watching you, waiting for the door to magically spring open to the 'world of toys'.  Her motto is, if you can't find one, make one.  Last week she spent about 3 hours playing with an A4 plastic sleeve.  A green one.  It was big time fun and she retrieved it like a pro.  Her favourites are still rocks... of any shape, colour and especially size.  This annoyed my mom a slight bit, when during a visit, she basically emptied the whole rock garden, looking for some poor sucker to play a game of fetch.  This habit is proving hard to break.  Have you ever counted how many rocks are in your garden?  Trust me, its a lot.  And she is cool when you exchange her for another toy, but at the end of the day, there are many hours in her day, to go and find ANOTHER rock.  I generally run out of exchange toys, long before she runs out of rocks.

Which brings me to my next point, retrieving.  I have never had a puppy that was a 'natural' retriever.  I remember that it took me an hour of sitting on the passage floor getting Volt to bring back a toy.  And a month to translate 'inside' retrieve to 'outside' retrieve.  Not her.  She retrieves any time, anything, anywhere. This is one thing I am definitely not moaning about... yes, it is rather exhausting, especially by 02h00 on one of my insomniac mornings, but still a very nice attribute to have in a puppy.  As strong as her retrieve is, that is how strong her tug is.  She is a rough tugger, a fearless tugger, an undistractable tugger.  And once again, she will tug on anything you have to offer (or don't offer - including Delta's tail).  So I obviously have a toy dog here, no doubt.  Don't worry, in between all this demonic obsession with toys (hence the nickname Devil Dog), I do ensure she has enough rest, well lets put it this way, I ensure I have enough rest... and enough nutrition.  At the rate she is burning calories, I have to say she eats A LOT.

Her attention span for her age, IS something to write home about.  I am yet to see her attention on me broken by a distraction, which in my books is very impressive for a three month old puppy.  Having said that, it is even more impressive that I have been able to call her off everything so far, including huge games with Volt. She learns very quickly and I haven't seen her get frustrated, other than when she is REALLY trying to get me to throw the toy and I ignore her. A lot of people I have spoken to, claims this is because she is a girl, but since she is my first female dog in 21 years, I am far from ready to make sweeping statements like that.  Besides, I have never had any real issues with 'maleness' with any of my boys.  Although I have heard that Psych's litter brother has some 'attention issues'.

Now please understand, she is far from perfect.  Her herding instinct is intense.  Very intense.  Sometimes it overrides even the toy obsession.  Instead of chasing me (running around like a circus clown with a tug toy), she will choose to try and herd me, or they toy, or both.  This sounds like a stupid little thing, but it is a BIG thing that influences everything she does.  'Training' (which means running around like mad hatters with toys) is very hard, as she doesn't like being close to me, she would rather be a good 'herding distance' away.   We will work through this.  The funny thing is that her herding instinct developed the 'read, steady, go' game to a whole new level that I can definitely USE for Agility.We will be tugging like mad, but the moment I say 'ready' she drops down into herding position, facing in the same direction as me... she then won't move until I say go.  I can jump up and down, run around her, although I haven't tried it and I am not planning to, I am pretty sure I can jump on her head and she won't move.  Guess how I will be teaching my waits?  One thing I definitely need to improve from my other dogs, since both Volt and Chaos can at times have, shall we call it a questionable start-line wait.  The other problem I have just proves that it MUST be me.  She is not terribly into her food!  AGAIN!  She will eat anything if she is working for it, but putting down her meals and expecting her to eat it all at once is proving a challenge!  What the hell do I do to my dogs?!?!  Seriously need to figure this out.

Volt was the best socialised, most well developed puppy in all of existence (okay might be slight exaggeration, but you catch my drift).  His breeder really goes all out to ensure that her puppies are ready for life.  The box full of issues that is Chaos, however, came as he is, with endless fears and worries in tow.  He really is not the easiest dog, that is probably one of the reasons I like him so much.  Despite all of his 'every day' problems, he is a fantastic working dog, with fantastic work ethic and concentration and absolute honesty.  I am definitely not a pro on the whole sheep thing, just put some of my dogs to sheep once or twice, but personally I think Chaos would have been a fantastic herding dog.  Well if you are to judge by his wonderful 'outrun' to gather a 'herd of silly Border Collies' chasing after a ball.  The reason I mention this, is because him and Psych come from a very similar environment.  They are farm dogs.  Yes, they are whelped in the house and they grow up with love, but they grow up in a puppy pen, with toys and having to cope with the farm sounds and movements.  They don't leave the farm until they are 8 weeks old or get introduced to children or cats etc.  Since these are working sheep farms, the breeders don't tug with them or introduce them to a clicker (these are not tools the farmers themselves use, or quite frankly need to use judging by their success in their sport).  These are all things that Volt saw long before he met me. Psych's box of issues however, is completely empty, she is an open book.  Like Volt she loves all dogs, like Quake she loves all people.  She is not noise or movement sensitive and adapts to any environment you put her in within minutes.  She has not displayed any fear of anything up to date and her tail is always wagging.  She has not shown any stressed body language or worry.  She has never gotten car-sick.  I can definitely NOT say the same for Chaos, who in all essence came from the same environment. Please note I am now only comparing all my dogs up to 3 months of age, since that is how old she is now.

I also recognise that 'life happens', that I make mistakes and that there is bound to be (and have been with my other dogs) screw ups that will affect her.  Just  yesterday, I made the mistake of leaving her in the same room as Chaos alone for 5 minutes, while opening the gate for the OH and he nailed her, breaking some skin.  My mistake, since I know very well that Chaos didn't even like puppies when he WAS a puppy and age has made his grumpiness in this regard even worse.  While it didn't seem to affect her directly (she was up and ready to go, displaying no fear, just her normal respect of Chaos), every little thing in our puppy's lives make a difference.  Sorry ladies and gents, none of us are perfect, so things DO happen to our pups.  Life happens, it HAS to happen and our dogs's ability to cope with these things is very important.  Of course us as owners also have our own preferences, which influences the whole dynamic as well.  I ,for example, get supremely annoyed when people go all 'baby moggy' and pick up my puppies, fussing in cooing baby voices and not wanting to put them down.  Dogs have 4 legs to walk on.  There is a reason for that.  My dogs get plenty love and attention and cuddles, but I am NOT for picking puppies up the WHOLE time and definitely NOT into annoying baby voices.  I am also far from paranoid and while I try my bestest not to judge people that carry their own puppies everywhere for the first few months, I definitely don't agree with it.

So my whole train of thought was the whole 'nature vs nurture' debate.  No-one will ever be able to prove any argument here conclusively, since it is physically impossible (well until they solve the whole time-travel thing) to start over with exactly the same dog.  Dogs are individuals and even two dogs from the same litter can't be compared 100% in this regard.  So in essence you will NEVER know which factor contributed more.  But I do have a feeling that Psych's lines have a much more stable temperament than Chaos ever had, no way of proving it though.  However how this is a huge influence on our choice of puppies.

Now I am not judging and I don't know if there is a way that is more right than the other.  I have never raised a litter of puppies and to me, the proof is in the pudding. I am not going to make some grand statements here, when I don't have awesome puppies bred by me running around.  This however brings me to the actual point I wanted to get to from the beginning... yes after all that rambling, there was a subject I wanted to raise.

Not all dogs are suited to Agility, fact of life.  Which is why it does annoy me that some people are forever trying to lower course speeds/jump heights/championship requirements, so they can do Agility with THEIR dog (that is not actually suited), it is kind of like any other sport... if you are only 1.4m tall, it is unlikely you will ever be able to excel at the High Jumpther or if you weigh 100kg at your skinniest, I doubt you will ever be a jockey.  Even outside of sport, if you are tone deaf, you are never going to play in the New York Symphony Orchestra and if your brain is not good with 'numbery' things, then it is doubtful you will cope as an accountant.  But that is a whole different blog post.

Now if you have made the decision to get a Border Collie for the purpose of Agility (and keep in mind that a pup is a 15 year or longer commitment, regardless of their talent in Agility) and you have decided you can live with the breed, it doesn't end there AT ALL.  Depending on who you speak to, Border Collie breeding is a rather contentious issue.  I can only testify to the situation locally and of course the endless articles, books and forums that I have read. Border Collies are one of the breeds that have developed into distinct different categories.  Border Collies which you see in the breed ring and Border Collies you see winning herding titles and Border Collies that win the Agility World Championships, tend to be VERY different dogs.

I am not going to make sweeping statements about what is wrong or right.  Even the discussion of purpose bred dogs are becoming a bit moot, as yes, Border Collies were developed and bred (by US, humans) to herd, to have a herding instinct and there for one could insist that it is part of the breed and this instinct should be a requirement (and yes, this is actually my personal feeling too), however turn that argument to all your fighting breeds (yes, also developed and bred by US as humans) and you wouldn't exactly WANT that instinct to be dominant?  I have never owned or worked a breed other than a herding dog, hence my reluctance to make the statement of 'purpose bred' dogs.  I feel times have moved along.  Let's face it, there are less sheep farms and less farmers using working BC's, more and more people pursuing other hobbies with their dogs.  Dog-fighting is mostly illegal (thank goodness!).  Fewer people actively hunting with dogs.  The jobs of carriage dogs have disappeared. Does this mean these breeds should just disappear into oblivion?

Nope, I am not getting involved into that argument.  But when looking for a prospective Agility Border Collie, you have to realise that all breeders have a purpose for breeding. Whether it is to produce pets or breed dogs or pure herding dogs or agility dogs.  There are positive and negatives to all sides of this, many 'breed' breeders have disregarded work ethic because of the dogs' looks.  While some 'work-orientated' breeders may overlook some other fault because the dog is a good worker.  I know there are constant arguments between these two groups as to who is right and wrong.  I rather think the argument should be about WHERE their puppies go.

Many handlers that I know, go searching for their next 'champion Agility dog' amongst breed lines and then they are surprised (and worse FRUSTRATED) that the dog might not have the work ethic or stamina that they require.  Other 'weekend warriors' go looking for 'just another house dog that sometimes does Agility' from the strongest working lines they can find and then they are surprised (and worse FRUSTRATED) that the dog goes all Norman Bates on their house, garden and car and herds their kids.  Now of course with love, training and a lot of common sense, you can turn any of these around into a dog more acceptable to you, as long as you know what you are getting in for.  I have had my fair share of all of those categories and I can 100% attest to the difference in these dogs.  Believe me, don't believe me, but it is a fact.

If you do breed Border Collies, I am not going to judge your motives, as long as you can have sound motivations for all the breeding choices you make.

The secret is to be honest with yourself and the breeder in your requirements and not to jump on the next band-wagon, just because you want a puppy.  It is just as important that the breeder is honest with you in what they produce.  This part is a bit harder, because they are just as much attached to their dogs, as we are to ours.  They HAVE to believe in their dogs if they are breeding with them.  And unfortunately some might be a bit 'disillusioned' to the capabilities of their dogs, or purely want to 'sell puppies'.  So many aspects are important for an Agility dog (structure, temperament, workability, HEALTH), but more importantly this is a partner you will share the next FIFTEEN (or more) years with.  They have to live in your house, travel with you and be a companion.  So make the right decision for you.  The one thing that is NOT negotiable is health and if you support a breeder that insists on breeding with lines where there are known health problems, then I am sorry, but I WILL judge you.

While I am beyond ecstatic with my new girl, not everyone would be able to cope with a puppy like her. I am very biased on the matter, I will always prefer the structure, temperament and workability of the current 'working Border Collies', but I definitely wouldn't recommend them to all Agility handlers.  And while I might never cope with some of the popular 'breed' kennels's dogs, they might suit someone else's life perfectly.  When choosing a pup, be honest with yourself as to what you are getting yourself into, make sure you have done your research, but most importantly be honest.

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