Sunday, January 22, 2012

Every Moment is a Learning Moment

I try to take my dogs on a nice long run/walk off leash at a local natural area almost every day.  Honestly, I think the hike in total peace and solitude of the flora and fauna is as much for me as it is for them.  I decompress, think, and just breathe without the sounds or distractions of the 'real world' - I sooo look forward to those hikes every day.  But my obsession with multi-tasking does not sit quietly so of course I take advantage of the walks as a great opportunity to practice some basic training skills - but in a more fun environment.  Having a second, adult dog that is reliable on her training sure does help - puppies LOVE to do what the 'big dog' does and mimic their behavior.  So I have turned the recall exercise into a race game - waiting until the dog and pup are well out ahead of me sniffing something of interest- I then give a recall and the race to get to me first is ON :)   Of course Sula usually wins the race right now, but Buzz is fast catching up and will be quicker than she is very soon.  Nothing beats the incentive of racing the other dog back to get the treat first!   I also play hide-and-seek games, ducking behind a tree or bush when the dogs are ahead of me, then calling them.  They have to use their nose to figure out where I am hiding.  It is amazing how quickly Buzz has figured this game out.  Of course Sula is a PRO so it helps that he has been able to learn from her at the same time.  But he uses his nose very independently and now is starting to find me completely on his own rather than just following Sula.

I love being able to combine training in such a fun and de-stressful environment.  I try to look at every moment as a learning moment - knowing that Buzz has the mind of a steel trap, so it is in my best interest to help him learn the RIGHT thing...and not the WRONG thing.  :)   I just love watching Buzz learn and problem solve...nothing beats ending the day with such a great training hike!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

First Snow

Today was Buzz's first snow.  There is nothing more fun than watching a puppy experience something like snow for the first joy and elation as they run, jump, dive, dig, and flop around in the fluffy white stuff.  We played with toys and I buried them so he had to use his nose to find them.  What a treat to watch him sniff around and then jump for joy when he found his favorite tug under the snow.  Even Sula decided it was a good day to finally play with Buzz, chasing him through the fresh snow and having a coonhound bark fest all the way. :)

Ode to K9 "Chief"

As I work on this blog for the newest member of my family "Buzz" I keep coming back to how this all started - "Chief".  I got Chief as a puppy, the runt of 13 Redbone Coonhound/Lab puppies and picked him simply because he was CUTE!  I had not clue about K9 Search and Rescue and really thought he would just be an awesome companion....which of course he was.  But soon I realized that this little boy needed a job, he was just a terror to live with!  In a twist of fate, at the same time I attended a meeting of the Missoula County Search and Rescue group, hoping to volunteer with them.  I was an outdoor nut - hiking, backpacking, skiing, biking, etc... so it seemed a great way to volunteer and be involved in the outdoors.  Thankfully I met a woman in the group who was doing K9 SAR and was invited to train with them.  So the journey and life-long passion simple and so innocent at the time! :)  Chief trained for area search, avalanche, and cadaver and just seemed to excel in all he did, despite all the mistakes I made along the way.  He was the best first SAR dog a girl could ask forgiving of me and always willing to try something new.  We never did certify in area search but avalanche and cadaver seemed to be what we were destined to do.  

Chief worked tirelessly to his retirement at 12 years old, and left this earth at almost 14 years old.  He helped many families along the way and taught me more than I will ever truly appreciate or understand.  I have so many amazing people in my life as a result of the journey with Chief.  After his passing I was so humbled by the notes of compassion and condolences, some from people I had never met but had heard of Chief's work helping a family member or friend in years past.  He set the bar very high for K9 Sula and now K9 Buzz, but Sula has met the challenge and gone far beyond, and I have the same hopes for Buzz.  Chief will always be with me in my heart and soul, I miss him today as much as the day I said good-bye.  But I feel his presence and know that both Sula and Buzz are benefiting from all that I learned from Chief.  Miss you Scooby-Boy!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Buzz's Day Out

Today was another amazing, warm, sunny (very NON-JANUARY) day in Central Illinois - perfect excuse to take the dogs out and around town.  I have so come to appreciate all my dog-loving friends and the local businesses that love dogs.  One of my favorite places is Hail the Hair King Salon and Spa, run by a dear friend Travis Manning.  So today after my appointment I brought Buzz inside for a little visit.  He ran into the shop like he owned the place, immediately making friends with every person he saw.  Of course everyone gushed over the 'cute little golden boy' and he just ate it all up!  Of course I know the truth....the power of that 'cute factor' quickly wears off when you find yourself chasing the little fur-monster as he races out the dog door with your favorite new shoe!  :)  But Buzz sure knows how to put on the charm when he is out in public!  And I took advantage of such a dog-friendly place, exposing him to all the odd sounds, smells, and new obstacles.  Yet again not much seemed to phase him as he marched around the salon, tail wagging and acting like he had been there his whole 13 weeks of life.  I am coming close to my "100 new things in 100 days" challenge, I think the visit to the Hair King accounted for at least a good 10 new things in just 30 minutes!  Training can be so much fun!

Playgrounds, postal carriers, and goose poop

Taking advantage of the over 50 degree day in JANUARY, I decided to take Buzz for a longer walk to Miller Park to have some agility fun on the playground.  Along the way we met a postal carrier who was so excited to give Buzz a cookie, commenting that it was best to make them your friend when they were that small...before they grew up. :)  It seemed like everybody was out walking in the warmth - and every person had to stop and 'pet the cute puppy'.  Buzz got lots of practice sitting nicely for petting....with modest success.  :)

The playground at Miller Park is ideal for puppies, a small, toddler version with nice, open grate steps and several slides.  Buzz showed amazing intuitiveness as he gently stepped off the platform onto the plastic slide and actually walked the whole way down without sliding into oblivion.  I was so amazed at his level of confidence and nerve....good boy!

Playground Fun!
On the way home we had to run the gauntlet of park goose poop...the real puppy can one resist all those delicacies!!  So much for the 'smart little boy'. :)   More people visits along the way home and I had one tired puppy when we returned....success!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Be careful what you wish for....

So I have decided to document the life and adventures of my new SAR puppy Buzz, if nothing more than a way for me to remember what REALLY happens should I ever have a thought of doing this again! :)

I have said it a million times....I wanted my 3rd SAR candidate puppy to have even more drive than the previous two.  Somehow memories of the hell I went through with Sula were muted to a dull pain in my brain.  I was determined to find a pup with even MORE drive than Sula - not sure that was possible :).  Somehow the knowledge I had gained over the last 15 years of doing K9 SAR had brought on significant paralysis as I spent the better part of a year researching breeds, breedings and litters...another Redbone?  a Lab?  a shelter dog?  oh wait...maybe a Golden?....oh the time it consumed.   I had to laugh as I recalled that my first SAR dog Chief was selected almost on accident, based on the sole quality of 'cuteness'.  He was the runt of a litter of 15 accidental pups, Mom was Redbone Coonhoud, Dad was Black Lab.  I just happened to come across the litter being sold at a locally owned pet store and fell in love with the scrawny little boy, so clearly the runt among the other robust puppies.  I decided to purchase him on the spot, no evaluation other than thinking he was simply adorable.  That is how my involvement in K9 SAR began...accidentally.  Chief certainly had his issues, thanks in large part to my mistakes along the way, but in the end he was an amazing cadaver dog and had an outstanding career before he finally passed over the Rainbow Bridge at 13.5 years old.  I spent a bit more time researching my next SAR dog but knew I wanted a Redbone Coonhound and quickly found a reputable breeder and picked a female pup from his next litter and named her Sula.  Those first 6 months with Sula were utter hell, I actually called the breeder several times near tears asking if he could re-home Sula with a hunting home.  I knew she had to work and would never survive as just a 'pet'.  He talked me off the ledge and thankfully we both made it through those tough times.  I have come to learn how to work WITH Sula and not against her and as a result, Sula has become an AMAZING SAR dog certified for land/water cadaver and trailing.  I could not be happier with her and am so grateful I did not give up on her...and me.

But now I have added my third SAR pup to the household - a male Golden Retriever named "Tanbark's To Infinity and Beyond", call name "Buzz".  I evaluated the litter and saw the tell-tale signs of high-drive puppy terror, but of course that is what I gravitated to.  I reminded myself that those qualities would pay off in the end, making him a great SAR dog - IF I did not screw him up along the way. :)  Besides, how could a Golden be any worse than a bull-headed, independent Redbone??  HA....I got fooled again!  Yes, he is simply adorable, but he is an adorable TERROR.  He is very quick to learn, which works great when I teach him the RIGHT thing...not so much when I screw up and teach him the WRONG thing.  Being a Retriever he is obsessed with having stuff in his mouth, quickly destroying anything that comes in contact with those razor teeth...including skin, toes, pant legs, and various other assorted items that had the ill-fate of being within his reach.

I keep reminding myself "it will all be worth it" and I will admit that my patience for his terror-ness is a bit improved, thanks in large part to Sula.  I find myself laughing a bit instead of broken down in tears as he ramps up his vocal protests to being crated or contained in the x-pen...not much can come close to the vocal protests that the coonhound waged against me. :)   I remain hopeful, recognizing that we have a loonngg way to go and lots can go wrong, but am determined to enjoy the journey and work for the best outcome.   So far so the end I could not be happier with Buzz and the potential for his future!