31/10/10 Back to dog school (training for Working Trials Competitions)

Me and Whitevanwoman had a great day yesterday. We got up early and when Whitevanwoman packed her rucksack and got out her boots and waterproof jacket, I knew that the day was looking like being a fun day. After a half hour drive in the white van, we arrived at a field and I started getting a bit excited when I saw lots of people with lots of dogs – it reminded me a bit of my Search Dog training days, but these were different people and different dogs, and I didn’t know any of them except for Martyn with dogs Murphy and Lucy (our new friends from our Great Northumberland Adventure in the summer – blog post coming soon).

We were split up into groups – beginners, intermediate and advanced. As it was our first experience of Working Trials training, we were in the beginners group (although I did feel a bit smug knowing that I was probably at Intermediate level as me and Whitevanwoman do lots of training just for fun and my age and experience as a trainee Search Dog would give me an advantage). It was a bit like being at Dog School (where I did all my Kennel Club Good Citizen Awards, a long time ago now, back in 2004 when I was just a youngster), but instead of being in a village hall, we were in a field.

The beginners started off doing a retrieve – the owner had to throw something for the dog to fetch back. Easy, peasy. That is how I spend 90% of my time and it is my purpose in life, as well as keeping Whitevanwoman warm during the winter nights and providing her with constant adoration.

I can’t believe that there are some dogs who don’t know how to retrieve or don’t enjoy retrieving! When it was my turn, I was so excited having waited (not very patiently or quietly) to be able to show off my retrieve skills, and so I sprinted after the tennis ball and then hurled it at Whitevanwoman’s feet as normal, expecting the usual praise in return.

However, for some reason, the praise didn’t come so I picked it up and hurled it at her again, and again and again. But she didn’t pick it up and just kept telling me to “Sit”. Eventually I twigged that I had to sit in front of her before dropping the ball at her feet. But still that wasn’t right, and it took a few more attempts before I realised that I was supposed to sit still holding the tennis ball in my mouth and then put it nicely in her hands, like I do when she has knocked something off the table at home.

Then we moved onto do some Searching and I was in my element. But we weren’t looking for bodies or rucksacks or tennis balls, which is what I have always searched for in the past – this time we had to find some small strange objects in the grass. They were strange things – not dog toys, but things like a jam jar lid, a small bit of carpet, and a bit of leather belt. Very odd things to find in a field but I’ve learned not to question human behaviour, just to accept it as being slightly odd.

The search area was only about 20 feet square – I almost laughed in delight as this would be a walk in the park for a dog who is used to searching a whole fellside. And, of course, I found all 3 items and brought them back to Whitevanwoman, remembering from the retrieve exercise that I wasn’t to throw them at her, but to sit nicely and put them in her hands. I think she was pretty chuffed, especially as there was no wind so I had to use all my skills – air scenting, ground scenting and a good look round.

Then we moved on to the next exercise which was a bit strange – Whitevanwoman sent me to lie down on a dog bed next to a traffic cone. I did as I was told although I wasn’t particularly happy as I wondered whether I was in trouble and that perhaps the fun was over and I would have to stay on the bed for the rest of the day. So although I went on the bed as Whitevanwoman does not like to be disobeyed, it was without my usual enthusiasm and when Whitevanwoman called me back to her, I was pleased and relieved.

We did the same exercise again but this time Whitevanwoman told me to “Go lie down” next to the traffic cone, instead of telling me “On your bed” which I was much happier about and I was much more enthusiastic about that. I’m not quite sure what the point of this exercise was – it’s called a Sendaway – normally when Whitevanwoman wants to send me away she either says “Off you go” (if we are outside on a walk) or “Get out of my sight, you horrible dog” (if I have been naughty).

In the afternoon, we practiced some Stays. It’s a long time since I’ve done a Stay with other dogs around – we used to do them at Dog School and also sometimes with the Search Dogs, but that was a long time ago now. But seeing as how all the other dogs were “staying” nicely, I thought I better had too. So although it’s a bit boring, I did what I was told, although I did disgrace myself once by wandering off to have a sniff at a particularly interesting clump of grass.

Then me and Whitevanwoman did some heelwork – we do this most days when we are out on a walk so that was no problem, both on and off the lead. I still don’t understand why Whitevanwoman suddenly turns left or right or all the way round but I’ve learned over the years that she likes me to stick right next to her left leg when she does this so I did, and she seemed pretty pleased with me. Especially when Martyn told Whitevanwoman that we would have probably scored 3 or 4 points out of 5 in a competition, which was pretty good for a beginner. I just have to make sure that I don’t stop to sniff at interesting smells when I’m on the lead, which I do like to do.

And finally the last exercise of the day was jumping, which I love. Especially when tennisballs are involved. We started off with a long jump – in return for jumping across 4 or 5 planks laid flat on the ground, I got the tennisball – no problem for a dog which is used to jumping across stream gullies and cattle grids. Then I had to jump over a little gate which was nothing compared to the kind of gate I usually have to jump over when we are out on a walk.

But I learned that I have to pick up my back feet so that I don’t break the little gate by knocking the pole off the top. The first time I knocked the pole off Whitevanwoman said “Uh-oh” in THAT voice, so I knew straightaway that I had to do better next time. And so next time I tucked my back feet up and soared over it beautifully and got the tennisball in reward.

The last jump was about the same height as a stone wall but made out of wood and again I had no problem leaping over it, even from a stand still. It kept getting higher and higher until it was as high as Whitevanwoman’s shoulders and still I was clearing it with ease. It reminded me of when I was a youngster and I used to jump over the gate from the yard to go and say hello to people walking past our yard – Whitevanwoman kept making the gate higher and higher, so I just jumped higher and higher until she started putting me on a lead when I was clearing 6 foot to stop me from getting out. I do enjoy a challenge like that – it brings out the competitive streak in me.

And then it was time to go for a walk with Martyn and dog friends Lucy and Murphy. We all headed up towards Farleton Crag, through the woods to the top of the fell, and me and Murphy and Lucy had a great time romping around through the woods and undergrowth. Whitevanwoman and Martyn had a little grumble because it had started raining and it had got quite dark and they didn’t have a torch or a map or a compass and I think Whitevanwoman was a little bit worried as she had never walked round there before and was a little bit lost and also it was Hallowe’en, but luckily Martyn had been for a walk there before and was eventually able to find the way back to the white van, although we were all drenched by the time we got back. Of course, if they had REALLY been lost, I would have got them back to the white van safely

When we got home, Whitevanwoman gave me a big hug, a big bowl of dog food and a big pig’s ear to chew on, as a reward for making her proud. She said that we have got some hard work in front of us if we are going to be ready for our first competition in February but hard work doesn’t bother me, especially if tennisballs are involved, and so I just wagged my tail, gave her a kiss on her nose, and retreated to my bed to happily chew my pig’s ear.

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