Winners of 'Public Choice' Award

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

A Week With A 'Pilgrim' Bandit

The Pilgrim Bandits

Those who saw our Blog last week after we'd picked up Bandit for a trial, will know he's been living with us for the past week now. If you haven't read it, it's probably worth reading before you carry on!

One thing I must say before I carry on is, a HUGE thank you to everyone reading our Blogs. We hit the 10,000 reader mark of our Blogs today - so I really, really appreciate everyone reading them & interacting with 'us' on Twitter too. I really hope you find the Blogs informative, helpful & a worthy read too!!
 
As you know, we've had the pleasure of having Bandit staying with us for the past week, and I must say it's gone really well - actually he's been brilliant! It's been much better than I expected it to be.
 
He's settled in really well, has been great in his crate & he has been brilliant with Taylor. In fact he's better with Taylor than any of our past puppies have been! He's slowly getting used to our kennel set up at home, and he's quite happy to be outside in his kennel too.

Bandit in his crate

 
These were the most important things for us - was he OK in the house? Did he get on with Taylor? Could they be left in the kennel together while we are out - without barking the place down? Everything else is workable, but without these we couldn't have kept him - especially if he didn't get on with Taylor.
 
All of the above have been satisfied over & above our expectations. Naturally the kennel situation needed a bit introduction, but he's settled into his kennel & being outside really well.
 
As I said in my last Blog about Bandit there are areas he needs work in, but this past week has been all about him settling in & basically just building up a bond between us.
 
People must thing I'm stark raving mad when they see me out with the pups. I'm always talking in a ridiculously high pitched voice, telling them how wonderful they are, before picking them up & giving them big cuddles in the middle of fields! All of this helps build a bond with the pup though, and for me this is what really gets us results - it's our relationship with the dogs.
 
There's 5 key basic exercises I teach my pups right from an early age, because without them every other exercise you do is impacted. As well as these key exercises, I also want a great bond with the pup, along with having control of what they're doing. 
 
Bandit came here with absolutely no control whatsoever!
 
The exercises I believe give dogs the best foundation to learning are a RETRIEVE/RECALL, SIT, LIE, STAY & LEAVE.
 
If you're only going to teach your dog 5 commands - these are what you should be doing. If your dog hasn't got all of these, at some point, I'd say you're going to hit a problem.
 
Bandit on day 1 would snatch at toys, every time he sat he thought it was a bite work exercise so he was barking, he wouldn't lie & wouldn't stay. He had a good recall, but if it was retrieving a toy it was a bit of an issue. So it made life difficult because he was like a box of frogs every time a ball came out. Added to the fact he wouldn't release/leave his toy, we just couldn't do any 'Police dog' exercises until we've got the basic foundations in place.
 
So this week we've just simply worked on the basics - as I say, I'm taking him completely back to the start & treating him like an 8 week old puppy in a 5 month old body. So here's his week one update . . . .
 

RETRIEVE

 
When I first took Bandit out, we'd play with his ball but he wouldn't retrieve it back to me nor would he release his ball on command. He'd come so far back to me and then back off every time I tried to get near him.
 
Part of our bonding process over this past week has also focused around Bandit trusting & interacting with me too. When I have a baby puppy, whenever we play fetch games, I always have the pup running into my arms for a big cuddle. I never get the pup to come into me & then me take the toy straight off him.

It's always the pup coming into my arms, a big cuddle, lots of fuss & praise for coming back, whilst also allowing the pup to hold onto his toy. Once he's had lots of fuss & cuddles etc I let him run around with his toy.
 
By getting your dog to come into your arms, it means you are in complete control of the dog. You may need to recall your dog away from danger. You may need to recall your dog to get him on his lead quickly. If the dog doesn't want to come in close to you, you have a problem.
 
So all week we've worked really hard to get him coming right into us for a cuddle. He's not completely there yet, but 8 times out of 10 he'll come in close enough for you to be in control. He gets lots of cuddles & I pick him up for cuddles lots of the time too. Just so he's learning that coming back close to me doesn't always result in him losing his toy.
 

SIT


To be fair to Bandit, he already had a sit command. However, throughout the week it's become apparent that his sit action is actually his answer to everything you asked of him. Whenever you gave him any kind of command he'd always sit & bark.
 
So he'd got the basic part of the command, he would actually sit - but I didn't want him sitting, barking at me. That's a completely different exercise altogether. We've worked on getting a nice clean, quiet sit in front - and to be fair it didn't take a lot of work to stop him barking in front.

He's got an absolutely 100% perfect sit now!
 
 

LIE (DOWN)


Down has been a little bit of a challenge for Bandit (I always use down instead of lie as a command) because he just wanted to keep sitting & barking! However, he's absolutely nailed it these past 2 days. We can get a down every time now.
 
We started off with food for his down. I'm a BIG believer in 'lures' when working with dogs, I don't really go for the 'capturing' element. If you've read our Clicker Training Blog you'll know what I mean. So the food was working pretty well, although since I've swapped back to a ball reward, the results have been much better. (Lesson learnt for me - stick to the ball!)

We use lots of hand gestures for all of our commands, which helps lure the dog. Initially we had to help guide him into a down position, by using food on the end of his nose, whilst slightly pushing his body down. But now, he's got a perfect down - either by verbal command or simply using hand gestures.
 

STAY (WAIT)


Bandit didn't have a real grasp of what stay meant at all (again I use Wait as a command). Wait is a MASSIVE command & exercise for him to learn. I'd say it's probably one of the most important commands to teach your dog. I need to have control of the dog at all times, so if he's running off ahead of me or if he see's something he might run after, I need to be able to stop him & quickly.
 
So not only is wait a command used for him staying in a particular position like a sit or down, there is also the practical element of the exercise.

Again, lots of hand gestures help with this exercise and he now knows that a flat palm out towards him also means wait.
 
He's brilliant at waiting in a sit or down now, and I can walk 15/20 meters away from him for around a minute or so & he'll stay in position. He's slowly getting the wait command while we're walking too. I want my dogs to basically freeze still when I say wait at any time. This comes over a bit more time though, once the wait command is really instilled into him.
 

LEAVE (OUT)


As I mentioned, another little problem we had with Bandit was the non release issue. It makes playing & interacting with your dog so difficult. If after every positive interaction, you then have to fight the toy off the dog for a few minutes, the game always ends in a negative for the dog. It also makes exercises time consuming. So we've really had to work hard on his release.

Again, to be fair to Bandit, I've had pups out of his dad before, and unless you work on a release from an early age it's very easy to run into problems later on. It's very much a trait of their breeding line.
 
Initially you'd literally have to prize Bandit's jaws open to get him to release his toy. We're still not at the point of him outing 100% of the time instantly, but I've got him doing it well enough to work with him - and more importantly I never have to fight or prize his jaws open now either. (When I say fight - I don't literally mean fighting him people - don't worry!!)
 
For this issue I've had to use a 2 ball system. I HATE using this system, and never do so with any of my pups. With this method, the dog can soon learnsto second guess you, and will start to spit the ball out miles away from you as he's running back, in anticipation for you throwing the second ball. However, because Bandit's got such a release issue we don't actually have that problem!!!

2 Ball Bandit

 
I've got him to a point now where he'll out, if he's anticipating a second ball. So, as long as I can make him think another ball is entering the game he'll release. Slowly over time, I'll reduce the introduction of the second ball - but for now he's doing it brilliantly & well enough to be able to start some more 'advanced' stuff.
 

What Next


One thing we really need to work on is his overall manners - because he's got absolutely ZERO of them!!! In fact, moments before starting  to type this Blog, I took a few malted milk biscuits out of the biscuit jar & he'd jumped up & nicked them straight out of my hand!!

He also jumps up when people walk into the house & jumps up at the kitchen work surfaces etc.

He is a bugger on his lead with other dogs around. He's actually really sociable around dogs & he'll ignore them if we're playing in the park too - which is really great. However, on the lead he's like a lion!!!

So there's a few bits & pieces around manners he needs to learn - especially as he's now staying here too.

Now he's got the basic key exercises, we can also start to do a bit of basic property searching & basic tracking work with him.

As I said previously, compared to our pups he's got a bit of catching up to do. At this age, had I have had him since a baby, I would have expected him to be a bit more advanced in terms of exercises & ability.

He should have been coming up to what I call the Phase 1 level.

However, what I must keep reminding myself is . . .he's an 8 week old pup, in a 5 month old body!!

Conclusion


Everything we've done this week has been around using the clicker & whistle. It's such a valuable & important tool in dog training. The most time we've spent on things this week, has been around the conditioning of him to his clicker & whistle. If you've never used a clicker before take a look at my previous Clicker Training Blog's

His general recall with his whistle is brilliant - in fact he did go tear arsing after a little Shih Tzu in the park yesterday, and if it hadn't have been for the whistle I wouldn't have got him back! One quick blast of the whistle was enough for his recall.

He's quickly learnt that every time he hears the whistle or a click, he knows he's getting his ball, lots of interaction and lots of fuss & praise.

One quick blast of the whistle & he comes back to me at 100 miles an hour!! It's absolutely invaluable - especially as I don't really know Bandit 110%. One thing I do know, is that he's 110% conditioned on the whistle now.

One thing's for sure, Bandit is an absolutely lovely dog. He's really loving, has a great temperament & has now started to settle at home too. He's very happy lying on 'his' doormat in the house too. He's got a lovely 'on,off' switch between 'home mode' & 'work mode' too. He loves playing & interacting which is the most important thing for him.

Bandit & 'his' mat


Everything has been really positive, and there's no better feeling in the world than seeing your dog develop, pick up new exercises & excel in them. I've got absolutely no doubts that Bandit's going to make a great Police dog - more importantly. . . .my reputation requires him to be! 

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The New 'Project' - PD 'Pilgrim' Bandit

The Pilgrim Bandits

Regular readers of the Blog & our Tweeps on Twitter, will know Sear leaving came as a bit of a surprise to say the least. Usually we’ve planned their departure a fair few weeks in advance, which means we can also plan for our next ‘project’. Lot’s of people have been surprised that we’ve got another pup so quickly, however, normally we have always swapped the trained dog with a 6 week old pup all on the same day. So this time has actually been the longest we’ve been without a 'trainee'. 

PD Usha departing as PD Arragon arrives

I’m a bit planning & organisation mad, so I always like to know what date we’re swapping the dogs over. This theen means that I also have a plan for the arrival of the puppy, along with being able to plan my work schedule to ensure I have at least 2 weeks at home with the new arrival.

The most important thing with a dog is building up a bond, which is why I spend 2 solid weeks with the puppy. If there’s one thing I’d ever recommend anyone doing when they have a new dog; it’s to spend at least 2 weeks bonding with it. Most ‘normal’ people don’t have a new puppy every 9-12 months, so taking 2 weeks out of your holiday entitlement to spend with your dog isn’t really a major investment or sacrifice of holiday entitlement over the course of the dogs 9-15 years of life. It'll also put the foundations into having a well balanced & social dog with responsible owners.

When I had the call on Thursday afternoon to tell me that Sear was needed to start a course on the Monday, it was a little manic! As I said previously, we’d planned to have Sear until around the time we go to Thailand, so the plan was for him to go back, us to go to Thailand and then we'd get a puppy upon our return. We’d spoken about it, planned it and were all set up . . . .or so we thought!

We’ve got the builders in this week making some modifications to the kennel area, so it would have been all set & up ready for a new pup to arrive in 2013.

Now, let me make one thing clear. When you take on a pup as part of the ‘Puppy Walking Scheme’ there’s always a chance of this happening, so I wasn’t annoyed or moaning about it. A little upset – yes. It’s nice to have a few weeks mental preparation for the D Day (Departure Day) too but for us we had just 24 hours this time around. One of the downsides I suppose, of our pups being so developed & advanced is the fact that handlers want to take them on – which to be fair is not a bad position to be in!

Sear's first day at 'work'

Although it put a dent in our plans, I’m really pleased Sear has gone out. It’s good for him too. The stuff we were doing with him, he was sailing through. He’s stepped up a level on his licensing course, and will now be working in more practical ‘Policing’ environments. His licensing course will aim to simulate ‘real life’ Police Dog work, so he’s now got to prove he can do it ‘for real’. I’ve had a few nice texts & messages from his instructor, Sear’s handler & also other dog handlers on his course – which has been really pleasing. I’ve also had some really nice texts & messages from other dog handlers in the section about Sear too. I had a massive grin on my face Monday evening!! Those sorts of things really do mean a lot to us. It’s nice to know people are appreciative of the work, time & effort we put into our pups. So thanks to everyone who sent us those messages - and of course to all the messgaes Sear got on Twitter!!

So, having lost Sear and with us not having a replacement lined up, we had to endure being ‘Taylor’d’!!! It’s the first time we’ve not brought a puppy home on the same day, so it’s also the first time Taylor has also effectively been ‘dogless’. As a Beagle anyway, he’s mischievious (I’ll use the polite word!), but now he was also suffering a little with separation anxiety.

We took a trip to the Dog Training Centre on Sunday to look at a potential new project! We needed to do something, if only to stop Taylor being Taylor! We couldn’t have a baby puppy (i.e 6 weeks old), we just hadn’t planned well enough for one. Sarah’s shift pattern comes out every 6 weeks so we couldn’t juggle her shifts around and I try to arrange my own plans around her shifts, so for the next few weeks we’ve got no way of ensuring we’ve got enough time to have a baby puppy, and to try & change schedules, meetings etc is just too much hassle. I haven’t ‘puppy proofed’ the house & hadn’t got any baby puppy gear together training wise either. So we were looking for something a bit older.

Following our trip to the kennels, we decided to give Bandit a ‘trial’.

The Pilgrim - PD Bandit


Bandit (Westmids Bandit) was born 03/05/2012 and is named in honour of the Pilgrim Bandits charity. It’s funny really, I’ve said before how things seem to crop up & turn out. When Bandit was born I was asked if I would have him, however I’d got Sear & I just couldn’t take on another puppy. I don’t think it’s fair having 2 puppies, you have to divide your time between the two and I feel that neither dog gets the benefit in the end. You end up having 2 half complete dogs. So I had to decline. Now, only 3 months later I’m sat here with Bandit at my feet!
PD Bandit


He’s currently still ‘on trial’ at the moment, I only picked him up yesterday morning. I need to be 110% sure he gets on with Taylor & they can both be trusted & left together – by that I mean that I’m not going to come back to a half eaten dog!! Although at the moment, I could be coming back to a half eaten Bandit if Taylor carries on his Beagle antics!!

In addition, I want to know exactly what I am taking on before I commit to the next 3,4, 6 or however many months of having him.

So for the next few days I’ll be doing a few bits with Bandit, watching how he conducts himself and generally getting to know him. It’s also a chance for him to get to know us too, for example if he gets stressed around our environment, doesn't like his kennel, struggles being left now & again etc, then it’s not fair on Bandit for us to keep him, so there’s lots of things to consider.

However - although it’s early days - it’s so far, so good. (Touch wood!!). The only thing I have to keep reminding myself is that he isn’t a puppy we’ve had from a baby. I have to keep telling myself he’s not a Sear or Mambo or any of the other pups we’ve developed. I’m basically going to be treating him like an 8 week old puppy inside of a 5 month old body.

He’s a fairly ‘green’ dog - OK he's actually VERY green - in comparison to what I’d expect my 5 month old pups to be doing, so I’ve got to keep telling myself not to push him.

He’s got bags of confidence generally, he sits on command – although likes to bark when he does it, I can get a bark & hold out of him, he’s got a bit of suspicion about him – although I’m not overly convinced at the moment that it’s not a bit of fear at times, he’s house trained, he’s good in his crate & is a good traveller. He’s been great around the park, plays really well & has got a good recall. Most of all, he really wants to interact & engage with you. So he’s a fairly decent prospect.

He’s from great breeding lines, and I’ve had a few pups out of his sire (dad) Tag. I really like the Czech line dogs, they also tend to match my own personality a bit too - everything they do is at a million miles an hour. Based on my past experience of these dogs, he’ll be a bit different to manage than Sear was. Sear was very methodical & assured about what he was doing, whereas you tend to get a bit more of a ‘bull in a china shop’ approach to exercises with this line of dogs. Things that worked for Sear won’t necessarily work in the same way for Bandit, so we’ll have to tweak a few things here and there as we go too.

Tag of Valatad


I prefer to always focus on the dog’s good points, work on the positives. Yes, there’s quite a bit we’re going to have to work on – he’s got absolutely no manners whatsoever, he’s short of a few basic commands, not brilliant walking on his lead (completely unaware of the road!!), his leave/out is nonexistent ( a typical 'Tag' trait!), so there are things we need to work on but there’s nothing I would say is a problem, especially for a dog of his age.

IF we keep him, we’re also going to have a fairly stuttered start – which is another reason we couldn’t have taken on a baby puppy. I’m away for the weekend in Newcastle, then the we’re at our Moddershall Oaks break for a couple of days (much needed!!) and it’s also my sister’s wedding that week too, so there's another day/night out of the equation. So he’s going to be in & out of kennels for the next couple of weeks. But after that we can get cracking.

Until then, IF we keep him, it’ll all just be about bonding. Building a good, strong & trusting partnership with him – because without that, there’s absolutely no point me doing anything with him. But with a face like he has, who could not bond with the little fella?!

PD 'Fluffy Ears' Bandit


My aim is to try to get him up to speed doing everything a Police Dog should be doing by the time we go to Thailand – so it’s going to be a baptism of fire for him. There's lots we need to get through.
We’ve got 14 weeks in which to progress him, so the challenge is definitely on!! 
IF he stays, we've also got to get his Twoofing up to speed to, so keep your eyes on Twitter to see how he progresses!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Happy S(t)ears

Those people who know me, may find this statement hard to believe, but for once, I am a little lost for words - only a little though!

This week I had planned to write a number of reviews about the equipment & kit we'd used in the Lake District - however I've been thrown a little bit of a curve ball today! So apologies to anyone waiting for my reviews!!

Only 9 month's after my 'Goodbye Mambo' Blog, I'm sat here typing away again, with a few little tears - OK, well a few more than just a few!! I've had 'the call' that Sear is needed.

PD Sear the day we picked him up


I always refer to this day as D Day - aka the Dreaded Day. Normally though we get a few weeks notice of D-Day, except this time we've had 'the call' and Sear is needed . . . . . tomorrow!!

We've got literally a few hours left with him, so no doubt we'll have everyone coming round tonight to say goodbye to the big fella!

The plan is for Sear to jump onto course which is already running & spend some time with his new handler. There's no real major pressure for Sear to be licensed at the end of this course - especially given his age & the fact the course is already part way through. So all being well come January he'll be licensed and ready to work. Having two of our pups licensed within the same year would be absolutely fantastic!!

It's really difficult to explain the rollercoaster of emotions. Absolutely nothing prepares you for a day like today. We've been talking about the up and coming D-Day on Twitter for a little while now, and how we'd started our mental preparations but even so, it still doesn't prepare you for the actual phone call - especially when we thought we'd got a few more months left with him.

Whilst one part of me is absolutely delighted that people think Sear is good enough & ready; the other part of me is absolutely devastated that I've only been able to spend 9 months with him. Just at the point we're enjoying watching him work & starting to push him that little more - he's going. Even more so, I'm gutted we haven't got a bit more time to mentally prepare ourselves with his departure.

You think back to all the minutes, hours, days, weeks & months you've spent taking him to every possible environment whilst he was a baby, all the times I laid little 5 meter tracks for him (& then having to relay them after the magpies ate our meat!!) and all the games we played with his little sheepskin ragger. All of the foundations we laid for him to develop into a potential working Police Dog.

Sear with his tracking harness


I've been doing this for a good number of years now, and let me tell you - day's like today don't get any easier!! In fact, I actually think it gets harder!

Picking up a 6 week old puppy, caring for & training him for close to 12 months, means they become part of your family. Any person who say's "it's just a dog" is lying and any handler who claims "it's just a tool" is lying too! They are your family.

But the one thing that is absolutely apparent with Sear, is that he should (touching every piece of wood!!) go on to become an absolutely fantastic Police Dog. It's an absolutely fantastic credit to the dog that he's developed so well. Everything we've asked of him, he's done.

In a way I'm delighted that the course instructor has actually asked for Sear to be on his course. It's means a great deal when people like that recognise the work we've put into the pup. It's nice having a pup who handlers & instructors are desperate to work with. And rightly so, because he's an absolute corker of a dog! (I know I'm slightly biased too!)

Sear has got an absolutely fantastic nose - he's going to be one hell of a tracking dog. He's methodical, efficient & loves working his nose. Whether he's on a track or open searching for people or property - he loves it.

I love watching him work his nose - it's a bit sad really - but there's nothing better than seeing him work, then stop, take a massive sniff in through his nose, & then watch him crack straight onto where he should be heading! God help the human hiding at the end of the track!!

I put so much time into his nose work - it's absolutely vital for his development. I love seeing on Twitter & in the news when dogs have tracked xyz numbers of miles and caught the bad guy! No story highlights this better, than one of PD Axel's jobs recently. He's a real top dog & again his nose has got to be one of the best in the UK.

Many people will associate Police Dogs with fighting, biting & crowd control, but where they really come into their own is when they're using their nose!

And . . . "If you can't find em, you can't bite em!!"

Sear's the biggest puppy we've had - he's just 10 months old now and already weighs 37 kilos (that's nearly 6 stone). He's going to be a big lad. At 10 months old, he's still developing & still has a fair amount of growing left him in too which is frightening.

Sear at 10 months old
Sear also loves his bite work, he absolutley loves it. It's actually the reason I had to join the gym!! He's got so much power & strength, despite still being a pup.

Bite work time


We had planned on having Sear until January (ish) time, so him going so soon has dealt us a pretty difficult hand. It's also the first time we've handed a pup back without having another 'project' lined up. So we're a little bit lost, and I haven't broken the news to Sarah yet either!! (Fortunately she doesn't do Twitter or Blogs)

There's also the consideration that, we're in Thailand for close to a month in February, so taking on another puppy now might mean he's missing a crucial month in his development during February.

Then there's Taylor. He's spent pretty much his whole life with another dog, so we're in a bit of a dilemma as to what to do next. The other consideration for Taylor is that he's 9 next year, so having a big german shepherd 'playing' with him is getting a bit much now. Having a 6 stone dog hanging off his neck probably isn't the same at 9, as it was when he was a puppy himself.

Taylor also loosing his 'partner'


So there's a bit of deliberation & considerations to be had as to what our next 'project' will be, but one thing's for sure. . . .there'll be another 4 legged addition coming at some point! Like I say - dog mad!!

One thing's for certain, as ever, our next project certainly has some BIG paws to fill!

Sear's baby snow paws


But for now, our thoughts & bestest wishes go to Sear. We'll have absolutely everything crossed during these next 8 weeks. And as he goes, we can just remember the fun times!!

Thanks to everyone who has followed him on Twitter - we've had some great fun, spoken to some great people & have met some absolutely brilliant Tweeps!

It's been emotional!