Sunday, October 31, 2010


Merry Chr.......I mean Happy Halloween!

The view at our house today, somehow snow on Halloween is just...not right...

Hopefully it won't last!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Urban Tracking

In my continuing quest to learn more about the world of the tracking dog, I went to the CKC Urban Tracking tests held last Sunday. What a shame to wake up to pouring rain and wind, the worst conditions for Urban. Urban Tracking is similar to Variable Surface Tracking in the U.S., but there are two titles available, Urban Tracking Dog (UTD) and Urban Tracking Dog Excellent (UTDX). Earning all of the four titles (TD, TDX, UTD and UTDX) gives you the Tracking Championship. No surprise that there has only been 12 Tracking Championships awarded in Canada so far. None are Shelties. T'ain't easy!!!

While rain can be good for regular tracking, Urban tracking is done on short grass and pavement. You can imagine how long a footstep scent lasts on asphalt when it's raining and how faint it must be once the track has aged the required 3 hour minimum (maximum five hours) in the rain. Wind is no help in any kind of tracking.

The track for UDTX is not less than 600 metres up to 750 metres (6 - 7.5 football fields in length), with surface changes and turns. It's just awe inspiring what these dogs can do, and the years of effort and training required.

I'm glad I went, can't believe I stood outside in that weather for so long, but it was really fascinating. Of the 7 dogs entered (4 UTD and 3 UTDX), one UTD dog passed. Of the 7 entries, 5 were German Shepherds, one Sheltie and one Lab.

A really good try by everyone, I can't even imagine doing this!!

The lone qualifier, a super working German Shepherd, new UTD!

My instructor and her Sheltie, with the backdrop of Lake Ontario. It was very, very windy off the lake on this hill. Very tough.

A super working German Shepherd at the UDTX level who was oh-so-close to qualifying. The judge and the tracklayer follow behind.

The same dog as above, nearing an article. Three articles are to be found on a UTDX track.

I was impressed!!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fall Tracking

I've been trying to squeeze in as much tracking as I can with Sugar this fall, with the nice weather we've been having.

She's coming along not too badly, we're working on lengthening the track, drastically reducing food drops (only one per leg and one on the corner). A "food drop" for her is one penny sized disk of hot dog...she might find it, she might not. She does get a jackpot at the end, as food and praise are her big motivators.

Going forward I will need to add more turns (a T.D. test is a maximum of five turns, we regularly do two, sometimes three) and age the track longer. A T.D. track is aged not less than a half hour and not more than two hours.

I have trouble comprehending the distances...after a certain (short!) distance, feet, yards, metres mean nothing to me. A T.D. track is not less than 400 metres (1,312 feet), and not more than 450 metres (1,476 feet). I mean, what is that? It's long, that's all I know! Anyways, a metre is 1.09 yards, a football field is approximately 100 yards, so she has to track over a minimum of 4 football fields, turning a maximum of five times. That's why an incredible amount of space is needed for a T.D. test!

I also need to get out in more "all weather" conditions, at all hours, and I've come to realize I'm not an all weather/all hours type. So definitely some effort needed on my part there!

I've been trying to take some video of her tracking, it's not easy trying to work the line AND video at the same time! I did get Terry to help a bit too. Here is the result! You always learn things when you tape what you're doing, I noticed her on the video slightly wagging her tail when she was close to the article and she knew it was coming up. I had never noticed that before I viewed the video. I've watched for it since and she does do it often. This will really help me to read her on the track which is critical and can make or break a team. I couldn't ask for a better partner though, she's a great little dog!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

40 Years of Shelties - The Start

It's been 40 years right about now (I don't know the exact date, but the beginning of October 1970) that I got my very first Sheltie. This 40th anniversary is a good time to write about my start with this breed and about that very special first Sheltie.

My sister (11) and I (13) were both really wanting to get a dog. Because of an earlier not-so-great experience with a puppy of another breed, our parents were reluctant to get another dog. We had seen a Sheltie while staying in a hotel, another guest who was about our age had one, and WOW, we never knew you could get a dog that looked so much like a Collie but was SO much smaller! How perfect was that?! We hung around with her and her dog a little, we were SOLD. Our parents, not so much.

In the meantime, we spent a lot of time walking neighbourhood dogs. One of these was a Saint Bernard whose owner enrolled him in obedience training classes. We asked her if we could go along. WELL, didn't one of the instructors have a Sheltie!! (now CKC Obedience judge Gina Loffredo). We still thought this was the best dog breed ever invented and now we found out how smart they were too! We went to the obedience classes religiously every week with the Saint Bernard owner, and the trainers allowed us to work a couple of the dogs. We were hooked! I took over the training of the Saint during the week and he did quite well. His owner lost interest after the classes but we couldn't get enough. We HAD to get a dog of our own!

We wrote heartfelt and tearstained letters to our parents and put them on their pillows. We WANT a dog, please, please we will look after it, this is all we want, ever. To our surprise they agreed!

We visited a couple of breeders and ended up picking a sable male puppy out of a litter of 6 from breeder Audrey Gray of Grayfield. At that time (1970) a pet, CKC registered Sheltie puppy went for $100.00. That was a LOT of babysitting at 50 cents an hour! Born on August 3, 1970, Duffy came home at 8 weeks of age. I remember holding him on my lap on the way home and telling my Dad he would be my first U.D. (Utility Dog - O.T. Ch.) dog. From then on we were inseparable.

O.T. Ch. Grayfield MacDuff, Can. U.D., Am. C.D.X., Bda. C.D. - "Duffy" - when we first got him.

Me at 13 years old with Duffy - we got him in October so this was his Halloween costume! He was dressed as: a baby of course! Sorry buddy.....

Duffy graduating from "Canine College" Basic Obedience class. The instructor was Hazel Slaughter of Meridian Shelties.

Duffy went everywhere with us. Here he is on a family vacation before he was a year old.

Growing up through your teenage years into your twenties with a dog that you train through to a Utility Dog title creates a bond that really, is difficult to duplicate, although I've had a few very, very special ones. (They're all special but...some are just a little extra special).

Duffy and me at the cottage, a place that he loved. He was a really energetic dog, and this place was one that could tire him out.

My sister Sandra and Duffy floating along at the cottage. He learned to swim by falling off the motorboat and never looked back. He was a great swimmer, especially for a Sheltie, and would even dive underwater to retrieve stuff. We couldn't go out on the water in a boat if he was out, because he would follow on the shore and try to swim out no matter how far away we were. He swam with us all the time.

Dad throwing a ball for Duffy, and our second Sheltie Robbie, our first conformation dog, who joined the family about a year and a half after Duffy (two kids who want to train their dog for competition can't have just one dog!). By this point we were interested in conformation too and wanted a dog that could finish his Championship, as well as doing obedience. (Robbie became Ch. & O.T. Ch. Summit's Laird Of Heath, Can. U.D., Am. C.D.X., Bda. C.D.).

Robbie and Duffy on the sailboat. These two had quite the life. They weren't left out of anything.

A family friend and I at the cottage, Robbie on the left and Duffy on the right, with me.

Ack! Me having Duffy jump 26". Now in those days a dog had to jump 1 1/2 times their height at the withers in Obedience, so he was supposed to jump 24". That was a lot. (A dog would not be able to see over the jump at 1 1/2 x and so was always jumping blind). We would push it a little because we knew he could do it - kids, what can I tell ya? He never touched a jump.

This picture was of three Shelties all from the same Obedience Club taking 1st - 3rd in a competitive Open "B" class. First was Beryl Cassidy with her unbeatable Robyndale's Free To Be (many titles!) who rarely scored under 198 and very often was 199-200. He had many perfect scores and was Top Obedience Dog All Breeds in Canada. Second was me with Duffy and third was Sue Danziger with Ch. & O.T. Ch. Grayfield Pepper And Salt U.D. We all trained together.

Duffy was a very game and fun loving dog. Here he's playing tug with my friend's Cairn Terrier. He played tug with the best of them, you could lift him off the ground with a tug toy, and of course, we did!

Me and my best buddy.

Our very first Utility trial, pictured with two others from our Club who earned legs that day as well. We not only passed but placed first! Wow, I guess we were hot stuff! Not so fast! My dog was just putting me through the gears as he usually did. He failed the next 11 Utility trials he was entered in! That was SO Duffy. Then after I was good and humbled, he passed three in a row to finish with an extra leg. He could be an awesome worker, but he could also just do exactly what he wanted. As I was just about to enter the ring I would try to get him to look me in the eye, if he would, we were good....if not.... When earning his C.D.X., the first trial he failed everything except Heeling and the Drop on Recall. Everything! Even both the Long Sit and Down. The very next day, he tied for High In Trial. That was Duffy in a nutshell.

In 1979 a friend and I headed to Bermuda with our dogs, I took both Duffy and Robbie. Robbie, usually the more consistent of the two, did pass and earn his C.D., but was really bothered by the sudden warm weather and didn't work nearly as well as he usually did. Duffy, on the other hand, brought his "A" game, looked me straight in the eye, and did fantastic. With super stiff top competition from the U.S. and Canada, he took a High In Trial, First places, had super high scores and won the Visitors trophy for the Highest Combined score of all the visiting competing dogs (pretty much all were visitors). Of course I had to take a picture of him with all his loot. It was an awesome trip. I was so lucky to be invited to judge the same trials in Bermuda 15 years later.

Duffy on the dock drinking water from the lake. This was in 1980, he was 10 years old.

His spot in the house at the top of the stairs, where he could survey everything going on and could safely nap without being in danger of missing a thing.

My favourite picture of my best boy and I. We lost him on October 21, 1981, at only just over 11 years old to a very aggressive cancer. It's difficult to even try to describe what he meant to me or how much it hurt to lose him. No wonder I couldn't get enough of this breed, with a start like this.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Gobble Gobble!

A perfect Indian summer weekend for Thanksgiving! We have lots to be thankful for. To mark the holiday, I'm posting some turkey pictures I've never posted before. All taken in our yard at one time or another.

In the right light, their feather colours are beautiful.

Can you tell which are the boys and which are the girls? Why yes, you can!

The above picture I took this afternoon, three really big boys in the yard. Run guys!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tracking Test

I went to watch the T.D. tracking test yesterday. As hard as it was to haul myself out of bed at 5:30 a.m., I was really happy I made the effort to go. Having seen the procedures and observing the tests will really help me when it's my turn to enter my first test.

There were 9 dogs competing in the test, with four new T.D.'s earned and five dogs to try again another day. Two Goldens, a Rottweiler and a Portuguese Water Dog are now officially Tracking Dogs!

First everyone met at a central spot (a business owned by one of the club members) and the exhibitors drew for their track order. "Luck of the Draw" must have been a phrase coined by tracking tests, because sometimes the pure luck of the draw you get can make all the difference. One of my friends drew second to last and the first track was one of the two still available, so a 50/50 chance of drawing it. Being her first ever tracking test, she didn't want to go first (as I wouldn't either!), and she was thrilled when she drew number 4. Not too soon, not too long to wait, just right! Or so we thought.

Because a lot of field space is needed for 9 tracks, the conditions are not the same on all of them, which is to be expected and is what tracking is all about. You never know what you might get or what might happen. In retrospect, we think her dog would have passed the number 1 track, while the number 4 track was difficult for this particular dog because of her size and coat. But that's the "luck of the draw".

This was the first test in the first field, which was used for track numbers 1 and 2. I was thinking the fields were just perfect, not too long, not too much scrubby cover. Mind you, this field was very open on all sides so the wind was really blowing across it, which could make it more difficult, blowing the scent off track. The first dog to go, who drew last and got the first track, was a super Golden who did a beautiful track and earned the T.D. title.

The first Golden on track. As usual, when everything goes well it looks easy and this dog made it look easy, very efficient and all business, it stuck right on the track and didn't run into any trouble. In reality, it's definitely not as easy as it can look and I really commend all the handlers who gave it a try, whether they were successful or not. I would have been a complete bag of nerves if I had been entered, I really think that going out to watch this time will help me in that department when my turn does come. What a huge thrill it would be to earn a tracking title!

The rest of the tests (3 - 9) were in this field. Quite the difference! Now this pictures was taken from the edge of the field so the foreground is longer and more dense than the actual field but this field was definitely much longer, much more dense and had lots of weeds, burrs and stuff to stick to coats. There is a Golden at the end of the line above and she also passed and earned her T.D. In the field that looked better (both pictures above this one) one dog passed and one dog didn't, so it all just really depends on what works for that dog, etc. Of the seven dogs that got this more overgrown field, 3 were successful. This field was more protected and so much less wind. The two little dogs with woolly type coats had trouble with this cover. It was deep for them and really hard to push through. "Luck of the Draw" and they have to track through what they get.

All kinds of things can happen too, there was a farm dog that came out and barked at one dog doing it's track, but stayed far enough away and it didn't seem to bother the dog tracking. I saw a few birds fly out of the grass, which might distract some dogs too. A farmer drove a tractor through the field during a couple of tests. A kid twice rode by on a super noisy tractor-toy on the road where the dogs were entering into the field to do their track, but it didn't disturb the dogs that were there at those particular times. So the conditions are never the same for each dog and that's part of the challenge and the fun of it, and is the nature of tracking.

I loved the atmosphere of the test, everyone so friendly and really pulling for each other. The host club was very welcoming to all, and had a nice hot lunch for everyone after the tests, which was so perfect after being outside all morning. It was interesting that there were three people there (two competing, one watching) that have been extremely successful in conformation as breeders/exhibitors (BIS, BISS, etc., one also judges conformation) but are no longer so involved in that arena, although they are still out there doing other things with their dogs. One commented to me that the atmosphere of the test was like showing was when she first started but is no more. I had to agree with that. So when we wonder where all the dogs and people have gone, some are definitely still there but doing other things.

The tracking judge had an apprentice judge working with her from the Maritimes, that was interesting to me as I didn't realize tracking judges had to go through that requirement (as do obedience judges). It must be difficult and expensive for them to fulfill the apprenticeship requirement as they have to apprentice at three separate tests per level with a minimum number of dogs required, with three different judges, and tracking tests are few and far between. They have to plot some of the tracks themselves under the supervision of the licensed judge. They don't have the oral examination requirement that obedience judges have but otherwise it is very much the same process. I have often wondered why conformation judges would not have some sort of apprenticeship step to complete, and why no oral examination either (the hardest part of all, in my opinion. This step will prove whether you can think quickly and decisively or not, and is very telling as to your level of knowledge as well). Conformation goes from written to permit with no steps in between. And the written exam is only done once, for the first permit. While obedience and tracking judges, etc. have to have titled dogs to the level they are applying for, conformation judges don't have to have ever bred one litter or finished one champion (from the requirements: an applicant other than a breeder must have a minimum of 15 years documented experience in the sport of purebred dogs (showing, club membership, official position, etc.). Doesn't that seem a little too simple? Never bred a single litter, maybe never finished a single Champion, a written test only and then go right to permit, you never have to open your mouth to explain anything to anyone about your thought processes or what you know or don't know? Wow. But I digress.

My instructor was there too, not competing, so it was great to stick close to her as she would comment on things she observed, things to do and not do, which gave me some really good tips. I learned a lot - hopefully I can remember what I need to remember when I need it!

All in all, it helped to get me motivated again (I think the all-weather part is taking some getting used to for me!). Terry has offered to lay tracks for us, so I'm off to show him how to do that and to get my dog ready for next year!

Friday, October 1, 2010


We've had a Chrysler minivan since they first started making them, we've had four of them in a row. The ultimate dog vehicle, right? The last time we really needed one though was when we took five dogs to ASSA 2006. We won't need that capacity again and haven't since that time. I knew I wanted a dog friendly vehicle but I was really tired of minivans. I didn't want another one.

So, when the van died a sudden death, it was time to go SHOPPING! There is a lot out there in crossover SUV's and we looked at most of them. I am beyond thrilled with my new Toyota RAV 4! My very first new car was a Toyota, I'm happy to be back!

My new ride! You are sitting very upright in the front, can see the whole front end and feel high up. The perfect short person's vehicle, although tons of headroom too. Drives like a car.

The widest between the wheel wells of all that we saw, even bigger vehicles. Easily fits two Deluxe Vari Kennels side by side in the back, with the back seat still up. There are several locations of tie-down rings for bungee cords. I love the way the back door opens to the side, instead of lifting a heavy door up. Also, so much lower to the ground so you aren't lifting heavy equipment up high and then in, another plus for the short folks!

Interior space with the back seats down. There are two handles in the back, one on each side at arm level, you grasp those and thunk, the back seats drop down flat. I didn't see another that does that. You could fit four crates in it with the seats down. They are split back seats so you can have one up and one down too. The vinyl part in the back is carpeted on the other side, which is how it came, just flip it over and you have the vinyl side, so the carpet stays clean. Because the spare is on the back of the car, there are two separate empty storage compartments under the vinyl flooring, one very large (like a hidden trunk) and one smaller one.

I'm not a Toyota salesperson, nor do I play one on TV, I'm just completely in love with this car!!