Monday, February 2, 2009

teaching puppies to swim

This past weekend we went up to Langley BC to have a flyball training retreat weekend at the Run Free Canine Centre that is owned by our friends Karl and Jenny from the Run Free flyball club. In addition to the covered flyball arena, they also have a covered 4' deep pool for swimming the dogs, complete with a current generator for resistance swim training. The setup is very clever, with clear plastic greenhouses enclosing both the flyball arena and the pool, leaving them both able to be used despite the winter weather. My only complaint is that it is awfully cold in there if it's not sunny outside, but I think Karl is planning to put in a few space heaters in the future, or it would be trivial to bring some of our own.

I took the dogs swimming three times, twice on Saturday and once on Sunday, with Chris' job being to trade me dogs every 10 minutes or so. My big goal for the weekend was to teach Ezri to swim (and enjoy it), and I think that I managed to accomplish that. Along with the help of Chris (the swimming instructor), we wrangled Ezri into the pool for the first time and just walked her around a bit to get her used to the sensation, then Chris sent her to swim to me over larger and larger distances until she swam the length of the pool without hesitation. We soon moved on to fetch with a tennis ball in the pool, and Ezri was happily bringing the ball back, spitting it out, and turning to swim back for another go without any commands. She's still not a big fan of getting -in- to the pool, but that will come with time, and she'll have way more practice this summer when it's warm enough to swim at the park or at the lake. Jadzia, Curzon, and Phoebe all got turns in the pool with me as well, with the girls both happily playing swim-fetch with me without getting out of the pool. Curzon insists on getting out of the pool after fetching his ball, however, and only swam for a longer period when we put him on a leash to make him swim laps rather than run out of the pool with the ramp. I tried using the resistance current with both Curzon and Phoebe, and that worked great for Phoebe but Curzon quickly gave up figuring it was way too much effort for just a tennis ball.

Ben also brought in baby Teal for a few swim sessions, and although she was pretty much terrified she was a great little swimmer and was almost able to pull herself out over the edge of the pool. She's too young yet to have the deeply ingrained ball drive that my older dogs do, so I mainly just let her swim from one side of the pool to the other before picking her back up to repeat it. At least at just 9 weeks and 10 pounds or so she was easier to move in/out of the pool than Ezri was!

Of course, the one downside of swimming with the dogs is that they have strong legs with sharp toenails, so I have a wide variety of bruises, scratches, and welts across my arms, legs, and hips. Next time I think I'm wearing a wetsuit to at least protect me from the scratches, even though there's not much to be done about the bruises!

The flyball parts of the weekend were also really helpful, and I think Jeff did a good job with arranging drills and doing some timing and video work that we don't get the time to do at a normal practice. Boxturns for all dogs were videotaped and we watched them on Saturday around lunchtime, so that we could better determine what work each dog needed. I'm happy to say that all four of my dogs have firmly fixed feet on the box, i.e. they're not repositioning at all between landing and launching, which was a worry I had especially with little Ezri. Jadzia's turn looks very clean, Phoebe is fine, and Ezri has got one fast snap off the box. Curzon is still having issues catching the ball, which are due to a combination of him smashing his nose into the box and not opening his mouth far enough to catch the ball entirely. The girls all got some box-aid turn work, with Ezri getting extra attention with the snap on - snap off drill, and Curzon practiced catching/grabbing the ball with an entire bucket full of them.

We also did plenty of full runs, and after an initial confusing try Ezri had no problems running as part of a team for the first time. She had a perfect pass with Phoebe, and didn't give Tango a second look when passed wide by her, so that is looking promising for introducing her to full team runs. And as long as I hold up her tug, she holds her ball, which is a bit of a problem with Indigo right now so I'm trying to be very careful to not let Ezri develop the same issue. One of the last exercises we did before leaving on Sunday was to set up the "SuperJump" course with 8 jumps in a row, to assist dogs in firming up their footing and timing for going over the jumps. Jadzia, Curzon, and Phoebe had no issues with this, having done it before, but I asked a bit much of Ezri the first time by putting her in front of all 8 jumps. After several tries with her including chase with Curzon and blockers, all unsuccessful, I gave her a break to run Jadzia while we figured out what to do. We brought her back up, started her at 3 jumps, and then increased one at a time until she did all 8 with flying colors. She's almost singlestepping all of them, and I'm sure she'll be moving right into that as her body finishes growing and strengthening.

We did a lot of work this weekend, but it was spaced out as we only had two lanes and also had the pool to use, so Ezri was not overworked. I would have loved to have done more boxwork with her, but realistically she's doing great and still has six months before her debut so no need to even remotely threaten her development with more of that. All four dogs were tired and slept most of the evening after we returned home, only moving when one of us changed rooms. Even Phoebe slept all evening and didn't even blink at the cats meowing for dinner downstairs! Now, if I could only get that sort of exhaustion every weekend.....

1 comment:

Deborah said...

After trying many methods of getting Indigo to hold her ball...I finally found a way to get her to hold it reliably! It might work with Ezri?