Meet Tesla!

I have been remiss in writing for a couple of months due to a variety of personal and business challenges. Hopefully, I’ll be able to write more regularly again now that things have settled somewhat and my wonderful hubby has built a better, faster, stronger computer for me. (Cue Six-Million-Dollar Man theme…)
Besides, I now have a new pup to write about!

Tesla - pre-adoption

Tesla – convincing me to take her home.

You read that right! Here’s how it went:

At a flyball tournament hosted at the Marin Humane Society a couple of weekends ago, I show up at camp on Sunday morning, ready to race. As soon as I walked in, all of my teammates began to insist that I needed to go see this adorable, 10-month-old border collie pup in the shelter. Not completely convinced, I walked in with my daughter to look at dogs and… there she was. We locked eyes – what focus! Then, as my 3-year-old approached her window, her ears went back, eyes soft, and she stretched into the most adorable greeting ever. SHE LOVES KIDS!

To be clear, I had been looking for a new dog for quite a while. Been following the whippet lists (among my top choices for a next dog) as well as having feelers out to all of my colleagues at shelters and in rescue. I’d even looked casually at a few dogs that seemed like good prospects. I did not, however, go to the tournament planning to get a dog – or any other pet for that matter.

Other than not being a whippet, this pup fit all of my criteria: smallish size (she’s just 29 lbs at 10 months, so will hopefully stay on the smaller size of border collies); great focus’ short coat; friendly with dogs and people; and she loves kids. Now this last point may seem minor for a sports prospect for someone who specializes in working with children and dogs, but the fact is, actually loving kids the one thing that I really couldn’t teach a dog. I couldn’t teach it to anyone, actually. Either you love kids or you don’t. I could teach a dog to tolerate children, learn to avoid them if they become annoyed, and even condition them to like certain children. But loving children in general would be tough. As they say, you can’t make someone love you, and so I can’t make a dog really love kids.

Needless to say, I’m enjoying the training, and I plan to be chronicling it here periodically. As of today, we’ve had her for 12 days, and she has learned sit, down, stand and hand targeting. We also learned that she has amazing drive in restrained recalls, and on Wednesday I had the opportunity to work on distraction recalls away from a fence that is adjacent to a dog park where several dogs were romping. I was amazed at how well she did! In this video, the other dogs had pretty much stopped to rest, but her recalls away from the playing dogs was almost as good as you see here.

One of the things that I’m enjoying most is the play training. Like most of the dogs that I’ve had, she is actually more motivated to rush to her toy than to a treat, so I was using the tug toy for the recalls with great success. Here’s the process so far, from the beginning:

  1. Sunday, adopt!! Thanks to the Marin Humane Society, who allowed us to have a flyball tournament at their wonderful site in Novato, I came home from the competition with a wonderful and energetic, 10-month-old border collie puppy by the name of Tesla. Although she is possibly a mix, she is everything I’ve been looking for in a new dog, including incredibly attentive and great with my daughter. First night went fine, as I started teaching her that her name is Tesla by calling her and giving her treats repeatedly. She learns quickly!
  2. Wednesday, teach her to tug. I personally love the article on “How to Create a Motivating Toy” by Susan Garrett. I didn’t have to go quite that far with young Tes, since her age makes her playful by nature; simply teasing her a bit with a wiggling tug sufficed. She looked at the toy and pounced on it a few times without biting down, and I marked each time and rewarded with happy play. (She likes to lean into me and get belly scratches.) When she finally clamped down hard on the toy, I tugged ever so gently while smiling and telling her how good she is.
  3. Sunday, restrained recalls. After a few days of tugging practice, she was tugging like a champ, and even growling in that high-pitched play growl that tells me she’s having fun. So, we upped the ante with restrained recalls. I had a friend and flyball teammate hold her while I waved the tug in front of her and then ran away. When I called her name, they let her go and she raced toward me at full speed, then grabbed at the tug. I engaged in a good game with her all the way back to my friend (starting at about 20 feet, then working up to about 50+ feet). By the end, she was running at me at full speed, and I could hear her play growl 10 feet before she reached me.
  4. Wednesday, recalls away from distractions. Today, I took her to the training field that I use, adjacent to a private (members only) dog park. There were 2 large dogs romping around, and they immediately came to the fence to meet Tes. Since I knew from experience that she is fine greeting dogs through the fence (and in person, for that matter) I allowed it. On this first pass, I called her as soon as the other two dogs disengaged from the greeting to go back to their owners, who were calling them from the fence. SUCCESS. On subsequent passes, I called her from higher distractions, at first with the dogs trotting nearby, then working up to them romping hard while I called Tes and ran away from her, waving the tug. I could see that it was not an easy choice for her, but she did come running and engaged in great tug games each time! I ended this session with her wanting to continue to tug, then traded her the tug for a treat as I leashed her, tugged a bit more, then left the park.
  5. Next steps. In the coming weeks, the process will include increased distraction recalls as well as recalls in a wide variety of settings and situations. I learned on Sunday that she was not yet ready for a recall adjacent to a distraction, when she ran past me and the tug to greet a teammate’s dog. We finished off Saturday recalls with her running alone. As we progress, I’ll put a long line on her for safety when we are doing recalls with any type of distraction in an unfenced area. Her reaction to the ground squirrels adjacent to the practice field is still an unknown, so we’ll have to be mindful of that.

Needless to say, I’m super excited about our new girl. She is getting along fine with the rest of the pack so far, though she’s had a couple of barky arguments with the other BC’s over toys. The good news is that she mostly backs down to the older dogs’ rebukes, and responds well to time outs as well. Meanwhile, she is only with them closely supervised and without high value toys.

Keep a lookout for updates on Tesla! I’ll be posting info on her basic training as well as her Flyball and Agility training, which I’m starting simultaneously. Note that, although I won’t be jumping her until she turns one year, there is still a lot that I can work on in both sports with her for the next couple of months.