The middle picture is of him at nearly one year old. He came to me from a wonderful breeder located in Texas. Her name is Wendy and she specializes in raising Red Front macaws and Blue Throat macaws. She raises her babies in a very special way. She allows them to be fully fledged and flighted, this is something that is surprisingly uncommon in aviculture. These babies are pretty independent, self actualized, and confident, in short they act like parrots really should.
The last picture is of him pretty recently kind of grown up looking!
Rufus and I have done some pretty intensive training over the last 18 months. Our lives have been rewarding, difficult and richer for knowing each other. How things have changed for us too. Rufus also now has a big brother named Gizmo that is also a Red Fronted Macaw, in addition to Bacardi the Blue Fronted Amazon you can see in the last picture.
My biggest goal for Rufus was to train him to come to me when I called while flying free outside. It has been a long road. I am trying to put into words how difficult, yet easy the whole process was. I learned more about myself during this process than I think I really wanted to know.
These parrots are not like dogs, they don't really have any reason to work with you. They are also very much wild animals and they are prey items too. They spend a lot of time trying not to get eaten or trapped by predators and let's face it humans are predators. When picking a parrot as a subject to work with as a trainer you are really working against so many natural tendencies. What always amazed me is his willingness and interest in learning what it was I was trying to teach him, even when I wasn't doing the greatest job at it. Rufus has pretty much and endless capacity to learn and is pretty willing to learn all kinds of things, if I just had more time or maybe if I were more creative he'd do a few more interesting tricks! I am also very amazed at his willingness to forgive me on the few occasions that I have inadvertently frightened him.
So yesterday was the big day, I let him go free outside. We had been close for such a long time, like since last summer. I couldn't do it, I just wasn't ready even though he was. Finally, I was able to work through my issues and believe that the training I had done up to that point prepared us for just this occasion. It did, it went fine. I will never be able to describe in words the feeling I had when he flew right to me the first time I called him after letting him go. He was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen at the moment.
I'm sure there will be more pictures in the future and maybe some video. I know this blog sounds a little random, but thanks you all for reading it any way.
Thank you so much Hugh Choi for mentoring me through this whole process. It would have been much harder with out your experience and knowledge. Hugh and Otis have a feature on Wendy's web page, they started their free flight career in Central Park, NYC!
Since it is close to Thanksgiving I’m going to list some things
I am thankful for.
A partner that lets me run away from home to work dogs, that
supports my journey on this path and will put up with this level of crazy.
Fabulous mentors that keep their patience and are willing to
tell me the same thing over and over until finally hear it. Mentors that keep me on and help me down the
path and are willing to answer all my questions no matter how much detail I
I am grateful for wonderful friends that provide the opportunities
to learn from great mentors. Friends
that are willing to be honest and also willing to help me over think
everything. Friends that kick me in the
butt when I need it, pat me on the back when I deserve it and pick me up a
little when I ask for it.
Part 2 Awash in Information
Last week I spent four days at a handling clinic coached by
Scott Glen http://www.altapetestockdogs.com/ . It was a pretty amazing
experience. I really didn’t know how much
I learned until I walked away and had some time to digest everything. By day 2 I thought I hit maximum capacity! The third day I was feeling pretty hosed by
information. By the fourth day I could
see so many new things, things I wasn’t seeing before.
I am a very visual learner and I like to take things a roll
them, around in my mind. It usually
means I don’t ask a bunch of questions, but I see everything. In this clinic I was extremely fortunate to
have a few friends participate in it, folks that I get to see their dogs trial
pretty often and some dogs that I have been a spectator on their journey for a
few years now. I was doubly fortunate for
2 friends running dogs that had very similar things going on with their dogs as
I do with mine. It gave me the opportunity
to see why things were happening for me the way they were. I was able to see how to handle and avoid some
of the situations. I also discussed some
training exercises to work on over the winter, although it shouldn’t take that
So boiled down as it applies to Z and me:
Better stop – we have an ok one, it has been working for us
but just barely. We have a prescription to remedy that. The homework is already started.
Clean flanks – I had gotten lazy about keep his flanks
square. This is what has been really
killing us at the pen and sometimes in the shed. It has been killing us around the course but
I have been handling to compensate for it.
We are going to fix it. Again we
have a strait forward remedy, homework started there too.
Both bits of homework are getting applied to Hank as well. Heaped on top of the stuff we are still
working on but getting better at.
This was my Eureka moment: if I stop Z, I have to stop him
far enough out of the sheep so he actually has room to walk up and affect the
I saw it time and again on other people’s dogs.
If they stopped the dog too close, the dog either struggled to shift the
sheep or the dog blew it up.
I’ve never really considered the distance between the dog
and the sheep a huge part of the equation when the sheep weren’t moving. Not that I have subscribed to closer is
better, but now I understand why closer doesn’t work well either. It is noticeable on the lift, but where it
was driven home was at the pen. We penned
some very silly un dogged lambs. What I learned from watching and listening
where clean flanks so the dog can cover AND stay out. The caveat to this was if
the dog flanked out clean and stayed off it had to be willing to take the space
back if asked. If the dogs got in too
close the one of 2 things would happen it would blow up OR the lambs would not
shift. It was so dang clear.
Finally, I must get quieter with my whistles. I must make the dogs listen for me.
Part 3 Testing Grounds and Applied Knowledge
My 2 dogs and myself have spend one week, 3 training
sessions in total sorting through a hand full of the tidbits from the clinic. Keeping the focus narrow so no of us gets
Worked on better stop with both dogs, both are hitting the
ground on a fairly quiet note. I need to
get to a whisper. Distance and driving are
where both dogs struggle with stopping, more so with Hank. We will just keep it close for both dogs for
a while and gather.
Worked on cleaner flanks, Hank’s are nicer right now; again they degrade with
distance and driving.
On Saturday we went to a local trial.
For Z, I could stop him anytime anywhere on that course. I got louder than I wanted on the first part
of the fetch and we suffered from sloppy flanks up there. Still plagued by sloppy flanks around the
course, less sloppy on the last 2/3 of the fetch but we have a long road here.
For Hank, it was a good day despite the letters. The in gate was right on top of the exhaust
gate, so it got a little exciting for a minute while we were waiting our
turn. I was proud though when we walked
to the post he knew his sheep where up the field. He knew right where they were. The out run regrettably for me was a little
far and the terrain proved tricky for him.
He went around the first hill and I went to blow him out, he gave but
not nearly enough to go behind the second hill.
He got pulling in to the draw between the hills which is the first place
he could see sheep for several strides.
He sliced them off the top plus over ran it and then started to
chase. He had them headed down the field
to me, but I was already on the way. He had
run through them but kept his mouth shut and teeth to himself, that’s when I
started to jog in his direction. I got
him under control and we worked them nicely back to the exhaust.
On his Pro Nov run I walked off the post a sent him, I just
kept walking up the field. He went out
and around the hills much better. He came
in hard at the top but I was at the fetch gates by that time and could help him
cool off. We sheep sandwiched them
quietly to the post and made a nice turn.
He actually completed the drive really well; a hair short of both panels
and that was just my fault. He’s speedier
than Z! I also kept my whistles pretty
quiet, even the stop one!
We have some serious homework to get sorted out this winter,
but I think both dogs are off to a good start.
1. What blogging tip would you give other dog-bloggers?
Talk about yourself and your journey. Try not to get bogged down in the outside forces.
2. If you were going to be stranded on a deserted island and could take five things with you (aside from the clothes on your back), what would they be? This would kind of depend on how long I'd be stranded for. If it were for just a few weeks.
Food Water Leatherman 2 dogs
3. How much pain are you willing to endure in the name of physical appearance? Do you have painful things done to enhance beauty?
I have tattoos and piercings - nuff said
4. Speed limits... how fast do you drive? Do you drive Miss Daisy? Do you do the Indy 500 to work?
In the city around town I drive pretty cautiously. On the open road about 10mph over.
5. What trial (that you go to) is your favorite, and why?
So far The Bluegrass has been my favorite dog trial followed up by Lacamas Valley. They are both big, have tough sheep and actually have a crowd of public spectators.
"A wise dog man once told me..much better to have a good open dog than a great nursery dog"
* This blog is about my experience and my dogs.* First of which, I have few, second of which I have some.
This is going to be a bit of a rant/tangent, so please lovely person that quoted this most recently, take no offense I totally respect you as a dog trainer and handler.
So here is what I believe. Dogs are like people, some learn faster than others. Some trainers have skills others don't. I don't know if it is luck or skill or what, but the last 2 dogs I have run in Open have had really strong Nursery careers. I have a crazy nice young Open dog now an sadly my older guy is retired already due to health issues. I'm working on a third dog that looks like he could have a really strong Nursery career next year. He's a 2 year dog, but I will not run him in Nursery or Pro Nov until next season. Odds are looking like he will make a solid Open dog, he's got a lot of natural talent and he's pretty darn biddable. I do believe you can quite easily damage a young dog by pushing it faster than it is ready to learn and throwing it into situations that are over its head. No doubt there. I also think that youth is used as a crutch too and dogs are allowed to act up and be irresponsible far too long in what turns into an excuse of well I want a good Open dog it is only 3 or 4 or 5. A good Open dog starts at 8 weeks, my dogs must listen to me THE FIRST time (once they have learned what it is I want) I ask them to do something, no matter what it is. I spend a lot of time teaching them to learn, and encouraging them to listen to me. They learn really easily through positive reinforcement, the "treat" is always worth more than the behavior I'm asking for.
Nope, they don't do any tricks and yes I use corrections. They just do basic things like come when called, load up, lay down, and get to their beds. I really foster calm quiet behavior and listening skills. Some dogs want to listen and be calm more than others. Eventually, the behavior that is rewarded most is the one that gets repeated most. In my case in the beginning, minding me and being patient are the 2 biggest things on the list. Before I ever get to sheep I want to mold my dog's mind and gear it towards clam quietness and partnering up. Ok onwards...
After all that, I generally don't have to make my dogs do anything. I can get them to do what I need for the most part. I can discuss get vs. make some other time. I am not interested in fighting with my dogs, ever. Sometimes it does happen, but I try to figure out why it happens and what I can do better to help my dog out. This is starting to feeling like a tangent, I promise I'm bringing it home.
Focusing on Hank now for a minute. He's coming along pretty quickly. I work him 30 minutes per week. Yup I set a timer and he gets one work session of 15mins 2 times a week. Eventually this will change, but for right now, what he's doing and where he is at has been accomplished in that constraint. I work with what he gives me at his maturity level and with in the perimeters that he kind of throws out for the day. He's 16 mos old, sometimes his flanks are broken, sometimes his stops are broken, sometimes his brains fall out. I basically try to work on the issues that present themselves and I try not to yell or put a ton of pressure on him. Right now as long as he is not being mean to the sheep, I don't really harsh on him. If he's being an ass to the sheep I chew him out quite a bit. That is the one thing he is responsible for right now is treating the sheep nicely, I have a high bar and I hold him accountable for every time his screws it up. He's totally capable of moving my sheep with out diving in and biting them ;) I spent a lot of time not saying anything and just let the sheep show him how to do his job.
Finally, I do understand the role maturity and experience plays in becoming an Open dog. However I really want a dog that I can at least fantasize about putting in Open at the end of their 2nd Nursery year. I don't want to wait for a dog to be 5 or 6 before it is a reasonable dog on an Open course. I believe a dog should be just entering its prime at 6 and having potentially 2+ years of Open at that age under its belt is going to put it a head of the curve. Every dog is an individual and every trainer has a different set of skills.
Hank was amazing today. He was nice and soft on his out work, he is beginning to kick out when checking his sheep rather than slice in. He is now hitching up as he comes around the top and is actually lifting the sheep instead of just scaring them. he finds the blance and I can leave him be.I can stop him at the top if I need to, but I leave him be as long as things are reasonable. He brings them right down the line at a brisk trot sometimes canter, but usually treats them kindly. He's about 80% on his flanks with no physical cue just verbal, started throwing out the whistles for all the cues. Hank has the lie down whistle, he'll hitch up on the first part so I have the makingings of a steady. I've been working a little on the driving. He is going to very easy to teach to drive as this is actually what he really wants to do rather than gather. I wont spent too much time with it right now as I want him to get really more interested in gathering. I have been admonishing him more frequently for blasting through the sheep and bitting. I'm also able to talk him out of it more and more, I can see it coming and usually saying his name sternly changes his thoughts. It mostly just puppy rashness and it is his resposne to mounting pressure so 50% of the time I keep him out of trouble entirely and 50% I let him think about making trouble and see how it goes. We have worked a lot with picking the sheep up off the fence and keeping his cool through the whole movement. He is much calmer going between the sheep and the fence. We will probably work on corners soon too as picking up off the fence and going into corners are the biggest flash points. He is almost ready for the learning to let the sheep escape and it is not the end of the world lesson. I need to feel better about our breaking system first.
What handler do you strive to be like, or handlers if you have Schizophrenia?
Scott Glen is my Obi Wan Kenobi I try to train my dogs using his sage words. I will often ask my self WWKCD? What would Karen Child do? Since I have worked with her a lot, there has to have been a chance that we covered this problem or one similar to it at some point in our journey. With that conclusion I am sure she has given me a exercise or sage words for this situation already and I just need to remember them.
I think that I handle like me. I feel like I have been doing this long enough to have my own style. I have been strongly influenced by my mentors, but I have taken what works for me from each one of them and made my way with it.
I will say though I learn best by watching so I take any opportunity to watch folks that are better than I am. I watch their body language, timing, and style, if they do something I like and it works for me I will use it and make it may own. I will also watch folks I know make the same mistakes I do and I helps me see the dynamic of what I am doing better so I can go change it.
How do you change your handling style depending on what dogs you trial?
Z has been a huge challenge for me to change my handling style for. Previous dogs, have been VERY forward dogs that lacked a bit of feel. I spent a lot of time trying to keep them out of the "red zone" ;) They tended to be flank slicers and cut in out out runs and dogs that could do with some grinding on. Z is completely different and there are days that he frustrates the heck out of me. Sometimes it takes me a few minutes of cooling of the remind myself it is easier to change me than it is to change him. He's very effective at what he does if I handle him the way he needs to be handles :)
How do you change your handling depending on what trial you are running at?
I don't change my handling from trial to trial. At least I don't think so. I DO GO TO THE POST WITH A STRATEGY. I have a plan epsecially if I can watch a few good runs before my turn. I figure if I handle my dog and it keeps him happy, he will keep the sheep happy.
I train Border Collies to work livestock. One of my pet hobbies is training my parrot. This blog will focus on my experiences with my animals and the dogs I have in for training.
Contact me at libbythebc(at)yahoo(dot)com