Oh my goodness, the puppies are now officially one whole year old! What a wild ride the past 12 months have been. I have learned a ton, made wonderful new friends, and expanded my canine family by two amazing new souls.
There are so many things I would like to share, but to keep this post from turning into a book, I’m going to focus on two things: 1) a brief update on each puppy, and 2) some key lessons learned through rearing this litter.
Let’s start with lessons learned.
The one thing that stands out the most for me is the outcome of the puppy evaluations. You may recall that at just shy of eight weeks, I had the puppies independently evaluated by a very experienced breeder of golden retrievers who used the Avidog evaluation kit. I also had them structurally assessed by a conformation judge. The goal of these tests was to get a strong sense for what kind of home each puppy needed, and then to use that information to match puppies to the homes on my wait list.
In retrospect, the evaluations were mostly accurate with a couple of significant points of variations. Most notably, Mr. Griffon has not at all turned out as anticipated. Raven as well has tossed in a few surprises, although to the same extent as Griff. In particular, her structure is not as strong as we thought it would be. At least not yet. She still has a fair bit of growing and maturing to do. I’ll go through the details in each puppy’s section of the update (below).
On the whole, however, the matching process has been very effective. Based on conversations I’ve had with each home (I have kept in close touch with all three over the months), my impression is that everyone is convinced they got pick of the litter.
Which, from their perspectives, they did! By being very careful with the matching process (including regretfully turning down really wonderful homes that simply wanted something different than these puppies had to offer, and vise versa), everyone ended up with the puppy that met their main criteria.
This doesn’t meant that everything has been peaches and cream while raising these babies. Border collies puppies, no matter how well matched or how ‘perfect’, offer more than enough challenges in their first year. All the more reason to make sure matches are as close as possible!
My review of the testing actually offers at least two major lessons for future litters: First, I will definitely do the evaluations again with my next litter (most likely in Winter 2017-Spring 2018). They are awesome tools and certainly made the difficult and complex process of matching a lot more straight forward. In particular, the tests helped predict the type of challenges each puppy would present, and this was definitely accurate. And very helpful for ensuring their future home was prepared to deal with what was to come.
For example, as a young puppy, Helé (litter name Lark) showed a lack of confidence in training as well as a low level of naturally operant behaviour. For this reason, she did not end up going to the home initially lined up for her, which was looking for a more outgoing and intrinsically confident puppy. However, this evaluation helped find her the perfect home: one fully prepared and willing to embrace the particular challenge this puppy offered. Eve has done a marvelous job working Helé through this obstacle and bringing out her true potential. Today you would never know this puppy – who has achieved three, or is it four now? titles before the age of one – ever had an issue.
Watching Helé blossom with Eve has perhaps been one of the most interesting lessons I’ve gained through this litter. I have to admit that I was worried about how she’d turn out, given her quiet and subdued nature as a youngster. As you can see, my concerns were quite misplaced!
While definitely helpful and important, next time around I will not take the evaluations quite so seriously. More precisely, while the testing is really great for identifying strengths and areas that will need work, they should not be used to place limitations on a puppy’s potential. As Helé has proven, so much of how a puppy evolves is dependent on environment, and there is much that can be done to shape and work with any initial “flaws”.
No one has made this understanding more clear than Griffon. Because of his structural evaluation (which suggested that he belonged in a pet home) combined with his “hard dog to train” temperament test results, I closed several doors for Griffon that – in hindsight – I needn’t have closed. I worried excessively that a pet home wouldn’t be able to handle him, and that an agility home would be disappointed by his physical limitations. And I knew he would struggle in a working home that wasn’t well versed in +R methods. I worried so much, in fact, that I ended up not placing him at all!
Of course it all worked out, but the reality is that Griff is pretty darned awesome. Anyone (short of someone needing a dog up and working on stock quickly) would be thrilled with this pup. He did need a little (not much) help becoming more operant (like his sister, Helé – see how awesome she turned out below!), and definitely is taking his time growing into his body (he’s a BIG boy and benefiting from body awareness and fitness work). But he will have no trouble doing anything and everything I want: herding, agility, tricks, nose work, therapy work etc. And, with his sweet and gentle personality, he is making a mighty fine pet and companion as well. In short, Griffey is da bomb.
Other lessons? There are so many. Lots of little things, like the outcome of all that environmental exposure to different surfaces as young pups has produced a litter of part-monkeys, confident to climb up on just about anything.
That perfectly crate trained 10 week old puppies can suddenly become un-crate trained and take months to remember how much they liked their crates again.
That all the work done in the first 10 weeks is just a starting point.
That I worry way, way too much.
That breeding dogs is at least as much an art as it is a science, and that the only way to learn is to just do it. And take the risk, knowing you have done your best. And that you will not please everyone, and there will be naysayers, so breed for yourself and find likeminded people for the rest of the litter.
And then there’s the importance of selling puppies to people you really connect with because, in away, they become family.
And understanding that every puppy will have its flaws, while simultaneously being perfect. Our job is to learn to love them for who they are, not for who we want them to be. If we can accomplish this, we can accomplish anything. And not just in connection with the puppy, but in life in general. Puppies teach us how to become better human beings. If we let them.
And knowing that you can’t judge a puppy by its cover. That little bundle of fluff and energy is going to develop into his or her own little person, for us to embrace and learn from. And there will be no predicting what kind of ride we’re getting on when we open our hearts and our homes to them.
But we can be sure that it will be one heck of a ride.
Now what about that pupdate I promised? Not to worry….here you go. In reverse order of birth:
Kynic Snap (Cooper)
Snap (litter name Cooper) is turning into an agility superstar. His conformation-ring worthy structure is serving him well, providing him with head-turning balance and motion that is a real pleasure to watch. Now well on his way through foundation training, Snap has quite a few classes under his belt. Because he stayed local, I’ve had the good fortune to visit with him periodically (not nearly as often as I would like!) and I look forward to training with him and Mary in the months to come as we get our respective puppies ready for the trial ring.
Snap’s challenge was reactivity to other dogs. We actually saw a hint of this when he was only around 7 weeks old. He would bark (inside the house) when he heard my livestock guardian dogs bark in the fields. At four months of age he got into a relatively serious tiff with brother Griff when we came to visit, and subsequently had a number of squabbles with puppies in his puppy classes. Fortunately, with careful guidance and using positive reinforcement-based techniques, Mary has worked Snap through this issue, which no longer seems to be a problem. Well done Mary and Snap!
These two are having a lot of fun together, and I can’t wait to see where the coming year brings them!
Kynic Bess (Wren)
Next we have Bess la Peste! Not surprisingly, Bess (litter name Wren) continues to be a very busy and intense girl. Already helping with running the farm, Bess is living the life on a large commercial sheep operation in eastern Québec.
And intense, pushy little bitch – liker her dam, Kes – Bess has offered both challenges in her stockdog training, and tremendous natural ability. Even as a tiny puppy of 11 weeks, Bess was confident and keen to work stock! As a one year old, and a natural driving dog, she has already flown solo in helping in the lambing pens.
Bess has also shown some reactivity issues with strange dogs, while on leash. Given that Raven is similarly worried about new canines, this is something that seems to have come through in the breeding. I didn’t know Kes as a pup, so it’s possible she was like this as well. However as an adult she is completely indifferent to other dogs – and daddy Scout is certainly Mr. Relaxed-and-Friendly (so is Griff) – so I fully expect that with confidence building and maturity, the pups will grow to be the same way.
Kynic Bess at 9 months, already working hard and being useful!
Claudie is working hard with Bess and doing a terrific job. The most challenging pup of the litter in terms of intensity and energy, we expected her to also be the one with the greatest working potential. And so far, she seems to be living up to that hope! I look forward to watching these two become a working team, and hope to make the drive out to visit them in person someday soon.
Kynic Everything aka Helé (Lark) – ATD, RPT
Reserved and quiet wee Lark has matured into confident, city-smart Helé, trick and mushing dog extraordinaire. Having overcome her initial reluctance for shaping, Helé already has her advanced trick dog title, has passed her retrieval proficiency test (RPT) for disk training under very challenging conditions, nailed her herding instinct test (HIT) (with flying colors, I must add), and works weekly as a training assistant and demo dog alongside her human, dog trainer Eve.
Helé has no problem with other dogs. In fact, she lurrvs them, a bit too much! The other side of the same coin? Perhaps. However, enjoying the company of other dogs is not a bad quality in a dog trainer’s assistant. It’s been an absolute delight watching Eve and Helé work to become a team, and they even came to visit last fall when I held an introductory herding clinic. I’m excited to see what Year Two brings this pair, and where they go from here.
Raven, as you likely know, was my pick from the litter. Calm, confident, naturally operant, whip smart, and well put together, I chose Raven to be the next generation for my kennel. And I have not been disappointed.
In many ways, Raven has turned out very much as I expected. She continues to be a dream to train, learning at lightening speed, delighted to engage, and fully enthusiastic to do whatever I ask her to do. She is also very biddable and obedient.
On sheep, Raven is confident, pushy, and very natural. She has beautiful balance, a natural inclination to gather (in contrast with her mother, who prefers to drive), and shows great sense around stock. Intense and forward, she is not grippy nor does she dive and slash. She works confidently while keeping an appropriate distance from her sheep, who seem to give her quite a bit of respect.
I’m quite excited as she shows all the qualities I like in her mother, with an easier type of eye and a better instinct for gathering.
Raven is a clicker training whiz and I expect will excel in agility as well as stock work. I have not done much agility foundation work with her yet, but that is on the agenda for spring training.
My challenge with Raven has been, quite surprisingly, house training! I didn’t mention it earlier, but both Helé and Bess (i.e. all three girls) found the concept of going potty outside to be rather difficult to grasp. It may be a case of not being able to clearly communicate their need, coupled with a limited ability to hold back the urge. At this point the problem has been mostly resolved (using door bells, for example, to improve their ability to communicate their needs), but I still cannot leave Raven uncrated while I am out or I will return to a small puddle on the spot where the whelping pen potty area used to sit.
At this point, Raven is not showing to have quite the impressive structure she was predicted to develop at 8 weeks. While she maintains a very nice top line and other lovely features, she’s definitely much more ‘moderate’ than she appeared at 8 weeks. Perhaps as she fills out and continues to mature (raw fed dogs grow more slowly) this may change. Or perhaps not. Certainly she is nicely balanced and uses her body extremely well. She just won’t be winning any blue ribbons in the conformation ring (which has never been her destination anyway! the blue ribbons we’re hoping for will be in the agility and herding trial fields)
This change in conformation is another interesting lesson. At one year of age, Griffon’s structure is better than we expected, and Raven’s is not as strong. Both are certainly sufficiently well put together to do anything ever asked, so it’s not like there is anything to be concerned about. But I had expected a closer correlation to the structural evaluations of 8 weeks than we’ve ended up with. Which again underscores my conclusion to use these tests as guides, not absolutes or limitations.
All in all, Raven is a loving, comical, joyful puppy who I have absolutely fallen in love with. I’m thrilled with what she’s showing on sheep, and similarly excited about her prospects in agility. A super little girl! I can’t wait to see where we go in Year Two!
Last, but certainly not least, we have Mr. Griffon. What more can I say about Griffon? The moment he was born – when I thought he was a she – my heart said “that’s the one”. When, to my embarrassment, I later realized he was a boy, I dismissed the possibility of keeping him. I was going to keep a bitch, and only a bitch from this litter.
Y’all know how that turned out.
Griff, the wild man for the first six week, has mellowed into the most good natured, easy going, easy to live with, gentled, soft, and kind border collie I know. He is a big giant fluffy black and white heart.
I had myself all worried about what a crazy, intense dog he would be (trying to herd transport trucks at 6 weeks!), yet Griff is nothing of the sort. He was the puppy I was absolutely dead wrong about in just about every way. Indeed, he’s so easy going, I have been able to leave him uncrated in the house while I go into town since he was 6 months old.
He was (and still is) less operant than Raven, and so I have to do more repetitions of anything I teach him to have it really sink in. I’m learning that his response to being overstimulated is to be unable to concentrate on the task at hand. He doesn’t get wound up or excited (unlike Raven, who leaps and spins and otherwise is a quivering ball of kinetic energy when excited), but rather just gets “stuck in TAR” (Too Aroused to Respond). I used to think that he simply forgets, but it’s his way of being overstimulated. Fascinating.
Griff is also extremely soft. He will back away from a chicken who stamps her feet at him, and certainly thinks twice before confronting a stern ewe. To be honest, I’m not sure how good of a stock dog he’s going to be. He has tons of natural talent with great feel and balance for his sheep. But unless he grows into a more confident dog, his working ability might be limited. That said, this slow-to-mature softness runs in his line and there’s also a good chance it will fade with maturity. Certainly his breeding suggests it should. But only time will tell.
I hope he will work, but I’m also fine if he doesn’t. This pup stole my heart and if he has another path to walk, I will simply walk that one with him. There is plenty we can do together. I’ve even considered looking into what it takes to certify him as a therapy dog.
One of the many reasons I love this dog is the incredible relationship he has with my sweet old Ross. When Griff was only about 7 weeks old, my friend Christine – an animal communicator – unexpectedly observed that “Griff is going to take Ross’s place.” At that point, I had no intention of keeping Griff and so I shrugged off her comment. Months later, I can’t help but hear the echo of that prediction every time I see Griff curled up next to grumpy old Darth Ross, who has previously never allowed another dog in his personal space, sleeping soundly with his chin on Ross’s back.
I mentioned earlier that I struggled with placing Griff and eventually chose not to let him go anywhere. Even though I now realize I was mistaken on many aspects (especially his energy level) I don’t regret this decision one bit. He definitely would not have worked out on a commercial farm, given how soft he is and his slowness to mature. He could have been a pet, but I wasn’t looking at pet homes (for any of my dogs). As for agility, I think he could (and may) do just fine in the sport, or any other for that matter. But I am very glad to have him here with me. I have learned a lot from him already, and look forward to our continued journey together, wherever that may lead.
And there you have it. Year one, now behind us. Stay tuned for Year Two! We’re just getting started…