Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Happy birthday to our first litter!

Six years ago today, three special collies entered our lives.  We waited years before breeding our first litter of collie puppies.  And we waited, excited and hopeful, throughout Abby’s pregnancy.  We felt the puppies moving, and tried to imagine what they would look like, if they were boys or girls, rough or smooth.

Then a few days before Abby’s due date a hurricane named Irene hit the East Coast.  It hit our town particularly hard, and many houses on the beach were destroyed.  There was flooding, and we were left without power for days.  To stop looting of the destroyed homes, the National Guard was called in to patrol the area.

These homes were just a 1/2 mile from us

I read that the hurricane caused many pregnant women to go into labor early.  Our Abby decided to join them.  So there we were in the middle of the night, trying to deliver our first litter of puppies by candlelight!  Abby pushed for a while, and finally a little face appeared.  But the puppy was stuck!  And then the worst happened, Abby broke the sack. 

All that was visible was a little nose, and a little mouth with a tongue sticking out.  My sister thought the puppy was dead.  But we had to act quickly, to save the other puppies.  So my daughter and sister began packing everything we would need, as we prepared to take Abby to the animal hospital.  I remained with Abby, to keep her calm, and as I was sitting by the whelping box, the little puppy cried!  The puppy was still alive!

So we raced to the animal hospital, my daughter sitting in the back of the car with Abby.  Abby tried pushing a few more times, and was able to get the puppy’s head and one arm out.  My daughter was able to get the rest of him out.  He was a bit blue by this time, so my daughter rubbed him with towels, as I continued to drive down the highway.  He was a little sable and white, rough male.  Since this puppy was born in the car, on the way to the animal hospital, he was immediately given the name Ryder.


We arrived at the animal hospital, and they too were without power.  They had some lanterns, so the veterinarian helped deliver the rest of the litter there on the floor, on a pile of blankets.  The next puppy born was a smooth, sable and white girl.  She was born without her sack, completely blue and stillborn.  The vet tried to revive her, but it was too late.

Next came another smooth, sable girl.  She was born alive, though smaller than Ryder.  Ryder was the largest puppy, he weighed 12 ounces.  The little girl was given a few different names, but we finally decided on Kori.  After a little more time, a final puppy was born.  The fourth puppy was another boy, another sable, rough boy.  He was small like Kori, and weighed 8 ounces.  Which is still a healthy weight for a newborn puppy.  We named him Luke.


Kori, Ryder and Luke

While losing the one little girl was very sad, we couldn’t help being happy that we had three healthy puppies and a healthy mom.  We bundled them up, and took them home.  We watched them grow, and waited for the day when they would first open their eyes.  We laughed in delight when they began playing and when they discovered how to bark and growl.  We completely fell in love with our puppies. 

Kori (left) and Ryder (right)



Ryder, Luke and Kori

Luke, Kori and Ryder
Little Luke

It's hard to believe they are 6 years old already. Time has just flown by, and they have brought so much happiness into our lives.  Luke went to live with a wonderful family, who had lost their 12 year old collie. He is the best friend of two little boys named Matthew and David.  And Ryder and Kori stayed right here with us.

Ryder and Kori

Happy birthday - hope the next 6 years are full of many more fun adventures!

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Versatile Collie - the Collie in Agility

Today we are excited to share our fifth post in our new series, The Versatile Collie.  It's our hope that through these guest posts more people will come to appreciate the amazing and special collie breed.  Collies are such versatile dogs, they excel at many different activities, including the exciting sport of agility.  Our guest blogger is Michael Vorkapich, and he trains his dogs to compete in Agility.  His  blog, The Agile Dog Blog, has great information on competing in agility, and some beautiful pictures of collies in action!  We are very grateful to Michael for taking the time to write this for us!     

The Collie in Agility
By Michael Vorkapich
Of the Agile Dog Bog -
Creative, positive and fun dog training thoughts and ideas

My name is Mike Vorkapich and I have been competing in Agility with Collies for 14 years. I started with my Smooth Collie, Charlotte. As a young dog, she tried to destroy our house! My wife one day told me that I needed to find Charlotte a job. We tried many many dog sports and finally settled on Agility. I had no idea what I was getting into. Charlotte loved Agility. She loved that she was allowed to run around like crazy and quickly figured out that Agility provided her with a playground. Charlotte, as my first Agility dog, was the recipient of all my mistakes and my learning. We had a great time but never achieved much.

My second Smooth Collie, Holly, was also a high energy dog as a puppy. Pretty typical puppy energy. So it was natural that she joined Charlotte in the Agility training when she was old enough. Holly and I did much better than I ever did with Charlotte. We went to the Collie Nationals in 2010 and earned first place in Excellent Jumpers on both days. We attended the Canine Performance Events National Competition in 2012 and earned High in Trial.  I am currently working with my fourth Agility Collie and looking forward to my fifth.

The sport of Dog Agility started in 1978 at the Crufts dog show in England. John Varley, a committee member for the 1977 show was asked to provide entertainment during some down time between obedience and conformation. It was designed after the sport of equestrian jumping.

Currently there are 13 organizations in North America that sanction dog agility trials. They each have a different focus, from extreme competition to friendly gatherings to a focus on youth.

Agility is a high-speed, wild ride of a sport. It is a cooperative effort between dog and handler. The handler directs the dog through a series of obstacles. The dog must climb, crawl, jump and more. The handler is not allowed to touch the dog or the equipment. There is a time limit, typically around 60 seconds, to complete the obstacle course. The dog must run at full speed through the obstacles with enthusiasm. It’s a great time to loosen up the requirements and just enjoy the time with your dog! Each of the obstacles is standardized and has performance criteria. However, the order and number of obstacles changes. The course is numbered and the handler gets a chance to figure out where they are going before their turn. Because of the time component, the dog needs to be confident on each piece of equipment.

You may think “I can’t run very fast, there’s no way I could ever do Agility!” If this is you then you could consider NADAC as an organization. Their focus is on working at a distance from your dog. No running for the human! Or you may want that competition. AKC and USDAA are for you. Things are extremely technical and precise. And there is everything in between.

You can attend Agility Trials in order to earn placements, titles and ribbons. There are National and International competitions. You can attend local events and earn a place at these larger competitions. However, there are plenty of opportunities outside of competitions. There are demonstrations, fun matches, and group practices. In my area, there is an Agility League, which is a friendly competition held over a span of 8 weeks in the Fall.

The world of dog agility is dominated by just a few breeds. The Border Collie, Shetland Sheepdog and Papillion. However, any breed of dog can compete in agility. These breeds are what most people have due to the myth that they are the best breeds for this sport. This is simply untrue.
The Collie is ideally suited for agility because they are happy, enthusiastic and eager to please. If you get a young Collie and work with them, they can achieve all the same things a Border Collie or Shetland Sheepdog can.

Quite often, if a new Agility handler has previously only ever trained a dog in Obedience or similar performance sports, the Collie may approach Agility as though it were Obedience. They appear to be slow and unmotivated. In reality, they are doing exactly what they were trained to do. Obedience is a very precise sport and dogs need to be very thoughtful. The Collie won’t want to make a mistake. I know about this because I trained my third Collie in Obedience quite heavily before her Agility training and had to work quite hard to get her to loosen up on the Agility course. I also had to retrain her to work on both the left and right sides of my body.

I have discovered over the past decade and a half that Agility really requires positive reinforcement for all behaviors in order to improve that enthusiasm and get maximum drive and accuracy. So my fourth, and current, Collie was trained in Obedience using completely positive reinforcement. This has worked really well for us and he does quite well in both Obedience and Agility.
How can you get started? Agility is a sport that requires a bit of training. So you will need to find a good instructor. One way to find a good instructor is to attend local Agility Trials and talk with competitors. Let them know you are interested and would like suggestions for instructors. Everyone is friendly and helpful and will want you to succeed so they will suggest the best instructors.

A few things to consider:
  • ·     Your dog should not be doing any repetitive jumping until their growth plates are closed. Consult your veterinarian before starting Agility. 
  •       A good instructor will recommend some foundation training and probably won’t want to put you on any actual equipment for several weeks at least. Foundation work can be done before the growth plates are closed.
  •       Agility will not interfere with other dog activities. If people tell you that it will, they simply have little experience with Agility. My dogs compete in Agility, Obedience, Rally, Herding, Conformation and more. They know how to behave in each environment.
  •       Agility is addictive! Once you get started, you won’t want to stop.
  •       The American Kennel Club isn’t the only game in town. There are 13 sanctioning organizations and they each have a different feel to them. Find the one that appeals to you most.

For further information:

Want to learn more about agility?  please visit Michael's blog by clicking below:

Want to see the other things collies can do? click below:

Heart dogs

Once in a while a dog comes along that seems to have a natural ability to connect with us on a deeper level than others.  This dog just seems to just “get us.”  People have a few different ways to describe these dogs, but I prefer “heart dogs.”  Why do we call them “heart dogs?”  Because they are able to touch our hearts in a special way, they become so much more than just a companion animal.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t love the others, we do, and they each have a special place in our hearts.  But true “heart dogs” are the ones we cling to in times of grief and stress.  They are the ones that know our moods before we do, and they are the ones who can always make us smile.

If you are lucky, you get to share part of your life with one of these dogs.  And sometimes, if you work at communicating and understanding your other dogs, you can have multiple heart dogs in your lifetime.  So many people, when they suffer the loss of that beloved dog, swear there will never be another like him or her.  I believed that to be true once, but since then I have had other heart dogs enter my life.  I have discovered that the more you strive to understand your dog, what motivates them, what brings them happiness and joy, the deeper the connection you will have with them.

Sophie as a little pup

Take one of my young collies, Sophie, for instance.  She is a sweet, lovable collie.  She is often goofy, sometimes clumsy in that bumptious puppy way, and still has her occasional naughty moments.  I loved her from the moment she was born, and she is definitely part of our family, but the deeper connection wasn't there.  But when I started spending more individual time with her, she just blossomed,and so did our relationship.  She is still goofy and occasionally naughty, and she still seems to be a bit clumsy.  But now she is focused on me, what I want from her, and what she can do to make me happy.  Always an affectionate puppy, she is now glued to my side, constantly trying to give me collie kisses and cuddles (in her own uncoordinated, lovable way). 

After taking a few obedience classes, Sophie now can sit, stay, down, and come when called.  She knows what “leave it” means, and eagerly waits to hear the “take it” command.  When she is on a sit-stay, and I call her to me, she rushes to me, immediately sits and focuses on me.  She gazes straight into my eyes, and waits to hear me tell her what a “good dog” she is, and how proud I am of her.  It is truly amazing what just a small amount of obedience training can do for any dog, they seem to change overnight.  Now I get that not every dog will pick up on training this quickly, I had already laid the ground work with Sophie when she was just a couple weeks old.  Early socialization and training made a huge difference in the adaptability of all the puppies in the litter.  One of Sophie’s brothers has already earned a herding title and another is flying through his training to become a service dog.  They are deeply loved by their new families, and I couldn’t be prouder of them.  But even dogs who were never exposed to early training as young pups can learn.  All dogs, no matter what age, can learn.  It's what happens to our relationship with those dogs, when we strive to teach them and understand what motivates them, that amazes me.

When we work with our dogs, spending time and focusing on them individually, a deeper bond begins to form.  Before you even realize what is happening, you have taught that dog so much more than just how to sit or come when called.  You have taught them to trust you, and to try to please you, and given them tools to earn your praise.  Sophie and I have a way to go in her training, but I think we could compete in obedience one day, she definitely has the potential.  But even more important, she has the desire and enthusiasm needed to continue on through the next levels of obedience training.  Last Sunday night, she graduated from her basic obedience class, and her instructor suggested she might excel in agility too.  I’m not sure which direction we will go, but I am sure Sophie will make the journey fun.  She has already wrapped me around her paw, and I fully expect to one day be posting about how she has become my newest “heart dog.”  She already makes me laugh every single day, and she seems to naturally intuit when I need comfort.  I think my life would be diminished without her in it.  I honestly think all dogs have the ability to become our “heart dogs,” they just need patience, understanding, training and time.  As in any relationship, you get out what you put in…

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Gathering at Sunnybank

Holly and Winter, pose with Terhune and some of the Sunnybank collies

Through the trees and across the green hillside, down to where the blue lake touched the shore, the collies and their families gathered.  They came together to celebrate this wonderful breed, and to remember the Master and the Mistress, and their beloved Sunnybank collies. There was food and laughter, auctions of collie memorabilia, and everywhere you turned, there were collies.

Every August, collie lovers from near and far travel to Sunnybank to spend the weekend together, and the park rings with the joyous sound of happy collies once more.  Sunnybank was the home of Albert Payson Terhune and his wife, Anice.  It was where they bred and raised their Sunnybank collies, the inspiration for most of Terhune's books.  Many years after Bert and Anice passed away the grounds were turned into a park, with the help of some devoted fans.  And now Sunnybank is carefully preserved, along with the gravesites of the famous collies.  In many ways a visit to Sunnybank is like stepping back in time.  Visitors are able to walk the pathways and sit beneath the ancient trees, and imagine the Terhunes and their collies walking and playing along the banks of the "fire blue lake."

It's an experience that every collie lover should get to enjoy at least once.  We've been visiting Sunnybank for years, but it never loses it's magic.  Sitting there, watching the young collie puppies playing, you can see the future of the collie breed.  On Sunday there is a puppy match held, and puppies and older collies can enter in a fun practice competition. There is a parade to celebrate the rescue collies finding their new families, and another to honor the senior collies, whose graying fur just makes them even more endearing.  And the camaraderie helps to inspire people to bid on auction items, to help raise money for the Collie Health Foundation, which funds medical research projects that benefit the future health of the collie breed.

honoring the seniors

So if you love collies, you should try to attend The Gathering, which is held the third weekend of August every year in Wayne, NJ.  Maybe we will see you there!

Winter, resting in the cool, green grass of Sunnybank 
Winter and Holly, two very tired collies, resting after a fun day at Sunnybank

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A collie named Lassie, a place called Sunnybank

Did you have a favorite movie star when you were a child?  I'm not ashamed to admit that most of mine walked on four feet instead of two.  I loved watching old movies on Sunday afternoons, this was back before we had 800 or more television channels to choose from.  On Saturday mornings we watched our favorite cartoons, and the rest of the weekend was spent playing outside with our friends...unless it rained.  On those rainy days I would search through the TV Guide, which came in the Sunday morning paper, and look for a good movie to watch.

On Sundays they often showed old Shirley Temple movies, old Tarzan movies and old Lassie movies.  I loved old movies, but my favorites were always the movies that featured dogs.  So it isn't a surprise that I loved Lassie, especially since I came from a family of collie lovers.  Lassie was smart and heroic, and her loyalty and devotion to her family made her the perfect dog.  This was a dog that matched the truest definition of a best friend.

I discovered a love of reading when I was around 9 years old.  And shortly after that I discovered the books written by Albert Payson Terhune.   His books were fictional stories about his collies, who were also brave, smart, heroic and beautiful, just like Lassie.  So while I didn't grow up with a collie of my own, I always knew I would have one,"someday."  And now I have collies in my life, and they make me happy.  I belong to collie clubs, and we attend collie specialty dog shows, and I have friends who share my passion for this wonderful breed.  Ask any of them why they fell in love with collies, and most of them will tell you it's because of either Lassie or Terhune.  And this coming weekend, many of those friends will be driving to Sunnybank, the home of Albert Payson Terhune, for The Gathering.  It's almost time to gather and celebrate the collie...

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Versatile Collie - Collies as Therapy Dogs

Today we are excited to share our fourth post in our new series, The Versatile Collie.  It's our hope that through these posts more people will come to appreciate the amazing and special collie breed.  Collies are such versatile dogs, they excel at many different activities, including Therapy dog work.  Our last guest blogger, Veronica Sanchez, shared her experience raising and training collies as service dogs.  But not only do collies excel as service dogs assisting people on an individual basis, they also make great Therapy dogs, where they can help larger groups of individuals. While we are still a relatively new Therapy dog team, I thought I would share our experiences as Ryder and I are completing our first year doing therapy dog visits.

A couple winters ago, my mother fell in the snow and broke both of her arms, necessitating a six week stay in a rehab/nursing facility.  To cheer her up, I brought our collie Ryder to visit and work his magic.  He was such a hit, we brought him back a few times, and before long the other patients and residents were calling him into their rooms to visit.  The staff also fell under his charms and when I would show up to visit my mother without him, they would ask me to go get him!  All of which started me thinking about getting Ryder certified as a Therapy dog.  And last summer, while we were at Sunnybank, I finally had him take the test, which he passed.  (You can find the requirements to pass the Therapy Dog test, Here)

I had to wait for all his paperwork to go through, but finally in September 2016, he was ready to start doing visits.  I contacted a few local nursing homes, and they all agreed to let him come visit.  But one Nursing home in particular was very enthusiastic, and even asked if they could put him on their weekly schedule!  They do a lot of activities for their residents, and were very happy to have a therapy dog stopping by the Nursing home.  It has been such a wonderful experience, and we can see how positively the residents have responded to Ryder’s visits.  Many of them light up when they see him coming down the hall, and one resident even had her family buy her a bag of dog cookies, so she has them to give to him when he visits.  And some of the staff look forward to his visits too, one particular lady keeps treats in her desk for him as well. (We save the treats for when we get home, as you don’t want your therapy dog to mistakenly grab something harmful, like medication or dangerous foods like chocolate, grapes or onions, while at visiting a Nursing home or hospital.)

Most of the residents in the Nursing homes grew up watching Lassie in movies and on TV.  And many of the residents had a collie of their own while growing up, so seeing Ryder reminds them of their childhoods.  Last December I planned a movie day, where I had Ryder and two other therapy dogs, visit with the residents and watch an old Lassie movie with them.  It was a big success, judging by the smiles on their faces.  The staff even took pictures of Ryder and the other dogs with the residents, and printed them so the residents could hang them in their rooms.

We recently learned that the AKC, in order to encourage pure bred dog owners to pursue pet assisted therapy work, have made Therapy Dog titles!  Ryder has already earned his THDN title and is now working on earning his THD title.

Therapy Dog Titles
·         AKC Therapy Dog Novice (THDN) Must have completed 10 visits.
·         AKC Therapy Dog (THD) Must have completed 50 visits.
·         AKC Therapy Dog Advanced (THDA) Must have completed 100 visits.
·         AKC Therapy Dog Excellent (THDX) Must have completed 200 visits.
·         AKC Therapy Dog Distinguished (THDD) Must have completed 400 visits

Doing pet assisted therapy dog work has been a very rewarding experience, and it has so many benefits for the residents.  It can improve a patient’s social interaction and can improve their emotional health, as many are still sad after giving up their pets when they entered the facility.  Therapy dogs can also visit hospitals, hospice facilities, schools, libraries and sites of disasters.  This past Spring, Ryder was invited to Yale University.  The school was holding an event to help the students relax and unwind during their stressful finals, and since Ryder takes part in a research study at Yale on canine cognition, they knew he would be a great addition for all the students missing their own pets back at home.  To learn more about Therapy dog programs click on any of the following links:

Ryder posing for a "selfie" with two Yale students
Thanks for visiting!  You can read the other posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

Friday, August 11, 2017

Sunflowers, cows and collies...oh my!

This past Sunday was an unusually beautiful day.  It was sunny but the temperature was only in the 70's.  I didn't want to waste such a perfect day, so we grabbed Scarlett and Abby and drove to Buttonwood farm.  The farm is open to the public, and has acres of Sunflowers, cows and a stand where they sell their own ice cream.  And the best part is that well-behaved, leashed dogs are welcome!  Since it's "Flower Friday" and a day to see the beauty around us, we thought we would share our day at the farm with you!

Abby outshines any flower!

A sea of green and gold!

They got their own cup of pumpkin ice cream to share!

Scarlett, hoping for a ride!

The cows were so fascinated by the collies, this one actually kissed Abby.  (she was not impressed!)

Curious cows!

It was a fun day, we really enjoyed exploring all the Sunflower fields.  Next year we will try to get there towards the middle of July, which is the peak of the Sunflower season.