Posts tagged dogs

First day of vacation

Today was the first day of my THREE week vacation. (Can you tell I’m really excited about having an extended break?) I haven’t yet unplugged — from anything — but it was a fun, relaxed, productive day just the same.

The day started sunny and cold. The cold was expected; the sun was a pleasant surprise. After scraping the ice off my car, Jay and I were up and out early. The Whidbey Island Kennel Club is holding a two-day show at the fairgrounds in Monroe this weekend. I wanted to watch obedience, particularly Utility, and I knew that was a morning thing, so we tried to get going as soon as possible.

I love the fairgrounds, but I was flummoxed by the parking. Instead of parking in the exterior lots, we were allowed to drive in and park around the buildings. That’s great if you’re showing, of course, and it’s nice if you’re a spectator *IF* you know where the open spaces are. Getting parked was disorganized (though I did finally run into a helpful attendant), and I accidentally ended up parking as far from obedience as possible. Sigh.

It turned out not to be such a bad thing, though. They had a comfy shuttle bus driving laps around the venue, so we didn’t have to trek over. That was good because we didn’t get to the obedience rings until close to 10:00. I was afraid I’d missed all the Utility classes because they show first, but this show had a lot of entries. There were 20+ entries in Utility B alone! We actually found a couple of chairs and settled in ringside to watch the last 7 or 8 people in the class.

So. Much. Fun. I enjoyed all the performances (even — or maybe especially — the NQs), but it was really nice to see the nontraditional breeds. There was a Bernese Mountain Dog who was an absolute HOOT. He didn’t qualify, but he was UP and happy. We also enjoyed a Siberian in the Novice ring nearby. Every time his handler changed speed at heel or turned when he wasn’t expecting it, he woooo’d at her. Hysterical! Of course, that NQ’d him too.

There have been times in the past where I’ve been less than impressed by the handlers — people who took it all too seriously and blamed the dogs for mistakes. I didn’t see that here. These were people with great attitudes, and the dogs’ attitudes were great too. I was also pleased to see how many of them ran to their crates afterwards for high-powered treats!

We stayed in the obedience building for about an hour and a half. I could have stayed all day, but I had told Jay that we would probably be done by lunch. It occurred to me as I sat there, that I was having so much more fun than I would have had in the conformation rings. Conformation just doesn’t do it for me!

We did the walk back toward the car on foot so we could check out all the buildings and, most importantly, the vendors. We visited with lots of dogs, chatted with friendly people, and spent a ton of money on dog toys and chewies. After we hit all the buildings and emptied our wallets, we left in search of lunch. (It occurred to me on the way that I’d compeltely forgotten about River’s lunch. Yikes! Bad parenting moment.) We did a salad bar and a personal pizza, and then ran errands — grocery, pellets for the wood stove, and gas for the generator. Got home, finally, at 2:30.

The next hour and a half was spent working outside, doing the last of the work we needed to do to get ready for winter. We put away hoses and extension cords, broke down the container garden and put away the plant-related things, cleaned off the front porch, got the generator set up, drained the baby pool, and moved the outdoor furntiture from the lawn to the back deck. All in all, it was a good afternoon’s work, though I’m muddy now, my shoes are wet, and my feet are icy. The dogs got a good run out in the front part of the property too.

We got all the winterizing done just in the nick of time. It’s 38 degrees right now — same temp it was at 8:30 this morning. Trace amounts of snow are predicted up here over the next couple of days, with snow levels down to sea level until Thursday. The mountain passes are getting decent amounts of snow, and at least one ski resort has already opened. It’s a La Nina year, which means we should be colder and wetter — read: snowier — than normal. We’ll be glad enough for the pellet stove and the generator.

I’ve created a monster

Okay, he’s a really cute monster. But still.

I do this every time. I teach (intentionally or unintentionally) each dog one thing that goes horribly wrong. I taught Rain, my first Newf, to retrieve Coke cans. See, the metal scent articles in competition obedience are considered extra difficult because dogs don’t like putting metal in their mouths. I was sure I clicker train my dog to pick up metal, so I grabbed the most convenient metal object available: an empty Coke can. Sure enough, I was right. He was happily retrieving that sucker within a few clicks. The next day he figured out that some cans of Coke come with a sugary sweet bonus! And never again was a can of Coke safe around him. He used to try to wrestle the can I was drinking out of my hand while I was drinking from it. (Jay thought this hilarious.)

So now it’s River’s turn. (You’d better believe I haven’t asked him to retrieve a Coke can. No sirree! Just my car keys. But I digress.)

Our den is in the basement. It’s a long narrow room with a wide staircase at one end. My desk is in the corner of that end of the room, and my desk chair backs up to the stairs. River frequently sits there, and I turn around in my chair to interact with him.

Early on after we brought him home, he developed a routine. After his breakfast, he would sit on the stairs, talk to me (cute little vocalizations from a not-terribly-vocal dog), and then when I turned around, he’d put his front paws on my knees and ask to be picked up. I’d pick him up and set him on my knee, and he’d lean against my chest, and we’d snuggle. (Altogether now: “Awwwwwwww.”) It was seriously cute.

For weeks this happened once each morning. No problem there! No matter how busy I am, I can take five minutes out of my morning to snuggle with my baby. Then he had a couple of needy days where it happened two or three times. Okayyyy. I guess I can live with that. But you can guess where this is going.

Today he asked over and over and over ALL DAY. I know it comes as a shock to some people, but I *do* have work to do. No matter how much I’d love to spend my day playing with the puppy, I can’t do it. But when I tried to redirect him to something else, he acted like I’d sent him out to play in traffic. When I caved and picked him up, he’d wrap his paws around my neck and cover my face in kisses: “Joy! You love me!”

Sigh. Damn, he’s a good trainer.

River update

My sweet boy is 19 weeks old — 4.5 months. I love this age. He’s still a sweet, gawky, mama-focused puppy, but he has adapted to the household and learned enough English and human body language to get along. He hasn’t yet succumbed to the inevitable madness of intact-male adolescence, and he’s also big enough to play rough with the big dogs, which makes Pflouff extremely happy.

His first puppy class ended on November 1, and he started his second class the next night. The new class is “Continuing Basic,” and its goal is to work more on the basic skills before moving up to Obedience II. Obedience II focuses more on behaviors for competition obedience, and it’s intended for dogs a year old or older — dogs who are mature enough to handle both precision and corrections. River is a clicker dog. He’ll be able to handle precision work younger than one year, and he won’t be receiving physical corrections, so I could have moved up to that class. But, I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to really focus on the basics during these last weeks before adolescent-brain kicks in. Obedience II can wait until he’s older.

My plan is to finish this new class in December and then take a break through the winter (and through the first couple months of his adolescence). Even if he weren’t about to undergo a massive brain change, we’re supposed to have a crappy winter, and that will make getting off the ridge iffy a lot of nights. So no regular classes for a while. I’ll let his brain — and the weather — tell me when the time is right to move on.

I won’t waste the time, of course. If his first “Continuing Basic” class is representative, he’ll be learning lots of new stuff that we’ll need to practice. I can also get a jump on the Obedience II behaviors, when his brain is functional enough for new stuff. When it isn’t, we can focus on drilling the basics. The recall, especially, needs to be worked during adolescence. So do impulse-control behaviors (which I haven’t done enough of yet). Adolescence is the time when nature demands that “Because I said so,” isn’t good enough, so it’s the time when reinforcing correct choices becomes paramount.

I *may* drop in on a conformation class or two during our winter break. I haven’t decided to show River, but I’m considering it. He’s a nice looking pup, and I don’t think he’ll be the challenge that Pax would have been. I haven’t suddenly developed a love of conformation — thought it was boring when I did it with Pflouff — but I have an alterior motive.

I’m thinking seriously about trying competition obedience with River. The primary challenge when showing in obedience is being able to train in a show situation. I figure, if I sign him up for conformation but not obedience, I can use the time to work with him and get him used to the stress and chaos. Not that I think it will bug him too much. He is so different from Pax!

Pax, up until the moment he was neutered (at age 6!), was an extremely outwardly-focused dog. It gave him great attitude; I think he would have shown beautifully. But getting him to focus on me was HARD work.

River is much more focused. He notices and (so far) isn’t stressed by events around him, but he’s able to concentrate and work, even when there are strange dogs working around him. I’m not sure he has the attitude to do well in conformation (even if he has the structure), but you never know!

Snuggly (and brilliant) puppy

River was snuggly this morning. Not sure why, but three separate times he crawled onto my lap, nibbled on my fingers, and then tucked his head onto my shoulder to nap. It was painfully sweet. If he weren’t so big (and I didn’t have work to do), I’d have loved to let him stay there.

Took a break in the middle of the morning and, since we’re having a break between storms, decided to take him outside into the front yard. Remembering how hard it was to get his attention out there a couple of weeks ago, I decided it would primarily be for his exercise, and I would just reinforce his recall now and then.

This was a different puppy. He heeled — and I mean perfect head-up heeling — all the way to the front gate and back. He broke off to do a little exploring, and I was able to cue some beautiful recalls. He even swung himself into heel position a couple of times. I let the big dogs out with us for a two minute run, and each time the three dogs got as far from me as they could, I cued River’s recall — and he came galloping away from them back to me. (Twice the big dogs came thundering back too!) That’s a 30 yard recall away from some pretty powerful distractions!

Only thing he didn’t do well was stay. I tried just once or twice — figured there was no reason to focus on it right now, since it wasn’t in my original plan. I can bring him out later, assuming it’s not pouring rain, and work on stays.

I’m really glad I have this area and the pastures. The dogs don’t get much access to them, so the distraction level is fairly high. They’re also fully fenced and private, so I can train off leash. It’s excellent practice when I can’t get into town or to PetSmart to practice in higher distractions.

Progress!

I think we’re FINALLY making real progress on the housetraining. Yayyyy. I was beginning to despair that it would never happen. Now that the deck has been rebuilt and the dog door is more puppy-friendly, River is going in and out of it regularly.

Now that he’s big enough to get on and off the bed by himself, he’s even taking himself out at night — or trying to. LOL. I don’t trust that completely and follow him down to make sure he goes alllll the way out. When Pflouff was a puppy we built a channel between the stairs and the dog door to ensure she kept moving, and so I think I’ll start doing that with River.

Sincerely — you have no idea how relieved I am. He’s not housebroken yet… I certainly haven’t stopped suggesting he go out several times a day, and I’m still getting up several times during the night… but I’m finally seeing a little light at the end of the tunnel. (Please, God, no trains. Can’t. Handle. A. Train.)

In other news, River has been to three puppy classes now, and he’s doing fabulously. I’m so proud of him. I get comments about how calm and sweet he is. Sweet, yes, but the “calmness” is from careful reinforcement of calm, relaxed behavior. He’s really doing a fantastic job of focusing on me during class — for a 16-week-old puppy attending his first round of puppy classes, I mean. We have a lot to learn, but it’s progressing little by little.

He’s doing well with sits, downs, recalls, go to heel, down on a mat, and walking (a few steps) in heel position. We’ve introduced “stay” over the past week or two. It’s still shaky, but it’s improving. I really want to emphasize “stay,” because it’s the foundation of impulse control. He needs to learn that giving up what he wants earns him even better things — that patience REALLY pays off. I’m not ready to introduce big distractions yet. First I need to get just the distraction of me moving and jumping and acting silly really solid. Then I can have both me and Jay acting silly. Then I can add things like food on the floor, toys bouncing around him, and toys being thrown. Being able to hold a sit while a retrieve object is thrown (or shot!) is a foundation behavior for field training.

It just occurred to me that I haven’t invested an afternoon on “Crate Games” yet. (That’s because the first session really is two or three hours long. I don’t focus on things I ENJOY for that long!) Crate Games will really teach him basic self-control though, and the lessons can be generalized to other situations. I need to get on that!!

The other thing we’re working on, though just a little, is backchaining the retrieve. River is a retriever, and he has an excellent, instinctive play retrieve. But the formal retrieve is something different, and I want to teach it right. I have decided to get the take solid on a bunch of different types of objects before I really progress the training. That could be a mistake — I don’t know. But I do know I want the take and give to be really, really solid and really, really generalized.

So, overall, things are going well, and I’m happy. River is growing like a WEED, and his temperament is every bit as sweet and gentle as Pax’s is. I love my little boy.

Coyotes

The world fundamentally changes the first time you hear a pack of hunting coyotes in full voice. At least that was River’s experience last night.

I took River (and Pflouff) out to pee at 1:45 this morning. The coyotes were across the street at our neighbors’ place, raising holy hell. Our neighbors raise alpacas, and although an adult alpaca (especially one in a paddock with her buddies) isn’t likely to be on the menu for coyotes, a baby cria could be. Our neighbors are intelligent people, though, and their entire property is surrounded by 5-wire New Zealand fence — very hot electric wire nicknamed “coyote fence” for a reason. So the coyotes surrounded the pastures they couldn’t reach and made a nuisance of themselves.

No lights at the neighbors’ house, so they might have slept through the whole thing. Not River. When he went outside, his whole body went on hyper-alert. Pflouff ran to the front, ready to confront the intruders if they dared to come near her fence. River ran back inside. I had to carry him back out and shut the door to get him to pee. When we went back to bed, he couldn’t settle. He sat up, alert and listening, for an hour and a half until the coyotes left.

I don’t blame him. The first time I heard them, I thought we were being attacked by banshees. The sound a pack of coyotes makes is eerie, otherworldly. When dogs bark, they bark at the same time, but they bark their own individual pattern:

Dog #1: Bark bark growl snarl bark!
Dog #2: Growl bark whine bark bark!
Dog #3: Woof growl bark woof growl!

Coyotes are different. It’s as though each one barks the same pattern, but each starts the pattern a fraction of a second later than another:

Coyote #1: Yip yip bark growl yip bark
Coyote #2:     Yip yip bark growl yip bark
Coyote #3:        Yip yip bark growl yip bark
Coyote #4:            Yip yip bark growl yip bark

It gives a terrifying, echo-like quality to the singing that adds to the impression they’re all around you.

I’m not worried about River. He was fine this morning, and he’ll learn through experience that the coyotes won’t come near our dog fence. He is small enough right now that he *could* be a coyote dinner, but that won’t be true for long, and it’s not likely he’ll be harassed with me, Pax, and Pflouff around. The coyotes are annoying, but they’re not stupid!

Puppy class #1… redux

A few weeks ago, I started a puppy class with River in a town north of here. The class met on Friday night… and that just didn’t work. That first class was the ONLY class we made it to.

There’s another school west of us. This class is taught by the owner, Joan Fetty, who also teaches an Intro to Field class. I signed River up for this round of classes before I started the other class. My original intention was to attend both. I’ve obviously dropped out of the first class, so this is River’s only option for group learning right now.

The first week met without dogs. Joan introduces behaviors with treats, and then adds corrections. A lot of the advice she gave is what I call old school. There’s a lot of molding dogs into position and using the leash to ensure compliance. She doesn’t teach the way I do, but THAT’S OKAY. She’s not cruel by any stretch, and it’s easy to see that she’s really fond of dogs. I like her personally too.

I try to work ahead of the class — at least a little — so I won’t feel pressured to use the compulsive techniques. Last night was the first class with dogs. I’ve worked on eye contact, go to your mat, sits, and downs over the past few weeks, so I figured we’d be prepared.

It was a good strategy. This is a fairly large class — 16 dogs. It’s a nice training facility, but 16 dogs is a lot. That means he had to work fairly close to his neighbors. He was distracted initially and wanted to meet the dogs close to him (which is not allowed in this class). I put his mat out and reinforced sits, down, and eye contact. For most of the class, when we weren’t actively working on a behavior, he was lying on the class facing away from me, watching the action. By the end of the class, though, he was completely focused on me, despite the distractions. That was neat!

In addition to discussing issues like puppy mouthing (not a problem here) and teaching the dog to take treats gently (which River already does), the first week we worked on sits in heel position and downs in heel position. She taught each two ways — with a lure and with molding (physically placing the dogs into position).

I prefer to capture these behaviors, but I’m not horribly opposed to luring. I had done sits in heel position before, so it was easy to be successful with that one just by cueing the known behavior. I hadn’t done downs in heel position though, so I mixed the cue (still new to him) and a lure. He did fine! When she had people practice the compulsion method, I stayed in my seat and captured/cued downs.

I’m overweight enough that I’m not comfortable crawling around on the floor, and I’m afraid some of the ways they use the leash could put me off balance. I’m not afraid to use my weight as an excuse if I need to in order to do things differently. I don’t want to draw attention to myself, and I don’t want to insult her! Fortunately, people tend to be focused on their dogs, so they don’t really notice that I’m doing my own thing.

This week I need to work on downs in heel position, and I need to introduce stay. Jay and I also need to do more work on the recall — just need to keep it sharp! — and I have to work on loose leash walking. I have done any true LLW work. Up until now, I’ve had to coax River to walk on a leash. Now he’s getting confident enough to move out in front, so we need to teach him not to put tension in the leash. I *have* been teaching him to walk beside me off leash as I work on sits at heel. Now I need to redouble my effort to teach him that walking next to me is fun!

Recall fun

I love practicing recalls with River. It’s just so much fun to watch him come galloping to me.

Jay helps me with this behavior. Prior to today, we’d worked up to being about 100 feet apart outside. Today we did a few different things:

  • Jay sat on the ground (change in position).
  • Jay called him while I walked away — with River walking with me.
  • We petted and talked to him and had the other person call him away.
  • We did easy out-of-sight recalls.
  • We made the out of sight recalls a little harder by hiding.

When we got to the last one — hiding — we sometimes had to call more than once, because he just didn’t know where to go. Now that he has the idea, we can make it harder by hiding and calling just once. All of the above, by the way, were done at roughly 100 feet distance. If he’d had trouble, we’d have dropped the distance. We may need to drop distance when we require him to search for the caller.

The boys across the street are back in school, which makes it harder to get their time. When I can get them to come over, we can add more challenging distractions.

Training plans

I have a problem: I have too many behaviors I want to train. I suppose it’s not a monumental problem in the scheme of things, but since I have limited time, I have to focus what I’m doing.

My interests are pulling me in different directions.  First, there are the highest priority behaviors –housetraining and the recall. Those are non-negotiable, top of the list. Then there are the behaviors he has to learn for his puppy class, the behaviors I want him to learn for the field, level one of Sue Ailsby’s new Training Levels, behaviors designed to create impulse control, and finally, pre-agility obedience behaviors a la Kim Collins’ From the Ground Up book. (And that doesn’t include conformation or tracking or other nose work….)

Fortunately, a lot of the behaviors included in each category overlap. I built a table to try to get a better view:

The recall, sit, and down have the most x’s, so I guess that puts them at the top of the list. I don’t know that number of x’s is the best way to measure though. Some of the “one x” behaviors – like crate games and creating tug and toy motivation – have a payoff big enough to justify prioritizing them.

Ugh.

Truth is, I want to train them all. If I stagger them a little, I can ensure that I have behaviors in every stage of training, which is a good thing. The downside is that I have a finite amount of time, and River has a finite number of reps he can handle per day. If I train a lot of behaviors, each behavior will get fewer reps than it would if I trained fewer behaviors. (Does that make sense?) So I’ll need to pick the most important behaviors – like the recall – and ensure they get the most consistent work.

It also means that I need to keep records and be scrupulous about criteria. Otherwise, I’ll progress even MORE slowly, because I’ll be working inefficiently.

I’m tired, and I haven’t even started yet!

Some pictures for your viewing pleasure

River had a play date this weekend, but I totally forgot to bring along my camera. Too bad, because Jake — a 15- or 16-week-old Daschund — is totally adorable, and they had a great time together. Then Mr. River settled in his crate and chewed a chewie while I got a facial. What a lovely afternoon!

In lieu of pictures of puppies playing, here are a few of my own brood I shot in the last couple of days. I really love this first one.