Black Acorn Dogs

Monday, January 31, 2005

Snowy Day

We were complete slugs on Saturday, but yesterday (Sunday) Indie and Katie got a fun run in the woods and Ebby made it to the dog park.

Indie does so well in the woods still, and he learns a great deal from watching Katie. It was a beautiful day, warm but snow-covered. The woods were mostly deserted but we did cross paths with two men at one point. Indie alerted to them with hackles, barking, and distraction, and Diane and I didn't handle it quite as well as we could have. We tried to change direction and go off trail, but I had to put him on leash to ensure that he wouldn't run backwards up to them. This was mostly an issue because we were somewhere they're supposed to be on leash. (Yes, we're bad humans, but we only let them off leash when they're under fully as much control as they'd be on a flexi. They do not run rampant, do not disturb wildlife, and are on back leash by the time any other human would be close enough to know the difference) In hindsight, I wish we'd stopped just off trail and had me stuff him with Charlie Bears while the men walked by. In practice, we ended up with some chaos and probably made the whole thing worse and scarier for him than if we'd done nothing at all. Bah. He also alerted to a neighbor (male) who we stopped to talk to us our near the house last night, although he settled down relatively quickly. We're just going to need to work with that. With the weather as cold as yucky as it's been, we haven't been running into other humans all that much on our regular
walks, and the woods have been particularly private.

Ebby had a howlin' good time at the dog park, and got to play with Rosie, a Jack Russell/Chihuahua/Corgie mix. Rosie likes to play Ebby's favorite game of Chase Me, and the real rip is that Rosie will turn around and get Ebby on the run. It was absolutely hilarious. Rosie also boxes and does this great flying leap as an offensive maneuver. Her front legs oustretch like Superman; it's the greatest. She's one spunky little dog, and I hope we run into her again.

Speaking of boxers, the E-girl was really obnoxious with the one boxer that was there yesterday, a male named Duke. She's gotten better about her nip move, but she was really persistant in nipping at his back. He didn't do much about it, but I don't think he was too thrilled with it, either. Fortunately, his owner wasn't concerned about it, although I did call her off of him several times so as not to let her keep being a pill. I'm very pleased with her that she'll call off other dogs at the park, and hope that it continues to translate over into her obedience training, and perhaps into off-leash training in general. I truly hope we can eventually get to take her out in the woods as well without fear of the Dreaded Bunny Chase.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

More Puppy Play

Indie and I played in the backyard again this morning. Fortuntely most of the snow is melted so I just have to watch out for running over the icy spots.

He had a weird confusion a few times when I threw the rope toy for fetch where he acted like he didn't see me throw it. When I ran toward the toy with him, he found it excitedly once we were right on top of it.

Indy is bigger than Kate now and is gaining rapidly on Ebony. He's 4 1/2 months and about 50 pounds.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Another Great Class Night

Another fantastic pair of classes Wednesday night. I'm so pleased with both dogs I could have just cried.

Puppy class was fantastic. It was a full house and chaotic as it gets, but Indy mixed well with the other puppies with hardly a bark. It's worth noting that we weren't doing direct meet-and-greets, but puppies where everywhere. Personal space was in high demand, especially during particular exercises where everyone spread out or where we did surface work stations (Intro to Agility-style)

Diane did class up until the end where we did Come-fores and surface work. Indy was having a tough time focusing by that point, and it's much harder for Diane to keep the engagement level high when he starts getting distracted. That's not a knock on Diane, because it's a real challenge still at his development stage. An hour is a long time. That said, Diane and Indy did a bang up job for all of the early parts of class, and she's got him doing terrific on his sit- and down-stays.

We did the tunnel for the first time and had a little bit of freak-out, but I think it was because the first time we tried it, it wasn't properly secured. Once he had a chance to try it with the sandbags in place and when we could take our time, he was fine with it once he'd run through a few times. He's taken every other piece of equipment in stride (low table, flat dogwalk, ladders), but that's no surprise since we've deliberately exposed him to as many surfaces as possible.

He also proved he has a nice recall because he slipped his collar when instructor Elsie was trying to hold him at one end of the tunnel, and he took of toward Diane and a huddle of puppies, but returned immediately when I called him. Good boy!

Ebby was awesome again. One of her classmates, another shepherd, was going nuts through the entire class and several of the other dogs had reactive moments, but it didn't phase her at all. I was able to keep her attention through everything. When we did walk-bys (where you face another dog and handler and pass them, sometimes stopping beside them) she didn't even glance over at the other dogs. We did a lot of work with heeling patterns, and she's doing even better than last week as far as proper position and attention. During our downtime, I also practiced stationary right and left turns and having her move with me into proper position. I'm still doing Touch Hand maybe 35-50% of the time, but that was the magic key to getting her to understand exactly where I want her body.

Diane worked with Indy for a large percentage of the time I was in class with Ebony, and she got him to settle down dramatically from last week. I'm so glad because he needs to be able to chill out when we want him to just sit and wait around for times like this, even if he hears my voice or sees Ebony. They also worked on Leave It.

3 classes down, 3 to go. These sessions fly by so quickly.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

We Have Us a Plan

We had our first real snow yesterday, and Indie had a blast. We joke that he's part Malamute because the cold doesn't phase him, and he's happy laying right in the snow, too. This is the first snow we've shared with Ebony, and she's not as much of a fan as Indie. It's so windy and bitter cold that it's hard to be sure, but I think she could take it or leave it.

Indie and Katie got to go for a trip in the woods today and we took lots of pictures. Indie has been able to be off-leash for all woods excursions and so far he's shown model behavior. I cross my fingers that it will help condition him to be as responsive off-leash when he hits adolescence.

No formal training today, but yesterday I updated my training chart and made it web publishable. I picked a couple or four behaviors for each dog that I want to work on, and I think this will help me focus on specific items with each dog so I can keep nightly training sessions to a total of 20-30 minutes. When I don't have a clear idea what to work on with each dog, it's easy to let it slide or to jump around too much.

These "tricks" represent tasks that the dogs don't yet have on cue. Once the dogs know an activity by cue, it's mixed into training sessions as review or practiced informally while we're doing normal "life" stuff.

Katie: Speak -- not a hardship for her. She enjoys barking and we've just never put it on cue. "Step" is her favorite trick where she paws at a plastic lid that I throw on the floor. I'm going to work on making her wait for me to put it down and going over to it only after I release her. Stay is tough for the old girl these days, but I think this will be a fun exercise for her.

Ebby: She knows Touch, but she needs direction on what it is she's supposed to touch. I want to teach her to differentiate between Touch Hand and Touch Spoon (a wooden spoon I use for targeting). Speak and Play Dead are also on the list, but I don't plan to focus on them as much. So far I can only get her to speak by ringing the doorbell and our only session on this seems to help desensitize her to the doorbell. Eh, that's not a bad thing either.

Indie: Keeping it simple. Stand, which he's starting to understand but is not on cue. Crawl, which I haven't started but should be a nice easy one to prepare for class homework. Take It, using a tug toy, which I've started very informally during our play sessions. My focus with Indie is still socialization, manners (like Waiting for Okay before going out the door) and having fun.

Group: It's not on the chart, but I like to end each session with some simple group work. For now, I take turns giving each dog commands, often in unpredictable order. The goal is to teach them to differentiate which dog I'm cuing and to not anticipate the next cue. Doing the group last also helps everyone participate in the end of the session instead of listening to other dogs training for ten minutes and having it stop cold.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Individual Nightlies

25 minute training session last night. I finally found a way to rig up the living room so that I isolate the dogs to work with them separately. I have an 8 foot folding table that was in from the garage because I was using it for the holidays, and I can slide that in front of the main living room archway (and slide behind the love seat when I'm not using), and drag Ebby's food bucket into the kitchen/living room doorway to block the other entrance. Then I can let one dog in at a time to work with them.

Indie: worked on Stand, and he's finally getting it. It's taken a few sessions, I think because he's gotten so good at automatic sits and downs. I've been trying not to lure the stand because I already have to do exaggerated hand signals with the other dogs.

Katie: did some work on Hand Touch. She's always hated this for some reason. Also mix of other sits and downs and things.

Ebby: did a mixed bag of Hand Touch, eye contact, left and right spins, and sit- and down- stays. The only new thing was Sit - One Step (Heeling - Sit. I tried to go to two steps but that just confused things.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Atteeeen HUT!

Had a terrific class last night!

Puppy class went well with Indie and Diane. He hung in there until the end, where at his first class last week he'd really checked out by the time the hour was over. It's still a long time for his attention span. Diane said he was a gem when they introduced surface work (walking through ladder, walking across baby dogwalk, etc), so our wobble board practice and other desensitisation work seems to be paying off. He's still skittish with other dogs, so I'm going to step in during that part of class next week and see if I can't help get him to feel more comfortable.

Ebby's class was the real high point. There are six-session classes roughly every two months, so there is about a two week gap between each session to allow for breaks and make-up classes where necessary. Each session there's an entirely different group of dogs, which is weird but the way it is. Last session was almost all bordie collies in training for agility. This session is very large and is entirely made up of big dogs, many of whom are rescues. Because Ebby's real challenge is distraction by other dogs including a subsequent sudden lunge/leap toward them, I've been expecting a real challenge by being in a group of half sensitive and half reactive big dogs, especially when it's a large group and we're in tight quarters.

But... last night was great! Her attention and focus were incredible, even when other dogs were right next to us and being goofy. There was one single time that she pulled toward another dog, and it was very subdued. I also didn't need to shorten up on the leash as much during close work with other dogs. Mostly it was just a real thrill to have her be so focused on me in such a high distraction environment. There's hope yet!

Three things contributed to our success last night.

1) Since last week, I've been working on eye contact. No longer clicking for looking at me, only clicking for looking at my eyes, and especially clicking for duration of one second. We'll build up to more, but she was giving it last night even when I wasn't always asking.

2) I re-upped our treat value. I'd been getting sloppy about dropping down to a higher ratio of boring Charlie Bears from exciting hot dogs or other high value yummies.

3) Using my hand to target during heeling. I've been practicing "touch hand" on our walks, where I put my hand where I want her nose and ask her to target it. This has been a MAJOR breakthrough in getting her into a true heel position and getting her to stay there even after reward. I don't forsee a major issue with later transferring Touch Hand into a Watch Me once we establish comfortable heeling activities. The other strong benefit of Touch Hand is that while she's focused on my hand, she's NOT focused on the nearest dog. I can't say that about regular old heeling, since it doesn't keep her busy enough to keep her from scanning who's around us.

Training has its ups and downs, and there have certainly been those nights that make me want to cry, but it's nights like last night that keep a person going. Whoo hoo!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


The biggest thing I've been working on with Indie lately is building toy drive. I haven't taught anything knew in at least two weeks, but I've been doing a lot to further establish existing behaviors like Sit, Down, and Wait.

For the toy drive sessions, we go out behind the house and play with a short tug toy. I'm trying to keep it low pressure so that we're just having a good time playing together. I'm trying to make the training like Sesame Street: fun, and just let the learning part sneak in around the sides. He's getting very intense about the toy, which is terrific. I throw in *occasional* Sits, Downs, or Speaks before I let him have the toy, but I'm not overfocusing on that yet because I still want to establish that toy as the coolest thing ever in the whole wide world.

We're also doing Fetch with the toy, which he adores. He doesn't always bring the toy all the way back, so I'm making big huge fuss when he returns to me with toy. I realize that hundreds of thousands of dogs around the world figure out the fetch game for themselves, but I'm not willing to sit around and wait to see if it happens. Today he brought the toy all the way back to my hand all but twice. Those two times he dropped it just before making it back to me. I popped it back into his mouth before taking it again and treating/making huge fuss. This has been getting progressively better every time, as he had previously been dropping it 2/3 of the way back on many occasions.

Diane thinks the toy drive work is funny. She teases me that I'm trying to make him into a little Border Collie. We know, of course, that German Shepherds also work well with strong toy drive, but it's a fun joke anyway.

Indie also loves playing tug with his leash (this is allowed only when *invited*, mind you). It's great to have a ready made toy whenever we need a distraction.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Indie at BI

I was off work yesterday and brought Indie to Diane's work again. He did terrific around everyone and wasn't nearly as timid as he's been on previous occasions around other people. He was also a model puppy and settled down at my feet any time I stayed in one place for any length of time to chat with people. We stayed about an hour, and he got to spend time around all the machinery. We also played quite of bit of tug the leash. He's getting more and more revved up by that, so all the work I've been doing on building strong toy drive seems to be working. He's at the point where he shakes in anticipation of me releasing him to grab the toy. Yay!

Training Plan

I've finally taken a step into formalizing a training plan with the dogs. Especially now that we've got three dogs to work with, it's hard to keep at the top of my head what new commands I'm trying to work on with each dog and how they're doing. I know I can't do anything too formal in writing or I won't keep up on it, so I created a really neat little checklist chart. Across the top I have the categories:

Introduced -- Started teaching the activity but the dog doesn't quite get what's being asked for yet

Can Do w/ No Distractions -- Dog understands the cue and the behavior, but it's not strong yet. With distractions or stress, dog gets confused. May still require some hand signals or luring.

Can Do w/ Distractions -- Dog responds to command quickly with no distraction. Will respond under distraction, but may need some help.

Stimulus Control -- Dog will respond to command with my back turned, no hand signal, and mild distractions.

There should probably be a column for "will respond with my back turned and heavy distractions", but I'm not expecting that of any of them at this point in time. First thing is to get a healthy stable of behaviors that we can run through with my back turned or with distractions, *then* we'll worry about both.