Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Stupid weather

It's very cold. I'm trying to find ways to keep up with some of our training goals in the face of very very cold weather. I need two things: a large indoor (ish) training room to do BAT with Vanya and Nancy (even a barn or something would be good) and to figure out a way to do training with Gustav and Tisha in my house. I can't decide if she should toss him treats or just ignore him, and I can't decide if he should be leashed, behind a gate, muzzled, or none of the above. Finally, I need to decide on a protocol that works for inside the house. I think that just having Tish around would probably help Gustav get used to her, but it might not teach him anything useful (for example how to move away if you don't like someone).

In other news, no visible effect from the prozac yet. Friday is the 8 week mark. We may up the dosage after that. Also, Dottie's diet is wildly successful and she has her lovely slim figure back. She will be so happy when we get to go back up to maintenance rations, instead of weight loss rations. I've never seen her eat her food so fast.

One positive about the cold weather is our walks have been very quiet and uneventful, which is after all my ultimate goal. In this case, we're reaching it by not seeing any or hardly any triggers. I love walking my dogs when it's not stressful like that.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dog park!

Great news! The small neighborhood dog parks that a group of people on the eastside campaigned for over two year for, myself included, have come into being as of this weekend. I took the dogs out on a jog on Sunday and headed over to one. Once I got there I realized that they were small enough that I could go in and always keep track if anyone was coming, and then high tail it out of there. Thanks to our brilliant design recommendations, there is an entrance and an exit, and both are double-gated. So Gustav got to run around free with me completely nerve-free for the first time in at least two years. No muzzle, no heightened scanning, just fun (and Dottie being grumpy at him for trying to play, but he's much better at listening to her now). I won't lie: I might have been a little misty watching him tear around at fast as he could. His recall is just awful, as might be expected, but I'm so excited for this new training opportunity. It's maybe a ten minute jog from my house. I figure if we show up and no one is there, they can run and play. If someone is there, we can stand across the street or farther and do some nice controlled training, knowing that the dogs are fenced in.

Hooray! I love my city. And my dogs.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Serotonin? Maybe?

Gustav has been on Prozac for about a month. We haven't seen any big changes yet, except for one weird thing. Today Gustav was willing to go in the basement, something neither he nor Dottie has ever accomplished (except once for Dottie when we first moved in). Justin sort of led him down there, and he went. Usually if you encourage him he just balks at the second step and barks. Weird.

Nothing else new. I've been so busy with school that normally my walks with the dogs are once briefly in the morning and a decent one around 8:30 or 9:00 at night. These walks are great because no one is out and we are all calm and relaxed.

I have a new band that practices at my house on Wednesdays. I'd love for Gustav to get used to them eventually. He was on a leash last time, and he whined at them a little, but also barked (along with Dottie) when they all first came upstairs from the basement. I'm not ready to have him loose with them around yet, but I'm hoping to someday.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Quick update

Nothing much new around here. Crazy weather has gotten in the way of some training sessions, and I still haven't managed to set up my weekly Tisha sessions. I'd better do that before the weather gets really miserable. Two new items: there are new dog parks in the neighborhood! I worked with the Eastside Dog Park coalition for a few years, and we finally won! Very exciting, and also gives me a new, closer place to bring Dottie for controlled training (i.e. we can wander around the outside of the dog park and control distance and practice BAT).

The other thing: Justin berated me for staring at triggers too much and therefore calling attention to them. Interesting idea. Today on our jog I practiced not looking at all at dogs behind fences or people out and about, except in my peripheral vision to keep track. Gustav did not bark and lunge at anyone. On the other hand, I don't really know if he tensed up a lot or not because I was just looking forward. Also, an off leash dog came up near up and instigated a pretty fierce stare-fight but was too intimidated to come all the way up to us. Dottie barked a few times, and Gustav did not bark and lunge at all, he just stood stock still and stared the dog down. Pretty interesting. Then the owner came up and got him and we all went on our way. So, while my dogs were not exactly relaxed and happy, then did not go totally crazy and the other dog was smart enough not to come up and start a fight. All in all, I was pleased with the jog. The only downside of ignoring triggers is that I am losing a training opportunity, in that I usually stop and do look-at-that or a tiny BAT set-up. Do you think Gustav learns anything one way or the other by just staring but moving past without incident? I'm not sure. But at least he didn't have any bark/lunge fests.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I have been SO BUSY. I haven't had a moment to update here. Briefly, I finished Reactive Rover with Gustav, been doing weekly BAT/mat/etc work with Nancy and Vanya (what a find! I'm so glad I finally found a committed dog owner to work with. And we're both helping one another out, I don't feel like I am incurring a huge debt with someone by taking up their time.), and jogging, walking, and so on. I have been incredibly busy with school, but mostly sticking to my one-big-formal-session a week plan plus the usual day-to-day stuff. Now that Reactive Rover is over I plan to set up a weekly or every-other-weekly session with Tisha to continue BAT with Gustav. On the off weeks I can maybe drive Dottie over to the dog park and do some BAT, assuming Justin is home or I get a little farther on my completely stalled separation anxiety treatment with Gustav.

Other big news: we started Gustav on Prozac this week. This news has sort of freaked out or disappointed some friends of mine, but I think they've mulled it over and realized it's not such a crazy decision since they've watched me work with dog for two years and honestly, not a whole lot has changed. In fact, he's still worse than when we first got him (to think: we used to go to the dog park and let strangers pet him and have parties at our house with people out and dogs visiting!!) but perhaps not as bad as his worst. It's really discouraging. Chelse just said that she didn't want to pressure me, but that every time she saw Gustav "prozac" popped into her mind. So why not. We're giving it a 3-month trial. I just can't ignore an option that could make my dog lead a more balanced and happy life.

Okay! Busy busy busy! I have work to do. And dogs to jog. I'll keep you all updated on Gustav's entry into the 21st century of SSRIs. Who knew I'd ever be here? Sigh.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesday practice day.

I had my training day with Nancy and Vanya (blog is: http://vanyaproject.blogspot.com). Everything went well. Towards the end, I was doing some BAT with Gustav with Nancy as the decoy. She was also feeding her dog Vanya peanut butter, but Vanya was in the car in a crate so the dogs couldn't see each other. Gustav was interesting: He would look at Nancy and be pulling forward, and when he looked away or did some other acceptable alternative behavior, like sniffing, I would say "Let's go" and try to retreat. Only he didn't want to retreat. He wanted to stay there. But he also didn't want to stay there, because once he pursed his lips and I could tell he was about one second away from woofing and maybe lunging. I switched to LAT because it was clear that one of two things was happening: 1. He was ambivalent about Nancy because he wanted the peanut butter but was also scared of her, and couldn't decide what to do. I've seen this behavior with Tish and Berit, especially after they throw treats. The functional reward people are always saying how just straight counterconditioning produces dogs who are ambivalent about the stimulus because the treats distract them from the real issue and they never solve their insecurities deep down. Interesting to think about. Counterconditioning folks would say that, done correctly, counterconditioning actually changes the dog's emotional response over time. 2. He was too close and his staring too intense to be able to tear him away from the stimulus. I'm less inclined to believe this one because I moved him farther and tried again and it still didn't work. Still, sometimes this is the problem with Gustav because he's an information gatherer and hates to turn his back on things he feels truly threatened by. I figured with LAT there was no harm either way: it's counterconditioning and also teaching him to look away from a stimulus. I didn't have to mess with the functional reward at all. There were no bad lessons to learn from looking at Nancy and getting a treat.

Gustav made it 20 minutes while Dottie and I were out without crying. To be fair, this was with a brand new bone from the Farmer's Market, with tons of gooey gross meat hanging off. I got it from him with no growling, but he did seem a tad stiff. 20 minutes! Awesome!

While Dottie and I were out, a neighbor dog came bounding into the park. At first I was nervous, then I just decided to let it play out because I knew the dog was super sweet. Sure enough, it came running over to meet Dottie. Dottie snapped at the dog in the muzzle area, a correction-type bite, and the dog backed off. I warned my neighbor that Dottie was "bitchy" (a strange choice of words, I know, but that's what came out.) The neighbor didn't care and the dog was extremely receptive to Dottie's signals. It did steal her toy once, but the neighbor got it and handed it to me. The dog also jumped on me and was very exuberant, but Dottie did not go too crazy. Her hackles were up and she barked a lot, but this incident reminded me that, on-leash displays to the contrary, she's not really out to rip out throats. Just wants to be left alone. Probably this wasn't the best experience, because she certainly learned that snapping is a good way to get a dog to leave her alone, but honestly the dog was kind of rude and the corrections were not over the top. In the end, I'm oddly pleased by the experience because it reminded me that Dottie is not a really aggressive dog, she's just doing what has worked in the past to get dogs out of her space. After the dog did that, she was able to play fetch and lay down without any problems, even when the dog was still in the park romping around.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Runner's High

I took the dogs on my favorite jogging route today. It's about a 45 minute jog that goes through neighborhoods and a little-used bike path through a marsh where Dottie can run free. I swear they both get a runner's high: usually 20 minutes into the jog they both get into a groove and Dottie in particular looks up at me with squinty eyes and her mouth wide open. To me this looks like a giant grin, like she's saying "Finally! We're moving at an appropriate pace!"

We got mobbed by a loose black Lab, but I just dragged them across the street and the dog didn't follow. Dottie barked and barked but recovered quickly, and Gustav was stiff and looked back a lot but didn't flail and lunge and bark at all. I didn't say a word, just crossed the street at a jog and kept going. I think the dog was a little surprised to find such unfriendly dogs, maybe it will help him think twice about running out to greet strange dogs on the sidewalk. Gustav can be quite intimidating to friendly or submissive dogs, and invariably invites a fight with dogs with more attitude. Other than that there were no growls or barks, and we even passed some tied-up dogs across the street who were barking furiously.

Dottie got to chase a squirrel in the marshy area and also got to run as fast as she could a few times, which is really fast and very fun to watch. She started to roll in something while giving me a guilty look and I called her out of it and she came! She got a big handful of treats and no bath.

Not a lot of "training" got done, but I treasure these days because I feel it's what we're working towards: normal neighborhood experiences. I think the dogs needed a good workout and a low-stress outdoor experience. We all feel good.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Today we did two trials for Gustav's SA. Dottie and I left for 16 minutes once and 14 minutes once. Gustav did not cry. He just chewed his wonderful bone. Also he gave it up quite nicely, with a simple "give."

I wonder if the circumstances of last time made a difference. Justin was still home when we left. Gustav saw Dottie and me drive away. Then a few minutes later Justin put him in his crate with the bone and left. Possibly the Justin factor and the driving factor played a role? I don't know. We'll keep working under twenty minutes, going up little by little with each successful trial.

Tonight is Reactive Rover for us. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gustav cries and cries and cries

Well, I'm back in a routine now that school has started again and I've been able to work with the dogs quite a bit. We've still had lots of bad moments. Justin reported that yesterday they both bark/lunged at a dog. I've had Gustav growl and lunge at some people, and both at dogs here and there. On the other hand, we've had some really good times too. My goal of working with the dogs separately once a week each has been going great. Gustav is in Reactive Rover class on Thursday nights, and he did really well our first night last week. He didn't growl or lunge/bark at all, although he did stiffen and stare a few times. Also, I've been working with someone with a reactive dog on Tuesday afternoons. The first time I brought Gustav and that was good, because we got to do human BAT and also dog BAT and general attention work. This week I brought Dottie, and she did great as well. We did dog BAT and relax-on-mat stuff. I have two things I need to work out, however. One, Gustav is not good at just hanging out in the car for a few minutes while I talk to Nancy, who I'm training with. I can't talk to her very well with him, because I can't get close enough to communicate. He yelps and howls from the car. I tried covering his view with a tarp, but he hated that. Two, I just got home with Dottie and checked my computer, with which I spy on Gustav to see how his Dottie separation anxiety is going. Not well, it turns out. He had a brand new meaty bone to chew on. Like, from the butcher and covered in meat and filled with marrow. He made it about 18 minutes before starting to whine and howl, and then did so in fairly regular intervals for the next nearly three hours. Here's the breakdown: 18 minutes quiet, 1 minute cry, 6 minutes quiet, 3 minutes cry, 6 minutes quiet, 8 minutes cry, 4 minutes quiet, 3 minutes cry, 2 minutes quiet, 5 minutes cry, 4 minutes quiet, and so on. Crying ranging from one minute to 8 minutes, quiet ranged from one minute to 9 minutes (not including first quiet period). Very very sad crying, as well. I've never heard him like except from recordings when I'm gone with Dottie.

When we got home he didn't even bring his nice meaty bone out of the crate with him. He just ran ran ran to Dottie and sniffed her all over and wagged furiously. Which is sweet but pathetic all the same. He is still panting and it was obviously a stressful time for him (and probably my neighbors too. Hope no one was home.)

Bummer. I'll have to start from scratch on the separation anxiety problem. I'll have to be sure to build up to at least an hour before trying this sort of thing again. Very sad for Dottie. Sigh.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Tough times for us.

I took the dogs out one morning and twice people burst out of their front doors with dogs. What bad luck. The dogs were way too close and there was nothing I could do but praise the manufacturers of the gentle leader and easy walk harness and drag everyone away. Then yesterday we had barely gotten to the end of my block when a boxer popped out from behind a fence. I just dragged the dogs right back home and canceled the walk. There was no way we could rebound from that right then. I took them on a late night walk instead, with no one in sight. Then today the UPS man dropped off a package that I was not expecting so soon and knocked on the door to alert me. The dogs went nuts. I feel like we've had some setbacks that are due purely to chance. Sad.

Today I am doing a CAT session with Tish and Gustav, then hopefully I can find some unsuspecting decoy dogs in the neighborhood to run some BAT with Dottie. Reactive Rover starts this week on Thursdays with Gustav, hopefully this will help us out of the hole we're in. Sigh. On the plus side, Dottie auto-watches everytime she hears a dog bark and Gustav has been doing tons of autowatches with people. The counterconditioning, at least, is making a little progress.

One last weird thing: recently Gustav has begun to wag his tail as strangers out of the window. Usually he goes to the window, tail held high. If the tails slowly lowers, there's no one there and he loses interest. If the tail stays high and he perks up in other ways, there's someone there and he'll either just stare them away or maybe bark if they're super close or it's a dog. Recently the tail lowers a little, then sways from side to side. I though it must be a friend, but not someone he really really loves because then the tail wag would include the butt. I looked out the window and it was a stranger across the street. What's going on? It's not the friendliest wag he's ever had, and he wags while bark/lunging at people so I know it's not always a good thing. But it's not high and fast like Dottie's when she's going to go ballistic on a dog. It's a pretty relaxed wag. Strange.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Interesting blog read

Jogged the dogs today, lots of great autowatches from Gustav and some excellent BAT work from far away with Dottie. No barking, no lunging. I really feel like a good month or two of this type of work will bring us back to our high point. Dottie has begun all walks with some very intense scanning and even a little pulling. She seems to be on high alert and I've needed to start walks with lots of back and forth, treats, slow walking, etc. to get us all in the right frame of mind to survive a neighborhood walk.

I've been following Patricia McConnell's blog, www.theotherendoftheleash.com, and there's a very interesting saga regarding a puppy she rehomed. Well, two actually, but Hope most recently. Very thought provoking. I recommend it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Jogging weather!

It's gotten really mild here, with highs in the upper 60s, so it means we can jog again without the dogs being completely useless due to overheating. We drove to a suburban area a few miles up the road for a change of scenery. It was lovely and we had a great time. We passed lots of dogs in houses and behind fences going crazy and my dogs didn't bark at all. They were handsomely rewarded for this choice. We jogged for about an hour and it's great to ditch the treadmill and have both the dogs and myself exercised at once.

Ever since I've been back from my trip I've noticed Gustav in particular has really regressed. He's bark/lunged at people nearly every day. I'm glad we have the fall routine, complete with jogging and our reactive rover class, to get us back on track. I also am setting up my weekly CAT sessions with my sister-in-law. I'd really like Gustav to like her. He loves her son and her boyfriend, so I know it's possible.

I'm working on two other things with Gustav: one, looking at me before we cross the street. I say "stop" and the dogs stop, then I just stand there until Gustav finally looks up at me out of boredom. Then I say "yes" and "okay" and we cross the street. Two, I picked up a booklet called the "Really Reliable Recall." It has you spend two weeks calling your dog in the house three times a day and spending literally one minute giving out great treats and praising. It's nice not to worry about criteria right now and Gustav has gotten quite speedy on his in-house recall. The booklet then has you test the recall in a set-up to see how it's going. I'll give that a try in a few weeks and see if a recall trained with no raising of criteria is of any use in difficult situations. I'm curious and it takes very little effort on my part, so why not?

The dogs are really tired now. It's a wonderful sight.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Two good days.

Both today and yesterday I was able to take the dogs on separate walks. What a pleasure! Gustav made it 20 minutes without crying while Dottie and I were gone, with a good bone of course. He also gave it up without any problems. Since he growled at me once a few weeks ago while reaching into his crate to take away an amazing meaty bone, I've been doing a little resource guarding stuff here and there, not too much. I'm not sure if that's helped or if the bone is less meaty or if it's because I wait until he brings his bone out of his crate himself before I take it away.

Gustav barked at one person, a friend of mine I saw on my walk. I told him Gustav is "mean" (sometimes you have to be simple and inaccurate to get people to listen) and he stopped walking towards us and that was fine, but while we talked he inexplicably took a few more steps forward before I could say anything and Gustav did a woof and lunge. Nothing terrible, but it sure worked because my friend stopped coming towards us. Other than that we saw tons of dogs and people and he did great. I was really proud. Same with Dottie.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bad day :(

Had a not so great walk yesterday. Both the dogs were high-strung from the beginning, stiff and with hackles up right out the door. I have no idea why-maybe a dog had just walked there? Anyway, Dottie barked at a neighbor and so did Gustav. Then later Gustav bark/lunged at a woman 15 feet away on the sidewalk. Disappointing.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

What a summer!

Well, I just got back from my vacation in Berlin, which was amazing. Justin reported that the dogs had a few bad days, including Dottie charging a dog a few times while off leash. Sounds like extra caution is needed while she's off leash, because it sounds like she was pretty mean and intimidating, but was still able to be recalled and didn't cause any damage. However, that's exactly the type of behavior I hate from other dog owners and sets everyone's training back. I was sad to hear about it. She also had a few meltdowns at other dogs.

I took them out for a long rebonding walk yesterday and it was just lovely. They did great and using distance as a reinforcer for Dottie is still amazing me with it's effectiveness. I can literally see her decide when to look at me instead of barking and freaking out. She looks at a dog, purses her lips and raises her tail, then turns around to look at me. I say "yes!" and we literally sprint away from the dog and Dottie is just as happy as can be. Gustav is a bit slower on this because he is insecure about turning his back on something that worries him and I have to give him several extra seconds. During this time, I figure Dottie is learning duration. Otherwise, if Dottie is about to lose it, I just have to sort of drag Gustav away. Interesting to do BAT with two dogs at once, but I just sort of choose which dog to focus on each time we see a trigger and try to keep a lid on things in general.

I signed Gustav up for Reactive Rover this fall, so I'm really excited about that. He made a lot of progress when we did it last year, just in general responsiveness. I think the most useful thing about the class is having a completely controlled environment in which to build trust and basic focus.

Well, I didn't get as much training done this summer as I'd hoped, but I got a little overscheduled in general and fell short of many of my goals. Lesson from this summer: relax and don't expect so much from myself and my time. Now it's back to school and routine, my favorite things, and I think the dogs will benefit as well.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Boring walk report

Took a long walk today. The dogs were very hot. Dottie barked at one dog, but not at two others (although I increased distance quite a bit based on her earlier performance). I brought a toy as a different reinforcer, which worked beautifully. I think Dottie was pleasantly surprised that looking at a dog and then looking at me could produce a toy she loves and a little mini tug session.

All in all, it was incredibly pleasant and almost one hundred percent what I want out of my dogs: long, uneventful walks around the neighborhood without having to make crazy routes to avoid people/dogs. I don't mind crossing the street, but taking wild detours is a bummer.

Now they are panting and laying down. I love them.

Back home

Wow, I've been gone a while. I was super busy getting ready for my band's tour, and I just got back yesterday. One thing that's fun about tour is meeting other people's pets. We stayed with some friends in North Carolina who have a great little heeler mutt named Lil' Man. He was obviously a great dog, but super super mouthy. It reminded me that no one's dog is perfect and that we love them all the same, an obvious message that sometimes gets lost nevertheless when we are trying to work with our dogs towards some goal.

Justin, who took care of the dogs while I was gone, said it went great with no barking fits or problems except one incident in which they got mobbed by two off-leash pit bulls. Dottie barked at them from behind Justin's legs and Gustav just beat up the other dogs. So typical of their crisis responses. Gustav really can take care of himself, and he knows it. My job is to convince him he doesn't have to. This message is a little harder to convey when it's not true, like when people let their dogs run amok. Gustav is extremely intimidating when he decides it's time to take care of business and I've never seen him lose a contest of this variety. He snarls and growls and pins the other dog within seconds.

Well, I'm back in the saddle for a few weeks, after which I'm on vacation again (!). I'm going to take the dogs out on a long long walk right now. Nice.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Amazing BAT session outside the dog park!

Dottie and I had a great time outside the dog park. We stood sort of near the entrance, and when a dog got leashed up and came out, I waited for Dottie to turn her head to me. Then I clicked, and we RAN away from the dog, then got a treat. I misjudged her distance once or twice and she barked, but I just stood there and pretty soon she looked up at me and we got to run away.

I was totally amazed at the quick progress she made. Pretty soon we were an across-the-street distance from other dogs, and Dottie was wagging her tail and anticipating her click and our super fun retreat. I guess this is more of a BAT thing, as far as I've read about it, but of course it's really just the same old principles: communicate with your dog, figure out what they want, and find a way to negotiate how to get what you both want out of a situation. It also made me think about what an "operant" dog Dottie is. She just wants to do what works, and is so whip smart that she doesn't let her fears overcome her when she's deciding what course of action to take. Of course, a key in all that is keeping her at a distance she can deal with. If the dogs had been off-leash and mobbed her, all bets would be off and she would do what works: snap and lunge.

I'm lucky that leash laws are observed, by and large, around here in the city. I think people are mostly worried about their dogs getting hit by cars, not the consideration of other people.

Anyway, I was really encouraged by it and I'll try to get a session or two a week in at the dog park or in dog-heavy neighborhoods with room to retreat. Dottie will never love strange dogs, and I honestly don't care if she can meet them or not. Just walking the neighborhood in peace is enough for me.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

CAT advice

I got some good feedback from my CAT list. They told me not to sweat getting to interaction, but to do lots and lots more reps using distance as a reinforcer. I think it's a good idea. Today I'm hoping to work a bit on Gustav's adorable but sad separation-from-Dottie anxiety. I taped him again recently and he can go about six minutes before started to howl and whine. therefore, Dottie and I will be taking weird four minute walks a few times in a row while Gustav chews on something wonderful. I'd love to be taking Dottie to the outskirts of the dog park more often, but it would help a lot if Gustav wasn't crying and crying at home. Of course, I can take just her if Justin is home but he frequently doesn't get done with work until eight or later.

Also, I found a blog of someone who lives quite near me in real life who has a hyper-aroused dog. The blog is vanyaproject.blogspot.com. I'm going to run over there and say hi. It's especially interesting since a lot of the trainers she's used I have as well. Small world!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

CAT with Berit

I did a CAT session with my friend Berit today. It was really interesting. Gustav seemed totally relaxed and indifferent to her--or is it avoidance? Who knows. So she quickly got to a small distance, about seven feet or so, and I was shaping for yawns, turn-aways, laying down, sniffing, and relaxed movement. I was curious if he would take treats from her, so I had her throw a few. He ate them up and actually had a teeny tiny tail wag-the low and slow kind!! Exciting! The next rep, though, she was one step closer and he stared at her, then woofed and lunged. She jumped, but I had her stay there and after only a few barks, Gustav turned away. Then I had her retreat. I was curious what brought on this change in emotions. Berit thinks it's because she was closer than ever, I wonder if he was a little frightened by their treat interaction as well. Gustav's triggers all involve the concept that the person might actually come up and touch him: people getting out of cars, people walking straight at him, people talking to me, etc. Maybe throwing treats is one of those things as well, even though he likes treats. Hmmm. Unfortunately, she's going on vacation so I'll have to wait to try out another session with her.

Very interesting! I'm not sure where to go with it from here. He's still not showing lots of signs of actual friendliness, maybe I should increase distance a little. I'm very happy he's choosing avoidance rather than aggression, but of course I'd love to see some friendliness to shape for. Maybe I'm pushing him too far too fast. I think I'll ask the CAT forum what they think.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Back from up north

Up north Wisconsin, that is. We took the dogs camping for a week. It wasn't a resounding success, but it wasn't a disaster either. Dottie had some pretty sad moments: she's officially scared of fishing poles, and wouldn't get in the van for a long time the first night, due to her carsickness on the way up (she didn't actually throw up, but that's because we know not to feed her before car trips. She's been carsick her whole life, the very first thing she did as a puppy after I drove her home from the rescue place was throw up all over my lap). We just sat in the van (our new camping vehicle, very nice considering how much it rained) and waited for her to change her mind. She did eventually, but I couldn't believe how teenager-like she was being. She barked at every little thing at first, and Gustav got very tense very quickly.

But after a few days the dogs got MUCH better at calming down and having a good time. A few things helped: lots of CCing the various noises of the other campers, getting used to thing over time, some awesome bones to chew on that I brought along, and the fact that they were exhausted from some pretty major off-leash hikes. Finally, the last night, the dogs were laying contentedly on their beds, strategically placed under the picnic table, while we sat around the fire. Well, for about twenty minutes anyway. Which was a big deal, and I was very proud of them. I've never known Dottie to be comfortable laying around outdoors, she's just not that kind of dog.

We let Gustav and Dottie romp around off leash on some obscure fire access roads we found to hike. I was a little nervous, but he did well. He doesn't have a great recall, but he is very good at staying with the group. Whenever they seemed like they were going to chase something through the woods, I would call Dottie first (bless her wonderful recall!) and Gustav wouldn't be too far behind. He did get a little too far a few times and Justin had to use his serious voice to get him back. On our way out of one of these roads, a guy in a jeep was driving down it and stopped to chat. He asked if we had seen the bear and her three little cubs. Well, no, we hadn't, and thank God. Pretty scary thought, given Gustav's poor recall. Who knows what he would do when faced with a bear? I am sooo grateful we didn't have any incidents, and I feel a little sheepish for risking it. Gustav had such a wonderful time, though, and it was both a good bonding time and good to practice his off-leash work, which I so rarely get to do. I haven't seen both dogs so tired in a long long time.

I'll update a little more later, but I am so dirty and the dogs have more ticks than I've ever seen in my life.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pam Dennison's book and poop.

I've really been enjoying Pam Dennison's book "Bringing Light to Shadow." It's a training diary. It's great because I've always wanted to see rehabilitation in action, both the good days and bad days. The dog ends up great (of course, otherwise wouldn't be much of a book). Most interesting parts I thought were the immense progress after the first eight months or so. The dog (and trainer) just seemed to start getting it, and then progressed at a much faster pace than before. Also the importance of working when the dog is comfortable, something I've found super useful in Gustav. As soon as I started working where he was truly comfortable, rather than just "fine," I noticed he made more progress. So I would cross the street even though he could make it past the person without bark/lunging, just because he looked tight.

There's a few big differences between me and Pam. One, she's a professional dog trainer whose life is literally training her dogs. I have school, a job, a band, a boyfriend, friends, an awesome nephew, and a house to maintain. I am really happy with this life and even though I love my dogs, I am not willing to make them my full-time job. Two, luckily, Gustav is not nearly as screwed up as the dog in the book. In fact, he's almost perfect except for around strangers and dogs, and considering what a couch potato he is he really doesn't need tons of work. Three, and related to number one, Pam has big competition goals for her dogs. I want a functional pet with a decent quality of life. A much lower bar. I don't need a dog that loves being examined by strangers or can be perfect while being groomed or has a perfect heel. Just a dog that doesn't lunge and bark and, maybe, can tolerate a brief pet from a stranger (although honestly, it's not that big a deal to me). Finally, I really am not into training a bazillion tricks and cues. I know it's a good idea for some types of dogs (like Dottie), but Gustav is a bit of a slow processor and I personally think it would be more beneficial to have an amazing sit, come, down, stay, and stop, and then maybe a little target, sniff, and play bow; than to have a dozen half-proofed cues that he doesn't know too well.

However, it's been a great read, and very encouraging. I have high hopes for Gustav.

Yesterday I took the dogs in the van (trying to get them used to it) to the lake. Dottie swam, and Gustav rolled in some amazing poop. Since he was already filthy, I called him away and let him go back, just to take advantage of the situation. Then I brought them home and washed him twice and he still stank. Gross. Everyone in the band who came over for practice later laughed and complained.

Also, Dottie has figured out how to paw the blocks on her Nina Ottosson toy. It is so cool! What a great little brain toy. I just pull it out here and there for tiny little sessions, and it really seems to get Dottie thinking.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Bleghh, it's about 90 degrees today. I'm trying to think of places where the dogs can swim.

For my birthday, my friends teamed up and got me a Nina Ottosson toy! http://www.nina-ottosson.com/DogTurbowood1.htm

I would never have bought this on my own, they're so expensive. I was so excited. Dottie and I tried it out today and was so challenged. She sort of figured out the very first basic step, of moving the block to push the treat out. After only a few minutes, she kind of glazed over so we quit for now. It'll be so handy for cold days and so on. Thanks friends! Even though I know you don't read this because I told you it would be too boring for non-dog people!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Door training progress

Here's our door training again:

The dogs were hot and tired from our walk, making it easier. However, they've really come a long way! I can go all the way out, let the screen door close, open the screen door, knock lightly, and come in all without moving. I'm adding in lots of "kitchen!" as a predictor that there will be food thrown in the kitchen. Eventually, I hope to have this sequence: someone knocks on the door, I say "kitchen!" everyone hustles to the kitchen, sits and stays, I open the door and either pay the pizza guy or let the visitor in, then go reinforce the dogs and release them from the stay to either greet the visitor or go back to their business. Now it gets trickier, however, because I need some actual visitors to up the ante. I'll start with the band guys since they come to my house at least once a week anyway, then eventually have more stranger-type people do it.

Interesting how slow their sits were in the beginning. You'd think they'd anticipate that by now . . .

Hot hot hot

Jogging season with the dogs is WAY over, too bad. They are walking at a snail's pace, even when it's just 80 degrees or so. If they think this is hot, they're in for a tough summer. Brought both the dogs to the park, Gustav on his line. His recalls are improving already. My secret weapon is if he performs an extra good recall I pull out this squeaky squirrel toy he loves even more than chicken. My other secret weapon was going down to a 20 foot line, a much more reasonable distance for him. His attention work is improving too.

I talked to Kathy the neighbor in front of her house with no barking from mine. Good! Also, I ran an errand with Justin and the dogs in the van so they could get used to it. They were so good! They saw lots of people outside the van and didn't bark once, just hung out with Justin and panted.

I also did some more work desensitizing the door knock and ran a few reps of me going in and out. I'll post a video of it soon.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Great CAT session

Yesterday, I did a very successful CAT session with my sister-in-law, Tish. Tish is great with dogs and even though Gustav has met her in the past, he hasn't in a long while. I flubbed the beginning (again!) and he started off barking/lunging (not out of control, just purposefully). After that, he was showing all kinds of great behaviors: shake-offs, yawns, sniffing, relaxed moving, laying down, scratching, looking at me, looking away. He started the session mouth closed and tail high and ears up, and ended with his tail nearly all the way unfurled, mouth open, and ears sort of half mast. Tish had gotten about twenty feet from him. I tried really hard not to push too fast, even though of course I got excited and wanted to go further. We took some breaks after every seven trials or so. In the second half he added in a lot of whining, which was weird again. Ambivalence about Tish? That's Chelse's thought.

Dottie met some people at the park very pleasantly and without barking.

Gustav did GREAT today on his line, came when called quite a bit (he still won't do it when distracted by a smell, that's something to work on) and had some lovely attention work. He's gotten pretty reactive about dogs so I jackpotted his autowatches when he saw a dog from afar. He gets very serious and stares at them, and will start to growl and bark if given the chance.

Here's something interesting: Gustav has been crying while I've taken Dottie. Today I tested it by taking a video. Sure enough, only seven minutes in or so, he starts to cry and howl. I think it roughly coincides with him accessing all the good parts of the kong. Then he gives up, then we come home. When we come home and I let him out of the crate, he rushes past me and greets Dottie. Not sure how to deal with this. Justin thinks he'll get over it if we just keep doing it and he'll get used to it. I'm skeptical. I'm asking Chelse for her ideas.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Just an update

Worked Gustav on the line at the park, his recall is just awful. That's okay, though, we'll work on it. His attention outside is also awful. Good to have one on one time to work on it.

I found out that Gustav is crying and crying while me and Dottie do our together-time without him. I'm not sure what to do about it, since he doesn't start until we're out of earshot, stops before we come in the house, and is left with really high value stuff (bones, kongs, etc.) I wouldn't even know about it if I couldn't hear him from the sidewalk. I can't imagine normal separation anxiety stuff would help, since we leave without incident while he happily chews away at whatever I've left him. Also, the high-value item is still good to go when we get home, just at some point while we're gone he stops chewing and starts crying. Weird weird weird.

I'm doing a CAT with my sister-in-law/good friend Tish today at the park. I'm curious to see how it will go.

I've started desensitizing knocking, and making it a predictor for treats in the kitchen. I knock on the door, say "kitchen!" and toss treats in the kitchen. I'm hoping this will help them memorize what to do when they hear a knock: run to the kitchen! I imagine it will take a while, however.

Dogs hung out in the van without me for about three minutes and with pretty good bones. I'll keep up on that, then start driving the van to different locations and leaving them in it.

Lots going on in the dog training section of my life!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Vet anxiety over.

The vet came today and everything was fine. Hooray! Gustav only needed his heartworm checked so we could get him started on preventative for the season. He didn't love it, but he chose to attempt to disappear into the ground rather than fight. His ears were all the way back, his eyes nearly shut, and he wouldn't take treats. He was all the way on his side lying down. It was obvious his coping method was more of a shutdown than anything. However, he later came to the vet for a treat and approached her to sniff her leg once and face once. He even sat for her. So I don't think he was too traumatized. It reminded me that 1. he's not really very bad with people at the house and 2. he picks and chooses who scares him a lot, and Nancy is not one of those people.

Dottie is a little fat due to her constant treat training, I have to cut down on some kibble for sure. She's 42 pounds, which is at least three pound heavier than she's ever been. Gustav is a slim 70, right on target. Her teeth are great, too. Nancy commented on her excellent heart rate, slow despite some vet anxiety, which means she gets plenty of exercise. Hooray!

In other news, door training has been going great. I can go out, knock lightly twice, and come back in to two dogs sitting patiently in the kitchen. It's time for decoys for sure, although we still practice with just me. Shane came over and before he left did five reps knocking, then I would say "kitchen" and put the dogs in a sit stay in the kitchen, then come answer the door, then have Shane come in and sit down, then treat them and release them to meet Shane. Of course, he's a friend and he had been over for hours so it wasn't as if he had just shown up. The real key is going to be getting this to translate when someone actually knocks on the door. I think we're on our way.

Van training: Dottie is obviously going to take a while on this one. I gave them great kongs and sat with them, then stood up to try shutting the door. Dottie stopped chewing and stared at me, telling me it wasn't time to leave them in there by themselves yet. Gustav had no problem with it, however. I'm approaching it just like crate training and bought new meaty bones to give them only when they're in the van, to increase value. I think it will be at least a few days before shutting the door, however. It's so hard not to go overboard and push things too fast!

Tonight I volunteer at dog's best friend. I'm interested to see how people are doing.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wonderful wonderful free time

I'm done with the semester for all practical purposes, and it's been great dog-wise. They get a jog every day, plus three sessions of door work and, starting today, three sessions of "van time." I have this idea that my sweet van will be our vacation savior if they can enjoy the van as a little home. I don't have a super solid training plan, but so far I've just said "van" and we all get in and eat chicken for about a minute. I imagine training it sort of like crate training, but where we start even smaller because they're not alone in the "crate" for starters. I'm hoping to pick up some new meaty bones and close them in the van for like thirty seconds, then let them out. Then I'm hoping to drive around the block or so and try it in different locations than just the driveway. Hopefully with three sessions a day we can make some progress in a month or so.

Speaking of progress, running the door drill three times a day, five reps each has done wonders. I can now go all the way out the door, let the screen door close, then open it all up again and come back in with the dogs still sitting in the kitchen. I've started adding the tiniest knock, where I really just touch my knuckles to the door. I think it's just about friend time for this drill. Hooray! Maybe I'll start with Justin and Shane. Maybe I can even convince the band boys to come in three or four times each every time they come over. As it is right now, they let themselves in while I body block the dogs in the doorway of the kitchen, but there's been hardly any barking (though plenty of rubbernecking around me to see who it is.)

The vet's coming next Monday, I'm nervous again. I feel like the person who dislikes the dentist and therefore doesn't go, I was supposed to have the vet over sometime in April so I'm running late. I put it off because I was nervous. She doesn't seem nervous, however, so that's comforting.

Finally, I'm meeting up with a potential dog training helper tonight to discuss options. Plus I contacted two other people to set up time next week to do some CAT. I'm curious . . .

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Summer plans

I have big dog plans for the future, including several craigslist leads for dog training buddies, and my first day volunteering for my favorite local training company, Patricia McConnell's company Dog's Best Friend (well, she started it but sold it a few years ago. Same people, though). It's on Monday and I can't wait to see other people and their dogs and the training methods involved. Maybe I can even make some friends who would be willing to be decoys :) My goal for the summer is to do two to three CAT sessions a week and see if we can make some real progress. I'd also like to try a week or so (at least) of five mini-training sessions a day on the door, like Patricia McConnell reported some research on in her blog. Apparently brains learn things pretty well with many short sessions over the course of the day. While I'm on vacation (woohoo!) I can certainly hop up five times a day and run the door routine. My dream of paying for a pizza in peace may come true after all . . . Right now I look out the window and leap up when I see the car and run run run out the front door to meet the guy in the driveway, kind of a stressful pizza experience.

Justin and I would also like to run a practice camping night somewhere to see where we're at for a week-long vacation in June. We discovered that both dogs are afraid of campfires when we had one in the yard last week, not an auspicious beginning for camping season. And having a campsite nearby, with dogs or kids or even just people? In the dark? Forget about it. I have a sweet van that we're planning on bringing, so maybe I can convince the dogs that the van is an awesome place to hang out even if we're not in it and it can save the concept of vacations this summer.

Oh, and it would be nice if Gustav started developing a pretty good recall, so if someday he can be off-leash on hikes and such (i.e. when I'm pretty sure he wouldn't start a fight with any dog he saw or terrorize a stranger), then he'll come back when called. We had him off-leash in a secret hidden place yesterday and his recall was, um, flawed but not a totally lost cause. Dottie's could use a little spiffing up, come to think of it.

In the meantime, I have a giant paper to write and a final exam and project to finish and the dogs are being very patient and wonderful. I am completely done as of Thursday, and mostly done as of tomorrow, so I suppose I should get off this blog and get cracking.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A couple of things

I did an hour of modified CAT with my friend Grace. She sat at a picnic table and read a book and I walked to a certain distance, then would wait for Gustav to do something, then turn away, then repeat at a closer distance.

It went okay, with a few bugs. One, the park was really crowded and we kept getting distracted by far off dogs/people, etc. Two, I'm having a really hard time figuring out what "acceptable behaviors" to reinforce. Of course, the easiest is just to reinforce calmness in general for ten seconds or so, then turn away. But I also would like to eventually reinforce for friendly behaviors, like a gentle approach or soft-eyed air sniffing, or a low tail wag. I didn't see any, so I had to choose other things. I ended up reinforcing a few shake-offs, a yawn, and some turn-aways. Unfortunately, due to my lack of experience, I accidentally got Gustav in a place where he barked a few times. So I had to wait it out, then reinforce subsequent calmness. It was weird, he was just standing there with me, then he started to whine (which I've NEVER seen him do out and about before), then bark at Grace. I'm not sure exactly how to fix this since he offers such a narrow range of behaviors. My options are: go a longer distance and hope I see something even more relaxed, and assume that someday he'll offer something friendly, or cue a friendly behavior if I could teach him one that would apply to people (has anyone ever trained a low, slow tail wag?). I'll probably start off with option one and see how far I get.

The next day I brought Dottie to the dog park and tried positioning myself on a path perpendicular to the entrance. It went great. I think this approach has tons of potential for Dottie because she is actually trying to do what works, she's not out-of-her-mind hysterical. As the people on the CAT list would say, she's "operant" Gustav's feelings run a little deeper, I feel like. So Dottie quickly learned that a turn-away meant I would get her out of there. I also cued a play-bow a few times, to give an idea of something friendly she could do. I wouldn't take a look-at-me, just a look away at something else.

I went on craigslist and found some people who want to work on their dogs with me, I'll be setting up some time right after finals are over (just a few weeks now!). I hope I meet some people who are really committed and who I can feel like we're being mutually beneficial by working with one another's dogs.

Finally, I had an interesting walk with them both yesterday. We were doing some CAT in a field while some little dogs conveniently walked along a path far away. I was focusing on Dottie, since it's impossible to do both at once. Things were going well, and Dottie was definitely choosing not to bark, when the dogs broke free and came running after us! I retreated backwards, pulling my dogs while they snarled and barked and lunged and the little dogs did the same but always kept just out of range (I wouldn't want to meet Gustav either!). The woman finally caught up and apologized. This is when the best part happened: I said "no problem, these things happen." And my dogs sat and waited calmly while we had a five minute conversation! About dogs, of course. I used my semi-truthful "rescue dog" statement and we talked about all the work we do to help them. The whole time her dogs just stood calmly, and mine sat pretty as can be with occasional treats from me. Speaking of CAT, I love that the final lesson in all this was that sitting calmly makes people and dogs go away. I was really pleased with the final result.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Talking to Belinda

Had a loooong chat with my friend Belinda from across the street. She had her dog with me and I had just Gustav. We were sort of behind some parked cars so I think he wasn't faced with the full-on stimulus, although he certainly knew they were there. I gave him chicken and he was tense at first but eventually just sat down and enjoyed his somewhat steady stream of hush money (chicken?). It was nice and I hope he starts to associate chatting with people with lots of wonderfulness.

Belinda was one of the very first people he lunged at way back when we started noticing a problem. She had pet him (our new dog! It was so exciting!) and then stopped petting him and backed up onto her lawn. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he barked and lunged and scared all of us. That's one of the reasons me and Justin were entertaining the idea that he was a pushy dog that didn't want petting to stop, since this was the pattern with a few other people. But I think it was really that he was too frozen and scared to do anything until the dreaded petting stopped. He's since felt emboldened.

I also brought Dottie to the park with just the two of us to play some frisbee. She is an amazing frisbee dog. Wow. I love one-on-one time with my dogs, I only get to do it every so often but it's so relaxing and easy compared to two. I feel like I'm going into battle every time I take both out by myself. When I get just one at a time, I feel like I'm walking a super awesome laid back dog. Who just can't be on the same side of the street as people/dogs.

Talking to Kathy

After I did a bunch of CCing with the workers next door, Justin came home after I had left for something else and went outside. He said he was able to have a conversation with Kathy about the landscaping she's having done. The perfect thing happened: Gustav started by woofing and trying to get Kathy to leave, but everyone just ignored him. So he gave up and Justin chatted with Kathy with no interference from the dogs and no treats. I hadn't had success with this fairly recently, so I was extra impressed. I tried to talk to Kathy but Gustav barked a bunch because I was out of treats and I was petting him to try and keep him calm. Now I know that next time I should just ignore him, and maybe he can stop on his own.

Also, both dogs declined to bark at the golden doodle who lives one house over in the back yard. I guess she's old news. She barks at them every time, and my dogs used to rush the corner of the yard barking back and we would call them, etc. etc. This time they both looked up but then just went about their business. Actually, Gustav did and Dottie came inside to avoid the issue.

Imagine it: actually talking to my neighbors even with my dogs out. Amazing. This is the summer for it, I can feel it.

I'm doing a CAT session on Wednesday with my friend Grace in the park.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Dottie's barking

Oh, one other short thing. I've been working from home more often, and Dottie is a giant pain. I've tried a bunch of different things, but today I decided I'm just going to ignore her barking/whining completely. Not put her on a down-stay, or wait for her to be quiet and throw treats at her, just totally ignore her. Well, actually, I'm considering giving her some treats when she does something constructive with her boredom like chew on a bone or something. At least that's something concrete I can reward. I feel like when I give her treats/attention for going to sleep I'm ruining the calm, like I'm telling her not to calm down but to keep paying attention to me in case I pay off. I can't decide.

I just get the overwhelming feeling like she's playing me like a slot machine. Smarty pants.

Progress report

Good day today. I informally signed up three friends for future CAT sessions. Now I just have to call them. I'm hoping to do one to two a week this summer.

Also, I had a brief conversation with the mailman again, from across the street, with no bad behavior from my dogs. Hooray!

Also, there are guys working in my next door neighbor's backyard and we went out and the dogs ate chicken while looking at them. Gustav didn't bark once, even when they said hello to me. No hackles and a nice low tail.

I've been thinking a lot about how to get Gustav beyond just tolerating people and actually changing his mind even a tiny bit about them. Supposedly CAT is really good for it. I see what they mean when they complain about counterconditioning being good for tolerating people, but they never learn to switch over and actually be friendly. That's exactly what I see in Gustav; a begrudging tolerance. Hmm.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A stranger comes over

Good day! A friend of mine, but stranger to Gustav (I think they met once a long time ago, and Gustav barked at her. We were out on a walk) came over. I brought Gustav out on a leash and he was really good. I sat down and pet him and she just ignored him the whole time. After a while he was calmly approaching her. I decided I wasn't ready to try a meet and greet, so since he didn't want to lay down by me anymore I put him in his crate with a big meaty bone. He was happy with that. Dottie got her to throw a ball a bunch, so Dottie was happy with that. I was very pleased with the calmness.

It reminded me that Gustav has actually never had a problem with anyone in the house and we used to have plenty of people over, some of whom would pet him. Well, actually, there was one person he disliked and barked at and danced around. I never figured that one out. And of course the famous bone incident that was just doomed to failure, where Gustav lunged at Justin's mom and hit her in the face because she was petting him on the head and leaning over him while he chewed a meaty bone. But that's different.

It made me want to have people over more, now that it seems pretty manageable. I don't know how I would decide to let him roam free. Any ideas? When is a dog comfortable enough to trust around visitors? Would I be able to relax a little, or would I just spend the whole time staring and feeling nervous? How do I know when he needs a break in his crate? Hmmm.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

CAT videos and DAP: Acronym day!

Here's my videos of Gustav during his CAT procedure yesterday. The first one was right away, then the second one was after about a half hour of work. There was more, but the camera ran out of memory. Warning: these will seem incredibly boring, because it's pretty much about 7 minutes of Gustav and Justin standing in a field. However, here's what's going on:

Chelse, the behaviorist, is standing really far away, like 40 yards away. She walks up to a certain spot, then stands there. Then when she sees Gustav do something she likes, she retreats. After she retreats, she sort of pretends to be examining the prairie grass and just hangs out. Then after 15 seconds, she repeats, this time going a bit closer (about three steps). She used her keys to mark her spot in the grass. Justin held Gustav, and I taped it and also communicated with Chelse via hand signals. If I saw something she should shape for I made a sign. Then about every five trials we took a little break and Gustav and me and Justin wandered around the park a bit.

Interesting details: Gustav is a pretty stoic guy, but I've identified some of his signals of relaxation. The first video and second video show how much more relaxed he's gotten. His tail is lower (a big one), his mouth is open more often, his general body position/muscle tone is more relaxed. You can also tell when he notices Chelse or something else in the environment: his mouth closes and he stiffens slightly.

Here they are, enjoy my inane, one-sided conversation with Justin :)

Also, I tried out DAP spray on bandannas for the dogs today. My personal opinion is that it made a big difference. I had a conversation with the mailman from across the street with no hysterics. Gustav got a bit tense at a few dogs, and Dottie barked once at a lady on a bike who said hello. But other than that they were exceptionally calm. I'll keep it up and see if I see a big difference. I was thinking about maybe running a scientific experiment where Justin either does or doesn't spray them, without telling me, and I can report on behavior on the walk. After maybe ten trials maybe a clear pattern will emerge. Or maybe I won't do that, it sounds hard. We'll see.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

CAT session

Today Chelse, from Dog's Best Friend, came and did a CAT session with Gustav at the park. I brought Dottie over to my mom and dad's house so she wouldn't feel left out.

Chelse started from really far away and just walked up to a certain point and stopped. Then when Gustav offered something we liked, like sniffing or head turning, she walked away. She worked waaay under threshold, even more than I expected, but I can see how that would be a good idea. He definitely noticed her but never reacted more than closing his mouth. No hackles, no growling, and no super high tail. We talked about what to reinforce and shape for. Chelse said the best thing to shape for is signs of actual friendliness: soft eyes, a relaxed approach, friendly air-sniffing, maybe even a little tail wag. None of those were displayed too much, but it's good to know what to look for.

My verdict: Gustav definitely never got reinforced for being anything other than totally relaxed. The big question is: did he begin to associate his relaxed state and/or specific behaviors with Chelse walking away? That's the goal. I couldn't say for sure whether he was making that connection or not, it's hard to tell.

Chelse said the biggest draw-back to CAT is the impracticality. It has to be a pretty set-up situation. I also pointed out that, to the untrained eye, it basically looks like nothing. Expensive nothing.

I was really happy to see a professional do it, because she's got a great sense of body language and was very careful and precise. I video-taped Gustav during the procedure. It basically looks like he's standing with Justin in a field, since I couldn't get both him and Chelse in the shot.

Next up I'd like to try it out on my own. I'm hoping I can get a friend who Gustav doesn't know to volunteer. For me, I will believe in it when I see Gustav make a new friend and change his emotions towards a particular person. Now I'm trying to think of someone who wouldn't mind hanging out in a field with me for half an hour or an hour a few times, who Gustav doesn't already like (that cuts out Dad, my brother, and everyone in the band. Basically all the people I would normally ask to do something like this.)

I'd also love to try it out with Dottie and a dog, but I need a good decoy dog. Chelse said her dog is a great decoy dog and would be willing to do it. I'll think about whether I can afford it or not. If it's hard for me to think of someone to do it with Gustav just as a person, it's double hard to think of a person AND a bomb-proof dog who would be willing to do it.

So, it wasn't a dramatic success (yet?), but it wasn't a letdown either.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Poor Justin

Poor Justin had a bad experience in the park. A little boy around four saw him from waaaay across the park and started running towards him and the dogs. Justin shook his head, then said "no, no, my dogs aren't friendly, you can't pet them" Then he had to yell "stop! go back to your dad! stop!" and the kid still didn't stop. The dad finally noticed and came running over and stopped the kid when he was about ten feet away. Yikes! Dottie was barking and Gustav growling, but no real lunging. We talked about it and decided next time (hopefully never) Justin should probably just run away. Surely he can outrun a four-year-old. Justin felt bad since technically we aren't supposed to be in the park. He went back to apologize and clear things up after returning the dogs home, but they had left.

I reassured him, since nothing terrible happened and the kid is fine. And he did the right thing being assertive. Who knows, Gustav might have been fine, but who wants to find out?

On the bright side: tomorrow is our CAT session! I'll will post all about it tomorrow.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sycamore run

We went on a new favorite route of mine: around the dog park and into the neighborhood beyond. This is a great route because: 1. it's a five minute drive from my house 2. apparently people in the suburbs hardly ever walk their dog or hang out in the front yard, so it's not a constant obstacle course, and 3. I can use the giant fenced dog park as a beautiful controlled training situation. The dogs are free in the dog park, but I can absolutely control the distance between us and them thanks to the fence.

Today was also pretty good, with a few less-than-stellar-moments. Well, just one really. There was an off-leash little lap dog hanging out and it started running towards us (this was in a neighborhood). I started dragging the dogs across the street awkwardly as there were lots of parked cars to negotiate. The lady was yelling at her dog to stop. No dogs had barked yet, amazingly. I got the dogs across the street and her dog stopped and I said "my dogs are not very friendly" so she would take extra care not to let her dog come up to us. She scooped up her dog and said "oh, that's too bad" in a snarky tone (grumble). I responded "we're working on it." During this little exchange Dottie started barking. I had her sit and said "enough" and she stopped. Then we continued on our way, but Gustav took that opportunity to turn around and start barking at the dog. So neither dog was perfect, but to be honest both of them seemed kind of half-hearted about it. When Gustav started I stopped and had everyone sit, because I don't like these incidents to end "I threw a fit and that dog went away, I should definitely try that again next time." I like them to end in a calm quiet sit while the dog goes away. If only I could control everyone else and their dogs! So it wasn't the end of the world, the dogs weren't lunging like crazy or anything, just being a little barky and sassy.

Dottie found a snake, which was funny. I've never seen her respond so gratefully to "leave it!" in my life.

Otherwise, we saw tons of dogs and a fair amount of people. Gustav is still really slow with his watch cue, he still doesn't trust me to take care of the situation completely. Especially with dogs, with people he's a lot better.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Run with my brother

Took a jog with my brother and the dogs today. Dottie thinks Christian is the most exciting human being ever to walk the earth, but managed to greet him with only one bark, thanks to my big bag of chicken. We met at a park and it was interesting to see Gustav switch from "stranger!" mode to "friend" mode once he recognized Christian. His whole body changed from being forward and hackled and tail up to being much more relaxed and a lot less offensive. When I let Dottie off leash during a certain part of the jog she went up and jogged next to Christian, looking up at him adoringly. Also when we got to my house and he walked away, they couldn't stop looking at him and had to watch him walk away for a few minutes before I could coax them towards my house. Awww.

Jog went great. Once Dottie barked at a dog across the street. I was busy keeping Gustav good, so after Dottie barked I just let her bark it out. She never was hysterical, and I didn't want to give her chicken for barking. If it had been just her I would have had her sit or do a trick and then reinforce her, but I just couldn't manage. Sadly she was still reinforced since the dog went away, but oh well. Also Gustav growled and sort of lunged towards a woman on a bike, not a proud moment for him. But otherwise they were both great and we saw lots of dogs and people and got all tired out.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Danger zone

We had a really cool fun scary walk yesterday. We went to a secret patch of land with unique features, like creeks and fences, that make it a pretty good candidate for letting Gustav run free. He was doing pretty good: maybe 80% compliance when asked to come when called. Obviously not good enough to warrant letting him off in places where we might see people or other dogs because I guarantee he would be gone while I shouted apologies from afar. But he kept up with us and stayed fairly close by. If he weren't such a jerk I would let him off more often, that's how Dottie learned to be a great off-leash dog. She wasn't perfect. but with lots of practice she is very nearly perfect off leash now. Even if she did stray and go up to someone or some dog, it wasn't a big deal like it would be with Gustav. Our old dog Morgan who died a few years ago was also very helpful in teaching this skill to Dottie, I hope she can now help teach Gustav the skill of staying within a certain range of your people even in the face of distractions.

We also saw a coyote, which was exciting and a little scary, in my humble opinion. It wasn't that far off and stared at us picturesquely from a ridge. Not sure if the dogs saw it or not, but they were definitely leashed up while we looked at it.

Excited to think about a few years down the road, because I feel reasonably confident we can do stuff like this more often and less "training." I'm not really a training nut, I don't really love dog sports or anything. I just want dogs that are trustworthy in the woods, can handle visitors, and can take a neighborhood walk/jog without major problems. Come on, Gustav! You can do it!

The dogs are still exhausted and smell like the creek.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Gustav's regression

Gustav has been pretty tense recently, and we don't know why. He's bark/lunged at two people in the last few days: one was while I was jogging with him, as we passed a house a guy came out of his front door suddenly. The other was with Justin. Justin reports that they were passing someone and Justin said "howdy" and the guy nodded, or vice-versa I can't remember (does Justin ever say howdy? Hmmm). Then at the last possible moment Gustav growled and moved towards the guy. Could be the guy made eye contact; any possible sign that the person might actually come over seems to be a trigger for Gustav: eye contact, walking quickly right towards him, and talking between the humans involved.

He had been so relaxed, I don't know what this little regression stage is all about. Maybe he found this kind of behavior useful recently and has increased it in his repertoire. We were on a good path of extinction up until now. Dottie has had a similar situation with her dog thing, but I'm pretty sure it's from that one time with the off-leash dog. I've taken a step back and heavily counterconditioned even the sound of barking dogs, plus leaving extra room between us and other dogs. I also hadn't had to use Dottie's watch cue (her name) for a while, since she was autowatching so reliably. I've had to go back to getting her attention proactively, rather than it being an automatic response from her. Sigh.

Oh well, I've been here before and I know what to do, we'll just keep chugging along. On the plus side, Dottie is improving in her sit-stay in the kitchen while I go in and out the door. I can now close the front door completely and she has about an 80% stay rate. Next I'll be letting the screen door close as well-I'm sure that will take a few weeks. Then I'll add knocking or the sound of the mailbox lid going up and down. Once that's solid it's time to take the show to other visitors. Maybe I'll start with Justin, then the band boys, and so on.

Also, their "bow" is coming along, despite my delinquency in practicing a lot.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Edgy dogs

Boy, the dogs were edgy today. Maybe the thunderstorms? Less yard time? The dog who ran up to us the other day? Spring time? Astrology? Who knows. Gustav bark/lunged at a guy who came out of his house unexpectedly. When Steve, a good friend, came over, Gustav wagged his tail but also started staring so intently, and his hackles went up, that I called him away. It was unnerving. Dottie compulsively licked the couch cushion while the band friends were over. Gustav gathered all the toys he could find and put them in a little pile in his space while everyone was sitting around in the living room. I disapproved and took them all away to avoid any guarding. He even woofed once in the kitchen from excitement when I came up from band practice in the basement, a really unusual thing for him to do. All this after a forty minute jog, which was refreshingly brisk since they seemed so full of energy. Weird weird weird. I can think of a million possible reasons (change in schedule: I just went back to school after spring break, meaning fewer jogs and home time; the aforementioned weather and possible connection to stress and/or less yard time; the off-leash dog incident); but alas real life doesn't provide us with perfect experimental conditions so there are too many variables to consider.

Oh well. No class tomorrow, so we can take a nice jog. I scheduled a CAT session with Chelse in a few weeks. I'm thinking about recruiting someone from the dog training group to try one with Dottie and a dog.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Set back.

We got mobbed by a friendly and exuberant off-leash dog yesterday, and Dottie has been way worse around dogs since. The dog came up and met Gustav, who was on-leash. Gustav kicked its ass, as he is wont to do, and the dog decided it didn't want to play with a crazy bully. Dottie, off-leash, helped out by barking incessantly from the sidelines. It only lasted seconds, and the dog was easily called away. The next day we saw a dog from at least half a block away, across a street, and Dottie lost it. Totally freaked. Later on the walk we just HEARD a dog barking and Dottie put up all her hackles and stiffened quite a bit. Sigh.

The silver lining is that I was more or less unruffled, which means I've come a long way in not getting upset by bad days and setbacks. I just thought "oh well, we'll just keep doing the same thing and build up again."

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Great day!

I took a great jog with the dogs today. We saw tons of dogs and people, and there was no drama. Three things of note: one, we happened across a group of children playing duck duck goose on their front lawn with their mom. Perfect training opportunity! They were running and screaming, but totally predictable location-wise. We stood there and I fed treats until I saw a really relaxed Gustav (tail down, mouth open), then we left. I tried to time it such that maybe possibly he might associated relaxed behavior with leaving.

Then we saw two little yappy dogs on those long extenda-leashes barking like crazy at us from across the street. In addition the guy was walking really slowly, so it took a long time for them to pass. We just stopped and the dogs looked at me and I tossed treats in the grass. I like this technique because it gives them something to do for two seconds (sniff out the treat) and buys me more time to deal with two dogs at once.

Finally, we were doing our sprint across the park at the end, with Dottie off leash. I noticed her tense and pull the corners of her mouth forward and put her tail up like a flag. I looked back and there was an off leash dog running towards us (a dog I had "rescued" before, to the annoyance of the owner who clearly had no problem with her dog running around the neighborhood all alone). I told Dottie to come and we outran the dog and got across the bridge. By then the dog gave up. Hooray!

I feel really good that we can have a nice pleasant jog around the neighborhood without drama, provided there are streets to cross. I'm also experimenting with stopping in sight of some stationery trigger (like a dog on a line or behind a fence, or a person doing yard work or waiting for a bus) and waiting and watching for calm behavior. Once I get a low tail and no hackles and maybe an open mouth or small tail wag, I say "okay" and we increase distance. Kind of like a mini-CAT where we move instead of the trigger. It makes sense, since even though they like food, what they really really want is to get away from the thing. Like if your dog comes when called and then you release them to go chase the squirrel if it's safe. Why not use the reinforcers present in the environment if at all possible? Another way I use this is when Gustav pulls on the leash, and I stop. As soon as he looks back and loosens the leash, I say "good" and we get to go sniff whatever he was pulling for.

Jogs and CAT

I guess I haven't posted in a few days. Not much to report, we've been jogging on the days I'm don't work (hooray spring break!), which has been going great. The dogs get tired, I don't have to jog that fast and I have a ready excuse why not. Yesterday I drove them to a different neighborhood for the novelty, an aspect of dog exercise that Patricia McConnell pointed out on her blog. I think it's smart, even I have a better jog when there's new scenery. So they're getting aerobic exercise, novelty, choice (they get to sniff a lot, it's not a force march all the time), and mental stimulation through the brief door training we do at home. They seem pretty content to me. Yesterday we also had both my nephew over and the band later for practice and a show. I think visitors are very tiring for them, especially my little nephew who is a tornado and also a constant source of food for them. They like to follow him around in case he drops his cracker or whatever, but they also have to be on guard since he makes loud, unexpected noises sometimes. If they seem stressed I put them in their room for a break. I also put away all dog items when he comes over to avoid an inadvertent resource issues, I know this isn't Gustav's strong suit and I'm not sure what his reaction would be if he felt like Bjorn (my nephew) was after his stuff. When we go play in the yard I don't allow Bjorn to approach Gustav if he has a toy in his possession. It's not that fun, but I think it's important.

Pretty soon I'll be doing a CAT session with Chelse, our behaviorist. I was thinking how a great "watch me" is perfect for jogs and other neighborhood outings (we couldn't be doing the jogs we're doing without Gustav and Dottie's major progress in this area. The fact that I can be across the street from anything now is huge. We can also deal with people just by stepping off to the side if needed, although I still prefer crossing the street if possible to reduce pressure on Gustav). CAT would be good for getting Gustav to like specific people: Justin's mom and her boyfriend (huge!), the vet, the behaviorist, and my sister-in-law would be great. Otherwise just getting past people is fine with me. CAT would be nice for Dottie to learn some alternative ideas on how to increase distance with dogs, but there's no specific dogs I'm dying for her to be friends with. I'm really excited about this procedure, and it makes a lot of sense to me.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spring jog

Great jog today. The dogs were just wonderful. We saw some, but not too many, dogs and people and got lots of quality counterconditioning done, plus fun running around and otherwise enjoying one another's company.

I'm watching the constructional aggression treatment I bought on ebay. Really fascinating, I'm curious to try it out, but I think I'd like my behaviorist to be involved, at least at first. There's some decisions to be made, like what constitutes "acceptable alternative behaviors" that get reinforced by the scary thing walking away.

My goal of enjoying the dogs is going great, I feel less anxious and more just appreciative of them. I ignored Dottie's whining for about twenty minutes the other day, and lo and behold she just gave up and went to sleep, rather than tricking me into fixing her a kong or otherwise entertaining me.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Morning walk

We actually talked to the guy who owns the hated JRT across the street. He didn't have his dog with him, but he chatted with me from about 15 feet away as we walked down the street. Gustav was tense but checked in with me and got loads of treats. Dottie barked and was her usual hysterical self, but maybe Gustav is learning to ignore her a little better. Talking to people is usually a major trigger, good job Gustav! We also walked right past some hobo types hanging out on the bridge that crosses the creek. They talked to me and Dottie barked and Gustav was good. Had them both sit fairly close for a second, then moved on. Dottie got to play some frisbee, Gustav ran around on his line. Nice morning for us, Dottie's barking nonwithstanding. In accordance to my more relaxed view, I decided that Dottie is a barky dog and not every bark is a cause for immediate and extensive training. At least when she barks at people it's out of a sense of overarousal and excitement, not "I'd like to kill you, please."

The people on the bridge stayed there and we ran around the park a lot. Gustav was able to completely ignore them and have a good time, and even came when called a few times. It showed me that the people were not a big deal to him. I've definitely seen him bark and lunge from very far away at joggers in that same park. People sitting are much less threatening to him than people jogging, plus he's just better in general.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Back from vacation

I'm back from vacation. The dogs were excited to see me, as I was to see them. They seemed so happy and relaxed and Justin said they had a great time. It got me to thinking about priorities and attitudes, etc etc. Justin pointed out that we already have a workable treatment plan in place for the dogs, and it seems to be working. So lots of little new ideas and constant research are maybe just making me anxious instead of helping. I think he's right. So my post-vacation resolution is going to be prioritizing dog things and spend more time just enjoying their company and doing things I know they like and are good at.
Here's my thoughts on my most important dog training goals:

1. counterconditioning: people and dogs for Gustav, dogs for Dottie. Really really important for both of them, obviously effective, and can be done during routine walks, or in more set-up situations if I feel like it.
2. Door work: good for both of them to associate the door with good things and reinforcement for staying in the kitchen and being calm. Easy to train in tiny sessions throughout the day, and gets automatically worked on with visitors due to band practice once a week.
3. Play bow and sniff: good for eventually meeting people and dogs. I don't think this will happen in a long time given the current state of things, but it's easy to train and might be really useful down the road.
4. Rev up games: Mostly good for Dottie, who is high strung in general, to help her with emotional control. Would be useful in weird situations like camping or when she gets too excited about visitors.
5. Mat work: Again, mostly good for Dottie, who sometimes does not want me to do homework but would rather whine and bark at nothing. Also would be useful for weird situations as mentioned above. Easy to train in the sense that I can shape it while working at home, as I have a mat right next to my desk and a jar of treats on my desk.
6. Gustav's recall: Similar to number 3, in that it will eventually be indispensable but he sure isn't being let off leash anywhere besides the back yard for a long time. I work on this with a line at the park. It takes a lot of planning, frankly, and slips pretty quickly if I don't keep it up. I've decided not to feel bad if I don't do a lot of this.
7. Miscellaneous: meet and greet protocol (great idea! Someday when we might meet someone it will be a great tool); shaping, clicker training, etc.: fun but not crucial for now; a dog friend for Gustav someday: I'm not going to push this because it stresses me out just to think about it and Gustav really doesn't have it so bad right now; leave it and stop: great cues but not on the front burner right now; Gustav's light tendency towards resource guarding: not an issue with us and might only be an issue in the future with visitors and high-value items, therefore easily avoided for now.

Miscellaneous are all things I've gotten into for a while, then let it slip, then felt bad, etc. etc. I've decided I don't care and if I feel like it I'll do it, but numbers 1-5 are most important. I've always liked Patricia McConnell's idea of mastering a few things rather than having okay response to lots of things. If Gustav can someday be off leash or meet people or dogs, then I can hone in on those issues. But for now I think it's best to relax a little and focus on what's most needed and what's most effective.

In other news, and in total contradiction to what I just said, I got the CAT (constructional aggression treatment) DVD on ebay for cheap. I can watch all ten glorious hours of it during spring break. I think it would be most useful for Dottie and her dog issues, because I've seen her snap pretty rudely at dogs and boy, does it ever make them go away except for the few times its gotten her attacked and bit. She's smart enough, I think, to start exhibiting other behaviors if she thinks it would make a dog go away. I'm hoping to watch the DVD then enlist Chelse, my behaviorist, to run a session with us to get some professional advice, then go from there.

Gustav barked and lunged at a big lady with shopping bags today, because he was barking at a bird or cat or something in the bushes, then turned around and saw her and transferred that arousal to her. He was able to calm down pretty quickly, but it wasn't a shining moment for him. Otherwise both have been doing great. Oh, also Dottie can't seem to hold her door stay while I close the door. Not sure how to get past that one, I guess just practice and reinforcing Gustav heavily.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

We've had better days . . .

Dog training group today! I brought the dogs on what was supposed to be a jog this morning to burn a little extra energy before training. It was not really a jog, because there were millions of people out and we had to cross streets, turn around, stop, etc etc. Everyone did well except Gustav growled at a couple of guys who came out of their house unexpectedly. And Dottie barked at a kid running across the street, which was annoying since I was focusing on Gustav and didn't expect trouble from her.

So we went to meet Kelly and her pug Olive to do some training. Gustav did great, he was wagging his tail and looking at me with soft eyes and seemed pretty okay. He did look at the dogs in the dog park a lot and would get tense or stuck, but I could call him away with no problems. Me and Kelly walked towards one another until a certain point, then turned away. Gustav did great. People with dogs walked through the park, he did great. He lay down at one point but then Olive moved suddenly and he jumped up and started barking at her. I asked Kelly not to move away so Gustav wouldn't be rewarded, and sure enough thirty seconds later he stopped and looked at me (after hitting the end of his leash), then I praised and treated him and moved away.

Then I asked Kelly if she wouldn't mind putting Olive in the car and doing some people training. I decided to try out the concept of CAT, at least in a small pilot sense. So I had Kelly walk towards us until I sensed Gustav was uncomfortable, so we could mark off that spot. I watched Gustav, and he all of a sudden started barking and growling. So I said to put the cone there and Kelly walked away. Then I had her walk towards us not nearly as close as the cone. Unfortunately by now Gustav had gotten pretty freaked out by her and the concept that she might actually come all the way over and his threshold was much easier to reach. I was really torn. Kelly was standing at least 20 feet away or so. I didn't want Gustav to take home the message that barking and growling is a good way to make people go away, but I also didn't want him to have a bad experience. I decided, wrongly I think now, to have Kelly stand there until he calmed down on his own. He was barking really defensively, which is somewhat new. That is, instead of lunging and hitting the end of the leash, he was leaning his whole body against me and barking in a sad, slightly high-pitched sort of way. He was obviously frightened and it was sad to watch. After not very long (maybe ten seconds?) he decided to stop and turned away and sniffed other things and sat down, etc etc. I had Kelly move away then. The key issue is whether I think he stopped because he got less fearful since she wasn't moving forward anymore and his barking wasn't working (i.e. habituated), or if I think he stopped out of helplessness and despair, or feeling shut down (i.e. flooding). We did a few more where he didn't get to barking but as soon as he looked up at me or did some other affiliative behavior, like turning away or sniffing or sitting, then Kelly walked away.

Definitely I misjudged the threshold. I didn't want him to go over, I didn't want to make this a flooding exercise because I don't believe in that method. I hope that by the end, after we corrected distances and he could be more relaxed, that he took home the right message: relaxation makes good things happen, either treats or the person going away.

I got him in the car and he lay down and I was really conflicted. Most of the session went great, with lots of attention and relaxed behavior from him (tail wags! out in public! in the presence of people and dogs!). I hadn't been faced with his fears about strangers for a while since I'm so careful while out on walks, and it made me stressed and sad to see it again. Also his switch from lunging to pushing his body against mine while frightened was encouraging, but also made me feel like I let him down when he was appealing to me to get him out of there! I will be more careful about this in the future and I'll try to err on the side of decreasing the stimulus instead of being worried that he'll be reinforced for bad behavior.

While I was gone Justin brought Dottie out to play frisbee. It was fun, except that they got surprised by the hated JRT on the way back. Justin said she absolutely freaked out. They were about twenty feet from it and had no escape. Justin said she tried to get out of her harness and basically wanted to kill the dog. Ugh. Poor Dottie. I hope they never meet, that's the only dog I think Dottie would actually injure on purpose in a horrible blind rage.

Well, I need to not think about dogs for a while and get over it. Sigh.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Fun with wet spring weather

I brought Dottie out to a pretty hiking area, Governor's Island, with my friend to jog this morning. There was no one there, and Dottie got to jog along off leash. We had a great time. Right on our cool-down walking lap, a ton of dogs showed up. We managed to avoid all of them but one. I could tell from afar this was a sweet old dog that wouldn't pose any problems. I warned the owner that my dog was a little snappish but it wouldn't be a problem. Her dog approached slowly and very politely. All of Dottie's hackles went up, but I just threw gobs of kibble and cheese on the ground. Dottie happily slurped these up while the dog gently sniffed her butt, then came over to meet me. I chatted with the owner briefly and gave her dog a treat. Dottie's hackles stayed up the whole time, but hopefully the gentle nature of the greeting and the loads of treats made her feel okay about the whole thing. I was very proud there was no snapping or barking.

Tomorrow morning it's Gustav's turn to go to dog training club, the Good Dog Society. It's not a formal thing, just that group I put together for people who want to run drills for free. Hope it goes well!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Another video

Here's Dottie and me doing tricks:

I love her enthusiasm. She's a very sweet dog and loves to eat.

In other news, we went to the park today. I put Gustav on his 50-foot line to practice coming when called. In the meantime, Dottie gets to play frisbee. I will take a video of her someday, she's really a remarkable frisbee player. Something I read on Patricia McConnell's blog recently made me think about how Gustav's responsiveness drops off significantly after about five repetitions. I first discovered this when I was first working on his "watch" cue. True to my type-A overly enthusiastic personality, I was asking for a watch about every half block. After about five of these, Gustav would give up and just start ignoring me, which I found very irritating. But on the blog, people talked about short and sweet sessions being both more effective and easier for lots of dogs. Dottie could probably do this stuff all day, although she does get a little overwhelmed sometimes and starts offering random behaviors (in the video she goes to her mat halfway through shaping, and at least once she rolls on her back in response to a totally different cue). With Gustav's recall I noticed he would start off strong then fall off pretty dramatically. So I'm trying to do five recalls tops while we're out. We did a few from far away but he wasn't doing anything, and a few while he was sniffing but I was only five or ten feet away. Then we did one as a bicyclist went through the park, far away. He got them all, although was a bit hesitant and slow on a few, so I know it's not time to get harder yet. I also give him treats just for showing up, I appreciate his check-ins. Distance and distraction. (duration N/A)
I have to remember to work them separately.


Thursday, March 11, 2010


I took a video of door training and a few other things. So far only door training is uploaded. Thanks, Kate:happy-houndz.blogspot.com. She takes a lot of nice videos of training her dogs.

I also have one of Dottie tricks and a short one of Gustav tricks. I'm still working on uploading those.

Another tail wag!

Got another little tail wag out of Gustav while we watched a guy with a backpack go to the bus stop. He was looking at me while he wagged, but it right after he was looking at the guy. I brought the clicker along on our morning walk today and clicked while he looked at people. Then he would swivel his head to get the treat he knew was coming.

In sad news, Justin reported to me that Dottie got pretty unhappy with the presence of elderly people yesterday. I guess her hackles were up and she was a bit growly. To be fair I can't think of any experience she's had with older people. Maybe I'll do a little people CCing for her just to safeguard, since I'm already doing it with Gustav. She also had just barked at an old guy with a beagle across the street, maybe she was associating slow shuffly walking with beagles? Sometimes she anticipates that certain people will have dogs with them, even if they don't. Hmmm.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sniff cue

This has been really fun to teach. Since I've long since realized that I'm the neighborhood crazy lady with my crazy dogs, I don't really care what I do when out and about. I've started labeling "sniff" when the dogs are sniffing a tree or hydrant or whatever. So now I'm the neighbor who says "sniff!" out loud while my dogs sniff. Ha. At home I hold a piece of kibble in my fist and tell them to sniff. Then they get a "good dog" and get to eat it. Someday when I think they get it they'll sniff it without eating it. No rush. I find I can point to nearly anything and say "sniff" and that's what they'll do. Wonderful to work with nature on this one.

Some strangers came over today. Gustav was crated for ease, but Dottie got treats thrown in the kitchen. She met them and only let out a few excited barks. Not bad for her. Throwing the treats really helps, she thinks it's fun to go sniff them out and it gives her something to do besides wait for me to feed treats to her.