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!

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.