Gwynn and I have been working through some issues recently.  Despite being 4 (!), he’s apparently decided to try out that doggy-teen-angst thing that usually strikes sometime between turning 2 and 3.  He’s a late bloomer, I guess.

He’s started barking at people, and attempting to run towards them (fun! not.) on our walks, and is developing dog-park-bully tendencies (ditto).

I know pretty much everyone says you never just reach a point with your dog where you can stop training, but I kind of assumed that I’d be able to keep adding tricks, agility moves and general improvement on his recall and sit-stays and call it a day.  I wasn’t expecting new things.  Behavioural things.

New things like suddenly, other dogs are really really interesting – in a hard-eyes and rigid posture, jumps over the barrier separating us (mid-agility run) from another dog (ditto, but also with fear-of-dog-issues, of course) like it wasn’t a foot and a half taller than the jump height we’re working on, spend 10 minutes yipping hysterically until I just get the fuck out 20 minutes into class kind of way.


What does all this mean?  Well, apparently the bullying might be a mixture of the herding and poodling (poodles were originally hunting dogs, so I’m not quite sure what instinct it is here, other than… being bouncy) instincts kicking into high gear from his ancestry – lots of darting in and back, barking and general over-excited-not-listening-to-other-dog’s-discomfort-cues.

And his complete loss of interest in running the agility course with me when he could instead go cry and run the fenceline?  Lack of focus combined with the whole over-excited-at-dogs thing.  His groovy ‘do means that his eyes are a thing I don’t necessarily see when training focus-work, and apparently this is an issue, because it means that I’m rewarding the wrong thing.  He’s, more often than not, getting rewarded for face-pointing in my general direction, but actually looking at the treat in my hand/pocket/whatever it is I’m trying to get him to stop looking at.  Instead of actual eye-contact.  Yup, 100% luring, not actual training.  Mea culpa.

Yes, also I high-pitch my voice to try and make him more interested in me… but when that fails… well…

My agility instructor has recommended that I cut all the hair around his eyes, but he’s already got a bit of a mullet thing going on from the trimming I already do, and I love his hair, so I’m going to try out a few alternatives for the interim (until it’s warm enough out that I can get him fully groomed).  What are your thoughts on his style?

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She also said she thought we’d be fine continuing with agility and just adding a dog obedience class (one that focuses on, well, focus, and working on newly developed issues), but frankly, I don’t give a flying… rice-cake… about whether Gwynn and I succeed at doing 6/8/10/etc weave poles, I just want my friendly/happy/not crazy dog back.

All this over-excitement directed at people (barking/lunging), and dogs (bullying, and hard eyes/stiff posture), to my mind, means that Gwynn is not feeling safe, he’s not sure how to act in a given situation, and, for these reasons, not happy.  

this is not a dog moping about and writing emo poetry
this is not a dog moping about and writing emo poetry

On a deeper level, I mean.

He’s also on a bad track towards possibly developing aggression issues (if you don’t already call his occasional barking and bullying a form of aggression), and, well NO.  If you’ve got experience in this type of thing, feel free to link me to useful stuff on the web or leave your best tips.  I’ve already been trolling back through old posts at SUCCESS JUST CLICKS and other dog trainer blogs, but repeated information isn’t bad information.

So I’m going all Mr Miyagi on his poor confused self, and we are going to get focused, and get happy.

Wax on, Wax off.  Click, Treat.


For those Torontonians (or visitors to Toronto) who are not in the know (like I was about a week ago), I wanted to talk a bit about Pawsway Toronto.  Will there be pictures?  No… but maybe later I’ll post them in a 90% picture post.  I’ve just been an epic fail lately, about getting pictures off my camera, and this post has been sitting in my drafts since last week, when the trip to Pawsway actually happened.  So… no-picture-post!

We piled up (four people + Gwynn + one hatchback = one back seat down and a very effective new way of going on trips with Gwynn!) in the car and headed downtown (ish… it’s on Queens Quai, near Rees Street) for some free agility at Pawsway last Monday night.

The building is long and thin and entirely dog-friendly.  There is a cafe at the front, where you can grab food indoors with your dog.  There are interactive and informative displays about dogs and cats, and there is a small shop for dog and cat toys, treats and equipment.  You continue down this long narrow building through more pet displays and a pet memorial, and come out into a two-storey high room with a big rubbery mat on most of the floor and (if you’re there at an agility time) agility equipment set up.  They had a ramp, two jumps, a teeter totter, a suspended hoop/tire thing, a curved tunnel and a straight tunnel.  Unfortunately for us, the curved tunnel had to be taken away after our first (picture-less) run-through.  And entirely my fault, I’m ashamed to say.  Right after I tossed a treat into it to lure Gwynn into going through, the woman walking me through the agility process gave me a horrified look and said “We don’t put treats in the tunnel!  It distracts the dogs who know how to go through the tunnel and makes them stop and sniff around!”

so i liked... it's got a few pics


Oh.  Well, that makes perfect sense, and is really quite obvious if I had actually used my brain at all!  *Here I am, feeling like a complete noob and thoroughly embarrassed* 

And the next dog to run through, with tons of agility experience, did just that – she stopped to investigate the lingering scent of liver-treat.  So they took the tunnel away.  I figured they’d spray it with a cleaner and bring it back, but I guess they didn’t think that would work, so we lost the use of the big tunnel for the rest of the class, making me feel even more sheepish about it.  I could just crawl into a tunnel and die!  I’ve learned my lesson, I swear!

The people there were helpful, walking me through all the obstacles and giving me tips on how to improve my luring Gwynn through the course.  Gwynn handled everything like a champ, and definitely got really into going over the equipment.  He quickly got the nick-name ‘Leggy’ by the staff, since we had to raise the jump height  every time it came up to our turn, and then lower it when our turn was over. 

Gwynn picked up on what we were doing so quickly that the staff recommended that I start labelling what we were doing for him, so that he would recognise things and be able to do them on command.  He was surprisingly focused, considering how much he loves dogs (and how many dogs were in the room, to start off with), and was really doing well.

He also fell in love with one of the staff, whose hands smelled so strongly of bacon treat that he wouldn’t believe that she didn’t have any.  This happened midway through our run-through – he swivelled away from the course after the first jump and then sat right in front of her.  She backed off and he very carefully squat-waddled closer to her, so that he remained mostly-seated while approaching her.  “Please, I’m sitting!  Just give me the BACON!”  When he is especially hopeful for treats, his posture improves even more, and he takes up less than a square foot of floor-space.  My grade three teacher would have approved of his posture.  She once suggested to the parents of my class that they should strap rulers to our backs and their own  for a few hours every evening.

The building is great – lots of exits for getting your dog out to do his business, and lots of ‘oops’ mop-and-buckets (for if he doesn’t warn you early enough about his business needs) and plenty of fresh water dishes. 

They have a ton of organized events – small dog and large dog off-leash play times, agility, Rally-O, and a variety of other activities.  They have certain times set up for free sessions, and the rest of it seems fairly inexpensive. 

The only thing I’m not impressed with?  Their website.  Their online calendar doesn’t clarify what times classes are free, and what times they are paid for, and they don’t give the prices anywhere that I’ve been able to find.  I was lucky to find out that they have free sessions through Meetup.com, and to find out when one of those sessions is.  I have no problem paying for classes, but it’s nice to know beforehand.  I’ve emailed them through their contact line, but haven’t heard anything in response yet.

The location is beautiful, tucked in right next to the water, with a wave-walk right next to it.  Parking is a bit sparse, but there is a pay-parking lot at the corner of Rees Street and Queens Quay that has plenty of parking available (though expensive – $15 flat rate!), and is about a block from Pawsway. 

I’m definitely going to be trying it out again, though next time I’ll try to take advantage of some of the other things in the area – go for a walk afterwards and enjoy being at the waterfront, and maybe grab a snack at the dog friendly cafe.

One man’s junk is another man’s jungle-gym

Gwynn is good at going slowly through the sticks... if he's given incentive 🙂
the easiest way I've found to get Gwynn to go over jumps is to do it myself... monkey see, monkey do

In a perfect display of slacking on yard-work, we spent one afternoon turning our yard into a personalized agility course.  We took our mostly empty yard, and a variety of not-in-use bits of scrap, and turned it into our very own agility course.  It is pretty epic, I know.  If you ignore the fact that it looks a bit like the beginnings of a hoarder’s back-yard collection.  Then again, the fact that we had so much of this stuff just lying around is probably a good indication that we have issues with throwing things away. 

And, of course, once we’d run through it a bunch of times, we figured we should take some pictures of Gwynn in action, and also give some ideas on things you can easily set up in your backyard, without going out and buying things.

the piece of hosing was a bit short for him to walk through, so we practiced the 'crawl' command

we borrowed a table as a place to hop up... this is, by far, his favourite trick. He's now jumping up on random rocks in the path, picnic tables, and anything else he can find that he can get up on.

Those weaving sticks?  Those are actually marshmallow sticks… and a weed pulling device… and a crowbar…  The jump is lawnchairs (obviously), and a big piece of metal that mysteriously fell from the side of our house.  And the hose is the closest thing we’ve got to a hula-hoop, or tunnel.  The small plastic table was the equivalent of the platform a lion stands on in a circus.If you’re planning on doing something similar to this, Clementine boxes are great to start off as the supports for a jump – you can increase the height easily by adding boxes. 

 Gwynn has already done a bit of jumping in his training classes as well as over my previous attempts at building jumps for him, so I didn’t need to start off low.  Even starting off with an upright 2×4 plank will start your dog in the idea of jumping.  
 If you don’t have as many random poles as I do (or don’t want to poke holes in your yard), chairs, or planter pots, or anything, really, can be lined up for winding through.  This isn’t, after all, a professional and timed agility course – this is just for a bit of fun in your own back yard.  When you start off, leave a big enough gap for you to fit through, and lure your dog around the posts as you walk through them yourself. 

… does this remind anyone else of Calvin and Hobbes’ happy dance?

Having something that your dog can crawl through is a good way to practice the crawl command, or even start it off… even if it is an old piece of hose.  If you’ve got a kiddy tunnel, try bringing it out and getting your dog to go through it.  I think a used kids tunnel might be my next purchase (hopeful for garage sale season!), because that was Gwynn’s favourite thing when our trainer brought in the agility type stuff.   This entirely unrelated to obedience training is alot of fun, and gives you a new way to play with your dog.  The  other place I’ve found a use for some of his trick training is in meeting new people – it is hard to be scared of a dog that can wave at  you, or bows to you.  He’s charmed his way through a nursing home and a book shop with these tricks.


A final bow from Gwynn at the end of his performance