Unfocused

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.

Awesome.

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.

The Runaround

Gwynn and I have been taking agility classes for the past few months.  Shocking, right?  I bet, based on my absenteeism in dog-post-land, you assumed I’d gotten rid of my furry buddy.  Considering how remiss I’ve been in posting at all, you could also make the judgement that I’ve also gone away.  Perhaps we both went ‘to the farm’.

We have been doing agility, though, and, if I do say so myself, we’ve been improving at it.  If any of you in the Toronto area are interested in doing some classes yourself, I highly recommend All About Dogs.  They also have doggy first aid classes, rally-o, disc-dog, flyball and other classes, which I’d bet are just as good as the agility.  They are all about training in steps, so that the final performance is how it should be.  They are also all about making sure the dogs are enjoying themselves.   Gwynn is in love with Renee.  She is a fluent speaker of Dog-ish, and can do amazing things when she takes one of the dogs in the class for a demo of an exercise.  I completely believe that the levels of training in dog agility are mostly for the owner.

Agility is a great way of continuing your dog’s obedience training in a fun way.  You might not be practicing anything very obviously command-like, but it’s in there.  I’m finding that our agility training is improving things so much outside of class for Gwynn and I.  He pays a lot more attention to me when he’s off-leash, his recall has improved drastically, and we are overall working better as a team.

I’m learning a lot about what my body language is telling Gwynn.  Very little of what I’m saying as we go through the course has any impact on what Gwynn is doing.  It’s my own fault in guiding him when, despite my enthusiastic shout of “Tunnel!”, he follows me along the outside of the tunnel.  In the same way, when I shout “Table” while directing him (properly)towards the tunnel, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he does the tunnel anyways.

Having a weekly class has also encouraged me to do more training at home (sorely lacking at times).  We’ve been working on our tricks as well, and Gwynn, I must say, is very enthusiastic in playing dead.  Not terribly good at acting… but definitely enthusiastic.  You’ve never seen someone fake-get-shot and fake-die with such a huge grin on his face until you’ve seen Gwynn do it.

My sister came with me to last week’s class, and videotaped some of our runs.  And then, with the magic of her Mac laptop, she fancied up her videos for your enjoyment.  I now have a Youtube channel.  Just understand that it might be under my email, but it was set up by my sister, who took the video, laughed most of her way through the filming of it, formatted the video and posted it on Youtube for me.  Pretty much the only thing I did was come up with an alternate name when it turned out the channel name “Gone for a Walk” was taken!

Check it out:

Square 2

This winter’s theme, training-wise, was mostly nothing.

Ugh, it’s raining, let’s get this walk over with.

Ugh, it’s really that muddy… fine, go have your fun, smelly, black dog, but know that there will be consequences.  And those consequences involve you and me in a certain large oblong porcelain-coated-metal bowl, along with lots of room temperature water and something foamy.  Your black and tan will return to orange and white.

Ugh, I give up, you will never not chase cats.  I am the where’s waldo master, if waldo is a cat, and tends to hide in shadows, under shrubberies, on decks, or mockingly in the center of an empty driveway. 

Better to just get from point A to point B on-leash, and try not to think too hard about what you were rolling in just now.

I’ve been inspired, though.  Jodi has been working with Delilah after a bad incident left her feeling like she wasn’t doing so well at dog parenting.  Instead of expecting everything to come at once, she’s gone in stages, and Delilah is back to having freedom to run around, except in areas where Jodi knows there’s too much chance of failure.

That, combined with recently seeing a video on how to store your long-leads so they won’t get tangled (genius!), and a bit of inspiration of my own (use that shortened long-line as his regular leash for the walking portion of the walk = one less thing for me to carry around in my bag), has Gwynn and I back in training mode.

I tie it a bit tighter, and stop knotting it when the total is as long as my usual leash – tucking the long strand through that final loop ‘locks’ the leash in that length while freeing up the clasp for Gwynn’s collar.  It creates a bit more of an elastic version of a 6 foot leash.  for storing the leash, it works amazingly well – you entirely skip the part of pulling a long leash out of your bag when you have to untangle it.

I commented in a recent post that Sadie has a great recall.  Like – whistle her whistle and she will run to you.  All out, legs wind milling, ears flapping, giant grin, run. 

Gwynn… not so much.  Kind of silly when you consider the fact that I have him 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and only walk Sadie twice a week, for all of 2 hours each walk.

I generally just make sure to not let him off-leash in danger zones.  The big ones?  Near a muddy pond that I really don’t want him in.  Near the beach/creek when I don’t want him in (or at this time of year, when the beach is littered with dead things).  Somewhere cats might be.

My training goal for the spring is to improve Gwynn’s recall and walking at heel position.

some work on the long line... it is actually longer than it looks in this picture

How am I doing this so far?  If I’m somewhere I really don’t trust him off-leash, I put him on the long line, and practice sit-stays, sit at a distance, recalls, and just plain encourage him to walk near me.  Once he’s good and focused, he gets time dragging the leash.  It isn’t perfect.  For one thing, if he takes off quickly enough during ‘drag leash’ time, he can get out of leash-stomp range very easily (my leash isn’t too long… maybe 15 ft total?).  For another thing, re-knotting the leash into short-form requires a bit of focus/time.  But it’s working, and using the long line in short-form reminds me to take the time on walks to work on these things.

Wish me luck!

Trained to Impress

There are so many reasons to train your dog.  Whether you just want a friendly and relatively obedient house-pet, or to be able to compete in dog sports, all signs point to training.  A well-socialized, obedient dog is more pleasant to live with.  You can bring that dog to so many more places and activities than you can bring the hell-hound who drags you down the street every time you try to take him for a walk.

And here’s another reason.  Your dog is a representative of his species, and his breed.  It isn’t your imagination – your dog is being judged.  How many people have let a single bad experience with a dog of a recognizable breed (or type) influence their forever opinion of that breed?  It’s easy enough to do.

I know that all German Shepherd dogs aren't angry-clawing their way out of their yards. But I wouldn't want to meet this one on the street.

Public opinion can be difficult to deal with.  I know quite a few people with Rottweilers who find that people walking towards them on the street will cross the street to avoid them.  These dogs that I know, in particular, are big softies.  Given the opportunity, any one of them would come up to you and present his or her bum for a nice scratch session.  These owners ‘get’ it.  They are ambassadors to a breed that is labeled ‘tough’, and the amount of work they put into the training of their dogs shows it.

In the past few visits I have made to a dog park near my home, I have had a nearly identical conversation with fellow dog owners, and it is really disturbing.

“There’s just something about boxers, you know?  I just don’t trust them.  They seem to be playing nice, and then all of a sudden they’re in attack mode.”

“Yeah, I try to keep my dog from playing with them when we’re here and they show up.”

"Who, me?"

Sorry, are you talking about boxers?  Boxers, those goofy, playful dogs – the ones who like to wrestle and run around and play?  Boxers like the one on my street, Abby, Gwynn’s favourite wrestling buddy.  Abby, who sits on her front lawn, leash-free, while her owner brings the recycling bins to the kerb, and waits for permission to come across the street to visit us on our walk?

Most of the boxers I’ve met at this park (and any other) play so nicely with other dogs.  They love to wrestle, making them a perfect playmate for Gwynn.  If their owners call, they come at least as often as Gwynn does when he is called.  If they are playing too rough, their owners re-direct them.  Like any dog owner should do if at a dog park.  Gwynn sometimes needs intervention in play as well.

Most, but not Mocha.  Mocha the 1ish year old Boxer doesn’t get it.  It’s like she doesn’t speak ‘dog’ – she doesn’t pay attention to the ‘go away’ and ‘back off’ signals that dogs give off.  She wrestles too hard, she pushes buttons, and she instigates scuffles.  Her owner claims she is perfectly trained, but she has zero recall/obedience at the dog park.  When she gets too excited, too pushy, too MUCH, he does nothing.  No redirecting, no break time, no ‘let’s go for an on-leash walk for 10 minutes and come back and try again’.  She focuses a lot on smaller or weaker dogs, and harasses them to no end.  She runs wild, and yes, the dog park isn’t as fun while she’s there.  I don’t run into her often, and am usually in the lucky position of already heading out when she’s coming in.

Her impact is being felt.  The people at the dog park aren’t talking about their wariness towards Mocha the poorly trained and poorly socialized Boxer, owned by that jerk who doesn’t follow dog-park-etiquette.  They’re talking about how they don’t trust Boxers.  No differentiation between the Mochas and the Abby’s of the world.

So – train your dog.  Train him to make a good impression.  You want people to talk about how much they love Australian Shepherds after having met your Aussie – not about how they hate those jumpy, barky, over-energetic terrors.  Pure-bred or mixed breed, your dog gives people an impression of all dogs.  And don’t forget to pick up after that obedient dog, because otherwise, you’re giving all us dog owners a bad name too.

Exercise and Training

I found an interesting workout thing online (pinterest, oh how I love thee), and this is week the second of trying to start it.  It’s about an hour (for me) of doing a series of 8 exercises, all of which can be done from your own home, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  So far, I’ve made it through the Monday exercise twice.  Weeknights are busy!

I like it because the idea is to exercise based on your body shape (focus on areas that tend to gain weight, or areas that could use toning).  They explain all the body types neutrally, without insinuating that one body type is the best type.  I (and every single one of my female relatives, curse you, genetics) am in a body type called ‘pear shaped’.  I feel it in my muscles the next day, and I am going to try to incorporate it into my overall schedule.  Check it out HERE if you’re interested.  That link is also where I got all of the pictures below.

I’ve even translated the pear-shape exercises into dog-owner-ese for you.  I’m generous like that.

Exercise 1 – Lift-off lunge.

Hold intriguing objects up.  Lower into position where objects are just out of reach of standing dog.  Push off of front leg, balance on one foot while jerking intriguing objects up very high.  Attempt to maintain balance when dog punches you in the gut while leaping enthusiastically into the air, trying to catch the intriguing objects.

Exercise 2 – Scissor Jump

Crouch down in play-like position.  Jump up, flailing wildly with arms and legs, switching legs in mid-air.  Attempt to repeat jump while Dog prances and leaps enthusiastically.  Manage two more wobbly jumps before Dog decides to see if he can get a treat from performing “bow” with his thick-clawed paws on your front bent knee.  Put him in a sit-stay, get one jump in before he tries to hump you from behind.  Wonder where the hell this humpiness is coming from.

Exercise 3 – Pushup and Leg Raise on the ball

Bring out giant ball.  Feel grateful that dog doesn’t appear interested in it.  Do pushup on ball.  Attempt to lift one leg off the ball, causing full-body tremors.  Die.  Repeat exercise one-handed, as you ward off doggy kisses and attempts to jump onto your back.

Exercise 4 – Hundred on the ball

Hold a crunch position with your legs up and resting on the ball, while breathing loudly and counting to 100 – out-two-three-four-five, in-two-three-four-ten, etc.  While Dog alternates between attempting to sit on your arm or stomach for pets, and curling up in the space under your head and shoulders.  That second one actually makes the exercise much easier.

Exercise 5 – mermaid

Lie on your side, supporting arm resting on the most fascinating blanket on earth.  Swing arm above head intriguingly.  Fight off doggy kisses, attempts at blanket thievery, and attempts to curl up on the small piece of blanket directly by your head in order to get the ‘air pets’ you’ve been doing.  Get knocked over by enthusiastic bum-wag when someone comes into the room.

Exercise 6 – Boat curl and press

Done on the floor, challenge of exercise is increased by dog attempting to latch on to one of the fascinating objects you’re waving around at low and high dog-level.  Consider it ‘adding resistance’.

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Exercise 7 – Triangle Lat Raises

Perform first few iterations, causing great excitement in dog.  When he runs over to stand directly beside you, attempt to fight through the distraction (just one more exercise after this!) by deviating from direct up-and-down route of arm, wagging and dodging doggy attempts to rob you of weights.  I strongly recommend against this particular doggy modification – I think I screwed up one of my shoulders doing this.  Nothing too serious, but best avoided all around.

Exercise 8 – Dip and Knee Raise

Integrate dog training into exercise, because the only way you’re going to get through this without having your legs humped by the sexual deviant your dog has become is by convincing him it’s worth his while to sit-stay.  Suspect that sweating all over a fistful of dehydrated beef liver is both rehydrating it and causing your pores to suck up the unappetizing smell of beef liver.  Second suspicion confirmed later, give the relatively healthy bowl of air-popped popcorn to someone whose hands don’t smell of beef liver treat.

I figure this series of at-home exercises will both increase my overall strength and drastically improve Gwynn’s training at the stay command.

A New Reaction…

Gwynn has decided that children are super exciting.  I was walking down the sidewalk towards a woman and her son a few days ago.  Loose leash, Gwynn is sniffing things and entirely indifferent to them.  I moved myself and him onto the road but kept walking, so that I’m probably about 10 ft away from the sidewalk, because not everyone likes dogs and I don’t really like standing on someone’s soggy lawn in the dark while waiting for people to cross my path.  Everything’s fine (why wouldn’t it be?) and then they get to be about 20 ft away from us and he lunges towards the pair (to the point that he lifts his upper body up a bit), tail wagging wildly, and woofs.  Just once, but it was a big woof, not one of his sissy high-pitched ‘I see a dog’ woofs.  And the poor kid bursts into tears.

must.. get... to... child!

I apologized and got the hell out of dodge.  I bit my tongue on the urge to say “It’s ok, he’s friendly!” or “He’s just really excited about kids!” or some other “I’m sorry, but here’s how we really didn’t do anything worth apologizing for” un-apology.

And then it happened again, but with more barking, at some random person the next morning.  And suddenly every non-dog-person absolutely needs to be greeted and he tries to drag me to them. Awesome.

So – Gwynn is overreacting to the stimulus of ‘kids’, and, from what I can tell, sometimes ‘people who don’t have a dog’.  And it’s like this issue appeared overnight, though I’m sure I was missing signs of impending doom.  The dog didn’t wake up one morning and think to himself, “Gee, those kids… they’re so neat, I should jump at them”.

After that incident, Gwynn and I spent about half an hour practicing some combination of ‘eye contact’ and ‘heel’ going up and down the busiest non-main-road in my neighbourhood.  I usually just ask him for loose-leash when walking, but now I have a new goal: I want to say heel, and get him to stick close to me (preferably while giving me pretty consistent attention) when walking past people – all people.  And dogs.  While we’re at it, let’s add cats to the list too.  And the stump in that guy’s yard, because Gwynn acts like it’s secretly a living garden gnome every time.

What I’m doing as a starting point is this: when I see people/dogs/movement on the other side of the road, I stop, get him to sit, and every time he gives me eye-contact, I reward him.  I’m doing the same at intersections, and randomly on the walk.

Anyone have any thoughts or opinions about this plan?  Suggestions for a better plan?

We had the most perfect training opportunity once this week, when we waited on the driveway for a doggy friend of ours to come up the street.  She was with a trainer, and working on basically the exact same thing, so we stood on opposite sides of the street from each other, each practicing rewarding eye-contact for a few minutes.  It is unlikely that I’ll find someone with a kid willing to do this, so that’s about as ideal a training situation as I can think of.

Now I just need to go buy a new clicker, since I have lost a second one to the great outdoors, and muttering “YES!” to myself over and over again is making me sound like a crazy person.

Ewe’s not Fat, Ewe’s just Fluffy

Did anyone figure out what our super duper exciting plan for the weekend was?

The Clue:

Baa, Ram, Ewe. Baa, Ram, Ewe. To your breed, your fleece your clan be true. Sheep be true. Baa, Ram, Ewe! (pic from here)

The answer:  We got a pig, and he’s wicked-smart!

Well, no.  BUT we did establish that Gwynn could do as good a job as Babe at herding sheep.  Also, he’s wicked-smart!

We went to the Tee Creek Dog Training Centre, near Niagara Falls, Ontario.  They do herding instinct tests on dogs, with real sheep.  Check out their website – they do all sorts of other dog training things, all focused on positive reinforcement.  Also, trying herding with your dog is awesome and a ton of fun.  And not at all limited to herding breeds, according to their website.

Before I start showing pictures and things, let me say a few things.  They look bad.  Both in quality (because I turned off the flash before handing it to Peanut to take pictures, due to fear of traumatizing sheep), and in… what it looks like is happening.  I have a rake, for one thing.  The rake is for the purpose of disengaging the dog, or getting the dog to redirect.  For instance, if the dog tries to run down the middle of the sheep, and you want all the sheep, not just the two he’s trying to corner, you use the rake to block his path down the middle of the sheep, and this makes him change direction and go around the outside.  We were NOT beating sheep or dogs with a rake.  It was more like an extension of my arm, so that I could wave my ‘fingers’ in his face to get him to move.  The equivalent could have been done if I were hurling my body between him and what he was going after, to make him go around the sheep instead of through.  So, to be clear, no sheep or dogs were harmed/traumatized through the course of the day.  Tee Creek takes great care of their dogs and their livestock, from everything I saw.

We entered the ring, and started off by walking around the fence-line until Gwynn was calm enough about being in there for me to let him go.

His herding instincts were all “SHEEEEEEEP!!! Circle Circle Circle make them in a tight group.”

OH, Yeah, circlin' the sheep like a gangsta!

My instincts said, “MUST KEEP GWYNN AWAY FROM SHEEP.  PROTECT SHEEP.  PROTECT GWYNN.  KEEP HIM AWAY FROM SHEEP, AAARGH!”  Apparently, when faced with a Gwynn+non-dog-mammals situation, my reaction is a desperate game of keep-away.  I couldn’t tell you which of them I felt was most likely to start shredding the other.  Gwynn has carnivore-type teeth, but there were three sheep, which means, if they acted in unison, they could easily take Gwynn down and rend his flesh from his bones with their tiny herbivore teeth.

Noooo, keep away from the sheep! (don't they look ferocious?... yeah... well, you weren't there, you didn't see it from my perspective!

The instructor/sheep-owner woman told me flat out that Gwynn was ‘stealing my sheep’ because I kept stopping him from doing the herding-stuff he wanted to do.  So, instead of trying to bring the sheep to me, like he’d started off doing, he was now trying to get them away from me.  She told me I wasn’t sharing the toys.  I told her I was just trying to protect… someone… from something… there were sheep?  And dog?  And Danger? You’re sure he wasn’t trying to eat the sheep?  You’re sure that sheep don’t eat dog?  Rake?

carnivores?

He passed, in spite of my ‘help’, and in spite of the fact that he looks more like a sheep than like a sheep-dog most of the time – he has herding instincts.  In fact, he’s well-rounded at herding.  He has the driving instinct (moving them places) as well as the circling instinct (bringing them all together).  Though I’m sure I’m not using the correct terminology.

"oooh, nice rake!"

We then proceeded to do two more runs through with sheep, and I was impressed at our lack of fail, and at Gwynn’s ability to herd sheep into tight groups and then force them to charge towards me with sheep-like exuberance.  I used my rake like a pro person who is half-capable of being put in charge of a few leaves, managed to consistently get Gwynn herding sheep towards  me (not trying to steal them from me), and made it out of the ring with dog and pride intact.

it's like we have a plan or something crazy like that!

According to the note the sheep-woman made on our marking sheet, “Very nice dog!”

Very nice dog, indeed.

The entire experience made Gwynn a bit wired for the rest of the evening, trying to take advantage of his dragon toy when he wasn’t trying to eat it, and trying his new herding expertise on the family.  We didn’t respond the same way as the sheep did to his barking in our faces, though.  When he finally collapsed from the exhaustion of all that “Sheep?  No sheep?  HERD!!!” (I think his wired-ness was rather like the wired-ness of a small child allowed to stay up all night and eat candy… too tired to sleep, too tired to stop running in circles screaming ‘EEEEP’, too tired to not roll around on the floor in the most epic temper tantrum of life.) running through his mind, he woofed and ran in his sleep, clearly still chasing those sheep.

I worked out the logistics of getting a sheep for Gwynn to herd (though does it count as herding if there’s only one?) – we would need to ‘mow’ everyone’s lawn for a four block radius around us to give that sheep its about-an-acre of necessary grass-land to survive.

So, what do you think of my new job-plans:

Baa Ram Ewe Organic Lawncare

“All natural, 100% organic lawn mowing services.  Fresh, locally produced manure also available.”

“Ewe’ll Love us!”

When the Kids are Away…

We haven’t been all that successful at the K9-Kamp Challenges.  This week, though, we rocked it.  We took the suggestion on Koly or Kaly’s blog (I don’t remember which of you brought it up, but great idea!), and took to the playground for our activities.

It helped that it was cold and rainy for most of the week and weekend.  We never once found the play set previously occupied by children.  We (I) also had a good reason to keep moving – it was the only way to fight off the cold in the air!

The play set was in the field of an elementary school near my house, almost completely enclosed by fences and the school building itself.  The spot is ideal for any kind of off-leash play, apart from having to keep an eye out for snack-items discarded by the school kids.  Also, never-fear – I am a firm believer in poop-and-scoop, so there aren’t any messes for the kids left by us.  The outdoor cats in the area, however, seem to regard the long-jump sandpit as a
super-sized kitty litter.

This is the routine we got into:

Fetch – I throw the ball, Gwynn chases it, and as soon as he gets it, I call him and run in the opposite direction, cheering him on like a crazy-person.  Not only giving me a bit of a run, but also reducing the likelihood of Gwynn deciding to just lie down where the ball landed and have a good chew.  Usually three to five throws before it’s pretty obvious he’s bored of this game.  Seriously, shouldn’t his poodle-side have given him some retriever urges?  Instead of just the urge to splash in any ‘body’ of water, from puddle to bowl to lake to pond to swamp?

Run over to the play set.

Frolic in play set – there are lots of little platforms at different levels on this play set.  I do some step up (one foot, two feet), step down (one foot, two feet), at each level, all the while encouraging Gwynn to jump up when I step up, and jump down when I step down.  We run up and down the staircase a few times, and I get him to jump through the perfectly dog-jump-height and size metal hoop a few times before we jog back away from the play set (and the trees which interfere with my already not-so-great throws), and start off at Fetch again.

We repeat that series a few times, then take a break to do a bit of obedience.  Gwynn and I are working on an intro to dog sports class right now, so I’ve really been trying to get his Heel command down – with the addition of trying to make it work on both the left and right side, not just standard left-heel position.  We learned it in the previous class, but never really… learned it.  He’ll stay at left heel if I lure with a treat, but that’s not really useful.

The Kamp challenge got Gwynn completely pumped up.  He was really focusing on me, at least in part (I think) because I’d been doing so many random and unpredictable things with him earlier.  What this means is that he was really focused, and really getting what I was trying to train for heel.

I looped his leash around my waist, and walked around the baseball diamond with him.  Any time he left my side, I pulled him back in, and rewarded the correct position.  I also randomly rewarded him every few steps for being in the right position.  We did that once at a walk and once at a light jog (much harder to treat, but he was even more focused on me at that point, anyways, so I just cheered him on), and then repeated, but with him on the other side.

The reason I’m sure he’s getting the whole heel idea is that, when I did this series yesterday, he continually tried to  loop around to my left side.  Not the greatest thing for when I was trying to get him to stay on my right-side, but I think it means that he’s figured out what I’m looking for in this – the position right next to me and focused on me – which should make teaching right-side come much easier in the long-run.  I couldn’t stop giggling, as I treated for being on the right side, he accepted the treat, and then ducked around to the left, and looked up at me, as if to say, “See!  Look where I am!  Treat?”

Of course, at dog class, when it came time to do anything in a heel-like position, he looked at me not at all, tried to clear the entire floor of possible crumbs of treats and tried to visit all his new doggy friends, anything but follow at that perfect position.  Which he then did perfectly for the instructor, even more perfectly than he did for me out in the field where no-one was watching.  *Sigh*  at least he’s improving a bit!

It’s a Catastrophe!

When I first got him, he wasn’t like this.  Then again, for the first week of walks, he kept his head glued to the inside of my knee, the ultimate in walk-like-a-cowboy training.  But after that, when he came out of his paranoid-that-I’ll-leave-him shell, he wasn’t like this either.

I have a feeling that part of this is because we visited friends who have cats.  The kittens were intrigued by him that first visit, and I’m confident that, if we’d been there an entire day, they would have eventually let Gwynn sniff them, interacted a bit, and that would have been the end of the cat obsession.  Instead, what happened was that they got fairly close, Gwynn would get too excited and try to approach them, and they’d run away as fast as they could, while Gwynn remained within leash-radius of me.  We were there for less than 2 hours – he didn’t have time to learn polite cat-approach behaviour.

6 months later, we’re there again, only the kittens are cats now, and more skittish of him, because he just can’t calm down enough for them to get anywhere near them.

just... let me go! I MUST GO TO KITTY!!!

Now, his reaction to cats we see out of doors is ridiculous.  He goes apeshit, bananas, completely flips out.  He lunges with all his might at any cat he sees, wheezing and whimpering and crying and going up on his back legs, trying desperately to GET TO THE CAT.  Meanwhile, the cat (up to a block away from us) is frozen in fascinated terror, watching the bizarre antics of the giant slavering beast that is gyrating and crying at the end of his lead.

I don’t think I’d be willing to trust him near a cat, even a dog-friendly cat, right now.  There would need to be protective measures in place.  I believe that he isn’t in a hunter-prey type mode when he gets excited about them.  But he’s TOO excited about cats for me to trust him with them.  I think that’s how he’d act about dogs if it weren’t possible for him to ever meet dogs, just to smell them from a distance.  When he gets that excited about dogs, I wait for him to stop pulling, and then walk towards the dog, if it’s friendly.  I can’t do that with cats.

I’m pretty sure that if he could just meet a cat, spend a few minutes doing the sniff-sniff-ignore routine, that it would prove that he wants to be their friends, not eat them.  It would probably cure him of the excited-leaping-crying-mess reaction to cats.  But I’m not willing to risk a cat, based on my slightly biased opinion of my dog.  And I really, really want for him to be ok around cats.  And functional in the outside world when cats are near.

And the worst part is, if it were dogs he were reactive about, I COULD SOLVE IT.  Dogs are on-leash.  they are
visible, generally, coming down the street towards you.  I could use one of the many reactivity-solving techniques I’ve read about.

But how, exactly, do I ‘treat with a high-value treat starting from an unresponsive distance’ … from a cat… that I never see first.  It’s like playing Where’s Waldo.  But Waldo varies in size and colouring, can show up anywhere without warning, moves around, and likes to sit in the shrubbery.  And I don’t know anyone with a dog-friendly and leash-friendly cat, so that I could work on it with the cat and Gwynn on leash at a distance from each other.

If I carried hamburger or hotdogs or steak or a brick of cheese every walk, I’d still find myself too close to the cat
before I could start giving him treats.  They’re like Ninjas.  And once he’s seen them, even walking past as quickly as possible, he’s completely indifferent to treats and anything else for the next block or so, prancing and looking back at where he thinks the cat was, peering under cars and between houses nearby in hopes that the cat is following us in secret.  If I try waiting it out and just stand there, braced against the leash, he gets more and more worked up, barking frantically and lunging more and more against the leash.

So, I ask you – any ideas?  And which is better – continuing to walk like the cat isn’t at all interesting (and like having a berserker on the end of the leash is fine and normal), or waiting to see how long it will take for him to calm down while going berserk on the end of the leash (it hasn’t happened yet, but I’ve never fully waited it out.  Once he starts barking, I abandon the attempt and leave)?

Neener-Neener-Neeener!

I have been in email communication with a woman from a company that offers dog obedience classes.  Much as Gwynn and Tall Sister and I enjoyed our two terms of city-run Beginners Dog Obedience, we feel that a third term would be overkill.  And they currently don’t offer an intermediate or advanced class.  If we were to re-enrol, he would be surrounded by untrained puppies, and our trainer would re-teach us the basics from the very beginning.  I’m sure it will be exciting and edifying for the new-dog-owners (spring is definitely a good season for getting a new puppy), and the new puppies will be very excited and learn relatively quickly how to do all of these important things they will be taught.  We could definitely continue working on advancing Gwynn’s skills in all these things up to ‘mad’ level (as in, “You’ve got mad skillz, dawg” *appreciative gangsta hand-gesture inserted here*), but on the whole, I can work on those skillz at home just as easily.  At home, I don’t pay for that privilege, and there is less likelihood of puppy accidents filling the room with unpleasant odours.  So, we’ve found this new place, and I explained to this contact person that we’d like to be exempted from the “prerequisite Obedience I” requirement of “Obedience II”.  Because Gwynn’s skills are nearly at ‘mad’, and are definitely past Obedience I level.  She asked for some info about Gwynn’s skills, and about what I’m looking to learn and get him to learn.  I tried to be honest in describing his skills, because I’m sure people in this type of company meet a lot of “amazingly well behaved and obedient dogs” that can barely be forced into a sit, even with a pound of meatloaf on offer as reward. 

The main thing I want him to learn?  I tried to phrase it politely – I’d like to improve his response with distractions.  I decided that was kind of vague.  I knew they’d get that ‘response’ means listening when I say sit, stay, down, COME (that one is particularly important), but I felt I ought to clarify the distractions.  He is most distracted by other dogs and dead things in the woods.  In particular, coming when called, when he’s interacting with another dog, or is running around with a dead thing in his mouth.  That would be great.

Yup.  Spring, joyous spring.  The snow is melting, the birds are singing (and the male birds are turning spectacular lady-luring colours), mud puddles are forming, and there are an awful lot of dead things being uncovered.  They all look an awful lot like old dead-wood, until I realise just how interested Gwynn is in this particular ‘piece of wood’, and realise that no, that probably used to be a squirrel… before it became rigid, flat, and mostly dehydrated.  Mmmm patchy-furry squirrel jerky!  He also really really enjoyed the GIANT FISH HEAD he found (fish in our creek can have heads the same size as my dog’s head?!  HELP!), thank you people-who-fish-in-the-creek.  By the way, I’m pretty sure the levels of toxicity in the creek mean that any fish you eat out of it (especially near its end, after it runs all the way through Toronto and industrial zones) will eventually cause you to grow scales or a third eye. 

Clearly I need to work on the LEAVE IT!, and DROP IT!!!! commands.  The issue with practicing it at home (in the safety of my house, where he isn’t likely to be leaving or dropping feces or “guess-that-animal” parts), is my parents.  They look at this particular obedience training as “Torturing the dog”.  Particularly the leave-it command.  And I’ll admit, it might seem like it.  You make something really appealing to the dog, point it out to him, put it where he can reach it (holding it out in your hand, or eventually putting it on the floor), and then you tell him not to take it.  It’s like that handshake.  You know – guy-similar-to-Danny-Zuko from Grease holds out his hand in a ‘shake my hand’ kind of way, but when guy-similar-to-that-guy-in-“Can’t Buy Me Love”-before-he-becomes-cool goes to shake it, the Danny-esque-guy jerks it back, in the casual “just combing my side-of-head hair” pose, and looks around at his posse with a smirk on his face.  Laughter and jeering ensue, the other guy leaves, head-down and dejected.  I don’t laugh or jeer, though… and despite what my parents think, I’m not trying to torture him, I’m trying to make him leave dead things alone.  And, as of this morning, cat-food left out by my neighbour for stray (or feral… which are also stray, but in an even less sociable-with-people kind of way) cats to eat.  He isn’t a cat, and he isn’t a stray, and while he sometimes exhibits pretty wild behaviours, feral he is not.  He is clearly not her target demographic.  I also question just how long he’s been planning that escapade, because my brief dropping of the leash was enough for him to make a beeline to the narrow alley between two houses-not-our-own, right to the cat-food container I didn’t even know was there. 

Hopefully this new dog trainer will have some tips – I’m going to register for the summer term.  Until then, I plan to continue torturing the dog with increasingly delicious things to NOT let him have, in hopes of torturing him with NOT letting him eat that mystery-animal-jerky.