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.

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.

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.

I’ve Been Up but Mostly DOWN

On Wednesday, at the end of a long walk that included some beach time, some time in the woods, lots of time playing with dogs, and a bit of re-training the come-command, I had the wind punched out of my sails.

I’ll admit… I’ve dropped the ball in terms of training Gwynn for the past month or so.  Things have been getting in the way, and I’ve focused instead on making sure he gets enough exercise, stays cool in the heat, and gets a chance to play.

At some point, in the past month, the ‘come’ command dropped by the wayside.  I still used it (or tried to)… but I wasn’t exactly getting the right response.  Check out this link for a post about why this ISN’T my dog’s fault.   And I believe this to be true.  It isn’t his fault that he does EXACLTY what I expect when I let him off-leash – he runs off away from me and finds something gross to eat and ignores me.

"Is the boss calling for me? more importantly... is this something dead that I can eat before listening to her?"

In response to this indifference to the command that was once so effective, I started using the long-line in parks.  I’ve been… foggy.  Muggy… blurry, exhausted, apathetic.  Whatever the word, it translates to this: too blah to actually try consistently to fix the issue.  I’m sure it’s partly to do with general tiredness, both mental and physical, but I just haven’t been able to muster the necessary… anything… to get my act together, get in gear, DO something.  And, like a complete dunce, I’ve gone on almost an entire walk without letting him off the leash – long or short – and then, in a spurt of “what a good puppy you are!”… I let him off-leash, at which point, he does exactly what I was preventing by keeping him on leash.  And further use of the come command would just reinforce that he doesn’t have to listen.

Back to Wednesday.  Nearly two hours into a walk in which Gwynn actually got a bit of time dragging the leash to frolic in the waves with a beautiful weimaraner (and then ran off and tried to eat an old animal skull… shocking, I know… who could possibly have predicted that?), we were on our way out of the park.  Just to be clear – I NEVER let Gwynn off here.  When he was good and listened to the come command, I’d still leash him up just before entering this part of the park.  Partly because this is where 99% of the goose poop is (and he luuuuuves it), and partly because it’s a big field-ey area with lots of non-doggy people, and NOTHING between that big fun-to-run-in field… and a road.

I was kind of surprised to see a man and his two (gorgeous, red) golden retrievers playing fetch on the far side of the field, right next to the road.  These dogs, however, were perfectly in tune with this guy… they were listening beautifully and running around, having a great (and obedient) time.

Inhabited by evil spirits… he went from sweet puppy to this!

Gwynn flipped.  He went nuts, struggling against his leash, desperate to go play with these dogs, desperate to run straight towards the road, to chase the ball, to frolic in the grass.  Having just pulled a rodent-skull of some sort out of his mouth, I wasn’t buying it.  Especially not when he was dancing on two feet at the end of the line, lunging and making mad-dashes in an attempt to break free.  It was like having a mad gorilla on the end of a leash.  This is not how Gwynn usually behaves.  Then again, he also answers to the come-command, so, really, how could I be surprised at this new and highly uncharacteristic behaviour?

Since the man and his dogs are on the other side of a soccer field, I tightened up and shortened up on Gwynn’s 6 ft leash, and kept walking down the path.  He’s had lots of exercise, and play today… and he doesn’t earn anything by behaving this way.

Summary to this point:  Mentally dead Alex knows that she needs to work more on training, knows that this isn’t appropriate behaviour for her dog, and really doesn’t feel capable of doing much more than just get home, and try practicing ‘come’ off-leash, in my fully enclosed backyard… and then sleep.  Yes this post is biased to my side… it is, after all, my blog.

Man with really well-behaved, really pretty dogs, from across the field – “Does your dog bite?”

Frustrated at Gwynn trying to pull my arm off – “Nope, he’s quite friendly, just not good off-leash near roads” (yes, fibbing… the truth:  right now, not good off-leash, at all)

Snarky wannabe Dog Whisperer – “You should try training your dog”

At this point, Gwynn is still crying and lunging, but from a very short leash being held onto for dear life by his owner who is having a mental breakdown.  I realise what it looks like, from a distance, and from the viewpoint of someone who has never seen how Gwynn usually is.  I couldn’t muster the ability to deal with this comment, so I didn’t respond… just smiled vaguely (from across the field, which he is now crossing with his perfect freaking dogs… the perfectly groomed dogs he’s walking with, over to me and my scruffy looking, sand covered dog that smells of swamp from his time in the lake) and kept walking.

The guy laughs (like the snarky snark he is) when he sees that my answer is a non-answer, and jogs to catch up to me.  His dogs come up, the dogs all exchange sniffs and Gwynn calms down immediately.  Friendly to them, but not the demon-spawn I had hooked to the end of my leash a moment ago. As the other dogs tried to initiate play with him, while he’s on leash, he considered it, and then went “meh.  Not now, guys.  I’m not supposed to pull on my leash.”.

The man dog-whisperers (yes, it’s a verb, now… one I clearly don’t deserve to conjugate in the first person) both dogs into sits (literally, touches the one dog on the muzzle and does a very Cesar-like doggy-mind-meld thing to make her sit), and repeats, “You should train your dog – then he’ll listen to you.”

Miserable, embarrassed, pissed off-but-too-polite/ashamed/embarassed-to-actually-tell-him-what-I-want-to-say … and jealous as HELL that his dogs are so prettily trained and not satanically posessed – “He did listen, but he’s not right now, so he’s on-leash until I can work out his come command enough again that he responds.”

Satanic Dog Whisperer wannabe says, condescendingly – “How old is your dog?”

Wants to go home and sleep and maybe cry for a bit (yes, this is an over-reaction, but I’ve been having one of those… months… since about mid-June, and at this point, I’m really frustrated and exhausted, and my hand
smells like dead thing and fish) – long pause to remember what month it is and what month my dog was born in…because I’m a terrible dog owner…“A bit over a year”

Which gets me a kind of pitying superior look from him, as if to say, “over a year old, and not perfectly trained?  What a failure.”  “Also, how do you not know your dogs’ exact age, right now?”

I bet his dogs were born house-trained (he trained them while they were in the womb as well), and this obedient by the time they were 6 months old.

I’m not even sure if I said anything else, to be honest… I just left.  I spent the remainder of the walk home stewing over this guy, thinking of snappy comebacks that I can never think of when actually faced with someone who is making me upset.  I am more of an angry-cry-er than a snappy come-back-er.  And, in the midst of my stewing, ridiculously upset that this stranger had, from what I could tell in my highly emotional state, hit the nail on the head.

How could I be such a terrible dog owner?  I take him to classes… I try to practice… but I don’t have a wonder-dog of any kind, and what the hell other explanation could there be for the brief appearance of hell spawn at the end of my leash just a few minutes before.  I’m just a terrible dog owner, ruining the life of my beloved pooch.  I should give him to someone who can properly train him and make his life fulfilling.  Like I said… it has been that kind of a month, and I am over-emotional.

Doodle could very well be pondering on what to do to exorcise Gwynn’s demons, right this moment. Or she could be cleaning out-houses… one never knows.

Meanwhile, Gwynn walked calmly and loose-leash beside me, even when we walked past some other dogs on the other side of the road from us.  Apparently ‘good dog’ fought off the attempted possession of Gwynn by Hell Spawn.  Not in time to stop me from moping and being generally down in the dumps for the rest of the evening, unfortunately.  And, with my walking buddy embracing her inner wolf-child for the summer, working in the Great White (or Green, since there isn’t any snow in the summer… or black, what with all the mosquitos) North, I had no-one to vent to, or practice training with.  MISS HER!

Before I leave off with this ridiculously over-long post:  Yes, I’ve recovered from this wallowing in ‘failed dog owner’ misery, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to write this as coherently as I did (cue laugh reel).  I’ve got a post on a timer for sometime this weekend for the upward trend part of the story.  A sneak prevue – I totally kicked Debbie Downer out of the drivers’ seat of this mental rollercoaster.

Also… love LOVE LOVE the whole Dog Whisperer thing… I am quite positive that Cesar Milan wouldn’t have been so condescending and jerk-ey… he’d have given suggestions beyond “don’t be a loser- try not to suck so much at life”.  This guy was a false-whisperer, and clearly a wannabe… and a hater.

Also also… the title is from the song “New Low” by Middle Class Rut, and it is a great song, very catchy 🙂

Walk Like A Cowboy

There has been a speed-bump in the training process… but never fear – just because I’m not talking about it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  It just hurt too much for me to mention for most of last week, and it hasn’t started hurting too much this week… yet.

I completed my THIRD Crossfit class this morning.  Yup… morning.  6am to 7am.  Which means, I woke up at 5am… otherwise known as Satan’s hour.  Having packed my breakfast, lunch, work clothes, towel, sweat-towel, water bottle, and running shoes the night before, I stumbled out of bed at 5 am.  I stumbled, bleary-eyed, to the washroom, brushed my teeth with my eyes closed and leaning against the bathroom counter, considered brushing my hair, and instead pulled the mass up into a ponytail without brushing it, and then snuck quietly downstairs.  All of my things piled at the side-door (at the bottom of the staircase), I stealthily opened that door, piled my arms with my things, and dashed off into the pre-dawn darkness.  5:12 am.  Why?  Because the dog would freak out if he realized that I was up, and not letting him out of his crate to take
him for a walk.  I’ve enlisted Peanut to walk him on Crossfit mornings… that means, there have already been two mornings of unhappy, sleepy Peanut walking baffled-dog at 7am, and there will be 9 more (the first crossfit was in the evening, the second was last Wednesday morning, the third was this morning)… she is only dragging her sleepy butt out of bed for the love of her sister and the furriest member of our family.  Also for the love of cold, hard cash.  Of course.

5:15 am, I was picking A up from her apartment, and we were off… gym-bound and already weary.  This morning, the instructor summarized my weights at the end of it.  I stared at her blankly, unsure why she was telling me this, and she said, “You’ve been keeping track… right?”

Um… sure.  Yes.  Yes I have. In my head.  I bet it’s somewhere in there.

So, with the new information in tow, I’ve figured out approximately what I’ve done, and it is summarized here:

June 16

Introduction to equipment and activities of the day

Four rounds of:

  • 15 Box Jumps
  • 15 Push-ups
  • 15 Pull-ups (first 2.5 rounds with one green band, remaining
    with one green  band and a black band)

Time: 16.5 minutes, ish

The days after: My arms were like noodles.  I could actually physically NOT pull the van trunk closed that weekend.  The dog hurt me every time he tried to drag on the leash.

June 22

Intro to dead-lifts – I got switched to a slightly lower weight of bar than A, and, with that 22.5 lb (junior) bar, and the weights on it, I dead-lifted 52.5 lb.  (to contrast, A lifted at least 70 lb total).  We did five sets of three reps.

Then, timed, we did:

Kettle Bell Swings:Pushups:Squats

21:21:42 + 15:15:30 + 9:9:18

Time: 12:34 ish

The Days After: I spent the following two days walking like a cowboy.  My legs hurt so much, I was bending to reach things on the ground like a decrepit 150 year old with joint problems, and lowering my bum down to the toilet seat was … a process…  This distracted me from my arms, however, which weren’t all that bothered except when I lifted them past shoulder height.

June 27, 2011

5×5 Squats with a bar loaded with weight on our shoulders.  I did about 47.5 lb (including the bar), and A made it up to about 82.5 lb.

Then, we had to do as many sets in 7 minutes of:

10 push-press (just the bar… 22.5 lb.  You start it at your chest, and lift it up until your arms are straight over your head, then return it to your chest)

75 skips

Reps:  I made it three full cycles, and 5 push-presses, while A made it over 4 full.

The Days After: Well… I feel fine now.  But we’ll see.  Also, I really need to practice my skipping, because right now, I do two jumps for every loop of the rope… one big jump, and a second ‘slow my landing’ type baby-hop right after it.  It’s like JUMP-ump.

The Plan:  Mondays and Wednesdays they offer a Groupon class at 6am… we will be there those days until we finish the last of the 12 classes.  If you don’t hear from me again soon, know that I died, or that my arms fell off.  I am not likely to be proficient at
toe-typing.  I think my big toe would interfere a lot in the process, as it is very large, and the rest of my toes, while move-able, aren’t all that strong.

Also part of the plan – get proficient/strong enough to keep up with A in the realm of weight-lifting.  I don’t really foresee this as being possible… but one can dream!  And until then, hopefully the teacher will stop apologizing when she says I shouldn’t add any more weight to my bar while A is adding more to hers.  Really… I’m ok with it!  If I tried to keep up with A, I would be squashed like a bug.  And, hopefully, we’ll do more pull-ups… because I can definitely do that more proficiently than things with weighted bars.

Training: A New Challenge, and Anxiety All ‘Round

I’ve decided to stop putting these training updates at the bottom of other posts, because they increase my wordcount from ‘hey, stop by and skim through this sometime, it could be entertaining’ to ‘take an hour out of your day and read this intimidatingly long essay that may or may not be entertaining, but certainly doesn’t seem like something you can just skim’.  Not that my non-training-update-filled posts don’t tend to get a bit over-long, but this way, I’ll at least stay on topic…ish.

So… since the weekend, my exercise towards being capable of doing my fundraising Ride for MS has been:

Saturday – not much, except walking… we went to Woofstock (see this post by my sister that covers it a little bit), which means most of the walking was at the slow-shuffle pace of all large crowded places.

Sunday – re-introduced Gwynn to rollerblades. We actually made it around the block!  Slowly, and with many sudden stops for him to sit huddled miserably, tail tucked.  I felt like a monster.  However, we figured out a good system.  Doodle would stay with huddled-Gwynn while I rollerbladed the next stretch of road.
She would then follow, and he’d keep up excellently.  It was kind of like we were proving to him that I wasn’t about to suddenly fall at any moment, and that I can, in fact, rollerblade.  He went with me a few times as well, though he is definitely still quite sure that my doom-by-rollerblade is imminent.  Clearly, however, my wearing of knee pads (that’s the difference from last time) was enough to prevent me from falling.  All in all, a success.  After dropping him off
after our slow-crawl of a roller-blade around the block, Doodle and I rollerbladed 10 km (!) through the waterfront trail.  Great success!  Next time, will bring water, because our only access to water was at the turning-point of our trip, where we elegantly and with panache slurped water out of the automatic taps in the public washroom.

Monday – walk… though more like hobble, because rollerblading works muscles in my bum-region that rarely see the light of activity.

Tuesday – long walk with Gwynn and Sadie, then off to dog obedience class, where we were less dunce-like, apart from Gwynn’s random spaz moments.

Wednesday – three hours of walk, then a 20 km bike ride.

Thursday – Tonight is my first attempt at Cross-fit.  Another groupon-adventure, this time it is 12 classes over the course of 3 months.  And since purchasing, I have become increasingly concerned about how I’m going to survive it!  This is INTENSE.  Their classes seem crazy-hardcore and kind of terrifying.  A and I spent Thursday emailing back and forth with increasing anxiety about this class.  The best part?  Apparently we’re the ONLY people registered for the class.  GULP.  An hour in which a hardcore instructor of cross-fit will kick our sorry un-coordinated asses up and down the room doing purposely random exercises that include weights and possibly even attempting to lift oneself up by the arms.  My arms are as strong as over-cooked spaghetti noodles.  I do a lot of things involving my legs… my arms?  Not so much.  My push-ups are a sad, sad affair,
and generally result in trembling arms barely out of ‘dead straight and elbows locked’ position as I do half as many half-assed pushups as the rest of the class does full-push-ups.  And this is even with the sissy knee-on-the-floor pushups!

Friday, there will be an update on crossfit… if I can lift my arms enough to operate a keyboard!  I’ll have more of an idea of just what it is (apart from scary), and how well (poorly) I did in it

A New Spin on Things

This weekend, apart from successfully posting on the weekend, at a time in which I wasn’t even near an internet connection, my computer, my house, or any way in which to reach out and click ‘publish’, I actually got out and biked. 

I know… you’re shocked.  And I don’t blame you – I haven’t been very good at the focusing on the goal part of things the past week or so… my poor bike has been sitting sadly in my garage, rather like the bike in those bran cereal commercials.  However, this weekend, I did more than just stare at my bike.  I started off staring at it and the bike-rack that worked so very well on my van, but that looked kind of ridiculous and unsafe when we finally adjusted it so that it fit on my car.  The only way we could adjust it left the things you hang your bike on hovering right about palm-height… when I have my arms straight up over my head.  The tops of the bikes would have been about two feet above the roof of my car.  I might have to buy a bike-rack in the near future.  We packed the bikes in the car instead.

A quick note on taking the front wheel off your bike:  This isn’t something I thought was necessary to clarify, but I was proven wrong this weekend.  The thing you need to know about taking your front wheel off your bike is this:  Deflating the tire to get it out from between the brakes is never the solution!  Bikes are designed so that you don’t need additional tools (like a bike pump) when you go to put the wheel back on.  Google how to do it for your particular type of brakes, or check out bicycletutor.com for some good videos and explanations. 

We spent the weekend biking between wineries in the Niagara on the Lake wine region.  They had an event set up in which you bought a ticket and went to the 26 wineries of Niagara on the Lake, and they gave you a sample of wine and a food that they’d created to go with it.  We did all 26 wineries in two days, though we didn’t bike to all of them on the second day, for reasons that I will explain further on. 

Biking was glorious – and definitely what I needed to remind me that biking outdoors is a thousand times better/more fun/less sauna-like than doing a spin class.  That is one of the things I struggle with the most – I love biking, really, I do.  But, after a whole winter of walking-as-my-primary-exercise, the idea of getting on my bike is hugely intimidating.  I have trouble thinking of it as anything other than a ‘do exercise’ type device until I’m actually on it and remember how very NOT like running or doing a spin-class it is.  The major advantage that being on a bike outdoors has, compared to being on a stationary bike or running:  you can glide!  On downhills or flat places, when you want to just watch the scenery, when you want to grab a sip of water, whenever!  You can glide … and you can go really really fast without expending a huge amount of energy.  And it is glorious.

The first day, M, A, B and I made it to 14 wineries – we got to try an assortment of reds whites and ice wines, with an assortment of chicken, beef, pork,  shrimp and vegetarian appetisers to go along with them. 

This was M’s first time riding a bike for at least four years – she hadn’t even been sure where it was stored before this weekend.  She is, however, very hardcore into exercising and does a lot of running, so I wasn’t at all worried about bringing her along for an epic biking trip.  After all – none of us had ridden since the fall.

For that reason, I wasn’t terribly concerned when, while M was leading the pack on the way home, she slowed down a bit – it’s been a long day of riding, no worries, everyone’s tired.  And then she slowed down some more.  And then slowed down again.  Um… k… we’re going less than 15 kph at this point, this is kind of slow, but I figured, no-one else was commenting on this, so maybe they were more tired than me.  She pulled over, then, and announced that she absolutely had to stop. 

Note about biking in general: If it hurts so much that it is causing uncontrollable tears to stream down your face… you should have stopped a while ago!  In fact, if it hurts a lot, you should stop… or slow down… or modify what you are doing… regardless of the sport you are participating in!  “No Pain, No Gain” = LIES.

Yup… M biked for about half an hour (with all the rest of us unaware of it) with a steady stream of tears falling down her face.  Was it because she wasn’t as fit as us?  Nope… it was because she has knee damage from her soccer-playing youth that meant that one of her knee caps is sitting a bit off, and was grinding against her leg bones.  And so, somewhere around the 40 km mark, her knee started to hurt more than a general mild-discomfort, and it started hurting so much that she was crying.  And then she kept pedalling anyways.  Why?  Because she didn’t want to ruin the ride back for the rest of us, and she didn’t want to appear wimpy.

For all future exercise-ey plans I have with her, I will be checking in more regularly with her health status, because she is clearly not competent to make the ‘stop before you hurt yourself’ judgement call.

B and A biked back to the hotel, picked up a car, and came back to pick up M and her bike.  In the time it took them to do all that, we continued towards the hotel, walking, as it wasn’t something that caused M’s knee to shoot pain.  Impressively, we walked about 5 km like this, including a fairly steep hill.  That’d be the pink part on the map. 

The map:  the route that starts at the SW corner of the map (at our hotel) is our Saturday route.  dotted lines are just dotted so that you can still see the ‘going there’ line that is underneath it.

I biked from M’s pickup point back to the hotel, partly because I’d been enjoying biking so much, and partly because I felt like I was copping out on the whole bike plan, if I were to get into the car and go home as well.  I might be stubborn, but know this: I will stop doing ANY activity looooong before the pain brings me to tears.

On the second day, we started off driving to some of the wineries where we’d liked the wine a lot, to pick up a bottle or two.  We also stopped at the Ice house in order to get ice wine slushies… because ice wine slushies just sound too amazing to miss out on, and they ran out on Saturday. 

We drove some of the wineries with a longer distance between them, and then parked one car and B, A and I rode the remaining wineries from there.  M drove and met us at the wineries, taking the extra time she had to tour about and see a bit more of the countryside. 


Saturday – glorious sun the entire time we were biking, and some spectacular sun-burns on half our group.

Distance Biked: 50 km

Distance Walked with bike: 5 km

Sunday – briefly threatened to rain, but never acted on it – kind of nice to bike with cloudy/chill weather.

Distance Biked: 27 km

Distance Walked with Bike: only a few walks across roads that were crazy-busy.

Pictures will come sometime tonight or tomorrow – I got back home after dinner in NOTL at about 8:30, and was in bed before 10pm… my camera is somewhere in the things I unloaded from my car, but certainly hasn’t been emptied yet.  My legs feel surprisingly well, considering all the biking we did – apparently all the walking I’ve done this winter has helped maintain some kind of leg muscle!  No cycling tonight, but tomorrow will happen, either spin class or actual biking.

Training Tricks Week 2

First and foremost… the best way to ensure that your dog learns the tricks is to actually practice them, something I pretty much failed at this past week.  To be fair, I was crazy-busy a lot of the time.  My hectic schedule for the week included a deep clean of our basement, to make it liveable for some of the guests we’re having over this weekend, helping out with DECA judging, dog obedience class, cross-country skiing, going to the Days of Wine and Chocolate tour in Niagara on the Lake… by Tuesday night I was so exhausted, I felt like I was jetlagged.  So, Tuesday night was our only practice day, and we did not conquer the ‘backup’ trick. 

We didn’t conquer it in the prep time in class either, unfortunately.  Dog was basically circling backwards – any way he could move to avoid going in a line, he used.  I was seriously beginning to think my dog was a failure at life, but luckily, we moved on to other tricks, and I rediscovered the smart puppy buried deep inside my dog when he wasn’t showing his obsession with going to check out what treats the other dogs were getting (Seriously, Dog… you get dehydrated liver and home-made pumpkin biscuits… you have no reason to be so obsessed with what they’re getting.  You didn’t even like that type of treat when I bought it for you!).  However, we did learn some of the things you can do with the backup command, so I’ll pass those on to you all, and wish you the best with the walking in a straight line.  Anyone with other suggestions for teaching backup, please post… I need some help with this one!

“Backup” adaptations

Backup with me – You and your dog back up, standing side by side and facing in the same direction.  If your dog does ‘backup’ well, but starts curving around when you’re doing it beside him, try practicing right up against a straight piece of wall.  Slowly working your way away from the wall will help them figure out that they have to stay next to you for the trick. 

Backup through my legs – fairly self explanatory, and very cute.  Once you get your dog into the position between your legs, it’s pretty impressive to see them backup without being lured or pushed, through your legs.

Backup and do a trick – that way, your dog isn’t performing ‘Bow’, or ‘play dead’ right at your feet (or, in Dog’s case, on your feet), which gives your audience a better show.

“Twist and Turn”

The aim of this trick is to get your dog to spin in a tight circle in one direction (twist) and then the other.  Dog is picking up on this fairly quickly, and even did a few without an actual treat in my hand (though, to be honest, I had so much treat-smell on my hand, he might have thought there was one).  Standing by your dog, you lure them in a full circle, so that their head returns to the place it started at, and give them the treat.  The instructor used a favourite Frisbee for teaching this to her dog.  For us, an actual food treat worked best, though maybe eventually he’ll become attached enough to a toy to want to chase it in circles.  We worked on counter-clockwise, and will be trying clockwise once we get that one down.  Apparently dogs can seem right or left handed for this trick – sometimes they just don’t get the other direction, or they aren’t anywhere near as good at it as the other way.

“Play Dead”

One of the people in our class had already trained his dog in this, and did a fantastic demo – this is how I want Dog to do this one!  He got his dog to backup, then aimed his finger gun at her and said, BANG.  She rolled from standing onto her back, in a very dramatic death scene.  Hilarious!  I doubt he trained her in the cautious semi-staggering start of the roll but it was perfect, like a cheesy death-collapse.  He said he learned this off a youtube video, so that could be your source of inspiration for this one, if you prefer a visual on how to teach your dog the trick.

It figures that our instructor picked Dog for the demo of teaching this – he is strangely anti-roll-over, despite my many attempts at teaching him.  I’ve gotten into the habit of starting off trying to teach him to roll over, giving up, and finding that he’s doing something else that warrants ‘trick training’, so I put a word or signal on that instead.  I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad that she failed at roll-over as well – happy that it isn’t just me failing at dog training, but sad that she didn’t fix this issue for me.  While we were practicing, though, we actually got him to roll onto his side a few times, and right over onto his back and then his other side – there’s hope for us yet!

The trick itself is taught in stages – you start off getting your dog to lie down on his side on command, then proceed to rolling onto his back, then you teach it from a distance, and add a signal or command that represents the entire thing.  To get your dog to roll onto his side, you get him into a down, and draw a treat up over his head/neck area from the side you want to be up, and reward him when he gets into a full lie down on his side.  You’ll progress this, continuing with moving the treat until he’s lying on his back, or rolled entirely over.  It should be short steps to get from this to one continuous roll, which means you’ve got ‘roll over’.  You could teach roll-over to be something they do a few times in a row, or you can go on to teaching the play dead.  Once you’ve got roll-over, you want to train them to lie down and roll over once on a single command or command and hand-signal.  I think the clicker is really going to help with this one.

“Shake a Paw”

We already trained Dog to do this one, so I’ll explain my method of teaching him, and then the trainer’s.

With Dog lying down or sitting in front of me, I would slap the ground in front of me with my hand.  If your dog is like mine, he’ll quickly start smacking either your hand or the ground near it pretty quickly.  If he doesn’t seem to be picking up on this, try tapping the paw, and then smacking the ground.  Every time your dog taps your hand, you click, or mark the movement, and reward it.  Once that seems to be going well, flip your hand so that it’s your palm he’s hitting.  Continue rewarding success.  To start raising your hand above the ground (at this point, you should get your dog into a sitting position if he wasn’t already), make an exaggerated movement to put your hand out (as though you’re going to slap the ground), palm up, in front of your dog.  If this doesn’t catch quickly, try tapping the desired leg and then exaggeratedly holding your hand out.  You can add the command word (Shake, or Shake a Paw, or “Put ‘er there, pardner”, or whatever) at this point, or at the point where your dog is slapping your palm while it is on the ground.  It sounds like a long process, but it only took me about 15 minutes to get him enthusiastically plopping his paw into my hand with gesture and command, and in no time at all, he was shaking hands with me (and other people) pretty much wherever I asked him to do it.

Our instructor taught it this way:  pick up the dog’s paw when he’s in a sit, mark the movement and reward.  Repeat this a few times, and (as we saw with the dog she was using as an example) it doesn’t take long before the dog realises that ‘paw in the air = treat’.  Eventually, holding your hand out should make the dog want to put their paw in it, in order to get a treat.  Since not all dogs are as interested in the ‘slap game’ as Dog, this method is probably more generally applicable, and probably wouldn’t take too long to do.


Once you’ve got shake-a-paw down, it’s fairly simple to progress to wave – our instructor used us as a demonstrator yesterday, and it worked on the first try.  Standing a bit further back from your dog than if you were going to ask for a shake, hold your hand out (not close enough for him to reach), and ask him to shake.  He will likely lift his paw (click, or mark to reward this), and might actually reach out towards your hand, in a way that looks very much like a wave.  Dog picked up on this quickly, and I don’t think it’ll take too much time to switch from holding my hand out to waving my hand. 

I am definitely hopeful that my instructor will decide to do more trick classes – they’re very entertaining, and she has a lot of solutions I would never have thought of for making a trick work.  It is also helpful in furthering my goal of Dog listening to me even when there are other dogs around.  Obedience class is good for that as well – he’s learning that at the beginning and end of the class, he gets time to greet the other dogs, but that, when he’s being asked to sit, he really does need to sit, and not try to go off and hang out with the other dogs. 

It seems unlikely that I’ll have much time in the next week to practice tricks (craziness is on tap, with hardly any time for sleep/relaxation, let alone convincing Dog to backup in a straight line), but I’ll do my best, and try to post some success-videos of tricks soon.  Once I’ve got these ones down, I’ll be looking for new things, so post if you’ve got an idea for something hilarious for Dog and I to learn.

Training Tricks

Last night, Tall Sister, Dog and I went to a trick training class organized by our obedience class instructor.

Last week, before obedience class (this is connected, I swear!) we took Dog, and his blonde friend, on a long walk… like, nearly two hours long.  Not only two hours of walking, but also a large portion of that was off-leash, with the blonde mystery lab (I’m fairly sure that the non-lab half might be greyhound, because she’s the leanest, most petite lab I’ve ever seen, and can run as fast as the vizslas in the park), which meant he did A LOT of running.  Dog loooooves her with a passion, and she loooooves being chased, so it really is a perfect match, if the goal is leaving them both tuckered out.  My hopes with this was that Dog would be less his normal around-dogs-self during the class.  Because, his around-dogs-self completely ignores me, even when I’m wafting the delicious scent of dehydrated chicken liver in his face, even when I’ve retreated to the corner of the room furthest from other dogs.  It was a great success – he was his mostly-obedient self, and focused on us, and the treats we had for him, with only a few OMGDOGS!!! moments.  So, with this resounding success behind us, we took him on a slightly less epic trek before heading out to Trick Class, blonde friend and all. 

We dropped blondie off at her house at the end of the walk, and Dog hopped back into the van without too much fuss (another recent win on the books!).  It was once everyone was in their appropriate seats that we deviated from what Dog would normally expect us to do, namely, Go Home and feed the dog. 

We were a bit early (I make assumptions in my driving that get lost on the way to a new destination is a step that Google failed to include when calculating driving times, so I am often the nerd who arrives 15-20 minutes early), and followed the directions that led us to an empty room in the basement – not exactly the best way to convince Dog that driving places isn’t torture.  Dog looked around, and then looked up at us, as though to say, “Seriously?  This is what we did all that unnecessary driving for?”

He quickly figured out that this was meant to be an exciting thing for him when the other dogs started showing up!  There were a surprising number of dogs there, some of which were in our obedience class, but most of which were not – Oh BOY, says Dog, New Friends!!

What we learned this class:

“Stand” and “Back up”

Apparently, this less-than-exciting first lesson will be used paired with other tricks, to make tricks extra amazing and exciting.  But for now, it was kind of ‘meh’.  Maybe once I don’t have to do the awkward penguin-cowboy walk to get him to back up, it’ll be more exciting.  Basically, holding a treat, we encouraged Dog to ‘Stand’ (as in, ‘not sit’, to get him out of a sit, in order to back up or do whatever else), and then, holding the treat up against his nose, walked forwards, and rewarding him for walking backwards and not sitting.  He was inclined to sit or try to go around us when we did this.  Thus, the penguin-cowboy walk – a slow shuffle with legs wider than normal-walking-distance-apart, arms akimbo, rocking side to side a bit to prevent him from dodging around.  We’re definitely going to have to work on that one – we got him to back up one or two paces before sitting or just stopping movement all together.  If you have any tips or suggestions on how to make this one work, post them!

“Take a Bow” 

This one, we’d actually started working on by ourselves over the past while.  Basically, it looks like a dog going into a big stretch, or wanting to play – front half down, front paws out in front, bum in the air.  The way we initially taught him was to slap at the ground in a “lets play” kind of way, and clicking (clicker training teaches the dog that the click means a treat is going to follow – so that you can mark the exact moment he’s doing something right, but don’t have to give him the treat immediately – he now knows he’s done it right, and that he’ll get a treat in a moment.), or saying “YES” (the equivalent of clicking) when he bowed in return.  We got to the point that, if he was in the right mood, crouching a bit and slapping your knee three times would usually get him to bow.  The way she taught it was to get a dog into ‘stand’, and draw the treat down between their front legs, until they crouched their front end.  A trick she gave us for if the dog is really set on just lying down to get the treat, and it’s a medium/large dog, you can hold the treat under a chair, and he will have to crouch his front end down in order to get the treat – it worked really well for one of the other dogs in the class.  For smaller dogs, you can do the same thing, by sitting with your legs out in front in a triangular shape, and luring your dog under that space. 

“Winding through legs” 

This one was a bit tricky, because Dog isn’t exactly petite.  Tall sister had much more success at it than I do, because she’s taller than me, and has a higher leg : total height ratio than I do – much longer legs, much bigger spaces to lure Dog through.  For now, we’re still at the using lures phase, but eventually, we should be able to say something (“Through”… “Wind” (not like the thing that blows through trees, but like winding your way down a path)… “Weave”… I think we might try to make it “Weave”, now that I think further on it.) that makes him do this trick.  The trick, for people with large dogs, involves walking like a giant midway through terrorizing a city, while the dog weaves from the center of your body through your leading leg, and around, then across your body, through your other leg (which, once the dog was through the first leg, is stepped forward to create a new space), and repeat.  Kind of a travelling figure 8 pattern.  When using a lure, the trick involves standing with your legs wide apart in an almost-Warrior-pose, for an indeterminate period of time, pretzeling until your treat-bearing hand is reaching around your front leg from the outside, and doing whatever is necessary to convince your dog that he wants to come through your leg, then giving him that treat only when he’s come around front of that leg.  It was good exercise, at any rate.

Now I just need to practice these tricks with Dog, enough so that we can go to next week’s class without completely embarrassing ourselves!  If you have any suggestions for a good trick to teach Dog, or suggestions about how to train a trick, post them, and I’ll do my best.  Once he’s got some of his tricks down a bit better, I’ll post some videos and pics of him doing them.