Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013: The Year in Dogs

 It's a little late for a retrospective post, but here goes.


The achievement prize goes to Katie, who earned her Rally Level 1 title along with an Award of Excellence (for high scores).  Katie is a terrific Rally partner--cool as a cucumber under pressure.  One look at her happy face, and I smile back and remember the whole point is that we're having a good time together.

Arlo's 2013 achievements don't involve ribbons, but are no less significant.   He and I have been developing as a team, and I'm so proud of his efforts.  In the past year we've improved just about all of our Rally skills, learned the beginnings of "go out" and a formal retrieve.  But Arlo's biggest accomplishment may be his improved behavior around other dogs.  Thanks to hard work on both our parts, rather than acting out (lunging, barking), he now lets me know whether he'd like to greet or ignore other dogs when we're out walking.  He's still tentative in inside spaces, but we're working it out.

My favorite Rally photo of 2013.
And, finally, a BIG shout out to the wonderful dogs and their excellent humans from the Third St. Family Dog Training Program who earned CGCs and TDIs.  WTG! 


Katie celebrated her 11th birthday on March 20, and Arlo celebrated his second adoptaversary on June 5.

A less celebratory milestone was saying goodbye to The Dog Course, which had its final run last spring with a truly fabulous group of Lafayette students.  Highlights included a trip to the Lakota Wolf preserve, the annual Campus Dog Show, and a new assignment, based on an essay by Alexandra Horowitz, in which students followed one of my dogs around a block on College Hill and then wrote about what they learned from that experience about the canine umvelt.  The Dog Course was part of Lafayette's Values and Science and Technology (VAST) program, which was eliminated from the new curriculum.  I plan to offer a revised version of the course as a First Year Seminar, but I am very sorry I will no longer be teaching it as a VAST course.  VAST was a unique feature of Lafayette's curriculum, and it's a shame to see it go.

New Friends

Arlo's better behavior around unfamiliar dogs meant that he made some new friends, including Franz, service-dog-in-training Eli, and some cool dogs at Four Paws Playground.

Other Cool Stuff

For the past couple of years, I've been part of a small group of trainers who meet about once a month to train, or watch a training video, or just socialize our dogs.  This year we attended a couple of really excellent workshops together (BAT with Grisha Stewart, and The Human Half of Dog Training with Rise van Fleet).  We also decided to try Treibball, which is a newish sport where a dog, with the help of directions from a handler, herds giant balls into a net.  We took a workshop together in January and then more classes over the summer.  Treibball looks easy, but is actually pretty challenging because your dog has to be able to work away from you.  And, like most handlers, I have spent a LOT of time teaching Arlo to stay right beside me.  But because it's a challenging sport to train, it's also really satisfying when you see progress.  Here's Katie showing off her skills.

Finally, Arlo and I also did our part for dog science by contributing a video to the study on dog-human play at Alexandra Horowitz’s dog cognition lab.

2014 Projects

I know a year-end post should probably end with grand plans for the coming year.  But I'm in kind of a wait-and-see mood.  Arlo and I are entered in our first Rally Trial in April, so I'm sure I'll be writing more about training for that.  Mostly, at the beginning of this new year, I'm thankful that I share my life with two wonderful dogs who keep me grounded and remind me not to take myself too seriously.  

Best wishes to everyone for a happy new year. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I have your sock! Chase me!

I think I may have posted this photo of Katie before.  It's one of my favorites.  In her younger days, Katie loved to take things and have us chase her.  In this photo, she stole a sock from the laundry basket.  Either I hadn't noticed, or I was trying to ignore her.  I can't remember.  But she was showing me she did, indeed, have my sock and would I please chase her?

Katie taught us this game a long time ago when she was a puppy, and the rules have evolved over time.  At first, the game was that she'd steal something and we'd make a huge fuss trying to get it back.  Like most dogs, she discovered that was a really fun game, and so she played as often as she could.  Eventually A. and I got a clue, and instead of chasing her, introduced some new rules.  First--we needed to teach her a drop-it cue.  NP there.  Katie was a quick learner.  I can't remember exactly what I did--it was a long time ago--but if I were doing it now, I'd use this wonderful approach by Chirag Patel.  In fact, when we adopted Arlo, I used this method and he now responds better than Katie ("better" = he'll drop cat poop, Katie won't drop cat poop for anything).

The second thing we did was to ignore her if she stole something we didn't care about (e.g., a paper towel, a cardboard box).  When we did that, pretty soon, she'd start following us around with the stolen goods--like she's doing in this photo--to let us know that she had something.  Lightbulb!  Katie's love of stealing things was mainly a request for attention and engagement.  And we had been positively reinforcing her request by chasing her around.  Additional plus, by ignoring her, we weren't at risk of ruining our cue.  (Before the cue was solid, we did have to keep things she couldn't have out of her reach.  All part of us getting a clue.)

Finally, because stealing things and being chased was one of Katie's most favorite games (again, because we'd inadvertantly reinforced it so early on), we purposely played it more often but using things she could have, like her toys.  One thing Katie taught me is that if sometimes drop-it means she gets the toy back, then she's more likely to respond to the cue in other situations.  (If "drop-it" always means the fun stops, then where's the fun in that?  It took me awhile to get this, but Katie is a patient teacher.)  Katie is 11 now, and she still loves for us to chase her.  She doesn't move as fast, but the game still gives her so much pleasure.

Here's another idea, from a trainer friend, for outwitting a thieving dog.  My friend's dog loved to steal towels (Katie used to love that as well).  So, rather than get into a game of chase, she put away the nice towels, and hung up old ones she didn't care about.  After a few days, when the dog realized no one cared if he stole a towel, he lost interest in the game.  I love this approach, because it's so simple.   Let the dog figure things out for himself.   Sure you can take towels, but no one cares.  What do you think of that?

If you have a dog who steals and then shreds stuff, this approach might not work.  Or it might--if what the dog has is something you really don't care about, then let him shred away (so long as he's not ingesting anything).  He might figure out that shredding is less fun when no one is chasing or shouting at him.  Or he'll have some fun shredding stuff.  I regularly let my dogs shred stuff.  And sometimes I play with them.  Arlo LOVES playing tug-of-war with an old box and turning it into tiny pieces that can be scattered all over the house.  (Yes, it's a mess to clean up.  But, hey, if you have dogs, when is there not some mess you're cleaning up?)

Bottom line:  I don't think there's any substitute for teaching your dog to give stuff up on cue--because eventually you are going to need to take something from him.  And while your dog is learning (and teething), you want to manage the environment--i.e., don't leave stuff around that you don't want him to have.  But you'll probably get a more reliable response when you ask your dog to drop something if most of the time the cue results in fun and games rather than always indicating loss of a prize.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Spring Gardening

Potatoes, eggplant and cucumbers.
 This weekend's garden work included planting cucumbers and beans and finding creative (sustainable, organic) ways to get on top of the weed situation, which is intense.  

In some places (especially between beds), I'm reusing last year's weed block fabric topped off with a layer of straw (mostly because that looks nicer than weed block alone), which I don't love because the weed block isn't  biodegradable.  But it's what I had.  And it definitely does the job.  An additional bonus is that it may generate enough heat to kill the weed seeds underneath.

In other places, I'm using newspaper topped off with a generous layer of compost and then straw.  I think (hope!) this is going to work especially well for potatoes.  When it's time to hill them, I'm thinking I can just remove the straw and spread the (hopefully not weedy) compost around the plants.  I did one potato row last night as an experiment.  I'll do the other 3 this week.

I also bought 5 of these mulch blocks from Gardener's Supply.  I was really excited when I found them because they're organic and biodegradable.   They received hundreds of positive reviews on the web site, and they're MUCH more convenient than bags of mulch.  (The package even has a convenient carrying handle.)  So far, I used one block on top of weed fabric to cover a path between two beds.  Each block is supposed to cover 200 square ft.  But if you want a thick layer of mulch (which I do), then of course coverage is less.  And I don't love the color--kind of a reddish brown.  On the website, customers liked that the product held its color.  I'm actually hoping it fades.

Lettuce, kale and the first peas and snow peas.
Last week's weather was lovely.  This week the forecast is for heat and more heat--I'm not sure if that will do in my peas and snow peas, which have just started to come in. 

Also making an appearance are our first raspberries, which shouldn't mind the heat.  Spinach, however, has bolted.  I'll be pulling that out and using the space for something else--maybe some flowers.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Retrieving with Arlo

Last week I posted a video on my FB page of Arlo and me practicing our obedience retrieves.  I thought I'd re-post here and talk some about the training we've been doing lately.

For the past few months, we've been taking a beginner obedience class (at Let's Speak Dog)--not so much because I imagine we'll compete (we're a long way from thinking about that), but instead because I wanted to learn more about training for this sport.  In addition, while Arlo's elbow has been heeling, we've been on a break from agility and, in addition to continuing with Rally, were looking for something else to try.

I like the focus and the concentration required for formal obedience--these are good things for Arlo, (world's most environmentally sensitive dog) to work on. 

Watching this video, I think about just how hard he's working to do what I'm asking.  Arlo LOVES to retrieve, but to learn a formal obedience retrieve he had to re-learn a bunch of stuff:  e.g., wait while I throw the dumbbell, pick up the dumbbell in the middle, sit in front of me and wait until for the release cue (which for us = "give"). 

 Like many before us, we backchained our retrieve.  (There are lots of good "how to" videos on YouTube--unfortunately, I can't find my favorite one at the moment.)  That Arlo willingly takes anything was both an advantage and disadvantage.  He willingly took the dumbbell, but asked to hold it for more than a second, he wanted to play with it.  :)  So I had to be really precise with the clicker, and increase duration of the hold in tiny tiny increments. 

The next step was learning to pick up the dumbbell from the ground.  Again--Arlo will pick up most things when asked--but he had no idea that picking up the dumbbell from one side instead of the middle wasn't allowed.  At first, because he was so enthusiastic, I actually did reward just a few times for picking up the dumbbell any which way, returning to front, and waiting for the release.  But after that I just waited.  If he picked it up the wrong way, I said "good try," and set it back down for him to try again.  He did figure out pretty quickly that picking up in the middle earned the reward.  When he got stuck (which still happens sometimes), we just went back a step and that seemed to help.

The last step was teaching him to wait while I tossed the DB--especially difficult for Arlo who is r-e-e-e-e-e-e-a-l-l-y motivated by anything that moves!  Plus, we regularly play fetch where he doesn't have to wait (although sometimes I ask him to, just to keep things interesting).  The cue for retrieving the DB is "get it," and I'm hoping that helps him distinguish from fetch, which doesn't really have a cue.  We started with just a small toss and gradually worked up to longer and longer distances.  Sometimes he gets excited and after he's got the dumbbell will run around with it.  (It's pretty funny, actually.)  And then this week we started working outside which has been kind of like starting over.  But little by little we're figuring it out.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Various Things, Including a Visit to the Dog Park

Arlo in his new coat.
Arlo is my first short-coated dog, and as some of you know, I have been preoccupied with finding him some kind of protection against cold windy weather.  Full disclosure:  finding him a coat may say more about me than him--that is, he seems not to care much about the cold.  (100% of husbands in this house support the view expressed in the previous sentence.)  But Arlo's got such a thin coat, I can't help thinking that he should wear  something.  After some trial and error, I ended up with this one from Ruffwear.  So far, it seems to be working out.  The coat is sturdy and machine washable, it's easy to put on, and I love the green color against Arlo's tan fur.  Most importantly, once the coat is on, Arlo seems not to care too much about it--so long as we're walking, anyway.  I couldn't leave it on him inside--a precaution that has nothing to do with the coat, and everything to do with the fact that at 2 years of age, my boy is still pretty much of a chew-monster.

Katie showing off her rally ribbons.
Of course the big dog news since my last post is Miss Katie's lovely performance at her first rally obedience trial.  I was a little nervous in the ring, but she remained calm and steady and ended up with 2 Qs and a first and second place ribbon.   I couldn't be more proud of her, and I couldn't ask for a better partner.  She's my girl. 

Meanwhile, here in eastern PA it hasn't been that cold yet, but we've had lots and lots of rain (well, and also a hurricane, but that's a topic for another post) which is interfering with dog walks.  Another thing cramping our style is that Arlo has developed a slight limp, and until we figure out what's causing it, he and I are taking a break from agility.  Tuesday night agility practice has been a major energy outlet for Arlo, because it's physically and mentally challenging.  So--long story short--as a result of several things beyond my control, I've got a young dog with energy to burn.  Never a good thing.

So, yesterday I arranged an outing with a friend and her dog at Easton's new (last year) dog park.  Given what I'd read and heard about the modest size of the park, I was prepared to not have a good time.  I'd attended a City Planning meeting several years ago when plans for the park were revealed, and many of us with dogs noted that the park was w-a-a-a-a-a-a-y too small, and also that having a grass surface was probably not a smart idea because it would be quickly trashed by the dogs and turn into a big mud pit.

While yesterday's visit confirmed both of these things, as it turns out the size wasn't as much of an issue as I'd expected.  And it even worked in our favor, because the dogs were never very far away from us.  Our dogs hadn't met before, and we wanted to monitor their activity carefully, so  their staying close by was not at all a bad thing.   As some of my friends have heard me say, it hasn't been easy finding dogs for Arlo to play with.  He's a very enthusiastic player--think boxers and bully dogs who like to body slam and bat other dogs with their front feet.  He's also inconsistent about reading other dogs' cues--with some dogs (Mel's Katie, for example) he's entirely appropriate (she also gives crystal clear cues).  With other dogs, he just ignores their cues and acts like a big butthead.

In short, he's not the kind of dog I can casually let loose at the dog park, because he'd get himself into trouble.  So his play dates have been with dogs of a similar size who belong to humans whose dog training abilities I absolutely trust.

Yesterday's outing was with my friend and her Golden, also a young, rowdy, adolescent male.  I figured that either the two dogs would be a good match, or the play would escalate and we'd need to intervene.  To help things along, we first did some parallel walking so the dogs could check one another out without the pressure of having to interact.  Then once we got to the park, we let them greet on leash.  And then we finally let them run around, but still dragging leashes (this is risky for obvious reasons, so I'm not recommending it--we were right there and ready to step in if we had to--I just needed a way to be able to grab Arlo who has only a so-so recall off of other dogs).  As it turned out, they were a pretty good match in terms of energy level and play style.  We called a couple of time outs, just to calm everyone down, and rewarded the dogs for coming and chilling (I was packing steak).

The outing ended with a dip in the (freezing) Bushkill creek (the dogs, not the humans, did this) which barely made a difference in the mudball that was my dog.  But it was lovely to watch him enjoying himself.