February, 2002

February 1, 2002

Ah, February. The time goes so quickly. Pax is 16 weeks old -- just one week shy of his four-month birthday. Here's a picture. (This was my first attempt at stacking him, so please forgive the less-than-perfect pose.) If you compare it to the one at the top of the January page, you'll see that he has really grown in both height and length during the last 31 days.

I pulled out the video camera today too. I'm not well-versed in structure and movement, and I want a friend of mine to evaluate him, if she can. So here is a video of him gaiting (sort of). If the weather is nice tomorrow, I'm going to try to get pictures of him gaiting straight toward and straight away from the camera.

Also, here's something fun -- Pax and Rain playing tug with each other.

February 2, 2002

Here are the two additional videos I promised you...

Today was Pax's fifth puppy kindergarten class. We did agility obstacles -- how fun! Not all them, of course, and nothing that the pups actually had to jump over. It's important not to stress puppy joints. We started by working with a tunnel. Dana taught this through successive approximation -- she started by closing it so it was just a hoop the pups had to step through. The she opened it a few inches, then a foot, then two feet, and so on. Pax had absolutely no fear and needed no luring. I doubt she would have even needed to collapse it for him.

The class went in a continuous line, repeating the tunnel perhaps ten times. The line was too chaotic for Pax, so I went to an empty part of the room and practiced loose leash walking between turns. Dana's assistant was setting up the rest of the puppy agility equipment and set out a pause table. I took Pax over, asked him up, and cued him to down. We practiced that over and over until he would jump up and lie down by default. Great practice!

They set up a ladder on the ground (to teach the pups they have back feet), a Buja board (to teach the pups to handle something moving under their feet), jumps low enough to step over, weave poles, a pause table, and several tunnels. The rest of class was spent luring the dogs through the equipment. Pax and I opted out of a lot of that. He was wayyy distracted by the chaos, and I don't like luring him. I'd rather introduce him to those things at his own pace.

I do want to do agilty, and it just happens that a few days ago I asked the ClickerSolutions mailing list how to prepare my puppy for agility. I got so many wonderful responses!! Some of their suggestions...

  • Targeting and contacts.
  • Two-sided handling and right-side heeling.
  • Fast sits and downs.
  • Stays and waits -- particularly at a distance.
  • Trotting over poles between uprights (jumps with the poles on the ground).
  • Buja boards and other set-ups to teach the pup to like the ground moving under their feet.
  • Recalls from high distractions.
  • Ladder work.
  • Gradual intro to all obstacles, set at puppy heights.
  • Encouraging exploration of obstacles on walks that can build agilty skills.
  • Go outs, directional turns (right and left), and crosses.
  • Off-leash obedience!

I'll keep these in mind as we work on his basic obedience skills.

February 3, 2002

Speaking of agility... my husband and I went to the Seattle Kennel Club dog show today, and I got to see my first in-person agility match. What fun! How motivating. We saw the most advanced dogs -- the Excellent class -- first. Then we watched the middle-level dogs -- the Open class. (We left before Novice.) There was a pretty big difference between the Excellent and Open dogs. The Open dogs, predictably, had a lot more missed obstacles and other mistakes.

What I hadn't expected, though, was the difference in the handlers. The handlers in Excellent remained positive and calm when their dogs made mistakes. They took them in stride, staying focused on the job still to be done.

Many, many of the Open handlers got visibly upset when their dogs made mistakes -- upset with the dogs! One handler in particular stood out. He had an Afghan Hound, we had watched him warm up the dog. They were great in the warm-up ring, and he was really upbeat, even when the dog made a mistake. But man, as soon as he entered the ring, it was a different story. It was obvious that he was stressed as soon as he came in the ring -- and it was obvious in his dog's performance. I said something about it to the lady beside me before the dog made his first mistake. When his dog blew the weaves twice in a row, he grabbed it by the collar and hauled it off the course. Dude, relax.

Lesson learned: Don't take it so seriously. Even the top people aren't perfect, and some of those teams have been working at this for years. It's supposed to be fun!

February 6, 2002

At the show on Sunday, a competitor I spoke with happened to mention her "wonderful" trainer, Diana Hoyem. I know Diana, and I absolutely agree with this person's assessment. Just as my "niche" in life is writing, Diana's is teaching -- and I intend on becoming her student for both agility and competition obedience. She emphasizes things I consider important -- relationship, attention, focus (on both the dog's and the handler's part), and free-shaping. I'll start with her basic clicker training class, where she begins teaching those skills. The class starts March 4 -- I can't wait! I'm going to keep taking the classes at Paws-Abilities, however. It's a good contrast and a good opportunity for Pax to get used to working in stressful environments.

On a different training-related subject, Karen Pryor is discussing her new book, Click to Win, on the DogRead mailing list. I joined the list and am avidly following along and participating. I've added a page to Pax's training plans called "Click to Win." On that page, I'll list the exercises that Karen gives through the month and our results. When Diana's class starts, I'll probably make a page just for that as well.

You might have noticed that I pulled a couple of behaviors -- loose leash walking and the informal recall -- off the list. I'm simply not approaching those behaviors formally enough to keep records about them. I call Pax randomly throughout the day to strengthen his recall. I take him for a walk or two and reinforce him for walking in heel position -- and never reinforce pulling -- to strengthen his loose leash walking. I still devote at least one training session to each per day -- I just don't keep formal records.

February 17, 2002

Gosh, it's been forever since I made an update. That's because there's not much to tell. My weeks of inactivity and unmotivation continue. This poor puppy is bored to tears. He loves our training games, and frankly, I think our frequent games of tug and retriever are a distant second in his list of preferences.

We've done a few things since last I checked in. We went to the vet for his final set of vaccinations -- except for his rabies shot. We forgot it, so we'll have to reschedule. That's not a bad thing, in my opinion. I love taking him to the vet, and it's always such a positive experience for him that he enjoys it too. He gets lots and lots of treats, and everyone makes a huge fuss over him. Dr. S. is *great* about giving him time to get used to him, and although he handles him in what are, from the canine perspective, very rude and personal ways, he doesn't rush him. How nice to have a dog that loves the vet and that the vet loves!

We had a few days of sunshine -- unusual for the Pacific Northwest during the winter -- so one afternoon, Jay came home from work a bit early, and we took the dogs to some fields near the local commuter-train station. It was Pax's first time at a train station, his first time out on a walk with Rain, and his first time running off-leash in strange fields. He was perfect!!! He walked on a loose leash from the parking lot to the fields, even with Rain there. Once we got to the fields, he ran and jumped and played and had a marvelous time. There were tons of puddles -- some the size of small lakes -- and he ran through them without hesitation. He kept a straight line through mud, water, and brush -- great for a hunting retriever. He was delightfully responsive to all recalls and instructions.

I wish I'd had a camera or camcorder with me. There were some really cute shots of him and Rain trotting side by side up the wide path ahead of us. Big dog, little dog. Looked like brothers. At the end of the walk, Pax was exhausted, wet, slimy, and muddy. It was definitely successful!

In a few weeks, he'll hit adolescence, and my sweet, delightful, well-mannered puppy will be replaced by Demon Spawn. I hope it will hold off until six months or so, but a friend with a pup the same age as Pax is already suffering through the beginning stages. Pax is starting to get his "big dog teeth" -- the first sign of impending adolescence.

Every puppy of every breed -- and every adolescent of every species that raises its young -- goes through the same thing at adolescence. Adolescence is an important, necessary transition period between childhood and adulthood. As infants, these creatures were completely helpless, completely dependent upon their mothers for everything -- food, comfort, safety. In childhood, the creatures begin practicing the skills they'll need later. However, they do it right there with mom in sight, so mom can protect or help as necessary. They instinctively know they aren't able to take care of themselves, so they stick close.

The eventual goal is, of course, adulthood. Complete independence. Mom won't be there to make decisions -- or to alleviate them of responsibility for their mistakes. The real world will be applying consequences, and those can be harsh (even fatal). The animal will, perhaps, become a parent herself, and must have all the knowledge and skills to raise the next generation. Adolescence is the transition between the safe practice of childhood and the independent, butt-on-the-line reality of adulthood. Adolescence is the time when "Because I said so" simply isn't good enough anymore -- Nature *demands* that they test boundaries and consequences and decide for themselves what decisions they want to make. It's not dominance or rebellion. It's growing up.

Yes, even pet dogs *have* to go through this period. "But he won't be making decisions -- I will," you protest. Actually, I doubt it. Unless you're planning to be there, directing his every move 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you need your dog to know how to make decisions. More importantly, you want him to make the decision *you* want. And you want him to make this decision even when you're not there to back up the decision.

So how do we survive this period? Pups are usually *soooo* good prior to this first adolescent burst that we relax our management and begin extending their freedoms. The first thing to do, then, is tighten up on management. Off-leash probably needs to be restricted to fenced locations. Restrict the dog to the room you're in (again!). Make sure to crate the dog (or confine it in a place where you *absolutely* don't care if there's damage -- including to walls, molding, and floors) anytime you can't actively watch him.

The second thing to do is make sure the dog is well-exercised physically and mentally. They're going through a growth spurt, in addition to massive mental development. They need to exercise ALL of those muscles. Get that pup out to a safe place where it can truly run. Play games like fetch and retrieve that really work the dog. If you've got a doggy daycare, put the dog in daycare once a week and let him play himself silly (as well as learn to speak dog fluently!).

It's imperative to continue dog-dog socialization through adolescence. They are going through massive changes, and they need to learn to relate to their species on a different level. Lots of dog-dog aggression shows up in adolescence not because the dogs are innately aggressive, but because they are changing mentally and physically and haven't learned to communicate effectively as a teenager.

Train, train, and train some more. When the dog is at his "worst" go back to basics -- set him up to succeed. You may not make a lot of progress as far as reliability and precision during this time -- at least not on the surface. But you *can* make a lot of progress as far as setting a foundation for future learning. This is when you teach the dog that you are the giver of all things and that making the choices you like results in GREAT things. This is when you build a reinforcement history for basic choices, so he will choose those behaviors when you're not there to watch and control. Be patient in training. There will be lots of times he won't be able to concentrate. Work through it by focusing on the basics. Or, instead, choose something new and fun that *will* catch his interest. Do tricks. Do discrimination exercises. Just don't worry about precision for a couple of months.

Be consistent during this time. Control the resources (and therefore the consequences). This is a GREAT time to institute a nothing-in-life-is-free program like "Leading the Dance." Most of all, maintain your sense of humor, and chant the adolescent-dog-owner mantra: "This will end."

Only time will "cure" the demon-spawn behaviors, but truly, you *can* manage and survive.

We're going to be back on task soon -- one way or another. Pax starts his basic obedience class on Tuesday, and he's starting his clicker class on March 4. Just last night, I got started on another project, so perhaps gettingback on task in that respect will help me get back on task in all respects. Goodness knows this baby needs the challenge!! He's such a learning sponge and such a delight!

February 20, 2002

Last night was Pax's first Basic Obedience class. The last twenty minutes were a nightmare, and he and I both came home frustrated and upset. The worst thing about it was that it was all my fault that things went badly -- I set him up to fail in every possible way.

  • I haven't worked with him -- really -- since early/mid January.
  • I took him to this class knowing full well that he would have to sit still for most of two hours(!!) and then be asked to do a bunch of heeling in a group of dogs.
  • I know that he gets easily distracted with other dogs around, even when his attention span isn't stretched, but I didn't work on desensitizing him.
  • And finally, I put him in a situation where he pulled, pulled, pulled on leash and I took steps forward anyway, backsliding the loose leash work I've worked so damn hard on.


Deep breath. Regroup.

So today I started righting the wrongs.

Step one, I'm instituting Sue Ailsby's "Leading the Dance." (I don't have a good link for it, I'm afraid. There's an outdated version out on the Web, but she has since updated it.) Rather than the "umbilical cord" she recommends, I'm instead calling Pax to heel and actually working on (off-leash) sits at heel and walking in heel position whenever I'm walking around the house or backyard. He comes with me anyway -- the umbilical cord really wouldn't have made him any more attentive to me.

Step two, we're going lots of places and working on loose leash walking. Today was a long day for him -- two long trips where he was asked to lie quietly for a long period of time. I could really see, however, how much his loose leash walking suffered from just that one class!! How heartbreaking. It's going to take some real dedicated work to get him back to where he was.

Step three, we're going to PawsAbilities as often as possible to practice, even if I can do it only in the narrow path behind the chairs. Hopefully, I can work discretely at one end of the building. It doesn't matter. He needs to learn that walking on a loose leash and focusing on mom is the default behavior there, as much as "lie down and relax" is.

Step four, in class, he is the priority, not what they're asking. I'll step to the inside of the "path" -- or the outside -- and we'll work separately if necessary. I'm not going to push him to do something he's too distracted to do -- especially if doing it negatively affects his training.

We were out a lot today, and he was really distracted whenever we were walking. Where oh where did my attentive little baby go? I don't know if this was all a result of last night's fiasco or if some of it is simply the onset of adolescence. Hopefully we can get some of his focus re-established before he starts his clicker class in early March. (That's meeting at his doggy daycare -- where he spends a full day playing every week. Oh yeah. Training and focus is foremost on his mind when he's there. <eye roll>)

Oh, by the way -- Pax (19 weeks old, 37 pounds) is eating exactly the same amount as Rain (4 years old, 115 pounds). That's scary -- cause Rain is a little chunky, and Pax is skinny. The vet was beyond amazed. Guess that's the difference between a sporting breed and a giant -- Metabolism!

February 22, 2002

I made a mistake the other day.

I thought I covered all my bases when I made my training plan.

I evaluated Pax's current level of performance; I defined the level of performance we needed to obtain; and I made a plan for getting from A to B.

Unfortunately, I left out a critical element.


I realized today that neither Pax nor I is having any fun right now. If I had worked with Pax during the last month, we might have been ready for this class. But I didn't, and I can't go back and change that. Still, I perservered, thinking we could catch up by simply buckling down. I was so focused on the goals of that class that I forgot the journey.

I was stressed. Pax was stressed. By this morning, I couldn't buy his attention. Frustrated, I considered withholding my attention except when working, so he would want to work with me more. But, I realized, I didn't *want* to do that, no matter what the payoff. My puppy is my friend -- not a commodity. Training be damned, nothing is more important than our relationship. So I contacted the instructor of our Basic Obedience class and asked to postpone our participation in this class for a few months.

Does that mean we're quitting training so soon after getting back to it? Not a chance. He's way too high energy to be a couch potato. Nope. We're not even going to back off on training -- we're just going to concentrate on behaviors we *both* enjoy, and we're going to do them at our own pace. We're still enrolled in Diana's class in March, and I have no doubts whatsoever that he will do fine in that class. Diana won't push him him to do more than he's ready for. She structures her class around the journey, not around the goal. (And yes, she's an extremely successful competition trainer. That's probably why!!)

So tonight I'm going to take Pax upstairs, cuddle with him, and apologize for the past couple of days. Then tomorrow, we're going to learn a couple of fun new tricks, go for a run near the train station, and spend some time at home just hanging out together.

February 28, 2002

Rain has been having back and/or neck trouble for a while. We did x-rays, but his vet couldn't find anything to really account for the stiffness/soreness. So he recommended a chiropractor friend of his. Rain has been there twice -- yesterday and today -- and he's like a different dog! After yesterday's treatment, he was holding his head up, neck relaxed. Today, he was holding his tail up high. He's running with the puppy and having a great time.

The two dogs came running in through the dog door a few minutes ago, and they looked like they had been having fun, so I suggested we all go outside together. With me there, Rain was letting Pax be utterly obnoxious. Finally, he'd had enough and gave a little growl. I happened to time my praise just perfectly. He was stunned. You mean it's okay??? (I never meant to discourage him before, but I'm afraid I inadvertently did.) So, needless to say, he got the puppy back in line pretty quickly.

Then they were off. Man! It's been a long time since I've seen Rain like this. He was having a BLAST chasing the puppy around the yard, through the roses and flower beds, around trees... For the most part, Pax can just lope along ahead of him (even with Rain really trying), but Rain is more experienced than he is. There were times Rain put on a burst of speed, cut a corner, and caught him. Nothing like a Newfie body-slam to send a puppy rolling. Hopefully, I'll be able to get a video of this. Tomorrow is the first of the month, so I'll put an updated picture of Pax on my Web site. He's huge! Just a week away from being five months old. Such an angel.

Gosh it's fun to watch dogs being dogs. Satch was old when we got Rain, and he was never really a... well... a dog, anyway. He was way too much of a snob to stoop to doggy activities.


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