May, 2002

May 1, 2002

I can't believe my baby is almost seven months old! I had him weighed yesterday, and one week shy of his seven-month birthday, he weighs 57 pounds. Isn't he lovely? You can kind of see his pretty curls.

I also have a picture of him in his natural habitat... on the couch.

A wonderful reader wrote me and told me that it was possible to lighten these pictures so you can see my little black pup more clearly. I appreciate the information, and when I get a graphics program, I'll do that, because he really is gorgeous.

We leave in two days for our drive down the coast to San Diego. I'm taking my computer with me, but I can't guarantee I'll have access to the Internet. I'm taking both my video camera and my digital camera, so I *should* have plenty of pics to show you when I get back.

May 8, 2002

It's Wednesday, May 8, and we're in Woodland Hills, CA, in the northern part of Los Angeles. The vacation has been wonderful so far, and the dogs have been awesome. Traveling with two dogs is very much like traveling with two children, except no one whines "Are we there yet?" every five minutes. (Except me.) Let me give you a day-by-day replay of our trip so far. Oh, and let me apologize. Yes, I have both a digital camera and video camera with me. No, I haven't gotten them out. It's enough trouble to manage two dogs without trying to shuffle a freakin' camera.

Friday, May 3

Jay took a half day off work, and we got on the road around 1:30, I think. Our first stop was just a couple of hours away -- Portland, OR. Originally, I had planned to stay with my friend Pamela. Unfortunately, she wasn't available, so we stayed at the Doubletree-Jantzen Beach, which is on an island in the Columbia Rover at the north edge of Portland. It's a very nice hotel, but we were on the second floor, and the potty area was on the far end of the hotel. A very big hotel, no less. Not terribly convenient.

The boys were wonderful travelers -- have been for the whole trip so far -- but on this first night, Pax was still very excited. Walking him was a pain -- literally. He would walk nicely, then lunge toward something interesting. We repeated this again and again and again. A Gentle Leader would have been nice, but I don't own one. I ended up with rather ugly bruises on one hand and very painful leash burns. I persisted with rewarding him for walking nicely (though I got *really* frustrated with the lunging). At this point, one person handling two dogs was nigh-to-impossible.

As I mentioned, the hotel was on the Columbia River. No beach area, just a steep hill to a rock shore. We walked the dogs down there and gambled with letting them off leash. Rain was immediately swimming in the river, which scared me, since I didn't know what the currents were like. Pax, whose previous exposure to water has been the 12-inch-deep baby pool, jumped in the river and discovered it was deeper than 12 inches. Hysterical. He looked utterly shocked. He paddled frantically and got out, tried once more, and then stuck primarily to exploring the shore.

Saturday, May 4

This was the first full day of vacation. The route took us about 150 miles further down I-5, then cut west all the way to the ocean. It was sooooo nice to get away from the city. I tolerate city life (with much complaint), but my heart is in the country -- true unpopulated country, not even small-town life.

When we reached the coast, we stopped at a state park with a beach. We actually lucked into finding one that allowed dogs off-leash, and it was virtually deserted. The downside was that the parking lot was on the inland side of a 50-foot loose-sand dune. We let the dogs off-leash on the parking side, and they took off without us. Hmmmm. Maybe this was a bad choice? So we had no choice but to push ourselves to the top of the dune. I don't know how many of you know me and Jay, but we are overweight and far out of shape. Our hearts nearly exploded during that climb.

By the time we reached the top, the boys were down the other side and almost to the ocean. We did eventually catch up to them. This was Pax's first exposure to the ocean and it's waves. It was comical watching him try to get away from the approaching water. He didn't get in the water much here. Nor did Rain, since we forgot to grab the bumper to throw for him. Pax chased flocks of birds occasionally, and I was pleased to find out his recall would call him off the chase. After everyone stretched his legs, we leashed the dogs and let them pull us up the sand dune. (No, I'm not kidding. I don't think we'd have made it back without their help.)

We drove to Gold Beach, OR, which is on the coast about 30 miles north of the California border. About 10 miles north of Gold Beach, the views were stunning -- sheer rock cliffs, sand beaches, haystack rocks, and blue ocean. We got to the hotel, which was on the beach and had a beautiful view, around dinner time. Oh, I had a really bad parenting moment at that hotel...

Pax and Rain had gorged themselves with water after playing on the beach and in the ocean earlier. When we got to the hotel, I had a phone message waiting for me, so instead of pottying the dogs immediately, I took Pax into the hotel room to return the call. He walked in and vomited -- almost all water, of course. Poor boy. Okay, not his fault. I cleaned it up and made my call. Within seconds, he walked to the door and stood there. I barely noticed, so he did the only thing he could -- he peed. Jay saw him and tried to stop him. Poor boy couldn't stop -- and he looked truly miserable. Pax hasn't had a housebreaking accident since he was 12 weeks old -- and that one was because he was afraid of the dark. I felt awful!!

We walked to the beach before eating and let the dogs stretch their legs once more. (Another bad parenting moment. When we went out, Jay took Rain to potty while I took Pax and got the bumpers out of the car. I got very frustrated with Pax pulling to get to Jay. It turns out he was pulling to get to grass. He finally stopped in the middle of the parking lot and peed. Um, Melissa, pay attention to your dog!!) On the beach it was cold and windy, and we were starving and exhausted, so we didn't stay out long. We *did* remember to bring bumpers this time, so Pax ventured into the shallow water to retrieve.

Sunday, May 5

Sunday was got up very early thanks to Pax and were on the road by 8:00. Although we hadn't intended on getting up quite so early, we weren't upset by his restlessness -- it was to be expected -- and since we had a long way to drive, getting on the road early was a good thing.

We drove Highway 101 from Gold Beach all the way to Berkeley in the San Francisco Bay area this day. God, it was gorgeous. The northern part of California on Highway 101 goes through the various redwood forests. Then the highway cuts inland just a bit and goes through rolling hills, forests, and sheep farms. We stopped for a lovely picnic lunch at Benbow State Park. The park was essentially deserted, had tables in the shade, and was situated alongside a river. Rain plunged in again and htough we were a little unnerved by the swift current, he was utterly unfazed and returned to us when we called.

Back on the road, gradually the land becomes more arid -- it's interesting to watch it happen -- and then you begin seeing vineyards. Lots and lots of vineyards. You drive through Sonoma Valley and Napa county, and then you reach the outskirts of civilization and TRAFFIC.

I hate traffic. In fact, a friend of mine recently described me as having traffic-induced Turret's Syndrome. Frighteningly accurate description. We got into traffic after those blissful days in the country, and I could feel my stress-level skyrocket.

Once we got through the traffic to our hotel in Berekeley (and managed to park), we called Greta Kaplan, a ClickerSolutions member I met a year ago and correspond with semi-regularly. She delightfully volunteered to take us to a dog park to let the boys stretch their legs. It was an utterly amazing park next to a race track and on San Francisco Bay. Not only did the boys get to cavort off-leash with tons of dogs, but they got to play on a beach too. We threw sticks for them to retrieve, and both dogs got in the water and swam. That was Pax's first real attempt to swim, and he figured it out pretty quickly. Neither was fazed by the frigid water of the Bay. Oh, and Pax impressed Greta with his goreous recall.

After the park, we picked up yummy Chinese takeout and went back to Greta's, where I got to meet Amy, another ClickerSolution's member (and one of my newest favorite people). The boys were generally well-behaved, though Pax was a bit rowdy at times. (He's a puppy, after all.) Rain is so good that it's easy to take his sweet nature for granted.

We got back to the hotel at 10:30 or so. It was a rough night. The hotel room was hot, and the damp dogs turned the place into a sauna. They had gorged themselves on water again and needed to pee frequently. We were asleep immediately, but up again shortly after 11 and again at 1:30. I told them I didn't want to get up again until daylight, so we slept until 8:30. I know that sounds like a good bit of uninterrupted sleep, but in that hot room with my ears tuned to dogs, it wasn't. The one plus was that the boys got better at walking politely on stairs during this night. Prior to this, they acted like sled dogs on stairs.

Monday, May 6

We ate a continental breakfast in the hotel restaurant with the dogs then headed back to the dog park again. This time we met up with Greta, Amy, and two other ClickerSolutions members, Mary Straus and Stacy Braslau-Schneck (and all of their dogs). What a great time! Dog people are fabulous, and we had a great time playing on the beach and then walking through the park. Pax found two long-dead gulls (ick!) and kindly brought them to me. Since I plan to teach him to retrieve dead birds later, this isn't a behavior I want to discourage. So I thanked him and took each bird away from him and hid it so he wouldn't retrieve it again. Gross -- but everyone was impressed that he brought his treasures to me and gave them up willingly.

After the dog park, we all went to lunch. Some of the dogs were left behind, but five joined us for lunch. We ate outside of a little restaurant in the heart of Berkeley. I must say six people and five dogs made quite a sight. The conversation was wonderful, and Jay and I had a terrific time. I really like all of those poeple, and I'm thrilled they took time out of their schedules to visit with us.

After lunch we were back on the road again, this time to Carmel on the south end of the Monterey peninsula. There is nothing bad that can be said about the Monterey peninsula -- particularly Carmel. (Well, except the cost of living, but what else would you expect for a slice of Heaven?) We stayed the Cypress Inn, an incredible hotel owned by Doris Day. It's very luxurious and completely dog friendly.

After checking in, we walked the dogs to dinner at a nearby dog-friendly restaurant. (One of several!) Incredible food. Pax was fairly restless during dinner, even with frequent treats for lying down. We ate on the patio, and the stone was undoubtedly quite cold. I can't guarantee that the cold ground was what was bothering him, but he hasn't been this restless before or since.

Tuesday, May 7

The next morning, the four of us ate breakfast in the hotel. The dogs garnered quite a bit of attention from the hotel staff and guests. We love telling people about our dogs, and they really are quite sweet and well-behaved. I get frustrated when Pax pulls on lead, but by this point, he was doing so much less frequently, and most of the time he behaved like a perfect gentleman. He is a *puppy* though, so when he decides to do something, he makes a split-second decision and *acts.* I just have to be on my toes all the time.

After breakfast, we drove to the Carmel Beach, a fabulous dog-friendly place where the boys could yet again play off-leash in the surf. And I mean surf. This ocean had signs up warning about the currents and tides and waves, and I believe it! Just standing ankle deep, I could feel the pull. The dogs didn't seem to notice, of course -- but we didn't throw the bumpers in very far.

After the beach, we changed clothes, checked out, and got on the road again. We took a detour and drove road G16 instead of the route Mapquest plotted for us. G16 took us through Carmel Valley. I didn't expect to like the terrain this far south because it's so dry and arid, but this valley obviously gets more moisture than the surrounding hills. It was gorgeous. Unfortunately, the road was very narrow and very, very curvy. We loved the first 20 miles, but the remaining 30 were just overkill. We were glad to get back to the straight and not-so-narrow Highway 101.

We drove to Santa Barbara this day, where we stayed with our dear friend (and ClickerSolutions member) Natalie and her husband Joe. What a fabulous night this was! Natalie couldn't have been a more perfect host. We felt right at home. She and Jay went grocery shopping and then made salmon for dinner. Then, in addition to lots and lots of fabulous conversation, we watched video of Natalie and her Bichons, Rufus and Roxanne, running agility. Natalie is awesome in agility!

Wednesday, May 8

This morning we slept late, had an even later breakfast, and then drove to a beach for fun in the surf with the dogs. I saw a small school of dolphins swimming right by the shore. Probably fortunately, I saw them when we were on our way down to the beach, not when I was on the shore. Otherwise, I probably would have gone swimming after them. I'm odd that way.

After the beach, we packed up, said our goodbyes and thank yous, and headed south again. Ove the past year, I've been taking a screenwriting class online, and the instructor, Larry Brody, lives in Westlake Village. We went there and spent a delightful two hours chatting, visiting his horses and dogs, and walking around his little ranch. I hadn't gotten to meet him in person before, so this was one of the most special events of the trip. He's the same awesome guy he is in class, and his wife Gwen is as sweet as Brody says she is.

Now it's 10:15, and we're at a hotel in Woodland Hills. I was supposed to meet another ClickerSolutions' member, Tam, at a dog park tonight, but we got delayed. Fortunately, Tam forgave us and is able to meet us tomorrow morning.

The boys have settled into the vacation and become fairly easy to handle. Either of us can walk both at once if we need to, though we prefer to handle them individually. Pax lunges much less frequently now, and when he does it's less enthusiastically and he puts himself back into heel position right away.

May 10, 2002

We've made it to San Diego. To catch you up, starting where we left off...

Thursday, May 9

We slept late, and then met Tam, Karen, and Emily at a dog park in the Woodland Hills area. They're fabulous people -- just as I've come to expect from the ClickerSolutions people I've met so far. The dog park was a big fenced area with separate areas for large and small dogs. Even though it was a weekday morning, there were a fair number of people and dogs there. Most were nice. There were a few scuffles, though, including one between Rain and Merlin -- not sure *what* caused that one because both are dog-appropriate. <grin> Maybe Merlin didn't like all the attention Rain was paying to Borias, Tam's German Shepherd. I've never seen Rain so interested in another dog.

Rain and Pax were pretty clearly exhausted and overwhelmed, not by that experience specifically, but by the trip overall. Rain is very stressed out about the whole thing. He doesn't want to eat, and he's very subdued except when he's in the water. He also misses his regular chiropractor appointments -- he's getting stiff and sore. I really don't think I'll travel with him anymore. Yes, it's stressful for him to be left home when we leave, but I think it's less stressful than coming with us.

Pax, on the other hand, is a pretty good traveler. Overall, he has been very polite and well-behaved. (So is Rain -- Rain is perfect -- but Rain is four years old, and I take that good behavior for granted. Bad me.) He was tired and over-stimulated by this point in the trip, but he just needs to rest a bit. He's resilient, and he's having an overall positive experience.

Pax turned seven months old on Wednesday, and adolescence is hitting like a freight train. In the space of two days, his recall went from fabulous to "Were you talking to me?" He is not only easily distracted, but at times is clearly not interested in anything I have to say. At times he's his old wonderful self. Then he's a teenager. God give me strength to make it through the rest of this vacation with a teenager in tow. For the next two months I'll need frequent reminders that it's normal for him to act like this, and if I just stick to basics, my sweet boy will be back.

After we left the dog park, we had a long day ahead of us and no real plans until 5:00. We considered all of our options -- Univeral Studios?, Hollywood?, Beverly Hills? -- and finally hit upon the perfect solution... Laundry. We relocated to our next hotel (in Long Beach, south of LA), and spent the afternoon at a laundromat. Exciting, huh? I just couldn't bring myself to do anything in LA. Not to sound too New-Agey or anything, but that city just resonates negative energy. You can feel it without even getting off the freeway. I didn't want anything to do with it. I just wanted to get out as quickly as possible before anything bad happened. I guess there's a reason I've never heard anything positive about LA.

At 5:00 we drove to the facility our friend Terry Long is using for agility classes. It was a lovely large, grassy field, perfect for agility. She had just set up the equipment when we arrived. After Pax and Rain exhausted themselves cavorting with her four dogs, we tried out the tunnel and chute. Rain is a very soft dog, so we took it slowly. Still, he got it very quickly, and was *soooo* impressed with himself. Pax just needed to see Rain do it once, and he was doing it at a run with the other dogs. I don't think he'll have any trouble learning the obstacles. Control maybe, but not the obstacles. Rain would never be confident enough to enjoy the stress of competing, but I may put him in an agility class for fun.

After our meeting with Terry, we went back to the hotel and called ClickerSolutions' member, Tmara Goode. Because the dogs were so tired, we decided to pick up some yummy Mexican food, and visit with Tmara in our hotel room. We ended up chatting until almost 1 AM. Late night, but great fun!

Friday, May 10

We slept late again and then headed south. We stopped in Huntington Beach to eat at a little dog-friendly cafe in the park. Pax was very restless because he hadn't been able to exercise off-leash yet. Unfortunately, plastic chairs and tables and restless puppies who are too strong for their own good don't mix well. I had him fairly settled, but then someone tied a dog nearby with enough slack that he could come and visit our table. I just couldn't get Pax's attention and finally banished him to the car while we ate. No, it really wasn't his fault, but either something was going to get broken or I was going to get hurt. I could have brought him back out once the other dog left, but I was too cranky. Unfortunate, because the experience ruined for me what should have been a lovely lunch.

After we ate, we drove the rest of the way to San Diego. The motel we booked turned out to be a total disaster. It had one double bed instead of the two queens that were promised, a semi-working phone with absolutely no instructions, no clock, no pad and pen, and some piece of cleaning equipment that they said they wanted housekeeping to retrieve but an hour and a half later still sat there. I've never seen such a bare, scaled-down room. The room was cheap, but they charged $10 a day per dog and somehow their taxes came to almost 30% of the room rate. Hmmmm. Even though we probably won't be in the room much, that place was totally unacceptable. So we found a Holiday Inn nearby and switched.

It's 7:09 now, and I'm waiting for Jay to return with my mother. She is flying in tonight and also had reservations at that awful motel. We weren't able to contact her to tell her about the switch, so Jay had to go back to the motel to wait for her to arrive. What a mess!!

The plan for the rest of the night is just to have dinner together downstairs. Hopefully, Mom will get here all right, and we can do so with no further hassles.

Saturday, May 11, 2002

Today was a mixed bag, good and bad. We drove the dogs out to Club Pet, a really cool boarding facility, this morning. Since Mom is here, I decided to board the dogs for one night (two full days) and do non-dog-stuff with her this weekend. Club Pet was recommended by two of my local trainer friends, so I'm not worried about the facilities. I miss my boys though, and I worry that they're missing me.

After we dropped off the boys, we went back to the hotel and met up with my mom and my friend Ann. First stop: San Diego Zoo. Very nice. Had an interesting talk with the elephant keeper about using clicker training to train husbandry behaviors. After the zoo, we decided to rest our feet by doing an informal driving tour around San Diego. One of our stops was Point Loma, and that's where the day took a decidedly downward turn.

After visiting the information center and checking out the incredible view of the bay and the various naval facilities below the point, we headed to the tide pools. There, in a rock cove beneath the cliff we were walking on, we found a sick seal pup. He was alone and stranded and sick. He was looking for the people to help but no help came. One woman climbed down and got within just a foot or two, but she was afraid to touch him because they bite. When she left, it tried to follow her. Eventually it just curled up, put its head down and shivered, every once in a while looking up at us and crying then putting its head down again when we didn't help. We told the rangers, and they called Sea World, but there simply wasn't enough time -- the tide was coming in. The poor pup could simply wait on the beach, shiver even in the sun, cry to the humans for help, and wait for the tide to come in and bash it to death against the rocks. My heart broke, and I cried after we left. I'm still crying.

We drove around a bit more and then went to dinner. I cheered up a bit during dinner, and then after dinner we passed a stray dog on the side of a busy road. We went back, but it was too terrified to be caught. It disappeared into a park. Another failure, but at least I tried this time. I didn't even try to save the baby seal.

I don't even want to think about the karmic debt I incurred today. (And I deserve every bit of it for my lack of action.)

Sunday, May 12, 2002

First, an update on the seal. My friend Ann, who was with us at the tide pools, is a reporter. She checked the news wire first thing this morning and found out there were two seal rescues yesterday -- and one was a pup. The adult was rescued in La Jolla, north of Point Loma. No word on where the pup was. It's possible that the pup we saw was rescued -- and equally possible it wasn't. It turns out that they've rescued seven seals in the past few days because the plankton they've been eating have suddenly begun excreting a toxin (or something like that). Ann is going to check when she gets to work tomorrow and see if she can find out if the pup they rescued was from Point Loma.

Now about Pax. I have just one thing to say:


Adolescence is slamming into us full force. He has become a bucking bronco. I swear the two-year-old stallion I had when I was a teenager was tamer than this dog. We're going to try to get video footage of the bucking tomorrow so you can see what I mean.

Today's recap... Ann, my mom, and Jay and I went on a two hour harbor cruise this morning. Really nice, all around the bay. The tour guide was a former Navy man, and San Diego is a huge military port. So we got lots of interesting stories as we passed the various ships and military facilities in the bay.

After the tour we grabbed lunch, and then Ann had to go to spend time with her mom on Mother's Day. I'm so happy she could spend part of the day with us. Jay and I drove up and picked up the boys from Club Pet. They were doing fabulously -- Rain's limp had disappeared, and they had both eaten well.

Since the boys were back, I hung out with them in the hotel room while Jay and my mom went to the Maritime Museum and toured the various ships on diplay there. I didn't really mind missing out on that, though I'm sure the Star of India is fascinating.

Monday, May 13, 2002

Well, I remember why I didn't have an overwhelming fascination with the beach when I was a kid. Because, when I was a kid, I had sense enough to know that to reach swimmable ocean you had to deal with sun, heat, and sand. I despise sun, heat, and sand. There's a *reason* I live in Seattle.

We started off this morning with breakfast with my mom, then she was off to the airport for the trip back to Memphis (and heat and humidity -- yuck!). Then we decided to take the dogs to Ocean Beach, so both the dogs and I could get in the waves. It's a nice beach, but even at 10:30 on a Monday morning in May, it was too crowded. I don't even want to think what it must be like in the summer or on weekends. (Ann was telling me about one that she used to go to that is literally blanket to blanket in the summer.)

The water was too cold to do much real swimming, and we forgot to bring the bumpers to throw for the boys. Bummer on both counts. Pax was being his adolescent self -- read: obnoxious and distracted. I wore shorts and a tee shirt over my bathing suit, and though I stripped down to my suit fairly quickly, my clothes were still wet and sandy. Putting them back on was utterly miserable. I truly, truly despise sand -- more than I love ocean, I'm afraid.

The day improved in the afternoon. After a nice nap (though I overslept), we went to Fiesta Island and joined ClickerSolutions members Tmara Goode, Kyle Rayon, Michele Stone, and Lori Watkins for a campfire. We had a blast! Fiesta Island borders a very calm bay, so the boys got a chance to retrieve bumpers from a fairly deep, waveless body of water.

This was Pax's first chance to swim without having to jump waves to do so. He was so cute! He tries to do it primarily with his front legs, so he comes up out of the water and swims almost vertically. Once he picked up a bumper, he was forced to use his back legs, and he swam "narmally." He just needs practice.

I was impressed with his ability to follow signals -- something I haven't trained. Occasionally a bumper would be thrown that neither dog saw fall. I was able to send Pax from the land to bumpers in the water that he could see, and when he was already in the water, I could send him laterally to bumpers he couldn't see.

After the swimming, we gathered around the campfire and talked until late. Michele has an awesome Border Collie whom she has done a lot of work with. He had a major problem with redirected aggression, and she has really, really accomplished a ton. They compete in agility, and Lori competes in flyball, so we spent a good deal of the evening talking about competition. One topic that was discussed for a long while was "Ruff Love," a book by Susan Garrett. I have the book, but haven't read it yet. I'd heard a lot about it though. Michele has put her dog through it, and as a student of Susan Garrett's she has seen a lot of dogs who have been through the program. She is completely sold on it. We discussed the pros and cons, not just of the program, but of how my personality meshes with it. The ultimate consensus of the group -- whose opinions I respect and value very much -- is, considering my goals for Pax, Ruff Love would be good for him.

I'm considering it, but I haven't made up my mind. I ordered a book yesterday called "Building Blocks for Performance," which is, I think, similar to Ruff Love -- or it may be exercises you can do during Ruff Love to build drive, focus, and motivation. I'm going to read both cover to cover and then make up my mind.

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

We went to Sea World today. Neat place. They have a kennel area -- first come, first serve -- where you can leave your dogs while you're in the park. Pax and Rain were just fine while we were off enjoying ourselves. (They have some rather impressive security features to make sure the right dogs end up with the right people.)

First and most importantly, we checked on the seal pup. According to their PR department, they rescued 17 seals from Point Loma on Saturday alone -- so far 150 have been affected by this acid toxicity problem in the plankton. Of course, we don't know for sure if the seal pup we saw was rescued, but since they got so many there that day, it's a safe bet that they were in the area.

I certainly hope they rescued it. I feel marginally better now. Just marginally. I looked it in the eyes, listened to it beg for help, and walked away. There's got to be a huge karmic debt for that.

We also, of course, enjoyed the park. First thing, we went and fed the rays. Did you know they're related to sharks? Very cool. I love feeding them -- it's like a little vacuum cleaner sucking the fish from your hand. We took a behind-the-scenes tour as well. The tour guide took us to see arctic foxes, penguins, various parrots, and sharks. We got to pet a penguin and some baby sharks. Very neat. Our visit was timed wrong to get to the dolphin or orca shows, unfortunately. I've seen them both, but Jay hasn't -- and it's always fun to watch.

The zoos and marine parks use clicker training -- sort of. They use an appropriate bridge/marker signal (like the clicker). However, they very quickly go to what they call a variable schedule of reinforcement and click without treating. This isn't a variable schedule of reinforcement -- the bridge is a conditioned reinforcer -- AND it weaken the power of their bridge. They eventually quit using the bridge altogether, claiming it doesn't do much. DUH! Here's an analogy...

The bridge (clicker) is like money. To the animal, the bridge is a signal that he's going to get something he really wants. To us, money is used to get what we really want. If we received money every time we did x behavior, we would work hard to figure out how to keep earning the money, UNLESS... sometimes we weren't able to spend the money. Think of a five year old child. Say he has to do chores to earn his allowance. If he can spend the money he earns on treats and stuff he wants only one is five weeks or one in seven weeks or one in ten weeks, and the other weeks his money is put in an untouchable savings account, how motivated is he going to be to do his chores?

If you give the animal something it wants after every single bridge (click), it begins trying to figure out how to earn the bridge. If, however, you follow the bridge with something the animal wants only occasionally, the animal instead concentrates not on his behavior but on what the bridge means this time. The bridge falls apart as an event marker and becomes solely a sometimes-treat-marker. NO WONDER the Sea World and zoo trainers find that the bridge "doesn't work" after a while.

Anyway, as promised, I have some video clips for you from our trip. No photos though.

We head home early tomorrow morning. It'll take us three days to drive back to Seattle. I probably won't check my e-mail again until I get home.

Friday, May 17, 2002

Home again, home again. Actually, we pushed hard and got home last night. Boy, it was nice to sleep in our own bed! The dogs did really well, considering we drove 800 miles yesterday, and they hadn't had any off-leash exercise since Monday night.

We drove back through central California, up I-5. It's prettier than I thought when we made the drive at Christmas. Trust me, that highway is much more pleasant during the day, on a weekday, in the sunshine. Jay and I kept our eyes open for land we might want to buy someday, but there was nothing in central California. It's wayyyy too arid and hot. Anything that wasn't irrigated was brown -- and it's only May. No way I could stand to live there.

Oregon is a different story, however. Western Oregon is filled with beautiful mountains and green, green valleys. We saw tons and tons of places we'd be willing to buy and live on for the rest of our lives. Time to start doing research. Such a move is, of course, many years away, but we might as well know what we're working towards.

Halfway through Oregon, it got cloudy. As soon as we crossed into Washington it started raining. Ah, home.

May 20, 2002

Since I got home I've read two books, Ruff Love and Building Blocks for Performance. I recommend the former for people with (true) problem dogs or people who plan to seriously compete with their dogs. Though the book is chock full of great info, I don't think I recommend the program for the average program or for any owner who isn't committed to working with the dog a LOT (read: HOURS PER DAY) during the program. I don't recommend the second book. It's essentially traditional, but more importantly, I didn't learn anything. I was disappointed.

As I mentioned last week, several people I trust and respect recommended that I put Pax on the Ruff Love program. After having read it in detail, I'm torn. I definitely see the potential of the program. I don't in any way question the expected results. I worry that I won't give Pax enough time during the program -- which, truly and honestly, is tantamount to abuse. The program is *very* restrictive. Interaction/Activity comes *solely* from the owner -- the dog isn't even allowed to go out and pee on his own.

Still, the expected results are seductive. Adding weight to the argument for instituting the program are the comments in messages on the YahooGroups Rufflove mailing list. I've read no complaints. Not only are people raving about the increased responsiveness, but they're also saying that their dogs *thrived* on the program.

I've debated doing a modified version of the program, even though I know the results will be different. Will they be "enough"? I have no doubt that I can get increased focus without doing the full program. Realistically, I'm more likely to be diligent about the training if I do the full program, because slacking off in the full program has much more severe consequences than slacking off in a modified program. Which should I do, which should I do... I'll have to think about it.

The book has awesome ideas about the Gentle Leader, by the way. It uses the head halter in order to increase the rate of reinforcement, and it gives a specific program for weaning your dog off the GL. It may actually have convinced me to get a GL for Pax. Prior to adolescence, I don't think he needed one, but right now the rate of reinforcement has plummetted because he's so distracted. I may take a trip down to PetSmart and purchase one.

May 23, 2002

Okay, I made a decision. It occurred to me last night the next "round" of dog shows in Western Washington begins in August. I searched in today and found that the next all-breed show is Aug. 10 in Lacey. I think, if I buckle down, I should be able to get Pax ready to show in conformation by then. The behaviors I'll need to concentrate on are:

  • Attention -- especially the ability to focus in distractions
  • Sit -- important for control outside of the ring
  • Down -- also important for control outside of the ring
  • Stand (Stack) -- used in the conformation ring
  • Gaiting -- used in the ring
  • Loose Leash Walking -- necessary to move him through the crowds at the show
  • Touch -- a fabulous exercise to keep the dog cognitive (as opposed to reactive) in stressful situations
  • Socialization -- specifically, making sure he's comfortable not only with crowds but with strangers petting him without permission from very "aggressive" positions, i.e. leaning over him and reaching for his head

Oh, and I'll also need to make sure he's in excellent physical shape. He is, now, actually. I'll make sure he gets an on-leash walk of half a mile or so each day plus a good rousing game of fetch.

It's kind of scary to have an actual show in mind -- a specific do-or-die date. I've attended lots of shows, but I've never been in the ring. I don't really know what I need to do. I'm going to dig out Cheryl Smith's Absolute Beginner's Guide to Showing Your Dog and Karen Pryor's Click To Win to learn the ins and outs. My friend Joene has a lot of show ring experience, so I'll see if she has time to help me prepare. Once I've given Pax a foundation, I'll pop him in a conformation class as well. Since I don't know of any clicker conformation classes around here, I want to wait until he knows the behaviors pretty well.

I just talked to my friend Joene, and she reminded me about fun matches. (Duh!) I just need to find out about some being held in July. There's a wonderful event paper published in this area, but I don't know where to get a copy. Last copy I got was from a show. Maybe another local trainer knows. Hmmm. For that matter, maybe another local trainer knows of a clicker conformation class.

May 25, 2002

Neat! I've been very hesitant to start show training because I was really intimidated by the idea of shaping a stack. I took the plunge tonight. I just jumped in and started clicking when his back feet were something close to even, clicking and treating rapidly while he held the position, feeding slightly forward, so he was getting used to the feeling not only of his back feet square and planted, but of being somewhat forward.

Wow! In just three short sessions, I'm getting the behavior frequently enough to maintain a really high rate of reinforcement. Too cool!

May 31, 2002

I thought I'd give you an update on teaching Pax to stack.

I used magic markers to make a 2"x2" grid on an old pillowcase. My plan was to use the lines to tell how even and far apart his feel were. When I started this process, my plan was kind of vague because I wasn't completely clear on what I needed or the best way to get it. I've clarified my plan a bit in the last couple of days.

First, I've decided that I will initiate the position by walking him forward. My initial goal is for him to stop walking with his back feet even (or to automatically adjust the feet after stopping). My criteria right now is for him to stop with his feet within one grid (2 inches) of "even."

I'm doing some lumping. After he stops, I click and feed forward to encourage him to shift his weight forward. If he keeps his back feet planted (and hocks perpendicular to the ground), I click and treat again -- and keep doing so at a fairly rapid rate of reinforcement.

<grin> Predictably, since he has been so highly reinforced for standing forward, he caught onto that quickly. So I've started clicking just two or three times for holding the position before starting the whole exercise over.

After he is reliably stopping with his feet even, I will use the grid and shape proper width *between* the back feet. Those two things together should equal proper placement of the back feet. After that I'll shape for...

  • Position of front feet.
  • Tail position.
  • Head position.
  • Pricked ears.
  • Standing for examination, including having another person physically reset his feet.



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