Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dog Reading Day

Our local library has a dog reading program for kids. The idea behind it is that children find it easier to read aloud in a nonjudgmental atmosphere. Once a month five dogs go to the library where kids take turns reading a small book to the dogs. It's very popular with the kids, who like to collect the individual dog's "business card," which contains a picture of the dog, some specifics about the dog and a printed thank you.

Yesterday was Parker's first day in the program. I had signed him up for it as another step in our socialization program. He's getting much better around strangers, especially children. We got to the library with Parker's tail up and wagging as we walked through the parking lot. He wasn't on a heel, so when I stopped at the door, he didn't have to automatically sit. Except that he *was* supposed to sit and wait before I opened the door. The fact that he didn't I excused because it was a different kind of door -- when I whispered, "It's a door," his butt hit the ground.

We walked into the library and then into the room where we'd be listening to the kids. Dogs get there about twenty minutes early to settle in before the kids arrive. There are only five dogs on any given reading day and yesterday the dogs were a black lab, a bishon, a King Cavalier Spaniel, a terrier mix and Parker. The terrier mix weighed about three pounds and immediately went, barking and snarling, for Parker, who popped around behind me. The other two small dogs were being held high in their owners' arms and never hit the floor until the kids came in. The lab wanted to see Parker, and, with permission, the two boys greeted each other very nicely and did us both proud.

Then we settled onto the floor (I was promised help in getting back to my feet at the end of the program) and the kids came in.

Parker was a prince. He either laid at my feet quietly after letting each child run fingers through his topknot, or he stared intently at the child reading. When the child looked up from reading and smiled at him, he'd "smile" back. Only one child had trouble reading to him because he kept putting his head onto her book, which she thought was hysterical, as it was a book about a dog finding bones. One little girl showed up with a new cast on her leg, so she sat in a chair rather than on the floor, and Parker got up to sit next to her, several times resting his head on her cast (I asked if that bothered her and she said no). Several kids showed some hesitation about petting him and Parker just stretched his head toward them, and when I told the kids that Parker would be sad if they didn't pat his head, they did. (Parker seems to be the odd man out on that one, who likes having his topknot massaged.)

When we were done for the day and they brought the forklift in to get me back onto my feet, he was his usual bouncy self walking back to the car. His reward was a two hour play date with his bff -- a Golden Retriever who loves to play chase games with him in our backyard.

What a guy.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hand Targeting revisited

I got feedback from much better trainers about teaching Parker hand targeting. Most important was that, since I had taught the stay with an open hand, by asking him now to touch, I was confusing him. It's clear in the prior video that he was holding a posture instead of trying to touch my hand. So this time, I only offered two fingers, used a clicker and treats and did it without Emmy around. I think he got it.​=jKVieGdQWtU

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Only one more class to go

Today was class seven. I went to class with my Rally notebook, which has all the rally signs and explanations, prepared to study them after walking the course. Which would have been an excellent plan if I could have remembered the seventeen (!!!) signs on the course. Sadly, the only ones I remembered were the ones I already knew.

Parker was obviously having a really good time. Which means he was a total clown. When we did the down stay, he was flipped over onto his back, which makes it really hard to walk off from the down, but I kept telling myself that the whole reason we’re doing this is to get him to open up and relax in a crowd.

My friend Ellen came to watch and Parker went right up to her for some love and even, at one point, rested his head in her lap. While waiting for our turn to start the course, Parker went up to the instructor who was acting as judge to get some petting. I told her that that behavior was more important to me than having him sit calmly before starting, so she gave him some gentle scritches.

Somewhere downstairs there’s a trunk full of Halloween costumes I made for the kids, including a clown. Gotta remember to go look for the ruffly collar and hat to put on him next week.

One of the instructors asked if I were going to enroll Parker in the Rally competition in September. I said that I was not only not ready for that, but I was concerned that the tight quarters and crowds would upset Parker and I didn’t want him to learn that competition is scary. She said I should just bring him, walk in and out a few times, have him sit by me while I watch a few trials and then leave.

Sounds good to me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

All it takes is a little encouragement

I forgot that I was ready to quit last week as I headed to class this morning.

I remembered as soon as we walked inside, but it was too late.

Parker went into a crate without a fuss as I went out to walk the course. There were several new signs and we were told that there’d be more new ones on the second one. Ugh. And that next week, we’d be doing the “back” exercise. To teach this, we were told, we needed to have the dog next to a wall or fence. With the dog in a stand, a treat in our left hand, we say, “back,” start moving back ourselves and give the treat as soon as there is any leg motion by the dog. We all worked on this for a few minutes. A few very frustrating minutes for me, so I was astonished, when we walked off passed someone who said, “He got it right away!” I literally looked behind me to see who the guy was talking to before realizing he was talking to me.

As we waited for our turn (why do they always make us go last?), Parker was fine. There was an “Honor” sign, so, since we were last, that meant we were first to do it. With the dog in a sit this time, and me on the end of the leash, he was supposed to maintain the sit for as long as it took the first course runner to go through the course. He really did that rather well until someone got too close to him. Then he would get up and come next to me. Not so bad.

Then it was our turn to do the course. While we were sitting (okay, you know that Parker was sitting, and I was standing, right?), the instructor asked me if I were having fun. Although this was a perfect invitation for a pity party, I maintained my cool and explained that I was having fun at home, but not so much in class, because Parker is really pretty good at home. Alone. With no one to see it but me. But that in class, he was a clown, although I blamed myself for being too competitive and transferring my anxiety down the leash. She said that chilling was a lesson all handlers had to learn and that at least I had managed the first step -- blaming myself instead of the dog.

We went through the course with Parker paying just about no attention on me. There were other dogs all around the edges of the course practicing and he was on high alert for anything that might go wrong, but the instructor was full of praise for us. Obviously my standards are way too high.

And the second time through (we skipped several signs, in order to concentrate on the ones we “knew”), the instructor told me that we had done a stellar job and were making good progress.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Giving up on Rally (?)

Having missed last week’s class, with Parker almost two weeks in a kennel without any training, going to class today was a total waste of time. And morally depressing. We did manage a little training yesterday at home, during which Parker was spot on and perfect, but you wouldn’t know it based on his behavior today. He spent most of the time the first time through the (advanced) course with his nose in the pocket where the treats used to be (I had them in my hand this time), and, when I took off the vest for the second time around, he kept his nose in my pants pocket instead, sometimes giving it a bite. Very nasty looking. His sits were all very crooked, when he sat at all and you’d have thought he never had heard to word “heel.”


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Class Clown

Yesterday was our third rally class and I was waffling about going. Not only was I planning on taking Parker to his boarding kennel that afternoon, but I had an early flight out for a two week vacation the next day (I’m typing this in an airport), and had changed Emmy’s boarding plans to accompany Parker. She had originally been scheduled to board with Tilly at the vet’s office, as usual, but we lost Tilly this past weekend and that kind of changed our plans. Emmy has never been kenneled alone and she had no reason to board at the vet’s other than to keep Tilly company. So going to rally class meant driving both dogs and all their bedding to class and from there to the kennel, an hour away. That’s a lot of stress for both the dogs and me.

But my friend Ellen said she’d go to class to cheer us on and ride with me to the kennel to help with all the shit I was taking for the dogs, so we went.

I hit my first snag before I’d gone a mile from the house -- road work kept me waiting for seven minutes. Then, just a couple of miles later, there was an accident on the road. So I was about fifteen minutes late for class and even more stressed. The rest of the class had already done their walk throughs and were taking their dogs onto the course. Ellen held both dogs for me and I shadowed another handler as she took her dog through the course. There were a few new signs, but nothing that involved any new training.

When it was our turn, Parker, who had been sitting quietly with Ellen, released his inner clown. He went through most of the course with his nose in my pocket. That would be the pocket with the treats which I had forgotten to take out to give him. One of the signs involved a down stay. When I said, “Down,” he flopped onto his back and waved his legs around while I circumnavigated him but he maintained the down in spite of how silly he looked. All of his sits were crooked, even his fronts, but at least we didn’t have the dreaded fronts which involved me stepping backward.

There was a short jump -- nothing like the height he did last week, and he approached it with glee, zooming out in front of me after leaping over it. Which looked cute, but isn’t what he’s supposed to do.

The second course involved two signs with pivots, one with a stand, and a “German” turn -- the handler does a 180, turning to the left, while the dog does a 180 to the right, basically going around behind the handler. At first, I just said I’d skip that one, but another student convinced me that it was easy, acted as my dog to walk me through it, and Parker and I practiced doing it off the course and he did fine. Off the course -- on it, not so much.

Here’s what’s weird. I think there’s no doubt that Parker’s having a good time. He “grins” throughout the courses we do, and his tail is high and wagging. But he looks remarkably silly, doesn’t focus on much but treats and clearly isn’t as well trained as just about any of the other dogs. But, while I had him on one of the courses, one of the teachers went up to Ellen and told her that “We need to start working on convincing Dorothy to enter Parker in our upcoming trial in November.” That would be the same teacher who came up to me after class and said I was concentrating far too much on the signs and not enough on Parker. She said he would learn to read the signs himself in good time and for now I should just make sure he’s where he needs to be and does what he needs to do and not worry so much about the signs. I’m not at all sure how I can do that without knowing what the signs are, but I just smiled and agreed and filed the advice away into my “WTF?” file.

The past week was fairly training-lite as most of my energy was focused on a ultimately fruitless attempt to keep Tilly alive and now I’m away for two weeks. Damned dog probably won’t remember his name by the time I get back.