Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Back to Square One

Thanksgiving was a busy time, with two separate celebrations. My youngest was here Tuesday and Wednesday, but had to leave Thursday morning for Afghanistan, so he got his dinner Wednesday, and we invited some friends to join us. My daughter showed up Wednesday evening so she could say good-bye to her brother. The final kid arrived Friday morning with wife and five children.

It was Parker’s first introduction to children and I was very proud of him. Okay, maybe he was just too scared to move, but at least he didn’t react with snarls and growls. Instead he ran away from them when he could and sought out Mike or me when he couldn’t.

However, with a house full of guests, Parker’s training took a backseat. Beyond the requirement to sit before going through a door, we didn’t do any training at all, which was quite evident when I got out the clicker and treats yesterday to do some reinforcement of “Come” in a new room. Mostly what I got was a dog sitting, with his head cocked, apparently wondering why I didn’t just hand over the good stuff and get on with it.

Hence -- back to square one.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Dog Aptly Named

I had given some thought lately to changing Parker’s name to ‘Shadow,’ not only because he’s black and impossible to see without some light, but because that’s what he is -- my shadow. But it’s really too late now and not fair after working so hard to get him to respond to calling his name.

It was brought home to me this morning how apt the name of ‘Parker’ is -- as in ‘Nosy Parker.’

December 1st is approaching and that’s the day I bring the Amaryllis bulbs in from the garage for replanting, to bloom around Christmas. So it was time to rearrange all the other plants on the window seat. While I was at it, it was also a good time to clean there. I started by removing everything from the window seat which wasn’t a plant. This included two plant hangers, made of ropey stuff. I put them both on the couch and went back for more stuff. Parker was, of course, right at my side, sticking his nose into whatever I did. I turned around with another armload of stuff to move, and there was Parker, holding one of the plant hangers in his mouth. In order to get it, he had had to climb up onto the couch (Mike is preparing to clean the rugs and there was a chair on top of the couch and it was onto this chair that I had moved the hangers). I thanked him for returning it to me and put it back, this time watching and, sure enough, he went to retrieve it for me again. I pointed out that this was not desireable and he desisted.

As I moved each plant to clean under it, leaves would fall off. Parker would pick them up. Several times, perhaps to get a better view, his front paws went up onto the window seat and his nose went into a plant pot. Sneezing ensued.

The work finally got done and we were both satisfied with the results.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Still Training the Recall

Three bathroom down and the dressing room. It’s getting harder to keep the other dogs away. We don’t need distractions.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What to do with a slow learner

I refer -- sadly -- to myself, rather than the dog.

I just went into the kitchen to face the boooooring task of cutting up cheese into tiny cubes for treats. I opened the frig and spied the container of shredded cheese left over from last night’s tacos.


Five minutes with the cheese grater and I now have enough treats to do the other two boring bathrooms with Parker.

Teaching the Recall

It simply isn’t possible -- or fair -- not to let Parker off the leash in the backyard at least once during the day. He absolutely must run off he zoomies. However, it’s furking cold here now and standing outside hoping a dog will get tired/bored and come inside with me just isn’t going to happen. We have *got* to get to work on the recall.

The way Shirley teaches the recall isn’t so much teaching a behavior as making a behavior a conditioned reflex. Something the dog doesn’t even have to think about. Imagine Pavlov’s bell. It starts in the most boring room in the house. Go there with the dog, the clicker and the treats. Pick a recall word which you never use for any other purpose. It probably shouldn’t be “Come,” but that’s *my* conditioned reflex. So that’s what we’re using.

In the bathroom, sitting on the throne, it’s, “Parker, Come!”, click, treat. Repeat until the treats are gone. Shirley’s suggestion is 150 times. I didn’t have that many treats. But we did a lot and will do a lot more in that room today.

The process is repeated in every room in the house, from the most boring to the most -- ah -- less boring. Only then do we move outside.

This could take a while.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mixing it up

We just did a series of Step Two Name Recognition (hold the yummy cheese, say the name and click when the focus is off the cheese and onto my face) mixed in with Sit.

Perfect! So, onto Step Three. This involves distraction. Hold the toy/cheese and wave it around to get the dog excited. Say his name and click when the focus changes.

For tis, I need to prepare more treats.

Hindsight is my Specialty

Parker still has plenty of zoomies left after his walk with Mike in the morning, so today, when we went outside, I took his leash off so he could run circles in the backyard. The good news -- he would wait, impatiently wagging his tail, while I threw his new ball and then, when I’d say, “Go get it!”, he’d take off at warp speed and chase it down. We did this again and again, with the occasional, “Parker!” bringing him right back to me. Success! So we just did it again. Problem is, I should have waited until *after* he had eliminated to release him to play. Stupid, stupid, stupid. It’s hard to mark elimination behavior if I’m not right there when it happens. If I learn to wait until after he pees and/or poops, and then release him to play, he’s more likely to do it right away and on command.

And somehow, he managed to find a pile of burrs which immediately attached themselves to his ears and tail. Happily, he’s very good about standing still while I comb them out.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Parker's Big (New) Adventure

Clearing it first with the owner, I took Parker with me when I got my hair done. And he was perfect! Several people wanted to pet him, which he took -- stoically -- keeping focused on me the whole time. Then he curled up at my feet, snug in a corner. Best part -- I dropped his lead while I was paying and he walked up to another customer and laid his head onto her lap! Happily, she was dog-smart, and just gently stroked his head while crooning to him about how lovely he was.

Then it was a happy hop into the car and off to Pets Mart. He met a little three month old Cocker Spaniel in the parking lot, carefully *not* stepping on it while it smelled his boy parts and then turned and gave him a big lick on the nose. That set Parker up for a happy walk into the store where we bought a ball with a handle (he helped pick it out) and back home again.

A good day.
On his back, showing off his junk:

Halfway there -- he lost tow pounds of hair:

The final do -- hard to (1) admit it's the same dog and (2) not laugh when I see him:

Pictures of Parker's *Do*

Before: (on his back, showing off his junk):

Halfway there -- that’s all Parker on the floor. He lost *two pounds*!:

The final do. I’m having a really hard time admitting he’s the same dog:

Name Recognition -- Step Two

The second part of Shirley’s Name Recognition is to hold a yummy treat in one hand. Show the dog and say his name. When he focuses on you and not the treat, click and give it to him.

We just did a round of these. He did -- marginally well. What he did *really* well was not focusing on me, but sitting. Which is something we had worked on before. Hold the treat and click when he sits. He finally seemed to figure it out, but it was really funny to watch his brain trying to work it out. I’d hold the treat, he’d look at it, then sit, then turn his head around, looking up, over his shoulder. Really as much to say, “Who, me? I don’t see no stinking treat.”

Emmy, of course, got one treat for each of his.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Parker Goes to the Groomer

I found a local groomer who agreed to let me watch as she clipped Parker. I took him in at ten this morning and described what I wanted. I was then told to return in about an hour, as it would take that long to bathe and dry him.

An hour later, I returned, but was told that he still had about another fifteen minutes to dry. I peeked into the grooming room and saw poor Parker in a small wire crate, barely big enough to contain him, with three very loud blowers aimed at him. Parker doesn’t like loud noises and he was obviously unhappy. The owner of the place gave me a tour of the facilities -- they also board, do puppy parties, day care and vet checks.

By 11:30, I had toured enough and went into the grooming room. Probably shouldn’t have, but Parker was so miserable, that I put my fingers into the crate and whispered to him about what a good boy he was until the groomer arrived. Even then, she had to do some hand drying. She shared that the owner wasn’t happy about her agreeing to let me watch while she explained the procedure, which was really rather silly on his part. Otherwise I would have been less than happy with the fee. As it is, at the end of two and a half hours of grooming, I had a much better idea about the amount of work that goes into grooming such a pretty boy. In fact, I had planned on a ten dollar tip, but instead, made sure the owner was present when I slipped Lori a crisp, new twenty.

Parker was a doll about the grooming, standing quietly, letting his feet be handled, not even budging while his sheath was shaved. Somehow I can’t see too many men I know standing still for that.

The best part was the comment one of the other kennel folk made -- he said Parker was the best behaved Poodle he had ever seen, and he had seen plenty. I didn’t bother mentioning that Parker was probably too scared to do anything but stand perfectly still.

We did another session of sits, this time with hand signals and finally verbal commands, and he popped that cute butt of his down at warp speed. Can downs be that far away?


I found an old football of Tilly’s and this morning, Parker and I played fetch with it. No, no, he didn’t bring it back or drop it when he got it. But what he did was watch like a hawk as I threw it and then race after it, bounce on it, make it fly again and again and then settle with it in his mouth until I walked up to him. About half the time he’d grab it and run away, but eventually he’d leave it so I could pick it up and throw it again.

It’s a beginning.

Of course it took chicken and a quick grab to get him to come back, which left me muttering about not learning to keep the damned leash on him. My mood would have been better had it not been for the cold (cold! I Hate cold!) drizzle which was giving me a bad permanent.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Mind of a Dog

        We had a rare opportunity for training this morning. i don’t know if it were a result of getting massive amounts of burrs cut out of her fur this morning or an upset tummy, but, for whatever reason, Emmy didn’t eat breakfast this morning and showed no interest in anything food related. Tilly is so deaf these days that she can’t hear the clicker. So Parker and I could do some clicking without interference.

Armed with bits of cheddar cheese, I got out the target stick. The first handful of click/treats came when he just looked at the stick, but we were there the last time, so I wanted more today. When he looked at the stick and I didn’t click, he sat back on his haunches and stared at me. I held still while he slowly cocked his head to the side, glanced at the stick, glanced at me and then stretched his neck toward the stick. Click/treat. Several repeats of this until I withheld the click again. Another sit with stare and cocked head, then he slowly stretched to the stick and touched it with his nose. Click/jackpot treat.

About ten more of these and I had run out of treats.

This is progress.

An odd aside -- Parker doesn’t know how to take a treat from my hand. He will not -- absolutely refuses -- to pick it up with his teeth. If I hold a treat on an open palm, he’ll lick at it, but that’s it. So treats have to be tossed onto the ground for him to get them. I’m not sure whether or not to encourage him to change this behavior. I kind of like the idea that he won’t take a treat from the hand, considering how big and scary his mouth and teeth might be to a small child.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Training by the book

It was obvious to me this morning, as Parker romped willy nilly around the backyard, following an agenda that wasn’t mine, that I needed a refresher course in training. So I went downstairs to try to find any of the multitude of books I’ve bought over the years. And I found not just one, but my favorite -- “A Clicker Cookbook -- A Step by Step Guide to Beginning Manners.”

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t just my favorite because it was (sort of) free. I got it as part of the package when I signed up for a weekend training camp led by M. Shirley Chong, the author. Lots of the stuff in there is available free on her web site:


It’s a favorite because Shirley isn’t a ‘my way or the highway’ kind of trainer. She’s more, ‘this works for me and I’m wiling to learn what works for you.’

So I sat with the book and decided to dig in and begin with Name Recognition, the precursor to a Recall. The idea is to have a clicker and treats handy. When the dog is neutral, not really doing much and not really paying attention, call his name. If he responds, click and treat. Then ignore him until he looks away and repeat. And repeat and repeat and repeat, either until the dog won’t look away or you get bored. We kind of reached both points simultaneously.

And we threw in a few of Shirley’s ‘Sit’ suggestions. Wait until the dog actually sits, click and toss the treat (so the dog has to get up to get the goodie). Then just be still until the dog sits out of boredom, click, toss. We did that until Parker decided that he didn’t have to get off his butt to reach a treat (we were in my office with the door closed to keep the other dogs away, and he didn’t have to move all that far.

But the treats remain at hand and we’ll keep these up today.

And no more off leash outside!!

Reinforcing bad behavior

Parker and I had a nice long walk this morning. Not nearly as long as what he gets with Mike, but pretty damned good for me -- almost a mile in dark, dark, dark fog. Then a romp out in the backyard.

A few minutes ago (it seemed so much longer at the time), we went back outside. He had been up for five hours and had yet to pee. He was behaving so well, I took his leash off and we played some vigorous chase games. I found an old football of Tilly’s and he was quite enthusiastic about chasing it when I’d throw it. No concept of picking it up and bringing it back, but that will come. And, for the first time, he lifted his leg to pee! No more squat pissing for this big boy!

But then it was time to come inside. And he was having none of it. Even when I went back in with the girls.

So (here’s the reinforcement), I got a bowl of chicken pieces and went back out, both Tilly and Emmy right at my heels, of course. And we did some sits and dancing for treats while Parker looked on, tail very slowly wagging. Finally he came up for some himself and I leashed him with a barely audible ‘Good boy.’ And marched him right inside.

Bad Mommy. Bad Mommy!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Training the Target Sick

I have a dowel with a blue cap on one end and a white one on the other. The idea is, “blue means touch this; white means back away.”

So we started with some sits, which he’s pretty good at. Almost too good, because once his butt is planted, he doesn’t seem to understand that he needs to move out of the sit to get clicked for another one. Especially with little miss smarty-pants Emmy doing all she can to get in his way. So it was ‘Sit!’ Click, treat and move away from him, call him to me (click/treat) and then get a quick ‘Sit!’ in before he did it on his own.

Then introduce the target stick. Again tricky because Emmy knows what that is and time and again would jump up and touch it before Parker got a chance. There’s a lot to be said for training with only one dog around at a time.

Parker showed interest in the stick from the get go, which is clickable behavior, and eventually got down to the business of touching it. I figure a few more days of this and then it’s time to move to a different room in the house and start all over again.

Parker’s already very good at loose leash walking, which is something that the target stick can cement. Because Mike is out of town for a few days and won’t be here for Parker’s early morning stroll, and because the other two dogs just can’t make it up the hill from the house (hell, I can barely make it myself), we should get some alone time for that.

This really shouldn't make me so happy

Getting Mike to pick up after himself is a battle I keep waging, although the likelihood of ever winning is remote, to say the least. However, Parker might have helped with that this morning.

One of Mike’s -- ah -- endearing? -- traits is the way he spreads the Sunday paper all over the living room floor, where it basically stays for several days, if not until the next week’s edition arrives. A few minutes ago, he went to get the crossword puzzle to take with him to the airport.

“Tyler! Come here! Now!”

Apparently Parker -- it really couldn’t have been either of the other two dogs -- had very carefully used the papers to pee on. Some ran over onto the rug, but, really, his aim was impressive. At least to me. Mike was less appreciative.

Ah, justice.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sometimes life just sucks

When I took Parker to the vet's this week and mentioned that I was picking ticks off him, I was told that they are particularly bad this year. This was confirmed by an article in today's paper, which said that, in eastern Pennsylvania, up to 80% of dogs cold test positive for Lyme disease. So I got Frontline for all three dogs. The vet mentioned that it was particularly important for my older girls. I got a followup call the next day (apparently some dogs react badly to the medicine) and I said that I had dosed all three, but that, within twenty-four hours, I had picked another tick off Parker. I was assured that it could take a few days for the medicine to work its way through is system. In fact, Thursday I took three more off him!

As for the 'life sucks' part, Thursday night I got a tick off *me* and this morning the area is red, swollen and very, very sore. I'm waiting for the doctor to return my call to tell me if I need to ignore it, come in for a visit or start immediately panicking.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Two steps forward ...

one step back.

Parker was so good today about coming when I called him that I left his leash off as we went outside. And for four or five visits, he was great. We’d play chase games until I called him and he’d come right up to me for a hug. Then I’d send him off to play and he would bow and bound. When it was time to go inside, he trotted right along side me, sit politely while i opened the door and then follow me inside. So I put his leash up.

Ha! It wasn’t quite dark when we went outside again. And would he come when called? Not a chance. I finally managed to walk him down and leash him. He seemed so disappointed when we just went out again. Leashed.

However, we had a great session of sitting with the clicker and some chicken. And by ‘great’, I mean he would stand there looking at me for several seconds, sit, get clicked, eat, repeat.

I think he’s getting the hang of it.

Sort of.

Grooming a Poodle

A local groomer has promised me that she will show me how to do a simple puppy clip on Parker, which is all I’m interested in, although he certainly has the kind of coat that would stand up well with one of those ridiculous Poodle do’s.

I got a book out of the library about clipping Poodles and it, just like the annual announcer at Westminster, insists that the modern Poodle clips are based on the Poodle’s history of being a sporting breed. I say, “Bah!” Especially as that same book went into detail on how the clip evolved after years of silliness with the aristocracy experimenting on funny mustaches and eyebrows and beards. Besides, the Portuguese Water Spaniel has the same kind of coat as a Poodle (except for its naked tail) and you never see them with outrageous topknots or shaved bellies. Well, okay, sometimes you do, but that’s in no way touted as a sporting cut.

The one thing that I *do* like about the usual puppy clip on a Poodle is the shaving of the base of the tail. This, according to my book, is done to keep the rear free of fecal matter. The importance of this maneuver was forcefully brought to mind this morning when Emmy, the silky haired Papillon, came in from outside trailing a line of poop (aka ‘cling-ons) stuck to the base of her tail. And it’s a lot easier to clean her than it would be on a fifty pound dog.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Firing up the Clicker

I had two plans for today. (1) Take Parker out! (2) Fire up the clicker.

It’s not possible to have a dog for two weeks without some kind of training going on. We’ve been doing loose leash walking, at which Parker is a natural, and some sitting, at which -- he’s not. He will sit, s-l-o-w-l-y, if I ask and then put a hand under his chin and lift, lift, lift, until his butt just kind of goes down. Not the best way to train -- I don’t want to have to muscle him into a sit! Best way is to use a clicker, but that requires knowledge of a dog’s currency, and I couldn’t find out what Parker’s was. He didn’t eat anything for the first several days he was with us, and turned up his nose at each and every treat offered. Thrown sticks got a curious sniff only, toys were foreign to his experience.

However, he’s now eating well and shows a predilection for chicken. So we just had a session of click/treat with a handful of yummy chicken. Emmy, of course, heard the clicker and came running, throwing behaviors at me like crazy. Parker, who has heard me click for two weeks without startling, liked the experience just fine. We’ll do it several more times today before trying to pair it all with rules.

When we met Parker, I saw that he would put his paws on his breeder. No, he didn’t jump. it was a very gentle thing. So when he started doing it to me a couple of days ago, I took it as a sign that he likes me (his breeder agreed). Now, when I see that he’s in the mood, I ask for a hug and I get two paws on my waist and, sometimes, a kiss on the cheek. I’d really like to couple this with a command -- I think it would go over well with the grandgirls, and he’s so gentle about it, I wouldn’t worry about him knocking them over.

Besides, who could resist a doggy kiss on the cheek?

Some Pictures of Parker

Parker's Big Outing

Mike has been walking Parker every morning, but they rarely meet anyone. I’ve been walking, running and playing with him in the backyard, but that’s not doing much for socialization, either. So it was time to take him out.

On our first visit to the vet, Parker had balked at getting into the car. I had tried to do some in and outs with him subsequently, but trying to convince a fifty pound dog to get into the van was too much for my back, so I gave it up, hoping to rope Mike into helping this past weekend, but we never got around to it. I then spaced the whole thing until yesterday, when I had to get him to the vet’s for his heartworm test, but it turned out he was willing to trust me enough to get into the van when I asked him. Albeit reluctantly. And, when we left the vet’s office, where he had been poked with a couple of needles and had stuffed dripped into his nose, he hopped right in.

Today I barely got the door open before he hopped in and off we went to a local park, where I had high hopes of meeting some dog friendly people. No such luck. There was a woman there with a little terrier off lead, but, by the time I parked the car, she had leashed and left. So it was just the two of us, walking around the perimeter and doing figure eights around park benches. Parker is lovely on a leash. He doesn’t know squat about heeling, but he knows to walk close.

We even spent some time on the playground equipment, walking up and down steps together. This was all to the good, but not what I had in mind, so we loaded up into the van (hopped right in, no problem) and headed for Pets Mart.

Although Parker used to get spooked when cars went by when he and Mike first started their early morning walks, he’s calming down about that and being in a busy parking lot didn’t bother him a bit. Nor did that swooshing door which opened by magic as we walked in. Startled, yes, but a quick look at my face and he decided it was okay and in we sailed.

Guess we were too early, because there weren’t too many people there. The few who were all asked to pet Parker (“What a handsome boy!”). He -- allowed it. Didn’t encourage it or act as if he particularly liked it, but didn’t pull away, snarl or dip his head. Good boy!

Best part, as we were standing in line as the cashier, two customers ahead of us was a woman with a dog and two small children. One barely walking and the other maybe four. Parker’s tail went up into a high wag and, although he didn’t strain on the leash, his nose extended as far as possible in the kids’ direction. I decided Mom was way too busy to bother with asking if Parker could taste her offspring, but I did take it as a good sign.

Introducing Parker

Parker is a ten month old Standard Poodle. His breeder calls him blue. My vet calls him black.

I call him mine.

Parker came to us October 31st. Unsocialized, untrained, uncut. Mike and I set three goals for keeping him. (1) He had to get along with our other two dogs. (2) He had to pass a vet’s exam for healthy. (3) He had to get along well with the grankids.

(1) No problem. Mike brought Parker into the backyard where the other two dogs were waiting. Emmy, the little Papillon, went up for a good sniff. Parker stood still without reacting. Then Emmy walked away and hasn’t wanted to have anything to do with him since. Tilly sniffed as well and then did a play bow. Parker returned it, so we let him off the leash and the two of them had a wild time chasing each other around the yard. It almost looked like a game of tag as they switched off who chased whom.

That turned out to be a mistake, though, as we finally had to call his breeder to come over because Parker refused to come to us or enter the house.

(2) The vet’s exam wasn’t as easy a test to pass as Parker was ‘loaded with worms.’ Three days of deworming seemed to do the trick, although it set back any chance of getting social. Didn’t want him out and about, spreading it elsewhere. And yesterday was the real heart stopper as we had him tested for heartworms.

He passed!

(3) After two weeks, Mike and I are agreed. If he doesn’t get along with the grandchildren, we’ll keep the dog and send the kids home.

So today, training began in earnest.