Monday, February 28, 2011

A Daring Move

For the past few weeks, when Parker has gone on a car outing with me, I’ve released him from his harness and not put the leash back on. Hasn’t been a problem. He doesn’t run off or get squirrelly -- just goes to the door to go inside.

Yesterday and today, after our morning walks, I’ve taken the leash off once we get back to the driveway. Without speaking or otherwise giving commands, I’ve then walked with confidence to the house, although I suspect the increased beating of my heart and rising blood pressure are signs he could probably read. Both times, he’s just done his happy spinning dance and pranced by my side back to the house.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Addendum to Luring with Love

Shirley told me about back chaining the finish to the right, which I’m trying with Parker. The downside to this is that it takes a mild amount of sophisticated footwork on my part, taking tiny steps forward and clockwise, which is so far beyond my brain capacity to perform. The idea is to teach the dog to follow in a pattern which involves walking around. Problem with Parker is that he seems to think that his sit is the be all and end all of training exercises. “I’m sitting, which you asked for. If you want to dance, that’s up to you.”

An alternative method involves the use of the target stick, which I’ve neglected sadly. I tell myself that we’ll get better when the weather is more cooperative. Like in May.

Seven Down -- One to Go

Class seven was today. Hard to believe it’s almost over. Parker did really well, all things considered. We mostly did heeling and finishing, both behind and to the left. We did some weaves, four dogs sitting, four dogs weaving around them. Was really pleased with Parker’s focus on me and ignoring (mostly) the other dogs. Unless one of the other dogs pulled its owner off the heel position in order to sniff Parker’s butt, but even then, he didn’t break his sit -- just swiveled his head around to keep an eye on them, something I really couldn’t blame him for, but called his attention back to me, and got it.

We also did a bit of ‘leave it,’ with several toys strewn around. Almost all the dogs ignored almost all of the toys (except for the Lab, who was unfairly tempted by the ball). The one toy no one ignored was a stuffed Golden Retriever puppy. In their defense, most people see that toy in a crate when they walk into the training center and complain that it’s much too young a dog to be kept in a crate. Most of the dogs, Parker included, just wanted to sniff. One German Shepherd apparently either wanted to play with it or eat it and barked like crazy when pulled away.

As usual, when asked to do a down, Parker wasn’t interested, but when released from working and while I was listening to the teacher talk, he did them perfecly. Several times I was able to coax him into a down, but he was completely over his leash, so I had to drop my end in order to do a stay. But he managed to hold the stay anyway while I walked around him, so not a complete mishap.

I’ve signed him up for Basic 2, and am waiting on a reply to my question about whether or not it would be a good thing to also sign him up for the beginning rally class. That looks like so much fun and the dogs go through the rally courses singly, which he does so much better than work in a crowd.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Miracles Do Happen

A little while ago, while I was trying to count stitches, Parker stuck his face under my arm -- his signal that he needed to go outside. So I said, “Okay, but I have to pee first,” and he sped off to the bathroom. I think it was back in 1979 when I last managed to pee alone. While we were there, we did some training (where do *you* train your dogs?). He sat when I asked. Then, being an eternal optimist, I said, “Down.”

And he *flew* onto his belly!

W00t! W00t, w00t, w00t!!!

It may never happen again, so I figured it would be best to immortalize the moment.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Luring with Love

In class this week, we started learning the finish to the right. The teachers pointed out two ways to do this. First, with the dog sitting in front of us, step back on the right foot, luring the dog with a treat to move around behind, passing the treat from right hand to left. The difficulty with this method, she said, was that it required some coordination and that neither hand would be free to hold the leash. The other way was to use the leash to pull the dog around. The latter was the favored method for just about everyone.

Parker did it spot on perfect the first time without a treat lure or pulling on the leash. The teacher who was watching from several feet away was very impressed and said so. I accepted her praise without pointing out that the only reason Parker was so willing to perform was that, by doing so, he put me between him and the scary lady who was watching so closely. Once she moved on, he was no longer interested in moving. "You asked me to sit, I'm sitting -- if you choose to move, that's your business."

Having discovered that Parker works better for cuddles than kibble, I'm trying to figure out how to lure him into a finish without trying to use treats. The advantage to a dog who is more of a love bug than a chow hound is that there is never a situation where you don’t have a reward readily at hand to reinforce a behavior. The disadvantage is that there’s a real problem with luring.

Anyone with a hint, feel free to let me know.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Forgive my euphoria

But damnation! He not only fetched, but he BROUGHT IT BACK!

Okay, I know Poodles are supposed to be good retrievers, but it’s not as if Parker is a Golden or summat. He loves to chase things, like sticks and footballs and (#@$@#$) balls of yarn that he steals out of my knitting bag. But so far he has shown no particular inclination to bring anything back. So playing fetch with him is largely an exercise in walking him down to get the stick back. But he was playing with a tennis ball a few minutes ago, so I threw it for him and it disappeared into the den. We were both disappointed, so I went to find another toy and got a felty ball. It’s largely circular, made up of strips of felt. And I threw it down the hall, he raced after it and then HE BROUGHT IT BACK! He already (mostly) drops things when asked, so that was no problem.

Yeah, yeah, I know that he didn’t really have many options of where to run off with the ball, but who cares? It worked.

Playing fetch with Tilly when she was a youngster Cattle Dog with way too much energy for me was always a piece of cake. All I had to do was stand in one spot and kick her soccer ball. She’d tear off after it, bring it back and repeat, repeat, repeat, until she was exhausted. I read many, many books while exercising her.

I LIKE it!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Class Week Six -- Parker sets the standard

I only wish I could take credit for it.

We started with the usual. Heeling, sitting, recalling. Then we began the finish. Dog has just come to us and is sitting in front. You finish by having the dog go behind and around to sit in the heel position. Parker looked as if he caught on right away, but it was really because on of the teachers was close by watching and by going around behind me and finishing on my left, Parker was able to put me between himself and the teacher. So he was eager to go to the safe place. Once the teacher walked away -- not so much.

We worked on the attention thing. Instead of using treats to distract him, I used the other two Poodles, which were on either side of him. It was easy to tempt his attention away from me with them. They both seem to have a crush on Parker and he revels in their attention. But calling his name worked for focusing on me.

While we were doing that, one of the teachers set of a Beginner’s Novice Rally kind of course. From Start to Fast Walk to Normal Walk, Left turn, Slow Walk, Normal Walk, About Turn, Right Turn, Sit. Then a figure eight around two people. This was the exercise where Parker set the standard. We went first. All the other dogs were behind the fence and away from us, the teachers were watching from a distance and we had the whole ring to ourselves. So no distractions and nothing scary around. Parker was spot on through the entire exercise. Not because of any special training I’ve done, but probably because of those long morning walks with Mike, learning how to heel nicely. The figure eight at the end was not so perfect the first time, mostly because of me going around the two people too far out. “Confidence, Dorothy!” So we did it a second time getting closer and it was much better.

One of the teachers asked me if I were planning on showing Parker. I started my answer by going into my explanation about how the vet wanted me to wait until he was fully grown to get him neutered, but she interrupted me and said that wasn’t what she meant. She was asking if I planned to show him in obedience. I was flattered that she thought this was a possibility, but it turned out she wasn’t really. Instead she meant to point out that if I kept keeping my left hand so low by my side, I was teaching him to lag and I needed to stop that if I ever thought of showing him. Duh. This is getting to be a standard comment on her part, as I keep doing the dame thing every class. Wonder if I’ll ever learn?

We ended the lesson with a Sit for Exam. We were supposed to wait until all three teachers had come by and pat the dog on the head before releasing the dog and going home. Parker hopped away from the first two teachers. The third one, who had seen this backed up to Parker and then pat him on the head. This worked and she said I should go home, releasing him on a high point. So I did.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It's Official -- I'm an Idiot

After carefully counting out treats, I took Parker into the bedroom for a training session. Mixing up sits, downs, spins, stand and come. As usual, although Parker started happily enough, it soon became an exercise in waiting. So it was time to end. I asked for a sit, something I can usually count on, planning on a jackpot of remaining treats. He sat -- slo-o-o-owly. I reached into my pocket and discovered I had miscounted. No more treats. So I threw my arms up and told him he was a good boy. He leapt up to give me a happy hug. After a serious ear rubbing, I said, “Off.” He backed up right away onto his hind legs. “Good boy!” brought him right back into a hug for more ear rubbing. Could it really be that simple? For the next minute we ran through everything with a happy hug and ear rub being his reward for performing.

Okay, so he wasn’t spot on perfect with everything, but his happy factor was so obviously high that it’s apparent that treats aren’t what floats his boat.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Class Week Five -- Fun, Fun, Fun!!

It was bitterly cold this morning, so Parker didn’t get his morning walk with Mike. And yesterday was stressful for him (new groomer) so he’d slept most of the afternoon and late this morning. End result, a dog full of beans and zoomies. Good thing today was a fun day in class. We got there to see a few pieces of agility equipment set out. After a few rounds of heeling, which Parker now does with the leash draped over my shoulder, we split into groups to work on the equipment.

Our first was the table. We were supposed to get the dogs up onto the table, have them sit, stay while we backed away and then call them. Parker hesitated getting up, but I didn’t. Which was probably not such a good idea, since I weigh slightly more than the average Bull Mastiff, but I didn’t think about that until I heard the table creak. It worked, though, and Parker got right up with me. Problems arose when I asked him to sit, which he did, but the table was slippery and he had just had his feet shaved yesterday. So I got him off right away and the next few times I didn’t ask for a sit.

Then we went to the ladder, which was short -- about six rungs -- and lying on the floor. The idea is to get your dog to step through the rungs with confidence. The way the teacher told us to do it was to hold a short lead and not give the dog much opportunity to pull away from the ladder. Yeah. Right. Instead, I walked backward through it and Parker followed nicely. Which works well if the owner has a better idea of where her feet are than the dog. Which I don’t. Next time I placed treats on the floor between the rungs, and Parker walked right through, head down, scarfing up food.

Onto the jumps. They were all set so low that it was a piece of cake. We walked through the first time and ran for several other tries. He was happy with that one, although I think the running part about killed me.

The final piece of equipment was a tunnel. I wasn’t happy with the fact that it was over six feet long. I would have preferred to take him through one that was completely collapsed. We were supposed to have the dog at one end, held by the teacher who would throw the lead through. We were to grab the lead and “encourage” the dog through. In this situation it helped to be a baldfaced liar. I told the teacher that I was afraid that the dragging lead would scare Parker, so I asked her to hold his collar. I went to the other end, got down on the floor (oh, the sacrifices we make for our dogs) and stuck my head into the tunnel. He raced through to me. The teacher said, “Oh, good! Bring him right back!” Easy for her to say. She was standing up. So I asked Parker for some help and he stood steady as a rock while I used him to get back on my feet. This from the same dog who refused to stand, an exercise they had taught us earlier in the class. We ran through a few more times, finally doing it at a run toward the opening, releasing the dog at one end and meeting him at the other. Like I could run that fast. Parker rushed through and bounced up on his hind legs in happiness when I caught up.

All in all a good day.

Oh, and they showed us “spin” (clockwise) and “twist (counterclockwise). Mike will be disappointed to learn that Parker is right-handed. Spin, yes. Twist, not a chance.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Be careful what you train for

Earlier this morning, while I was getting dressed (think one end of the house) and Mike was reading the paper (other end of the house, by the back door), Parker came bouncing in and stuck his nose into my left armpit. This has become his default behavior for “I want to go outside.” (Don’t ask.) So we walked/bounced to the back door, where, while putting my coat on, I remarked to Mike that this armpit behavior wasn’t the most dignified.

Side note: When the kids were young, I was the go-to parent for requests. I remember once, when all the kids and Mike were in the kitchen, and I was on the other end of the house, one of the kids got up and came to me to ask for a snack. Me. Not the father who was right there in the kitchen with them.

So, after remarking about the armpit to Mike, he said, “Oh, he did want to go out? He had come up to me, but when I asked if he wanted out, he took off to find you.”


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Class Day Four

It struck me on the way home that class is now half over. We haven’t made nearly the kind of progress I’d like to have seen.

We did a lot of heeling in class. As usual, Parker heels nicely but still pops around to sit perpendicularly to keep an eye on everything else going on around him. Interestingly, when we did heels from one side of the room to the other, half the dogs going north, the other half going south, Parker did fine, without breaking his attention from me as we passed the other dogs. Still sat crooked, though.

We did some sit stays from a larger distance. Although Parker is great at this at home, he wasn’t doing well in class. At home, before we go out the door, I ask for (and get) a sit, tell him to wait and open the door for the other dogs to go out first. He waits nicely until I tell him it’s okay to go out. Of course, in class I was following the teacher’s instructions and telling him to stay. Once I realized this and substituted wait for stay, he was fine.


He breaks the stay as I walk around him, something we haven’t worked on at home.

Still won’t do a down, but we have given that two weeks off at home. Time to fire that one up again.

Attention he does well (doggie zen).

Then we did some distance comes. The teacher had me take off Parker’s lead, afraid that if it dragged, he’d get scared. I did wonder about her admonition to never do a come you couldn’t reinforce, but didn’t argue. And he did come to me, possibly because the alternative would have been to stay with the teacher who had hold of his collar. But it wasn’t very fast. Having an Australian Shepherd and a Border Collie in the class kind of put everyone to shame on the come. Then again I mentally felt superior because Parker heels with a loose lead and they both pull and pull. We take our kudos where we can get them.

I was surprised when the teacher told the class at the end how important it was to practice at least five minutes a day. Five minutes! We’d still be trying to sit at that pace.