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In which my dog makes me proud

I've got a little Agility For Fun class running on Thursday nights which only has two students. One couldn't come last night, so I brought Albee to give him some stimulation and to have him practice chilling in his crate in a classroom setting.

He's not quite ready for that, really: he's okay when I'm sitting next to the crate intermittently giving him bites of banana, but he does his whiny bark if I walk away and he hears another dog moving around, even with a sheet over his crate and a stuffed Kong and a bully stick to work on. Still, it was good practice for him.

Halfway through the class, I had the handlers give the student dog a break. They leashed her up and sat at their station. I opened Albee's crate and let him out. He focused nicely on me, with just a few seconds of staring at the other dog with his brain frozen before he pulled himself together.

I then took him through the agility equipment we were working on: channel weaves, long tunnel, chute, and tippy board with its leg in. As soon as we started working, BAM! He was super-focused on me and didn't give a hoot about the other dog, even though she was whining and wriggling quite nearby (it's a very small classroom). He did the obstacles fluently and followed my direction nicely, despite my unpracticed agility handling skills. The two handlers of the other dog were really impressed!

Afterwards, Albee settled down and licked his Kong for about a minute before starting to bark, but his barks were fewer and farther between for the second half of class.

Still lots of work to do, but I was mega-impressed that my dog-reactive guy was so focused and into his work, even with an unknown dog nearby! Way to go Albee!

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPhone.


50 Books: #24

24. Mistborn: The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson (SF, audiobook)
Reread, but first time on audiobook. Great, action-packed heist novel set in an alternate universe. Already have the second book in my listening queue. :)

50 Books: #23

23. Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler (SF)
Sequel to Parable of the Sower. Even more depressing dystopian future! I liked it.

50 books: #22

22. The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake (hist fic)
Meh. Parts of this book were gripping, but mostly I didn't care much about the characters.

50 books in 2012 #12-21

12. Maze Runner, by (YAF, SF, audiobook)
Ugh. This book SUCKED. I seriously debated stopping partway through. I wish I had.

13. The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, by Heidi W. Durrow (Fic)
Sad. Interesting, but didn't grip me as much as I wanted it to. Recommended.

14. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green (YAF)
AWESOME. As soon as I finished reading it, I wanted to read it all over again. I'd definitely buy this book.

15. Hero, by Perry Moore (YAF, SF)
So cute! Gay superhero teens!

16. Fledgling, by Octavia Butler (SF)
AMAZING. I wish it hadn't ended! I want more!

17. Insurgent, by Veronica Roth (YAF, SF, sequel)
Great sequel to a great first book (Divergent). Can't wait for the third!

18. Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein (YAF, hist fic)
AMAZING. I can't say that enough: amazing, amazing, amazing. Go read it. I'll wait.

19. Kindred, by Octavia Butler (SF, hist fic)
Not really SF, except that it involves traveling back in time. More historical fiction than anything. Interesting, but didn't grip me the same way Fledgling did. I wish I'd read this in an English class.

20. Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler (SF)
I enjoyed this book, although "enjoyed" seems like the wrong adjective for a book like this. It's a dystopian near-future novel which I found very (and scarily) plausible. I'll be reading the sequel.

21. Clan of the Cave Bear, by Jean M. Auel (hist fic, audiobook, reread)
Reread. I picked some long books I haven't read in a while to be my knitting audiobooks. This was a good one; I'll probably listen to the sequels too.

Bad trainer, good trainer

I often bring Albee to work with me. (I work at a college.) He spends most of the day sleeping on the little couch in my office, or under my desk. I often let him follow me to the bathroom, to coworkers' offices, etc. He is off-leash during these little excursions down the hall, and we've done a lot of work on waiting until released before running up and greeting people, recalling away from exciting petting people, etc.

One place I don't bring him is into the computer lab where the water bubbler is. I used to bring him in, but I didn't want his presence to bother the students using the lab, so I spent some time teaching him to do long down-stays in the hallway. I put him in a chair at first to "anchor" him, since otherwise he'd break his stay when I went out of sight. After some practice with that, he graduated to down-stays on the floor.

A couple of times, though, he broke his stays and went into the lab, always because one of my student workers called to him in a high-pitched, squealing voice. I found myself getting unreasonably mad at him for this, even though I should've been scolding my student workers instead. But since a) there are a ton of them, and it's easier to train one dog than dozens of students, and b) I want him to be able to hold a stay despite squealing, and c) I want him to understand the concept of "don't come into the lab", not just "stay where I put you," and, most importantly, d) I do not want to get mad at my dog, especially for expecting him to do something I haven't taught him to do, I decided I needed a new training plan.

So I did a bit of boundary training. I took him to the lab doorway. I walked in, leaving him waiting outside. I released him, then clicked before he could enter the lab and tossed a treat behind him. He ate it and approached again, and again I clicked before his feet crossed the threshold and tossed the treat behind him. We played this game for a while, with me gradually increasing the distractions and resetting him when he crossed the boundary. He grasped it pretty quickly, although we spent another handful of sessions proofing the behavior so that he understood that he is not supposed to cross the threshold no matter what. He's not 100% there, but he's pretty darned good at this point.

I am sad that I got grumpy with him, but I am pleased that I managed to nip it in the bud and teach him what I actually did want him to do. (It makes me more sympathetic to my clients, too!)


On Sunday afternoon I took Albee outside with me while I hung up the laundry. The neighbors were out in their fenced yard with their two yappy-barky dogs, so Albee ran over to visit them. This behavior normally makes me cross with him, but this time I had a brainstorm. I pulled out the banana I'd brought out with me, walked over to the fence, and got his attention, then gave him a bite of banana. I asked him to sit and gave him banana.

Then I started to move away from the fence. I called his name, and he ran over to me to get his bite of banana. As he was eating it, I released him and told him to go back over to the fence and dogs. He LOVED this game, and was brilliant about coming away from the fence to me for the first time ever. I was so overjoyed that he was actually recalling away from barking, bouncing dogs that I let it go on a little too long and he got too excited and couldn't come away anymore. Even so, it was a HUGE breakthrough for us.

Spurred by this miraculous discovery, I started brainstorming how I could manufacture situations like this in which to practice. Certainly I can keep practicing with the neighbor dogs, but how can I translate this game to when we're out and about in the world?

Today after work, the perfect opportunity arose. Albee and I were out behind my building when he suddenly went stiff and frozen. "Oh no," I thought, "He sees a dog!" But then my trainer brain kicked in, and I loosened the leash (the other dog was far away, so no chance Albee could get himself into trouble) and busted out the banana I'd been carrying in my back pocket for just such a situation. I walked up to Albee and fed him a chunk of banana. That snapped him right out of his dog-staring reverie, and he started throwing behaviors at me: sit, swivel into heel. I asked him to look at the dog, then called his name and rewarded him mightily for turning back to me. I gradually increased the distance he had to come to get to me (as much as I could on a 6' leash!). The dog and its owner then walked out of sight behind a building. Albee was being an angel and I had plenty of banana left, so he and I speed-walked the opposite way around the building and caught sight of them as they came around. We continued playing "stare at the dog, then recall back to me" as the dog meandered in and out of view. The one and only time Albee barked was when the dog and its handler both ran to chase a squirrel, and even then it was just one little half-hearted bark as he was turning back to me.

It probably sounds silly to any of you who haven't owned a reactive dog, but this was a huge, huge, huge breakthrough for us. Albee's learned to be SO good around almost every distraction - squirrels, little kids, squealing college students, even other dogs in class settings - but other dogs outdoors are his kryptonite. I've been really struggling to figure out how to help him translate his in-class skills to outdoors, but it's so hard to set up training situations without recruiting friends to walk their dogs around aimlessly while I work.

Lessons I've learned:

1. Albee does a lot better when he has work to do. Having a concrete rule structure and a task to focus on really helps him ignore distractions. Just doing loose-leash walking or voluntary attention wasn't cutting it; he needs more engaging activities, and he needs me to engage him 100% in the work.

2. I need to use the big guns. Albee's not very foodie; he'll now eat lesser treats outdoors (he wouldn't eat at all around any kind of distraction when he first came to us), even around distractions, but there's no way he's eating that crap when there's a dog in view. I need to bring a banana with me every time we go out, and I need to practice getting it out and into his face quickly.

3. Keep the damned leash loose. One of my goals for this summer is to read Click to Calm (which I bought a year ago but haven't had time to read yet) and work some of the exercises with Albee. I need strategies for how to bail out of situations that are too much for Albee without having to bodily drag him away, which triggers his frustrated barking and rearing.

I am walking on sunshine! It may still be a long way away, but I've now seen that there is, in fact, a light at the end of our tunnel.
Lest you get the idea that I think about nothing but dog training, here's a post about my other semi-obsessive hobby: knitting.

In the last year or two, I've taken up lace knitting. Partly it's because I am easily bored and always looking for a new challenge; partly because I think it's pretty. It's an odd choice for someone who never wore a scrap of lace in her life, but it is terribly fun to knit.

Today I found a blog called The Panopticon, in which a man named Franklin translates patterns out of old Victorian craft books and adds snarky commentary. If you're a knitter, especially a lace knitter, it's pretty hilarious.

In a recent post, Franklin writes about knitting miniature lace on size 00000 needles (those are 1mm thick) to use as an inset in a doll's dress he's sewing. At one point he writes:

"My antique five-aughts have blunt ends. I'm looking to play with some modern five-aughts and see if they have pointed ends. Pointy ends are a boon when you're trying to work a double-decrease. Fooling about with blunt-ended fine needles has kicked up my appreciation of 19th-century knitters another couple notches. I've seen photos of those women operating these things with gloved hands, which I think helps to explain the widespread Victorian notion of female hysteria."

Cue me cracking up at my desk. I am so with you, Franklin!

(Is it wrong that this made me want to immediately acquire some 00000 needles and knit some teeny-tiny lace, just for ha has? I would say I need a self-help group, but I don't see this as a problem at all.)


Adventures in bonding with my dog

I've decided that I need to spend more time just playing with my dog. He's got fantastic self control, so I can relax my standards on that (hard for me!) and just focus on having fun with him. To that end, mid-morning today I brought Albee outside onto the lawn next to my office and did some playing with him with the wombat-on-a-string. He was a bit lethargic (still tired from day care yesterday), but engaged in the game and had fun chasing and tugging it. (Several students watched us from a distance, laughing.)

In the middle of our game, one of the Deans appeared with her toy poodle on a flexi-lead. She blithely let him toddle right over to us, despite my saying, "My dog tends to be too exuberant for most small dogs." Sure enough, he stared and started to get wound up (pulling forward, stiffening, bending his front elbows a bit in preparation for bouncing) and the little dog gave him some fearsome bared teeth. I moved him away, which (of course) made him start barking. Once we'd gotten about 15' away, though, I pulled out the toy - and he actually played with me! It was pretty amazing.

After he lost interest in playing with the toy, we went for a brief walk. We ran into one of my dog-loving coworkers, an older man. He came up and tried to greet Albee by leaning over and reaching toward him, which made Albee tuck his tail and dart backwards. I let Albee eat treats out of my hand, then put some treats in my colleague's hand and let Albee eat them out of there. Albee allowed the guy to pet him while I fed him treats, although his tail stayed droopy.

When my colleague stopped petting him, I asked Albee to "go touch," a behavior I taught him over Easter weekend when he was acting skittish around my dad. He rapidly learned that he could approach, nose-touch the scary person, and then turn to me for a treat. As soon as I asked him to play this game, Albee's tail flew back up into the air and started wagging. He loved it! (My colleague thought it was a hoot, too.) My colleague even did some more petting of Albee, and his tail stayed in the air. Huzzah!

I like the "go touch" behavior better than having the stranger feed the nervous dog because I think luring can lead a dog to get closer than they're actually comfortable. Once they realize they've gotten too close to the scary person, they get scared and either flee or try to get the person to back off. By shaping the dog the choice to get close without using a food lure, the dog is fully cognizant of what he's doing and is constantly making the choice to go closer on his own in order to earn the reward.

One of the things my KPA instructor, Carolyn Barney, said quite a bit is "Don't lure fear." At first I thought, "That's weird." But I'm now in full agreement with her statement. Better to let the dog make the choice as he's comfortable doing so than to put him in an uncomfortable position.


me and icarus
seymour pigeons

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