Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I Want That Cat!

Laev really, really likes the cats. And not as a pillow to snuggle with.

I don't think she really intends to kill them, because she's caught them a few times and hasn't tried a kill shake or anything. She does nibble at them or even give them big, soft bites, but no real attempts to harm. I'm not happy with the habit, though, because it would be easy to kill a cat if she got too excited, and the cats certainly don't enjoy it.

So when Laev chased a cat into the mudroom the other night, I followed. The cat leapt over the washer and dryer to a cat-safe shelf. (I do provide the cats with safe, Laev-free zones -- but they don't seem to understand that if they stay there while she's out, she can't reach them. They come out and stand in the middle of the room in front of her, and then they seem stunned to find her chasing them. And this isn't the same friendly baiting they give the other dogs; they're afraid of Laev. But not afraid enough to stay out of the way.)

Anyway, the cat jumped to safety, and Laev tried to follow. But as her paws touched the dryer I warned, "Eh! Don't do it." Laev glanced at me, looked at the cat, and tucked herself into a perfect Schutzhund hold and bark, the kind which makes the desired play-fight come to her.

Nice try, puppy. I got a toy and we played with that instead of a cat. :-)

War Wounds

Okay, anyone really looking closely Sunday afternoon might have wondered why exactly I enjoy this.

Wednesday night I was trying to walk Laev to the training building and carry several items as well; we were going to provide a little doggie distraction for a client. Well, as I was struggling with closing a door and juggling leash and retrieve items and toys, I momentarily forgot that it was not Shakespeare on the leash and I dropped the leash loop over my thumb. So when I had my hand wrapped around the door handle and Laev lunged excitedly, I thought I'd broken my thumb. Fortunately I had not, but I did teach much of the rest of the session with a paper towel wrapped around my right hand to slow the bleeding. (And Laev picks up bloody objects as well as clean ones; call it early scent training.)

Thursday night I was playing with Laev, actually working toward a targeted down with a fast burst forward (ultimately for agility contacts), in our usual method with a toy -- tug, tug, out, sit, whip out the toy for reward, tug, tug, out, down, whip out the toy for reward, etc. We've done this since she was eight weeks old, and she loves it -- she has fast downs but is ready to spring forward to catch the toy as I snap it from behind my back again.

Well, this time I wanted to reset her for another repetition, so I told her to sit (she did) and then brought my hand out to take her collar. From behind my back.

Laev launched and had my hand in her mouth before either of us realized what was really happening. To her credit, she realized immediately it wasn't a toy -- "Ack! Spit out Mommy! Spit out Mommy!" -- and backed off quickly, but not before I got a minor chomp. Thus, our first real mistake in tugwork.

Friday, then, saw my left hand mildly swollen and marked with shallow impressions of Laev's teeth across my thumb and both edges of the hand. I wasn't too upset, though -- she'd caught my hand perpendicularly across the metacarpals, the worst angle, and her quick realization that I had not, in fact, brought out a toy probably saved me from a broken hand.

Saturday I came home to see Laev rushing across the yard toward me; my husband had apparently put her out for a potty break and exercise spin. She was thrilled to see me pull in and made a couple loops around me before leaping up to say hello. Right into my face, as I was bending over.

There was a sickening numbing pain in my chin, and as I told Laev to sit I tasted blood. Drat. Oh, well. I went off toward the training building, needing to check on some Bravo! stock, and felt something warm on my face in the bitter cold day. I reached up and then saw blood covering my fingers.

"Not again," was my first, weary thought. (Many know that I had plastic surgery to repair the left side of my chin/mouth after a severe dog bite.) But no, I was just fine. Face wounds bleed, but all I really had was a single puncture from her grinning mouth and a cut on the inside from my own teeth and some bruising.

There's also a spreading green bruise over a good part of my left shin, but I have absolutely no idea where that came from. Really. It could have been Laev, but I don't remember it. It could have been taijutsu, but I don't think we did anything that should have bruised there. But given the week, maybe it's just as well I don't remember. :-)

So Sunday we went to a show and go to practice Rally Obedience, and I'm feeling like a dog training cripple. Laev's first round is not especially pretty, but it's functional, and her second was better. She was distracted the first time by the other activity around the ring, including a neighboring Obedience ring which featured a handler verbally flaying her dog for lying down on a sit-stay. I felt really bad for the other dogs in the line-up -- if it bothered Laev in the next ring, how must they feel? -- but I asked Laev to focus as if it didn't exist, and she did her best.

Shakespeare loves Rally, so he did fine, and I've learned to really appreciate his nice, reliable loose-leash behavior. Laev has it sometimes, but not others -- and to be fair, I think the inconsistency of "walk on a loose leash across the parking area but pull on the leash to get to the helper" doesn't make it easy. My current solution is to use an Easy Walk harness when I'm not really training, which works well.

Yesterday Laev seemed to "get it" at her Rally O class -- oh, yeah! We're here to work! -- and didn't need to spend the first part of class getting the wiggles out. She doesn't like waiting patiently for our turn at the course, but we have nose touches and things to help pass the time. And she got to be a star when I brought out her toy to reward a nice station and spun her in circles off the ground; the class hadn't seen such a large dog do that before. :-)

Friday, February 17, 2006


Well, Laev got an equipment swap the other night.

She's working on hold-and-barks now at Schutzhund. This was taught traditionally by holding the dog back physically from reaching the decoy, who rewarded strong (frustrated) barking with a bite on the sleeve.

In my club, we use two chain link gate panels to create a sort of barrier between the dog and decoy, who starts some distance from the gate. Laev is released to the gates, where she barks furiously in frustration, and as she barks the helper moves closer and closer, rewarding the barks, until finally he gives her a bite over the gate. Repeat, and gradually the gate are slid apart as she's barking, and finally she's holding herself back and barking to be rewarded with a bite.

So why the equipment swap?

She's been working mostly on a harness until this point, as I didn't want her straining against a collar as she chased her toy or the sleeve. However, it's really hard to keep a dog in a harness from leaping or climbing a gate without keeping a more constant pressure on the long line, which of course negates the entire purpose of the exercise. So Laev was wearing a wide padded leather agitation collar and/or a long-link or fursaver on the dead ring. This works better than the harness, but she's not afraid to throw herself into it enthusiastically, and so once she flipped backwards as she tried to leap the gate. In addition, because she's putting a constant strain on her collars, and so strongly, we were worried about her damaging her throat and larynx.

So now Laev is wearing a padded leather agitation collar and a prong on dead rings, each with a separate long line. My club knows that I like to use the least possible coercion on a dog, so they immediately delagated the lines to me. (Previously another club member had been holding the line on the harness, leaving me free to call directions and encouragement and to catch/cradle her as necessary.)

It's my job to stand behind her and handle the lines with just enough pressure to keep her from clearing the gate and not so much that she's inhibited by the prong's pressure or feels physically restrained by the lines instead of the gates. Here's a typical repetition:

1) helper takes his place 20' or so from the far sides of the gates; Laev is scrabbling up ground cover as I hold her back about 20' or so from our side of the gates.
2) I call "Revier!" (roughly, German for "search," or the command to go find if someone is in the blind and if so, bark to hold him there) and release Laev, who sprints forward to the gates.
3) I let out the lines enough that she feels no pressure as she slides into a halt in front of the gates. If she tries to jump or climb them, though, I have to react quickly enough that she does not succeed. However, I can't just jerk her back! because that will flip her backwards, or at minimum hurt her neck. I need to give a quick unbalancing pop to bring her backward and down into a crouch. I try to use the leather collar first, but if she's really fighting, I use the dead-ring prong so she won't lean into it.
4) I continue to monitor the lines as the helper moves forward during Laev's enthusiastic barking.
5) The gates are slid slowly apart by helpful club members or conscripted spouses.
6) Laev sees an opening! She tries for a dirty bite, but is blocked by a quick, light pop on the lines.
7) The helper shuffles backward slowly, so that Laev follows him through the gates and practices holding him tight and close, barking all the while.
8) Laev crouches and gives rhythmic, staccato, insistent barks. The helper suddenly brings the sleeve up and WHAM! her mouth is stuffed full of sleeve. He gives her a good fight, and then he slips the sleeve, so that
9) I have to rush forward and catch Laev before she can take the sleeve to the ground and maul it. I wrap my arms around her, one blocking her left hip from swinging away and the other holding her jaw beneath the sleeve, as I cue her calmly and quietly to "sit."
10) Laev complies, feeling like an old hand at this well-practiced part that it means she gets to hold the prized sleeve for a minute, and I have approximately a nano-second to switch my right hand from beneath her jaw to her collar, because if I delay at all she'll begin thrashing the sleeve -- a process which is both detrimental to her calm bite and hazardous to my own shins and kneecaps.
11) Holding her collar, I stroke down her back and sides, telling her calmly how good she is and how well she's doing. Perhaps a few other people come and touch her, so that she's calm holding the sleeve and not worried about possessing it.
12) I take up the collar (not the prong) and cue "out!" Laev probably resists at first, because I won that sleeve, darn it, and you're not getting it back! but -- provided I lifted the collar no more than half an inch -- in a second or so she spits the sleeve, already barking, and I drag her backward (somehow untangling all lines from macrame to flawless as I go) to begin at #1 again.

I'm feeling a little inept at this. First, my equestrian background means that I want to give subtle little movements on the long lines rather than quick unbalancing pops, so I need practice on that. Second, I haven't discovered the secret yet of transporting myself in an efficient manner from behind the dog to cradling her, especially without tangling either of us in the two long lines.

I face another problem, as well. I just bought Laev a new fursaver, a shiny new chrome model. But I borrowed a curogan prong collar the other night (had to take out three links!) and it looked really, really good on her. Can I spring for the curogan fursaver when I buy her her own oversized (to minimize pressure) prong? It would look so nice on her dark coat. Hmm....

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Articles & Contacts

Laev has lousy article indication in tracking -- something I'm told is perfectly normal for her age, but that's no reason to just let it go. :-) I also want to start teaching her a down contact behavior for agility. I think I'm going to combine them.

I like the accuracy of a 2on2off contact, but I don't like the impact that it *can* put on shoulders if the dog doesn't rock back properly. Laev's puppy agility work encouraged her to rock her weight to the rear, but she's going to have a high-impact career anyway (slamming into decoys, scaling 6' walls, jumping 39" for retrieves) and I'd rather not add any more stress than necessary. So I've been seriously considering starting her on a down contact behavior, hitting the dirt just below the contact zone.

And I can combine this training (down on a target) with outside article indication (down with nose on article), which I hope will strengthen both behaviors by adding variety and generalization and offering a greater number of high rewards for correct response.

I don't know that this is a perfect answer (a running contact would be even less stress on the shoulders, for example, but I really doubt that's going to be achievable with the Laev!) but it's the current plan.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Laev's First AKC trial

We did it. We went to Laev's first AKC trial.

Laev had done an APDT Rally Obedience trial before, but this was her first AKC Obedience trial. I was not anticipating great things. In fact, I had told my sister that I would probably take her to the trial for the environmental experience but pull her before our class.

But she was acting mostly sane at the trial grounds, looking around and chewing her Bravo!-stuffed Kong happily, and so I decided to go ahead. But I didn't want it to become an ordeal with bad memories for Laev if this were destined to be a bad day. "Wait," I said to the judge. "Before we actually enter the ring, I have a question." If things were not going well, could we ask to be excused?

He told me that we could ask to leave only if the dog or I were sick. I told him he might be sick watching us. He said then that if she were uncontrollable, he would excuse us. I could work with that, so we entered the ring and set up for the heel pattern.

Oh. My. Gosh. Was this the same dog who couldn't do a thing this week? She watched me like a hawk, matching my strides exactly. She sat crooked, as usual, but who cares? She was HEELING in the TRIAL RING with me! And it was raptly attentive!

After a moment, Laev decided that our heeling was boring. After all, I was clearly forgetting to treat her or pull out her toy, and we weren't going very fast. So she began coaching me verbally, giving crisp little barks to remind me that I owed her a cookie or a tug. I smiled and kept going.

We finished the heel pattern and I played enthusiastically with her while the human Figure 8 posts got into postion. Then we started heeling around them. She completely ignored the humans, instead focusing intently on me and giving me a sharp little bark every three seconds. "Mom! You're walking too slow! And you forgot to treat me!!!"

The judge directed us to line up for the recall, and I was so delirious with Laev's success that I obeyed. Then the ring steward pointed out that we needed to do a Stand For Exam. Ye gads -- the stand. Off leash. Oh, boy.

I removed the leash and told Laev to stay. I left, apprehensive. I turned and watched the judge approach Laev, not from the side as most Novice judges do, but almost directly from the front, blocking our eye contact and meeting her at a much more difficult angle. But Laev just wiggled her front feet a bit, sniffed at him, and then looked at me and wagged. "Okay, Mom, I know you've been pretty absent-minded thus far, but I *know* I always get treats for letting these dweebs touch my back and waiting for you. C'mon already!" I returned and praised wildly.

Okay, heeling off-leash. We set up and started. Laev did very well for the first half of the pattern, but the stress of the new environment and the long period without primary reinforcement (tugging or food) was starting to show. She began to fade a little, drifting away from me, but she returned to attention as I did an about-turn and caught up nicely. We ended with her sitting crooked, of course, but otherwise qualified.

I knew I was stuck in a "visualize success" moment and not really living this.

Okay, now it's finally time for the recall. I leave Laev with a happy, "Sit!" and walk 35' or so away. (We were in a Utility-sized ring.) I turn and see with some amazement that she's still sitting. I call, "Front!" and I can *see* the nitro fuel ignite. Laev leaps forward with a stride that Man O'War might have envied.

I brace. As she races down the entire length of the ring, I can do nothing but anticipate the impact.

But Laev has mercy on me and catches herself slightly, giving me only a relatively light thump as she bounces back into a front. If our judge had told us to "finish" right then, it would have been a qualifying exercise, I think. But Laev could hold that front only a second, and then she couldn't take any more and left me. She did not do zooming laps around the ring, to my great relief, but only trotted a few feet away to sniff the mats. Yep, stress; there's nothing exciting on those mats, but she needs to sniff something.

We were excused, and I stuck a can of squeeze cheese into her muzzle and treated her all the way back to our little waiting area. I just couldn't believe it. Even though she'd left me at the end of the recall, she had held it together for an entire routine and given me some really beautiful heeling.

"Tell me you got some photos of that gorgeous heeling!" I said to my sister (also competing that day) and mother (who was also present to watch).

"I didn't have a camera," Mom said blankly.

Aaaargh! My camera was at the top of the bag!!!!

Several people complimented us on Laev's performance. I told them, "Yes, yes, it was far, far, far better than what I expected! I'm thrilled! The only bad thing is that we didn't get excused from sits and downs!" I honestly hadn't thought we'd make it that far.

We re-enter for group exercises and line up. Laev is the first dog in the line, the one on the edge of the ring (the other side of the ring is a brick wall). I leave her with a cheerful, "Sit!" and walk away.

She stays. She gives me nice eye contact and she stays. Time passes. Still staying! I can't count seconds. Still staying.

A blur of motion crosses the left edge of my vision. It repeats. Crud, crud, crud....

Laev's seen it. Her head snaps around, trying to track the motion. Where is it? What is it? I'm guessing this must be a bird, trapped in the building. It's fast. It streaks back again--

Laev explodes into motion, charging past me so fast that I don't have a chance of stopping her even though I see her coming. Fortunately there are already four people standing at the ring opening and together they block her. She turns, considers leaping the ring gating and spectator chairs, and I catch her collar.

She'd missed the sit-stay by a couple of seconds.

Okay, we'll try again. We resume our place in line and I leave her in a down. She looks at me for a few seconds and then her head is yanked away. I didn't see the motion this time, but Laev sure did. She darted again, and this time I caught her.

"You need to get a dog with some more prey drive," drawled the judge, "and you can leave."

Ah, well. I have never practiced stays with exciting moving things nearby, not at all, and I really didn't expect to do nearly as well as we did, so I didn't much care that she blew the stays. We can try again later, but this was a pretty good first showing for a dog who's just under a year old and a pretty slow developer.

After the trial had completely ended and all judging, persons, etc. were gone, I took her back into the ring for some quick and simple heeling with tangible rewards, just so she knew that it was possible to get good stuff in the ring, too. Then we went back to the car. Tomorrow we have tracking and bitework, two of her favorite things, so she needs her beauty sleep. :-)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

She's Driving Me Crazy!

So we go to Schutzhund last night, and Laev bombs obedience. Completely. She just can't manage to keep her mind on me while there are other people and dogs moving around, and it devolves into a fight to keep her from lunging toward them. What happened to the puppy who missed me so much while I was gone? She doesn't seem that she could care less about me now!

I finally realized that I was not improving the situation by getting frustrated (I'm a little slow) and I left the building to try the driveway or else put her away. It was like someone flipped a switch and I had a trained dog! I got beautiful heeling for about 20 feet, and then someone else came outside and she came unglued again. /sigh/

After that, though, she did some great bitework. She's very good at focusing on that, anyway.

I added something new to her raw diet last night after training -- trout filets, which my sister found on clearance and brought. Neither Inky nor Shakespeare had any trouble with them, but Laev started puking in the middle of the night and kept it up until 4 a.m. or so. :-(

Today I took her to a Rally training class, because I feel that Rally exercises are the foundation of good heeling anyway and because we obviously desperately need some environmental variation and distractions in our training. And as predicted, she was very distracted by the other dogs and wanted to drag toward them instead of working. I tried to avoid fussing at her and instead just clicked for eye contact and simple behaviors. After a few minutes, Laev seemed to realize that no one else could reach her, either (it's not a class of advanced dogs who are disinterested in her, or she would have caught on faster due to lack of returned eye contact) and that I had yummy dried sea clams for treats. I figured she would be hungry, since she didn't keep anything she ate the night before, and indeed once she started working she got right down to it! even her trademark barking at me from heel position if she felt we were not doing things quickly enough.

So there is a light at the end of the tunnel; she can give me some very nice heeling when she focuses. I just wish I could call the Brain Fairy for an early delivery!

Monday, February 06, 2006

I'm Back!

I spent the last week on vacation (whee!) but that meant the dogs were at home (they usually can't all travel with us, and especially not on a cruise ship). I have an awesome petsitter, but that's still not enough for the Laev-monster. I found lines in her daily notes such as "Laev's wild!" and "she'll be happy to have you home!" Poor petsitter. :-)

Laev's first obedience trial is this Friday, and she's just had a week off from all thinking, so we're going to be doing some cramming this week! Our biggest struggle is to find places away from home to practice, as it's the distraction of new environments that seems to be the hurdle for this 11-month old brain. And I doubt the judge will come to our kitchen for a demonstration of what she can really do...!