Thursday, March 30, 2006

New Toy

I was in the dollar store today and saw fluffy stuffed soccer balls. It was only a dollar; what could it hurt?

Tonight, then, Laev was crying in her crate. Barking, really, a whiney sharp ear-piercing sound. I knew she didn't need to go out, as she'd just come in. And she had the shred of her original The Toy between her front paws, picking it up occasionally, as if she wanted to hold it but it was broken.

Well, of course it's broken, dummy. You broke it yourself, shredded it.

So I went down the hall and fetched the new toy from the store bag. I opened the crate and handed it to her.

Joy! The new toy has a squeaker, something I forgot to check. She squeaked it happily for a few minutes and then held it in her mouth like her old toy. Then she began to pick at it, until I stopped her and praised her holding it quietly. Then she fell silent, not a single bark after she received the new toy.

I don't know if this toy will last, but for a buck, it bought a night's sleep. ;-)

By the way, Laev is now doing hold and barks in the blind. This isn't unheard of at this age, but it's pretty advanced, so we're pleased with her. :-) She's also doing more field trips with me to help her learn to focus and play with me no matter where we are. Today she visited the feed store and the grocery. Yay!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Oh, no -- what does the future hold?

Since Laev was nine or ten weeks old, she has gone to sleep with The Toy. This was a special toy, an orange fuzzy die chosen by Shakespeare from a basket after his first Rally trial. Shakespeare liked the toy well enough, but a year later Laev arrived and loved it. She never shredded it, like she abused other toys, and she always fell asleep with it in her mouth, stuffed deep in her throat so that it looked as if she were gagging on it, her muzzle propped vertically as she slept.

No other toy would do. If she didn't have that one, she would cry until given it and then promptly fall asleep. When I left town for a few days, my husband's desperate plea was that I be certain he knew exactly where The Toy was before I left.

We realized this was a liability, having only one of The Toy. She'd already deformed it from a cube into a shapeless blob which fit easily into her huge mouth. What would happen if we lost it, or if it fell apart? So I looked for months for big fuzzy dice, large enough to withstand the Laev-jaws. I found none. Then I finally found large stuffy balls of a similar size and bought three.

Laev promptly ate them.

So we were left with only The Toy, which we prayed would last. It was treasured. And Laev suddenly destroyed it. Ack!

Schutzhund tired Laev out, so last night went well enough. But we fear this night.... I gave her one last stuffy ball from the stash of inadequate substitutes; we'll see if she likes it. :-)

Tonight was fun :-) and Turn The Lights Out

Schutzhund training tonight was fun. :-) No dirty bites! and no attempts, even. She'd tried that one more time, last Saturday, and apparently realized that it just wasn't going to pay off and wasn't worth the time.

Tonight, though, she was on fire! I don't know the reason, but she was just several notches higher tonight; all day, really. So our first repetition of usual revier-bite-slip the sleeve-sit-hold was more of a revier-bite-slip the sleeve- No! I don't wanna sit, I wanna play! I caught this! It's mine! I can take him again, yes I can, watch me! And it devolved into a minor wrestling match in which my usual cradling became more of a restraint. And then all was good, and she played by the rules, even if she was a lot more vocal about having to do it my way. :-)

And there are moments of intelligence and focus appearing occasionally. Before bitework, we'd run in to do a little play together (playing together segues nicely into obedience work). There was a cat crated in one corner of the barn, yowling, and Laev was tempted by it at first, but then she focused on me and the exciting toy and ignored the cat. Huzzah! And when she won the toy and looked toward the cat again, I simply prompted her verbally and she brought the toy back for another game. Huzzah!

That was nearly as pleasing as this afternoon, when I let the foster dog outside for an emergency potty break (quick! before she pees!) and Laev, already outside, came barreling toward us. I was sure they'd start playbowing to one another and sniffing, but Laev romped right past the foster to me. "Hi, Mom!" Then she seemed to recall that she'd passsed a dog and turned to sniff noses. I called her name, and she left immediately and came inside with me.

I've never kept her from other dogs, as some suggested, but I've just tried to limit her time and make our own time more rewarding. We're a long way from the finish line, but it's not a total loss yet.

Back to tonight's practice. So then it was time for Laev's second round of bitework. She did a nice revier into the blind (something we just started Saturday, and she's doing well at it) and then I cradled her while she grumbled about having to pause. She spat the sleeve during a small tantrum (she absolutely cannot hear the helper tell me to have her "out") and I had just carefully removed that sleeve in preparation for another repetition when suddenly the barn went black. Electrical failure! And since it was 10:30 or so, it was pretty dark.

"At least we're stuck in here with a nice, safe dog," Carol said.

"Randy, we can't see where you are," I quipped. "Would you crack your whip for us?"

"I'll happily do that if you give her the bite," Randy answered.

Curtis went outside for a flashlight in his car, and he then lit the way for Laev and me to exit. Laev was quite put out that we quit after only one bite, but that just means that much more energy for next time. Um, and she was already revved tonight. Whee!

About that audible "out" -- Laev has a wonderfully reliable out while playing with me, but of course it's not the same on a live sleeve. That's when instinct and desire ("I want it!") run smack into training and reason ("If I let go, I can get it again"). She's conflicted when I cue the out myself, but she's a smart pupper and hears every word around her. If the helper uses the word "out," in any phrasing, the conflict erupts into tantrum status and she begins thrashing the sleeve and screaming. This is a bad habit for training and for my knees. ;-)

The first time it happened, he simply said, "Go ahead and out her," in the same tone and cadence as we'd been discussing her bite and her sit and everything else, and she exploded in a screaming, thrashing fit.

"I think she heard you," I said.

He just sighed and shook his head. "Dobermans...."

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Blase.....

I won't say Laev is bombproof, because she's not. She can be suckered into a reaction by almost anything fast-moving.

But she is remarkably blase about some things. This morning, for example, I was vacuuming over her. She just quietly chomped a teddy bear while I ran the vacuum behind her and reached over her to vacuum the other side.

Of course, I did have to ask her to leave the bear's head attached, so I guess she isn't totally calm and sweet. :-)

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Big Making-Up-For-Lost-Time Post

I wanted to post earlier this week, but I was too depressed.

Okay, "depressed" is a strong word. But I was discouraged. Laev was simply overwhelmed by the second day of the trial and couldn't perform at all. Too much mental! I actually asked that we be excused during our Rally run; we were still technically qualifying and had only two stations left, but it just wasn't anything I was ever going to be proud of. I know what kind of work my dog is capable of giving me, and that wasn't it.

So obviously overstimulation and distraction were our big failures. Excuse me -- not failures, but areas where improvement is possible. ;-) So this week I took Laev on field trips with me as I ran errands. Library parking lot: jump out and play with me. Would rather stare and sniff than play? Fine; get back in the car. Try again. Repeat at the farm store. Repeat elsewhere....

I had about 50% success in this; she just doesn't always find me the most fascinating thing in the world. I know that if I let her explore first, she would probably then play with me, but I don't want to go down that slippery slope of teaching her to focus first on her environment. It won't always be possible for her to explore in competition, and more importantly, if she should escape the car while we're traveling or something, I don't want her to roam the entire rest area before deciding that now she can finally hear my calls! So she has to learn that from the moment she comes out, I'm the coolest option and the only option until I release her.

I'm not being mean about this -- if she doesn't want to play her favorite game of tug, she goes back in the car. Her choice.

Anyway, I guess it's paid off a little, because I took her in to Schutzhund practice this morning (no tracking today, due to lightning) and she focused right in on me. No sniffing the ground for cat poop, no playing with goose feathers, no staring around the barn. Just me! and my toy. Awesome. Even our training director was impressed.

I talked with him about this week, and he thinks I'm on the right track. We'll see how it goes from here.

Then we did bitework today. Laev is figuring out the hold-and-bark, but like any red-blooded dog, she'd rather be biting than barking! And her handler was *bad* today....

Laev was barking enthusiastically at the helper, giving him strong eye contact (she's already focused on him, not the sleeve). He was moving slightly with her barks, rewarding them, and as I allowed some slack in the leash to accomodate their shifting without popping her collar, I apparently let too much out. (I'd love to blame this on my very real lack of depth perception, but I'm not completely sure I can get away with it.) Little did we know that Laev was, even while barking madly, calculating with her cunning Doberman brain, and when she figured she was close enough she went for a dirty bite. Right to his crotch.

Well, she didn't have quite enough leash to do it justice, and thank goodness for scratch pants, and he wasn't permanently damaged, or even hurt. She released instantly and went right back to a hold and bark, after a moment of which she was rewarded with the sleeve. Okay, she'd tried it once, it didn't tip the game in her favor, oh, well, now she'll play by the rules.

I told the helper it wasn't anything personal. Sorry about that.

So Laev sits and holds the sleeve, good. Downs, good. Outs, great. Stays, good. Everything's fine. I'm told to carefully, slowly, remove the sleeve and deliver it to the helper, reinforcing calm waiting in the dog. We've done this before. Great.

I take the sleeve, begin to move, and Laev launches. She's tired of down time! I have just enough time to manage, "I don't have her!" as she takes off (I could have stopped Shakespeare verbally, but not Laev, not yet).

She hits him with both paws and bounces back, staring at him. "What's with you? Why aren't you dressed for the game? Where's the sleeve, you dummy?"

And people say Schutzhund dogs are dangerous. :-) No threat from him standing calmly, no target to bite, and the game's not on.

I call her, and she comes bouncing back to me. Down, wait. The helper informs me that if I let the leash slip during this hold and bark, allowing the dog to reach his crotch, he's going to use the agitation whip on me. And *now* we get to alert on the helper, now properly dressed for the game. Yay!

But he was still very happy with her work, which she did cleanly thereafter, and I was very happy with it. We have a long way to go in the maturity department, and maybe the Brain Fairy will bring some focus to help with the distraction, but she's overall doing pretty well for her age and what more could I want, really?

(Note: for those who don't train in Schutzhund, the agitation whip is *not* used to actually strike the dog and cause him to bite, contrary to what some numskulls will say. It's a noisemaker, primarily, to stimulate a dog and/or increase the threat appearance. Please don't write me nasty letters telling me I'm a horrible person for letting my dog play her favorite games.)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Laev's Second AKC Trial

Well, she's still a puppy.

Actually, today wasn't bad. It was a MUCH busier trial than her first outing, which I knew in advance, and she was pretty distracted by all the activity. She also is displaying an alarming fixation on smaller dogs -- not aggressive, but playful in an intense, you're-little-and-fast-moving kind of way. It could become a real issue if not managed, I suspect, but I am trying to stay well on top of it. It's kind of tough, though, when other dogs are giving her intense eye contact while we're lining up for the group exercises...!

Laev did qualify in her first AKC Rally trial, which I expected -- AKC Rally is very simple, and I would have been worried if we didn't manage to qualify! (Incidentally, Shakespeare took home an award for High-Scoring Doberman in all Rally classes with a 97, redeeming himself somewhat after a mediocre run; there was a barking scuffle outside the ring and he wanted to deal with that more than look pretty heeling.) She did not, however, qualify in her standard Novice B class. She was just distracted and generally not "on." She did a spot-on Stand for Exam, which pleased me, and eventually she did remember what heeling was, but she was nosy toward the Figure 8 posts, gave me initially ugly heeling, etc.

We've also established a solid pattern over a data sample of two trials that she can hold a sit stay for exactly 57 seconds. Both times she broke just before the judge asked the handlers to return. /sigh/ We're still working on extending duration at home, but I guess the trial is just too busy....

I have no more entries planned for her in the next months. I wanted to do the February trial to support the specialty club and to give her a very controlled, quiet first trial, and I did this one to support a club I've worked with for years and also to experiment a little, but after tomorrow she gets some time to grow a brain. She was very obviously tired during today's performance, exhausted afterward, and it's just a lot for a young pupper brain to process. She's not doing badly for her age and (lack of) maturity, really, but I have no reason to push or hurry her.

Congratulations to Alena and Lucrezia, who earned their first Novice leg today and took High Scoring Doberman in the standard Obedience classes. :-)