Saturday, December 13, 2008

Trial Report.

Today is not a good day to have a blog.

There are good aspects to having a blog; it forces me to think though things as I write posts, it connects me with other people and their suggestions, it encourages other people in their own training, it lets me report to several friends at once on our progress. But there are bad aspects to having a blog, too, like reporting bad news. It's awful enough to live through it, worse to report it to friends, and worse still to have to tell the people from other states or even other countries who have written or commented to wish success.

But I set myself up for this, so I can't blame anyone but myself.

The day was not a total loss, actually. Tracking went decently; Laev started correctly and, though she got excited and overshot each corner by a body length, she self-corrected and showed a deep nose. Parts of the track the judge even called "excellent." Too bad she failed to stop at the first article. (Where did that come from all of a sudden?) So she finished with a score of 80, which isn't going to knock anyone's socks off but was at least mostly respectable, considering she lost a lump 10 points by missing the article.

Shakespeare struggled considerably more at both corners and wobbled, also missing the first article. (Note to self -- leather articles no good today!) However, he finished the track and squeaked by with a score of 71 to earn his Tracking 1 title. (The judge was even kind enough to specify later over lunch that it was earned and not a gift.) That surprised and pleased me. Not bad for a dog I suspect has a handicap! I collected my skipped articles and left tracking feeling fairly happy.

Laev had showed very nice focus prior to the track and good self-control in starting the track, so I was anticipating a good obedience session. During the 45-minute drive from tracking to the club field, I listened to music. By the time I arrived, I was even singing along a bit, having conquered most of my nerves and compartmentalized the stressful stuff from earlier in the week. (I had an upsetting event this week, which hurt and challenged me personally.) I was feeling pretty confident and mostly competent.

I don't know what the temperature or wind chill really was, but it was COLD. Less wind than predicted, which was good, but colder too, I think. We were cold even with our multi-layered winter gear. Still, less wind and no rain was good for obedience. And I liked the judge, who was easy to show to and didn't give me trial jitters like I get with Laev.

BH dogs went first, and there were two. (Someone else came after all!) Alena and Valenzia did better than anticipated, given that Alena had only 10 days notice of the trial and Valenzia had done almost no outdoor work previously. They did not pass, but I was happy for them with their overall showing.

Us next! We had an honor dog working the other half of Laev's flight, as we were the only Schutzhund entry. Laev and I got to the field first -- I really thought the other dog was right behind us! -- and had to wait for the second dog. I had Laev sit while we waited. Then the second dog came and we checked in, Laev offleash and the honor dog on a long line, as approved by the judge. She asked if I wanted to do the down or heelwork first, and I looked at Laev shivering hard and said that we'd work first, to warm her up. Seemed reasonable.

I took her to the start line and sat in basic position, ready to begin. But the honor dog had to get across the field and start his down, which took a couple of minutes. Laev had been fidgety during the waiting but then had focused well for reporting in, and I thought that I didn't want to burn out her focus while waiting again. So I downed her and stepped to one side, so she didn't have to wait all keyed up.

This would have been fine during normal training. But this wasn't normal training, was it? There were strange people on the field, a different atmosphere in general, and we'd already waited in limbo before reporting in. Laev was slightly off-kilter and not quite certain of what we were doing. When I stepped back into heel position beside her, ready to begin, she didn't look up at me as she ALWAYS does.*

(* Almost always, except in times of stress. The last time she missed my stepping back as a cue to focus was during a seminar where I was in conflict, and Laev just checked out. Hey, I wasn't focused on her, either. But it's a distinct sign of disconnect.)

Now, a SMART handler would have not only noticed that the dog was not in tune, but done something about it. I could have stepped away and stepped back again. I could have said her name and asked for a simple hand target to reset her before taking a new basic position. But nope, I noticed that she wasn't focused and I just said, "Heel," to pop her forward into the sit. Laev, her eyes across the field, didn't respond. So I cued again and got her, but now we were already out of sync.

I knew immediately I didn't have the same dog I'd left in the down. But I wasn't really sure what to do at that point, and normally heeling will bring Laev's brain back. So I started the pattern. She was a bit wide, and I didn't feel we were "dancing" as we should have been. The judge said in her critique that Laev looked happy and focused, and I don't want to argue with the judge, so I'll just say that I knew it wasn't nearly as good as it can be. Laev was definitely a bit stressed and not in sync.

Still, she was starting to settle in just as the gunshots were fired. They even caught me by surprise! as I was thinking about my dog. Laev didn't startle out of position, but I saw a small reaction in her. I think it was just the straw that broke her concentration. Mine, too; I had no idea where I was in counting steps, which ususally isn't a problem for me. I guessed at a location for our turn. Probably Laev sensed my uncertainty and it didn't reassure her, because a moment later she broke and bolted.

I shouted, but the judge waved me quiet. "Let her check for the toy," she advised. "She's just trying the vor aus early. You get three commands to call her back; don't waste them."

I knew Laev wasn't trying the vor aus; I haven't been sending her that far down the field. She was running to relieve stress. Stupid greyhound genes. She disappeared into the woods, where there were barking neighbor dogs and lots of squirrels.

#*&@$! squirrels.

Laev appeared again, moving at Mach 8 across the edge of the woods. I called. I don't know if she even heard me. She cleared a brush pile -- "She must have jumped 13 feet!" gasped the judge -- and kept going. Out of sight.

I started to worry; Laev has never run that far from me, ever. I made my final call, and she didn't reappear. "Go and get her," said the judge.

I walked toward the end of the field, but there was no sign of Laev. I was getting more worried, now. I was also remembering the whistle I had in the car. I had considered tucking it into a pocket today, just in case -- okay, so I'm paranoid -- but Laev had been doing so well at staying right with me, ignoring the woods, etc. of late that I hadn't thought I'd need it.

It felt like eternity, though it was probably only about a minute before I sighted Laev galloping across the next field. She was moving really, really fast. Maybe, if I don't kill her, we can give up Schutzhund for lure coursing.

I called and she swerved to come to me. We heeled back to hear the brief critique. There wasn't much; the judge liked our early heeling (though I didn't) and then Laev was dismissed for being out of control.

That's it. No more chance to do obedience, no chance to do protection. Epic fail.

On some pathetic level, it was almost nice to see my club's disappointment. Several told me that they had expected Laev to do well; one said that after the morning's track he thought, "Obedience, and then it's in the bag." It was nice to see that they had really expected success.

But then, I feel like we failed not only ourselves, but our club, the judge who flew out for us, my friends who wanted us to succeed, and everyone who read the blog and wished us well, publicly or privately.

And, hindsight being 20/20, of course I can see where I could have done better as a handler. I mean, on at least three occasions this week I carefully explained how movement and simple, successful behaviors can manage and dispell stress safely. Laev was already focused on me when we reported in; I should have done some heel movements and targeting to keep her occupied, moving, and successful while the honor dog went to the down. Then I wouldn't have added stress by changing the routine ("why are we waiting again?") and compounded it by freezing her in place with a down, denying any relief through movement.

The bigger part, of course, is that I did not train for limbo. We've never practiced waiting on the field for the judge to get a pen or the other dog to down or someone to find a missing dumbbell or who knows what. Laev is used to coming on the field, focusing, and working. When I needed her to wait yet again, I required something other than that which I'd trained. So we're going to add dead time into our routine.

I was very disappointed. People were largely sympathetic -- heck, we've all failed sometime, right? -- until it came out that I was writing an article for Then a few comments shifted tone, which frustrated me. I mean, if we had passed, would it have been said that we did so only because I was a clicker trainer? Then why should it be said that we failed because of that?

Yes, it's obvious I have a problem. And I'll work on it. Someone asked me what I planned to do, and I answered, "I plan to think about it when I'm sober." Because, really, the initial burst of disappointment and frustration is not the best time to make decisions. (I did think, during that moment that Laev was gone, that if I just walked off the field and disappeared, being nowhere in sight when she returned, I would probably prevent leaving me for a long time. But of course I couldn't do that in the trial....)

We worked dogs after lunch in preparation for tomorrow's helper seminar. Laev garnered compliments on her bitework, but when the helper slipped the sleeve near the edge of the field -- I didn't know he would do that -- she ran with the sleeve. She did return, and she was never out of sight, but it's a disturbing trend. (Of course, she'd had HUGE reinforcement for running earlier in the day. Relief of stress is a very powerful negative reinforcer.) We put a long line on her and I worked on recalls after the sleeve is slipped, and she was returning to me even unprompted by the end of the session and in her second session as well. I don't kid myself that it's fixed, however.

Her obedience was shot to pieces during the helper sessions, too. Because the focus was on training helpers, not training dogs, the guest helper working her was talking frequently to observers instead of focusing wholly on Laev and me. He also just does some things differently than I prefer to do. What this meant, however, is that bad behavior was getting inadvertently rewarded. I told Laev to down while he was talking, for example, and then before she did he turned and agitated. So the next time I told Laev to down, she hesitated, eyes on helper. Then I was chided for not having a good down and strong corrections. I know I can get proper obedience if the helper and I are working together, not separately; I need to be hard-nosed about that tomorrow during the seminar. We agree that the bite is the ultimate reward for the dog; we disagree in that I say it must be earned though behavior performed entirely by the dog without handler help. (I'm not blaming the helpers; their job wasn't to focus on us at that time. I was clearer in telling helpers to wait during the second session and Laev's downs got more stable again.)

"There's no crying in Schutzhund!" someone told me today, but I really wanted to cry. (I need stress relief, too!) After stuff this week and now with failing our attempt at the 1, I feel like a huge loser and something of a poser. I mean, I'm supposed to be a professional trainer, and I can't pass the lowest level of titling? And we lose it in obedience?! It's tough, too, when someone says before the trial, "I'm not worried, you and Laev are both so good!" -- that's a lot of pressure, y'know? And then when we do fail, and we're supposed to be so good... yeah. I don't think I like being a novice and yet not a novice. And one with a label, too.

But mostly, I don't like failing.

It's not right; I shouldn't be so disappointed about Laev when Shakespeare earned a new title today. Yes, I expected Laev to pass and Shakespeare to fail, but this is the same 50% success ratio, right? And now I've got 4-5 months to train and polish, right? (No trials anywhere before that, I checked.)

And then, at home, Laev came to me and poked me with her long nose, wagging her tail and looking faintly worried. I was obviously upset -- not angry, just upset. She licked my face tentatively, which is pretty unusual; she's not a kisser.

And I remembered that I'd written to someone just a couple of days ago, "Your dog doesn't know he's failed a trial unless you tell him." Laev didn't know what today meant to me; Laev didn't know why I was upset hours later. So I knelt and snuggled and wished I were more balanced as a person.

Really, it's a dog sport. That's all. Some people were joking today, "Schutzhund isn't life or death -- it's much more important than that!" but that's not true. I have a friend whose brother is in the ICU fighting for his life; Laev's score doesn't matter to them. Laev's score doesn't affect whether I'll eat or pay the mortgage, or whether my husband loves me, or where I'll spend eternity. Sure, there's a permanent ugly mark in her scorebook, but really, it's one day in a long and happy relationship with my dog.

I still intend to improve our performance. I'm still not happy. But I'm trying to get over myself.

Shakespeare's Nose

I realized I'd forgotten to mention something in my last post....

I was talking with Alena today, and we think that my previous supposition -- that perhaps Shakespeare really had suffered some loss to his sense of smell in his head injury -- might be valid. Alena has always said that Shakespeare got much ruder around food after the accident, pushing his nose closer to something a human was holding or sniffing at counters more often. "Did it knock the manners out of you?" she would demand of him. That would make sense if he used to sniff and identify a tidbit from a distance and now had to get closer. And Shakespeare does get excited about tracking -- he's eager to start -- but he definitely worries and frets on the track, and he "falls off" the track much more easily than Laev. He will check a corner several times before settling on the right direction.

So, I don't know if there's a test to measure scent ability, and it's probably not worth testing, anyway. I don't know where scent-processing sits in the brain, but Alena points out that even if it wasn't at the site of impact, there could have been damage with a ricochet effect, just as in human head injuries.

I could be totally wrong on this, of course. It's just guessing re observation. But it wouldn't be impossible, I guess. If it is true, I'd feel pretty bad; I volunteered Shakespeare to do a track instead of an obedience routine because I thought it would be easier on him than repeated jumping and climbing for retrieves. It's a good thing that the stress he displays while working out the track doesn't seem to affect his willingness to start; he's always happy to go to the scent pad.

(Though Shakespeare is semi-retired -- he does only Rally and CDSP obedience at present -- we needed another dog to make minimum entries in our club trial, due to other teams pulling.)

It's clear that, no matter what else, he does have some sense of smell and enjoys working, even if it harder for him. He likes finding articles and anticipates the treats for that. :)

The weather forecast has definitely improved; no more freezing rain! Instead, they are predicting a mostly cloudy day without precipitation, which is much better. There's supposed to be a lot of wind, though, with a wind chill of about 11 in the morning and working up to lower 20s by afternoon. Brr! That wind across open Indiana plain is going to make the long down pretty brutal.... Severe weather warnings have been issued regarding windstorms on Sunday. At least we aren't competing in that!

Laura's Final Thought
What I know, and what I want to get on record before tomorrow, at least for myself: I know that Laev is capable of doing each and every thing I'm going to ask from her tomorrow. We may or may not get all of it; the wind is certainly going to make some parts harder, and sometimes she -- or I -- can have an off day. But I do know that she knows each exercise and each part of it. We hope to get it all together on the same day while the judge is watching. :)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dress Rehearsal.

I took the dogs out for one final practice.... Shakespeare's track had an ugly section where he seemed to lost the straight line, and then he did okay. Indicated both articles, even did corners. I'd really helped him on the first corner, laying strategic treats in the footprints, but the second he did largely on his own. That was more impressive because I'd been distracted while laying (by a couple turning their young dog loose in the park!) and hadn't given a lot of help in the track or on the line.

Laev, on the other hand, did an ugly track. I'd laid a TON of food, trying to do a last minute reminder that slow, focused tracks were good! but she tracked right over most of it. Struggled on the first corner after a long leg because she was going fast, then settled down and worked the zig-zags in a semi-decent fashion. The shocker, though, was that she skipped both articles until I stopped her! Laev's article indication has typically been very good. I'm calling that an obligatory dress rehearsal failure, because otherwise I'd be stressing big time.

Then we went to do obedience. Man, I love this dog, even to almost forgiving her article mistakes. She tried so hard for me today. It was cold -- in the twenties, with pretty steady 15 mph wind, according to the weather. I don't know what the wind chill was, but I can tell you, it was cold! I left Laev in a down to practice the honor, and when I returned, one side of her face was decorated with snowflakes, while the other was black and Doberman-like. She was shivering, so we played tug to reward and warm up. Then we practiced our obedience routine.

She was not quite as dazzling in her heelwork as I know she can be, but it looked good enough. The awesome part, though, came during the retrieves. I sent her over the wall and waited -- I always wait nervously, I hate not being able to see my dog -- for her to come back over it. Instead, I saw her appear to the left of the wall, having picked up the dumbbell and returned to one side. Before I could even react, however, she froze, glanced up at the wall, and then BACKED UP and leapt at the wall! I didn't think she'd have the angle or momentum to make it, but she came over it with the dumbbell!

I didn't wait for a sit-front, I just started cheering her good decision and reinforced right away. Turkey hearts, today. Raw turkey hearts. (I'd been stretching for long periods between reinforcements, so I wanted it to be good!)

Note: Raw turkey hearts in a bag in the pocket can make quite a mess if the bag happens to invert inside the pocket during heelwork. Note also: freshly defrosted raw turkey hearts are COLD when the blood and juice runs down the inside of one's coveralls and saturates one's jeans all the way to the ankle.

Anyway, Laev had a good time with the turkey hearts.

We have one final issue. I've been working really hard on dropping her, so that we didn't risk leaving the field during the sendaway in search of critters. The woods at the end of the field is just full of squirrels and rabbits! What I discovered today, though, is that Laev isn't expecting a long sendout, but hesitating in anticipation of the platz. I should be able to work through this easily enough, but not on less than a day's notice :) so I just sent her further down the field to a target. I hope she doesn't stop when she doesn't see the target tomorrow!

Still, I'd rather take the point loss for an early platz than the utter failure of her leaving the field, and she hasn't offered to do that again lately. So here's hoping....

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Grr. Angry. Our Tracking Is Mega Fail.

I am not happy.

Today was rainy, but I need the tracking practice, so when a private lesson was canceled, I took the dogs to a school field. It was by then both dark and rainy. The lights from the parking lot lit the field enough that I could see my footprints in the sodden grass, so I used starting flags only and laid two zig-zag tracks to practice corners. That's what both my dogs are having trouble with; Shakespeare worries, and Laev likes to run over them with enthusiastic speed.

Shakespeare went first. He started okay, and then he said the track just vanished. He could NOT find the next leg. I learned, too, that the footprints showed only from a particular angle, and I lost that leg, too. Never did find our second article. I finished with a very frustrated dog, which isn't good.

Laev went next, and she was wired. She dove onto her track and exploded. Within a couple of seconds she had obliterated her first leg by scrabbling over it, trying to drag down it, and I couldn't find the corner myself and I'd laid it. She kept swearing the second leg wasn't there. I was totally stumped.

Fortunately, I'd flagged the articles on her track, so I simply took to the first article and restarted. No real trouble from there, though she was still way too fast and frantic.

So I told my husband via phone that we'd just had the worst tracking session ever and were going to another field for another try. This time, I wasn't going to lose my track in the dark! I flagged every corner and along straigh legs. I flagged articles. I took Shakespeare out and tracked him.

Shakespeare's tracking really worries me. He's never been a fantastic tracker, but he always tries. Now, though, his corners are so very bad that I am seriously wondering if his head injury a few years back might have damaged his sense of smell. (I haven't done any competitive tracking with him since then.) He just seems so confused at corners, even easy ones. He'll check the options 2-3 times, and it's not just methodical, but he really looks worried about it.

But Shakespeare finished his track and I traded dogs. Laev started a bit better this time; I may have discovered a way to slow her frantic start. We'll see if it holds up. She tracked decently 'til the track ran through a mud slog (we'd had about an inch of rain so far, I think) and she REALLY didn't want the track to run through that muck! But it did, and so she did, though not prettily.

She ran over the first article but indicated when I prompted. Then she restarted, cornered, and ran over the second article. I prompted her again, annoyed, and she ignored it. Prompted, ignored. Prompted, Laev dragged past it. I went up to point out the article.

Heck, I couldn't find it, either. There was a flag on either side of the track and one in front, the way I usually mark my endings, but no article. I felt around, but found nothing. I downed her and checked to see if I'd made a mistake, if there were more flags further on, but I found nothing. Laev pulled away, scenting where I"d walked on, but it was just a mess and so I took her back to the car.

I got a flashlight from the emergency kit and went back. Twenty minutes later, I still hadn't found my article.

So I tracked twice, frustrated both dogs, screwed up both dogs, lost two articles, and came home in a foul mood. I can't believe that I've been working so hard on obedience and protection and we're going to fail tracking, losing our chance at a title first thing in the morning.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

"...Whether the Weather Will Let Us or Not...."

This isn't looking good.

I went out Friday morning to train and it was COLD. Seriously, my fingers had lost feeling inside my gloves before I made it from the car to the field. It was cold. Granted, those are my second-best gloves and not my warmest pair. But I don't have training mobility in my warmest pair, so that's how it is on the field.

Laev did her best and was okay for a while, but it wasn't long before she was shivering while she worked. Long downs in the snow just aren't likely this weekend, I'm afraid.

It isn't helping that Laev can't spend much time acclimating to the cold. I had been feeling bad about training in the cold, asking her to jump 39" and climb a 6' wall with cold muscles and frozen ground. That was before I learned that her recent escape ability is because she's leaping (not from the doghouse, but from the kennel floor) out the top, through the shade cover, and dropping over 8' to the frozen ground. So 39" doesn't sound so bad.

That means, however, that she's presently inside all the time except for short bathroom breaks, and so she isn't building up the cold resistance she'll need for a successful trial. So she's more sensitive to the cold AND she's going more and more stir-crazy with the change in exercise schedule.

Adding insult to injury, we're supposed to get a warm snap this week, according to weather predictions. The temperature will jump above freezing and rain, they tell us.

And then it will freeze again. Meaning we'll be tracking and working on ice.

And the current prediction for this Saturday is "wintry mix," which, for those who don't live in the midwest, means a lovely mixture of snow, rain, and sleet. All coming down together, making surfaces treacherous and bodies cold.

I'm hoping our judge has some understanding about the weather. Schutzhund trials don't get canceled except for lightning or other life-threatening conditions, but it's going to be very difficult for the dogs and handlers both, I suspect.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Schutzhund trial pressures

So, next week Laev is attempting her SchH 1. I am getting a bit worried about it; I felt much more confident a few weeks ago.

Last night's practice went better, though. I discovered that if I leave the country for a week, keep Laev in a crate for several days in a row, and then don't feed her for a day due to resuming normal schedules after pet-sitting schedules, then all that works together to give me awesome energetic focus during obedience. That's good.

However, not even all that kept Laev from making a brief detour during the sendaway to check for critters. Stupid Laev. She came back pretty quickly, but I do.not.want.her.leaving.the.field. Ever.

I know she comes by her insane off-the-charts predatory behavior honestly, that it's very strongly genetic, but that doesn't make it much easier to deal with.

We practiced a full protection routine, for both Laev and myself. (I always forget to disarm the bad guy after Laev apprehends him. Stupid handler. Thank goodness it's not real.) Most of it is decent, but we have rough places; Laev finds it hard to sit quietly at heel while the helper is called out of the blind and then heel with focus to set up for the guard/escape bite. She's wholly capable, has done it, but she's just excited. She also finds it hard to leave the guarding position and heel around for the side transport to the judge. And heeling away from the helper to set up for the courage test is more difficult as we get further and further away -- completely my fault, because I've only done that heeling stretch twice ever in practice.

To be fair to Laev, last night she was wired for sound and loaded for bear, after her week of forced inactivity and people deprivation. But she's going to be wired on trial day, too.

So in the next few days I need to rev Laev enough to sustain that awesome energy and focus through our full obedience routine (the phase in which I feel least confidence right now), yet calm her enough that she focuses properly on her tracking instead of racing along it (as she would prefer), and polish some bobbles in protection work (she does not like heeling away from the helper). No sweat. And of the two scheduled training sessions, one is opposite my facility's open house, which will occupy me all day.

I have stated that if Laev does well, I'll buy her a ham. I hope she remembers that.

Squirrels. Dumb squirrels.

(Warning -- this post may be offensive to lovers of small, furry, and exceptionally stupid rodents.)

I have lots of squirrels. I also have two Dobermans. This leads to hours of entertainment, of the variety the ancient Romans would have cheered in the arenas.

The Rottweiler likes the squirrels, too, but she just isn't in their league. She will watch them out the window and occasionally will amble toward one outside, but there's not a chance of her really endangering a squirrel.

The Dobermans, however, are another story. Our squirrel population is benefiting, one could suppose, from the systematic weeding out of those individuals who don't realize that Dobermans can JUMP.

Arrogance + stupidity = fail, in my yard. Coming to low branches to tease and taunt is not a good idea.

We have lots and lots and lots of trees, most of which are decades old (up to 100 years or so), so the squirrels have ample safety and lots of height if they choose. Most of the year they aren't a problem, but as winter sets in, the squirrels get more focused on collecting their food (a good thing) and hiding it (a good thing) and sometimes on hiding it in inaccessible-to-other-squirrels locations (not a good thing, as sometimes those areas are squirrel-free for a reason) and they forget about the dogs.

Today Shakespeare wanted out the bedroom door. I let him and Laev out, not taking any pains to be quiet about it; anyone in the area could have heard the door bang and my voice and the dogs jump out. But apparently the squirrels weren't listening, because less than a moment later Shakespeare proudly displayed his catch at the door. (I wasn't impressed enough to let him bring it inside.)

I don't know how he got that one; perhaps it was simply too dumb to head up the tree when he came out, perhaps it was distracted and missed his exit. A couple of weeks ago, however, I watched a squirrel get caught, and I have no excuse for the thing.

I'd opened the door to send Laev to her kennel. A squirrel was sitting between the door and her kennel, just a few feet from either, and it didn't run when the door first opened. It did run when Laev started toward the kennel. A darting squirrel shooting from nearly between her feet certainly caught her attention and she chased it to the nearest tree.

I didn't think the squirrel was going to make it; Laev is fast. But it shimmied up the tree trunk an inch or so before Laev, who did a flip as she careened past too fast to turn. Laev jumped at the trunk and shrieked at the squirrel.

"Okay, that was fun, let's go," I said. "Game's over."

Laev looked at me. But there's a squirrel in the tree!

"Come on. The squirrel's not coming down."

But -- squirrel!

Laev turned toward me, hesitated, and -- I am not making this up -- the squirrel fell out of the tree. Almost on her head.

So much for my credibility.

The squirrel hit the ground running, but not fast enough. And it didn't take advantage of any of the three trees immediately next to the tree it fell out of, but instead it ran across flat ground toward another cluster of trees behind the garage.

There is no squirrel alive which can outrun a Laev on the ground. The squirrel never reached the next tree.

But I have a hard time feeling sorry for a critter which didn't take first warning, clumsily fell out of its safe place, and didn't head for the next logical escape route. The way I see it, Laev just improved our squirrel breeding stock.

We've had lots of smart squirrels. At our previous house, the squirrels discovered they could run alongside the fence and drive the dogs insane, just 3" on the safe side of chain link. I'm sure that's what Shakespeare is taking vengeance for now. They also knew how to dine safely at the bird feeder, how to cross the yard without risking the dogs, etc. But this current population, well, I'm not so convinced of their cleverness.

More TDI Ridiculousness

Quick review:

1) Shakespeare was rejected by TDI because "he could be a risk if he encountered another dog on a visit." This rejection occurred despite the fact that Shakespeare regularly works around other dogs and has been the neutral dog for countless CGC and other tests, including TDI testing. So he's good enough to use for TDI testing, but not to make a TDI visit.

2) Laev was apparently also rejected by TDI. That's unconfirmed, but it has been months since I was told the review board had to meet for a special decision, and I've never heard back. Stated reason, in writing: I reported on her enrollment that she was "indifferent" toward other dogs. They wanted me to check "friendly." (Interestingly enough, the letter which told me she'd undergo review also instructed me to simply check "friendly" and return the form, which I did though I found it very odd. Still never heard anything back.)

Now, the latest update:
Though I've yet to receive an answer to my questions, I have received an invoice for the renewal of our TDI team registration. They want another check.

That's right. They cashed my check without accepting either of my dogs, and now they want me to pay for another year of non-acceptance.

I'm fully aware that blogging on this means we'll never be accepted (TDI is aware of my posts), but I'm growing more and more comfortable with that. I'm hearing from other people complaining that TDI personnel are often both disorganized and rude.

Quick rant.... TDI is reluctant to accept a dog focused on her handler and her tasks instead of seeking to greet any other dogs in the area -- isn't a therapy dog supposed to interact with patients instead of other therapy dogs? That should be a benefit, it seems. And a special review board for indifference? Indifference is not risky!

The sad thing is, I've now turned down several requests for visits. My friend Melissa is developing a program for a couple dozen facilities. We encourage them to use only tested dogs, to develop and keep a high-quality program, and yet now that means I bar myself from participation. Who loses here? Not me, not my dogs, not TDI (who cashed my check anyway). The kids lose. Something's wrong with this picture.

The Escape Artist

So last week I went on vacation. It was a great vacation -- 10 people (two full families with assorted attachments and hangers-on) on a cruise in the Caribbean. Very fun and relaxing, and I did definitely need a break.

I called our usual petsitter (whom I highly recommend) and also called in a friend to help supplement with extra visits, as our sitter was very busy over the holidays. The dogs and cats were to be visited twice a day.

I mentioned briefly that my husband had wondered if Laev had escaped her kennel once, a week or so before. He had put her in, he thought, and then left and returned home to find her at the gate to greet him. However, this was an isolated incident -- I even tested by leaving Laev for quite a while, and she stayed in. No other escapes, and she's in the kennel for at least a while almost daily. I wondered if perhaps Jon had been distracted while he kenneled her; he's been known to do such things with a book in his hand. :-) But just in case, I let the petsitter know and left an emergency recall whistle on the counter.

This whistle means one thing -- copious amounts of cream cheese to the dog who gets here promptly. I have it because originally, I used a whistle where Laev was too far to really hear my voice (she looked around for the source of the sound and then noticed me) and then I realized that it could be trained as a cue itself (duh!) and used by more than one person.

But, Laev has been in that kennel for almost three years with a perfect safety record. I figured it was a freak thing -- the door wasn't latched properly or something.

So, Sunday morning we flew out to the Caribbean. Sunday evening, I was spazzing out because of phone calls from my pet watching crew....

It seems Laev didn't wait long before making her move. Thank God I had left Melissa's number on my voice mail, because the person who found her -- after she had escaped both her kennel and our surrounding 5' fence -- was able to call her. Laev's collar tag reads "ALONE = LOST!" and I'm glad the family believed that instead of thinking that she was just a roamer.

So Laev went back in the kennel and promptly got out again. My poor pet-sitters blocked the gap under the front gate through which she left (Laev does not dig new holes, that I've ever seen, but we know that she will take advantage of holes made by others -- and she's lithe enough to use raccoon paths, etc.) and went over her kennel minutely. They reattached the sides to the floor where staples had worked loose, they rewired the sides themselves to reduce flexing between panels. Yet they'd find Laev outside the kennel (but still within our perimeter fence, at least). Once Laev was so happy to be running free that Amy had to use the whistle to get her back to the house. Good thing it was there!

So Laev's lifestyle got a lot more cramped; she stayed in the crate indoors except for brief potty breaks. This wasn't ideal by any means, but it was the safest option remaining. The dog is an eel, when it comes to body movement, and no one wanted to risk losing her again.

So Laev was just a bit... WIRED when we returned Sunday night. Fortunately, we had training scheduled for Monday night! I am very, very grateful to my excellent pet-sitters, who had to deal with such a stressful situation (above and beyond what they signed up for!).

Our best guess at the moment is that Laev is using her dog house as a launch point to go over the 7' kennel walls and then dropping 9' to the ground. (The kennel roof was destroyed in a storm this year.) We've moved the dog house, and we're looking into new kennel/roofing options. Sheesh! At least she's safe for now.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Herding Pig, or, Babe in Texas

I got this link in the mail. I don't know if Squeaky can enter competitive herding trials ;-) but I suspect she doesn't take direction well. Even so, it's interesting footage....

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Laev goes to school again.

I'd been asked to do a training demo for an ESL classroom, as they've been doing a unit on dogs. I waited until the last moment to decide which dog to take, and I made a fairly arbitrary decision -- Shakespeare needs a nail trim, so Laev went with me.

This was under our own name, as Shakespeare is not a therapy dog now and I have never heard back on Laev's status. (At this point, I don't really want them to accept her -- the registration and fee is based on the calendar year, so if months later they do register her as a TDI therapy dog, it would be valid for only another month and then I would have to pay the full amount again. Hardly worth it, and I have my own insurance.)

But that was just fine, as I can't do a training demo under TDI visit rules, anyway; I talk specifically about shaping and reinforcement, and I am NOT going to try to use a tug reinforcer in a crowded classroom of 100 or so kids. Nope. We use food treats, so we could not go as a TDI team anyway.

We were a little late arriving to the school, due to a traffic accident, and had to hurry past lots of kids in the hallway. As we were about to enter the classroom, the teacher mentioned that there was another dog already in the room as well. "Is that okay?"

"Sure," I answered without thinking. Laev works past other dogs all the time. And I took her in.

The other dog turned out to belong to one of the teachers; apparently she comes to class sometimes and possibly serves as a reading dog. She was on the opposite side of the room and very intent on Laev as we entered. Someone said they would take the other dog out.

Something whirred deep inside my brain, but I was in Demo Mode, not in Good Trainer Mode. I should have taken Laev right out the door again and taken her down the hall as the other dog exited, but Demo Mode was telling me, "These kids didn't come for you to tease them with a dog and then leave, and you're already 15 minutes late!" So I moved Laev away from the door into the open space left in the center of the rows of kids on the floor and parked her on her mat.

There wasn't much space in the room; it was filled with kids. There was a 3' wide path from the door and a clearing in the middle of the room. The other dog had to reach the door, and so had to come by us. And she was dragging and leaning hard toward Laev, lots of eyeballs.

I really don't think the other dog meant to be aggressive; she struck me as a very typical rude adolescent, or possibly an adult who never learned correct social manners. But Laev, in a down on her mat with dozens of kids behind her, felt threatened by the lunging staring dog, and she barked defensively.

It was a bark. She never even left the mat, much less was there any contact between the two dogs. But even a single defensive noise can sound scary. The kids erupted with, "Whoa!" and the teacher snatched his dog away and out. I took Laev's collar, had her target my hand, and tried, "Well, that's one of the things we're going to talk about today, how to behave safely around dogs...."

I think we actually recovered decently. I got a student to shake hands with me and show polite human greetings, and then I lunged at her with over-the-top effervescence. We talked about how it made her uncomfortable, and that was why Laev barked at the other dog -- and why when WE greet dogs, we have to be careful to do it safely so we don't scare them.

Several kids were selected to practice greeting Laev, and things went better from there. I was a bit rattled, though -- I am always so sensitive to appearances, especially with yet another breed ban revving up locally, and then I was especially fretful when I talked about using reinforcement instead of punishment. Were any of the teachers wondering, "Yeah, and that obviously produces a dangerous dog?" But I don't think we left a bad impression, I hope, though my part wasn't nearly so smooth as usual.

So we did some shaping demos with Laev and kids both, and we talked about dog training and teaching incompatible behaviors to get rid of unwanted behavior, and Laev flipped over for her "dead bug" trick while I was occupied and it got so many giggles that she never really stopped doing it again.... I think it ended okay, but I just felt sub-standard.

Someone told me that the other dog had dragged toward the visiting service dogs, too. It's sad, because that's probably a very nice dog, really. I hate the dog park culture that says all dogs must be friends and that all friendly dogs may rush one another, and that any dog who doesn't appreciate being rushed isn't friendly or a good dog. If we don't accept glomping from strangers, why do we allow or even encourage it in our dogs?

End of soapbox. There was no harm, no foul, today. I just am hypersensitive to such things, I think.

And at least some kids got to practice dog safety and learn about reinforcement. I hope that was useful to someone.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I need more words!

I am very pleased with how I have taught the turn and down for Laev's Schutzhund sendaway. The behavior is strong, capable of overriding a previous cue, and precise. Most importantly, it has low latency. So I get an instant turn and a nice straight down, which just looks pretty.

I'm getting ready for some "normal" indoor ring obedience after our Schutzhund trial and I am thinking, drat, I should have trained that with a sit as well for our send outs. I wonder now if I've built in the down too strongly, in that context, so that sit will be harder to learn....

Regardless, I'll need something to call it. "Down" means for Laev to hit the deck wherever she is, while "platz" means to turn to face me and then lie down. I will need something equally precise for Laev to turn and sit, because "sit" means to plant her rear without moving from that spot. (Yes, I know the dogs can get it in different situations, but why mess with a good thing when I know she can learn precision with specific cues?)

But German and Danish sound too much like the English "sit," so I don't want to use them. I could use Czech, I suppose -- haven't tried that yet, and Laev's sire was a Czech dog. Or I could use Japanese; she has only two Japanese cues so far, both relating to bitework.

Or it could be something really clever, instead of just another word for "sit." I knew someone who trained her entire AKC Utility routine in Star Trek language; her go out cue was "engage." There ought to be some clever option I just haven't thought of yet.

Suggestions are welcome. :-)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chocolate Calculator for Dogs

A friend sent this link. While the scrolling breeds on the right are a bit silly -- some of those weights are suspect, and at any rate the "Doberman Pinscher" photo is clearly a Dachshund -- the data is certainly good to have. Everyone knows chocolate is bad for dogs, but sometimes people don't think about what's really in there.

The Chocolate Chart Interactive

Monday, October 27, 2008

Why I'm Frustrated With TDI

I am well aware that this post might sound whiny, but in truth, this isn't just about my dog. This is disillusionment with a service organization which is supposed to be helping people.

I got a letter from TDI Saturday night, informing me that they have rejected Shakespeare as a therapy dog. My collected frustrations with TDI have been building for a while; this was just the trigger to actually post them publicly.

Shakespeare had tested with TDI years before and passed. He passed this last test in July with flying colors as well. However, the organization asked for more information because I had checked a box that yes, my dog has been in a dog fight. So I sent a letter explaining that once I was attacked by a German Shepherd (a recent rescue, found wandering and dragging a chain after a tornado -- bad breeding, no socialization, no training, no chance at being a decent dog, and traumatized), and Shakespeare had come to my defense. Shakespeare showed no aggression toward the Shepherd before the dog came at me and another dog (probably targeting the other dog), and he ignored the Shepherd again afterward. I myself considered the action appropriate for a breed made specifically to guard and protect the handler, and I appreciated the fact that he ignored the offending dog when there was no threat.

I explained in the letter that Shakespeare has never started a fight, that Shakespeare has been the usual neutral dog for countless CGC tests, temperament tests, training sessions for reactive dogs, etc. Shakespeare has logged visits and greetings with literally thousands of schoolchildren. I provided a half-dozen professional references, in case they didn't want to take just my word for it.

But their letter said that they could not accept Shakespeare as a therapy dog. It seems that they did not speak with even one of the references I provided. Despite the fact that Shakespeare served as the neutral dog for TDI evaluations, they stated he could be a risk "if he were to encounter another dog while on a visit."

Even the most cursory glance at his resume should have indicated that Shakespeare "encounters other dogs" regularly. Why was I asked for additional information if it were not to be used in the review process?

When I told a friend that he'd been rejected, my friend just started laughing. It had to be a joke. After all, we've already had a number of visit requests this fall, but we hadn't gotten Shakespeare's paperwork back.

I do applaud their taking the time to review the situation; therapy dogs should be carefully evaluated. But I am frustrated that this decision was made apparently fairly arbitrarily, without consulting anyone who actually knows the dog in question or my handling. I did include references for their use, after all.

But this is just the icing on the cake, so to speak. While we're on the topic of arbitrary and frustrating, I am feeling pretty disillusioned for a number of additional reasons.
  • Communication (1) It has been more than three months, and I have still never heard anything regarding Laev. Are they planning to reject her, too? Have they accepted her? When should I expect to hear anything on this topic?

  • Communication (2) I have yet to see any email to TDI answered. Yes, I am emailing directly through their website.

    The last time I wrote was several weeks ago, after a client found that her evaluator had interpreted two test points differently than we had in practice. I wrote a polite inquiry asking for clarification, so that we could be sure we were giving correct information to those who wanted to volunteer for the organization. No answer of any sort.

    Our local TDI organizer also complains of intermittent communication. She was told by the office that TDI is comprised primarily of volunteers and we shouldn't expect better.

    Excuse me, there are LOTS of organizations comprised entirely of volunteers! I myself AM a volunteer for some of them. I try to answer email within 24 hours as much as possible, even for work for which I'm not being paid. Failing to respond entirely is just rude to the volunteer handlers.

  • Inconsistent Evaluations. I have observed several TDI evaluations. At one, the TDI evaluator passed several dogs which were displaying clear discomfort or even fear-aggression (piloerection, backing away, defensive barking, even a muzzle punch at the wheelchair). Two of the dogs I was reasonably sure were bite risks; one of the handlers even said as much about her dog. (I have no idea why anyone would bring such a dog for therapy evaluation...!) I was amazed that the evaluator passed them all.

    I spoke afterward with several other observers, all of whom had separately noted the same issues. Two of them took it upon themselves to write to TDI with their concerns; a risky dog benefits no one and in fact puts all therapy teams at risk. Their letters were very carefully worded, politely suggesting that these passing teams should perhaps be further evaluated and, perhaps, more education provided for the evaluator.

    Neither of those letters ever received any acknowledgment or response from TDI. (Again, communication!) Those dubious dogs are currently registered with TDI and handlers have publicly posted their scheduled visits. I consider this amazingly irresponsible; a bite from one of these dogs would affect not only the victim, but many other therapy teams and all those patients, residents, or participants who would subsequently be denied access to therapy visits.

  • Unreasonable Self-Importance. Some local TDI teams rented a booth (at their cost) at a local festival to spread the word, seeking to attract additional volunteers for TDI and also to promote TDI's services and get therapy teams in more places. These people spent their own money and stood for hours in cold and wet to promote the organization.

    The organizer asked TDI for signage; we had used donated signs at a previous event but we were told that official TDI banners needed to be used instead.

    The organizer was told that she would be sent a banner, but it was for single use only, she was completely responsible for its condition, and she had to ship it back when the festival was over. She had to fax back a contract stating that she was responsible for the banner before they would ship it. This was obviously a big deal to the TDI office and represented a substantial investment; she was very excited about the great banner which would come, giving a real professional air to the festival booth!

    The banner arrived. It was paper. About 11" tall. Just letters on paper, not even a logo. No grommets for hanging; there was no way to display the banner without using tape and thereby risking damage. There was no way to display it outdoors, especially in the damp, without risking damage. And it did not really lend a professional appearance to the booth. The banner looked so sad, in fact, that she was embarrassed to be using it instead of what a local print shop had donated previously. Fortunately, the print shop contact had a good sense of humor about it.

    What possible justification, I wonder, is there for the TDI office to be so obnoxiously insistent about this, to the point of requiring a faxed contract? Do they really have to hold volunteers contractually responsible for the condition and shipping of a cheap paper roll?
This is all very frustrating. On one hand, I feel strongly that good therapy teams can do a great deal of real good, and that there needs to be an evaluating body to make sure that there is a quality control standard for those therapy teams. I do talk about the documented health benefits of therapy animals and I do want to participate locally with my own trained dogs.

On the other hand, I am indignant at the shoddy treatment our local volunteers receive, with inconsistent information, intermittent communication, and high-handed treatment. I feel guilty when I hesitate to encourage someone to try therapy work, but sometimes I do hesitate when interested clients ask, because I don't feel I'm referring them to a truly organized body.

I have heard better reports of Delta Society, though I have not worked with them firsthand. Unfortunately, I won't be able to work with them; their rules automatically preclude any dogs with Schutzhund experience. This is quite silly, in my opinion; it's equivalent to saying that because I have trained in martial arts, I cannot be trusted to volunteer safely at a library's literacy program. But those are their rules, so we can't even try.

I am just so frustrated and disillusioned. I thought this would be a good program, and it should be one.

And it's not really about Shakespeare. That's disappointing, sure, but really it's not worth getting angry about. I have been (strongly) advised to cut back on my severe overbooking and I don't really have time for frequent therapy visits, anyway. I do understand the need for high standards for therapy dogs -- of course!! -- and I can see that they should be concerned about a dog who reacted strongly to another dog's aggression.

But I feel punished for honesty; if I'd interpreted the question as, "Has your dog ever started a dog fight?" and checked No, we'd be approved. Heck, Laev and I were rushed by a (completely different) German Shepherd while training for the AD. I fortunately had repellent spray with me and blasted him in the face. He followed us for another quarter mile, keeping a wary distance while I offered constant verbal threats. As I understand the TDI review board's decision, if I hadn't had the spray with me, Laev might also be ineligible for therapy work, having been involved in a fight.

(Frankly, if I had a choice between a Doberman who let his person be endangered and was accepted for therapy work, or a Doberman who defended his person and was rejected, I'd prefer to have the real, correct Doberman who defended his human. A Dobe who doesn't protect his person isn't a Doberman!)

But for the sake of the other volunteers and for those who could benefit from more therapy teams, I wish TDI were more organized and more respectful of those who do want to help. There's no reason that they couldn't be a really excellent resource for animal-assisted therapy work.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I'm behind in posting

I have two weeks worth of news and updates. Some are good, some are less so. :-/ But I also have a weekend of KPA assessments to write up, which should obviously take priority, and then I'll try to move on to Laev's stuff.

In the meantime, though, here's a fun image. Last night during obedience, Laev tugged hard enough to rip our toy into two pieces. It wasn't the sturdiest of our toys, but it wasn't a cheap box store tug, either. (I think she's obviously back to playing wholeheartedly with me after her few months of inhibition due to pain.)

Her obedience last night was alternately distracted and brilliant. Her protection work was extremely sub-par. But, that needs to be another post, so I can get work done...!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Proud of My Dog.

It's not always about stuff going wrong or funny stories. Today's post is just about me being happy that my dog is working well in most things.

Laev's protection work is coming along very well; I am really pleased with it. Her outs off a live helper are fast and clean and ultra-reliable. Her hold and bark is lovely. She's backing very prettily into heel position when I call her out of the blind, though we need more work on staying at heel when I then call the helper out of the blind. Not her fault; we just haven't worked on it.

This past week the lightbulb came on for her that the side transport is REALLY just right-side heeling with the helper. I don't use the cue "heel" with this exercise because some judges will fault the dog looking at me during the transport.

This week I transported the helper to a "judge" during practice and then cued Laev to heel away. She is used to getting a bite on the helper during a side transport, to reward proper position and attention, and she told me quite clearly that I was stupidly forgetting something! We heeled away a few steps and then I sent her to the helper for a bite.

OH, Laev said. Why didn't you say so?

Our next repetition, she heeled away readily with me, practically dancing. She knew what was coming if she stuck with me. She's quick, she is.

Also this week she started putting together the send-away and distant down. I have been backchaining that, teaching first a distant face-me-and-lie-down cue and separately a send to a target, and then only recently combining them. This week for the first time I interrupted her run to the target with the distant face-me-and-down cue (at a shorter distance of only 25' or so) and she did it correctly twice out of two attempts. I'll take that. Now we just need more distance.

Her retrieves are almost exactly where I want them. I want a bit more speed on the flat retrieve, but her jumps are looking good. The retrieve over the wall is stressful for me! because I can't see her working, but she's doing it well.

She's still on the long line, though. I don't trust her entirely free. She's left me twice on that field to search for raccoons and squirrels, and she's not getting a chance to play at that again, not for a long, long time.

I do need to start chaining the full obedience routine together. She's got all the pieces; we just need it all at once!

Her tracking is improving, but I need to do a lot more of it. I don't like tracking; I can't practice bits of it in my kitchen. ;-) I need to get out to more fields, but I just don't do it often enough.

The only bad news is that my club's trial date was moved back. Now we're trialing mid-December. While that gives us more time to polish tracking, it means nasty cold weather, the kind that makes slick-coated Dobermans very uncomfortable on long obedience downs. I've threatened to dig out the honor down spot on the field and bury a radiant heating pad; I wonder if the judge will notice if there's no snow there?!

Anyway, I can't slack off, but I am not panicking, either. I hope I don't have to eat those words later!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fat Lot of Useless! A funny story about a lack of practical skills.

"Do more night tracking." This was the advice of a training buddy while I was having trouble with Laev. His dog was sighting for articles and it had helped them as a team.

Laev's issue wasn't sighting for articles or flags, and more night tracking would probably just result in greater injury for me faceplanting while Laev tracked at high speed. However, I didn't get to leave as early as I wanted tonight, and we reached the park at twilight. So I quickly laid a track and tried to get started before dark.

We just barely made it, though well after technical sunset. I could see my hot pink tracking flags when I was within ten feet of them. I certainly wasn't giving Laev any help on the track, that's for sure!

We didn't spend as long settling before the track, because I was worried about the light. I had my phone clipped to my jeans and a protection-trained Doberman with me (meaning that at a word I could set her to looking nasty enough to call someone's bluff, even if she isn't trained to bite a regular human), so I wasn't as worried about being alone in the park at night, but I did want a chance of success on the track and I wanted to be able to see if Laev missed a corner or veered too far from the footprints. So after some sit-fronts and calm downs, we started with a trail of kibbles to the start flag.

Laev launched, it was ugly, and I disgustedly pulled her back to restart. I got her eating off the scent pad and we started again, still emotionally higher than I'd like but at least really tracking and eating. Already I'd lost the correct direction of the first leg but I trusted my dog and the reassuring crunching of kibble telling me she was indeed on the track. Her first corner caught me totally off-guard, but she was correct. At least I know she's not secretly reading the track from me!

I'd added articles back onto the track, and her first article was very nice, even though I barely saw it before she did. Whee! At least that's held together! I know my cue to track is extremely loaded, and so I just breathed it as a whisper at the same moment that I set a little pile of higher value food between her paws. She ate it and then set off down the track.

Trouble came a few minutes later when Laev realized there were CRITTERS coming out of the woods. Hey, at a popular park, the local wildlife probably eats well and has little fear. Laev started to get frantic and I downed her. We waited, Laev staring intently into the dark toward the trees, me watching Laev, until she finally relented enough to eat a kibble off the track while she watched. I reached into my treat bag, fed her some higher value food, and cued her to track.

LAUNCH! Laev careened down the track, pouring all her critter frustration into her work. I couldn't even properly fix her, without being able to see where exactly the track was. Somehow she fell onto the right path and an incidental pile of kibble, and I guess the fact that it was dinnertime won out. She slowed enough to eat the pile and proceeded to track, though fast, to the next article. There she downed promptly. "Oh, yeah, this!"

She wasn't calm enough to start slowly again, though. She leapt right over the offered food and set off down the track, clearly torn between track and critters. I think, though I am not sure, she missed a corner and picked up the next leg, but she did end cleanly (if speedily) and downed nicely on the final article. I fed her copiously and took her back to the car.

RACOON! Laev scented it, but I saw it before she did, hiding behind a bush. It ran as Laev was clearly hunting it, and she shrieked her fury at being unable to give chase. She did hold herself, actually, after the first couple of seconds, and she sat between my legs and screamed. I apologized for being a terrible mean handler who wouldn't let her chase the local wildlife and loaded her into her crate. Collar off, line coiled, treat bag and articles put away, mobile phone--

Mobile phone. I'd lost my phone.

I looked over the dark field. Stink. There was no way I was going to find it in the pitch blackness that we had now.

But I had a tracking dog! The phone was somewhere along the track, that was certain. And it was saturated in my scent. Laev couldn't ask for a better article.

Unfortunately, Laev's thinking was that we had already run that track once, a second time would be boring as heck and there were RACOOOOOOONS in the dark! Prey prey prey prey prey! So our search ended up being me scuffling along behind Laev as she scanned for critters. Fortunately I hadn't been stupid enough to give any real cues; as my husband quotes, "A good general is one who doesn't give an order he knows won't be obeyed."

Maybe now is a good time to mention that last night, the same training buddy who had recommended night tracking had lost his phone on the training field. He found it himself, as our club field is well-lit. Hmm.

I kept an eye on the car that cruised slowly past, but it wasn't security -- whom I would have asked to call my phone -- or anyone who stopped for less altruistic purposes. Laev glanced briefly at the car and went back to sniffing the air.

So picture us, unable to find my phone. At all. And it's not necessarily Laev's fault, as I had picked up our tracking flags and had no idea exactly where our track had run. It's a big field and I couldn't see any landmarks at all in the dark. I was wishing now I'd trained for the StP (Random Article Search); at least then I could put Laev on a long line and send her back and forth to search for anything with human scent.

Still, there I was, in a field, with a very talented scenting dog and no way to find my lost article. This was pathetic.

But Laev is not interested in human scent, she wants racoons. I want my phone, which has all of my business information on it. Finally I return to my car and, in a fit of inspiration, get my Bluetooth headphones I was using to listen to an audiobook. If I could get within 30' or so, I would be able to get a signal between headphones and phone!

So I began wandering the field pressing the voice dial button on my headphones, waiting for an answering beep. I didn't even know if the headphones would wake the phone, which would have shut itself down by now. Meanwhile, Laev was dragging hard toward what must have been a racoon party, but I held my ground.

Success! I got a static-y response from the phone, and I quickly told it to dial my husband's number. If I could just get him calling my phone, I could track the sound of the ring!

Straight to voicemail. Bad husband! I started swinging about, heading in different directions as the static increased or faded while the chirpy automated voice told me I could leave a message. I felt rather like one of the Baileys' spy cats, tracing a directional tone. By the time the voice stopped, I had achieved a pretty solid connection, and I guessed I was within 25' or so of the phone.

I tried another voice dial, thinking of others I could reach to ask to ring my phone, and as I spun around I was rewarded with a glimmer of light from the black ground. My phone! That was my screen, lighting up for the voice tag!

Laev and I hurried toward it, and she gave it a cursory sniff. I quickly cued her to "find it," an informal cue to indicate, and she picked it up. Dummy. I had her drop it and indicate, and I treated her for pointing to the phone. Who knows, maybe that will come in handy in the future.

Hm. Maybe I will train for the StP.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Our Tracking Is Made of Win. (And a Freaky Moment.

I was running late this morning when Laev started fussing in the crate. I told her irritably from the bathroom to wait a moment, that I was hurrying. As I started brushing my teeth, however, I turned back and noticed that she was shaking.

I crouched in front of her crate, toothbrush dangling from my mouth, and saw that her head was trembling horizontally. It looked like a minor seizure. Laev was alert, though, and responded normally to my cues to lie down and look at me. I yelled for my husband to bring me a dog biscuit, and as soon as she ate it, the shaking ended.

This is almost certainly ideopathic tremor syndrome, something that turns up occasionally in Dobermans and some bulldog breeds. Symptoms are head shaking (vertical or horizontal), the dog may not seem to notice, and the episode often ends when the dog eats. It sometimes shows up and then vanishes forever; it sometimes worsens with time. Affected dogs may show increased incidents when stressed. I don't think it's associated with developing into full epilepsy. Anti-seizure drugs do not reduce frequency. Today's research yielded that current theories range from deep cerebellum disease to a kind of stereotypy.

I haven't seen it in Laev before, though I did have a foster who demonstrated it twice and then never again. It was kind of freaky to see it, though. She hasn't been unduly stressed of late, I hadn't done any diet change yet, and Laev's at about as small a risk for stereotypy as possible; she has a very enriched life. Despite the apparent lack of cause, I was pretty sure I knew what was going on -- I learned about head tremors on a list-serve when I first got into Dobermans -- but just in case, I stayed home for a bit so that if she started exhibiting other symptoms, I could get her quickly to our vet.

That meant we tracked in our field again. I laid a track, came in and did some quick research on tremors (no new info in the last few years, it seems), and then took Laev out to track. Down, treat, hand target, treat. More down and treat. I was using a new treat, a grain-free kibble which I felt was a good size for tracking and still healthy. (She'd never had it before, so this new sample wasn't responsible for triggering her episode.)

Laev seemed to be relaxing into the down, but finally she just couldn't take any more and she leapt from a down straight forward toward the track. I blocked with the line and downed her again. Treats between her paws. I finally dropped a treat far enough forward that she had to crawl for it, and then stand up and eat, and then follow the little trail of kibbles I was dropping for her to lead her silently and sneakily toward the scent pad, which was well-laid with more kibble.

Once she hit the scent pad, I did NOT cue her to track. I've learned that the cue is loaded with excitement! She eased herself onto the track and set off.

Oh, wow. I haven't seen such a wonderful track from her in ages. She never got frantic, she nailed the first serpentine and every curve and corner thereafter except one -- but even then, when she realized she was off, instead of becoming frantic she simply made a tight circle and picked up the track again. She was slow, methodical, ate most of her kibbles, and kept no real pressure on the tracking line. This is a dog who, for the first year, forced me to wrap her line behind me and SIT on it as she tracked.

Because I am a greedy trainer, I even backed down the line on a straight leg and let her work further ahead of me than usual, which didn't faze her in the least. I closed up again before the final corner.

The biggest flaw was at the end, when she didn't want to down on the article. I think she was enjoying the track too much and was resistent to the idea of it ending. I went up and encouraged her to indicate, and then I reinforced with a higher value food, lots of it, before calmly ending the track.

I was very pleased, overall. As I told my club members when I went to join them for bitework, just a seizure or two before the trial, and we'll be fine....

I did take Laev for bitework, as she seemed totally fine. I loaded her into the car after the track and went back to the house to get keys, etc. Shakespeare must have seen us from a window, because he went out the door, checked briefly on Laev in the car, and then ran to the field and the start flag. As I left, he was methodically working out Laev's track, picking up the kibbles she'd left. I called to him that he was a wonderfully brilliant dog.

Laev's bitework was mostly fine, though she got uncomfortably hot and confused during the first session. It was warm today. I need to balance on the fine point between anticipation of control -- her call to heel from the hold and bark is really nice now -- and letting her be crazy and pushy and demanding -- she was starting to anticipate a call to heel and was staying out a bit further and glancing back, wanting the next step in the chain. A few bites for a good hold and bark seemed to cure that, but I have to be sure that I don't reinforce her checking back in anticipation....

There was one incident in her first session when the helper slipped the sleeve before I arrived to collect Laev. Laev joyfully headed toward the car with her prize. I called her, but she was a bit reluctant to share her prize with me, passing and circling, so I stepped behind a blind. (My disappearing is Laev's worst nightmare.) She looked for me quickly, reported club members, and then she headed for the pond. With the sleeve.

I jumped out and called her again, running after her, and she turned at the water's edge and I got her. The next time the helper slipped the sleeve, I played tug with it and her, emphasizing that bringing me her win is a good thing.

We did a bit of side transport work in the second session, which we've spent a little time on but not a whole lot. I really saw Laev "get it" at the end, and she was doing very nice right-side heeling on the helper with me just along for the ride, the way most judges like to see it. Needs some polish, but I'm happy with it for now.

So... more good tracking in our future, I hope?!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Laev Loves a Parade.

Last Saturday morning we went out and did some drive-building with a toy and segued into some nice heeling. Then I packed up Laev -- Shakespeare was already in the car -- and drove down to join a parade.

A nearby library has a reading therapy program, Paws to Read, for local schoolkids. Shakespeare and Laev will be participating with this program when their paperwork is done, and so they were marching in the parade. This would be stimulating enough, but the parade's theme (for some reason, despite the season) was Mardi Gras.

So Alena and I got into costume -- we do a lot of costumes -- and I made some uber-cheap dog costumes as well. These were "totally ghetto," as competitive costuming slang goes, being constructed of cheap felt and hot glue, but they looked pretty decent. Both Dobermans were decorating in red barding and fake bridles so that they looked like medieval horses.

Well, I thought they looked like medieval horses. So did my friends, and at least one spectator kid. But the majority of comments we got were something like, "Oh, look at the jester dogs! They're like, um, something!"

Considering that I looked like a Comedia d'Arte character, I guess that's okay.

So both dogs had to navigate costumed characters (including large mascot characters), lots of swarming and petting kids, noise, music, floats, other dogs, and flying candy. Laev did great on everything except the flying candy. She LOVES sugar. So as we walked down the street, she'd occasionally drop her head to snatch a sucker and gulp it whole, wrapper and stick and all. I didn't worry too much; it was all edible or just paper, it wasn't going to hurt her, and I didn't want to fuss at her too much. Nor did I want to go down her throat for a sucker in front of a streetful of people, most of whom would probably guess that I was choking her with my Mardi Gras mask.

Shakespeare was a pro, as usual, though he seemed more affected by the heat. I guess that's a sign of his age, which is kind of sad. It was quite warm, though.

Lots of pictures were taken, but I have received very few. Here's one, though, of Laev resting before the parade started.

I particularly like this photo because of what you *can't* see -- just outside the frame are a half dozen strange dogs, two or three costumed mascot characters, and a couple of kids. Laev was lying calmly with her back to them, ignoring the whole thing -- not turning away out of stress, just indifferent. I liked her blase attitude.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

More mistaken identity!

Just a few days after I was asked if I were Karen Pryor (due to my KPA polo shirt), I learned that Melissa Alexander works at my training facility!

Someone pointed out this post on a local pet forum, which confuses my friend Melissa Heigl with Melissa Alexander. My friend Melissa Heigl was laughing and quite pleased. We haven't asked Melissa Alexander. :-)

The good news is, these are not clicker-specific venues; mainstream folk are using names from clicker publishing without prompting. I am pleased to see how much clicker knowledge is getting out there!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Our Tracking is Full of Fail -- Minus 2%.

So, that didn't start well.

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that Laev's tracking is full of fail, because she is just too darned enthusiastic about the track. So I have a new de-revving program for her, and tonight I laid two tracks. The first, for Laev, had lots of food, angles, serpentines. The second had no food except at the start pad but had three articles in its short length.

I returned to the house -- I'd used my own field -- and brought Shakespeare out to track the second one, leaving the first to age. Laev screamed in protest; apparently she'd seen me laying the track from a window. Shakespeare did his track happily, enjoying his treats on the articles. I returned to trade dogs.

"That dog is wired," my husband warned me of Laev. "It's crazy. It wants to track."

Yep, Laev had been mightily offended that she had watched me lay a track and then been left behind as I took the other dog. I knew I was going to have to ride that out as we went through our new calming routine before beginning the track, but I was prepared.

Or not.

I asked Laev to sit on the porch as I put her tracking long link on. She sat, for a short time, and then she exploded. She ran away toward the field where I'd laid tracks, hearing nothing at all of a recall. By the time I got there, she was galloping along the track, air scenting frantically and ignoring all the food.

I stood at the head of the track and called her. She came to me but then bolted again when I asked her to down. Repeat. She came to me, I treated and grabbed her collar, and then I downed her.

Right. Calm starts. Good one, Laura.

I put Laev's equipment on and stroked her for a long time. I also reflected that perhaps mosquito happy hour was not the best time for calm long downs.

I treated Laev, petted her, and tried to get her to relax enough that I could rub her belly. Not a prayer, she knew the track was there! But after a while, she was willing to eat treats off the ground as we walked and I dropped them, so that was a good sign.

We edged toward the start flag and I dropped some treats on the ground, working slowly into the scent pad. She ate treats, sniffed, ate treats, realized that she was on the track, and launched.

Fortunately she was frantic for only a few steps before she settled into sniffing and eating again, about four footsteps' worth. After that she looked pretty good, 'til she got to a corner, which for some reason sent her back into air scenting again. She got a bit wired -- it hadn't been that far under the surface -- and I had to down her on the track, which really peeved her. I treated her in the down, stroked her, praised her, and when she was calm, I soothingly whispered, "Track." I even dropped a treat just ahead of her as I cued.

Okay, so, memo to self: "Track" is a very loaded word. She launched right over the treat and landed on the track.

Recovery was pretty quick again, however, and she seemed to settle into a better working mode. She still didn't eat all the food on the track, but she did better. She was hesitant to down on the single article at the end, but I fed her on the article for a while, trying to ease out of the track as well. Then I took off her collar and line and went to collect my flags while she wandered the field, wondering at this weird finish.

So we might be on to something, but it's going to take some better management to know for sure. We'll try again and see what we get!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

"Are You Karen Pryor?"

Saturday I was at a farm show and pet expo, where I gave a couple of demos and handed out information on dog training. This was the first year for the pet expo, held in conjunction with the popular farm show, and it wound up a bit early. I walked over to the other side of the fairgrounds to check out some farming gear, buildings, equipment, beef cattle, and more.

It was a warm day and I'd been working most of it, so I stepped up to buy a drink from a vendor. He glanced at my shirt -- I was wearing my Karen Pryor Academy polo, just in case I enticed a student -- and asked, "Are you Karen Pryor?"

He was just making conversation based upon my shirt, of course, so I answered a bit flippantly, "No, but I work for her!" as I dug out my cash.

"Karen Pryor the animal trainer?" he asked as he brought my Coke. "Really?"

A woman came to join him at the window. "Really?"

So we ended up chatting for a moment, and I left them with a URL to see my chicken training video from some of my workshops with Bob Bailey.

Tonight, however, I was reminded quite clearly that I am not, in fact, Karen Pryor. I put Laev's long link chain collar (our standard Schutzhund training collar, as it's required for competition) and long line on her, prepared to work on send-outs on the field. I couldn't find a training target, though, and I left Laev in a down so I could check in the barn. (Because there had been a C-A-T in the area, though, I put the line on the live ring of the collar so she couldn't slip out in case of sudden temptation, and I kept the end of the line in my hand as I went into the barn.)

Well, no target in the barn, so I decided I'd see if someone had left one on the field. I returned to Laev, gathered up the long line, and asked her to heel with me toward the field. Laev gave me lovely eye contact and nice heeling, ignoring both the agility tunnel we passed and the temptation to scan for the C-A-T. I was very proud of her.

It was her new tracking line we were using, which meant we got almost exactly thirty-three feet out before we took up all the slack where I'd locked the end in the barn door. Poor Laev got a sharp collar correction on a live ring for her heeling.

Fortunately, Laev doesn't really "get" collar corrections, and she figured it was just one of those weird and unfortunate things. I, however, felt really stupid. Nope, not Karen Pryor....

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

"Drive Building." And photos!

We've been spending some time at the club in "drive building," which is dog slang for building desire and motivation. (Personally, I dislike the term "drive," as its only scientific definition was in a psychology theory discarded decades ago and its many non-scientific definitions make for imprecise discussions at times. But hey, for now, it means "motivation.")

The method we've been using is play on a backtie, with lots of teasing on the handler's part and frustration on the dog's part. This sounds kind of cruel, but it's not, really -- the dogs definitely enjoy it. Restraint on a backtie allows the handler to give up thinking about safety and control and just focus on wild play. It allows the dog to give up thinking about manners and safety and just focus on crazed desire. We can do things safely on a backtie that would be dangerous to dog or human loose together; I'm not built to take that much weight launched at high speed, but the harness can do it safely! And Laev loves the opportunity to REALLY cut loose.

A friend got a new camera this week, and she snapped some photos of Laev working -- playing -- with me. As a bonus, you get to check out my stylish dog-training togs, T-shirt and jeans. In this case, though, it is a B.F. Skinner T-shirt!

"Do ya want it? Do ya really want it?" Actually, I don't say anything nearly so coherent when teasing Laev. But whatever I am saying, she seems to think it worthwhile. Look at the intensity here.

If you ever wondered what Laev would look like with cropped ears.... I'm not losing the tail, though. It's just too much fun -- even if it is a bit dangerous and painful at times.

Yes, look, I'm teaching my dog to resource guard! Don't worry, it's entirely on cue and we don't have problems elsewhere.

It's not all teasing; she does get the toy. Sometimes she gets it even when I intended to only taunt, when her extendible Dober-neck snakes out to snatch it from the complacent handler.

So what's the point of all this? Laev thinks playing with me is even MORE fun, and so we get better results everywhere else. When I set up for a heel, I whisper quietly to her, "Are ya ready?" and she recalls all the energy and fun from these sessions. Sometimes that energy comes out vocally and she'll bark once or twice, but I don't mind; I can always contain energy, which is much easier than creating it! More often, though, her heeling sparkles and looks more, well, fun. As it should. If both ends of the leash aren't having fun, what the heck are we doing here?

However, Laev still loves to play her "real" games, which involve someone bigger, stronger, and meaner than me.

Here she catches a helper on an "escape bite," which means she is left to hold herself in a down until he makes a break for it. Oddly enough, Laev is faster. ;-)

She is committed under threat....

...and check out that nice out! Seriously, I am very proud of her fast outs. I've never used compulsion to get her to out off a helper.

Well, that's Laev's latest update. If we can get her tracking in order, though, I'd feel better....

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Our Tracking is Full of Fail

Laev loves tracking, but she doesn't love 100-point tracking. Laev's idea of tracking is to move at maximum speed over the footprints, air-scenting except where needed, and getting to the end as quickly as possible.

Well, that's not exactly true. That's how she starts, yes, and then she settles into very nice accurate tracking. But I would like to see nice tracking the entire time!

I don't know exactly why this is -- I have never made the end of the track very fun in comparison with the track itself. Friends will play tug at the end of a track, or finish with a pile of food, or chase a ball in the field; Laev's tracks end with an article and then a sit at heel. There is no hurry to reach the end, except in her mind.

For competition, she'll need a deep nose and accurate footprint tracking, so I'm trying to get her more focused. After talking with my club, I decided to go back to serpentines, lots of food in the starting scent pad, and food in nearly every footstep. Tonight I went out to lay a track, and I chose to lay it in ankle-deep grass with lots of inches-thick grass clippings; no racing down this track! To get the food, she was going to have to go slowly and dig a bit for the pieces. This would slow her and require concentration, certainly.

I brought Laev out and dropped her into heel position. Laev loves tracking; I can ask her to heel and work to the track and the cue to track is the reward. She gave me lovely focus, begging for the track, and I cued her to start.

Right off the bat it was ugly. She snatched a single piece of food from the scent pad and rushed off it, already veering off the footprints in her hurry. But she realized her error and got back on the track, and after a moment she seemed to be working better, eating most of the treats and following the track. We were doing all right 'til the first article, which was a piece of PVC I hadn't used before. Laev wanted to skip it, not recognizing it as an article, and when I gently insisted that she should indicate it, she seemed to fall apart. She couldn't really concentrate after that, and she had a terrible time finding and following the track. Even right on it, she skipped every treat -- it was as if it was too much work to pick them up. She (and I) missed the second article, and she was ugly all the way to the end, where I encouraged her to down on the third and final article.

So. If she can't be bothered to eat on the track, then she's clearly not hungry. We went back inside and prepared dinner -- I had even tracked her at dinner time -- and Laev is on short rations. Tomorrow we'll try the same field and see if it's still too much trouble to concentrate to find the food....

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I hate wasps.

Laev's retrieve has been a bit lackluster of late. Okay, worse than lackluster. It had been stellar, but suddenly it vanished -- she would not go out at the first cue, or she would run out to the dumbbell and then do a chin rest upon it rather than bringing it back. I had no idea what was going on.

Probably I'd screwed something up -- it wouldn't be the first time -- but it's relatively pointless to spend time wondering what went wrong instead of just fixing it. So I got some extra-tasty new treats (raw chicken feet!) and got to work.

Within a couple of weeks, Laev was enthusiastic about retrieves and almost always going out on the first cue again. She also is now taking the Schutzhund jumps well. (Schutzhund jumps can be a bit of a challenge; the high jump is 1 meter or 39 inches tall, and the wall is 1.8m or 71" tall, with an angle much steeper than an agility A-frame. The dumbbell to be carried back over these is 650g or roughly 1.5 pounds.) Laev prefered to take the wall in hell-for-leather fashion, which I worried would cause injury, so I trained her to pause at the apex for a treat and then descend. I think this pause will fade smoothly, and it's better to have a slight hesitation than a dog with a damaged front end!

Tonight Laev was a bit sloppy going over the high jump, using her feet as she crossed. This is likely due to her banging her knee on it last week and she's cautious now, but we'll have to fix that. No touching allowed! But she was retrieving eagerly.

I decided to finally add the dumbbell to the wall exercise, which until now has been only wall technique. With Laev on a long line, I sent her over the wall, directed her to the dumbbell, and then ran with her back over the wall. First time went well.

The second time, I decided to make it look like a real retrieve. I set Laev up, threw the dumbbell, sent her over the wall and then ran alongside to help her find the dumbbell if necessary.

As Laev scaled the wall, a sharp pain jabbed through my clicker hand, and then again. Without thought I began tearing at my hand, sending my clicker (wrist coil and all) off my wrist and through the air.

Laev paused, because this was an entirely new set of hand signals for her. My friend Melissa was laughing at me, wondering why I'd thrown a clicker. I stood shaking my hand, which was really hurting now, and reached for my treat bag; Laev hadn't done anything wrong. "Something stung me," I said.

Ah, well, we move on. I asked if anyone in the group had an antihistamine. My mother is highly allergic to some stings, and I have somehow made it to my present age without any real stings to test my susceptibility. No luck, though the two RNs in our group offered to perform CPR if necessary.

After a moment I sent Laev for the dumbbell. She picked it up and carried it back to me, then suddenly dropped it and pawed at her face. She'd been stung, too!

We moved well away from the retrieve area and I had her work some heeling circles around two volunteers so we could end on a good note. I also sent her for a very short retrieve, so that she didn't think it was the dumbbell which had caused the sting. She was as eager as ever; I love this dog. Still, our retrieve isn't good enough that I can afford to have her stung while training, so we were done for the night.

A club member examined the wall and found a nest of wasps had moved in. They'll be moved out before our next training session! I found my clicker a good 25 feet away; I'd thrown it hard!

I spent the next hour with an ice pack on my swelling hand. No allergic reaction, though, so that was a good thing. :)