Monday, March 31, 2008

Laev Update

Wow. I was amazed at the number of people at ClickerExpo who asked about Laev! I even got TAGged for her blog! You guys are great. :-)

Super-brief update, because I've been asked: Yes, Laev seems much improved. She went back to regular training a week ago and did just great. I was also super-proud that even in her over-the-top excitement at FINALLY getting to go back to work, she was perfectly clean in her positively-trained hold and barks.

Two days later, she wasn't as clean on a different helper -- she brushed the sleeve as she went by, just asking a question -- and I'll have to do some work on that. No cheating.

But overall, it seems she feels much better physically, and that's what's most important.

Monday, March 17, 2008

"She Did It, Right?!"

I ran into a training friend after Laev's TD certification track.

"How'd Laev do?" she asked brightly.

"Eh," I responded.

"She did it, right? She passed?"


"How'd she do?"

I was honest. "It was the worst track I've ever seen from her."

My friend nodded. "Right. But that was still good enough, right?"

"No. She failed the track."

"What?! How can that be? Laev?" She stared at me. "I would have cried."

Sometimes there are disadvantages to having people know that we're supposed to have a clue how to go about this.

I wonder sometimes why I blog about Laev's training. I don't blog about anything else, and I don't really want to look like I'm setting myself up as some sort of internet training goddess. Well, no danger of that -- I record our failures as well as our successes, and it should be pretty obvious that we aren't, um, perfect. /laugh/

It does add a certain amount of pressure, the blog. Once, right before a big trial, I got email about Laev's efforts from across the world. I whined to my sister the night before the trial, "What if it goes bad? I'd have to write and tell Norway that we failed!"

There is a certain advantage to anonymity.

On the other hand, I know my clients often appreciate hearing that my dogs are real dogs, too, that they do make mistakes and I have to train through difficulties. I have been told by others that they find Laev's blog to be encouraging and helpful to their own training, and that's hugely gratifying.

In addition, it's useful to me, because it's often as I'm mentally reviewing (I write all my blog posts in my head before I ever type them) that I recall some detail which can make the difference in our next session. That's good. And it is good to get feedback from others, of course.

So I'm blogging, and training, and of course enjoying my dog. It's what it's all about. :-)

Fresh Photos!

These were taken at the March 1 AKC obedience trial, hosted by GLKC. This is where Laev finished her CD and RN (and Shakespeare finished his RA, too, but this isn't his blog -- sorry, buddy!).

I ordered some professional photos because I have only one picture of Laev's heeling, taken through the rain at a distance.

She's not even in proper position in that photo, and it's hard to see just how beautiful she is. (Do I sound a bit biased?) So here are the new ones!

The indoor lighting was difficult for good photos, so the final images didn't color correct well. Paw Prints Pet Photography was nice enough to then include other color options for me, and I'm posting the sepia here.

Know what I love most about this picture? There are zero feet touching the ground -- hers or mine. This is what life with Laev is like all the time! (Hmm. Nice convergence in dog and handler; we should both get good conformation ratings for clean movement. ;-) )

This was snapped just as we changed directions in the figure eight. I love that Laev and I are in perfect step, crossing over together.

If I recall correctly, this was during a downward shift in pace, which is why I'm dropping my weight a bit and making that odd step. Laev's tail doesn't ever stop wagging while we're working, I don't think.

A shot from the Rally class, though there are no signs visible. I remember the ring and spectator, but I don't remember which exercise this was; with my weight shifting like that, we might be coming to a halt. I do love that Laev and I are still in perfect step.

So, that's our photographic update. Hope you enjoyed it. I'm going to try to get some good action shots of her protection work as soon as she's safely back to that game.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Tracking Test -- epilogue, post-datum

My "Tracking Test -- Epilogue" post looked kind of doom and gloom, perhaps, and I had left out the most important part of the day.

Laev is happy!

Yes, she was uncertain on her track. But she is bright-eyed, eager to engage with me, and she is now happily playing with a puzzle toy. THAT is what matters a heck of a lot more than certifying or not.

And I do think she can do a TD track, or I wouldn't have wasted someone else's time in asking a judge to come watch us. But even though we failed, the fact that Laev is feeling good today and was eager to go out this morning means that it's still a good day.


Tracking Test -- epilogue

I was nervous at the tracking certification this morning. I hadn't been, comparatively speaking, but then the judge mentioned that he'd visited my business website the night before, and I started tensing.

See, I had carefully sent him email from my personal address, deleted all signature references to what I did for a living, etc. (I think he found out when he heard the greeting on my phone.) Not only is it kind of arrogant in my mind to go in advertising that I'm a professional trainer, I think it puts unfair pressure on both judge and competitor. After all, pros don't ever make mistakes, right? ;-)

Well, this pro was a nervous twit. We talked about the differences between Schutzhund and AKC tracking, about the fact that Laev hadn't tracked much in a harness before (just yesterday), and a few other things that I don't really recall because my brain was already starting to check out. Drat, he knows that I'm supposed to know what I'm doing. And I know some AKC tracking people completely disdain Schutzhund tracking and some Schutzhund people disdain AKC tracking, and now I'm representing Schutzhund tracking to this guy, so we'd better be good....

I'd brought a judge's gift. I'd asked on a list what was appropriate and received answers from all over and of all types. "Don't bring any gift at all! It's offensive. Judges do this as part of their judging and they don't expect anything for it." Or, "A judge has to take time out of his schedule for you, and you should take something pretty nice -- at least a $25 gift card to a nice restaurant." Oookay; apparently there are different expectations in different parts of the country.

No one local had answered, though. So I'd split the difference and brought a couple of big packages of treats which I thought were useful for tracking training. While we were talking, I thought about the gift bag, but then it seemed wrong to offer it before the track, almost a bribe. Better to save it.

Finally the track was sufficiently aged and I could get my dog. We heeled to the start flag as usual and then I cued Laev to track. She passed over the first article as I'd expected and started.

About ten feet into the track, I knew I didn't have a tracking dog. Whether it was my stress of the past two weeks (a really dizzying mix of highs and lows), my twitchiness of the morning, the late chiropractic of the night before, or just the fact that it was a stranger's track, I knew right from the start that she wasn't comfortable on the track. She usually hits the line like a ton of bricks, and yesterday in the harness she was right back to that, but today she was hesitant, uncommitted. She zigged a lot on that first leg, really ugly, and she never ever once looked "right" on the track.

She found the first corner, did a bit better, and then missed the second corner and couldn't find it again. Our judge kindly informed me after a bit that we were past the third leg and had failed, but he gave us the visual line so we could work through the rest.

He said that she'd looked up the correct leg and then, seeing mounds of dirt, decided the track must not be there; I don't think that was the case. Laev may well have looked up the right leg and then failed to follow it, but not because of dirt -- I'll lay tracks through almost anything. (We were tracking through mole tunnels earlier this week.) I suspect she was still uncertain about the stranger's scent, or me, or whatever.

Laev was flustered by now and she dove for a molehill as an attractive diversion. I pulled her off and set her back on the track. (No hesitation by the molehills earlier this week, so that's an indication of how "off" we were.) She was clearly hesitant on the rest of the track, even with me close behind her and me now knowing exactly where we were going, so it wasn't simply a need for help. Even when we found the glove, she kind of just crept up to it and then lay down to indicate, glancing at me for confirmation. Poor confused dog.

I felt really bad for the judge, too -- I would never have chosen to show him such a tracking picture! And my left eye had started streaming from the wind, like it always does, but probably appearing that I'm crying as I'm gibbering about how she just didn't look right....

He tried to help me, he did. He explained that I had followed her when she lost the track instead of standing firm. (Yep, I had -- it was because she had never looked "right" so I had a harder time telling when she was wrong.) He referred me to a popular trainer not far from me to "help me with the transition" from Schutzhund to AKC. That was a very nice way of saying that it didn't look like we had a clue what we were doing out there. :-) Also, I took this to mean that he thought we were one of "those" Schutzhund folk, those who train tracking with a lot of compulsion, who micro-manage the dogs on the tracks and never allow the dogs to learn to make decisions.... I suspect this because he talked about letting Laev get off and then put herself back on. I do that anyway, but of course today he had *no* way of seeing that.

Anyway, he talked slightly down to us, but I couldn't blame him in the least. He was trying his best to be helpful and encouraging to what certainly appeared to be a blathering young inexperienced fool who hadn't really ever let her dog track on its own before. And I was definitely blathering -- I even said, "But she did a great track yesterday!" /rolls eyes/ But he was very nice about it, and he did all he could for us under the circumstances.

I did choke up at the end, as I put Laev away and mentioned that earlier in the week I'd thought she might be retired permanently -- that was too scary then and it's still hard to even say. That had nothing to do with failing the track, though; Laev's health and happiness is worth a lot more than any silly set of letters. But that probably confirmed whatever the poor man was thinking about emotional crazy woman Schutzhund trackers. /sigh/

I gave him the gift bag of treats, which seemed to vex him a bit; apparently I should have been at one end of the continuum or the other to avoid offense. Drat. I really need to find someone local who can give me the lowdown on local customs. I escaped with my dog.

So we'll do some more work with stranger-laid tracks, get me more settled and less stressed, and then try again. I feel certain Laev can do a TD track, but I'd obviously cheated on her preparation for this particular day -- we've never tried a strange track with me reeking stress pheromones just hours after adjustment. Sheesh. And I have never, ever seen her look as questioning and uncertain on a track as she did today.

So we'll work and come back to try again. I'd definitely use this judge again and would recommend him -- he was friendly, helpful, and Laev liked him enough to give him a friendly nose poke. (I'm using to reporting in for a temperament assessment before starting the track, so I took Laev up to him. He was good enough to not respond to her and distract her before we started, which I appreciated.) So we'll contact him in the future to make up for today -- if he won't suddenly have a schedule too full to handle another go with the teary blathering novice who hands out bags of treats. ;-)

Chiropractic Update

I did take Laev to a highly-recommended veterinary chiropractor tonight. She'd been getting worse -- yelping and snapping if bumped by another dog, suddenly less pulling on the tracking line (she's ALWAYS tried to drag me down track) and weaving on the track, some faint hackling over hips.... I had hips, elbows and lumbar x-rayed and all looked fine (went ahead and submitted to OFA, as long as we were doing it), so next step was the chiropractor. It was very interesting and I think well worthwhile.

He found a whole laundry list of things wrong with Laev -- pelvis out of whack, something more with the left hip in particular, the right shoulder wonky to compensate for the left hip, the lower neck.... "Wonky" is of course not the medical term, but in short, Laev was messed up. He suspects the lack of pulling on the leash would be due to the pelvis/hip and the yelping when bumped due to the neck.

He spent a while poking, pushing and snapping Laev into place, and there was a quite loud pop when he adjusted her left hip. She only really shifted away once; what really amazed me was how cool she was
with all of this. I'd given her my palm to position her and keep her steady (she's trained to chin rest in it), but she relaxed very obviously and really sank into my hand.

"Ah!" he said. "A Doberman I can do a tail adjustment on!"

Afterward, he did some acupuncture and injected a tiny bit of B12 into each needle, which is something my regular vet had mentioned. We got on the list for a future appointment; he's in big demand and travels
the state.

I feel a tiny bit validated -- I'm guessing the hackling I observed was due to the sore hip and pelvis, for example, so I wasn't totally off in my assessment. I'm just really, really hoping now that this wasn't just incidental or contributing and there's still another major problem elsewhere.

Our club is really safety-minded, and our training director very particular about the catching of the dogs, but of course a small thing can happen and then just build as the dog keeps going, and more can be pushed out of alignment as the dog compensates for the sore area. Laev will be taking another week off to let the adjustments really settle, and she'll definitely be getting an agitation harness for work instead of the padded leather collar I have been using.

Regarding tomorrow's tracking.... Laev tracked much better this afternoon on a harness for the first time -- no neck pressure! -- and so I'm hoping that we do well tomorrow, despite the fact that we haven't really prepped for AKC style and that I've been a total nervous wreck about her! At least I know she did well today and I know that tonight's chiropractic was beneficial, so that will help my end of the leash to be calm. :-)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Tracking Test -- prologue

On Saturday, Laev and I will attempt to certify to enter an AKC tracking test.

We are utterly unprepared for this.

1) AKC tracking tests require that the dog track in a harness. Laev has worn a harness only a few times in her life since being just weeks old, and always for bitework, not tracking. I borrowed back an old harness tonight and Laev will track just once in it on Friday before testing on Saturday.

2) We have also never tracked anyone who was not me, as I've always laid my own training tracks. Saturday will be the first time that Laev will track a stranger.

3) I have also not adequately prepared Laev to work at the required distance, as I have been fairly close behind her during her training thus far and I have to maintain a distance of at least 20' on Saturday.

So why in the heck are we doing this to ourselves, anyway?

Frankly, I think it's because I'm scared. Really scared. Laev's mystery ailment has not improved; she has lost weight and she will yelp and snap when jostled by another dog. She is also definitely not pulling as hard on the tracking line (we track on a collar) or on the leash (she has a lovely heel, but I've never bothered to really teach loose leash walking). Bloodwork and hip, elbow, back x-rays all look just great; I suspect a neck injury.

I am terrified of what it will mean if that is confirmed. If she is injured, and if it's something that cannot be fixed or will reappear with risk to her, that means her career is over. And that would be devastating -- not because we wouldn't be able to compete for titles, no! but because training and specifically training in bitework is Laev's most favorite activity and I can't imagine not allowing her to do it.

Bitework is a full body, full contact sport. It requires an athletic dog in excellent condition. I have a good club with a training director who's very concerned about the safety of the dogs; we don't take unnecessary risks. But like any sport, there's always the possibility of landing just slightly wrong and suffering injury. There was never a moment when I knew Laev had just suffered lasting damage, but dogs (and particularly Laev) are tough; they'll keep going even if something hurts, and what might have been a minor injury can be made major.

And Laev, not do bitework?! Already we're suffering because I haven't let her train for nearly two weeks, worrying about her mystery ailment. She's going a bit stir-crazy and I picked up tracking because I thought it would be something suitably enjoyable and mental for her. I mean, obedience has jumps and heeling, agility is even worse, what else could we do but scent work? But she's been sloppy on the track, weaving out of the footprints, and I wonder now if it's caused by some pain from the line; we'll see if it changes when I put her in the harness. If she doesn't light up looking for a helper when I put the harness on, that is.

I'd been thinking for several months I should work toward her AKC TD, and when we had to take a break from everything else, it seemed like a good time to try that. And now that I'm absolutely terrified that I might learn she won't be able to do anything else again, we're going to go out and try this, just so we're not sitting at home and fretting. I'll take the certifying judge a nice gift for his time; even if we do a really ugly job because my dog's unprepared and her handler's a nervous wreck, we'll be outside enjoying each other's company, and what could be wrong with that?

We have an appointment late Friday evening with a veterinary chiropractor. I don't know what he'll find, or if he'll tell me there's nothing and I'm back at the start with no clue as to what's wrong with my dog....

I am just so scared that this is something big, really big, and this tracking test is my denial. See, I am out there training my dog, we are working together, everything's fine. Really.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Maintaining Laev.

So Laev's condition, whatever this mystery ailment is, is possibly worse. She doesn't seem quite as low energy on the B12, but she is much more protective of her personal space with the other dogs.

The other night I opened the door to let Laev out and Shakespeare in. They collided lightly. Laev screamed and went nuts, first snarking at Shakespeare but quickly allowing her survival instinct to kick in. Then she turned at me and freaked, definitely not wanting to bite me either but wanting to bite *something*. I quickly took her outside and closed the door, preventing a possible dogfight, and she was completely frantic for a few minutes. I stroked her and then let her go to do her thing.

That makes the third time I've seen a dog encounter make Laev yelp and snark, and the first time I actually saw what happened. The first two times were with Inky, who is a big klutzy lug and who very probably bumped Laev; both times Laev went more reactive than I've ever seen before and bit, both times needing physically separated. I didn't see the bump either time, but I did mention to the vet during her exam that she was more sensitive about space than usual. These dogs have been passing in the doorways for years, and all three of these incidents have been in the last two weeks. This looks completely different from the "you're in my space!" reaction she'll give a rude dog with an inattentive handler.

I'm also seeing occasional hackling over her lower spine, very small but I think it's there. That's not where she hackles when she's hearing something odd at night, which is at her withers and croup.

She's getting x-rays tomorrow of hips and lumbar region; I think I'll go ahead and have them shoot images of her elbows, too, so we can just get her OFA'd at the same time. I don't want to knock her out again if I want them later. Then, Friday, we have an appointment with a veterinary chiropractor.

My sister thinks Laev's lost weight, and I think I agree. This could be a sign of either something wrong internally or, I'm told, chronic pain. Yeek.

Anyway, all this means I'm not taking Laev to Schutzhund training, because I don't want to hurt her or risk doing anything permanent. But Laev doesn't like rest. She's been getting increasingly needy and twitchy, having no way to burn her physical and mental energy.

"You have to do something with the puppy," Jon said. "'My mommy is gone, my sun has burned out and my life is over.'"

Well, I figured, she can track safely enough, I'd guess. And I want to get her AKC TD anyway. So tonight I laid a ~300 pace track with 3 articles and a half dozen turns. While it aged, Laev and I played at training; I'd like to capture and shape an open mouth behavior. It will be fun for conformation class and a great trick for demonstrating the uses of clicker training.

Then we went into the dusk and tracked. Laev missed the second article (so did I) but tracked pretty reliably over the lots and lots of molehills. She was sloppy at corners, as much as several feet off, but enthusiastically got back on track. Nailed the third article even though I was the furthest behind her I've ever been (I'd dropped back in a long straightaway and for final corner).

Then we went back inside for more hard thinking and easy physical stuff. After a couple hours of training, she had reached a point where she could lie beside me and chew a knuckle bone.

While I'm thrilled with her work ethic and I don't mind having to find new challenges for her, I hope we can find the physical problem soon. I want my dog back!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Laev's Bloodwork Results

(Because some asked....)

Laev's bloodwork came back about perfect. While this is great from a health standpoint, it's frustrating because it doesn't help us identify what the mystery ailment that's sapping energy might really be. Her thyroid, enzymes, cholesterol, everything is just textbook normal.

The only thing that's off is a very slightly elevated white blood cell count. We don't think it's a low-grade pyo, or UTI, or other thing; it might be, if we had to guess, a parasite infection or an allergic response. As she's showing no other allergy symptoms, I voted to order a "parasite purge" on the off chance she got an icky case of worms somehow.

In the meantime, B12 seems to help her with her energy and general outlook, and the vet relieved my concern that it would mask further symptoms. So I'll try to maintain that as needed and of course I'll keep watching for anything more that could help us help her.

Thanks for your concern!

Three runs, three legs, three titles, one day.

We had an AKC trial today. We average 1 AKC trial per year, roughly; it's just not high on my priority list as entry fees keep going up, AKC dumbed down the Rally I enjoyed, and the culture can feel clique-ish and less supportive. (Of course there are exceptionally nice people participating in AKC, too!) But I wanted to finish the titles we'd started.

So three entries, today. Shakespeare finished his RA with a very distracted 95 points (of 100). Silly dog; Rally is his favorite and I'm not sure why he was spacing today. He got a fourth place.

Laev finished her RN despite her stupid handler. Laev apparently read the sign correctly and lay down ("it says down, Mom, trust me!") but I gave her the eyeball and she changed to a sit. Unfortunately, the Doberman is always right, and we finished her title with an unimpressive 86 points. Still counts, though!

And then we waited for Novice obedience, where Laev could finish her CD. A client couple appeared at the trial to learn more about sports and to watch us. (No pressure.) I was a bit worried about Laev, as she still has the mystery ailment that saps energy and focus; I was afraid she'd distract or lie down on the sit-stay, as she had done a few times in practice. But she came through beautifully, giving me enthusiastic and energetic heeling, a picture-perfect stand for exam, and a happy recall that got ticked for one point, but I have no idea why.

Her heeling was a bit too enthusiastic, actually. :-) While we didn't have any "vertical heeling," she wrapped herself about my left leg and lost points for crabbing and crooked sits. I can't blame her at all; I never really focused on straight sits originally, preferring the enthusiasm of her forward movement, and it's less of a problem when we're moving briskly. I was slower today, though, in an indoor ring and just tired myself, and so she compensated by bending herself into a pretzel. As that is where we lost all our other points, I might have to go back and actually make myself train a straight heel.

Still, clicker training produced a very reliable dog, reliably and consistently making the same mistake I'd originally trained. /laugh/

I will compliment Laev on this, though; I was going through a collection of photos to order some professional shots of our run, and every single picture shows rapt attention. The only time she's not looking intently up at me is when I'm leaving her in the sit for the recall. Even other observers commented on it; she's darn focused. Good girl.

She twitched once during the group stays but held her position. And that was her third leg and her AKC CD. Time to move on to new things!