Long time now post….

October 27, 2008

I really am still here, though! We’ve just been busy at work.

Sorry for lack of updates…

June 6, 2008

Been feeling kinda off (ugh) and just not had the energy to do anything but work and sleep.

I did make this video this evening though, with my new camera (prezzie from my grandma for my upcoming birthday.)

Lizzie demonstrates her “Wave” trick for the camera!

Now with a link, because I am a DOPE.

Lizzie’s latest…

May 7, 2008

Lizzie has been spending a lot of time locked up, and she’s BORED. So we’ve been doing some trick training. She’s learned ‘spin’ (and ‘rinse!’ which means to spin the other direction. :P), and we’re working on wave and roll over.

I posted over on Dogstar Academy about what I *don’t* like about clicker training, so I guess now it’s time to rave about what I *do* like. I like how it engages dogs, especially dogs who get bored with a lot of repetition. And I think it’s a really, really powerful tool for behavior modification, especially when it comes to conditioning. There’s some research (I don’t have a citation but I will try and figure out where I read this) that suggests that the click- as a short, sharp noise- is just the type that is easy to condition a critter- human or canine-‘s neurological response to, so that you can actually CREATE a positive feeling (increased neurotransmitter production) to that sound- an emotional response, not just a learned ‘food’s on the way’ reaction. (I would see if it worked in people, but alas, I am not food motivated, nor particularly toy driven, so I would be very hard to clicker train.)

I love how shaping games make my dogs think. Not all dogs like freeshaping- Mal doesn’t care for it. Kaylee hasn’t figured it out yet. But Wings ADORED it and Lizzie thinks it’s a pretty cool game, too- you can just about hear the little wheels turning in her head.

Books every dog owner should read

April 24, 2008

I have to apologize for neglecting this blog recently and for the lack of Lizzie-specific content. Truthfully, I’ve been pretty stressed out over this MSN thing (see previous entry) and my imminent move or lack thereof- I’m currently house-hunting and the most recent house fell through. With the US economy currently playing Limbo, there should, in theory, be lots of stuff on the market, but my perfect house hasn’t shown up yet, and I’m getting antsy about waiting too much longer. Still.. gotta keep writing! 😛

These aren’t necessarily training books- or not mostly training books- but are books that changed the way I think about dogs- and are books that make me appreciate my dogs and our relationships more.

  1. The Other End of the Leash – Patricia McConnell
    Patricia McConnell’s books are all good, but this was the first one I read, and to be honest, I can’t remember anything specific enough about it right now to tell you what exactly I loved. (It’s blended together in my head with “For the Love Of Dogs” and a variety of other books.) My copy has been out on permanant loan to various friends and relatives for about 18 months, so please pardon me for not doing a more detailed review.
  2. Bones Would Rain From The Sky – Suzanne Clothier
    Suzanne Clothier has said in an article that her #1 training tool- the one she could choose if she could have only one ‘thing’ to train her dogs with, is a good relationship with her dogs. This book talks almost not at all about training- but vrey much about how we relate to our dogs- and how they relate to us.
  3. Lads Before The Wind – Karen Pryor
    This book isn’t about dogs at all- I think the only mention of dog training in it is that Karen Pryor had previously titled a Weim in obedience and that and her experience with horses was her only previous animal training experience. LBTW is about dolphins, and how Karen and the other employees of Sea Life Park in Hawaii developed a practical usage of operant conditioning from technical recommendations given by academics in the early 1970s that they used with dolphins and other park animals.  I think this book is out of print- I borrowed it from a friend- but it’s worth a read if you can find it. The history is fascinating, largely because, from a perspective of 25 years on, we can see the foundations of a shift in thinking that really has revolutionized dog training.
  4. For The Love Of A Dog – Patricia McConnell
    I put off reading this book for a long time – I wasn’t really interested in emotions in dogs, because behaviorism (as a training model) insists so completely that we must only look at the objective and never assign emotional motives to dogs. Yet every dog owner patently knows that their dog feels frustration, fear, and joy- it’s hard to ascribe the absolutely GLEEFUL zoomies that dogs get occasionally any other way, and hard, as somoene hwo loves my pets, to believe even for a second that apparent ’emotions’ are sheerly randomly firing neurons and cunningly crafted imitations of something that is defined so strongly as being specific to humans- or at best, primates. This book talks about that dichotomy, the science behind emotions, and the emotions our dogs evoke in us. In a lot of ways, it’s a very similar book to “Bones” from a slightly different perspective.
  5. Remembering To Breathe (and sequel “OTCH Dreams”) – Willard Bailey
    As a novice in the dog world, I adored “Remembering to Breathe”. The ups and downs of Honeybear and Willard’s career in the world of competitive obedience is something that anyone who has ever participated in a team sport- with or without a canine partner- can appreciate. One review of this book that is quoted on the cover calls this “The love story between a man and his dog,” and it is- but even beyond that, this book is something special. “OTCH Dreams” is not quite as riveting (Kleenex alert for the first section, though, which is entitled “The Last Days of Honeybear”) but is still a great read.  Competition obedience is, at it’s heart, about having an incredible bond with your dog as teammates- and I think this book really excels at explaining that aspect of the sport. These are the books I loan out to people who want to know what this competitive obedience stuff is all about.

Obedience Classes #2 – Finding a good instructor

March 29, 2008

I love obedience, so it’s probably not really surprising that I tend to keep my dogs in classes *most* of the time. (At one point, I had dogs in classes ALL the time- we usually had less than three weeks each year that we weren’t attending at least one class every week, although my current club and curriculum don’t allow that). A *big* part of what makes it enjoyable, though, is finding the right instructor.

Dog training is not a highly regulated field. Anyone can put out a sign and advertise themselves as a dog trainer. Some states have, I believe, restrictions on certain terms (such as behaviorists) but I don’t believe Texas is among them. (Since I consider myself a trainer, and refer serious problems such as aggression and resource guarding to more experienced folks, this doesn’t really affect me). This can make it pretty tough for consumers, though, to find just the right person to work with.

One good place to start is with the APDT – the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. A professional organization for dog trainers, their requirements for membership aren’t all that strenuous, and membership alone doesn’t guarantee a person’s ability, education, or training philosophy. But it can be a good place to search for trainers in your area.

Another overlooked resource is your local kennel club. You can find out about local clubs at the American Kennel Club site (for AKC events and breeds) and UKCDogs.com (for UKC events and breeds- there are fewer UKC clubs by a large number, but they can be a great resource if you have them.) Not all clubs offer classes- and some use methods that I’m not a fan of- but it’s worth checking out. Even if they don’t offer classes, club contact people are, by definition, dog people, and may be able to give you a suggestion about where to look or who to ask next.

Some people recommend asking your vet. I am generally not a fan of this approach- I love my vets (I have three- a ‘routine stuff vet’ (who I like best but isn’t terribly nearby at the moment), an emergency vet (has been our family vet for years- her brand new practice is in a very expensive part of town and I’m slowly phasing her out- more on that in another post), and a repro/testing vet who is the most highly recommended by reputable breeders locally for health testing and reproductive issues.)- none of them are behaviorists or have much background in the way of dog training, although vets #1 and #3 *do* maintain good lists. (#2’s list is the one I want people to avoid, much as I like her otherwise!) It really depends on your ability to evaluate the information- true of all the approaches, though.

When I’ve got some names, the next thing to do is set up an initial meeting. It doesn’t need to be all that long, and typically I’ll ask if I can attend a class without my dog and observe. I want to see a trainer who is NOT heavy handed, and uses positive reinforcement with both dogs and students freely. I want to see one who has classes of a moderate size- no more than 12 people, and if there’s more than 8, I’d expect to see an assistant. If there’s reactive or aggressive dogs in the class, I want to see that the trainer manages them properly, keeps an eye on the owner who may or may not be all that well equipped to handle them, and sets them up to succeed by NOT pushing them over thresholds repeatedly.

I love clicker training, but a good generic positive trainer is, IMO, better than a poor clicker trainer. (The clicker is NOT equal to praise, and we have a few local trainers who use it that way.) And I’d rather take a traditional (leash correction, crank & yank) class run by an instructor who gives good feedback to handlers and manages the dogs and space effectively than n overly permissive trainer- but I’m assertive and protective enough about my dogs that I won’t allow anyone else to manhandle them and have the confidence (at this point :P) to do my own thing in a class setting- this is NOT ideal. So attending a class is crucial- see how the instructor handles things. See how the dogs react to him. See how he or she interacts with the dogs- does she approach respectfully and appropriately to each individual dog – straight on with confident dogs, but sideways and slower with cautious dogs? How about petting? Is she a head-patter (most dogs HATE this) or a chest thumper (which big dogs generally enjoy, but most small dogs don’t unless it’s done very gently.) Ask for references and follow up on them.  If you’ve done your research and background reading, and have trainers whose training models you particularly respect or think will work well for your dog (mne at the oment, are Leslie McDervitt and Emma Parsons- but I will also ask what the trainer thinks of Karen Pryor’s work, Jean Donaldson’s, Carol Lea Benjamin- and the last is a red herring, as she’s more old-school than I prefer for my dogs) But most of all? Be an educated consumer. Use your gut. And don’t be afraid to walk out of a class that makes you uncomfortable.

Obedience classes – not optional!

March 23, 2008

Lizzie had her first obedience class with the Dallas Obedience Training Club last Monday (I meant to blog about it during the week but have been busy getting Mal ready for a show in Fort Worth this weekend.) I know I’ve posted about her OTHER first class (puppy agility) but this one was still a ton of fun. She’s coming in already knowing all the stuff the class will cover (sit, down, a basic recall, not jumping, ‘go to mat’, walking on a loose leash), and her puppy agility class has given her a great basis for learning to focus around other dogs rather than spend all her time hoping to play with them. So why do obedience classes?

Read the rest of this entry »

Lizzie’s first handling class & general training notes

February 11, 2008

Took Lizzie to her first handling (ringcraft) class at Top Dog on Thursday. She was a little star on the table and she free-stacks beautifully. Next week, my friend Lindsay will hopefully be there with her camera. We’ve got some work to do on the gaiting, though- Lizzie prefers to LEAP instead of trot.

It’s been a busy few weeks. 🙂 Last weekend, we went down to visit a friend and her Belgian Sheepdog, Destry, south of San Antonio. Lizzie was enthralled with Destry and would very much liked to have brought him home with us. (I think Elaine would have been upset, though. :P) I’ll add a photo here when I get the one she took. 🙂

Lizzie is making great progress on her obedience and agility training.  Heeling is coming along nicely (still strongly lured), fronts are progressing. Sit and down are solid, but sit needs to improve, speed-wise. Targeting is perfect, and she’s learning ‘wave’ as a trick, just for fun. She’s a TON of fun, and I hope to get her into some NADAC agility events as soon as she’s eligable next year.

Lizzie had her first agility class tonight.

December 21, 2007

Tonight was Lizzie’s first agility class at Paws for Applause and we had a BLAST. Because of the holidays, this wasn’t a normal class, but I think we’re really going to enjoy training out there. We started class with some heeling (on leash- beginners is entirely on-leash although you drop the leash for some obstacles, etc) and then did a sequencing game.

There were sequences of 2-4 items, and there was everything on the course except for an a-frame, although at lower levels, and some sequences had parallel items where you could take whatever version your dog was comfortable with (for example, there was a baby teeter about 4″ of the ground, a bigger teeter about 8″ off the ground, and a 1′ one and you could take any of them for the same amount of points). You did the sequence, and if you did it correctly, you grabbed a package off the ground by one of the obstacles, ran it back to the pause table, put your dog on the table in a sit or down (bginner 1-2 did sits, beginner 3-4 did downs) and they had to stay while you turned around and put the present under the table and an ornament on the tree. Food/luring and clicking is allowed/encouraged. It’s a training game. You had three minutes to do as many sequences as you could and couldn’t repeat sequences without having completed all of them.

Lizzie hasn’t had any real formal training beyond the stuff we played with last week, so two of the otherwise easy sequences were out for us because they had long tunnels in an S-curve (which I knew she wouldn’t go all the way through) and another two had weaves, and I didn’t want to even THINK about luring her into weaves. There was one with a baby dogwalk and then a closed chute that we thought about but decided not to take because I didn’t think she’d do the chute. We successfully completed all three of the sequences we attempted though without a single error! The first sequence was a teeter, a jump, a short tunnel, and another jump; the second was just four straight jumps; and the last was a pinwheel of 3 jumps. I was SO proud of her! 🙂

She did a really good job of ignoring her playgroup boyfriend, Monarch the papillon and seemed to really have a blast. I can’t wait till nxt week!

A Busy weekend…

December 10, 2007

We have a saying in Texas – “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” This weekend was a lovely (my voice is dripping with sarcasm, in case you don’t have the font “Dripping with sarcasm” to tell what I said there :P) example of it. Last Thursday, our weather was brisk and dry, in the low 60s, with a nice brisk breeze- it was downright chilly when we left the park on Thursday evening. On Friday, up in the 80s! Saturday, it was nearly 90 F! In December! Yuck! Yesterday and today have been downright chilly- in the 50s, with rain and biting winds. A few hours north, in Tulsa (where a major agility trial was held this weekend), they had terrible ice storms.

I spent Saturday with my gaming group, and Lizzie had a friend come in to let her out for lunch while I was gone. Kay called me to tell me that Lizzie had been very good for her- she fed her lunch and took her out for a potty break and then put her back in her crate. Lizzie right back to working on her chewie, and I got home 3 hours later, around 7. The first thing I did- as any puppy owner can tell you- is opened Lizzie’s crate and prepared to rush her outside for a potty run. I opened the top door and put my hand into the crate (I didn’t even stop to turn the lights on 🙂 and… no puppy.

Cue panicked human. “Lizzie!? Lizzie, where the heck are you?” There was no obvious destruction, and I searched the whole living room when she didn’t come when I called her- I was sure she’d electrocuted herself on the Christmas tree or something. Finding nothing, I went into the bedroom, expecting to find my computer cables shredded or something. Luckily, she’d done nothing but shred part of my rosemary plant (on the floor by the window) and then go to sleep on my bed (which I didn’t know she could jump up onto, and thinking about it now, she may have been too busy trying to scale Mount Bedspread to get into much mischief. Heh.) Cue HUGE sigh of relief. This is one smart, sneaky puppy!

Tonight we have an evaluation with Bonnie Sykes Norris at Paws For Applause, a local agility training center with a great reputation for working with non-traditional breeds and bringing puppies along slowly on foundation training- introducing low contacts, tiny jumps, and the self-control, courage, and enthusiasm they’ll need to be excellent agility dogs. Bonnie was recommended by our friend Martha, whose greyhound Nike is pictured several times on the PFA site. Nike is a neat dog- he’s a show-bred greyhound, the first I’ve ever met, and he’s a total doll. He, and his papillon ‘brother’ Monarch are some of Lizzie’s favorite dog buddies. (The tug toy and ball Lizzie is playing with in last week’s photos are both toys Lizzie has stolen from Monarch.)

Lizzie is 5 pounds now- I can’t believe how fast she’s grown. She’s gained a pound in just over 2 weeks.