a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: June 2003

Monday, June 30, 2003

Working on "Things"

It's all them Things that make training so difficult. If only I had couch-potato dogs!

Leash toy: Tika's just not really interested in leashes as toys. Rachel suggested fastening leash to a toy for a while to get her to think of it as a toy. I've fastened one to her Tika Toy (big rubber ball) that's the only thing she plays with fanatically all the time, but I have to work hard to get her to grab the leash part instead of jumping and grabbing at me and the ball part. Then she'll tug-o-war a bit but her heart just isn't in it, I can tell. Then, when I give her back the part with the ball, she seems less enthused about *that*, too.

Maybe if I got a leather leash, she'd like that more? They're kind of expensive for a decent one--on the other hand, it's also kind of expensive entering a weekend trial and wasting all the entry fees because she's grabbing at my feet. ESPECIALLY after a beautiful complete run when she does it at the end, which is where I need to get her to think about going away from me to get the leash.

Leash walking: We didn't do walks for about 5 days, between the trial & seminar and all. Then ever since, I've hardly been able to get down the street without her yank-yank-yanking on the leash. Jeez. What is it going to take? I think we're there, and then we're almost back at the beginning. I get soooo frustrated. It's been almost a year and a half! If anything I was doing was going to make a difference, I think it would have made the difference by now.

Yesterday I went in search of Rem's old prong collar, which pinches when the dog tugs. None of the trainers that I like and respect are recommending this any more, preferring positive training methods rather than pain-based. But, you know, I don't know what else to do. So I'll see whether that makes any difference today.

Remington Memories: As always, it's the unexpected things. After I couldn't find the prong collar, I decided that Now Was The Time To Finish The Garage. You know--that last little bit of stuff that I never figured out where to put or reorganized after moving in (almost 2 years ago). So I spent yesterday afternoon organizing the garage. Found a stack of stuff from my last compost workshop that hadn't been put away. Sorted through it--and there was a bag of liver treats. Remington had been so ill at that last one (just recovering from a bleeding bout) that I had taken him with me and he had lain on the stage next to me for the whole thing, and I took the liver treats to feed him (liver because it's supposed to be good at helping to replace Precious Bodily Fluids & such lost during bleeding).

It was a little punch to the gut, seeing that bag. Not a huge one, but noticeable.

Last night I dreamed that there was a small circus at the shopping center, and they had a big yellow dog doing tricks. I mean BIG, and heavy-set, and a little ragged-looking. Someone told me they were pretty sure it was Remington. The circus guy said he had found him just wandering around the area, looking lost. I was doubtful--the coloring was all perfect, and the general shape, but looked much more like a giant Labrador than like Rem. I tried calling "Remington!" a couple of times and he turned slowly and looked at me in sort of a disinterested way. Then someone suggested seeing whether he'd do Remington's bag of tricks. Sure enough, he did every trick I asked--except there was something lack-a-daisical and not quite right about the motions--I couldn't imagine another dog knowing everything that Remington knew, even down to the exact commands I used--but it just *wasn't the right dog*.

Jakey wakey (Jakey-Meister, Jakey-mon, Jakey-noodle-oo): You know, I hardly ever mention him here. He's mostly a good boy. But he sure is a copycat, and much more of a follower than he'd ever admit to in an interview. At bedtime, when I used to take the dogs out for one last pee, Jake would wait until Rem marked a shrub, then he'd dash over and remark it. After Rem died, he didn't know what to do. He'd sniff around the yard in a discouraged manner and never produce anything. Then he realized that sometimes Tika pees before going in, so now he rushes over and remarks her spot. Still usually won't pee if Tika doesn't, though.

Also has become a shrieking, out-of-control maniac when people come to the door, just like Tika is. I don't actually know what to do about it. I've taken to trying to keep them behind a baby gate when people arrive, but they shriek and shout there, so even though they're not all over the place underfoot, you can't hear yourself talk. Argh.

HOWEVER--at the last CPE trial, Jake got qualifying runs 7 out of 8 times, which is pretty good. (Two weeks ago, that would've been good for high-in-trial at his level; this time, there were 3 dogs with 8 out of 8 at his level! Holy Toledo!) He's fairly fast even at the worst of times, but he definitely gets much faster if I can get him playing some tug of war ahead of time, which he won't always do readily. I have to tease and coax him into it, which is quite tiring on my old bod. He's more likely to win when I get him revved; also more likely to pop contacts.

Tika's jumping problem areas: We can do serpentines good if they're a long way apart. Can't do them worth beans closer together. Need to work hard on those. Couldn't do a decent 270-degree turn at Greg's workshop 90% of the time. I had to step way out into the turn and work her around it, but often when doing those, you want to be able to move across the 2nd jump to get ahead of the dog. So I've been working on those in the yard this week, along with more weave-pole entries.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Jake: More CPE titles

Jake finished up 2 more of his CPE titles this weekend; now he's working entirely on points towards his championship.

He now has all four Level 4 titles:

CL4-R, CL4-F, CL4-H, CL4-S (last 2 new this weekend)

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Greg Derrett 2-day Seminar (June 23-24)

Seminar work was almost all jumps, tunnels, weaves. We got better & better at crosses as the 2 days went on. We still need work on serpentines (we do good when they're further apart but not really close ones) and on 270-degree turns. Maybe she was just getting tired, but I like to believe that she was really pulling herself in and that my timing was getting better.

The great news is that I discovered that she really sticks her weaves once she's in there! I could veer off in all kinds of directions, laterally or ahead, and she'd finish them. Entrances are getting a little better (I've been practicing in the yard) but not perfect.

Last run was a full std course. VERY slow contacts. And then halfway through she discovered the Llama, who had come by to watch us. Lost her repeatedly (trying to follow Greg's directions on dealing with her, since it was his seminar). Argh. Same issue as with squirrels. This was just one big honking squirrel.

She *did* bite at my feet during the seminar, but not nearly as much, and I think it was getting better over the 2 days. For the finish line, Greg also said "Teach her to go out to a leash." (Same as Rachel.) I'm working on it, but slowly. She just doesn't treat a leash as a toy.

Anyway--mostly good for the last 4 days, really.

Two-Day CPE Trial (June 21-22)

Tika had some great runs. Got all her contacts but one, and that was more of a 4-footed bounce because she stopped immediately and looked back. Stayed at start line all except once, and that was just a couple of steps forward and she sat again when I told her to. Did some nice moves.

But we got eliminated 7 out of 8 for feet biting, even after the finish line. After 3 of them, I warned the judges and started doing Dramatic Overacting, crying in pain & rolling on the ground. She looked very disconcerted. I *think* it was helping because in the last couple of runs we actually had some bobbles or odd things & she didn't go for my feet immediately.

But her contacts are getting slower...

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Tika Has Improved-- Some--

A friend commented this weekend (after Tika rampaged around wildly & happily, pushy & jumping up & yelping and barking and all): "She certainly has calmed down since you first got her." Yoiks!

I went out to the garage last night to get something, and Tika followed me out to explore. I headed back into the house; she trotted quickly from the corner where she was sniffing right back into the house behind me. Those first couple of months, she just didn't want to come in, there were so many interesting things to smell out there. Even closing the door and leaving her there for a while didn't discourage her. I remember trying to chase her down (because she'd ignore my polite requests for her to "Come" or "Get your furry buns in here!") and having not much luck.

The Yard Guy was here last week, and as usual she put her vocal cords to work responding to that outspoken leafblower. Well, the Yard Guy has wised up, too: He knows to turn it off when I come out to get the dogs so they're not doubly distracted. Used to be that there was nothing I could do to get her into the house after the Yard Guy came--just too many potential excitements. It doesn't seem that long ago at all that I had to chase her down most of the time. Now, she waits a couple of moments, alert and on tiptoe, to see whether that loudmouth blower will speak up again, but then she skeedaddles right into the house at my direction.

Now, if we could deal with walking on a leash--and jumping up on people--and not grabbing my feet in competition--

We did go on a longer walk yesterday. I was *determined* to get my walking in. There was still a lot of course correction occurring, but much less than there has been at other times. When there were dogs barking in back yards, it became difficult to make progress. And she saw a squirrel or a cat or some other furry reprobate once and became almost unmanageable for a block or so. THAT was a lonnnnng block.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Crepuscular genetics strike again

It's 8:00 on an almost-summer evening. Sun has just recently set. Air is cooling down. I took a nap earlier, played with the dogs for half an hour in the yard before dinner, and now am refreshed and ready to spend a couple of hours doing good solid work at the computer.

The dogs, however, are active, impatient, bored, persisent, pushy. Argh! Make them go away! And tell them to stop eating all those plums!

What? Oh, go look it up if you must.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Jake Keeps Adding Those Letters

Backfill: June 30Tika just earned her CL2-R, so her CPE title list is now
CL2-R, CL1-H, CL1-F.

And Jake earned his CL4-F, AND now he's earning Elite Veterans titles!-- hence his non-NADAC, non-USDAA titles are


and he just recently added

EGC-V EJC-V to his NADAC titles.

Monday, June 09, 2003

CPE Trial Results

Included here: Photos of Tika at Power Paws Camp.

CPE Trial: Well, some good & some bad.

Saturday started out with 2 phenomenal standard runs in the covered arena--stayed at start line, got all contacts perfectly and waited; neither of us screwed anything up on the courses (but they were pretty straight-forward flowing novice courses). She took 1st & Q in both and was faster than any other dog any height, even with the long "good girl" waits on the contacts.

But the rest of the weekend was up and down.

In order of runs:
1 Sat: (see above).*
2 Sat: (see above).*

3 Sat: Gamblers: first run out in the grassy field. At start, stood up to sniff and wandered across start line. Put her back into a sit, led out (she stayed), and on the 2nd obstacle--Aframe--she jumped off early and wandered off to sniff. I put her in a down, called for her leash, and took her off.

4 Sat: Wildcard (standard course but you have to choose among some harder/easier obst's): Grassy field. She didn't stay at start and zoomed across the field. I waited for her to come back, put her back into a sit, led out (she stayed). Got thru 3 obstacles but took the wrong 4th one (bad handling), but although I tried to keep her moving in a circle to another obstacle, she came in and grabbed my feet. Put her in a down, called for leash, and took her off.

1 Sun: Standard in the covered arena. Perfect stay. Skipped 1st weave pole but got her circled to redo them. Had a perfect teeter. On a long, curving sequence of 5 (?) jumps, she didn't carry out ahead of me, came back in and grabbed my feet. Put her in a down, called for leash, & took her off. (Never got to Afr or DW.)

2 Sun: Standard. Perfect stay & gorgeous contacts. Skipped 1st weave pole but got her circled to redo them. Man, she's fast at them out there!*

3 Sun: Full house (kinda like Gamblers), out in the open field. Flew off Afr, which was 2nd obst, and zoomed into next obst (tunnel). Waited for her to come back, put her in a down, then redid the Afr, which was perfect. Stayed with me and did a moderately complex course fast & beautifully.*

4 Sun: Snooker (open field). Picked a course with two 7's, which was the only contact out there, so it wasn't the most flowing (not sure whether that's the right thing for her now--). She did some beautiful maneuvering around obstacles, with a great lead-out stay for me to get halfway across the field, got the contact perfectly, and through 5 obst's in the opening but ended up taking 2 reds in a row. Again, although I tried to keep her moving, my reactions just must be enough that she's knows we're off course, and she came in at my feet again. So although I considered it a big success, I still had the feet problem in the ring and didn't quite know how to handle it. I did get her into a down and then we walked off and then I played a lot of games with her, but I'm concerned that I might be confusing her.

*Coming in at my feet at finish line. Still a problem. I've been putting her in a down (once she wouldn't go down even after several commands, but she did stop grabbing). I'm worried now that she can't tell the difference between a successful end-of-run and being put in a down/taken off for being a bad girl.

Over all, I was pretty happy with the weekend. I sure have a list of things to work on:

  • Grabbing feet during the course (what's the reason/what's a reasonable alternative)

  • Grabbing feet at the finish line (same questions)

  • Carrying out over lines of jumps where I can't keep up with her

  • Getting weave entrance while hauling butt

  • Trusting me to "come" (e.g., for snooker or for more complex courses) rather than looking for an obstacle to take

  • Really reliable stay at start line; was a bit worse this weekend than the previous one.

  • Really reliable contacts; a bit worse this weekend than the previous.

  • FAST contacts--she's doing them and waiting, but she's really starting to slow down on the descent.

  • Squirrels. :-) Fortunately there weren't any there this weekend.

  • Yanking on the leash. She broke a leash last week. I'm inches away from moving to a prong collar, which worked for Rem without any trauma at all.

I try to remember everything that I need to do--but sometimes it seems so hopeless and there's so MUCH to remember and to do! Jake (for about the 4th trial) missed a high-in-trial by one popped dogwalk (he did it in 2 runs, so either one would have gotten us the award)--so even with my experienced beast, I've "got issues."

Pulling on the Leash Does It In

On Friday, while we were out for a walk, Tika yanked on the leash (wow! what a surprise!) and the handle loop separated from the leash. I've never had a leash come apart before. For all my previous 4 dogs, leashes lasted pretty much forever, until they'd get so faded and frayed around the edges that I'd replace them. Maybe once for each dog; maybe not. I had just bought Rem a new one last year because the one we bought him 9 years ago was so faded, but still sturdy and functional.

So I bought a new leash that is doubly stitched at the handle.

'Course not of my dogs have yanked as long and as hard at the leash as Tika has. Rem was quite a puller, but our instructor at the time had him on a prong collar within about 3 months after he came to live with us, which reduced his pulling quite a bit more than anything I've managed with Tika. (Mind you, it didn't eliminate the pulling. He always viewed that collar as an inconvenience, but eventually after probably a couple of years he got to where he mostly didn't pull--except when he was excited--and even then, a gentle pop or two on the leash was enough to remind him to slack off.) Nowadays no one wants to recommend prong collars.

But--jeez-- My back started hurting a lot on Sunday (who knows why), and every yank from Tika came like a karate chop on the muscles. To get from our set-up out to the exercise yard required about a 200-foot walk. Tika excited. Step/yank/stop/wait for her to come back next to me. Step/yank/stop/wait for her to come back next to me. Not only painful, but pretty frustrating, too.

I tried John Rogerson's couple of suggested methods, which involve grabbing the leash right near the collar and pulling the dog *forward* (since most dogs resist being pulled forward), but after 2 days of that, my back was really killing me, so those just don't work for someone who shouldn't be bending & twisting like that, at least not for a dog who's had over a year's experience in the Joy of Pulling.

I don't know what happened. After Rem died, I decided that absolutely I was going to fix the pulling on the leash problem and I was going to be absolutely totally consistent with handling her when we attempted to go for a walk. You might remember that within a week or 2 we were actually walking a block with hardly any tugging. And then she got worse again, and I don't think I got less consistent! Wed & Thurs last week, I couldn't even get out of my street again--couldn't complete more than a few steps without her yanking on the leash.

Tune in next week, same tug-time, same tug-channel, for our next failed strategy.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Agility Thoughts

You know, one thing missing since Rem left is my enthusiasm for agility. It's just not back all the way. I'm not as interested in spending time with either Jake or Tika, working on things that I know need work or on new handling maneuvers or on longer exercises. Or even going to trials.

It's not like Rem was a superstar agility dog. In fact I was frustrated so often by the things that we never managed to fix. Jake Qed far more often and has earned far more titles, is more reliably fast. Tika might be the agility dog I've thought I've wanted for a long time, so fast and focused when she's turned on. So it's not that.

Rem *was* my first agility dog. Maybe it's that? I don't know. Just something else I've noticed about me since he's been gone.

Tika's Progress--Or Not--

NADAC Trial Summary: Two weekends ago we did a NADAC trial. Six runs each day for each dog. Good exercise for me. It wasn't one of our most stellar weekends, however. Jake and I weren't clicking most of the time, although he was running quite fast. Latter is good because at times I've thought he's been slowing down a lot.

Contacts: Tika got all of her contacts beautifully except for one run on the second day. In that one, she launched off the teeter, which was the first contact obstacle. I think she doesn't know it's a teeter when she does that. I'm talking straight up into the air, hang time like Wile E. Coyote going over a cliff. But after that, she also flew off the Aframe, so I put her into a Down and took her off the field. She went back to getting all her contacts beautifully.

Start Line Stay: She stayed at the start line beautifully except for one run on the second day. It was a tunnelers run, too, more's the pity, because we seem to do whiz-bang on those courses. I put her into a Down, took a step forward, and she shot past me. I stopped, and I think she realized that, because she veered away from the obstacles and headed out diagonally across the course, slowing as she went. I stood quietly back where Ihad put her into the down and waited. She circled, came back to me, and I put her back into the Down. Led out a couple of tunnels. Gave her the signal. We then ran a beautiful course, but of course we'd have been way over time even without the Elimination for (I believe) training in the ring. But she didn't leave her start-stays early again that day.

Some Success: We did have it together enough to get one Open (intermediate) standard leg (qualifying score), and I think a Tunnelers leg and a Touch'N'Go?

But Those Big Nasty Feet: Grabbing my feet was the big issue for the weekend. She grabbed them every danged run, if nowhere else then at least at the end as I'd be trying to cross the finish line. Got several Es for her biting my feet. Some judges gave an immediate E as soon as she jumped in. Others gave her one chance and then Eed us the second time. As usual, she does it on course only when we've managed to miss an obstacle. I try to keep her moving, but often if we miss the correct obstacle, there's no easy path to any other obstacle and she knows it and in she comes, like a shark to blood.

I tried bitter apple on my shoes before the runs, but that didn't seem to faze her. What did seem to work is me simply freezing and ignoring her, refusing to play her game. Every other attempt to get her to stop or to lie down or to do turns or high fives or push her away all just get her more excited. Freezing apparently is boring enough that she stops very quickly and looks up at me, as in, "Huh? How come you stopped this fun behavior?" But I can't just start moving--I have to get her moving again first, or she comes right back in at me.

And at the end of the course I'm trying an immediate "Come/down"--I hate to shut her down, I'd rather celebrate, but she won't play or jump up with me, just grabs my feet. And I havent worked on teaching her to go out and look for her leash, which was one of Rachel's suggestions.

The John Rogerson seminar was interesting--in the middle of the class, he tossed out the line (while talking about over-excited dogs): "Teach a novice dog to run down a line of jumps by throwing a toy and I guarantee you'll have a dog that starts coming in to bite you in competition." If my ears could have stood up on end, they would have, as my ears are excellent at recognizing my image in a mirror. His later explanation was that the dog has to learn *control* completely and thoroughly before learning long, fast sequences. As in: "Over/down!" "Tunnel/sit!" "Over/come/behind!" or whatever. So since then, in the yard, I've been practicing more of short, turning sequences with control.

Gets Worse in Class: And in class this week, she spent every available moment running away and looking for squirrels, even though there were none to be seen and Rachel said there hadn't been any sign of the family for a week and a half. She learned it all too well the last couple of times we were there, apparently. So in class Rachel had us working on control--one or two obstacles, sometimes with a leash on, and "Come!" and reward. So the training is converging. Tika started the class by flying off the dogwalk and going In Search Of Squirrel; the next time she had a leash on and it got caught on something while she was going up (that's scary--we switched to a string for the rest of class), but apparently she took it to heart and did beautiful contacts for the rest of class. However, took every jump *away* from me to mean "keep going away from me to see whether there might be tree-climbing rodents around." Her "Come" was pretty nonexistent in those cases.

So much to do. Sigh.

Squirtez-vous and other surprises: I bought a squirt gun to get her to keep her nose away from the table. I've never seen her take anything off the table, but I've been pushing her nose away and saying "no" for over a year now (Jeez--hard to believe it's been that long!) and clearly it has had no effect whatsoever. Water squirted in her face seems to be having an effect, though. We'll see. Has been squirted more than half a dozen times, and has come back the next meal to sniff again, so I don't know whether it's so ingrained... but when she's squirted, she skeedaddles out the patio and watches me through the glass door.

I don't do or say anything in addition to the squirt--just keep reading the paper, sitting there quietly, subtly moving my hand to the squirt gun and squirting a little in her direction.

John had a suggestion about little poppers that you can put under something to teach dog not to take things off tables or counters, which you combine with a tremendous acting job of your own along the lines of "Omigod what was that, holy cow, is it safe in here?" He gave a web site to order the poppers from. I'm going to do that, because she *has* taken things off the coffee table or the garden tables out in the yard.

Goal of all of these things is to have the behavior discouraged without having the owner (me) yelling or hitting or anything else negative, and also to associate the negative experience with the behavior and not with my own actions or presence. We'll see---

Rem again: Actually, since Rem's been gone, I've had no problems with food being taken off the counters or with wastebaskets being emptied. I didn't think I would, either. He wasn't the perfect dogman, and I know it.

Remington Lingers On

It comes and goes. It's been 3 months. Life seems pretty normal. Tika is over being terrified of my every move or noise. Jake is over looking for Remington. I don't cringe every time I turn around and see something, because things aren't reminding me of him much. And then--the last couple of days--don't know what it is.

Yesterday, went to fasten Jake's seatbelt after agility class and he was in the wrong seat. When Rem was around, they were *always* in the wrong seats, and I'd say "switch seats," and they'd switch. It hit me hard and I sat in the car sobbing before coming home. Today I filled up the gas tank and washed the windows. I do this every week, sometimes more often. Realized that there were no windows inside that needed cleaning, whereas Rem always left a dog-nose Picasso covering his window. Hit me hard again. Why this week?

There is so much to say and I don't know how to say it or who to say it to. It just wells up and -- it's so immense sometimes that it overwhelms mere words. I knew my dogs were important to me, but I just never think they can get in this deep.