a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: What We're Learning

Saturday, April 23, 2005

What We're Learning

Thurs--Day 1 a.m.: Stairs are interesting. When we first arrived home, I put Boost on her leash and walked her into the house. The first thing we encountered was the five steps leading up from the bottom floor to the kitchen. She stopped dead. With a little urging, tentatively put one foot onto the first step. Very cautiously pulled herself up. Very cautiously scaled the remaining steps. Her breeder lives in a slab-foundation one-story house, so I'm not sure whether she had ever encountered steps before. On the way out to the back yard, there were the five steps going down from the deck. Down is a whole different thing, but she negotiated them cautiously. By the end of the day, she was blasting up and down the stairs as if she'd been doing them every day her whole life.

Day 1 p.m.: Tunnels are fun. While walking on her leash to go potty, Boost stuck her head into one of the C-shaped tunnels, ears perked, and then trotted in to the middle. I leaned down and peered into the other end, where I could see her just peeking around the corner at me. Like a toddler playing hide and seek, she pulled back and *raced* back out the way she had come.

Day 1 p.m.: Tika is fun to chase. Tika is being very good about the puppy. Not immediately friends, still cautiously accepting, but not hostile. Boost likes nothing so much as to chase Tika around the yard as Tika flushes out all possible offending wildlife from nearby fences and trees. So I let Boost loose (with leash dragging) while I played with Tika and her toy and did a little agility. At one point, Tika blasted through one of the tunnels, and Boost blasted through right behind her.

Day 2 a.m.: Jake is an unpleasant experience. Tika abruptly decided she was done playing and raced into the house, Boost hot on her heels. I followed, thinking it was OK--but no. As I reached the kitchen door, I could see that Tika had completely vanished and Boost was racing straight towards Jake who had remained cicumspectly in the front hall. Jake landed on her, snarling, and she started shrieking like she was dying. I hauled Jake off by the scruff of his neck; he just doesn't seem to get it about letting up on a puppy who cries uncle. While I told him off, Boost fled back out the door to the deck, wailing and shrieking as though the entire universe had abandoned her. I went out and held her and comforted her (usually I don't like to "comfort" my dogs--let them figure out what the world is about and they're less likely to be neurotic about it, IMHO, but this seemed like a special case). Eventually she stopped crying, but she really nestled miserably into my arms and lap. I found absolutely no sign of damage.

After that, she became quite concerned about Tika, too. Every time Tika turned in her direction, she ran and hid behind me. It's 24 hours later as I write this, with lots and lots of Tika interaction, and she's only now getting over being worried about Tika. (Although it didn't take her much time at all to get over *chasing* Tika.)

Day 2 a.m.: Herding is in my genes. The baby Border Collie does the Eye, the half-crouch, the circling of Tika as Tika gets ready to run because I have a toy in my hands. When she's not running full out to catch up with Tika, she's doing the herding moves on her. Wow. Tika definitely has Aussie herding behavior, which is the heeling thing rather than the heading thing. She loves to chase Jake and slam against his sides; she poises with rapt anticipation to catch his every dodge and move as he runs. I thought that the heeling herding move was going to cost me a dog Wednesday night. We were up at the Woodside horsepark, in an area where dogs can run loose. Someone came up the hill behind the cars with a large (draft-looking) horse, and I didn't see them until they came around the vehicles, right in front of Tika. Tika ignored my frantic call and went right in behind the horse and started barking and dashing at his heels. One of my agility friends lost an agility dog to a solid equine kick in the head, and I saw my agility life flash before my eyes before I got Tika away from her. Thank the gods that it was a mellow, experienced horse more interested in going to a new pasture than in any boring barking dog. Jeez.

Day 2: Ready...get it! One of the motivational things that many of us do with our dogs is restrain them (e.g., holding collar or hands around neck) while we do something to get the dog excited in front of them, then realease them. We often use "Readyyyyyyyy..." as a cue word that itself will become an exciting thing. Boost definitely has toy drive. I'd hold her collar, toss a toy across the floor, say "Readyyyy... get it!" and release her, and she'd fly across the room to get the toy. I don't think we'll have any problems with toy motivation with this dog.

Day 2 and 3: There are many scary things in this world but they mostly turn out to be OK. If you throw a toy against the kitchen door, and the puppy crashes into the door because it's not very coordinated yet, the door makes a loud booming sound about which one must then be very cautious the next few times the toy is thrown. If you throw a toy against the baby gate, and the baby gate isn't as securely fastened as you thought it was, the baby gate crashes to the ground with quite a clatter as the puppy bumps it. (No comforting here; just moving calmly to the gate and carrying on the "Wow, that was interesting, huh? What was that? What it a big noise?" conversation. Sometimes when it's dark outside, another puppy that you don't know suddenly appears in the sliding glass door and if you bark a scared/warning bark at it, the other dogs leap to their feet and join in the warning to the perceived threat. The puppy seems to go away when mom opens the sliding door. Same puppy appears sometimes behind the mirrored closet door in mom's bedroom. Fortunately, following mom (safely behind her legs) over to the door and looking carefully around it seems to make it go away.

Day 2 and 3: Crates are your friend. I've been too tired to think clearly about crate training in an energetic and positive way. Just pick her up and put her in and reach in and praise her. She's accepting but it's not something she'd do on her own. I *finally* found my notes from Susan Garrett's lecture last year at Power Paws Camp on crate training. The idea behind most training is to try to get the dog to make choices and reward them for the correct choices--of course it's good if you can limit the availablility of wrong choices so that they can succeed.

So I plopped Boost down in front of the open door of the small crate and waited for her to go in, holding her on a very short leash. She was having nothing of it. After a couple of minutes, I limited her choices more: Supported her in a standing position facing the crate, just a few inches in front of it. She couldn't sit because she'd get caught halfway down and readjusted; certainly couldn't go left or right; tried to go *over* the crate but mom got wise to that, too. Couldn't lean on mom or get onto her lap, either. Might have taken 5 minutes before she decided to try going forward into the crate, at which point she received lavish praise and dog goodies. Door closes.

Now--to associate the sound of the door opening with a treat (a pleasant feeling) *without* the dog surging forward. So, open the door and toss a treat into the back of the crate, then close the door. Repeat several times. So now, when the door is opened, the puppy's first thought is *not* to rush forward, but to wait and see what happens. So you can treat & praise the dog for staying there, and close the door. Repeat several times.

Decided that the goal would be for the puppy to sit when I open the door and not move forward out of the crate. If the puppy lies down, I can toss a treat into the back again to get her to get up. If the puppy stands up, I just have to wait for her to sit, pop open the door, treat and praise.

I decided to try to use the release word "Break" for Boost; "OK" has been a problem for me all along with Remington and Jake (you don't realize how often you say "OK!" when you don't mean it as a release for the dogs).

So, after she has stayed in the crate a few times, I can leave the door open and then say "Break!" At this point, she likes being in the crate so much that I have to pat my knees and encourage her to come out.

OK, it's not even 24 hours since I started this. The puppy goes into the crate when I open the door and put her in front of it. She stays in the crate when I open the door. She waits until I say "Break!" and then comes out. Crud. Another too-smart dog.

Day 2 and 3: Sit for your supper. It's so easy to get a dog to sit when she's focused on the bowl of food in your hand and you move it over her head. Then, as you move it down, praising, if she stands up, you just repeat the maneuver. Then "break!" when the bowl is on the ground and it's OK for her to get it. This puppy is only 3 months old and is learning all this stuff instantly! Well--OK, we're just scratching the surface of these things, but what a joy.

Day 3: Lie down while mom fills the dog bowls. This is fairly easy because I kneel on the deck to scoop food from the bin into the bowls. I put a kibble in my fist, show it to the dog just enough so she can smell it and lick it but can't take it. Put my hand on the ground. As soon as she lies down to get at it (which she does eventually), she gets the treat. I quickly scoop some dog food. Repeat the actions; she goes down much more quikcly the second time. I scoop more; she stands. The third time, she drops almost immediately and stays there (with me feeding her a kibble every several seconds as reward).

All days: I have no excuse. This dog learns everything so quickly when it is presented to her properly. Bad behavior won't be blameable on anything but my incompetence as a trainer. Sheesh.

Day 3: Fleas and baths. Boost has been biting enthusiastically from time to time since I got her home. Yup, I finally saw a flea this morning. She got a bath--which she needed anyway because she was quite dusty from her previous life--and about which she was not tremendously happy. Other dogs got their doses of FrontLine. I've been switching the dog bedding back and forth to try to get all the dogs accustomed to each others' scents more, so I had to wash all the bedding--this probably also means they've been sharing Boost's fleas. Tomorrow I can put some Advantage on the baby, too. We should be fine.

Day 3: Vets: You seen one adventure, you've seen 'em all. Boost was most mellow on her first trip ever to the vet. Vet said her heart rate was completely calm, not at all elevated. She just lounged on the table during the exam. I fed her a few treats here and there, but she hardly needed them. I hope she stays like this. Tika, on the other hand, is so overwrought when we go to the vet that she couldn't care less whether I have a treat in my hand. If she ever has to stay overnight at the hospital, she might have to be sedated. Terrible. The vet tried to torture her alive several times, e.g., by taking her temperature, giving her a couple of shots, and other appalling human behaviors.

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