a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: June 2005

Monday, June 27, 2005


After the large-rattlesnake visit to our back yard last summer, I enrolled Tika in a rattlesnake avoidance session for this last weekend. (Decided that Boost is too skittish about ordinary things for me to want to put a shock collar on her yet, and Jake is 13.5 and what are the odds of him encountering a snake in the rest of his life--which, ok, could be as much as another 4 years if I'm lucky, although at the rate he's going, it seems like he could go forever!)

It's a very short session for each dog. The dog is fitted with a remote-control shock collar. A "neutral handler" takes the dog on leash and approaches a rattlesnake. When the dog acknowledges the rattlesnake (e.g., looking at it), the main trainer gives a shock and the handler turns with the dog and runs away from the snake, praising the dog for running away. They start with the dog upwind of the snake so they first have to look at it rather than smelling it; they also start with the snake's rattles taped so that there's no sound. They progress through 3 different snakes from different angles so that the dog is eventually exposed to sight, smell, and sound.
Rattlesnake stations; snake under bucket to the right; there's a loose snake about 10:00 of the yellow cone that the guy's about to cover up until the next dog. (I can't find the snake even in a high-res photo.)

Tika caught on pretty quickly. First, she obviously noticed the snake from several feet away (other dogs had to get pretty close before they even paid attention the first time). Then she'd directly acknowledge the snake from a LONG way away on additional approaches, so the main trainer I think had to give her a shock only perhaps three times for the first couple of snakes. I saw at least one dog take 5 or 6 shocks before his reaction was to turn and move away rather than try to approach the snake.

On the 3rd snake, they approach & then turn the dog loose while you stand on the opposite side of the snake and call your dog. So you can see how the dog avoids the snake. As Tika eventually came back to me (she headed away from the snake but it was in a fenced field so she very hesitantly followed the fence line back to me past the snake--probably 30 feet from the snake--she suddenly shied away again. The trainer's wife pointed out that a lid from one of the snake buckets was sitting on the ground there and Tika had apparently reacted to the snake smell on the lid.

So that's a good thing.

They were processing dogs through at one about every 5 to 10 minutes, I'd guess, at $65 a shot. That's a pretty good morning's haul. And I did have to sign a waiver that said that there's no guarantee that this will prevent the dog from getting bitten by a rattlesnake. But I think Tika took the lesson to heart.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Dropping By Briefly

Oh, it's been a while; not that I don't have anything to report, it's just that it takes a while to type (and I type pretty quickly) and I'm busy BUSY BUSY.

We've had no agility competitions since May. Our next isn't until 4th of July weekend--3 days of CPE out in Elk Grove, then another 2 days July 23-24 in Sunnyvale, then August thru October go nuts (see my perpetual weekend calendar at finchester.org/weekends).

We've had minimal agility classes because I've been splitting one class between Jake and Tika, which isn't very satisfying for either of us. AND there's no class this week at all. We're starting up 2 different classes again next week. It's good because I need the exercise AND the practice, and they need the attention, which they've been short on lately.

Tika's speed

A friend of my sister finally reassembled my teeter totter (it's been over a year since it disintegrated and I bought a replacement fiberglass top) and I've been trying to get Tika to blast to the end. She still hesitates at the drop point (where it starts to drop when she runs out onto it) instead of continuing to the end, but I THINK she's getting through it faster and moving out of it faster to the 2-on, 2-off at the end.

In Oct 2002, Clean Run Magazine published "Obstacle Performance Times", which are probably still pretty accurate. In seconds, they are:

Teeter: Avg, 1.7. Very good, < 1.4. Excellent, 1
A-Frame: Avg, 2.4. Vg, < 1.7. Exc, 1.3
Dogwalk: Avg, 3.4. Vg, < 2.5. Exc, < 2
Weaves: Avg, 3.2. Vg, < 2.8. Exc, 2.3 (surface and pole structure affects this a lot)
Table down: Avg, 2.8. Vg, < 1.5. Exc: < 1

Tika has been closer to the very good range in most things, but her teeter's the slowest, and she tends to slow down on the dogwalk down ramp, so I've been working on that, too. But we want to be in the Grand Prix finals this year! And in the Steeplechase finals! (Well--OK--latter doesn't have dogwalk or teeter, and she tends to be pretty danged good at weaves and A-frame in competition.)

We've timed the performance in class occasionally, and sometimes I time it from videos (which I haven't been asking anyone to film lately--guess I should get back to it).

The Booster

I just don't spend enough time with her, or she'd be able to do Sit and Down on command by now, and probably be more reliable on her Come! Crud! Where does the time go? She's 4.5 months already, getting big.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Housebreaking Auuuughhhh

I don't know that we're really getting anywhere with housebreaking. Boost certainly goes outside on her own many times a day for a variety of reasons, but I haven't noticed that any of the reasons are primarily to go potty. For example, first thing in the morning she chases Tika out into the yard when I first open the door. Coincidentally, she stops and pees halfway across the yard before continuing to chase Tika.

The last couple of days I waited on the deck to see whether she'd go off and poop on her own, because she always does it first thing in the morning, but nooo, she eventually wandered back to see what I was doing. So I stepped out into the yard and she then headed towards the back 40 to do some #2.

I mostly have been letting her free all day recently, with only some monitoring. But I've still been trying to walk her outside at critical moments.

This morning, around doggie breakfast time, after she had been out in the yard for quite a while but had recently come in, I headed upstairs to get dressed, with a phalanx of dogs preceding me up the stairs. Two steps ahead of me, Boost got to the top of the stairs and immediately squatted and started to pee. I grabbed her, yelled "no!", hustled her out to the yard, and repeated the request for her to "Hurry up", which she then did.

So, after taking 10 minutes to clean up the wood floor and one corner of the large throw rug (probably too big to fit in my washer), I got dressed (jeans & t-shirt day), took the dogs out back and threw toys for Jake & Tika while Boost chased them for maybe 5 minutes, then went back into the house for doggie breakfast.

Since she always pees and poops right after breakfast, I decided to wait and see what she'd do. So I went down to my desk and opened a document. Puppy played nervously with a variety of toys, so I was watching closely. Then she started to sniff around in that slightly urgent manner, so I quickly shooed her away from the wall-to-wall carpet and said something like, "OK, let's go outside," turned around for a moment to save the document--and heard liquid tinkling behind me. Fortunately she chose to pee on the 2-tile-wide border around the carpet rather than on the carpet, but I wasn't able to catch her before she was done, she was that quick. So I hustled her outside again--she showed no interest in doing any more Hurry Up but sniffed around like she was going to do #2, and I went back inside and cleaned up again.

Apparently she did #2 on her own and came back in to see what I was up to.

This follows after one day last week where I caught her in the act of starting to pee on my bed (she jumped up, I tried to grab her because she's not suppposed to be there, she skitterd to the other side of the King bed, I dashed around to grab her, she skittered to the other side, sniffing all the while, I threw myself across the mattress just as she squatted, yelling "No!" and grabbing her and hustling her outside--where she peed and got praised, but I still had to go back and clean up the small bit of pee on my sheets.

And after one day last week where she kept peeing on the plastic drop cloths that we had taped all over the deck and deck carpeting for painting. At first I tried mopping up and spraying with Nature's Miracle, but half an hour or an hour later there'd be another puddle in the same area. (And this is with me allegedly watching her closely.) So I threw away the drop cloth, then we repeated the process with the 2nd drop cloth and then a third one. So then I just left the deck bare--we'll have to put down more plastic when we pick up painting again; this just makes it more of a hassle to get started. I mean, even when I was *right with her* and grabbed her the instant she squatted, yelled "No!", took her out to the lawn, praised her when she finished peeing there--which I did 2 or 3 times, I think--she still wanted to keep peeing on the drop cloths on the deck. (At least I don't THINK she's peed on the carpet on the deck since then--but it's not as easy to see as a puddle on plastic.)

So I'm feeling a bit discouraged at the moment.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Mucking with Blog Format

I've just gone cruising through some of Blogger's features again and have added a 10-most-recent-posts section in the right sidebar. This is tricky, because if you click on any of the dated archive files, you'll still see the 10 most recent posts from today. HOWEVER, if you view each post as an individual page (rather than about a month at a time), you'll see the 10 posts by title previous to that post (no dates in sidebar, though).

I added a "View as separate page" link to the top of each post to make it clearer that you can do that (also easier to use those links if you want to hang onto the URL for just that one post rather than to the whole main page).

Hope this makes sense.

The "current" link in the sidebar doesn't seem to be working. In fact--I don't know that I ever fixed it to make it work. Sorry about that.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Puppy Class

Yesterday we drove down to Atascadero--about a 2.5-hour drive if you don't stop--for a puppy class with my favorite puppy instructor, Rachel Sanders. She's been Tika's instructor all along, but she recently moved down there so regular classes aren't a possibility any more.

I convoyed with two agility friends and we met up with another one of their friends down there; they all have Australian Shepherd puppies from the same litter, born a day after the Booster. We had Boost (blue merle), Ruby (short for Rubicon; red tricolor), Jasmine (black tricolor), and Dylan (red merle), so we had quite a color collection.

Learned a lot, practiced a lot. Might get around to talking about it eventually; maybe not.

I also did a couple of half-hour sessions just with me and Tika. She didn't knock a single bar the whole session, even though we tried to set up situations where she might. On the other hand, it was a challenging surface (sandy) and it was hot so she wasn't always moving as fast as usual, AND it wasn't a competition. But, still, that was good.

We worked on my acknowledged overhandling issues. I have so far to go still in becoming an excellent handler! Argh argh argh.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Going Potty Over Potty

We were going to be very successful at potty training. I have all kinds of information from various sources that I've gathered over the years, and lots more experience in dog training and in understanding dogs, and I'm working at home almost all the time, and I'm using crates and x-pens and leashes and all that to control my dog.

On the other hand, my personal theory is not simply that "accidents will happen", as most of the books and trainers will tell you, but that in fact learning doesn't happen without accidents where you catch the dog in (or, preferably, just before) the act so that you can tell the dog "wrong" or "not here" and speed him out to the desired potty area. (OK, in truth, this is something you'll hear a lot in dog training--and in people training--one learns best when one makes mistakes along the way. Just no one ever seems to *tell* you that about potty training.)

So, OK, we were going to catch Boost in the act (or preferably just before) and rush her out to the potty area.

These are nice theories.

During the closely monitored period of her life, the first few weeks, where she was virtually never out of my sight, we still had a few accidents--maybe half a dozen at most. The morning when she squatted at the door while I was unlocking it; the next morning where I decided to carry her down to avoid this and then she got excited when the other dogs ran by and peed down my shirt and pants; the middle of the night when she was very restless and woke me up but by the time I was fully awake she had peed in the crate (plastic tray at bottom so cleanup not too bad); the time I left her in the crate while playing with the other dogs in the yard and didn't make sure she had peed beforehand.

Once, while I had her with me in the bathroom, I realized I was looking at pre-poop behavior and rushed her outside, where she pooped immediately and got a lot of praise. This was according to plan.

But because I controlled all of her access and timing, she was never in a position to decide when to go out on her own--I always took her out when I thought it was time to go potty. And I was usually right. But was she learning anything?

Then began the less-controlled portion of her life. For the last week or so I've been giving her lots of off-leash in-house freedom, although I'm trying very hard to still keep an eye on her everywhere in the house. In the first couple of days--
  • We had breakfast, exercised, tried to potty but did nothing, settled down with a chew toy in the kitchen; suddenly I realized she wasn't there (she's like a little gray ghost) and called her. She came running downstairs (she's not supposed to be up there without me but she doesn't really know that) and then settled down nicely for a nap. Housemate came down about an hour later to ask whether Boost had been with me the whole time because there was a little poopy gift in his bedroom.

    Fortunately it was dry and easy to clean up.
  • The next morning, I worked hard at keeping an eye on her *all* the time in the house. She was sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes down in the office (which I can see from the kitchen), playing with toys, lying around, running back and forth. I could've sworn I watched her all the time, anyway. But when I headed out to the garage, there was a little puddle in the middle of the tile just behind the staircase wall that's the only place I can't see through between the kitchen and the office.
  • Later that day, we were out in the garage unloading groceries and sorting sodas. The little puppy nose got into everything and I kept fending her off. She was constantly underfoot, and so followed me closely from the garage to the kitchen and back again. About the fourth time I made the trip, my little human scent detectors thought they smelled something funny (not as in ha-ha) in the garage. Sure enough, in the far corner, was little poopy gift again.

And it has gone on like that, although not so many in a single day as I become wiser to her sneak tactics. Not always wise enough:

This morning, after Boost and Tika had a very intense play session in the back yard, then in the office, then Boost ran like a maniac through about a thousand tunnels, then we all came into the kitchen and Boost collapsed on a mat under the table. Jake collapsed on the other mat under the table. Tika looked at us (panting) for a moment or two while I watched her standing there with muddy feet, then turned and headed upstairs. I immediately called her back and put a gate across the stairs. As I headed back into the kitchen, there came a loud thump from upstairs. I tried to imagine what could have been precarious enough upstairs to fall and make a noise while no one was up there--then I noticed that there remained only one dog on a mat under the table.

The little grey ghost had whisked herself upstairs, silently, during a time when I was 100% positive that I was watching the area and knew exactly where she was. It's amazing.

A couple of days ago I thought I smelled dog pee in my bedroom. I checked everywhere, crawling all over the carpet feeling for wet spots, checked in the closets and the bathroom and checked the mat in her crate. Nothing.

This morning I plopped my laundry basket on the foot of my bed--and noticed a large stain across the comforter cover. Completely dry. But smelling intensely like puppy pee. Went all through the comforter (milkweed silk, if you can believe it, not down--supposed to be better for allergy sufferers, but that means it needs special handling) and the sheet and onto my electric mattress pad--all dry but all stinky. Thank goodness all of that padding kept it from getting down to the mattress itself.

When did she do that? Cripe.

When I strippped the cover off the comforter, I noticed another large stain on the comforter. But no matching stain on the sheet. Which means it happened at least a week ago and I didn't notice.

The puppy isn't even allowed on the bed, but she gets up there ASAP the instant I take my eyes off her. Little grey ghost--

Life is full of surprises.