Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Grief and the Dog in Front of You

I am thrilled with the way Kaylee is growing up. She's clever enough to understand training, but not so smart that she's difficult to live with. She likes to do whatever I'm doing. She gets along well with the rest of the horde. And I see nothing in her to suggest that she won't be exactly what I was looking for in a puppy: a strong hiking partner, a solid worker, and a steady competition dog.

And yet . . .

Someone asked me the other day why I hadn't gotten a stafford as I had originally planned, and I felt a not-so-small pang of sorrow over the dog I almost had. There is no doubt at all the Kaylee is not a terrier. I missed the terrier qualities that I love so much: the almost stupid boldness, the tenacity, and the way terriers seem to bulldoze through life. I actually miss needing to earn my dog's respect, something that Kaylee freely gives me. I love Kaylee, but I also grieve the dog I planned to have, and that's okay. I can do both.

There's a word for

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Duration as a Four Letter Word

Kaylee is growing like a weed. I think she out grew Cannon's winter coat overnight. Her puppy fat is giving way to whipcord muscle, and our struggles with food motivation and working drive are rapidly fading. Training a new puppy is fun because they soak up knowledge like rain in the desert. But puppy raising is also difficult because their brains change as quickly as their bodies - and I'm not just talking about dodging fear periods. Kaylee has reached the age where she thinks duration is a four letter word.

Human children go through this phase as well. An infant in an empty waiting room may be content to snuggle and coo at her parent's face, but ask the same child at six years old to sit quietly without toys or tv or something to do is a recipe for disaster. Or destruction. Definitely one of those.
Stand stay on a log in the woods.
Cute pictures are pretty much
 the reason I teach stays at all

Knowing that this is a normal, natural phase of Kaylee's development helps me decide on a training plan. If I had an adult dog who suddenly lost her ability to hold a stay position for any length of time, I would go back to basics - I'd find an amount of time she could hold the position and slowly build up from there. I could certain do this with Kaylee; that's not a wrong plan. But it's also not likely to impact the eventual outcome: as Kaylee matures into a young adult, her ability to hold a straight stay will almost certainly come back on its own regardless of whether I attempt to retrain her stay now. Unless, of course, I screw something up. We must, of course, never discount our human ability to screw up our dogs.

With the understanding that Kaylee has a solid foundation, and in the interest of not screwing up my dog, I could certainly avoid asking her for stays for the next six to twelve months. That's how I handle fear periods. We hunker down, avoid triggers, and wait for the storm to pass.

Six to twelve months is a long storm. I'm not going to stop training. Instead, I'm going to turn on the tv.

Trainers often discuss stays in relation to the Three D's of Fluency: distance, duration, and distraction. As you see, duration is only a part of the picture; I can put it on hold and increase work in the other areas. Duration is difficult for Kaylee right now because it's boring. She's too distractable to think about being still for any length of time, so I will give her other things to focus on. Therefore, I've added a little distance to our stay practice - and a lot of impulse control. We're playing more zen, sticky feet, relaxation protocol, moving stands, and other games that involve holding still while the world happens around her. Of course, there's some duration here, but it's not out primary focus. These impulse control games will also come in handy for Kaylee's next developmental stage:

The dreaded teenager.

Down stay with distance at TSC.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Kaylee, 4 Month Foundations

Kaylee is rocking her foundation training, and we've started a lot of the exercises she'll need to start obedience and rally - so many that I've started to loose track. So here's the list:

  1. Stand (duration + exam)
  2. Down (duration + hand sign)
  3. Sit (duration + distraction)
  4. Retrieve
  5. Go outs
  6. Disc pivots (for heel)
  7. Chin rest (duration + distraction)
  8. Recalls
  9. Zen (hand, floor, food bowl, + sticky feet)
  10. Hand target
  11. Squish

In addition to competition foundations, we've also been working on life skills:
  1. Ear cleaning
  2. Foot hair/nail trims
  3. Clipper vibration
  4. Restraint
  5. Crate games (specifically, waiting to be released before leaving & new places)
  6. Loose leash walking
  7. Reorientation 
  8. Oral exam/cleaning
  9. Mat work (duration, distraction, + new places)
  10. Stationing while another dog is working
  11. Moving to the side of the trail when others approach

So here's where we're going next:
  1. Heeling games
  2. Fronts
  3. Retrieve (objecting holding duration)
  4. Sit/Stand/Down with distance
  5. Recalls with distraction
  6. Zen with high value rewards + more movement
  7. Moving squish
  8. Building distance on go outs
  9. Scent articles
  10. Rear foot targeting
Okay, I think that's everything . . . 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

2. Indoor Brewery Pass: Sociable Ciderwerks

Friday, the Springer Puppy Gang checked another brewery off our passes and went to Sociable Ciderwerks holiday party. I'm not going to lie, Sociable Ciderwerks is one of my very favorite breweries, and I had a blast sampling the different drinks they had available for the celebration: rasberry freewheeler was a favorite, as well as the peach apricot kolsch, and I brought home mulled fat bike and apple for later.

The places was packed, so we got the shit socialized out of us. I was super proud of all the puppies, especially Kaylee because she's mine. And also because she was a rockstar. She didn't seem overwhelmed by the crowd at all, and worked hard on simple positions and matwork even though she was also freezing. We also hit a major milestone: the entire evening, Kaylee took every cookie I offered her. Usually, she gets distracted or isn't that interested, and so usually spits out at least a few. I think her willingness to eat for me at Sociable was less the food drive building work and more that I'm learning what she wants in a situation and how to present it to her, but it was still a big accomplishment for us.

After eating, drinking, and socializing our fill, we went back to Friend Megan's house so I could sober up -er, I mean, so the puppies could play. In addition to Megan's puppy, Earl (who is also Kaylee's brother), Kaylee's breeder (Jamie) brought her new puppy (Gigi). While the puppies played, I was treated to an education in the inner workings of English Springer Spaniels as a breed. I crammed in as much research as I could before I brought Kaylee home, but springers aren't a breed I've been following for years, and there's not much substitution for real conversation with breed enthusiasts.

TL;DR: A fun, entertaining evening where Kaylee got socialized and I both drank (maybe) too much and learned a lot. Win-win!

Parents of toddlers everywhere will recognize this as the universal "NOT TIRED" sleeping position.
Photo credit to Jamie. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Kaylee Training, 3 Months

Kaylee has been in our house for almost a month now, and I sure am learning a lot! Working with a deaf dog is just like working with a hearing dog - except when it isn't. One of the training pieces that has surprised me is how little I use our marker, the "thumbs up." The clicker is a much more efficient way to communicate with dogs, and the dog doesn't need to be looking at me to use it. The visual marker is about as efficient as a verbal. So useful, but slow, and I struggle with wasting time while training. More often than not, I've found that simply shoving food in Kaylee's mouth works well, and that's what I resort to, saving out marker for more distance work where it's easier for Kaylee to see all of me rather than just the hand with the cookie in it.

More important than technique, though, I'm learning a lot about who Kaylee is as a dog. For example, Kaylee requires a great deal of positive affirmation from me during training - the food isn't enough. Every once in a while, I have to stop for scritches and snuggles to keep her enthusiasm up. As oppose to the bulls and terriers who couldn't care what I do short of beating them so long as I keep the cookies coming (and even then - how hard a beating are we talking?).

A lot of our focus thus far has been building attention and working drive. I'm using my dismissal cue a great deal. This cue, clapping my hands together and then spreading them and shrugging my shoulders, indicates to Kaylee that I'm done working, and she should go do dog stuff. I try to dismiss Kaylee before she loses focus on whatever we're doing and wanders away. Using a dismissal, I make myself a finite resource - I'm not always going to be available to play, so she should take advantage of my engagement when I offer it. That's over simplifying a bit, but you get the idea. And it's working: yesterday, Kaylee pulled her mat off the table, checked to make sure I was watching, and pointedly laid down on it. And when that didn't work, she found her food bowl and stood in it.

Good little pupper!

Since drive building is going well, I've started shifting the goals of our training sessions with an eye to future competition. I've been using a lot of shaping to help build drive; all else being equal, dogs tend to find puzzle solving interesting (so do people). But there's a danger to having a dog that is too operant - that enjoys solving puzzles too much. These dogs get stuck on the idea that they have to do something to be rewarded. That may not sound terrible, but it's a problem Cannon has. He enjoys shaping so much, he doesn't quite understand that he can do "nothing" and still get cookies. In short, he can't sit still - his stays are rather painful. So Kaylee and I are starting to work more duration with our sit, down, chin rest, and stand positions.

That's the best part about having a fair amount of experience training different dogs. If you're good, you can avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. Instead, you can find new, creative ways to screw up your dogs.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

1. Indoor Brewery Pass: 56 Brewing

It's cool: Kaylee is perfect, and gets more perfect every day.
November in Minnesota is a terrible time to have a puppy. I mean, it's a pretty miserable time up here in general, unless you're a hunter or . . . you know what, I can't even think of what else there is to do in Minnesota in November unless your hobbies include being covered in mud and frozen. It's hard to socialize a puppy when everyone is hiding in their homes trying to stay warm.

Fortunately, the Twin Cities metro area seems to get more dog friendly every year. To get Kaylee out and experiencing new adventures, I picked up Sidewalk Dogs' Indoor Brewery Pass. The pass gets us a free beer and unlimited socialization at ten of the metro area's dog friendly breweries. We also get $10 off at three local pet stores: Bone Adventure, Chuck and Don's, and Lulu and Luigi's. Since the pass is only $25, it pretty much pays for itself right there. Plus, who doesn't need a few adult beverages while raising a puppy?

Yesterday, Kaylee, our friend Megan, Kaylee's brother Earl, and I set out to check off the first brewery on our passes.We chose 56 Brewing as they had food truck, Gastrotruck, serving food on Saturday. I chose the Walnut Joy stout with some of the best meat loaf I think I've ever had. Kaylee and Earl did great for a couple of three month old puppies. They already have some great mat skills, and they're well on their way to being perfect patio dogs. Great puppers, awesome company, good beer, and yummy food made this adventure a winner for everyone. 

Chillin' on their mats like good puppers. 
If you're interested in getting your own Indoor Brewery pass, you can check out Sidewalk Dogs' website here. And if you're stumped on which brewery to hit up first, the folks at Sidewalk Dogs have created a handy, up-coming event list for the breweries on the pass. As a bonus, a portion of the proceeds from the Indoor Brewery Pass go to Can Do Canines, a local service dog organization. So anyway you slice it, this pass is a pretty pawsome deal for everyone.

One more 'cause she's cute.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Deaf Dog Training

Today at lunch, a few of my coworkers were asking me about what it's like to train a deaf dog. Essentially, it's just like training a hearing dog. Except for the parts where it's not.

So I videoed part of today's lesson on mat work so I could show you what I meant. And then I cropped out the bits where I look like an idiot.

The goal of mat work is to have a dog who settles on a mat - in this case, a fleece blanket - in a variety of different environments. For my normal dogs, I use their mats as a place to be when we're out in public and I need to split my attention between them and another activity. For example, I have them lay on their mats while eating outside with friends. For my, um, less normal dogs, the mat is a safe space where nothing bad will happen to them. Having a portable safe space is invaluable for places like the vet.

In this video, I'm using a thumbs up as a marker - a way to communicate to Kaylee that she's done something I like and want her to repeat. For my hearing dogs, I use a clicker or a verbal "yes." I've found that the problem with the thumbs up is, of course, that Kaylee needs to see it. This is a bit of a problem because the first step in mat training is to mark the dog for looking at the mat.

It's possible you see my dilemma.

I miss my clicker. But we persevere! The goal of a marker is to give the dog instant feedback on their behavior, and so in situations like this where I can get food into her mouth while she is doing what I want, sometimes I skip the marker. You can see in the video that it's working. Kaylee definitely has some idea that interacting with the mat makes cookies happen. And so learning happens.

However, the real lesson here is much more subtle and much, much more important than simple mat work. Kaylee is learning one of the most crucial concepts of her entire life - that working with me is interesting, fun, and very worth her while. Kaylee is not a particularly food motivated dog. She likes food, but she's also very invested in her environment, the other dogs, other people, and oh, hey, look! A shiny, tinfoil squirrel!

Building a strong foundation of enjoyable work - an investment in working together as a team - is going to take us a lot further in competition and life than any amount of cookies or punishment or shiny tinfoil squirrels ever will.