Monday, January 31, 2011

Positive Energy

This picture taken by Nancy F is at CPE Nationals in 2008. I'm pretty sure had I stayed a "traditional" trainer Brody and I would not have qualified for Nationals let alone won our division.

I am what is known as a "cross over" trainer. When I started playing with obedience with our Irish Setter there was very little variation in training. So called traditional training (also known as force or compulsion training) was all I could find to watch, learn and read about. Rewards were OK sometimes but you didn't want a dog "dependant" on treats. Kelly was an amazing dog and quite soft so she ended up never needing a collar correction. She was a fabulous dog - I could happily heel her down Yonge Street off leash with squirrels, reactive dogs and all kinds of people around. How I wish I had known the power of shaping back then.

Rufus (Big T and my first golden) came into my life a bit of a puzzle. He was usually lovely but pulled like a train and had learned some frustrating behaviours (refusing to get into a car for example.) I once allowed him to hit the end of the leash so hard he flipped himself. I'm so very glad he wasn't hurt - but that was what trainers did then. I inadvertently taught myself the power of shaping to help him get over his car issues. (Luring didn't work - he didn't care if it was steak in the car - he wasn't getting in). Shaping worked magically, even if I didn't know what it was called. Rufus was generally very food motivated so as I started to be introduced to the world of positive training (we are talking about nearly 20 years ago now) I was THRILLED. Rufus became confident, happy and so solid in his behaviours. Laurice our rescued rotti golden (or maybe aussie) mix was a naturally easy dog. She was so soft she never needed a correction but to be honest she was so lovely she never really needed training either. She was rescued out of a drug dealer's apartment because she wasn't aggressive enough for him. She had never been on a leash or on grass in her life (She had been purchased at a pet store for $1,200 - the mind boggles). Her first night with us she was off lead at the horse barn I rode at. Oh to have that much faith again!

Brody was the first of our dogs to be nearly wholly positively trained. I've written before about his desire to simply please. Without understanding what I was doing I used luring quite minimally and ended up doing lots of shaping. Brody with his media gigs often needed to learn new tricks quickly. My favourite example of this was at 3 pm "Oh shoot - you know we told you we needed him to jump on a bed and lie down.. we've changed the script - he needs to dig in the garden .. hard. See you tomorrow at 8 am!" Brody had liked digging as a young dog - we had worked hard to extinguish the behaviour. Shaping it took about half an hour. I didn't put it on a particularly solid cue and have never used it again!

Positive is NOT permissive. Pat Miller was the first person I heard say that and it resonated with me. I had not understood the concept of structures and routines without force and punishment. ( I still struggle with counter surfing truth be told - partly because one of us is always leaving something of value up there).

Jean Donaldson's Culture Clash affected my thinking too. Here is a video of Jean going through some training tools. ( I hate bait bags- just my little quirk. I'd have to agree with her about using a mix of treats being the best way to boost interest though!) The thing I really like about Jean is every dog is individual to her. Her stories from her dog Buffy's perspective are HILARIOUS.

I did not learn about clicker training from Karen Pryor but her book Don't Shoot the Dog and her biography are both on my shelf. Clicker Training is a tool the dogs and I get a lot from though I don't use it every day. (I probably should!). One of the neat things that happens is Clicker Expo. Attending one of those would be amazing! Anybody have a spare $439 dollars and three days they can give me? Brody and Sally are pretty clicker savvy. Thea loves a click and treat but her little pea brain doesn't make the most of clickers. She got stuck in luring somehow and has trouble with shaping. Interesting and probably something I could work through but we love her as is!

Sally is my pretty much wholly shaped dog (and you might remember shaping Sampson this summer for his agility stuff). Susan Garrett and Pam Dennison have both impacted my thinking about shaping although I haven't worked with either of them I have attending a seminar with Pam. Phenomenal was wholly shaped too.

What will I do when another dog lands here forever? I will continue on my positive path mostly with shaping I suspect. Why do I like shaping so much? It leaves the dogs brain turned on. Luring lets them become little automans - doing what you say to get the treat. There is no thinking with luring really. Follow the food and you'll get it eventually. I find people who are lurers have trouble weaning off a treat when transferring to the agility ring. A shaped dog seems to know the reward will come; they can wait a little more patiently for that without losing heart. (Now of course in the interests of disclosure I must admit Sally finds agility itself very rewarding so releasing her to jump is, in and of itself, a reward for the correct behaviour.)

Some articles I found while surfing thinking this all through:

Sunday, January 30, 2011


The picture is of Coco's brother Freckles - now known as Jac with his new big brother Teddi. Cute factor is off the chart eh? Puppies both continue to do well in their homes but wow do I miss Coco pants. It's nice having time to work with Sampson though!
In between adoptions (ins and outs as it turned out) I made time to play with Sally, Thea and Brody at the hall. Great sessions.

Brody was amazing - flying along beside me - doing a little distance work too. Fabulous little rock star dog!! His contacts were HOT - we worked on speeding up off the end of the dog walk ... it worked. The aframe was 5'6 so I didn't do too many reps of that but he did one nice one with little distance to it.
We wove and did chutes and tunnels and then did a nice little jump grid. (The jump grid was where we built some distance). We also worked the table - never hurts to be prepared!

Thea did some tunnel distance work. Worked the end of a dog walk a few times. Worked her end teeter behaviour (for the first time in a very long time). Worked some chutes. Worked the tire. Did some 10 inch jump work. Too cute, too funny. I really should put a start line stay on this little flyer!!

Sally worked well. I did a fair few contacts on the aframe with her. She did two PERFECT confident aframes and stuck the bottom. I tossed out a toy and released her to it when she nose touched. I was VERY pleased with her. Her weaves, jump work etc were also excellent. I worked her in short doses in between the little's turns. It was good for her. She certainly works herself hard.

Sophie worked with us. It was really nice to have the company. Sophie and Nancy were busy doing thier own productive thing but I think it's good for my guys to get used to working around the distraction of another working team. Makes a trial run seem easy!!

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Thea with her sisters (Margaret and RP). Thea has regular contact with her sisters - quite unusual in the dog world I think but it's a lot of fun. Margaret is more typical of what many people think a chihuahua is. RP is pretty darn sweet - leery with strangers though. Thea is a lab in a 6 pound body. A bossy with other animals lab. Freaking darling pictures coming your way to celebrate the Chinese New Year from the chihuahuas next week!

Monday, January 24, 2011

You never lose by loving ...

Barbara DeAngelis sagely said "You never lose by loving. You always lose by holding back."

That really doesn't make losing easier on the heart when you lose one you love though.

Sara lost Missy - predictable, expected but never the less tragic.

I lost Phenomenal yesterday - lovely (she's in a great home) but oh so so bitter sweet. We placed a foster cat we'd had since June on Thursday - Duffy is deaf and just a dear dear soul ... we miss him. The house sure seems quiet!

Someone called me a Lizard Heart many years ago, I was very confused until she explained that lizards (some species anyhow) can regenerate body parts. She thought I must have a lizard heart as I could keep giving pieces of it away. I get so much more back though. My heart must be a pretty patched up thing!!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Grabbing educable moments ...

Sally takes her role of mentor for TDP very seriously. She is nearly always aware of where the puppy is and what she's doing. If the puppy cries or whimpers Sally drops everything to double check that all is OK.

The blank slate that is TDP (aka Phenomenal) is such a joy to play with.

I decided today to play with entering a crate as part of her training. Up til now I just popped her in a crate when I needed her in one. Easy enough and I'm usually rushing her somewhere when I need her in a crate. She is crate trained in that she is settled and happy in a crate. Funnily enough, the better my timing gets the less I find I need to use a crate for puppies. They are terrific tools and I will always crate a new dog now but TDP is such an amazing little dog she hardly ever needs a crate.

Crate training was hilarious. I took 15 tiny TINY pieces of cheese and stood beside an open travel crate (she's actually being crated in a much larger crate - Sampson's day crate). She looked at me, nothing happened. She pawed my leg, nothing happened. She glanced away from me and away from the crate, nothing happened. She glanced at the crate. "yes" and a bit of cheese was tossed in the crate (as I knew she was comfortable in the crate). She charged in, ate the cheese, charged out and woofed in the hopes of more cheese. Nothing happened. She looked at the crate. " Yes" tossed cheese. She came out of the crate. Looked away from crate. Nothing. Looked at crate and started towards it. "Yes" tossed cheese. Out again. In instantly. "Yes" and three bits of cheese. Out and in. I held her back lightly and she pushed against me to get into crate. Hilarious. Dinner was fed in the same way. 30 pieces of kibble. Some jackpots, some singles. She is very happy to run into her crate now. I'll add a cue tomorrow (Probably "kennel" as that what the other dogs know - even though she isn't staying). She is a bright cookie.

It amused me that Brody hung right around while training was happening hoping to be invited to get in the kennel. He is NEVER crated in a travel crate unless he HAS to be- he has a large pop up crate that Sally would easily fit in and he is relatively comfortable hanging out in there if need be. He did demonstrate going in the crate on cue today for TDP which was very sweet of him.

We took TDP for a hike at the farm. She thought it was great, though she over did it and ended up being carried for pieces of the trudging through deep snow. Brody, Sally and Sammo all had a blast too. (I did a little LITTLE bit of deep snow jumping with Sally - she was quite amused and as agile as ever!)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Three thousand, six hundred and fifty seven

Three thousand, six hundred and fifty seven days of loving Brody.

(Two thousand eight hundred and fifty five days of enjoying Thea. One thousand five hundred and fifty days of worrying about Sally. Forty some days of enjoying Phenomenal)

Brody. My heart. My rockstar. My give me everything he has plus a little more man.

I will never forget doing his intake at the shelter. It was a busy Saturday morning when a family walked in with a dog in a crate. The dog was lying at the back of the crate just staring at me. We had NO room at the shelter. None. I had two foster dogs at home (a darling little chihuahua named Gomez and a hilarious Pomeranian named Lola). I had no clue where I was going to put the new arrival but there was no way I could turn that blank sad face away. I started filling in the intake form - Dog's name? Lickey. Dog's age? 5 months. Dog's history? Purchased from a notorious puppy broker for a RIDICULOUS price. Reason for surrender? Dog was "dirty" in the house so being crated constantly and biting their child and scaring him. I asked what constantly meant and was told "We let him out twice a day. Now he is dirty in his crate. We can't have that." I charged them their surrender fee and sent them on their way.

I had Gomez and Lola with me. Unbelievably Gomez found his forever home that afternoon. (With a HUGE BIKER covered in tattoos - very funny and somehow very fitting!) I went home and obsessed about the poor little dog I'd set up in a large crate in my office. Big T very sensibly said when Lola was adopted we could foster him if he was still looking but I was pretty sure he would be adopted quickly despite his apparent baggage. I was checking emails and came across an email considering Lola. I encouraged the people to meet me at the shelter Sunday morning. They met Lola - I was SO LUCKY - I actually knew people in common so the reference checks were able to be done on a Sunday. They lived in my neighbourhood and I felt VERY comfortable doing this adoption. (I was right - we continue to stay in touch - Lola was euthanized this past summer but it was the PERFECT home for her). The little, might as well have been nameless dog came home with me that night to foster, house train and assess potential as a humane education dog. All I could really tell that night was he was the right size to compliment my large rotti x golden humane ed specialist. He hid under the cookbook shelf in the kitchen - scared to death to be out of a crate. I read all the cookbook titles and authors and the only name that seemed at all fitting was Brody (after Jean Brody). I tried to crate him overnight thinking he'd be more comfortable and he had a panic attack. That was the last time he was crated for 7 years. Teaching him to not only accept but enjoy being crated was a slow process that Sally was an instrumental part of.

There are many chapters to the three thousand plus days. (Humane educator, media spokes dog, tv star, stage star (can you say Annie?), trick boy, farm dog, and of course agility superstar!)

He's an exceptional soul. It took him a LONG time to accept the family and until quite recently he was very aloof with strangers but now he's Mr. Social. He had my heart at first stare .. and was generous enough to give me his heart very early on in our relationship as well. He's a wonderful teacher and a better friend. I hope we have another three thousand + days together!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

brody tries his partial hair cut

Brody is unimpressed.
Brody HATES being groomed.
Brody is a shmaltipoo in designer dog speak ~ that is - a non shedding, fast hair growing dog with a kinky, fine, matting coat.
Brody gets very matted. Eventually I hog tie and attack him with scissors and sometimes with clippers. There are many things I do reasonably well. Grooming a dog who hates being groomed, by myself, is not something I am ANY good at. (Writing grammatical sentences also surpasses my abilities frequently).
Brody and I battle over the grooming issue regularly. It takes me at least 3 sessions to get him looking at all like a dog instead of a dust ball.(And yes, after 10 years of living with him I have the positive stuff down to a fine art - he sees a pile of treats; he gets clicked and treated frequently when he doesn't try to air bite and indimidate me; I keep sessions short and positive; I frequently practise grooming him without actually grooming him (he does know the difference though) and I have never let anybody but me hold hom for any grooming of any sort.
He had two sessions this weekend. We had agility tonight. He ran like the wind itself tonight!
Sally was a little wild tonight. She did some truly incredible jump work though. barking her fool head off as she sliced, serpentined, 180ed, 270ed, 90ed and ran bold straight lines. We worked on aframe contacts and she worked hard. We worked weaves and entries and she didn't miss one.
Have I mentioned I live with good dogs?
I do.

oh yes - TDP (that damn puppy) is still in residence. Surely somebody needs a perfect puppy?
(Brody also hates puppies - on principle. Not quite as seriously as he hates being groomed it seems!)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

a little hall time

The brown girls and I headed over to the All About Dogs training hall for a couple of hours today. Phenomenal (no that's not her name - she's NOT staying) had a meet and greet with a lovely pet home ~ but I think she's too much dog for them. Thea worked a little on the dog walk (which worried her in this setting - interesting), table and the tire (FABULOUS). She is not a fan of this chute so we worked with it a bit too. She had fun - which is the whole goal of working with Thea. (She did agility last Sunday and prior to that mid November).
Sally worked weave entries - fast and furious; steady as could be. She worked perfect dog walks and a couple of end behaviours on a aframe too. She was getting touch no problem. Then we did a three sided box jump thing and she was great in that too. Memories of the summer. She was smooth, fluid and working hard.

A good day.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Puppy (as she is most commonly called) has lived with us for about 5 weeks now. Until Dec 22 her only job was survival. And we weren't sure she'd be succesful at that. She also had to practice being handled (pilling wiggly puppies - oh joy!) but that really was about the only expectation for her. In three weeks the expectations have gone WAY up.
She wears a collar (a cat collar with a bell) now, and walks nicely on leash - usually trotting along side us no matter what there is to look at - occasionally I have to chirup and sweet talk her but more often she looks, wags, and keeps on trucking.
She is clean in the house - or wants to be - obviously if I was oblivious we'd have accidents but since January 2 she's peed in the house once (and at work twice - whoops!). She is actually much easier than many puppies we have lived with - she'll go out into the back yard ALL BY herself, do her business and come back. I think that's partly cause usually one of the other dogs is happy to go out and model for her - and also because of the nice sliding door here - so we can watch and praise from the kitchen!! It is a real treat living with a clean by nature house trained puppy.
She has learned that cats and dogs need different play if they will stay engaged with you. She has learned different cats and dogs are individual and will tolerate less and more from her. She has learned that humans have the most tender skin ~ and if you bite too hard by mistake you can lick immediately afterwards to get most people to forgive you.
She fetches and returns a tiny tennis ball. She tugs gently and releases when asked.
She sits - both as a default and this week on cue. She is being shaped to down. She plays a mean game of doggy zen (treat in hand and she chooses to look away and wait for it).

She's a pretty awesome puppy.

She needs a home.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I wish this entry

was about how sad I was feeling. In my fantasy post little Coco Pup would be in her new home with a wonderful family to call her own. She'd be a pet, but working too - doing classes- maybe aiming for rally or agility. She'd have other animal friends to entertain her - and not be alone for more than 4 hours at once. I'd be sad but happy for her..
Instead the only thing sad about this post is how blurry the pictures are!!

Sally and Coco Pup pause long enough to look elegant (and show how much the puppy has grown- she doubled in size in the two weeks over the holidays! You'll notice the shoe that humans forgot to put away turned into a toy)

Coco trying to see if Sally will give her a ride. (Notice the boot she had been playing with - bad human leaving a boot out!)

Catching up from the holidays - finally got Thea not to Stop and Pause for the camera ...

Sally and Coco virtually never stop - I love the blur of heads and tails ...

Coco - singing for supper? More likely singing for a home to call her own!
It has been a ton of fun having a puppy to bring up right. Coco has lived with us for a month now and it's time for her to go. We are getting attached to her. Sampson is getting braver with her but really doesn't need stress in his life - he makes enough for himself! She is a fabulous puppy. She has a default sit, she downs, she is starting wait, she tugs and is learning to release, she walks over any surface bravely and happily, she walks nicely on leash, she comes when she is called, and she is incredibly clean in the house! Big T loves her, Sally loves her, Thea loves her and even some of the cats love her. Other cats, Sampson and Kizmet are moving from hating her to tolerating her. I am certainly enjoying her - but she's a ton of work that I could be putting into other things!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

two, three, four and more

Yes - Thea is actually sound asleep on top of Sally as they ride shot gun on the way home this afternoon

Snookers day at House League today ..
I got to try designing a course (HARD work) judging, scoring etc - lots of fun.

But for me the BEST part was running 9 snookers courses! (yup Brody, Sally and Thea all got to play).

We modified the rules so dogs got to do the opening until they faulted then carry on the closing .. which we also scored until faulting (or running out of time). It was a neat way to play - no zero point runs ...

Brody scored 56, 53 and 60 (in the first run tunnels were the reds and we counted them for 2!)- small dogs got a 5 point bonus!
Thea scored 43, 44, 55
Sally scored 36 (in the last run when my brain turned off) 51 and 54.

Much more importantly though they all ran well and had fun! Lots of fun!

Sally had a three hour hike in the Rouge Valley yesterday which meant I was running my best Sally today - yes she barked a little, yes she motored but she wasn't flipped over the top as she can be in class
It was nice to have all my dogs "on" today ... I do like snookers - and maybe there is hope for Sally and Thea someday!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Goals for 2011 ..

Thanks for the inspiration Lisa and Crystal ;)

from Feb 3 last year - "think it's time to goal set for 2010?"
Super Sally
keep training when I can catch a minute done ... loved my summer work plan for Sally
work her perfect downs on tables everywhere done ... though she still argues sometimes
run CPE level 1 and 2 classes as appropriate done - 2 trials and she's in level 2 for all games
run AAC gamblers, snookers and maybe jumpers classes through the spring and summer - done .. not just ran but successfully ran jumpers and gamblers .. 2 tries at snookers haven't quite panned out but that will come
add standard and steeplechase as she levels out - one of each tried at last trial - went well really

Terrific Thea
either enjoy CPE level 1 whenever possible or put a whole whack of time into training then follow Sally's plan above - done -we went with option 1 - Thea has all level 1 CPE titles

Brave Brody
get him fit enough to play - do some drop in training to get him running again - done
trial one day a month - probably averaged out to this nearly
go to Regionals (and qualify for nationals - goal at this point) nope and that's OK :)
Brody earned his snookers title and is one jumpers away from the jumpers title
we tried standard and gamblers at our last trial - not particularly successfully but we did it - and that counts! In CPE he steadily wracked up the Qs as well - he's nearly done level 3

What good dogs ...

Looking forward to this year ...
(both looking ahead to think and plan and looking forward with a sense of enjoyment actually)

Brody - get that last elusive jumpers Q; finish level 3 CPE titles; work on distance a little (for fun like); run happy and quick; and perhaps attend Regionals

Thea - work on getting 200 more level 1 CPE points; get another starters AAC Q (snookers most likely given she doesn't weave, do the teeter or like chutes); get another advanced jumpers Q
if Brody doesn't attend Regionals ~ attend them

Sally - earn a starters snookers Q (or 2!), fix the %^&$ aframe contact; earn another 2 advanced jumpers Qs; run advanced gamblers; earn level 1 CPE standard title; finish level 2 games titles (if I can find enough classes); run steeplechase and standard once aframe is working
Regionals? maybe .. need to give this some serious thought .. but I would like to have a dog there ...

Sampson - continue to backyard train him .. introduce 2x2 weaves and contacts, challenge him with short sequences

Me - participate in Regionals; continue having fun in this game I love; trust I will know when Brody wants to retire; tighten up my technical skills handling the variety of dogs I run; get the agility field up and operational; host something at the agility field; represent myself, my dogs and AAC well wherever I am playing