Friday, May 30, 2008

The First Bite

Why is it when things are going so good that something always has to come along to help everything fall apart?

I've never believed that Toby couldn't bite or even that he wouldn't, but I've managed every situation so that he wouldn't ever feel like he had to. But today mom called and asked us to come pick her up at the bank so I put the dogs in the car and drove down. Toby wasn't feeling much of himself today so I figured the car ride would do him some good. It did. He was a happy dog the whole trip. When we got home we got paused by neighbors so they could ask questions about the dogs. Normally I would never stand out in my front yard with Toby because these neighbors are known for having their little dog get loose (and now their second little dog as well), but the door was shut and they assured me both dogs were locked in the house.

Alright, I let Toby linger out front with me. He was greeting all the neighborhood kids happily and mom entertained the neighbors (they were curious about Reba's breed and her sight, their new dog looks similar to her). I can barely remember what happened next. Their door must not have been locked and one of their kids must have opened it... next thing I hear is something jingling behind me and a flash of black and white as their little Shih Tzu darts over. Toby whips around but he's very good at keeping his head... normally. He's MUCH more tolerant of little dogs than he is of big ones.

But this one bit first. I remember having that split second startle as the dog did two snaps against Toby's nose and then it all blurred over in speed. I think he tried to pin the little dog first but the dog was fast, just jumping and nipping. It was over in less than a second. I had the leash reeled in and Toby hefted off the ground and Toby had the little dog by the back of it's next in his mouth. He let go just as fast as he picked it up and the owners were there to collect their dog... but I don't even know what to think.

Toby remembered himself fast and pulled himself right into a sit. He was whining slightly but nothing like he would if he were really over threshold... but I don't know. I talked to him a bit, asked him if he were okay and he settled back to normal. His breathing seemed fine. The other dog wasn't hurt according to her owners. Toby went in the house fine, none of his normal stressy behaviors after an outburst.

I shouldn't say it was his first bite... he's gotten loose once and after greeting one of his buddies turned and saw that his other buddy wasn't there and those two collided. But Comet had the same problem Toby had and neither of them stuck a bite. Their jaws were open and knocking against each other but neither of them were willing to put in the bet for the fight. Other little dogs that have snapped up Toby's face have just been pinned to the ground and held there until they cool it (unless I can intervene). (He's been raised around a bunch of little dogs, so most of those have always been someone getting a bit too bossy and Toby not tolerating it). I've never seen him actually bite, let alone hold that bite for more than even a split second.

Needless to say my adrenaline is up. I never saw that one coming. Toby acts fine but he'll be taking it easy around the house for a few days. I probably need it more than he does... because all I want to do is curl up and cry. I'm thankful neither dog got hurt and furious that these people can't contain their dogs. And at the same time I'm downright furious with myself because... I don't even know. I'm not even sure where to go next with our training, I just hope we've done enough that I'm not completely back below zero again. I don't think I can stand having to be reset all the way to the beginning again, let alone having be worse for another year before I undo what tonight did. Please just let it be a small speed bump... not a whole earth quake. I don't think I can take another one of those.

Morning Pictures

Here are some recent pictures of the Tobermeister!

(No, he's not supposed to be drinking out of the bird bath. I called him away after I realized what he was doing... When I clicked to take the picture he was just standing pretty, apparently in the split second it took for the camera to register he dipped his nose for a drink. Silly boy, that's yucky!)

And a few attempts at getting some bird shots... ironically they're fine with me wandering the backyard without my camera. I go and get it and they all leave...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Open Bar at the Track

Well, this past weekend I'd bought some of those cake decorating kits - where you squeeze the frosting out through the nozzle... fully intending to use them as a way to squeeze food into Toby's mouth at a continuous stream. In the moment getting the reward in fast and as often as I possibly can is actually allowing us to watch a dog go past and have Toby remain pretty calm.

So I set out today with some cut-up hotdog in my bait pouch (not a real, high value treat for Toby but good enough for how comfortable he feels at the track for some obedience work) and my frosting-thing filled with blended meat. I'd been hoping to try the Open Bar technique again but until my Direct Stop gets here I was voting for the safety of the track. And well... I thought it smart to test my new equipment before trying it on the road. Good thing too...

We get there, are barely out of the car and into the gate, not even on the actual track yet when some guy walks his dog past. I spot it first and am able to get Toby out into the middle of the track (I had to drag him away from a smell, but thankfully he just thought it was me being impatient). I still new we only had about 100 feet between us and the other dog... in this environment I wasn't too sure that it would be enough of a distance, but by then Toby had spotted the other dog. Equipment failure 101 - always have a back up plan. Because sure enough, when I went to squeeze food into Toby's mouth I discovered the hole in the nozzle was too small for the thick goo I was trying to squeeze through. This wasn't going to be just a quick pass from the other dog either... the dude had to walk the whole length of one side of the track, then of course turned, and had to walk half the small length of it before the sidewalk dips down the hill and the guy/dog would go out of sight.

I started shoveling hotdogs into Toby like you wouldn't believe. But they're not high value rewards for him... he was taking them but more because I stuffing them in his lips than actually reaching for them. So I changed to scooping gunk out of the sleeve of the froster and letting him lick that off. Gross, but effective. We did get some mild crying from him - because we were a bit too close once the guy turned and walked the width of the track, that put him quite a bit closer because of the angle I'd rushed out to. I'd expected him to go straight or turn the other way... not continue on closer to us. Nonetheless we made it through without an outburst...

But we've gotten an interesting new twist to this. In the car on the way home he saw someone so I fed him as we passed (might as well build on calm behavior right?). Then I saw a dog so I was feeding him as we drove past - all calm. I like this. We got to a stop sign and while I was waiting to turn he saw two dogs playing across the street. Now, normally in car that'll set him off into his cry-screams. Instead he whined and whipped to me, so I fed him hotdogs as we drove past and that was that. We were within 30 feet as we drove by (the dogs in a fenced in front yard) and while he was a bit nervy (breath a bit to fast, his eyes glued on the dog, a bit stiff but not overly tense) he was way under his normal reaction level for a situation like that.

Things are actually going pretty good... I think they'd go better if I could remember to breathe normally in the moment things are happening. I'm getting better now that I have a plan for how to handle the situations and we've laid some good calming foundation work for this... I just have to remember to breathe normally.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

New Trick - Cross Paws

Well today we did a lot of mini-sessions again. Some old work with pairing his lip lick with the cue 'Yum,' but we also did a variety of new stuff. Both dogs had a lesson on getting on the skateboard/getting used to it's movement. Sadly I need a different skateboard, my brother won't be too happy if we continue to use his good, expensive skateboard for the dogs (it feels the same to Toby as his nail file board, so we get a combo of standing on it and scratching it).

I'm also trying some body awareness stuff. For him I discovered teaching him to work into a laundry basket and then working into smaller stuff works well. We tried a while back with a medium sized box but he didn't get it. Half the time he got a back foot in by chance, but he was consciously thinking about it. The laundry basket was big enough he would put a back foot in with some encouragement, but the sides were also high enough that he had to think about lifting them in. I'll have to get a picture of this as we work our way down into something smaller.

Last, but not least, he learned how to cross his paws today. We settled on 'girly boy' as the cue (which we're starting to add). Took it outside to get a good picture, the new environment meant he wasn't 100% sure on what I was asking, but he did do it. We'll work on making the behavior more solid and more prominent 'cross' of his paws as he gains confidence. But here it is:

And Reba saying good bye:

Gotta love the slurp face she has going on there!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Impulse Control and Mat Work

We've done a lot of mini-sessions all day today, but at the request of a friend I videoed the impulse control/mat work we (both dogs and I) did tonight. Thought I'd post it here:

Loose Dogs and Set Backs

I love idiot little dogs that are allowed to run loose. Probably not as much as I love their idiotic owners that let them out in the first place. Don't get me wrong... I understand fences break, or latches fail... management always fails. But when people don't even bother? I don't think they realize just how much that pesky little dog can damage months and even years of work in one day and one encounter. And it's beyond frustrating for the person behind the leash of a dog they've spent months getting to a semi-normal state.

We'll see soon enough just how much damage the loose dog today did. I'll take a break from walking Toby around here for a while and let him have some breathing time. You see, we set off today rather confident. Yesterday's success just blew me away. We'd just set out when I saw there was a loose Shih Tzu running around - and she gets loose a lot - but we just crossed the street and I fed Toby as I passed. Worked brilliantly. He was a bit distractable this walk... but I could see all the cats that were out last night. I was impressed I was getting at least some check ins while he sniffed down all the cat places.

The entire walk went rather smoothly and we even took the long way back and still there were no problems until we were half way down the block and saw that not only was the little dog still out, but his owners were sitting in their yard a half a block down watching the dog run the entire length of the neighborhood. How nice of them. I had him nibbling for a few seconds but then the dog spotted us, started jumping up and down and barking. Great. There went Toby. He hit the end of that leash and the dog took off (mind you, the dog was across the street from us... but that much movement/barking from the other dog pushed him over threshold). Instead of continue I stepped us back a few feet and moved behind a car to let Toby cool down. He did and although scanning his surroundings wanted his cheese. Stress reliever? I don't know.

We talked with the guy whose car we were now hiding behind but he started shaking his head. I'd known from the barking that they hadn't taken the dog inside and instead the dog was darting back and forth the street and sure enough... heading back for us. I stood up to get a look, told it to get but that only made the dog yap more. Thankfully, unlike the dog's oh-so-helpful owners, the man by us chased the dog off back towards it's owners. They never once moved. I thanked him and headed Toby home. We were heading down my neighbors drive way (not risking trying to get to the gate in my front yard) when I could hear the dog barking it's way back towards us. We made it in fine... but come on.

Toby did fairly well, all things considering. I just wish people would keep their dogs under control. And I really, really can't wait until my Direct Stop gets here. But here's to hoping that this doesn't set us back very far... we've worked so hard to get to this point. -sighs-

Friday, May 23, 2008

Fooling Around

Toby was a little bored so I decided to teach him to hop up into my computer chair. It moves, so we started slow. He wasn't phased by any of it. It was his size that got in the way. -rolls- He climbed up but he was backwards and it was awkward turning around while the chair was wobbling (I didn't let it move too much, but I did let it move some. He was comfortable with that). He even slid into his puppy sit and stared at me and the treats impatiently while I wobbled the chair around and had him do shakes and hand touches.

Opening the Bar

This past Monday was the first time I'd actually tried the "Open Bar" technique. It's mainly, feeding the dog while a stressor goes by. It helps change how the dog perceives the situation... from the normal negative to something more positive. Well I'd been reading a few blog posts from someone else on the Control Unleashed Yahoo group doing it and had decided to try it... and in Monday's post, just getting him to nibble the cheese the whole way really worked. I was a bit stunned.

So today I went out intending to do the same thing. I wasn't feeling comfortable or confident enough to set out with the mindset of doing it if we saw another dog. Why? I don't know. Maybe I still felt like I'd be making the situation worse. Or bribing him. Or something... I don't know. But we headed out... barely made it off the block when I saw a dog heading in our direction across the street and Toby hadn't noticed him yet. So I made a split second decision and called him to me. I grabbed the cheese and let him start nibbling while I held his collar. Part of me hoped we'd get through it without him noticing the dog... Me, insecure? You betcha.

He did indeed notice the other dog. Now... I really couldn't have asked for a better 'test dog' than that one. It's a husky-mix (probably) and this dog is one of the calmest dogs I've seen on walks. He always walks perfectly calm with his older gentleman and whenever we've ran into them, the dog barely blinks an eye if Toby reacts. I knew there wouldn't be any lunging back from this dog... so that's better than most could have hoped for. The moment Toby saw him he stopped eating and started to focus, I just moved the cheese back in front of his nose and he started nibbling. I laughed when I read in the other CU member's blog about her dog growling and slurping as he watched the dog go by and had an similar odd-sensation as Toby whined, and nibbled at the same time. And yet... Toby was choosing to eat. When I had to move my hand to get another small chunk to let him nibble (I'd gotten 'smart' and cut the string cheese up before heading out) he moved with my hand, whining and latched onto the next chunk. Wow.

Once the dog was beyond us and moving onto the other block I was able to cue Toby to continue the walk and just wow... Up he went and rather happily! He may have been just on his threshold line or a bit over as the dog went by, but the recovery time was in the blink of an eye. Now sadly, we made it about five steps before my neighbor jogged to catch up to us, startling Toby. This man Toby has never once tried to jump on but the man has never tracked us down to walk with us. So Toby did get a bit stressed then, jumped towards the man (to greet... but that's not smart with this guy) and I made sure we kept our distance. After the rest of the block we turned another way so we didn't have to do the whole walk with him. He freaks me out and that's NOT the vibe I want to send my dog... not after such a success! But we made it home without further trouble.

I have to say... I'm a lot more open to the thought of feeding him through a stressor. I'd tried it in the beginning, but it had always been having him sit first, and trying to piece little bits of treats into his mouth making the whole process slow. Having something that he can just nibble/suck on the whole time works 10 times better. He got through the situation of having a dog walk past us (albeit across the street) without ANY of his normal fuss. Normally he's dancing at the end of that leash, loud whining/crying/growling, loud huffing breaths, scanning the surrounding area during and after and can take him about 10-30 seconds minimum to recover. Today, we got through it with some mild whining as he watched the dog go by. I'm definitely going to make more use of this! It's a shame I can't pin down the man's walking times and use them to my advantage. -grins- If only all people had set schedules!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Today has been a lot of mini-sessions. I took Toby out to the track for a good run on his 50ft, but not only that... I took our little jump with us. I set it up in the middle of the field and after getting his ya-yas out we did a few call-throughs for the jump. I don't really have much of an idea when it comes to agility training as of yet... so I'm making it up as I go along and doing whatever makes sense. I figured a good way to start would be to just get him running through the jump standards. We'd already done a shaping session of it at home, and a few things in and out of the house with it. So I set him in a wait on one side of the jump and called him over from the other side. That worked well enough. Next step I figured would be to run alongside him as he went through it. We do that fine at home (in and outside), but he thought it was much funner to tackle me instead. Reminds me how little playing we actually do at the track...

Toby doesn't play with me if we're not home... so I don't even bother to bring toys most of the time. However, he's willing to play agility with me there, so I can't help but wonder if we're there often enough that he now considers it a second backyard of sorts? I think I'll experiment on bringing some toys with us. As well as use the Premack Principle to up the value of playing with me even more so.

Once home we relaxed for awhile before getting down to some more training. I fed both dogs their breakfasts while on their mats. We haven't done this since the first time (bad me!) but Toby did well. All his Relaxation Protocol and Mat work really pay off. Reba decided it was much easier to just stay on her mat than get up each time after I led her back to hers a few times. I can do a lot more when I have the living room to work in... I can jog, do figure eights around the dogs, play with the front door, leave the room, all kinds of things. So not only is it helpful to have those added distractions for Toby's mat work, but I really want to build having a spot to send them for when I want to work with one dog individually. I'm hoping to do this again Thursday morning again.

Then after another break Toby and I went to my room for some shaping sessions. We refreshed on his bow... I want to get him to hold it for 10 seconds before I put a cue on it. Why? Because all though 75% of the time he'll hold it for a count of 5, sometimes he starts to bow and then folds back into his down. It was an awesome way to capture the behavior, but I've had a hard time getting him to discriminate it from his down (which is also his default behavior... xD).

Then we did some hind leg work. I discovered that he's itchy today on a certain spot on his belly, so rubbing that while he was standing resulted in lifting his back legs like he was going to itch. I c/t that for a little while before stopping. I also cued him to down, clicked him for rolling onto one hip and tried clicking for any twitches his back feet gave. Got a few before he started getting silly with his face. So we switched gears and I started to click his play face. He pulls his lips/whiskers back... like a dog baring his teeth, except you never see the teeth. It's his 'grin'. I've always wanted it on cue, so why not?

After that we called it good for awhile. I did do some work with getting him to look away from me and at something else for some c/t. It's the start of the Look At That Game! in Control Unleashed. I'm not sure he's getting it, but it's the first time I've taught it too... so we'll see where we get with it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Breakthrough! With Cheese!

I've been using string cheese this past two weeks... since I've been too cheap to buy something else for him. It's worked fairly well. With the mozzarella I was getting my normal check ins... but with the colby jack I tried tonight? Oh wow. The checks ins were bam-bam-bam in the beginning... then we crossed an outdoor cat and he lost his brain for a good portion of the walk. It set him right about his threshold, maybe a little over, and he forgot I existed as he smelled down the variety of stuff dumped in people's yards. However, we always get to this spot where I'm preparing to cross over to the next block and there is this LOUD dog (not visible) across the street from us. He sounds vicious and then to top it off, there are sometimes a whole group of dogs behind a fence (visible) in the house we're trying to cross over to. Add that to the fact that we don't always continue the walk and choose to turn instead of cross the street and that place is a very stressful place for Toby to walk.

He's desperate to continue the walk, and at times can be pushed over threshold. Lately I've been treating for every time he hears a dog bark in that area and it's helped him stay calmer... though he still pulls like a madman across the street, determined to keep his walk going. (We normally turn back there on our shorter walks, because from there on out the walk gets more 'dangerous'). Tonight I got lazy and stuck what was left of the string cheese in front of his nose and let him nibble when he heard the dog. For the first time EVER Toby walked at my side, nibbling on food while we were outside. He's one of those eat and run dogs, that you have to build up to having the dog stick around for a chance at seconds. Heartened by my success I released him, called him back and gave him a few more steps of nibbling, released him again, and then called him back and let him nibble his way across the street. It was the calmest walk we've had walking across that street. I was stunned.

Now... sadly, that left me without any food rewards for the rest of the walk home but thankfully outside of two enclosed dogs and some kids playing basketball there was nothing worthwhile to send him over the edge. He did fairly well the rest of the way home. I'm definitely trying that again!

'Adventures' Update 2

This is a continuation of the previous post, "Sometimes... I'm just too scared to act." There are two 'adventures' I'll share in this post, both that happened last week one day right after another.

I was pressed for time so I voted on taking Toby on a walk around the neighborhood. After the 'kid incident' of the last post we hadn't had any more trouble. He needed a chance to stretch his legs before I left for the day so I took him out on a quick walk around the block and give him a longer one later. Things were going great, everything was upbeat and happy until we rounded back on our walk (heading home on the 'safe' side) when I noticed the people right next door my house had another dog out... and loose. It was one of their guest's dogs, a little shih tzu that they had no control over. Thankfully I noticed it before we'd made it too far and was cheerfully able to turn Toby around and head back towards the end of the block. It didn't take them long to corral the dog and we were able to head home. I was out of treats but I was lavishing the praise the whole time. Not once did he go over threshold. I was one proud momma.

Then the next day we head out and I see the dog in their front yard (I hadn't noticed it until I was out of my yard and already passing in front of the house because they were having a yard sale). Toby started to pull and whine for it so we started to put some distance between us and the dog. We ended up in the middle of the street... just in time for the normal little dog that lives there to come bounding out of the house and straight up to us. I didn't even see the black blur until it was too late. Thankfully, his Easy Walk harness makes it incredibly easy for me to turn him towards me. The dog didn't bite and in Toby's state... he gets so eager he puts himself in a sit (like readying for a crouch? it's also one of his default behaviors... so I'm not sure which it is, or both?) and met the dog head on. They sniffed and by then I had hold of the back of his Easy Walk and was ready to turn him towards me. Instead I held him still and stepped between him and the little dog. Which of course only enticed the little bugger to dance around us in circles while I held Toby and his head whipped back and forth to watch. Overall, he did incredibly well.

For those wondering, I stepped between him and the little dog for a reason. He tends to be best with smaller dogs when they approach (especially ones more interested in play), but I haven't figured out a pattern to him. We met one pup in the store who he met fine and went stiff/growled at a second later. Another pup where he met and was fine. He has a select batch of little dogs he absolutely adores and wiggles to get near on leash (has a few big dogs too... most that he's met as a young dog or off leash)... and yet, on our walks... it's the little dogs he reacts to the strongest when they're behind a fence. This one he's had some desensitization too (the dog wanders off leash a lot right in front of one of our front windows... I've used it to my benefit), so that might have helped. Nonetheless, despite the almost wild energy in him he reacted very well to the new dog. He did however start to whine as the owner came up to shoo her dog away and as we started on our walk. He was a bit stressy the rest of the walk, but did manage to settle down again by the end of it.

He tends to handle the 'crunch' situations very well... but I'm really missing my Direct Stop. I keep waiting for one of these idiots to let their dogs loose and have it ruin all our hard work... again. This is the best Toby's ever been and I don't want to have to start from scratch all over again because people can't keep their dogs contained. Or kids for that matter.

Sometimes... I'm just to scared to act

I haven’t posted anything in awhile. I was gone this past weekend so training wise nothing got done on my part. However, I am interested in sharing a few things that happened in the past few weeks. About two weeks ago I had one of the scariest moments in my dog-history with Toby. We’d had a relatively decent walk up until we turned down our street and headed home from the different direction. We’d just turned to go down the street when I saw a young boy that often wanted to pet Toby. Toby adores the kid, because B (as I’ll call him here) is one of the most polite and dog-savvy kids I’ve ever met. Sadly, B turned around and bolted in the other direction. It took a moment for me to realize why… A week or two before that, B had been severely attacked by another dog in the neighborhood (the very reason I hadn’t been walking the neighborhood at all for a few months… the dog was a time bomb and I knew the management would fail. It always does). He had gotten loose and the dog ended up attacked B, leaving a nasty bite on the boy’s face. And although B had seemed back to normal, still petitioning every other dog walker that walked by to pet their dog there one thing I had overlooked. The dog that had attacked B, looked incredibly similar to Toby. They were both brindle, big, floppy eared dogs.

A four year old boy never should have had to go through an attack like that (no one should have to…) and it’s one of those heart breaking moments to realize a kid that young now has a fear hanging over his head. With a sad frown I continued our walk, Toby was relaxed and things were going well. Until we hit a house about half way down the block… we’d recently had someone move in and they tended to keep their dog chained out front when the kids were out. The dog and everyone was inside, but the scents were all over the front yard. Toby stopped to sniff and I saw his brain start to click off because the dog had been corralled on the front porch and was barking it’s head off from inside. Add the scrape of nails on the door and that was it for Toby. Especially when the dog barking set off every other dog on the block. Toby was a goner. He gripped the ground, his eyes glazed over, he screamed over-stressed in every way… he was beyond just over-threshold and was beyond my reach. I did the only thing I could think of (not knowing how long the measly little door on their porch would last) and dragged him away from the house. He was already in a panic-attack (as best as I can describe it), so it was down to getting him out of danger. We’d barely made it to the next house when I heard scuffling over the pavement. I turned (no longer confident myself! I was terrified) just as I felt something ram into Toby. He whipped around ready to bite, only for both of us to discover it wasn’t a loose dog… but that little boy’s friend, J.I never thought it was possible for Toby to be that far over-threshold, mid-reaction to suddenly get control of himself. He not only managed to snap his mouth shut and jerk his head away from the kid so that he was cuddled up against the boy. But also managed to turn and lick the boy down within seconds. His face was clearly stressed, but his breathing had already begun to even out.

I wasn’t nearly as fast in my recovery… I opened my mouth to scream at the boy when he turned and called to B (who was across the street), “See, Toby don’t bite!” I wanted to cry. That kid had no idea how close he’d been to proving himself wrong there…Still, B was already on his way across the street when he paused and checked with me (I love that boy…), but his words weren’t the normal “Can I pet your dog?”… no his words were, “Does your dog bites kids?” With one look at Toby, who despite the stress crinkles around his eyes was relaxing (even in the midst of a several dogs barking around him) I reassured B and had him come over. I was stuffing chicken down Toby’s face as B came to pet him (I didn’t want Toby to lick his face and scare the boy anymore than necessary). It was amazing… I watched B go from pale, white-knuckled fidgeting to the familiar smile on his face. I had Toby shake for both boys (it’s his stress reliever trick) and excused ourselves to go home. I’d had the biggest scare in my lifetime and yet… one of the best moments with Toby I’ve ever had. I shook for days after the ordeal and at the same time, I have a whole new pride and respect in my boy.

I’ll post the second set of our ‘adventures’ for the past week later tonight.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Indoor Training

Yesterday, on our trip to get Toby some more food we stopped at the Toys R Us up there for my brother. Unknown to me, Toys R Us apparently sells some dog agility stuff (from the AKC Juniors stuff)... so I came home with a bar jump and a set of weave poles. The poles aren't the best... they're completely out of PVC and the base doesn't feel all that sturdy (especially not for the way Toby goes through stuff once he's learned them) but they'll do for now. Last night I took both dogs out in the backyard to play. With one of my neighbor's dogs running loose the entire neighborhood was in an uproar with dogs barking all over the place... so Toby was insistent about running around the fence line and checking everything over.

Oh well. I took Reba, some good treats and worked on the weave poles with her... just luring her in and out. It's not the way I plan to teach it to Toby, but what I really wanted was to making playing with me sound SO much better than running the fence line. So Reba and I made a huge fuss, cheering and happily dancing around the weave poles and a few minutes later (in one of the quiet spells) Toby came trotting up. I gave him a few treats for joining us and told him he could "Take a Break" (it's a temporary release, and he's free to demand to keep working). He did and so I alternated dogs, every now and then cueing Toby to go for a break. Sometimes he took the offer and charged back to the fence line (most of the time when other dogs were barking) and other times he chose to stay. Slowly he stayed a little longer between times and I packed everything up before the dogs could get too bored.

However, I brought the jump inside and set it up in my room last night. I wanted to shape him to walk through the jump standards. He figured it out in record speed and was just trotting through them for a c/t. Perfect!

Today, it's rained all day. I took him out for a brief walk around the neighborhood in the rain but for the most part... I've had to exercise the dogs inside. Works fine for us. Mom and Dad left to go to the hardware store (our basement stairs broke...) and so I set the jump up in the living room and had the dogs work on running through the standards and hopping low jumps. They both thought that was really, really fun. Along with the jumps and weaves I bought a new toy for Tobbers, a soft Frisbee and we've been using that as a reward as well. (I've given up buying toys for Reba... if there is one Toby likes, she's free to it... but she's SO picky about her toys. It's easier to just buy a double of whatever one she turns out to like, instead of buying two and her not liking anything you get...).

We took a short break after that and I was trying to come up with some more stuff to do. I remembered dad had the small step ladder on the front porch so I dragged that in and had the dogs practice trotting through it. Or well, Toby trotted through it. Reba had to hop and that was more tiresome than stepping over the jumps so she only had to do it a few times before resting. It's amazing how well Toby figures out what he's supposed to do. Even when I had to go refill on the treats... I came back into the living room and he was trotting back and forth through it, watching me. Such a smart boy.

After that we did some work with getting him to climb on weird objects. I had Toby hop on to dad's tool box and then stand in the 2 on/2 off position and then get on and off, each time getting in that position. Then I saw the mini-trampoline mom had gotten the other night (I can't even find the springs on the side with my fingers... so it was safe) and I had him practice hopping on that and doing some tricks on something that gave beneath his weight. He did great! After a short power outage, I was trying to decide what to do next... But one thing was clear after our little group session this morning... working two dogs is hard. It'd be easy if Reba was as well versed as Toby is... but even he's not perfect. I can put him in a wait and work Reba... but I have to be careful on how long I'm leaving hi there or how high the distraction of working Reba is for him. Reba... she's never even been trained to wait. Whoops.

So I decided to give them both a place to stay and just work on getting some sort of routine going for when I work both dogs. I grabbed Toby's mat and Reba's bed, some new treats and headed down for the living room. Because of Toby's issues we've been doing the Relaxation Protocol by Dr. Karen Overall on his mat, as well as training him to go to his mat any time he's sees it. I knew he'd be pretty good at staying there no matter what I'm doing. I set Toby's mat up first and he instantly climbed down from the chair and flopped onto it. Perfect! He got a treat and I called Reba out and lured her to her bed asked for a down. Then I just started waiting. Every few seconds both dogs got a treat. Then a little longer. We actually were able to move faster than I thought because Toby knew this game very well and Reba really loved the idea of laying in her bed and getting 'free' food. By the end of the session I was walking around both dogs in a figure eight, waiting ten seconds, or even tapping the door (even hitting it's handle once!) and both dogs were fine. I had a feeling Toby would be... we've done similar stuff in my room. Reba I was expecting more of a problem because she gets so excited about food. But nope. They were awesome!

I'm gonna have them earn their breakfast this way for a few weeks. Building distractions and then slowly calling one dog off their mat and then back on for treats for both dogs. That way sooner or later I'll be able to work one while the other rests and then switch. I've been meaning to do this for awhile... but a lot of my dog training goes on in my room (where I'm not getting snapped at for being in the way of the TV :p) and since we're so cramped for space up there I only ever work one dog at a time. But I might as well work on this now... especially since mornings are such a nice time to do this.

Reba is resting happily now a bit zonked from all the training. Toby was... but it's been an hour or two now, so he's up and getting into trouble while they're fixing the basement stairs (licking dad's head while he tries to put in the new steps) so I'm off to occupy him again.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Setbacks and Successes

Today was a mixed bag. I decided to take Toby out for a walk around the neighborhood, to tide him over until it cooled down and I could get him out for good run. I'd just hooked him up and stepped out the front door when I saw two young boys walking a dog. Yikes. I just told Toby what a good boy he was, carefully kept myself breathing and hurried us on out the front gate. Turning him right back in and putting him in the house tends to make him go over threshold and he starts whining. Since the dog was on leash and relatively under control (they were running back and forth across the street a little crazily) I decided to try something new. And it worked. Toby did have to continually check back behind him to watch the dog, and his pace was faster than normal but not a peep. His breathing barely even changed rhythm. I was one proud mom!

We decided to take a different route and off we went. Things went relatively smooth until we had to turn for home. I'd heard one dog behind a privacy fence so decided to walk by it with the street between us. That was fine, Toby could handle that. Except... neither one of us had seen the beagle on the side we were walking, behind a picket fence. Oops. That hyped Toby up a bit, but thankfully... he's not familiar with the beagle's baying so he was more curious and surprised than anything else. He took some chicken and decided that whatever it was, it was one weird animal but not worth trouble over. We'd also managed to cross the street to buy him some more room to recover. And of course, dog number three started barking from behind a chain length fence (we were at an intersection, so as it was down the road to our right a few houses... thankfully).

That pushed him over threshold a bit. His hair went up and the more the dog barked the more stressy he became. His breathy picked up pace and he started to pace the end of the leash at a mad pull. Even after we were past and he could no longer see the dog he pulled a bit, wildly sniffing the ground and couldn't take chicken for another 30 seconds are so. Then he pulled himself back together and rejoined with me. Not bad. This is an improvement on his part... to have made it through a walk with so many 'trouble zones' without that much of a hitch. Still, I was more than ready to get him home and let him relax. Normally I wouldn't have even pushed him this far... except I couldn't do much but take the new surprise dogs (I've checked that route before and never ran into the last two dogs...) all in stride and keep going.

Of course... our walk wasn't done yet. And sure enough... we're half way down the block when one of the trouble dogs (if she got lose, there would be a fight...). She bolted and for a good few split seconds it didn't look like she was chained. I'm sure my breathing stopped here and all I could do was keep my eye on her and keep Toby moving away from danger. She hit the end of her leash just as we past a car to block Toby's view. His breathing was loud, huffing and really fast, his hackles up, and he was pacing. But within a few seconds he was already calming only to turn his head to see the dog the boys were walking behind a fence. That pushed him back over threshold (even though a calm dog standing there probably wouldn't have normally). Still... within about 20 steps into our neighbors drive way towards our back gate and he was back to being relaxed.

He recovers fast these days which I'm so thankful for. Even when he's hit with a trouble zone again and again. I didn't remember to breathe until we were safely in the backyard, but I'm still proud of him. Even throughout all of that... he never whined once. He's improved a whole heck of a lot this past year. ^_^