On the adventures and training of Cinnamon Snapdragon, a papillon destined for greatness.

Monday, November 28, 2011

homemade agility equipment

I purchased a lot of PVC, a couple of squares of plywood, door hinges, and a number of second-hand cabinet doors at Urban Ore, a local re-use depot for all kinds of construction and household goods. I got leftover sand and paint from a couple of friends. Add to that some foam insulation tubing and a metal pipe from the hardware store, and you have the supplies for some relatively cheap, small homemade agility equipment. It is all tiny-sized so that it can fit in my apartment. Also, I don't have a large yard to practice in; we have to use the narrow street out front.

homemade agility tire jump
Tire jump. He will jump through the middle of the tire about 90% of the time. Occassionally he misjudges the jump and ends up going under.

homemade agility table pre-painting
Table before I painted it. It is TDAA-sized (30" x 30"). The rest of the equipment is even smaller than TDAA. I ended up not using the boards along the sides because they were a bother.

homemade agility teeter, table, wobble board
Wobble board, teeter, and table drying after getting painted. Having a mini-teeter on hand will be super handy. He hasn't been on it yet because his teeter training is still on hold for his eye.

homemade agility dog walk
Dog walk. I did one session in which I shaped him to climb across it, to get him use to the structure. Then I put it away until I figure out what I want to do with his contacts.

homemade agility a-frame
A-frame. Not pictured are the chains on either side to keep it from sliding down, although the 2x4s at the bottom also do a great job.

Tiny dog = tiny, cheap, portable equipment that doesn't need to be as sturdy. Awesome.

So since I have an a-frame I can lower all the way to the ground, I want to do that and then teach him to run across it, driving toward a thrown toy, and slowly raise the height. I don't actually know anything about contacts; that's just my inclination. I think I remember Moe saying that she would have me teach running contacts like Silvia Trkman does if I had access to an a-frame that I could lower, but since I didn't she said to teach a nose target that I could place a bit farther out and that would turn into a running contact. Now I have an adjustable a-frame but I remember her being worried about the dog learning a particular stride on smaller equipment and then failing at trials. I feel like it's worth it to have tiny equipment so that we can get some practice at home, and we'll eventually be practicing on full sized equipment in class. This would be a lot easier if I had more agility experience and could see the big picture. Obedience and rally o is easier for me to train on my own because I know what the overall plan is, and how different training techniques may or may not influence the final picture.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cameo by Jasper: begging in kitchen

This video shows some behavior modification I've done with Dragon's brother, Jasper Fforde.

Friday, November 25, 2011

It's playtime!

Last week, Dragon wanted to wrestle with me for the first time in about a month.

Last night and one time last week, he muzzle-punched the cat and tried to get him to play.

This morning after chasing a thrown food-stuffable toy a few times, he grabbed it as I was holding it and started tugging.

My puppy is feeling better!! I am over the moon.

This is the food toy I made, by the way:

homemade magnetic-close food toy

It's made of fleece. The flap has a magnetic close.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tricks showcase for November 2011

I made another big montage of nearly all the tricks we've been working on! It's always a fun project for me, because I think about how far Dragon has come. When I made the last tricks showcase in April, he was still learning heel position by pivoting around on a bowl. Now he's doing full heeling in a semi-distracting environment, and I'm working on fixing up some of my footwork. In April I had just gotten him to retrieve a teeny little leash tab, and now he'll retrieve his harness, toys, dumbbell, metal canning rings, leather rings, pens, plastic bottles... (I love teaching retrieving!) This month also shows him at his best on the wobble board -- on a pivot eight inches off the ground, with my foot kicking the board up and down.

My favorite moments:
The pivoting right at the beginning
Stacking bowls at 1:21 (that's such a cool trick)
Trying to find the platform with his back feet at 3:44
I walk away from the wobble board and he's still tipping it at 5:00

So proud of my puppy!

pet insurance update

Just got e-mails from Trupanion about the first four claims I've submitted to them, to get reimbursed for diagnostics and medications. (They don't reimburse for exam fees.) They are sending me $402.30. Since February I have paid them about $330, so buying pet insurance has saved me money. Of course, in a few months that won't be the case any longer. However if Dragon had needed surgery, or expensive medication (like the Cosopt) for the rest of his life, they would cover that also. The peace of mind is worth it for me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

expensive medication

I picked up another bottle of Cosopt, the glaucoma medication Dragon is on to keep the pressure in his left eye low. It was $45 for a teeny little bottle! I'm still waiting for Trupanion to process all of my claims going back to the date of his injury. There was a hold-up with obtaining records from the first vet he went to as a puppy, since those records are under a different dog and owner name.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

agility dog needs agility lead

homemade agility lead

The collar part is a 1 inch nylon strap with a ribbon sewn on top. The part that tightens is a small braid of yellow and red fleece. The leash part is a four-strand braid of light yellow, bright yellow, red, and black/orange spotty fleece. I can't figure out how to braid fleece without it twisting up so much. Other than that, I'm quite happy with it.

homemade agility lead

homemade agility lead

homemade agility lead

Love how this picture came out. It's the first time that I was able to hand him an object and have him take it and hold it and just stay there long enough for me to take a picture!!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Focus and Motivation agility class, week 3

We worked on restrained recalls, restrained recall through a tunnel, circle work, nose targets, and sending the dog forward to a toy.

Dragon won't play with toys right now. I had to go through the whole explanation of, "No, he does have toy drive, and I know how to build toy drive, he just won't play right now because of his eye injury" with both the instructor and the assistant. But I was really happy with the instructor's response of, "Well the border collie people all think that your dog has to tug, but my previous dog never tugged a day in her life. I just used toys with food inside to get her to drive ahead toward something." So I'm turning one of Dragon's old torn-up plush toys into a food pouch that I can toss ahead. That should be good for building drive to run ahead because the prednisone makes him SUPER HUNGRY. Still, I want my playful, tuggy dog back!!

He was much better about staying on his mat during downtime, and a bit more focused as we walked around the yard between exercises. I don't allow him to do his own thing on the field. He's either doing an exercise, walking next to me with attention instead of sniffing at the end of the leash, or he's resting and free to look around while in my arms or on his mat. We also practiced a bit of obedience heeling and I brought his dumbbell and liver treats to practice after class.

During most of the time that the instructor is talking to the class, it's super basic stuff and I'm a little bored, but occassionally I'll notice a hole in our foundation. I need to work more on Dragon driving to his nose target independent of my movement, and especially while I keep running ahead. While we don't get many reps in front of the instructor (we only did two recalls and two runs through the tunnel), the biggest upside of doing a group class is that she sees us week after week, and so we're getting steady advice throughout the training process. When I was doing privates with Moe, it was nice to have her undivided attention, but I can end up training the wrong thing or leaving big holes when I'm left to train mostly on my own.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Scent discrimination with metal articles

Look what Dragon can do!

This is the foundation for a competition obedience exercise in which the dog has to retrieve one metal article among five identical ones. The correct one is the one with the owner's fresh scent on it. We are using metal canning rings. Dragon will bring back the correct one nearly 100% of the time. The "tasting" and picking up of the incorrect articles is quickly fading as he figures out the fastest way to identify the correct one.

This is my first time teaching this exercise and it's thrilling to see him do it so happily and reliably!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Focus and Motivation class, week 2

I've finally managed to find an introductory, competition-focused agility class that fits into my schedule! It is with Jump'n Java Agility and taught by Dorothy Fukushima. The location is an outdoor field covered with woodchips. Unfortunately this time of year it is cold and dark, despite the small stadium-style lights.

We missed the first week because I had a scheduling conflict, but that didn't matter because Dragon is already ahead of the game thanks to our start in private lessons. The point of this class is getting our dogs to be able to focus among distractions rather than about agility itself, though we did do circle work and decell cues. We also did restrained recalls and sit-stays.

Dragon wanted to just walk around and explore rather than really focusing on me during circle work. I think my rate of reinforcement was too low for that part. But he shone during the stays (I even had him do stand-stays) and the recall.

During our downtime I had him on my lap or lying on his mat. He tried to wander off to explore here and there when he was bored but he didn't try to leave the mat due to activity from the other dogs or people. Next week I will try bringing a bully stick for him to chew on. Under normal circumstances I don't think that he would be interested but the prednisone is making him super hungry so hopefully it will work.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cue list

Everyone knows that I'm a nerd when it comes to dog training. At Michele Pouliot's prompting, I decided to make a cue list. This is an excel file that lists all of Dragon's tricks, with verbal cues, any relevant hand signals, other body cues, context/environmental cues, a description of the final behavior, and a quick note about our progress. I listed 72 cues.

Does that seem like a huge number? It includes the basics, such as reacting to his name (a cue to look  at me), cues about when we are or are not working ("Ready to work?", "go sniff," "take a break," and "run free"), and various words meant to encourage him, amp him up, or help him through interactions with other people. These are the kinds of things that people usually don't think about as cues, but we are communicating with our dogs all the time. But does what we are telling them mean the same thing to them as to us? One of the reasons the cue list is helpful is to think hard and methodically answer this very question.

The list also includes the different "positions" used in obedience and tricks (sit, down, stand, meerkat/sit pretty, playbow, etc), classic freestyle moves (spin, turn, jump to hand, weave between legs), and cues for competition obedience, agility, nosework, and just plain ol' tricks. Most of them aren't on verbal stimulus control and I don't expect them to be. I'm okay with pointing at an open door to cue Dragon to close it, pointing at one of his chewies to cue him to bring it over, and then patting my lap to get him to jump up. A lot of them are cued by the presence of specific objects (climbing into a box or stacking some bowls) or by where my arm and body are pointing (run up this tree).

Another advantage of listing all his tricks this way is to look for any similarities between verbals or hand signals that might confuse the dog. It also allows me to note where we're at with each trick and what I need to work on. I was reminded of some tricks we haven't practiced in a very long time (balancing on two legs, for example), and I'd like to bring them back into the rotation to keep his fitness level high.

At the bottom I also listed a number of neat tricks I've seen other dogs do, and which I hope to teach him someday: circling around me backwards, opening his mouth on cue, rolling up in a blanket, retrieving a hot dog or other high value edible, and blowing bubbles in water.

Challenge yourself and give it a try with your dog! A final perk of creating the cue list is that proud feeling you get when you realize just how much you and your dog have learned together.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tiny Dog has tiny dumbbell

tiny dumbbell

tiny dumbbell

Following up on play concerns

I brought up my concern about Dragon not wanting to play with my trainer friend Elissa. She reassured me not to worry about it, and not to bother trying to get him to play until he's clearly feeling better and initiating play on his own. Otherwise I might end up altering his play style weirdly or teaching him to be worried or suspicious of playtime. So, although I'll miss it, I'll put away the toys until he shows me that he wants to play, and just use food in training. He's normally a playful dog, so in the end I should be able to get his play drive back up again.

In the meantime we're making steady progress with his obedience training. I just received a teeny plastic dumbbell in the mail and I did a session of dumbbell = liver treats, woohoo!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Loss of enthusiasm

Dragon has almost completely lost interest in tugging since his eye injury three weeks ago. Even the rabbit fur tug only brings out half-hearted chasing and mouthing. (Before the injury, he went crazy for it and would chase it in circles and was putting noticeable wear on it.) Even his drive to chase a rolling ball has diminished. I am sad to lose the opportunity to play with him in this way. It was a fun way to bond and get some energy out, as well as a great reinforcer in training.

I've been bringing the rabbit tug out every few days when he pesters me for something to do, and putting a lot of energy into encouraging him to chase it and mouth it. I'm trying not to put pressure on him and stress over it, though. I'm telling myself that while switching to using just food as a reinforcer for a few months will impact his play drive for a while, he is a very playful dog and in the end I should be able to get all that tugging joy back. It won't affect him permanently. (I should say that I wasn't looking to play vigorous games of tug anyway, since we want to avoid jarring/shaking actions. Just any excitment over a gentle tug game...)

On the other hand, I'm happy that the prednisone is getting him to consistently eat all his meals, which was a struggle before. Silver lining.

Training session with Janette and Brooky

One dog doing silly tricks is fun. Two dogs doing them at the same time is funner!

We worked on stays and recalls, the dogs learned to target each other, and Dragon took Brooky for a walk.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Check-up with ophthalmologist, 2 weeks post-injury

Dragon's eye is on the road to recovery. The blood is slowly draining but it may take three months or even longer for it all to be re-absorbed. The pressure has come down to the same level as his good eye. He's going to continue taking the same four medications as before, but now he only needs each med twice a day, rather than having them spread out over five times a day. (Thank goodness! It was hard to keep up.)

I told the doctor that I was concerned that he is not interested in tugging or wrestling like usual. She theorized that it might be that his vision is affected and that makes him uncomfortable with it. She didn't think that he's in pain, which is a relief. He's also been sleeping more than usual, but I can't tell if that's because his body is recovering or simply because I've restricted his activities and he's adjusted to that.

He's still restricted from doing much jumping or practicing the teeter. Next week we're starting our group agility class, but the class is starting from the top and I assume will spend the first few weeks on handling and low jumps, so it's okay for us to continue the break from doing fast sequences and teeters and such.

Dragon was working me for treats while I talked to the doctor. One of his tricks is to back up and target a person with his back feet. Usually he just ends up sitting his butt onto a person's lap or putting one back foot up against their leg. Today he ended up doing a whole hand stand against the stomach/chest of a vet tech standing next to the exam table. That was a real conversation stopper.