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

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The end.

As you probably deduced from the lack of updates to this blog, Dragon was never recovered. The last probable sighting was July 18th, and then the trail ended. I don't want to describe, yet again, the details of the search or my grieving process. What I would like to share is that three weeks ago, I brought home a Papillon puppy, who happens to be another tricolor male. He is 13 weeks old right now.

This is Chimera Monstra.

Of course, I made another blog for Chimera (AKA Cai), which you can find below:
I've been writing a lot about socializing him, since that's the most important thing at this age. Cai will also be trained in agility, obedience, and probably nosework and freestyle, with clicker training and other positive methods of course! Please join us on our journey.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dragon is missing.

I forgot to post a few weeks ago that I would be going on vacation and Dragon would be boarded. On July 2nd, while at an open off-leash space with a friend, he took off. There have been sightings but he is still lost.

I am utterly heartbroken, but there is a massive search and rescue effort being coordinated on FaceBook:

Please feel free to join the group to help (if you are in the East Bay Area of California) or just to follow along with the search effort. Please send good thoughts, prayers, cross your fingers, whatever you do when wishing for a beloved dog to return home.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Agility recap

I haven't been posting about our weekly agility classes lately. We just learned the serpentine, and we need to put in a lot more practice because Dragon tends to look forward and just keep running instead of looking at me and seeing that I'm giving the serp cue.

We also just started working on the chute/closed tunnel. Dragon was nervous about the fabric at first. I shaped him to step on it and then go on through the tunnel, and now he doesn't mind running through it while the fabric is held up. Slowly we're holding the fabric less open.

The teeter re-training looks good so far. Today Wendy and I called him back and forth across the teeter and Tiny Dog ran quickly back and forth while it dipped about six inches up and down. There were sandbags underneath to control the height and so that it wouldn't make much noise. We also did the classic bang game and he was happy to have me raise him up and let him ride it down. I'm continuing to give him treats every time another dog makes it bang.

Wendy set up a sequence of 11(!) obstacles, including sends, a 180, a front cross, and a serp. Dragon did it well, and I was so proud. We're getting to the point now that I'm learning some finer points of handling sequences, like stepping here or standing there for the front cross. Real agility stuff! Although the only obstacles we used were jumps and tunnels.

Still have a long way to go for reliable dog walk and a-frame running contacts. Haven't been practicing lately.

The crate training has taken a setback and he leaves it to wander around if he loses sight of me. Or if the door is closed, he whines super loud. So annoying.

2x2 weaves: sessions 15-17

Session 15 (classroom):
2 sets of poles! Whoo! He was confused. Did a short session with the poles open. Rewarded going through the first set a few times, and then both sets.

Session 16 (classroom):
Still confused. I moved them closer together and that helped him. Sometimes he would run right through both sets, and other times he would just take the second pair. Sometimes he didn't want to go out at all because he was confused and afraid of being wrong. If that happened I helped him by moving really close to the first pair.

Can't take any shortcuts. Need to do lots of rewards just for going through both sets when they are totally open.

Session 17 (agility field):
I set the two pairs closer together and this time Dragon understood that he should run through both sets. I did some straight on entries and then started working from 6 toward 3 o'clock. Here and there he had too much speed going in and couldn't slow down and collect well enough to go through the second pair. The 2x2 method shapes the dog to learn how to do so on his own, so we will just keep practicing until he figures it out!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


If you haven't seen it, this is what the logo for my dog training business, Ruff Translation, looks like. (The background is yellow because that's straight from the webpage, which has a yellow background.)

I paid someone with an embroidery machine to make me a few patches with my logo on them. I just finished sewing them onto a new jacket for Dragon:

logo jacket

Now every time we go to the park or somewhere else to practice our training, he can advertise my services! The patches are open at the top so that they're actually pockets, held shut with blue velcro. Each pocket carries five business cards and two bright blue poop bags.

logo jacket

He's truly a working dog now.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

2x2 weaves: ready for the next step!

Session 14 (classroom at work):
Worked all the way around the clock: from 1 o'clock sending from my left side, all the way to (for the first time!) 11 o'clock from my right side!! It looks like Dragon finally, totally understands the concept of the first pole always being on his left. The only time he didn't do the correct entry was a few times when he crossed in front of my feet to do an entry that would have been correct if the imaginary 12 poles had been extending in the other direction. I would resend him, making sure to extend my sending arm and leg more, and then he wouldn't cross in front of me and got the entrance correctly. Next session we will add the second set of 2 poles!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

2x2 weave pole sessions 12-13

Session 12 (classroom at work):
Spent most of the session working off-side entries from 7-8 o'clock, with me running full speed. This was difficult for Dragon. He would repeatedly go around the first pole correctly but then put on speed and run past both poles. I would slow down for a few reps and then build back up, but again he would have trouble. We also did a few stationary sends from 9 o'clock, and he wasn't reliably doing the correct entry. Ended the session feeling like we still had a looong way to go. This session was right before my shift started at the daycare.

Session 13 (classroom):
This session was right after my shift, on the same day. I wanted to warm him up by doing on-side sends from 2 o'clock, from my left side. Twice in a row, Dragon cut across my front to do an off-side entry going in the opposite direction. I gave him some praise and petting, since it was partially correct, got a proper on-side entry, and then switched to off-side again.

He got it.

All of a sudden, Dragon could do off-side entries sent from 8, 9, even 10 o'clock! With me running! He confidently went around the first pole, slowed, collected, went through in the correct direction, and then blasted forward along the reward line.

We ended with me doing a little proofing of his independence, by doing funny things like jumping up and down and waving my arms, or "tripping" and falling. He looked at me but continued running. Wow!

Next session, I will review the clock again to solidify his understanding, and then we will be ready to add the second set of poles!

2x2 weaves sessions 8-11

Note: I realized that I was orienting my "clock" differently than the official 2x2 DVD does, so I've gone back and editted my previous entries to bring everything in line. 12 o'clock now refers to the direction the weave poles would extend if all 12 poles were up in line.

Session 8 (local field):
Nailed a number of on-side entries, sending from the left side of my body, and wrapping more than he had before we did the session with the food toy. I tossed the ball closer to the right-hand pole also, rather than throwing it way out for him to chase as I did at first. I realized as I was watching Susan Garrett's DVD that he really needs to learn how to collect better, so we'll continue working on this.

Started working off-side entries again, even reached 8 o'clock once, but then a little girl and her chihuahua puppy came to the field and she was screaming and they were running back and forth. This was way too much of a distraction for Dragon, and he kept staring and tried to join in the chase a couple of times. I got a few more good entries from him but it was a fight so we ended the session. On the bright side, he was curious and excited in a happy way to see the little girl, not alarmed as he used to be around children.

Session 9 (agility field):
Reviewed on-side entries, saw nice wraps. Did a bit of variation with standing, walking, running, spinning in a circle. Worked off-side entries from 6-8 o'clock, on my right side. Got farther than before. Dragon does better if I'm standing still, as then the picture looks much like a send to the backside of a jump. If I run, he runs next to me or goes around both poles. Worked at doing a slow jog when sending from 7 o'clock, or holding still to send from 8 o'clock.

Session 10 (agility field):
Wheee made good progress! Able to do correct entry while I ran beside the poles, starting from 7 and 8 o'clock. Did a lovely collect and bounce through the poles. I worked on slightly delaying the throw of the ball until he had actually exited the poles and was looking forward, as I'd gotten into the habit of throwing it the moment he was starting to go through correctly, and that made him pause to watch for the throw. Then worked on stationary send from 9 o'clock, and he finally got it. Of course we also reviewed the on-side entries (1 through 6 o'clock), with speed, and he got it every time.

Session 11 (agility field):
Review of on-side entries with speed. Stationary sends from 8-9 o'clock, and walking or running sends from 6-8 o'clock. Slowly expanding his understanding of "always go around the first pole, and wrap inwards to go between" when doing off-side entries.

Getting the off-side entries is taking a long time, but we are both enjoying the process. I can see that if we don't get this solid, it will give us lots of trouble in the future.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Teeter update and plan

I had a private lesson with Susanne Cohen just to work on the teeter (although she also had us do a few short jumping sequences to break up the lesson and give Dragon a break). I told her in detail what we've done so far. Discussing everything and then demonstrating it all was helpful -- it solidified in my brain that there's a very specific element of the teeter that Dragon is having trouble with. It's the movment of the board under his feet as he's walking/running across it. He can deal with riding it while he's stationary; our extensive wobble board practice laid a great foundation for that. He can run across straight planks and sloped planks no problem. He doesn't like the bang but it's not the sound that's making him slow down at the pivot point. It's the movement as he's moving.

(By the way, since we're taking a break from practicing the teeter in class, I'm using that time to just counder-condition the noise.)

My current plan of action is to use restrained recalls back and forth along a stationary teeter to get him once again running from end to end without worry. (We did a session of this already, and doing it as a restrained recall makes it more fun/exciting for him.) Then I am going to do the same thing I did on the wobble board -- add movement manually, so that I can carefully control the timing and intensity. I'm going to do it first when he's moving toward me, so that he can see that my arm is moving and that I'm controlling the teeter. At first the movement is going to be as much like a little vibration as I can make it. We'll work from there.

I'm feeling hopeful about this plan because it's working on just the element that is currently causing a problem. (And separately we're working on the banging noises.)

I'm also going to incorporate Silvia Trkman's method of having the dog run across a full height teeter that is held stationary by the owner, and then manually lowered. This will enable him to gain confidence running up the steep ramp, and get a careful, controlled feeling of the full-height fall. I don't want his first experiences with those two elements to be at the same time as we're working on raising the height of the teeter and increasing its fall. The traditional method -- get the dog running across the teeter at a low height and raise it over time -- changes too many variables at once and was not a good fit for Trauma Dog.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Pictures from obedience training

Denise is preparing to write a book, and took pictures of me heeling and playing with Dragon during our lesson. We may be in the final version of the book. You can bet I would be stoked about that! Here are some of the pictures we got:

Jumping into position on my right side as a warm-up.

Happy heeling -- love this one!!

Jumping all the way off the ground to do a hand touch -- another wow!

Automatic sit at heel and expecting a treat, hehe.

LOVE this picture for an analysis of body language. Look at the original-sized photo here to see better. Dragon's ears are down and slightly back, his lips are puckered forward, and at first glance he's leaning away from me. The first reaction that a person is likely to have to this picture is that the dog is threatened and moving away from the hand. In fact, he was pulling back only to ready himself for another playful strike. Looking at the detail of the zoomed-in photo, you can see that his eyes are soft rather than widened in fear. His back legs are braced to go forward, and his front right leg is held high up against his chest. He's ready to jump forward or shift side-to-side, rather than pulling backwards as the front left leg might make you think. His tail is very, very high up in excitement. This dog is in the middle of a fun game, and not intimidated by the hand coming right at him.

I often clap as part of my reward sequence. Dragon's mouth is puckered again -- it looks like he's barking in excitement, but I think he was just readying for more play-biting.

Funny face. I'm pushing him sideways as part of the wrestling game.

Happy dog getting into position.



More hand-biting. He likes to roll over during play but only does it if he's very comfortable with the area.

Tug with my finger.

More tugging. He used to do this more when he was younger; now he prefers to latch on to the back of my hand.

These pictures bring a big grin to my face. Hoorah for positive training!

Another lesson with Denise Fenzi

We had another 30 minute lesson with Denise last Thursday.

We started off by reviewing heeling. Dragon was doing fairly well. Distracted here and there, but clearly knew the point and how to move his butt to stay in position. Denise focused on fixing my handling. I still need reminders to look ahead rather than at my dog -- a very basic thing that nearly everyone has heard and yet struggles with! I am not immune. Another thing she pointed out was that I tended to speed up if he drifted away, to try to attract his attention and get him to catch up. She said that instead of becoming more interesting, I should become still and be less interesting. Heeling is fun, not running away and then coming back. She had me do more circles and loops to the left and right, and said I should do way less straight line heeling, which is boring and difficult. By having me focus more on my body rather than my dog, we took some of the pressure off him and he performed better. Wow! I know I will need more reminders about this...

I rewarded him by wrestling and having him play-bite my hands, which is his favorite game and is easily transferred to the ring environment. Denise is always happy to see this example of "personal play" between us. Confidence booster!

We switched to articles. For months now Dragon has been fluent in metal articles, as well as 100% accurate when working with plastic pens and plastic pill bottles. Yet with the leather articles, his success rate was only 50% or so -- he would guess, often not sniffing the leather rings at all, but just grabbing the first one he reached and retrieving it. I'd talked to Denise about this last time we met, and she suggested that I warm him up with the metal canning rings, then keep the context exactly the same as I switch to the leather rings. It seemed to help at first but then he reverted to guessing. I was baffled.

We went into a little, bare room Denise uses to train close in work and I brought out the leather rings. Dragon sniffed the small pile, mouthed one and carried it over to another, then picked up another, then finally brought one back. Denise commented that he moved them around so much and so quickly that she couldn't tell if it was the right one. I didn't think it was. We tried again and had the same result. At that point we were frustrated because all the articles were quickly getting contaminated and it was hard to keep them straight. So Denise brought out three of her own large, leather dumbbells and had me heavily scent one, and we put them into the same corner. Tiny Dog immediately started to sniff the scented one all over and circle it, trying to figure out how to pick up the large object. I rewarded and with some coaxing he even brought it back to me. We did it again, and again he immediately indicated the correct one and managed to bring it to me. Third time, same thing.

Clearly Dragon does understand the exercise well, but there's something about the leather rings I had made by Paco Collars that throws him off, and he can't pick up my scent properly. I couldn't believe that after all the worry over teaching him articles, this was the answer all along. All I have to do is get a different set of articles, and we should be golden!

Next Denise asked to see his stand for exam, which he did perfectly! As I turned to face him I gave him the toothy smile that I've conditioned to mean "you're on the right track, keep going and you'll get reinforcement". As soon as he saw that his ears went up and he stared at me with big eyes, body tense. He didn't even glance at Denise as she walked up, leaned over, and ran her hand down his back. He even stayed while I returned to heel position. I'm so proud! I used to expect that to be the most difficult exercise for him.

Finally we did the sit-stay with recall to front. One time Dragon stood up when I left him but he stayed correctly twice. When I called "here!" he would start running quickly toward me, but then he would veer off to sniff something part way. Like most of his ring behaviors, we need to proof this in distracting contexts.

With an extra cue, he would come to front nicely. His fronts aren't perfect yet, but they're definitely more enthusiastic and straighter than when we saw Denise last month. Teaching him a "through" finish between my legs has helped a lot. Denise said that we're allowed to use it in the ring for small dogs, since we don't have to move our feet to do it and the dog isn't interfering with our performance. That would be great, although he also does a beautiful left finish.

Overall, Denise and I were both happy to see his excitement about working with me and doing the exercises, and his knowledge of the skills. We have a lot of work ahead of us in terms of distraction training, but Denise sees no problems with taking away the food and toy rewards when we go into the ring, since he loves to wrestle-play and I can use various tricks to keep him engaged and as a reward. Tiny Dog is my first obedience dog, so I am always amazed when we're able to pull this stuff off!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Restarting the teeter

Dragon's teeter training was going well a few months back. He would run across the teeter any time we were walking next to it on the field. But at some point something went wrong. He started slowing down at the pivot point here and there. Each time I was able to re-energize him and get him to drive to the target at the end, but finallly last time I raised the teeter, he slowed almost to a stop as he hit the pivot point, and I knew that I needed to retrain the teeter rather than trying to work through this.

It's disheartening, when you've put so much work into something, to see it fall apart. I have done a lot of foundation work for this. Tiny Dog will happily walk around on a very high wobble board, even when I'm forcefully bouncing him up and down, throwing him into the air. He will close cabinet doors and knock things over (though he's still rather sensitive about the noise). He will jump onto the end of the teeter when it's 12 inches in the air, about the limit of how high he can jump and twist to get onto it. But still something went wrong.

I believe that the hardest part about the teeter for him is the unpredictability. Perhaps every time I thought that he was doing well and raised the height, it actually undermined his confidence in the obstacle. I think that I initially did well with raising it in teeny tiny increments, but as it got higher I started lumping, since it was harder to judge the height and I thought he would "be fine".

Wendy, our current instructor, suggested a technique that she used on her papillon, as well as other dog. She gets the dog running across toward a toy or handful of treats, and uses that reward to "drag" the dog across the pivot point, and off the teeter onto a table at the end. The idea is that the dog is so excited about the reward and chasing it down that they don't even really notice the tip. (The teeter is lowered at first and gradually raised, of course.) I tried this with Dragon but it was not the right technique. He doesn't drive hard toward toys or even favorite treats that way. He actually became more nervous about the tip because it would now catch him off guard. After two sessions I could see that this wouldn't work for us.

This morning we went to the field for our own practice time, and ran into Susanne, our previous instructor, with whom I connect very well. She commented that Wendy's technique wouldn't work well for a nervous dog, because of what I'd seen and because the table causes them to be in close proximity to the teeter moving back up again. We brain-stormed other things I could try. One variation on the "bang game" that I really liked was doing it as a restrained recall, with the dog jumping onto the end of the teeter (sideways) to get treats held there by a helper. We're going to try that with the teeter lowered all the way again. I'm going to go back to my foot target or teach a nose target to a piece of tape sticking up an inch above the end of the teeter, and slooowly work height in again. We'll also play around with holding the high end of the full-height teeter up and having him drive up it without any tip. We did that a few times in the past and he was running up without any problem. It reminds me of Silvia Trkman's technique, in which she holds the end of the teeter and slowly lowers it for the dog, over time increasing the speed. If I were very careful and consistent that might be something that would work for Dragon, since it would add in that predictability he craves. I will keep it in mind.

It's inevitable to have setbacks here and there, and I knew from the beginning that this would be Dragon's most difficult obstacle. We will figure it out. There's no rush.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

2x2 weaves sessions 4-7

Session 4 (local park):
Dragon nailed the entrance every time when we reviewed 1-6 o'clock on my left side. On my right side at 6 o'clock he did fine, but as I started to etch toward 7 he again faltered but recovered. Then I realized that I'd been practicing only sends, and had not been adding in my movement. I did that, and he fell apart. Was watching me instead of where he was going and ran to the right side of both poles. Had to end the session early because he got distracted by a bug in the grass and decided to stalk it and pounce on it instead of bringing his ball back. Next session will maybe start with distracting movement from me during easy entrances.

Session 5 (agility field):
Just some review in between other exercises. He hit 7 o'clock on my right side almost every time. At 1 and 2 o'clock he initially was shooting ahead toward another jump, going over it, and then wrapping right for the ball. After I did more practice on the other side of the clock he seemed to remember the reward line and started to wrap after going through the poles. He has trouble collecting, though. Something for us to work on separately.

Session 6 (classroom at work):
Started with review. Used a food toy instead of his usual ball so that I could throw it with better aim and have it land closer to the right-hand pole. This way I could encourage him to wrap closer to the pole when sending between 1 and 3 o'clock. It worked well. Then I moved toward the other side of the clock, 6-7. Here he was mostly getting the right entry but he started to stop between the poles and look at me, waiting for me throw the toy. I think that he was scared of me hitting him with it -- it's not really an issue with the ball because of his inherent drive to chase it as fast as possible. (I like having a crazy ball dog!) I added motion and ran along with him to speed him up. It did get him to run instead of stopping but he started missing the entry unless I did an obvious hand signal of when he should move out and in, which defeats the whole purpose of shaping 2x2s. Played around with larger distance and slower speed to allow him more time to focus on the poles and think, and his entry improved. Stopped there.

Session 7 (classroom at work):
Same day as the last session, after my shift at work was over. Used his ball this time and he was fast as usual. He seemed to wrap the right pole better, as I'd hoped. I think I'll set that issue aside until I add the second set of poles and am lining them up, as then he'll have to figure out how to do it on his own. Did both stationary sends and running with him. Worked mostly on 6-7 o'clock again, on my right side, interspersed with easy entries (2-5 o'clock on my left side). Realized I needed to start him farther away from the poles to give him more time to think and adjust his entry. After that he nailed it almost every time. I suppose in a separate session I should work from a very close distance as well, but then I have to be very careful to angle my body and the send properly or he'll fail.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

More handmade collars!

Apparently you can never have too many!



Yellow butterflies, because he's a papillon!

Green squares.

Brown swirls. This is my favorite one of this batch.

Orange zig-zag-y pattern.

Blue/purple leaves. He has a lot of nature-themed ones.

Brown crooked checkerboard. Brown looks quite good on him.

This will be it for a while. I feel like I've finally saturated the collar-making urge.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Agility on our own

On Tuesday morning I got up a bit early and drove to the agility field to practice on our own. We are more than ready to be using training the equipment and working sequences on our own. I expected to only practice for 30 minutes or so, but before I knew it, 45 had gone by, and Dragon was eager to keep going, so we stayed for an entire hour (with breaks to rest).

My running contact training had been making me uneasy for a while, and I couldn't pinpoint why. I finally realized that it was because I hadn't taught Dragon a clear criteria for his contacts, I just... hoped he would do it? I'd been thinking about the clear criteria he has for the teeter (stopped contact), weave poles, etc, and realized that my running contact training was not "clean" and precise. Our set-up at home with the plank on the stairs didn't allow me to do that very well. However he was confident enough now at driving up and down planks that he was ready to practice on the real equipment. (Sure, ideally I'd get better contact behavior before practicing on real equipment, but we don't train in an ideal world.)

I had to practice watching Dragon run down the end of the dog walk and a-frame, and then practice timing my clicks properly, before I could effectively communicate what I wanted to him. However by the end I was able to click as he was doing a real run, and withhold any time there was any jumping, even very small. I didn't have him do the whole obstacles, just run down from a few feet up, and I still used the PVC square about two feet past the end of the contact to give him something to drive toward. I think that if I keep this up for a while, he will figure out the criteria, and then we'll be good.

After we finished practicing the a-frame and dog walk, he kept running up them every time we were within 10 feet of the obstacles.

We also practiced the teeter and I raised it up again after a warm-up. Every time I raise it I have to baby him and use a hand target and happy voice to get him to run all the way out to his target instead of stopping midway through. Otherwise looking good, though.

Jumps and sequences:
He was introduced to a triple jump at 12", and sailed over it every time, even when I accidentally cued him to take it backwards.

I worked a lot on doing big pinwheels. Had trouble pointing him out to the middle jump properly instead of turning my feet too quickly toward the third jump.

Did longer sequences of pinwheels, front crosses, and rear crosses, and it was so useful to be able to play around with this without the pressure of a class setting. I was able to figure out myself what went wrong when: my acceleration to get into position made him accelerate and then sail past me to take the triple the wrong way; my feet were pointing in the wrong direction and he took the wrong jump; I tried to rear cross before he was truly driving and committed and he ran to the side of the jump because he thought that I would crash into him. But we also did a lot right!! It was cool to see him responding to exactly what my body was telling him, even when I accidentally "told" him the wrong thing.

The last thing we did was the second 2x2 weave pole session mentioned in the last post.

I plan to practice on our own (or with one or two other students) on the equipment a few times a month. I can see that it will make a huge difference in our skill level.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

2x2 weave poles sessions 1-3

I have not yet watched Susan Garrett's 2x2 DVD, but my friend Elissa lent me her set of 3 2x2 poles, and I HAD to get started training right away. I figured it out as I went along.

I've been using Tiny Dog's rubber ball as a reward, as it's his #1 toy, it's easy to throw, and the "fetch" format meshes well with teaching the dog to run out over and over and over.

Day 1:
Had Dragon on my left side. Started with just throwing the ball for going straight between the poles, at 6 o'clock. He figured that out very quickly thanks to jump training and running through PVC square that I made to keep him from jumping contacts. I started to move to the left (toward 5 o'clock). I did this faster than I should have -- I should have built more of a reinforcement history for easy entrances at 2-4 first -- but he mostly managed to figure it out. I figured out quickly that I should throw the ball to the right, making him exit the poles in the direction that he would have gone to continue weaving a full set.

Day 2:
Worked Dragon on my left again, and moved to the right, toward 1 o'clock. Again threw the ball to 12 o'clock, so he was wrapping around the right pole as if to continue weaving. This was easier for him than working the 5 o'clock entrance, since he has a strong history of running out, wrapping around a standing object, and returning toward me.

Day 3:
Started off with Dragon on the left, reviewed 1 through 5 o'clock (no problems!), then moved toward 6 o'clock. After a few mistakes he figured it out and nailed it every time. It was super cool to see him bounce to the right, left, right to go through the poles and chase the ball!

Then I switched him to my right side and worked 6 o'clock again, edging toward 7. This was difficult for him. However I'm assuming that latent learning will fix that up next lesson, just as it did for the left side.

Now I will actually watch the 2x2 DVD, as I'm sure it will make my training more efficient than figuring it out on my own!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Another obedience lesson with Denise Fenzi

We had a wonderful lesson last week. As always, I was proud to show off our progress, and happy to get pointers on where to go from here. Dragon was SO focused and enthusiastic. Denise commented on it many times and it felt great to work with such an eager partner. Of course, we have lots of work ahead of us to get that same focus and enthusiasm in high-distraction settings like trials!

Dragon does fairly nice fronts but he doesn't have a lot of enthusiasm, and I asked Denise for advice on creating it. She suggested that I teach him to go through my legs, turn around, and come up into heel position. This would encourage him to come in straight and close (anticipating going through the legs), break up the monotony, and create more movement and therefore fun with fronts. I've been trying it out already and Dragon thinks it's a fun trick. Score!

The other thing that I really needed her advice on was leather articles. Dragon can do metal canning rings, plastic medicine bottles, and plastic pens with consistent, nearly 100% accuracy. Yet with the leather rings, he kept guessing and bringing back random ones. Denise had us warm up with the metal rings, warm him up with a single, well-scented leather ring, and then put down one more decoy leather ring. She had us work in the corner so that I was hiding what I was doing with my body, to make him more interested. She also had me treat once in front for Dragon retrieving the correct ring, and then toss a treat away for him to chase while I reset the rings. This worked well and after some incorrect guesses Dragon suddenly started to sniff them out properly.

We repeated it at home, and after some initial frustration and confusion again, Dragon seemed to sort it out. I think I'm finally "explaining" the exercise properly to him. I'm not sure how he got mixed up with it in the first place, considering how quickly he caught on to metal and two types of plastic!

We got to show off our amazing stand for exam. I'd expected this exercise to be extremely difficult for Tiny Dog, because he gets easily initimidated by people leaning over him and reaching for him. However we progressed slowly with the foundation (again provided by Denise) and have been practicing a LOT, and he performed perfectly for her! Now to continue practicing in new environments, and with lots of men, with whom he's more shy.

The rest of the exercises to work on were suggested by Denise. Of course she had us demonstrate our heeling, and Dragon was on fire (pun intended). I hope and pray that we will someday be able to have enthusiasm like that in the ring. I didn't talk to him very much, as she pointed out during our last lesson that I talked too much and he didn't needed it. But I did give him a particular smile with my lips parted a bit, which I've been conditioning as part of a keep going signal or trigger. I give him the smile and blow air between the apex of my tongue and my hard palate, making a soft "hhiiii" noise. He already perks up when he hears it and/or sees the smile. At this point it is always followed shortly by a treat or play, but eventually it will be able to bridge longer stretches of work.

Denise set up ring gates with a break in the middle to mimic the ring entrance. She instructed me to warm Dragon up, heel into the ring, and party. I used his rubber ball for this, his #1 reward. He quickly started to pattern and forge in anticipation of the ball being thrown forward. When he forged I would slow down and rotate my left shoulder backwards, and he would hop back into position. When he was more in control of his pace, we extended the pattern so that we heeled a few extra steps before tossing the ball. One of our homework assignments is to work with ring gates or appropriate stand-ins and continue the conditioning of "passing through a gate = focused work = party!!"

We practiced the go out and jumps for the first time. Since Tiny Dog drives into his crate very well, we set it up past the jumps and I sent him to it. Then I would give him a huge signal (actually whole body movement) at one jump or the other. Since he already has high value for taking jumps on cue thanks to agility, he quickly figured out what I wanted. For homework I will teach him to target a post, stick, or similar, possibly with the help of blue painter's tape, and then turn around and sit. I've also already done a session of sending him to his sit platform and then taking a jump on cue.

We discussed my use of a non-reward marker for Dragon's loss of focus during known work (not when learning something new). I saw a quick improvement over his focus when I started using it. I think that Denise was spot-on: he did not understand that keeping attention on me and ignoring distractions was a criteria. Now he will look away if he is nervous or there is a big distraction, but he's able to ignore the little things and doesn't stop to look around as much. I'm sure that this was a big part of why he was much more focused during this lesson compared to last time. Of course I am always watching his body language to assess whether the NRM is stressing him out or simply providing useful information.

That was a lot to get done in 30 minutes! We scheduled another lesson a month away.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Tiny Dog has graduated -- he is now allowed to sleep outside of his crate at night. He loves sharing the bed with me. No matter how excited and zooming around he is, the moment he hops up on the bed, he sinks into the comforter and zones out.

Sometimes he still puts himself to bed in his crate before I turn in the for night, and then he usually stays there. That also makes me happy, as it means that he's quite comfortable in it.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Nosework birch ORT

This morning we got up ridiculously early and drove an hour to take an Odor Recognition Test (ORT) for the sport of K9 Nosework. The test is made to be simple and easy to pass: there were twelve boxes set out in two rows, and the dog has three minutes to indicate which box contains the planted odor, and the handler has to correctly identify when their dog has indicated the odor and call "Alert!" The purpose of the ORT is just to certify that your dog has, in fact, been trained to find the odor in question in a new, exciting location. There are three odors which are used in this sport: birch, anise, and clove, in the form of essential oils on q-tips. The first level of competition uses only birch, and that's what Dragon and I tested for today.

There were two sets of five warm-up boxes in the parking lot, for which I was extremely thankful. When Dragon and I made our first pass, he did not indicate AT ALL on the box which was marked as containing the odor. Boy, did that stress me out. But I waited until he passed by it again and rewarded him handsomely with boiled chicken. On the next pass he paused a bit at that box. On the third try he didn't indicate clearly but was more interested in it and wagging his tail a bit. We stopped there and rested in the car.

Nosework ORT

After about an hour we were called "on deck" and had a chance at the second set of boxes. This time Dragon was ready to work. I used one of our "triggers" to get him excited about working: I wrapped my arm over his body as he stood next to me, hand flat against his chest, waited for him to look forward, then let go and ran with him. I cued "searching!" and he locked onto the boxes and found the odor right away. Good boy!

When we entered the building for the actual test, he was a bit distracted but ready to sniff out the birch oil. I got him ready with the trigger again. He slowed down and gave an extra sniff at one of the boxes, and I wondered if that might be the correct one, but wasn't ready to call it yet. He continued on but I noticed that he was also sniffing the floor around that box more than the rest of the area. We started down the other row of boxes and then he switched rows and went for the same box again, stopping to give a quick lick to the floor along the way. He reached the box and sniffed at the opening of the lid with his tail raised up (showing increased interest/excitement). At that point I was sure and called "Alert!" The judge confirmed that we were correct. The search took 57 seconds.

Dragon and I are now cleared to enter K9 Nosework trials at Level I. We are not ready though, as we have more training to do in new indoor and outdoor locations and especially on vehicles. Time to step up our game!

Birthday boy! and agility and tricks

So much going on, that I haven't had time to update!! Last Sunday was Cinnamon Snapdragon's second birthday! A few of his friends came over and we went on a two mile hike.

birthday hike

birthday hike

birthday hike

Afterwards we made BLT sandwiches and Dragon got two pieces of fried bacon to celebrate his two years. We napped for an hour and then went to visit more friends, where he is being slowly introduced to their new kitten. He was on a tie-down in the living room with his mat and a bully stick. He settled down nicely and the kitten ended up approaching to within a foot of him that day. He thought that it was a wonderful birthday!

Agility update: The mini-teeter has finished serving its primary purpose, to build his confidence with the movement and banging noises. I introduced movement and height very slowly (after first spending months training with a wobble board) and used high value reinforcement (boiled chicken and rubber balls). It has gone so well that now he has teeter-suck instead of the more common tunnel-suck. Earlier this week I raised the pivot point to about six inches. Next session, he zoomed over the teeter so quickly that he skidded down the contact instead of stopping at the target, and then took another three tries to recover and run it comfortably again. So I will lower it back down to four inches and just use it to practice running a teeter in sequences. We will continue our careful, diligent practice with the real teeter at the agility field.

On the other hand I brought out the mini-dog walk and put the PVC "hoop" right at the bottom and we were able to practice our running contacts. I think that I wasn't careful enough when initially teaching them and that's why he ended up jumping the contact zone in class a few weeks ago. It's extremely difficult for me to click/reward only when he's running and not when he does a little jump because it's so fast. Also I'm limited in the locations available to practice running across a raised plank, and don't have anywhere where he would get full speed like in class. So the running contact failure so far isn't a problem with the method per se (get him to run across it and slowly raise the board, rewarding only running), but rather with my application of it. However I'm a big believer in developing muscle memory and I'm hoping that the hoop will be a huge help.

Speaking of methods not working, I tried using the "go and throw" method of teaching the dog to run forward as fast as he can, but it doesn't work for Dragon because he's scared of the toy hitting him and runs out in a curve like a border collie. Oh well.

Recent tricks we've been working on: weaving backwards through my legs, coming to front from a distance, verbal discriminations with my body turned sideways so he can't cue off subtle body language, and moving from my side to circle around a big inflated ball and stop directly on the other side (for treiball, but I'm teaching it just for fun here and there). On the last one I again have to watch my body language -- if I hold my arm out for too long as I'm signaling him to head out, he will circle too far around. If I lower my arm back down after he's committed to circling the ball but before he reaches the center, he generally hits it dead-on.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Body language at the vet's

We had another check-up with the ophthalmologist last week, and I took my camera along to document Dragon's body language.

ophthalmologist visit

It's a real shame that this picture came out blurry, because it's a nice shot of him looking excited but not stressed. His mouth is open in an excited pant, with the tongue resting comfortably within his teeth. His eyes are soft, not completely round. His ears are out and back a little in a relaxed position. His tail is high over his back and the fur is going in different directions because he was wagging it very quickly.

We went into the exam room, and his expression changed to this:

ophthalmologist visit

Wide, round eyes. Mouth open with tongue hanging out and flattened. Some people call this "spatula tongue", and it's a sign of stress. His ears are pull together at the top of his head. His tail is still high but it is no longer wagging fully and loosely.

ophthalmologist visit

On the exam table: more spatula tongue, and round eyes, though less dramatic than before.

ophthalmologist visit

I pulled over a spray bottle for him to check out and get treats for being brave. He's sniffing it, but look at his front legs: he's keeping as much of his body as possible pulled away from the bottle as he stretches his neck forward to sniff. His center of gravity is lowered so that he can move out of danger more quickly. He's suspicious of the bottle.

ophthalmologist visit

After the initial exam: more stress panting, and ears pulled high and back. With all dogs, reading ears, tails, and eyes is a matter of recognizing their baseline and measuring degrees. I can recognize this ear position as meaning that Dragon is stressed, but on another dog that might not be so.

ophthalmologist visit

I asked him to do some tricks to give him something to do and help him be calmer. His pupils have dilated due to the medication he was just given. His ears are now together and forward, on alert. His mouth is tightly shut as he concentrates.

ophthalmologist visit

I also tossed him treats to find, a great calming game.

ophthalmologist visit

He is calming down and now looking at me with a closed mouth and ears up and forward.

We got home and he rolled around in happiness.

after ophthalmologist

after ophthalmologist

Then he shook off, a common way for dogs to relieve tension/stress. He looks like a demon because his pupils are still artificially dilated.

Good news: his eye is healing slowly but nicely. He no longer has blood floating in the back or bottom of his eye, although there's still a bit in the front, just behind the lens. We are weaning him off the last of his medication, and recheck is in three months. What a relief for this ordeal to be ending.

Quick pic

Pt Isabel

Just eatin' some grass.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Handling and nosework

Yesterday I met up with Sarah and her dog Frankie. We've been online acquaintances but had never met in person before. We decided to use each other as decoys in training our dogs. Frankie is reactive toward strangers, so I was the decoy for a couple of BAT sessions. In return, Sarah acted as a mild distraction for Dragon while he was heeling with me. She just walked around and I heeled him closer and farther and rewarded him for looking at me instead of her.

For another excercise I would walk Dragon up to Sarah, put him in a stand-stay, and had her lean down and do a short exam (as for obedience). I would throw his ball forward for him to chase as a reward.

Later I held Dragon in my arms, gave Sarah the treats, and she did some desensitizing to reaching over his head. Hands reaching as he's being carried is a trigger for Tiny Dog and he snaps at the hands to make them go away.

We ended up doing some nosework as well, as Sarah had her kit with her and noted that the clutter-filled loft at Metro Dog was a great space to practice in. I'd never thought of that! Frankie is very advanced and she placed five simultaneous hides for him, using all three odors. It was so cool to watch him work. He got down to business right away, even when the scent carried him closely past me, the scary stranger. Then Sarah kindly did some hides for Tiny Dog and gave me advice. When I first brought him up to the loft and gave the cue "searching", he started zooming around in a circle in excitement. It was hilarious, but she noted that on one of the runs he caught a whiff of the hide, slowed down, and then started running again. We had done an unpaired hide to test his response. She suggested that if we had paired it, he probably would have gotten down to business right away, and that means we should go back to pairing more often. Will do! We did a few more hides paired with food, and he found them reasonably quickly.

Sarah and I agreed that it was rewarding to work with other trainers who have experience with shy/fearful dogs and know BAT, so we didn't have to do any extra explaining to each other. We will work together again!

Agility recap

Another week, another set of agility skills to learn! I enjoy the complexity of the sport, and how smooth and effortless it looks when everything comes together. But boy is it NOT "effortless"!!

We had a sub last week, Dorothy -- she had started off teaching our class last year but after five weeks had to leave due to scheduling conflicts. She started us off with a sequence that she thought we would be able to handle, but it was longer and a bit more complicated than our dogs were ready for. It was just two jumps in a line > u-shaped tunnel > two more jumps in a line > 180 turn and do it again. Nearly all the dogs (including Tiny Dog) were confused by the 180 turn. I think part of the problem was that the second set of jumps pointed us back to our crating/resting area, so the dogs thought they were done. A couple of the dogs were staring at their handlers between the jumps and had trouble going in a straight line. Dragon was okay with accelerating down the line but the end of the tunnel pointed more toward an off-course jump and each time he powered out of the tunnel and no amount of calling got him off of that jump. Glaring gap in our training!

I've done a LOT of rewarding of driving ahead towards toys or food or obstacles. This was needed to build his speed and his confidence working away from me. But now it is time to go back to the basics we need so that Dragon will turn away from obstacles when needed and be able jump collected and wrap back towards me. Currently he will only wrap if I'm stationary next to the jump. We did deceleration drills with the handler slowing down before/next to the jump and he would either still blast past me with a long stride, or he would lose confidence and slow down and take the jump with barely any momentum, looking worried. Fortunately Susan Garrett has been posting a lot of jump drills on PuppyPeaks (a subscription service showing lots of videos of her training her current puppy). I'm placing or tossing toys into the "reward zone" right next to the jump standard to clarify the training for him. I'm also working on adding a verbal cue to help him understand when he's expected to take the jump and wrap.

We did some more rear crosses and he's doing well with them, as if we'd been training them for a while already!

Next up was the dog walk and guess what -- he started jumping right over the contact zone! Running contacts fail. I'm not disappinted, though. It means that he was really driving forward as fast as he could, which makes me happy. I've decided to continue with running contacts, using the "hoop" method. I made a standing square of PVC and am training him to run through it. I will start putting it into sequences to reinforce running through it as fast as possible. Then I will start putting it at the bottom of the dog walk and training plank. The idea is that if you place it just past the down contact, it forces the dog to keep running (rather than jump) to make it through the "hoop" -- it's just tall enough for the dog to run through. Over time, the hoop can be switched to one made of thinner and thinner material to fade its visibility, or the handler can choose to use it regularly in training and it will just be gone in trials. Wish us luck!

Last big agility note is that he's doing great on the class teeter on its lowest setting, and our homemade teeter set about 5-6" off the ground. Time to raise them up a wee bit!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Teaching attention

During our lesson Denise said to me, "You train behaviors, I train ring readiness." That short sentence sent a jolt through me. I haven't been making the effort to get Dragon out and about for practice. I've been focusing on first getting the behaviors solid at home and at the training space at work. However it's past time that we started proofing more! Currently Dragon breaks off to stare at motion by people, animals, or things in the environment, reacts to sounds, and of course loves to sniff new territory.

There are a handful of different methods for training attention among distractions or in new environments. For example, Michelle Pouliot likes to isolate the issue by rewarding eye contact as the dog does a stand-stay on a platform and the handler moves around and/or works toward longer duration. She noted at the seminar we attended that a great way to teach eye contact in various environments is to go to new places and just focus on rewarding eye contact for a couple of minutes. Dragon has had some reward history for isolated eye contact here and there. I decided to try driving to a new but quiet area (just two blocks away, but not along the route we usually walk) and click/treating Dragon for offered eye contact and see what the result was. Surprisingly, the result was that he became frustrated. Sure, the treats for eye contact were nice, but he wanted to either walk and sniff around or to get more engagement from me. I was leaving him mentally stranded by offering no engagement or direction other than C/T and praise for eye contact. The training session was boring and didn't feel good, and listening to that gut instinct is critically imporant. (Not to say that this training method doesn't work, it just isn't a good fit for us at this time.)

I thought of other methods for teaching focus. One is Control Unleashed's "Take a Break" game. I've used this a bit in the past. I do frequently give Dragon breaks to look and sniff around when we're in a distracting area. (Unless we're on the agility field, where I don't allow him to sniff to prevent him from rooting around for treats.) I should return to this more. I like that it encourages the dog to ask to work, rather than relying on the handler to initiate.

Denise also sets up wonderful training sessions in which decoys are present and she turns them into a cue for her dogs to pay more attention to her. I am not so skilled at this, but I have been working on it in the lobby at work. I give Dragon verbal feedback and a high rate of reinforcement for heeling/doing tricks while other people are bringing dogs through, sometimes barking and pulling and jumping. He is improving.

As I thought of these things and practiced with Dragon on the street outside our apartment, I realized that there was also something else holding us back -- Tiny Dog had developed a habit of stopping to look around after eating a treat or breaking off play with me. He did this nearly every time we worked outside our home or the distraction-free training room at work. I hadn't worried about this when I first started training him outdoors. I assumed that after some time, his needing to look around would fade away and the training would be fun enough that he would re-engage right away. Instead, it became in a habit. I realized that I needed to stop him from taking the opportunity to disconnect and check out the environment, and instead do my best to immediately get him moving with me and following my cues again.

I've been focusing on that for the past week, as we trained outside in the dark, at the little park just off our regular walking route, and at Point Isabel on a crowded Saturday morning. At first I had to wave my hand in front of his face and cue touches to get him to look at me while swallowing his treats. Slowly but steadily is response is improving, and with it, I am seeing a greater ability to ignore distractions. I was worried in the beginning that I would be putting too much pressure on him and I watched for signs of stress, but I honestly think his reaction is, "Oh, are we not pausing after each treat anymore? Okay, I can do that."

Of course at the same time I am making sure to keep the sessions fairly short, and mixing together obedience training with lots of tricks. We're doing lots of right-side heeling so that we can work on moving together past distractions without my worrying about getting the footwork or position "just right". We're switching sides, doing leg weaves, spins, meerkat, playbow, backing up, changing positions, and hitting positions out of motion. And we're both having fun!

I would like to plan out a freestyle routine for us soon, and working on that will provide a great foundation for performing obedience as well, since we will need to do long chains of behaviors without primary reinforcers (food, play, petting). Obedience, freestyle, and agility may be very different sports, but my consistent training methods for each mean that any time we are working on one, we are improving our ability to work together as a team for any one of them.

Follow-up on obedience lesson with Denise Fenzi

Here's the initial report on implementing Denise's suggestions when I had a lesson with her a week ago.

The bad news first: we've regressed further with the dumbbell. We put too much pressure on Dragon during the lesson; he can be very sensitive. I tried putting the dumbbell out at a few feet away from me and I thought that he would still be okay with picking it up and I could click/treat for that. He didn't even want to put his mouth on it.

I changed tactics and decided to lighten the mood by holding the dumbbell firmly in my hand and encouraging him to play with me. He was confused but I got him to bat at my hands and push into me while I was holding it in my right hand. When he was more relaxed about the whole thing I tossed the dumbbell out farther and went back to square one: C/T for looking, for moving toward, for putting his head down toward it, for putting his mouth on it. I stopped there because I could see his anxiety increasing again.

My plan is to pull out the liver treats and reteach him the pick-up as if he didn't know it at all, and continue playing games with him while it's nearby. Crossing my fingers that it won't take us long to overcome this setback. Later I'll use a platform in front of me to encourage him to get close in and stay there as I (very, very carefully) take it. And no more practicing on wooden floors!!

In the meantime I'm working on encouraging him to bring other objects very close to me and right into my hands, rather than having to reach for them myself. Seeing quick progress on it with his toys, tennis ball, and leash tab (his first retrieve object).

Moving on, the problem with him getting up from his sits in front or at heel hasn't appeared again other than here and there when he anticipates. It's possible that I will see it again in future situations when I am more nervous. In the meantime I am occassionally extending the amount of time I expect him to told a sit and giving multiple rewards for it. Not worried about it.

Our stand for exam is continuing to improve. I've practiced setting out his tennis ball or a big treat and releasing him from a stand-stay while he's focusing on it. Then I moved on to feeling him up while he stares at it and immediately releasing him to get it. We also did three repetitions of that with my sister, whom he adores and can barely stand still for, and he did well -- the "exam" was only 1 second to keep him successful.

Other things I have decided to work on: I need to reteach the stand cue. Once he's in the stand, he's great, and he recognizes the cue in the way that I do it for agility start line stays. However his response to the stand cues (both verbal and hand signal) in front and at my side in non-agility settings has diminished. No problem, we'll just start again and be more thorough this time.

We've been working on "go and throw", as outlined in the book Agility Right From the Start. It's a simple method: line your dog up, say the word "go", and then throw a toy forward. As your dog starts to anticipate the toy being thrown and starts running ahead, you deliberately start to delay the throw so that your dog is being rewarded for running farther and farther ahead. My tossing abilities are not great, however at the park he ran forward about 10 feet confidently, which is a great foundation. This isn't just for agility -- it can also provide a good foundation for the go out in obedience.

I mentioned recently that Dragon's appetite for Primal raw food was diminished. I switched to putting it into a food tube rather than on a plate, and making a mini training session out of breakfast and dinner. This has been a phenomenal success. Not only is he eating all the raw food, but his enthusiasm for it quickly started to increase! He now comes into the kitchen and stares at me as I prep his meal. I'm even able to use it as a reward outside.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Obedience lesson with Denise Fenzi

Last Wednesday I had a 30 minute lesson with Denise Fenzi, a competion obedience trainer who uses positive methods (a rarity in this sport). We've had a couple of lessons with her before, but nowadays most of my training budget goes to our ongoing agility lessons, so it's been a few months since I last saw her.

As usual we started with heeling, since it's so important in competition. Denise liked his turns (both left and right) and his halts. He over-rotated on the left turns, but that's because he was putting in too much effort, and that's a better problem to have than not enough effort. For the first couple of minutes I didn't use any treats or toys to reward him, I just stopped and wrestled with him -- that's a big improvement in our training since Denise last saw us. His attention was drifting a fair amount, since he wanted to sniff and explore. I blabbed at him too much. I do that when I'm nervous. She had me do some large circles to the right so that I could concentrate on my rhythm and connection to him without worrying about footwork. She cued me to alternate praise, silence, and rewards. He doesn't need me to talk to him as much as I do when I'm nervous. Instead he needs me to praise him for making an effort to focus on the work.

We talked about working around distractions or in new environments. Denise noticed that I would call him back to me when he ran off and resume work. She commented that it seemed he had no idea that running off was "wrong". She suggested I use a clear no reward marker to communicate that he shouldn't run off to greet the neighbors or check out a smell. If I have to use it more than a handful of times, then it's not effective and I need to try a different tactic. I don't use NRMs often but I think she's right that this would be the right situation for it.

I had his crate set up and I would cue him to go in when we would stop to talk. If I didn't, he would immediately wander off to explore. He needs a clear structure of "down time in crate" versus "engaged work time". No grey area in which I expect him to just hang out with me while I pet him. 

We practiced fronts and the recall next. Last time I saw her, we were just laying a foundation for fronts, using my hands to guide him to sit straight and then tossing a treat between my legs for him to chase. After that we went through a phase in which he would put his front paws on my feet and/or sit pretty. I fixed this by feeding him low to keep his body lowered toward the ground, and I didn't reward the times that he put his feet on my feet. We also spent a lot of time with me pivoting in place and rewarding him for adjusting to be straight again. His fronts are looking much better in terms of the angle. Oddly, he kept standing up from the sit every time I rewarded him at Denise's, something he never does at home. It must have been because he was nervous and/or I was moving a bit differently out of nerves. Denise suggested I feed him from up high again, as it looked to her like I was cuing a stand. Also if he stood up, I would pull the treat away, and he caught on quickly to that part.

We moved on to the dumbbell. Dragon had been doing very well with this, however shortly before our lesson he had dropped the dumbbell onto the wooden floor at my parents' house, and the sound traumatized him. He associated it with coming close to me and my reaching my hand to take the dumbbell from him. The result was that during our lesson he would pick it up when I tossed it, but he didn't want to bring it in close, and he refused to take it into his mouth when I held it out for him. Denise was coaching me to hold my hands close to my body to encourage him to come in, rather than reaching my hands toward him, but each time he felt the dumbbell's weight shift as I took it he would jump back with a scared look. This was very disappointing to me. I had known that he hated the noise and motion of dropping things, but thus far I'd managed to avoid that happening with the dumbbell by carefully reaching and taking it from him. Despite all the time we'd already spent on the dumbbell, the one time he dropped it on a wooden floor outweighed the positive history.

Denise tried to help him work through his fear by kneeling down and placing the dumbbell  close to her body and giving him lots of happy talk and encouragement to lean in and pick it up. He was extremely conflicted. He circled her, darting his head forward and back, he rubbed against my legs and climbed on me for support, and a few times he did mouth the dumbbell but did not pick it up fully. We gave up with that exercise.

The last exercise we did was the stand for exam, which went better than expected. I'd been practicing here and there with my coworkers, but mostly we focused on the "person approaching while dog holds a stay" rather than the actual exam. We did just a few reps with Denise approaching and then she was able to give him a light pat down while he held his stand-stay. Good dog! She recommended that I work on this by myself as well. We want him to be focusing his attention on something else besides the person touching him. Usually that "something else" is me standing just a little distance away. If I'm by myself, I can set a treat on the ground for him to focus on while I play judge.

The next lesson will be in a few weeks. I'm about to also post a follow-up of how our next handful of training sessions at home went.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Agility class recap

Due to many rainy days and Dragon being ill for almost a week, we haven't been practicing agility at home for about three weeks! Of course, there's some stuff that can be worked on in the home (such as jump wraps and the table), but when we're stuck inside I tend to practice tricks and obedience. It's been good to get to the agility field and practice on equipment again. Suzanne was subbing for Wendy this week.

We did a lot of jumping. We worked on adding lateral distance and reinforcing looking ahead at the equipment. Last week we had done rear crosses for the first time while moving (as opposed to stationary foundation, in which the dog does a sit-stay and you practice switching sides and rewarding their head turning). We had done a tunnel > rear cross > jump exercise. I was pleasantly surprised that Dragon did it perfectly! This week we did a send from a stay to a jump, rear crossing as the dog took off. Dragon was again 100% when crossing from right to left, and about 80% the other way. Then we did a send to tunnel with a rear cross, turning toward a jump. The first time I ran alongside the tunnel too far and pushed him to make a very wide turn and miss the jump. Next time I stopped at the plane of the jump and just rotated my body as he exited the tunnel and he got it. It was so exciting to see all this handling stuff coming together!

We did another Susan Salo basic jump grid, five jumps placed 4' apart for Tiny Dog. He now does an adorable bunny hop all the way through the jumps.

Our only contact practice this week was on the dog walk. Suzanne asked if we were ready for the full height dog walk, since it was almost the end of class and it hadn't gotten lowered. I wasn't sure about it but agreed to try it and get a measure of how he handled it. We went across three times, and halfway through each run I would toss his ball forward to keep his momentum up. He did slow down each time at the top of the down ramp, but it wasn't a big speed difference, and less so each time. (Again, this is one of the reasons that I felt running contacts would be a good choice for him; he's always quite careful when climbing down stuff and is unlikely to throw himself over the down contact.)

At this point we had played and jumped and run a LOT. I used about 75% wrestling or tugging as a reward and only 25% was food, mostly to reward walking by my side or start line stays. He was much more worn out than when I used to just give food. I was quite happy with his fierce biting of my hands and pulling on tug toys.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Always food woes

Clearly the Prednisone has completely exited Dragon's system, as he is back to keeping himself lean and turning his nose up at his raw food (currently half his caloric intake). After this bag is finished, I'll probably go back to feeding him entirely with ZiwiPeak and Real Meat, two dehydrated foods that are not as processed as kibble and contain high quality ingredients. To all the people who are amazed at the amount of training I do with him every single day: the biggest reason for that is that it's the only way to reliably get him to eat! Actually, that reminds me to try putting his raw into a squeeze tube next, then using it during training.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Weekly multi-sport recap

Dragon's bowels are normal again and he's back on his regular food. I still don't know what caused his illness last week but no more need to worry.

On Saturday morning we graduated from our Intro to Odor class. Dragon was introduced to odor early last year by his Auntie Miki, and at this point he's doing mostly unpaired hides. He was able to get some tougher hiding spots than the other students. He loves searching and during our first couple of runs each week he would just prance around the room in excitement before getting serious.

On Wednesday we went to a conformation drop-in, just for fun. The other attendants were experienced while I didn't really know what to do, and Dragon has never been taught to gait or stack like a show dog. However it was an opportunity to practice our own training among other dogs and people and lots of food on the floor. I kept up a high rate of reinforcement for walking at my side, doing stand-stays, and getting brief exams from the instructor. The instructor was supportive of me using the class to practice obedience stuff like heeling and the stand for exam, so I plan to drop in here and there.

Speaking of heeling, we have a 30 minute session scheduled with Denise Fenzi next week! Super excited; I haven't seen her in months due to my training budget going toward agility classes.

Today's agility lesson included our first rear cross work on obstacles. The sequence was a straight tunnel and then rear cross as the dog takes a jump. Somehow Dragon did this beautifully, turning confidently in the right direction, even though we'd never done it before! We also did front crosses with 2-3 jumps. I do much better if I practice without my dog first.

I used a relatively small amount of treats during class and mostly rewarded the sequences with tugging. Dragon was on fire and really eager to tug and wrestle. The instructor gave me some guidance with the tugging and a couple of times I was able to do two things I'd only dreamed of: just holding onto the toy and shaking it minimally while my dog happily tugged on his own, and using the tug as a transport back to our starting point (though I had to move slowly and stop here and there to let him dig in and tug). I was grinning like a fool.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sick puppy

Dragon's been constipated and then having diarrhea on and off for a couple of days. Today he turned up his nose at both of his regular foods, though he did eat some small treats. He threw up bile and mucus (fortunately that happened in the bathtub while I was washing his butt off). We skipped agility class and he slept most of the day. In the evening I made him a most delicious dinner of brown rice and boiled chicken.


His brother would have stolen it if I hadn't been there to intervene.



I hope this illness passes soon.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

2 more collars

Just can't stop! It's too much fun!

Fun little collar.


My new favorite!

The angle here isn't the best because Tiny Dog was sleepy and didn't want to leave his bed.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Agility class recap

So happy with how class went today. Dragon has finally been off the prednisone for a week now. His food drive is still good, but his play drive has increased as the steroids have been reduced. It was so easy to get him to wrestle and tug during class, and that kept things upbeat and exciting. He is happy to run to his crate whenever he's cued, but otherwise he wants to keep working and playing.

He does have a wee bit too much obstacle focus. He ran off a few times to take a tunnel and to the (lowered) teeter. It was very cute when he ran away from me to get on and tip the teeter. He stood on the edge and looked at me with a smiling face. I called him back and instead of jumping off, he ran back across the teeter and tipped it again.

When we were actually practicing the teeter he would slow down a couple of feet from the end, wait for it to tip, and then proceed to his target. Uh oh!! I started standing by the end, holding my hand out, and cuing him to do a hand touch. Then he would move all the way to the end.

I did some deceleration drills to get him paying attention to me again and not just running forward toward random obstacles, and that fixed up the issue.

We practiced front crosses with two jumps, open channel weaves (again with the x-pen), and contacts. On the dog walk I wanted more speed from him and so I put his crate on the down side and cued him to run into it ("naptime!"). It definitely helped! In fact, the first time he ran into his crate so fast that he smashed into the back side. I had one of other students record us and you can see the crate bounce up a bit as he hits it. The second time he definitely put on speed when I gave the cue halfway across, but once down he ran around his crate instead of into it. Who can blame him? Perhaps next time we can put a short, straight tunnel there instead.

Dog walk video:

It's hard to see since both times I'm directly in front of he camera, but he DOES speed up when he hears the cue.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Photo tutorial: making cotton collars

This is for a non-adjustable one, since Dragon is full grown and I know exactly what length of collar he needs. Once you understand these instructions, it's easy to make one that's adjustable; you just need some extra hardware.

His collars are made by sewing cotton fabric around a cotton strap. This is NOT as durable as sturdy ribbon sewn onto a nylon strap, and is also more complicated to make. However I like it because of the nearly endless range of color and pattern options on cotton prints, and Tiny Dog is not very hard on his clothes.

Sorry that some of the pictures are a wee bit blurry!

What you'll need:
Wonder tape (two-sided sticky fabric "tape" that can be sewn through without gunking up your needle), measuring tape, plastic or metal snap buckle (1 inch used here), seam rippers (probably), thread to complement or nicely contract your fabic, 1 inch cotton strap (I like to use white because cotton fabric is slightly porous and this keeps the colors nice and bright), D-ring (1 inch), big honkin' needle, cotton fabric (I suggest buying pre-cut quilting squares so you don't have to stand in line for the cutting table to get a tiny amount of fabric), and fabric scissors. Not pictured: a few pins, and a sewing machine.

I bought the D-rings at my local fabric store. They also had the buckles (called "parachute buckles") but they only had ugly ones and not in fun colors. I recommend ordering buckles from Creative Designworks. This amazing site is just for people who want to make their own collars and leashes, and they also have rings and snap hooks of all different sizes and colors, chain martingale loops, colored nylon straps, slides for making adjustable collars, and more.

A word of warning about the plastic buckles: they are VERY loud when they snap shut. Dragon always gets a treat when I buckle or unbuckle them, and so he comes running over when he sees me pull out a collar. A more sensitive dog might be frightened by it.

Step 1: Put on some good music. I recommend Cher.

2. Measure your dog's neck. Or if he's making frightened faces at you...

2b. Measure the length of a collar that's already fitted to him. Here the buckles are the same size, so I can just measure the length between them (10 inches). If you're using different sized buckles, you'll have to do some maths.

3. Cut a length of cotton strap that is the collar length (10 inches) plus about 5 inches extra. Add more extra if you want the D-ring to be far away from the buckle. I cut just 14 inches because I've made a bunch of collars for Dragon already and I'm positive that it will be the right length.

4. Lay out the back side of your cotton print and cut out a rectangular piece that is:
(a) about three times the width of your cotton strap (3 inches), and
(b) the length of your cotton strap plus 2 inches (16 inches total)

5. Lay the strap over the fabric rectangle and place a strip of wonder tape going all the way across the top edge of the strap. Peel off the backing of the wonder tape.

6. Fold the top edge of the fabric onto the wonder tape and press down. You'll want to also use two very small pieces of tape to secure the fabric on either end of the strap.

7. Another strip of wonder tape along the bottom edge of the strap.

8. Fold the bottom part of the fabric over the strap. There will be a bunch of extra sticking out over the top. Make sure that you pull it evenly as you're pressing it down over the wonder tape. The side of the strap/fabric combo that's down on the table will be the outside of the collar.

9. Cotton fabrics hold onto creases well. That's a downside if you didn't take your clothes out of the dryer quickly enough, but an upside for this project. Take the extra fabric that's sticking out over the top and fold it underneath, so that the fraying edge is hidden. Press down with your fingers to create a crease.

10. You can see the crease here. Pull it up enough to put yet another strip of wonder tape underneath, and then you'll press your folded fabric over the tape. We need this much wonder tape in order to keep the fabric secured in place. Otherwise it'd get stretched this way and that and you'd end up with something crooked or bunched going through the machine.

11. This is what your collar now looks like. The cotton strap is completely covered, and two of the fraying edges of the fabric are hidden/protected.

12. Time to get the last two edges. Put a piece of wonder tape right before where the cotton strap ends. Take the inch of fabric sticking out past the edge and fold it in inwards.

13. Roll it forward and secure on the tape. Do the same to the other side.

14. Now we have a no-sew collar! But it will start to come apart if you don't quickly sew it down, so let's get to the next step!

15. Start sewing along one of the folded over edges.

16. When you get to the corner, pivot the collar so you're sewing toward the very end. Pivot again along the very edge of the collar. Then pivot, sew down the length of the collar, and do the same spiral to secure the other end.

17. It should look like this: every fold is secured, with a minimal amount of sewing. That makes it more pretty.

18. Pull the thread through to the underside of the collar. Tie the two ends together.

19. Thread both pieces through your large needle, and pull the needle between the fabric and the strap.

20. Pull the thread taut and snip it right where it comes out of the fabric.

21. My camera did a great macro zoom on the wrong part of the collar. Anyway, the above technique completely hides the knot and thread ends, and protects them from wear. That's a pro tip, right there.

22. Oh look, it's coming together! Pull your collar through the D-ring and strap pieces. If you're picky like me, decide which way the collar should orient and which side you want the D-ring to be on before you sew anything down. I want the seam on the collar to be on the bottom so it's less visible, and the D-ring to be on Dragon's right side so that when he's heeling the leash clip doesn't hit against the buckle.

23. Adjust the length and pin everything in place. Here you can see that if you want the D-ring to be secured farther away from the buckle, you need extra length. I don't do that because it makes the collar bulkier and less soft and pliable where there are two layers.

24. If you have a very calm dog who will hold still, you can double check the fit at this point. Don't poke him with the pins.

25. Sew the layers together.

26. Almost done! Tie off the threads using the same method shown above.

27. Ta-da! You have a complete custom collar!

28. Put it on the dog and take lots of pictures.

I am aware that the 1 inch buckle is kind of huge on Tiny Dog. I wanted a wide collar that would be easy to get ahold of for attaching and unattaching the leash during competition. It's fitted quite loosely on his neck so that he can still bend his head and neck downwards..

The plan had been to make him "a" show collar, since his regular collar is teeny tiny and buried underneath his neck fur. But then I couldn't choose between all the awesome fabrics...

I bought tiny leash clips and made 2 matching, lightweight, 4 foot show leads.

And one more ultra-thin, ultra-light, 4 foot show lead.

I hope you find this tutorial helpful! If you decide to make any collars, please post photos! And feel free to link to this post if you're inclined to share it.