Monday, April 23, 2012

Little Fox Goes Home

Yesterday Little Fox got adopted by Shelley and Warren, a very nice couple out in Plymouth Meeting. Her new name is Simba. She'll be going on to the best possible home for this gentle little pup: a quiet, low-key place that is nevertheless social, with frequent visits from grandchildren.

Here she is in the puppy bucket on the way to the adoption event:

And here she is leaving with her new family:

I think she'll do very well.

And now that she's moved on to the next chapter of her life, here's a retrospective of some of my favorite clips from her time here.

A visual demonstration of the Melon Collies' disparate personalities, courtesy of Flea:

Indy getting her head stuck in the morning's Puppy Distraction Box (a popcorn box filled with kibble wadded inside TP tubes and brown paper bags, which I throw into the puppy pen to buy myself a little more time to sleep in past 4 am every morning), while her sister looks on in woeful confusion:

The Melon Collies trying to play with a towel I'd hung up to dry on the deck, and Crookytail intervening to stop them because that is Not A Toy and playing with it is Against the Rules:

And, finally, Crookytail playing with the puppies on a balmy April evening, while Pongu ignores the lot of them because puppysitting isn't his job:

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Melon Collie Pups

Last Friday, after an hourlong delay spent enjoying a fantastic parking lot in Northeast Philadelphia (right near prison row, actually, which might explain why that particular parking lot was so jam-packed busy even though every store on its row was already closed...), we picked up our two new foster pups and brought them home.

Indy is the cream-colored one with the subtle white streak on her throat. Little Fox is the one who looks like a little fox. They are collie/German Shepherd mix puppies and are currently 10 weeks old. Little Fox definitely takes after her collie side; Indy is more ambiguously muttly.

These two puppies, along with their mother and a third sister, were dumped at Columbus County Animal Control in North Carolina by their owner, who couldn't be bothered to get the mother dog fixed or to care for any of them once she had babies. Luckily (if at the very last second), all four were saved. I pulled the Melon Collie pups, their sister got adopted locally, and the mother went to another rescue.

After some initial manic jumping and mouthing (which briefly caused me to question my sanity in taking on yet another pair of puppies, but turned out to just be pent-up energy and stress after the transport), the Melon Collie pups quickly settled in. Crookytail helped a lot with that, as he always does. Pongu opted to ignore the puppies (and/or yell at them for bothering him), as he always does.

Crookytail might not be the quickest learner of tricks or Rally moves, but he is the greatest dog on the planet at playing with puppies. He loves them so much.

Pongu, on the other hand... well...

...he's a nerd, and in true nerd fashion, he gets very uncomfortable and awkward when forced into social gatherings.

Anyway, the Melon Collies and I spent the weekend getting to know one another.

These are good puppies. Both of them are smart, friendly, and (with one notable exception, which I'll get to in my next post) polite. They will grow up to be wonderful dogs.

My job's just to help them there.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Adieu to the Burnout Babies

On Friday we bid the Burnout Babies farewell.

Cerise got adopted by a very nice family who saw her videos on Youtube, fell in love, and drove two hours from New Jersey to adopt her. She is going to live on a mountain (who knew they even had mountains in New Jersey? Not I!) with four dogs next door to play with.

Razz remains in foster care, but I'm confident she'll find a forever home soon. She's too good not to.

A part of me wishes that I could have kept Razz a little longer to continue working with her (and, selfishly, because it's a lot easier to handle one puppy than two, if only because the potty messes are halved), but lack of time and lack of space dictated that she move on.

In the future, whenever possible, I won't take fosters with a fixed time limit. It's just not the best way to do things. At all.

But what's done is done, and this ends the Burnout Babies' chapter here.

Pongu doesn't miss them a bit, of course, but I think Crookytail does.

(I like this video. I think the end is poignant. Off they romble, continuing their merry adventures off-screen, and all Crookytail can do is watch them go on without him.)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Winding Down the Burnout Babies

The Burnout Babies are nearing the end of their time here.

Tomorrow they'll head out for another adoption event, this time at PetSmart. Hopefully they'll find their forever families... but even if they don't, they'll be packing up their tiny suitcases and heading elsewhere. I committed to pulling two other puppies before fostering the Burnout Babies; Razz and Cerise came to stay with us as short-termers only because I had a two-week window between Jackie and these guys, and figured that two weeks in foster care was better than nothing. But now the two weeks are up, and the new pups are coming, and that means the Burnout Babies have got to move on, just as they've finally started to settle in.

I spent a lot of time designing new distraction games for these guys. As they recover from mange, they're getting more energetic, which means they need a constant supply of new things to investigate/chew on/destroy to keep themselves occupied. All their meals come stuffed into one toy or another: kibble goes into a Kong wobble pin for dispensing or is hidden in paper balls to be torn up, dog stew is served in frozen "popsicle" blocks, and peanut butter comes in empty paper towel tubes so the puppies can shred the cardboard to earn their prize.

They also get the occasional half-cooked chicken foot, which is small enough to fit into puppy mouths and lasts them a good 15-20 minutes as a chew toy. The Burnout Babies love chicken feet. Given half a chance, Razz will steal Cerise's and hoard both of them in her secret ninja hideout, chewing chicken toes contentedly while her sister cries in the puppy pen.

Training-wise, they have conquered Sit.

Here's Razz doing indoor drills (Sit --> move --> Sit --> move --> Sit) to increase response speed and reinforce the verbal cue. The quicker she follows me and Sits, the quicker she can do it again and earn another treat. Rapid-fire repetitions are one way of increasing speed and reliability in a fairly short time.

She anticipates me once at 0:20, but at this stage that's a pretty good problem to have. Sit is becoming the Burnout Babies' default behavior; they are learning to offer it whenever they want something and don't know what else to do. They're showing signs of (very slightly) improved self-control, and this definitely beats the "jump up and down and yowl at the top of your lungs" behavior they offered before. Not that they've quit yowling, alas.

Outdoor drills this morning:

This is the first time I put the Burnout Babies together and asked them both to Sit. In almost all the previous clips, they are separated: I work with one puppy in the kitchen while the other waits (and usually wails) in the puppy pen. Only at this relatively late stage, when they're being proofed to a bunch of other distractions including sticks, leaves, winds, and car alarms, is it reasonable for me to ask each puppy to focus while the other is in the picture -- and even then, about half the time they got distracted playing with one another instead of listening to me.

When that happened, I would gently separate them again and ask them to focus briefly. One successful repetition and they were clicked, treated, and allowed to play -- so that playing with each other became part of the reward for a successful response. After a few repetitions, their focus improved greatly, but I still wouldn't expect them to get it right the first time at this stage.

I post all these clips of the Burnout Babies practicing Sit not because it's so interesting to watch them put their butts on the ground over and over again (although I suppose it might be of interest to know their current state of training if you're thinking of adopting one of these guys), but to show the progression of teaching and proofing a relatively simple behavior. As basic as Sit is, it took over a week of work before these puppies could reasonably be considered to "know" it... and they still need a good bit of proofing before they'll be reliable in new environments.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Dog Stew Version 2.0

For the benefit of all two people who asked, here's my current dog stew recipe.

I started including organ meats after reading a bunch of stuff in Whole Dog Journal about how muscle meats alone are insufficient for adequate nutrition. Liver is the best organ meat, but there are benefits to all of them -- kidneys, hearts, green tripe, even oddball stuff like beef trachea if you can get it -- and so I add ground organ meats to the dog stew. I also feed various bony-bit odds and ends (chicken feet, chicken backs with the organs attached, turkey necks, etc.) for extra calcium, the tooth-cleaning benefits of bone, and the glucosamine, cartilage, and collagen from the joints.

All the dog stew ingredients are ground up, shredded, or diced into tiny bits so that the dogs can't pick out the stuff they don't like (or just eat the stuff they do like). Also, grinding the bones eliminates any risk of bone fragments. (The bones I feed whole are knobby ones like vertebrae, rather than long hard pieces.)

I stopped using the boil-'em-to-softness crockpot method of cooking bones because that degree of overcooking was damaging the quality of the food and, frankly, it started to smell like a rendering plant, which was pretty gross. Now I rely on the meat grinder to pulverize chicken wings and cook them much more lightly. (I still don't/can't feed the dogs raw food because Pongu refuses to eat anything done less than medium well. But to the extent I can avoid overcooking, I will do that.)

Dog Stew Version 2.0
-- 2 to 3 cups chicken, vegetable, or beef broth
-- 3 pounds ground muscle meat (lamb, chicken, turkey, pork, beef, bison, etc. I rotate every batch so that it's never the same thing twice in a row.)
-- 1 to 2 pounds ground organ meat (the current batch is a mixture of lamb kidneys, beef heart, and lamb liver. I use whatever's available in the farmer's market offal freezer. Generally beef and lamb parts have better nutrient value than poultry, so I buy those when available, particularly since the dogs already get chicken giblets from eating chicken backs.)
-- 1 to 1.5 pounds ground chicken wings, including bones
-- 2 cups shredded or diced fruits and vegetables (carrots, apples, spinach, grated sweet potatoes, green beans, summer squash, zucchini, canned pumpkin, raspberries, strawberries, etc. I try to include at least three kinds of fruits or vegetables in every batch, but exactly which ones changes each time.)
-- large handful of rolled oats
-- 4 to 6 large eggs

Everything gets stewed together until the meat is mostly cooked through. I add the fruits/vegetables and eggs a little later when the meat is almost done.

Optional add-ins (I don't put these in every time, but add one or two of them occasionally when I have the ingredients on hand):
-- 1/4 cup molasses
-- 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt
-- shots of wheatgrass juice
-- minced wheatgrass clippings (easy and cheap to grow on your windowsill)

And that, along with a scoop of kibble every meal, is what the mutt monsters are eating these days.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Teaching the Burnout Babies Sit

Well, we're home from today's adoption event, and while plenty of older dogs got some interest -- which was fantastic, as adult and adolescent dogs generally have a much tougher time landing permanent homes -- neither of the Burnout Babies found their forever families this afternoon. So they are back here with us, squatting in the puppy pen for another week, and since we've got them a little longer than anticipated, I'm continuing with the puppy program.

Today, after another two sessions each, they progressed to a (weak) verbal cue on Sit.

After the second session, the Burnout Babies were both responding to an empty hand target, which I was able to fade into a hand signal that same session. In the third session, I preceded the hand signal with a verbal cue. Over time, this teaches the dog to anticipate the hand signal from the verbal cue alone -- in effect, the dog learns that the verbal cue is a prompt to do the Sit behavior. (This is much much faster than the old method I was using, which was to do the verbal cue and hand signal at the same time. Verbal cue followed by hand signal is literally twice as fast as doing them simultaneously.)

Here's Cerise on her third session of learning Sit:

At this stage, the verbal cue is meaningless to her, but she responds to the hand signal readily.

At 0:20, she spits out the treat. These are moderately high-value treats (Wellness WellBites jerky treats), but Cerise just isn't a very food-motivated dog. Thus, for the fourth session, I adjusted and used a toy motivator instead of food rewards.

In the fourth session, the Burnout Babies went to a straight verbal cue:

It takes her a few seconds to respond to the prompt, but eventually she does so correctly. This time, instead of a food reward (which wouldn't be very rewarding to her), I let her play a quick game of tug with an old sock. This is also why I'm not using the marker word "Yes!" or a click, since those sounds only signal food rewards.

(NB: I do not recommend using your socks as tug toys routinely, unless you want to teach your dog that all your socks are in fact dog toys and fair game for destruction. I'm doing so in this clip only because I had no other toys available -- the Burnout Babies had chewed up or peed all over everything else I could give them -- and this particular sock had been living in the dog-toy drawer for over a year, since I had been using it to muffle the clicker for a previous sound-sensitive dog. So this sock smelled like a dog toy rather than a normal article of clothing, and I judged it would not be too confusing to the puppies.)

So that's where we are on Sit. The Burnout Babies have learned to respond to a verbal cue (which is the point at which most pet owners would probably be willing to say "this dog knows Sit"), but it's not especially strong and I doubt it would stand up to much distraction. We'll work on improving speed, reliability, and concentration in whatever time we have left.

We also started baby steps toward a recall. Here's one of the beginning exercises:

(As a preface to the exercise, note how distracted Razz is by itchy mange in the beginning. I have to tap her shoulder to get her attention and make her stop scratching. These puppies are really fighting an uphill battle to concentrate on anything other than how miserable they are right now, and I try to adjust my expectations accordingly.)

In this clip, I tossed a piece of kibble away so that Razz would chase it and give me some distance. If she'd been willing to eat the kibble and return, we could have played Kibble Toss, as I did with Jackie, and the opportunity to chase after a new piece of kibble would have been enough reward to keep her returning to me and then running away again.

However, while Razz is ordinarily fairly food-motivated, we did this session only an hour or so after the puppies had dinner, so she was pretty full and not that interested in eating more plain kibble. She chases it down, but it's obvious that this isn't much of a reward for her right now.

I had better food in store to use as a reward if she came back to me, but she ignored my initial calls because sniffing the floor was more interesting to her. That's okay; we don't have much of a relationship yet and I wouldn't expect her to come back to me instantly. Getting up and moving drew her curiosity, and at that point she comes back and earns a click. And that's fine! At this stage, you want to set the dog up for success, so do whatever it takes to make her come back, or even look back in your direction. Wave a tug sock around, make weird noises, tap your fingers on the floor, dance around. Whatever it takes to get some kind of beginning you can build on.

And then reward that return. And do it again. And again.