Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pongu the Insane, RL2 (AOE)

Last Sunday, Pongu had his second Rally trial of the year, and in it achieved the first of our competition goals for 2013. I am just so proud of my little crazypants scrodbasket!

We drove out to Harrisburg for this event -- a little over two hours each way, and considerably farther than I'd ever asked the long-suffering spousal unit to drive for a Rally competition before. I thought it was worth it, though, because this event was offering three runs at each level instead of the more usual one or two runs, which meant I could get Pongu in six runs total and potentially rack up a bunch of championship points in addition to possibly completing our Level 2 title. Pongu needed two more L2 Qs to title, and he had three chances at this event.

It was a good thing he did, too, since he NQ'ed his first L2 run due to excessive anxiety at competing off-leash in a new venue with new sounds and new Astroturf flooring (our previous venues all had matted floors). Once Pongu was disqualified, though, the judge suggested clipping his leash back on and finishing the course on-leash, to see if that would help him calm down. Indeed it did: once he had his "umbilical cord" back in place, Pongu was able to get his head back in the game.

If this had happened to us last year, I'm sure I would have melted down myself and been unable to get anything good out of our remaining runs. But we've been doing this for six months, and I don't stress about Rally trials anymore: we'll do how we do, and I'm honestly not nervous at all, because I know Pongu can do it, so my job is just to help him until he does do it.

And he turned in a great series of runs once he recovered. He kept working with me for the next five runs, stretching across nine hours, and turned in a series of scores ranging from 201 to 207. In his remaining Level 2 runs, he scored 204 (Pongu's very first blue-ribbon #1 finish!) and 203 (a second-place finish). He was still slightly anxious, and as a result he didn't always get the highest scores, but he earned consistent scores, and that makes me really happy. Previously, I'd never asked him to do more than two runs in a day, and now I know he has the endurance to work a full day.

We still have room for improvement, of course. Lots of room. But I am so happy that Pongu has gotten this far. He's come a long way from the frozen little fearful puppy who wouldn't come out from under the bed. He was the only mixed-breed dog at the entire event -- there were other rescue dogs, but no other mutts -- and he still took home a first-place ribbon, a second-place ribbon, and a new title.

So here's to Pongu the Insane, RL2 (AOE), my special little nutjob dog.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Penny Becomes Skunky And Goes Home

Last Thursday we said farewell to Penny Lane, who moved a whole two blocks down the street and around the corner.

Her name is Skunky Mushmellon now (which I think is just about the best name ever) and she is happy, cherished, and secure. Not perfect -- what dog ever is? -- but perfectly loved.

We'll miss her a little, of course, but that's nothing compared to the gratitude of being able to help a dog go from this:

to this:

...so farewell, Skunky-who-was-once-Penny. Have a good life. I'm sure we'll see you around.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Penny Lane - Week Two

Into our second week with Penny Lane, and we're getting to the stage where training is fun!

She knows Sit now, and is rapidly learning that Sit is the correct default behavior for all situations in which she wants something and doesn't know what else to do. She is so eager to Sit that she'll do it if I try to reward her for being polite while out on walks -- as soon as my hand starts moving toward the treat bag, Penny's butt hits the ground, and she stays there until I tell her "Okay!" and get moving again.

This makes it really easy to pose her for pictures.

She's gotten over her potty reticence and has picked a couple of spots around a nearby park that she uses regularly. This, of course, makes my life much easier. If she doesn't go at the first spot, I can just walk five minutes to the next one and she'll potty there. Sometimes she does need a little bit of a walk to get in the mood (or something... I'm not really sure what's going on there), but she's pretty reliable at this point.

I've started taking her to the dog park, which she LOVES.

Because of her long coat, she does get muddy very quickly -- and our dog park has a particular problem with mud right now, since the mulch they resurfaced it with just last year all crumbled into dirt and turns into gross yucky black sludge for days every time it gets wet -- so we only go when it's cold enough that the mud has frozen hard. Otherwise I'd have to wash her every time I took her to the park, and nobody wants that.

Her limp is mostly gone. I don't know why. It could just be a sporadic thing that will come back later. I didn't do anything differently to improve it, so I'm not sure why it doesn't seem to be bothering her as much anymore, but it's not. She uses the foot most of the time and runs full speed with no apparent problems. Even after a boisterous hour of romping at the park, she hasn't been limping much lately.

Penny's reluctance to eat at mealtimes is also waning. Again, I don't know why. I never did end up feeding her together with the rest of Dog Mob, because Pongu has taken an especial dislike to Penny and it didn't seem worth the risk, but she's eating more on her own anyway.

I'm not sure if I'm going to start teaching her a Down. On the one hand, that is one of the basic commands, and once she has a Down, she'll be almost all the way to CGC-ready (since she's a stable and friendly dog, all the handling stuff would be very easy for her and would require maybe a week's worth of practice, but no formal desensitization exercises. Meanwhile, Pongu the Insane is signed up for his CGC test in about six weeks and I'm not at all confident he'll pass. This is the difference between a calm dog and a crazy one: calm dog takes maybe 3 weeks to prep for the test, crazy dog is going on 3 years and not ready).

On the other hand, there's generally a period of confusion when a dog has just learned Sit and started working on Down and needs some time to get the different commands sorted -- particularly where, as here, the dog doesn't have any prior experience with position cues and needs practice to keep them straight. And since it is extremely unlikely that we'll have Penny past this weekend, it might not be the best approach to weaken her Sit a couple of days before she goes home to a new adopter. Most pet owners barely even use Down anyway; Sit is sufficient for most everyday purposes like "okay I love you too, now please stop jumping on me" and "just stay there for a minute while I scoop up this poop." So I'm thinking it may not be worthwhile to teach that one in the last couple of days we have together.

Of course, if all my predictions are badly wrong and we end up having Penny past this weekend, Down will certainly be next on the agenda!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Penny Lane - Week One

We've had almost a week now with Penny Lane and I'm starting to get a better sense of who this golden girl is.

First and foremost, she is a loving dog. She has the golden retriever's love of people through and through, and she absolutely craves affection. I always say that the foster dogs want to be loved more than anything else in the world, because it's always true -- but Penny Lane takes it to a new level. She is so starved for love that she yearns toward any stranger on the street who seems likely to give her a smile.

After several days of practice, she's gotten better about yanking me toward them and trying to jump on them, but this is still a continuing project. I don't scold her for trying, because the girl just wants to be loved and there's no sense yelling at her for that. It's enough that her attempts don't work (because I reel the leash in short and hold her close by my side), and that she gets praise and a cookie for walking past people calmly. Already the intensity of her behavior is way down and she only does it to about half the people she encounters, instead of doing it 100% of the time. With another couple weeks of consistent work, and (more importantly!) a stronger relationship with her handler, I anticipate this will cease to be an issue.

She continues to be a quiet dog. She hasn't barked and rarely squeaks; when she does, it's because she's sad about being in the crate. However, she generally settles down within a few minutes. If she doesn't, it's because she has to potty and needs me to take her out -- a warning that I very much appreciate!

Penny Lane is not housebroken, but it won't take long to teach her this (in fact, I only figured out that she wasn't housebroken last night). I think the only reason she isn't there already is because she is such a people pleaser and so hesitant to give the wrong answer that she just holds it and holds it and holds it as long as she can. She only potties once or twice a day, and it's been hard coaxing her to go more often.

As she gets comfortable that some specific area is an approved potty spot, I expect this problem will also vanish pretty effortlessly. Right now, the big hang-up seems to be that she doesn't want to disappoint me by going in the wrong area, so she just won't go at all until she absolutely has to. But this means that she's not going potty inside, either (and certainly never in her crate!) so there are lots of worse problems to have on the potty training front.

The only other training issue I've noted is that -- unsurprisingly for a dog who spent some time on the street and, during the few weeks that she lived inside a home, did so with 40 other free-roaming former street dogs in a totally unstructured environment -- Penny is not only a counter-surfer, but prone to jumping on any and all comfortable furniture (beds, couches, etc.) with no sense that she might not be allowed on something. Again, this is a minor thing and easy to fix, and not something that all adopters would even find inappropriate, but for a foster dog it's not a great habit to have.

Mealtimes are becoming a bit of an issue. She isn't eating much, and that's worrisome because she was already underweight when she got here. The last thing she needs is to lose more weight.

I suspect what's going on is that Penny Lane is depressed because, as a foster, she doesn't get as much freedom or affection as Dog Mob does -- and she sees it, and she knows it, and it makes her sad. She'll happily eat any treat that I feed her by hand. Freeze-dried raw food patties, liver treats, buffalo braids, she'll take 'em all.

What she won't eat, after the first couple of days, are regular meals inside her crate. Penny is getting the same food as Dog Mob -- Acana kibble mixed with either high-quality commercial canned food or home-cooked "dog stew" -- and while she seemed to enjoy her food the first couple of days, she barely touches it now. She'll nibble at it as long as I sit near the crate, but if I get up and go, she stops eating immediately.

I might think she had some kind of food sensitivity except that (a) Penny gets a different kind of food at every meal, so a food intolerance doesn't really explain the behavior; and (b) her appetite really seems to be linked to my proximity to the crate. She only stops eating when she's isolated.

She doesn't show any other signs of separation anxiety, though -- no whining or stress signals when I leave to go to work. I honestly just think she's sad about having to eat alone in her crate. At her next mealtime I will try feeding her together with Dog Mob and see if that helps. This is a little risky insofar as Pongu can sometimes be a dick to other dogs (growling at them and stealing their food) but it's better than Penny just refusing to eat.

We haven't made a ton of progress in formal training yet. She recognizes and responds to her name about 70% of the time, and she has learned to recognize both the clicker and the verbal marker "Yes!" as cues that she's about to get a treat (I don't know if she's made the connection that a correctly performed behavior is what causes the marker sound to occur, but if not, she's close to it). Yesterday I got two lured Sits for the first time in three sessions, so we're probably close to a breakthrough on that one. Not on cue yet, though -- we're still just getting into the lure-reward stage.

As I noted earlier, it's apparent that nobody has ever even tried to teach Penny anything before, so she is really coming at this from nothing. In light of that, she's learning at a reasonable pace. Once the concept of learning-how-to-learn comes together, I expect she'll pick up on new concepts faster and faster.

And she's very socially adept, as demonstrated in this clip of interactions with the guinea pigs and Dog Mob:

Later today she is going to the vet to get that front left paw checked out, and on Sunday she may be headed out to an adoption event, hopefully to find a forever home.