Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dori Goes Home, Pongu Goes to Work

Busy busy weekend out here in Casa de Dog Mob.

Friday evening, Dori collected her packed bags and went home. I'm so happy for her; I think she'll be happy and well loved, and I hope she makes her new people happy too.

Saturday morning, I got up at 4 am to drive Pongu to the Obedience Training Club of Harrisburg for his very first competition obedience trial.

We entered two runs in CDSP Novice, because I figured Pongu might need a couple of extra attempts in order to earn his CD-C at BVTC in November, and with the help of my beloved Student Driver sticker, I'm totally willing to drive two and a half hours each way for a chance at dog ribbons.

Despite my total willingness to wake up at ungodly hours and drive more ungodly hours to the trial, however, I hadn't really spent much time training the Novice obedience exercises. We'd done the Figure 8 heeling pattern a few times in class, and beyond that I figured Pongu's Rally experience would carry him through Novice. Other than the Stand For Exam (which is still just really a Stand with a pretty hefty distraction), all the exercises are very similar to Rally exercises, so I thought we could just kludge our way through.

My main concern wasn't really so much getting high scores in this trial as just finding out whether Pongu could qualify, anyway. Little Mr. Crazypants's confidence has improved immeasurably beyond where he was a year ago (one year ago, almost to the day, we had just bombed out in our second-ever Rally trial -- the Day of Many NQs -- and I wasn't sure we'd keep going with dog sports at all), but I didn't have a ton of faith that Pongu would be able to tolerate the Stand For Exam, given his reticence about being touched by strangers. And he still refuses the Recall Over Jump occasionally in Rally, particularly when it's an unfamiliar jump, so I wasn't sure how he'd do with that exercise, either.

As it turns out, he did okay. Here's the video from Pongu's first ever attempt at competition obedience:

He earned Qs in both of his runs, scoring 192 and 190 for second- and first-place finishes. Those aren't super awesome scores, to be sure, but it was a small field -- only 4 Novice dogs total, and one of them was in Novice C.

Because Pongu did pretty well on his Saturday runs, I got greedy and entered him for a morning run on Sunday, hoping maybe we could pick up the third Q needed to finish his CD-C title. (What can I say? The venue had nice title ribbons. Dog sport addicts know the power of a nice title ribbon. It overrides any and all rationality we might still possess. It's hypnotic! Next thing you know, you're hitting your alarm off at 4 am and blearily dragging your dog into the freezing cold of a still-dark parking garage.)

Sadly, Pongu NQ'ed his run because he anticipated my cue on the Recall Over Jump and started moving on the judge's cue instead of waiting for me, which is an instant NQ under CDSP rules. In retrospect, I might have seen that one coming; Pongu is used to Rally, where the judge never speaks once you begin the run, and he gets tense enough while holding a Stay on the far side of an obstacle that he's on a hair trigger to move as soon as anyone says anything.

That's the sort of thing that made me wish, looking back, that I'd actually spent some time training for this specific venue. In a way I'm glad we NQ'ed on our last run, because it gives me a reason to prepare more seriously for our next trial. Not that I expect we'll get dramatically better in two weeks -- the downside of scheduling trials close together is that you don't really have much time to fix stuff! -- but hey, we'll do what we can, and we'll see how it goes.

I bought Pongu some consolation chicken tenders from Steak N' Shake on the way home. We sat in the back seat and shared the chicken, listening to The Supremes sing "My World Is Empty Without You" (a song I put at the beginning of our playlist as we left, too).

One thing I noticed at the obedience trial was that some (not all, but some) of the competitors got VERY AGITATED when their dog NQ'ed. It was too bad, because often their dogs were very good dogs who just made one small mistake at the higher levels (which is all it takes), and you could watch the dogs stress about their people's unhappiness.

I didn't care too much about Pongu's NQ. I mean, yeah, sure, it would have been nice to get that hypnotizing title ribbon. But the NQ itself didn't bother me. We already have something like 50 NQs in Rally (I don't even count anymore), so what difference does it make if the number is 52 or 53? Ooh, yeah, crushing.

I'm just thrilled that my insane little pound muppet can do competition obedience at all. That is huge for this dog, and it makes me so excited about where we can go in the future. If Pongu can handle the SFE, and can even do it with strangers in unfamiliar venues, then really there's nothing holding us back from moving full steam ahead in this sport -- no more than holds back any "normal" dog, anyway.

I never dreamed that my fearful dog would be able to do this. And he can. And that's amazing to me. I'm so proud of my little guy.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Florence (Dori) and the Shell Game

Well, Dori (formerly Florence) will be leaving us to go home late this afternoon, so I guess I'd better write up her progress on the Shell Game even though we didn't quite finish the trick. She came really close, though!

The Shell Game is a scent discrimination trick in which the dog is presented with a set of "shells" (Kyra Sundance recommends, and I use, overturned flowerpots because they're heavy enough to withstand a paw touch without being easily knocked over, and the drainage hole allows the scent to escape easily) and must choose the shell that's hiding a food treat via sniffing out the reward instead of seeing it. The dog indicates the correct shell with a paw touch and then you-the-person lifts up the shell so the dog can get the food.

I think it's a fairly difficult trick for a dog with (almost) no prior training to tackle, which is why I was impressed that Dori made it as far as she did and not at all surprised that she didn't quite finish it. There are a lot of component pieces here: the paw touch, the scent work, understanding that the paw touch is used to indicate the correct shell, stimulus control in waiting for the person to lift the shell instead of just knocking it over directly, etc.

The first step was to introduce Dori to the concept that a paw touch to the shell would result in her getting the treat that she knew to be hidden under the shell.

At this stage, I was showing her the treat because I didn't want there to be any mystery about where the treat was, only what she had to do to get it. She caught on quickly; she was offering hesitant paw touches by the end of the first session and more confident ones in the second session (the one I videotaped).

Once she was giving quick and assertive paw touches, I moved on to the second stage.

The next step was for Dori to learn to choose between multiple pots and indicate the correct one with a paw touch. Again, I let her see the treat instead of hiding it, because the goal of this stage was for her to learn to choose, and adding the "find" component would have been too much at once.

Again, she picked it up quickly, and was confidently indicating the correct pot by the end of the first session on that step. I switched up pots almost (but not quite!) every round to avoid teaching her that one or the other was always going to be the "treat pot," and also to avoid pattern training.

The third step was to hide the treat so that Dori had to sniff it out instead of seeing it dropped.

Here's where she started to run into a little more trouble (not surprisingly, since a lot of dogs have trouble making the transition from "see the treat dropped" to "sniff out the treat without seeing it"). To make things easier, I rubbed the treat around the pot's drainage hole before dropping it in, leaving a VERY strong scent signature to point the way. If she didn't get it immediately (as in the second repetition on this video), I'd repeat it with a different type of treat to make the scent signature even stronger and more distinctive. She always caught on at that point.

That's as far as we got with the trick before running out of time. I think she would have finished it in another three or four days, probably -- I've said it before, but Dori is a bright little dog and has a good work ethic, so it's very easy to teach her things -- since at this point all we needed to do was strengthen her confidence in sniffing out the treat, improve stimulus control on the paw touch (on some sessions, Dori would just hit all the pots without trying to sniff at them, under the theory that if she banged them all, she would get the right one faster than if she spent time sniffing out the correct one), and add a third empty pot.

The final version, had we gotten there, would have looked something like this:

But far more important than finishing the Shell Game is going home, and that's where Dori is headed in just a few more hours.

She'll go home with a mixed repertoire of pet behaviors (decent leash manners [mostly, except when another dog passes or, for some reason, occasionally a bicyclist after dark], a very strong Sit default behavior, and a pretty good start on housebreaking), foundational sport behaviors (eye contact/offered attention, beginning Front [which I just spent one session on to see if I could get a close, straight competition Front with Dori in five minutes or less. answer: yes. why can't I do this with MY dogs?!], nose touch), and the Shell Game.

I took her out to a soccer field yesterday just to see how she did with an untrained recall. We've spent exactly zero time practicing recalls, so this was purely a test of Dori's innate affiliativeness. It's also the only video I was able to make, because once I called her back, she would not leave long enough for me to set up a second attempt, so welp. Here it is in all its harsh overshadowed glory:

And that's it for our time with this fluffy girl. Her bags are packed and she's ready to go. I'm SO happy for her going home and excited to hear about her future adventures. She is a lucky, lucky dog to have gone from a trash pile in rural North Carolina to the wonderful new life that awaits.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Weekend Updates

Busy busy weekend! We had a bunch of friends in from out of town, so much of the weekend was devoted to non-dog stuff, but I still managed to sneak a few things in here and there.

On Saturday I dragged my ultra hungover ass to Chester for the 2013 WUSV world championships. This is an international competition among the best of the best in IPO/Schutzhund, although only German Shepherds may compete in this event. (Belgians, the other major category of IPO dogs, have their own breed championship, and then there's a third major international tournament that is open to all breeds.)

I got to watch a few rounds of the protection and obedience phases. Tracking was at a different field that you had to take a bus to reach, so I missed that one.

It was pretty pretty spiffy. SUPER impressive teams, awesome helpers, tough judges. It was incredible to watch teams trialing at that level -- inspiring and intimidating all at once.

The next morning I went out to do an obedience practice match with Pongu. We did two Novice runs; the ring steward was a little puzzled when I asked to do CDSP instead of AKC, but she improvised quickly and we did our runs with only the minor adjustment of needing to use a high jump instead of a bar for the Recall Over Jump exercise.

Pongu refused the high jump his first time, but (to my considerable surprise) jumped it cleanly on his next two tries, so if it had been a real match we would have earned one imaginary Q and one NQ. His performance on the other exercises was pretty good -- not awesome, but for our first stab at a new sport with crazypants dog, I'll take it. I will be thrilled (and, again, considerably surprised) if he does as well at the actual trial, especially since we're going to be attempting this at a new venue.

After we got back from the practice match, I took the other two dingbats out to the Sunday farmers' market at Headhouse Square.

For the most part, they did quite well. I tethered them to a post across the street from the actual market while I was shopping, because it's not practical for me to try wrangling two dogs while also attempting to purchase assorted sacks of apples and grapes.

To my surprise, though, Dori (as Florence has been renamed, after Hodori, the mascot from the 1988 Seoul Olympics) snarked at a couple of passing dogs while she was tethered to the post. It wasn't anything serious, just a little posturing, but it still came as a bit of a shock to hear a growl from a dog who's otherwise been super sweet and almost completely silent except for "he he he" eagerness panting when she wants cuddles.

As soon as I untied her, she quit behaving that way. I don't know whether it was a territorial thing where she wanted to guard her space, or whether her intent was to frighten off the other dogs while she felt vulnerable being tied to the pole, or whether it was frustration that she couldn't greet them properly... but either way, it was a peculiar, if non-serious, incident.

Once I got her loose, she was fine again, and reacted with her normal sociable interest and pulling toward other dogs with no sign of snarking. Just like before, she was very easy to redirect with "Watch" and hustle-walking past the other dogs, with lots of treats and praise for coming with me. Dori has great focus, and it's been a joy watching how quickly her attention span develops. (Major advantage of starting with a grown dog -- no puppy would have that much concentration in less than a week's work!)

Later that night she also did some alarm barking and growling when my husband came home late and walked in through the downstairs lobby door as I was exiting with the dogs. As soon as she recognized who it was, she melted back into her loose happy tail-wagging self, but it seems that Dori's got a teensy bit of a protective streak when it comes to strangers after dark. And I'm fine with that; I think a lot of people would prefer a dog who barks and growls a little when someone unfamiliar comes into their homes. Better than one that tries to hide under the couch, anyhow! And if it's an undesirable behavior in her final home, it should be one that's pretty easy to fix, at least, since Dori was quick to calm down from her initial state of wariness.

On Monday morning, Dori had her spay stitches pulled. She was fine at the vet. Reasonably calm in the waiting room, tolerant (if unhappy) about being rolled over on her back on the cold tile floor and having her wire sutures pulled out. She weighed in at 42 pounds and is probably still a couple of pounds light, so I'm guessing her healthy weight is around 45.

Once she had her stitches out, Dori was able to play (a little, supervised) with Dog Mob... by which I mean, of course, "Crookytail," since Pongu still wants nothing to do with her.

(Pongu is not just ignoring them in that clip. I put him on a Down-Stay because (a) he needs to proof it anyway; and (b) when I don't actually tell him to stay out of it, Pongu cannot resist running over to yell at the other two and bite them both repeatedly in the face. He ruined all my previous attempts at getting a clip of the other two playing until I finally told him to lie down and stay there.)

That's pretty much it for now. Dori seems to have relaxed enough to potty almost as often as the other dogs. Previously she would hold it for a whole day at a time (once she went over 30 hours without pottying, even though I took her out all the time), but as she relaxes, she's moving toward a more normal schedule.

Her Sit is great and has become a strong default behavior. She's doing well with the Shell Game, too -- she's on Stage 3, which means she's almost finished, and just needs to quit making so many wrong guesses out of impatience before landing on the right one. Dori's fallen into the pretty common trap of thinking that it's easier and faster to just hit all the pots instead of trying to figure out which one is the actual correct pot (although I know she can tell, because occasionally I catch her doing it), so we just need to get the paw touch under better stimulus control and then she'll be done.

Will it happen by Friday? Who knows! But either way, that is the day she's going home.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Walk in the Park

Just a quick little picture dump.

I took all three of the nimrods out on a walk together last night because I wanted to get some group pictures in Washington Square Park and I didn't want to worry about a mob of 100+ tourists coming up behind us while I was trying to get all three of them to hold dropped-leash Stays.

Plus, while walking three dogs at once (at least these three dogs at once) isn't actually THAT hard, we do tend to monopolize the sidewalk as we go past, and it's a bit inconsiderate to do that during primetime in a city. So a night walk it was!

I made a halfhearted effort to get Florence to sit on the bench with the other two, but she wasn't comfortable with the jump and in general I don't encourage foster dogs to get on the furniture (their adopters don't always want them on the furniture and it's easier to give privileges than take them away, so, as ever, I enforce the most restrictive rule in my house and then the adopters can let up in their own houses if they want), so I didn't push the matter too hard.

I think she would have gotten on the bench if I'd coaxed her a little more, but the picture worked fine this way and she was willing to center herself nicely between the other two, so whatever.

Playing tourist at the freedom memorial. This one is actually more of a milestone for Pongu than the other two.

The Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary Soldiers (as the freedom memorial is formally known) is flanked on either side by a long row of flags that flaps noisily in the wind. Pongu has been terrified of the flags and the tomb's flame since he was a little bitty babydog (of course, he was terrified of absolutely everything then, and he sorta still is, but I digress).

For him to be able to hold a Stay here, and not only that but a Down-Stay in a group, is a Big Deal. Scaredy dog is making progress!, and can do things now that would have been unimaginable a few years back.

And of course Florence is doing pretty well herself. Posing like a pro, and she hasn't even been here one week. She is a very good little dog for sure.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mid-Week Updates: Florence Gets Adopted!

Last Sunday morning I woke up at 4 am to drive Pongu to a Rally trial at Kellar's Canine Academy, just outside NYC. The drive out there was actually a lot of fun: we did most of it at 80 mph up the Jersey Turnpike in near-total darkness, blasting a mismatched playlist that I threw together at the last minute and then accidentally put on shuffle because I'm an idiot who apparently cannot hit "Play" without screwing things up.

It was cool though, at least the playlist opened with the right song at the beginning ("In the Air Tonight," because I know you care).

Pongu did well overall. He NQ'ed one of the Level 3 runs on a jump runout (Recall Over Jump, which suggests to me that perhaps I should go ahead and enter a second CDSP trial so I can try to finish his Novice title this year, given that we're still having problems with that exercise and will probably need the extra attempts), but almost everything else was beautiful. He did the bonus retrieve exercise perfectly both times, marking the first time that Pongu has ever done a formal retrieve successfully outside the house and earning a final score of 208 (and first place) in his second Level 3 run. And he even did it with his dumbbell!

Most of our point deductions were on my end. I re-cued a Sit (costing 3 points) instead of taking the 1-point hit on the original crooked Sit; I set Pongu up stupidly a couple of times so that we had to re-do exercises (and take more 3-point hits) because otherwise he would have had signs directly in his path on recalls; I took a couple of hits on wide turns and lagging in heeling, which is my fault for not practicing enough.

But generally it was really good, particularly considering that was a venue we don't trial in often. Pongu's only been there once before, when he earned his ARCH and RL1X. So I was happy. He is getting so much better!

Final score tally (because, again, I know you care): 206, 207 (fifth place in Level 1), 203, 207 (second place in Level 2), NQ, 208 (first place in Level 3!).

Then I came home (return drive suuuucked, on-and-off traffic jams the whole way back) and made Florence wear the Homeless Dog Vest of Shame in an attempt to hock her to prospective adopters on the street.

It worked! Shining the Homeless Dog Bat Signal all across the land got her noticed by a really nice young couple out on the street. They asked about her and, later that evening, emailed saying that they were interested in adopting her.


As of this afternoon it's official: Florence has a wonderful home in Fishtown with a professor, which OF COURSE makes me irrationally proud because what is better than a professor. Nothing. That is the answer. Nothing. Ask any Asian mom. "Professor" is on par with "neurosurgeon": it just wins the game instantly. Even when we're talking about homeless dogs.

However, Florence is still going to be with us for another ten days while her actual people start getting their home ready for her. She won't be going home for real until next Friday.

The effort to civilize Florence proceeds at a better-than-decent rate. She is almost perfect on leash: she hardly ever pulls and is quite happy to trot blissfully next to her person, ready to be attentive at the first hint that you might reward her with a smile.

The only exception is that, predictably, as she gets more comfortable with the city, she's getting more interested in trying to greet other dogs, so now she whines and pulls toward them. However, Florence is small and easy to manage, and she is also very easy to recapture with a simple "hi!" or other verbal request for attention, so this is not a real problem. It might become a problem if it's not managed or if she's allowed to self-reward (or, at the other extreme, get too frustrated about not being able to self-reward) by greeting the other dog, but right now it's minor and easily prevented.

Housebreaking is going pretty well. No accidents in the house yet. Florence has a fairly elaborate circling-and-sniffing ritual before she goes potty, which makes it easy to tell (and prevent) when she's about to make a mess inside, but also makes it slightly more difficult to get her to potty outside, because if she hears or sees something while she's doing the ritual circling, she goes all "I CAN'T PEE WHILE PEOPLE ARE WATCHING ME" and refuses to go.

This isn't an issue when she poops (she also doesn't circle or sniff nearly as long before pooping), but it means she only goes pee about once a day right now, when she finally can't hold it anymore and is forced to pee in front of OMG PEOPLE.

If past experience holds true, she'll get over her reluctance when she stops being scared of passing cars and bus noises, but in the meantime it takes some patience to stand around for 10 or 20 minutes waiting for her to calm down enough to go pee.

On the training front, I didn't really get started working with her in any focused way until yesterday, because she only got here Saturday, and then on Sunday I had Pongu's Rally thing and on Monday and Tuesday I was scrambling to beat a book deadline (did it!), so until yesterday afternoon we were just doing the bare necessities: leash walking, housebreaking, not eating my house, etc.

Yesterday we got started on Sit. Here's where we are today, some four sessions later:

I taught it as a tuck Sit (i.e., the competition version) via clicker capturing for no particular reason beyond that she was offering that behavior all the time anyway, which made capturing very easy, and I wanted to try a different method of getting a tuck Sit.

Clicker capturing is SO MUCH EASIER than doing it with physical manipulation or foot targets, sweet holy jeebus. It is way WAY faster and easier than any other method. Alas, you have to realize from the get-go that you're going to want a competition Sit to get it that way, so those of us who trained it wrong the first time will have to continue to rely on the other methods to fix it.

Anyway, Florence now has a semi-functional Sit (I say "semi-functional" because (a) it's not fully proofed; and (b) I don't think she actually understands that Sit means Sit, i.e., if I said "Banana!" she would probably give me a Sit too, since at this point she's just thinking any verbal cue = Sit), so good enough, that's all the pet training I feel like doing with her.

I started her on nose touches too, and those are coming along nicely (she's a very clever little dog and quick to learn things, once she figured out she could learn things, and thereby cause cookies to rain from the sky), but I think I'm probably going to spend the next ten days trying to teach her the Shell game, just because.

I have no idea if we'll finish it. The Shell Game is fairly complicated and Florence has no foundations whatsoever. She was just introduced to clickers three days ago. And we only have about ten days to do anything before she goes home. But for exactly that reason, it's much more interesting to me to see how a totally green dog approaches that task than it is to teach her Down and Stay (besides which, she already has a beginner Stay just from me making her pose for so many pictures).

So yeah, I think that's kinda where I'm headed.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Florence in the Garden

More pictures from this afternoon. I took Florence up to the deck because I needed to tie down some blackberry vines anyway so she got to help me garden.

Philly skyline pic, feat. my near-dead end-of-season cherry tomatoes:

The blackberry vines are pretty huge this year, so I had to climb over the deck and tie them on the other side of the wall too (they spill over the trellis and cover both sides). Every time I climbed the deck wall, Florence would be all WAIT WHERE ARE YOU GOING and she'd try to follow me over the wall.

When that didn't work, she'd follow me around the deck and stick her face through the gaps in the wall to look at me whenever she could.

Then I brought Crooky out to get some pictures of them together. It was so windy that neither of them really wanted to do much, although Florence did try to get Crookytail to play with her (so she does like other dogs! aha!).

Crooky's face in this one makes me laugh.

 I have absolutely no idea what he's looking at here. His gaze is pointed at the hedge clippers I have resting on a shelf overhead but I can't figure out why Crooky would be interested in hedge clippers.

So much for Day One. Tomorrow I'll be out near NYC all day doing a Rally trial with Pongu, while the other two mutt monsters stay home. Hopefully the spousal unit can manage Florence without losing her or going completely insane.

Florence Arrives!

At a little before 3 am last night, we drove out to a rest stop in New Jersey and picked up our latest foster dog: Florence, a three-year-old spayed female Australian Shepherd/??? mix from Robeson County, North Carolina.

I honestly have no idea what Florence's breed mix is -- friends have guessed everything from Beagle to Heeler to Spaniel in the mix, and any or all of those could be correct. What I do know is that she's slightly under 40 pounds, has an extremely soft, fluffy coat (it really is remarkably soft, even the outer coat), and is so far being a quiet, sweet, cuddly houseguest. She's only been here for about 12 hours and is still pretty stressed from the transition, but it's easy to see that this is a very nice dog, and she'd make a wonderful family pet or beginner dog for a novice owner.

There isn't too much of a backstory on Florence. She was picked up as a stray in a part of Robeson County that is known to be a dumping ground for dogs (it's a "piney woods" area where a lot of people drive out and abandon their dogs along with the rest of the garbage that gets illegally dumped there). I always joke that our pound dogs "came off the garbage pile" but Florence did in fact literally come off the garbage pile.

Unlike most of our foster dogs, Florence seems to have been allowed indoors at some point in her life. She knows how doors work, she knows how stairs work, and the first thing she did upon coming into the house was try counter-surfing, even though there was no food on the counter at the time, so I am guessing she knows how kitchens work (also now she knows that counter-surfing is Not Allowed). The noises of the city are new and frightening to her, though. She doesn't seem to have had any prior exposure to garbage trucks, SEPTA buses, or skateboarders, and South Street on a sunny Saturday afternoon can present some drastic culture shock to a country girl!

Florence has had puppies in the past, I would guess more than once. And she LOVES cuddling; she will crawl into your lap and butt her head under your hand to make you pet her, and then go into hilarious contortions so that she can press every possible inch of herself against you somewhere. Whoever adopts this dog had better want a seriously smooshy lapdog.

But she has had no formal training as far as I can determine -- doesn't seem to know any commands, wasn't familiar with how to walk on leash, etc. She is, however, picking these things up very quickly. Just between last night and this afternoon, her leash manners have improved to the point where she fits in with all the other average dogs in our neighborhood. On an EasyWalk harness, she's a breeze.

Florence doesn't seem to know "Sit" on cue, but she offers the behavior readily when she wants to earn a treat, so I was able to pose her for pictures much faster than I'm usually able to get foster dogs posed. We can work on adding the actual verbal cue later. I don't know how much training I'll have time to do with her, but I think Sit is the only standard cue I'll bother with this time. I'm a little bored with my usual training progression so if I teach her anything it'll probably be nose touches or foot targeting or, I dunno, something different from what I usually do.

But Sit is pretty crucial to a pet dog's life, so Sit stays on the syllabus.

Florence's long, plush fur makes her legs look even shorter than they are, but she is built long and relatively low. Not nearly as much as Foozie or Serenity, but she's definitely more of a "rectangular" dog than a "square" one.

So far she has not shown a ton of interest in other dogs, either Dog Mob or random passing dogs on the street. Florence is clearly well socialized around other dogs and adept in navigating their communicative cues, she's just not very interested in them. This will probably change as she gets more relaxed (it usually does, particularly since Crookytail can be remarkably persistent in coaxing the fosters to play with him), but so far she is much more people-oriented and will basically ignore other dogs in favor of paying attention to a person.

And that's where we are on the first day. Florence is cuddly, cute, healthy, and isn't presenting any observable behavioral issues at this time, so I imagine she should get adopted pretty quickly.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

October Picture Dump, Part the Second

We're back in Philly as of last night, so here's the second half of the Nantucket picture dump.

Quidnet Beach: This beach is pretty popular with families during the summer, as its waves tend to be gentler than those on Tom Nevers, and it's not the most appropriate place to bring dogs in the high season. However, by October, the water was too cold for swimming and we had the beach almost entirely to ourselves.

Dog Mob met a lot of wildlife on this excursion. Mostly it was dead wildlife, like Mr. Dead Horsehoe Crab here:

...but some of it was very much still alive. We saw several seals quite close to the shore. I'm not sure how many there were, because they'd go under and resurface somewhere else, so it would be easy to double-count the same seal making multiple appearances. But there were at least three distinct ones that were visible at the same time.

This particular seal chomped one of the seagulls floating near it. Gobbled the bird down while its wings were still flapping on either side of the seal's head. Crookytail looked on in consternation after it happened.

We also visited Sesachacha Pond on the same trip. Sesachacha is the biggest pond on the island and is separated from the sea by only a few dozen yards of sand. In the background of this shot is yet another bit of deceased wildlife: that white puff behind and to the right of Crookytail's head is a large dead seabird.

The next couple of days we went back to the Middle Moors, exploring new corners of forest and moorland that we hadn't seen in all our other hours of crisscrossing those trails. Dog Mob never got tired of it; there was always a new deer skeleton to discover, or a new decomposing water bird, or a new bit of fox poop. Endless amazing surprises!

They chased deer and chased bunnies and chased birds. Crookytail picked up an impressive collection of new scrapes, cuts, and scabs every time he went out (he seems to have particularly tender footpads, or else is unusually hard on them, because he wears holes in the leathers of his feet EVERY TIME), and never seemed bothered by any of it.

Pongu, who is much more cautious about bulldozing through prickle bushes, never got a scratch.

I made repeated attempts to reach an enormous sinkhole that we could see on satellite view of the Middle Moors, but every time I was stymied by the impossibly thick bushes that surround the giant hole on every side. This is as close as we ever got (the hole is -- I think -- that faintly visible depression about an inch straight above Pongu's head with a reddish bush on its left side).

And that was our October trip to Nantucket.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Back in Nantucket

Because, you know, why not.

I wanted to see the island in the fall -- everyone says the Middle Moors are particularly beautiful when the foliage starts changing, and indeed, it is so. Would that I had a better camera (and the skill to use it) so that I could more adequately capture the color shifts between pink grass, red blueberry bushes, yellow-leaved grapevines, wildflowers in every hue, and sturdy greenery.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

All Roads Lead to...

...where, exactly?

Recently I started a new training class -- the same one that I talked about in a previous post -- and while I'm still of mixed emotions here (so far it's not that bad, although I will admit to feeling a pang of alarm when the instructor said that we'd only be using clickers for about a month because she didn't see any value to them after that... oof), I'm trying to do the exercises with an open mind, at least for as long as I can.

We are, as I'd expected, spending a lot of time pushing and prodding dogs into place. So far Pongu is tolerating it pretty well; he's clearly puzzled by the whole endeavor, but he trusts me and is doing his level best to cooperate with what he understands the exercises to be.

Currently we're working on position changes: Sit, Stand, Down. The emphasis is on moving the dog (not allowing the dog to move itself) in such a way that all the position changes leave the dog perfectly in Heel position. Tuck Sit, fold-back Down, kick-back Stand.

This is important because, as demonstrated in this clip I made a really long time ago with Crookytail, the other versions of these movements will pull a dog out of Heel position very quickly. This is a Bad Thing in competition obedience, at least if you care about getting high scores.

There are a number of ways to teach these movements to achieve the same goal, though. With Pongu, I originally taught them using a platform and foot target:

Doing it this way can be slower up front. You have to teach the dog to balance on the platform and keep his front feet on the target. Then you have to teach him to move through the desired position changes while maintaining his footing on the platform and target.

If you do it with the push-and-pull method, there's no delay to get those extra foundations in place; the Sit-Stand-Down sequence is the foundation.

So at the outset it might look like doing it the "hands off" way with the platforms and foot targets is the roundabout inefficient way of doing things. Assuming that you're being careful about not actually hurting or worrying your dog with the physical manipulation method, why not use the faster technique?

Three reasons spring to mind:

First, while the platforms are slower up front, I am inclined to think that they save time in the long run, because you can use those same foundations for pivot work and balance/core conditioning exercises and tons upon tons of tricks. Some of those extras will help you in the competition obedience ring and some might not, but we don't (I hope) just have dogs so we can teach them only the Novice-through-Utility exercises and then nothing else ever for the rest of their lives. A dog who has learned to think creatively, and not just let himself be passively guided into positions, is much more fun for me to train over the long haul.

Second, because I think the dog internalizes and retains these lessons better when it's making its own decisions and coming to its own understanding of what is wanted. It's the same argument that applies to free-shaped behaviors vs. lured ones: yes, it might take a little longer to install early on, but the dog really understands what is wanted, and so retention is much stronger (not a small consideration when you're planning to ask for these behaviors amid the stress of a trial environment). I don't actually know whether this one is true, but I'll be watching to see whether my guess is right.

And third, because as I observed during that first introductory class, a lot of people aren't that careful about respecting their dogs' comfort levels. They may want to be, but in the hurry of a crowded, fast-paced class, a lot of novice handlers with novice dogs get flustered and frustrated (I know I did, before I learned to accept that sometimes we're just going to be behind the rest of the class and that's okay). Unable to guide their dogs gently into position, and seeing everyone else doing "better," they resort to ever-greater measures of force to bend their dogs into compliance.

It makes me uncomfortable to watch somebody handling a four-month-old puppy like an Ikea table that isn't coming together right. I know I get mad enough to just bang things either together or into pieces, and by the time I reach that level of frustration, I don't even care which it is anymore (one of several reasons why assemble-it-yourself furniture is a no-go in this household). But I'm not doing that with a puppy. Not when the failure is my fault, not his. Not over a silly game that we're supposed to be playing together for fun.

Ultimately, it should be possible for someone to get the same behavior by either method. I think that the methods used in this class are probably easier for a novice in some ways. But at the same time, I think they are harder on (not necessarily for, but on) the dogs, and that's not a tradeoff I'm willing to make.

All roads may lead to Rome, but some charge tolls that I'm not paying.