Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ashling Starts Training and Gets a Bath

Yesterday I took Ashling and Pongu out to Seger Dog Run, our local dog park. (Crooky did not get to go, because I did not want to have to worry about wrangling his obnoxious butt while watching Ashling.) We went at about 7 pm, so it was well after nightfall and much too dark to get any pictures or video, but she did really well. The park had a mixture of dogs ranging from a small Jack Russell Terrier to some pittie mixes that probably clocked in around the 70- to 75-pound mark.

Ashling behaved nicely with all of them, although she didn't really play much. She was more interested in jumping on all the people (who, of course, stooped down to pet her and thereby reinforced the jumping -- argh! -- but I can't really blame them, and certainly it's preferable to most of the alternative things they might have done). That initial unsureness is normal, though. Virtually every dog I've ever taken to the dog park has been hesitant and a little timid on their first visit, because they are the new kids at school and they typically want to take a couple visits to get the lay of the land before they relax enough to start playing. I interpret this as indicative of good canine manners and a sign that the dog is a "go with the flow," not-too-pushy type. A dog who came to a strange park and immediately proclaimed himself King of the World, by contrast, might be a great competitor in certain sports (oh, say, IPO...) but might not be an ideal house pet for the average family.

(Aside: I was also pleased with Pongu's heelwork when we practiced at the park yesterday. He was on. Sharp, precise, fast. Tight left turns, made me really happy. Hit all his jumps and did good retrieves, although he's still a little far back on his return Fronts. We'll work on that. But overall, he was great. Now, if only we could get that in the ring... /tangent.)

After returning from the park, it was time for Ashling to undergo the dreaded BATH.

And oh, she did not like that.

I've had dogs who disliked baths before. Lots of them. I have had many, many dogs who were sad and deeply resigned and went into the tub as though walking up to the guillotine. Crookytail, in particular, is a master of the pre-bath Parade of Sadness guilt trip. But I have never had a dog who reacted to water and shampoo with as much flailing shrieking scrabbling drama as Ashling.

Truly, it was something to behold. It really made me comprehend why people might take non-poodle dogs to the groomer's for a bath, and why said bath might cost $35.

Alas I did not have a groomer at my disposal late yesterday night. What I did have was a heart of absolute ice and stone when it comes to the theatrical misery of small, filthy terriers. And so poor, woeful Ashling got shampooed despite her struggles.

Truly, that night she was the Saddest Dog in the World.

Despite her complete and abject horror of the whole ordeal, however, Ashling never once tried to nip or scratch at me. This cements my growing conviction that she'd be a pretty darn good family dog, because it was clear that in her mind she was surely going to drown and/or get dissolved by caustic dog-destroying soap bubbles, and yet her response was not to fight back or bite me, but just to try to wriggle away. So, while it is absolutely true that any dog can be provoked to bite eventually, it appears that Ashling's threshold for biting is quite high, and that she'll do everything in her power to run away from a conflict before she resorts to that.

Anyway, she survived the bath (despite her considerable doubts) and afterwards we started clicker training. In this session I'm just loading the clicker (i.e., building up Ashling's association between the "click" sound and the magical delivery of treats, so she comes to understand that the "click" noise operates as a signal that treats are coming) and rewarding for eye contact, which is the beginning of focus work. I'm tossing the cookies away from myself instead of hand-delivering them so that she has to turn away to get the treats, because I want to see how quickly she chooses to return her attention to me and resume eye contact (answer: pretty quickly -- she likes this game and is actively attempting to prompt me to do it again).

As sort of a Point A-to-Point C contrast, here's what Pongu's been working on most recently: Utility scent articles, metal version. (For the non-competition-obedience people in the audience: the goal of this exercise is for Pongu to pick out the article that I touched on the bar -- not the ends, because I touched them all on the ends to move them -- and bring it back to me. He has to distinguish the correct article by scent alone, as he does not know which it is, and this version is more difficult than the other version [with leather articles] because most dogs do not like the sensation of metal against their teeth.)

It's coming along nicely. It took us about three weeks for Pongu to hold the metal articles at all, but once we got over that hurdle the rest was relatively fast. It's going to take forever to get this ring ready (oh, all the innumerable pieces that are going to fall apart when crazypants dog is stressed...) but at least I know we have it when he's relaxed.

All this stuff begins with focus work. Who knows whether Ashling will ever get there (at the moment, her life path seems to be headed toward "beloved family pet" rather than "ribbon-collecting competition dog"), but the first step down all those roads starts with attention games and learning how to learn.

On the socializing front, as predicted, this morning Ashling started engaging in active play with Crookytail... at least until Pongu gets tired of waiting for me to praise him for holding a nice Sit-Stay (which I didn't ask him to do, btw, he just volunteered that one) and yells at them to stop distracting me so I'll pay attention to him again. Nerd.

So, on Day Three, I think I have a good enough sense of who this dog is and what she likes to start matching her to a home. There will be lots of other things for us to discover -- and for her new home to discover as well -- but the big obvious contours are apparent.

Ashling's a good dog. She'll make somebody very happy, I think.


  1. Very cute.....glad she survived the bath:).......Susanne

  2. we own that little dog now I love her so much <3

  3. I am so glad that me and my family adopted her...