Friday, December 6, 2013

Before the Weekend of Insanity...

...a couple more Ashling updates.

There's probably going to be radio silence on this blog for the rest of the weekend (at least up through Sunday evening) because I will be scurrying all around the area doing Rally trials, so here's a slightly early Weekend Update on the Temporary Dog.

Ashling met Prospective Family #1 last night. I thought the meeting went quite well: she seemed to like them and they seemed to like her. I was secretly half-hoping that they'd turn out to be terrible so my placement decision would be much easier, but alas, no such luck. So we'll roll on till Monday, when she meets Prospective Family #2, and then I'll have to figure something out by Tuesday.

Ashling's leash skills have improved to the point where I have switched her from the EasyWalk harness to a plain flat buckle collar. I can now walk her simultaneously with the rest of Dog Mob, which I don't often do because a three-dog crowd is a little unwieldy and we end up hogging the entire sidewalk when I'm wrangling the entire mob at once, but it's possible. This is handy when I'm feeling especially lazy or it's rainy and I don't want to do two separate 20-minute potty waddles.

She's still far from perfect on leash: she continues to pull toward children and other dogs (particularly small light-colored fluffy dogs who resemble her siblings), although not as hard or with quite as much whining as before. Ashling also tends to cross sides behind the walker, which can wrap the leash across your back (although I'm so inured to this that I honestly didn't even notice it until her prospective adopters pointed it out yesterday -- I just switch hands automatically without thinking about it -- so obviously I haven't done anything to curb it since it's something that doesn't even register to me anymore). But as long as you keep a brisk pace and a clear direction, she's happy to trot along; it's when the person slows down that she starts drifting off to sniff and wander.

Ashling still really hates being wet. This is what she did immediately after coming in from this morning's walk through the (extremely light) rain:

I'm pretty sure that's the first/only time I've heard her growl. Of course the one thing on Earth that would make her growl would be water. Of course.

On the training front: we finally had a breakthrough on Sit this morning.

I wasn't making much progress with it earlier because, while Ashling does occasionally Sit of her own accord, she does not do it when I'm around with a bag of treats, because excitement overwhelms her to the point where all she can do is (1) skitter from side to side doing her little happy-feet tap dance; (2) jump in the air and wave her front paws around; or (3) veeeerrry occasionally stand still for a second. No offered Sits = no opportunity to clicker capture the behavior.

So then I tried doing it via lure-reward, and promptly ran into a roadblock because Ashling's initial lured Sit was an incredibly exaggerated, stretched-out hip Sit. She looked like an upside-down question mark. And while I realize that this dog is probably not destined for Seriously Serious competition and it therefore might not matter that much if she has a lopsided Sit, it was so extreme that it just looked really uncomfortable.

I have no idea why she opted to Sit that way. It is not something I've ever seen a dog do before, at least not that consistently. She did this for two sessions.

But then this morning she started reverting to something more closely approximating a normal Sit (it still looks pretty wacky, but not as wacky), so hooray!, we might actually be able to progress past the luring stage and get this on cue by the time she goes home.

Ashling seems to be much more into self-education than directed education. For as much trouble as we've had getting her Sit off the ground, she's been really quick to pick up other things she sees Dog Mob doing.

The most spectacular example of this is that Ashling has been slowly teaching herself to go up the stairs backwards.

For a while now, I've been trying to teach Crookytail to do the stairs backwards. Pongu mastered this trick over a year ago, but Crookytail is a considerably slower learner so he's still working on getting the whole flight in one go.

Impromptu performance from this morning (this is a fair illustration of where they both are, although Crooky is a little slower than usual in this clip because he's already gone up four flights of stairs backwards before this and is tired):

Because Crooky is still working on this one, we practice it occasionally when I happen to have a treat in my pocket. Because we practice it occasionally, he has learned to eagerly offer the backwards-stairs behavior if he knows I have a treat in my pocket, instead of waiting for me to ask. So a lot of times I'll just be coming in from a walk and Crooky will spontaneously start going up the stairs backwards because he wants a cookie, and I've been potty training Ashling so he knows I have a cookie.

It did not take long for Ashling to notice that Crooky got cookies for doing backwards stairs. Around the third or fourth time they came in together, she began orienting herself backwards in the start position too. I never asked her to do this, it was pure imitative learning. But, once she offered it, I gave her cookies for doing it because I thought it was funny.

Around the sixth or seventh time, Ashling began offering a partial version of the backwards-stairs behavior. Right now she cannot hoist her back feet up to do a complete step (she's managed it once or twice, but I don't think she has either the rear-end awareness or the core muscle strength to do it consistently), but she can jump backwards with her front feet to do a half-step.

So I give her cookies for that too, because again, it makes me laugh.

There's basically a zero percent chance that Ashling will have this behavior completed before she goes home -- she just doesn't have the strength or foundational skills to finish it -- but I'll encourage her to go as far as she wants with it.

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