Friday, January 31, 2014

Farewell to (Rally) Novice A

Today Pongu finished his AKC Rally Novice title with a first-place finish in a class of 9 dogs and a perfect score of 100 at the Sand & Sea Kennel Club's trial in Wildwood NJ.

Going in, I was not overly optimistic about this trial, because it was part of a big multi-day conformation cluster in a convention center and I was all "hoo boy, scaredydog is not gonna like that one." But it was our last chance to finish Pongu's RN before spring, and I really didn't want to wait that long because I just don't have that much patience in my life.

And indeed Pongu did not like the convention center. He didn't like the conformation dogs' big noisy RVs, he didn't like their hair dryers, he didn't like the vacuums that their staff used to clean up loose hair from under their grooming tables, he basically did not like anything about the entire scenario at all. It was a shaky drooly sheddy dandruff wonderland of disaster and for a minute I seriously thought about scratching him and just going shopping instead.

But I figured I'd at least take him into the trial room and see how he did in there first. And once we got into the obedience room (which was in one of the convention center ballrooms and somewhat sheltered from the main event), where it was considerably quieter, he calmed down enough that I was like "COOL WE'RE GOING IN" and so we went in.

I actually practiced the AKC signs before the trial this time. It helped. We got three of the only-in-AKC signs on this run, but HAHA this time Pongu knew how to do them and they did not trip us up.

Sadly this trial didn't offer title ribbons, so we finished the day with just two little flats. Oh well.

If I hadn't screwed Pongu up on his first run, he would have completed his RN with a string of three consecutive first-place finishes. Oh well x 2. I'll add that to my list of deathbed regrets.

Afterwards Pongu ran around the beaches (which allow dogs in winter) and steadfastly refused to play with Ariella the pittie mix, who is Crookytail's friend but not Pongu's friend because Pongu is a giant nerdlinger and has no friends.

 Pongu is much more into digging giant holes in the sand than socializing with other dogs.

He will begrudgingly sit next to them for photos but that is it.

Anyhow, that concludes our run in AKC Rally Novice A. I will never ever get to have another Rally Novice A dog again for the rest of my life. That's it. You only get one. After this, every dog has to start in Novice B.

Your Novice A dog is special. I'm glad I got to share this moment with Pongu, and that he gets to be formally recognized as my Novice A dog in Rally. Because he is and will always be the one with whom It All Began. <3

p.s. And just for the record, the shopping was pretty sweet. I got a nice braided kangaroo leather slip lead for Crookytail's hypothetical future agility career, a bag of dried duck hearts, another bag of dried buffalo tripe, two beef tracheas (both since demolished by Dog Mob), and a squeaky toy to celebrate Ariella's CGC and CGCA, which were the product of many months of very hard work and dedication with her person.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

World Cynosport Rally Trial, Andover NJ 1/26/14

Not one of our better days, alas.

We drove up to Andover on Sunday to catch the second half of the Products4Pets/Golden Rule weekend trial. It was a very cold day -- I overheard one of the other competitors saying it was somewhere between 7 and 10 degrees, and that sounded about right to me -- and although I ran the car between every run to warm it back up again, it got chilly again almost as soon as I turned off the engine.

Because Pongu has to be "crated" in the car (he really just sits in the backseat, but whatever), that meant the poor little guy spent a fair amount of time shivering when he wasn't working. And once he got inside the facility, it was a big scary scarefest of heaters and ceiling vents. There was one particular fan or vent that blew hot air directly onto the spot where the next dog in line was supposed to wait to enter the ring, and Pongu did not like that.

He tried. I cannot fault him for trying. Little scaredy dog did his level best to work through his fear and distraction, but at several points, his phobias got the better of him and he'd wander away from heeling to check out a particularly suspicious decoration or stare at a person at ringside.

And I made a bunch of mistakes of my own: starting one of the 270s in the wrong direction, letting the leash get tangled around Pongu's legs during one of our L1 runs, generally doofing up the place right and left.

Soooo... we both have a lot of things to work on.

Initially I was feeling pretty discouraged about that run -- a lot of thoughts along the lines of "have we made no progress these last few months?!" -- but the next afternoon, I got a wonderful surprise: unbeknownst to me, one of the other competitors had been practicing with her camera exposure during one of our runs, and after she got home and was going through her pictures, she realized that she knew us from a dog forum.

So she inboxed me the pictures and wow! I was just so delighted to see Pongu's attentiveness and effort in these shots.

Sadly the rest of our runs didn't really look like that. We did pick up one QQQ toward ARCHMX, but only one (lost the other on a broken Stay in Level 3 -- it was the longest-distance Stay I've ever seen, with the dog positioned in one corner of the venue and the recall sign clear across the room in the opposite corner -- which I knew was too far for Pongu to hold, and indeed so it was).

But I'm happy to have those moments in time so wonderfully, and unexpectedly, preserved. I often tell people who are just starting out with their dogs that if you can get focus for 3 seconds, you can eventually get it for 30 seconds, and then for 3 minutes.

Right now we're somewhere between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. But we can get there. Eventually. Someday.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Snow Day Mk. 2

This morning we were supposed to get up at 4 am for a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Andover, New Jersey, where Pongu and I were entered in a Rally trial.

But, instead, I sent in a cancellation notice late last night and this morning we slept in, because there was two to four inches of snow forecast for the afternoon and that particular drive is a long and, in places, winding trek that I did not feel confident about braving in adverse weather. Also, it was a double trial in a single-ring facility, meaning that we'd leave in the dark and get back in the dark. ALSO also, I smashed the passenger side-view mirror on our car recently, because I am the greatest driver in the entire world.

In all, it just didn't seem worth the stress or risk. So we sacrificed the entry fees and stayed home and just played in the snow instead.

Pongu and I did some heelwork; Crookytail and I practiced our (extremely slow and clumsy) front crosses; both dogs played several rounds of "Find It" with treats in the snow. And later, when other dogs came into the park, they wrestled and chased and played keep-away with tennis balls too.

I think Pongu was just as happy to take a snow day as go off and compete. And for Crookytail, no question, playing in the snow beats staying at home bored any time.

Tomorrow, however, it is not supposed to snow any more, so Pongu and I will endeavor to pick up another triple Q or two. I don't want to waste all our entry fees. Trial weekends are expensive!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Snow Day!

After all my haste to get Shakespeare placed before last weekend's transport, it turned out that there wasn't an appropriate foster for me in the 79 dogs and puppies they pulled after all. Every one of the dogs was too big, too small, too young, too energetic, a non-permitted breed (read: pittie), or already had another foster lined up.

Welp. I'm keeping an eye on the listings and hoping maybe something turns up next week, but honestly I'm in no hurry. Pongu and I just got our first-ever Gold spot at the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy -- we'll be doing Obedience Skillbuilding, plus lurking around in Precision Heeling at Bronze -- and since those courses are intense, I don't expect to have a lot of time or attention to spare on a foster for a while anyhow. Not while we're doing that and our regular training-club classes and actively competing in assorted venues.

Plus I got my revision notes back for Super Secret Dragon Age Novel and the turnaround period on that is ultra short (as in: two weeks to revise a 400-page novel), so that has also been a cause for preoccupation lately.

In light of all this, it was actually a welcome respite to get hit with a blizzard yesterday. 14 inches of snow! Last night around 10 pm it was up to the dogs' chests, and that was before it stopped coming down.

So, of course, as soon as I got home from work we went out to explore the fresh-fallen snow. Few things make Dog Mob as happy as fresh, deep snow, and few things make me as happy as watching them delight in it. Cure for all sorts of cynicism, that.

We went to the dog park and they romped around over the marks of previous dogs' rompings. Another dog came in and Crookytail was almost too rambunctious for safety -- I came close to pulling him out a couple of times -- so it looks like we're not entirely over that issue yet. He was much better when we went back this afternoon, though.

They played a couple of rounds of "Find It" with treats tossed into the deep drifts.

And then we went to investigate the basketball courts, because the snow there was almost completely untouched and ridiculously deep, so the dogs could practically swim in it if they wanted.

And then we went home because my fingers were starting to get frostbitten.

A day later, there's almost no pristine snow to be found anywhere. It's such a rare and evanescent pleasure in the city. We'll probably be able to find some nice spots today, because the temperature is cold enough to keep a lot of people inside, but by tomorrow I figure it'll pretty much be gone.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Shakespeare Goes Home

Thursday morning, Shakespeare went to the vet to get his stitches taken out. He was a good patient, albeit a worried one, and held still while sutures were snipped and plucked from some very tender areas of his anatomy.

I think he was more worried in the waiting area than the exam room, poor guy.

That night I took him out to the dog park for the first time, since he was finally off exercise restriction with his stitches out. Well after dark, so no pictures, but he did very nicely playing with Pongu and Crookytail.

Friday morning we played a little more Fun With Benches, this time featuring Pongu rather than Crooky.

And then Shakespeare went home.

Choosing a home for Shakespeare was a difficult decision. He was an extremely lucky little guy to have multiple wonderful families interested in him, and I'm confident that he would have blossomed in any of those homes. In the end, I sent him home with the first family who met him. They had a gentle and supportive way of interacting with him and seemed well prepared to handle his transition period, and I felt that it wouldn't take long at all for Shakespeare to bond fully with his new people and become the happy, playful little dog that is waiting to emerge from that temporarily chastened cocoon.

And that (probably!) ends Shakespeare's time with us. Farewell, little fluff dog!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Shakespeare About Town

Shakespeare's leash walking is continuing to progress. He now potties reliably outside (no more peeing on my deck!) and is almost totally comfortable walking around the city. Strange people and ordinary cars are no longer cause for hesitation, although the loud hydraulic noise of a SEPTA bus still gives him pause, as it does most dogs.

He's also still figuring out that the leash actually physically connects him to me, by which I mean that he wraps himself around telephone poles and bike stands constantly and then gets very confused about why he's all tangled up. But these incidents are already becoming less common so I think he's starting to figure that one out.

Because his confidence has improved so substantially, I can now take him out to pose for silly pictures with the other mutt monsters.

...and they can all go out for walks together, at least when it's late enough that not too many people will be inconvenienced by our hogging the entire sidewalk.

(^ taking that picture was a minor ordeal, which is why Pongu and Crookytail look so unhappy on either side of Shakespeare. They were being Very Good Dogs and holding their Sit-Stays while Shakespeare jumped on their heads, licked their mouths, chewed their tails, and otherwise frantically tried to convince them to play with him. When he finally figured out that we were doing the "sit still for cookies" thing, he huffed and laid down impatiently until the other dogs were willing to move again.)

In a few minutes I'll be taking Shakespeare to the vet to have his stitches removed, and then maaaayyybe we'll stop by the dog park depending on how muddy it looks and how crowded it is. I don't want him getting too crazy just yet, even a couple weeks after his operation. So if it's packed (or rowdy, or completely turned into a giant mud puddle) we'll give it a miss.

Tomorrow he's going home.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Shakespeare Learns to Walk on Leash

In between assorted other projects, Shakespeare has been slowly building his confidence on leash.

As expected, he's actually making excellent progress. In less than a week, he has gone from total pancake paralyzation outdoors to (1) ignoring a loose, dragging leash indoors while playing; (2) grudgingly following me around indoors on leash; (3) following me around more readily indoors; and now (4) cautiously following me around outdoors.

Given that the environmental jump from "indoors" to "outdoors" is considerably larger in Center City Philadelphia than it would be in most other places, this is a huge hurdle for the little guy, and I'm proud that he's coming along so quickly. I feel pretty confident in predicting that his adopters will be able to get him walking normally on leash within two to four weeks, depending on what their neighborhood is like and how regularly they practice with Shakespeare.

These clips are from last night and therefore poorly lit and shaky, but I'll post them anyway to demonstrate where we are right now.

Shakespeare on leash walking around the park:

He trots along with me readily except when we pass by another person (at which point he shrinks off to the side, does a Sit, and watches the person cautiously until they walk away or I can coax him past) or, as shown in this clip, when a car goes by blaring loud music. With a few more exposures these things will cease to be a big deal and I anticipate he'll stop being so scared of them, but right now they are new and foreign and make him worry a little.

Shakespeare is almost too afraid to take treats outside the house right now. He'll do it, but only irregularly and when it's relatively quiet. Again, this is normal and I expect it will pass: he's not a fearful dog, but a temporarily overwhelmed one. What works best for him as a reward currently is praise, petting, and occasionally (when I need to coax him forward out of a frozen moment) turning toward him and lowering my body in a crouch. This induces him to start moving toward me and then I can turn around and resume the walk and he'll be "un-stuck" and able to continue.

He does sometimes accept treats and seems to find it easier to take small soft ones (bits of string cheese and cooked chicken) rather than dry or crunchy ones (dehydrated lamb lung and beef liver, while his favorites indoors, are things he's not yet ready to take outside). We are, of course, currently using the highest-value treats in my repertoire for outdoors work.

I'm also allowing him to self-reward occasionally by sniffing, at least when I know he's sniffing "legal" things like other dogs' pee and not illicit treats like half-eaten chicken wings or drunk-people vomit (a constant hazard along South Street).

The goal here is to encourage him to believe that there are interesting, non-scary, enjoyable things to encounter when he goes outside, so that he'll start to look forward to walks instead of dreading them. If he likes to sniff pee, that's fine with me -- that is a normal doggy thing to do and, unlike trying to hassle other dogs or people on the street (as many of my fosters have before!), it doesn't generally bother anyone else. So for now I'll allow Shakespeare to self-reward in this fashion. Later he might not need it so much and I'll get a little more insistent about our cues to keep moving.

His confidence has improved to the point where he takes the condo stairs at a pretty good clip now. These also used to be cause for total panic and pancaking. Not anymore!

So that's pretty much what we've been doing lately and where we are with it. I'm not quite optimistic enough to expect that Shakespeare will be walking around with full confidence by the time I send him home, but I do think he'll get there within a month or so.

I may try taking him out to the dog park later this week. I expect he'll do just fine there, but expecting things is not at all the same as actually seeing them in practice. So we'll give that a try, and it will probably be the last of Shakespeare's Big Adventures before I kick him out of here.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

AKC Rally Trial - Essex County Obedience Training Club, Verona NJ

We return Triumphant! from our second AKC Rally trial. This one was hosted by the Obedience Training Club of Essex County, NJ, and was held in a high school that had been (I guess?) rented for the purpose and thoroughly Saran Wrapped so that dogs could be crated along the lockers without fear of getting dog hair in the students' gym clothes. Or something. I don't know.

It was almost as big as Saturday's trial -- over 200 teams entered between obedience and Rally -- but because it was being held at a high school rather than a college's sports hall, the six rings were split up into two different gymnasiums. Each gymnasium held three dog rings, and much of the crating space had been moved to the hallways outside, so the level of sheer deafening pandemonium was much lower. Still extremely high, though, so I wasn't sure what to expect from Pongu. I thought maybe he'd be tired from Saturday and not up to full strength on Sunday, and it was a new scary environment again, so I was worried about that too.

But he did okay. Not great, but okay. There were a lot of distracted moments and some disconnects and one repeat cue on a Sit-Down-Walkaround (but AKC doesn't penalize you for repeated cues), but he stayed with me well enough to pick up a score of 98/100, and that was good enough for a first-place finish in the class of 11 dogs*.

(* -- once again, almost all of these were "fake" Novice A dogs, and almost all the same ones who were in the class on Saturday. By way of illustrating how non-Novice A these "Novice A" dogs were, the lowest qualifying score in the class was a 94.)

I was happy. My crazypants fearful dog managed to work out another Q in a Super Scary Overwhelming Venue -- and sure, it wasn't our prettiest run in the history of the world, but it was so much better than I had any right to expect, and I am just bursting with so much pride for him.

It didn't matter that there were no cookies in the ring. It didn't matter one bit. What mattered to Pongu is that we were doing his Important Job and he knew how to do it and he was proud to do his work, even though it was hard and scary for him to do that. I could see him working through his fear -- and he did it!

Up against the pedigreed performance dogs, he held his own. Not perfectly, but respectably. It was enough to renew my optimism and determination about my panicky little mutt's career.

I am inordinately proud to have a blue ribbon that says "AKC" on it. I really am. As much ambivalence as I feel about that organization in many respects, I am still so proud to have that win. It means a lot to me to have my crazy ol' Pongupants win a competitive class against Seriously Serious purebreds. I didn't think it would, but it does.

I just get such an absurd glow of satisfaction out of that.


In other news, Shakespeare met with his first set of prospective adopters this evening. He was a sad and shivery little dog for most of the meeting, because he stepped in some poop this afternoon so I had to wash his legs and tummy, and he wasn't entirely dry when I took him out to meet the adoptive family. And he's still in full-on shutdown mode outside the house, mostly, especially since I haven't worked with him much this weekend between Pongu's Rally competitions and the miserable weather.

But I think the meeting went as well as it could have. The prospective adopters seem like a lovely family and Shakespeare seemed to take to them, albeit very tentatively. On the way home, he was actually feeling confident enough to walk on his own feet for two blocks, which he has never done before.

We'll keep on keepin' on with his rehab exercises and see how far he gets by the end of the week. He's making progress at a good clip, really. Shakespeare is supposed to meet with his second group of prospective adopters on Wednesday and then I'm hoping to be able to send him home pretty soon after that, because I'd really like to clear out this foster space by Sunday if I can.

One minor setback though is that he's come down with kennel cough. It doesn't sound too serious and just about every foster dog has broken with kennel cough after the shelter/boarding/transport sequence, but it's another minor thing to deal with temporarily.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

2014 - Full Speed Ahead

Busy busy past few days.

This little guy is still here, although hopefully not for that much longer. He has three serious prospective adopters and was supposed to meet with the first family today, but I think the massive deluge we're getting right now may ruin that plan. Even if the adopters were willing to put up with being soaked, Shakespeare hates getting wet and there's no chance he'd show well in such circumstances.

So, oh well, we're going to try to reschedule for tomorrow. Shakespeare is slated to meet the second group of adopters on Wednesday the 15th and the third group on Monday the 20th. I'm very much hoping he'll be able to go home as soon as possible after that. The rescue is getting a huge influx of dogs on Sunday the 19th (it's the big annual trip where all the available volunteers go down to North Carolina and pull as many dogs as they can) so there's been a call for "all hands on deck," foster-wise, and as a result I'm trying to get Shakespeare placed just about as soon as somebody's willing to take the little guy.

Mostly what I've been working on with him for the past few days is leash walking. It turns out that at least part of his pancaking outside was not due to environmental stress, but due to his extremely negative reaction to being on leash. I'm not sure whether this was a learned bad association (i.e., whether his original owners did something that caused him to have a very negative response to leash walking) or whether it's just so foreign and uncomfortable to him that the mere fact of having a leash attached was all the aversive he needed to shut down completely, but either way, when I first put a leash on him indoors to work on basic manners, Shakespeare pancaked immediately and refused to budge.

So we spent a while just getting him comfortable enough to stand up on leash, then taking a few steps forward in the hallway, then taking a few more steps forward in the hallway, etc.

Day One (this is actually the third session; the first two were so pitiful that you'd think I beat the poor dog to within an inch of his life before turning on the camera. This was the first time he was willing to move at all with the leash attached):

Day Two (this is maybe the fifth session?):

You can see he's getting a little more comfortable, although his body language is still subdued and not entirely relaxed. If the weather weren't so awful today, I would have tried to take him outside. As is, we might experiment with the condo hallway and see if he's willing to walk a little down there.

I've also been continuing to reward Shakespeare for default Sits. It isn't really on cue -- he doesn't have any concept that the word "Sit" is connected to the action of Sitting at this point -- but he offers the behavior whenever I stop walking, look at him, hold up a cookie, or otherwise do anything indicating that some response from him is warranted. It's still the same rolled-over hip Sit but I don't have time to fix that right now and none of his prospective adopters seem to care so welp, I guess this is just gonna be how Shakespeare does his Sit for a while.

IN OTHER NEWS, Crookytail was supposed to start his Agility Foundations class yesterday, but he had to miss the first session because I've been stuck late at work a lot this week. I have a bunch of case deadlines coming up in the next couple of weeks, plus my publisher likes my new story proposal and wants a full outline ASAP, plus I need to do some manuscript revisions for one of my 2014 books, so... there's been a lot on the non-dog-related work front lately, and as usual, Crooky is the one who gets shortchanged the worst.

Pongu also missed his first heelwork class of the year, but at least I made it to his Rally competitions.

On Wednesday we went out to the Bella Vista Training Club for a small weeknight trial. Six runs, six Qs. 210/200/205, 208/206/203. I thought those were going to count as his second and third ARCHMX QQQs, but apparently World Cynosport and I have different ideas about Pongu's current score tally, so I might turn out to be wrong about that.

It doesn't really matter, though. We'll get his ARCHMX when we get it. Hopefully before his fourth birthday, but that should be a fairly easy deadline to hit.

Then today we went to our first-ever AKC competition. Pongu was entered in Rally Novice A, which at first I thought was going to be kind of a joke... until I actually got to the venue.

This doesn't begin to capture what it was actually like.

This was the Princeton Dog Training Club's 57th annual obedience trial and 9th annual Rally trial, and it was a big event. Six rings all going at the same time, lots of the Big Name obedience trainers in our area (so many OTCH dogs! so many soon-to-be OTCH dogs!), lots of famous kennel names out there getting famous-er. Tanbark, High Times, Gaylan, Carousel, Sprite, Isengard. Dozens upon dozens of sporting Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Flatcoats, Border Collies, Mals, Tervs, Aussies -- i.e., all the Seriously Serious obedience breeds.

There were 139 obedience dogs and 72 Rally dogs. Zero of the obedience dogs were mutts. Five of the Rally dogs were mutts. I thought this was sufficiently hilarious that I actually bought the catalog to make sure. (Bonus hilarity: the catalog lists Pongu, correctly, as a mutt in the main listings, but then as a "miniature poodle" in the end-note summary. I have no idea how that happened.)

The other Rally Novice A dogs were, like Pongu, "fake" Novice A dogs who had lots of other titles, just no titles that counted for AKC Rally purposes. One was a Grand Champion in conformation, another had a bunch of advanced agility titles and belonged to a person who's working on an OTCH with her other dog (but had her husband showing this dog in Novice A), one was a TD, another was an MH, and so on and so forth. I don't think there was a single actual first-time-in-the-ring Novice A dog out of the 11 dogs in the group.

I still managed to get completely seized up with ring nerves, though, because I just had no idea how Pongu was going to do in that venue. The stadium was huge and loud, the ring itself was small (meaning he'd have to Heel right up against the ring gating, which always makes him freak out), crazypants dog was super stressy, there weren't any cookies allowed in the ring (which I didn't think was going to make a huge difference, but who knows, it's not like I bothered practicing to make sure), and we drew a course that had a bunch of AKC signs that I also didn't bother practicing because I am a big huge idiot.

So pretty much we went in there and it was super ungraceful and my brain totally stopped working on the Figure 8 so I got lost and had to do a re-try on that one (3 points off), and Pongu got so stressy that he refused to do a Front and we had to do another re-try on that one (3 more points off), and our heeling was a thing of sadness (1 point off on a wide turn, because the judge was kind and did not want to hit a Novice team as hard as we really deserved).

Final score: 93 out of 100, putting us squarely in the middle of the pack. If I hadn't screwed up that Figure 8, we would have had a 96 and first place (and a super nice ribbon -- this trial, befitting its almost 60-year history, seriously went all-out on its ribbons), but you know what, I will take the 93 with no complaints.

Because Pongu held it together in a huge scary loud venue with no cookies. He worked out a Q even though the fire alarm went off the first time he entered the building and continued to blare for a solid three or four minutes. He gave me nice straight Sits and a nice straight Front (even if he did blow it the first two times to veer into unasked-for left finishes...) and his heeling wasn't that bad, mostly, and overall it's just so, so far beyond where he was a year ago.

And now I know he can do this, and that means he can do even more.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Shakespeare - Day Four

Busy day today (and tomorrow), so just a quick video post.

Shakespeare seems much happier since I've temporarily given up on dragging him outside (too cold!). He's happy to just scamper onto the frozen deck, do his thing as quickly as possible, and flee back inside; we've had zero potty accidents since I resigned myself to just letting him potty on the deck. Not ideal, but I'm not going to subject either Shakespeare or myself to 40-minute stretches of standing outside in (literally) frozen terror, so we'll make do.

Some clicker work from this morning. This is his fourth session and the first time where he was fully engaged in playing the clicker game with me instead of just trying to crawl into my lap.

I'm rewarding for attention/eye contact, either in response to his name or freely offered. Normally I try not to give too many prompts in these early sessions, but with Shakespeare it seemed helpful to say his name to keep him focused on the idea that he's supposed to be "working" (sort of); stretches of silence were usually when he'd start trying to cuddle up to me.

I have not actively been trying to teach Shakespeare to Sit, but he has been offering a bunch of Sits anyway because he's learned that Sit is usually what earns cookies when I'm trying to take pictures of him with the other dogs. As a result, it's rapidly becoming his default behavior (yay!) and should be pretty easy to clicker capture that behavior -- if I want to keep his current Sit, which I'm undecided about. It's a rolled-over hip Sit that looks pretty cute and seems to be most comfortable for him, but would be undesirable for competition purposes and might be a hassle to re-train if his adopters later decide they want a straight "proper" Sit (a thing that Pongu still sometimes has trouble with, because I trained it wrong when he was a puppy and it's very, very hard to change after he's had so many years of repetitions doing it that way). Soooo... eeh, I dunno. I'm only going to have this guy for two weeks (hopefully) and so far none of his prospective adopters have expressed even a mild interest in doing any of the dog sports where a straight Sit would be relevant, so I might just take the sloppy one.

Slightly longer video of him doing everyday stuff, with some notes:

(1) Shakespeare's interest in toy play continues to increase. He doesn't seem familiar with interactive play -- when I try to get him to tug or chase with me, he just looks confused -- but that's not surprising for a dog who was probably mostly ignored in the yard and left to invent his own games. He is clearly familiar with playing with other dogs, both with and without toys.

(2) He's dog-savvy and responds appropriately to changing social situations. At 0:09, 0:16, and 0:20 you can see him clearly reading and backing off from Pongu's unwillingness to share the Christmas Flappy (which Pongu decided a couple of days ago was his #1 toy and not to be shared with the other dogs), then immediately turning around and initiating play with Crookytail. Shakespeare knows where he is and isn't wanted, and reacts accordingly. Not pushy, not aggressive, doesn't argue about who gets the Christmas Flappy -- just very socially appropriate and playful.

(3) At 0:40 or so he comes down with a bout of hiccups. I've never seen that before and the hiccups went away about a minute after I stopped taping, with no signs of recurrence. Crookytail had hiccups yesterday which is probably just a coincidence but who knows. Maybe the dogs have collectively decided they're allergic to this polar vortex nonsense.

(4) At 1:20 Shakespeare goes back into his crate of his own accord. He seems to like having it as his own personal safe space and will hang out there sometimes when he doesn't have to. When he does have to, he's generally very quiet and calm in the crate; if he squeaks, it's usually because he has to potty. I think the neuter stitches must be irritating him and increasing his need to urinate, because right now he can't hold it more than 5 or 6 hours before he needs to go. But at least he always tells me!

Shakespeare is a pretty energetic and athletic little guy when he's in play mode. He has a fairly impressive level of hind-end awareness, too. He switches back into cuddle mode pretty readily, but it's apparent that his adopters are going to have to accommodate a moderate need for exercise. As stumpy-legged as he is, I'm not sure that Shakespeare would be a great jogging partner (although who knows, sometimes they surprise you), but toy play, romping with other dogs, and maybe a little agility for fun might be good for him.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Shakespeare - Day Three

Day Three and a few things are starting to come into focus about Shakespeare.

He is still very unsure about the city. Outside the condo, Shakespeare instantly goes into full-on pancake mode: tummy flattened against the ground, legs sprawled, total refusal to move. It's all just too much for him right now, and his response is to go completely catatonic. I have to drag him by his harness to get him to move, which is no fun for anybody -- he hates it, I hate it, and the sidewalks are a complete disaster of salt mud and melting poopsicles that make a filthy mess of his fur in zero seconds flat.

So we're not really doing leash walks right now. I take him outside and we sit on a bench and watch the city for a few minutes, and when he starts getting overloaded, we go back inside. That's it for now. Pottying on the streets is clearly an ordeal he's not ready to face, and because of that, I'll be looking for adopters who have their own yards where Shakespeare can do his business in peace -- or are willing to deal with a few weeks of frustration while they try to get him to go outside in sub-freezing temps. (But, honestly, I think both he and his future family would be infinitely happier if Shakespeare had a yard to potty in. I have not met many dogs who were as pronounced in this preference as he seems to be. And while I have full confidence that he'll get over it in time -- maybe only a little time -- it is still, trust me, a major aggravation to deal with even on a temporary basis.)

This is a sharp contrast to his behavior inside the condo, where he's relaxed into a playful, mischievious, snuggly little imp already. Shakespeare is happy to play with squeaky toys, happy to fling around flappy toys, happy to chew on bully sticks, just happy all around. He loves the big LL Bean dog bed and he likes playing with the other dogs and he loooooves snuggling with a person. He's an easy keeper in his crate, shows no signs of resource guarding against people or dogs, exhibits no separation anxiety, and is generally a delight to have around.

Shakespeare would do best with a person who is willing to provide gentle and encouraging guidance, I think, because as charming and clowny as this little guy is (and he is!), he also shows some minor tendencies to vent frustration via barking, jumping around crazily, and other not-generally-desirable behaviors. I wouldn't be surprised if he occasionally made attempts to steal and chew up leather objects, either; he mostly keeps to the approved dog toys, but he's tried for Pongu's show leads a couple of times. None of this is remotely serious or beyond the ability of a novice owner to handle, and he's always been very quick to settle down or redirect his energy when asked, but in the wrong home, those bad habits might inadvertently be encouraged. He will need some structure.

At the same time, Shakespeare is very soft -- a hard look or sharp word is crushing to him -- and I doubt he'd ever need more than a simple verbal "no" by way of correction. He would not do well with an owner who used heavy-handed training methods; at least right now, what he needs is someone who's going to help him regain his confidence and figure out how to navigate this strange new world in which he's landed. (I suspect this is a temporary phase, though. I really don't see any indication that Shakespeare is a fearful or particularly anxious dog, as opposed to one who just needs a little temporary hand-holding to get back on his feet.)

So pretty much he needs a supportive but flexible home with a positive-but-not-permissive owner who can teach him appropriate alternative behaviors, build up his confidence, and help him understand that politeness always gets the things he wants, but impatience never works. In other words, the same kind of home I look for all the foster dogs.

I think he'd benefit from having another stable dog in the household, too. I'm not so sure about kids -- Shakespeare would probably be fine with them, but so far he hasn't demonstrated the intense "pssh, the heck with you, there's a kid over there!" love for children that my best family-dog fosters have shown. Then again, it's only his third day here, and he's hardly seen any children since arriving, so that's really still an unknown.

Still no work on formal training yet. I'll give it another try tomorrow. Shakespeare isn't paying much attention to the treats at the moment; every time I set him up for a clicker loading session, he spends most of it trying to crawl into my lap.

Luckily for him, it's exactly that cuddly nature that most of my prospective adopters seem to be seeking.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Day Two With Shakespeare

Day Two with Shakespeare, and the little guy is starting to relax already. He's beginning to show considerable curiosity about his surroundings; everything from the TV to the washing machine seems to be entirely new to him, and is a cause for inquisitive sniffing and careful investigation. I don't think Shakespeare spent much (if any) time indoors previously, but he's adjusting quickly.

Shakespeare is starting to reveal signs of a playful, talkative personality. He has a pretty good repertoire of whistles, squeaks, and grumbles that he's not shy about using when he wants out of the crate or would like more attention. He's barked a couple of times, experimentally, but was quick to give that up when he learned that barking would not work to get attention (but being quiet and/or resorting to more conversational grumbles would).

I can't tell if he's potty trained, but if he isn't, it should be very easy to housebreak this pup. We're still taking it slow, so we haven't done any leash walks out on the street yet; when he needs to potty, I just take him up on the deck and let him go on the piled snow. He always potties promptly outside -- pees almost immediately, poops within five minutes or less. Additionally, Shakespeare is quick to tell me if he needs to go potty while he's in his crate. If he were able to use a yard regularly, potty training would be a breeze.

On the street it might be a little trickier, but we'll find out more about that once I start trying leash walks with him tomorrow.

Shakespeare is sociable and appropriate with the other dogs. He backs down immediately when Pongu yells at him (which Pongu does a lot, because he is and will ever be a giant jerk) and is polite and curious with Crookytail. No playing yet -- in part because I've been discouraging that due to Shakespeare's recent neutering -- but I think if I gave them free rein to do so, they would start playing within another day or two.

He has shown some moderate interest in toys and in the guinea pig, although his interest in the pig seems to be benign curiosity rather than anything predatory. I don't think Shakespeare would have any problem living with indoor cats or other small pets, given a careful introduction.

As far as I can tell, Shakespeare has had no formal training. He doesn't appear to know any of the common cues. However, he's been pretty quick to learn by imitation -- once he saw that the other dogs were getting cookies for holding Sits, he quickly followed suit, which is how I was able to get a bunch of fake family portraits in less than 24 hours after his arrival.

I started clicker priming with him yesterday. It was just one short session to see how he'd react. Shakespeare was still too withdrawn to have much interest in the treats at that point (all he wanted to do was put his head in my lap and snuggle), but I expect we'll have more success now that he's beginning to take a greater interest in his surroundings, so I'll give it another try tonight and see where we get.

And that's where we are on Day Two. I'm going to try not to push him too far too fast, but tomorrow we'll take a shot at exposing Shakespeare to the big bad city.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Introducing Shakespeare

Last night at 2 am we braved the snowy roads (including an apparently unplowed, ice-packed Broad Street), single-digit weather, and assorted completely insane cab drivers to collect Shakespeare, Temporary Dog #23, from a rest stop outside Newark, Delaware.

Shakespeare is yet another mystery mix who was picked up as a stray in Robeson County, North Carolina. The shelter estimated his weight at 30 pounds, but he actually turned out to be smaller: right now he's just a smidge over 20 pounds and slightly underweight; his healthy weight is probably in the neighborhood of 25 pounds.

His build is long and low like a Dachshund or Basset Hound, but his coloring, ear feathering, and plumed tail are pure Golden Retriever (in the light, near-white color that some breeders are marketing as "English Cream" or "Silver"), right down to the slightly deeper ombre effect at the ends of his ears and the underside of his tail. His coat is super soft and fluffy, and he sheds moderately. The vet guessed him as a Beagle mix, which is certainly another possibility.

Shakespeare and his brother Buzz were picked up by Animal Control after a person called to report a pair of stray dogs in the neighborhood. Based on the circumstances in which they were found, the dogs' obvious confusion at their situation, and their poor physical condition, it is probable that they were intentionally dumped. Buzz was suffering from open, festering sores and raw, bloody patches on his skin, which turned out to have been caused by flea allergies and his worrying at the irritated skin. His condition was so bad that he was within hours of dying from shock and infection before a rescue took him.

Shakespeare had some similar, although much milder, symptoms of flea allergies as well. Although the dogs' condition could easily have been prevented by use of topical anti-flea treatments (or, even more simply, by keeping the dogs indoors), it is unfortunately not uncommon for owners in this region to ignore their dogs until they are in pitiful shape, then dump them when treatment becomes too expensive or onerous for them to deal with. We'll never really know for sure, but my guess is that this is what happened here.

In any case, Shakespeare's safe now.

It's too early to tell much about this little guy's personality. He was only neutered on Thursday, so he's still recovering from surgery, as well as the considerable culture shock of trading rural North Carolina for a major East Coast city in the grip of a cold wave. At the moment, Shakespeare is very unsure of himself and shut down, and I'm guessing he'll need a couple of days to start coming out of his shell. Until then, about the only things I feel comfortable saying about him are that he's a sociable and cuddly little dog who takes comfort in the presence of a calm, friendly person, and that he seems more relaxed in the company of other dogs.

Also, he doesn't seem to like snow very much so far.

For now, the immediate goal is just to make Shakespeare more comfortable in his new environment. He's currently too shut down even to walk on leash (he just pancakes on the ground and refuses to move), so formal training and manners work will have to wait. He doesn't appear to be a fearful dog, though, just temporarily overwhelmed, so I'm not concerned about behavioral issues. I expect that within three or four days I'll be dealing with a much more confident dog.