Thursday, August 28, 2014

The McRib Analogy

On occasion, some of my force-based trainer friends (of which I do have a small, select handful) will start singing the praises of compulsion-based training to me. It's so fast! It's so easy! It's so effective! and so on.

Every time this happens, I feel a little like a vegetarian Jew* listening to a carnivore buddy talking about how delicious the McRib sandwich is. A little bit grossed out, a little bit curious, but mostly just running through these three thoughts:

(1) I have never tasted a McRib, and I am never going to taste a McRib, but I have been around them. I have smelled them and I have looked at them, and somehow I feel pretty safe that your definition of "delicious" is not the same as my definition of "delicious" here.

(2) Even if I'm wrong, and by some inconceivable warping of space-time reality a McRib sandwich really is delicious, taste is aaaaactually not the main reason I'm refusing to eat one.

I do have some other considerations to factor into this decision, you know. Animal welfare, general ethics, concerns about the environment, concerns about the gross side effects of putting those chemicals in your body (which yes, sure, might not happen, especially if you only eat McRibs occasionally instead of making them an everyday thing... but personally I still feel better not doing that at all), concerns about what kinds of practices and businesses I want to support, and what kind of world I want to live in.

My personal appetites are not the only thing on the planet.

(3) My life is not actually deprived by the omission of McRibs.

I know! This might be hard to believe! But I am totally happy and healthy without them! I do not feel sad or starved! I can have a healthy, satisfying, balanced diet without McRibs! And yes, I can still be active, and no, my body is not deprived of precious minerals or micronutrients, and in fact I think those are sort of disingenuous fake concerns when people purport to raise them, because let's be honest: you don't really care about my personal nutrition, you just want to make me feel bad about not eating reconstituted pork goop. Moreover, having to put together a complete and balanced vegetarian diet requires me to be more educated and proactive in making my choices than the average person.

It is even (gasp) possible that I eat healthier because I don't touch McRibs.

and as an occasional bonus, I'll add:

(4) I'm not trying to convert you, dude. You can have your McRibs. I might think they're gross but I'm not trying to get them outlawed. Go on, pig out (hur hur, see what I did there?), have a ball. Eat twenty of them. Your life, your choices.

I just don't understand what the point is of trying to "open my eyes" to something I really don't want or need.

(* -- I am not actually either of these things. Hopefully my analogy doesn't offend those who are.)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Dog Mob Goes Lure Coursing!

This morning we piled the monsters into the car and drove out to Sellersville, PA, to do a lure coursing fun run.

For almost a year now, I'd been meaning to go to one of these things, but for one reason or another (well, really just for the one reason: because I am lazy as hell), I never made it out there. So when my friend Danielle said she was interested in giving lure coursing a shot, I thought: finally! Now I'll have no excuse not to haul my lazy butt out there.

And lo, so we went. I actually thought we were going to be 45 minutes late (30 minutes my fault for sleeping in, 15 minutes Peter's fault for deciding at the last second that he wanted to come), but it turned out when we got there that the start time had been delayed for an hour because the grass was still too wet with dew for the dogs to run safely. So actually we ended up being 15 minutes early instead. Score!

Going in, my guess was that Crookytail would be interested in chasing the lures and Pongu might chase them for like 20 feet before giving up and coming back to me.

I got the general direction of their reactions right, but was way off as to the intensity.

Crooky locked on to the lures and got his laser-focused crazy eyes the first time he glimpsed the bags jerking on a test run through the orange fencing. When he finally got a chance to chase them, he was so excited that he actually pulled me off my feet, because I was not prepared for that level of drive coming from Crookytail.

And once he'd tasted the crazy dynamite joys of running after the lure, he was inconsolable about missing out on all the other dogs' runs. The parking lot faced the course, and Crooky could see the lure flying past from inside our car, so he bounced around inside and went insane with frustration that he couldn't be out there.

When I lined up for Pongu's turn, he finally couldn't stand it anymore, jumped out the open window, and ran to the start line. Peter hauled him back to the car and put the windows up a little higher so Crooky wouldn't be able to fit through them again, but that didn't stop the Crookydog. He pounded on the car horn to let us all know that he was Very Disappointed that it wasn't his turn, and then he tried to wriggle out of the partly closed windows and got stuck halfway through.

I had to borrow Danielle's crate and stick Crooky in Dog Jail to keep him out of trouble.

And then Pongu finally got his turn!

...which he didn't want at all.

Pongu didn't like the motor. He didn't like the rustling of the plastic bags. He was not interested in chasing the lure; he barely glanced at it even once the whole time. As far as Pongu was concerned, if we weren't going to do any real work, he didn't want to be there, and he wanted to leave. Immediately.

(I'm amazed Danielle got this one good picture of Pongu. HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE. He was just a nutcase throughout, alternately trying to flee the ring and trying to punch me into going with him.)

Both dogs got a second turn, this time with both of them in the ring together, under the hopes that Pongu would see Crooky chasing the lure and be more confident about following the other dog's lead.

ahahahahaaaa no

I forgot: Pongu never deigns to follow Crooky's lead. But that was all right; Crooky had plenty of fun without him. (Credit for all these pictures, like the previous one, goes to dogbirddaily.)

Guess I'll have to think about whether I want to go after a lure coursing title with Crooky, or just stick with the occasional fun run. Hey, he's finally got an actual sport he can do better than Pongu!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Leia - Two Quick Videos

Leia will be leaving for a sleepover with some prospective adopters shortly (fingers crossed it works out!!), so today's update is just a couple of quick videos.

Here's where we are on loose-leash walking. I wish I'd spent more time on this -- she really hasn't had much practice at all -- but, welp. Deprioritize things, and this is what you get.

The silver lining is that if she's mostly okay-ish with basically no practice, then she should be fine with just a little more work. Currently Leia is mostly well-behaved on leash except when she first comes out of the crate and has a lot of energy to burn, and when she sees something she wants to chase (mostly birds). We still get a little bit of pulling in those situations. It is improving, but not quickly enough that these issues will be resolved when she (hopefully) leaves, so I'm planning to send her off with an EasyWalk harness just to make her adopters' lives slightly easier while they continue working on that stuff.

Another thing she'll be going off with is our bird wand, because that is currently her favorite toy.

And that's that for today's super quick update. Tomorrow: sleepover party!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Leia Goes to the Dog Park

This weekend I took Leia out to the dog park so she could stretch her legs and run around a bit.

She had a good time on Saturday and a mostly-good time on Sunday, marred just a teeny bit by an overly rambunctious and slightly rude pit mix who bowled her over and bullied her a while (then his owner intervened and he moved on to bowling over other young dogs. Not an aggressive dog, just an over-enthusiastic adolescent and maaaybe a bit of a bully -- he stood down and backed off quickly when Pongu and Crooky told him "lol nope," but if dogs were less assertive then he'd push them around).

This is from Saturday when Leia made some new friends:

And video:

Overall Leia seemed to really enjoy playing with the other dogs. She was completely socially appropriate with other canines: played enthusiastically with receptive dogs, left the uninterested dogs alone, participated in numerous role reversals (switching quickly from chasing to being chased and back), and was all in all an A+ dog park dog on that front.

She was less appropriate with the people in the park, but that's not too surprising as we're starting to creep into the Sad Temporary Dog Phase.

Like most of my foster dogs, Leia is extremely people-oriented, and right now there's a void in her life because she does not have a person to bond with. I've made it very clear that I am not and will never be her person. So Leia is sad, because she wants someone to love her and she doesn't have anyone who loves her right now. As a result of this, she spends a lot of time in the dog park making cute faces at everybody sitting on the benches, snuggling up to them, theatrically rolling on her back to invite tummy rubs, etc. Most of the people she hassles are charmed by this behavior (if they didn't like dogs, they wouldn't be in the park), but I'm never especially excited to see one of the foster dogs doing that stuff, especially since Leia tends to ask for attention by jumping on people and I am not a huge fan of that. I've pretty much extinguished the behavior as to me, but of course everybody at the park reinforces it, so... bleeeeeh.

The good news is that all this stuff tends to solve itself once the foster dog has a Person to focus on (my own dogs never pay attention to anyone else in the park -- Crooky peed on a poor unususpecting lady today and Pongu gave a bunch of dirty looks to people who tried to pet him; that's the extent of how much they care about random strangers); the bad news is that I can't really get rid of it until then.

On the training front, we have loose-leash walking pretty solid and she's graduated to walking regularly on a flat buckle collar, except when I'm walking the entire mob of dogs simultaneously. Leia is good at focusing solo, not so good in a crowd.

She does still need occasional click-and-treat reinforcement for good behavior on daily walks, but we had a breakthrough a couple of days ago and it's going much faster now. Her adopters should be prepared to continue reinforcing her on walks for a few weeks so she learns to pay attention to them too, and then I think she ought to be pretty okay with occasional surprise jackpots to keep things fresh. Ignoring critters is beyond her focus level right now, but she's little, so that can either be trained as a longer-term project or just managed, depending on the environment and the owner's goals.

We haven't worked on anything new since my last update, mostly because I've been spending a lot of time writing and not a lot of time on dog training this past week, and most of the time I did spend on training things was with Pongu. So, welp.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Two Quick Video Updates for Leia

I may or may not get around to recapping Pongu's trial weekend later, but in the meantime, a couple of super quick video updates on Leia:

She's learning how to play with dog toys and also learning to distinguish dog toys from Things That Shall Not Be Touched, i.e., everything else in my house. So far she's been mostly good.

She does tend to steal and shred Kleenexes, and she is not above raiding trash cans if the trash is food-related and within easy reach (she'll raid my wastebasket, because that's at an easy height for her, but has not attempted to jump into and knock over the kitchen trash), but that's all just normal puppy stuff. As long as her future home is willing to continue to provide appropriate structure and boundaries, this should be easy to handle. One promptly delivered "no" is usually sufficient to get her to knock it off, plus maybe a couple of steps in her direction to impose a little spatial pressure.

The main thing is that she'll probably need a decent variety of dog toys accessible to her. Leia is a fairly mouthy puppy (not extremely so, but... Labrador, you know?) and if she doesn't have enough toys to choose from, I suspect there is a fair chance she'd start making her own. Fortunately, in this house, there is no shortage of disgusting spit-crusted squishy toys strewn all over every square inch of floor space. Fortunately.

Anyway here's a short video of Crooky trying to encourage her to play. Their efforts keep getting somewhat spoiled by Pongu stealing the ball and proudly presenting it to me because he is a giant nerd, but that made me laugh too.

Potty training is still a work in progress (Leia's adopters should definitely have and be prepared to use a crate to help with that) but it's going pretty well. We finally got to the point yesterday where I could start working on other things besides "don't pee in my house." FINALLY.

Here we're doing a round of Sit:

She anticipates my cue a couple of times because this is currently the only thing she knows and so it's pretty easy for her to guess what the correct answer's going to be. Later we'll work on cue distinctions (maybe, if I have time). The more important thing for me right now is just to build up the value of Sit as a default behavior, since Leia is destined for pet life and having a really strong Sit is, in my opinion, probably more valuable for everyday life than a bunch of other cues would be in that setting.

I don't really know what I want to do with her next. Originally my plan was to do some intro nosework, but I actually don't know if I'm going to have the patience to get into that with Leia. She's a happy little worker and highly food-motivated, but her attention span is infinitesimal right now and the basic concept of "target odor" hasn't clicked immediately, and I have enough to do that I'm really not feeling that motivated to push through this initial hurdle.

Eh, we'll see.

Friday, August 8, 2014

First Days With Leia

We're closing in on the end of our first week with Leia, and we've made good progress on some fronts, less so on others.

The main things we've been working on for the first few days have been (1) leash walking; and (2) potty training. Leia didn't have a super great foundation on either of these skills when she arrived; I suspect her previous foster pretty much just let her out into the backyard to do her business and didn't spend a whole lot of time walking her on leash or working on a structured potty training routine.

After five days, Leia is much much better at leash walking, although she does still occasionally pull toward other dogs, discarded food on the street, pigeons, and squirrels. She's shown some surprising bursts of athleticism when it comes to pouncing on dead leaves and skittering bugs, which makes me think that she might turn out to be an unexpectedly good backyard hunter (mice and low-flying birds beware!).

As far as pets inside the home go, though, she's very sweet, and has shown no signs of predatory behavior toward my guinea pig or aggression of any kind with my dogs.

Potty training remains a work in progress. The main difficulty here is that Leia's not completely confident about the noisy bustle of city streets yet, and as a result she can be reluctant to potty outside, plus she doesn't have a ton of experience pottying on leash, so she just holds it and holds it and holds it until either she gets a chance to potty somewhere quiet off leash (which means: in my house, unless I am ultra vigilant about not giving her even the tiniest opportunity to do that) or she absolutely can't hold it any more.

This means that she's spending her entire day either in the crate or outside on the street with me holding her leash and trying not to look super creepy or awkward as we hang out beside some random semi-grassy patch for 20 minutes and I try to will this dog into peeing by sheer telepathic force.

I finally got a pee and a poop outside on leash within the past 12 hours, and of course both of those landmark events were celebrated with major parties and treat showers, so I am hopeful that we'll have a breakthrough pretty soon and this stage will be put behind us. Once I get that breakthrough where the dog realizes "oh! this is what I'm supposed to do!", the rest of the process tends to be fast and easy. I just don't know if we're quite there yet. It might be another few days.

Anyway, because I can't really trust her in my house just yet and Leia doesn't have the focus to work outside without getting distracted, we haven't been able to do a whole lot of training beyond those two issues. She does have a decent Sit on verbal cue (possibly from her previous foster, possibly innate, I can't tell) and so we're working on reinforcing Sit as a default behavior. She's picking that up pretty quickly.

Everything I've seen from Leia so far indicates that she'll be a super pet for someone. She is great with kids, great with other pets, crates quietly overnight, doesn't show any signs of resource guarding or other obvious behavioral problems. She's sweet, gentle, sociable, extremely affectionate (this dog loves cuddling and has the most enthusiastic "welcome home!" spasm-of-joy routine I've ever seen), tolerant of body handling, and has a profound people-pleaser personality.

Once we get the potty training stuff knocked out, it shouldn't take long at all to find her a great home.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Leia Arrives!

This afternoon we drove out to the Wings Airfield to pick up Temporary Dog #25, a black Lab/Dachshund mix named Leia. At 20 pounds and an estimated 8 months of age, Leia is a little smaller and a little younger than most of our fosters have been, but not by all that much. She's available for adoption through Almost Home - Doylestown.

I had never gotten a dog from the Pilots N Paws volunteer air transport group before -- in fact, I'd never even been to one of the small private airfields they use -- so I was pretty curious about this new experience.

The airfield was located in the prosperous-looking suburb of Blue Bell, PA. This was what the "parking lot" for the private planes looked like:

The cars in the vehicle parking lot skewed toward high-end sports cars and luxury models, which I guess is not all that surprising, but as a group they were still pretty funny to see parked out in a grassy field in the middle of suburbia.

This was the waiting area/lounge/customer service building, where we hung out for maybe 10 minutes before the combination of overactive air conditioning, lack of available chairs, and godawful TV news programs chased me back out to the parking lot:

The flight was about an hour late, since storms in NC forced the pilot to delay his departure there. But, eventually, the plane pulled in and the dogs unloaded and we leashed up Leia to take her home. That's her plane in the background there:

Sad Hound Look on the way home:

It's too early yet to tell much about her personality or behavior. So far, Leia seems to be a very sweet, affectionate, cuddly young dog. She's fine with Dog Mob and hasn't noticed the guinea pig yet. It doesn't appear that she's had any formal training, and she doesn't really know how to walk on leash, but I think she'll make progress quickly on those things.

I don't see a lot of sport potential in this dog, except at the very most casual recreational level. That isn't based on her temperament (it's much too early to tell anything about that), but structurally, Leia's got a very Dachshund-like build, and that is not going to be much of a selling point to most people looking for sport dogs.

That actually works out okay for me, though. Dog Mob is just beginning to dabble in nosework, and I was thinking that after I got through the basic foster dog curriculum, it might be fun to try doing a little beginner nosework with Leia, mostly just so I could have some practice working with a totally green dog and seeing how that goes.

So for now, tentatively, that's the plan: get Leia used to living in the city, knock out the basic life skills training stuff, and then play with nosework until she finds a home.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Pongu Starts Agility

Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd type.

Ever since I got Pongu's OFA results back, and Crooky's PT vet said in passing "you know, Pongu's structure isn't really that bad," the little thought in the back of my head had been growing: maybe Pongu could try agility someday.

Maybe, just maybe, he might be able to do it. Maybe he could at least try.

There are a lot of reasons I never started agility with Pongu. I always figured he'd be too fearful to approach, let alone do, the obstacles. This is, after all, the dog who took a full year (and dozens upon dozens of NQs) to get semi-reliable with doing a single bar jump in Rally.

But it's been a while since we had problems with that bar jump, and through his PT exercises, Pongu has gradually gotten more comfortable with the wobbling of his FitPaws balance disc. He used to flinch and flee when the disc rocked under his feet, but now he'll Sit and Stand on it with all four feet, and the wobbling doesn't seem to unnerve him like it used to.

I also always figured that Pongu's old foot injury from his first owner made him too unsound to compete. I'm still not completely sure that this won't flare up if and when we ever start training more intensely or trialing regularly, but it hasn't seemed to bother him much in PT (the specialist vet says he has a little laxity on that paw, and might want to wear an ankle brace for it, but otherwise she hasn't seen any problems with it) and he runs around fine for three hours straight on the moors of Nantucket, so physical soundness doesn't seem to be a dealbreaker right now.

And I figured that my inability to reconstruct an agility course for home practice would be a problem too. I still think that lack of practice equipment might be an issue if I ever get Seriously Serious about agility... but right now, honestly, I don't care about that. My janky-legged, wobbly-hocked mutt puppy is not a Seriously Serious agility dog anyhow.

So when a beginner class finally rolled around at one of our two local training clubs, I hopped on board. Why not? Our obedience work has been making me sad for months. A change of venue might be exactly what we need. I don't have Seriously Serious goals in agility; I just want to have fun with my dog at whatever pace is right for us.

We've had two classes so far. And in the whole 90 minutes or so of his agility career to date, Pongu is doing brilliantly.

It is scary for him, no doubt about that. Tunnels, A-frames, sequenced jumps, baby teeter wobble boards -- all of this is new and alien and unnerving to Pongu. But instead of causing him to freak out and panic, it seems to be triggering a crazy thrillseeker response in him. It's almost like he holds his breath when he goes under or over or through an obstacle, eyes bugged out in semi-panicky disbelief, toes clenched up into scrabbly claws... and then he comes out the other side, still alive!, and he just explodes into a frenzy of joy.

It's great. I don't think he could have done it 18 months ago, but he can do it today, and more importantly, he can have fun doing it. And because Pongu's having fun, I'm having fun too.

I am nothing like a natural agility handler. Even doing a sequence of three bar jumps in a straight line, I feel as awkward as I ever did while taking dance lessons (and there's a reason nobody knows I used to take dance lessons). But Pongu and I have a strong background in shaping and general body awareness (for him, not me), and nerdpuppy has always been acutely attuned to whatever I'm doing, so he's done amazingly well. Pongu has astonished me with his ability to follow me on the course and interpret my flailery as meaningful information. I don't know how he does it. I don't know what I'm doing, but somehow he does. It is BANANAS.

Who knows how far we'll get with agility, but after two beginner classes, I have a renewed appreciation for how much my little dog loves me, and how much I love him.