Monthly Archives: May 2011

Going back and practicing basics…

I’m getting a new puppy in mid-July and of course I want to be the best trainer I can be for the new puppy. With that in mind, I’ve been practicing mechanics and basic training with Dancer and Elly, for five or ten minutes every day. I’ve been working on walking and feeding in what Susan Garrett calls the “reinforcement zone” (the sweet spot by your side where your hand lands if you’re walking normally)–making sure I walk whichever dog it is on BOTH sides. I’ve been working on reinforcing basic waits. I’ve been insisting on attention from Elly before I take off her leash or let her out of her crate.

And I’ve been practicing my shaping skills with the clicker. Yesterday Debbie pointed out that working Elly on the Bosu ball would help her hip strength, and so we tried to have Elly put her back feet on the ball and her front on the ground. She would have none of it. Not interested. I got the clicker and got her to approach the ball, but really didn’t get anywhere other than some interest in the ball. I put her back in the crate and worked with Dancer, who is more open to trying things than Elly. It took a few minutes to shape Dancer to put her back feet on the ball. I quit there for yesterday.

Today I got several large handfuls of treats and got my Bosu out, and started working with Elly. It took fifteen minutes–a very long clicker session! longer than I’d do with Dancer, certainly–and suddenly she got the idea of putting her rear feet on the ball, and then was willing to stand up on her rear feet, holding on to my arm, to be fed treats. What that dog will do for food! The standing up was her idea, too. I gave her all the treats I had left when she did that.

Then I went on to Dancer. It only took a few tries and she was offering a nice two-on-two-off on the Bosu. The next goal was to get her to rotate around the Bosu, with her back legs on it, pivoting on her rear legs. It took a few more minutes to get there, but she did.

It’s interesting to me how much more persistent Elly is than Dancer. Elly will keep working and working and working–but trying the same thing over and over and over. Dancer will try something and quit pretty quick if it doesn’t earn her a treat.

NADAC trial

Dancer and Elly and I had a nice NADAC trial this past weekend, I had Dancer in ALL Elite classes for the first time. Sure makes the schedule easier! She got her first Q (4th place) in Elite Regular, her first Q in Elite Hoopers (4th), and Qd in both rounds of Jumpers, two seconds (of seven). On Sunday, I made it to three front crosses just to prove I could; that was fun! We had a few NQs as well, some of them very pretty nonetheless; we nearly Qd in Elite Chances (with a twenty foot distance line to the weaves!) but I pulled her around a jump at the very end–she was flying and lots of people sympathized with me for what they called her error, but it was very clear to me that it was entirely my fault and I was VERY proud of her for following the path I set for her so perfectly.

Elly had only one run, in Novice Touch N Go (the only Q she needs for her Novice Versatility award; we’ve been chasing that Q for almost three years now). She had a lovely run, got her contacts, was fast and mostly pretty focused (one brief mouse-hunting moment)–until she went into the wrong end of a tunnel just for the heck of it. She really makes sure I don’t take agility too seriously!

Official Results, Dancer:
Hoopers: 4th place, 29.32 seconds
Jumpers: 2nd place, 152 yds, 31.56 seconds, SCT 32 seconds, 4.8 yps
Jumpers: 2nd place, 133 yds, 27.47 seconds, SCT 28 seconds, 4.8 yps
Regular: 4th place, 189 yds, 49.21 seconds, SCT 50.40 seconds

More extensive book review

I have now finished reading Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet.

Interesting book. Very long on theory, rather shorter on application. Nonetheless, I found it fascinating, because it went into a lot of science as it relates to dogs. Are dogs wolves? Can we use wolves as a behavior model for dogs? Well, it’s clear that dogs descended from the same ancestors that modern wolves descended from, so dogs and wolves are genetic cousins. So are humans and chimpanzees, and thankfully, we are nicer than most chimps; we are also genetic cousins to bonobos, and sadly, humans simply don’t have as much … well, the polite word would be “fun” … as bonobos. So genetics can only tell you so much about behavior.

Having disposed of the dog-as-wolf cliche, the author (John Bradshaw) rambled on to take up the dominance and training issue. Sadly, Bradshaw rambles. He takes a while to get to his point, and he could use a good editor. But, there are those who like the style and perhaps they are readers of dog books. I’ve always preferred things a little crisper than most people. In any case (I ramble myself), Bradshaw spends a lot of time debunking dominance training theory, including a few pithy remarks about TV hosts in the bargain. He does it thoroughly, with lots of detailed footnotes citing actual research. Sadly, I expect the people who read the book won’t be those who need to read this information.

Going on from there, he spends a fair amount of time lamenting the sad plight of the purebred dog, overbred and in ill health, hoping that someone somewhere will spend time creating the perfect family dog–smart, clean, biddable, playful, eternally puppy-like (yet easily house-trained)–in a range of sizes to suit people everywhere. Okay, I believe those dogs are called poodles.

To me, the most fascinating part of the book talked about how dogs have evolved/been bred/adapted so that they relate better to another species than to their own. That’s right, most dogs would rather spend time with their person than with another dog. And if they lose their person, as we all know, most dogs will find another person, and be successful there. Dogs want to hang out with people. Well, I knew that, but I hadn’t thought about how unusual that is. We have domestic cows, for example, and sheep… and they hang out with each other, not with people. Pigs, ditto. Horses, ditto. Dogs, us. Cats? Well, cats just love us for our heating systems.

To pluck or not to pluck…

This post is not for the faint of heart, nor for those without poodles. Fair warning.

Until 2:27 this morning, I was on the fence about plucking ear hair for my dogs. Yes, I did it, but not regularly and not often. At 2:27 this morning (why yes, I am grumpy about the time), Elly started shaking her head and flapping her ears, over and over and over and over and waking me up. I heard her ears hit the wall next to her bed. (Yes, they sleep in our bedroom.) Finally, reluctantly, I got up (and checked the time) and took her into the kitchen to pull out whatever stray ear hairs were offending her.

I started pulling ear hairs, and then suddenly I was holding a wad of matted, waxy, seed-filled ear hair, packed as densely as possible and in the shape of a poodle’s ear canal. It was at least two inches long and a quarter-inch in diameter. It was still attached, and I had to pull it apart and pull it out at the same time. Poor Elly! And after I finished with that, there was still more to pull. I ended up with a disgusting pile of hair on the floor. Then, poor dog, I had to pour in ear cleaner and wipe out the residue.

After that, I gave her and Dancer (poor Dancer sat and watched the whole thing) some treats, took them out to pee, and went back to bed. Elly is not speaking to me this morning, but she’s not shaking her head either.

Delta greens…

I took Dancer and Elly to the Delta on Monday; I took Dancer and Elly to the Delta on Tuesday. Today, Elly appeared to me to be a little stiff and tired, so I just took Dancer. It’s funny to me how different Dancer is when she’s just with me and Elly isn’t there. When Elly goes, the two of them run off ahead and then try to dig something up; they always end up muddy. When it’s just Dancer, she runs and comes back and runs and comes back, and runs some more, but she mostly hangs around pretty close to me, and she never does any digging. She’s very good company.

It’s spring here, all of a sudden. The field where they pulled out all the blackberries and plowed last year is now a sea of grass.


Outside in the rain, on wet grass and mud. In the sun. In the drizzle. In the hail. In the rain. It was weird, cyclic weather that went on and on. From one minute to the next, it was impossible to know what the conditions were going to be. I covered my car with my silver cloth–mostly to keep the environment dark and relaxing–but there were times when the sun came out and the grass began to steam.

Surprisingly, it was a lovely trial. It was one ring, small and intimate and very friendly. No one whined about the weather. Everyone (seriously) volunteered. I know this to be a fact, because I was the chief ring steward, and I had zero problem finding volunteers.

Dancer got two Qs in Open Regular and finished her Open Versatility award; she also Qd in Open Chances and Elite Jumpers. She even took first in Elite Jumpers! Her Jumpers run was very interesting, because I could tell she was being careful of the conditions. Other dogs were slipping and knocking bars; she simply dialed down the speed just a touch and ran confidently. (Of course, I wasn’t worried about slipping, since I had my Inov-8 shoes.)

Elly had two phenomenal runs, both of them NQs. She did better weaving than I’ve seen her do in years, and I have proof:

Photos by Joe Camp

New News is Teeter News…

It’s really great news when Dancer’s biggest problem at an AKC trial (the Puget Sound Poodle Club trial) is that she knocked the top bar of the triple, twice… She did the teeter in both of her Novice Standard runs, and earned two Qs and two blues.

It was a LONG and tiring weekend… I spent Thursday grooming with Vikki–and learned a LOT about how to groom well–and Friday Dancer was so tired she got to the weaves and stopped. I walked her out, and she didn’t even trot out with me, she plodded. I should have scratched her but I didn’t see it until we got in the ring. I felt so bad for her.

Saturday we ran in JWW fairly early and she had an okay run, except for knocking the top bar of the triple. She just did not have as much oomph as she should have. Novice Standard was around 4 (there were only Standard and JWW and they had 560 runs! Ack!) and I made sure Dancer had a good nap before it. I could see she was still tired but the people who didn’t know her were impressed. It was a 90% dog to me, not her usual 100%. Still, I thought she did well. She slowed a bit before the fulcrum of the teeter but didn’t stop, and I didn’t worry about her jumping off.

I had a 95% dog on Sunday but she again knocked the top bar of the triple. I think that was distraction, though… Vikki was running right after us, with Dancer’s mom, and when I took Dancer’s leash off to start, she ran out of the ring to touch noses with TinTin, then came back in to work with me. (What a nice judge, she let me run after that, when she realized Dancer was greeting her mom, not leaving “just ’cause”.) We took them out to play afterwards and I got to see two puppies from Dancer’s sister Ico’s last litter, now 8 months old. Wow, they’re nice! Dancer and Elly were so thrilled to see their friends! Elly was playing all her favorite games (although she’s moving a little stiffly today, poor sweetie). By Novice, Dancer had had lots of time with Vikki and was quite content to come in the ring and show off her skills. She moved steadily across the teeter although not quite as fast as in practice.