Monthly Archives: November 2011

Step One

I took Rush and Dancer down to the barn today to do some training. I worked tunnels and speed and all that fun stuff with Rush, then contacts and tunnels and speed and all that fun stuff with Dancer. It was exciting, and successful, and all that…

In between, I worked with Rush on him behaving nicely while other dogs worked. Paige had her two border collies there. Rush and I sat in an ex-pen; my goal was for Rush to stand/sit/lie quietly–no barking–while Paige worked with her dogs. I started with just Rush and me in the arena, while Paige was getting her dogs. It took about ten treats before Rush was lying down and giving me excellent attention. Then Paige came in, with her dogs, and Rush was suddenly a complete shark, all teeth.

(Sharon Nelson talks a lot about how a dog should never be so out-of-control that he won’t take treats nicely; she wants a dog to be excited… but still gentle with his teeth. I’d pretty much trained that with Dancer and Elly, so I didn’t understand it when I first heard it. Now I do: when Rush is over-the-top excited, he’s a shark. I’m working on his self-control, one step at a time. I want self-control around toys, around food, around balls. Eventually, I even want it around girl poodles, once he gets a little more mature.)

Still, for all he was a shark, there were moments. He watched the dog–her dogs are fast!–and turned back to me; I gave him a treat. The first few times, it took what seemed like forever…. but I did it over and over again. After a few minutes, Rush was watching calmly, in a sit, and then turning back to me. Only once did he get so excited that he barked.

Step One accomplished. Step 1.1 tomorrow: training Dancer is something calm while he stays calm.

Training at high intensity

A few years back I went to ClickerExpo and went to all the Ken Ramirez sessions (and all the Kathy Sdao sessions). One of the things Ken Ramirez said then has resurfaced in my brain over the last few weeks: he was talking about training sea lions, and said that the audience would ooh and aah over what the sea lion he was working with was doing, but… the audience had no idea how much harder it was to train the other sea lions to wait in the background for their turn.

I took Dancer and Rush down to the barn this morning, bright and early, to work with both of them. Of course, I was working contacts with Dancer (as I always do), but I also wanted to work speed and enthusiasm for tunnels with Rush. And his end-of-contact behavior.

I started with Rush. He came out of the car just thrilled to work with me. We have a new tug toy–a felt ring–that he absolutely loves. I insisted on a loose leash on the way into the barn, and got it (yeehaa!). The moment I took off his leash, he was bouncing and excited and totally focused on me and the toy. I had him do tunnels at top speed; I had him wait until I released him, banging on the tunnel with the toy, dancing and waving my arms and singing… he could hardly sit still with excitement, but he did. I had him jump on the table and wait there while I walked to the other side of the barn, with my back to him. He waited.

I tried something new: with him still on the table, I released him, called him to me, then sent him to the tunnel when he got to me, and then I played tug with him. I hadn’t done that before, and the first time he ran a circle around me, not understanding what I wanted. The second time, he was watching for the signal to take the tunnel, and his path was tight, with no extra strides. Third time, I sent him to the other end of the tunnel. Still a nice tight path. Fourth time, I called him straight to me to play tug. He didn’t even glance at the tunnel.

I’m so excited! He’s paying attention to what I ask him to do! He’s waiting to be told what to do, then doing it!

I’d used fifteen minutes of my barn time at this point.

Now for the hard part: I wanted to work with Dancer while Rush stayed on his mat. He has a great relax-on-mat in puppy class. In retrospect, I screwed up. I don’t know why I thought his relax-on-mat might survive the excitement of watching Dancer run a course. I had Rush tethered, and he barked and carried on and generally made a huge stink about the fact that I was working with Dancer.

I should have taken him out to the car the instant he started to make a fuss, then brought him back in when he was quiet. Or I should have made relax-on-mat a lot stronger. Or both. Or I should have worked on relax-on-mat with other people running their dogs (I think I’ll take Rush to Debbie’s classes and do exactly that.) I didn’t do any of those things, though. Stupidly, I tried to push him to a higher level, probably too fast. I got him back on the mat, I rewarded a down, I sent Dancer over a jump… and instant screaming/barking ensued.

Repeat. Repeat, repeat, repeat. After about ten minutes, Dancer was having a great time showing off her ability to be sent to a jump (ha, ha, I don’t have a leash on and you do!), and Rush was standing, not barking, with a just barely loose leash. Not what I had in mind, but progress, I guess. I’ll obviously have to keep working on it!

I tried a short sequence with Dancer. She was flying. Fast weaves, good contacts, focus. Rush: bark, bark, bark, but not strangling himself with the leash.

Back to the single-jump version with Dancer. Relative quiet. I tethered Dancer for a bit and did a few short sequences with Rush: jump standard (no bar) to tunnel, to other end of tunnel, tunnel to jump, other end of tunnel to jump. With good results and incredible focus, I dared to dream: jump standard to tunnel, front cross, to jump standard. Rush did it perfectly. All that circle work is paying off.

(Note to self: you still need to do more circle work.)

I put Rush in the car and did a full course with Dancer, including three sets of weaves with three different approaches, two a-frames, two dog walks, and a teeter. Dancer did beautifully.

We finished 75 minutes after we started. Every single minute was as focused and high intensity as I could make it. I’m proud of the dogs, and I’m proud of myself.

In breaking news….

Rush has learned to lift his back leg to pee. He’s obviously thrilled with this, and is peeing at every reasonable opportunity when we go for a walk.

Sadly, he has not yet figured out how to pee without hitting his front legs.

Poor Elly….

Tuesday (a mere four days ago, but before Thanksgiving, and therefore in the deep past)… Anyway, Tuesday I decided I wanted the dogs to look nice for my Thanksgiving guests (Stacia’s future mother-in-law and my friend Deena) (and they needed to be groomed anyway), so I clipped Dancer down with a number 4 so that she has a nice fuzzy-but-short coat, and shaved her face and feet. I clipped Rush down with a number 9 so he has no coat (so he’d scratch less), and shaved his face and feet. That was Tuesday, and that was enough.

Wednesday, I put Elly on the table, brushed her out, and started to shave her face. She has a growth in the outside corner of her left eye; it looks like a mole, and it’s about 2 mm in diameter. It wasn’t there the last time I groomed her (November 9th)–I know that for sure. Of course I called the vet; the only appointment was at 5 PM. It took me 45 minutes to get there. Rush hour traffic was outrageous. It’s an adenoma, it will be removed by surgery next Thursday morning, and it’s most likely benign.

But it’s one more damn thing. Poor Elly. At this point, she has inflammatory bowel disease, hip dyplasia, spinal arthritis, and chronic biceps tendinitis; she had a skin hemangiosarcoma removed three years ago.

It’s a good thing she’s so sweet. Mostly.

Dental ball therapy

About a month ago, Rush’s vet, Paige Pierce, noticed that his lower jaw seemed to be a bit narrow and that his lower canines were coming in a bit too straight–which meant that they might encounter his upper jaw, instead of his mouth closing in a nice scissors bite. She recommended a visit to the canine dental clinic, where the dog dentist examined his mouth and recommended that he be encouraged to chew on a hard ball for some time every day. The hard ball has to be just the right diameter to push his lower teeth out as they came in. She also suggested gentle massage of the lower jaw, pushing the teeth outward gently.

A month later, and his bite is lovely. All his teeth have come in, and they look great.

Official results, NADAC November 19-20

Elite Jumpers Skilled 126 yards, 26.50 seconds, Q, 4.75 yps
Elite Jumpers Skilled 133 yards, 29.25 seconds, Q, 4.54 yps
Elite Regular Skilled 177 yards, 53.5 seconds, 5 point Q, 3.3 yps
Elite Regular Skilled 177 yards, 49.03 seconds, Q, 3.6 yps
Elite Regular Skilled 179 yards, 49.69 seconds, Q, 3.6 yps

Beginning agility training

I’ve been working very hard on agility foundation skills. Things like a solid line stay in front of equipment, coming to the side indicated by my hand, circle work (staying by my side as I walk/trot/change direction), following tug and toy rules, and a good recall. Relaxing in the crate at a trial. Rush is getting pretty good at these things. I’ve also worked on tunnel skills, since I firmly believe that standard poodle puppies need to be introduced to the tunnel early so that they never learn that they’re so tall they might hit the top of the tunnel. Oh yes, I’ve also had Rush balancing on the Bosu ball, to build core strength, balance, and comfort with motion.

He won’t be allowed to jump more than a jump bar on the ground until he’s at least a year old, and he won’t jump more than his elbows until his growth plates close at 14-to-15 months old. Weave poles? Again, not until he’s at least a year old: too much strain on the joints.

But now that he’s six months old, Debbie says he’s ready to learn the beginnings of his contact behavior. I have decided on a stopped contact–two-on-two-off (reasons why, below*). Yesterday, we started by signaling him to come around my hip and jump onto the end of the dogwalk, with my hand in his collar. I stopped him in place, about two feet up the dogwalk, then took my hand out of his collar and waited. The first step, drop a treat at the bottom of the dogwalk, ideally dropping it right where his head should be if he does a perfect stop. (This food dropping thing is the hardest part of the exercise.) When his first foot hits the ground, another treat in place, second foot, another treat in place; all of this without my moving. (This part will teach him to move quickly to the bottom of the board.) Once he stops at the bottom of the contact, with both front feet off the board and both back feet on the board, I can move, step away a bit, and come back to reward a few times, then release to me. (This part teaches him to stay at the bottom of the board until released.)

It was a lot to think about for me. I was slow with treat delivery. I moved when I shouldn’t have. I didn’t move when I should have. I let him run up and turn around. However, by the end of my lesson, I was getting better at it. I do think, though, before I start a session of contact training, I will need to stop and visualize walking through all the training steps.

*Why a stopped contact behavior: I’ve been thinking about whether or not to train a stopped contact since I knew Nickel was pregnant with my puppy. Debbie suggested that a really great trainer could train a running contact and wouldn’t it be cool for a big standard poodle to have a running contact. Oh yes, very cool. BUT… I’ve been watching Rush, and when he was three months old he liked to run down the stairs and leap from the third stair up to the ground. At four months, the fourth stair. At five months, he leapt from the fifth stair to the back of the couch, just for the fun of it. Last night, he leapt from the back of one couch to the back of the next couch. I can’t imagine Rush not wanting to jump from the top of the a-frame, just for fun. Even with a stopped contact, I expect the temptation to be strong.

Trying too hard…

I spent the weekend at a CPE trial in Corvallis, OR. The usual dusty horse arena. This one had the added fillip of a recent one-ring circus, which had left one corner of the arena reeking of cat pee; the assumption was that it was big-cat pee, and quite a few of the dogs had “issues” with that corner. Dancer did not; I was pleased by that. Elly stayed home; I have no idea what she would have thought, but my guess is: “Oh my god, I have got to roll in that!”

I went to the trial Saturday morning, needing just one Q in level 2 Standard to qualify for nationals. Deadline to qualify is February 27th, 2012. I left the trial Sunday evening, five Qs to the better… and still needed just one Q in level 2 Standard to qualify for nationals. Arrgghh. Dancer had four off-courses in the first Standard run on Saturday (but got all her contacts and did the teeter besides); every single one of them was my fault. Sunday’s Standard run was a huge improvement. Nice contacts, great weaves… and only two off-courses, both my fault, of course. That is, of course, what happens when you really want a Q; your handling goes to shit.

Dancer, November 2011, photo by Joe Camp

Let’s see: Q and 1st in level 4 Jumpers; Q and 1st in level 3 Colors; three obstacles and out in level 3 Snooker (it was a tough snooker!); Q and 2nd in level 3 Jackpot (a gift from the judge, who missed Dancer’s leap off the a-frame–or maybe she got a toenail in, who knows); Q in level 3 Wildcard; Q and 1st in level 3 Fullhouse.

“Vegetarian Chicken Camp”

Greta Kaplan is teaching an intensive clicker training skills class, which of course I signed up for. (It is an abstract of Bob Bailey’s Chicken Camp, but no chickens are present, hence, “Vegetarian”.) Last night was focused on developing better clicking and treat delivery skills. It was quite helpful, I thought, to be timed to determine how the size of the treat affected our ability to deliver treats effectively. Greta also observed our clicking to make sure we weren’t including any extra body language. Apparently, I twitch my click-side shoulder when I click. Who knew?

(I knew my timing was bad: Debbie took my clicker away about two months ago. She told me my timing was so bad I was confusing poor Rush. She suggested just reinforcing the behavior I want. “You’ll get to the same place, and probably sooner.” Since then I’ve only used the clicker for behaviors that don’t depend on great timing. I’m hoping this class will help with the timing issues.)

I was proud of Rush. A new place, new dogs, 3 of them also puppies, and he stayed focused on me and working hard almost the whole class. Towards the end, we both kind of faded.