Monthly Archives: January 2015

In which Rush figures out how to tell me he’s stressed

I have been working with the poodlies for years now on reducing the stress of grooming. I started grooming Elly and Dancer myself in 2008, when I saw how much Dancer trembled every time I took her to the groomer. A goal has been restraint-free grooming, and sometimes I can actually groom without restraints. Mostly I notice, though, that restraints make it easier for the dog, because I can work faster and just get it over with.

Yesterday, though, I was working on grooming Rush and I started with his toenails, while I was waiting for the clipper battery to charge. No need for restraint; he was very cooperative. I got the clipper and started shaving his right front paw, the one that is so ticklish he can barely stand it. He let me work for a moment, then quietly moved his paw so that it gently pushed the clipper away. I gave him a treat, took a breath, and did a little more. He pushed the clipper away after that little bit more and I moved on to the other front paw. After a bit on that paw, he pushed my hand away, again, very gently.

Now, Rush’s approach before this has been to growl at me and snatch his paw away grumpily. “STOP IT!” By contrast, this was a polite “would you stop for a moment, please?” We continued. Every time he gently pushed my hand away, I stopped, gave him a treat, and worked somewhere else for a moment. I shaved his face. I trimmed the hair in his ears with my nifty little bitty nose hair trimmer (this one) which is very quiet and very tiny and perfect for getting a few hairs trimmed. I shaved his paws and between his toes. I never had to put the restraint on, and he never growled at me.

I’m not sure what’s changed, but he’s definitely learned how to tell me politely to back off for a moment. I’m impressed. It’s a skill.

Ten treats a day…

I have a problem with Rush. I failed at teaching loose-leash walking. When I say “failed,” I mean “my dog drags me around unless I use a gentle leader or a front-attach harness.” How I failed is quite simple: I lacked the patience and determination to enforce criteria (as in “we are not going anywhere at all until that leash is slack”) in all situations (including, as just one example, getting into the car). I really enjoy my walks with the dogs and I like to walk with some speed. This is not conducive to training a loose-leash walk with a young dog. Really, his pulling on leash is all my fault.

A few days ago, Jay and I were talking about a friend of his who is trying to break the world record for bicycling (as in pedaling) the most miles in a year. The record was set in Britain in 1939 and is 75,000 miles. Kurt will have to ride more than 200 miles a day for the year to reach the record. At twenty miles an hour (which is a pretty fast clip), that’s ten hours a day. Every day. For a year. (Just an aside here: our company is one of the sponsors of the ride. This makes this post vaguely commercial. I hope you’re not offended. Really, this post is not about cycling.)

As I was contemplating the magnitude of what Kurt is trying to accomplish–I find that ten hours a day thing amazing–I said to Jay “imagine what you could accomplish if you took those ten hours a day and did something different with them.” And I started to imagine what I could train Rush to do if I worked at it for ten hours a day. I could probably teach him to earn his keep by building houses or something.

However, I utterly lack any desire to train a dog for ten hours a day. We’ve established that already: I wasn’t willing to slow down my walks for a few weeks–much less a year–to achieve loose-leash walking.

I continued my thought, though, and got to “maybe if I did a little training every day for a year, just a little, that would make a difference at the end of the year and it wouldn’t seem so overwhelming.” And if it didn’t make a difference, so what? It would be just a little bit of time every day.

How little? I decided to try ten treats a day of loose-leash walking. Just ten. I started yesterday with ten treats and Rush wearing his orange and green martingale leash. I wanted a specific leash so I could train context-specific behavior to start. I put the leash on. I took one step, the leash was slack, I gave him a treat. I did that for another step. He was glued to my side so I took three or four steps, treat 3. It took 47 seconds to do a quick lap around the yard and give him the ten treats. He didn’t pull a single step.

Ten treats a day for a year? I can do that!

Edited on 5/31/2016: Daisy Peel asked me today if she could reference this post. Of course she can. I do want to update a few things, though. First, Kurt Searvogel did in fact set the record for most miles bicycled in a year (76,076 miles), as you can see from this link. His wife, Alicia Searvogel, whom he married during his record setting year, is contemplating trying for the women’s record. Second, Rush now runs with me, loose leash attached to the back of his harness, and today he ignored a squirrel while we were running. I can even walk him around a trial site with the leash mostly loose–right up until it’s time to head for the ring.

Top ten reasons to train and compete in dog agility

10. It’s a good reason to keep fit.

9. It’s a good reason to keep your dog fit.

8. Teaching your dog new things helps him (or her) be a well-behaved dog.

7. It’s way more fun than slot machines and at least as addictive.

6. The cakes are yummy.

5. Using positive methods to train your dog teaches you to use positive methods throughout your life.

4. Memorizing courses helps keep memorization skills sharp.

3. Devising strategies to handle courses keeps the brain nimble.

2. Your dog loves playing with you.

1. You love playing with your dog.


Finding my inner 25-year old

Back in my misspent twenties–when I had cats instead of dogs–I was a runner. I was a member of the Greater Boston Track Club and spent pretty much all my spare time running 60-70 miles every week. I was ferociously fit and thin, too. I ran a 6:02 mile in a track meet and a 75:30 ten-mile race on a cool summer’s day in New Hampshire. There was a hill near my apartment–Summit Ave in Brookline (MA)–four tenths of a mile at a grade ranging from 7% to 15%–that I ran when I really wanted to push. I still remember some of the runs where going up Summit Ave felt good and I felt strong and powerful. Great view from the top, too.

I’ve been trying to recover that joy in running. I’ve been pushing hard and training hard, and working hard–and I really want to feel light and powerful again.

I had a few moments of that over this weekend. I was at the PAC agility trial. I had thirteen runs with Rush and I Qd once. Once. We had some moments of brilliance; we had some terrible moments (he tore a hole in my pants at the end of a run, embarrassingly); I had one moment that I would describe as a Summit Ave moment. Run 12 of the weekend. I was tired and sore and I’d thought about going home, but the course looked interesting. (It was, too, although I left out an obstacle.) Rush NQ-d himself by going around jump 4, and I decided from there that I would run it as aggressively as I could. The last four obstacles were triple jump-left turn to weaves-single jump-tire. I ran Rush to the triple, told him to weave, saw him get the weave entry out of the corner of my eye and sprinted as fast as I could for the end. Rush didn’t catch me until the tire. He was running fast–and so was I. It was wonderful to find that I could still sprint.

After a difficult weekend, I often find myself wondering if I should keep doing agility or just stay home. The difficulties I had keeping up with Rush–who seems to be even faster than he was before he was neutered–and the moments of joy I had in running have me wondering again. Jay points out that all this is normal for me. Agility mood swings.

(I spent some time a few weeks ago looking up world records for the same distances for different ages. The change from age 25 to age 60 was consistently, across distances ranging from the quarter-mile to the marathon, 1.3 to 1.35 times longer at age 60. So I can reasonably expect to run somewhere around an 8-minute mile if I can recover my fitness, and a 10-minute-ish pace for longer distances. I’ve got a ways to go and a few pounds to lose.)