Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Dog sitting and snow

Stella is six months old today.   Any big celebrations are going to have to wait a few days as I kissed both dogs and cats goodbye today and headed out with hubby on an annual ski trip.  This trip is taken with approx 85 members of our cross-country ski club so unfortunately there is no place for the dogs to accompany us. 

This is one of the few times in a year that the dogs do not travel with us on our holidays.  In prior years my mom has looked after the dogs but last year I hired a friend as a dog sitter.  Mom is very capable of looking after the dogs (Riley plus her dog Sam) except for being able to give them the exercise that they need.  The two boys together are just to much dog for my 70+ mom to handle walking.  Last year worked out very well with hiring my friend.  She is a total animal lover so was very understanding of the three pages of instruction I prepared for her regarding looking after the animals.  She also faithfully emailed me an update each night so I would know she got home from her work and all was well at the house.

This year we planned to have my friend sit again but I was worried that Stella was to young to spend a full day crated while she was at work.  I considered a few options including sending Stella to stay somewhere else while Riley stayed at home. Luckily my mom and my friend agreed to stay at my house together so friend could walk the dogs etc but Stella wouldn't need to be crated all day.  It is best for everyone even if it is a wee bit difficult on my wallet!

I know that all my animals are receiving excellent care and lots of love but that doesn't stop me from missing them and worrying about them just a little.   The first few nights of sleeping in a bed without a cat plastered against me or dogs snoring, shifting, licking etc. seem blissful but it doesn't take long until I want my familiar routine.   In february we will be skiing again but this time the dogs will join us in our snowshoe and ski adventures.   Hopefully Stella will have grown into her warm coat by then :o).

These pics are from a snowshoe adventure with Riley last year.  He LOVES snow and constantly sticks his face in snowbanks and runs blindly along with his head under the snow.   Silly dog!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

A Glimpse of Teenager

Stella will be six months old at the end of this month and I have noticed a few episodes of "I don't hear you" happening.   The world is quite interesting to her at the moment and she is asserting some independance.  Riley is much more playful with her these days so this is also an attraction for her.  Currently her favourite game on a walk is to try to steal something Riley wants and get him to chase her for it.  She is already faster than he is at the tight turns etc. but he still wins (for now) in a full out sprint.  Yesterday at puppy class she had moments where she worked very well for me but there were also more moments (when compared to past classes) when she was more interested in other happenings then she was in working.

It isn't something I am worried about but it is information that I need to notice and adjust for in training.  In all fairness to her an hour long training class is a long time for a puppy to concentrate.  I make sure to break up the training with some fun tugging or chase games but it is still a long time.  When we are out on walks and she is interested in something I need to make sure that I don't set her up for "failure" by asking for a recall that she won't want to do.  Instead I need to make sure I increase the reinforcement for good choices by using better treats and fun actions like chasing, tug etc.  which will increase her value for working with me.  I need to make sure I work short fun sessions in lots of different habitats so she understands that she needs to pay attention in all sorts of places. 

Riley also needs to get more work than I have been giving him these days as he has a tendancy to revert back to bratty teenage ways.  Working two dogs is a whole new set of challenges for me.  I did have Lucy with Riley but she was ten when he was a pup and easily satisfied with a few extra treats.  Riley would prefer to work so I need some creative ways to work that to my advantage.  More on that topic to come later.

Outgrowing her jacket but not quite big enough for the next sizes I have available.

Thursday, 17 November 2011


I started reading Susan Garrett's blog a few years ago and quite enjoyed her philosophy of dog training.  She posted a blog about dogs having a good recall that started a huge conversation and then that eventually flowed into her offering her first "5 minute formula for a brilliant recall" online course which I enrolled in.  That was just before we said our goodbye to Lucy so I really enjoyed having some focus to work with Riley even if I didn't quite complete all the exercises.

She offered the course again this past spring and generously rewarded past particiants so once again we enjoyed it.  The daily "games" are about building a great recall but even more than that they are a wonderful way to have training fun with your dog.  I regularly use some of the games we learned to keep focus with Riley when training and Stella has also learned some of the basics.  Just the other day I had made a mental note to myself to keep up the "fun" for Stella in her recalls.  She has a very good recall and I need to not take that for granted especially as we move through the remains of her first year.

Susan Garrett is once again gearing up to offer the course and is running a contest for previous participants to make a video about their experiences.   This is my contribution and I encourage anyone to participate.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

What's in a Name?

All of my animals have lots of nicknames as I am sure most other people also do with their animals.  The most commonly used nicknames in our home are as follows:

Desi (cat) - Princess, Snotty Girl
Fred (cat) - Frederick, Handsome Boy, Monster Cat
Riley - RyRy, Riles, Monkey, Buddy
Stella - Stella Bella, Little Miss, Missy Bean, Bean

Yes, I did just write Bean.  It developed from her little mexican jumping bean thing she does to Riley.  She bounces up at his face and graps jowls or tries to stuff whatever she is carrying in his mouth so that he will tug with her.  He is remarkably tolerant of this behaviour but eventually tells her enough which shuts her down for at least a few minutes.  Anyway "Bean" has stuck as a nickname for her. 

Why are nicknames important?  They are mostly terms of affection but they also serve the purpose of being good ways to communicate with our pets when we expect a more casual response from them.   Okay, really that does not apply to the cats because they will do what they want whenever they want.   However, with the dogs I would rarely use a nickname when asking for an obedience behaviour but I would use them around the house all the time when just rambling on to my pet or asking them for a living type behaviour (ie. want to go outside Monkey, Bean quit bugging Ry etc.).    We all want the "whiplash" head turn when we call our dog's name so the theory is that the more they hear a word the more that word loses meaning.  That theory doesn't apply when the word has a strong history of reinforcement but I am realistic to know that a name gets thrown out a lot in our daily language without meaning to the dog.  I know that I still use her name in lots of circumstances where perhaps I shouldn't and  I understand that there are lots of other steps to having a great recall but it is a little something to consider. 

It's also a good excuse to give our animals wacky names :o).  For the record Stella's CKC registered name is Varazs Kedvesem Final Dance and Riley is just Riley.

Pic from September that shows a bit of the "bean" action

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Lending a Paw

I was asked this week if I would help my dog trainer by allowing Stella to have a "play date" with a client of hers that has a five month old puppy with problems.  The poor pup is already on his second home but lucky for him seems to have landed an owner who is willing to work hard to help him overcome his issues.  He is overwhelmed with the world and has no dog skills.  My trainer had hoped that having the pup meet a female pup the same age and size would make the pup comfortable enough to possible want to play a bit.  Unfortunately it turned out that the pup wasn't quite ready for that step so instead the trainer worked doing some BAT (behaviour adjustment training) which involves rewarding calm choices by the dog with distance from the stressful situation.

I was super pleased with Stella's behavior during all of these exercises.  She exhibited very appropriate greeting style and offered lots of calming behaviours to the other pup.  I felt that she was always quite comfortable and looked to me for direction when the other pup reacted towards her.   I am also very pleased with her interactions when meeting other dogs, she is happy to play but also just as quick to abandon her playmate and come back to me when requested.  It makes me so sad about this other poor puppy.  His true history is unknown but I think it's safe to say that a little bit of work from the breeder and a proper first home that was aware of socializing would have made a difference in this puppy's life.  

This episode reminds me of how I met a very good friend.  I frequently attend an outdoor drop in class with Riley that lets us work basic obedience in a group of dogs and a distracting environment.  We started back when he was in his @ss phase at around two years old.  That trainer works with a lot of reactive dogs so there are often some in the class.  One day a year and half ago a woman in the class was having a particularly hard day with her dog and was in tears.  I offered to go walking with her if she wanted and luckily for both of us she took me up on my offer.  Since that time we have developed a great friendship and her dog has improved tremendously.

Riley had the right set of skills to work with this dog (S).  Sometimes when a dog makes a "friend" that is the start of the journey to realize that not all other dogs are bad.  S will likely never be a dog that you would trust unsupervised or loose in a dog park but she is a dog that can ignore others and walk by them without freaking out.  Riley ignored her for quite a while and then as they grew more comfortable with each other he slowly became more social and has even on occassion offered true play behaviours now.  S has a huge crush on Riley and we all enjoy the walks we get to take together.  I was quite horrified to hear the comments and reactions people have had in the past to her based on her dog's reactivity.  Some people are just downright cruel and at a time when someone is already feeling overwhelmed can destroy all confidence and hope.  Based on that I try to offer a kind word or smile when I see someone having problems with their dog.  Perhaps that little bit of encouragment will help make the difference for someone to want to not give up on their dog and work through the situation.   Pay it forward because we never know when we will need help from someone in the future and maybe you also will be lucky enough to gain a good friend like I did.

Here is a picture of Riley and his "girlfriend" S last summer after a fun session swimming at the river and a nice long walk.  Riley was wearing booties because he kept ripping open a sore on his paw on the river rocks.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Heel Work

I injured a finger on my left hand last week requiring surgery to repair the nerves and stitches so I haven't being doing very much training.  Today on our walk I decided to do a bit of heel work with Stella.  Susan Garrett is a famous agility competitor who stresses the importance of having a good "reinforcement zone" which is the area next to the handler where the dog wants to hang out because really good stuff happens there.  I have worked this concept with Stella since we brought her home with some fun games and good rewards.  This video is basically just another game working on her choosing to be in heel position and enjoying being there.  She has caught on quite well and thinks this is a pretty fun game.  

We also had a great time crashing through all the fall leaves.  I have wonderful memories of being a teenager riding my horse through trails full of fallen leaves and it always makes me happy to walk the trails in fall.

Bugging Riley as per usual

Plotting to ambush Riley