Sunday, August 28, 2011

Training today

We had a good training day today; short but sweet. Most of what we've been doing has been throughout-the-day-type work: stays at my desk, heel-up while we're walking, random drops, etc. Now it's time to get back to regular sessions.

Willard Bailey, author of two of my favorite dog books, posted on his blog about his method for teaching go-outs. I've never liked the "treat on the ring gate" technique; it's just not for me. I tried it with Jack and he was very focused on the gate itself. While we never got to finish our training or get to Utility, it seemed like searching the gate for food is a behavior that would re-emerge under stress. I've seen it happen to dogs in the ring, and I can absolutely see it happening with my dogs.

I've done some targeted go-out work, and I've worked with boxes and barriers for our straight heels and fronts, but I hadn't ever combined the two. So my challenge to myself is to try Willard's technique and see how it goes. Basically, we're starting with 3-sided PVC box; I put the target and the treat at the far end of the box, and right now, I'm just leading Scorch up to it and telling him to get it. I want to work up to him running to the target in a straight line from a greater distance. When we add the turn-and-sit, the box (plus a long leash) will help get the desired behavior in the desired way. I also like teaching differentiation between "get the cookie" and "turn and sit".

So that's something we're building up to. The toughest thing that has always haunted us is that Scorch turns his body when getting to the target; he prefers to eat the treat while facing sideways. I may have to set up stronger, tighter barriers to work with this. It was a huge problem in agility too.

Anyway. Scorch's dumbbell retrieve was beautiful today. No laying down when returning to me.

The dumbbell is really a bit too big for him, but he's retrieving it happily so we'll stick with it for now.

On the retrieve over the jump, we've hit some snags. He'll happily leap over the jump to get the dumbbell but tended to run around it on the way back, especially if I threw the dumbbell crooked (and if you know me, you know the likelihood of that happening in a trial is about 99.9999%). He's so pressure sensitive that running towards him to intercept was making him hesitant about the whole exercise. Interestingly enough, I talked it over with my training director at work. Now, he comes from a much more... let's say "traditional" mindset when it comes to training. He's the epitome of old school, seeing as he was a K9 handler in the military and law enforcement. I fought tooth and nail to get clicker training into our program at work, and he has really come around to it. We've had some great training discussions.

Anyway, we discussed the jumping problem and he suggested putting Scorch on a retractable lead. Brilliant!

We did a few retrieves without the jump to make sure Scorch was comfortable with the lead. Then we started doing some jump work. He was doing fine until I threw the dumbbell crooked. Scorch starts to veer, leash gets tight...

...Scorch corrects his path immediately!

The next crooked throw needed no correction, and we ended that particular exercise on a high note.

Please excuse my disgustingly overgrown lawn. Our mower broke, and now our weedwacker is leaking gas and oil everywhere. Ugh.

Anyway, Scorch is very space-sensitive; I find it interesting that a light collar pull or pop is much less aversive to him than body pressure.

Another issue we worked on is glove retrieve. He tends to be a bit lazy with holding the glove and lets it sort of hang on his tongue...

I reminded him to hold, put my hand under his chin... much better!

His fronts and finishes were nice today too.

We finished with some broad jump work and out of sight stays. On the broad jump, I think I'm just going to have to toss a cookie or toy about 1000 times to get his muscle memory locked in. I don't feel like his motivation or understanding is quite where I need it to be. We had a great session today... I think now that we have so many things we're working on, training has gotten a lot more exciting for both of us.


Well, Scorch has had a few hiccups in his recovery from the dog attack. Not physical, mind you; he is healthy as a horse. But mentally, he has had a few setbacks that we're working on.

Right after the attack, he came to work with me. One of our techs had brought her extremely sweet, very non-threatening female Basset mix. So Scorch had his first strange dog greeting with her, and it went great. I also paraded in a host of strange dogs for board-and-train or dog sitting. All of this, he took in stride.

However, when he started regularly coming to work with me, things changed.

He didn't much care for Bentley, the 6 month old intact male Lab we shared an office with. Ok, yeah, he'd met Bentley when he was 12 weeks old and they were fine together, but now a lot of time has elapsed and Bentley is a teenager, so his intolerance is understasndable. He also didn't care for the boys Hartwell, 10 month old intact Lab, and Hamish, 2 year old intact Golden Retriever. But Scorch has never liked unneutered males, so I let that slide.

But Troy, the long-neutered, friendly, 5-year old Australian Shepherd? He usually LOVES Aussies! Two female Bulldog puppies in class? Why is he growling and snapping at them? The clincher for me though was Duke... the realization finally kicked in that we have some work to do. Duke is a rescued pit bull mix one of my coworkers brings in. He's young, playful, sweet, and neutered. Usually that would be Scorch's ideal playmate.

But we couldn't even walk past their office without Scorch hackling up and making a wide berth, usually while pursing his lips or even showing his teeth. Scorch was afraid of the dog who resembled his attacker, and was going on the offensive. Duke wasn't even bothering to get up when we passed by and Scorch was still freaked out.

So we've been playing the "look at that!" game, taught to us by one of our mentors. I think it comes from Control Unleashed, but I'm not sure. Anyway, every time we'd get near one of the dogs he didn't care for (especially Hamish and Duke), I'd tell Scorch, "Look at that!" When he'd glance at the dog, he'd get a treat. It only took a few repetitions for him to start tolerating their presence.

We have a play yard at work for the pups (heaven!) and while we had a group out there, someone brought Hartwell out. I was worried about Scorch... but I waited it out because Hartwell is such a NICE dog. Sure enough, with some careful supervision, Scorch decided he no longer wanted to eat Hartwell... instead, we got obnoxious, herding-type behavior (barking, heel-biting, increased barking when Hartwell would stop to sniff something), which Hartwell thought was delightful, so we let it go.

Then later, Duke came out to play. Scorch would start to play with him, then would get a little skittish and slink away. Duke, despite his youth, was VERY respectful of this and patiently waited for Scorch to come to him.

So... we're making progress. Scorch doesn't have to like everyone, and border collies are notoriously picky anyway. But I want him to at least ignore dogs he doesn't like; I never want my boy to be afraid ever again.



Sunday, August 14, 2011


So first, the bad news: Scorch and I aren't showing at all this month. We didn't have everything together (money, healing, training) to register for the shows, so I'm not getting my birthday wish. But we can start showing again in October. There aren't any shows in September due to DOCOF so we have a whole bonus month of work.

The good news, however, is that we are back down to three dogs. It was interesting to watch the interactions and reactions of the house dogs. Norman, of course, does not care much for strange interlopers but tolerated some more than others.

1. Mocha, in-law-pooch: 2 year old Chocolate Lab, spayed female. Mocha is a very submissive dog; you could possibly describe her as "wimpy". She has little concept of personal space, as with most Labradors, and insists on cuddling with the collies when she's here.



Norman has decreed himself to be the schoolyard bully when it comes to Mocha. He's the kid that steals her lunch money on the playground. In his mind, Mocha is not allowed to possess ANY toys. He might be willing to let it slide if she's holding a toy that isn't one he plays with often, but generally he'll launch himself off the couch to "correct" her when she decides to pick up a toy. He's gotten better about it as she's finally standing upright and not slinking around him all the time, but he's still a butthead occasionally.

2. Prince: 8-10 week old Golden Retriever puppy, male. Norman's tolerance for him was greater than for previous puppies. He sent Prince "ki-yi-ing" away a total of twice; otherwise, his corrections were appropriate, and Prince was allowed to possess toys. I'm guessing it's because Prince was a confident puppy, respected Norman's signals, and was generally a nice dog.

3. Jessie: 9 month old yellow Labrador, intact female. Now here was a dog Norman actually wanted to play with, probably due to being unspayed. Strangely though, Prince the puppy didn't much care for Jessie; he would play with her, but often got mad when Jessie would crush him with her body weight. Prince never lost his temper with the collies, but I had to pull him off of Jessie's face a few times (Jessie didn't have a clue and didn't seem to much care that there was a puppy angry with her). Norman still didn't want her to have his favorite stuffy, but she was allowed any other toy in the house. Occasionally, he would charge at her, barking and growling... which is his social-idiot way of asking her to play. You just have to know him to hear and see the difference, I suppose. His barks are less serious and he sort of "bounces" off of the other dog's body.

Norman still postures with Wolfie at times, and once even got into it with Scorch while I was out of the house. But generally, the house is at peace. Now that my back has healed up, I've upped his exercise routine again and I'm definitely seeing a difference. Just now, thunder rumbled in the distance and he perked up, then went back to sleep, unconcerned. Yesterday while we walked, thunder started rumbling and he was too busy focusing on his walk to really bother acknowledging it. What a huge improvement.

So. Back to Scorch. My new job promotion involves a lot of driving travel... and Scorch gets to be a road warrior with me. He already gets to come into the office (the first few days, I didn't bring him and was barraged with requests to have him join the "office pooch crew"). We're also taking a trip in September to Atlanta, GA, Nashville, TN, and Northern Alabama. It'll be great having my best buddy with me, and it'll also be good for training and proofing. I'm actually most excited about getting his loose leash walking more under control. On yesterday's walk with Norman, I couldn't find Norm's easy walk harness, so he was on a regular collar. I was really having to work with him and get on him for pulling... so Scorch's loose leash walking was the best it EVER was, due to the constant stop-start and reworks with Norm. I guess I need to start doing that with Scorchie too. DUH!!! Why can't I take my own advice? I have such a blind spot for Scorch I suppose.

I'll bring an actual camera with me... my cell camera is great, but my point and shoot is still better with dim lighting.

Photo time!
Wolfie standing in as demo dog while Scorch was injured.

Attempts at posing Norm and Scorch wearing bandanas my mom gave them... at least one dog likes the camera.



While at Red Fern Canines training center in Pennsylvania, I got to see a picture of a very accomplished Cairn! It's always nice to see people working their Cairns to high levels. If I could focus on Norman... err, and also control his dog aggression... I'm sure he would excel! He already has a great repertoire of commands. Anyway, this Cairn also looks just like my Mugsy.

Speaking of Mugsy, I found a baby picture of her. The Cairn that started it all, my first dog, my baby girl puppy.

And finally, puppy snuggles!