21 Months

In case I wasn't paying attention to Stitch's regular caloric intake last weekend, we have a horrific trip involving airplanes, lost luggage, missed connections, and an unexpected overnight in a hotel. Stitch performs brilliantly. Her gaiting is correct, her leash is loose, her attention to other people is minimal (she does find the loudspeaker at the airport interesting). There's a well-behaved but rowdy child sitting next to us in the waiting area for several hours and Stitch lies quietly at my feet throughout. She picks up everything I drop, she's unobtrusive, and she manages to appear mildly amused but somewhat bored while the stewardess makes continued coochy-coo noises at her.

It's the end of the second flight of the day when things start to go downhill. We started the day at 5 AM with a very light breakfast. By 3 PM we should have finished a 2-hour bus trip, been picked up and been enjoying second breakfast, but my suitcase fails to arrive, and they can't take it across the border when they do find it, so I elect to stay in a hotel overnight and take the bus the next day - hopefully with my suitcase. By the time we get to the hotel, Stitch is all but comatose. I ask her to pick up her leash and all she can think of is to lie down on it and put her head between her paws. I get settled as quickly as I can and we go down the block for fish and chips. We're the only ones in the restaurant, everyone's ignoring us, and I give her half. By the time we get back to the hotel, she's starting to wake up. I'm concerned about being in a (quite fancy) hotel with a dog who's eating strange food, but apparently she has a cast-iron bowel and suffers no ill effects.

I order a room service breakfast of bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, and a bagel. I get all the orange juice and one egg. She's feeling much better and finishes the trip willing and awake.

At our destination, there are four other Portuguese Water Dogs. How fun and interesting to watch Stitch's incredible language skills as she meets the other dogs - one old lady who needs respect and gentleness, one middle-aged dominant bitch who demands respect and needs some cajoling and kowtowing, one testosterone-poisoned lad who needs teeth snapping in his face on a regular basis, and one teenager who's eager to share a good long race around a huge yard.

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Back in Michigan, Stitch and I did a three-hour clicker presentation for Michigan Portuguese Water Dog people and friends. Stitch needs a little more work on table-training - she occasionally decided she'd rather be working than sitting on the table, especially when I sat down with my back to her. That's easy to fix. And once on the floor, she was a bit reluctant to get back on - also needs work but not difficult. And while she DID do some shaping, she's ten times better at home, so obviously we need to take advantage of springtime and start going to different parks to work on shaping. Other than those minor glitches, she was excellent. I'm very pleased with her.

She spent the rest of our visit wrestling all-out with her half-sister and teaching her mom how to play. Then she crashed and spent eight hours sleeping on a bus and in a hotel and on the plane on the way home.

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Tonight we went to Rally class. It could easily have been a fiasco. My car didn't start and I had to call a cab to go to the airport to get the truck and then go to class, so I was a bit late and flustery, but I managed to settle down. Curious to see if there are any repercussions from our week alone together. And YES, there were. Stitch was eager to work. We warmed up with an item we learned in the freestyle clinic - facing each other, I held out my right foot, and she touched it with her left paw, then I hold out my left foot, and she touches it with her right paw. A few clicks for one pawtouch, and soon we were dancing - touch left, touch right, touch left, touch right. Very cute. She held on to her enthusiasm for about fifteen minutes, and then started to drift off, but I wrestled a bit with her and she came right back ready for action again. We did Rally courses tonight, and to my amazement she gave me something I've only seen her do in agility before - she stared diligently at the start of the course as we were waiting for our turn, totally focussed, leaning toward the start line, totally ready to do it. How thrilling! Her swing finishes were superb, and her heel position was much better than it has been. Apparently I've been interpreting lack of enthusiasm as lack of knowledge. Whee! This is a completely different little brain than I have ever lived with before (have I EVER mentioned that before?). Just as she is forcing me to become a better agility handler, she is forcing me to learn more about dogs and training. I'm madly in love with her.

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Stitch and I were in the airport in Calgary on our way home from Ohio. They have a 6' stuffed bear toy dressed in a Mounted Police uniform in the mall area of the airport. We got near the bear, and Stitch did an amazing double-take. She wasn't freaking out, screaming or flopping around on the floor, but she tucked her tail away from the bear, lowered her head, and moved to the opposite side of me at the end of the leash. We had lots of space and a couple of hours' layover until our next plane, so we worked on the bear. We went 'way down the mall until she could concentrate comfortably on me and do some simple retrieves. We slowly got closer to the bear. I was clicking her for looking at the bear, and for offering me her Service Dog walk, and for retrieves. When I judged she was as close to the bear as she could get without losing it again - when it was obvious that she was working because she COULD work but she wasn't at all comfortable - I clicked her once more for looking at the bear and then we moved back down the mall and relaxed before trying it again. It took us maybe six minutes to get right up to the bear. At that point she was able to think and able to work - as long as I was between her and the bear. Then I asked her to pawtouch my foot three times, which she did, and then I asked her to pawtouch the bear's foot. She hesitated for a moment, then reached out over my foot and touched the bear. I clicked, treated, and we walked back down the mall. The next time we approached, I asked her to pawtouch the bear's foot right away, which she did. I asked for it three times, and then we walked away. The third time we approached the bear, she was watching me closely, and as soon as I asked her to touch the bear, she jumped forward and whapped him on the knee, obviously having concluded that the bear was a stuffed toy and not worth worrying about. An hour or so later we found another, naked, 6' bear. She glanced at it, recognized it, asked me if I wanted her to touch it, and when I declined, she walked calmly past it. Further on we found some lifesize metal horses, which she readily pawed-up on.

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Stitch and I went shopping in the mall this afternoon. She was lovely - light and responsive. Tonight she went to her first movie - duh. When you take your Service Dog to her first movie, go to an AFTERNOON movie, with NO KIDS. Do NOT pick Ice Age 2 on its first weekend. The entire floor from cashier to seats was a minefield of popcorn. In spite of that, I only had to backstep once as she headed for a piece, and her head came up. She got very tiptoe and concentrated very hard on my face so she wouldn't have to look at popcorn. I had kibble in my pocket and was very generous with it. She sat up once in the middle of the movie to see if there was something more exciting to do, but settled right down again when I told her to. Good pup.

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Stitch and I went out again this morning to do some chores and shopping. She was unbelievably "light" - always in the right place, awake and actually working, not just trucking along with her brain in neutral. She watched for the doors to open so she could lead me through, stayed brilliantly in heel position, she looked perplexed at rude friendly people trying to con her into leaving me to go and get petted. It was so much like having Scuba with me that I didn't even think about how well she was doing until this evening.

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Two more things to check off on Level 5 - scenting, which we haven't worked on in nearly a year, and Target - pawtouch a wall from 10' away on one cue. She likes to pawtouch the wall, and she can certainly do it from 10' away, but not right off the bat. When I test it I get her running out 5' and then looking back at me with a "Where am I going and why am I in this handbasket?" We've actually passed Level 5 - the two behaviours we have left are both optional, but it seems only good form for us to have to pass everything, since they're my Levels and I decided these are all important behaviours. We've passed Come, Crate, Finish, Handling, Retrieve, Trick, and Watch all the way through Level 7, and I find my baby Stitch at the point I keep bragging about - where she should be able to get pretty much any Novice title with 3 or 4 additional weeks of training. Another month until llama shearing is done and Shearing Day is over, and then I'll test it out getting her ready for a Draft Dog title. Heaven knows it worked on her Rally trial - did I mention that we attended a one-day clinic and then got two legs with 194 and 200? I DID mention that? Oh, my bad... (snork)