23 Months

Amazing adventures. We started with a flight to Calgary, from there to San Francisco, from there to San Diego. We had LONG layovers, which Stitch took in stride. She's not quite as good at peeing on cue as I was thinking - have to work on that. Is my life to be just one long list of things I have to work on? Once we got there, she settled right in at a friend's house. The backyard was sidewalks and plants, but by then she was desperate so she decided she could pee on cement if she had to.

At one point later we were working with a potentially-obnoxious young male Lab who appeared abruptly in Stitch's face. He saved the day, however, by whipping his head around so fast I almost heard his neckbones creak, and he even closed his eyes. I don't think even Scuba would have been offended by his apology, and Stitch really appreciated it. So did I - a really good example of Dogspeak. Wish I had it on film.

One of the amazing tourist attractions we were introduced to in San Diego was a wonderful huge offleash dog park with a freshwater river on one side and ocean on an another. Labs make great swimming partners and Stitch got started learning to bodysurf. It was nice to have Stitch with me, who loves other dogs almost immediately, rather than Scuba who only tolerates most of them. It was also lovely that I was completely relaxed having her offleash. She used the space to advantage but never got far enough away to make me worry, and she came brilliantly every time I called. And good for me, too - I went prepared, with good stuff in my pockets. A wonderful, fun, and totally relaxing time for everybody, followed by a visit to a nearby doggy wash.

The human contingent also got a behind-the-scenes tour of the San Diego Zoo. Talking to the animal trainers and seeing how they applied clicker training to benefit the animals was terrific, particularly seeing the hippos mug for their treats, and handing a leafy twig to a calm, reasonable giraffe who lowered her lovely head and let us pet her. Clicker training. Wow. In other words, I touched a giraffe! I touched a giraffe!

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The second-last evening we meet our first Treat & Train, a remote control gadget that beeps and then dispenses treats. Stitch has never lived with neighbours before, and while she's quiet in hotel rooms, she's decided that this house needs to be protected from the aliens on the other side of the fence, resulting in an annoying WOOWOOWOOWOO every time she hears a noise outside. Not something I couldn't stop by just telling her to knock it off, but since we had the Treat & Train, we gave it a try. First we used it to shape her to a nearby dog bed. Slick. I do love toys, and this is even easier than clicking and tossing a treat!

Once she was reliably offering the Go To Mat, we started ringing the doorbell, and clicking her for going to the mat. We worked it for about ten minutes.

The next morning, the doorbell rang for real. It was fun to hear the doorbell and see Stitch standing in the middle of the room looking frantically back and forth: Go To Mat? Run To The Door? Go To Mat? Go To Mat!! She went to the mat! And STAYED on the mat as the visitor came in and sat down. I LOVE this machine!

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From San Diego, we went to Denver for Stitch's first real full-time, full-blown seminar. It's hard not to compare her to Scuba, which isn't fair at all. Stitch did a super job. I'm very proud of her. She came off her grooming table a couple of times, but that's minor.

Midway through the last day, though, she came off the table and instead of finding me, she solicited one of the dogs to play with her. I told her to get back on the table and she did. I gave her a treat, and turned my back. She came off the table again, and solicited a different dog. This time I scolded her a bit (Stitch! No! Get back on that table!), and got her back up. I turned my back and she got off again. This time when I saw her, she was headed out the door at a brisk trot. I knew she wasn't trying to escape, and as I followed her out, it occurred to me that this was her way of telling me she had to go out, and sure enough, when I got outside, she was in a dead run away from the building. When she was, in her opinion, far enough away, she stopped, pooped, and came back at the same speed. Note to self: when Stitch is disobeying, she has to go out. When do I get to graduate from the Flat Forehead School Of Dog Training?

Later at supper I mentioned how much fun I had with the Treat & Train, and a good Samaritan offered to sell me hers. I had to buy a new suitcase at the airport to put it in (JUST what this bag junkie needed - another suitcase!), but it was worth it. When we got home, my husband informed me that three people were coming over for barbecue. I set up the T&T in the living room with a mat next to it, and Stitch spent the whole two hours on the mat working to make the beep happen.

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We haven't trained any agility in months, but we're in a class, though we've missed half of it with our gallivanting. Stitch and I had a brilliant class tonight. I've been watching agility videos and put a few of the handling manoeuvers into practise. Stitch responded very well and we got some lovely short courses in. She's getting some nice distance. Needs a bit more commitment to tunnel entrances, but the jumps and the rest of the obstacles were good. I decided last month that I'm going to need separate cues for teeter and dogwalk, and tonight Stitch proved it - she's not afraid of the teeter at all, but she was gingerly on the dogwalk, waiting for it to tip.

And then we moved on to the weave poles. We haven't done these in months and months, and have barely done them in a straight line at all. I started out luring her through a couple of times, then progressed to clicking for each "macaroni". Then I asked her to weave, and holy cow, she did! A couple more repetitions, and she could do a jump heading north, curl back and do 6 weaves heading south. I'm thrilled. Looking back, it's been a really good couple of weeks.

Next weekend there's a Disc Dog seminar which I'm really looking forward to. Part of this week I'm going to spend reminding her that she can tug. This is something that is emphasized in the classes we take, but I learned when she was a pup that people with a collapsing disk in their necks shouldn't play tug with dogs, so we haven't done a lot of it.

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In the meantime, we're still using suppertime to practise putting items in a basket. Stitch is gradually getting her good retrieve back, and is hitting the basket on the first try more and more often. We still don't have it good enough to put on cue, though.

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Scuba was my first all-clicker-right-from-scratch dog. I spent the next 9 years worrying that Scuba was special, that I'd never come CLOSE to having another dog as smart, who could learn as fast, who was as downright amazing, woe is me, if it never gets nearly as good as this again, I might as well give up now. Then I started meeting dogs here and there that WERE as good as Scuba, and I began to have hope that maybe Scuba wasn't really "special" (oh for Pete's sake, of COURSE I **know** she's **SPECIAL**, but that's not what I'm talking about) but that (could it be?) it was the training method that was responsible for the amazing Herness of her.

Part of Scuba's childhood was spent being a Service Dog crash test dummy - if something needed to be taught to a potential SD, I could teach it to Scuba first, work out the mistakes, and THEN teach it to a dog who needed the skill. She was very good at these "3-minute behaviours", both at learning them, and then at either forgetting them (if I screwed up) or remembering them (if the plan went well).

So now Stitch and I are working with an amazing group of people doing amazing things with Service Dogs. Very exciting stuff. And we're kicking over what behaviours they need, what those behaviours should be called, and how to train them. And Stitch CGC CTD (that's short for Crash Test Dummy) is helping. This evening Scuba, Stitch, and I spent their suppers thinking about a behaviour where the dog puts her feet on my chest (yes, in the Real World that's called "dog jumping on people") and then put her front legs in the Down position, another behaviour where the dog Sits and rests her front feet on my knee, and a final one where the dog puts her nose under my hand and gives it a little nudge, no matter where my hand might be. Of course, Scuba The Wonder Dog will get these immediately, and pure dear little Stitch will wander around behind trying to figure out what the heck is going on. Not quite. First, both dogs were able to lie down 5' away from the action and shut up while the other dog worked (this in the presence of her SUPPER. Think about THAT happening six months ago!).

Stitch got the stand-tall-and-lie-down-at-the-same-time thing immediately. Scuba thought I was crazy, and compromised by sitting on the floor staring at me. Scuba got the sit-with-your-front-paws-on-my-knee thing immediately. Stitch didn't think that was possible, though she was willing to tap my knee with one paw while seated. And both of them got the nudge behaviour easily within 3 minutes, though Stitch actually figured out the exact required behaviour faster than Scuba did. Wow, I love this stuff!

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Tomorrow's our Disc Dog clinic, but in the meantime, the Crash Test Dummies are at it again, this time learning to look left and right on cue, with the hope that we can use the L&R cues to tell them where to go to get something. For Scuba, I just point, but in the absence of pointers, we'll need a cue. Once she gets there, I use Down, Paws Up, or Sit to tell her whether the item I want is low, high, or at nose height.

I'm also interested in the left and right behaviours because it's homework that's been assigned to Stitch and me by a very good person we're taking the odd private agility lesson from (Stitch is too fast to go blundering around the course waiting for my body to catch up, she needs to get information NOW).

So we started. I began by simply clicking each dog for turning her head to the left, then working again with the heads turning to the right. Then I put a bowl on each side of the dog about 2' away and clicked for looking left or right to stare at the appropriate bowl. And I got another surprise. Stitch figured this out in about 2 minutes, and within 5 was beginning to respond to voice cues. Scuba knew she was staring at food, but wasn't listening to the cues at ALL, so wound up just eagerly swinging her head back and forth waiting for something to click. (ooooh)

The second day, Stitch was still doing great, better response to the cues, and I switched her from facing me to facing away from me. Scuba also did much better. Apparently while spending the day upside down on the couch in front of the fire, she managed to give a few minutes to figuring out what I was talking about.

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And today she's forgotten it again. This is certainly not one of our easier behaviours! I'm getting three llamas ready for shows - Halter, Showmanship, Fleece, Obstacle, Pack, and Costume if I have time - and supervising two beginners training two more, and I just don't have time to be enthusiastic about teaching this to Scuba, who doesn't need it.

I'm still plugging away on Stitch, though. Every time we work left and right I try it a different way. I think I've got it now. She's standing facing me, about 2' away. I've got kibble in each hand. I start the session by getting her volunteering to look in each direction (left X 10, then right X10). Then I start randomly cueing left or right and tossing a treat off in the correct direction when she responds correctly. Then I started leaving little piles of kibble off to the left as she ran right, and vice versa, and cueing her to get the pile when she responds correctly to the direction cue. She's certainly in the game, she's just not really listening yet. This is a "problem" that plagued Scuba all her life, but instead of training through it, I worked around it, so this is a good chance for me to get Stitch actually listening to cues instead of just being really good at guessing.

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Wow! Triple good day today in the critter-training department.

First, I have to have a llama jumping in the back of a truck in two weeks. I've been dreading training this, it's going to be tough to teach, it's a HUGE jump, woe is me, alack, alas. It's been raining for 2 weeks straight, I can't have him jumping in the mud, he'll probably kill himself, I want to drive the truck in the ditch to start with so he doesn't have to jump too high, but there's a foot of water in the ditch... yadda yadda yadda. So today was finally dry enough, the truck was home, I had a plan. Took Flash out and by moving the truck gradually out of the ditch, I taught him to jump into it in FOUR MINUTES. And he remembered it later, and jumped into a whole different truck, and even kushed on cue once he was in it. Seemed pleased to be up so high, and leaped politely out again. Many times. Ee hah! Pack Level Three, here we come!

Stitch and I had an agility class early this evening. It all came together tonight. She was raring to go, and almost accepted solicitations by other dogs several times, but caught herself. We did some nice short courses. She hit all her contacts but one, she did weave poles at a dead run in line with other obstacles, and I managed to keep my cues ahead of her brain almost all the time. Sure feels good when you (momentarily at least) feel competent!

Back home after class, I sat Stitch down in front of me and started cueing left and right, saying YES and tossing kibble in the appropriate direction when she responded correctly. And tonight, SHE KNEW IT! 80% accuracy! Whee!! Not done yet, by any means, but she obviously had a real breakthrough while she was sleeping last night.


Th-th-th-that's all, folks! Hope you enjoyed it!