9 Months

I've been away with Scuba for a week. Stitch has been terrorizing my husband. She can't walk, he reports, without having something in her mouth. Garbage, socks, boots, blankets, dishcloths, popcans, briefcases - nothing is safe. OK, time to acknowledge that she has a good handle on picking up anything at all and start paring off the things she SHOULDN'T pick up just because she can reach them. The good news is she's responding very well to No! as a Leave It Alone cue. If it's something really good, she'll veer off and circle back. An empty pop can needed three No!s before she gave up on it.

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I'm very, very lucky at this point, I've got an embarassment of classes to go in. She's got a drop-in conformation class Sundays, a set of Novice obedience classes starting Monday. Tuesday she's in a beginners agility class. Thursday is practise sessions at a friend's building, and Fridays drop-in agility.

Conformation is coming along brilliantly. I still haven't taught her the freestacking part, but the handstacking is excellent. She assumes approximately the correct position, generally leans into it, and holds it very well. I can hold her tail up and forget about her head - she stares straight ahead or slightly to the left and I'm clicking for her being in position, looking ahead, and loosening her tail. People are starting to ask if I'll train their dogs to show, so she's good enough to draw attention. I can move her legs and she holds her weight on them, leaving them in place when I put them down, but I want to get away from having to hand stack as soon as I can.

I've done NO gait training other than working on loose leash walking, except what we've done in class (this may be her 5th class, and two matches), but when she moves I'm using YES! to mark when she's doing it right, then giving her a bit of hot dog and continuing on. Still, she's approaching brilliance. She's ready to go when I ask her to, she's not running up on the dogs in front of her, yet she's trucking cheerfully forward, looking forward, and moving well out in front of me. What a pleasure she'll be to show! One round she tries looking at me all the way around, but she gets nothing for it at all, so she doesn't try it again. I'm slow, and I'm trying not to hold her back, as she'll wait for me if she has to. She's very responsive to the leash. The last round she trots out so beautifully and so fast that I have to let the leash out to its full length . She knows THIS game!

I've been giving a bit of bait to the "judge" as we come out for our up-and-back, and she now knows that the guy on the end of the mat probably has something to give her - she has a beautiful head and I want to be sure she'll give the judge the complete view of it, eye-to-hand contact, ears up. She's got all that, though she thinks it would be good to Sit while she's doing it. I'm not concerned - she's got excellent response to the Stand cue, and once I start working on freestacking, she'll forget about standing.

To bring the conversation around to Service Dog training, we have the judge's approach and examination. I've been feeding her fairly constantly as people go over her, and now we're down to once every 5 seconds. She's OK with almost everybody but I want her to be so calm about it that spectators can hear her snoring. In class she's great with almost everybody, head, teeth, neck, withers, tail, back legs. She tries to back off the last person, a large man who hasn't touched her before. He reaches directly for her teeth and she loses confidence a bit. By the time he gets to her rear, I've just about got her mind off him, but she swings her butt away from him a bit.

I've got chairs spaced strategically around the room, so when we're standing in line I can sit down so I can reach her to stack and feed. Without the chairs my time would be shorter, and I'd have taught her to freestack by now.

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Obedience classes tonight. Stitch is in what is called Novice 2, Scuba in Novice 3. I'm feeling a bit disappointed. They've tried to switch to positive training but, like so many, they've mostly left off the corrections without leaving off the lumping. In the absence of splitting of behaviours, they're left with yelling, frustration and toys to try to get the dogs under control. Results: 2 dogs on pinch collars, 2 dogs too excited to think, and the rest doing OK. Fortunately Stitch is above her class level, and Scuba is above hers, so we won't get stuck in the middle of a lump. We're not there to learn behaviours, but to apply the behaviours they already know to new situations. It'll be a good test of my ability to mind my own business and work my dogs.

The first five minutes of class are interesting. This is the venue where Stitch has practised conformation. She's working her little heart out but I'm getting NO eye contact. She's trying to move out in front of me, and she's not going to Sit for love or money.

Ten minutes in, she remembers Sit, Down, Stand, most of her Stays, Come, pivoting left and right, but still can't remember any part of Heel. She's trying to do both - walking way in front of me and turning herself into a pretzel to give me eye contact occasionally.

Time is designated for reeling dogs into the Front position with the leash, so we go in a corner and work on the Front Ray and Bullseye diagrams. It takes her a couple of tosses to remember them, but then she's coming in brilliantly - close and straight no matter what angle she starts from, and a tight little Sit as well.

Her Sit for Examination is a thing of beauty. I'm about 2' in front of her and she holds the Stay for three different people, including a guy she's never met before who whomps his hand down on her skull with no introduction.

By the end of the session, she's doing very well with everything but still hasn't remembered how to do anything but show gaiting. We're going to have to put some effort into getting back to where we were a month ago - no idea of Heel position but at least she could walk with eye contact and be somewhere near me. And people think OBEDIENCE wrecks CONFORMATION! Nyuh uh, sorry, other way around!

Bottom line, I think I can keep my priorities straight and use this time to help Stitch sort out the difference between conformation, obedience, and agility, and get more and more comfortable with her public access behaviours such as being able to concentrate around other dogs and people.

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Shave and a haircut this morning. From an amateur-dog point of view, she's pretty good. From a professional dog point of view, she's slipped back some. Fussing about her feet. Fussing about me shaving her muzzle. Fussing about her toenails. Not tooth-baring, jumping-off-the-table fussing, just foot-flicking, nose-snatching, whining type fussing. Not acceptable. I went into the situation planning on getting the job done and spent minimal time retraining. Bad trainer.

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Her first agility class - marvellous time. The class is working on introduction to the obstacles, enthusiasm, and commitment. Through the work we did last fall, Stitch already knows the obstacles, and knows they pay off bigtime. More important, she knows that she has to give me something to get something. She gives no thought whatsoever to ducking around a tire, deking out of a tunnel, or coming out in the middle of a ladder. She wants to do the obstacle in order to get her reward.

She's wearing a harness with a leash snap at the breastbone on the front for most walking situations, like the Easy Walk harness from Gentle Leader. I'm really liking this harness, it involved none of the wrestling or fussing of a head halter, yet turns her toward me if she puts the slightest amount of pressure on it. At the sides I've attached a loop that rests above her back, rather like a guide dog handle, only soft, that I can grab in class. When I'm holding the handle, she pulls readily into the harness and pays little attention to me - just what I wanted for building enthusiasm for the game. Her enthusiasm and commitment are immense. She's already leaning into the harness from 3 dogs back in a lineup for an obstacle. During some of the class, I'm sitting on a chair near an obstacle but off to one side so as not to block the rest of the class. She's aiming right for the entrance to tunnels and boards, doing the entire obstacle aiming for the target, and then coming back to me for a second treat.

Good class, good learning, good pup!

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We spend a meal getting back in the game. Can she do a 60-second SitStay? Yes, no problem. She can back into a Stand and do a 6' StandStay with a formal return. Since we were practising fronts in class the other day, she's pretty good at them.

She can give me excellent eye contact when we're standing still, but has lost it completely when we're moving. I ask her to swing into Heel position, she looks down and swings. I ask her to walk with me, she looks down. I put her in front of me and pack up, she looks down and walks toward me. "Damn you, conformation!" I scream, shaking my fist at the sky.

Do I have to make this same decision every month? She's paying attention. She's not wandering her brain around the room, she's just not making eye contact with me. Shall I accept this?

No. I want eye contact, heads up heeling. She doesn't have to do the strut step, but she DOES have to keep her face glued to some part of my face or upper body. I had it before, but without heel position. As I like to explain everything as many ways as possible, I'm going to explain heeling to her this time concentrating on position, and work the eye contact later. She's going to need heel position in class very soon or the instructor's going to start in on me, in which case I'll have to either sit down or lip off. So, heel position it is.

I remind her about following me in right pivots and swinging on left pivots. She remembers those very well, if I ignore the part about looking at me while she's doing them. Then I start telling her about heel position. First I swing her into it and ask her to Sit. I Rapid Fire 20 in that position, just for being there. Then I take half a step forward. She jumps forward and swings out in front of me. I turn my shoulders and swing her back into heel position, click when she hits it again. Half a... swing again... click when she hits it. We do X15, and I'm able to take a slow step forward while she stays in heel position. THEN she jumps forward. If I take that one slow step forward and immediately do a right about turn, she's in position all the way. If I take that one slow step forward and immediately do a LEFT about turn, she almost stays in position.

To finish off, I do a bit of deking her out. She stands in front of me, I click X10 for eye contact, then rotate my shoulders to the right. She looks down and rips around to the right. As soon as I lose her eyes, I rotate back to the left and click her when she finds my eyes again. Ten of those and she's starting to keep her eyes on me in case I escape and make her look silly.

Later we go to our dropin. I work Scuba first, with Stitch tied to the wall. She's still whining, but she's MUCH better than she was the first time we tried this. Longer periods of quiet, more lying down. In all fairness, I'm much better too - I'm not concentrating so much on working Scuba as I am thinking about working Scuba in between working Stitch on lying down and shutting up. Once she realizes she's getting paid for controlling herself, things fall into place.

When I get her out on the floor, she's ready to work but I'm paying only for eye contact. She tries going to my right, swinging to my left - no click. She starts to wander off, I say her name. She comes back, tries the right and left again - no click. She starts to wander off, I say her name. Four times she wanders off, four times I say her name, four times she comes back and gives me body service. The fourth time she gets no click, in exasperation she glances up at me CLICK! From there it takes ten minutes of clicking when I can see the light reflecting off her eyeballs and not clicking anything else before I can take a step with contact. OH! Two more minutes and I'm able to pivot right and left or walk a step forward with contact. Another two minutes and we begin working on heel position. She's watching me, I take a tiny step forward, she comes with me. I'm clicking RapidFire for her being in the approximate right position and still watching me. Every once in a while I ask her to Sit, step into Heel position, and just click her X10 for being in position.

A good session. It took a long time to overcome the work we did in conformation, but it's coming back nicely now. I keep wanting to give up on eye contact because it's hard for Stitch to do. She'd rather be giving me the motion behaviours and forget about looking at me. I think I've found a solution to my own lack of (drive?): work Scuba first. Seeing Scuba in the mirror, heeling along, staring up at me with a big grin on her face, her white feet flashing, her flag waving jauntily in the air - well, that's what I want from Stitch, by golly, and I will NOT settle for less through can't-be-bothered!

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Another getting-back-to-obedience session. It takes five minutes to get good eye contact, and then we start working on heel position. Again, she can maintain contact if I pivot to the right, but loses it when I pivot left. I start to shift my shoulders left, she ducks her head down, and I do a right pivot instead. X20, and she decides she better keep her eyes on me or I'll escape. Now we start getting some work done. I click the swinging of her butt as I pivot left X20, and suddenly she's in heel position. Wow, cool. She's so in heel position that she sits and looks at me with great expectations. Good pup!

I can't take a step forward, though, without her swinging her butt out and, in fact, moving her front away from me as well. OK, how about if I take half a step forward and a 90-degree left turn at the same time? Cowabunga, she comes half a step forward with me and swings her butt to hold heel position. X50 we practise this forward-left turn, which looks like we're walking the inside turn of the Figure 8. I've got really good eye contact and it's exciting watching her pull her rear in to hold the position.

The last few kibbles I think I'll spend on a StandStay, but she absolutely can't do it. Yesterday she was totally balanced to conformation. Today she's balanced to obedience. She responds very well to the Stand cue, holds it for half a second, then proudly plunks down into a Sit again. X20 and we get up to 2 seconds. This could easily be driving me insane, but I see it as progress (for some strange reason). She's learning the behaviours, and she's concentrating on each one. Now I just need to get all these behaviours on cue so she can switch from one to the other more easily.

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Today she starts pulling her behaviours together. We go to conformation drop-in and she knows what she's doing. She holds her handstack beautifully. I hold her tail and she stares straight ahead or slightly to her left. She's so solid on this I start working to have her ears up while she's doing this. I toss a treat out about 4' in front of her on the floor and she perks her ears as she looks at it. Click/treat. We work on this for about half an hour, with some gaiting in between. Sometimes I have to toss a couple of treats out before she perks, takes the click and treat, and perks back at the ones on the ground. Sometimes one will do it. We'll work that to the point where I can give her the Look cue and she'll perk and stare withOUT me having to be whipping treats around the ring.

Her gaiting is brilliant. She's getting VERY good at this. She wants to work out in front of me, she's starting to curl the corners when I ask her to (we're working in a very long room, I'm NOT trucking all the way to the end, so she has to turn when I ask her to in the middle of the room), she's focusing on the judge when we come back down the mat.

As the class is finishing up, we do some retrieves with a rope disk. She drops it a few times as she brings it up to me, but I "can't see it" on the ground and she figures out pretty quick that if she wants to play, she's gotta pay by handing it to me.

She works for half her supper when we get home. Once again, she knows what to do. We work on eye contact. She has a little trouble on the swing finish at first, but quickly realizes I'm paying for the contact no matter WHAT her body's doing. After that she only loses contact for a second at a time. I start pivoting left and right, and she's staying with me. I still can't walk in a straight line with her in heel position - that butt swings out and she moves her shoulders out too so it's easier to see my face. To counter this, we're really concentrating on the swing finish this month. I walk in a very small counterclockwise circle and she gets into the idea of swinging in and pulling in tight beside me. We start out with about five clicks making one circle. When she can do a left circle with one click, we start doing a very small Figure 8. She's a little wide on the right circle, but much better than she was, and she's doing the inside left circle sidestepping to stay in position. Cool.

I put my husband's jacket on the floor, stand 10' away and cue her to Go To Mat. She does. I tell her to lie down, and I do the dishes while I'm counting. She knocks off 2 minutes with no trouble at all and I give her a big cuddle and the rest of her supper. I'm astonished.

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We're supposed to have obedience class tonight but there's a 5' high snowdrift across our road and visibility approaching zero, so we stay home. Half of supper is spent on heel position. There are obvious improvements every session. I'm not up to walking in a straight line quite yet, but I can walk a step forward with a tiny turn to the left to remind her to keep her butt swung in. I can't help thinking of Rally as I watch her deliberately sidestepping to stay with me. Eye contact is excellent tonight as well.

She gives me a lovely 2-minute 20' SitStay.

Thinking about her not handing me that tennis ball the other day, we explore retrieving a bit. We alternate between a slicker brush and a woven tugtoy. The dog who can get a bit of orange peel off the back of the kitchen counter isn't quite sure she should put her paws on the couch to get the brush, but since that seems to be the only way to get the treat, she decides she might as well. I can even tug lightly on the toy with her continuing to hold onto it until I click. Then we run into a glitch. She can retrieve a bunch of items in a pile, and she can retrieve any item I throw, and even appear to be responding to the cue, but if it's more than 10' away from her, or she doesn't see it land, she doesn't have a clue that it exists. In fact she'll walk three or four times around it trying to figure out what I want her to do. So we need to seed some retrieving articles in different rooms and go from room to room shaping the retrieve.

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Boy, dog training gets SO interesting during tax-preparation season! 1/3 of Stitch's meal goes to working duration on a mat. I put my jacket down in a corner of the room, cue and click X3 for going to it, then I start working Scuba through her paces. At first the ratio is Scuba 1, Stitch 1. Then we go to Scuba 2, Stitch 1. At Scuba 3, Stitch 1, Stitch comes over to see how she can get into the action. Pretty cute, she's trying to give me fronts and finishes, but Scuba is bigger and just shovels her out of the way, and I, of course, am ignoring her because she's not on her mat. I'm reminded of some movie where Bette Midler was cut off for a parking space by a young twit who snipped "I'm younger and have better reflexes!" whereupon Bette smashed her car until it was out of the space and said "I'm older and have more insurance". By the time we're through, Stitch is lying comfortably on the jacket and we're up to Scuba 10, Stitch 1. At one point I leave Scuba on a SitStay and go into the next room for a 10-count. Both stay right where they were. Ee hah! Our first out-of-sight stay!

The next third is more heeling practise. Stitch has almost totally lost her Front in her zeal to swing into Heel position, but that's OK, it doesn't take long to start coming back. I try some right pivots as well as the swings, and she's slowed down considerably on those, too. I try luring her to get her around quicker. To my astonishment, she comes around fast in the front end, but her back end is trying hard to stay tucked. Ee hah again!

The final third we work on the retrieve. I've spread a dozen items around in another room (kitchen tongs, a plastic buckle, tug toy, dumbbell, glasses case, locked-shut scissors, a metal measuring cup, a metal dog dish. She's very good with all the close stuff, looking for it, picking it up, holding it until I cue a release. When she drops something, I let it fall and she immediately picks it up and holds it tighter. She leaves the dish to the end. Strange she's daunted by the dish, when she carries them around on her own time, along with huge winter boots, coffee tables... well, you get the picture. She checks under the coffee table and on the couch to be sure there's nothing else she could get. Then she comes to me, sits, stares, and whines. OK, OK, we start from scratch and shape her to get the dog dish. Look at it, go to it, contact it, teeth on it, teeth on it, teeth on it, teeth on it, pick it up, pick it up, pick it up and turn, pick it up and walk... by the time she gets it to me, her hold is solid and we're done.

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Huge March blizzard last night so we didn't get to obedience class. We're dug out now, though, and we make our agility session. Her agility work is excellent. We work on weaves, pause table, dog walk and A-frame, jumps and tire. It's so cool to see that she so totally understands that she must give me the obstacle in order to get to her target. There's no attempt to duck around anything. Just the opposite, in fact, we're building in a marvellous commitment to obstacles. She's trying to head toward every obstacle we go within 5 feet of. The dog walk is 8' away as we come around for another try at the weaves, and she's desperate to get on it. Since I can't run - for instance I can't let her go to get on the pause table, then run to the pause table to get her to lie down - I need a good SitStay, and thanks to the work we've done on the Training Levels, her Stays are excellent. I can lead out 10-15' on any obstacle and then cue her to do it. Impressive. Once she broke the Stay, but I had the presence of mind to step in front of her and block the obstacle. That made an impression. This is important to me. If I'm going to do agility, I HAVE to be able to lead out from the start line and trust the dog to stay where I put her. Not to mention the billion reasons she has to be able to Stay as a Service Dog.

To go with this wonderful commitment to her obstacles, however, she has virtually forgotten how to commit to ME in this environment. She runs to another dog and won't come away when I call her. She ducks out of her leash to run the A-frame. She won't acknowledge my existence, let alone make eye contact. Well, training is a balancing act!

We stay after class while there's another agility class working, and just work on eye contact, Sit, Down, Stand, and SitStay and DownStay. She's considerable better balanced half an hour later.

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Just in case anybody was wondering, yes, she's still a puppy. Her courage and zeal can be truly astonishing. We work on agility in our free floor time today. I have to give the tunnel a right angle bend several times before she gets the idea that she can run into the right-hand entrance, go all the way through it, and come out at the left-hand entrance where the bait target is. That's reasonable, but it took her a few tries to figure out that the same applies to a U-shaped tunnel. Somehow it just seems wrong that it takes a 15' journey to get from where she starts to the bait which is 4' away from where she started.

When she's got that, we move on to the teeter. It's got a drop of maybe 2", and she's running it joyfully in both directions with no trouble except that she'd rather run it backwards than get off it. We gradually start putting it up, and by the time I'm tired of playing with it, the drop is higher than she is and she's STILL running it both ways and not wanting to get off. I have to work a bit to get her to stay so I can cue her to run the teeter, when I let go of her collar, she thinks it would be more reasonable if she could just do the teeter. Why wait? I'm very excited about this, she doesn't seem to mind the drop at all, even though it's now quite high and it's dropping on to a couple of small mats on a cement floor.

And then we move on to the weaves. We've been doing channel weaves and bent weaves up to (or down to) about 3" apart. This is a set of bent weaves, but all in a line. She can do them very well at about 30 degrees out, so I leave the first and last poles where they are and put the others maybe 5 degrees off upright. She can do them! She can do them no matter where I am! On and offside entries! Holy cow!

And then we go to a car dealership and wait for a quote. They're going over my old car deciding how much they'll give me for it, so I've got the dogs inside where people want to talk to them. Miss Courageous isn't sure she's going to handle that, even with people offering her kibble. It's "thanks for the kibble, leave me alone". Finally I get a brain and tell her to lie down. From Down, she can watch Scuba talking to people and feel like she's got some control over the situation, but it certainly reminds me that she's still a baby.

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I'm doing the laundry. I drop a towel. Scuba's standing by, but instead I call Stitch over and gesture toward it, cueing "Get it!". I don't expect her to do anything, we haven't worked anything like this, though she cheerfully carts rags all over the house. To my amazement she picks it up and hands it to me. A minute later I drop something else and she picks that up and gives it to me as well.

I spend a lot of time overnight thinking about Stitch and her behaviour. Where she used to come back very well in dog-play situations and in situations where people are feeding other dogs, the last few weeks she's been awful in that environment (including out in the yard with the lure of fresh cat poop). She's getting less and less confident of strangers. She's getting worse and worse at her duration behaviours, apparently feeling free to get up and check to see if something better might be happening elsewhere. These aren't behaviours and attitudes that haven't been taught, they're behaviours and attitudes that we're losing in spite of continuing to work them. I'm thinking about Leading The Dance. I put her on a 6' leash, attach it to my belt, and wear Stitch around the house for a couple of hours this morning, without allowing her to sit on the couch when I'm sitting on it. Then I put her in her crate and, without any whining at all, we crack off the Level 5 Crate behaviour, followed by the 2-minute SitStay and 3 minute DownStay that she's been putzing around on for weeks not getting much better at all. Good stuff.

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We had a ritual - Song would "set the table" - bring me the dog dishes. After they'd eaten, Scuba would "do the dishes" - pick the dishes up from the floor and put them away in a basket. When Song died, I realized that my cue to "Set the table" meant, to Scuba that she should stand back and let somebody else get the dishes. Of course, duh. Today we start teaching Stitch to "set the table". I put a small metal dog dish on the floor (the food is in another dish on my lap), and shape her to go to it. By the tenth click, she's picking it up. She drops it a lot, and half the time it falls upside down so I have to get up to turn it over, but by the 20th click, she suddenly realizes I mean her to pick it up, hold it, and bring it to me. She gives me a crooked Front with a nice Sit and holds the dish securely until I cue the release. Another 10, and then I get another dish and start tossing them around the room. As she runs to get one, I slide the second one. She's never played this game before. At first she thinks she should look at me - if she didn't see me throw it, I must still have it. I show her the direction she needs to go, and the fifth time she turns on her own to look for the other dish. This is a big step. By the end of the meal I can throw the dishes out of sight around the end of the couch or under the coffee table and she searches until she finds one. At this stage, I start telling her to "Go Get It". This is a generic search and bring cue that is important to teach her. We'll switch to the recreational "Set the table" cue later.

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We're both going stir crazy waiting for spring. I start the meal by asking her to pick up her dish. She does! and the reward is to have me rush to the dog room to fill the dish. It occurs to me that we haven't done any creativity sessions for a very long time. I didn't do a lot of them before because every time I asked her to get into any heavy-duty thinking, she started to whine.

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I have an exercise bike in the living room (doesn't everybody?). I start out shaping her to touch the pedal - turn your head, turn it toward the bike, walk toward the bike, walk toward the front of the bike, get closer to the pedal, touch the pedal, bite the pedal, paw the pedal. This goes very well. She's obviously out of practise, but it wasn't difficult. Since she was offering a lot, the rate of reinforcement was high and there was no whining.

We spend 20 clicks on the pedal, and then I start shaping her towards the back of the bike. Wow, now that she's welded to the pedal, getting her away from it is MUCH more difficult. I can get her turning her head towards the back end of the bike, but asking for anything more than that gives her a chance to make a break for the pedal. X80 (!) for turning towards the back end, and finally she focuses on it. We play with that for a while, get a nice pawtouch on it, then I try switching her to a nosetouch on the seat - MUCH easier this time, it only takes 4 clicks to get that. Ten clicks later, though, I ask her to go back to the rear, and she almost doesn't make it with the 40 kibbles I have left. A great session, with very little whining, but we obviously need more practise!

Great session. I take a dumbbell into the parlour and start tossing it around the room. She's very excited about retrieving it, and she's giving me excellent Fronts and holding it securely until I cue the release. After ten throws, I start asking for a Sit and Stay while I toss it, so it's "dead" when she finds it. This makes no difference to her, it escaped and it's her job to bring it back. X 10. Then I make it harder. I toss it into the dining room and farther, into the front hall among the boots. No problem at all. Finally it goes under the dining room table, on the far side against the wall, with all the chairs hiding it. She can't find it. She looks hard for a long time (45 seconds?). She starts a little whine going - never one to suffer in silence, my Stitch. She comes back to make sure I don't have it and returns to search again. Finally she stops and stares at me, jerking toward the dining room if it looks like I might come and help. Classic "Timmy's in the well" behaviour. I get up and move slowly toward it. I'm still about 5' away when she spots it and we race each other back to the food dish.

A few more long distance throws, then I think I'll make it easy to finish up, but one throw lands in a tight spot between the couch and a metal sculpture of cattails. When she brushes against the sculpture, it rustles and moves and she backs out in a hurry. What to do? What to do? She's wagging her tail very submissively and she's lost a couple of inches in height, so I get up and stand close to it. The dumbbell is in plain sight, it would be easy to get if not for the scary cattails. She stands beside me hoping I'll get it out, but I don't. I give her a happy little pet. She ducks when I touch her, as if she's expecting me to grab her and toss her into the puppy-eating sculpture. She seems relieved that it's just a pet. I suggest she try again, and she does, with the same results. We go through this five times, but each time she's a bit more confident and goes in a little further. It helps her a lot that I'm not the least bit concerned about the enormous danger we're in. Finally she manages to get her lips on the dumbbell and pull it it out. We dance around and have a party and she gets double rations. I toss it back into the same hole ten more times. She goes right in to get it. The first five times, she leaves her back legs well behind her as she risks putting her face in - the first two times, in fact, her back feet are a bit off the ground they're so far back - but after that she starts to relax and soon her tail's happy and she's bouncing.

When we're done, she spends half an hour presenting me with toys and dishcloths and socks and empty pop cans and telling me that she'd like to keep playing. An excellent session.

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Agility class tonight, another wonderful session. Using the baited target and starting with a short chute held up by a helper and dropped on her back as she went through, Stitch was able to do the full collapsed tunnel by the fifth run through it. We got the A-frame up to 4', and she kept trying to duck over to it after every other obstacle. She started the dogwalk thinking it must be only 8' long like her teeter, but a couple of runs reminded her that she had to go the full distance to get her treat. I so love to see her committing to do full obstacles no matter where I am!

She tried to run around the weaves a couple of times, but a sharp helper removed the treat before she got there, and after the third time she realized again that she'd have to give us the obstacle behaviour in order to get the reward.

We put the open tunnel in a U-shape after running it curved a bit a few times. The first time she SAID she was going to run the tunnel but ducked over to the target instead. The helper picked up the bait, and while I was trying to snag her to bring her back to the entrance, she startled, ran back to the entrance on her own, and ran through the tunnel to get to the (re-baited) target. This is such a fun class!

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My fabulous retrieving dog has forgotten how to retrieve. Oh, sure, dumbbells are great, but the most she can do with her dog dish is pick it up high enough to drop it upside down. I spend four meals handing it to her (she can still HOLD it), then getting all excited, taking it from her, and putting her food in it. The heck with that. She seems perfectly happy to let me pick it up and hand it to her. Duh. So I start one meal shaping it. Click for looking at it X5 (I don't know what connection got misfiled in her brain, but I HAVE to start at X5 for looking, otherwise she starts offering me other behaviours), clicking for touching it X5, click for touching it twice X5, clicking for hearing the teeth rattle on it X5, click for two teeth-rattles X5, and finally she picks it up. Once she's got it off the ground, she jumps right to bringing it to me, giving me a Front, and holding it securely until I cue a release.

Now we play a game where she brings me the dish, I put a handful of food in it and skid it off across the floor. She hunts it down, eats the food, picks up the dish and brings it back to the Front again. X10 and we're done.

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Marvellous trip to conformation drop-in class today. She comes to the door with me, Paws Up to get her collar put on, trots politely to the car (loose leash all the way, including the two times I have to go back in the house to get stuff I forgot). Jumps properly into the car, assumes the correct position on the floor, and stays down AND QUIET all the way into town. Loose leash into the building.

I can't help but marvel at how much she knows about conformation. Her gaiting is beautiful, she moves out to the end of the leash ahead of me and turns as she comes to the corners. We do some double-dog gaiting up and back, she moves just as well on my right side as on my left. She's focusing on the judge from halfway down the mat and, ears up, trotting toward him and stopping on the end of the lead staring at him. (Whereupon she starts to sit - she's not QUITE perfect yet!)

She has no problems all evening with people examining her, front, back, and in between.

She's almost ready to freestack - she's setting herself up and I only have to move one back foot into the right position. When she's stacked and I'm holding her tail, she's looking to the left or straight ahead waiting for a click, so I can stand behind her.

Then I put her in a crate for a few minutes and she screeches to be let out (not QUITE perfect yet!)

Loose leash to the car, in the correct position and quiet all the way home. Five weeks to her first show, and I'm starting to relax.

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This seems to be an exciting week for breakthroughs - or at least for me noticing that she's passed my arbitrary mileposts. We've got obedience class tonight so we work on heeling (I've spent my life doing homework on the way to school... ). I click X10 for attention, it's very good. I start pivoting left and clicking her for swinging around into heel position. X5, and I take a step. She's right there, but swings her butt out to the left as I slow. I immediately pivot left again, she swings in to heel position, and I click her X5 for being there. Then I work mini left circles - a step ahead and turning 30 degrees to the left at the same time. She swings with me. We go around in circles for a while, clicking every step. Once in a while as she's swing in, I step backwards, and she heels backwards to stay in position. Wow! Good pup! After a while, I move to going counterclockwise one step at a time around the island in the kitchen. She stays with me about 60% of the steps, the other 40% she swings forward, so I have to start a left pivot to get her back beside me again. By the end of the meal we're walking two steps at a time through the living room and kitchen, with the occasional sidestep or backstep. She's staying with me!

She's totally paying attention, but her eyes are darting from my eyes to my where she hopes my right hand is, to where she's walking, to my left hand. I can see her trying to extrapolate her head position to the click (as we do in conformation training, but in a different position), but it isn't working for her. I'm not concerned about this. She has excellent eye contact (finally!) normally, and it's time we sharpened up her understand of heel position. We'll add the solid eye contact back in when we've got the position the way I want it.

I've got her in a second-level obedience class, and Scuba's sharpening up for the Novice ring in a trial prep class. I don't want to heel Stitch around the room in class while we're working so hard on position, so I'm planning on heeling with Scuba while the class is heeling. Then while Scuba's class is learning jumps, which, Heaven knows, Scuba doesn't need, I'll work Stitch on the low jumps.

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Bad day for me today, weak, sore, shaky, and a headache, so at our training meet, we sit and yak. I tie Stitch to a wall ring and sit 5' away, petting and feeding Scuba and tossing a treat at Stitch whenever she's lying down and quiet. Surprisingly, she gets a lot of food and we build up duration to about 5 minutes of lying down and silence. Granted, I'm not across the room from her, and I'm not walking around or really working Scuba, but it's a very good couple of hours and she's totally relaxed about it. This pup would be perfect if she could lie down and shut up while I'm working with Scuba. We've done a ton of work on that in the last six months, and today's a good session.