13 months and rising

We haven't done any more work on duration yet, but we've been really giving that chair problem what-for. We spent several sessions just reminding Syn of how much fun a swing finish really is, and how she could use the swing to achieve a backing-up-in-heel-position. Once that was securely established, we worked some more on various walls around the house, and learning to spin in FRONT of the space and back into it.

Hmmm. Walls appear to be something solid-and-understood.

Then I set up two sections of a plastic exercise pen for her to back into. THAT was definitely NOT a wall. For one thing, it wiggled when she hit it. That's not, apparently, the way the universe is supposed to work. She tried pawing the stupid thing. No click. She tried staring at me. No click. She tried lying down. OK, lying down is her last line of defence when she has NO clue what to do, so I stood in front of the V and lured her to back up into it. That took a few minutes. Her tail developed a mind of its own and kept missing the opening (in spite of the fact that the opening was 3 feet wide and unmissable). Eventually, in very small steps, she got control of the wayward appendage and started getting it right. And the ex-pen didn't attack her. In fact, it was kind of fun backing into the space.

Then we stepped away from the pen and did a bunch more swing finishes.

Next I stood next to it again, with the pen in heel position, and we worked on getting her to swing AND back up into position. This is what I saw on my left side when she was getting it:
narrowTuckAt this point she was volunteering to spin and wiggle her little behind in there as far as it would go. Then we tried it with various arrangements of chairs, with excellent success.

Next stop, back to the airport.

13 months still

We went to the airport for some training this morning, and ran into several small glitches. First, she needs practise in doing nothing for longer periods of time. I tried standing in line to wend our way up to a ticket agent (we weren't going anywhere, and I'm sure the people behind me were thrilled when I stepped out of line instead of going to the agent when we got to the front of the line). Syn was working the entire time. Not excited, not obtrusive, but working. Diligently. She'd sit in heel position for about 20 seconds, then shuffle forward or stand up and move in front of me to look up to see what we were doing. Nothing. Get back in position. Stay. Yeah, quite willing to get back in position, but the next one didn't last any longer. One behaviour that's not quite ready for the big time.

The next one was chairs. In airport bench seating, there is frequently a space between THIS set of 4 or 5 seats, and the NEXT set. This space is usually only about a foot wide - not wide enough to put a suitcase in, or anything else, really, but just the right size for a Service Dog to back into and remain safe and out of the way. But Syn couldn't get into it. I sat in a seat with a space to my left and cued a swing finish, and she was perplexed. First, I was sitting. Having we never practised this with me sitting? Yes, we have. But we've never practised it with me sitting and no apparent way for her to get into the space, since the next set of seats was clearly blocking her way.

A third glitch was that we ran into a Big Man on security. While everybody else in security was waving and smiling at us, ready to watch yet another SD candidate practising going through an unused security gate, the BM told me in no uncertain terms that not only was I not allowed to practise there, but I wasn't even supposed to be in the security area to ask without a boarding pass. Everyone else looked befuddled and later downstairs one of the others stopped by to tell me to try again when the regular shift was on duty. Sigh. Sometimes I get very tired of being polite.

Anyway, we came home and I stood with a wall a foot to my right. Syn couldn't swing into position. 2 feet to my right. OK, she managed that, but she did it by walking forward (heading behind me) and turning around when she was clear, then walking forward into position. Nyuh uh. That's not the way to do it. But what IS the way to do it? I can't remember. It's so slick and easy when it's done right…

I sent Syn to her mat and invited Stitch to demonstrate. She took one look at the space, spun around IN FRONT OF ME and serenely backed in to perfect position.

Oh. Of course.

So I invited Syn back, "held on" to her nose with a treat in my right hand and cued the swing with my voice and left-hand signal. And she did it. And she got a little excited. Oh! Look! I did it! and then she backed up a bit into the exact correct position, just like Stitch had done. We practised it five or 6 times against different walls and getting tighter each time, and now I'll let her sleep on it for the night and see what she comes up with in the morning, but I'm pretty sure we've got that little glitch settled.

The first one - needs more duration on boring behaviours - will just take some practise doing boring behaviours. Note that she wasn't rowdy. She was quiet and unobtrusive (as unobtrusive as a very cute little brown dog with a mischievous eye and a cute smile can be)(no, I'm not prejudiced, why do you ask?) and certainly ready to do any of her service behaviours at the drop of a hat. Or leash. Or credit card. Or cane. The part I really need to concentrate on, though, will be telling her that the boring stuff is stuff she does when she's in uniform, and that stuff she does when she's NOT in uniform will NOT be boring.

13 months

I thought I was going to stop writing Syn's blog when she turned a year, but apparently she has fans, so here's a monthly update.

We've been working diligently on her obnoxiousness. Now that I'm noticing it, she does spend a fair amount of time bouncing off me (not quite as much springiness in this springboard as there was a while ago!). We're working on that.

We've also spent a number of meals working on conformation stacking, and we've been going to conformation class once a week and working on running around the ring without looking at me or thinking about Lazy Leash. She seems to be getting it.

She seems to have completely forgotten that she was ever afraid of picking up a dog bucket lest it fall to the floor and make a noise. She now waits eagerly for the setting-the-table cue of "Who's hungry?" or "dish" or "eat" or "What time is it?" or a sneeze… and then runs to get both buckets.

So we entered 6 conformation shows in 3 days two weekends ago. There were 3 PWD bitches entered - Syn, Stitch, and a friend's girl, Teva. The idea was for Syn and Teva to share points and in another couple of shows, they'd both be finished their Championships (they both outclass old Stitch, who is there to provide "cannon fodder").

The first show, Syn won. 2 points. Well, wasn't that nice! She seems to be really understanding the part about running around without looking at me, though she has to look back at me once in a while and then LEAP to tell me what a good time she's having. Didn't get a look in the Group, but didn't expect it. She's 13 months old, probably the ugliest time in a dog's entire life. Tall and scrawny, coat looking like Dennis The Menace.

The second show, Syn won. 2 points. Well! Wasn't that nice! She's starting to lean into her stack and show off her gorgeous withers. Then we went in for the Group and… what? ME? Oh, good, we made the cut, that's a nice little ego boost… what? THIRD? Yep. She got 3rd in Group over some very nice adult dogs with big wins behind them, for another 3 points. WELL! Wasn't THAT nice!

The third show, Syn won the breed again, 2 points to finish her Championship, and didn't place again in the Group, but her placing obviously wasn't a fluke since she made the cut. And a lovely time was had by all!

And then I should have boosted her up to Specials and let Teva have the rest of the points, but unfortunately I haven't gotten around to getting her registered in Canada yet, and she needs a Canadian number to show as a Special. Since she was obviously not going along with the "sharing" feeling we had going into the weekend, I pulled her from the rest of the shows so Teva could get in on the action.


The next weekend she was entered in Rally Advanced. Within the last 6 weeks, she's finished her Rally Novice title and gotten her first leg in Advanced, plus I was tired from the weekend and had other priorities, so we didn't really practise. Which means that I got EXACTLY what I deserved the first day of the Rally trial. Syn went cheerfully into the ring and when I started walking, she went out to arm's length, pointedly watched where she was going instead of looking at me, and struck up a nice trot. She kept that up throughout. The third station was a moving down, which she ignored (and so didn't qualify) so I finished the course off feeding her about every second step and playing with her muzzle. That'll teach me not to let the dog know we switched sports in mid-stride.

We did do some practising at supper and breakfast the next morning, and when we went in the ring she redeemed us. Her performance was lovely, happy, tight and responsive. She got a perfect 200, but I lost us 2 points by giving her a second command she didn't really need, so a 198 and High In Class.

Which was nice, but what's making me smile is coming home on consecutive weekends with a rosette in 2 different sports with a year-old puppy.

And 5 different people called her "Red Fraggle", which is what my husband calls her, so I give up.synredSyn on the left. OK, work in progress, but so many people see it with no coaxing. Her ponytails will get bigger. Obviously she needs some red bows.

11 months 28 days

First birthday coming up!

Last weekend Stitch and I did a 2-day seminar, with lots of help from Syn.

Nonbelievers, I'm sure, would have looked at Syn and thought "What an obnoxious puppy! Always jumping up and down, wouldn't stay in heel position, wouldn't stay on her mat, glad MY dog doesn't act like that!"

Believers, I'm sure, would have looked at her and thought "What an amazing puppy! Didn't want to stay on her mat because she spent the ENTIRE 8 hours wanting to come out on the floor and work, work, work. Followed Sue's left shoulder forward from heel position every time Sue moved it! So full of enthusiasm for the job she could easily have exploded!"

Her stamina and joy and willingness were bloody amazing. I had to tie her leash near the pause table to keep her out of my face. She was quiet, though, didn't whine or yap the whole time, but went to sleep or watched me from the mat while I was out on the floor talking or working with Stitch.

I'll definitely be working on her stamina for duration behaviours without feedback (gee, would that be the Level 3 we keep putting off?) in the near future, but in the meantime this was a marvellous affirmation of the fact that I've been assiduously creating EXACTLY the puppy I wanted to create, which is thrilling.

11 months 22 days

This morning we worked the buckets again, but this time I tossed out about a dozen items, including clickers, 5 buckets, a rubber shoe, a pen, a tennis ball so big Syn can barely get it in her mouth, a salad spoon.

Syn loved this game, where she got to pick what she got and bring things back on her own schedule. To my amazement, she was hot to bring back the buckets, and usually brought them first. At first she had trouble finding the clickers after retrieving the larger items, but she quickly shifted her "looker" to check for all the items. This was nice to see because it's exactly what she has to learn to do on the agility course - look for the next obstacle while she's taking the previous one.

I was particularly interesting to see her in the middle of picking up, for instance, the shoe, and spot a bucket. Then her brain went into overdrive as she tried to decide… bring back the shoe, get the treat, or drop the shoe and get the bucket? Buckets ALWAYS pay off… but the shoe is easy… and it's already in my mouth… Usually she brought back what she already had, but once in a while she actually dropped it to pick up the scary bucket.

Once she swung the #2 bucket around really fast, it hit the step and bounced back with the handle still in her mouth and hit her in the face. She jumped away from it and dropped it, but immediately darted forward, grabbed it, and finished the job. HUGE improvement!

And she TRIED to work up the nerve and know-how to bring the #4 (biggest) bucket. She tried it, lost courage, circled, tried it again, lost her nerve again, tried it again. At that point I sent Stitch in to get it and praised them both. I'm happy she was trying in the first place. The fact that she KEPT trying was thrilling. We did a few more after I took the big bucket out. Great session.

Then I got out Stitch's old Easy Button and asked Syn to lie down. Stitch immediately started whapping it. Syn watched carefully. Then I asked Stitch to lie down and released Syn, who IMMEDIATELY ran over to the button and started whapping it. COOL! She has never seen this button before, and she's never been taught to paw-target anything like it (to the best of my memory). The only way I can think of to explain it is that she's been watching Stitch retrieve buckets for several days when Syn herself had failed and be rewarded for it, and then Syn got to try the same thing again. That was really exciting for me, one of those magic little moments that show up in training.

We're doing Syn's second seminar starting tomorrow. I hope she does well. I can't imagine anyone not being impressed by her basic behaviours and enthusiasm.

11 months 21 days

We worked the bucket retrieve again last night and it went almost exactly as it did in the morning. Syn couldn't pick one up at first, so we shaped interaction with the cardboard box until she was thoroughly enjoying herself, then I switched to the #1 and #2 buckets. She tried several changes of subject. She saw the buckets come out, then turned pointedly and looked for the box. Then she went Around a chair. Then she thumped an exercise ball a few times. None of those worked, so she looked at the bucket. Click. Walked to the bucket. Click. Targeted the bucket. Click. That's as close as she could get, she growled (not a real growl, but her expressive Portie-grumble that she does under any and all not-normal circumstances), and then she started to lie down, so I asked Stitch to get a bucket, clicked Stitch and fed her. And again. And again. And again, and now Syn is desperately asking to get back in the game. I ask Stitch to down and Syn gallops in without being asked, grabs the bucket, and brings it to me. That's enough of a win for one session, and we run to the pantry to put her supper in the bucket.

This morning, we went into the training room together and without saying a word I tossed out all 4 buckets. Syn looked at the buckets, then at me, and then growled, and then… nothing. I asked Stitch to get a bucket and - that'll teach the little twerp - she picked the smallest one. Stitch and I did a little dance and ran off to the pantry for breakfast. Syn ran along with us and looked rather annoyed when, after Stitch started eating, I obviously wasn't about to put down the Syn-share.

I walked back to the training room. Syn went ahead of me, growling furiously. She went to the buckets and started walking around them, examining them from every angle. She took half a step toward them, backed off growling, and walked to another angle where she tried it again. She opened and closed her mouth a few times, thinking about picking one up, and then circled again. After a minute of this, she reached carefully for one bucket, but lost her nerve at the last instant and circled again. The third time, she picked it up and brought it to me. For this she got a) my handful of kibble; b) a big schnoogie; and c) a run to the pantry for her breakfast.

Someone asked me yesterday why I'm using Stitch to sucker Syn into the game. Because it's a decent strategy anyway. Because it's working. And because I think Syn has the idea that the shaping session is rewarding her for NOT actually picking up the bucket. I'm being very careful about my timing, trying to move ahead at a decent pace without pushing her too hard, but I still feel that she thinks the idea is to get as close to the dangerous thing as she can without actually touching it.

11 months 20 days

We had a fun session this morning, based on ongoing fear (hers) and frustration (mine).

I thought we had the scary-bucket thing ironed out, but I keep sort of fixing it and then leaving it alone. When I leave it alone, it comes back. And Syn has developed the undesirable response of lying down when she doesn't want to do something (when I've pushed her too far).

She wants treats. I want the bucket. She looks at the treats, she looks at me, she lies down. Thinking back, I rewarded this the first few times by helping her when she lay down - going and touching the bucket, or picking it up and holding the handle for her to make it easier. And it worked to get her to retrieve the bucket. Also worked really well for teaching her to lie down at the first sign of any frustration.

Also we're doing a seminar this weekend and it occurs to me that we have done very little shaping in the last few months.

So I did something HIGHLY unusual - I actually thought about what I was doing.

PROBLEMS: Syn is afraid of the noise her bucket makes when she drops it. She may also be afraid of it moving. She is starting to see the dog dish as a cue to lie down and quit. She's thinking the same about the cue "Are you hungry?". She will sporadically retrieve her #2 bucket, more often when it's on carpet than when it's on tile.

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: work on carpet until she's really comfortable with the noise. Get her to move many more objects. Don't put her in a situation where she'll quit when she sees the bucket. SHUT UP. And do more shaping.

First let me explain that I have 4 sizes of stainless dog bucket. The smallest one (#1) is about half a litre, but has a hook on it to hang it on a crate, so I don't use it for retrieving much. #2 is a "normal" dog bucket, about a litre. #3 is 2 litres. And #4 is a regular-sized bucket, good for watering llamas, carrying placentas to be buried, and washing cars. All have metal handles.

So we started on carpet this morning, with both Syn & Stitch in the room, Stitch on her mat. I found a cardboard box about a foot square, open, and put it about 4 feet away from me. Shaped Syn to go to it. She was pretty tentative at first and it took 2 or 3 minutes to get her to interact with the box. Once she got that, she would stop when she heard the click but not turn back toward me to get the treat. Don't know what that's about. Is she waiting for me to toss the treat? Waiting for it to materialize out of thin air in front of her? Strange. Then she started to continue to work through the click, but listening, so I'd click again and she'd come back for the treat. That went away after another couple of minutes. I was happy to see that she got more assertive as she went along. The first time she moved the box with her paw, she was startled and thought about whether to go back to it, but decided that it was soft enough and quiet enough that it didn't present a danger, so she went back and soon got to flipping it and poking it with her nose as well. Then she shoved it up a stair with her nose and it rolled back down and hit her (oooh, scary, she got hit by a 1 foot square cardboard box! My Little Pansy). I'd clicked for shoving it that hard, but she looked at me, looked at the box, and lay down.

Now, I'm not saying it's a bad thing to have a way for her to indicate that something is too difficult for her. That's fine. The problem is that she's giving up too easily. 1+1=2 2+1=3 3+1=TOO HARD CAN WE WATCH TV NOW? She needs more mental stamina, which a lot more shaping practise will definitely give her.

So when she quit, I put her on the mat and got Stitch out to work. Stitch hit that box like a freight train, poking, bopping, going around, rolling over. She batted it all over the room, wagging her tail and getting clicked. Syn got the odd treat for being on her mat. Pretty soon she was dying to get off the mat, so I put Stitch back on and brought Syn out to work again. Now she was really In The Game, and was soon rolling the box around almost as well as Stitch had been. Then I opened the flaps and she started batting them back and forth. Then a light bulb flashed over her head AHA! She grabbed a flap in her mouth and wrestled the box up the stairs and gave it to me! She got a treat and a big cuddle for that one. I tossed the box back down the step and she did it again. And again. Getting a box up a step is a lot more difficult than getting a bucket to me on a flat floor, but the box is quieter. She was really having a good time hauling that box back and forth, so I tossed out the #1 bucket instead of the box. No, thank you.

OK, back on the mat. Stitch, come and get that bucket. No problem. Aha, says I, let's make some noise!

I tossed the #2 bucket for Stitch, and when it hit the ground, Syn startled and jumped off the mat. I asked her to get back on the mat, rewarded Stitch for getting the bucket, and tossed it again. This time I was ready and rewarded Syn about a quarter second after the bucket hit the carpet and before she could jump off the mat. And rewarded Stitch for the bucket, and tossed it again. And so on for a couple of minutes until Syn was comfortable and starting to look eager to come and play too. I went up the bucket sizes, letting the bigger ones clatter down the steps, and even tossing them onto tile when Syn was looking comfortable.

Stitch back on the mat, Syn comes out. Get the box, yep. Get the #1 bucket, no problem, hey, that was fun! Get the #2 bucket, no problem! Get the #3 bucket, yeah! I can do this!

So I started tossing the #3 bucket around the room, with Syn cheerfully pouncing on it and hauling it back. I went back to the #1 bucket and tossed it on the tiles with no diminished cheer from Syn, then #2, and #3, all cheerfully returned.

She got so into the game that once I tossed the #2 bucket away from me AND SHE CAUGHT IT BY THE HANDLE AS IT WENT BY HER and brought it back to me, almost giggling she was so pleased with herself. A few tosses later it actually bumped her as it went by, which didn't bother her either.

So, a grand session. This evening we'll do it again - again starting from scratch and working up through the box.

11 months 16 days

The good, the bad, and the ugly - but mostly the good.

The good: we went to an obedience fun match last night. Everything was aMAZing. First, *I* was amazing. I remembered why I was there (unlike my performance last weekend at the agility match) - to teach Syn that competition rings are WAY FUN places, and NOT to worry about her performance.

Second, Syn was amazing. We did Novice AND Open. I've recently switched her focus in heeling from my face to my left hand at my waist, and, with very little practise (what else is new?) she's really getting it. Note to self: in situations like this, use soft treats. I took the wrong box and wound up at the match with nothing but plain kibble. Though Syn stayed focused and excited, the kibble took longer to get down than a bit of hot dog would have. So her heeling was grand. She stopped once to sniff a post on the figure 8, but we started again and she did it right the second time. We did a sit for examination rather than a stand, since we haven't worked on stand yet. Recall - excellent. Front, not so much, we'll have to work on that one of these weeks too. Sit stay, excellent. There were a couple of dogs that were breaking constantly, and Syn wasn't even remotely interested in doing anything but staying In The Game and holding her sit until I got back. Downstay - she offered me a Chill (rolled on her left side and looked dead) when I cued the down, and stayed that way for the entire 3 minutes and until I was back in position beside her.

It was a fairly long wait for her turn in Open. I hadn't bought a crate so she had to down beside me, so not a LOT of rest happening. She was a little more distracted when we got into the ring the second time, but held on. Heeling was very nice again - gave me chills, actually - as long as I remember that she's training and still needs treats to do it. Retrieve on flat was great. Retrieve over the high jump - the first try she wound up very close to the edge of the jump. You could see the thoughts going through her head - go the long way back over the jump? Or go the short way back around it? We've put a fair bit of effort into proofing the jump, and she's never actually had the "evil" thought before, and she made the wrong choice. Got no smile or treat for it, and did it perfectly the second time. Drop on recall- Yes! Lovely. We didn't do the longer out of sight stays because - well, because it was a long evening, she's a puppy, and she's not ready to do them right yet. EXcellent evening.

The bad: we tried testing her L3 Lazy Leash - going away and back to me with another handler - and she failed - well, not dismally but we obviously have a fair amount of work to do on that before we test it again.

And the ugly: she chewed up the rubber mat beside the grooming table, and robo-vac gets stuck on the battered remains, so I threw it away. Then I asked Syn to jump up not the table and her feet slipped. She hit the table edge right on her diaphragm, with her front end on top and her back end hanging off. She yelped for over a minute, and peed when I touched her. What a little pansy. I petted her until she shut up and then we went back into the kitchen and did some fun behaviours. She thought that was fun. Then we went back in the dog room. I put down another rubber mat and asked her to jump up again. She was reluctant to follow me into the room, but once I asked her to jump up she was OK to do it. Gave her a good cuddle on the table and put her back on the floor. She was OK to get back on this morning, and didn't worry about coming into the room with me. A good reminder to me to consider safety all the time.

Gosh I like this puppy. We are having SUCH a good time.

11 months 15 days

This morning I "hid" the two dog buckets (big scary one and little unscary one) in the next room, started robo-vac, put Stitch on a down stay nearby, and asked Syn if she was hungry. I'll take that as a yes. She handled the vacuum very nicely, she remember that she had to get both of them to get the job done, Stitch didn't bother her at all, and the buckets were fine until she swung the big one around and hit some furniture, but she recovered fast and kept her tail up. Very nice performance of all the tough factors involved. Video here

11 months 14 days

Syn and I went to the vet today. She had a wonderful time while she was there. She kept offering to hop up on the very high examining table while I was talking to the vet and I had to keep putting my hand in between her and the table and saying No. She'd settle back for a minute and then start volunteering to jump again. The vet got kissed all over, loved up the staff, displayed her excellent Handling behaviours and generally had a very good time. We took some training time in the waiting room - heeling, sits, downs, Chill. Excellent. Walked in and out on a loose lead.

We stopped at the dog park on the way home. Oops. Her teenage self isn't quite as assured as her late-puppy self was. She really wanted to play with a young Lab, a young German Shepherd, and an old Basset, but in the end then old Basset was the only one that seemed trustworthy. She'd run like a fiend after or up to the two younger dogs, then peel off at the last second and run back to say hello to me, pretending she was only going to look all along. The Lab chased her back to me a few times where she sat between my legs and worried a bit. Obviously we need a bit more strange-dog time. Nice loose leash to and from the park, though, and good comes while she was there. And some nice retrieves. She'll be spending a week in a household with four or five strange dogs soon, and I know they all have good communication skills, so that should help.

And when we got home, a 4 yo and her mom stopped by for a visit. The kid loved dogs but was excitable and squealy. She wanted to throw a toy for Syn, but was too scared (and squealy) to take it from her when she brought it back, so I had to take it from her, give it to the kid, and then wait for her to bring it back again. At one point the mom was trying to talk to me, the kid was squealing and throwing, and Syn got a bit overwhelmed. I didn't quite see but heard her little tooth-snapping yip as she told the kid to back off. Excellent response from Syn, great communication, but not socially acceptable. Shame on me for letting it get that far, particularly just after she'd had to defend herself several times from the young Lab. Mom wasn't upset at all but told the kid to settle down. I held Syn's head for a second and got her to settle as well, and then they went back to playing with me paying much better attention.

11 months 13 days

The holiday season is over and life is getting back to normal. I've been feeling like I was rushing the entry into Level 3 before the holidays, so I retested a few of the duration behaviours from L2 and started over again in Level 3.

Syn did just as well this time as she did the first time. We went through the first 6 behaviours, everything we could except things which require other people, and we'll get to them this weekend - there's an obedience fun match coming up. She had the most problem with the early retrieve behaviours. She's good at the finished product but apparently we glossed over the Syn-and-me-holding-things-together part, so we'll be working that up for a week or so. L3 Target is coming along nicely. She can paws-up on pretty much anything, horizontal or vertical, including the back of a rocking chair (which rocked when her paws landed on it - she looked like a kite surfer), but with no duration unless I'm petting her or my lure hand stays over her head.

The nervousness she displayed over retrieving the dog buckets has disappeared due to that pre-meal Miracle Minute. The connection between getting fed and bringing me the bucket really clicked about 4 days ago. All I have to do is THINK about feeding dogs and she's running to bring me buckets with enthusiasm and confidence.

The other idea that has really gelled while she learned to retrieve scary buckets is the idea of having an entire job to do. I usually see this begin on the retrieve, when the dog tries to hand me an object and I fumble the catch and drop it (or she drops it before I cue the hand-off and I pretend I didn't have a chance to catch it). For a moment the dog will look at me waiting for her click, and then it hits her - the job isn't done! She doesn't get the click until the object is in my hand. So she picks it up again and holds it more firmly until she gets the cue.

In retrieving the buckets, Syn has put the finished-job idea into meals. I need TWO buckets, one for each dog, before I can put food in either one. Syn will bring me one, look at me for a moment, and then enthusiastically search out and bring me the second one.

Stitch and Scuba were both very careful to bring me the easiest item first (perhaps on the off chance that one would be enough this time and they wouldn't have to bring me the more difficult object after all) but Syn brings the first one she finds - the smaller, easier one, or the bigger, heavier, noisier one - and then goes back for the other one.

Her retrieving is so good, in fact, that she gave me a good lesson in changing the subject last weekend. There was an agility fun match and, since she can do all the obstacles (except the teeter and weaves, which I just avoided), I assumed she could do a course (which I have assumed before in class and should certainly know better by now) of 18 obstacles. There were 4 jumps and then a tunnel, and that was a long enough course for her to decide that since I wasn't clicking but just kept telling her to do the next thing and the next thing, I probably didn't know what I was doing, so instead of continuing on the course, she started retrieving the traffic cones marking the course. Once she started it was quite difficult to convince her to stop - made worse by the fact that she had both me and the audience laughing out loud as she paraded around the ring carrying cones and growling loudly to let us all know how pleased she was with her solution. I should have stayed for a second round but my asthma was acting up and I needed to go home. If I HAD stayed, I would have done the first 3 obstacles one at a time - jump, yes, treat. Jump, yes, treat. Jump, yes, treat. Then the next six or so I'd do 2 at a time - jump, tunnel, yes, treat. Jump, tire, yes, treat. And so on, and then try 3 in a row - or maybe just finish the course 2 at a time. And I WILL remember that she doesn't know how to do courses!

10 months 26 days

Alright, I'm feeling a bit more myself today. Syn, of course, feels… Synful. Full of herself, as always. Or, another way of starting today's blog would be:

Now that I've gotten over other people trying to kill their dogs, I'm ready to strangle mine. This afternoon a friend looked out in the back yard and found Little Miss and Stitch gleefully opening Christmas presents. No, not THEIR Christmas presents. One has a tooth-sized hole in it. The others just need to be re-wrapped. Whee. Wrapping is my favourite part of the holidays. Not.

This evening we moved on with Level 3. Except for a few behaviours and Comeafters that involve other people and going (brrrr) outside, we're all the way up to L3 Crate.

Sit from Down is good - when she's listening. When she's not listening she just throws the next thing at me, but we're working on that.

The out of sight L3 Downs were excellent. She even offered me Chill (over on her side - AKA Relax) and didn't bother rolling up into a regular Down when I came back to her.

Hard to work Lazy Leash in the house, and it was cold and dark outside so we worked on heeling instead. I'm putting my left hand at my waist and having her stare fixedly at the hand while she's moving to distinguish heel from LL. She's getting it. Not ready to give it to me in class (or out in the world?) yet, but at home it's going well. The neat thing is that once we get the duration on heeling, she'll be ready to whip through Novice AND Open obedience.

We tried all kinds of different things for L3 Retrieve - a pen, a clicker, an intact wrapped present, a shoe, a big purse, a dog bucket, a sock. The most difficult thing I asked her to hold was my finger. She was quite sure that was a mistake but we shaped it up to a fairly decent hold. Once in a while when I asked her to do it, though, she'd dive to the front hall to get a leash - apparently holding a leash is a lot safer idea than holding a finger.

L3 Target is Paws Up. I've been having her come up on me to get her collar on and off, but haven't actually taught the behaviour, so we started cold on this one. She got it immediately and enjoyed doing it. The only vertical surface I tried her on was me, though, so far. I figured eating presents was enough for one day, we didn't have to add scratching the walls.

We had a bit of supper left over so we did 20 reps of Watch. I introduced Look a little too soon after Watch and while her Look (at something else) is pretty good, her Watch (me) is a bit iffy. She's not quite sure WHAT she's supposed to be Watching.

Then we did some shaping practise. One of the things I've been wanting to work on is the idea that where I'm looking is what she should be working on. Stitch got this right away, but Syn hasn't figured it out yet. I sat facing east and shaped her to put her muzzle on a package, then I ostentatiously turned and faced west. She tried touching the package four or five times, and when that didn't work she did Paws Up on three chairs and the coffee table. When that didn't work, she tried a distance Down, thought about her life for a minute or two, and then came around in front of me to ask what was going on - and of course got a click. Then I shaped her to look behind the Christmas tree and when she had that, I turned and faced east again. Another round of Paws Up and a Down… oh! Wait! In FRONT of you! And she had it. Clever little tyke.

10 months 25 days

Tonight I'm in a depressed funk. Not because of Syn - she's grand.

This afternoon we went to our Open obedience class. It's chock full of dogs getting yelled at, people with very crabby voices, and me and one other trainer speaking in normal tones to our dogs. That didn't bother me - it's what the dogs are used to. What DID bother me was one dog who broke a sit-stay, and was corrected (on his pinch collar). He pulled his lips back in a big nervous grin/pant and came forward to apologize - thus breaking the stay again, and was again corrected for the grievous error. And again he broke, and again he was corrected. And again. And again. And again. And again. As he was approached for another correction, he was crouched on the ground (creeping forward, the scum bucket) feebly wagging his tail, and the instructor yelled "Stop wagging your tail!" before correcting him again.

I'm not sure whether I'm going to get tossed out of this class for butting in and telling the instructor why he kept breaking, or whether I'm going to quit on my own. My stomach is upset and I don't feel at all Christmassy this evening.

Syn broke her sit stay a couple of times. I said (quietly) "no, no. That's not how we do it.", led her back to her spot, asked for the stay again, and then Laddered her up to a full 3-minute stay with me across the room. How can they not see? How can they not see?

10 months 20 days

Wow, this dog training stuff is TOO much fun, especially when I get such marvellous proof of how well it works! My vacuum is in the shop - and appears to be settling in nicely, planning on staying awhile - so I splurged (that holiday thing where "since I'm spending money on everybody else I might as well spend some on myself") and bought a robot vacuum.

It was all charged up this morning and ready to go, so I pushed it's little button and got set to work on getting Syn comfortable with it. First thing I noticed, it's a lot quieter than the upright, so Syn's already more at ease with it, though it's kind of scary when it appears to be hunting her down. Here's a few minutes of her getting to know it. Second thing I noticed is that I'm so busy watching the little vac do its job that I'm having a hard time marking Syn's behaviour at the right time, so a lot of my Yesses are late.

But the excellent part is when Stitch came in and found us training. She knows she's not supposed to butt in, so she stays back and watches. At one point, she lay down to watch. The contrast between Syn just learning to handle the world around her, and 7-year-old Stitch having been through it all before - even well beyond wearing the "I'm a trained dog" t-shirt - is very funny. "Vacuum cleaner? I was here first!"

We have done a bit of training besides this, and went to another Open obedience class with Syn the other day - where she was once again remarkable. She did get away from me once when she hared off across the room to retrieve someone else's dumbbell - but I think I could have gotten her back if I had given her a dumbell-Zen cue and called her back rather than just standing there blubbering "Syn! Syn! Syn!". "Yeah," she replied. "I'm just gonna get this dumbell for you and then I'll be right there!" Oh, and she forgot how to stay, so I spent part of the class playing Chutes and Ladders with sit stays. Dear little Tat.

10 months 16 days

Well, we got past the scary-bucket problem pretty quickly. I just sat back and shaped her from the beginning - look at the bucket, look again, take a step toward it, take another. I started with the bucket on the rug so it wouldn't make too much scary noise, and when she was ready I put it on the tile floor. No problem now - in fact it's hard to keep her from grabbing it just because it's in the same room she is.

Since she was doing a good job of getting over scary noises, and the vacuum cleaner happened to be sitting nearby, I started working on that. We worked first with it just standing still being as unscary as a vacuum cleaner can be, and she was a bit tentative but got into the spirit of sniffing, looking, touching… at about 1 minute in the video I rejoined Lumpers Anonymous and asked her to Go Around, which she wasn't ready to do. I'm sorry to see that she immediately lay down - her version of Take This Job And Shove It, and not only did I see her do it, but I asked her to Go Around again. And then I DEMANDED that she Go Around (earth to Sue, come in please), after which I realized what I was doing and shut the camera off to play with her for a minute. While the camera was off I led her around it a couple of times and when we came back, she was fine with it - both with touching it AND with going around it. End of session.

The next session, I started with the vacuum turned on, and we started right back at the beginning, look at it, think about it, take a step, take another. I tried to shape her to go around and finally got her to go around it once - at least this time I was prepared to let her make the decision. I can see a fair bit of "I know you think I should go around that thing but I also know it's going to eat me if I do" going on, but she stays In The Game and keeps trying. End of session.

The last session of the day, she came back ready to go around the vacuum. She's still not comfortable doing it - you can see the hesitation each time just as she commits to going behind it - but there's no external (read: nothing from ME) pressure to go around it, she can decide not to but she doesn't. Good session, we'll work that again in another couple of days. I'd like her to retrieve it?

10 months 14 days

Boy, howdy.

My name is Sue Eh and I'm a lumper. Chartered member of Lumpers Anonymous.

A couple of weeks ago I worked a bit on getting Syn to retrieve a dog bucket with her dinner in it. I got her to retrieve the bucket a couple of times, then I did a couple of Hand Zens, and then I put the kibble in the bucket. I thought she was slightly afraid of the bucket.

Well, today I noticed that when I ask her to get her bucket, she confidently and cheerfully backs away from it and sits oh-so-politely at my side. She's doing Bucket Zen. No way no how she's going near that bucket unless I put my hand on it and specifically hold it out to her. Did I tell her not to touch the bucket? I THOUGHT I was telling her not to touch the kibble IN the bucket, but of course, not speaking English all that well, that's not what she heard.

So we spent half her breakfast shaping her to look at the bucket, go toward the bucket, touch the bucket. When she finally managed to pick it up, we had a huge party and ran to the pantry to put the rest of breakfast in the bucket.

Welcome to the Flat Forehead School Of Dog Training.

By the way, she started something cute yesterday. When I suggest it might be breakfast time, she starts leading my to the pantry, talking a mile a minute and looking back over her shoulder to be sure I'm coming along.

10 months 11 days

Syn had a her first Open obedience class this afternoon. I was worried that she wouldn't be able to keep up with the class - well, worried isn't the right word, since I would work her at her own level no matter what, but I wouldn't want to hold the class up waiting for her to do something (or more likely, lower the jumps or otherwise take more time to take our turns). I thought I might have to drop out. She IS only 10 months old, with a puppy's enthusiasm and attention span.

First things first. We started with heeling. Her heeling isn't perfect. I need to concentrate on keeping her eyes on me - when her eyes wander off, she gets wider and wider as we go along. And, since we were doing conformation in the same building 2 weeks ago, she's not sitting automatically when I stop. On the other hand, she was the only one off leash and the only one not getting corrections. Some were (sigh) on pinch collars. Syn was trucking along cheerfully doing a grand job with a big grin on her face - in between gazing around like a hick in the big city. When we did figure 8s, I discovered that we need to work more on speeding up when she's on the outside, but her sidestepping inside turns were a thing of beauty.

Then we did stays while one by one we worked retrieve over the high jump. Her stays are not excellent yet. She would like to assume that I wasn't talking to her when I said "Stay" and instead meant for her to come right along with me. BUT when I asked her for a down and stay, this is what she gave me:


Yep, that's a Relax. 10 months old and she's offering me a Relax. In public. And stayed that way for 2 minutes with me 20 feet away. Wow! She couldn't hold it while I walked around her, but all she did was roll into a normal down position (like the dog on the left in the photo).

I thought I'd try a 3-board broad jump just once to see how much work I'd have to do on it - not much, apparently. I treated it like an agility obstacle. I put her back about 15 feet from it, "led out" to it, and turned as I would in agility to send her over it. She soared. And then ran back to me all excited - "I did it! Did you see me? I jumped right over it! Did you see? Did you see?" And twice more.

On to the retrieve over the high jump. We worked with a jump about 16 inches high. She was thrilled to do this too, and I spent some time tossing the dumbbell off to one side or the other so she had to curve her path to be sure to go over the jump.

Finally, the drop on recall. No problem, she's been doing that for 7 months. And that was our class. She was a long way from "keeping up" with the class. The other way around, really. She needs work on duration, on distance, and a bit on distraction, but she's got difficulty cased. She needs to practise these things until she's doing them because she knows how to do them, not because I'm giving her extra body language cues to help her understand what I want. But she's got the exercises cased. She knows how to do this. Heck, she's in Level 3 now, she can do ANYTHING!

10 months 9 days

For breakfast we worked a little more on the distraction of kibble on the rug. She's not ready to wander over the food as if it isn't there, but she's getting closer. Her panting this morning is because the sun is shining in the windows and the room is hot. Her tail is wagging with eagerness to play the game, even though it's still tough to do.

And I guess I have to turn my phone sideways to get videos going the right way.

One of the earliest reps from this morning. I like my voice in this one, I'm inviting her to perform rather than trying to use my voice to force her. Also this is an excellent illustration of the whole tossing-things-on-the-floor discussion. A little Floor Zen easily teaches the dog that constant floor-diving isn't a way of life. Syn has the scattered kibble on the rug, and I'm also tossing kibble to her as her reward following "Yes". Notice the marvellous place where she eats (what she thought was) the treat I tossed, but very obviously doesn't eat the next one she sees, which is one of the Zen kibbles. Clever puppy! If you didn't notice that while watching, you could tell from my voice how pleased I was with that little tidbit of behaviour. This morning her face is much more relaxed and happy.

Here we're working on L3 Sit - dog sits from a down 2 feet away from you - Comeafters - with a distraction. Also Step 4 - down from a sit 5 feet away from you - Comeafters - threefers, a down, a sit, another down. Plus L3 Come Step 1 - dog comes 5 feet with a distraction. Also Floor Zen and getting her comfortable with the whole idea. Watch here. My voice is a little demanding, which I don't like - she was having a little difficulty hearing what I said with the distraction. Yes, treats on the floor make a dog go deaf.

Interesting little glitch in my brain. Every time I get to Level 3, I have a niggling little thought telling me my dog isn't ready for it. Like there's going to be a huge chasm between L2 behaviours and L3 behaviours. Like leaving Grade 8 and heading right to university. Don't know why I don't trust the author more… Syn is clearly ready for Level 3! (also I'm still gobsmacked that my baby puppy is ready for L3).

10 months 8 days

I've been away for a week. Tonight we got back into Level 3 (Level 3!). L3 Focus Step 4 - Dog holds eye contact for 10 seconds with you not looking at the dog. That was fun, and pleasantly surprising. Not as difficult as I thought it would be. It took us 4 clicks to get up to 10 seconds, based mostly on the idea that when I want to shape her I look where I want her to be. This is also the cue I use when I want her to Look at something rather than Watch me. After 4 clicks she had it, though. We'll see tomorrow if she's got it well enough to pass testing.


Syn giving me 10 seconds of Focus while I look in the mirror.
Her tail is wagging furiously.

We moved on to L3 Come. Step 1: Dog comes 5 feet with distractions. Late evening at home out in the country - I couldn't think of any distractions other than kibble on the floor, so I spread some. She couldn't come to me through it. She tried going around the coffee tablet get away from it, but it was spread there too. I backed up to something she knew - straightforward advanced Floor Zen, which she's pretty darn good at. Watch how great she is at it - click here to see a video. Why are these videos on their sides? I have no idea, sorry.

Once I was sure she could do that comfortably, I started asking her to Come through the kibble, but it was still very difficult. Click here to watch her first attempt.

I put a treat target in her face and led her through the minefield a couple of times, then just walked through with her a couple of times, and after five or six of those, she was able to do it - but still not comfortable. We'll try again tomorrow.

I'm glad to be home. I missed the little pumpkin.

10 months 1 day

Ten months old, and Little Miss moved on to Level 3 with a bang. Starting at the beginning, we zipped right through L3 Zen (dog doesn't dash through open door, waits 30 seconds with door open, waits 1 minute while I carry stuff in and out of the house, other doors, life situations. She passed everything with no trouble and NO CUE. What a good puppy! The only thing left is getting someone else to do the open door with her.

Good time to reflect on how far she's come and who she's turning into.

Physically, she's growing into herself slowly but surely. I think she's going to be a very pretty dog when she grows up - and maybe retain some of the Red Fraggle/Gund quality everyone comments on. She's a sound dog, except for a little turnout in the rear which comes, I think, from growing so fast. She's definitely getting it under control as she gets more muscle. Her tailset and topline are grand, great shoulders, and good angulation in the rear. She could use a bit heavier muzzle, but her skull is nice and wide. And she really is cute.

Mentally - well, she's smart and willing and cheerful. She trusts me, she's willing to do almost anything for a treat, and she's got good mental stamina. She's naturally a bit leery of things moving under her - the first time I moved the cart she was riding in at 6 months, she leaped out - and of big or rowdy other dogs - though she does love Giant Schnauzers and Dobermans (but Goldens are a little scary) - but she has excellent bounce-back. She gets over scares quickly and easily and is willing to believe me when I tell her she can do something even if she thinks maybe she can't.

She needs more practise being shaped, she doesn't have a lot of stamina for guessing games, though she's willing to try. All in all, she feels like she's ahead of where Stitch was at the same age. Maybe she isn't - I'll have to go back and read Stitch's blog for the same time frame - but for sure she doesn't have several of Stitch's vices that we had to work to overcome (chasing cats comes readily to mind).

So. 8 months of work, and I'm pleased with the results. Not to mention that my puppy's very cute and cuddly.

9 months 29 days

We tested out Level 2 Communication this morning, which is the last of Level 2 except the trick. Syn did the full retrieve, including bring and hold, of the bucket with her kibble in it, and did it with her tail wagging, but her approach to the bucket is still tentative - the whole crouch-down-and-leave-your-back-feet-way-back-THERE-where-they'll-be-safe thing - so I want to work it at least one more day to get her comfortable with it. Chicklet, the bucket will NOT bite you when you start to pick it up. Actually, she's comfortable and happy with the entire rest of the behaviour, so the creeping-up-to-the-bucket business looks very strange, but I want to get rid of it. A dog doing a trick (or anything else, for that matter) shouldn't look like part of the process might get her killed.

We went to a drop-in conformation class this afternoon. Bear in mind that it's been 3 months since we did any conformation, and even then it was sort of a puppy playtime event, culminating in one win and nothing else, except a good time. So I wasn't expecting much - nothing, really - from her this afternoon. Well! It took four or five voice clicks to get her to stop thinking about plunking her little tushy hard and fast on the floor, but once she realized I was clicking for standing, something quite amazing happened. She stood. She stood across in front of me, leaned on the lead when I gave her the chance, and stared fixedly at the bait in my right hand. Occasionally I let off the pressure on the collar so I could use my leash hand to move a foot or put her tail right, and she stood very nicely while I did it. She let both a male and female "judge" go over her without any worry. When we started moving, I put an ounce of pressure on the leash and Little Miss went readily out into the pressure and trucked around half a body-length in front of me, studiously staring where she was going instead of at me.

Gosh, I barely remember teaching her any of this, let alone doing any significant amount of work on it, yet here she is, 3 months later, not only remembering it and giving it to me, but, IMO, doing it considerably better than she did when I first taught it to her.

Time out: Dogs were going nuts out in the yard, that's par for the course. Must have spotted a snowshoe hair or a porcupine. Then the llamas started hollering their alarm calls as well and I went outside to find a moose wandering by. We generally have one or two male yearlings travelling through per year, but this wasn't a yearling. It was a full-grown male with a full rack of antlers. I locked up the dogs and went out in the truck to see if I could get close enough to take a picture but it was too dark. You have to be very, very careful driving near moose, they tend to be a bit fussy about their personal space:


When the youngsters go by, you get an idea of how powerful an animal this is - they're 7 feet tall - but an adult male with a rack is a totally different critter, being that tall and the weight of two horses. He eventually wandered off and I came back and let the dogs out into the yard again, but ten minutes later I had to bring them back in as they were revving up again and a moose who doesn't like noise could easily go over or through my 5 foot dog fence to shut them up. What a magnificent creature. I always feel the day has been blessed when I get to see one.

Anyway, back to Syn. I happened to catch a look at her in a mirror in the training hall and hey, she looks GREAT in her new retriever trim, and she's really grown into all that leg she was having difficulty knowing what to do with 3 months ago, and she's got the attitude - I think I may have a show dog on my hands. Makes me more excited about showing her next spring. And excited about getting into Level 3. And excited about seeing a moose. It may be a good time to clean out the fridge with all this extra adrenalin...

9 months 28 days

Tonight we got Down To Business and tested a large number of Level 2 behaviours.

She has an Open obedience class coming up, and they're going to be practising 1-minute sit and down stays, and she hasn't done either one, so I'll have to lead her gently into them, but tonight she passed L2 Sit and Down, which includes a 1-minute down at 20 feet. We had most of the others passed already, but the one that surprised me was the Relax. I expected Steps 1 through 3 to be fine, but Step 4 - dog settles for 1 minute, gets excited, and settles again for 1 minute - I was anticipated problems with. She's good on the time, but it usually takes me several cues to get her to roll over onto her side, and then of course a few seconds for her to stop wagging her tail. That wouldn't cut it in the testing department.

I read the requirements, then turned to her. She was in the wrong position. She only goes over on her left side, and her left side was up against the step. Well, that's what testing is about, I guess, less than ideal conditions. So I cued "Chill" and BAM. She tried to go over, but as I said, she was in the wrong place, so she solved the problem by going straight down, dropping her hips away from the step, and then resting her muzzle on her left paw - which was as far over on her left as she could get, under the circumstances. And with that one cue, she stayed that way for the full minute. Zowie! At the end of the minute I got her up and tossed a toy and some treats around for a minute, then cued Chill again, with pretty much the same results.
Which only leaves Communication, which she's passed but I'd like to do a little more work on before I leave it, and her trick, which has now definitely evolved into retrieving the bucket. Yesterday she learned to hold the handle in her mouth with kibble in the bucket. Today we had to back up some to continue the behaviour. First I took the kibble out, because it was plain she was going to drop the bucket at some point. What worries her is that the bucket swings, which makes it feel like a live thing hanging off her mouth. That makes it very difficult to walk forward - having a large living swinging bucket blocking her path. She quit a couple of times, waiting for me to put my hand on it to control it while she held it, so I did that. Then I replaced that bucket with a smaller one that I had padded the handle of (good ol' duct tape). That went better, but we've got a few more days of work before she'll be anywhere near confident of it. And then, tada, on to Level 3!

Oh, and that whole I'm-afraid-of-the-dog-dryer thing is long gone. Today I had trouble keeping her on the floor. Every time I walk past the grooming table she's on it, ready to be worked on.

9 months 27 days

We got up to 2 sessions today. We started the morning workout with eye contact. Yep, it was gone. She immediately began looking around the room for misplaced treats. She's got excellent stick-to-itive-ness, I'll give her that. The first time it took her 27 seconds to give up on the floor and think of looking at me. Then another 8 reps before she started thinking of me first. At 10 reps, she started looking at me to make sure I was watching, then offering behaviours. She offered several very nice distance drops when I pretended to toss a treat over THERE, a couple of pretty two-on-two-off on the one step down into the parlour where I was sitting, but finally she started to figure out that it was my eyes that were paying off. Then I was able to start getting some duration and wiggling my fingers in her peripheral vision while she stared at me. Got up to 15 seconds of Watch.

Next we worked on the paw thing again, but this time I was getting her to paw-target my hand - better control than with my foot, easier to pull away when she presented her muzzle or the wrong paw, she was much more gentle pawing my hand than my leg, and it was easier to put the target in the right position to lure the correct paw up.

Finally I cued her to Lie Down (roll over on her side and put her head down - Relax). She's got the roll well now, but still doing her I'm-doing-it!-I'm-doing-it! tail wag, so this time I was waiting for her tail to stop wagging. It only took 7 or 8 seconds, and she signalled the silence of the tail with a huge sigh, followed by shallower breathing. Got it! Maybe 5 reps, and she was down to 4 seconds of wagging before relaxing.

We repeated the same for her supper session, and she'd made big strides in between. She had eye contact immediately, and without working at it she gave me duration up to 15 seconds. We got to 20 seconds witht no difficulty.

We did Relax next, and again she was better. After 3 repetitions, she was wagging for 2 seconds and then sighing, and she was able to stay relaxed for 15 seconds without working on duration.

We worked the paw again. I'm reaching for her with my right hand and clicking her for touching it with her left paw, then asking with my left hand and clicking for a right paw touch. She wants to reach out with her muzzle, of course, but towards the end of the session she was reliably reaching with with the correct paw, and I started added the voice cues Left for her left paw and Right for her right paw.

Then I realized that my Level 2 Trick was morphing into Level 4 Target. Dang, that's cheating. Oh well, I thought, I'll think about it tomorrow.

I wanted to finish off with a little work on retrieving. I looked around to find something retrievable, and the first thing I saw was… the metal dog bucket that her kibble was in. I asked her to fetch the bucket yesterday and she tried but she'd never lifted it before and it was noisy on the floor when she tried. She bravely put her mouth over the handle but she couldn't get it any further up than that. Couldn't even pull it across the floor. That'll make a good session - and we're on carpet this evening, so it won't make any noise. Oh, but it's still got half her supper in it. That'll make a mess if I pour it out on the table… but hey, that's what Zen is for, right?

So, with the kibble in the bucket, I held the handle out and asked her to Get It. She started to put her nose in the bucket. I said No, Get It. She put the handle in her mouth. Good puppy! And worked quickly up to actually holding the bucket by the handle. GOOD puppy! I actually think the kibble helped. She was so busy thinking about not sticking her face in the bucket that she didn't have time to worry about how scary the bucket might have been. Good session, lots of fun.


9 months 26 days

I haven't got my suitcase unpacked from the weekend yet, and my bills aren't paid, but I'm almost caught up on sleep so this morning Syn and I started work on all the stuff we lost last weekend. I started with some heavy-duty floor Zen. I began by just testing where she was. Little monkey. I put a treat on the floor, cued No, sat back and started counting. She looked good for 3 seconds, then she nonchalantly lay down and… oopsie, her face was MUCH closer to the treat so she thought she'd just reach over and snag it. Dang, my foot was in the way.

So we started from scratch. It took 5 tries to get to 5 seconds, then we went up 3 or 4 seconds at a time directly to 20 seconds. OH! You were SERIOUS about that?!

While we were doing floor Zen, I noticed that she never once made eye contact with me, so I stopped with my treat hand on the table and just waited. Wow. It took her 11 seconds to think of looking at my eyes, and then it was only a tiny glance. We worked on that for 10 minutes, at the end of which she was (mostly) coming back to my eyes immediately after getting a treat, and holding on for up to 10 seconds. Ouch, that was an expensive weekend.

Finally I stuck out my foot to see if she remembered anything we'd done while starting her trick of matching my steps with hers. We'd gotten an inkling of touching my foot with hers, and she remembered that right away. *I* forgot something - I was supposed to remember to wear jeans when I was working on this. Or at least not my pjs. Double ouch. Anyway, a good job.

Tomorrow we'll work on eye contact some more, and then on coming back to me when she can't find a treat instead of forgetting everything and getting into the lost-treat hunt.

And I cut her body coat down to an inch long. I spent all my spare time last weekend brushing her, but between wrestling with Stitch and the wet snow, it was matting faster than I could brush it. She looks good. She's skinny but her coat makes her look like a plush toy.

9 months 25 days

We started our new advanced agility class this evening. At the seminar last weekend, they had some really yummy "doggy crack" - Kibbles and Bits, cut up cheese strings, wieners, dry cat food, Cheeri-os, and garlic powder all mixed together. Well, I overdid the garlic powder. Not only could everybody in the room smell us coming in, but Syn went right nutso over it. She had a VERY hard time concentrating on the course if her bait bag was anywhere in sight. Something else to work on - bigger distractions. Also it was clear she lost a lot of ground over the weekend while I was concentrating on teaching people and not paying much attention to her. She was more interested in the floor than in me half the time. She was more interested in other dogs than me part of the time. She forgot how to make eye contact, and she forgot how to focus on equipment. Yikes! We have some work to do!

9 months 23 days

Whoof, LOOOONG weekend! Syn was (mostly grand), eager to work, great at demonstrating things.

PRO: She had a grand time. She wasn't afraid of any of the dogs. She was excited and interested and not at all concerned about the hubbub and commotion of the seminar. She did some grand distance downs, picked up anything I asked her to, walked nicely in and out of the hotel, was quiet and well-behaved in the car, ate what she should have, stayed hydrated, eliminated where I asked her to, wrestled relatively quietly with Stitch, and slept in the motel room without fuss.

CON: Really started to lose her reliable Go To Mat as the weekend wore on, we'll have to spend some time reworking that over the next couple of weeks, it's not something I want to lose. Also, pro or con, I reached the end of my patience with her cottony puppy coat. I think I spent every second of my down time this weekend brushing her. Between wrestling with Stitch and the wet snow, she is matting within seconds, so as soon as I got home I put her on the grooming table and whacked her whole jacket down to 2". Tomorrow I'll bath her, blow her out, and do a decent job on it.

9 months 19 days

I'm still basking in what a brilliant day we had at the Rally trial. Stitch, Syn and I are now getting ready to go off for the weekend to do a seminar - it'll be Syn's first (at least her first as dog that can actually demonstrate knowledge of something).

A friend is taking the carts for me in her truck, so we had Syn's last practise session this afternoon. Good timing, Little Miss! She walked off with the cart as if she'd been doing it all her life. She decided that the cart wasn't there to hold her back, so she trotted off down the road exploring the horsey hoof prints, bird poop, and long grass in the ditches. When I called her she knew how to turn the cart around and came racing back full speed, forcing me to dodge as she went by, curling around again to meet me at a more reasonable speed. She spent a good deal of our walk motoring along in front of me (wait, isn't that Draft Excellent stuff? Yes, it is!), going faster as I encouraged her, slower when I cued Whoa, and enjoying the whole outing with her tail up, flag waving. As before, the llamas all came to the fence to see what this strange 4-legged-2-wheeled circus parade was, and walked along with us on their side of the fence line.

9 months 17 days

As it turns out, we WERE in the middle of a blizzard the next day, so didn't get any carting done.

I hope I can convey the real extent of what happened in the Rally trial that second day, though.

Syn was entered 3 times. First in Novice. Second in Novice Team. Third for practise in Advanced.

Novice: Since she was somewhat distracted the day before, I put a lot of effort into trying to get her UP, get her excited, get her interested in what I was doing. It wasn't good. Actually from a competition point of view, it wasn't BAD - 191/200, but I was very unhappy with it. She only made eye contact with me three or four times, she was about an inch behind where she should have been - which isn't a big deal for competition, but meant she wasn't In The Game, wasn't enjoying it like I want her to.

Stitch's worst "sin" in competitions is that she's "dutiful". She doesn't enthuse, she walks deliberately. She isn't miserable, but she's not flamboyant. As a Service Dog, this is fantastic. As a competition dog, it's fine but it's NOT what I want. I don't want quiet competence, I want joyful enthusiasm. I want her to lose points because she FLUNG herself into the job. Now it seems I'm somehow teaching Syn to work the same way Stitch does. My heart is broken. If I wasn't in a large group of people I'd be sobbing.

Fortunately I have my best friend/coach/person-who-keeps-me-honest at the trial with me.

Once upon a time (last year, I think) I failed a water trial with Stitch before I ever took a step Stitch was marvellous in the trial, totally perfect. *I* failed by sending her to do the first exercise before the judge told me to. Bear in mind we'd been trying to get this title for 2 years. When I walked out of the ring, this friend made a gesture on her forehead and said "Do you know what this means in Ameslan?" No, I didn't.

"Peabrain," she said. This is the person I need. No sugar-coating. She's up to this task as well.

"You're not handling Syn," she says. "You're handling Stitch. You have to cheerlead for Stitch. Why are you cheerleading Syn? She WANTS to be excited. You don't talk like a chipmunk on steroids when you're training her. Why are you talking like that when you're handling her? Go in there and handle the dog you've got in the ring. It's like you always say 'train the dog who shows up'. Well, handle the dog you've got in the ring, not the one you were showing last year."

So I calmed down, stopped cheerleading, and made sure I gave Syn my eyes when we went in for Novice Team. MUCH MUCH MUCH better. When I came out, my friend said "That time SHE wanted to go faster. SHE wanted to get on to the next thing. SHE was cheerleading you!"

Then I felt like crying again - but because I was so relieved to have beaten the "curse".

So now, instead of going home, I can think about the Advanced class we're in next. She can't actually compete in Advanced, since she'll only finish the weekend with 2 Novice legs and she'd need 3 to move up, so we're entered For Exhibition Only in Advanced just so we can try it and I can give her a little more food in the ring. Now I can afford to look at the behaviours she'll have to do in the Advanced ring. There might be a Stand For Examination. She isn't ready for that, so if there is one, we'll do a Sit for Exam instead. No disruption to the flow of the class, the judge will cooperate, and since we're FEO, we have no chance of passing anyway. There might be a Figure 8 with food bowls on the ground. That shouldn't be a problem, her floor Zen is EXcellent.

Oops, there's a moving drop - we're walking along and I ask her to down. I keep walking, she lies down, and I continue walking around her and back into heel position. I try it once, with a cue and a gesture. Nope. She heard the cue but follows my hand. I try it again with just a cue. Nope. The walking-forward part is too important for her to be able to listen to the cue. So I sat down and while thinking about it, I leaned over to get a nose-kiss from her, and instead of kissing me, she lay down. Aha. Light bulb. If I bend over, she lies down! Cool! Let's try it.

Sure enough, I walk along, I bend my knees and bend over and ask her to Down, and she hits the floor like a bag of hammers. I walk around her and we continue on. WOO HOO! We try it one more time and it works just as well the second time.

Oops again, there's a bar jump. Now the jumps in CARO Rally are at a distance - handler and dog are walking along. Before the handler gets closer than 10 feet back from the jump and 6 feet to the side, she sends the dog, who goes out and jumps on her own while the handler continues to walk past the jump, never getting closer than 6 feet to the jump. They meet on the other side.

On the Movie Album page, there are a couple of videos from months-and-months ago of Syn learning to go around my suitcase, and around my suitcase over a tiny jump (Level 2 Jump). That's all she knows/knew about the subject. I put my chair out in the middle of the spectator section and lead her around it once. Then I cue her to go around it and she does. We work that another 4 times while I get further and further away from the chair, ending up maybe 5 feet from it (that's all the room there is). Then I put the chair HERE and I go THERE and we try it again from the different angle. She's got it. I'll surely have to ask her twice, and go closer, when we're in the ring with a PVC upright and a 12-inch bar jump. No big deal.

We go in the ring. I give her my eyes. She wants to go faster but she stays with me. She's wonderful. She does the moving drop SO WELL I can't believe it. The judge had checked to be sure we were FEO and I explained that she didn't have her Novice title yet and she didn't know these harder behaviours yet. Syn did the moving down so well that the judge wryly gestured her finger down her throat (it was a joke). Wow, I am PUMPED now!

We move on and eventually get to the jump. Showing Stitch on this exercise, the distances look non-existent. Why would anyone go closer than 10 and 6 feet to send a dog over a jump? Approaching the jump with Syn, the chalk mark on the floor showing me how close I can go appears to be at least half a mile from the jump. I can barely SEE the jump! I sidestep a bit to line her up, and cue Go Around! and Little Miss cheerfully trots out and jumps the jump! UnbeLIEVable! I yell WOO HOO and grab her when we meet up, giving her a big ol' schnoogie. What a grand puppy! We'll lose a TON of marks for me grabbing her, but even if we were looking for a qualifying score, it would have been worth it. Little Miss! Look what you did! OMG!

A few more exercises - the moving sidestep is one of her favourites - and we come to another…

Oops. A military turn. How did I miss that? This is an about turn. The dog is on the left. The handler turns 180 degrees to her left while the dog comes around to her right and they meet again going the opposite direction. Essentially the handler does a 180 to the left while the dog does a 180 to the right. Thinking on the fly, I stick out my right hand, ask her to target it, and use it to lead her around behind me as I turn, then stick out my left hand for a target to catch her as she comes around. Slick, smart, easy. It looks like she knows it. Barn cool, that's what it is.

And… we get a 196. -2 for a crooked sit in there somewhere, and -2 for another double command. And… if she'd actually been eligible for the class and we'd been competing, she would have won the class.

So here are the many wonderful things that happened on this wonderful day:

1. I have a wonderful friend who helped me sort out what I was doing wrong.

2. I was smart enough to listen to my friend and stop talking like a high chipmunk.

3. We had the right answer.

4. Syn was trusting enough to believe me when I told her I wasn't going to act like a rodent any more.

5. When I gave her what she knew from training, Syn's performance was fanTAStic.

6. One of the key reasons for the Training Levels is to produce a dog who enjoys learning and who can learn fast - a dog who is perfectly happy with "3-minute behaviours". Syn gave me that in spades today. She learned and applied two very different behaviours based on behaviours she already knew and was able to apply in different circumstances. She learned them very, very quickly and with no stress whatsoever. Not that I'm at all deluded into thinking she "knows" them, but by golly she was able to give me the behaviours.

7. The military turn was even better. She didn't know it, we didn't practise it, she just responded to what I gave her by doing what she knew how to do, and the resort was something different entirely. WOO HOO.

9 months 14 days

Syn's not afraid of the dryer any more, and comfortable with her dish again, but she's decided she needs to sit/crouch when I'm putting her cart harness on. What a strange little person she is right now. (eye roll) Teenagers!

This morning she was entered in a CARO Rally trial - same as CKC that she was in 3 months ago, but harder to pass and I can use food in the ring to reward her after stationary behaviours. She went in the ring twice - once for her first Novice leg, and once with a friend for Novice Team. She got the Novice leg with no trouble - she may need a handler transplant, though. -2 points for a double command she didn't need. Other than that, she was a bit distracted during the first half of the round. Not wandering all over, but a little hick-in-the-big-city happening, which was strange since that's the building she's had several classes in. She pulled herself together nicely, though. 189/200, and she was perfect in Team and we got that leg as well. Another of each tomorrow, and I've got her For Exhibition Only (not competing) in Advanced as well tomorrow.

I've been working the cart twice a day this week. We did the hitch-with-Stitch (sorry about that) thing, which was OK when they were going in a straight line, but not great when they tried to turn. There may be a minor advantage to having two shafts - the dog wouldn't be so readily able to turn around and watch the monster cart chasing her down. I decided she needed some practise getting used to the cart, and to the fact that it moves and doesn't kill puppies when it does, so I brought it in the kitchen and we started playing with it. First I clicked her for looking at it, walking toward it, touching it with her nose and her paw, going around it, thinking about retrieving it, and crawling under it. Then we tried "200 pick-up", a variation on the card "game" of 52 pick-up. Basically the game is played like this: I toss a handful of kibble on the floor, and any available dogs see who can pick up the most kibble before it's all gone. When you play it around a cart, it looks like this:


That involved some pushing of the cart on her part, and some gentle moving it back and forth on mine. Then I added Stitch to the mix, which resulted in a lot more movement of the cart while they were eating, and more energy as they competed with each other:


OK. Now she's past "ooh, scary moving thing near the kibble!" and into "why is this stupid thing making my life so difficult?". It's time to try hitching.


Right. Still more interest in the kibble than in the annoying thing attached to her back. Let's take it outside.


Hmmm. That's a little… creepy. I add some wieners, some more kibble, and a few minutes of hearty schnoogies. She remains fundamentally unconvinced but within a minute or two is starting to pull out of her funk.


We did get the tail up high at the end, but this is the best I caught on camera:


She can sleep on that experience and we'll give it another try tomorrow (if we're not in the middle of a blizzard by then). Maybe tomorrow Syn can pull the cart and Stitch can gallop around her free and give her something to chase and keep up to.

9 months 8 days

Two items of interest this week.

First, the cart/harness thing. Syn has worn her harness for hours at a time several days. She's completely at ease with it, with me putting it on and taking it off her, and with me pulling on various parts of it while she's wearing it. No big deal. Day before yesterday we went outside. I tied a 10-foot line on a small suitcase and took her for a walk while I pulled the suitcase. It made quite a racket dragging along behind us in the gravel. Syn spent several minutes walking sideways and trying to duck in front of me (not allowed, dogs who walk in front of me get run over - that's in the Levels and she's practised it ad nauseum). Be a little nervous if you want, walk sideways if you want, keep a keen eye on the monster behind us - all fine. Tripping me - NOT fine. Guess what, when I get tripped, I TRIP.

After a couple of minutes of me just walking, singing a bit, treating any walking NOT in front of me and/or aiming in the direction I was walking, she forgot about the noise and started to enjoy the walk. As we went along comfortably, I gradually shortened the length of the line until the suitcase was dragging directly behind us.

Yesterday we did that again and then we went for a walk with me pulling our dorsal hitch cart instead of dragging the suitcase. Back to the beginning - several minutes of walking sideways and trying to cross in front of me, several minutes of tripping over her and rewarding any appropriate walking. We did manage to go for our walk with her trucking along in front of the cart (which runs in silence, not like the suitcase at all), but she didn't get to the point where she was comfortable with this monstrous thing behind her when we were turning around. Definitely NOT time to hitch her up.

My plan is to get her comfortable in and around the cart with more walking and shaping her to touch it, jump in it, use it as a mat, etc. We'll also do more walking with Syn and Stitch harnessed together as we did last week. Then I'll hitch Stitch to the cart and go for a walk with Syn on lead. Then I'll attach Syn to Stitch with Stitch hitched, then hitch them both, and finally just Syn by herself.

Second item on the agenda: Syn has entered the 8-month-Puppy-Wobbles. Things that have never bothered her before are suddenly vastly frightening. This is coupled with her sudden intense awareness of who's walking near our house and who is US and who is NOT-US. So far everybody at dog class and everybody in my house is US, and I'm not taking any chances right now taking her to the park or anywhere else she might meet someone who is NOT-US. And I'm being VERY careful with the whole cart/harness deal.

What this means to me is that a) she's in a fear period which needs to be managed by not exposing her to things which might scare her and by not getting hysterical about her "freaky" reactions to innocent things; and b) she needs to be in the Leading The Dance regimen for a couple of weeks in order for her to remember that I am in charge of not letting anything bad happen to this house or the members thereof, so she doesn't have to worry her little puppy brain about things like that.

Unfortunately that can't start for a couple of days because I have to go out of town, leaving dogs at home, but I'll start the Dance as soon as I get home.

Cases in point: she's been picking up her dog dish and bringing it to me before meals for a month, but suddenly the dishes are kind of scary. She's very excited about mealtimes, and when I ask her to get her dish so I can put food in it, she's perfectly willing to get it, but she has to creep up on it as if it were about to bite her. She leaves her back paws WAAYYY back behind her, walks her front paws up closer to the dish, then does a "push-up" - lowering her body down almost to the ground so she can reach forward soooo faaaar to get the dish without getting too close to it. Once she's got it, it's safe and she hands it to me cheerfully.

She's been jumping on the grooming table to be brushed, have her nails done, and be blown dry for months and months. This morning I gave Stitch a bath and put her on the table. Turned on the dryer and BAM, Syn scurried out the dog door. Now, she can certainly use the dog door any time she pleases, but this didn't look like going outside, this looked like escaping with her life.


I immediately got excited about Stitch - running the dryer on her but also sweet-talking her and shovelling treats into her as fast as I could.


Jealousy, thy name is dog. Boy, that was tough. Does she come back in and possibly die by dog dryer? Or stay outside and miss out on the treats? Her sort-of compromise was to come in but stay close to the door so she could escape if she needed to, lying tense and distrustful. I tossed her a treat for every one Stitch got. I even blew the dryer air on her once or twice and she did nothing but raise her nose into the air stream. If I leaned toward her though, or reached toward her, she was gone out the door again.


Gradually she got to the point where she could come behind me and allow me to pet her, even to take a handful of hair near her neck and hold onto her for a moment. When Stitch was done and I turned off the dryer, Syn was all joy and relief, woo-wooing loudly and dancing around. She jumped on the table when I tapped it and I gave her a treat and put her back on the floor. I tapped again, she jumped up again, I turned the dryer on and blew some dust out of her jacket, gave her a treat and a cuddle and put her back on the floor. No problem.

Who knows who evil lurks in the heart of Puppy? The Shadow may know but I certainly don't. Ah well, this too shall pass - if I don't get hysterical about it.