6 Months- Back in the Swing

Dec 23, 2004 | Stitch's Story

We’ve taken a couple of weeks off, left her with a dogsitter (her class instructor), taken a trip, and the rest of the time done pretty much nothing more than put her food dish on the floor. Now it’s time to get back to work.

The first time we went on a driving trip, she was basically an untrained little hooligan. Everything I did with her involved physical control of a friendly but wild animal. This trip told me a lot about how far she’s come. She certainly wasn’t as well-behaved as Scuba, but she wasn’t a hooligan either. I didn’t think much about whether the leash was loose – it just was. Didn’t think much about whether she’d go in her crate or be quiet in there, she just was. Didn’t think much about housetraining or chewing or yapping. So I’m thinking we’re having a great trip with an almost-adult young dog, when BAM, she has a crisis. On the way from the house to the car, we meet the next door neighbour shovelling snow.

He’s a friendly guy, and Stitch thinks she’s going to love him – until she hits that can-just-reach-him critical distance, at which point he apparently grows horns and the shovel turns into a pitchfork. She growls and ducks behind me. She really WANTS to meet him. She tries to cross that 2′ threshold several times, but she just can’t get across it. Fortunately for my sanity, Scuba had the same crisis at the same age, and so far Stitch’s is a pretty tame one compared to Scuba’s. So, I’ll keep it in mind and not put her in that position again until she can handle it.


We get back into the swing of things by spending a meal on basic cues. She starts by offering me Sits. I click and toss the treat away so she can get it and offer me another sit. X10, then I remind her of the cue X20. Then we move on to Down, and then to Stand, starting each from scratch. Then we spend 50 mixing them up, Sit from Down and Stand, Down from Sit and Stand, Stand from Sit and Down.

The next meal, I want to work Scuba first. I put Stitch in the dog room. Oops. Scuba’s finished her whole meal by the time Stitch shuts up.


The next meal, I put Stitch’s mat down 10′ away from my chair. She runs to it and plunks herself down on it. c/t X10. I start working Scuba on basic cues, and Stitch stays on her mat. I’m doing the same run of position cues with Scuba that I did with Stitch, and Stitch stays on her mat. Stitch gets a treat when Scuba misses a cue and when I get a new handful. I have to think about how to transfer her great Mat duration, where Stitch is exercising self-control, to behind-a-door or in-a-crate where she’s BEING controlled. I think I’ll move her crate into the living room where she can watch me working Scuba.

Now we spend a meal on that door-screeching behaviour. I get the dog dishes filled and put Stitch in the dog room behind the closed Dutch door (bottom half of a door only). Read a book for a while until she shuts up. Then I toss five kibbles over the door. In the ensuing 2 seconds of silence, I hand Scuba one kibble and toss another five over the door. We work X20 on one-for-Scuba and five-for-Stitch. X10 on two-for-Scuba and five-for-Stitch. X5 on three-for-Scuba and five-for-Stitch. Hmmm, she seems to have figured out that she’s working just like Go To Mat rather than being unfairly trapped behind a door while food is happening. In the next 10 reps, we get to five-for-Scuba and three-for-Stitch. From there on, I start asking Scuba for positions and leaving Stitch with nothing for up to 10 seconds with no noise out of her. By the end of the meal, Stitch is getting three to five kibbles tossed over the door when Scuba misses a cue – maybe every 30 seconds or so. Job well done.


It occurred to me during the holidays that, as a clicker dog, Stitch isn’t used to being grabbed or shoved around, so the little bit of her supper remaining I spend on playing the Come Game with a variation. I have to grab her by the scruff of the neck or the leg or the throat and drag her toward me an inch or so before she gets the click (tile floor, not a big deal). She thinks this is a dumb game but what the heck, if there’s food involved she’s OK with it. Before we’re done I discover that I’m also teaching her to come to a hand with snapping fingers in order to be grabbed. Good idea, wish I’d thought of it…


Another meal on door Zen. I put her on the opposite side of the Dutch door and work with Scuba for three minutes. Stitch is totally quiet. I lean over the door so she can see me, give her a couple of kibbles, and tell her what a good girl she is. She throws herself at the door, then smacks herself in the forehead and Sits, staring at the door, so I open it.

Then I put her Mat down 8′ from the couch and work Default Dog again – Stitch on her mat gets a treat whenever Scuba misses a position cue. Both are very good. Scuba’s kibble is bigger than Stitch’s, so she’s finished first. Then Stitch and I play positions. She’s better at this than Scuba. I didn’t put many things on voice cues for Scuba – mostly situational and body language cues. I’m going to do better with Stitch.


Now that we seem to have solved the door-screeching problem, we can get back to the Levels. We haven’t worked on going around a post for a while. My posts are all buried outside under 3′ of snow, so I use a stool instead – a new “post”. It takes her X15 to remember how to go around the post (she remembers sooner than that, but frequently stops to offer me a Down). Once she’s back in the groove, we finish the meal with the stool about 12′ away from me and the treats on a dish on the island.

When we’re done, I put her in her crate to test the 2-minute Crate. Argh. She stopped her yapping and carrying on so long ago, I forgot that she has to whisper little complaints for a minute or two after she gets in the crate. So it’ll put the TV on for the rest of the day and put her in the crate for each set of commercials (this is an easy way for me to a) remember to do it, and b) time it).

I’m having trouble getting back into training after the holidays. I totally forgot about the crate-commercials thing. Anyway, we start breakfast with Stitch in the dog room while I work Scuba. We have a couple of random outraged squeals, but in general she’s much better. I’m sitting far from the dog room, but I manage to get up several times to toss her a handful of kibble for silence.

When I’m done with Scuba, I bring out a small skateboard for Stitch. This isn’t the tiny model we were working on before, but a toddler’s board (Why do they make skateboards for toddlers? Don’t toddlers have enough trouble standing on ground that stands still?). Not big enough for three paws on it, but I’m not so much interested in teaching her to ride a skateboard as I am in showing her that she can manipulate objects and that something moving under her paw is not a catastrophe. She extrapolates immediately from the toy board to the bigger one, and starts whapping it enthusiastically with both paws, moving it back and forth, doing wheelies, and generally not worrying about its antics at all, even when one end of it rears up, whangs her in the chin and then bangs back to the floor. We play 101 Things To Do With A Skateboard for half the meal.

Next I bring out her pink plastic paw target. This one’s going to have to wait for warmer weather. She remembers it very well when it’s on the floor and on the arm of the couch, but if it’s going to go higher, we’re going to have to wait for warmer weather. I try putting it higher up the wall and earn a remarkably deep toenail scratch on the wall for my efforts. Enough of that, we’ll put it on bricks outside next time!


For the first part of breakfast, we work on silence in the crate. She’s very good if she can’t hear anybody moving around, poor when she can. I put her in her crate and go to the living room to work Scuba a bit. When the screeching’s done, we go back in the dog room and I grind Scuba’s nails, tossing a few kibbles in the crate whenever Stitch has been quiet for a minute or so. Then it’s Stitch’s turn. She comes out and I’m sitting on the grooming table chair. She wants the rest of her food, but she doesn’t want to be lifted on to the table, so we work X20 on Sit in front of me. When she’s decided that’s safe, she puts her paws up on the table, so we work X20 on Paws Up on the table. Then I get a big handful of kibble and let her nibble with her paws up while I boost her back end up. The first time she ducks out and tries to figure out how to Paws Up on the table to get the food without me being able to reach her back end. Fortunately, I’ve got storage boxes blocking all other access to the table. Finally she gives up and comes back beside me and Paws Up on the table again. This time I boost her up with no trouble and feed her 20 kibbles, one at a time, just for being there. When she’s comfortable, I lay her down on her side, work until she’s relaxed, and then grind four nails with lots of kibble. Every time I put the grinder near her foot, she tenses the other front paw, remembers she’s supposed to be relaxed, and relaxes. Pretty cute. Since I got my new very quiet grinder, I’m doing one paw on each dog about twice a week. which works out to a total pawnicure every two weeks, which is plenty.

We spend the rest of the meal on my biggest skateboard, which is still only half the size of a real one. She doesn’t appear to notice any difference between this one and the toddler-size. As soon as the weather gets above -40, I’ll go out and get some lumber to build her a boogie board with a tennis ball under it. That should get her through to spring when she sees her next teeter.


We had a good solid 30 second Watch when we finished Level 3, but that was before Stitch got good at 101. We spend one entire meal on Watch. Our big stumbling blocks are three seconds and 7 seconds. We work X70 on 1-second, 2-seconds, 3.. 1-second, 2-seconds, 3-seconds, 4… 1-second, 2 seconds, 3-sec… 1-second, 2 seconds, 3-seconds, 4-s… 1-second, etc. Another 70 to get past 7 seconds. She REALLY wants to offer me behaviours! Once we’re past 7, we go up one second at a time to 16 seconds, then we go two seconds at a time to 26 seconds and the meal’s over. I’d say the Watch was better than what we had a month ago, though shorter. There’s no indication of whining. She really understands that it’s up to her to do something I want to get what she wants.


A more active day today. My jumps are somewhere under the snow in the yard, so I make a jump out of two chairs with rungs and a cardboard tube of Christmas wrap. I tape the tube to the rungs, and while I’m getting my clicker, Stitch goes under the tube, bends it, and pops the tape. OK. A new tube, more tape, and this time I’m ready for her, I put a purse under the tube so she can’t go under it. In three seconds she thinks of going around each end and threading through the chair legs, but I’m in the way. I click her for looking at the tube, for looking at the top of the tube, and then she thinks it might be a paw target. That would be OK if was a real jump, but my tube won’t stand up to that, so I drop a handful of kibble on the other side of the jump and she pops over to get it. Bingo, she’s got it. She cleans up the floor, then turns and jumps, c/t X5. The first time over was pretty ugly but the rest are clean and athletic. I take the purse out from under the tube and stand about 2′ away from it on one side. She doesn’t think of going under again, she knows the job, but the next two jumps are clumsy and she brushes the tube both times. The third one, though, is sweet again. We do another ten and quit.

Next we try Watch. I ask her to Sit first, and she’s thinking about Stand from Sit, so it takes us a minute to get her settled. Then we go up from 1 to 5 seconds in 1-second increments, and from 5 to 30 in 5-second leaps. She’s perfect.

Then I try the about turn with watching. Yuck, she’s forgotten that completely. Standing still, she’s great. As soon as I turn, she’s scanning the floor for treats… isn’t that a brown speck on the rug over THERE? Lots of work to do there!


No planned training this morning. Stitch picks her metal dish up and brings it to me first thing this morning. What can I do but dance around, put her breakfast in it, and give it back to her?

Wow, aMAZing evening! Scuba has an agility games night once a month. This involves going to a riding arena and hanging around with maybe 30 other beginner and advanced dogs and dog people for 3 hours, getting one or two runs in. I’ve thought this would be an excellent place to take the pup, and tonight was our first chance. Bearing in mind that Stitch met a monster shoveling his sidewalk last week, I’m not expecting to do much with her but sit in a corner, try to keep her from eating too much horse poop, and click her a lot for looking at other people.

Stitch has other plans. I walk her into the arena with Scuba for moral support while there are still only ten people there. She’s excited about the whole event, not sure of herself but not scared either. She stops several times to just stand and stare across the room. Her tail isn’t up, but she’s standing foursquare and interested. So far, I’m thrilled. I’ve put a crate and my walker on one end of a line of chairs. I put Scuba in the crate, sit down, and start working Stitch. I start with Watch. It takes me five starts to get to five seconds (people keep coming in and walking behind me with their dogs and crates), then she’s completely ready to watch me and we get to 15 seconds right away. Then we go through Sit, Down, and Stand as if we were working in our own living room. Then I give treats to several trustworthy people sitting next to me, and they feed her one at a time without touching her. A Toller puppy comes to visit, and when they’re through the circle dance and small wrestle, Stitch turns and jumps on each of the people sitting near me. Holy cow.

I move my walker to a more crowded part of the arena, where Stitch cheerfully greets all kinds of people, talks to dogs, and wishes I would let go of the leash so she could really work the room. Her leashwork isn’t impressive, but she COULD be using the leash to try to drag me back out to the truck, and she’s using it instead to try to get closer to people and dogs, so I’m thrilled. Finally, I start clicking her for looking at other dogs and people without tightening the leash.

For fifteen minutes I put Stitch in the crate with Scuba, then took Scuba out to warm her up and get Stitch used to being alone in it. While she could see us, she whined softly. I turned the crate around so she could see others but not us, and she quieted down. I periodically opened the door far enough to drop a few treats in when she was quiet.

As a byproduct, Scuba’s agility run was fast, enthusiastic, and excellent, since she was so happy to be doing something which didn’t involve Stitch. Obviously we haven’t dealt with the individual-male-alone-on-a-street-with-a-shovel-in-his-hand problem, but she hasn’t generalized her response to humans-I-don’t-know. What a great evening!


She brings me her dish again this morning, but I’m able to restrain myself. I just fill it and give her half of it. Then we work on SitStay. Perhaps she’s been reading the book in her spare time. We go from 1 to 10 seconds in one-second increments, from 10 to 30 seconds in 3-second increments, and from there to 60 seconds we jump 5 seconds at a time. She makes one mistake.

I want to work on Watch, we haven’t done much of that lately and I had really good watching last night. I realize that she’s doing a 100% Watch all the time she’s doing the SitStay, so I test it. Sure enough, 10′ away, 30 seconds, 100% perfect.

Next the Stand from Sit at 10′. She doesn’t have the concept of offering the behaviour at a distance without help, so I put her behind a barrier. She jumps the barrier. OK, she learns fast and has a good memory, but I tell her this barrier isn’t for jumping. She doesn’t jump any more but she clearly doesn’t really believe me. I stand close to the barrier and ask for a Stand. “Oh THAT’S what we’re doing!” she says, and stays standing. I ask her to Sit, she Sit-stands. No, Sit. Stands. We spend five minutes working on Sit again, and then I’m able to get the Stand from Sit. I move up to 6′ away. Good stuff.

I’m planning on retrieving and building Watch up to 60 seconds, but opportunity knocks. As I’m getting out a dumbbell, the washing machine starts to spin off-balance, making a huge banging noise, and jumping around (it’s in an open closet in the kitchen. The Ghost In The Machine. I grab Stitch’s breakfast, a clicker, and her paw target and sit down in front of the machine. By now it’s shut itself off. I put the target on the washer – nyuh uh, that’s a puppy eater. I put the target down low on the dryer – well, OK, as long as only her nose has to go that close to the monster. So I click for nose X30. Her body language is a little more relaxed, so I wait. She touches it six more times and then lies down, giving me Princess Paws and whining. I show her the target and click another 30 times. Then I wait. This time she touches once with her nose and then tries a paw. Good girl! I click paw X30, then turn the washing machine back on, on a quieter part of the cycle. Stitch goes back to offering a nose touch, and I click that X8 before she offers a paw on her own. Over the next 30, I move the target higher and lower, gradually inching it back over to the washing machine. When it gets there, it’s a non-event. Finally I get the target high enough that for the first time she offers me a two-paw hit on it. X5, and we’re done. Two birds with one breakfast – solved the puppy-eating washing machine problem AND found a place I can put her paw target without her scratching up my walls!


I have a frustrating evening session. We start with the dumbell, which she hasn’t seen in quite a while. Two chin bumps and she takes it, holds it while I pet her, then runs to get it when I throw it. Great.

Move on to Watch. Now, she did this SO beautifully at agility two nights ago. Tonight she can’t watch for ten seconds. I drop a treat and she’s digging under a chair trying to find it, looking around the room. Finally I give up, put her out of the room, and work Scuba. When I bring Stitch back in, she’s HOT to work, eye contact to 30 seconds right away, I start getting contact and turning, and she’s the best she’s ever been. She doesn’t want to follow me when I pivot right, but I put my back against the wall so she can’t duck around behind me, and eventually she figures it out. I drop several treats and a tiny throat-clearing is enough to bring her back before she gets them. So we ended well, but I feel grumpy about it anyway. Silly. It should be a good lesson in priorities for her and I should be happy about it.


I take Stitch to the vet to have a dewclaw removed, then come home and we both go to bed for the rest of the day. I’ve got the flu. Well, that explains it.


Being sick is good for thinking, if nothing else. I don’t have the eye contact I want. I putter around the edges of it, getting behaviours, getting enough contact to squeak by the Levels, but I never settle down and work on it seriously. Today we do. I dampen the kibble so I don’t drop so many. Then I sit down with Stitch and we work up from one second watching to 10 seconds, starting from scratch on each rep – 1, 1-2, 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4 etc to ten, then starting again at one. We do that X10. Then, from contact, I swivel a quarter turn in my chair and start again. Now we do 1, 1-2, 1-2-3, and then three somewhere between three and ten. Then, from contact, I swivel back and start again. We do that X10 and spend the rest of the meal on eye contact while I wiggle my treat fingers and wave them around. Anything that hits the ground while I’m training gets covered by my foot so she can’t get it. By the end of the session, she doesn’t want to be within 2′ of anything that lands on the rug.

Now I’m training again. Duh. Haven’t I said a thousand times that if either of us is frustrated, I’m not explaining things properly?

Another session on up-to-10-seconds eye contact, then pivoting slightly and starting again. Eventually I stand up and do it all over again from that position. I push my luck by pivoting further, but she handles it. She’s still dropping her eyes when I pivot right, but she’s not losing me. I need to do a lot more of this.

We finish this session with some retrieving. It’s terrific, she runs out to get the dumbbell, picks it up, brings it back, gives me a good front, and holds it until I ask her to release it. Excellent.


Stitch starts another set of classes this morning. Canine Fun 101. She’s well above the level of this class, but it certainly won’t hurt her to practise in the company of dogs and people, and in a new training area. There’ll be some contact and tunnel work later, but this week we start with the basics: loose leash walking, eye contact, Zen, and targeting. We get there early, sit down and do some contact and holding the dumbbell. Then she greets some people and puppies, but only with a loose leash. I’m happy, I could go home right now. In class, she’s good with the LLW. Eye contact is superb except when we’re near one person, who happens to be a conformation handler. Her voice is nearly iresistable. Stitch tries hard but has a lot of trouble keeping her eyes from darting over to the handler. She’s not leaving, though, and her eyes keep coming back to me. The rest is easy stuff. I’m very pleased with her. She has a good experience, and a loose leash all the way out to the car.

We work again on eye contact, building from one to twenty X5, then slowly turning in my chair and clicking when she can follow without losing my eyes. This means she’s sidestepping, her eyes locked on mine. It’s coming MUCH better now that we’ve backed up to work on the base behaviour. One to 10, pivot, click, then one to 10 and pivot again, X10.

Then we practise nose-targeting my hand. And the other hand. A llama grooming tool, then both my left and right feet in various places.


A few days of really concentrating on the eye contact pays off. I was feeling like we’d Never-Never-Never get to heeling, but today we make a good start. We begin with touch (I found my touch stick) to the left, to the right, up high, down low. Then I ask her to follow the stick around rather than waiting for it to appear in position. She gets that right away, and moves quickly to the end of the stick as well (I did a lot of work with the grooming tool yesterday on touching only the end). Then I use the stick to lure a spin. She understandsl if I work in thirds – one-third of the way around X5, then two-thirds X5, and finally all the way around. Then I start in the other direction. While I’m explaining the first third, she offers me a couple of spontaneous spins in the original direction, but by the fifth time, she gets it. Later I give a hand signal for each direction and she gives me two proper spins. Training dogs is SO difficult!

We’re having such a good session I’m afraid to try heeling, but here we go. Eye contact X 10, building from one second to 15 in 2-second intervals, and then ask her to move from side to side in front of me following my eyes as I turn my head. Then I ask her to Sit and Stay. I move into heel position and click X30 for her making eye contact from that position. This is new, she’s never been there before, but she trusts the SitStay, and she likes getting clicked for “doing nothing”. Next start to turn slowly to my right. I have to encourage her to come with me, she’s convinced she should stay. She comes when I call her, and finds my eyes right away (unbelievable! Never-Never-Never!). I let her hold my eyes as I turn a half circle, then click. Next time I turn the half circle, click for contact there, and then run two steps away from her in a straight line. She follows slowly, and I click when she catches up and finds me eyes again. We go back and do it again. The third time, she runs with me. She’s looking ahead when she runs, but she’s eager to come. Tomorrow we’ll make the straight run with contact. In fact, the third time (she’s obviously a three-times dog) she runs out to the end of the straightaway instead of following me through the turn!


I know dogs are much more aware of positions in rooms and orientation than we are, but I’ve never worked a dog so “into” the big picture and so blasé about fine details. When she was younger and I tried to get eye contact and turn, she immediately forgot about the contact and decided she was supposed to run around me. Now she forgets about contact and runs to the end of the straightaway where the treat was delivered. I’m going to spend a great deal of time on eye contact with this small person!!


We have a session that feels like working with a trained dog. We start with eye contact, she’s willing to go 30 seconds without any workup at all. Then we do the target stick. She touches it left and right, chases it all around me, and spins left and right with a slight indication of the stick. She’s reluctant to jump up to touch it, assuming I mean Sit, but we work through it quickly by getting her to come forward to touch it, then raising it slightly more each time.

We go back to eye contact. I sit her in Heel position and, for the second time, click her a billion times for merely sitting there making eye contact. Then I start turning right and pivoting left. She’s so with me that she’s beating me to the straightaway after the right turn. I have a decision to make – do I accept her total attention from the corner of her eye while heeling? Or do I go for 100% eye contact? Eye contact is a lot flashier. Attention would be easier, she’s giving me that already. Moving and watching seems to be very difficult for her.

When I pivot left, turning my shoulders and face too far to the left, she swings so far toward Heel position that I can easily turn back to my right and have her fall into the correct position. When I walk forward and she comes too far out of position, I pivot left again and she moves easily out of my way and back towards Heel position. Thrilling.

Maybe I’m in shock. I ask her for a SitStay, go 15′ away (that’s all the space I have), and stay away 60 seconds. When I return to her, I walk four times around her, clicking every quarter turn and planting the treat right in her face so she doesn’t have to move to get it. Then I ask for a 60 second Down and repeat the process. She sits up once when I try to walk around her on the return, then stays down until I release her. Holy cow.


We go to PetsMart and work on Loose Leash. She makes several errors, one going toward another shopper, one just gaping and she misses a turn. She recovers quickly from each and passes all the toys, chewsticks, and cookies with no trouble. I drop a kibble and she watches it fall, then looks at me. Several more people she passes with no problem. I’m using a special blend of dog kibble, cat kibble, and nuked hot dog but still, I’m thrilled with her behaviour. I spend $30 on toys – not a reward, of course, since by the time she gets them we’re back in the car, but an expression of shock and appreciation.