I need nearly two weeks before I feel like thinking again. Stitch and I are not the same team we were when we left on our trip six weeks ago. The forced confinement has acted on her like a month in The Dance – she’s much more interested in what I’m doing, and she thinks of me when she wants to play with someone – or something. She spends most of each evening dropping various toys, cans, and bits of clothing in my lap, then standing back obviously waiting for me to throw them.
She’s solved several little strangenesses. The first – three or four times a day I would say “You guys are going in your box”. Scuba would dash for her crate and dive in, waiting for her cookie. Stitch would stand around looking at Scuba like “Whacha doin’? Why are you in there? What’s going to happen?” Then I’d tell her to get in her crate, she’d whap herself in the forehead and walk in. Now Scuba dives in, I give her a cookie, and when I turn around, Stitch is in her crate waiting for hers. This is a little strange since the penny dropped without any additional training. I put Stitch in a crate twice on the whole trip.
All her life, Stitch has had a problem with me putting a collar on her. The collars I normally use are limited-slip which slide on over her head, and as I would start to slide it on, she’d back out of it. I did a LOT of getting her to target the collar, target my hand inside the collar, telling her to sit and stay and then putting the collar in front of her nose and waiting her out until she finally relaxed her nose enough to let me slip it on. And I did a fair bit of gently holding her nose so I could slip the collar on. Once she figured out that she couldn’t get out of the truck or trailer to pee or sniff or do anything at all exciting, she seems to have decided that getting the collar on is alright after all. It isn’t like slapping a collar on Scuba without thinking yet – more like easing a halter on a llama, grateful that the animal has allowed me to do so – but it’s vastly improved. I need to remember to get it halfway on once in a while and then whip it off and play with her instead.
Finally, the way I’ve always fed is that one dog gets the dog dishes out of a wicker basket on the floor in the kitchen, and after their meal, the other dog puts the dishes back in the basket. Scuba’s job has always been cleaning up after supper, so I’ve been working all her life on getting Stitch to get the dishes. And Stitch has been “refusing” just as long. She’d pick up a dish if we were in the middle of a “formal” clicker session. Otherwise, she’d do almost anything to avoid the dish, from picking up anything else at all (even the basket), to picking it up and dropping it, to lipping it, to pretending there’s still food in it and licking, licking, licking. We haven’t thought about getting the dish for six weeks, and suddenly she wouldn’t mind getting the dish. Somehow I must have been fussing about it too much or something.
I start teaching Scuba to do figure 8s through my legs by leading with her tail instead of her nose. This gives me something to do while I’m actually giving Stitch a lot more work on Go To Mat and staying there without whining while Scuba works. NEXT time I give a clinic with Stitch in attendance, she’s going to be able to sit quietly while I’m talking without having some generous long-suffering person shoving food in her mouth throughout.
Then we do some living room retrieving. I put down two magazines, a dish, a pop can and two toys, and work on getting her to pick up what I ask her for or point to. I have to spend three kibbles shaping her up to the magazines, but then she’s got the idea. I point at each thing I want, and say “Get your dish” when I want that. I’m working up to being able to gesture toward something instead of pointing right at it – she has no idea that if I pretend to throw something, she could go in the direction of the throw and find it – it’s a useful skill and I can’t believe I’ve had her for a year and not taught her this.
I also take her to the hairdresser. The first time she went, I spent most of my time trying to get her to lie back down next to my chair without actually moving my head. The time she spent on the carferry has gelled the behaviour, though. This time she walks politely in, lies down on cue, and stays down until I’m done. She picks up a magazine I dropped, and hands me her leash when I’m ready to leave. Wow.
Another session spent working Scuba and rewarding Stitch for lying on the dogbed being quiet. Not a good session, she whines a LOT. I’m thinking I need to separate whining-because-she’s-hungry from whining-because-she-wants-to-work. Since I usually practise this just before mealtimes, I’m getting both at once. Next time I’ll get half a meal into her and let it digest for half an hour before I start working on the dogbed issue.
When it’s her turn to work, I start with eye contact, but she can’t do that either. No matter how hard she tries, she has to keep glancing at my hands. At 15 months and Level 5, she’s well past the point where I’ll accept glancing.
We build up to 5 seconds and then move on to something active – heeling. Ah, that’s what she needed! Movement! She jumps right into it, eager and as precise as she knows how to be. I need to put a lot of effort into heeling over the winter, but that will come as I get back into the Training Levels.
There are maybe four more days of good fall weather, grass on the ground, and non-icy agility equipment before winter arrives, so we go outside and play agility. At the Specialty three weeks ago, she flew off the teeter without even slowing down, and it didn’t appear to bother her at all, but today, for the first time in her life, she’s reluctant to get on the teeter. She dances around the base, apparently trying to figure out how to get on the teeter without touching the bottom half of it. I lure her onto it with rewards for every step, but four times in a row she bails off before she gets to the fulcrum. Finally she goes past it and gingerly tips the board. “Oh”, she appears to think. “It’s just a teeter!” And from then on she’s back to normal. Most agility trainers think tunnels are “black holes” that suck dogs in. For Stitch the teeter has always – and is again – her black hole.
She has an excellent basic understanding of all the agility obstacles – except the weave poles. Weave poles aren’t a problem, they’re just unfinished. I’ve explained them to her as a channel with a bait target at the end, and she can run the channel at top speed even when it’s only 3 inches wide. I’ve explained them to her as a V, with the bases in a straight line and the poles gradually moving up toward vertical. For the Specialty, I successfully led her through the weaves by walking backwards beside them and giving a slight indication of the correct path with my hand. Now it’s time to finish up the explanation and get her doing the normal weaves on her own. I spent far too long with Scuba not trusting her to do them in competitions, so when I finally DID trust her, she refused them because OK, she could do them in practise, but in competitions she was NEVER allowed to do them by herself.
I set up three poles, and shape her to enter and exit. X20, she’s eager to do it. Then five poles, still eager, making the entry correctly, and very deliberately leading with her nose as she weaves. X20. I get two expens and put them on the poles, making the correct path the only path. She has a little trouble with this setup, trying to figure out how to get in between the expen and the pole on the wrong side, etc, but she soon realizes she can go the right way without hindrance. X20. I don’t think it’s working. She’s making the run, and it’s considerably faster than when I was shaping it, but I think she’s concentrating on the pen and not on how she’s moving around the poles. I think when I take the pens off, she’ll be worse than when we started.
Wrong. She’s still not fast, but she’s definitely got the idea. Entries are correct, and she’s eager to be right. She can find the entry and give me six correct weave poles from pretty much any angle and any distance, and following the teeter, tire, or contact trainer.
NOTE: Why didn’t Susan Garrett think up 2×2 weaves in time for Stitch to learn them as a teenager? She had to wait until she was 5 years old!
In the remaining six minutes before winter, I’m also desperate to get us all started with my wonderful new tricycle. Scuba’s been doing this sort of thing all her life. Stitch has run loose with me on the ATV, but it makes noise (the trike doesn’t), it has honking big scary tires (the trike doesn’t), it goes fast (the trike doesn’t), and she doesn’t have to run right beside it because it stays on our property. I have no plans to ride the trike on dirt roads or in lumpy plowed fields. There’s a lovely walking/biking trail which meanders through our city alongside a creek which I plan to use (the trail, not the creek). The first day is tough. She’s not afraid of the trike at all, having had ample experience with my walker and cane and wheelchairs, but that’s the problem. She’s not at all afraid of the trike. I’ve got both dogs on sled harnesses. Scuba, of course, falls in beside the front wheel and, pulling just a bit, strikes a handy trot. Stitch, on the other hand, wants to GO GO GO. Beside Scuba or the front wheel isn’t good enough. She wants to be out front, in front of the front wheel. I don’t want to give her that much leash, and I want her on my right so we can pass people and other dogs without mishaps. She thinks she can make it, so she tries constantly to swerve into the middle – into the space occupied by the wheel. Fortunately most of the weight is on the back two wheels, because she gets clipped and/or run over three times before she decides that BESIDE the wheel would be a perfectly legitimate position.
That works well until she sees another dog over on our left. She isn’t exactly trying to get to the dog, she’s just thinking about the dog and not about the bike, and we get our fourth hit. I feel like I’m playing a video game, but she’s getting the hang of it. The trike is like Scuba – lots of fun to be around, but deserving of respect.
One more thing she has to learn. When we pass trees, sign posts, or bridge abutments, she has to choose to stay on the same side of the pole as the rest of us. The first time I realized I had to teach a dog this, I was flat on my back in the middle of a sidewalk in Los Angeles watching the pretty stars while a Giant Schnauzer flossed my teeth by way of asking if I was alright. This time I’m ready for it, and I’m going very slowly past posts, so when she makes the wrong decision, we both come to an abrupt but relatively gentle stop and stay that way while she figures out how to untangle herself from the post. Two more mistakes and she’s got that one figured out as well.
With the leash hooked to the back of her sled harness, we do the first 3/4 of each day’s run. By then she’s needing to ease up a bit, so I switch the leash to her collar and tap it lightly to tell her what I did. From then on, she’s giving me brilliant Loose Leash Walking. How terribly annoying it must be for the people we pass – with large, rowdy dogs dragging their desperate owners bodily down the path – to have these two dogs breeze on by on totally loose leashes with nothing but a quiet “Mind your business, girls” and then a hearty “Hi-yo Silver” … OK, make that a hearty “Good Pup! Well done!”
We begin and end our runs on the path by off-lead dog park. When we’re done, we go in the park and I turn the girls loose, expecting them to sniff around a bit and crash. If they’re lucky, though, they’ll find some innocent guy trying to throw a ball for his Lab so they can run for another half hour. At the end of a week, we’re doing six kilometers a day, plus the dog park time, at between ten and fourteen klicks an hour – plenty for me and Scuba, but not enough for Stitch – or so she tells me. Maybe she’s just being macho.
SHE was up to it, her pads were not. She’s worn a little hole in one and is wearing a pink bandage with little purple hearts on it to keep her from turning it into a very large hole.
We spend the weekend at an agility handling seminar. Excellent learning opportunity for me, and she does a super job of lying on her mat not bothering anyone. So good, in fact, that I leave her several times longer than I should while I go off to walk courses, and she comes slowly looking for me. Bad mommy. We work front crosses, wraps, serpentines, and threadles, and she’s lovely, eager and responsive. I have to remember to remember her and keep her excited – I know she was excited running the actual course last month, and I know that I’ll try to pretend that she’ll always turn on on courses and I don’t have to think about keeping up her enthusiasm. I think I rounded up some good people to keep an eye on me and not let me get away with that nonsense.
Last week at a clinic I told people that I had given Stitch a couple of physical corrections because she’s started running after the cats in the yard again. I said I wasn’t proud of it. I said there were many other and better ways of handling it. I said I did it because I’m old and tired and scared of her running out into the path of a car driving into the yard. I said it worked, I wished I hadn’t done it, but at least if you’re going to get physical, be honest and don’t pretend you’re not hurting the dog.
What I did NOT mention was the possibility of repercussions from physical correction. I wish they could have seen us this morning. Did the corrections work? Sure, for a day or two. Then she started running off with even less provocation (let’s get our terms straight here – she is not ever running AWAY, she’s only running – running after something, running around. She’ll be back – after she visits the llamas and chases the cats and eats some cat poop and makes the ducks flap their wings), and using even less self-control as I got more and more down on her. Possibly the worst thing that happened here was what those corrections did to ME. They made me start trying to control her: if I keep an eye on her, and yell at her, and command her to stay with me and pay real close attention the whole 20′ to the truck, I’ll be able to keep her from running.
What foolishness. Is the whole basis of my dog philosophy that the the DOG controls the dog, and *I* control the rest? Yes. So duh, eh?
This morning we go out in the yard to play frisbee and run some agility obstacles. And she runs off three times. Runs right over the frisbee as if she’s going to pick it up, then just keeps on going. Part of my brain is furious. I want to strangle her. I want to drag her home by her tail. The other part is watching this and thinking: well, did you think physical correction wasn’t going to come back and bite you in the butt? Did you think you were going to yell at this puppy and chase her and teach her anything except staying away from you is the best thing she could do?
Fortunately I listen to the second half. I wait until she comes back, walk quietly back into the house with her, put her in a crate (where she’ll be safe from me), and do something else for an hour. When I no longer want to make pillows out of her hide, I think about how to control the situation. I can’t think of any way to control the cats or the cat poop or the llamas in llama pens, or the ducks, so I have to control the dog’s access to these things, and especially I have to control myself. I spend the rest of the morning thinking.
In the afternoon I put her harness on – the one she wore when I taught her to stop doing laps on the agility field. I let her wear it for couple of hours to get used to it – not enough, there’s a danger here that she’ll learn to behave when she’s wearing the harness, but I can’t think of anything else. Then I put a 40′ line on the harness, let it drag, and we go outside. She’s a bit subdued because she’s wearing the harness, but soon enough we find some cats and off she goes.
I step on the line and, as soon as she hits the end of it, start whooping and hollering and calling her to me. She comes suspiciously, but I stay cheerful and when I can touch her, I give her a good all-over schnoogie, making her turn herself inside out and hold my wrist in her mouth. She’s relieved – she thought she was in trouble (did I THINK this wouldn’t happen?). Twice more she starts off, but she’s already slowing when I start backwards (40′ of line gives you LOTS of time to think), and each time I give her giant cuddles when she comes to me.
Finally, we go back in the house. I call Scuba into the front hall with us, make a big production, and send both dogs out the door. Scuba understands this very well – she quickly got to the self-control point where I could reward her once a month or so with a dead run out the front door after the cats. Scuba goes racing off out the door, with Stitch in hot pursuit. When the line is halfway out, I calmly call Stitch, Come. There’s a large pine tree just off the path. She’s on the other side of it, and I can’t see what she’s doing, but the line stops playing out. She’s stopped. I call again and she comes back into the house. I throw her a party, get Scuba back in, and do it again. And again. And again. After such a fiasco of a morning, a very good afternoon.