Syn @ 18 Weeks

May 28, 2011 | Syn's Story

To balance her obnoxious new won’t-go-in-the-crate dance, Syn had a perfect training class this morning.

We did restrained recalls – she stayed with the holder with no fussing, and came like a bullet when I called.

We started jumping (well, Syn started jumps several weeks ago when we did going around a pole – a suitcase, actually – and then we added a jump to it) and moved quickly to going over two jumps to a food target, then over two jumps to a food target followed immediately by a long tunnel to a food target. This pointed out that I need to work on Look (look at something over there) as opposed to Watch (make eye contact). To do this beginning agility, I need both. Dang eh? I need to teach her NOT to watch me! My 4 month old puppy watches me so hard in class that she has trouble looking at food targets. Ahhh, she’s broken now. MWA HA HA HA

While the class was doing a little Lazy Leash work, we did heeling.

When Stitch was a puppy, I was in a lot of pain. It was painful to bend over, to have any pressure on my hands, and any excess enthusiasm just looked like pain. I spent a lot of time working on getting Stitch to calm down as quickly as possible. I’m taking better drugs now. It still hurts, but not nearly as bad as it did. I WANT enthusiasm from Syn. I don’t want to get too much control from her. So when we’re practising heeling, she jumps. She’s like a happy bunny. Walk-walk-jump-jump-jump-walk-jump-walk-walk-jump-jump. It’s SO good. And all the time she’s walk-jumping right on my left side. OK, it’s not perfect heel position, but by golly for a 4 mo puppy, it’s fantastic.

I did a few more walk-arounds with bait holding her still. It’s still coming, but she still wants to jump (yes, jump) into heel position.

Worked on tug some more. She doesn’t want to tug with me, but we started working on having her put her mouth on a soft toy, and I shaped her up to a pretty substantial pull, so I could “let her win” by pulling the toy away from me several times, and then reward her for it. She was starting to enjoy it.

She had a wonderful time in class, and then she asked to be lifted into the crate in the back of the car.


I got a new big lens for my camera. I’m really excited about it.
Syn runs in the grass, ears flying up as she is bounding.
Syn carries a blue and red stuffed toy. She is walking in grass.
Syn was about 50 feet away from me when I took these pictures.

There’s another thing I’m excited about. Since our class 2 days ago where I was clicking Syn for starting to tug with me, she’s been tugging harder and harder, bringing me toys for the first time to invite me to tug with her, and fetching them when I “win” and toss them. This morning I was actually able to pick all four feet off the floor momentarily by a tug toy.

This evening we went to our training room. I had the book, and I was ready to get serious in continuing on with Level Two behaviours. I started with a little bit of eye contact – though I know she’s not good at it first thing. She’d rather do something active. Got up to about 8 seconds and then put her crate on the floor on its end and got her to go around it from about 5 feet away. Tough for her because of course we’ve been working on getting in her crate the last few days so she kept bumping her head on the screening, trying to find the door. Then she’d go around it still looking for the door, and I’d click when she got all the way around. I’m not sure she ever did realize she was getting clicked for going around the crate.

Then I put a pillow on the floor and shaped her until she realized it was a mat, then we did Go To Mat up to about 8 feet away. Then I started tossing it here and there around the room and shaping her again. As soon as she realized I was shaping her toward it each time, she knew what to do with it, but she could use a bit more experience with finding it more quickly. She was lying right on the pillow, and lying down each time she went to it. Once or twice she tentatively mouthed one corner of it, but I ignored that.

Then I went to the bathroom and got a hand towel to replace the pillow. Again it took her a moment to realize what I wanted her to do with it, then she ran right to it and lay down. And picked up one corner of it. She couldn’t get it too high off the ground because she was lying on the rest of it. I clicked her for lying on it and tossed the treat. She ran off to get it, then went back and picked up the towel before she put her feet on it.

Ho-ho-hold everything. You’re working on go to mat here, and your dog is trying to work on mouth behaviours.

Well, obviously I should ignore the mouthing and continue to work on go to mat.

Yeah, right! The be-all and end-all of her entire career as a service dog will be retrieving. I love retrieve games. Water work, obedience, and most of the other sports we’ll play are centred around retrieving. It’s exciting to me when a puppy first starts to retrieve. Now, granted, picking up the towel isn’t retrieving, it’s fetching (in my universe, a fetch is what dogs do when they’re playing around, and a retrieve is a trained, specific behaviour) – but there’s nothing wrong with fetching, and I LOVE IT. So I immediately abandon the whole go-to-mat idea and start clicking mouthing, lifting, and turning towards me. Oh, and I tied a knot in the (good, new matching-the-decor hand) towel so she wouldn’t be stepping on it while she was trying to use her mouth on it.

We got some good stuff. She was going straight to it, picking it up, clearly waiting for a click (unless I moved my hand toward it), and I managed to shape her to bring it to me numerous times. Then I replaced it with a huge stuffed copy of Bo Obama (it was much bigger than she was when I got her, though smaller than she is now). She fetched that in increments too, though it was bigger, heavier, and more difficult than her towel. Zowie.

We finished up with some solo Come Game, fronts, finishes, and some heeling.

Not where I had planned to go, but a great session nonetheless.


I wonder what “ordinary” people do for fun?

I had SO MUCH FUN this morning. After our last swimming lesson in the swim spa, I thought Syn had a good time. Turns out she DID have a good time. I gave her a shower and put on her life jacket. She trotted eagerly ahead of me into the room. I went in first and did some exercise, while she stood up on the step and watched me. Then I picked her up by the jacket and lowered her gently into the water (it’s a big step over the edge of the pool to get in – think above-ground pool, so she can’t get in by herself). There was a moment’s hesitation while she tried to remember what the heck was going on, then she dived (figuratively) into the action. She was hustling for wiener bits, chasing my hand around, banking her turns, “running” really fast in the water to grab wieners and slowly to touch my hand here – here – and there.

We did a few minutes of “swim with handler” where she swam beside me while I walked, targeting my hand with her nose from time to time and getting more wieners.

Then I realized that one of the corner seats was 8 inches under the water – a perfect level for Syn to stand on. Small, slippery, but underwater far enough that she was not quite floating when standing on it. I put her on it, moved exactly as far away as I had when teaching her to jump from the Gator to the ground, asked her if she was ready, and then gave her the same cue to jump and come to me. Another moment’s hesitation while she considered the ramifications of leaving a perfectly good perch for open water, she cheerfully launched, swam to me, and was amply rewarded. And again, and again, and again. She gave the same responses she did on the Gator, obviously wanting to jump into swimming, waiting for the cue, waiting… waiting… aaaand LAUNCH! Thinking about the years I spent getting Stitch to be happy about jumping into water – and the time I spent with Scuba, who jumped because I asked her to (though the Working Water Dog level, which requires a LOT of jumping off boats, was about her limit. By the time we got to Courier, she’d sort of run out of patience) – I am SO THRILLED with this happy beginning.

I put her out of the pool and continued to swim for a few minutes alone, while she again watched me with her paws over the edge. I got the definite impression that she would have come in if I had asked her to – and if it was physically possible.


One of the first things you have to do to start training is set yourself up for success – establish your setting factors. Make sure everything is in place that you’ll need to get the behaviour you want.

So this morning I decided to work on Go To Mat, where Syn would start to realize that she has to stay out of the way when I’m trying to work with Stitch. This was precipitated last night when I was trying to do some heeling with Stitch and the Flying Squirrel kept hurling herself between us a foot off the ground.

Went into the training room. I’d left Syn’s soft crate on the floor where I wanted to work, so I picked it up and put it on a nearby chair (this is the crate from 16-weeks-5-days that has the lid that zips open – you can also see a picture of Syn doing her Squirrel routine at 17 weeks).

Put her pillow from the other day on the floor and tied her leash to the heavy coffee table so she could get on the pillow but not get to Stitch and me. Stitch and I went about 15 feet away and started working.

Well! Yapyap! Jump around! Fuss and fume! After a minute I took pity on her and suggested that she Hit The Rack (our go to mat cue). “Oh!” she says, slapping herself on the forehead, looks around – AND TRIES TO DIVE INTO THE CRATE WHICH IS SITTING ON THE CHAIR nearby. Crate topples gently off the chair, trapping her inside. Syn bucks and kicks momentarily and gets the crate off herself, then spends several minutes pacing back and forth reading the riot act to me, the crate, Stitch and the world in general.

Having been thoroughly told off, I screw my head back on, pick up the pillow, and put the crate in its place. And for some reason Syn doesn’t want to go in it. Sigh. A single kibble tossed in changes her mind, and we proceed from there. We get up to about 25 seconds of me working Stitch while Syn lies down in the crate (with the door open).

As I said in one of Stitch’s early blog posts – stick with me, guys, I’m a professional…

And in the afternoon we tried the same game again, but without tying her to the coffee table. Brilliant. I started by asking her once to Hit The Rack. She did, and I tossed a kibble in the crate. Once in a while she would come out to see if she could join in the action (especially when I called Stitch – apparently Stitch Come sounds EXACTLY like Syn Come, even though This Is For Stitch sounds NOTHING like This Is For Syn), but when she did I started rapid-firing treats into Stitch. Each time, Syn startled and booted it for her crate. More kibble. Good pup – and good lesson. Amazing self-control.

We finished by putting Stitch on a mat and doing some solo comes with Syn. She was so eager to work she was quivering. And I realize that Syn has found her avatar. I have flags for each dog to hang on our tent when we’re at events. Stitch has Stitch (from the movie Lilo And Stitch), Fish (another Portie) has a kingfisher (that’s his real name)(why don’t we call him King instead of Fish? Because King is a boring name for a Portie, that’s why. And Fish isn’t), Hawkins (the Giant Schnauzer) has a hawk, and Syn has… a flying squirrel, of course. It fits her perfectly. A flying squirrel with an energy drink.


I think we’re over our little crate boggle. This morning I asked her to Hit The Rack and she dived for the crate… except I had moved the crate, so she ended up perched on the chair I had replaced the crate with. Fresh llama hair in the bag, just came in from the barn.
Syn sits on top of an ottoman. There is a large stuffed bag next to her.

When I ignored her, she hesitated for a moment, then looked frantically around, found the crate, and made another dash for it. Managed to hit it this time!
Syn is laying down in a gold-colored crate with the door open, looking at the camera.

This evening we did a little work on the solo Come Game – this is a special favourite of ours. She likes it because it’s fast and active and she gets to skid and spin her tires and bang into things. I like it because I get to practise her recall, which elicits gasps from all who see it, and because when I ask her to come (rather than saying SYNSYN!), she plunks her little bottom down somewhere in the vicinity of front position, grabbing my eyes with hers, wagging her tail and stomping her feet.

While we were doing that I realized that, in the kitchen/living room, we had much more room than we usually do when playing this, so I started clicking her for coming within 15 feet of me, then tossing the treat back over her head . Within 10 clicks, I got a sweet drop on recall with her 15 feet away from me. This being the exercise that Stitch failed in her last obedience trial (I believe I mentioned that previously)…

Then a few more Comes so she doesn’t get the idea that I always want her to stop and lie down 15 feet away from me, and then five kibbles worth of Heeling – I haven’t been using a cue yet, just walking along in a rather excited manner with her bopping and bouncing beside me. And just out of the blue I started using the cue “Squirrel!” I think I like it. Particularly if she’s going to build bouncing into her definition of the job.

And we finished off with some stacking on the grooming table. Sweet.