5 months, a big milestone, if for no other reasons than that we start thinking of her in months rather than weeks, and that makes her seem… more grown up than baby. Not that she’s in any way grown up! She still has only tooth stubs, her puppy coat is long and scraggly-looking, she can’t see Stitch or any human without trying to fly.
The elusive Canadian Flying Squirrel
Yep, she’s a teenager.
“WHO PUT THE EMPTY MILK BOTTLE BACK IN THE FRIDGE?”
“I did. Did you buy CocoPuffs when you were out?”
We had a grand day today. Dog class in the morning. We started with pickup sticks – PVC pipes laid haphazardly across each other to help the dogs learn where their hind ends are. Apparently she has a pretty good idea where all her feet are, she had no trouble with this. Then a contact trainer – a narrow board up, then a wide board down (or vice versa). First try she ripped up the wide board and leaped off toward the target lid from there. Ah, but there are good helpers who step on target lids when you don’t do it right, sorry chickie. Next try I held her on a shorter leash and she did it right. Next time I let her go and she leaped off again (this is a very low obstacle, by the way). Next time she started before I asked her to and she checked herself on the leash and then went over at a nice trot, then did a Zen at the end on the target. OK, go ahead! Next time over I let her go and she raced it correctly and got her treat. Yay! We’ve also been working on not letting her go over/across obstacles until she’s focused on the target at the end and she’s really got it. I’m adding the cue Look! She got some admiring comments on her focus.
Then we moved on to tricks. I took her figure-8 leg weaving, which she does very fast and smoothly, and, sitting on a stool, straightened my legs and pointed my toes up with my heels on the ground so she went under-left, over-left, under-right, over-right, so with 3 extra treats the first time, we added crawling and jumping to the trick.
Next area was working on swing finishes by putting the dogs’ front paws up on a stool and getting the back paws to move in a circle around the stool. Now, this is a marvellous method of teaching the swing finish, and it’s how I taught Stitch to do her right swing, BUT. But Syn already knew how to do a swing finish from Communication Level 2. Then when I tried to walk around her she thought I wanted a swing and wouldn’t sit still, so I had to explain very carefully that she could swing when I asked her to and sit still while I walked around her. She’s JUST figuring that out. So we lured her front paws up on the stool. Fine. Then I started moving off to my right to lure her into turning, and she proudly stood still, swinging her head to demonstrate that she would be happy to stay where she was and watch me walk up on her right after walking around her. Dear little Tat! So we didn’t do the stool exercise any more but spent our time working on a go-behind finish with a hand lure. I’m not sure Syn’s brain couldn’t have handled move-no, don’t move- wait, wait, I really meant move… but for sure mine couldn’t.
Later in the day we went for a run. I will need to eventually specifically teach her to stay away from the tires of (and out from in front of) the Gator, but for now I’m relying on Stitch to keep her occupied at a safe distance. She had a good run and we ended up at the dugout where Stitch chased some bumpers into the water and then got really insane, being wet and having Syn nipping at her. They ran, and ran, and ran, and ran. In there somewhere Stitch ran out the still-submerged dock and dived off, and Syn followed her. Syn, however, didn’t really know what she was walking on, since she couldn’t see it, and she stepped her front feet off, leaving her head and front end under water and her back end still on the dock. She managed to get herself back up with no damage to body or enthusiasm, and she came home sopping wet without ever actually having gone far enough into the water to swim. In a couple of weeks when it’s warmer, I’ll go in with her.
She was more than happy to ride home in the Gator, even though Stitch was still swooping joyfully around us.
We spent lunch on retrieving. We started near where we left off last time – I held a stick that she’d brought in, and tried to keep my toes curled around her back end so she couldn’t back up. Got a dozen clicks in for not pulling. Then I started holding the stick very, very lightly and that helped the most – with nothing to pull against, she soon stopped pulling (hello, duh).
That went so well, I held the stick up over her head, over here, over there, and down low to the ground. She was diving for it almost before she’d swallowed the previous treat. (I don’t want to give her too many right now, as she can’t chew them. If she swallows an entire meal of kibble, she’ll throw them up again an hour later. When I’m feeding her, I either soak the kibble for an hour or so, or grind it up with the blender and put water in it. So very short sessions for now.)
Then I dropped it, and she picked it up. THAT was VERY difficult. Not the picking up part, but the delivery. While her eyes clearly wanted to hand the stick to me, her muzzle kept jerking backwards, and her legs kept backing away from me. Extremely funny. Then she lifted one front paw and started PUSHING the stick towards me. I could hardly see I was laughing so hard.
She pushed the stick right out of her mouth, and that seemed to help. When it hit the ground, she grabbed it up and handed it to me really fast – before her muzzle and back end could take her away from me again. Another five times, and she was able to pick it up calmly and hand it to me.
I pushed my luck – I started tossing the stick about 3 feet away from me. She went to it, picked it up, brought it, and held it until I took it. Wow!
I think the most exciting part of this session was her understanding of the task. She hasn’t quite got the hang of picking up a stick at the balance point (most of the time). She usually picks it up on one end (must find my dumbbells). If one end hits the ground or against a chair and she drops it, or she spots a lost kibble on the floor, she goes immediately back to the job. Sometimes she forgets at the moment, comes to me, looks at me looking at the stick, turns to look at it, and then goes and gets it.
This is a chief cause of failure at the beginning levels of water trials. Young dogs know how to FETCH – to chase something and bring it back – but when they bring a bumper out of the water, they’ll naturally drop it and shake. That’s fine, IF they pick it up again and keep bringing it. What usually happens with dogs who know how to fetch but not retrieve, though, is that as soon as they’ve dropped it, it isn’t trying to escape any more so it’s no longer interesting, and they go off to do something else. Syn has a really good start on not getting into that situation.
Every year we take some of our llamas and show them off in a booth at a very large farm show. We’re the only livestock exhibit there – all the rest are $300,000 tractors, $30,000 mowers, bulldozers that could drive over your car without noticing. We show off llama tricks, give out llama kisses, spin fibre, talk about driving llamas and backpacking with llamas, what to feed them, how to cut nails and shear. It’s three very long days, preceded by 5 very long days of preparation and grooming and followed by 4 days of washing and folding and repacking. Not a lot of time for dogs. Or eating, sleeping, or anything else.
This year, being the last year we’re going to do this, we decided to take the Training Levels books in our booth along with the llamas, and the dogs to advertise the books.
I had no idea how Syn would behave. I expected she’d be very upset to be in a crate when I was over talking to a llama, but we had 3 people manning the booth and I hoped someone would be able to toss her a treat whenever she was behaving and she’d get better as she went along. Also I wanted to take some time to introduce her a LOT of strangers and work on having her control herself around them.
Stitch came the first day. Stitch lay on a llama-fibre blanket on a table with some books, and Syn stayed in a wire-crate-and-ex-pen setup most of the time. Once in a while she came out and we worked on eye contact, which was excellent unless a toddler was nearby. At first she thought toddlers might be evil ninjas and barked at them (real barking, rather than the grrumble-talk she does to comment on just about everything), but I started clicking and tossing a treat at her when she saw one, and before she had a chance to get the bark out. By the end of the day she was watching them come and even talking to them when they stuck their fingers through the bars of her crate or expen (yes, I was careful).
The entire day, she was fanTAStic in the crate and pen. She had an open door between the two. She could lie on a fluffy dogbed in the crate, or on a blanket in the pen back in private. She spent most of the day in the crate watching the people walk by. I walked in and out of her sight on a regular basis and she wasn’t bothered. Maybe we’ll survive her first dog shows next month after all!
Stitch left for an agility trial with a friend the next morning, and Syn went to the farm show alone. She spent the morning in the crate and pen so I could be sure that she wasn’t terrific the day before just because Stitch was there. Nope, she was just terrific. After lunch, I thought I’d try her on the table and see if maybe I could get a few steps away from the table with her on it.
Well duh. Tables are nothing but higher mats and/or crates with no bars. At first she perched like a vulture, waiting for her click:
Her panting is an indication of how hard she’s working at her mat behaviour. She was doing so well, I started shaping a relax.
She remembered relax and got right into the spirit though she’s still watching, watching, waiting for the click. On my side, check. Tail not wagging, check. Paws quiet, check. Head down, check. C’mon, c’mon, click already. As the time between clicks grew longer and longer, she eventually gave up. She spent four or five hours on that table, interspersed with water, pee, and cuddle breaks, while I walked around the booth talking to people, working the llamas, scooping poop, spinning, etc.
When people came to pet her, she’d roll up onto her elbows, sometimes even stand up to say hello, but her greetings were polite. She didn’t like more than 4 people at a time – didn’t try to get away or seem too upset, but she’d get a disgruntled look on her face and examine the table to see if it had perhaps gotten bigger so she could move away a bit. At that point (usually BEFORE that point), I’d step in and give her a few treats and she’d settle right down.
I thought she’d be exhausted, but she came home and wrestled with everybody.
The third day it rained. It didn’t rain, it POURED. Fortunately our booth is under a big cement ledge, so we were sort of dry, but there was NOBODY at the show. I got out a dumbbell and started working with it. Syn really got into it – possibly aided by the whole feel-good-because-I’m-damp thing. First we did some straight holds together. Excellent. Then I started dropping the db on the ground. Excellent. Finally I started tossing it away from us a bit, and she really got excited. She was having a wonderful time retrieving that dumbbell – and it was real retrieving, with a nice hold. Sometimes I asked her to sit when she brought it to me and she did. Sometimes I just held it and didn’t cue a release, so we held it together for a few seconds. Excellent. Excuse the quality of the photos, it was DARK and WET and my phone is many generations old.
That shiny stuff in the background is water. You can see I was getting a good 8 to 10 feet distance on my throws,
and lovely happy returns. Sometimes the dumbbell bounced out into the rain, and she bravely went and got it anyway.
I’ve always felt closer to a dog after she learns to retrieve, and I think maybe I’m not just imagining that. When we got home this evening (and had a swim and a blow dry to warm up), she started bringing me toys to play with her with – something she rarely does. Once I tossed the toy behind the couch. She spent a great deal of time trying to get it out, but couldn’t quite reach it. Finally she turned and grumbled at me, looking back over her shoulder to where she’d been trying to get the toy. I got up, and she led me to it. I got it for her and she growled fiercely and tossed it around. She came and got me! Yes!