Tuesday, June 25, 2013

9 Months, 1 Week: Training - Day 117 - 121

I was starting to see this again - she's not hiding anymore and I can
see her confidence is growing with this break.  Glad we took it.

Monday - Friday

So, Monday is back!  Emma arrived excited and her owner worked very hard to keep her on a loose lead.  I see a lot of work on both our parts to curb her enthusiasm when she first meets someone she really knows.

Today is a day of practical learning again.  After a brief battle of convincing Maura that the rawhide bones were NOT to be buried in my gardens (one at the front of my trailer, the other in the big dirt mound I have for doing my patio) and getting a chew to Emma she enjoyed a quiet mid-day chew with Maura while Max did fence patrol and Dieter slept under my chair for about 40 minutes.

We are again at ground zero for her staying calm when I pick up the leash and getting it clipped onto her.  Hopefully her brain will kick in faster this week and we'll be back to working on maintaining controlled behavior when the leash is presented.

As the week progressed Emma did gain her control with the leash.  I would bend (one of her triggers for acting fearful with me) and gently pet the underside of her jaw the moment she sat and remained still and then kiss her nose.  In short order she was wagging her tail when I bent to her and I could see the "oh god" look in her eyes change "kisses!".

By the middle of the week she was working hard to stay at my side when we wandered the yard to do yard work or clean the yard of waste.  She was at first fearful of the scoop swinging over her head, which I had to do off and on to clean up a pile of dog poop, but with calm reassurance she was able to get her to relax and remain calm and confident when the scoop went over her head.

By the last couple of days of the week she was walking with her nose stuck to the ground and pulling again.  She has a hard time staying on track when walking, which is normal for this age, so I started working on her keeping her nose up and focused on me.  This improved her walking beside me and her working with me instead of just being drug along as I worked in the yard.

She is starting to get the "switch" that is needed when a leash or vest is put on her.  Right now the "working" gear for her is  her leash and I am asking, gently, for a higher level of focus and calmer behavior.  When we started this tethering to go around the yard she was bouncing all over and whiplash looking about.  She now stays mostly focused, though sometimes she goes over threshold and is a bouncing puppy at my side again.

We spent a lot of time in the yard during the week.  She enjoyed chewing on sticks, balls and bones.  She was able to lay at my side and mouth wrestle with Maura a bit and watch the neighborhood.  She's back to barking at every little sight in the neighborhood, which I think is a bit of frustrated energy build up.  She hasn't really been able to run and play since her injury and it's affecting her overall ability to handle stress and training.

I am not using treats at this time, just lots of quiet praise and life rewards (sniffing, greeting people and playing with toys) and just letting her decompress for a bit and get her recent growth spurt out of the way.

Emma left in a top of the world mood with her owner on Friday.  Friday was a particularly good day.  Emma had, for a long time, stopped snuggling with me.  It happened right after Attitude died and I suspect part of it was my own signals that I wasn't in the mood to have a dog touching me all the time.  On Friday Emma asked and received permission to be in my lap and cuddled for over an hour.  It was nice to see her seeking the attention and relaxing into it.  It'll make returning to clicker training easier when she feels a bond with me.

Emma will continue on this break from training and continue to experience On The Job training (walking on a tether, using known skills) while we just relax and reset and build confidence.

Monday, June 17, 2013

9 Months: Training - Day 112 - 116

Emma wants to play, not be tethered to the old woman!


Last week I knew I was stretched too thin when I was so tired that I didn't even do my dishes and the thought of getting up to get the food to feed the dogs was enough to exhaust me.  By Friday the idea of heading out and taking Emma to the groomers was overwhelming and by Saturday I finally collapsed and slept for 6 hours in the middle of the day.  I woke finally feeling almost human on Sunday and today I am actually feeling energy seeping back in.  But this means I need to manage my time and energy better otherwise I'll end up needing to take a full week off just to get the strength back to train and work with the dogs and even care for myself.

Part of that struggle has been to get Emma to eat her kibble when training a higher stress task.  Retrieve is one of her high stress tasks right now.  Her confidence is low and she needs a higher rate of re-enforcement and higher value of treat to work on the skill.  I have been adding moist food, liver paste and other items to her kibble, but the kibble itself has become almost like a punishment for her when working on this task.  Today I decided to go to the same routine I used with Max when I was training him high stress tasks and simply fed her her breakfast and then cut up some very high value treats for her training for later in the day.

With both Maura and Victoria away today to be spayed I have just the core three in the house.  Emma is resting and taking it easy for the early part of the day while I work on catching up on paperwork and has a full tummy (to help boost her blood sugar and release some tension) which will be empty enough to want to train by mid-day to late afternoon.

Instead of working on Retrieve, which will keep her in the house, during our daylight training, I will take her out and do the mobile training of loose lead work and paying attention in a new and distracting location - the same I did with Max when I first started with him.  Though I can't clock the miles I did with Max, and don't dare take her down the street while the neighbor dogs are loose, I will clock some time in front of the house and pay for any attention and loose leash behavior she gives me while working.

I want her joy of training back and I was starting to see the joy slip out as we went into a rote routine of get up, watch the other dogs eat, and then work on getting her food into her while she worked on a hard task with the other dogs checking in and trying to join.  This was not doing her confidence any good and I want to build her confidence up.

Another factor stripping her confidence was that Max, who knows Retrieve well, would pick up the item we were working on and hand it to me when she took too long.  What point is there in picking something up when Max will do it for her?  Changing to a time of the day Max is more likely to be napping will increase our successes with Retrieve.

So, with her knee stronger and recovering we'll work on tug outside with the new toy, loose lead walking when my back permits and lots of follow the leader on the waist leash when I need to do chores in the yard.

We'll also work on seeing, but not barking at, the neighbors and children in the neighborhood and refresh on her basics of Sit, Down and Stay.


With Maura and Victoria needing extra care due to their spay and Dieter and Emma needing extra attention when taking them outside to go to the bathroom, I find my time for much of anything else is limited.  Emma is also in a stage of her life where formal training is pretty much out the window.

Emma is 9 months old, right smack in the middle of teenager rebellion.  She's testing boundaries off and on, though not too hard.  She is also in a growth stage that seems to push every know cue and behavior right out of dogs head.  She's technically at the prime re-homing age for most young dogs.  She's chewing and destroying anything she can get her lips on, has forgotten her cues and acts fearful of the most silly things.  She's not alone - Sherman, who's older than her, recently decided the toilet, which he's been around all his life, was a Poodle eating monster and ran shaking from the bathroom when it was flushed - then the next day he was perfectly okay with the evil toilet and was back to his normal self.  Emma is doing things like this also.  Before offering her a toy to chew on or a pencil to hold was something that got her tail waving, but now it causes her to shrink into herself and pee.  It's her age.  She'll come out the other side just fine, but it means it's time to give her a prolonged break and just work on what we call "practical" learning - which is applying known behaviors to life.

Another factor for Emma's moods and the changes she's facing is what is happening with her body.  Like a teenager who can feel on top of the world one day and in the slumps the next, she's feeling much the same.  Her jaw is finishing it's final growth outward and with it she is bringing in her last molars.  Like humans who bring in their wisdom teeth between 18 and 20 years of age, dogs bring in a final set of molars between 9 months and 14 months of age.  Emma is working on hers now and with this last set of molars she's more interested in decimating anything in sight than training.

Her bone plates are fusing also.  Each month has a new set of bone plates fusing as her growth comes to an end.  In her x-rays of her hips and knees Dr. S noted that Emma's bone plates in her legs are in the process of fusing.  This means her joints hurt some from the changes in the bone plates, and she's feeling "off" because of it.  Her cranial bone plates are doing their final expansion before fusing and thus her brain is doing it's final growth before maturity sets in.  A lot is happening with her body and it makes total sense that her mind is not on training and her behavior is flighty.  She's like a teenager going through puberty and her emotions and ability to handle stress reflects that.

So, I have put up the clicker for a bit and I am letting her get through this growth period while giving her practical experience with known skills.


Today we worked on curbing her excitement when going outside.  Picking up her leash sends her into spasms of joy and she jumps and barks and gets over excited by the leash.  Today I picked up and carried the leash through the house and then set it down at least 30 times.  I even wore it on my neck for a while.

Emma is asked to sit and wait to be clipped on to the lead and then to walk quiet and calm out of my house and down to the grass to go potty.  Emma is doing better at this, but is still to excitable when we first start.  We'll continue to work on this.

I have had yard chores to do and Emma has learned she must pay attention to me or I'll walk off and her leash will get tight.  At no point am I going fast, but she's learned she needs to watch what I am doing instead of checking the world out if she doesn't want to be pulled by the leash.

She has also learned to unwrap herself from poles and other items in the yard and even to avoid being wrapped around them.  Emma is improving on her leash skills, but has hit the "can't tell the dog is on the leash" status yet.


Emma continues to work on walking polite on the leash when attached to me.  She only wraps herself around something when we walk about 1 to 2 times in the total time we are out.  She's starting to leave the lead loose when I am standing and doing something.  She is still walking ahead and putting pressure on the leash.  I stop when she does this and back up a step to reset her.


Emma only wrapped herself around the telephone pole once during the entire day.  She quickly solved the problem and began to move behind or closer to my side to prevent herself from getting tangled in items in the yard.

When her owner picked her up she lost her mind and couldn't do loose leash work.  I will have to devise a plan to work on that and help her learn to keep her mind when she's over excited like that.

Monday, June 10, 2013

8 Months, 4 Weeks: Training - Days 110 and 111

Emma and Maura spent the week making friends.
This is last Wednesday and Thursday's blog posts.  I have been so slammed here that keeping up on the paperwork is near to impossible.  As of today I will have four out of five animals in my home with some sort of medical care that I need to provide; Dieter with his back injury requires regular medications, escorted outside and monitored to ensure he doesn't re-injure his back yet again (which he did over the weekend).  Emma has a knee injury that requires we keep her from running, jumping and rough housing, which means when she goes outside it is on lead and I have to monitor her behavior in the home to keep her from being a puppy when that is exactly what she is.  Both Maura (formally Hale) and Victoria today (Monday) were spayed and will need meditations for pain and kept from licking and reopening their spay incisions.  I have told Max, who was limping at his Thursday class but was fine again on Friday, that he's not allowed to join the crowd - I simply am spread too thin right now and some things need to give and sitting at a computer and writing up a series of blog posts was what gave.

Emma last week didn't do a lot of formal training, but more life in action training.  With Maura joining the family and my needing to treat her ear infection and wounds from her previous housemates attack, I found I was spending a lot of time accessing her and plotting what she would need first and foremost to have her best chance at adoption.

On Thursday my Mom came over to help build more raised beds and lay sod and my helper, a young man that comes weekly, arrived.  Emma spent the day attached to me and learned how to pay attention to me while I worked in the yard.

On Wednesday Emma worked on Retrieve again and was able to pick up and hand me a spoon, but it seemed to throw her for a loop right afterwards and she stopped trying and giving me appeasement signals.  This is to be expected.  She is in a growth phase where her moods change from moment to moment, much like a teenagers, and she'll have good and bad days when training.  The best way to handle her need for less stress in learning is to switch to a new method of learning and let her process what she's worked on.

To do this I spent all day Thursday not doing "formal" training, but training none-the-less.  I had her attached to me with a waist leash and let her follow me everywhere I went in the yard while building raised beds, digging up plants and laying sod.  Though I couldn't do a lot of the heavy work, Emma discovered that yard work meant I wouldn't be in a single spot for long.  With the release from her vet to do normal walking, I used that as a way to rebuild the strength in her knee.

During our day in the yard I would walk her around with me with frequent stops and rests, occasional placement in the house for short periods when having her next to me was unsafe, and lots of figuring out how to unwrap herself from posts and trees and other objects in the yard, pay attention to me and the leash at the same time.

It was a great day of learning by doing and Emma did great.  Hopefully, with Maura under better control and not requiring so much of my time and a warm and lovely week ahead, I should be able to get back to service skills training and helping Emma learn how to focus even under higher distractions.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

8 Months, 4 Weeks: Training - Day 109

Hale and Emma enjoy their bones in my office.
Emma went to the vet for the day yesterday to have her knee x-rayed.  I didn't pick her up until the afternoon and she spent the rest of the evening getting to know her new foster sister, Hale (pronounced Hall-Leigh).  The x-rays were excellent.  She has fantastic hip, knee and ankle joints and her bone plates are close to closing by the time she's 14 months old.  The knee she injured does not have any swelling or tears in it that can be seen and her ACL ligament is not damaged.  It looks like the ligament that attached to her kneecap was badly strained, so we'll have her on restricted activity (no running, jumping or rough housing) for another 4 weeks, but she can return to her regularly scheduled training.

Hale, a Boxer/Rottweiler mix, is staying with us short time, and to tell the truth, I am glad for that.  Right now, as I type and am otherwise occupied, she is barking and whining for attention - it's not working.

I had not intended on a foster dog, but Hale's situation turned ugly in a split second and someone needed to rescue her long enough to get her into the right home.  She had been living in a home where adversive corrections were used for any behavior they didn't appreciate.  She was also feed less than her body needed and is thus underweight and when she arrived, starving.  Because she was always hungry, she tried to take food from the 4 year old, was corrected for it in the process and the 4 year old was hurt.  They blamed the dog.

We were called and told they wanted to re-home her and we started the process of doing so.  I had a group lined up that was prepping to get her into a foster home when they called and told us she was placed in a high kill shelter because she got into a fight with the other dog in the house over food.  The other dog is also about 10 pounds too lean.  They took her to the shelter and dropped her off and we insisted they call and release her into our care.  We picked her up Saturday night with serious bite marks in her ear, face and chest and frightened and confused by the sudden loss of her home.

She has a few issues which were quickly resolved by A) showing her she could take a prize, such as a bone I had given her, and move to a different location and not have to defend it from the dogs in my home and B) she got more than enough food in her tummy.

With now three days of feeding her the right amount for her body size/weight (ideal, not current) she's relaxed about food, bones and toys and is becoming a calmer dog.  Sometimes.  Sometimes she goes into spasms of barking and whining when she doesn't want to pass another dog to get to me or she wants me to pay attention to her.  The not wanting to pass a dog can be cured by cuing the dog in her path to come to me.  The later is under construction.

She has already tried to engage Emma and Max in play, eats from her bowl only and doesn't try to take other dogs food out of their bowl while they are eating and is learning to communicate.

Emma is curious about her, but doesn't see her as a long lost sister she never knew she had.  It's a good balance between another play style and dog breed and learning to be good with new and strange dogs.

Today I started training with Emma and Hale was rewarded for watching, but not interupting Emma's training.  Hale was more than happy to let me work Emma and just get a treat for being present.

Currently, Emma and Max are teaching Hale how to relax and nap while I am on the computer or watching TV.  She's not there yet, but she's learning quickly.

Above is a picture of Hale and Emma last night about three hours after they met for the first time.  Emma decided to move to share the bed with her while they both chewed bones and Hale was okay with that because Emma didn't try to take her bone.

Next week Hale will be spayed and should finish her antibiotics and anti-imflamitories.  She'll have put on some weight, gained a few manners and learned how to do basic communication with humans before we place her up for adoption.  Hopefully by the time she's recovered from her spay she'll be in her new forever home and learning how lovely life can be.

Our preferred home for Hale is a female owner with no children or adult children and no other dogs.  She is good with dogs for visiting and playing, but would be happier as an only dog.  She is good with cats.  She is afraid of men and needs training, using positive rewards, to help her become the best dog she can be.

Today's Lessons:


Emma is working on Level 4: Step 1 Retrieve.  In this step Emma is to go to three different types of objects on the floor.  Last week Emma went to and picked up and brought to me a pencil.  This week we are working on a spoon.  Today I spent her first lesson working on touching and taking the spoon in her mouth while I held it.  When she gives me a nice hold on the spoon I'll put it on the floor and shape her to it and have her pick it up and bring it to me (this would be Steps 1, 2 and 3 of Level 4 Retrieve).

Emma is not afraid of or reluctant to take the spoon in her mouth and gave me a small 1 second hold today.  I am very pleased with this first lesson this week.  We will continue the retrieve lessons and look at teaching another service dog skill as a break between them to keep her stress levels low - especially since she has a new foster sister.

Emma is progressing nicely with retrieve and will soon be practicing the skill in new locations with new objects to build her understanding.


This weekend work on Emma walking calmly out of the house to her potty zone.  If she pulls on the lead, walks ahead of the person or tries to charge out the door walk her back a few steps and start again.  It may take a little time the first few times, but after a bit she'll walk calmly to her potty zone and calmly back in and soon will do it, no matter how exciting, everywhere if she practices it all the time.

Play tug with a rope to build up her tug game for eventual door opening.


With the addition of a foster dog Emma is learning a new level of dog language.  Her and Jack share toys and play with them together (Jack chewing on one end and Emma on the other).  Jack is tolerant of her and lets her take toys or bones right out of his mouth and thus Emma was led to believe that any new dog coming into her world would allow the same behaviors - including taking toys right out from between their feet.  Hale is not Jack.

Today Emma learned that not all dogs share their toys or even play with the same toy at the same time as her.  Hale gave very clear communication, without ever having to do more than make a grumble, that her toys or bones were her's and not to be shared.  Emma heard her and respected her space.  This is fantastic to see.  I had feared that the high tolerance she'd experienced here would not prepare her for a dog who wasn't as forgiving - but it has and she's got fantastic dog language as a result.

I watched her test Hale's "boundaries" and find them and then give her the respect Hale asked for.  This is both a wonderful sign of maturity and self control - Emma is doing great.

Level 1
Zen Target Come Sit Down
Step Completed Completed Completed Completed Completed

Level 2
Zen Come Sit Down Target
Step Completed Completed Completed Completed Completed
Focus Lazy Leash Go To Mat Crate Distance
Step 3 2 2 1 1
Jump Relax Handling Tricks Communication
Step 1 1 1 Completed 1

Level 3
Zen Come Sit Down Target
Step 3 2 0 0 1
Focus Lazy Leash Go To Mat Crate Distance
Step 0 0 0 0 0
Jump Relax Handling Retrieve Communication
Step 0 0 0 Completed 0

Level 4
Zen Come Retrieve Target Relax
Step 0 0 1 0 0
Focus Lazy Leash Go To Mat Crate Distance
Step 0 0 0 0 0
Handling Communication

Step 0 0