Monthly Archives: August 2009

Deja Vu All Over Again

Those of you that have been faithful blog followers of mine from the beginning might remember me posting about my puppy Billy taking a flying leap into the hot tub as I was closing the cover. I did a quick search for that post, but couldn’t find it. I distinctly remember writing it, but whatever . . . maybe the blog Gremlins took it.

Anyhow, today it was hotter than hot outside (for Northern Alberta), so we were all out enjoying the sunshine. We all know that winter is coming sooner rather than later, so we’re trying to soak up as many rays as we can while they’re still around. Anyhow, my dad was barbecuing steaks for supper (can you say yummy???) and my mom and I were soaking our feet in the hot tub – we just rolled up our capris and dangled our feet in. I couldn’t see Jack Jack anywhere, so I called his name. He came flying up the steps of the deck and did the doggy version of the cannonball right into the tub! He swam to the edge and then I hauled him out.
So far Grace is the only dog of mine (well, except for Quigley) that hasn’t jumped into the hot tub. Everybody else has done it at least once – Keeley, Billy (many times!), Farley and now Jack Jack. It must be an initiation thing or something . . .
On another note, I bought the dogs a Nina Ottosson (http://www.nina-ottosson.com/) puzzle toy. They’re made of wood, and they encourage the dogs to think and play and use their brains. I wasn’t sure if they’d be able to figure it out (it’s The Brick, if you visit the website). I was surprised to see that the dogs figured it out quickly . . . especially Jack Jack. I honestly think that the clicker training has taught him to think and reason things out, and that will help him with these kinds of games. I figure that mental stimulation is always good, so I’m glad the dogs like this thing . . . it’s just another way to keep them occupied.
Hope everyone had a great weekend!

Disheartened

So, for the past 6 or 7 weeks, I’ve been making a concerted effort to be more active. My goal has been to get out and be active for at least 30 minutes, at least 5 days a week. For the most part, I’ve been successful at meeting that goal. Most days I take the dogs for a walk, since that benefits the dogs as well as me. Some days I head out on the bike, taking Jack Jack with me for company. And other days it is yardwork or something else that becomes my fitness activity for the day.

Last night I thought I’d get on the Wii Fit, just to see where my weight is. I haven’t weighed myself since early July, so I was pretty sure I’d lost a pound or two. Imagine my surprise (and dismay!) when I saw that I’d gained 3.5 pounds! I know it’s not a lot, but still . . . I’ve been working hard and really, honestly thought I’d see a reward for that work (yes, yes being healthier is a reward in itself, but come on, I wanted to see a weight loss too).

I won’t quit being active, because I know it’s good for me and it’s great for the dogs. Guess it’s time to really get serious about what I eat, since the bump up in activity didn’t cut it. Sigh.

Something To Say

Well, it’s official . . . I’ve been blogging for three years and have hit 400 posts, and I still haven’t run out of things to say! Wow! I would never have managed to continue this blog without hearing from my faithful readers (who put up with bad humour, rants, and all kinds of weird stuff). Thank you for sticking with me and for reading my writing.

I find that I can express myself better in writing than I can verbally. The words just seem to come together much more nicely for me when they’re whirling around my head instead of just spilling out of my mouth. Someday I dream of writing a book (about Cocker Spaniels – I know, it’s a big surprise), but until then this is my creative outlet.

I hope to be blogging for a while yet . . . and I can’t wait to write about my 500th post!

Clicking Away

So, I’ve been having a lot of fun with this whole clicker training thing. I have the most fun with Jack Jack, because he clearly enjoys the challenge as much as the reward, and he will try all kinds of things to see what I want.

He now licks his lips on command about 75% of the time when I say “yummy!,” after less than a total of 20 minutes of training. He’ll get more consistent as we keep practising and working in various areas. He knows that when I say “Go to your bed” he should find his dog blanket and sit on it. He picks up the dumbbell (no cue added yet) and touches a step stool. I want to progress to him putting his front feet on the stool, laying down on the dog bed and picking up and holding the dumbbell. I know we’ll get there 🙂

I’ve been working with Grace as well, but she is not the type to try anything for a treat. She has been clicker trained since she was a baby, but I used mostly luring (instead of shaping), so she’s used to relying on getting direction from me instead of figuring out what I want. This makes our progress somewhat slower . . . but it’s coming along. She has learned to go and sit on the dog bed . . . I’m not sure she’s completely associated the sit with the bed, as sometimes she sits OFF the dog bed and looks for a click/treat, but it’s coming. I’m not sure what we’ll work on next, but maybe 101 Things With A Box.

This has taught me to be more observant of what the dog is doing, since clicker training (shaping) is all about catching your dog doing something, and clicking that action. This has also taught me better timing (clicking too late or too early reinforces the wrong action). And it has taught me that dogs can learn fast if they really want to!

Clicker training doesn’t have to use treats as a reward. You can use praise, play or anything else as a reward. In fact, every time you ask your dog to sit before opening the door to the backyard, this is called using the Premack Principle – which is that if the dog does one thing, they get to do something inherently rewarding. Another example is taking your dog to the offleash park, and occasionally calling them back to you, and then releasing them for more play. Every time you call the dog and then release it to play, it learns that coming when called means FUN!

The theory is that the clicker runs on a pathway through the brain’s amygdala, which is the most ancient portion of the brain. Responses from the amygdala are fear and startle responses (like us being afraid when we hear a car backfire, thinking it’s gunfire). You don’t learn those responses, they’re just a part of you. For some reason, science is showing that when an animal is clicker trained, they retain the responses longer, and the responses become ingrained.

A real life example is Jack Jack, who is very afraid of other dogs. Even when he’s walking past the dog park (we don’t go in, we walk along the outside of the fence) and he starts barking (aka freaking out) at another dog, I can get his attention and calm him down by having him give me a high five. That was one of his earliest clicker trained behaviors, and he NEVER fails to respond to my cue (my hand, fingers up and palm forward in a “gimme 5” signal).I know I sound like a fanatic (and maybe I am!), but my experience has been so positive with this method of training. If I can ever answer questions or provide links to resources, please ask!

The Sound of Silence

You wanna know how I know summer is almost over? My 4.5 year old niece has gone home to her parents, to get ready for the new school year. My parents left to take her home this morning. As sad as it is to see her go (we’ve certainly enjoyed her energy and antics over the past several weeks), I must admit that the silence in the house is wonderful. Given that we are three adults living in the house, the most noise we’re used to is the television and the occasional outburst from the dogs (you’re right, with Farley, it’s more than occasional). With my niece here, there is almost never silence. She fancies herself an opera singer, so she’s always singing an aria somewhere . . . or a kids’ song, if she has a particular favourite that day. When everybody left this morning, I finally understood the oxymoron of deafening silence. I turned off the TV and could hear the thoughts running through my head!

It’s a cruddy day today – cool and grey. I haven’t been able to motivate myself to get moving yet, but I need to. I was supposed to groom dogs today, among other things, and I’ve accomplished nothing. Sigh. Well, a trip to the post office and to get groceries, but nothing truly constructive. Mind you, after the hard labour of last weekend (think garage clean-out!), a day of nothingness is kind of nice.

Hope you enjoyed your weekend!

Thankful Thursday

Farley – When I think back to getting Farley, I made almost every mistake in the book. I allowed my landlady’s dog to beat up on him, I used jerk & pull obedience methods and I gave him some pretty bad haircuts. Still, he has loved me and given everything he could to me, every single day. I am thankful for our good night and good morning routines. That’s our time, since the other two sleep in crates. I look Farley in the eyes and tell him how much I love him and how much I appreciate every day with him. He sneezes on me (he aims for my glasses I think!), licks me, turns around 3 times and snuggles in for the night. In the morning, he covers his eyes and groans when I turn the light on. He wags his tail slowly, and wakes up in his own time, coming to make sure that the evil, killer socks are chewing my ankles off. Those moments mean the world to me.

Grace – I am so thankful to Grace for helping piece my heart back together after Quigley died and I sent Billy to Mare. At that point my heart was a bleeding, broken mess, and Gracie-Lou came into my life and wove it back together. She was a very naughty puppy, but she always checked to make sure that her antics were making me smile instead of scowl. Despite not enjoying obedience, she learned quickly and tolerated my fumbled clicker training attempts. In agility, she excels despite me (certainly not because of me!) and she seems to know what I want of her even if I can’t get the right words out of my mouth. She is a serious, sensitive soul . . . meant for healing and caring and loving. She is the epitome of a therapy dog, and my niece Tashie’s bestest friend ever. She tolerates everything, and uses those deep brown eyes to tell me she’ll take more, as long as it means I love her.

Jack Jack – This dog is my Farley understudy. I honestly didn’t know that you could love two dogs so much and so intensely all at once. It’s true – you can. Despite Jack Jack’s fears (most of which are deep-rooted), he wants so badly to please me that he’ll try almost anything (except approaching nasty black garbage bags). He has joie de vivre that I haven’t seen since I had Billy . . . and I didn’t fully appreciate it in Billy, due to my other struggles at the time. He is smart, fun and so very loving. He is always checking to make sure Mom is close by (that’s me!) and that I’m okay. He loves Grace and tolerates Farley, but he adores me above all else. I am so thankful for him to allowing me to polish my clicker training and behavioral training skills on him, and I’m glad that he has slowly gained confidence and interest in the world around him. I love his big heart, his soft eyes, and his desire to be with Mom at all times.

Even on the days that I would gladly PAY somebody to take my dogs, I am thankful for what I learn from them, and for how much they give of themselves. They are my comfort on rough days, my sunshine on cloudy days. They have taught me to live in the moment, and to forgive those you love. They have also taught me to play often and to play hard. They’re good dogs, and I’m awfully glad they’re mine.

My Busy Weekend

I did more shaping with Jack Jack and Grace over the weekend – I actually find it VERY addicting to be able to train simple behaviours in 15 minutes. I taught Jack to lick his nose when I say “yummy.” It’s quite cute 🙂 I taught Grace to target to the palm of my hand in a matter of minutes, which will be helpful in a whole bunch of different situations. I also finally brought out the weave poles again, after a super long break. I left them quite open, and she went through them successfully 4 times before I ended the session. I have to work on getting them closed, but at least she didn’t look at them blankly. That could have happened – it has in the past. So we’ll see how that goes. A new agility session starts in September, and I want it to be successful for us, so that means putting in way more practice than I have over the summer.

My mom has decided to get a new garage door (ours has been broken for years), so we had to clean out the garage this weekend. It was a HUGE job – the garage was literally packed to the rafters with junk of all sorts (we’re ALL packrats in the worst way). My mom did the bulk of the work, but I did some too, and also cleaned out my shed at the back and the area where I have my dog stuff in the basement. We took 7 loads to the dump, of which I assisted on 4 of those loads. I was so sore yesterday I could hardly move! And I got heatstroke on Saturday from working withoutt a hat and without drinking enough water. I know a LOT better than that! But the garage looks awesome now, and the new door should be installed sometime this week. My next project is de-cluttering my bedroom, which scares the dickens out of me, but will be great when it’s all done.

Let’s just say I’m thankful to be at work today, where the most strenuous thing I have to do is work in Excel!

Clicker Fun!

So, I just finished reading Karen Pryor’s latest book “Reaching The Animal Mind” (awesome, awesome book guys!), and decided that I wanted to try a shaping exercise with the clicker, instead of the luring that I had done to get my guys into the correct position. One of the standard games that clicker trainers use for shaping is called “101 Things With A Box” – basically you sit in a room with few distractions, a box, a clicker and a hand full of treats. Then you start clicking your dog for any interaction with the box, with the goal of a particular behaviour (two feet in the box, pushing the box, etc).

I didn’t have a box, so I used the dogs’ little couch as my object, and I sat down to work with Jack Jack. First I clicked him for looking at the couch. After a couple of times of that, I asked him to actually touch the couch with his nose. Success! Then I clicked for front feet on the couch . . . all of this happened within about 5 minutes or so. Once he got that figured out, every now and then he’d put one paw on the couch and then look at me, to see if I’d reward him for that. I could literally see the wheels turning in his head! Finally I got him to the point where he’d be on the couch with all four paws, and that’s where we quit for the night. In about 10 minutes I shaped him to stand on the couch with all four feet. His tail wagged madly the whole time, and his eyes were sparkling.

I worked with Grace after I put Jack Jack in the crate . . . we didn’t get as far as all four feet on the couch, because she’s far less willing to experiment than Jack Jack is, so I had to do more clicking for looking at and then sniffing the couch. But she had fun, and it was good for all of us.
If you have clicker savvy dogs, I encourage you to try shaping . . . it’s a great mental workout AND it’s fun!

What A Night – Redux

Really, you’d think we’d had enough issues last week . . . but I think it was our weekend to be tested by the powers that be.Friday morning the sewer backed up again . . . thankfully this time it was shower water, so nice and clean. Much better than the “grey” water we got on Wednesday night. We cleaned it up, left my dad with money for more Drano, and then headed out of town.

Half an hour out of town, my “Check Battery” light came on in the car. There are no service stations (with more than just fuel) within 3 hours of my hometown, so we just kept driving until we found a slightly larger centre. Stopped at a garage to have it looked at – no problems with the battery. The guy figures it might be a loose connection. Whatever, at least the car is safe. Friday night we went for supper with my Aunt & Uncle, to celebrate their 40th anniversary. It was a really nice meal, and we had a great visit with them. They’re good people.

Saturday night we saw the Lipizzanner Stallions, which were amazing. Talented horses, talented riders . . . it was very cool. I’d never take a 4 year old again, as she was bored and so she wouldn’t be quiet or sit still, but the older kids enjoyed it. After the show we sat up late visiting with my brother and his fiancee.

Sunday we got up relatively early and drove home. It was an uneventful drive.Sunday afternoon the sewer backed up AGAIN. And it was bad this time . . . it came up through my toilet and everything (I live in the basement). Fortunately I’m looking after a friend’s house, so I just took the dogs and stayed at her house, to get away from the smell.

Monday morning the plumbers came and used their tools to push whatever blockage we had far, far away. Cost almost $800, but if it worked, I’m happy. It’s nice to be back home and in my bed. I don’t want any more adventures!

What A Night!

Holy crap, what a night last night.

First of all, Jack Jack is just being ridiculous about Grace, who’s in heat right now. One of them was in a crate pretty much at all times last night, just for my own sanity. I thought my mother would kill him . . . he was howling for Grace during the day, I guess. Took him for a bike ride to see if using up his energy would help . . . not so much. Thank God it’s almost over. Just a few more days, by my calculations.

Went to the chiropractor, because my upper back is sore (again). Had forgotten my wallet in my work bag and couldn’t pay. He was good about it (I’ve been a patient for 5 years now), but I was embarrassed.

Watched “Next Food Network Star” – uneventful, thank goodness.

Went downstairs to go to bed, and the sewer had backed up into the basement. There was an inch of standing (dirty) water in the laundry room and out into the hallway. By the grace of God it did not go into my bathroom, the pantry or the furnace room. It was so disgusting! So then my mom and I spent over an hour fixing the issue and cleaning up. Everything had to be washed in bleach (floor, baseboards, etc) and now there are dozens of towels to wash. It was not fun, and of course, after that, I had trouble sleeping. Thankfully it appears to be fine this morning.

I almost stayed home today, just to recover from my night!