Puppy Training Log; Part One

So I figured it would be fun—for me anyways, maybe not so much for the few people who may still read this blog—to try to document what training I am doing with Phin-puppy. Having a young, young puppy to train with the goal of agility is definitely uncharted territory for me. Part of me is overwhelmed, wondering if even at him being only 14 weeks if I ever will possibly get it all in and do it “right” (which yes I realize is impossible and/or irrelevant), then part of me is thinking that he wont even be able to jump full height, let alone compete, for a year at the very least—that seems like a millennium away!

As much as this darling puppy is a complete PitA (I just cleaned up a potty accident and shortly after kicked him off the couch for chewing his nylabone on top of the keyboard of my open laptop, eeeeeeekk!!!) I feel pretty blessed with him. I chose him mainly because of his even personality and his love to work. He is a drivey little shit who figures things out quickly and will keep working/playing until you shut him off. He loves to shape behaviors, loves to fetch and retrieve, loves to tug, loves food. And so far, he has proven he can work well with distractions present. All of these things make him a total joy to work with.

So, to lump together some of the things we have worked on at least once or twice over the last 3-4 weeks; “bring”-tug-“drop” the toy, running alongside of me and turning with him on the outside, the wobble board, running across the small plank, driving through a hoop with the jump bump, standing with front and back feet (seperately) on the little split balance balls, shaping to go around a bucket, running through the puppy tunnel (first by chasing ball, then following my movement and being rewarded with the toy appearing ahead as he pops out), and lots of rewarding ahead of me in hopes of creating drive forward. I did a bit of the Agility Right from the Start “Aim for It” work, I need to do more… And, then all the usual basic obedience stuff that he got started on at about 8 weeks.

I also am trying to make him do things on a reasonably frequent basis that he doesnt want to do, which at this point mainly revolves around being on the tie down. He is actually pretty good in the crate at this point (he was not when he first appeared in our universe), but the tie down pisses him off. He screams and carries on like nobody’s business, even when he knows I am 50′ away on the other side of our tiny house. He has the potential to be pretty stubborn and bull-headed I believe, so I am trying to get him used to, and eventually comfortable with, being confined/restrained. I sat in on a private lesson with two Pittie-type dogs last week that was very eye-opening for me. To keep it brief, one of the dogs the owners had had since it was a pup, and it was undeniably one of the most hyper, out-of-control dogs I had ever seen. It had ZERO tolerance for restraint and they admitted that since it was “good” as a puppy that they never really felt the need to leash it or tie it down. I saw elements of both Forest and Phineas in that dog and swore to myself to never let that happen. So I am officially the Mean Puppy-Mom, and my puppy will have to just deal sporadically with things that are not all-fun-all-the-time. Life sucks, but less so when you have coping mechanisms.

He and Forest have become fast friends, and I love that Forest can finally be a little goofy with another dog. Diego is not really the best playmate, but the puppy is wide open and begging for fun, and Forest is really lovely with him. I am looking forward to seeing how their relationship develops as Phin gets bigger and bigger. He must already weigh at least 5 pounds more than Forest. At this point I dont have a very good guesstimate for where he will be when he stops growing. I am hoping for capping out at 30# or so, but we shall see. Either way, he is a good fit for our fam. More effusive details to come.

A New Member

I have been taking my time writing this post for some reason. And now that Japan is shaking, drowning and nuclear-exploding I guess that all I can do is write a post on a puppy. So insignificant in the greater scheme of things, but some puffball happiness and excitement may not be such a bad thing. Many, many good and healing thoughts sent West to those who are suffering. So horrid, and it just keeps coming.

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I wanted a puppy. A purebred, female. Wanted to balance things out with a girl that would come in, kicking ass and taking names. I figured after 2 rescues I was due—and felt somewhat obligated of the experience—to go through the thoroughly researched and purchased purebred-puppy-from-a-responsible-breeder bit. I am a planner. I was thinking a few years out, after lots of deliberating and proper arranging of circumstances. Planning. Lots of it.

I suddenly got the first part. The puppy part.

He showed up at work around early- to mid-February. His owners got him out of a box out front of Costco. (No, I am not making that up.) He is of very indeterminate origin, Heinz 57 all the way. After having him for ten days (without ever once setting foot in a vet’s office), they brought him to us. They said, “Please fix him. He screams. A lot.” Most people leave their older puppies for 2 weeks. He was 8 or 9 weeks old, they wanted him to stay for a month. His name was “Lotar”. There was a new fiance and complaining neighbors involved. I know this sounds like the best set-up ever, but I swear, I am not making this up.

I met him right away, probably heard him yelling before I actually laid eyes on him. I worked with him day one or two. He wasnt anything special to look at, but I liked him immediately. He was bright. Shiny, shiny, so quick and bright. A 9 week old puppy, dying to work and whip smart. Laurie was taking him home at night as he was far too young to board. He made her life miserable and she and her husband dubbed him “Shit Puppy”. We took him to the vet for his shots; he had worms and giardia, he got kennel cough pretty quickly too. Good lord, a hot mess this puppy was. And yet, there was something about him she liked too. He is tough, and stubborn, and reads other dogs well, loves people. And he screamed, a lot.

About halfway through his stay at work, we called the owners to set the “Go Home” lesson a few weeks out. The parents hemmed and hawed, said they’d call back with a date. They didn’t. After a few rounds of this we followed up, and said, “Would you like to surrender this dog?” They were at work within a few hours to sign the papers.

At this point, I knew I was a goner. Laurie and I talked about him, we had already both separately come to the conclusion he’d be a good agility dog at best, at worst a great working/training dog. He scales things he should not be scaling at such a young age. Just today, at 12-13 weeks, he leapt over a 3′ baby gate like nobody’s business. He loves to work for food, loves to tug, loves to learn. Picks things up so quickly its ridiculous. He is a pain in the ass—pushy and overly brave, and he still screams—but he is going to be a good dog, no doubt. I think in a real people home, he would end up in trouble, or very likely back in a shelter. But with an outlet for all of his intelligence and energy, I think he may end up being quite brilliant. Maybe I am overstating, fawning over this new-first-real-puppy of mine, but I am not afraid I will have to eat my words. He is a good one. I am glad he found us.

His name is Phineas, aka “Phin”.

The Big One–AKC Silverado Pawso Robles

The Terv Club Silverado trial is one of the bigger deals down this way each year. Its a whopping four days long and pretty much every one comes out of the woodwork for this gig, at least for Saturday Sunday. The site is way out in the boondocks yet simultaneously not-that-far from civilization, which makes it practically perfect. It is scenic and tree-filled and grassy. Not a bit of mud or dust or road noise to be found. Site details include a decrepit ferris wheel and a brackish pond. My kind of spot.* On Saturday, there were 591 runs. Which is A lot. I think. This was a really fun trial for us for lots of reasons, and I may even claim it was the most fun I have had at a trial yet.

There was lots of moral support with many of my co-workers and classmates all there running as well. Some of the more savvy and experienced people in our group showed up first thing for set-up on Thursday and claimed the prime spot for our communal crating camp out area. We had the best view in the house, perched above both rings and right at the main entrance–hooray for easy set up and tear down! (Though I was admittedly slightly envious of the cart-pulling Staffy I saw hauling ass up the hill and out the entrance on Sunday afternoon, pulling all of her gear out to the car for her mom, even after running agility.) There was lots of cheering and group walking and offerings to video and course analytics galore. Not to mention running into many of the other nice agility people I have gotten to know from club, seminars, San Diego classes and even online. It was pretty cool to not feel so adrift for a change. Maybe I have finally found some of those agility friends I was looking for.

Overall we did well. We went 2 for 4 Q’s with a scratch on Saturday afternoon when FAST was looking to run after 5pm. We got a semi-questionable Q in our Excellent A Standard run on Saturday. Forest ran lovely, but if you watch the video, he doesnt look even close to hitting his Aframe contact. Yet, the judge didnt call it, so… ??? What do you do? Our JWW that afternoon resulted in me being so focused on front crossings ahead that I literally was running without my dog. Dont ask.

On Sunday, we had a teeter issue in Standard and got whistled off, whoops, but our Open JWW went far better and we nailed it, getting our 2nd of 3 Open JWW Qs. Finally!!! As per the last few trials, I am very happy with Forest and how great he was. This was a pretty crazy trial with distractions galore and he was on-on-on like a champ. We just need to do some extra teeter training and work on our weave exits (he seems to have developed a habit of blasting straight out of the weaves and not looking for me–that may be my use of Robot coming back to bite me in the ass. But, nothing we cant fix). And lots more contacts, as usual.

Other than my little favorite dog’s awesomeness, the highlight of the weekend was getting to have dinner with and an agility history lesson from Rachel Sanders. I was expecting a big group and it ended up just being three of us. She is nothing short of a complete character and had me snorting beer out my nose more than once. She is not only a fierce agility lady, but quite sharp and hilarious as well. I learn so much from her, whether in a formal teaching venue or otherwise. Not to mention it was cool to get a peek into the big leagues of agility land. So not even in the realm of my understanding but fun nevertheless.

Next trial as of now is in April, USDAA, so we’ll be taking a bit of a break. Though I also feel like I should keep rolling while its going well… I dunno. Ready for a weekend at home to catch up on all the not fun stuff like cleaning and organizing and getting back to people I havent emailed back for weeks or more… Ugh, life gets in the way of agility.

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*I had no idea until I arrived at the site that I had been to a festival concert many, many moons ago there. I dont remember who played, probably punk and alternative-type bands, but I do remember overflowing porta-potties and gridlock traffic trying to get out of there… Why is it always the worst and most disgusting things we remember and not the good stuff?

More Trials, Mostly of the Dog Variety

We had our second of 3 trials in 4 weeks just last weekend. Saturday was rained out, which while I am not thrilled about losing the entry fees, have to admit I was a bit relieved to have an extra day to relax.

When I showed up on Sunday AM I was worried about the footing. It had rained hard the night before and it was a completely dirt surface. It was at the Del Mar Fairground, which I have to admit has a sentimental tie for me–I grew up showing and competing horses there as well as have a history of sketchy fair time rides and greasy foods. Oh and maybe even a junior high dance or work Christmas party or two. First thing the footing was muddy and wet. The weaves in Standard were more or less in puddle, and the handler’s path for the dog walk was a literal trudge through a swamp. I was worried about getting a shoe sucked off, or him not being comfortable in the mud. By the time we actually went, it was not too wet, but I still managed to eat it. Which had nothing to do with the footing. Mainly just my slow ass not keeping up with my athletic dog.* Our contacts were great, which was nice. An almost perfect running Aframe! Our extra work and getting up early on Thursdays has been paying off.

Jumpers finally went great as I anticipated from the weekend before. I had a few late cues, but overall I pulled it off and Forest was great. Two more Open JWW Q’s in our future, and shortly after we’ll be working on our MACH. I am very happy with how quickly we have progressed in light of how relatively recently we began this whole adventure.

Have I already mentioned how much I love my dog? I spoke to the judge after Standard in regards to my blunder, and she mentioned what a nice dog she thought Forest was. She even said how “happy” he seemed to be. That in itself was very, very huge to me. Not so long ago I was begging, pleading, to get him to pay attention to me. And now he is happy as long as I can keep it together. He is such a good boy and I am so grateful he found us. Sensitive, silly, cuddly, insanely athletic little pain in the ass he is.

Work has been interesting this week, but everyday I still learn lots of newness. And today I taught my first behavior as part of our Level 1 Obedience Class; I did Down. Woot! Puppy Class is next on the agenda, looking forward to it.

And, still on the verge of announcing big news, just waiting for it to be fully official!!!

We have a big trial this weekend and pretty much every agility person I know down this way will be there, I am excited! Report for sure on that one next week.

*See footage and be amused