Learning Curves

So I think I’ve mentioned here how smart Pierre, our foster dog is. This little sucker is sharp as a tack. Forest is bright but stubborn, and Diego, well, he’s just Diego. Pierre maybe isn’t necessarily smarter than Forest, but he is far more intense and less likely to get frustrated or flustered. He would work for an hour straight if I had the stamina and creativity to keep him going.

Its been such an interesting process for me personally training three dogs with such unique personalities.

When we got Diego, I was somewhat nervous. He was a rescue dog with issues and I was afraid I’d “break” him even more than he already was. I spent too much money on a package of lessons from a local trainer that my vet recommended. This guy and his helpers weren’t bad, but they weren’t great either. They were of the “traditional” school. Not really rough or overly aversive, but just traditional. Looking back I give myself a smack to my forehead—Diego is so easily trainable with food its a joke. But that never came up once with these trainers. With them it was more about forcing him into a sit, forcing him into a down, forcing him into being around a pack of dogs in a group lesson that made his skin crawl. I didn’t know any better—especially because I grew up in a household filled with dogs and horses and was brought up with very traditional/old school training methods—but I could tell Diego was uncomfortable. I never actually used all of my privates and stopped going to the group classes. Poor little man was, and still is, so pliable and wanting to please that he let us manipulate him into positions and situations he wasn’t comfortable with. We just didn’t know.

Then there was Forest. I tried getting him to down using the foot-on-the-leash method and was horrified as he started thrashing around like a fish on the end of the line. I knew that this was a horrible idea, imagining a dog with a snapped neck… Done. Full stop. I knew it wasn’t right. So, I started digging and looking and reading online and stumbled into the world of R+ and clickers. It took about one session for me to figure out that this is what I should have been doing all along. Forest was thrilled, as was Diego (Yaaay food!!!). With Forest, I could lure him into just about anything. Sit, down, bow, dance around, jump in my arms, get on the skateboard… it was so easy really. I had the best and fastest 2-on-2-off in my beginner agility classes because I taught my dog how to target. This was a piece of cake right? The seminars I took and read books I read talked about the different ways of getting a behavior—shaping, luring, and capturing. Forest was so good at the first two I didn’t worry about the last. That was waaay to slow and boring.

Then, there was Pierre. Ai. Just having food in the room sent him into a frenzy. I tried teaching him to sit, but he was so all over the place–clawing me, jumping on me, hunting for food in nooks and crannies that we first had to work on taking it down a notch. Plus, he is totally impervious to physical manipulation. Hold the treat over his head for a sit? Hah! “I’ll wrap my arms around your hand and gnaw!” Lure him into a down? “I’ll crouch down and shuffle backwards and dance around ’til we’re all blue in the face!” So, capturing it was, and still is. Patience is a virtue grasshoppers. And that little brat is so sharp, if I can wait him out to offer the behavior just once, then another few minutes for twice, man we are off and running to the races. He is so much fun and so brave and unflappable.

He now is building up to an excellent default sit, and we nailed down this weekend. We even got down on the mat this AM. He is quick quick quick and its all up to me to just give him my time training.

We spent about 4 hours at an adoption event yesterday, which I have to admit I loathe. They are long and trying and frustrating to me. However, I did meet many people who expressed interest in him, with two potentials I would love, love, love to take him home. One a youngish cool kid guy who has had dogs, had a large fenced yard and would take him to work every day. Yay. The other a family with a teen kid, a lab, and lots of dog experience. Both potentials had had Min Pins previously. HUGE Yay. I will not wish/allow this dog to go to anyone without dog experience, and much much prefer MinPin, terrier or other “intense” breed experience So, I am praying that one of the two of them submits an app online.

In the meantime I will continue to enjoy learning from him for as long as I can…

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First There Were Two…

…and now there are three. We picked up a foster over the weekend. Totally not planned, just happened. I should have seen it coming–my work hosted a charity dog adoptathon… it was inevitable. The best/worst part is that new dog is so good, its making me wonder if the rescue would take in a used dog and let me keep the upgrade. This dog makes me wonder why I have spent probably now in the thousands of dollars in training on our darling Forest. This dog–Pierre as he is known–came straight from being cooped up in a rescue environment for who knows how long, already basically 90% trained. Not so much in the sit-stay department, but rather in that coveted “I come when called!” department. Shocking. I fell in love with him because of his Forest-esque tendencies, and have come to find out while he has that stubborn bossy MinPin thing going, its in a totally sweet “I just want a mom” way. He is a cutie. And will be finding a home shortly.

I worked at the event all day Saturday, and brought home Pierre that night, having no idea that my cousins, aunt and friends would be descending on our house that night for a get-together. It was fine and enjoyable–and Pierre passed with flying colors (poor guy, not what I had in mind for his first night here)–but anything that I dont have written out in my calendar 14 days ahead of time stresses me out in some capacity. We survived that, then on Sunday AM, Forest and I headed up to a Fun Match in prep for next weekend’s trial.

While he wasnt -that- bad, something about his general disinterest makes me wonder if he has any love/like/mild tolerance for agility at all. He goes through the motions, but seems like he has zero drive. He literally stopped in the middle of the dog walk to chew on his toe. I’ve seen him get fast and drivey, at night at our first trainer’s, but thats been a rare occurrence. So we slog through our 3 practice runs, then go over to Lure Coursing. Where he promptly loses his mind in shrieking excitement. I wish he had a quarter of the excitement for agility that he does for Luring. We’d be set.

I know its early on in our “career”, and that things could progress as we learn, but my biggest fear is that I end up one of those pathetic ladies (in an embarrassingly sloganed tee) dragging her dog around on the course, oblivious to the fact that the dog is obviously totally bummed about the whole thing. Maybe its that Forest isnt one of those “people pleaser” dogs, and he never will be. Having this third dog really highlights the personality differences. Forest will cuddle with you, but it seems more like a “I’m cold” or “I want to lay on something soft” than a want to be cuddling with his person. I am just an end to his means. Which is fine–it doesnt hurt my feelings–but can you have a really good agility dog that doesnt want to throw himself across the tracks for his handler? Yet another question I dont know…

I am debating about signing us up for a match later this month. It closes tomorrow so I gotta make a decision. I dont know whether to push/drag him through it, or back off and give him a break… Ugh.

Valentines Day = Rabbit Tails, Minced Hot Dogs, and Freeways

I am lucky I have a significant other who cares as much about Valentines Day as I do–which is basically nil. Or maybe I should say he is lucky he has such an apathetic girlfriend as myself. Or maybe that’s just what happens when you’ve been together for a million years. Minimal in the smarmy gushy department.

So, I got up early, stuffed Forest in the car and headed an hour North to Van Nuys for a Fun Match. It was held in a really nice park. The park was huge and we were well out of the way of other goings on, which was great. It was noticeable how just plain nice the people were who were running the whole thing. They did a “debriefing” for everyone first thing , they were mostly patient (except for one of the ring guy who was kind of bitchy, but I think that’s fairly normal) and overall very accommodating to those who were new to the trial scene—which seemed to be the majority of the people there. They also had three rings running at once.

Agility-wise we did okay. Its pretty marked how well Forest is handling the obstacles—contacts, teeter, weaves (sorta/mostly)—our main problem is overcoming the focus factor. I find myself battling internally with the rate of reinforcement. I know I should up it, but I just want too badly to do at least most of the course without having to stop and treat constantly. However, I need to set some goals (for myself) before our first trial in April I think. Slow down, over-treat for now, then work back up to not treating in time for the trial. Only two months away, but I think I can make myself do it.

In the way better than okay department was that they had lure coursing set up as well. I had never seen one in person, so was excited to check it out. The second I saw it, I said “This is SO on.” As soon as Forest got up to the fence and caught sight of the dogs and the lure, he went nuts. I didn’t want to over do it, so we only bought one run (after our first Standard run, but before our remaining three classes). It was amazing. It only took him about 5 seconds to turn on to the lure and getting totally revved up—the girl said “he looks pretty ready…” She hit the button, I let him go and he exploded off like a shot. It was so cool. He went full throttle the whole way around, I love watching him run like that. Unfortunately we don’t have the right venue to do it very often.

When I see this dog run, I think that there is no way he doesn’t have some sight hound in him. It is such a cool thing to see. I actually ordered a doggie DNA test off Amazon last week. I am going into it knowing that it will be sketchy at best, but its really more to cease the bickering between Pete and myself over whether or not he is a Min Pin mix. If it comes back Mastiff and Bassett Hound then we’ll both just shut up.

I told Pete about the luring, he was bummed he missed it. We will keep an eye out for that again, we may be hooked if we get to do it too many more times. I cant wait for the images. Forest is SO sacked out right now. He may even still be tired for tomorrow night’s class which would be perfect!

One more hectic week at work then I may actually be out of the woods for a while. Looking forward to it.

To PAL/ILP or Mixed Breed?

I have a stack of dog paperwork waiting for me on my desk at home. Amongst the stacks of clean laundry, dirty laundry, plants to find homes for, etc… I dont think our move will ever be done…

Anyways, the stacks of dog items piling up include a local club membership form (practice in Costa Mesa—10 minute drive? Yes ma’am!) and the “PAL” application for the AKC.

I am torn about the PAL form and really about the AKC in general. I dont care for a lot of what the AKC does (turning a blind eye to puppy mills and horrific backyard breeding practices), and I think their first interest is financially-based, not the interest of the animals overall.

However, in our area of SoCal from what I can tell, it seems that the majority of the trials are AKC functions. So, therefore, ideally I’d be able to compete in those events for the most flexibility in scheduling in addition to the other associations.

My other problem is that Forest definitely isnt a “breed”. P and I argue rather constantly (more than I’d like to admit) about Forest’s heritage. I think he falls into the realm of Min Pin x Italian Greyhound, while P refuses this theory and insists that he is a Manchester Terrier (despite the indisputable fact that Manchesters cannot be any color other than black and tan).

So. I may try to squeak him in as a Min Pin. I think I am screwed if I do (because even if they do approve it at first) anyone who knows anything about Min Pins will know he isnt one and I may be “exposed” as a sham), but if I don’t try at all we immediately get demoted to the Mixed Breed class. It ticks me off that “Mixed Breeds” are awarded seperately and will have different titles than the “regular” dogs.

Then again, in all honesty, I dont care about the ribbons/awards. I dont. I just get peeved more at the segregation factor. I’ve done a good bit of reading on this topic and quite a few people are of the theory that -any- progress is good progress. Whlie othrs are saying that they will not participate at all with the AKC until they treat All American breeds on the same level. Part of me wants to lean toward the latter opinion, however as a new participant, I also want to try out all the different associations to get the feel for which I like the best.

Again though, we only have a handful of USDAA and NADAC trials within reasonable driving distance. I geeked out and actually counted the different association events held in SoCal for the next 6 months. My tally was:

NADAC: 4

USDAA: 2

OTHER (CPE): 4

AKC: 20

grrrr!

I guess ILP it is and we’ll see what happens. Glamourous MinPin-esque shots to be posted soon….

Good Dog. Bad Dog.

First there was him whom we know as the “Good Dog”. He is small and brown and very chihuahua-like–the antithesis of every dream I ever had of what my ideal dog would look like. He was stumbled upon online and shortly extracted from a crazy borderline-hoarder “rescue” lady. After a few days of shaking and not eating and running away from P through the streets of Solana Beach and pooping his pants out of fear, he is now the perfect little man glued to my side. He just wants food, to be loved (aka not kicked/hit/yelled at and/or generally abused), and included in the general family goings-on, in that order. He is by many accounts, including non-dog people, “the Perfect Dog.”

And then there was the search for “P’s Dog.” P (aka the boyfriend/”life partner”/tolerator of all crazy things me and dogs) envisioned his dog to be manly and thick and preferably of the Pit Bull persuasion. I am not anti-Pitt, but A) we are stuck living in condo-like living for the foreseeable future, B) we live(d) in a mostly-retiree complex surrounded by mostly seniors, and C) we were both dead set on getting a shelter/rescue dog. So after yet another failed attempt at finding a friendly rescue pit (“She’s a lovely dog, she just cant be within 100 yards of any small dogs or children or blood may be shed”) on the way out of the North County Humane Society, P spotted Forest.

“What about that one?” he pointed at a scrawny, lithe mini Dobie-looking animal dancing on its back legs while the terrier in the cage with it snarled and snapped at everything within range. Little Dobie didn’t bat an eye, just jumped up and down and licked our fingers through the chain link. For all I cared the dog could have had one leg and two heads, all that went through my mind was “It is small and its not a pit bull….” So, I probably overly enthusiastically said YES!, and we put a hold on him. We brought Diego out to meet him and got the approval (aka the cold shoulder), sent Baby Dobie off to the vet to get snipped, and picked him up to take him home.

He was wickedly skinny and really thin-skinned and was very, very different from Diego. He had this funny personality from day one indicating that he may or may not warm up to us, depending on what more interesting things may be going on in the vicinity. He had a cone on his head for a few weeks and kinda worried me just because he seemed uncomfortable. He would try to root underneath things like blankets and pillows with his cone on via this big production and effort, it made me sad and amused simultaneously. We also quickly figured out why he must have been in the shelter. He was most definitely a runner. He jumped the 3′ baby gate from a standstill out the front door with his cone on his head. Luckily when he escaped, we tended to catch up with him fairly quickly and entice him back to the homestead with treats. He was going to be a much, much more demanding dog than the little D.