Friday, March 26, 2010

Ice is out, let's head for the lake!

Spring was officially here last Saturday, but we woke up this morning to a dusting of snow, it was only 29 degrees. Typical New England day....a tease of Spring for a few days but then down go the temps. The ice was off the lake, the dogs needed a good run. It warmed up to sunny 34 degree. My friend Lessa and I had a dash of Spring fever so off we went to the lake with our dogs.

Melissa had been to the lake a few times in the Fall before it froze. Would she put her feet in again? Would she swim? Would it be too cold for her? Melissa had a blast!

My thanks to Lessa for taking the majority of these photos. There were 3 dogs, but Buster was far too busy with some fine dining on some deer bones to be in the majority of photos. Lab Lucy and Melissa played with a bumper in and out of the water.

They ran with the bumper.

Melissa watched as Lucy retrieved the bumper

Melissa leaped for the bumper.

Melissa tried to walk on water.

Melissa went swimming.

Melissa jumped while Buster sniffed.

Melissa and Lucy crashed!

The two girls shared the bumper.

Running, leaping, jumping, retrieving, swimming and sniffing made for a busy day. All three dogs went home tired. The lake season has begun!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

First blood draw

Here in New England, as in many part of the United States, we have a problem with heart worm....transmitted by the mosquito. Dogs are put on preventative medication during mosquito season. Some people use it year round if they live in warmer climates, but in NE we have cold enough temps for at least 4 months of the year that those darn bugs disappear. Dogs must have a blood test to determine if they are negative for heart worm before being put on the preventative.

So last week Melissa had blood drawn for the first time. As with everything else that Melissa is experiencing in life I wanted this to be as pleasant as possible. A needle into a pleasant can that be? I certainly was not going to practice with real needles! But what I did do in preparation was to practice at home. We practiced with me holding her the same manner as needed for the blood draw. I wanted her comfortable in a sit with my arms around her....and having her leg held with some pressure.

Her sits have been coming along nicely, sitting still for any period of time did take a bit of practice. But we practiced on sitting for duration, then added my arm around her, and finally my other hand picking up her leg. A dollop of peanut butter in her mouth while my two hands were busy helped make a nice association with all the handling and sitting still.

The vet clinic I use is super. They feed treats, they get on the floor with the dogs, they take their time with the animals and make it a really nice experience for them. All my dogs LOVE walking into the building. And so, Melissa sat still while the vet tech held her leg, I put an arm around her shoulders while my other hand gave Melissa some chunks of liver to chew. The vet drew the blood. Melissa was perfectly still until after the needle was withdrawn at which point she stood while pressure was put on the sight. Another piece of liver helped keep her remaining still for a few extra minutes.

Good girl puppy Melissa!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Nice day for a Picnic

60 degrees, I was home for the remainder of the day. Why not a picnic? With Melissa in attendance of course. I didn't plan an elaborate picnic. This was Melissa's first time attending a to make it uncomplicated for the trial run. Just me, a sandwich, a bottle of Snapple iced tea, and two dogs.

The sandwich was sort of boring, but a favorite of mine for a quick grab and go....12 grain bread and peanut butter. I figured it would be better to have a boring sandwich then a dripping hot roast beef on rye. That might have made it a bit too tempting for Melissa. I was working on manners, and I do like to set her up to be successful. Why practice failure?

So I don my sunglasses and out I go, sandwich and drink in hand, two dogs in attendance. One dog with impeccable manners around food, the other ...well, Melissa is learning. I walk across the yard...the dogs show some interest. I rewarded both of them for keeping four feet on the floor. I am optimistic that I will be able to sit in the Adirondack chair without having a Borzoi on my lap. I was almost successful....up came one paw. I was very neutral and took her paw off.

I proceeded to open the iced dog in a sit, she gets a tiny piece of crust of bread. Melissa remains standing, but is not jumping or pushing to get what is in my lap. A tiny piece of crust for her also, I reward all the behavior I want to see repeated. No need for her to sit yet...that will come in time. I eat, the dogs watch. I randomly give them some tiny pieces of bread with peanut butter. Melissa sits.....I gave her a jackpot, several tiny pieces in a row. I just 'captured' a sit. Melissa offered the behavior, I rewarded. I don't expect her to sit all the time but if she is rewarded for it, she will offer it more often in hopes of being rewarded. The basis of positive reinforcement training.

I think the days of me keeping Melissa on a lead while I eat might be nearing an end. Up until now, if I want to eat with her in attendance, Melissa has been on lead, given a bone to chew to keep her occupied. She chews while lying on a mat, I eat in peace. Today was a bit different: outdoors, no mat, no chew bone, no lead, but very boring food. Melissa will be invited again. And so ended our little picnic.


I found myself in tears yesterday. It was really nothing, but again, it was something....because it made me cry.

I was driving in my car, Melissa was settled in her crate, chewing on her everlasting treat ball. I thought I heard a deep baritone couldn't be, I knew the music I was listening to by heart.

On the way home I heard it again. Different music, but now the tones were changing. They were higher pitched, lower the music. They were sustained.

Melissa was lying in her crate singing, softly, changing her tone as the music changed. None of our other dogs sing to music. I have not heard that mesmerizing sound in over 6 months....and then the tears came as memories of our Pixie came back.

Dear Pixie, our 6 year old Borzoi who traveled so many many miles with me. All over New England, to Canada, to Ohio, and Maryland. Her voice was soft, it was clear, it was always in time to the music, high notes and low she could hit them all. We lost Pixie suddenly last September. She died in our yard, right in front of me. She had just had her heart checked, along with blood work and thyroid panel less then 24 hour before....all normal. Autopsy showed no cause of death.

I think about Pixie a lot, we spent a lot of time together. My demo dog for classes, my dog who accompanied me on educational visits, my buddy for presentations and workshops, a dog to cuddle with at night, the best hiking companion, and a wonderful therapy dog. She loved every minute of life. I loved having her as part of my life.

And now....another Borzoi to sing along to the music. I want to think that a part of Pixie has come back to me. But Melissa has her own personality. Yet there are some very similar traits, the way she plays with toys, the glint in her eye, the special way she approaches and leans in to be petted, and now the singing. And yet she is different. Her personality is just developing, but I can tell she is going to be a good traveling buddy. I am thrilled she is here to share many songs and many miles with me.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Empty Water Buckets

I am a bit fanatical when it comes to my dogs' drinking water. They can't pour themselves a fresh bowl of water. It is up to us to replenish their bowls with clean water everyday and sometimes several times a day.

I have stainless steel buckets for outdoor use. Now that the winter is hopefully past, the dogs are enjoying more time in the yard which means they must have water available outside. The outdoor hoses are not yet hooked up so I fill the buckets in the kitchen sink and carry them to several places in the yard. Near the back door, onto the deck off the kitchen, out to the fenced wooded 1/2 acre play area, and to the chain-link fenced area. The last two areas are double fenced and is where Melissa spends her time while outdoors.

The last week or so I have noticed that the buckets in these two areas are empty, or close to it after only a few hours. Was someone sick and drinking too much? Did I overlook something? The buckets near the house were fine, full and clean. These other buckets were also dirty. Sort of like dried mud. At first I thought it was due to the dogs drinking water with dirty noses due to them digging. Yes, my dogs do dig and I allow them to in designated areas, more on that in another blog. This morning I noticed a half a bucket of dirty water. I had just filled that bucket less then two hours ago.

I am working from home today, so I had the luxury of watching from the house to see exactly what was happening to the buckets. I brought my laptop outside on the upper deck and I watched. It wasn't long before Lady Long Legs, as my friend Liz calls Melissa, began to play in the bucket, with her feet! She splashed with one foot, then the other. Her body swaying one way, then the other...maybe I could put this move into a Freestyle routine. I watched as the water spilled over onto the ground. It has been nearly 7 years since my last Borzoi puppy, how could I have forgotten how some puppies love to play in water?

Now I am anxious for Spring and warm temps so I can put out the little wading pool. I am not going to drag buckets of water to fill the little pool I get enough of an upper body work-out carrying those water buckets to designated area. I will wait until the hoses are hooked up. Check back for an update on pool days.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Bears oh My!!

It wasn't a lion or tiger or a bear. This 'monster' didn't live in a forest.

A few weeks ago while my car was being serviced I took Melissa for a walk in an area we had never visited. Past a few stores, then down a quiet road into the old part of town. Big trees, old bumpy sidewalks, it was quiet...almost too quiet. An occasional car, a newspaper at the end of a driveway, trash cans waiting for pickup. Melissa has become accustomed to seeing just about everything on our walks.....or so I thought.

We continued our walk around the neighborhood and there it was. Not a lion or tiger or was a snowman, oh my! Melissa hesitated, she backed off a bit. I waited. She moved in for a sniff....then circled around to approach from the side. I waited and let her investigate at her own pace. I wanted her to touch the snowman, but wanted her to work at her comfort level. She then got stuck, she was not closing that distance of those last 8 inches. She looked up into the face of Mr.Snowman, he had walnuts for eyes, a carrot for a nose and dried pasta for his mouth. She wagged her tail a tiny bit. But she was still stuck, why was this 'person' not responding to her?

I looked over my shoulders...both directions. Good, no one was on the road to watch me. I took a step closer to Mr. Snowman and began talking to him. I touched him on the shoulder and said a few sentences. Melissa instantly relaxed and moved close to check his arms which were made of sticks. She moved behind him, around him, and let out a big sigh. She was ready to move on.

Judy of Pittsfield, Massachusetts wrote to tell me about her experience with her young puppy Borzoi. 6 years ago, when Billy was about 4 months of age he froze at the sight of a fire hydrant. She didn't make him go past it. She let him go at his own pace. Day 1: He crept up slowly sniffed it a bit, then backed off and continue on his walk with Judy...but he kept looking over his shoulder as if it was going to chase him. Day 2: He moved slowly to the hydrant, took a sniff and moved away. He stopped, went back for another sniff...a longer sniff this time. He then continued on his walk. Day 3: He walked past the hydrant never even taking a second look at it. In Judy's words 'the monster had been slain'.

As humans we understand what these objects are. But to a puppy this world can be a scary place. Billy had been exposed to lots of different sights and sounds in the first 12 weeks he was at his breeders, but somewhere along the way he had never met a fire hydrant. Melissa had never met a snowman. These objects looked different then anything these puppies had ever seen. Both puppies were able to cope with the uncertainly because they had had a lot of exposure to different sights and sounds the first few months of their lives. They could overcome their uncertainty because of the early exposure that had developed their confidence. They had never been forced to 'face their fears' (such an old fashioned term in this day and age of dog training). Instead, they were ready to investigate something new, with a little help, in Melissa's case, of me talking and touching the snowman. These puppies trusted their owners to keep them safe, a trust that builds confidence.

Has your puppy met any 'monsters'?

Monday, March 8, 2010

'Go Potty' on cue

Teaching Melissa where to eliminate and to go potty on cue was fairly easy. Briefly here are a few of the steps we followed:

1) Puppies need to go out frequently: upon waking, after eating, when excited, and after playing. You may think ‘but I just took puppy outdoors a few minutes ago’. You did. But when your puppy has a good aerobic work-out by running after a new toy and playing with you, or gets excited visiting with guests and then begins to slow down; chances are she will need to go out again, a mere 20 minutes after she had just eliminated outdoors. Take the time to set up good habits now, take your puppy out often.

2) Be prepared to get up in the middle of the night. An 8-week-old puppy will not be able to go thru the night without having to eliminate. As the weeks go on, your pup may sleep thru the night. Each pup is a little different. Each pup will develop at her own rate, but we can help form good habits early by being diligent. When Melissa would wake up in the middle of the night, I took her out; she had to go!

3) Within a few days you will be able to distinguish between the ‘I need to go out whimper’ vs. the ‘I am bored and want to do something’ cry.

4) I made sure that Melissa was very tired before I put her to bed. She had lots of free running during the day and many games to engage her mind. We had a 20-minute quiet time before bedtime, a last potty break and then Melissa was given a bone or interactive toy to work on. She settled quickly.

5) Crate training can facilitate housetraining.

6) Melissa’s whereabouts in the house were known every second. She was either interacting with me, chewing a toy or bone while lying on my feet, I tethered her leash to me, or she was in her x-pen. I set her environment up so she could be successful.

7) I will admit she was not 100% perfect. If I did not get up early enough…before 5 am, she did have a few accidents. But this also seemed to coincide during the weeks she was teething and after I thought she was pretty much housetrained. Losing puppy teeth, and having adult teeth emerge is a stressful time for puppies a lot is happening in their bodies. I tend to think that housetraining can regress during this time. Some puppies sail thru the teething stages with no side effects, I have had a few that seem to go off their schedule a bit. I just got up earlier to take Melissa out during this time period.

8) I took Melissa outdoors to the same spot whenever possible to eliminate. The familiarity of the spot speeds things up for future potty breaks.

9) As Melissa began to eliminate, and not before, I began to whisper the cue I use: ‘potty, go potty’. After Melissa finished, I would click and reward her with a treat. It is important to reward immediately after elimination rather then waiting to go back indoors. Behaviors you want repeated should be clicked or marked with a ‘yes’ and rewarded within a second or two. I then played with her outdoors for a short time. I didn’t want Melissa to associate eliminating and the fun outdoors ending. Instead I built an association of the same spot in the yard with having to eliminate, saying my cue as she was relieving herself, followed with a reward and some playtime.

10) Once Melissa was readily eliminating in her spot in the yard and was on a good routine where I could predict when she had to go, I began to use my cue word before she began to eliminate. I clicked and treated immediately and some play time followed.

11) The next step was to move to different locations. When Melissa understood the cue to ‘potty’, and I was pretty sure she had to go (upon waking, after eating etc) I began to take her to different places in the yard to eliminate. Why a different location in the yard? The long-term goal was to eliminate in places other then our yard, due to the amount of traveling I do. I began to take her to different places in the yard, and then moved our training to areas around town and finally when traveling by car for a few hours. It was important that Melissa feels comfortable eliminating in what would be strange places for her: rest stops, parks, designated areas at hotels, training facilities, and dog show venues.

12) Even though we have a fenced yard, I took Melissa out to eliminate while on lead. This made the transition for when we traveled easier. Dogs, who only go in their own yards off lead, may be distracted when the lead is on. Plus it also kept her from wandering off and getting distracted in the very early stages of learning.

13) Did our training pay off? It sure did. Melissa let’s us know when she has to go out by going to the door and letting out a little whine. I had a very busy schedule this winter; I was traveling for various workshops and training seminars. Returning to the hotel late at night after classes, or having limited time during lunch or break times, I appreciated having a puppy that could eliminate on cue in a strange area. Click!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Stairs: Going up, Going down

At nearly 27 inches at the shoulder and weighing 72 pounds and being mostly legs I have not exposed Melissa to steps other than those that go into my van…..the top ‘step’, the running board and the ground. I have helped her entering and exiting the van. A few weeks ago she learned how to exit the van on her own, slowly at first. Now she comes out of the van quickly once she is released from her crate. She still needs a boost from behind to get into the van. It seems she isn't sure what her back legs are doing!

She has gone up and over curbs, and has been exposed to a grid in agility where she had to walk thru while placing each foot in between the pvc openings. I have given her lots of free running to develop muscle and coordination while playing with other dogs. I have not practiced any precision work, she has been too immature. Climbing a flight of stairs requires precision. She is a large breed growing at a rapid rate. One week she looks higher in the rear, the next week she appears balanced, and a few weeks later she looks high in the rear again.

Lately however, Melissa seems to have more coordination. She turned 6 months of age a few days ago. Her front and rear seem to have caught up with each other….for these few weeks at least! Last weekend we were at a training workshop. We entered the training building by using the stairs. I approached the stairs ready to help Melissa if needed. But Melissa was ready. With a treat from my hand to get her started, she climbed each step with confidence and strength.

Is she ready to climb every flight of stairs we will encounter in the years to come? Probably not. The stairs we used over the weekend were made of cement and had solid walls on each side. Another flight of stairs will look different to her, there may be an opening on one side, a banister, or the steps may have opening where you can look through to the bottom.

Dogs are very visual. I am taking into consideration Melissa’s growth pattern and also how she envisions the environment. I will continue to expose her to many different surfaces, sights and sounds, objects, obstacles and people so she continues to develop into a confident young Borzoi. No need to force her to do anything, we are developing a trusting relationship that will last a lifetime. Her physical and mental maturity will let me know when she is ready to try a different set of stairs among other obstacles she will face in everyday life. Thanks to my friend Liz for taking these photos.