Friday, April 30, 2010

Entries are in!

Melissa is entered in a few dog shows next month! She will be in the puppy class....6 to 9 months of age.

These will be her first shows ever. So what should I expect? My goal is for Melissa to associate the dog show scene with having fun. So there will be no pressure from me for Melissa to stand perfectly or gait in a straight line. Sure she can do all that at home, and at the two training centers we train at, but I am aware that there will be more distractions in a show setting. So my expectations of how she performs goes down a few notches. If she wants to look around and stop while she is gaiting, that is ok. I want her to look and see and be comfortable. If she is over exuberant with her greeting to the judge as he/she approaches for the individual exam, I will let Melissa move forward to greet. If she leaps as she moves around the ring with the other dogs, that will be ok also.

As I am preparing for the shows, I am thinking about all the skills Melissa has learned and is comfortable doing before she even gets into the show ring. All of which lead up to a stress free day.

1) She walks on lead from the house to the car.
2) She is comfortable in her crate in the car.
3) She is comfortable and falls asleep in her crate while I drive.
4) She exits the car/crate when released on verbal cue. This is a huge safety factor whether on a short trip around town or a longer trip to a different state.
5) She goes potty on cue in strange places.
6) She lies quietly in her crate when left alone.
7) She eats meals in her crate. Not that this is something we routinely do, but on occasion if we have a very early morning class or a late night class she gets what is remaining of her meal in her crate on the way home. This will come in very handy when we do long distance travel and stay over night in a hotel.
8) She can walk next to me on a loose lead, and can even trot nicely at my side.
9) She stands quietly to be brushed.
10) She is relaxed when people touch her ears, her head, look in her mouth, and run their hands over her body.

All of these skills did not happen over night, we have been working on them for months. They have gradually become part of Melissa's routine. If she is familiar and comfortable and knows what is expected of her she will remain stress free.

At the shows I will be focused solely on Melissa. It is not about winning her class, or being the best, it is about having fun with my puppy. She is only 8 months old, I am developing an attitude in her where she will eagerly look forward to performing in the ring for all future events. Whether it be for breed, rally, obedience, agility or attending educational programs with me, I want her to love being on center stage.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bad dog or bored dog?

It's a hole.

No doubt about it.

Freshly dug. The moist soil at the top of the pile, tells me it was done quite recently.

The culprit? Melissa. She was the only dog who had access to that section of the yard.

She runs to greet me, fresh soil on her paws and nose. She grins at me, a grin Borzoi owners know well, and leans into me to be petted.

Is she a bad dog for digging a hole? No she is not. Was she bored? Most likely she was. My schedule this week has been a little hectic. Coupled with two days of rain, and her exercise was was curtailed just a bit. So she found a way to entertain herself. This was not a hole dug to keep cool, it was merely 40 degrees. Nor was the hole dug to chase the trail of a mole. She dug in gravel, moles burrow in soil. Melissa dug a hole cause she was not given enough to do. Wake up call to me...she is 8 months old, needs LOTS of exercise both mental and physical, and I did not give her what she needed. Bad owner.....

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Hunt....

Paul and I were sitting outside having dinner as we watched the flames of the fire flicker. It was nearly dusk. Then we saw it, the first bat of the season. Flying overhead, turning fast in wide circles, hunting for bugs. We love watching bats, despite all the association people have with bats and vampires. Bats are good, they eat all those pesky mosquitoes.

In our peripheral vision we saw another type of hunting. Melissa was stalking something. She crouched down watching in the distance. She moved slowly forward still crouched. She leaped forward in a rush. She sniffed, she play bowed, then wagged her tail. Her hunting had now switched to play.

I went over to see what she had found. A tiny frog in the leaves. I quickly got it to safety before a big paw accidentally flattened it.

Hunting...two different species. The bat was hunting for food, his flying overhead would last for hours; it was part of his survival. What began as a hunt for Melissa quickly turned into play. But I wonder if it had been some furry mouse or mole if the ending would have been the same....? Frogs give off an odor and don't taste very good.

We may have domesticated our furry friends, but the behavior to hunt, chase, catch and devour is still hard wired in our dogs. All dogs need lots of opportunities to burn off the desire to do what their genes are telling them to do: run, chase, fetch, carry, swim thru icy water, herd, dig and sniff. Melissa is a sighthound bred to see game and give chase. She needs opportunities to do what she was bred to do. She runs and runs and runs in safe areas, she chases her dog friends, she and I play games of chase with each other, she 'catches' her toys that I drag on the ground, she grabs a tossed bumper from the water, and she gets to chew and devour bones.

Dogs who do not have opportunities to burn off this energy will become destructive, they will chase cars, joggers, cyclists. Terriers will be more apt to dig in the garden, sighthounds will chase anything that moves outdoors, Border Collies and Shelties will herd your children, Retrievers will pick up items to carry.

Whether Melissa found that frog by smell or sight, she began in hunt mode but then it quickly turned to play. She was just being a dog, and had a bit of fun.....until I rescued the frog!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Puppy Agility

A few weeks ago Melissa began her 2nd eight week long session for puppy agility. She and her friend Tate, a German Shepherd, are the two youngest puppies in the class. Many of the older puppies are able to run ahead of their owners and stay on course. They sit while their owners walk several obstacles away and then are cued thru the mini course with front crosses and back crosses. All agility skills Melissa and Tate will eventually learn, but for now they not up to that level of training.

Tate's owner, Sue and I are training to our dog's ability. No need to keep up with the class, and accomplish all the skills, there is time for that. Our instructor Janine agrees, 'do what your dogs are physically and mentally capable of, keep it positive for them'. My goal for Melissa in any class is to let her have fun during class time and want to come back to that environment.

I work on attitude. We play on the sidelines. I want Melissa to associate a ring type situation as fun fun fun. Only after she can perform basic skills on cue at home and in other quiet places do I then practice in class where there are more distractions.

This week in class she targeted to my hand by leaping off the ground with her two front feet. She was eager to perform the cue to 'touch', she was focused on me rather then the distractions around the room. We have practiced this skill and she has it on cue at home and in other quiet areas, she is ready to begin practicing with distractions. I captured a few quick sits by clicking ( www. clickertraining. com) at the precise moment she was in the sit. '7 months old and she still can't sit on cue?' you might ask. With her long legs and rapid growth there was no need to practice sits. When she was doing them quickly on her own, then I began to put them on cue. For now her sits are straight and fairly least until the next growth spurt.

Weeks ago we began with one jump, this week she was able to clear 4 low jumps in a row with a target on the ground after the last jump. We introduced a short tunnel months ago, this week she went thru a curved tunnel and went up and over a low A-frame.

She was focused on the task at hand and not what was going on around her. After each 2 to 3 minute training session on the agility equipment we then played with her fuzzy toy. Melissa also practiced being in her ex-pen while the other dogs took their turn on the equipment. She lies quietly when I am sitting next to her or if I go across the room. This week I left the room for a few minutes then returned. Melissa remained relaxed in her ex-pen.

Tiny pieces of the big picture of attending future shows or agility trials are being introduced to Melissa. She looks forward to class, we are working as a team as I cue her to do certain skills, and each week her focus and attention span are getting longer and longer. It will be a long time before Melissa is ready to compete in agility or any other performance venue, but she is building a solid foundation of skills that will last a life time. I'm in no hurry, for now I am just having fun playing with my puppy.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dogs Just Being Dogs

4 friends and 5 dogs hiked yesterday. The weather changed from clouds to sun to rain to clouds to sun. I am still learning the different settings on my new camera and what to use with different lighting. So although not the best of photos they do depict the fun time the dogs had.

Dylan, Melissa and Glory trotted along a wooded path.

Dylan looked for sunken sticks.

Puppy Tate looked inside a culvert.

Melissa practiced keeping 4 feet on ground rather then jumping up on Barbara. She was rewarded for being polite by receiving some of Barb's tasty treats as the other two dogs waited their turn.

Melissa chased Dylan in the creek

They played in the meadow as puppy Tate looked on.

The dogs know the way to the pond.

Glory, Dylan and Melissa went for a swim.

Puppy Tate pondered the splashing.

Muddy Caedi.

Tate and Melissa take one last long sniff of what nature has to offer.

We saw violets blooming...Spring is definitely here.

The dogs went home tired. They ran, played fetched, sniffed, rolled, swam, got muddy, and chased each other. I can't think of a better way to exercise our dogs while spending time with friends.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Learning To Share

This is a skill I teach our dogs early on. If they have an object and I cue them to 'give', they give the object to me. This can be a safety issue especially if your dog gets a hold of something he should not have, or if you have young children in the home who might approach the dog while eating or chewing a bone. Children and dogs should always be supervised, but sometimes life happens and things slip up. Better to have your dog comfortable with a set of hands reaching for him while he has a valued object.

I begin teaching the idea of sharing the first day a dog or puppy comes to our home. Melissa's first few meals if not fed in an interactive toy were fed from my hand. She became accustomed to hands delivering food. If she had an interactive toy, we tossed a few tasty treats nearby as she played. She looked forward to us coming close as it meant great yummy treats in addition to what she had.

We then began to bend over and deliver the tasty treats while she was eating. What a great deal for her: she not only got her dinner but extra goodies when we approached. The presence of hands coming towards her meals were not a threat, she welcomed them.

The old fashioned way of putting the dog's food dish down and then taking it away as he is eating is no longer used in modern day training. Think about it: If you were eating dinner and your significant other kept taking the plate away as you ate, what would your feelings be towards this person? I'd call it nagging, annoying, and I would get a bit mad. But if my husband approached my dinner plate and dropped some dark chocolate (a passion of mine!) I would welcome him to come close while I was eating. In fact he could take my dinner plate if he exchanged it for the chocolate!

It is the same with your dog. It is just bothersome to him for you to keep taking his bowl of food in order to 'teach him to share'. Instead drop something better then his daily ration near his bowl while he is eating. Once he is eager to have you come close, begin dropping the yummy stuff in his bowl. He can't tell you to back off in a nice tone, he will use his body to block you and if you still insist on taking his food, he will growl. He is not a bad dog, he is doing what is hard wired in his genetic makeup from his ancestors. It was a means of survival. Just because dogs are domestic does not mean they left all the hard wired stuff behind. It is our job to teach them to be comfortable with hands reaching towards them when they have a valued object. If your dog is already growling over his food bowl or his toys or other valued object please get a positive reinforcement trainer to help you to teach your dog to be more comfortable with you and other family members around his treasured objects.

Melissa is now 7 months old, we've been practicing for the last 5 months. I still review this skill of sharing with my senior dogs. For some of Melissa's meals I still hand feed, while practicing some training skills with her. Other times I ask her to sit, or touch, and then place her food down. While she is eating I walk close to her, drop better food all around her. We have had many repetitions of doing this so she is very comfortable with me around her food bowl. She associates me with great tasty morsels...better then what is in her bowl or interactive toy. Sometimes I place a trail of those tasty morsels away from her food bowl as I say give...she eats those morsels as I pick up her bowl or interactive toy. She then looks up I place the remainder of her meal down as I say take it. We practice the same with toys, and bones. It's a pretty good deal for Melissa, she allows me to take her meals, toys or bones while she is eating some tasty morsels, and then she gets her valued object back.

It is never too early to start this training. Last week Melissa met a new friend, a 4 month old German Shepherd named Tate. We hiked together, the two pups were a great match for each other as they romped thru the fields. When we got back to our cars, Tate's owner Sue put him in her car with a bone. I came over to say goodbye, Tate was relaxed with me coming close by as he laid next to his bone. I just had to do little training with him, it took less then 30 seconds. I showered yummy treats all around his bone. He had a nice association of a my hands coming towards him while he had a bone, people reaching bring great things! He is well on his way to becoming as comfortable as Melissa is around valued objects. Adventures of Melissa and Tate in upcoming blogs.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Splash ...and another SPLASH!

The setting was at the lake, at the docks which had recently been put in. The docks formed a rectangle with water in the middle.....deep water...too deep for some of the dogs to stand.

Lessa was walking around the far end of the docks with her dog Buster and Melissa was following. I was on the beach tossing bumpers for Lab Lucy. We heard a splash Buster was in the water. Then another splash, Melissa was in the water. Buster is not a big swimmer despite his heritage of being mostly Lab, and Melissa was just learning to swim. And there they were in the area of water surrounded totally by the docks with no way to get out. Both of them swam to the far side of the dock furthest from where Lessa was standing. Buster attempted to get out of the water by leaping onto the dock, but gravity was against him. He clung to the dock with his front paws. Melissa I believe may have been standing on her tip toes but she was unable to drag herself onto the dock...again gravity was against her also. Neither dog could make it up onto the dock, the angle was too steep. Buster was beginning to fall back, his eyes were wide, he was worried. Melissa was still trying to figure out how to get her body up onto the dock. We both ran to them. I jumped into the water, I could stand, the water was mid-thigh and COLD! Lessa ran to in front of the dogs. We lifted Buster onto the dock first. And then Melissa. Buster was still worried. He didn't bother to shake himself off, instead he walked briskly to the van and jumped into the crate. If a dog could look bewildered that was Melissa. She shook herself off then gingerly walked the length of the dock and jumped onto the beach.

We let them dry off a bit, Melissa running on the beach with Lab Lucy, Buster in the van drying his feet. Lessa and I thought that perhaps the docks rocking in the wind would be a source of stress for both Buster and Melissa. We set out to make a pleasant association of the docks for them. With a handful of treats we lured each of them onto the dock....Lab Lucy led the way.

Buster had eyes only for the food in Lessa's hand. He gingerly got onto the dock and after the first morsel he was back to his confident self on the swaying docks. Melissa had to get her sea legs back and was a bit tentative at first but following Lucy she stepped onto the dock from the beach.

Within a few minutes and many treats and she was once again comfortable on the docks walking back and forth following Lessa and Buster.

Lab Lucy was once again swimming after bumpers, Buster was looking for more food and Melissa decided to go for another swim, but this time she walked in from shore.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Value Of An Object

I just came in from being outside with the dogs. Melissa found was squishy, sort of rubbery. I am not quite sure what it was. It was not a piece from one of their toys. I venture a guess it was the remains of an animal. Perhaps it was dropped by the crows that fly over early morn, there was no other body parts to be found.

Melissa was tossing it in the air, content to play by herself while I threw a ball for another dog. Melissa would drop it occasionally give chase to the ball, and then go back to the foreign squishy thing. At one point the other dog ran over to take a sniff of the 'thing'and the game changed. Now the squishy thing took on more value. Another dog wanted it! Melissa ran with it in her mouth, the other dog followed. A great chase began.

And so it is with objects your dog may pick up in the house. If I am not attentive to Melissa's every move, she may pick up a forbidden object. It may be a pen, or my reading glasses. I do not make a big deal over it. If I did, the object would have more value to Melissa, she would begin a game of keep away. Just as she did this morning with the other dog and the squishy thing. Instead I trade, I give Melissa something yummy, she gives up her treasure. I find she is beginning to bring me objects around the house, rather then running away with them and hiding them in her blankets. She has learned that giving up is good, she gets something better. I learn that I had better pay a bit more attention to what my puppy girl is doing. Think toddler, supervise at all times.

The game was the same this morning out in the woods. The squishy things had value only to Melissa until another dog wanted it. And then it became more valuable to my young Borzoi puppy. Melissa ran with it, the other dog chased. It was fun and a great work out for both dogs. When the other dog could not get it from Melissa she ran back to me for another game of fetch with the ball. Melissa watched from a distance. The squishy thing laying at her feet, it had lost some value. The other dog was no longer interested.

I am still not sure what that squishy thing was, but when we were ready to head up to the house, I walked over to Melissa, asked her to give, upon which she placed it in my hand.....icky.

More on how to teach the foundation steps of give in a future blog.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Remodeling .....another opportunity to socialize

We are having some work done on our old house, its about 175 years old. Ladders, saws, drop cloths, paint brushes and wall papering. Another opportunity to expose Melissa to something new and different.

I thought it best to introduce her to the changes before the painting began. Into the dining room we go, furniture is covered in drop cloths and Charley is standing on a ladder. Believe it not, Melissa had never seen a ladder.

She walked past the drop cloths with no hesitation. She then spotted Charley on the ladder. Melissa walked over to greet him. Charley had a few treats which he bent over to give to Melissa. No need for Charley to bend however....up Melissa went onto the ladder! Two feet on, the 3rd attempting to reach the first rung, the 4th on the floor for balance. Tail wagging happily the entire time.

Next came an introduction to the saw stand with the miter saw on top which were set up outdoors. Melissa stopped, looked, and then she walked over and investigated.

I find it beneficial to expose my young dogs to just about everything we run across in our every day life, and not so every day life. There will come a time that something new and different looking may pop up in Melissa's life totally unexpected. By exposing her to many different objects over the past 5 months since she came to live with us, she will be better prepared to handle just about anything that comes her way. For a dog who is older and may not have had this type of socialization, I let the dog investigate anything new and different at their own pace. Never force, this will only make the dog more hesitant. Allow the dog to back off if he wants to. Let him approach when he is ready. If he is extremely hesitant, a protocol for desensitization would be the best way to help him out. Build a foundation of trust, it pays off in the long run.