Friday, July 17, 2015

Back to work!

With the combination of attending Ferretpalooza and Chimera being "flat" on our last attempt at a Rally-FrEe leg, I am recommitted to improving our focus and engagement. I decided to take an FDSA class at Gold level this coming session. I met up with Dr Amy Cook a few days ago to get an assessment and help picking which class - we settled on Denise Fenzi's Engagement class, with the extra homework of revisiting Heeling Games (which I signed up for at Bronze long ago but didn't really work through) as well as finally doubling down and counter-conditioning Cai's reactive response to the sound of dog tags.

We've been working hard since the Tuesday meeting with Amy. On Wednesday Cai stayed at home, but we did many more play sessions than usual. I'm experimenting with how I play with him and trying to improve our personal play. I'm also continuing to build his willingness to bring a tug toy back to me after "winning," which we got help on from Shade Whitesel at Ferretpalooza.

On Thursday I took Cai with me to two consults, and after each one we hung out by the car for 15 minutes. I let Cai look around and sniff within the boundary of the six foot leash, and then did as much personal play, tug, treats, and tricks as he would happily do. The goal was not to get nice work, but to build his willingness to engage in a new environment. Let's have fun together!

This morning I took Cai to the front yard just to play tug in a place where we don't usually do work. There were workers walking around the neighbor's house, but Cai played anyway.

Later I met up with a Rally-FrEe student so that we could introduce our dogs to each other, and be able to train together in the future. We started far away and walked around, slowly getting closer to the other dog, an Aussie named Heidi. Cai gave a bark or two during the first few passes. As we got closer and he had more opportunities to see her and catch her scent, he calmed down. His body language switched from stiff and alert to loose and with a softly wagging tail. At that point he didn't actually care about meeting her; we continued to walk around and sniff. Finally the dogs did meet. Heidi was a little too big and fast for Cai to feel comfortable playing with her. However they were totally comfortable being next to each other and working for their owners. Again we did little sessions of play and tricks, with a bit of heeling thrown in. It felt good!

Now I just need to keep up the momentum!!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Brotherly love

Chimera licks Jasper's ear...

Then puts his head down and Jasper licks the top of his head.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Advanced training props

With the introduction of wooden scent articles to AKC Obedience, I went ahead and bought a set of small wooden spoons.
I also bought a set of little panda figurines to learn the advanced concept of counting items, as presented by Ken Ramirez at Clicker Expo.
Finally, I scavenged around the house and found 15 pairs of small items to learn "match to sample," also as presented by Ken Ramirez.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Second TDAA trial and TBAD title!

At our first agility trial, Cai was too overstimulated to eat or play until the end of the day. On Sunday, he played tug and ate chicken within an hour of getting out of the car! We were at the same place in Vacaville, with Pint Size Agility.

I alternated our free time between walking around and letting Cai acclimate and rest time in his crate, with just a handful of tricks thrown in. I wanted to make sure that he was still comfortable enough to eat, but didn't want to work his brain too hard. He was primed and ready at the start of our first run.

AM Beginner run, regular speed:

AM Beginner run, slow motion:

We did perfectly until the very end, where I was too far behind and Cai turned toward me instead of going straight ahead, and went around the last jump. I knew that that was a weakness for us but he was just too fast for me! We still qualified since I got him back and going over the jump the right away.

This was our third Q in Beginner, so Cai is officially a BAD dog! TBAD, that is: Teacup Beginner Agility Dog.

We moved up to the Intermediate class for the "PM" run (although the trial was so small and started so early, that the "PM" runs started at 9 am). The Intermediate class includes 6 weave poles. I warmed up Cai on a set of weave poles outside the ring. He was getting hot and tired, but I knew that if I didn't, he would run right past the poles in the ring.

PM Intermediate run, regular speed:

PM Intermediate run, slow motion:

This run did not go well. Cai knocked the bar on the third jump. He rarely does that, so I think he just didn't estimate the distances between jumps properly and took off too late. He did the weave poles beautifully. After the next jump, he ran off toward the chute instead of following me to the a-frame. Not sure why; something caught his attention? I got him back and he went up the a-frame a bit slowly. He didn't lie down after the contact and got stressed by my front cross. He may have interpreted it as a correction, or he was just plain confused. He started stress-sniffing. (The front cross would have been fine if he'd promptly laid down after the contact.) I got him back and we finished the last few obstacles. Whew!

Things to work on: proofing the post-contact down, proofing the weave poles, and improving his comfort level with the teeter (he did these teeters fine but was stopping earlier than I like). We're going to do more matches before returning to classes later this year. Due to budget and time constraints, I have to choose between classes and entering matches or trials.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Focus work at park, Home Depot

After Ferretpalooza (which I still need to write about), I've recommitted to taking Chimera to a variety of places to work on focus around distractions. Last week I took him to a quiet park. I picked a shady spot and we hung out. Cai spent twenty minutes mostly scanning the environment. If he looked at me, I praised him and gave some petting. Finally he was looking at me more often and seemed to want something to do. I offered him some chicken, which at first he sniffed but ignored, but eventually ate. Once he ate the pieces of chicken lying on the ground, he would eat from my hand, and then he was able to focus pretty well (about 90%) for 4-5 minutes of work. I should have stopped after just 1, maybe 2 minutes. Greedy trainer! Instead he petered out and had to go back to acclimating. I waited another 15 minutes, but he wasn't ready to work again, and it was time to go home.

I realized that outdoor spaces are still too overstimulation for him. We need to get more success in busy indoor spaces. Yesterday I took Cai on a shopping trip to Home Depot. He walked with me all around the store as I picked up homesteading supplies. Then I packed my goods into the car, picked up my treats, and went back in for training.

I picked a quiet aisle and let him look around, and gave brief praise and petting when he looked at me. I think it was about 10 minutes in that he started to look bored of just watching and wanted to do something more interesting. I tried out asking him to do a few tricks just for attention and petting, which is medium value compared to treats, but he often accepts it as a reward (and it successfully increases behaviors) even when he's too overstimulated to eat. I did see an brief increase in focus and willingness to perform a sequence of behaviors. However it was not a pretty, enthusiastic performance. Then I pulled out the chicken, and he lit up and wanted to work.

We did one trick per reward at first, then combined them into sequences of up to 4 tricks, but none of them required sustained focus beyond heeling 2-3 steps. The rapid cues served to bridge better than doing one trick for a longer duration (such as a long stay or heeling farther).

We moved out of the quiet aisle and toward a corner at the front of the store. There was a moderate number of other shoppers. We did more short sequences of multiple tricks. Cai did better than I'd expected! He barely lost focus as people walked by.

I'm feeling proud - and even better, like I finally have a clear way of progressing toward my goal: a dog who will be able to focus in any environment, whether a trial or a busy public market.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

First agility trial, with TDAA!

Back on May 17th, Chimera made his agility trial debut! This was at the Pint Size Agility TDAA trial in Vacaville. I chose this teacup trial to be our first since I knew that it would be quite small and laid back. Cai was super excited to see all the other small dogs, of course. However, when we went over to some practice equipment, far away from the crating area, he was happy to pay attention and warm up to me.

I felt quite confident before our two standard runs. I drew out our paths on the course map, then closed my eyes and visualized what I would be seeing and doing at every point on the course. I still ended up with one bobble, but otherwise our runs were fast, clean, and smooth! Chimera and I qualified both times.

Here the first run in real time:

The bobble is when I forgot to front cross after the table and almost ran into in Cai. He responds by getting stressed and moving off to sniff the grass. Fortunately he came back with just a little cajoling.

First run in slow motion:

The slow motion shows that as Cai does the jump right before the rear cross (about 4:30), I started to lean into him in anticipation of the cross, and he actually switches leads to land in preparation for going to the left. Good boy! Bad handler, giving confusing body language! He seems to have a preference for being on the right lead?

Second run in real time:

Cai was noticeably slower on this run. He was getting tired from all the excitement of the show. However we ran completely clean!

Second run in slow motion:

Again, I'm seeing slight preference for the right lead. Good to know.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Alprazolam failure

This coming Thursday, Cai and I (with Sherry and Jacques) will be flying to Pennsylvania for Ferretpalooza! I am so excited about the conference but nervous about flying with Cai for the first time. I asked our vet for an anti-anxiety medication to help him be calm during the flight, and she prescribed alprazolam, the generic version of Xanax. This is commonly used for flights, as well as during thunderstorms, fireworks, or other situations when a fast-acting, as-needed medication can relieve a dog's trauma. Of course it's critical to test the medication out first, to make sure that your individual dog responds well to it.

Yesterday I met up with a training friend at Miller/Knox Park for an outdoor training session. I've been lazy about taking Cai out to train in public, so I decided to make dates with other people, and force myself to go even if no one else can attend that day. Fortunately my friend came and gave us support. It was a busy Saturday afternoon at a lovely park, so there were lots of distractions around and Cai had a difficult time focusing on me. It was about what I expected. I had given him the dose of alprazolam 30 minutes before we arrived at the park, and I saw no difference during the first hour we were there. Then Cai began acting strangely, in ways that were small but added up to an OBNOXIOUS MONSTER.
  • During the last 15 minutes we were at the park, he was whining, staring, and pulling toward a particular area of the park. I could not see anything that would cause him to whine that much. I gave up on the idea of him calming down and getting anything else productive done.
  • During the 45 minute drive back home, he whined off and on in his crate, which he almost never does.
  • When we arrived at home and I opened his crate door, rather than waiting for me to put his leash on, he tumbled out and onto the ground. I caught him and put his leash on.
  • When I opened the front gate and took his leash off, he initially stared at me and wouldn't get out of my way so I could close the gate, and then he rushed headlong down the stairs with awkward balance and gait. I wondered if he was injured.
  • I fed my housemate's dogs and Cai stuck his nose into their dishes, which he does occasionally if he's very hungry.
  • I let the dogs into the backyard to play and took Cai to our section of the house to feed him and Jasper. There is a baby gate separating the kitchen from the living room, and Jasper's litter box is behind it. (That may sound weird, but it's honestly the best place for the litter box in this house.) Cai has been trained for nearly two years to never step beyond that gate even when it's open. I am usually able to go into my bedroom or even outside and not worry that he will go into the kitchen. This time, however, not 5 minutes passed before Cai had gone into the kitchen and pulled a chunk of cat poop out of the box and started to eat it, which he had literally never done before.
  • I got the poop away from him, cleaned that up, cleaned the litter box, and vacuumed the entire room for good measure. I went into the kitchen to prep food, thinking that surely Cai would not enter the kitchen again with me standing right there. I turn around for a few seconds, and turn back to find him behind me, licking the cat's food bowl. I yell and shoo him out.
  • He then proceeds to repeatedly cross over the threshold even when I keep telling him to back up and wait. I end up closing the baby gate.
  • He whines and prances around as I'm preparing his food, rather than lying down quietly as he's been taught to do.
  • A little while later, I'm settled in the bedroom with my friend A to crochet and watch a movie. Cai steps onto my yarn and I gently push him back and say "off." Rather than saying "oops, sorry" like usual, Cai gets irritated and mouths my hand.
  • He then bugs me for attention more insistently than usual, and that's saying something.
  • And the final weirdness for the night... he decides that he wants to lick the penis of one of the other dogs, which is something he does occasionally anyway, but he's really insistent about it. Usually I tell him to knock it off and/or push his head back, and he stops, but this time he immediately dives back under the other dog and won't stop, no matter how many times I tell him to.
My conclusion is that the alprazolam removed Cai's sense of inhibition (which I hadn't thought he had much of, anyway).  It really brought out his inner monster. I will not be giving it to him ever again! Cross your fingers that he does fine on the flight without any help.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Visit from Miki and Lilit

My "niece," Lilit, was born one day after Cai. He's been visiting her since she was an infant and he was a puppy. At first he didn't care about her at all - sniffed, then ignored. He wasn't bothered by the sounds of baby crying or laughing or shrieking. As she began to walk and reach out and touch, he became just a little nervous about her. (Many dogs dislike toddlers because of their unpredictable movements and noises, and grabby-ness.) Treats and careful supervision are steadily bringing him around. The last visit was particularly sweet - he sat on his Auntie Miki's lap, and gave Lilit sniffs, kisses, and tail wags.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Recent pictures

Drooling after too much excitement over female dogs. Gross.

Hunting for lizards(?) in the scrap wood pile at N's farm.

Investigating the rolled up pasture fencing.

Sniff sniff...

It's an agility tunnel!

Playing with a top hat toy. (There are tiny stuffed bunnies inside that he was trying to pull out.)

Right before he walked into a kitchen cabinet.

He knew the stairs were somewhere in front of him, and thankfully stopped walking just in time.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Chiropractic fix up

One more story of note from the past couple of months - Cai had suddenly started being hesitant on the teeter, and even jumped off in the middle at one point. A few weeks before that, he had been consistently popping out of the weave poles around the 10th pole. That's a common issue, but it appeared suddenly when he had never done it before.

I got him to the chiropractor, who reported that he indeed had a disc out of alignment again. Our next opportunity to do the teeter was two weeks later, and Cai was back to his usual form. In fact, Blancett told me to stop babying him at the drop and instead start running past and testing his contact behavior (4 on). He still popped out of the weave poles, unfortunately. Back to training!