Sunday, December 29, 2013

New collars

I used to make collars for Dragon, my previous Papillon. My enthusiasm for it waned after he died. However, Chimera needs an agility lead, so I finally got around to making him one.

It's a martigale/leash combo, just long enough to comfortably walk next to me. The black and red/burgandy are much more bad ass than the harness he wears for walks: pink with white hearts all over it. He will strike fear into the competition.

And while I was in the store, I couldn't help buying a glittery silver ribbon to make a regular collar after all.

Outtake photo:

And Chimera doing his best owl impression:

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Weaves and teeter

No one attended yesterday's open practice agility session, which was perfectly fine with me, as it meant that I was free to set up a full set of 2x2s right across the open middle of the room. Someone asked if Chimera was having problems with skipping poles because he was getting faster, and a lightbulb went off in my head. He is learning to single-step the poles at a fast pace, but if he loses his rhythm, it makes him skip a pole. (He also skips if I'm running too quickly, which makes him speed up more than he can handle.)

I thought back to Susan Garrett's 2x2 DVD, and remembered that she helps dogs learn the proper footwork by opening up each pair of poles just a little bit, so they're offset just enough to make the motion easy for the dog. I did that for Cai, and I could see the difference right away. We practiced various entrances from other obstacles along with front and rear crosses on the way in. The only big problem I still see is that if I run hard ahead of him, he'll often skip a pole near the end to try to keep up with me. (Though he always gets himself through the final pair, so he understands that part of the behavior!) If I get another chance to practice all by myself, I will set up the slightly-offset poles again, and do other forms of distraction training (ie ignoring treats and toys on the ground and me doing things like jumping up and down or tripping and "falling"). Hopefully that proofing will then allow him to focus on the poles completely even when I'm running ahead.

In the meantime, he can do the competition set of 12 poles during class, as long as I stay beside him or behind him.

In teeter news, he is eager to run up the teeter because he knows he'll get high value treats. However he doesn't like the movement of the teeter while he's going across it. Same problem my last Papillon had -- he is happy to run up a steep plank (like the a-frame) and a narrow plank (like the dog walk) and he doesn't mind the falling -- if he's already at the end, I can drop it all the way and he'll be back for more. It's the fact that the board starts moving as he's running across that bothers him. He'd made excellent progress during our private lesson with Sandy Rogers, but then was regressing again. Once again I had the thought that the irregular practice was making it worse. Twice he managed to go up the teeter while I wasn't looking and rode it all the way down. A few other times we practiced with the chair propping it up, as Sandy had shown us, but he was still stopping as soon as the board started moving, riding it down, and then going the rest of the way. The movement was not predictable to him; it kept changing. It's also noticeable that because of his body weight and the calibration of this specific teeter, the tipping point is where he reaches the edge of the contact zone. I'm sure he's made the connection and is purposefully slowing down at the color change.

I'm thinking that perhaps the answer is to stop changing the behavior of the teeter, and let him practice running and riding it down as-is, with no props or manipulation. Let him gain confidence and speed up and start to favor the end of the board through reward placement. I tried that out (see, here I'm changing the scenario again...), with me standing on the far edge, facing him to encourage him, and putting treats at the edge as soon as it started to tip. I'll run this idea by our instructor during our next class, and I'm trying to schedule another private with Sandy as well.

I really dislike the teeter.

Hiking is fun again!

I had stopped hiking with Cai almost entirely between leaving my dog walking job and this past week. When we did the occassional trail, he would always explode when he saw dogs coming, and it was too stressful to put up with.

Somehow, though, in the meantime, Cai's reactivity toward other dogs has decreased enough that both of us can enjoy the trails again! He still does some frustrated barking at the first few dogs he sees. After that, he settles down and does nothing more than pull against the leash to get to the dogs faster. (He has to stay on leash or he would just run from one dog to another, completely ignoring me.) If the dog is staying on the other side of the wide path, clearly wanting to avoid us, I tell Cai "let's go!" (our BAT cue), and it is getting much easier for him to stop staring and pulling and start walking forward again. I am also working on interrupting long greetings and getting him moving again, because he's always been an invasive sniffer.

I am so proud of his progress, and happy to be able to start jogging the trails again!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Solstice

(click on picture to see bigger, clearer version)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

12 poles!

Chimera finally did 12 poles, and he did it three times in one class! Yaaaay!!

He'd done 12 a few times before but they'd started to quickly deteriorate. He would skip a pole here and there, usually when he was supposed to turn left, so I suspected a medical cause. I took him to the chiropractor just before my trip to Peru, who found a source of tension and pain in Cai's back.

After the trip, I was able to attend two drop-in practice sessions at Ace, and we spent all of our turns working on six poles. I found that his footwork was improving and he was learning to single-step the poles. However he was still frequently missing a middle pole. I pulled out the 2x2s and rotated the middle pair to help him out. I could see his muscle memory improving.

I didn't think he was actually ready to go back to the straight set of 12, but I tried it in class anyway. And lo and behold, after a couple of false starts due to running at the poles at speed, he did it! He got many small pieces of hamburger as a jackpot reward!

Thursday, December 5, 2013


I went on a two week vacation to Peru, and Chimera went on vacation to my friend Sarah's home. He had a blast, playing with his BFF Owen the Corgi and barking all the time at everything.

Thank you Sarah for taking such good care of my baby boy!!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Private agility lesson

We had a private lesson today with Sandy Rogers, owner of Ace Dog Sports, and recent winner of Grand Prix at the USDAA Nationals.

We talked for a bit, and then focused most of the lesson on contact obstacles. It was good timing in that Cai has mostly gotten over his teeter/dog walk phobia (though she warned that it may come back, and sometimes it is just part of the learning process). She had me switch from manually catching and lowering the teeter (which is subject to human error) to placing a stool underneath. Cai made phenomenal progress -- within a handful of reps, he was confidently running up and riding the teeter down, with about a foot drop. Woohoo!

The other change I should make is to his target. Currently I've been putting a piece of duct tape at the end, which is essentially a nose target. That won't give him a clear stopping place for his feet once it's faded. So instead I should encourage him to bring his feet all the way to the end of the board, which I can do by creating some sort of nose target that sticks out from the teeter a little bit. I'll have to figure that out.

Then we moved on to the dog walk. I had taught Cai to lie down on a mat on the floor just beyond the down ramps of the dog walk and a-frame. He was very reliable on lying down right on the mat. Recently I started removing the mat and telling Cai to lie down when he was approaching the bottom, using his regular down cue. Sandy noticed that Cai was dropping promptly when I cued the down, but he wasn't really doing it as part of his contact behavior. It wasn't built in to his performance. He was responding as if we were doing an obedience drop. So I need to reteach his contact behavior so that, when cued/reminded, he drives to the bottom and lies down on his own, just as a dog doing 2o2o should do when he gets a "touch!" reminder at the top of the ramp. On the bright side, I clearly have a well-trained obedience drop!

Another important tip Sandy gave me not to relax and let my adrenaline drop after my dog has successfully hit his contact. In a trial, your body will still be tense, and your dog needs to be used to that.

Aside from all this contact work, we did a figure eight exercise with two jumps and a front cross at each jump, to work on tight turns. Cai did beautiful tight turns when I cued nice and early (you know, as I'm supposed to). And I'd complained that he had trouble with that -- oops!

It was great to have one-on-one attention and I felt that Sandy really helped me out. I'll definitely schedule more private lessons with her.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Over and over

Dog stands by door and looks at me. I let him outside. He finds a toy and brings it indoors.
Dog stands by door and looks at me. I let him outside. He pees and comes indoors.
Dog stands by door and looks at me. I let him outside. He finds another toy and brings it inside.
Dog stands by door and looks at me. I let him outside. He poops and comes indoors.

This is one of the reasons I had such a hard time potty training him. I'd give up after the second time he got a toy, and then find a poop indoors. Now I trust that there really is an important reason he wants to go outside again.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Agility obstacles update

I managed to switch classes to a better time (afternoon rather than 7:30 am), and we've attended the new time slot twice. All the new dogs meant that Cai spent a lot of time barking during the first class. I stayed close to his crate and gave lots of treats when the other dogs were in his field of vision. During the second class he was much better, but he's still quite reactive to the other small dogs, because he really wants to play with them.

Updates on obstacle training progress:

About a month ago he suddenly developed a fear of climbing up the contact obstacles. I have no idea what caused it. I switched to rewarding him for climbing up however high he felt comfortable, and then cuing him to go back down and do his contact (lie down on mat on floor). Last class, he finally was back to normal on the dog walk and a-frame. I was even able to take away the mat and cue the down verbally (and by turning toward him), and he confidently lay down. We didn't do the teeter that day, and we still have to finish up his basic training for it. I really wish that they let students rent the space for private practice.

Speaking of contact obstacles, I'd trained Cai to do a table at home but we hadn't used it in eight months of classes, until last week. No problem hopping onto it and lying down. I trained the down to be consistent with other obstacles, and make sure that he really stays on it during fast, exciting runs. I don't know yet which venues we'll be competing in.

Other obstacles that are new for us: last class Cai saw the chute for the second time ever. The first time, the instructor had held the end of the fabric open and lowered it with each pass. This time, she held it slightly open for one pass, then left it on the ground. Cai went in, backed out, and ran around. She showed him a high value treat on the ground right at the end of the fabric, and I picked him up and put him back at the entrance. This time he went all the way through, though he slowed down and was moving his head in confusion in the middle. I gave him a jackpot - a steady stream of high value treats with lots of praise. The third time he didn't slow down as much, got another jackpot, and then after that he was happily running through. Yay!

The tire is still new and we haven't had enough practice with it for me to properly "explain" to him not to go under the tire/chains. We got around this problem in class by lowering it all the way to the ground, and then he would consistently jump through the tire. However, once again I need extra time to practice on the obstacles on my own so that I can make sure he understands the criteria.

He's only seen the broad jump a handful of times and is still figuring out that it's a jump. Other jumps are almost never a problem. He's just under 12 inches tall and jumping 8 inches, so he soars over the bars. Doubles and triples are not a problem because of that.

His weave poles have gotten worse. For a while he was reliable on six poles if I didn't move too quickly, and I was working on proofing them. Lately he's been skipping the middle poles in class. It's not always the same poles, and I think that it's a problem with getting his stride and concentrating on his job. We're working on it at home as well as we can.

His focus is very good when we're running -- he enjoys the game! It's rare for him to stop running and sniff something or look around, unless there's a sudden big distraction. He does want to sniff and look around while I'm setting him up at the start line, though.

He is now quiet in his crate even if I walk out of sight, aside from the dog reactivity. That makes me very happy!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Agility 6.6 summary

Yesterday was the last day of the official Beginners Series at Ace Dog Sports. Wow! But classes are continuing. The students mostly stick to their same time slot and continue to progress as a team, though I'm switching days. Besides continuing to finesse our handling, we still need lots of work on the teeter and dog walk and weaves, and we've barely practiced the chute, tire, or table.

I just skimmed back through our older agility posts. Gosh, Chimera has learned SO much! The older posts discussed problems with getting Cai to drive ahead, with lateral distance to jumps, and with rear crosses. We've mostly got those down now, though I'd still like more distance in our handling. Yesterday I was thinking of other areas we really need to work on:

He turns wide if he's approaching an obstacle (such as a jump) at speed and then needs to collect. We need cik/cap, in other words. I know just a bit about how Silvia Trkman teaches this. Today we did a session working on multi-wraps (circling around an object multiple times) with a flower pot. I can already send him to circle an object from a distance, but he hugs the first side then goes wide on the turn back to me. So I need to build more muscle memory for the tight turns before I go back to sends. When he can do it on the flat, we'll start practicing with jumps.

He sometimes blind crosses if I put on speed and look ahead. I need him to stick to the proper side when I gun it so that we can be competitive. Part of this is the wide turning problem.

As mentioned, more lateral distance, and more distance when sending ahead, especially to a tunnel (see below). I'm trying to arrange some private space rental time so that we can work on this, as I don't have anywhere else with the required distance.

Something amusing that happened in class: we were working on a tunnel/a-frame discrimination, setting a line to send to the tunnel. Cai sometimes has trouble with sends to a tunnel - he stops and looks at me, or goes into the tunnel but immediately turns and comes back out. I think it's because he doesn't want to lose "contact" with me; he particularly has trouble if he hears me moving away after he's gone in. In this case, because I was having to stop a bit early to not run into the a-frame, he would also stop and look at me. The instructor suggested, "Use your tunnel cue." I rarely use verbal cues, and I haven't made any effort to teach Cai the word "tunnel," though I've used it on course here and there. I said, "I don't think he knows it, but I'll try." I did the send again, this time saying, "tunnel!" And Cai went right in, like "why didn't you say so?" The other students laughed. Honestly I think that it's just because I said something, rather than actually associating the word "tunnel" with the obstacle, but we did the drill two more times and each time he moved ahead and went in when I called the cue!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sleeping on the bed

Chimera got to spend the night on the bed with me for the first time last night. He had previously always slept in a crate, because I didn't trust him not to potty or chew something up during the night. I'm a heavy sleeper. But last night, I was reading before bedtime, and he was falling asleep next to me, and I had the feeling that it was a good night to try it. He was tired and seemed like he would sleep through the night on the bed. And he did. He moved from place to place on the bed, but he never left it. In the morning he went outside and peed and pooped. I was a proud momma. And it felt wonderful to feel him curled up next to me here and there. He slept mostly against my back or near my head. What a sweetie. That said, he'll still mostly be sleeping in his crate, unless on another evening I have the feeling that the time is right again.

I took Cai along when I stopped by Pollinate, a local urban farming store, a few days ago. There was no one else in the store besides the owner and my friend. Cai pulled a lot to sniff, but otherwise was well behaved. Good boy.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Focus and field trips update

I have been taking lots of quick trips with Chimera to either take a walk (and work on polite leash walking, of course), or to work on focus in a new environment. We've gone to different grocery stores, a couple of parks, and some residential streets. I used to do this a lot when he was a puppy, but stopped almost completely when his reactivity became full-blown Monster.

I have been pleasantly surprised by how well he is able to focus and think. I only ask him to "work" if there isn't any activity going on, but even so, I was expecting him to be too distracted by smelling everything and looking all around. Instead, when I ask him if he wants to work, he happily answers that yes, he does. At this point I ask him to do one or maybe two behaviors he knows well, give him a treat, and then release him to "be a dog" until he tells me he is ready to work again. It goes quite quickly.

I think this improvement is due to a) our reactivity work making him less worried about the environment, b) some impulse control and distraction games we've been playing at home carrying over, and c) as always, the dog simply maturing and settling down is a factor.

I'm now able to look forward to our continuing focus and ring prep work, since it doesn't feel like it will be such a struggle anymore.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

BATting with a Hovawart

Today was our first formal BAT session since April. I had stopped setting them up because Cai was starting to recognize the set ups. Even with that, it's helpful for the dog to get lots of practice rehearsing "good" behavior, but I had decided to switch to just "stealth BAT" instead. That means doing BAT without the other person knowing, such as when you come across someone else walking their dog, or going to a dog park and staying outside to work. Chimera has really improved since that time!

We met up with the owner of a Hovawart (big black dog), in a mall parking lot. Along with BAT and the functional reward of increasing distance, I used treats, Look At That, hand touches, and kneeling down and rubbing his butt as rewards. Grisha would probably frown on that, but I prefer the more active engagement. Cai was relaxed (though curious about the dog and environment) for most of the session. I was most proud when he first saw the dog, air-scented and watched for a while, and then turned back to me. The initial sighting is usually the hardest part for him. On the second rep he got excited and barked some, and I interrupted him by stepping in front of him. After that he calmed down and we were able to quickly close distance. When the dogs were about twenty feet away, the Hovawart was also watching him with interest (she was young and friendly). When the eye contact lasted too long, Cai went over threshold again -- but again he recovered quickly.

During our second session, I was able to close distance again very quickly. I reached the point at which Cai would glance at the other dog for a couple of seconds, then look back at me, and I would ask him to do one easy behavior before getting his treat. (As one small part of prepping him to work around dogs.) This was a form of the CU Give Me A Break game. He was free to examine the environment, and looking back at me was his signal that he was ready to work. After his one easy behavior and treat, I used a release cue to let him know that he was free to examine again. It's all coming together -- learning to work around other dogs in agility class, straight up reactivity work outside, and distraction training set ups at home. What great reinforcement for me!

I had asked the other owner to get her dog more active for this session, since distance itself was no longer a big factor for Cai. Soon she pulled out a squeaky toy, and Cai became more distracted by the toy than the dog! So I switched to rewarding focus on me in the presence of the squeaky toy and the other dog playing. At the end the dogs ended up about ten feet from each other and facing head on, and then I did a few repetitions of just BAT. Cai was curious about her and wanted to watch her, but was able to calmly turn back to me without any prompting other than my praise.

And the icing on top of this delicious BAT cake was that Cai's leash walking was pretty spot on, even though we were in a brand new place!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Getting out of the house

I've been saying for months that I'd like to get out and have more adventures with Chimera, but I was honestly too busy and tired to do it. My schedule has settled down now and I realized that I can finally do it! I've taken him for a couple of walks in our new neighborhood. (I'm not in the habit of daily walks for my dogs, as for years they used to go to my daycare job or on my daily hikes, and that provided exercise and stimulation.) Today we went to Petco to train. We mostly worked on heeling, stays, and position changes at my side. He did quite well, even when we were close to employees. There were no other dogs in the store.

I bought him a floatation vest. I'm hoping that it will help him enjoy swimming more. He's a good swimmer -- from the first time he accidentally waded into "deep" water, he's been able to swim to wherever he wanted to go, even turning around in the water -- but he just doesn't enjoy it. One of my housemate's dogs loves swimming, so we're planning a trip to Lake Anza soon. Maybe the other dog will entice him to follow.

I just have to remind myself that if I don't get him out to work on his dog reactivity, he'll never get better. He's already SO much better than he used to be, but it's exhausting, as every reactive dog owner can attest. Plus, if I want him to successfully trial in any sport, he needs to be able to handle a variety of environments and distractions. So new goal is one adventure a week!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Agility update

Agility practice outside of class is consisting entirely of teeter, dog walk/a-frame contact, and weaves. A few weeks ago I switched to a different way to teaching the teeter. The standard approach seems to be a foundation of wobble board and bang game, then getting the dog to run across a lowered teeter, and then slowly raising it. Chimera was fine until we started raising it. This is the same point at which Dragon started being nervous about the teeter. Yet it was a surprise with Chimera because he'd never shown any nervousness during wobble board or similar foundation exercises. When I met as a 10.5 week old puppy, I put down a serving tray turned upside down, which rocked back and forth a small amount. I lured him over it and got him going back and forth with tossed treats, and he acted as if he didn't even notice the movement. I think the problem with continually raising the teeter, even in small amounts, is that the movement is constantly changing just when the dog thinks that he has it under control. Rather than shaping toward a confident, high teeter, for some dogs it makes them lose faith in the whole thing.

So my instructor suggested that I use Silvia Trkman's method -- go straight to a full-height teeter, hold the end up for the dog, and control the drop completely. Chimera has no issue with the drop itself, once he's on the end. At this point he will happily ride it down at full-speed about halfway, or at a slightly slower speed all the way. It's the tipping point that made him nervous. I'm slooowly starting to hold my hand an inch or two underneath the high end, so that it tips just a tiny amount as Cai goes over. So far so good -- he's excited to go on it again and again for his reward of baby food smeared onto the end (on a piece of duct tape, so as not to contaminate the obstacle).

The dog walk and a-frame have a modified running contact: a down on the ground after running off. I'm using a cut up yoga mat and Cai definitely understands his job when the mat is there. I can run fast ahead or front cross and he will down on the mat. I can also send him ahead of me, but I have to be close behind him to remind him to lie down facing forward instead of turning around to face me, which takes a lot of extra time. (He's about 50% on this now.) Right now I'm building muscle memory and speed and not worrying about fading the mat. Later I'll be able to cut it down to smaller sizes. I need to remember to add a verbal "contact!" to the behavior.

Weaves: I was having trouble adding my fast movement, as he'd get distracted every time and skip poles. I tried very hard to break it down into just slight acceleration, but couldn't quite "explain" to him what I wanted. Finally I figured out that if I moved slowly but stutter-stepped, he also would get distracted, yet after a few failed trials the lightbulb went on and he was able to ignore my strange movements and focus on finishing the poles. Then I practiced dancing or moving backwards, and he ignored me. Then I was able to add fast running ahead and he was able to ignore me. Then I worked on dropping treats in his peripheral vision while he weaved. Success! Now I just need to repeat this process in class to cement his understanding, and so I can really full-out run ahead.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Obedience progress

We don't practice our obedience skills as much as our agility skills, other than little heeling doodles and fronts. Mostly that's because I'm in agility class every week, while I don't have something helping motivate me to work on obedience. I'm writing a quick update here because that's likely to help me keep practicing!

With heeling, we're working on pivots (smoothing out my footwork and teaching Cai to respond to that footwork confidently), stepping off at a good pace (Dragon used to be slow to start), outside turns (always practicing to keep his drive up), and my holding a toy as a distraction/reward. We've used food for heeling for a long time because we were working on precision and a high rate of reinforcement. Now when I introduce toys, he starts jumping up and down in excitement and forges terribly. We keep the sessions short because he burns out quickly due to the difficulty of thinking when excited.

We've progressed from fronts that consistently pointed his bum to the left to 90% close, straight fronts. I'm working on adding distance now. I almost always reward him to having him go through my legs to get the reward, which keeps him wanting to be close and straight. We're also working on him recognizing my body langauge (stiff and straight, arms very straight at sides, head looking down to my toes).

Down on verbal -- pretty good response, unless he's within two feet of me, and then he frequently sits instead so that he can easily keep eye contact. My goal is for him to quickly lie down on the verbal cue anywhere, anytime, to make the drop on recall a cinch.

Go out to platform -- an easy way to build confidence moving away from me and create a set up for coming to front from a distance. I should teach him to target a piece of blue tape or similar so that we can practice go outs without the platform.

Dumbell -- so happy -- he has a great 3 second hold!! We only practice this in a specific context right now, to make the training very clean. I want to build up to 5 seconds before I start proofing in different locations. He takes the dumbell while sitting, which will help with backchaining the final retrieve. He always gets big rewards for the hold, and we only do 3 or 4 repetitions at a time.

Articles -- haven't practiced this in forever. He had been about 90% with metal canning rings and maybe 70% with leather rings, but at this point I'd have to back up in his training. Oops.

Stand for exam -- have done a handful of sessions with friends helping, and worked up to him standing while the person looms over him. Going slowly so that he feels really comfortable with it. (Dragon had the BEST stand for exam, sigh.)

Signals --  have to work them on a chair to keep him from creeping forward. Building muscle memory in with his recognition of the signals. I want him to know sit, down, and stand fluently. Not doing a signal for front yet since I want him staying back.

We still have a number of exercises to go: stays (ugh, really need to work on this, as he has little duration, because I find it boring), gloves, broad jump, and a LOT of distraction work and ring prep. No hurry.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Meet the Norwiches, and more pictures

Chimera is now one year old, maturing, slowly settling down, becoming less reactive, and doing well in his agility and other training. I've started thinking that next spring or summer, it will probably be a good time to bring home my next dog. I know that Cai would love to have a sibling to play with. I just want to wait until his reactivity is even better and hopefully he is trialing in agility, so that we're past the intensive skill-building training.

I love Papillons, but I'd like to have a small dog with a different disposition, as that will help me develop into a better trainer. I think my heart is set on a terrier. I may go through rescue and get a little "terrier-y" dog. However I loved raising a puppy and may go through a breeder again. I'm particularly interested in a Norwich Terrier, and this past weekend I went to a local agility trial to meet a Norwich Person. Of course I took pictures! Click on any picture to see it pop up in a bigger size, although they were taken with my iPhone and are mostly kinda blurry.

Kizzy was the cutest.
Kizzy saying hello to Ella.
Magic doing obedience.
I don't remember this one's name. :(
Razzy again.

Cai being sad that someone else is holding him and I'm holding a different dog. :( :( :(

Also, here's a random Sheltie who was so beautiful that I had to take a picture:
So pretty!

Cai barked at other dogs here and there, especially small ones that he wanted to play with. Other than a couple of fearful barks at a big Saint Bernard that was pottying next to us, all of the barking was clearly frustrated "I want to play!" It wasn't too difficult to redirect him and overall I'm pleased with how he did.

Back at home, I spent the rest of the day in bed with a cold. Chimera likes to climb on my chest whenever I lie down.
That's my nose and chin at the bottom.

Here's another picture of him being cute:

Agility 5.3 summary

I didn't blog about our previous two classes because I was so busy with the move. We are still practicing weave poles here and there, but our focus for these six weeks is contacts. I didn't want to train a 2 on 2 off contact with Cai because I'm wary of the force it puts on dogs' shoulders as they hit the ground. However I didn't want to do a pure running contact because I failed at teaching that to Dragon -- I wasn't able to make my criteria clear to him, and he started jumping. I truly think he didn't understand the behavior I wanted. I decided to go with a behavior that seems like a good compromise -- a modified running contact, or "run through the contact zone and then lie down on the ground". My hope is that because Cai is getting ready to lie down, that keeps his focus low and he won't jump the contact. (I have heard that some dogs will still jump over the zone and land in the trained position on the ground, but if necessary, I'll start using a hoop to keep him running low.)

We have already spent a lot of time learning to lie down on a mat (rectangular piece of bright pink yoga mat, which has great traction), and then run a contact trainer and lie down on the mat. That part is looking great, so we're using the lowered dog walk and a-frame in class to back chain it. This week I sent him over the entire a-frame and he had to problems with it other than trying to figure out his striding. At home, I have a tiny dog walk and a-frame that create the same angles as the AKC equipment, and the dog walk is currently set up for practice so I can work on speed and lateral distance.

For the teeter, I've got my small teeter (not as tiny as the dog walk and a-frame, but still smaller than regulation) set up on the back deck. In class, we've worked seperately on having him run up a full-height teeter while it was held steady by the instructor, and then working on dropping the end bit by bit and lots of feeding. He does very well with that part. So now we're working on having him run across a lowered teeter that will pivot normally under him. He was doing well until I moved forward too quickly and he shot off the end of the teeter, stopped himself with his back feet still on, and it lifted up under him and startled him. Then he started to slow down around the pivot point. So at home, I'm focusing on building drive to the end of the board but watching him carefully so that he's learning to stop soon enough that he doesn't make the same mistake.

In the meantime, the weave poles are, um, okay? He'll do a few reps perfectly, and once he makes a mistake, he starts skipping poles over and over. I decided to "go back to kindergarten" because his confidence and willingness to do the poles were taking a nosedive. We're back to four poles and I'm doing gentle proofing work to help him understand his job. I have to remember to keep it short!!

With jumps, we're continuing to practice 180s, 270s, back sides, and occassionally serpentines and threadles. It's all going well. We've had a breakthrough in lateral distance for 180s, yay.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

One year!

Happy first birthday to Micfriends Chimera Monstra! Today was also moving day for us. Cai was very excited to run around the new place (with yard!) and get into ALL my stuff. He got a nap midday when I left to do a training gig, but even so, in the evening he was tired enough to put himself to bed in his crate while I brushed my teeth. That is very rare indeed.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Agility 4.6 summary, Petco trip

Guess who is now weaving 4 poles?!

He needed some extra steps to be able to link to the two sets of poles together. My instructor had me stand onside between the two sets, and rotate as he entered the first pair to direct him toward the second. I believe that Chimera interpreted the shoulder rotation as a 180 cue and would come through the second pair of poles backwards. He did this so consistently that I knew that I had to change the set up or he wouldn't figure out what to do before he totally lost drive and confidence in the first pair of poles.

The first thing I did was rotate the second pair a little bit (as my instructor suggests keeping them lined up from the beginning unless the dog has trouble). No go. So then I broke protocol and decided to backchain the exercise. I positioned Cai right before the second pair, rewarded him for going through a few times, and then positioned him as if he were leaving the first pair and sent him forward. This was the missing link. After some practice starting from the left side of the second pole, I was able to get rid of the rotation on the second pair, and then get him started from the entrance to the poles. At this point the two pairs are lined up like competition poles and he is consistently going through when started onside, and we're rotating farther into offside.

The other things we've been doing in class is longer sequences of jumps and tunnels, using pulls (lots of 180s and 270s lately), threadles, and serpentines. It is so fun to be running with the dog! I have to make sure to give my cues early (as most novice handlers do, I wait too long because I'm watching my dog!).

Next week we are starting session 5, which is contacts. At this point, my plan is to have Chimera do a modified running contact by lying down immediately after getting off the a-frame and dog walk. I have been using a rectangular piece of yoga mat as his target. Early on, I made the mistake of allowing him to go to the mat and turn to face me as he lay down on it. SO BAD. I should have taught him from the beginning to run to it and lie down in the same direction as he was running. So lately I have been making a chute from a wall and an xpen and using that to force him to lie down in the correct direction. He will do it if I am ahead, next to him, or in front and laterally to the side. I need to still work on it with me behind him. I have also started putting a contact trainer flat on the floor in the chute.

I am a bit nervous to start teeter work since my last dog, Dragon, had trouble with the teeter despite an excellent wobble board foundation. (I could put my foot down on the high end of the board and toss him up into the air, and he would give me the "where's my treat?" look.) He taught me that it's important to have LOTS of various interactions with the teeter rather than just focusing on building the end behavior. For example, the thing that helped him get past the pivot point the most was having me and another person on opposide ends of a lowered teeter, and calling him back and forth across it. He didn't have to do anything besides run along it and get used to the pivot point at speed. My previous instructor made a face when she saw this, but I was convinced that it was an important foundation game. By the time we get to competition, the dog will have had lots of practice doing a final, correct teeter behavior which has been proofed against any temptation to run back along the teeter, and will be following my handling to the next obstacle.

In other news, on Wednesday I took Chimera to a Petco to work on his reactivity. He's at the point now where, if I'm ready to stuff chicken in his face at that initial sighting (or sound of) another dog, we can practice BAT in a large store. There were no dogs the whole time we were there! So we practiced his tricks in this new, distracting environment. He did very well! Sounds would distract him a lot, like someone going through the employee door, or a squeaky toy, or footsteps behind us. But we practiced heeling (pivots and outside turns), fronts, stays with me going just out of sight in another aisle, waving, backing up, and (once we were in the parking lot), barking on cue.

I've been using "beep beep" for backing up and "speak" for barking, but he started to confuse them and then combine them. So I switched to "woof" for barking, and he recognized it right away. Now I just need to get rid of the barking while backing up. I may end up switching that cue to "back".

Thursday, July 11, 2013


When I started doing collar grabs with Chimera for the weave poles, he initially responded well by increasing his drive forward. However after a short while I saw his intensity decrease, and then he started subtly shying away from it. On Tuesday of last week, he opened his mouth and put his teeth on my wrist when I reached for his collar. I didn't know whether this was because I had accidentally pulled on his fur, or he was getting intimidated by the handling, or he had some physical ailment. I stopped doing the collar grabs and scheduled an appointment with a chiropractor for this morning.

The doctor was gentle and calm with him, and Chimera handled it really well. He mostly hung out on my lap during the adjustment and was relaxed. There were just a couple of moments when he lip licked or turned his head away as stress signals. I was pleasantly surprised by how well he handled this new, strange situation. All the handling work I've been doing is paying off!

The doctor said that he did have a disc out of alignment. He also said that I could retry the collar grabs after a couple of days and see whether the adjustment fixed the problem. However I think that I'll just avoid them completely. We've been making very good progress with the weaves, and everything else, without it.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Fireworks, hiking photos

The sounds of firecrackers and gunshots are pretty common where I live, so Chimera has grown up with them and never showed sensitivity to them before. He also didn't worry during New Year's Eve. However the fireworks are much more intense on July 4th. I had the early evening free to do intense gardening for a couple of hours, so I put Cai on a tie out with me and kept an eye on him. He chewed on a bully stick for a while, walked around, and then stretched out on a welcome mat and fell asleep. It was amazing. The fireworks are now exploding non-stop, including ones on the street right outside my window, and he's falling asleep again on my bed. Occassionally he does swivel his ears or look around, but it's curiosity/confusion and not stress. I am beyond impressed.

Here are a couple of pictures from our hike this afternoon. This fallen tree was about three feet up in the air. Too bad the camera didn't focus on his face. Click on either picture to see it pop up in a bigger size.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Agility 4.4 video and summary

This is a recording from our Beginner Agility Class. We just learned the threadle, and this is a "long" sequence to us (6 obstacles!). I was so proud of how well we did! Of course, there is always room for improvement. The most glaring handler error is taking so many steps along jump #2, after the threadle. I should have just taken one step and then started the pull. The skill I need to work on most with Chimera is lateral distance and sends to obstacles (which would improve the timing and position of the front cross after the second tunnel).

We also worked on 2x2 weaves. Cai is fairly solid on all angles of on-side entrances. We're now working on going from 7 toward 9 o'clock. Just keep practicing...

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pictures from a stream and hiking

We're visiting my parents for the weekend again. It is over 100 degrees F, and Cai is surprisingly mellow. At least, while I'm with him, he's mellow. The moment I leave the house to buy groceries, or even leave him downstairs while I shower, he starts throwing a fit. Ugh. My mother usually starts playing with him or gives him a bone to chew on, which is good because it shows him that he can still have a good time without me.

Both yesterday and today, I took him to play in a stream at a nearby park. He now happily enters shallow water, but doesn't want to go in much past his belly. He has accidentally gone in deep enough to swim a few times, and he was able to turn around and swim back to shore without a problem. I hope that with continued fun, low-pressure exposure to water, he'll learn to like swimming. I've always wanted to have a dog who enjoyed swimming.

I discovered that he will happily retrieve a bumper from shallow water, take it back to shore, and drop it and wander off. He did that over and over. Funny guy.

Click on any picture to see it pop up in a larger size.

Yesterday there was a 14 year old, blind German Shepherd at the stream as well. He would get excited and start barking and following other dogs around once he realized they were there. Typical GSD. Cai has learned to be cautious around big dogs (got knocked over and stepped on a few too many times), but is willing to play "you can't catch me" after a while.

Back at home, he was tired out.

Here are a few recent hiking pictures:

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Nose drops

Look how great Chimera is at letting me put a drop of medication into his nose!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Correcting bad habits: Give Me A Break

I've gotten into the habit of letting Cai run loose in the kennel's play yard to potty and sniff around, and then trying to get him to focus and do agility training. It was fine for a while, but the past handful of times, he's been doing a rep or two and then leaving to sniff or mark, and it's hard to get him back. This isn't good. I want to create a habit of being focused and excited about agility, not checking in and out as he pleases.

Although it's less convenient, I'm not going to let him potty in the yard anymore. I'll take him for a short walk instead. Once we enter the yard, it's training time. However I can't expect him to change his attitude without changing how I'm setting up the training situation.

I've decided to try the Give Me A Break game (GMAB) from Control Unleashed. We've done this game a little bit at home and in agility class. There is a portable wooden fence in the play yard for splitting it into two sections. I'm going to use it to make a box (like the ring gates suggested in CU) and play GMAB in there. We've done it once so far, and Cai sometimes asked to work right away and sometimes just sniffed for a while. The only problem we ran into is that if the kennel dogs start barking, I can't continue ignoring him -- I have to interrupt his reactivity or he works himself into a frenzy and THAT bad habit gets reinforced.

My other option is to keep him on leash to restrict his ability to run off, work on heeling and other close work, and let him off leash once he's better at staying focused. I'm pretty sure that would work, since it's essentially what we did in agility class and other classes, but I'm hoping that GMAB will do the trick and have better long-term benefits.

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Foxtail removal

Look what came out of Chimera's nose today!

A big honkin' foxtail! He was put under anesthesia and the doctor fished it out with her tiniest tools. After he woke up, he was loudly barking and crying in his kennel, so one of the techs let him run around a back office and also carried him around like a baby.

What a spoiled dog.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Reactivity update

I'm happy to report that both my parents generally get along well with Chimera, provided he's not barking or jumping all over the furniture. My mom often volunteers to take him out for a walk when I'm busy or tired. As is true of most dogs with leash reactivity, he is calmer with her than when I walk him, even though we're constantly working on it!

Yesterday we watched Up on the big screen tv, and when the cartoon dogs showed up with panting and paw-thudding sound effects, Cai barked at the tv. Even cartoon dogs are a threat!

Did a 2x2 session with a tennis ball, working from 4 to 5 o'clock. He's doing great!

Donner State Park, 2x2 weaves

We're in Tahoe for the weekend again. Chimera peed indoors once, which was my fault for not taking him out again sooner. Other than that he's been well-behaved. He spent much of the day obsessively moving his cow ear chewie from one hiding spot to another (ie, behind the couch, in the bathroom).

The whole family went for a two hour walk at Donner State Park. It was a beautiful warm day, and the park was filled with people and dogs. I put on my happy face and said to myself, "This presents many opportunities to work on Cai's dog reactivity!" And it went better than I expected! There were a few outburst of growling and barking, and some frustrated yelping, but he also managed to pass a number of dogs with no more reaction than pulling in their direction. We did BAT (though not uncued, I had to really encourage him to "let's go!" because the distances were too close) and LAT. Two or three times I did have to just pull him along to escape the situation, because he was too worked up to be redirected. Still, it was clear progress from his level of reactivity before we started BAT setups a few months ago. He passed out in the middle of the living room when we got home.

Oh also, he played in the water and barked at it a lot. He now pulls toward the sound or sight of water, which makes me very happy. I've always wanted to have a dog who enjoys swimming. (Although he still ignores puddles of water/mud, which is the best of both worlds!)

I brought two jumps and one set of 2x2 weave poles to practice at the condo. We did two weaving sessions today. It was clear from the start that he already aims himself to go between the poles and then toward his right (12 o'clock). I was excited that our last session finally instilled some enthusiasm to move forward without my body language being a giant cue. Our agility instructor had recommended I use a collar grab to start him going. I had done enough collar grab work that Cai doesn't mind me taking hold, and expects that I will toss forward a toy or his treat bottle (small medicine bottle wrapped in duct tape to make it easy to grasp). However I just hadn't bothered to continue working it to he point that I could let go and he would drive forward in his own. I didn't see the need, since Dragon had had great drive toward obstacles without it. But I heeded her advice. I found that Cai would tense up and move forward a little after I let go of his collar if I said, "Ready?!" I've conditioned that to mean "Let's do some fun play/training!" So that got him going to the weave poles and stopping right between them, argh. So then I switched to tossing the toy immediately after he started forward. 

Today, by accident, I pulled upwards on his collar as I said, "Ready?!" and his front feet lifted into the air. Opposition reflex made him shift forward, and lo and behold, as I let go of his collar, he zoomed forward and all the way through the poles. I've seen other people do this with the collar (such as Susan Garrett, I think, and my instructor), but I wouldn't have intentionally done it with my tiny Papillon. However he really responded to it with more energy, faster running, and was actually MORE willing to come back to my side for the next rep. We did about eight reps, moving from 3 to 4 o'clock, and I stopped while he was still fully engaged in the game. Of course his success made me more excited and animated, which fed his energy. Weaves were probably my favorite obstacle to teach Dragon, since I felt comfortable with the shaping process and we played it as a modified game of fetch. I'm looking forward to continuing with Chimera.

I know that growth plates are something to be mindful of when teaching weave poles and jumping. I've been jumping Cai at 8 inches for a few weeks because a dog his size matures much sooner than big dogs, and eight inches is about his elbow height, which Chris Zink said should be okay for a dog his age (forgot the exact age parameters she gave -- maybe it was six to fourteen months? Fourteen months being the estimated time of growth plate closure.) I found one resource online that suggested that Papillons are full grown at nine months. For weave poles, we'll be spending a while working on entrances, and he'll be 11-12 months before he's doing any serious bending. I'm not worried. I'd delay training if he were a bigger, and therefore slower to mature breed.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Agility 4.1 summary

Halfway done with the Beginner Series now! We've started on weave poles. The instructor is showing is the 2x2 method, but also setting up guide wires and x-pens on a set of 6 so we can practice both ways. I made my own set of 3 pairs of 2x2s over the weekend, and had already done a couple of shaping sessions to build value for going between the poles. I started rotating through different entry angles, but the instructor pointed out that I needed to back up a bit and get Cai really driving to the poles first - he was only going forward with a body cue from me.

We did a rear cross drill, a u-shaped tunnel and then rear cross over a jump. Cai did this perfectly, even when my timing was a bit off. I was so proud!

After another 2x2 session, we practiced the 6 poles with guides. Cai has trouble moving ahead without my body language to help him - definitely something we need to work on!!

Finally we did a simple 180 with jumps, but Cai kept sniffing the ground for treats instead of wanting to jump. I put him up early.

He was better about me being away from his crate. I would shush him when he did start barking. For many dogs, turning back to them and talking to them would reinforce their barking, but for Cai I can see that it's helping him understand what I want and get himself back under control before the barking fit gets too crazy.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Photos and quick update.

A few random photos and little update from yesterday.

9 months, photo taken just after brushing.

So handsome!

We were walking between the car and this wall, and Chimera decided to jump on top if it. He overshot and fell four feet down into the bushes. Fortunately I had a good hold of his leash and it was attached to a harness rather than collar. I pulled up in time to slow down his fall, and then lifted him back up.
Later we drove to Sherry's and went on a beautiful sunset hike with her and Jacques. For the most part, Cai has learned that Jacques doesn't want to play with him and leaves him alone. Jacques still doesn't like having Cai around.

Sherry helped me measure Chimera and he is now 11 inches, and weighs 8.4 pounds.