Friday, October 13, 2017

Ida was in a moving car today.

Ida chose to stay in the car when the door was opened.

Ida jumped right back in when I lured her out.

We have a long way to go still, but at least now I'm pretty sure we can get there.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

An Ode to Snowball

Snowball's first morning in our home
This blog is primarily about Ida, but Snowball and I have been spending a lot of time together, taking Rally Obedience classes, and it's really brought me awareness about how lucky I am. I started typing this up as a FB post, but it's really too long for that. So I'm posting it here instead. Today, I am grateful that you have been my first dog. You're the reason that became interested in dog behaviour and training, and how I ended up with R+ right from the beginning. Although I had planned to take a dog training class when we got our first dog, classes at the shelter (which uses R+ training methods only) were a requirement with your adoption. Although I learned a lot about learning theory, the quadrants, and counter conditioning, in those classes, I left with some questions still; they mainly served to whet my appetite about dog behaviour.

From those classes, we went on to many, many walks together, all over the neighborhood. And eventually, to the off-leash parks around the city. You've always been up for a walk, rain, snow, or shine (but not in wind, it messes up your hair too much), and although you've started to slow down in the last year or two, it's still clear that you love going out and about, checking the pee-mail.

I wish I could've seen you as a baby puppy. Certainly at 8 years old you were no slouch, and I can only imagine how much energy a younger, more athletic you would've had. I'm sure you were a ton of fun. You "eskie grin" is contagious and always brightens up my day.

I hope our journey together will serve as a guidebook for all of my future dogs. I have made mistakes that would have ended much differently if you were larger, younger, or more determined. I hope that I never forget that even though some days I felt completely hopeless and inadequate, and that you surely would be better off somewhere else, that we still achieved our goals. It just took time, patience, and consistency. I am also lucky that you have been so forgiving of my mistakes and haven't put too much effort into training me. 🤣

Whether it's driving to Calgary to prove that yes, you are in fact a good dog, or hiking 10 km up a mountain, or just laying around the office while I help less fortunate doggos, you go with the flow. Sometimes you don't understand why I want you to do a thing, but (most of the time) you do it anyway. I'm sorry that I can't make you getting older any easier on either of us, but I hope that you're around for a long time to come. The house is going to be very lonely when it's not furnished by your borks. <3

Friday, September 1, 2017

Dreams and Goals - Update

I am just reviewing and revising my dreams/goals for each dog and myself.

Snowball's Dreams
- TEAM1 Title
- "Compete" in rally and/or scent detection
- Get his intermediate trick dog title (strikeout)
- Get his advanced trick dog title

Ida's Dreams
- Be comfortable around traffic
- Be comfortable around other dogs
- Get her CGN
- Title in agility
- Have running contacts
- Title in Rally

My Dreams
- Build a career that involves dogs

- That's really the only one that matters


Submit the papers for his Novice Trick Dog (NTD) by Friday, January 13, 2017
Complete!  Snowball received his NTD certificate February 22, 2017.

New Goal: Film and submit ITD before December 31, 2017. Selected tricks:
  • Go around a cone
  • Close a door
  • Leg weave
  • Perch work
  • Roll over
  • Shell game (nose=1, paw=2)
  • Back up (2)
  • Cross your paws (2)
  • Distance work (Sit, down, stand; 2)
  • Place (left finish)
Enter the Barnhunt fun match in Red Deer in March 2017.
Complete! Snowball “passed” the instinct test with the second fastest time in his category; we did not Q for either Novice run, but we had a lot of fun anyway.
Hind end conditioning with the end goal of pain relief for his arthritis (and improving his sit)
Ongoing. Regular perch and pivot work

New goal: Continue perch/pivot work on both sides, and work on building a stronger sit/eliminate him walking backwards into a sit.

New Goal: Fade out rewards during rally sequences in preparation for trialing in the future.
Submit papers for her NTD title by Friday, January 13, 2017.
Compete!  Ida received her NTD certificate February 22, 2017.

New Goal: Film and submit ITD before December 31, 2017. Selected tricks:
  • Go around (“fly”)
  • Jump wraps
  • Baton jump
  • Jump through circled arms
  • Perch work
  • Place (left finish)
  • Sit pretty
  • Soccer
  • Go to mat
  • Directional casting
  • Back-up (2)
  • Directed retrieve (2)
Attempt TEAM1 by May.
We have cleaned up several components; and are starting to do run-thrus.

New Goal: Film TEAM1 by December 2017.
Learn weaves and teeter by Summer 2017
Ida has 6 weaves in easy situations (low distraction, low-medium arousal).

New Goal: Work towards 12 weaves and building fluency with high arousal, from different entry points, etc.  Will be put on hold when snow flies.

Teeter work on hold until I have access to equipment.

Car conditioning. I aim to do at least one session per day.  Sometimes I do none, and sometimes I do three, c'est la vie.  We have made notable progress - she is no longer bothered by the sound of the car being started (when she’s not in it), but she is still nervous of the car when the engine is running.

Take Snowball for a walk every day, even when the weather is bad*
*walking a circle around the cul-de-sac counts in really bad days.
Write out cue dictionary
Train at least 5 minutes per day with each dog.  Seriously me, 5 minutes isn't that long, set a timer if I have to.
The amount that I train has significantly increased.  I have also added an easy limit on Ida’s car desense - 10 dried anchovies per session - which has made it far less intimidating for me.
Drink at least 1000 ml of water every day for the rest of January.
I failed at this.  New goal: work on a more creative solution.
Take at least 7500 steps every day for the rest of January.
I have been keeping up with this.  I won’t say I’ve been perfect, but I have been adding in small things, like taking the stairs down instead of the elevator and parking my car a bit further away and walking to my office.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Tonight I am initiating a hiatus from Facebook.  It will be hard - it has been a part of my daily life for the last 10 years, a way to connect with the kind of people I've struggled to meet locally, both in terms of philosophy and shared interests.

But it's become too much of a habit, and a draining one.  There is too much judgement, too much ignorance and hate.  And I know going off facebook won't eliminate that hate, but it is extremely hard for me to constantly expose myself to those attitudes - especially in a context in which I can't do anything to change them.

It has also become my main displacement behaviour.  Unsure what to do?  Check facebook.  Bored in the car?  Check facebook.  Finished writing a work e-mail and not sure whether to send it or not?  Check facebook.

It needs to stop, and it's not stopping on its own.  My goal is to build a new displacement behaviour - one that's a bit healthier and not as easy to get sucked into.  I also want to spend more time just... in life.  With my dogs.  With the cat.  And connecting with people more meaningfully, which is not something I'm good at doing online.  I hope someday I can return - there are a lot of things I like about it and a lot of people that I don't have any other way to connect with.  I'll miss having a resource for nearly immediate answers to question, but I won't miss the word vomit that spouts from my fingers, seemingly out of my own control.

I know that this won't magically fix all of my problems, but it's something that I can initiate by myself, entirely on my own terms.  I hope it gives me back some time, and also some of my sanity.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

FE 345 - Immitation and Mimicry - Week 1 notes and homework

Behaviours on verbal cue

  • Sit
  • Over
  • Hup/Up
Behaviours almost on verbal cue alone

  • Drop
  • Spin
  • Kiss?
Behaviours not on verbal cue alone that are likely easy to put on verbal cue
  • Left (paw)
  • Right (paw)
  • Fly
  • Touch
The rest of the homework for this week is proofing stays/waits, and thinking about how to demonstrate the behaviour so that the dog will recognize the human motions as analogous to dog motions.

An eventful week

Two amazing things happened this week.

1.  We have started working on consent cues, and a nose-touch on the car door is how I've been teaching Ida to ask to get into the car.  A friend was dropping my husband off from a day-trip yesterday - Ida came outside to say "hi" and hang out while they unloaded the car.... and during that time Ida offered several nose-touches on the back door of our friend's car.

This is huge, mainly because first, she's offering the behaviour outside of the context of training, and second to be it indicates that she actually wants into the car, which would never have happened a month ago.

2. We also have started going to a the nearby community league property, which has an outdoor rink that is almost fully enclosed, and is grass and therefore disused in the summer.  We've just been going there to hang out in a new place.  What I didn't realize is how many hares live around there (although I probably shouldn't be surprised, since there is a large community garden plot less than 100 m away from the rink).  We were just hanging out in the rink, Ida was sniffing some stuff and started wandering over to the open door.  I called her back no problem and we kept sniffing... she started wandering over again so I put her into a down stay and went to close the gate just in case, and wouldn't you know it, there was a GIGANTIC hare just laying in the grass about 20 feet away. Good girl Ida (and thank goodness the hare didn't decide to take off because I have no illusions about how well she'd recall while chasing down a rabbit).

Sunday, June 25, 2017

This weekend there was a regional agility championship held in my city.  I knew a few people running; a friend, some former shelter staff/volunteers, former instructors, former classmates, and even a shelter dog who I worked with briefly years ago.

After my friend finished running her dog, as I pulled out of the parking lot, a bunch of things hit me all at once.  How awful it is to explain to people that you can't play the game that you love because your dog can't leave your home.  How everyone I know is progressing so well and I'm stranded behind them by myself.  How, even if I get a puppy, it will still be years before we actually get to play (and then what if the new puppy can't play either?  Then what?)  How unfair it is that I have this great, fun, smart little dog and no one else gets to see how amazing and smart she is.

I'm just throwing myself a pity party, but I had to get it out.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

I took my first Fenzi Dog Sports Academy class last August.  At the time, I didn't realize what an amazing community was behind the online dog training center, but with additional classes, I discovered the support and encouragement of other people embarking on the same training journey to improve the lives of their dogs (and themselves).  I have online, R+ dog-friends from other corners of the internet, but something about the people in FDSA has been incredibly inspiring and uplifting to me.  Reading others' stories and successes with their own dogs - some with very similar issues as Ida - has been been very encouraging for me and I am incredibly grateful everyday for having found a community that focuses on using R+ as much on its people members as on its canine ones.

But there has been something else that I didn't expect from joining such a large online community.  Even though there are thousands of people, it is quite tight knit, and the increase in support and motivation and encouragement has also come with heartache, as people who I previously had no connection with say goodbye to dogs that have taught them so much about themselves and the way they view the world.

Sometimes it feels like I've known the dog personally.  They've become fixtures in my online world, seemingly infinite and ageless, even as I see the numeral marking their years increase in online posts. Others I have never read about until their owner posts a heartfelt goodbye that reminds me how little time we get with our dogs.  It doesn't matter if it's one year or ten, it's never enough.

Monday, May 29, 2017

I failed my dog today.

But she did great anyway.

Patrick and I took Snowball for his morning walk. Ida was VERY insistent that she come with us. I don't know if its because she wants to be outside, or if it's just because she wants to be with us, but she does this thing where she howls at us when we're leashing up Snowball, and then she stands at the front door, pointing out, like she's ready to go.... I caved, and harnessed her up.

It was pretty early still (about 7am) so not much traffic on our residential streets... but I forgot to check the bus schedule - Ida's nemesis! Sure enough, a city bus roared right past us to pick up passengers at the stop only 50 m from where our cul-de-sac opens onto the main street.

And you know what babydog did? My baby girl - who used to panic and try to run as far away from the bus as possible and continue to freak out for several minutes after - came over to me when I called her. She ate the cheese that I furiously shovelling into into her facehole as fast as I could. And once the bus was gone, she continued trotting along, tail up, checking out the new smells on the boulevard ahead of us, for all intents and purposes looking like a normal dog out for a normal walk

<3 <3 <3

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Monthly Assessment - May

How she is in the home: Ida has been getting into even fewer things this past month.  She is very eager to play ball fetch outside.  She also runs to the front door, tail wagging, any time I put a collar (she's normally naked in the house) or harness on her.  When my husband was a way for a few days, she was very mopey for the first day or so, but settled down.  She clearly loves him the most. :p

How she is with meals: Still ambivalent about meals.  She'll finish most of it if she starts eating before the house empties, but she frequently ignores her food dispenser if there's no one home. Better about working for kibble than she has been the last couple of months.

How she is outside (of the yard): Still eager to go outside.  She walks along the street without retreating from loud cars going past.  The last walk we took, she mostly ignored the traffic and easily took cheese when cars went past.  We're still only doing short walks; she pulls more as we approach home and visibly relaxes when we walk into the cul-de-sac.

How she is during training sessions: Eager to work.

How she is with the car: Started working on the driveway with the car running (radio on) last night.  At first, hesitant to approach car.  Relaxed when I remembered to incorporate personal play; much more eager to hop into car although still showing some hesitation.  Instead of launching all four feet into the car at once, she was more frequently sticking her nose over the seat, then putting two paws up before jumping all the way in.  (Although she was jumping into the car within 1-2 seconds of putting her paws up, I need to reward more for putting her nose in and for putting two paws up.)

Ida has a vet appointment next week, so we'll see how the drive there goes.  I'm nervous that it will wreck all of our progress.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Small brags from last night.

Ida was pushing me to get into the car.  Not hard, but she was pushing.  Using some personal play for rewards/breaks, and as soon as the play stopped she was heading to the open car door.  May not seem big, but its nice to have an indication that we're moving in the right direction.

Later, we went for a short walk.  We went a bit earlier than normal (8pm instead of 8:30-9pm).  As a result, two things happened: there was a pretty constant stream of traffic on the road that our cul de sac is on, and we encountered a dog.  The traffic barely phased her; there was only one very loud truck to which she showed any kind of aversion.  For all intents and purposes, the other cars didn't appear to exist to her.

When she saw the dog, Ida was well beyond threshold and reacted, which was expected.  I also handled it poorly; I should've turned around as soon as I saw the other dog, instead of waiting for it to come into Ida's line of sight.  She kept barking as we backpedaled, but as soon as the dog was out of sight she was easy to interrupt using food alone and focused on me right away.

That would never have happened pre-medications.  Before, she would've ignored the cheese and remained hyper-focused on the spot where the dog disappeared until well after we kept moving again, and likely would've ignored the cheese for the rest of the walk.

In other news, my college roommate asked me to dog sit while her family went out of town for the weekend.  She got along well enough with both of the dogs (I knew she would), no major issues, but I was surprised at how disinterested she was in Ida's invitations to play.  Molly's not the first dog to be disinterested, but I don't have a huge sample size either; I wish I knew whether it were the visiting dogs or if it's something about Ida's invitations that makes them not want to play.

Ida also got a new bed (which I bought originally for Snowball but of course, he hates it).  Ida is loving it.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Awesome Training Habits Pre-Challenge Challenge

1) Picture your ideal outcome with your dog(s). What do you envision? If you had a magic wand, what would you make happen for the two of you? What are you wanting from your relationship with your dog?

Ideally, Ida would be happy and excited to ride in the car, looks forward to car rides and is pushing me to let her into the car so we can go places instead of running from the car.  In an ideal world, we'll compete in sports like Rally-O, Agility, and Nosework.

I want to see her happy and able to enjoy things that I know she likes without being afraid. I want a partner to do fun things with.  I would love to be able to do those fun things outside of our home, but I am never again going to put Ida in any position that causes her to shut down if it is just for fun. 

2) Make a list of at least 10 things that you have accomplished towards this above vision.

- Started implementing cooperative care protocols to build trust
- Along with that, giving both of my dogs more autonomy in things where it's reasonable.
- Stopped unnecessary/uncontrolled exposure to triggers
- Started building positive association with "outing" gear
- We're now doing once-a-week BMod walks.  They are short, and full of lots of treats, and at times of day where there are few other dogs out in our neighborhood.
- Started working on titles that we can do completely at home, like DMWYD trick titles, and Fenzi TEAM Titles.
- Trying to improve my communication skills, such as using different marker words consistently for different things.
- Rewarding for the behaviours that I want, even outside of formal training sessions.  The intention is to reduce ambiguity about what to do.
- Started taking measures to help her develop coping mechanisms.  For example, she gets worked up when Snowball runs to the back door when I get home from work, and used to chased/bite/jump on him when they were let outside.  I started restraining her when I let Snowball out to prevent her from racing outside after him; she could do whatever she wanted at the door for 15-20 seconds, until she was able to offer a focused hand-target, and then she is let outside.  We now have this ritual where everyone races to the back door, I open it and Snowball races outside, and Ida waits patiently inside for me to crouch down so she can give me a "hug" and shower me with kisses. She still races him to the back door, but she doesn't body slam or jump on him, and she waits patiently inside when I open the door to let him out.
- Started anti-anxiety medications to help level out her mental state to improve her resilience.

This question really stumped me, because I feel like I haven't done enough.  But I'm glad I had to think through it.

3) Make a list of five key challenges you still face.

1. Overcoming her fear/anxiety of travelling in the car.
2. Creating a calming ritual for when I take Snowball out the front door (for walks, to go to class, etc.).
3. Nervous/hesitant in new places.
4. Nervous/hesitant around new dogs, especially at a distance.
5. Poor engagement in places outside of the house and back yard.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Three Steps To Raising A Living Being from Baby to Adult

1. Supervise and manage their environment to prevent them from doing things that you do not want them to build into habit.

2. Teach them the things that you do want them to learn how to do.  Attempting to teach them not to do an unwanted behaviour doesn't usually work very well; teaching them what to do instead works much better.

3. When you're in public, have a plan to get out of Dodge in case their behaviour starts to deteriorate. Small beings may not be able to tell you when their environment becomes too hard for them to deal with; you either need to be on top of that shit, or accept that sometimes you'll miss the signs and it'll be better for the both of you to leave ASAP.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Our Boogey Man Toolbox

Running/chase (play)
Soccer (play w/ toy)
Pepperoni (food)
Chuck-it disc (toy)
Floppy ball (toy)
String cheese (food)
Undercover bitey hands (play)
Fleece tug (toy)
Rollover (food)
Chest scratches/face rubs (play)
Tennis ball (toy)
Freeze dried liver (food)
Zukes  (food)
Wrestling/grabby hands (play)
"I died" (play)
Kisses (play)
Kibble (food)

This is not a perfect list; I only ranked things that are commonly available and definitely not an exhaustive list (I don't usually have cut up chicken or steak around, for example). Some of the items I've never tested against each other. For example, if I were to put Ida in a sit while holding a piece of pepperoni and then kick her soccer ball, I suspect she would stay sitting until she got the pepperoni and then would immediately chase the soccer ball, assuming no more pepperoni was obviously available.... but I'm not totally sure.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Monthly Assessments

I just finished listening to an episode of the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy Podcast interviewing USDAA Worlds Team Coach Loretta Mueller.  In it, Loretta talks about how she raises puppies, and how she tries to take a fresh look at her new dogs on a monthly basis to get an idea of how the dog is actually doing, instead of just extrapolating from how the dog was doing.  Ida is no longer a puppy, but I am definitely going to apply this concept to our journey, especially as we begin to work our way through Amy Cook's Dealing With the Boogeyman course materials at the bronze level.

I've picked five domains that I think will give me a picture of how she is doing over the long term.  My goal is not to describe what we are working on in these posts, but rather to talk about Ida's behaviour overall and in specific circumstances, where applicable.

How she is in the home: Ida has relaxed at home.  She calmly naps more, sleeps through the night more often (7/7 nights this week), and is less prone to guarding her food toys.  She still chases the cat when he runs and jumps on/mouths Snowball when he is highly aroused/excited (e.g., when I come home, just before Snowball goes for a walk or car ride).

This week Ida was upset by disruption in routine by the holiday long weekend.  I normally work Monday to Saturday between two jobs; this weekend we went to visit my mom on Saturday so I worked Sunday instead and last night and this morning (Monday, which is still a holiday) Ida seems more stressed than usual, indicated by increased licking, panting, and restlessness during times when she normally naps.

How she is with meals: Ida is ambivalent about meals.  This week she was better about eating kibble used as training treats although she will still spit it out if I have something better on/near me.

How she is outside (of the yard): Ida is eager to go outside.  She walks along the street without retreating from loud cars going past, although she does freeze and won't take food until they are past.  She takes notice of dogs at ~50m away and her reaction threshold seems to be about 30m, depending on other triggers.  She exhibits indications of being conflicted - she reacts to dogs that are far away in a somewhat offensive manner (loud barking and howling, ears back, tail up, weight shifted forward), but if allowed to move towards them gives lots of calming/appeasement signals, relaxes once they have sniffed, and invites them to play.

How she is during (for now, at-home) training sessions: Eager to work but easily distracted.  Eager to chase and tug with floppy ball, but reluctant to bring it back to me.  Difficulty picking up verbal cues.

How she is with the car: In the garage beside the car, Ida will readily play with and without toys.  She takes medium-value food (Zukes) both outside and inside the car.  She willingly hops into the car.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"If you are punishing an unwanted behavior, there is a desirable behavior you should be rewarding much more."

I don't (intentionally) use positive punishment in my training, but this applies to negative punishment as well.  I'm just posting it as a good reminder to myself that - at least in life/manners training - there are always desirable behaviours that we can be rewarding more heavily.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

A million steps back...

Ida may have more negative feelings about the car than I realised.  Today we started with our car desense program.  I thought we'd start with just hopping into the backseat and eating a salmon skin roll, something she doesn't get often and (supposedly) high value.

She started by trying to run out of the garage and then away from the house; when I finally called her back, she ran to the front step and didn't want to come into the garage.  I should've stopped there.  I instead asked her to hop in.  Which she did, and then immediately peed, then stood there panting. :(

So, we've taken several gigantic leaps backwards.  First, garage door will remain closed until she is comfortable being around the car hopping in and out of the back seat.  Second, we're working on just being in the garage near the car.  Then I'll essentially shape her hopping into and out of the car and use Julie Daniels's Broccoli Principle to build desire to be in the car.  (The Broccoli principle worked great for our grooming station).  Once she's actually eager to get into the car, we'll start very slowly with turning it on and just sitting in the garage.

We'll also work on a consent action (Ida boops the tire, she goes in the car; she doesn't boop the tire, she doesn't go in the car.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ida went for a walk yesterday.

A tail-up-and-wagging-sniffing-the-good-things-on-the-ground kind of walk.

A responding-to-her-name-eating-treats-not-panicking-by-cars-driving-by kind of walk.

A trying-to-greet-everyone-we-walked-past-walking-on-a-loose-leash-while-going-home kind of walk.

I wasn't going to take her.  I was planning to start DS/CC to environmental stimuli next week, after 2 weeks free from car rides and 8 weeks of meds.  And guys, Ida does not door dash.  She has never shown any interest in leaving the house through the front door except to greet incoming visitors. But when we leashed up Snowball for his walk, and opened the front door .... Ida ran out of the house, down the stairs, and turned around to looked at us as if to say "where we going?"

What's one of the most important things in dog training?  Listen to your dog.  So I listened.  I put a long-line on her to give her more freedom, and we went for a walk.

For most dogs, this would not be much of an accomplishment.  But for us?  This is huge.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A small celebration

Tonight was our last agility class for a while.  We're taking a break to decompress, to build better engagement, and to work on desensitisation to the car.  It was our last class for a while, but we could not have ended it better.  I'm posting this so that I can remember, when things get frustrating, that

Normally at class, all of the dogs are crated behind a barrier until it is their turn; today, everyone sat (leashed) in the "arena" until it was their turn, and all of the dogs worked great with the other dogs around.  I was worried about Ida, but... I didn't need to be.  She did fantastic.  When it was her turn, we walked out.  She ignored the other dogs until I too her leash off and then decided to look around.  When she spooted them, she made one small woof without breaking her sit.  She was completely engaged with me in between reps.  She relaxed in the crate while I was out of view.  She even tolerated watching the other dogs moving to set up in position, although she couldn't hold it together while they were actually running.

But I don't care.  She was able to be in the room with three other dogs (and within 5 ft of the nearest one!) without fixating on them, without freaking out, and she was able to work - and work well - knowing that there were other dogs in clear view.

We'll get there.  And probably, we won't even notice that we've arrived until the "Welcome Sign" is right in front of us.

<3 <3 <3

Fear, Anxiety, "Stress", and Trigger Stacking

I started this post months ago, and then got distracted, but I feel like it is something important and not talked about enough.

It's not really recognized well among dog training resources, but I think that there is a difference
Everything is a little bit scary
between fear and anxiety.  Certainly they are linked together - how often do we talk about dogs with separation anxiety as being "afraid of their owners leaving"?  While I am not sure right now that they are one and the same, I am having a tough time conceptualizing why I feel that way other than to say that while Ida has certain definite fears, at home she just seemed to be generally "worried".  Unable to fully relax unless she was sleeping, but there was no readily identifiable or specific reason for it.  Wikipedia indicates that anxiety has a component of internal conflict, so maybe that is it.  Maybe, being at home Ida "knows" that she is safe, but she still has those nagging "what if" moments.  Maybe I'm anthropomorphizing a whole lot.  But I think for some dogs there is an area between "fine" and "fearful", a kind of generalized worry or anxiety that we just don't talk about because it doesn't noticeably affect the dog's behaviour in ways that Joe Blow Owner would think is a problem (or maybe just not a problem worth fixing).

While "trigger stacking" is talked about some, recovery times are rarely discussed.  Time-frames longer than a single outing or day are rarely explicitly addressed, which is probably why it took me so long to recognize Ida's long-term trigger stacking.  For her, it wasn't so noticible over a single day, but her stress builds up incrementally over the course of multiple days, or even weeks.  Sometimes it happened almost invisibly; she would be completely fine/normal inside the house, but would get worse and worse outside of the house.  Especially since, before medications at least, there were so many things that were likely adding to her stress (even just things like the cat showing interest in her food!) that I think now were likely adding to her stress, going forward it is going to be important for us to regularly take a step back and take a look at the all of the pieces in the puzzle, not just the most obvious ones.

I really noticed the long-term trigger stacking when we started taking two classes per week.  That meant long car rides, and two classrooms full of strange dogs.  Several days in between was not enough for her to recover; even though she acted fine at home in the back yard and in the house, her fuse got shorter and shorter. Seeing Ida so stressed out just sitting on the front step that she wouldn't eat hot dogs was heartbreaking and is really what kickstarted this blog.  Even now, I don't know if we'll ever be comfortable enough with car travel to compete in agility, but at the very least she should be able to be comfortable around her own home!

I don't think trigger stacking, and especially latent trigger stacking (where the stimuli has been removed but the dog is still feeling the emotion effects), is explained to owners enough - or at all, really. I think the end result is a owners that put their dogs in stressful situations on a daily basis in order to counter condition it before the dog has full recovered from the last exposure; the dogs who take longer than that to recover don't actually get the chance, and do not get better - or get worse.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Dog In Front of You - A reminder

I don't know if it's just getting familiar with the space, or if it is the meds, but Ida was a rock star in agility last night.  She played with toys (which I paired with food to help build that drive some more), she ran right past me, she jumped up on the instructor.  She was a good, happy, albeit kind of ditzy, baby girl.

While working on blind crosses, The instructor kept reminding me to reward from my hand (so that she would follow it and stay close).  Ida would cross and then blow right past me - something that she's never done in this facility and rarely at all.

When I tried to explain that blowing by me has never been a problem for us, she reminded me to train the dog in front of me - not only the individual, but what that individual is doing in that particular moment.

I have a feeling that I'll need to keep being reminded of this, as Ida blossoms from being a ball of anxiety into the gregarious creature that she is at home.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

It has been two weeks of medication.  We're still going to class (the last one is tomorrow).  Ida is happier at class, quieter in her crate, less concerned with what other dogs are doing, and much, much happier actually in the ring.

At home - where she was her most relaxed - the changes are more subtle, but still noticeable.  She looks more relaxed; her brow is not furrowed all the time.  She lazes about more stretched out instead of curled in a ball.  She no longer gets up in the middle of the night.  She is MUCH more okay with being by herself (e.g., being crated in a different room than a person).

She doesn't chase the cat for no reason.  She guards food less often and less intensely from Snowball.  Her resource guarding has never been extreme (they've only scuffled twice, both times over someone very high value that they were BOTH guarding).  She used to stare Snowball down if he walked into the room while she was eating; now when he enters, he gets just a brief glance.

Finally.... this past week she stopped shaking for a couple of minutes while in the car on our way to class. This is the first time in six months that she's stopped shaking for more than a few seconds.  I have no doubt we're on the right path to Ida's best self, but now I have a glimmer of hope that we'll also be able to deal with this car thing too.

Since Ida will be "trapped" at home for the next several months, I'm going to try doing more things
Photo credit to Shae Grismer‎.
with Snowball.  We participated in a barn hunt fun match this weekend, in which he passed his instinct test (or would have, if it had been a sanctioned trial), and then I flopped horribly in two novice runs.  First by moving him along too quickly, and then by not moving him along fast enough.  Oops!  We'll get better at it with practice, I just know it.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

What even is "bad enough"

"The fear wheels turn and all you can think about is what you'll never be able to do instead of finding what you can do."

A facebook comment on an internet acquaintance's page, who also went through anxiety/fear stuff with her young dog.  It rings very true with me.  How many countless hours have I spent worrying that Ida's life will never be as happy as it could be if she weren't so anxious?  Too many.  And it doesn't matter.  I am much better off focusing that worry-energy into helping her overcome her fears, in boosting her confidence, and making sure that her needs - her true needs, and not the ones that I wish she had - are met.
I don't like going to the doctor either, Ida.

Which brings me to the topic of this post.  I have spent a lot of time justifying to myself that Ida didn't need medications.  She wasn't "bad enough". Her issues are not as severe as the other dogs that I know who are on them. She's not (obviously) suffering at home, and her biggest triggers for fear/anxiety were outside of our property.  Which would be fine if she were in a typical pet home, doing regular pet stuff, and had a regular pet home that was content to let her stay at home for the rest of her life.  For better or worse, I am not that home, and I really want to DO stuff with Ida... which means I need to do more to help her be comfortable outside of our home.  And I didn't think Ida needed meds to overcome those fears.  We have made progress without them, but it has been slow and inconsistent and... if I can safely speed up the process, why wouldn't I?

It's taken me months to come to this conclusion, and I know some people saw it coming befire I did.  But this week we finally saw the vet about medications.  I was on the verge of tears when we started to discuss it.  I explained her issues and how behaviour modification has made some impact, but that we've come to an impasse.  He started by suggesting herbal supplements.  At that point I described what we'd tried (herbal supplements, with minimal effect, the thundershirt which started effective and no longer is), and that I hadn't used the synthetic dog appeasing pheromone because a systematic review that I found indicated little evidence for its effectiveness. I clarified why I was 100% certain that her issues in the car were not car-sickness (no vomiting, no salivation, won't take treats with the car running even if it hasn't moved).  He seemed hesitant to suggest medications until I flat out told him that we wanted to pursue it.  We briefly discussed what her triggers are (traffic, repetitive noises, strange dogs, the car) and training strategies. I was pleasantly surprised when my vet described the DS/CC protocol that I had already formulated in my brain to implement once the drugs are on board.

My vet's hesitancy to prescribe meds was both reassuring and disheartening at the same time.  I wonder how many dogs he sees who would probably benefit from medication, but the owners are not willing to go down that route.  I wonder how many dogs he sees and the owners don't even acknowledge that there is a problem.  And I wonder this fulling knowing that, even knowing the benefits of medications for mental health issues in humans and knowing people with dogs who are on medications and doing great. I can only imagine what it is like to convince people who don't think humans need medication for mental health issues that their dog should be taking it.  Some pieces of our society are so messed up that they would rather refuse to acknowledge that people (or dogs) are suffering than see them take medications for it.

Since publishing this blog article, I encountered this article by a DVM about why behaviour medications should not be a last resort.  This part especially makes a lot of sense:

In my opinion, medication should be considered as a first-line treatment option for the vast majority of dogs with true behavior problems – including aggression, compulsive behavior issues, and any type of pathological anxiety.  When we try to reserve the use of drugs as a last resort, something that we only try if the case is “really bad”, or if nothing else has helped, I believe that we do these dogs a tremendous disservice.
To me, this is similar to saying that we don’t want to use insulin in a diabetic patient unless he’s crashing with DKA, or that we don’t want to treat an infection with antibiotics until full-blown sepsis sets in – it makes no sense to withhold a basic treatment option with minimal risks and lots of potential benefits, until the situation becomes truly desperate.
Far better, if we can, to prevent this from happening in the first place with a well thought-out, comprehensive treatment plan in the beginning.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Happy Birthday Baby Girl

We don't get the dog we want, we get the dog we need.  You've taken me places I never thought to go, and taught me more than I ever thought I'd know.

Happy Birthday Ida. <3

Monday, January 30, 2017

Trick Training Tutorial

I posted this trick on my Facebook page, and a friend of mine then asked on Facebook how I taught it, and after I had written out a 500 word essay, I thought I should maybe post it here instead, complete with videos.

Getting Started:
Like any behaviour, there's more than one way to do it, but any way you choose should address the basic components of the final behaviour. These are: 1) jump over a thing; 2) jump accurately over a specific point; 3) jumping through a narrow space between two objects, and 4) jumping with something above their head; 5) all of those things at the same time. If the way I did it isn't working for you and your dog, think about what part of those 5 seems to be the problem, and then you can work on just that part some more.
- Ida started out already having a "jump" command, so we skipped most of the "teaching to jump" part.
- what I'm calling a baton can be literally anything that is a couple feet long and easily graspable with one hand - a broom stick, a ruler, a wooden spoon, a jump pole, etc. Just something straight(ish) and rigid.
- When you start making a hoop with your arms without any other props, it helps to have a mirror so you can see what you're doing. It is surprisingly hard to tell what's circular from the side!
I started by teaching her to jump over my arm using a baton as an extension to make it easier for the dog to figure out the initial behaviour of jumping over a thing. Once she was consistently jumping over my batarm, I shortened the baton part by adjusting my grip further and further down, so less of it extended from my hand, until I was able to drop it altogether and she was consistently jumping over just my arm. We worked on arm jumping until she was comfortable jumping over my arm at shoulder height when I was sitting. This didn't take us very long because we've been doing set-point for agility and she's easily clearing 24" from a stand-still.
Tip: If the dog tries to go under or around instead of over, lower your arm until it is easy for them to step over and then raise it a tiny bit with each rep until they’re jumping. The baton also helps with this… I was almost laying on the ground initially, so having the baton meant I could teach her to jump just over the baton leaning on the ground to start and then slowly angle it up.
Once she was comfortable jumping over my arm, I slowly started angling the baton/pole upwards, which helps the dog 1) jump over your arm while it curves slightly, and 2) get used to jumping in a more confined space. This was the first date we started working on it; initially when I started to angle the baton, I put my hand back down on the floor to make it easier, with the baton angled up.
Once she had the hang of it though, I raised it up more.

Once she was comfortably jumping over my arm with the baton upright, I angled the pole back out again and started moving my other arm into position. I started just with it angled over my head and gradually lowered it with each successful rep until I was eventually holding onto the pole with both hands with about 18" between. A bigger dog might need more space to be comfortable. This helps the dog get familiar with jumping through an enclosed space but with lots of room still.
Once she was jumping through the closed hand-pole hoop, I made the hoop gradually smaller by moving my hands closer together an inch at a time. The pole adds additional benefits here: 1) holding it with both hands makes sure you're actually making a closed hoop for the dog to jump through, and 2) it teaches the dog where to jump in relation to your arms. When we initially started fading out the pole, Ida jumped "outside" my arms if my hands weren't lined up well – she’d kind of jump between my hands instead of through my arms. I think keeping the pole in play until she was consistently jumping through the middle of the hoop would have eliminated that.
I don't have any videos of the intermediate part where I was holding the whole pole. :(
Once my hands were a couple inches apart, I got rid of the pole altogether and started making loose arm circles with my fingertips a few inches apart. Then I gradually closed them, and voila! A dog jumping through my arms.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Dreams and Goals

I have never been good at long-term planning.  Not because I don't like it, but I have always struggled with sticking to a plan, and learning how to alter it as I go along.  And most importantly, I never learned to set goals, which I think is a real weakness of mine.

I really like Bad Dog Agility's definition of "dreams" vs. "goals".  Dreams are far away things, that you someday hope to accomplish but there are too many steps between here and there to see a clear path, while a goal is a target with a foreseeable timeline and clear steps for how to get there.  They also recommend taking an immediate step towards any goal that you set but...

So here's my dreams and goals for all three of us - Snowball, Ida, and Me.

Dreams - Snowball
- TEAM1 Title
- "Compete" in some kind of scent sport
- Get his intermediate trick dog title

Goals - Snowball
- Submit the papers for his Novice Trick Dog (NTD) by Friday, January 13, 2017
- Hind end conditioning with the end goal of pain relief for his arthritis (and improving his sit) - ongoing.
- Enter the Barnhunt fun match in Red Deer in March 2017.

Dreams - Ida
- Be comfortable around traffic
- Be comfortable around other dogs
- Get her CGN
- Title in agility
- Have running contacts

- Submit papers for her NTD title by Friday, January 13, 2017.
-  Attempt TEAM1 by May.
- Learn weaves and teeter by Summer 2017

Dreams - Me
- Incorporate dogs into my current work
- Be more organized

Goals - Me
- Take Snowball for a walk every day, even when the weather is bad*
*walking a circle around the cul-de-sac counts in really bad days.
- Train at least 5 minutes per day with each dog.  Seriously me, 5 minutes isn't that long, set a timer if I have to.
- Drink at least 1000 ml of water every day for the rest of January.
- Take at least 7500 steps every day for the rest of January.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Dog In Front of You

I hear a lot that the handler should train the dog in front of them.  Often it is said in the context of training methods - some dogs do best with luring, others can easily be taught to use shaping, etc.  Regardless of what you're trying to teach, recognize that - just like people - not all dogs learn the same and you should use the best method for the dog.

But I also was very recently reminded that "the dog in front of you" doesn't stop there.  It's not just about the individual, but also about that individual at that specific point in time.

Dogs have off-days, just like humans do.   try to remind myself of that, but I think we could all benefit from the occasional reminder - before the dogs in front of us fail to meet high expectations set by the previous training session.  But, we are often not conscientious of how the environment of this training session differs from the one before it, not just physically, but also temporally and -probably more importantly - emotionally.  Anything that is different this time may affect your dog's performance during a training session: sounds that weren't there last time, being in a different room, whether the dog is tired or hungry (even just compared to last time).  Did something really exciting or really scary happen earlier in the day?  Is there a meatloaf baking?  Does the dog really have to pee (yes, even though they went out 2 seconds ago, Ida)?

All of these are mostly small, and almost entirely invisible things that we may not have consciously identified when we sit down to train the dog in front of us. Even though us humans might not notice them, they can all affect our dog's focus and stress or arousal levels, and thereby impact their performance and its time we started making more of an effort to think about them.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Happy Holidays!

Photographing white dog in snow = hard
Merry Christmas, Happy Winter Whatever, etc.  Okay, I know it's a bit late, but I have been busy!  Both with the dogs and without.

To start, just before the holidays I accepted a part-time position as a behaviour evaluator at our local shelter.  So now, instead of volunteering one day a week, I do the same thing but get paid for it.  Not much, but I'm not doing it for the hourly wage (although I have to admit having the cost of my gas covered by my wage is nice).

Snowball had a great holiday; I was off from Christmas until New Year's, which meant he got lots of walks at the off-leash park, there was someone home almost all day to let him in and out of the hard as he pleased.

Ida and I did practically nothing over the holiday.  Just before the break, I could see that two classes a week was starting to wear on her.  I think more the four car-trips than the the classes themselves; regardless, I made it my goal to not make her do anything with the car over the holiday, and I stuck to it.  We did a few desensitization walks around the cul-de-sac, but mostly we just worked inside on agility behaviours, which I'll write more about our holiday-time break in a separate post.  We went back to class this week and the break really made a difference.  Ida was full of vim and vigor and tons of enthusiasm in our jumping class.  And - excitingly and annoyingly - she was also operantly barking at the other dogs when we walked past.  That is, she was not freaking out and lunging at them, but barked 2-3 times at the other dog and then looked as me as if to say "Now where's my cookie?".  Unfortunately I had run out of cookies (bad human!), but seeing her interrupt herself without any intervention from me was so, so awesome!  I don't think we are there yet, but it really gives me hope that we'll be able to participate in "normal" group classes again.