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Confessions of a Curfew Breaker

It's official....

June 12th 2012 10:11 pm
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Jack is an AKC Canine Good Citizen!

We started in a class of about fifteen, and a perhaps five of us actually made it to the test. However, there was another class testing alongside us, which brought a new challenge in the form of a dozen strange dogs. Two BC crosses both got along terribly with my dog - several times I had to break stares and body block, and once I needed to actually physically force my dog out of range. It wasn't a very encouraging start.

Test 1: Accepting a friendly stranger
Swimmingly! The woman evaluating this section was very easygoing, which calmed both of us down.

Test 2: Sitting politely for petting
Needed an extra cue for sit, but not bad.

Test 3: Appearance and grooming
No problems here. Jack loves brushing.

Test 4: Out for a walk (walking on a loose lead)
I wasn't pleased with this test. He did well enough to pass, but it was much less than I expected of him. I wish we could've had a warm-up ring!

Test 5: Walking through a crowd
Our very best test, in my less-than-humble opinion. He gave an excellent heel, tight and focused. The evaluator gave some truly uplifting praise and suggested we try rally.

Test 6: Sit and down on command and Staying in place
These are pretty simple. Jack downs very well(we even won a "quick draw down" contest during class) and short stays have never been an issue.

Test 7: Coming when called
He came running. So far so good...

Test 8: Reaction to another dog
Ouch! I was worried about this test, and I should've been, because even with practice it was troublesome. He ignored a cue to sit and got overexcited, but not so out of control as to fail the test. Definitely needs works to satisfy me.

Test 9: Reaction to distraction
Strollers and thunking phone books behind us. I didn't worry about this much, but the evaluator threw the phone book behind us and he nearly broke. Still, a pass.

Test 10: Supervised separation
Jack was a little more stressed than I'd like and the evaluator was a complete and total stranger, and not one with a very calming presence. I heard him get a little whiny, but it was a success overall.

And ta-da! Eight weeks of hard work, and Jack finally has his CGC! Now, when does rally class start?


An adventure filled Saturday!

April 14th 2012 1:51 pm
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Week three of CGC class! We headed out to our local AKC-affiliated club at 8:30 this morning. On the way over, we stopped at the dog park, where Jack played very nicely with a Pug.

Jack was VERY distracted by one of the assistant trainer's Cavaliers. It took me several minutes to get him working for me again. Once we were in motion, though, things went great. His heeling was much improved today - the more verbal encouragement and praise he gets, the better he heels. We had a few unsuccessful left 360s, but it was okay. Jack was the demo dog for the class today. First the instructor tried to handle him (to demo attentive heeling) but she has a somewhat unusual gait, and Jack doesn't know her very well, so he wouldn't work for her. No big loss - with me handling, he demoed stand-stay and sit and walk around the dog today.

Stand stays are not the greatest, so that and heeling will be the major focus of this week's practice. Also on the agenda are restrained recalls. Jack has a pretty good recall, but practice doesn't hurt.

Heeling! We are continuing to practice heeling just to get used to it, with great rewards, as I don't want to burn him out on it. My instructor always has us do left turns/circles/spirals first, since they're supposed to be easier, but I've found them to be much harder. Practice makes perfect, though, and the more time he spends heeling the easier it will be.

He almost started another disastrous stare-off with a Pit today, but with quick thinking and body blocking I got him back to work. Hopping on a platform and being groomed is his favorite part of class, I suspect, so no trouble with the grooming test! Our first "official" supervised separation went great today - some concern, but none of the whining or barking that I expected.

After class, we drove around the lake checking out boat landings, and had to give a pair of joggers a ride to the hospital. Jack ignored them completely. Granted, they were possibly the most nonthreatening, touristy yuppies ever, but I was proud of him nonetheless. Last time we picked up someone in distress, it was a very tall, athletic fellow and Jack got pretty growly at his equally tall and athletic companions. I don't consider him growling at strange men in the dark a negative trait, but it's nice to know that he's got some sense of who is and who is not a shady character and I won't need to start crating him/stop letting strangers in the car.

we went downtown, to State Street. This is a busy, busy city street, full of pedestrians, street musicians, vespas, bikes, skateboarders and more, with shops everywhere. Jack did GREAT in the street. He didn't approach anyone without permission, but he was happy to accept water from a nice man when allowed to. We had lunch on the patio of an East African restaurant so the dog could be out with us. He begged a little (hot chicken at eye level? who could blame him?) but as soon as it was clear we weren't sharing, he laid quietly under the table for the rest of the meal.

It was a long, long day for a dog who leads a quiet suburban life. I haven't heard a peep out of him for hours and I probably won't for several more.


Smartest Dog in the Building

December 11th 2011 12:47 pm
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This was a busy weekend for Jack. On Friday, a visit to Grandma in the nursing home. In the past, Jack has shown fear towards wheelchairs, so I mostly keep him close and confined while visiting, but much to my surprise he quickly befriended three dog-loving men, two of them wheelchair users. He was very polite and behaved well for the visit.

Saturday we visited the pet store. Jack was pretty riled up by everything, but he was kept under control without much effort. I very nearly bought him a nice harness, but alas, shortage of funds led to us leaving with only cat food.

Sunday was absolutely beautiful. It hasn't snowed lately and it was unseasonably warm and sunny today, so I took him walking on DNR land. On the way back from hike that involved unauthorized ice skating and chasing bunnies, we walked right into a man and his two Golden Retrievers, Rocky and Lily. They said hello to me, and all three dogs promptly tore off in the direction of the cars in a flurry of fluffy tails and Golden smiles. I admit that I'm pretty proud that I'm the owner of the well-behaved dog with the impeccable recall, not the one screaming commands to no avail. Jack has grown up a lot!


Mr. Spontaneous

October 24th 2011 10:28 pm
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In the past, I've often dithered over training Jack a focused heel. I thought it would be fun, but it seemed complicated, and I didn't have much free time to work on a new behavior. So I never got around to it.

On the other day, while walking home, I noticed Jack was sticking very close to my left, so out of curiosity I added a food lure.

Two days later, the lure has been faded to a crossed arm and he is doing 20 paces of excellent focused heeling off-leash. He understands the concept of halts, though they still need work.

I don't understand how in the world this dog picks up stuff like this. I've never taught a dog to do this, and I don't really know how to, but somehow he does it anyway.

We'll spend a few more days finetuning at the park, and then move into different parts of town to work distraction.

I'm working especially hard to get Jack out in public in situation where he isn't overwhelmed, but is challenged. If things go even decently, we could be working near other dogs as soon as next spring - a big step for him. He's already dealing with squirrels, golfers, and barking dogs about 100 yds away, and he didn't have a meltdown when two bigger dogs nearly jumped us, so I'd say he's improving, slow and steady.


Feedback; or Why I'm a Terrible Dog Trainer

May 13th 2011 8:38 pm
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I am working on a consistent loose leash walking behavior. I keep calling this heeling because I want him walking loose in heel position; he isn't doing the hardcore obedience heeling. Jack is not a puller and never has been, but he mills about, stops when I don't want to, and puts pressure on the leash too often. A week ago, I just decided to start. I grabbed a handful of treats, slipped on a choke chain, and headed out the door. Amazing! The treats keep his focus and reinforce good behavior. Slack in the leash and praise are also reinforcers here. I haven't "corrected" or popped the chain, not even once - it's all in the noise and in slightly increased pressure when he is not in position, and he corrects himself. It's gorgeous and breathtakingly easy.

I'm happy and pretty surprised by how well he's doing after 3 or 4 short sessions. I tried walking at heel over muddy, steep terrain, and he did wonderfully at keeping my pace. We also walked directly by a calm, leashed dog without any reaction, which is a home run for us.

I was disappointed by a recall today. Jack was squirrelly and full of piss and vinegar, and I would never have called him (and set him up for failure) if I didn't need to. He eventually (FINALLY) came to me. A down-stay while the object of his distraction passed was pretty successful.

Down stay was wonderful this afternoon. I left him down next to the car, went inside and turned off lights, and came back outside. He did beautifully and hopped in the car as soon as he was released. He has had trouble staying while I'm out of sight in the past, so it's good to see that all our work is paying off.


We can do it!

May 6th 2011 4:20 pm
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The goal: the ability to have my dog safely on a long line in the yard while under direct supervision.

He's managed to prove himself a decently behaved dog in the very first day. In the morning, a person and two dogs walked right by our house while he was on the long line, but otherwise loose. Jack is reactive, so this is the kind of thing that could trigger a meltdown, though he hasn't had one for months. He takes a few steps and is about to start barking. I call him. He comes. Not only was his focus broken, I was able to keep it, at least in part. I know the dogs weren't off his mind, but he chose to turn away and play ball with me instead. I was very proud!

We also worked on boundary training - no matter WHAT is going on by the street, that's not a place to go. We've barely started with a few simple exercises, but so far he isn't doing badly.

We cooked out, cleaned the pond, and burned some scrap wood, wile Jack behaved nicely by rolling around and chewing sticks up. On the way back inside, however, we saw a loose dog across the street! I practically had a heart attack, and my dog tensed up in a very ominous way. This time I had a very hard time getting his attention, and though he didn't lunge or try to go after the dog, I was definitely not comfortable not holding the longline. Once the dog ran out of sight, I was able to get Jack into the house without much problem.

Today I discovered a reward that is very high value for Jack - playing tug on a cotton rope. I'm very happy to discover this, because tug is so more fun and active than treats, and he will work his paws off for that reward, which is great for difficult or newer behaviors. One of the nice things about Jack, though, is that I don't need a tug toy up my sleeve or a pocketful of treats (or for him to think I've got these) in order for him to work well and consistently. By all the laws of dog training, he should NOT be doing recalls at the levels he does with no reward but attention. Maybe he's crazy, maybe he just likes me that much. Either way, though, I am completely spoiled by his intelligence and eagerness to please.


Senior Prom and Trusting Your Dog

April 30th 2011 10:18 pm
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Every time I consider getting a puppy, I remember how wonderful it is to have a dog as obedient as Jack. That, and the seemingly everlasting hell of his adolescence.

I took B and Jack to the dog park this morning. Jack did a flawless recall at 50 yards while playing with another dog. I never get sick of watching him fly back to me. Later, he came into the nursing home to visit Grandma. His heeling got laggy in the building, but he was very good about greeting residents and did some impressive stays. I put him in a down stay and paid a pizza guy over him without a blink, and he was excellent about NOT greeting nurses. They held a Senior Prom (get the pun? get it?) at the nursing home as we were leaving. Jack, in a down stay at my feet, managed to badly scar three sets of parents whose kids wanted to pet him before I decided it was time to go home. I have no idea why most parents seem to think that my retriever will eat their children. Odd times.

On the way back, we stopped in a grassy field to let B run a little bit. This kind of place makes me nervous about Jack. I'm scared for him, even though I know him better than to worry about it. So I let him go. Did a few recalls for practice's sake, and he not only came flying back immediately, he even came to front without being asked. Impressive! I trust him with more and more freedom every day, because it's becoming a given that he will listen, even if I'm asking for something dumb and even if I don't have a ball or a tug toy or a chicken liver to dangle in front of him for every good behavior. Sometimes he does so well I wish I did.

I wish I could write like I love this dog. I guess there just aren't enough words for him.

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