Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Teaching the "hold"

These photos are from May 2010 where I worked with Cooper at the Debbie Zappia seminar. I had missed a step in his retrieve, which was that he would pursue and carry but I had no mechanism for communicating with him what it meant to properly "hold" an object, or tell him he was incorrect if he dropped it.
Before you go any further, let me warn you that you can put about 5 Zappia's in one of me, but hey, you aren't here for the beauty.

In the lower photos you will see how we are each seated and Debbie has the treats and the clicker. I had both my hands full with the dog.  The first step is for the dog to be comfortable seated between your legs and facing away from you. (having recently forgotten this and done it with the dog facing me, I think it comes down to which is going to make it easier for you to control the dog). If the dog is worried about that position, take the time first to click and treat and make it a positive place.  With the dog facing away from me, I used my right hand (I am right handed) to insert in his mouth and kept my left hand free to control the collar.  Again, I don't think there is magic in which hand you use, so long as it is comfortable for you.

The first step in this method is to teach the dog to accept your gloved hand resting in his mouth without struggle, holding it lightly.  In this first photo you see Cooper struggling back against me while I hold two fingers across his lower jaw, resting just behind the bottom canines in the natural gap.  It is the place where he will later hold the dumbbell.  We don't want to teach holding an object with the molars where the dog will likely roll it in his mouth.  We use a glove in this stage because the dog will close his mouth and pulse and perhaps try to rid himself of the intrusion.  I think the position of having the dog with his back to you helps to keep your hand in his mouth because the natural impetus is for him to move backwards, away from your hand and you are restricting that.  Do not just grab the lower jaw and hang on like a rodeo rider; I haven't seen it, but I think it would be possible to dislocate or break a jaw like that. We are only gently restricting their possibility for evasion.

In the photo below you can see my two fingers resting in that gap across Cooper's lower jaw.  Two ways of inserting the fingers are to press the bladed hand against the gums/teeth in front, much like inserted the bit to a horse, or simply to slide the two fingers in from the side, into that natural gap. The second is probably the easiest.

At first you will click and treat just as soon as the dog accepts your hand in his mouth without struggle and stops chewing/pulsing on it.  When the grip is still, click and treat. This is where it is nice to have the extra set of hands to do the clicking and present the treat to the dog. So, your first steps only require the dog to accept your fingers and be still about it.  Be sure the marker, whether a clicker or verbal, comes at the moment the dog is calm and still on your fingers. Using the same language that we do in other training, once we lengthen the behavior we can say "good" to communicate to the dog to persist and a reward will be coming.  However, in a first session it is enough to only ask the dog to accept your fingers in his mouth as instructed and be stop chewing.

Regarding this chewing and pulsing, imagine if you made this first step using a dowel, as many of us have done.  How long before it resembles a toothpick, gnawed fiercely.  Most dogs will not grip their owner's hands like they would a dowel and will learn to accept the object in their mouth by holding but not chewing, the same behavior we ultimately desire with the dumbbell.  Notice that we are not using a verbal command yet.  Add the "hold" command when the dog is willingly accepting your fingers in his mouth and leaving them in place, lighting holding, until you release.

With the release, leave your fingers in place when the click or verbal marker comes.  It is the dog's job to take his or her mouth off of the object. You will not pull your fingers away.  Likewise, when we introduce a dowel, when the click comes, the dog can drop the dowel, we do not snatch it away.  Use one hand to catch it underneath the dog's chin, but once you say "yes" or click, he is free to open his mouth, drop what he has and take his treat.

In these photos you can see that Cooper has relaxed and is holding my fingers properly.

I took my gloves off to introduce the dowel, in a subsequent session, because I knew I was not going to have a battle to insert something in his mouth.  Cooper had already been carrying things around and bringing them to me, so you may need more than one session before you are at this point.  Don't rush it, because this is the foundation of your retrieve. As with most things, take one step backwards and review when you first begin your next session. Make sure the dog will indeed accept your fingers in his mouth calmly. If not, begin there.  Photo on right, above, is from our first session.  Photo on left (notice different clothes, but back to the glove again) is our review in the second session.

Here you can see the introduction of the dowel. At first, the head is thrown up and there is resistance.  My left hand cradles under his chin and my right hand is used over the top of his muzzle to stabilize.  You can see by the hand positions that I am not holding the dowel in his mouth nor am I holding his muzzle closed, I am simply providing guidance... and then the hand comes away.


 See Debbie to my right, with the clicker and treats in her hand, and the bag of treats on the chair with her. This is also important because our system of teaching the dog that he gets treats VIA us, and does not just get to mug them (why we run with the dog to "re-load" during our session, leaving treats out in the open)is consistent.  He can see the treats there-- knows that person is holding them-- but he doesn't get them until he gives us the behavior we are asking for.

And here is Cooper, waiting for the dowel to be inserted.  You can see he is focused and not looking elsewhere, nor turning his head and resisting. He is simply waiting for me to place the dowel and say "hold", so he can do his thing and earn a treat. When we practice the "hold" we place the object in the dog's mouth. They are not reaching for it. Hold is only the action of holding the object in their mouth.  "Bring" is a separate action and a separate lesson.

****Marco had his first lesson in "hold" today.  First of all, he is a squirmy, five month old puppy, so I am simply restraining him and not ordering him to sit.  If I told him to sit, then I would need to reward him for that and if he struggled against my fingers would have to correct him, so what would I be helping? Not a thing. I would undermine his happy sit, that's for sure.  So, I just held him by his collar.  As noted, I had him facing me.  That may turn out to be the easiest method at his age and skill level. I might have left this until he was older but Marco is a big boy, and I decided I want to get this over while he is still at a reasonably manageable size. I think that was a good idea! At the moment he has razor sharp puppy teeth, with some adult teeth emerging and it is like looking into a shark mouth. I definitely needed gloves!  Still, in two brief sessions today we made great progress and at the end he was allowing my fingers into his mouth and holding calmly. IMMEDIATELY when that happened, my partner clicked and treated. Reward those tiny steps.  I will try and remember to take photos of video of his next sessions so that you can follow our progress.***

Monday, January 17, 2011

Yep. It's another Marco video! Jan 17 2011

This was my training session today with Marco, at the Winnegamie Dog Club Training Building in Appleton, Wi.  Today Marco, Pre and Cooper won the training lottery.  It went longer than normal, approximately 9 minutes, but during that time there was only a couple times when I needed to get his attention and that was because I had dropped treats on the floor.  If I continue to be so sloppy I will need to keep a leash on him so he doesn't graze on the floor, but those darned sharp puppy teeth are tough!  Today he was starting to make progress on the "object" as a place, and a little bit of rear end awareness with that and also the bark on command.  Shepherds are a noisy, talkative lot in comparison to my other dogs and I figure it is best to put his voice on command and then I have a tool to "turn it off" when I need to.  You can just see the little wheels turning in his head, especially on the object/place.  If the videographer would have been in position, you would have seen the expression on his face as he looked at me, then looked at the tub... hmmm... how about if I down? how about....if I put my feet on here? Oh! THAT's what you wanted?? Well, why didn't you just say so!  He is certainly a joyful boy.

Count the number of exercises we were able to practice in 9 minutes....

as a "head's up" and reminder to self, on my upcoming list of things to do is to begin to teach him the "hold" using my hand in his mouth.  Before I do that I might post photos of Cooper doing that at the Debbie Zappia seminar.  Teaser!  This will actually be a good exercise for Marco, as he is not particularly fond of having his mouth examined.  We made good progress, but it's on the list.

Yesterday Marco (and Pre) rode with me to Hartford, Wi where I attended the People and Paws SAR meeting.  He met another of his Burr Oak friends, Terri.  I am very protective over the experiences of my dogs, so before introductions to people there, I instructed them of what I expected, which is basically not to call to or reward the dog for not paying attention to me.  We got out and Marco went through his training routine. By doing that he learns 1) new places are fun 2) distractions are simply a means of accessing reward from my handler and 3) same rules, different place.  He seemed more distracted than normal until he reminded me that I had neglected to potty him before we went to work!! Bad handler! Once his brain was no longer floating, he was ready to go back to work.  He is a good traveler and I haul him around with me everywhere. Such a smart boy!  Enjoy your Marco fix for the day!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Make your 5 minutes count!

We had schutzhund club training today and one of the things that I demonstrated, using Marco, was how to make your 5 minutes count.   You might say "5 minutes? That's all the longer you train?"  The fact is, too many people go out and march around without a plan on what they want to accomplish. The dog wanders away and only returns when corrected or called, if at all. Attention is sporadic.  Your goal should be a session that is dynamic and in which your dog never "falls out" of attention.  If you are like me, you will come out of a good session slightly out of breath!  Time yourself; see how long you can work when you are moving constantly before you are out of breath, or the dog starts to fade on attention.  If you can indeed work for 5 minutes without your dog stopping, looking around, waiting for you to talk to someone else or think about what to do next, good for you!  If not, pay attention to how long you can do it, and start there.

While I had a nice session, I did not, in fact, have a full five minutes of attention.  Marco thought that all those extra bodies in the building were quite interesting.  All of our people are instructed to ignore a dog that is working and runs over to them.  The last thing you want is the "aww, cute puppy" syndrome and have the disobedient pup get rewarded by leaving you. As Marco mugged Sue's yummy smelling treat fingers, I went to him, pushed him at the flank area to remind him that I was still there and he left her to go back to work.  I also recommend keeping a leash on the dog, even if it is just dragging at times to restrict the roaming if necessary and keep the dog active.  For some dogs, having the handler push them or touch them is worrisome (this is not a correction) and so it is better simply to restrict their options for mistakes. You can tap the leash lightly and move away and when the dog follows and shows attention be sure to mark it verbally and reward. 

Before you begin your training session, make sure you have the tools available that you will need. For this exercise, you need food because you need to keep things moving and not stop to get a toy back from the dog. Most dogs that we start this with do not know the gamut of the rules of toy play so you will be left stopping the exercise if you don't have proper grip, the dog tries to leave with the toy, or you can't get it back without a fight.  Stick with food.  Naturally, going back even further, this means you brought a hungry dog to training.  A dog with a fully belly (except a Labrador, which seems to want to eat at any time!!) may elect not to interact when things are too demanding, or possibly stressful because he does not NEED the reward system you are offering.
Have your food accessible.  Yes, this likely means dumping it in your pockets. And make sure you aren't wearing jeans so tight it takes a can of Pam and four strong men to get your hand into them!  Some folks use bait pouches but be careful about anything that you cannot have during a trial that the dog may learn as a visual cue. Another thing that I like to do is to leave my container of food on a table or chair, and when I am "out" I run excitedly with the dog to re-load.  For a dog, movement is rewarding, so you make even that part fun, and they don't lose attention while you fill up.  Instead of a time limit, you may find yourself judging how well you are doing by how many "fill ups" you get per session.
Have a leash available, even if you aren't using it.  Better to have it there at hand.  The leash ideally should be without a handle or long enough that the dog will not catch their feet in the handle if it drags.
If you use a clicker for any part of your training, stick it in your pocket.  Oh, and be sure it's not the same pocket as you just dumped your treats in. Take it from me, that gets very yucky. Same rule applies to cell phones. They don't like treat goo, either. (been there/wiped that off).  If there is anything else you might need during your session, such as tubs or other place markers, have them ready.

Before you begin, take a moment to consider what you want to accomplish.  If there is anything special that you will be introducing, consider how you will do that. Visualize your exercises and what you will do if your dog's attention wanders.  If you have already thought through the process, it won't throw you off your game when it happens and you will be more likely to make good decisions. If you struggle to remember what to do next in the heat of the moment, consider buying a small white board and making your list of exercises, then placing it next to your food container so you will see it when you refresh.  Remember that there is no rule that says you must do everything on the list--- always end with success and leave the dog wanting more!

If your dog is coming out of his crate or car, give him a potty break first.  THEN put on his training equipment.  This will become a cue to him that he is going to work.  If we want him to understand that he needs to turn on and be "into" us, then we need to make it clear to him by being fair and consistent. If we put on a prong collar and leash, let him drag us over to a tree and then yank the snot out of him for not paying attention to us it is not fair.  Certainly, with more experienced dogs, they understand obedience commands no matter the equipment, but when a puppy or young dog is learning, we want to give them every advantage. Therefore, let them potty on their flat collar and a long line or flexi.   Then put on the training equipment you will use and add a verbal cue.  For my dogs, I say "wanna play?" for obedience and "lets go to work" for protection or searching. In this way, your dog is not left to try and guess what they are going to do.  More likely than not, they would guess wrong and be corrected, when all we need to do is prevent that mistake by making their task clear.
An example of this would be if you were practicing martial arts and every time you walked in the door of the studio, you were engaged in a fight.  You would come in expecting a fight.  But today you enter, mentally ready to fight and when a man approaches you quickly and you hit him, they tell you" no, no, no! today is for meditation" . But then you walk into the library, and someone punches you.  It will be difficult for you to learn and very stressful because you will not know what to expect.  We all want things to be predictable, dogs included.

Have the dog driving into your hand for food before you enter your training area.  Don't enter your training field or building with the dog already not paying attention.  Then go, go, go! Keep moving, keep it fun.  Mark the behaviors you desire.  One of the things that I say is "there can be no NO without a YES" which means that until a dog understands what the behavior is that earns  "yes" marker, you can't tell him he is wrong!  "No" (nope or uh-uh) only apply when a dog knows a behavior and is being wilfully disobedient.  Keep it moving, keep it fun and quit while you're ahead.  At this stage it is not about how long your dog is able to work, but how well.  Do not push until the dog is merely surviving the experience rather than participating in it.
One other thing I do is add a verbal cue that tells the dog we are finished. I simply say "all done" and that means our exercise is finished. This can be helpful later on in protection work when we have a means of communicating to the dog that he can cease being on alert, in the search dog to let him know the search is over... it lets the dog know they can go back to being a dog again.

In a five minute session we were able to work the following behaviors:
  • "driving into my hand", pushing me back for treats
  • spins on both sides
  • the Knut Fuchs method of teaching heeling between the legs
  • heeling position on right and left with outside spins
  • sit
  • down
  • stand
  • recall
  • rear end awareness and turns
  • environmental distractions
  • working on elevated surface
  • place markers with object and 360 degree turn on object
The next time you set out for a training session, give some thought to what you want to accomplish and set yourself up for success by being prepared.  If you discover that your dog "checks out" before the session is over, make note of that and be sure to make the next session shorter.. then once you have built up to holding his full attention for that period of time, you can increase it.  Quality over quantity. 

 I hope it leaves you breathless....

Friday, January 14, 2011

Marco Learns a Lesson

Today I let Marco out to load up in the van and he ran to the training building. You might think this is a good thing, and of course, I am very pleased that he is so excited to train that he felt compelled to short cut the whole process. Unfortunately, that meant he eliminated a critical element--- ME!!

  Even if I am only going to my training building, I load up the dogs and drive there so that 1) they are contained in crates until it is their turn and 2) they learn that jumping in their crates and going for a ride leads to good things. 

So today, when Marco ran to the kennel, I recalled him. He did not come.  Instead, he jumped up against the door several times, hoping it would open to the Land of Fun Things.  I do admit to calling him one more time, giving him the benefit of the doubt, being a puppy-head and all. He still failed to respond. I said "nope" and retrieved a long line.

Then I retrieved Marco.  I did not call him and give him a chance to redeem himself or do something for which I would have to reward him, I just snagged him up.  I did not correct him or yell at him.  I simply walked him back to the house, and he bucked like a little bronco when he wasn't allowed to sniff the ground or run around as he preferred.  I calmly took him inside the house and put him back in his crate without a word.  And then I did something unspeakable-- I took out ANOTHER DOG instead of Marco!! Momma, Noooooo!!!! Not fair! Not fair! I let Pre out and put him in the van, went to the building and trained dogs for about an hour before returning to see if Marco had appropriately processed his lesson.

This time, I attached the long line to his collar, just in case I would need it (do not want to create an issue with grabbing his collar and having him associate it negatively) and let him out of the crate and out of the house.  Smart little man that he is, he did not run off.  He stayed with me, and focused on me and I rewarded him with treats for that and he happily hopped into the van.  Success!

If he had decided to run to the kennel the second time, I would have calmly retrieved him and placed him back in his crate.  He would go without training and without his meal until the next learning opportunity.  For a little doggie who loves training and loves to eat, this is a powerful motivator!  If I had yelled and yanked and punished, it would have been associated with me putting hands on him and retrieving him.  If I had spent my anger doing that and still taken him to training, he would have been further rewarded for running away.  He might think , "so what? a little yelling and I still get to do what I want!"  Instead, I took away what he wanted. In behavioral terms, this is a negative reinforcer.

Withholding reward is a powerful tool in learning.  Use it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Rocking His World- control the food

I had several lessons recently where we had to discuss the lifestyle of the dogs, and how things would need to change in order to motivate the dogs to work with their owners. I thought I would jot down some of those comments, as they apply to anyone either working a new dog of any age, or beginning to re-train one.

The goal is to become the Center of the Universe to your dog, so that, instead of having to nag and call and bully, you have a dog who wants to work with and for you, and who demands it.  Most dogs want a clear leader for their pack and tend to act out when that leadership is absent or inconsistent.  The pack leader is not abusive and does not have to physically dominate a dog; a leader controls resources.

What resources can you control?  Food, play and access are three.  Food is a powerful tool in training, but anything we use must have value to the dog.  If the dog can eat whenever he wants he can choose to refuse our offering because he knows he can eat later.  Food as a training tool is a better choice for teaching behaviors because we do not have to worry about all the rules of play/retrieve/release that come with using a toy. The first thing we control is the food, and we do that by determining how much the dog needs to eat to maintain a working, healthy weight.  Remember that this can change depending on the amount of exercise the dog gets, and if it is entering a growth phase. It is best to visually examine your dog each day to determine whether he needs more or less.

So this first change is to put the dog on a fixed feeding schedule, as opposed to free feeding.  When changing the way a dog looks at his meals and adapting your role to be more than that of just person who throws food in a bowl, I recommend feeding twice a day and feeding slightly less than what he would normally eat, so that he first begins to look forward to dinner time.  For the first few days of this change, I wouldn't ask the dog to perform an obedience command for his dinner BUT I would put down the dish and give him 10 minutes to eat it.  Later, my rule is that if the dog walks away from the dish, I pick it up, but at first a dog who is used to being free fed might think he can pick at his food at will. His world is about to be rocked! 

Make sure your family is on board when you make this change, so that they do not feel sorry for the dog and sneak him other treats. It will only serve to undermine what you are trying to accomplish. By feeding twice a day, you know the dog will have another opportunity to eat.  As a word of warning, he may go several days of only grabbing a mouthful or two until he figures out that the food is truly going away. We are not actively training during this time using food until we have created a mechanism to use as reward, which is desire.

Do not tease the dog with his food,  remove it or otherwise interfere with his eating once he begins to eat or you will create food guarding behaviors.  Instead, as part of your role as the "giver of all good things", drop a special treat or two into the dish as he eats.  You want him to look forward to your presence and interaction as a good thing.  If you had a delicious steak and someone kept taking it away from you as you ate, pretty soon you would position yourself to protect it and if the behavior persisted, you would probably clobber the thief!  Your dog doesn't feel any differently about unfair behavior than you would.  So instead, we show the dog that we are fair and bring good things to his table and that people near his food, or hands near his dish are good.

You can build on this by portioning off the dog's meals and then dropping handfuls or pieces into the dish.  The dog will eat the pieces and look at you expectantly... drop some more.  Again, you are simply showing him that your presence and contribution to his dinner time is a good thing.

When I have a dog who presents with food guarding/aggression OR I get a new dog, I immediately begin feeding by hand. With no dish on the floor, there is nothing to guard and the dog learns that all good things come from my hand.  When you do this, you can't be lazy about it and think you're just going to throw a dish down tonight because you're tired.. the meals MUST come from you.  My goal with the new dog in particular, is to attach him to my hand, so to speak, and have him working for his meals in a dynamic manner.  You can begin to put his obedience sessions on cue by saying something such as "wanna play" (which is my OB cue) and then beginning your series of spins, recalls, positions.. all for food.  The goal is never to have the dog leave you and "check out" during this session, the same as you would not reward the dog for wandering away from the food dish.

In addition to the positive attributes of controlling the resource for the purpose of training and establishing leadership, it can also be a critical element for the working dog.  Without going into medical detail, particularly with the deep-chested breeds that are statistically prone to bloat and torsion, we need to know when the dog has last been fed and how much so we can avoid exercise and water intake that could prove fatal.  By knowing when your dog has eaten you could potentially save his life.  You also know immediately when your dog is "off his food" and not feeling well.  In the case of some medical conditions, including a blockage this also could save a life.  If you know your dog eats 2 cups per meal and consumes it within five minutes as a rule and that same dog eats a mouthful and then coughs it up or chooses not to eat, you immediately know something is wrong, and to keep an eye on it or get it checked out.

As with all dog training, patience is key.  Remember that you are rocking the world of your dog as he knows it.  Dogs --and humans-- will cling to that is familiar and resist change.  For the dog, this may mean he refuses to eat under the new rules, at least at first.  Resist the temptation to chum up his food to entice him.  It would be an incredibly stupid dog who willingly choose to starve when there was food in front of him.  This is not to say they won't hold out for longer than you would think probable, as evidenced by my boy, Digit, who decided he no longer wanted to track and went four days without more than enough food to make his stomach rumble before he decided to surrender. 

Reward effort.  The dog who has never had to work in this manner or taken food by hand is possibly not going to be glued to you the first time you try.  Reward the small steps of success, to encourage him to keep trying.  If you set him up to fail, he will stop trying and we don't want that. Be sure that when he comes into your hand for food you mark it "yes!" and give him food!! Small, easy steps at first, building toward the final behavior.  The change may be difficult for both of you, but if you persist, it will be rewarding.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

working for a living- Marco on January 9

I usually put Marco's meal allotment in my pocket and he has to earn his dinner by practicing the various obedience exercises he knows or that we are working on. Today it was nice enough outside that I thought we would work a little on tracking again.  Marco has a natural desire to investigate with his nose.  I have to make some adjustments in our training because since he is not restrained,  and he wants to be near me where it is rewarding, it is hard to lay a track without his assistance.  What I end up doing is making a snow scent circle and placing food there and then walking backward and placing food in the steps as he works his way down the track, where I will then lay another scent circle, which gives me time to put in a few more steps!  The positive part is that he learns to work through where other dogs have run, etc, and follow my footprints.  Since I am also trying to take a few photos, I need enough distance to get a photo of him working the track!  Talk about multi-tasking!

And here is Marco with his Orbee ball.  I actually found these on line and ordered them for gifts for our annual schutzhund club gift exchange.  I found the large size to be extremely large, far too big to use for training but a nice play object (which Pre also enjoys) and I think they will be useful for targets for send aways because the dog can hit them with speed and not break a tooth and the large ones are too big to swallow and choke. What they term the medium size is slightly smaller than the "large" balls on strings that I use for training.  They look like a little globe.   At any rate, Tom selected the gift I had brought and no one else wanted the Orbee ball so we ended up taking it back home with us.  Now it belongs to Marco.
True to what I observed when we initially tested him, Marco prefers to possess and guard rather than retrieve.  He will bring the ball back in exchange for food, though, but for the most part his toys will need to be on lines to ensure their return, I think.

Seemed like a good idea at the time

This goes under the heading of "it seemed a good idea at the time."  Marco had some of his early upbringing in the company of other dogs, so I feel good about his socialization skills. Since coming here, I had not allowed him to free play with other dogs. Instead, all of his reward and fun have come through me so that I am the center of his world, and not a dog buddy.

Today I thought I would let Marco stretch his legs running in the fields with another dog and that it would be a fun break for him.  He has been very attentive to me in his training sessions so I did not think it would be harmful to that. So which dog to use? I didn't want to take out one of the adult males who might squash him mentally or physically, so opted to bring Chica, a small Dutch Shepherd female.  Her momma, Roya, had been one of my greatest puppy teachers of all time, but she is older and Marco, at 5 months, is bigger and more exhuberant than her.  I figured Chica could simply outrun the little goober if necessary.

Well, she could. And did.  But since I have been working alot with Chica lately, as well, she also wanted to be near me.  And every time she would come running back to me, Marco would body-slam her. Female dogs are generally very tolerant of puppies.  I thought she should have a smack down, but she was too polite for that. Marco couldn't outrun her, but he could ambush her! I carried a bag with treats, a ball and a leash, in case I needed to separate the dogs.  When Chica would run back I would tell both dogs to sit and then reward them with treats, thus saving her from another slobbering display of affection.  I was practiced recalling Marco from Chica, which was also a good lesson. I was able to turn my good idea turned bad back into a good idea by making it an obedience lesson.  In the future, however, it will serve both dogs better to have their own running time with me rather than sharing.

Pre gets a new jolly ball

This really doesn't require words. I bought a Jolly Ball (horse toy) for Pre at Fleet Farm because Sam said he loves them.  He was right. But I did have to tell him that HIS BAD DOG punctured the ball in his first play session!! Crazy dog.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Snow Day- Marco

Of course, Marco got a Christmas Day walk!  I didn't walk him with the other dogs because right now we are focusing on the fact that all good things in the world come from me.  I always take treats with me, and we make a lesson of it, practicing recalls and positions.  To Marco, it's just all fun and food!

 what a head, eh?

Here is Marco, stuck in the snow.  He discovered that the snow was deeper than he thought! After that, we stayed on the plowed trail. He has such a serious look on his face.

this is an artsy picture of Marco running with a snowball in his mouth.  I didn't have a toy with me, so I would kick loose clods of snow and toss them and he would chase after them and attempt to carry them back... until they disintegrated!

we practiced a little tracking. if the weather isn't so cold that it hurts to breathe through my nose, I will track with the dogs and this was a warm, snowball-packing day. We had done a few snow scent circles so on our walk I would step out a scent circle, put down some treats (string cheese is good for snow, but some of my footprints had his puppy chow in them) and proceed to walk backwards, dropping treats in my tracks.  In that way, I could put a few extras in a print and gain some distance on him!  He was all about finding that food and loves to use his nose to the ground.   The following day he did a very nice serpentine track.

Snow Day- Pre

And this is Pre in the snow, on Christmas Day. He was totally crazy, leaping through the snow and then burying himself in it.  He would stick his head into the snow and the push his rear end, tunneling until all that was visible was a piece of his tail. I tried to capture the moment he emerged, flinging off the snow, but it didn't quite work out.  We have 40 acres, so he had plenty of room to stretch out.

Snow Day- Tawna

This is lovely Tawna, a female German Shepherd that I had in for training.  These photos were from our Christmas Day hike around the property.  The shaved piece on her front leg is from her spay and her belly hair hasn't grown in so it looks like she has a dramatic tuck. I sure wish vets didn't get so carried away with shaving!!   Still, the snow didn't bother her at all and she had a great time running through the snow.  My favorite photo is the one with just her ears showing, as she hunts mousies!  Such a sweet, funny girl!


I realized that I haven't yet told the story of Marco. He made his first appearance on our Christmas card this year and people are still wondering how a German Shepherd found his way into the mix.  Let me tell you this: it was fate.

If you follow my blog, you know that this has been a tough year for me, losing two of my best friends, Jinx and Digit.  When Digit died, circumstances had conspired to ensure I was home and found him, rather than a stranger. Tom was still away on his hunting trip when I received an eerie email.  The address was that of Sherri Bednarczyk, a well known schutzhund competitor in our region, who had passed away unexpectedly about a month earlier.  I was taken aback, but read on.  The message was actually from her daughter, Dawn, offering condolences for my loss of Digit and recalling how her mother had felt the loss of her dogs and how her new puppy, Marco, had brought such joy. She said that she wasn't sure if I was ready, or even interested, but that if so she would like to show me her mother's puppy. I cried on the phone as I told my husband about receiving the message, and how I felt the timing said it was meant to be. I had lost my dog and Marco had lost his master. 

I spoke with Dawn and arranged to meet Marco. A blizzard interrupted the initial plans. In the meantime, my logical brain was arguing with my emotional brain, which was convinced that I needed to see this puppy. I took my friend, Sam, the best puppy-tester in the world and cautioned him to look for faults (logical brain) and off we went to Chicago.  As we stood in the living room, Steve Z released Marco upstairs and down he raced... straight to me. uh-oh! So much remaining the detached observer! We took Marco to the back yard and he was stellar.  He had a natural, full grip on the rag. He wasn't startled by loud noises, or unnerved by body contact.  He had nice prey drive and equally balanced food drive.  The only thing he did not do was to retrieve, preferring to guard and possess objects.  I can work with that! And he was darned comical strutting around the yard carrying a giant branch that actually belonged to one of the other dogs.  Needless to say, he went home with me.

Since that time, he has been learning lots and I have discovered that, by default, I have an extended family in the Burr Oak schutzhund group.  Sherri had big dreams for Marco.  I have them, too.