Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Unit Studies

(Just when you thought I couldn't possibly rip off anything more from child homeschooling...)

The world of Homeschooling is a seemingly endless supply of wonderful ideas just begging to applied to our four-legged family members.

Take, for example, Unit Studies.

Now, I'll be honest here, perhaps I grew up in too dark a cave, but until I pulled a Homeschooling book off the Library shelves, I'd never even heard of the term before.

Wikipedia doesn't have much to offer (CLICK HERE to be unimpressed.) An internet search wasn't much more useful. THIS ONE seemed to do as good a job as any, although it lacks an example. Here's one with an EXAMPLE, although you'll need to scroll down a bit to find it.

Of course, none of it has anything to do with dogs.

But it could.

A Unit Study appears to be no more than taking a single theme and learning about it in a variety of subjects, all at the same time. So if you were to teach a Dogs Unit Study, you might take your child to a Guide Dog school as a Field Trip, watch a video about War Dogs for History, study mammal anatomy using a dog as your model for Science, read a classic dog story for English (and write a report),  do math with pieces of kibble, and draw a picture of dog for Art...

... or something like that.

But that's for kids, and this blog is supposed to be about dogs...


So, I have decorated this post with three different images of three different ways to approach a Unit Study for dogs.

For one, I have taking a Training Levels approach, and grouped the behaviors so they would fit on a page. You might try to come up with an On The Road activity that would incorporate whatever items you were working on (a Loose Leash walk to the park, doing a Sit at each street corner, Zen past any trash you might find, Distance around the stop sign poles, Recall once you get there... etc.)

For another, I use the six "subjects" I like for a Curriculum approach. In that case you might pick something like "Birthdays" as your Unit Study. You might take a field trip to the Bakery, practice Calm in Car while driving there (for Family Member), sitting for petting (outside the bakery) for Citizenship, no surfing off the coffee table (after you put the cake on it), Sit and Stay (Core Studies) for a greeting-card picture (Extracurricular Activity), followed by a few quick tricks to entertain whoever might be there (Just For Fun).

Finally, there's what I'll call (for now) the Learning approach, which is mostly composed of the different ways I could think of to help a dog to learn something. While I actually think that this one might have the most potential, since it would teach something in the broadest terms from the dogs perspective, I also know I don't have it right (as in, I don't actually know all the ways a dog learns) and I also can't think of a simple example of how/when I would use it... indicating (again) there is still work to be done on what's in it.

So there you have it - Unit Studies that are finally going to the dogs, instead of just being about them.

(As always, click on any image to see it larger)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Drills - Examples

You may recall I babbled about Drills the other day...

Well, now I have a few examples of what I'm thinking of. Nothing fancy, mind you, nothing overly original (sigh), but at least a hint as to what is bumping around in my head.

I just know there have to be lots of these out there, somewhere, but my google searches have come up empty. I would like to create a nice little binder of these kinds of short "training warm-ups" (I like that term better), perhaps laminate some cards, so that at the start of a Homeschooling class session, or when things are dragging, I can just pull one out and get the boys moving and engaged.

At least, that's the thought.

(Truth in advertising: I'm kinda jumping the gun posting these now, because with the exception of "Find Me" (a classic) I haven't actually tried any of them... yet... but I will!)

As a reminder, here's what I thought made a good drill/warm-up (after watching my son's Lacrosse training):

  • Well Organized
  • Clear Goals
  • Short Cycles
  • Fast Pace
  • Less Talk, More Action
  • Competitive/Cooperative
  • Positive, Immediate Feedback

(And yes, I also know I'm missing Summary descriptions on my examples, but these are just Proof-of-Concepts at this point.)


Warm-up Name: Target Tag

Summary: TBD

Skills: Target/Touch

Equipment: 2 Targets (mousepads are nice since they don't tend to slip, but you can use anything the dog knows how to target: plastic lids, Easy Buttons, place mats, bits of cardboard, etc.)

  1. Place Targets 10' apart and stand between them
  2. Cue the dog to touch the Target on your left, click, and drop the reward between your feet.
  3. Immediately repeat with the target on your right.
Repeat 2-3 times


Try a variety of Targets
  • A. Once the dog learns the rules, slowly back away 2-3 feet from the center (forming the tip of a triangle with the targets as the other two points)
  • B. Once the dog is good at (A), reward by tossing the treat onto the other target. See if you can get the dog to run from target to target.
  • C. Once the dog is good at (B), start the dog in one target, send to the second and either reward at your feet or back on the first target.

Warm-up Name: Find Me


Skills: Sit, Come, (Stay)

Equipment: None

  1. Put the dog in a sit-stay, go to another room and hide
  2. Call the dog and reward when he finds you.
Repeat, leaving the dog in that room and going into another

  • For dogs without a Stay:
    • Drop a few cookies and quickly hide while the dog is eating
  • For dogs without an out-of-sight Stay
    • Hide in the same room
    • Hide just around the wall and call immediately
    • Hide in plain sight in the other room
  • Leave the dog in a Down
  • Leave the dog in a Stand


Warm-up Name: Basic Obedience #1


Skills: Sit, Down, Heel

Equipment: 2 Cones (or other place indicating marker)

  1. Set up Cones (A and B) 10-12' apart.
  2. Start at Cone A. Cue the dog to sit
  3. As soon as the dog sits, hurry to Cone B, encouraging your dog to go with you.
  4. Once at Cone B, Cue the dog to down
  5. As soon as the dog is down, hurry back to Cone A, again encouraging your dog to go with you.

Repeat 1-2 more times

  • If your dog has a good Heel, have them Heel with you as your hurry/fast pace/run between Cones.
  • Switch up Sits and Downs at random
  • Cue the dog to Stay, start toward the Cone, and then cue the dog to Cone - see how much of a head start you need to beat him to the Cone (you may need to move the Cones further apart)

Friday, June 25, 2010


My son had Lacrosse performance training today, and as I sat there and watched the coach put the small group of boys through their paces I started wondering (as usual) if any of this could be applicable to the education of my dogs.

The kids sure looked like they were having fun.

Though covered in sweat and breathing hard, they all had big grins on their faces as they dodged, spun, then shot the ball into the net... or not... depending on their skill level and the parameters of the particular drill.

As much as my son loves Lacrosse, he is not the exercising-for-the-sake-of-exercising sort, so to see him working that hard and having a great time doing it is pretty rare.

Which is why I started thinking about my dogs, and the way I teach them, and wondering if it really is rather dull. Sure, there is (usually) variety in the program (the quizzes help that) and I try to keep the repetitions short (although they don't actually seem to care one way or the other on that point, being Goldens) and there is always cookies.

Plenty of cookies.

But is it fun? Really fun? No, I don't actually think it is.

But could it be?


And then I sat there and started wondered what it was about the Lacrosse drills I saw today that "worked" for those boys? (Yes, I suppose I could ask my son, but a shrug and smile is probably all I would get. Teenagers.)

I'll spare you the deep introspection and just blurt out what I came up with:

  • Short repetitions: A dozen or more reps per drill, and then they moved on
  • Fast pace: The coach kept the boys physically moving, no time for their brains to idle or drift
  • Well Organized:  The coach had a plan and he was able to keep the program moving briskly. He gave breaks at fairly even intervals and used the time they were re-hydrating to reconfigure things for the next batch of drills, so the boys were never just standing around waiting on him.
  • Clear goals: No, not those kind of goals. The drills were easy to explain and their point was clear. The boys weren't wandering around the field looking lost.
  • Less Talk More Action: Just a few words to explain what they were doing, perhaps a brief demo, and then he let the boys loose to try it.
  • Competitive: Lacrosse is a sport, played against an opponent, so competition is obviously built into the game, but the coach was clever and interspersed competitive drills throughout - and what boy can resist that?
  • Cooperation: Two against one drills, and having all three working together to accomplish something kept things congenial - important when they all came from different (competitive) high schools and all were carrying big "sticks".
  • Positive, immediate feedback: If they did well, he told them. If they did poorly, he showed or explained to them what went wrong and how to do better next time.
I'm not sure how I'm going to fold this into the education of my boys, but I'm going to try. It was just too positive an experience to ignore.

Stay tuned to see what I come up with!


I now officially hate the bumper (see Just a Golden and Just a Golden (update))

Yesterday, I could almost see promise, but today I've decided it was just a mirage. The method of me holding/them holding is just not working. The method of them picking it off the ground might actually work, given enough time, but I'm not sure it is worth the time it appears it will take.

Tonight, after Zachary dropped the bumper on my scantly clad toe for the third time (the same toe - the second toe on the right foot - with the pointy end of the plastic bumper... ouch...) I decided to call it night.

I think it's time to take a step back and figure out where the forest went.

All I really want is for at least one of the dogs to be able to HOLD something, in their mouth, quietly, for long enough for me to take a picture of them. That's all. Really, this shouldn't be this hard to teach.

Ok... anything that requires Zachary doing something quietly is due for a rocky journey, but what's up with Beau??? Mister stoic himself?

The only thing I can think of is that they think it's rude to be holding it while I am holding it at the same time. Now both dogs will happily play tug, so I'm not sure that theory holds much water, but I'm at loss to explain it any other way.

Beau absolutely, positively will not hold the bumper if I'm holding it.


Zachary will put his mouth on it, and he will now try to grab it from me (I shaped that) but if I offer any resistance he lets go. He'll also pick it up and drop it in my lap (awwww.... sweet, but not what I want.)

Maybe I need to switch to another object. Perhaps I should try a tug toy instead....


At this point, I'm at a total loss.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Just a Golden (update)

Just a quick post (for once)...

I tried a new approach with Beau and his bumper tonight (see yesterday's Just a Golden.)

Tonight I put the bumper on the ground and decided to see if I could shape him holding it. Keep in mind that Beau generally hates shaping - the fact I'm resorting to it showing clearly how desperate I am.

So with a bowl of treats, a clicker, a bumper on the ground, and the big dog staring up at me, we began...

... and it actually went much better than I thought it would (hence me knowing this would be a quick post. Clever, huh?) After a snuffle and a nuzzle he started picking it up, and within a minute or two I was able to click while he was holding it and jackpot "quiet" holds (no chomping or fidgeting).

He's still a work in progress, but I have to say that tonight was the longest, by far, I've ever seen him hold a bumper while not actively retrieving.

After a minute or two of working Zachary the old way (me holding, him sort of holding) I switched the bumper on the ground and he also did very well. He's much easier to shape so I was able to fine-tune it so he was grabbing squarely in the middle. He still fidgets way too much, but he fidgets the other way was well. In fact, he's just plain fidgety when he works.

Anyway, all in all, it was quite satisfying.

I have no idea if I helped or hurt the overall effort, but after so many weeks of going nowhere, at least tonight it felt like we accomplished something.

(I would have tried Wendy's suggestion about Hubby holding the bumper, but Hubby was holed up in the bedroom with the sniffles. Poor Hubby.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Just a Golden

I'm ashamed to admit it, but it seems I don't own a Golden Retriever after all.

Nope, it turns out I just own a Golden.

You see, we've been working on Level Four Retrieve for, oh, I don't know... forever? The idea is simple enough. You take an object (a plastic bumper, in my case), you hold it, the dog holds it, you hold your breath for a second or two and pray he doesn't let go, if not then you click, treat, and you're done.

Like I said, simplicity itself.

Only it's not, or I wouldn't be writing about it.

It should be noted that Beau is a fine retriever of things that he wants to retrieve. He'll retrieve balls, socks, underwear (sigh), big sticks, little sticks, apples from the tree, peaches... he loves peaches... not a scratch on those peaches, not a tooth mark, not a mark of any kind - and he plucks them soft and ripe straight off the tree himself.

I bet he could retrieve an egg, too, but I'm not curious enough to clean up the mess in case I'm wrong.

But I digress... as I was writing about Level Four Retrieve, Beau, and the bumper. Now Beau likes his bumper, and he'll retrieve that, too, if you throw it. He'll also retrieve it if you walk out, put it on the ground, then walk back, and tell him to Bring.

Darned fine retriever... until we ran into this "you hold, I hold" rule. That has him completely confused. Maybe he's just an either/or kind of dog, but the thought of him holding it while I hold it just isn't sinking in.

He'll sniff it, nuzzle it, and put his mouth around it, but he just won't hold it.


Not even for an instant.

We've been working on this for weeks.

Tonight we worked on it again, with the usual lack of luck. After I was finished, I put the bumper on the coffee table and moved on to Go To Mat. He likes Go To Mat. He understands Go To Mat. I figured it would make us both feel better.

Sure enough, after a dozen or so Go To Mat's we were both feeling quite pleased with ourselves, and so I decided to call it night. I put the cookies down and went over to check the camera. When I looked up, there was Beau, over by the Coffee Table. He carefully picked up the bumper, then trotted over and dropped at my feet.

Did I mention that he's a darned fine retriever?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Certificates of Achievement

Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for Awards and Certificates of Achievement.

They don’t have to be fancy… something printed on parchment-like paper will do, with a printed “gold foil” ribbon or star on it. I have every one the dogs have earned (mostly for just showing up in class) and I tuck them into separate plastic sleeves and put them in their Achievements Binder. Every time I add a new one, I flip through the previous ones and smile at how far the boys have traveled.

Soon, I’ll get to add Zachary’s CGC certificate (in the mail as I type.) I can’t wait!

Alas, there are no Certificates of Achievement for Homeschooled dogs. No parchment-like papers, no printed “gold foil” ribbons or stars. No physical reminders that anything happened at all…


But that doesn’t mean I can’t make one.

(Aren’t computers wonderful?)

Below please find the “official” unofficial Certificates of Achievement for Beau and Zachary for completing Training Levels Three.

I sure hope Sue doesn’t mind!

(As always, click to see larger)

Sunday, June 20, 2010


I know what you're thinking - that I'm going sit here and lecture you on the evils of ruts in your training...

... and you would be wrong.

I have no doubt there are times when ruts are evil, like when the dog is sooooo bored training the same exercises in the same order in the same way that they could practically do them without you.

(actually, I have no experience at all with a dog like that. Both my boys are more than happy to be little repeat-a-bots so long as they understand the job and are getting paid, but I'm sure such dogs exist out there... somewhere.)

No, today I'm thinking that ruts are darn wonderful.

Ruts are what make us do the same thing, over and over, even when we don't want to. Brushing our teeth is a rut. So is flossing. (It takes me 2-3 months of willpower to get in the flossing rut, but once there my day just isn't complete without it. Unfortunately, it only takes me a few days to fall out of the rut, hence my knowing how long it takes to crawl back in it.)

Today I saw the glorious benefit of a training rut. I have been working with Zachary (who wouldn't know a rut if it swallowed him whole) for ages, trying to get Level Two (On The Road) - Loose Leash for Level Four (remember that Level Four requires all Level Two items to be done someplace the dog hasn't been before,)

This isn't Rocket Science, here, this is the dog hanging out with you for a minute without making the leash tight. That's it. Of course, Ten Seconds Zachary doesn't "do" duration events, and therefore working on this has been a major drag.

He'll do it in the house, or around the house, but as Doing Nothing just isn't his thing, Doing Nothing when we're Somewhere is really not his thing.

So, after failing (miserably) for a very long time (don't ask how long) I finally had an idea.

(actually, I had lots of ideas during that very long time, it's just that none of those worked...)

Anyway, I decided that any time I was walking Zachary alone (sans Hubby and Beau) I would stop at every street corner and just stand there. At first, we stood for just a second or two (and even that was painful) but soon we were able to build up to 5, 10, 20, 30... seconds and more.

This is where the rut part came in. No longer was training a 1 minute loose leash some dreadful activity I had to drag myself outside to do. Instead, it was just a natural reaction. Hit a street corner, pause, keep walking. Sometimes I paused just a few seconds, sometimes I paused for much longer, but by making it a rut it seemed... not so bad.

Today, I am very pleased to say that Zachary stood calmly, patiently, for one whole minute with me while six teenage boys where yelling and playing basketball (with not one, but two basketballs) not so very far away.

Zachary was calm.

And so tonight I'm thinking ruts are pretty good. I'm also wishing I had brought my camera to commemorate the moment so I could cross the stupid thing off the list, but alas it wasn't meant to be.

No matter, I'm confident that when I do video this On The Road, Ten Seconds Zachary will have no trouble getting a passing grade.

Footnote: As an easter egg of sorts for those brave souls who made it this far - I have created a web site dedicated to Canine Homeschooling. As it is only a few days old, it is seriously lacking in content (but not intent) so feel free to stop by and take a look. Just remember that I have hopes of expanding it greatly over the next few weeks: There's even a spot for comments at the bottom of the main page.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Homeschooling - Planning Guide

You may recall the other day, that I was bemoaning the dearth of Homeschooling Workshops out there.

One of the things I would like to see most is the Canine Homeschooling Curriculum Planning Guide that would almost certainly be handed out on Day One - a guide that would help me figure out the things my particular dogs should be taught. It would include questionnaires and lists of ideas to help create your dog's personalized Curriculum, pointers to helpful programs (like Sue Ailsby's truly wonderful Training Levels) plus all the paraphernalia needed to plan out their studies and keep track of their progress.

Such things exist for Homeschooler's of Humans, why not for Canines?

Using what I've already done, and what I saw on Human Homeschooler's sites, I could picture it looking something like this:

Canine Homeschooling Curriculum Planning Guide

  • Family Pet vs. Family Member
  • Why Homeschooling?
  • What a Curriculum is (and is not!)

  • Core Studies
    • (What every dog should know: Sit, Down, Come...)
  • Family Member
    • (Developing a dog you can live with)
  • Citizenship
    • (Developing a dog welcome in society)
  • Extracurricular Activities
    • (Organized/Purposeful Fun)
  • Just For Fun

Getting Started
  • Long-Term Goals
    • (The big picture - where are you headed?)
  • Curriculum Definition
    • (The big plan - what do you need to do to reach those goals?)
  • Reality Check
    • (Can you get there from here?)

Basic Planning Guides
  • Monthly Lesson Planner
  • Weekly Lesson Planner

Additional Planning Guides
  • Unit Studies Planner
  • Projects Planner
  • Learning Activities Planner
  • Field Trips Planner

Basic Planning Templates
  • Long-Term Goals Form
  • Yearly Goals Form
  • Monthly Manager Form
  • Weekly Worksheet Form

Additional Planning Templates
  • Project Form
  • Activity Form
  • Performance Schedule Form

Tracking Templates
  • Progress Tracker Form
  • Report Card Form
  • Student Evaluation Form
  • Student Academic Record Form
  • Achievement Forms

Additional Resources


... or at least that is what the Table of Contents might look like.

Last night I created a web site that I will devote to Canine Homeschooling. At the moment, it is just a shell - a gutted facade of the template I started from - but should it blossom into something more, I'll let you know.

Until then, if anyone knows of anything already out there, please let me know. You'll be saving me a whole lot of work!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Compare and Contrast

This actually took place (and was written) quite a few weeks ago, but somehow never made it to the blog. My bad.


This weekend "I" finally got the "long" board out of the garage in order to work on Contacts. That is, I finally asked my son to get the much-shorter-than-I-remembered "long" board out of the garage.

I'd swear the board used to be be at least 10' long, but it either shrank(?) or a section off the end was re-purposed. In any case, the board is now a mere 6' long, 12" wide, and bears and uncanny resemblance to the 4' long, 8" wide "short" board that I use for Broad Jump.

Undeterred (and lacking any other option) I proceeded to give Contacts a go.

Here's the description: "Dog walks a flat board with a click on or immediately after the down contact. This is an optional behaviour."

For grins and giggles, let's assign each dog a letter (ie: Dog A and Dog B) and see if folks playing along at home can figure out from the descriptions which dog is which.

Dog A:

I put Dog A in a sit-stay, placed the board on the ground, released the dog with a click, and sat down next to the board in anticipation of shaping Dog A to walk the plank.

Dog A raced over to the board, jumped over it one way, and then back.

"Hmmm...", said I.

Dog A pawed at the board (C/T), laid down on the end (C/T), and jumped back and forth a few more times.

"Hmmm...", said I.

Dog A approached one end (click) and I tossed the cookie toward the other end in hopes of getting him to run across the board. Dog A raced around the board to get the treat, ran back, nosed, pawed, and laid down on the board again.

"Hmmm...", said I.

Dog A got up, and laid down cross-wise, hopped back and forth over the board yet a few more times and then ran around it (again) for good measure.

At this point I turned off the camera, and deleted the video.

Dog B:

I put Dog B in a sit-stay, placed the board on the ground, released the dog with a click, and sat down next to the board in anticipation of shaping Dog B to walk the plank.

Dog B trotted over and sniffed at the board (C/T). He put a paw on the end (C/T), then two (click) and I tossed the cookie down the board. He trotted half on and half-off the board to get it. He turned and I tossed the treat the other way and he went around the board.

I waited for him to come back to the board, which he did and then laid down on the end. I stood up and walked beside the board to the other end. He dutifully trotted along the board beside me. (C/T) when he reached the end and a few cookies, which he ate while standing on the board. We repeated a few times back and forth across the board.

He was good with his front paws, not so good with his back, so I stuffed a book under each end plus one in the middle. He jumped on the board, which slid off the books (covers to slippery). Oops. I put rags on the books and tried again. This time he did much better.

A few more tries and I started adding my cue: "Walk It".

Back to Dog A:

(Plank on books with rags between covers and plank). Dog A tries to paw the rag, grab the rag, and then push the plank out of the way to get the rag. Dog A also hops over the board a few more times.

I stopped there.

Back to Dog B:

I move the plank next to a wall, no books, and position chairs beside either end to try to eliminate corner cutting and "keep" Dog B on the board. There is still a 4' unguarded section in the middle.

I stand a few feet back of one end, toss a cookie far away, and as Dog B is trotting back toward me I give my "Walk It" cue. Dog B dutifully enters the right end, trots across the board, and collects the cookie I throw behind me.

Getting him to go the other direction was a bit trickier. I said "Walk it" and he would start down the board then circle back, hopping off between the chairs. I started clicking as soon as he was on the board and tossing the cookie over his head and off the other end of the board. After 4-5 of these he was trotting down the board without issue.

I stopped there.

And that's were we are on Level 3 contacts. For two half-related Goldens, they sure are different!

Any guesses which dog was Beau and which was Zachary?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Homeschooling Revisited

I wish I could find a Workshop for people who are Homeschooling their dogs - something to help you discover your goals, devise a comprehensive plan to meet them, give you strategies for staying the course, tricks to make things easier, tips for avoiding pitfalls, all wrapped up in a neat little bundle and topped off with a gold-star certificate to mark your successful completion so you can stuff it in your dog's Accomplishments binder.

(My preference, of course, being a serious introvert, would be for an on-line Workshop - something that you can tailor to your own needs, do at your own pace, and yet would still have the feel of a real Workshop.)

Alas, I know of no such beastie - but if anyone out there does, please let me know!

Instead, I fumble along here, spitting out list after list, posting about things that go well (yeah) or badly (sigh) all the while feeling overwhelmed, undereducated, ill-equipped, and rather alone in the world.

It's not that there aren't a lot of resources out there. Sue Ailsby's Training Levels is truly outstanding (truly), there are classes at the local (regional, world) level for those so inclined, quite a few Internet groups and lists covering a wide variety of topics, and far too many blogs and websites to count.

So what's the problem?

There just doesn't seem to be anything comprehensive, tailored specifically to dogs and further tailorable to my dogs.

The way I see it, when it comes to dog ownership, most people fall into one of three camps: You have the "three squares and a walk" camp (aka the owners of the average Family Dog) - who treat their dog like a well-loved goldfish that you can hug. You have the "performance" camp - who have one or more organized activities in mind (agility, obedience, rally...) and need a dog in order to participate in them. And finally, the Working Dogs - who have real life jobs to do (police work, drug detection, assistance...) and probably have had more specialized education than most kids I know.

(Yes, I realize Performance dogs and Working dogs are also Family dogs, but that's kind of like saying a Rocket Scientist is also a person - just because it's true doesn't mean it's relevant to the topic at hand.)

So what's the problem?

What if you want more than a goldfish, need less than an employee, and don't enjoy being on display? Where's the program for General Canine Education - something akin to what we provide for children?

I send my son off to school everyday, content in the knowledge that he will learn what needs learning - the state provides for that. If I had instead chosen to Homeschool him (an option where I live) we would be marching along using one of the several quality comprehensive programs out there, neatly laid out to help the Homeschooling parent teach their kid a wide variety of subjects, visit a wide variety of places, and engage in a wide variety of activities.

But when it comes to my dogs, I'm left entirely on my own. Sue's program, as wonderful as it is (have I mentioned that it is Truly Wonderful?) is not a comprehensive education program for The Complete Dog. It's not supposed to be. It seems mainly like the three R's portion, with some PE thrown in to keep things interesting. These sorts of things should be the backbone of every dog's education, but I don't view them as all a dog needs to know or do.

A complete program could start with Sue's program (or something like it) and then add in suggestions for places to go, things to do, plus ways to enrich your dog life - enriching your own life, in the process.

There are books that touch on some of these things, usually as a means to and end - puppy socialization lists are a good place to start, as are lists developed for those raising service dogs.

But what then? There doesn't seem to be much at all for Continuing Education that doesn't involve being on display.

(I'm rambling again, aren't I?)

Ok... how about this: In summary, I want a program that helps my dogs live as fulfilling a life as possible, in ways that I enjoy, with the understanding they will never be "more" than Family Pets.

Therefore, I will make my goal this week to revisit the concept of a comprehensive Canine Homeschooling Program. I know I touched on that early this year, but I seem to have gotten sidetracked over time with Levels and CGC and Rally. Now there is nothing wrong with all those things, and want to continue to pursue them, but I also don't want to lose track of the forest for all those trees.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Loose Leash (not)

Want to know a secret?

I have zero luck with loose leash walking. Ok... not much of a secret, I admit, as anyone who has seen me out walking my dogs is already in on it.

It's not that my dogs pull or are rowdy, they just don't keep a loose leash unless specifically instructed to do so (and even then it can be iffy.)

Beau seems to the think the point of the leash is to keep track of his humans, and therefore the leash should  be taut. I know this, because he will walk happily on a totally loose leash if I am gently touching his plumy tail - which he holds just high enough for me reach.

When he was young, it was suggested we play "Penalty Yards". You pick out something - preferably something the dog wants to get to - about 20 feet away and you start walking towards it. If the dog pulls, you turn around, return to your starting point, and repeat.

Unfortunately, Beau could do this all day.

Forget whatever is 20 feet away, Beau just seems to find the act of moving all by itself to be rewarding. He basically doesn't care if he is going this way or that, he just wants to be moving.

Standing still as a form of penalty (aka "Red Light - Green Light") doesn't work any better, since Beau could do that all day, too. Standing still means you can sniff the breeze, sniff the ground, sniff the landscaping...

Nope, standing still is quite all right with Beau.

Now Zachary... I don't know what to make of Zachary. He will walk on a loose leash if I have something he wants (ie: a cookie) or if he knows we are "training" (ie: knows he will eventually get a cookie) but if we are just out for the daily walk, then he doesn't seem to get the concept of loose at all. Again, he's not pulling, the leash just isn't loose.

Zachary also doesn't mind Penalty Yards - probably because he figures if I wanted to turn around, then he wants to turn around, too.

Zachary can be quite accommodating that way.

"They" (those mysterious "they" who never seem to have any problems teaching anything to their dogs) say that in order to teach a loose leash, you must never ever let the dog get anywhere on a tight leash.

It sounds like it might work. In fact, it probably would work. But let's face it, it's just so impractical for most people (well, at least for me, and I'm hoping to hide my failings by surrounding myself with my own set of like-minded "they"s) as to be worthless.

Maybe that advice was invented by people with small dogs, who can scoop up their little pullers and carry them wherever they need to go if they don't have time to insist on a loose leash.

Maybe that advice was invented for people who have no time constraints on their lives, who can afford to spend three hours walking to their car (to the door, to the car, to the door, to the car...) before they go anywhere.

Maybe that advice was invented for people whose dogs don't need several miles of vigorous walking each day, where three hours spent walking back and forth (and back and forth and back and forth...) between the front door and the side walk just isn't going to cut it.

I just know that that advice is not meant for me.

Which is really too bad, as I honestly, truly, think it would work and I can't much think of anything else that will.

Public Service Announcement: It has come to my attention that not everyone who reads these (all three of you) know that there is a wholly other blog out there related to my boys, used mainly for listing what I'm working on each week. If you happen to actually be interested, you can find a link to it at the top of this page, on the left, right below the boy's picture - or look here:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Six Cone Rally - Practice #1

I'll spare you the suspense - as originally implemented, my idea didn't work...

... at least not well.

The original idea was to set out six cones, in a cross-shape, so that I could utilize the space in my long, narrow backyard to practice Rally Novice exercises.

On our maiden voyage, I drafted a "course" that used just the 8 Rally exercises I'm working on this week (see the picture on the right - click on it to see it larger.)

"Stationary Exercises" are displayed in blue in the list on the right, the little orange cones show where you will be performing the exercise (list on the left) and the cone picture with all the numbers diagrams the pattern you should be walking.

Seemed like a good idea.

I printed it out, folded it in half lengthwise, folded it again (so I could just see #1-7), laid out the cones, grabbed a dog (Beau) some cookies (Zukes) and I was ready.

Lesson #1: My yard is not wide enough. Even with the cones spaced 6-7 feet apart, there still wasn't room to maneuver the big dog around without knocking cones over - and having already earned his RN title, he is familiar with both the exercises and cones. When I trotted Zachary out there, it got even worse. While he is quite flexible and nimble, he is also more likely to jump around, and therefore he knocked over even more cones than Beau did.

Lesson #2: Pick up the playing field before you begin to play, if you catch my meaning.

Lesson #3: Try to have an even surface to work on, or at least heavier cones to work with. The breeze from Beau's tail was enough to topple my wimpy soccer cones on lumpy grass (next time I'm breaking out the heavy-duty CalTrans cones!) It was also no good to have to go from grass to brick to grass, but as hubby would frown on major yard demolition just for an experiment, we had to make do.

Final Analysis:

Actually, despite the doom and gloom above, I think it still might work.

It's not going to work in my backyard, but if I move it to the front yard, I can increase cone spacing to 8-9' (at least for most cones) and that just might be far enough apart.

I think the layout of my "map" was actually pretty good, I didn't have any problems following it, nor did I have an problems holding it, the cookies, and the clicker. Unfortunately, moving to the front yard will mean the addition of a leash, but as a leash is required for Rally Novice, that was going to have to happen at some point anyway.

The biggest down side is that my neighbors will look at me even more strangely than they already do, but some things just can't be helped.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Rally Syllabus

OK… here it is… my summer battle plan for Rally Novice - a Homeschooling program designed to span 6 weeks (much like a "traditional" class would do.)

On the left, you should see a checklist of all Rally Novice exercises, grouped by exercise type (click on it see it larger.)

Of course, there are many ways one can group things, and this may or may not be the best way, but it’s good enough for me.

For now.

Subject to change without notice.

The next step was to decide what order to teach things in. I quickly eliminated going by groups. How dull would that be? A week of nothing but sit… woo-hoo (not!)

So after shuffling my Rally Business Cards around a bit, trying to spread out like items over the weeks and avoid multiple left or right turns in a week (accept for Week #1) this is what I came up with:

Week 1 (this week):
  • 3. HALT-Sit
  • 4. HALT-Down Dog
  • 5. Right Turn
  • 6. Left Turn
  • 7. About Turn-Right
  • 9. 270 Right Turn
  • 10. 270 Left Turn
  • 19. Normal Pace

Week 2:
  • 8. About “U” Turn
  • 18. Fast Pace
  • 24. Serpentine Weave Once
  • 26. HALT-1, 2, and 3 Steps Backward
  • 30. HALT and Walk Around Dog

Week 3:
  • 13. Call Dog Front-Finish Right-Forward
  • 25. HALT-1, 2, and 3 Steps Forward
  • 29. Left About Turn
  • 31. HALT-Down-Walk Around Down

Week 4:
  • 14. Call Dog Front-Finish Left-Forward
  • 17. Slow Pace
  • 21. Spiral Right-Dog Outside
  • 23. Straight Figure 8 Weave Twice

Week 5:
  • 11. 360 Right Turn
  • 15. Call Dog Front-Finish Right-HALT
  • 22. Spiral Left-Dog Inside
  • 28. HALT-Fast-Forward from Sit

Week 6:
  • 12. 360 Left Turn
  • 16. Call Dog Front-Finish Left-HALT
  • 20. Moving Sidestep Right
  • 27. Stop and Down

… you may notice that Week #1 has a lot more stuff in it, but just about everything except the two 270 turns should be very familiar.

I'm hoping to get out to a local park a couple times a week to make it more like a "real class" - we'll see what I can come up.

What's Next?

It’s just so cool.

With Zachary passing his Canine Good Citizen test on Wednesday, I have now, finally, at long last, completed an item on my list of Goals for 2010.

Yup. One.

(wait… wait… give me a moment to savor it… Ahhhh….)

Ok – moment’s past. No time to rest on our laurels - do you realize how far behind I am this year? Training Levels has taken the biggest hit in our quest for the CGC certificate, and Training Levels should be where my focus is. By the end of this year I had resolved to finish Level Three + OTR 1 (On The Road) for both dogs, Level 4 (OTR 2 for Zachary only) and Level 5 (no OTR for either.)

And where are we now (CLICK HERE)?

We are still stuck in Level Three, that’s where we are. And while we have made major inroads into Level Four, there is still much left undone. To make matters worse, at the moment, all the easy stuff is behind us and the more time consuming things (like scenting and retrieve and that !@#$ Sit-Stay…) lie before.

So, what am I going to do about it?

I’m going to start working on Rally!!!

(I never said was the clever one in the family)

You see, the other “undone” on my 2010 goals list is AKC Rally Novice (RN) for Zachary – not the title, just enter a match by the end of the year – and Rally Novice is filled with relatively easy things to work on - things we worked on in earlier Training Levels (sits and downs and such) plus things required but unfinished for Training Levels future (Heeling, Fronts, and Finishes.)

Alas, there are no Rally classes that work with my schedule, so it looks like Zachary and I will have to go it alone. Oh well, no matter. Homeschooling is the name of the game around here!

To that end, I whipped up an Excel spreadsheet last night with all the Rally Novice signs and descriptions, and printed them out on Business Cards (see photo above - click to see larger) with the sign pictured on one side and the exercise description (abridged as necessary) on the back. These will make handy flash cards for re-familiarization, as a few things have changed since Beau got his RN title (pre-2008.)

And then I started thinking about how I was going to set up practice courses in my rather long, narrow, sloping yard. (Short answer? I can’t.)

After much thought, I finally decided I might be able to do a substantial amount of practicing using just 6 cones. Each cone will be 6-8’ from it’s horizontal and vertical neighbors, making the 4 in a row just right for the Serpentine, Weave, and the change of pace exercises, while any 3 in a row would work for the spirals. The idea is to shuffle my cards and go stand by an outside cone (say, ‘F’.) I read the card and then perform whatever it says at cone ‘C’ (except those Serpentine and Weaves) and then move on the logical cone after that. So if I start at ‘F’, pull the Right Turn card, I’ll heel to ‘C’, turn right, and end up at ‘D’. From there I can stop, turn around, and then pull another card. If I want to do longer heeling, I can do so by skipping the center cone for the U-Turn exercises and heel all the way to the furthest cone.

I figure, using this method, I can get a lot of practice in using a pretty small footprint. If I don’t plan on working the Serpentine/Weave I can eliminate cone ‘A’ and need just 16x16 or less, depending on how much space Zachary needs to get turned around in.

(Will it work? I have no idea. I'll let you know once I've tried it.)

As one story ends so another begins. I can’t wait to get started!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

CGC Test Results

Well, tonight was the night - and we were the first team at bat.

Being first is nice. Being first means you can walk your dog around (outside the test area, of course) so he can take care of business without worrying about messing anybody else up. Being first means it's lighter outside and your already whimper-prone dog won't have to watch you disappear into the scary darkness during the dreaded Supervised Separation. Being first means less time to worry (in that rip-the-band-aid-off sort of way.)

Being first also means you don't have to watch another dog go down in flames (then picture your dog doing the same thing, only worse) or being a shining star (talk about pressure!)

I was actually, surprisingly, fairly relaxed. I knew he wouldn't pass, so I could treat this just like any other class time... except there were no cookies... and Wendy was standing there with a clip board... and it was going to be months and months before I could take the class again...

Yup - that's me. Relaxed.

I wish I could say we passed with flying colors...

... but I can't. Sits and Downs and all the sitting things (friendly strangers, petting, and groomer) were definitely a breeze. (Yes, Wendy, I know I chanted "Leave it!" the whole time and probably didn't need to... but he passed.)

I was pleasantly surprised by his Loose Leash walking - I chattered at him merrily, and he breezed through that one as well.

The Recall? Well, let's just say that once we made it fair, he passed without issue.

I had to work a bit to keep him focused through the crowd (but we passed) and Reaction to Another Dog? I think he must have studied the rule book to see just how much he could get away with and still pass (but he did.)

Reaction to Distraction? That he passed with flying colors.

Finally we were down to the dreaded Supervised Separation. Three minutes has never seemed so long. Once again, Zachary explored the edges of passing - is one little whimper a pass? What about two? What about a sniff here, a sniff there... can I sniff waaaay over there?

But bless his heart, he made it.

And so, I am most proud to present: Aubridge Ready 4 Action CGC

(Yes, I know it's "just" a certificate and not a title, and therefore CGC doesn't really belong at the end of his name, but I won't tell the AKC if you won't!)

Last CGC Pre-Test Outing

So I had Zachary out One More Time for what will probably be his last major outing before the Canine Good Citizen Test tonight. This time we were at a glorious, large, outdoor nursery, filled with thousands of plants, dozens of people, a few dogs, some huge oaks with squirrels, and lots of rattly shopping carts - making it, by far, the "hardest" place we've been to (from a Good Citizen point-of-view.)

While there, we were able to practice just about everything except the thing he is most likely to fail (Supervised Separation) plus Grooming (which he should be fine with) and Recall (which, barring a total disaster, he should also be fine with.)

His "friendly stranger" behaviors (including walking through crowds and narrow isles) were spot on. He was a joy to be with and he made me extremely proud. We even had a few chances to practice the formal "May I Pet Your Dog" (since a few people actually thought to ask first) and he was perfect.

(One has to know Beau (who suffers from Acute Obsessive Compulsive Friendliness Disorder) to truly appreciate the magnitude of my joy and pride.)

Zachary's Loose Leash walking remains a work in progress. He actually walks quite nicely with a cart, but still finds walking without one past extremely tempting objects (those huge squirrel-filled oaks mentioned above) to be a challenge.

I didn't get a great test opportunity of his Reaction to Another Dog. He did get a meet-n-greet with an adorable four month old Border Collie puppy (who desperately wanted to go home with Zachary and was quite disappointed when he realized it wasn't meant to be)- but as that happened before I realized the puppy was even there, there was no chance to see if Zachary would have listened to me in the puppy's presence.

We had another chance with a shy Westie and Zachary basically listened to me... sort of... but that could have been due to the moderating influence of the cart.

His final opportunity was when we were in line checking out, when an older small dog came up behind us. Zachary stayed with me and greeted the dog after he reached us. Not per the test, but since Zachary didn't go out to meet him, instead waiting with me until the dog approached, I remain at least a little hopeful (or perhaps I'm just delude myself.)

The rattly shopping carts, including ones filled with large swaying shrubs, were (surprisingly) not a problem. Walking past kids also wasn't a problem (although he was definitely yearning to say "Hi!"). Standing with me when a quiet kid was 3 feet away wasn't a problem. Standing in line wasn't a problem. Coming when called (after he wandered out to the end of the leash) wasn't a problem.

So, while he may not pass the test tonight, in the Real Life hardest-typical-case-he-will-probably-be-asked-to-be-in test, he passed with flying colors.