Friday, May 28, 2010

More Interesting than Dirt

Nothing is more humbling than knowing that, in the eyes of your much-loved dog, you are less interesting than dirt.

This is not a new realization for me. I came to grips with that fact, years ago, when competing with Beau in Rally. That doesn't mean Beau does not love me, nor does it mean I can't get him to listen me. It does mean that, given his druthers, he would rather be snuffling around some scruffy patch of weeds than sitting at my feet staring up at me attentively.

Acceptance of that fact (that Beau puts me a distant second to dirt) was actually quite liberating.

Acceptance of something implies you are no longer in denial. Acceptance means you are no longer making excuses. Best of all, acceptance means that you can move on to mitigation vs. the never-ending search for a cure.

I wasted a lot of time time searching for a way out of my bottom-dwelling status in Beau's Me vs. Dirt poll. In the end, he and I worked out a backroom deal such that he would pretend to find me more interesting than dirt (when asked) in exchange for quality time with his true love (aka dirt.)

It works for us.

Zachary is not Beau, and while I am definitely not as interesting as some dirt in his eyes - perhaps even most dirt, depending on the location - I'm at least in the running and under the right circumstances I can even pull out an upset.

This is a somewhat novel experience for me and I'm finding myself a little unsure how to take advantage of it.

For example, as you might have read the Other Day, we did a run-through of the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test in class. I was dismayed (although not surprised) to find that for all exercises that required moving from point A to point B (over dirt) with my dog, I failed to actually have my dog. Or at least I failed to have the all-important brain of my dog.

Now, I will be the first to admit Zachary is working under a huge disadvantage. My desire for him to keep all the parts he came with means his brain has to work much harder than the "fixed" dogs do. And as I am well aware (oh, so well aware) with the intact boys, all sensory input going in the nose is passed through the testicles for detailed examination before finally being shuffled off to the brain for final processing. This rather circuitous route seems to take up a horrendous amount of CPU time, leaving very little left over for such mundane things as, say, walking next to me, realizing I'm turning left and I'm about to fall over him, realizing I turned right three steps ago and he is about to run out of leash - little things like that.

And we demonstrated that very fact (in all its glorious permutations) the Other Night.

What's interesting (at least to me) is that this isn't as permanent a condition for Zachary as it is with Beau.

That is, while Zachary was thought-impaired during the practice test itself, when the practice test was over and we were practicing that which needed practice, Zachary was the picture of attentiveness.

He trotted heads-up by my side, sat when asked, ignored the other people and dogs, and was pretty much all a Canine Good Citizen wanna-be is supposed to be.

How intriguing. How novel. How unfortunate that I have no idea why it happened later and not sooner, nor exactly how to make it happen again (say, on the day of the real test.)

I do have a few theories.

Theory One: With the practice test over (and him having "failed") there was no longer any pressure. Of course, since Zachary hadn't a clue that a practice test was on, let alone that it was over, the pressure must therefore have been mine, and thus the whole darn mess was entirely my own fault.

Theory Two: During the after-action practicing I was walking really slowly, bending very close to him, and chattering on in a cheerful, bubbly (some might say idiotic) fashion that he found irresistible, or worrisome, or at least worth paying attention to. Once again, the fact it worked later (if that was the cause) and not sooner (when I didn't try it) means the whole darn mess was entirely my own fault.

Whether you choose Theory One or Theory Two (or some other theoretical theory I have yet to come up with) there is no doubt - the whole darn mess was entirely my own fault.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

CGC Class #5

The Last Class

Last night was the last Canine Good Citizen class before the test, and Wendy (putting aside her puckish ways of Last Week) did a complete dry run of the test. The fact she was the "stranger" (easier) and we were in a group setting (harder) probably offset one another.

My assessment:

1. Accepting a Friendly Stranger - passed
2. Sitting Politely for Petting - passed
3. Appearance and Grooming - passed
4. Out for A Walk (loose leash) - I wouldn't have passed him (Wendy seemed iffy.)
5. Walking through a crowd - failed (but...)
6. Sit and Down on Command and Staying in Place - passed
7. Coming when Called - passed
8. Reaction to Another Dog - can I blame the tester's dog for distracting my dog?   :)
9. Reaction to Distraction - passed (both sound and sight)
10 Supervised Separation - total fail


1. I need to make sure he's firmly sitting and focused. If I rush this one, he'll move.
2. Even more critical than #1. Saying "Leave it!" as the stranger nears still seems to help.
3. If you extend your right hand, he will give you his left paw, extend your left hand and he gives your right paw. I need to remind the tester of this, else Zachary is confused and keeps offering the paw that matches the hand you are extending. Not a fail, but it just makes things easier.
4. Zachary was really distracted before this even started (ie: I didn't "have a dog") and wasn't even thinking about me. While he did redeem himself at the end, it was sill ugly. (See Further Practice below)
5. Same problem as #4 above, but there were dogs in this crowd, which was harder than the test. We did this right after #4, and I still didn't "have a dog".
6. No problems.
7. No problems.
8. Back to "didn't have a dog" - his lack of focus was evident from step one.
9. More alert than I would have guessed, but behaved appropriately.
10. On the first try he made it 1.5 minutes, and this is probably close to what he will do on the final test.

Further Practice:

The remainder of class was spent with us working on those things that needed the most work. Zachary had several more attempts at Supervised Separation, and made it to 2 minutes on one of them. I discovered that when I slowed my walking down he was quite focused, heads-up, and wonderful on the leash. When I strode out I totally lost him.


I also found that if I slowed down he stayed focused on me even as he was approaching other dogs.

Weird again.

As for Separation, he really doesn't like it when I go out the gate, and once I go out the gate and come back, he really wants to go out the gate, too, and it takes a lot to get him focused again.


If I was a betting person, I would say that he will easily fail Supervised Separation (and thus not pass the test.) There's a good chance of him failing the Reaction to Another Dog unless I get good focus from him. I'm going to try to cram for Leash Walking this week as I think he's close enough to warrant the extra push on this.

He has come such a looooong way since the start of the class (a looooong time ago - due to unexpected rain!) The things that I really wanted from this class - appropriate greeting behaviors - have gone from a quick fail to a good chance of passing. I have been really impressed by his stays and long distance recalls. I am surprised he has handled the distractions so well.

The only area where I didn't see much improvement was his "Reaction to Another Dog" - he still is far too interested in saying "Hi" to the other dog (those darned Friendly Genes.)

Next week Zachary and I will take the real Canine Good Citizen Test, which marks more of a beginning than an end. Being a Good Citizen requires practice (for all of us!) but opens so many doors. My son is going to start driver's training soon, and I can't help but note the similarities. The culmination of that training - the right of passage known as a Driver's License - does not mean my son will be a perfect driver under all circumstances, just as passing the CGC Test would not mean Zachary would be a perfect dog under all circumstances.

Likewise, failure to pass (by either party) is neither a permanent condition nor something to be ashamed of. Rather, it simply means that more work needs to be done and the test retaken.

(Still, it would be nice...)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Better Idea?

Those playing along at home might remember my "Good Idea" of using a canning ring and peanut butter to attempt to explain to my boys the Joys of Scenting for Training Levels Four.

Reader's Digest version: It wasn't pretty.

Not to be deterred, I gave the issue deep thought, solicited ideas, and settled on the lids of small disposable Tupperware-like containers. Not to drop names, but for the curious, I went with the Glad brand since their locking lids had a handy indent in the middle that I figured I could put the veneer of peanut butter in, thus keeping it safely out of reach of my floor.

The setup was much as before. I had a small ramekin of peanut butter, some extra treats in case the lid was returned, a lid for veneering, and an enthusiastic dog - in this case, Beau.

Right off the bat, I realized that a veneer of peanut butter in the small indent of the lid was not going to work for the Big Dog. Big Dog = Big Tongue, Big Tongue did not fit into small indent in Little Lid, so Big Tongue chased Little Lid all around the Kitchen floor.


On the bright side, the floor stayed clean.

After I pulled the lid out from under the Kitchen table, I switched the peanut butter to the non-indented portion of the bottom of the lid, crossed my fingers, and tried again.

I'd love to say it worked perfectly, but alas, I can't. I can say that it worked much better than the canning ring did. Despite my misgivings, the lid did not flip over and the floor stayed relatively free of peanut butter. The problem now is that the lids are too lightweight for Beau. He is a "firm" licker, and so he still pushed the lid around the floor. He did try holding it down with his paw, which thankfully he decided didn't work (since his giant paw obliterated the peanut butter and no doubt transferred at least a little to floor.) After a half-dozen or so tries, I noticed the lid moving around a lot less, and so I'm guessing he was getting the hang of gentler licking so as to not move the lid.

After 10 or so tries, I dutifully "neglected" to reapply the peanut butter. Just as Sue advertised, Beau went out to the lid, gave it a sniff, and looked at me:

Hey? What gives?

I clicked, treated, and then put peanut butter on the lid. Beau was really picking up on this fast, so I went one step further and carefully pulled a plain, icky-stranger-scented lid out of its protective zip-top bag with a pair of tongs.

I would have bet money that Beau would have been entranced by this lid, since (a) it was scented by a total stranger to him and (b) this truly wonderful person has a menagerie of critters at home (including a dog) and I would have no doubt he could tell that.

Sure enough, he gave that lid a few big sniffs and a single big lick, and never looked at it again. No matter where I put my peanut butter suffused lid in relation to the icky-stranger-scented lid, he never failed to "find" the right lid. Yeah, I know, at this point I could have put out a lid scented by me with the peanut butter suffused lid and he would have picked out the peanut butter suffused lid.

Still, I have to admit it was kinda cool.

Next up was Zachary, and I'll spare you the long story as it went almost exactly like Beau's except (a) Zachary is a much gentler licker and so he didn't have trouble with the lid moving (b) Zachary retrieves the lid as he quickly figured out he can get more peanut butter faster if he doesn't have to wait for me to get up and get the lid myself -and- (c) Zachary showed zero interest in the (fresh) icky-stranger-scented lid.


It was way cool!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Better Idiot

A few quick definitions before we start:
id*i*ot (noun) : "a foolish or stupid person"
stu*pid (adjective) : "acting in an unintelligent or careless manner"

One of the things I enjoy most about Homeschooling is the complete control I have over what I choose to teach my dogs and when, with the goals I selected at the start of the year forming the major milestones I need to keep within my sights.

With Sue Ailsby's Training Levels, AKC's Canine Good Citizen test items, and the additional Canine Curriculum subjects I have created as my maps and travel guides, you would think this journey would be idiot proof...

... and you would be wrong...

... or perhaps I'm just a better idiot (see definitions above).

Take, for example, the "clever" idea I had to have "Circle Around Me" as the Trick of the Month for May. Given that Lacrosse was still going strong and Zachary was going to be cramming for Canine Good Citizen, I decided to pick something easy, and what could be easier than having your dog walk around you? A few cookies, a bit of luring (shhhh - don't tell the luring-phobic) and I'm done. You would think I could have the basics in a few minutes and the final product in just a few days work...

... and you would be wrong.

You see, Zachary is still working on Finish and has yet to have a cue added to the motions. (For those who might not know, a Finish is when the dog moves from being in front and facing you, to being beside you, in heel position, facing the same way you are.)

Now Circle Around Me has the dog starting in front, facing me, then moving all the way around me, and ending up facing me again.

Keep in mind that Zachary has a huge desire to please, and, when confused, is prone to running through his (long) list of similar (or not) things learned in hopes that one of them will be a match to what I'm looking for - sort of the Spaghetti on the Wall approach.

Need I say more?

Thankfully, it only took a few seconds of standing there, cookies in hand, staring into Zachary's eager eyes, to realize the enormity of my mistake.

(hint: visions of me trying to get a nice at-my-side sit for Finish while Zachary is running circles around me went zipping through my head.)

Sooo... there will be no Circle Around Me trick this month. For This Week I've tossed Cookie the Nose back on the list again, as Zachary never really got that one down. Hopefully, I will put more thought into the decisions I make next month than I did this time around (see definitions at the top of this post.)

"With great power, comes great responsibility", said Uncle Ben in Spiderman, and he is right. I have the power to decide what I'm going to teach my dogs and when, but I also have the responsibility to make sure my Lesson Plan is well thought out and isn't going to cause confusion.

This month, I failed.

Let's hope I manage to do better in the future.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Have you ever had two totally different experiences combine to create a single Ah-Ha! moment (or, more usually for me, a D-oh! moment?)

Today, while grocery shopping, I noticed an older woman walking slowly along, pushing her shopping cart and holding the (very) loose leash of her lovely black Lab service dog. They were doing absolutely nothing noteworthy, and if I hadn’t been walking right towards them I wouldn’t have noticed them at all.

She shuffled along, focusing on her shopping, and her dog shuffled along beside her, mirroring her pace with placid patience, walking past all sorts of fragrant produce with nary a sniff.

I smiled and continued on, rushing here and there to collect strawberries, bananas, and lament the lack of blueberries (sigh). I ran into them again (figuratively, of course) a bit later. The woman appeared to be lost in thought staring at the wall of serve-yourself-containers. Her dog was now sitting beside her, his only motion being a wistful sniff of the blackberry basket in her cart. As I grabbed some spaghetti sauce jars, I saw her start moving again, and, without a word that I could hear from just a few feet away, her dog got up and continued his slow, plodding pace right beside her.

Skip forward a few hours, and Hubby and I have the boys out on The Walk. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, the air was pleasantly cool (for this time of year) and we were moving along at a brisk pace. (We always move along at a brisk pace, since the purpose of The Walk is to get the wiggles out of the boys and shuffling along just doesn’t cut it.)

And here a small inject of background information is required. Our boys, like dogs everywhere, have an amazingly large vocabulary. In addition to the words we have worked hard to teach them (boring things like Sit and Down and Stay…) they have picked up words that are far more meaningful to them (things like Walk and Out and Cookie...)

Particularly Cookie.

They can pick the word Cookie out of the most convoluted of sentences, spoken a room away, embedded in an hour long conversation, while appearing to be in a deep sleep.

It really is amazing.

Their ability to pick out the word Walk is also quite astounding, which is why we no longer walk our dogs. We shuffle, saunter, amble, hike, stroll, stretch legs or puppy paws, and sashay (well, I sashay – Hubby staunchly refuses.) Mr. Roget would be quite proud of us.

Which brings us, finally, to the reason I posted this (assuming anyone is still left reading.)

Today, as we were sashaying along, enjoying the beautiful weather, I just happened to say the word Cookie. I also just happened to be looking right at the dogs (2 feet away) when I said it. And you know what? Nobody heard me. Not an ear twitched, not a head turned. There wasn’t any indication what so ever that either dog had heard the word I said:


And that’s when I had my Ah-Ha! (aka D-oh!) moment. The dogs didn’t act like they heard me, because they actually hadn’t heard me. They hadn’t heard me because they weren’t listening to me. They weren’t listening to me because they knew, in the context of The Walk, there was absolutely nothing I was going to say that they were going to care about.

Oh sure, I occasionally ask Zachary to Sit while Beau does that Guy Thing on a shrub (Zachary isn’t allowed to acquire such bad habits – sometimes it sucks to be the Second Dog) and Zachary listens to that, but that’s more out of repetition than any real processing of something I said.

Thinking about it (probably for the first time ever) I realize that I neither do nor say anything of interest to either dog while we are on The Walk. Hubby and I walk along in our human world while the canines enjoy theirs and there is little or no interaction between the two species.

Contrast that with the woman this morning, lost in her own human world and her dog seemly lost in his own as well, and yet they remained connected. When she moved, he moved. When she stopped, he stopped. When they weren’t moving, he was watching the people and looking around in a mildly curious way – one might even think him non-attentive – and then she would move again and he would once again become her shadow.

I have no idea what his service dog job was, it’s none of my business and it’s not pertinent to my story. The point is that that they were connected in a way that I have yet to achieve with my boys – at least while on The Walk.

Once again I find myself without a clear conclusion, contemplating a “problem” that may or may not be worth fixing. Hubby sees The Walk as a relaxing time to get some fresh air and make our peaceable kingdom, well, peaceable. I enjoy The Walk because it gives Hubby and me a chance to chat about our day and unwind. The dogs enjoy The Walk because it gives them a chance to get out of the house and get some exercise, to walk along, side-by-side, and take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the neighborhood.

Perhaps I should try to find a way to make myself more relevant to their world, or perhaps, in the one special context of The Walk, the boys should just be allowed to be dogs.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

CGC Class #4

Last night, my ideas of what Zachary is "good" and "bad" at were turned upside down. That's not to say that he was inexplicably bad at what he had been good at, and good at what he was bad at (not that we haven't been there before) but rather that, given the right/wrong circumstances, he can be good at what he's bad at and bad at what he's good at.

Perhaps I should explain.

Last night was Canine Good Citizen (CGC) class #4, and feeling rather puckish, our instructor (Wendy) decided we should work on sits and downs. Big deal, right? I mean, Zachary can sit and down, no problem. That's one of the few areas of the CGC test I have zero worries about...

... but tonight, there was wrinkle. Tonight we needed to do them on the mats the dogs sit on during class. That is, Zachary had to do a sit and down on each of the three other dog's mats. For "fun", Wendy threw in a few cones as well, carefully stationed near known "hot spots" for scents.

(did I mention that Wendy was feeling puckish?)

Zachary, a 2 year old intact boy, is still young enough that scents - particularly dog scents - are very hard for him to ignore, and I figured he would go down in flames right from the start. And he did. Well, not in flames, but his nose sure went down right from the start.

"Zachary, Sit." (snuffle, snuffle) "Zachary!" (snuffle snuffle) "ZACHARY!"

Huh? Oh. Right. Sit!

And my (mostly) obedient pup plopped his rump down on the mat and stared up at me lovingly, obviously feeling quite proud of himself for having remembered what Sit meant.

"Good Boy" (sigh)

The rest of the mats and cones actually went fairly smoothly. I will admit to making an animated fool out of myself to get his attention at times, but once gotten, he did (mostly) listen. All in all, he wasn't half bad.

Next on the list was loose leash walking, something Zachary is not particular good at, especially when wearing his handsome quick-release martingale collar (as needed for the test) as opposed to his usual harness. Tonight, as one student put it, we got to do "barrel racing". Three student-and-dog pairs formed points of a large triangle. The fourth pair circled around each of the others. I'm not exactly sure why, but Zachary did pretty good at this one, both as the "horse" and as the "barrel".

The second time we had to do it without using the leash at all (still on, but not used). Once again, I pulled the fool in me out of the box and Zachary was either so embarrassed, amused, (or worried?) that he stayed close. Cool!

His long distance stays were rock solid, and he didn't go down from a sit!

The dreaded Supervised Separation turned into a fizzle, as Zachary calmly sat with his minder while I at first hid behind a curtain, then actually walked out The Gate and hid behind my car.

"No worries, Mom," he seemed to say, as he sat there confidently with nary a whimper. Perhaps the fact the days are long enough that it is no longer dark during class made a difference?

Once again, Wendy moved mountains to get Friendly Strangers in our midst, and this time they brought a distraction with them - the most adorable 10 week old Vizla puppy you'll ever meet. I guess the deal was the Friendly Strangers would be, well, Friendly Strangers, if the students would help socialize the puppy.

Gee, having to play and cuddle an adorable puppy? Those Friendly Strangers were really driving a hard bargain!    :)

For kicks, Wendy decided the Reaction to a Another Dog (two people, with dogs, approaching each other on a sidewalk, stopping to shake hands (dogs staying at owner's sides) and then everyone continuing on their way) should be Reaction to a Puppy.

(did I mention that Wendy was feeling puckish?)

I am proud to say that he was incredibly well behaved, generally stayed where he was supposed to, didn't cause any problems, and was the star of the evening...

... the puppy, that is. Zachary was horrible. Zachary was totally transfixed by the puppy, totally incapable of doing anything other than ogle the puppy, and practically dragged me across the yard to meet the puppy.

After several dozen failed attempts at loose leashing toward the puppy, we finally, sort of, got within six feet or so of the puppy (without pulling) and Wendy labeled it a "success".

Zachary's reward? The puppy.

There's my boy, standing there, looking down at this squirming bundle, who is now jumping up on his hinds legs and pawing at Zachary's face (ears, shoulders,...) and nibbling on his ears.


(did I mention the puppy was adorable?)

I have no idea why Zachary was so interested in the puppy. He didn't seem to want to play with the puppy, he just wanted to sniff a little and then stand there like some sort of puppy jungle gym. Puppy on his ears, puppy on his tail, puppy crawling under him... and Zachary seemingly in his happy place.

The last bit was sitting for the friendly stranger and being pet by the friendly stranger, and other than the time Wendy walked over holding the puppy...

(did I mention that Wendy was feeling puckish?)

... Zachary was a rock.

I guess that pretty well covers the evening. In summation, Zachary is still way distracted by scents but seems to be getting better, his stays are lovely, loose leash walking is still a work in progress but improving, he loves puppies, is getting much better at sit/pet by strangers, and on this particular night he handled the Supervised Separation just fine.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Good Idea?

The other day I decided to give Training Levels Four - Scenting a go. The concept is simple - smear something gooey on an article, put it down, have the dog lick it off, repeat.

Even I can't screw that one up, right?


I read somewhere that canning lid rings make great articles. They are cheap, easily cleaned, easily stored, identical, and the dogs can pick them up.


So I bought a box of 12, numbered a few of them, sat down on the floor with Beau, a clicker, and a small dish of peanut butter (old-fashioned, of course - nothing but the best for my boys, plus it is sufficiently gooey.)

I dipped a finger in the peanut butter (I now had Beau's undivided attention) and smeared a bit on the (very narrow) ring and put it down.

Beau was instantly on it like, well, like a dog on peanut butter. He chased that flimsy, lightweight ring all over the Hardwood kitchen floor trying to get every last speck with his big wet tongue.


I got up, retrieved the ring from under the cabinet, and repeated. Once again, Beau's big wet tongue was more than up to the task and soon the peanut butter smear was only a memory.

On the third try, I noticed two things. One, Beau's tongue was beginning to develop a very unappealing layer of spit mixed with peanut butter, and two, my Hardwood floor was also beginning to develop a similar spit-and-peanut-butter layer.


I pulled the ring out from under the kitchen table, smeared some more peanut butter on it, at let Beau have at it. At this point I noticed that Beau's big wet tongue wasn't really doing a such great job of getting the peanut butter out of the little grooves on the side of the ring, nor from the inside of the ring, and that definite smears of spit-laced peanut butter were starting to show on my Hardwood floor.


We gave it few more tries, things continued to get messier, and I quit.

In comes Zachary. Zachary also loves peanut butter. Zachary is a very fast worker. Zachary had that (truly disgusting by now) ring all over the kitchen floor.

Lucky me, he soon figured out it was much faster to bring me the ring after he finished than to wait for me to retrieve it. Alas, he is still very animated when he retrieves things and more than once he tossed it in the air, dropped it, and then chased the (rolling, sticky, wet, disgusting) ring wherever it might go.

Did you know a canning ring, if dropped and chased by an average-sized enthusiastic Golden Retriever, will roll a considerable distance across a Hardwood floor?

Yes it can.

So to sum things up: 1. Both dogs give this exercise two enthusiastic (sticky) paws up for entertainment value 2. Canning rings make lousy articles for training Golden Retrievers using peanut butter and 3. Mopping your Hardwood floor at 9pm is not a good way to end your birthday.

I don't suppose anyone else as any good ideas for cheap, easily cleaned, easily stored, identical, articles that dogs can pick up and can be smeared in peanut butter without making a horrible mess on the floor?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Call Your Dogs

Last night my son and I went to see his High School’s production of West Side Story, as his English teacher gives extra-credit if the kids go and write a critique. His High School has a wonderful drama and music department, and the production was both done well and enjoyable to watch.

But wait, isn’t this a dog blog?

One of the scenes in the play, near the beginning, has a few kids from one gang playing basketball when a few kids from another gang show up. The ball is past from the gang with few to the gang with more people, then a few more kids show up from the opposing gang and the ball is against past to the gang with the most people. Pretty soon you have a skirmish, fists fly, and the cops show up.

But wait, isn’t his a dog blog?

This morning, as Hubbie and I were out walking the boys (on leash) and enjoying the beautiful weather, our peace and quiet was disturbed by a pair of off-leash Rottweilers roaring up behind us. They had obviously bolted out of the backyard of the house we were in front of.

I’ve seen the dogs before, from a distance, tied up in their garage, usually with a woman yelling at them to stop barking as we walked past.

They don’t listen.

Today I got to see them in all their well-cared for glory. I’m guessing they aren’t full grown yet, as they are on the small side. One is probably female and the other male – possibly siblings. I’ve never spoken with the owners, so I can only guess.

Today, they were running full tilt at my pair of on-leash Goldens. A quick assessment of body language didn’t show any (initial) ill-intent. They seemed excited and curious, although not playful. I kept walking with Zachary as the smaller dog (female?) came up and started sniffing him. My boys are neither aggressive nor combative, and I was hoping if I just kept moving we would get out of the Rotties area of interest and they would leave.

Not seeing any humans around, I bellowed out “Call Your Dogs!!!” as I’m trying to walk Zachary down the sidewalk.

Hubbie had it harder. (a) He had Beau – who, while just as friendly as Zachary, is also much more interested in meeting other dogs than Zachary and (b) the larger (male?) Rottie had taken an interest in Beau.

Both my dogs are intact, and the smell of intact dogs have a way of ticking off neutered dogs (assuming the Rotties are) and as the female circled around to get a better whiff of Zachary my concern was growing.

“Call Your Dogs!!!” I screamed again, this time resulting in a head popping over the fence and a man yelling for his dogs to come. To their credit, they at least considered it, but only for a moment.

At this point, I was pretty sure that the dog with Zachary wasn’t a problem (at least so long as her counterpart didn’t start anything) being more pushy and curious than showing any effort to pull rank, but I was less sure of the other dog now a good 20 feet away with Beau. Although both turned toward their house when called, the larger dog immediately came back to Beau, with head held high and prancing.

Not exactly the best of signs.

“Call your Dogs!!!”

“I am calling my F-ing dogs!!!” comes a voice again.

Good for you – but it didn’t seem to be working.

I had continued to walk, and by this time Hubby had managed to move Beau along as well, and the owner finally appeared from behind the fence and somehow grabbed his dogs.

Were the dog’s aggressive? No, I don’t think so. I think they were teenagers checking out the “strange” dogs on their sidewalk. If I had just stood there would a play bow have ensued? Quite possibly…

… and yet, there could just as easily have been a rumble (and my boys would have been toast.)

I feel for the owner of the Rotties, in the sense I doubt Beau would have recalled either under those circumstances (although Zachary might) and he was probably a bit embarrassed his dogs were out.

On the other hand, my heart was going a mile a minute, I’m pissed that the owner let it happen, and I keep replaying the What-Ifs in my head. I worry about what the dogs will be like in another six months, and hope the owner thinks to check his gate.

I usually like to end a post with some sort of conclusion, but today I can’t really think of one. Maybe one will come to me while I go out back and check to make sure the latch on my own backyard gate is closed.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Back to Work

"... when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth" - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Recently, there has been a thread going in Training Levels group about "food motivation". This is a topic I feel strongly about, having spent years struggling to use food to motivate a dog who wasn't interested in being motivated by food (when outside) before finally accepting that it was never going to work.

As usual, I heard that I didn't do it right, that in all their years they had never met such a dog, that if I had done this or that then my dog would be over his "food issue", and even that I might have caused the assumed "food issue".

As usual, I found myself sitting there, wondering why I got sucked up (or caused) the thread to begin with.

I am at peace with my dog. I have nothing to prove. I'm not looking for solutions. I know those sharing their thoughts are well-meaning. And (perhaps most importantly) I know they are wrong about my dog.

So why does it get a rise out of me every time? Why can't I just sit there, shake my head, and pass those threads by?

I think it's because there might be someone, somewhere, with a dog like mine, who has yet to reach the "at peace" stage of accepting the dog they have. Someone sitting there, feeling like a failure, because they are unable to do what "everyone" is telling them is possible to do.

I'm also saddened that there are so many otherwise wonderful clicker-folks out there who can't envision a world where there exists a dog (and perhaps there really is only one) who won't work for food and are willing to be hurtful to another (probably without realizing they are doing so) in order to say so.

Perhaps I'm the same way, just heading in the opposite direction.

Once again, I've probably said too much, too often, too loud and so I'm going to try to just let this thread pass by. Once again, I'm going to hope I stay out of the next thread of a similar nature.

... and yet, what of those poor lost souls, as I once was, who are left to think that if only they tried this, or did that, or... or...

Perhaps the best thing is just to reply by private email - for my opinions to be listened to or not as the recipients see fit. Maybe next time I feel the urge to plunge in I'll think to reread this post and realize that some things just can't be changed and move on.

Oh well, back to training - The Canine Good Citizen test is creeping ever closer and there is still much to be done.

I will now go and love the dogs I have, for the time we have with them is far too short to waste.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

CGC Class #3

"You always pass failure on the way to success" -- Mickey Rooney

Last night was Canine Good Citizen Class #3. After two weeks off due to bad weather, the weather gods smiled upon us with clear skies, relatively moderate temperatures, and a pleasant breeze.

The training gods smiled upon us as well by sending three lovely "strangers" our way (I'm dying to know what sort of sacrifice our instructor had to make to conjure them up... hopefully nothing requiring live pigeons or a sheep.)

The Good: (The Awesome?) That time spent at my local Big-Box Hardware store is really paying off. Zachary got up while being petting the very first time, but after that his rump was pretty much glued to the mat. In fact, he was so good, that the instructor upped the ante by having the strangers, upon revisiting, bend over and squeal "Puppy!" while patting their legs.

Any guesses what happened?

Get real, he is a Golden Retriever after all. But after reminding him where his rump was supposed to be (and the strangers toning it down just a smidgeon) he did manage to hold his sit.

His Recall was also pretty good, only failing once after several tries due to the topic you'll find under "Ugly" below. He did recover and was not a repeat offender.

He was also fine for grooming (brushing, ears and paws) and the Reaction to Distraction (clattering noise.)

The Bad: The item I think he is most likely to fail (indeed, I'll be shocked if he passes) is Supervised Separation, and he did struggle with that last night. The interesting thing (in a train-wreck watching sort of way) is that I'm not entirely sure the problem is me being Out of Sight. I think the problem is me Walking out the Gate.

Which leads to an equally interesting question with regards to the test - is the requirement simply being Out of Sight, or is the dog meant to think you are leaving them behind forever (ie: walking out the gate, over to my car, and hiding behind it.)

I'm suspicious that his distress is because I'm leaving the yard THROUGH THE GATE (ie: he thinks it's time to go home) and NOT that I'm not visible. I tried crouching down once behind an obstacle at an equal distance as the gate and he didn't seem nearly as troubled.

Then, for kicks, after we were done, I let him go and he headed straight for that gate! Hmmm....

The other sub-par thing was the Reaction to another dog - he's been better in the past, but he was obviously getting tired at this point and his brain was pretty close to checking out. It wasn't good, it wasn't ugly... more a "work in progress".

The Ugly: Ah, the ugly - just after the separation practicing, and perhaps because his mind was distracted, he fell into the sniffies. He found the mats the dogs lie on to be particularly enticing and wasn't really able to get over it. We'll need to search out "dog smells" this week and work to walk past them.

I consider this to be an ugly because it's just so darn hard to "fix".

Finally, on an observational note, I find it fascinating how people react so differently to Beau vs. Zachary. When the friendly strangers approached, they seemed to treat Zachary as something precious and delicate - soft cooing, a hand under the chin while the other gently stroked his head, all the while Zachary sat with his head turned upward gazing at the strangers (relatively) calmly and definitely adoringly.

Contrast that with a typical Beau greeting, where people don their protective gear and call out "I'm going in!" as they quickly bridge the Danger Zone (where one one swing of his massive head can give you a fat lip) and get close enough for serious ear ruffling, big hugs, and lots of loud pats on his shoulders and sides, all the while Beau is grinning from ear to ear with his tongue lolling out - that is, until he flops over for a vigorous belly rub.

Not really relevant to the topic of this post, but I do find it interesting.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Permission Granted

Today we were back at our local big-box hardware store - the one that won our undying loyalty by supplying us with friendly people to practice Meet-n-Greets with.

Once again, the friendliest person in the store was the young man by the door (I think his job is to answer questions and deal with returns) for as soon as we walked in, he was drawn to Zachary like dogs to bacon.

Once again I trotted out my "He's studying for his his Canine Good Citizen test, so please don't pet him if he moves."

Zachary was very, very good today. His rump never left the floor! The kid was also very good, for as soon as Zachary so much as twitched a whisker, the kid backed up 6 feet!

After a few minutes of this, and because the young man was such a good listener, and because Zachary had been a rock (whiskers excepted), I said "OK" - and let Zachary have a few free moments. The young man ruffled Zachary's ears, and did some gentle "rough-housing" pets and Zachary wiggled his rump off.

All too soon, a customer showed up and that was that.

Zachary and I wandered through the store and I was very impressed. He was calm for visual/audio distractions (frequent happenings a big-box hardware store), was improved with his loose leash walking, was great as people walking past, and was great when little kids begged from strollers for their moms to push them closer to the doggie.

He practiced lying quietly while I glanced at the garden books as shopping carts whizzed past, and got an A+.

Just before we left, I went back to the front and once again took up position to see if I could lure incoming customers to pet him. Once again, the friendly young man was right there. No need to remind him - he stayed 6 feet away while I told Zachary to sit.

And then came the moment of truth - would Zachary stay seated, or remember his boisterous parting with the young man and try to pick up where he left off?

Any guesses?

Zachary was a rock. Even the whiskers were steady! And after a few pets he was rewarded with an "OK" to go and get a "proper" Good-bye.

I just love my big-box hardware store!