Friday, March 29, 2013

A video post for some very special people

The sight of Star navigating her Pilates ball is so adorable to me, I can't resist posting a few videos of it here.

In this one, I love how she  works so hard to stay on the ball, then loses her balance, crashes on the floor, and gets right back up on the ball again. 

In this one, she is a little too eager to get that treat. Then I love the standing on hind legs, and then the utter calm and focus as she climbs back up on the ball herself and waits for her reward. Then that little two-legged jump!

There are some other people out there who will also I think be interested in seeing these videos. These people were interested in how I trained Star to do things like climb up on the pilates ball. It was really just a matter of tapping the ball a couple of times, and then rewarding Star for looking at it, sniffing it, or putting a paw on it. With a curious, intelligent little thing like Star--and especially since she'd been doing clicker training and had been rewarded for trying new things--it was very quick before she started climbing up on the ball and doing all the courageous things she did. 

She's been rewarded so heavily for interacting with a pilates ball, that now all you have to do is out one in front of her and she jumps right on it. 

Here is another video of Star amusing herself with a rope toy.

I just love how when given a new toy, she has so much joy in whipping it over her head and making those graceful aerial twists. Florian and I were at a ballet competition last weekend, and I don't think we ever saw anything quite that impressive.

I think certain people out there will enjoy seeing this too. No time to say a whole lot about who these mystery people are now, but I'll have a full update next week!

Suffice it to say for now that Star has had some very good news! And not just that her Pilates skills have grown by leaps and bounds.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Training Time in the Multi-Dog Household

Though I've been talking a lot about all the tricks Star is learning lately, it is clear that tricks are far from her most important training tasks. Star is making great progress in controlling her impulses, walking nicely on the leash, and learning basic obedience, but she still has a way to go before she would be considered a perfect little woman by most adopters.  

Star loves to practice her tricks but the amount of energy and activity she generates is I know stressful for Lamar and Fozzie. How would YOU feel, after all, if you were a bit nervous and high-strung by nature and a little tot with poor impulse control were careening across your living room floor balanced on a pilates ball? 

So we're getting Fozzie to play with the pilates ball too, to blow off some steam and get in on the fun. What to do with Star while Fozzie is practicing his tricks? 

Get her to work on her impulse control, of course!

It is working better than I would have imagined to encourage Fozzie to do some balancing, while asking Star to sit and stay. She does it! 

OK, eventually she does it. 

And if she can sit and stay while the object of her obsession--the dog whose neck she is usually latched onto and whose back she is generally launching on top of in a frenzy of Tasmanian devil-inspired zeal--stands on a pilates ball himself, then maybe she's not so far from being a perfect little adoptable tot after all!

And Lamar? He gets treats just for watching the whole thing with any degree of tolerance. Each dog gets to practice what he or she most needs to work on, all in the same training session.
Do YOU like to find ways to train everyone all at once? Or do you, sensibly, devote one-on-one training time to all your dogs?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Tribute to George and Doll

After 30+ years of verbal harassment, I wanted you all to know that it has paid off and my parents have not smoked...much...for more than a month! I don't know from any personal experience how hard this is, but I gather from watching them struggle to kick the habit that it is just about the hardest thing a person can do.

Hats off to Mom and Dad for sticking with it so they can continue to be their generous, fun, joyful, irreverent selves! I'm extremely proud of you guys and glad you haven't disowned me yet for nattering at you and nagging you about it all these years.  

Now I know they've slipped up a few times, but if I wait to write this post until they are completely smoke-free I may wait quite some time. Hopefully this post will help guilt trip them the rest of the way to kicking the habit entirely.

Here is an old, adorable picture of my parents. I don't know who the baby is, but it's kind of an ugly baby so probably one of my brothers.

Florian and I are going up to New York to visit them this weekend, and then on to Connecticut to see Florian's son Quentin compete in a dance competition. 

Always love going to see George and Doll. Especially now that I will not be talking to them through a cloud of smoke.  

Although strangely, even when my dad has been doing well, my visits seem to make him smoke more. Is it possible that I'm stressing him out?

Have you ever tried to kick a really tough habit? What's your secret to success?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Uncle Johnny: The glue that holds the family together

This weekend we had another visit from Uncle Johnny. Not sure why he chooses to subject himself to this so frequently, but he has been coming down quite often lately. I'm pretty sure its not because he likes the dogs.

I think he most enjoys the company of my niece, for which reason he willingly, at the age of 86, accompanies all of us even on ill-conceived trips to the beach on a day of 43-degree freezing rain.

On which Ursula is shivering, Fozzie is beside himself with rage at Genghis, Kirsten is redirecting pent-up frustration with the dogs toward Florian, and Johnny himself is having what my mom used to call a conniption fit about my sister's failure to bring mittens for her daughter. Fun times for the whole family.

Gnarly weather notwithstanding, we did manage to have fun in our own way and Florian was cheered by having Fozzie sit on his lap the whole way back. We are realizing more and more what an anxious fellow Fozzie is. I thought that with his own back seat and window to look out of, he would be calmer in the car than he used to be in my old van. But with windows closed, all he does is sit in the back seat and look worried, hang his head into the front looking for someone to kiss, and try to climb up to sit on someone's lap.  

Florian is quick to indulge, but it does make us wonder: what happened to him? Was it his period of being a stray, uncertain of where his next meal was coming from and dodging cars and dog catchers, that made him so anxious? Was it the long period of uncertainty of his future in my house, in which he picked up signals from me that fueled his insecurity? Poor Fozzie. 

I guess the good thing is that Fozzie's particular brand of insecurity makes him seek out affection and contact, which my Swiss counterpart and I are more than happy to provide. But it would be wonderful if he could learn to feel more secure, while maintaining his extremely affectionate nature.
Once home, we went over to my sister's house to make sure she'd survived the trip home and the rest of the afternoon with Johnny.

Star demonstrated her other setting besides manically-in-your-face-and-zooming-around-while-chewing-on-everything-in-sight-and-making-the-most-trouble-you-have-ever-imagined, which is

Monday, March 11, 2013

All Dogs Aboard the Honda Fit

Well its been a while since I've been able to do a hike post, with all the vehicle-related upheaval, but we finally got a weekend where we could see if the new mini-mini-van was up to the task of transporting the two of us and the three dogs to a nice place to walk around. 

I find it really kind of exciting that all of us fit in there so comfortably. As I had hoped, in some ways its even better than the van, because the pitties each have a window of their own and Lamar has his own spacious compartment, away from them.   

We wanted to take Star to an adoption event in White Oak in the afternoon, so in the morning we went north on New Hampshire Ave, close to where the event was, and looked around for a place to hike. After slogging around and getting very muddy in an area with no good, clear trail, and looking everywhere for a really nice trail, 

we finally happened upon an enchanted forest near Triadelphia Reservoir. 

There was something magical about the trail meandering through the close-growing pine trees, vines and lichen hanging from their branches, a layer of fog hovering close to the ground. 

Reminded us of our trip to the Zimbabwean Music Festival in Oregon a couple of summers ago.  

With the pups nice and tired, we drove back and had a nice mellow adoption event in a small pet store. For some reason Florian and I can have a great time wasting hours on end just looking at pet products. 

On the drive back, Fozzie got to enjoy some front seat time, more safely than he used to when Florian was driving. 

The next day, we took advantage of a nice sunny day to go a bit farther afield to a nice little hike on the Potomac. There were none of the dreaded mishaps with the automatic windows, and yes as some of you mentioned the window lock sure is a nifty feature. 

Who knew? 

Just a calm little trail along the Potomac at Point of Rocks at the VA/MD border. 
The weather was bright and sunny and though it wasn't warm, it felt so amazing to be out in the sun on a trail again with the pups.

Being outside, away from town, especially in the sunshine, just feels very therapeutic in the winter. 

Our winter here has been nothing compared to what some have had I know, but I still feel the short days and the grayness after a while.  

It even makes me happy to look at pictures of the sunshine. Which is why I have to write posts like this, 

that are maybe not the most gripping you've ever read but have lots of sunny pictures. 

This trail included a metal walkway for getting your small boat down to the water with ease, and Florian was daydreaming about bringing the kayaks. We'll have to get a roof rack!

The dogs were so happy to be out on the trail again too, and able to enjoy some paw wetness. 

And though I wasn't about to venture in with them, just watching them feel so good brought me loads of vicarious joy. 

How are YOU getting through the winter?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Another impulse control exercise: slow treats

We all know the dogs: generally on the exuberant side, but sweet-tempered and overall wonderful dogs, who nonetheless leave you counting your fingers when you give them a treat. 

Many of us have such a dog, who has readily learned all sorts of skills and tricks but has not quite learned that the reward for all those good behaviors will still be there even if they take it gently and slowly.

Star has a lot to learn in the Take Treats Gently department, and Lamar, probably due to his levels of anxiety, has a hard time remembering to take treats calmly and not as if his life depended on it. 

Fozzie, for some reason, has the most gentle, velvety soft mouth imaginable, and he has from Day One with us.

But certainly many of the dogs in shelters have this problem, and teaching them to take treats calmly can increase their prospects for adoption.

The APDT Chronicle of the Dog has been having a Train to Adopt series, and the article in the September/October 2012 issue provides a quick outline of how to train taking treats calmly. 

Shelter dogs are meeting all sorts of people, many of them nervous and not very dog-savvy. If the dog jumps up to snatch at a treat offered by a nervous hand, that hand will fly away--teaching the dog that he'd better move faster next time. 

For dogs who already know to sit automatically for treats, the process is really similar to how we train Leave It. When the dog sits, we offer him the treat. If he lunges, jumps up, snaps at our hand, or takes the treat less than gently, we withdraw the hand quickly. We keep pulling the hand away every time the dog jumps up or snaps at the hand. Only when the dog remains sitting calmly even as the hand is snatched away do we leave the hand in place and allow him to have the treat.

When I first read about it, the method of snatching the treat away at the last minute seems a little like teasing the dog. But I can see how getting a dog used to this, and showing the dog that a reward will come if only he can remain seated--especially in a shelter environment with lots of unpredictable interactions with new people--can help build a bombproof dog. 

I guess the problem addressed by this exercise--the dog who loses his "sit" when the treat goes away--is a little different from the problem of the dog who doesn't take treats gently. But I would be very interested in hearing your methods for teaching either life skill.