School Days: Leash walking and toy play

Last week we reported on the Dude’s first night of a six-week class which will (hopefully) teach him to be basically obedient. We’re now finishing up week two, and headed to the third class tonight!

Dude’s second session focused on proper leash walking, as well as the importance of toy play. Duderino was already good and exhausted relaxed from having spent all day at the training center with mama, who was working all afternoon. So he was nice and calm by the time class started in the evening.

We started the session with some tiedown approaches (where we clip his leash in to a carabiner and walk away, waiting for him to sit and relax before coming back to pet on him and praise him). Only a few of the dogs in class struggled with this exercise, but the Dude really blew the others all away — in fact, he was laying down in frogdog pose within seconds of being clipped in! We often start class with this exercise because it’s so helpful in focusing and chilling out the dogs.

Next, we were introduced to loose leash walking, with a strong focus on using the handler’s voice and emotion to help the dog remain engaged. When a dog feels the leash pressure on his neck, it’s easy for him to just walk on without worrying about whether we’re coming or not– he knows we are there. But if he is taught to walk on a loose leash, he has to be focused on where his walking companion is! A loose leash walk is much more work for the dog — mentally — than a pully one, and this is one of the goals of walking — an exhausted dog.

We also got to play with different walking equipment, to see what worked best for our dogs. The Dude is not a reactive dog, so a simple martingdale (no-slip) collar works just fine for him. But we also tried a step-in harness, which is attached via two points of contact and a double-ended leash (one clip to the dog’s back and one to the dog’s chest). The Dude seemed to respond well to this one too, and we’re adding it to our collection to use in more challenging walking situations. We refrained from trying any head-collars, which work nicely for more reactive dogs, especially when paired with a harness or martingdale and — again — a double-ended leash. More on these various equipment another time!

Finally, we worked on toy play. I know what you’re thinking — what does playing with toys have to do with basic obedience? Turns out it has a lot to do with it! Teaching a dog to love toys not only makes for a far more reliable recall than food does, but also builds a stronger relationship between the dog and the person — and if your dog thinks you’re fun, then your dog is going to be much more likely to do what you ask.

Homework:

(1) practice loose leash walking in the back yard, setting up some cone-substitutes to do figure eights and weaves, turning frequently if the dog is tempted to pull. Once this is easy, start walking in front of the house — first just 40 feet, out and back. Once this is easy, double the distance. Once that’s easy, double again.

(2) Practice toy holding and play, by only petting the dog when he’s holding a toy in his mouth — all week! Put all the toys away, and only produce one when you decide it’s playtime. When the game is over — again — you decide — the toy goes away again. For the toy holding practice, if Dude approaches seeking attention, offer a toy. If he takes it, pet, praise, hug, whatever. The second he drops it, turn off all attention. This is a hard one, but a building block for future activities!

(3) Continue sit/release exercise, tiedown approaches, and sitting for food bowl from week 1.

So how’d we do? The leash walking was slow going, but we made some progress. By the fourth day, we were able to get down the front walk, down the driveway, and two houses away from ours on a loose leash. Then on Monday we tried out a new harness, and were able to make a lot more progress. We’re now juggling back and forth between the two, and hope to become proficient in each. The toy holding went well — when we remembered to do it. We often found ourselves petting or scratching the Doodlebug with no toys in sight, just out of habit — oops! But when we did offer a toy, he got better and better throughout the week at holding it while receiving his massage. This is a big deal for the Dude, who was most decidedly NOT a toy fanatic a couple of weeks ago. Score!

An update on Week 3 to come next week!

The mower

The other evening, the boys were outside in their natural habitat, hunting for bugs and eating the tall prairie grasses in our yard . . .

But then, just as they were getting the most satisfying of nibbles on the most succulent of prairie grasses . . .

A jarring disruption occurred . . .

It was the daddyman, celebarting Daylight Savings Time with his new reel-mower:

The newly mowed grass sure looked nice, but it made for some sad, sad Chickerdoodles!

School Days: Doodlebug’s quest to be basically obedient

Last Tuesday, the Dude began his quest to become basically obedient — that is, he had the first session of his six-week basic obedience class.

Although I might have been able to teach the Dude most of the skills covered in a formal class, I knew it would be good for him to learn in a more formal environment and practice being calm around other dogs — a bit of a challenge for the Dude, who gets excited at the sight of another four-legger. Plus, taking two dogs through the basic obedience class is part of my trainer’s training requirement, so the Dude’s participation is a natural fit.

So we headed over to the Center with low expectations — the Doctor’s orders are for the Dude to refrain from participating in any exciting activities for another three weeks due to his heartworm treatment. So we were fully expecting to be parked far from the other seven dogs, in a quiet corner of the field where he would be far from all the excitement. Per our head trainer’s suggestion, we prepared him a kong stuffed with kibble, peanut butter, and cheese to keep him busy and calm during the first half of class, which would be mostly conversation and little activity.

But we shouldn’t have worried. The Dude did a little bit of quiet whimpering as we approached the broad agility field where class would be held, but quickly plopped himself down in the mulch to relax and observe the goings-on, as though he were just lounging on the bed at home. He was a perfect gentleman the rest of the evening, and we were his proud, beaming parents.

The first lesson covered some fundamentals that the Dude was better than the other dogs at had already been practicing at home, like sitting for food and sitting & relaxing for attention. The latter is especially critical, and we feel so lucky that we made it second-nature years ago with Chick — it seems to not come easily to so many families with dogs. The basic principle is this: we should be giving our dogs attention for displaying behaviors we like (sitting quietly and calmly, for example), and ignoring the behaviors we don’t like (jumping and barking, for example). It’s easy to be tempted to push a dog away when he jumps, or say “Doodlebug, NO!” or “quiet!” when he barks for attention. But in doing this, we’re actually giving the dog exactly what he wants. To a dog — especially a pushy one — attention means being looked at, talked to, or touched — doesn’t matter if it’s positive or negative in our eyes. If we are consistent, a dog can quickly learn that barking will not earn him that treat, and jumping will not get the visitor to look at him. The behavior will eventually extinguish. For dogs whose unsavory habits are long-ingrained, it can take some time. For dogs who are just learning the rules from scratch, change happens pretty quickly.

The Dude was lucky to learn this from scratch in our home. It’s our hypothesis that he had never been trained at all before living with us, so in his mind, there were no rules. Lucky us: within three days of coming into our home, Dude was consistently planting his butt firmly on the ground and looking at us with those giant doe eyes of his when he wanted a pet or a scratch, not punching us with his paws or face or barking obnoxiously.

The first week’s homework? Practicing sits and releases in progressively more challenging locations in / around the house, sitting for the food bowl, and tiedown approaches. The Dude aced ‘em all.

Stay tuned next week for an update on tonight’s session two!

Back to School

The Doodlebug is going to school . . . and mama’s going too!

Doodlebug could barely sleep last night from anticipation about the first day of basic obedience class tonight. He’s nervous and excited! He’ll be joining a small handful of fine canines for a six-week adult basics class under the cedar and oak trees at the Canine Center for Training and Behavior. Under the mentorship of his trainer, we hope he’ll learn how to be confident and focused in new settings, solidify and refine his basic commands, and finally learn the loose leash walking that mama has excused him from during his heartworm treatment. He’s nervous about all the homework he’s going to have — it will not only include practicing basic commands, but also establishing and reinforcing house rules about polite behavior and building a stronger relationship with his people.

But the Dude isn’t the only one going to school — I’m in school too. At the beginning of this year I joined the Center as an intern/apprentice, and I’ve immersed myself deeply in the world of dog behavior and learning. On top of observing and assisting in group classes, behavioral evaluations, and private lessons dealing primarily with reactivity, anxiety, and aggression, there’s mountain of reading around here and enough writing assignments and other homework to keep me busy for months.

Luckily, the boys (especially the Doodlebug) are totally committed to helping mama succeed!

A color coordinated vacation

Even though the Dude promised us that he loved road trips (the only one in his recent memory being the one in which Love-A-Bull sprung him from jail in the Dallas/Ft Worth area and brought him to Austin), his car-riding performance this weekend proved otherwise.

About an hour into our drive into the Hill Country, the Dude started looking a big queasy and nervous, and before we knew it, we were pulled over on the side of the highway, cleaning up that morning’s breakfast, a big helping of grass, and some slime from the brand new floor of grandpa’s brand new Buick SUV. Oops.

After that incident, a little walk around the grassy shoulder, and a dog switcheroo (in which Dude moved to my lap and Chick moved to the dog bed on the floor), all was well.

Another 45 uneventful minutes, and we arrived at the LBJ Ranch and Museum. The boys enjoyed the audio CD-led driving tour of the immense property, and loved the sights and smells on the walking tour of the Texas White House grounds even more.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?) the weather turned windy and rainy just as we arrived at our destination, so the boys spent much of their vacation snuggled up with each other inspiring songwriting:

And wooing the Turkey-man into feeding them sausages and cheese:

While us humans braved the elements, climbing the slippery, pink granite dome of Enchanted Rock in the foggy drizzle.

The Dude was pleased to find that he was in good company on our rental house’s property — in the surrounding fields, he found plenty of Longhorn friends with beautiful coats to match his own ruddy brown. Every time we went for a walk, he tried to playbow to them to show them that he is not a threat:

And every time, they refused to play. Poor Doodlebug.

Want your very own Doodlebug? Check out Love-A-Bull’s lovely adoptable dogs here!

Dad’s take: A songwriter’s muse

Chick has long been the muse for my bathtub songwriting.  He inspired me to pen updates to old standards, such as “Chick[en] on My Mind,” “American Bull,” and “Every Chick Has Its Thorn.”

The songs were always simple but catchy, never imparting more than three key pieces of information about Chick: (1) Chick is a dog; (2) Chick is white; and (3) Chick weighs 50 pounds.

As you can see, I don’t have a lot of talent in this department.

 

So, it’s taken me a while to find the right inspiration from the Dude.  Well, it happened this weekend on our little road trip out to the Hill Country.  The tune, best played on a ukulele, draws from American roots music, and tells the story of the Dude’s first road trip.  It’s called, “Dude, Please Don’t Puke in My Daddy’s New Buick (Again).”  It’ll be available any day now on iTunes.
Check in tomorrow for more about that road trip…

Out-of-town escape!

We’re headed out of town!

The boys have packed up their backpacks and their tiny guitar, and they’re ready for our adventure. We’re heading out to Fredericksburg Texas with the boys’ grandparents — we’ll be doing some hiking, some relaxing, some stargazing, and some front porch sitting. We’ll be so far out there that we won’t even have the interwebs, so we’ll see y’all back on Wednesday!

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