Chix-a-Lot Friday: Chicken Camp!

Oh boy oh boy everybody, I’m having so much fun I’m almost too busy to even write to you today, but I’ll just make it a quickie!

Yesterday morning my mama and I embarked on a Great Big Weekend Adventure to Chicken Camp! Oh, I guess I mean Dog Camp . . .

Anyhow, I got to go on a great big car ride with my friends the huskies:

And I got to tease them a little about how many furs they have in this hot Texas weather (many too many if you ask me):

And then we got to go for a big long hike up and up and up and then down and down! After we were done with that, I helped my mama and my girlfriend her co-worker J set up the agility equipment. I mostly helped by climbing up onto the A-frame (it was all my own idea!!) to keep a better look-out for boogie-men and to test it out and make sure it was plenty sturdy for the agilidogs. And I’m happy to report: it was.

I was pretty tired after that, so mama let me hang out in the pavilion with some of the other dogs while she did some kind of kitchen-related work. I’m not sure what she was doing in there, but I had an epic nap in the shade with the cool lake breezes, and when she got back she had some raw chicken bones for me to chomp on. MMMMMM…

And then even though I was still pretty pooped out from all my hard work, mama and I played fetch and then went swimming together in the lake. We swam clear across from one side to the other, side by side just like the buddies that we are!

I know what you’re thinking: it can’t get any better than this, right? Well here’s the thing: it can! My dad and my Doodlebug get here tomorrow, and we get to keep partying all weekend long! We’re going to do hiking, swimming, kayaking, chasing real fake bunnies, agilidog work, and genius-dog obedience. Wahoo! And happy weekend, everyone!

Dude learning to have a ball

Now that Doodlebug’s leash has been cut loose and he’s allowed to run and play, we just have to teach him. Apparently, playing doesn’t quite come naturally to him, but he’s starting to get the hang of it.

What he likes most is tennis balls (especially the Kong squeaky ones), so we started there. Whenever we sense that he’s feeling a little energetic (which is not too often), we go and grab the ball, get him excited about it, and toss it a short distance or just offer it to him. If he puts it in his mouth, we praise, praise, praise and pet him until he drops it. The second it falls out of his mouth, we stand up and walk away, taking the toy with us. A couple of minutes later, we do it again. If he takes the ball, he gets lots of praise and petting. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. It’s been slow going, but we are noticing some little changes — he will now hold the ball in his mouth for a full 30 seconds or so on occasion, and often brings it back over to us after retrieving it (instead of running off to his own corner to chew on it). Far from perfect, but he obviously is starting to understand the fun that a ball can be!

School Days: Recall, sit/stay, and hand targeting

Gosh, week three of the Dude’s quest to become basically obedient is done — we’re halfway there! We covered a lot of ground in weeks one and two, and week three was no exception.

The poor little Bug was feeling a bit under-the-weather because we (stupidly?) stopped at the vet’s office on the way to the training center, and Dude has his booster shots, which made him a little drowsy, achy, and grumpy. Getting his attention was easy as always, but getting him excited to play with a toy — one of the fundamental pieces to our facility’s method for teaching a recall — was pretty much impossible. What can we say: sometimes the boy just doesn’t wanna party.

Sometimes I just don't wanna.

Nevertheless, Doodlebug performed well in class. We opened the session with our usual tiedown approach exercise (reinforcing the concept of relaxing for attention), and some basic leash walking. Once the dogs were focused and in “work” mode,  we moved on a few new skills.

First up was the basics of a good recall. We had previously noted that toy play was a building block for some other important behaviors — the recall is one of the biggest. While many training classes teach a recall with food, our center choses to use toys instead. The thinking is that any dog –except maybe a Lab– has the potential to get much more worked up and excited about a favorite toy than about even the most delicious treat. If we can build a positive association between the word “Come!” or “Here!” and a super fun, big party with an interactive toy game, we can develop a good recall that will call a dog off even a stinky squirrel carcass or a fun game of chase (the kind of activities that make a cube of cheese seem boring by comparison). The two-person exercise involved one person getting the dog into a great game of tug, keep-away, squeak the squeaker, or whatever gets the dog’s butt wagging, and the other person then dragging the dog away by a long line. Once the second person had gotten an appropriate distance away, person 1 (with the toys) was to call the dog (“Doodlebug, come!!”) and start waving around the toy and praising the dog excitedly. Although getting the Dude excited to play when he was feeling icky was a challenge, he did manage to run to the right person each time. Way to go, Dude!

Next, we worked on a sit/stay. This involves counting out treats, asking the dog for a sit, then praising and offering a treat every few seconds while he holds the sit, continuing for a full minute. As it becomes easier for the dog to hold the sit between treats, the amount of time between treats is doubled (so the number of treats is halved). In between the “sit” minutes, the dogs were walked around for two minutes to give them a break. Dude did well with this, but because he’s not super foodie, our progression from treats every 5 seconds to treats only after a minute has been slow — we only made it to 20 seconds over the course of the week.

Finally, we worked on hand targeting — the skill where the dog bumps the back of the person’s hand with his nose, and receives a treat or piece of kibble in return. The hand target is useful for moving a dog around (for example, from one side to another during leash walking), or for teaching advanced behaviors like dancing, turning lights on/off, etc. It’s also helpful for nervous or reactive dogs, as a reminder to them to keep moving or turn their face away when they’re not sure what to do. The Dude was a total pro at this, since we had been practicing at home.

Homework was as follows:

1. Practice the recall using toys and a second handler, increasing distance as the current distance becomes easy. To be honest about our failure, we pretty much skipped this one. Because of the Duder’s heartworms and his general allergy-related lethargy (more on this another day), his play drive has not been in full-gear, so we thought we’d give him a pass until he’s on the up-and-up — hopefully soon!

2. Sit/stay: Practice the sit/stay using the method described above, doubling the time between treats as it becomes easy. The goal is to get to a full minute sit between treats. We did well with this one, though we’re not at a full minute yet — we got to about 20 seconds without any trouble, and we’re continuing to work. Our trainer calls this the “lazy-man’s dog training,” so we’re naturals!

3. Practice hand-targeting, first throughout the house, then in increasingly challenging locations — in the back yard, the front yard, on walks, etc. We’ve been having fun with this one, and have been using it on walks when there are small distractions present, to draw Dude’s attention away. Far from perfect, but we’re doing pretty well!

4. Walking: loose leash walking continues to be a project. Early in the week, I realized that while Dude was able to stick by me for the most part, he wasn’t really *with* me — he was never checking in and quick to wander off in a different direction. Leash-walking would ideally be taught using only emotion and fun (and not food), but some dogs just need a little more. So I started bringing a treat pouch full of kibble for our practice sessions, and offering him a piece whenever he looked up at me. Magically, he started to check in more and more. Toward the end of the week, we felt like we were really getting somewhere. Distractions are still a problem, but we are confident that with time, Dude will be able to walk right past a person and dog without getting so very excited — or at least, we hope so!

Our homework kept us busy, busy, busy this week, which is a good thing– most evenings, we had a very snoozy little Dude!

Sometimes training makes me so tired I have to tuck myself in.


Big day tomorrow!

Friends! We have an exciting announcement! Tomorrow is officially the end of the Dude’s 10 weeks of heartworm treatment. The boy is ready to party!

We’re not sure what we’ll do to celebrate, but the Dude has asked to be sent to Space Camp in Florida. While the jury is out on that one, we’ll play some good rowdy games in the back yard, go for a nice long walk, and do a lot of hanging out and complementing him on being so very, very cool.

Congrats, Dudarino!

Chix-a-Lot Friday: Goodwill to good fun

That mama of mine, she sure is clever. Even though she’s always telling me and my Dude what clever boys we are, I have always suspected that she might be smarter than me. Or then again, maybe it’s just that she has supposable thumbs, which allow her to do things like drive a car and buy green blankets at a place called the Goodwills. And she always says that her Big Ideas are not really hers, but rather other people’s ideas that she is just Carrying Out. Like this one.

The other day, mama came home with a case of potato and duck food cans that she opens with some kind of magical contraption and then puts the potatoes and ducks inside hollow bones and makes us wait and wait and wait to eat them until they have been sitting in the cold place at the bottom of the fridge for a really long time. She also came home with a new red harness for the Dude, and this here big green fleece blanket from the Goodwills:

And here is my proof that mama is maybe a tiny little bit smarter than us: mama took that green blanket — which we thought was great just the way it was — and did something magical with it! She turned it into all these funs:

She got her sewing box and took out the scissors (Not recommended for dogs. Supposable thumbs necessary), then she went snip snip snip until half of the big green blanket was six long green strips! Then she got busy doing something crazy with the strips and her hands until — ta-da — it was two long, long rope toys. She even magicianed some tennis balls into either end of one of the long rope toys, because she knows how us boys love tennis balls. Pretty neat, huh?

Mama says it was important that she make the toys very long, because sometimes I’m not very good at sharing toys. She knows claims that my Biggest Goal in Life is just to collect all the toys in a big pile and then sit on them so nobody else can touch them — she says that wouldn’t be any fun at all, but I think it would be most definitely fun. Can you imagine me sitting on a giant toy mountain, giving the stink-eye to anybody who approaches? Fantastic!

Anyhow, she says that long, long rope toys are better at getting dogs to play together instead of me just trying to domino the Dude into giving me the toy so I can have it to myself. And you know what? So far so good! I did want that toy very much, but it actually was kind of fun playing together. And the Duder was so far away from me even though we were playing with the same toy that I didn’t need to be giving him the stink-eye the whole time, and when we got tired we could both lay down and nibble on our end without being in each other’s Personal Space.

She only let us play for a couple of minutes because the Dudester is still not done killing all his heartworms and we don’t want them to kill him, but the excitement of it was enough to make us want to take a big-ol’ nap. And we did!

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