Category Archives: Dog training

Good dog!

Ramona the Pest has been a Very Good Girl lately. We’ve walked or jogged together almost every day since this semi-quarantine began, and now she’s learning to work off-lead. 

Getting a dog to work without a leash is challenging, because the handler has to trust and respect the dog enough to relinquish control of its movements, and the dog has to trust and respect the handler enough to listen and follow directions instead of running off and getting into mischief.

Some dogs are better suited for this than others. Under the wrong circumstances, an off-lead excursion can turn an asset into a liability or amplify a personality quirk into a real hazard.

Ramona is a bit scatterbrained when she’s excited, and walks are Very Exciting, so I start our lessons by walking or running several blocks down the alley with her on a loose lead. 

Once she’s settled down enough to focus, I drop the leash and let her drag it, paying close attention to our surroundings so I can run interference quickly if I see trouble brewing. I like working her in alleys, because they present plenty of distractions but few real hazards, and they’re narrow enough that I can catch up to her quickly if she tries to bolt. 

We had a great training session the other night. She did very well at heel, sit, and stay, remained polite while visiting her friend Bruce and his housemate (who was less polite), and even did a little modeling next to some breezeblock walls:

Brown dog cocking its head and looking at the camera
I’m pretty sure she knows how cute she is.

Brown dog licking its chops
“I was told by Applecare that there would be treats.” — Ramona, probably

Two dogs greeting each other over a concrete wall as a third dog flashes its teeth
I wish I spoke dog. I’d love to know what he was saying. (Probably some variant of “You damn kids get off my lawn!”)

My long-term goal is to be able to take her on long runs off-lead, because handling the leash siphons off a little more energy than I’d like — no big deal for a 5K, but unpleasant at half-marathon distances and beyond. We’ll see how it goes.

Emily

Success story

This is Maggie. She’s a good dog, but when she came to the shelter, she wasn’t a very well-socialized dog. What she lacks in social skills, she makes up in size, which is unfortunate. When you’re as big and strong as Maggie, manners are important.

Maggie had a bad habit of lunging and snarling at other dogs who barked at her from behind fences.

Natalie, one of the other shelter volunteers, contacted me for advice. I recommended a gradual process of desensitization that involved establishing herself as Alpha to gain Maggie’s confidence, then demanding that Maggie sit and stay within sight of the kennels, gradually working her closer and closer to them, until she could sit still no matter what the other dogs were doing a few feet away.

Natalie started working with Maggie on Wednesday. She got the other volunteers on board, so they’d set the same expectations for Maggie whenever they walked her, and this morning, I watched this happen:

That pretty little brindle pibble in the background is Brenley. Maggie and Brenley do not get along. Brenley barked at Maggie, but Maggie was focused on Natalie and sat and stayed as she was told.

When Natalie praised Maggie for being a good girl, Maggie rolled over and clamored to have her belly rubbed.

If you know anything about pack instinct, you know why this was a huge deal for Maggie. Rolling over, belly up and feet in the air, is an extremely vulnerable position for a dog. It’s a submissive posture that says, “I’m no threat to you” — kind of like when humans put their hands up to show they’re unarmed.

I expected our incremental desensitization project to work, but I had no idea it would work this fast or this well.

Maggie is going to make an excellent pet for somebody. Bravo to Natalie and the other volunteers who made the effort to train her.

Emily

Drive my car

Once again, I’ve managed to neglect my blog because I was busy doing cool stuff that I should have been blogging. If you’re still with me, thanks for hanging in there.

One of the cool things I’ve been doing lately is detailed over at my teaching blog, Foolish Wand-Waving. Hop over there if you’re interested in seeing the inexpensive stim tools I’ve been cobbling together from dollar-store materials.

Another cool thing I did recently was buy a new car. I wasn’t sure this was cool at first. I wanted to drive the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcar a million miles, but at 220,000, it landed in the shop with a mysterious engine problem, and school was about to start — so the day before the new semester began, I bought a Chevy Spark.

It’s not the Dreamcar, and it’s not a stick shift, but it has three redeeming features:

1. A CVT. Less fun than a stick, but optimal fuel economy.

2. A real-time mpg meter to facilitate hypermiling.

3. A trial subscription to Sirius XM, where I discovered there is an entire radio station devoted exclusively to the Beatles. Where has this been all my life?

The CVT and mileage meter are probably the main reasons I’m getting an average of 43.2 mpg (and climbing), but it can’t hurt that I am in zero hurry to arrive anywhere when I’m driving around with the Fab Four on the stereo.

Fine, Spark. You’re not the Dreamcar, but maybe I’ll love you. (Beep-beep’m … you know the rest.)

The third cool thing I did was start a free obedience class at Paws and Claws. Our first lesson was this morning. Seven dogs and their humans showed up, and Ramona happily served as my teaching assistant, demonstrating “heel,” “sit,” and “stay” as smoothly as the average Westminster champion.

I gave her a piece of bacon jerky when we got home, but I think the bigger treat for her was getting to see her old friends at the shelter. We adopted her almost a year ago, but she obviously remembered the volunteers who’d taken care of her when she was a puppy:

Woman cuddling an Australian shepherd mix
Ramona was delighted to see her old friends at the shelter.

I’m proud of Ramona. I knew she was going to be good at obedience, but she’s exceeded my wildest expectations. I suspect she’ll be able to go for walks without a leash before the winter is out.

Emily

 

New baby

I took three dogs out for a test-drive today at the local animal shelter. The first was a beautiful German shepherd who acted a complete fool on the leash, despite the shelter volunteer putting a pinch collar on him to get him to pay attention. Nope.

The second was a smaller, female German shepherd-Lab mix who behaved better on the leash and was definitely in the running for a bit.

Three litters of puppies were roaming around — some sleek Doberman mixes, some pretty little Australian shepherd mixes that I’d been eyeing on the shelter’s website, and some pit bull mixes that could have passed for coonhounds if the insurance adjuster asked. (Don’t think I didn’t think about it. Y’all know how I feel about pibbles.)

One of the Aussie mutts knocked the rest of the pack out of the way to get to me, so I looped the leash through its own handle to create a makeshift training collar and took her for a walk, followed by one of her littermates and an overenthusiastic Dobie.

pup1
If I didn’t know for fact that her mother is a purebred Australian shepherd, I’d swear I was looking at a Belgian Malinois pup. Just look at that red coat and black muzzle!

Despite the distractions created by the other pups, she paid attention to my voice, responded quickly to leash corrections, and seemed content to follow me along without needing much direction. When I found out she was about 12 weeks old, that pretty much sealed the deal; years ago, Scout’s trainer told us years that 12 weeks is the ideal age to start obedience training. Bonus that she reminds me of that trainer’s late Belgian Malinois, who was an awesome dog.

pup3
Lillian really wishes these damn kids would get off her lawn.

Riggy seems to like the new kid just fine. Lillian is less impressed, but the only thing that has ever impressed Lillian is bacon. Either you are feeding her a piece of bacon, or you are a peasant worthy of the utmost contempt. There are no other roles in life. (Rather Elizabethan worldview, as I think about it.)

pup4
My oldest friend saw this picture on Instagram and told me Lillian says a lot of bad words with her eyes. This is an accurate assessment, I think.

We haven’t named the new pup yet, but I’m leaning toward Ramona (after the beloved Beverly Cleary character, of course), because she is a lovable pest.

Emily

 

Bye, Felisha

I deleted my Facebook account this morning.

I’ve considered it for years. I even went so far as to deactivate it once, but I relented later.

This week, several circumstances aligned, and I decided it was time to delete, not deactivate.

Circumstance 1: I’m thinking about running again. I think about running every time the seasons change. But this time around, in considering the practicalities, I realized that in the time I spend on social media, I could be running anywhere from a 10K to a half-marathon DAILY, if not for the security issues associated with running alone after dark. Which leads me to …

Circumstance 2: I’m seriously considering adopting a large dog to be my new training partner. (I’m thinking Aussie shepherd pup, but this guy looks awfully promising, and this mutt reminds me of someone I used to know.) Introducing a new dog is a time-consuming proposition, and I can’t see wasting hours talking to humans on Facebook when I could be sitting on the living-room floor, supervising a play session between Riggy and his new sibling or teaching a pup to do Stupid Pet Tricks. (I’ve decided summoning a Patronus is way funnier than calling a dog, and “Allons-y!” is a better command than “Walkies!”)

Circumstance 3: Murphy Brown is back on the air for the first time in 20 years, and the new season of Doctor Who starts Oct. 7. PRIORITIES.

Circumstance 4: Every couple of years or so, somebody will forget what I do for a living and post things on Facebook that have the potential to create disruptions or controversies at school (e.g., inappropriate language, anecdotes embellished for comedic effect, jokes about youthful indiscretions that never actually occurred, pictures of scantily clad women who supposedly look like me, etc.) I had to delete one of those this week, which reminded me of the risks inherent in Teaching While Facebooking.

Circumstance 5: I’m sick of Mark Zuckerberg’s crap. He can’t be bothered to keep Russian propagandists from using his service to disseminate divisive memes, crack down on bots that spam legitimate users with friend requests from fake accounts, or protect the massive quantity of personal information users were stupid enough to entrust to him. Bye, Felisha.

Hopefully ditching Facebook will free up more time for blogging, which I’ve missed lately.

Emily

Major achievement

I am SO proud of Songdog tonight. We took Song and Riggy for a walk this afternoon when I got home from school. Song had been a handful at the start of his walk yesterday, so I nipped the problem in the bud today by putting his pinch collar on him. It intimidated him just enough to keep him in check without a lot of leash corrections.

In fact, he behaved so well that I took a calculated risk and dropped his leash while he was in a sit-stay. He stayed put while I walked all the way around him. I picked up the leash again, walked about half a block with him at heel, and then dropped the leash and asked him to heel, sit, and then stay. He was a perfect gentleman. We walked several blocks like that, with Song keeping a close eye on my movements and sitting every time I stopped, the way I’ve trained him to do on-leash. He even sat and stayed without flinching when a truck passed within three or four feet of us on the road.

Song was hit by a car shortly before he came to us. Because of that experience, he has always been scared of cars, trucks, bicycles, and anything else with wheels (even fast-moving rollerbladers unnerve him sometimes), but we’ve been working to overcome that fear, and his obedience without leash control this evening really illustrated how far he’s come.

It was maybe the most glorious dog-training moment I’ve had since Scout learned to breakdance.

In other pet news, the chicks have had an exciting night. First I gave them a nightcrawler we bought at a bait shop in Okemah this evening, and then I installed a hamster-type water bottle on the side of their cage. Their reactions to both were absolutely priceless. I’ll try to get video of them playing “Who’s Got the Worm?” next time we give them a nightcrawler, because it’s absolutely hilarious.

Hope your evening was full of laughter and accomplishments, too.

Emily

Trainees

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
— Isaiah 55:8

This evening, we took the dogs for a walk. The original plan was for Ron to walk Song and Jason while I gave Riggy an obedience lesson, but Songdog apparently forgot that he knew how to heel, because he kept jumping around and pulling at the lead. Three blocks from the house, he got so insufferable that Ron and I traded dogs.

To get Song’s attention, I insisted that he heel, then added demands and distractions meant to throw him off his game: Walk through this puddle. Walk through this pile of snow. Stop on a dime. Change directions. Sit on wet pavement. Walk at heel while I splash through this puddle.

It sounds mean, but you don’t do it as punishment. You do it to build trust and respect. You know that it isn’t going to hurt the dog to get wet, but he isn’t so sure. He has to trust you enough to believe that you aren’t going to lead him into danger, and he has to respect you enough to be willing to do what you ask, even if he isn’t wild about your requests.

Fifteen minutes with She Who Must Be Obeyed settled Song right down, so Ron and I traded back, and I gave Riggy a similar lesson on the way back home. He did very well. A few hours after we got home, I realized that while I was giving Song and Riggy a lesson in obedience, they were giving me a lesson in metaphysics.

How many times in the past year and a half has the Father tugged my leash in a direction I didn’t want to go? How many times has he asked me to walk through snow, sit on wet pavement, or go with him into an intimidating situation? How many times have I balked, whined, snapped at the leash, or growled in protest before finally giving in? And how much trouble could I have saved myself if I’d learned to obey as quickly as my dogs do?

Emily