Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fourth day in a row of pass-bys: two steps forward, ? steps back

Today was the fourth day in a row that we worked on passbys, polite behavior around other dogs, etc. Most of the time today, Vanya behaved nicely. He completely lost it, however, when I wasn't expecting it: on a long walk in the woods at the state park, when we passed a campsite that happened to have a dog hiding out. The dog barked, and even though we were walking briskly by (on the opposite site of the road, of course), Vanya completely lost it. He couldn't see the dog (which sounded pretty small and squeaky to me). When he loses it, he doesn't actually lunge or bark. Instead, he screams and begins thrashing like a fish on a line. It's very odd. He can wiggle out of his harness very quickly, so I always have a backup system (this time, the canny collar). While he was thrashing about shrieking to high heavens, I tried (unsuccessfully) to drag him out of there, since he sure wasn't paying attention to my cues. Finally, I put his nose-piece of the canny collar on and hauled him away (guess I won't have to clip his nails for a while!). Then, as he finally got his brain back together and started walking with me, the woman came out of the campsite and Vanya once again lost it--this time with his desire to go say hi to her. Same exact screaming, same exact thrashing, but in this situation I know it's all about social desire, not some desire to rip someone's throat out. The woman walked by, and instead of telling me off, she smiled and called out, "he's having a bad day, huh?" We chatted a bit about dogs and their bad days, all the while Vanya was thrashing about on the leash. I did tell her that he was being such a brat because he wanted to say hi, but he wasn't allowed to say hi when he was being a brat. Whatever. I'm long past feeling embarrassed by Vanya's behavior, even though I really do want to avoid sending him over threshold, both because it's not good for him to practice this craziness, and also because pitties have a bad enough reputation as it is.

I was ready to go home, but I decided to take him back up to the Prairie Moraine dog park and practice outside the park. We did that for over an hour, and he actually did very well. He's best in the church lot across the street, where he can walk fairly close to the park and the romping dogs without going over threshold. He was able to do all his obedience cues, and we alternated a bit between BAT and good old LAT. He's really becoming a champ at LAT. A couple of times he started warbling, even as he played LAT with me, so I would take him back to the car and let him settle down. We also did a bit of relaxation protocol in the car in between walks. At one point we were actually parallel walking with other dogs. Of course, they were dozens of yards away, but hey, Vanya was still able to do his cues (heel, sit, down, target, jump, watch, sniff) with other dogs in the vicinity. I'm not sure if he's getting used to other dogs, or just wiped out.

Now he's snoozing. I get to write my talks, do laundry, do powerpoints, and get ready to go to Western Michigan U tomorrow am for the book promotion events.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Third day in a row of practice with new dogs, new places, new people. Vanya did fine with Jake, showing only a little stress whining, although he was reluctant to leave and very cautious about where he placed his feet on the trail, as if something was hurting him. He greeted a DNR worker very nicely, with polite sits and no inclination to jump. This particular DNR guy has American bulldogs, so whenever he sees Vanya he tells us all how gorgeous and well-behaved Vanya is. Vanya likes this. So do I.

Then we went to the village park, next to the lake--same place as yesterday. Today, a cloudy Monday, was much quieter, without people or dogs visible. So we just sniffed around, playing attention games, and then crossed the street to where the park is usually a lot busier. Vanya found a vole or mole hole in the rough grass, and he was transformed--from looking obedient but slightly uneasy and tense, to being a joyful terrier merrily trying to dig out a rodent. I let him dig for quite a while (he was blissful, seeming to completely forget that he was in a novel environment), and then we tracked the scent trail of what I assume was the same rodent. What a happy dog! The transformation was wonderful to see, and I hope we can keep finding opportunities to dig up rodents and track their scents when we go to the park. I should lay a scent track before I let Vanya out of the car, and then have him track it, to see if that helps him relax in the new places. Hmmm--dragging a hunk of stinky salmon may let me lay a track that keeps him absorbed and helps him settle into new spaces. An idea!

Then, after he tracked in the park, we went back to see Jake the Mellow Lab, and Vanya was fine--reluctant to leave, again, even though he wasn't interacting with Jake, just sniffing around the other dog's kennel quite a bit. I tried to incorporate a bit of BAT, perhaps with a little success, following the wonderful diagram in Boogie the Boston Terrier's blog.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Another day, another bunch of dogs

Now that the weather is lovely, lots of dogs are out and about. And now that I'm finally home for a few days, I can practice with Vanya around new dogs.

And I think I have finally figured out a set-up where we can stay under threshold and yet not be so far away from new dogs that they're tiny dots in the distance (and so far that I'm not really sure my pup sees them. Aha! No wonder he's minding his manners! He thinks they're ants off in the distance!)

Ok, here's the set-up:
1. We go someplace filled with romping dogs who have better things to do than pay attention to my darling nutcase
2. We go far enough from people so that I don't mind if Vanya starts shrieking (of course, for his sake, I want to keep him calm, but sometimes that just doesn't happen. And if he loses it and starts warbling, I prefer not to have the police called on us for disturbing the peace.)
3. We find a spot where I can leave the car door open for him. I tie his crate door open as well. He loves his crate. He feels very safe in his crate, curled up on his huge dog bed. Why did it take me so long to figure this out? If he can take a quick break in his crate in the car, he calms down much, much faster.
4. We find a spot where either the car or, better yet, some structure acts as a blind. Again, Vanya can stay calmer much more easily if he can get out of visual contact with the dog for a moment.
5. I use his sensible harness, attached with a 5 ft leash to my waist-harness. I also use his canny collar (or gentle leader) as backup, with a 6 ft leash loose in my hand. Most of the time the canny collar or GL nose-piece is off him, but it's available as a quick backup if something happens that means I need more control over his nose. Having 2 leashes makes me feel much more secure, and keeps me from needing to have pressure on his nose-piece for more than an instant.

Near new dogs...

Yesterday, after a morning walk on the bike trail and then a couple hours with Shawn from Capitol Times, Vanya got to go see dogs in the distance. This doesn't sound exciting, but for Vanya, it is. Very exciting.

We went up to the Prairie Moraine dog park outside of Verona, a vast and very crowded dog park with miles of trails, and most important for our purposes, several places where you can park well away from the park and still see dogs and people. We started up at the end of the park fence, and Vanya did well there for a while, playing LAT with dogs in the distance. When he started whining, I'd have him hop back into the crate inside the car, where he could calm down faster. But then an odd man with 4 barking dogs came up along the fence and stopped and stayed too close to us. Even though I had Vanya jump into the car and even though I shut the door and kept clicking away for moments of silence, this still sent him far over threshold.

So we drove to the church parking lot a little further away, and this worked much better. Over and over again we practiced LAT with the distant dogs, then taking a break by jumping into the car or walking off behind the church to sniff the mulch. Vanya was clearly calming down a lot, but I suspected this was a bit of flooding, although possibly a bit of realization that those other jumping, leaping, barking dogs in the distance weren't going to come over near him, so he was safe.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

lots of travelling, not much posting

I've been traveling to promote Toxic Bodies--first for 10 days to the west coast, then to France for a week, and now I'm on the east coast for several days. Tuesday I gave a talk at University of Virginia; yesterday I did a TV show, podcast, and public lecture at the National Conservation Training Center in WV, and this morning I'm driving down to DC to talk in the plenary session at the Organization for American Historians. Then I get to go home, and take a few days on the farm before heading off to Western Michigan University for a few events.

Vanya is having a lovely time hanging out with Frank and Tiva on the farm while I'm gone. He doesn't get any training, but he does get a lot of time running around the fields hunting for voles. Sometimes he actually catches a vole, but as Frank put it, he's too fastidious to eat them. Tiva comes over and watches him very very carefully as he trots around with his prize. Then he drops it and goes over to sniff something else, and Tiva dashes over, grabs it, and swallows it in one gulp. She is not a fastidious dog, to put it mildly.

Really Reliable Recall: When I'm home, we practice Leslie Nelson's Really Reliable Recall games. Vanya's cue is "CHEESE!" He roars over to me, fast as he can, when I yell "CHEESE!" I give him lots of tiny bits of cheese (or salmon, or beef) and tons of praise, then I put him in a sit/stay, go off and hide out of sight, and repeat the game several time. He of course thinks this is tons of fun. Next step is to introduce greater distractions (ie, have Frank playing with Vanya and giving him boring kibble,) then I yell CHEESE, and hopefully Vanya tears himself away from the distraction and comes zooming over to me.