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.

Premack: The DNR lands seem to be filled with deer carcasses. So Vanya has been getting practice with premacking the deer. When he's chomping on a bone, I walk over near him, ask for a "watch", click and give him a hunk of salmon,  and then release him back to his bone. We do this several times until he no longer wants to pay attention to the bone and only wants to get the clicks going. Well, that's the idea anyway. He plays this game happily, but when it's time to walk away from the carcass, he's not too thrilled about that, even though he doesn't guard the carcass from me. If Frank or Tiva approached, he would hunch over the bones and eat them faster and faster (neither Frank or Tiva are silly enough to actually walk right up to him when he's at a carcass). When I get back, I'll go into those fields alone and hide the carcasses somewhere-surely there's a limit to the number of gory bones that a dog should eat?

Shaping Calmness: well, we need to work on this a lot more. After I've been gone for a while, Vanya is certainly a lot more hyper-aroused in the face of new stimuli, since Frank doesn't take him into the village for little socialization sessions, or off to new environments. Because Vanya isn't meeting new people each day the way he used to, when he does get to see new people, he is extremely excited and he has a hard time calming down. Some people are kind enough to play the calmness game with us: when Vanya is calmly sitting, they take a step closer, but if he gets up, they stand still, out of reach, approaching for a pet only when he sits. The poor dog is SO desperate to greet people, he slams his butt on the ground incredibly hard when he remembers the game. Then he starts wiggling and wiggling and soon can't contain himself, stands up, the people stop, Vanya slams him butt back down, and so on. Eventually, they are petting him and he leans into them, ecstasy on his goofy face. Soon he's upside down in their arms, trying to lick their chin as they scritch his chest. He is a goofball.

Vanya loves hanging out on the farm. While Frank's pruning the apple orchard, Tiva and Vanya snooze together and hunt together and keep tabs on Frank together. If I'm not around, Vanya can start to play too roughly with Frank, which I think is because Frank encourages him--he loves to roughhouse with the dog, but doesn't like it when the dog gets over-excited. No matter how many times I remind Frank to stop roughhousing with Vanya, and stop pushing Vanya away when he jumps up, Frank can't seem to break the habit.

 Here's a typical conversation:
Frank: "so what do I do when Vanya starts to jump on me?"
me: "ignore him. Don't give him any attention. But you know the look in his eye when he's about to start jumping? When he gets that look, BEFORE he jumps, ask for a SIT and toss him a treat." (and Frank does recognize this look, and he can do this routine when I'm around).
Frank: "yeah, but what if I don't have a treat in my pocket?"
Nancy: "fill your pockets with treats before you go outside."
Frank: "what if I forget?"
Nancy: "then when he sits, praise him and run with him to the kitchen for a great treat. And stop forgetting."


  1. Wish I'd known you were here, we might have had dinner or talked on the phone! I'm in MD, suburban to DC. Love your blog, and your CS posts on Vanya.

    Liza Lundell and the (hospitable) basenjis

  2. Too bad, Liza! I forgot that you're on the east coast. Next time I go to Maryland, I'll try to remember to contact you first. I'd love to see you and your basenjis.