Saturday, 25 July 2015

Training Day 3: In Which Melon Learns a Lesson and Makes A Discovery

Training Day 3 involved one lesson and one discovery.

K wanted to practice the back and forth recalls outdoors, and I wholeheartedly agreed because somehow, I had a suspicion that last time Gatsby was more bored out behind her house than anything else. I guess usually that doesn't mean introduce more distractions but try more interesting training games, but it's hard to teach more advanced things when the dog doesn't know the basics, y'know?

Anyway, that's my long-winded way of saying we went for a walk in the nearby park...


... which is where I learnt my lesson of the day: the value of life rewards. To get to the off-leash area, we walked through another grassy section. Gatsby knows the park and when we reached the gate to the other area, Gatsby was rearing to go in.

I held onto her leash and told her to sit. She wouldn't, too excited to go in. I waited and asked her a couple more times, and she sat. This is where I messed up - I clicked and rewarded her with a treat. I can't remember if she took it or not - maybe not - but she jumped right back up and I let her go in.

I realised almost straight away what had happened: she had no interest in what I was asking her because she couldn't understand why the human would want to do that weird sit-treat exercise at such a time when there were better things to do! Asking her to sit before going through the gate was right, but the reward for sitting and waiting should have been to go through the gate to playtimes and freedom.

I'd read about life rewards but never really understood how the dog would make the connection between their good behaviour and 'being allowed to' do something, since we can't explain it to them in words (unlike 'you do the dishes, young man, and then you can play on the Playstation'). I thought a treat was a more instantaneous reward. But this was an example where it makes sense to me, so now I'll pay more attention to when I can use life rewards more - particularly because Gatsby isn't particularly food-motivated.

We practised recalls on an empty sports oval, which went pretty well. We let her muck around and play and once in a while one of us would call her to us. This seemed to get around her idea of 'that game where I run back and forth from K to Melon and they alternately give me treats'. Gosh, it takes so much thinking to outsmart a dog, doesn't it?

By the time the second or third group of folks and their dogs had passed us, K and I started to wonder where they were going. We decided to head in that direction...

... and discovered - a fenced dog park! Yayy! It's fairly new so possibly not many people visit it, so in all this time, K hadn't known it was there. Now you know where we'll explore next!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Training Day 2: In Which What Goes Up Always Comes Down

Did you bring the clicker? Did you bring the clicker? K asked as I arrived for our second day of training.
Yes, I brought the clicker. She hadn't let me leave it with her last time because while I had explained the theory behind it and how it is used, everyone in her family were prone to fiddling and she knew anyone who walked past the table (including herself, apparently) would start clicking it indescriminately.
I took it home.

Fortunately, Gatsby was still aware of what the clicker meant...

With that, I took her out back again. Since she responded to the clicker, I was hoping to teach her to respond to her name - to look at me when she heard it. This was actually surprisingly difficult. I've noticed K loves to chant her name in a cutesy voice while she plays with her 'Gechhbi, Gechhbi', so I wondered if she was desensitised to her name. I tried adding 'hey!' as a 'look at me', but with no avail. I just sounded silly saying 'hey!' in an excited voice over and over. 
Hmm. Maybe forget that step and go straight to my first goal: recall. Maybe once she knows good things come from me she'll pay more attention to me. 
This didn't go so well either. K came out and found me struggling, and as I pointed out Gatsby didn't seem so keen on the ham bits this time either, we crushed up some lamb... something or other. I forget what they are exactly, but they come in big dry crunchy pieces in a package from Petbarn. That got her interest for a bit longer, although they can be hard to break into small enough pieces.

K and I called her back and forth across the very small area, treating her when she came to us. She did start coming to us fairly reliably, but - 
Do you think she's just playing us for treats? I asked K. Running back and forth? 
Probably, K replied.
I stopped calling. Sure enough, she'd look over after taking K's treat, knowing it was the other person's turn to treat. Hmm.

I'll play with her, K said, grabbing a rope toy. K was worried Gatsby would get too worked up with the toy (she's possessive), which is why K doesn't usually use toys to play with her, but I thought it was a good opportunity to test the recall. Nope, she wouldn't come to me when the toy was involved.

Well, I had somewhere to be after that so I couldn't stick around any longer, but wanting to end on a good note I opened the door, went inside and called Gatsby in after me. No matter what I did, no matter how excited I sounded or how many treats I waved, Gatsby wouldn't come in.
I looked at K.
We only call her in when we're finished outside, she said.
Oh man.
Feeling discouraged, I shut the door, leaving Gatsby in the yard, and asked K to drive me to the station. As I was gathering my things Gatsby started pawing at the closed door and K automatically opened it for her.
Do you realise what you just did?
K looked at me... oh, right! Whoops. I honestly didn't realise, it's habit now.

I was frustrated at myself for not being sterner with my friend, because at the beginning of a session I'm always pumped and sure we'll make progress, and then at the end when I'm exhausted I'm frustrated at her for not being more disciplined and frustrated at myself for not being more assertive and clearer with my message. Fortunately I did my best to voice my opinions to K before I got out of the car, and I think she is, slowly, realising and taking it on board. I made a mental note to send her a clear email before I saw her again, and reminded myself to be thankful that she was getting involved - when she sat down on the stoop to join in with recalls it was a clear sign she knew we were in this together, she wasn't leaving me out the back to work with her dog. Not every day will be a success, I know. But we'll rest up and be at it again the next day.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Great Gatsby Project: The Resources

It surprises some people who see me out with Gatsby, or others' dogs, that I've never had a dog of my own. You guys know better! One of the reasons I appreciate my blogfriends' visits so much is because you can advise from experience. 

All I can do right now is read everything I can get my hands on, and work with Gatsby as much as possible. I've got Mine!: A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs by Jean Donaldson, The Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell and Plenty in Life is Free by Kathy Sdao on order already. 

I've picked these particular books because I think they'll be relevant to Gatsby. My friend spoils Gatsby to death so while I know most people would suggest the Nothing In Life Is Free (NILIF) program, I don't think my friend can manage that - she's still struggling with the difference between showing affection (hugs, kisses) and spoiling her dog (no boundaries). In other words, she doesn't know how to be a hard-arse with her baby like I can! So I thought maybe the Plenty-ILIF book, which advocates that hey, plenty in life is free for your dog, you just learn to reinforce skilfully, might help instead. Does anyone have any experience with this?

Lastly, if anyone can point me to any resources or contacts for Japanese Spitz, that would be really helpful. They aren't that common, are they? I don't see them around much, and I'm not finding anything breed-specific either in bookstores or on the Internet. I'd love to know whether Gatsby displays typical breed traits. Is there anyone in Blogville with Japanese Spitz?

So, what do you think? You guys are the experts, not me - I suspect having an actual live dog helps!

Saturday, 18 July 2015

The Great Gatsby Project: Training Day 1

The Great Gatsby Project banner

I woke up on the morning of Training Day 1 without a clue what I was going to do, or how we were going to start. I considered putting it off until I'd done a bit more reading. But no, I wasn't going to set us back on the first day, not to mention Gatsby needed to get used to me being around as much as possible.

Luckily, taking public transport gives me plenty of time to prepare. Clicker in my bag - check. Messaged K and discovered that she didn't have any high-value treats, just "the current treats we usually give her". Stopped by the supermarket and picked up a package of ham bits. Now we're talking! Ready for lesson one: charge the clicker.

My friend and I took a little time off first, so I used the opportunity over coffee and cake to voice something that had been on my mind. I told K that I would love to take her dog, I thought it would be really rewarding for all of us, but I had two conditions:
  1. That I would do my best to work with Gatsby, and prepare both of us for her stay at my place. But she is a handful, so it will be difficult, so I reserve the right at any time up until she comes to say no, if I don't think it's going to work. This is the most important condition.
  2. That K does her best not to undo anything I'm working on. I understand that she can't work on everything at once - and if she could she'd have done it already - but she can't do things that directly go against what I'm teaching the dog (consistency is everything, imo). 
Luckily for me, K agreed with the former - in fact, she had been operating on the assumption that that was the case. There was no way I was expected to take her dog if I wasn't comfortable with it. With that cleared up, I only had one more thing to ask: how on earth am I going to get Gatsby's attention? I had briefly tried charging the clicker at my house, but Gatsby, as usual, only had eyes and nose for K. Then, we realised - some dogs are distracted by sights, sounds or smells. We were working at her house because Gatsby was most comfortable there. So in a place she's comfortable with, we have to remove the ultimate distraction for Gatsby - K herself. So since I'm the one working with her dog for an hour, why doesn't she go to the gym? And I think that suggestion resolved my second condition - Gatsby's human was willing to do what she could to help with The GG Project, including offer suggestions or make herself scarce. So with that cleared up, we were ready to roll!

I took Gatsby to the paved area behind the house, pulling the blinds down over the glass door so she couldn't see back into the house.

Gatsby peers into house
Precisely what I didn't want

Because K's house is rather open-plan I felt I had less control over the space and distractions inside the house compared to the smaller, fenced paved area out the back. It also meant that with us outside, K was free to leave out the front door without her shadow noticing. (I'll be honest, I'm still amazed this worked!)

I spent some time walking around, clicking the clicker and offering her ham bits. It was very different from the last dog I trained - a Lab, who once she knew I had treats would have done anything to get to my hand or pocket. Gatsby was surprisingly casual about it - she would eat the offered bacon but wasn't glued to my side, wandering around in her own little world, but accepting the treats when I offered them to her when she paid any attention to me.
Gatsby on backyard step

After about 10-15 minutes, I went inside for 10 minutes, then returned and repeated the exercise. This time, somehow, the family cat made it outside as well, and stayed nearby once he knew we had ham. Oh! Now I happen to know this cat loves ham, so I had to give him a piece too. Unfortunately, Gatsby eats quicker than the cat does, and was reaching for every piece the cat got too. Uh-oh, not what I intended. Suddenly, I spotted the cat's empty bowl and dropped a few pieces of ham in. About to place it on the floor, I realised the flaw in that plan, and placed it up onto the desk. Kitty jumped after it onto the desk, and Gatsby turned back to me - perfect. I felt so proud of myself - I had discovered management, vital for a pet owner, as well as how nice it was to have a short dog.

G can't reach cat on table

I wasn't sure if Gatsby was noting the clicker, and then remembered something I'd read, that the treat had to be after the click, not during, to ensure the dog knows the click predicts the treat. So then I made sure there was a definite pause between clicking and treating. (It had gotten too easy to do both at once, as long-time readers will be glad to hear after my first experience involving a clicker, a Lab, ham bits and much clumsiness.)

By the time the hour (including breaks) was up, it was starting to get dark, so I was happy to retreat inside again. Putting the clicker and treats on the table, I pulled out my computer to do some work as I waited for K to return. After a while I noticed that even though I was ignoring her, Gatsby was waiting by my side quietly, either sitting or lying down. Wow! I ignored her so she would completely lose focus on me, and she retreated to the couch, but lay there calmly until she heard K's car pull into the driveway. She jumped up and headed for the door. Why not? I thought, and clicked.

Gatsby immediately turned around and headed to me at the desk. Wow! Treats for sure.
I honestly hadn't known at that point if the clicker was 'charged', but that certainly provided the answer.

Well?! How did she do?? K asked me as she came in, Gatsby leaping around her heels.
I smiled. You'll see, I said. Just ignore her.
We ignored her and chatted for a bit, long enough that Gatsby lay on her back on the floor, in her own world.
K noticed the clicker on the table and picked it up. What happens if I click it? she asked.
Yeah, go ahead, I said, hiding a grin.
What will happen?
Just do it! 

Gatsby, on the floor, pretty much jumped to attention. She knew what the sound meant.
K was delighted to offer her a treat. So you can learn things, K said, rubbing her fur. And here I'd practically given up, she said, but she was smiling.

I was very pleased too. It's time to admit that if this first day hadn't gone well at all, I think I might have been very discouraged and thought about giving up. I've been more daunted by this task than I'll let on - and than K knows, I think - so I think I'm filled with one part happiness but two parts relief. The success of Day 1 - goal achieved: clicker charged - has been a real encouragement, so the project must go on!

Friday, 10 July 2015

The Great Gatsby Project: The Plan

So now you know who Gatsby is and that I feel we - K, Gatsby and I as a team - can do this. We can 'rehabilitate', as K casually called it, Gatsby to be less dependent on her person (that's K) and to be able to adapt to and thus better enjoy the world around her.

All right, who am I kidding? It's mainly so she and I can survive the couple of weeks next month that I'll have her at my place. Right now, she whines and barks when K is out of sight, much less away for a long period of time. (She's absolutely fine at home without K, though. She fusses when K leaves more than when she's gone. Not to mention the pawing at the bathroom door, even though she's perfectly comfortable at home. So my guess is, technically, it's more resource guarding her human than separation anxiety.)

So, time for The Plan:

6 weeks until K goes away.
3 goals to achieve before she turns up at my doorstep:
  • a reliable recall "come"
  • ability to leash her 
  • "speak" and "quiet"
Now, let me qualify: I know I can't achieve 'a reliable recall' in 6 weeks, but I mean reliable enough for me to get her to come to me in normal situations, like in the backyard when I want her, or from the other side of the house to take her for a walk.

Which leads me to the next point - 'ability to leash her': she's not easy to leash and unleash, a vital skill in my eyes.

The last point, 'speak and quiet', is the flexible one. That goal may change as our project progresses. I just needed something different and more fun (I've never taught a 'trick' before, only very basic living-with-human skills) to motivate me to keep working with her, and since she tends to have very long, loud conversations with the doggie next door to my house, the ability to quieten her when she gets too garrulous would be just lovely.

(If you're wondering how K manages without these things, she doesn't have to manage without them - she's reliable enough for K, because K is her person and the only thing in her world - just not anyone else right now.)

So to achieve these self-set goals, K and I have penciled in dates, about twice a week, for us to work with Gatsby. We originally included one overnight stay at my place, but we've upped it to two because K thinks that if she stays with Gatsby at my house first, Gatsby will feel it's safe and then be happy to stay alone with me. The following 'trial run' alone with me will still happen - to test to what extent she'll whine her little head off the entire time, and whether or not my family members can put up with it!

So, what do you think? What's vital for you to be able to dog-sit? How's our plan looking?

This is how I feel right now...

Under pressure but excited!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Prologue: Welcome, dear reader.

Once upon a time there was a human named Melon. One day she found Blogville, where people blogged about their animals - mainly dogs, but other anipals too - and enjoyed it so much she wanted to join in. But she wasn't sure what to blog about. That's when her quiet but punk guinea pig Cocoa took over, and aired his views on food, and, uh, food, and baths, and... that's about it. But Cocoa had his day and it's back to me again.

So, welcome to Melon's Animal Adventures. Welcome back for those of you who have been a part of this before, and I hope to make new friends here as well as in my adventures in the outside world. Most of all, I hope my stories are as interesting as Cocoa's!

So first up, introducing...

My best friend has a Japanese Spitz named Gatsby. First up I should mention that she's a girl. Gatsby, I mean. I'll forgive you the first three times you forget; I did a lot at first. After that though, I'll have to give you a time-out. One minute for every month of your age...

puppy gatsby

Gatsby just turned one year old and my friend K has had her since she left the breeder at 8 weeks. Unfortunately K and I were both very busy when she got her, so I didn't get to meet Gatsby until she was about 6 months old. Gatsby's puppy photos were adorable, though, and she's pretty stunning now.

gatsby 1 yr oldBut you know what? She annoys the heck out of me sometimes. Or maybe it's K who annoys the heck out of me sometimes, because she seems to have spoilt Gatsby rotten. K's a knowledgable and responsible pet owner, so Gatsby is well-fed, well-groomed and exercised, but Gatsby's also overly attached to her person, afraid of other dogs and children, and possessive of a bunch of things. Which kind of drives me crazy, like when we're in public; K heads to the counter to buy a coffee and suddenly Gatsby whines and barks so loudly that I have to explain to the wide-eyed bystanders that I'm really not into torturing dogs, honest.

Now, K is going on a two week trip next month, and guess who's taking Gatsby? Her mother. I'm kidding! K says I'm the only person she'll trust with her, and it's true that since I've been blogging with Coke I've not only read everything I can get my hands on about dogs, I've been unble to tear my eyes away from every dog in my vicinity, no matter where I am, from the minute they walk into eyeline until they're out of sight. And as long-time followers know, I got involved in improving the lives of a few also. Gatsby also knows me and they both know that I won't let her get away with anything, although it doesn't stop the four-legged one from trying. (Okay, the two-legged one too, sometimes.)

So what's so good about all of this? Well, first, I should have a lot of fun with Gatsby while she's staying with me. She's awfully cute, and not only will I enjoy all the compliments and chats with total strangers with her on the other end of the lead, I'll get to live vicariously as a dog owner for a while. It's not time for a woofie of my own yet, so this one will do in the meantime.

K carries Gatsby along beachSecondly, I've had to be a tough-love friend and tell K that her dog is kind of a spoilt brat, and that since I know it's important to K too to have a good canine citizen, she as an owner needs to shape up, for everyone's sanity. The good part is that, so far, I think she agrees and is totally on board with my plan...

The Great Gatsby Project: to spend the next six weeks ensuring those two weeks in August will be enjoyable, not torture, for the four- and two- legged alike. Sometimes I despair, and time will tell, but I think we can do this. K, Gatsby and I.