Sunday, 25 December 2016

To You, From Me: The Warmest of Wishes

Merry Christmas, guys. I don't have any dogs home with me this Christmas (or any Christms so far -- that adventure still awaits!) but I always have my little friends... and you guys! Sending big hugs to everyone. Take care of yourselves, because I love you!

Monday, 19 December 2016

Monday Mischief Miracle

So I was walking Ava down the road past my bus stop when I saw a little Kong on the ground... sure. Should we go to the cafe? Nah, let's go to the p-

Wait. A tiny Kong toy? Double-take. Must be something else.

Just a tiny Kong...

Wait. What?

Now, my brain does jump to some odd conclusions sometimes, particularly if I'm preoccupied. In this case though, I was 100% right.

See? No joke.

Now see that again with Ava for scale -- who, might I remind you, as a 7kg (15lbs) Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, is not exactly huge.

I think mine's bigger.

It appears to be a Kong promotional keychain. It's made of the same rubber but does have 'not for pets' printed on its base.

Guess it'll just have to go in the same drawer I put these toys in.

Maybe my next dog will be a chihuahua?

Friday, 16 December 2016

A Milestone: In Which The Finish Line Is In Sight

Guess what? I've completed the attendance component of my dog training course!

C'mon, human! We're nearly there!
Something I haven't yet made clear is that this course is not just a course on how to train dogs, but on how to become a dog trainer. It's offered through my city's technical college, so it's preparing us for a potential career as a dog trainer, and sharing with us all the professional aspects of the industry.

So you'll understand why my final practical exam consisted of teaching a pet obedience class (eg. puppy school). Of course, in the exam my fellow students played the part of the pet owners, but I did teach a real obedience class lesson.

I was a little apprehensive because while I feel I can teach one-on-one, I have little experience standing up in front of a class. And even less experience teaching practical skills out on a field!

But it went well! I think I actually impressed both my teacher (the assessor) and my fellow students (some of whom are quite skilled at speaking to audiences)!

So I'm quite pleased, and trying to keep in mind the idea of teaching puppy classes as a source of income. Honestly, I'm harbouring reservations. Reservations being; a combination of insecurity due to inexperience, which is natural and can be overcome, and... a genuine reluctance to deal with people. See, in obedience classes the real students are the pet owners, and thanks to my mental health challenges sometimes dealing with people is, well, a challenge.

But I do know that if I can teach and I can teach well, I shouldn't throw the option out.

Either way, having finished all my classes (and attended almost every single class) is a big achievement, and honestly more than I'd dreamed of. I've still got plenty of written assignments and a practical skill to complete, but I look forward to telling you when that is over -- hopefully before Christmas!

I think I smell freedom. Or is that Christmas cake?

Friday, 25 November 2016

Flashback Friday: To That Time Ava Met A Cat

No, really. Even Ava’s humans don’t know about this, because it happened when Ava stayed with me when she was 16-20 weeks old.

brown and white puppy head pokes out of cat tree hole
Nobody told me this was gonna happen either.

See, last night in class we were talking about my instructor’s favourite subject, puppy socialisation and environmental conditioning. We talked about all the things we should safely introduce puppies to in their critical phases of development (~3-16 weeks), when they are particularly sensitive to new experiences. Having calm, happy experiences hearing different sounds, touching different surfaces, and meeting different people and animals during this period helps a puppy to be happy and comfortable in the big wide world.

Introducing puppies to new things really is one of my favourite things to do. It’s fun, and particularly rewarding is the knowledge that your little friend will face the world with a sense of adventure rather than fear. And you get to spend time with puppy without doing repetitive obedience exercises!

So last April, when a friend heard what I was doing and mentioned that she has a cat...

Ava brown and white puppy looks out of crate door
What is that?

Oliver the fluffy white and grey cat with blue eyes looks across the table
It's Oliver, the ragdoll cat.

the cat looks across at the puppy looking back out of the crate

brown and white puppy leans in and grey and white cat leans back
Whoa whoa whoa.

puppy sniffs tail of grey cat

It went decently. The great thing about Ava being so small was that Oliver could simply stay on the couch, out of the puppy's reach, if he wished. Ava and her 'puppy manners' (or lack thereof) got too close at one point, which caused Oliver to hiss and run. That could have been a disaster (for both), but I got lucky.

Next time I do this, I’ll just let the puppy watch from a distance, unless the cat shows signs of wanting to cuddle.

puppy looks up at cat on top of cat tree
I'm thinking NOPE.

Never mind, Ava found ways to entertain herself.

puppy lies at cat tree base chewing mouse toy

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A Surprise: In Which Melon Is Faced With A Challenge, But Not the One She's Expecting

It feels like yesterday I was telling you that I’m starting a dog training course taught by expert dog trainers, yet I’m already most of the way through it. It’s definitely a crash course, chock full of info and as much hands-on practice as we can fit into such a short time.

I’d love the course to be a bit longer, to be honest, as the class could discuss more dog training specifics as we encounter different things outside the classroom. I’d also like to soak up more of the gems of wisdom available just by being around Steve and Vicki Austin, my excellent and highly experienced instructors.

But although class will be over soon, I still have plenty of written assignments to complete, and frankly I’m just glad I’ve made it through class so far. Depression doesn’t make life easy, folks, so all successes need to be celebrated.

I've also been really glad for the opportunity to work with the different dogs at the boarding kennel. After the beagle incident, I've encountered a retriever mix who chomped like a crocodile, a gorgeous American staffy, a chubby cattle dog, a skinny border collie, a very nervous shepherd and more. It's like a roulette, not knowing which dog I'll have next!

It’s taught me that I’ll need a LOT more hands-on experience to become competent and confident in dog handling. My instructor has hinted that shelter work and similar will provide a lot of practical experience, and it’s definitely on my to-do list once I have a driver’s licence.

Bazyl and his humans kindly helped me with 'training practice'.

Last week was my first major practical assessment -- I was asked to assess a dog selected for me at random from the boarding kennel and more importantly, demonstrate how I would instruct it in a number of obedience exercises. I was on tenterhooks all week, wondering what kind of dog I would be assigned and how similar the experience would be to my first and most memorable kennel dog encounter, the beagle...

I got lucky -- I ended up with a calm but responsive dachshund!

dachshund, aka sausage dog
image: Ghislane, on Flickr

He was smooth coated, which made my job identifying him as an entire (undesexed) male easy. (I hate that question -- it sounds simple, but strange fluffers aren't too happy when you try to cop a feel just to tick a box on a form!)

His anatomy did create other complications, though. Do you know how hard it is to tell if a dachshund is sitting or standing, from the front?

image: CC0 Public Domain

Honestly though, he was probably the easiest dog I've had from the kennel so far.

My biggest fear had been getting another big, strong dog who I couldn't even keep by my side. This guy being so little, I had no such issues, even if he had tried to take off like some dogs I know.

And I took the time beforehand to check out what his Sit and Drop look like, when they sent me to get him. It wasn't hard to encourage him, since he liked food treats.
I guess someone out there finally thought I deserved a break from the crazies -- and I'm thankful it was given to me when it counts!

Anyway, I passed! My only major obstacle was (and continues to be) my attempts to train loose-lead walking. Anyone have any LLW tips? I could do with all the help I can get!

That's one down, just a few more to go!

Monday, 31 October 2016

Mischief Monday: In Which Melon Is Tricked By A Dog, Again

The great thing about having an instructor who works many jobs and has working dogs in and out of his property all the time is that sometimes, they come to class.

"Your job," he said as we arrived for our second practical lesson, "is to spoil this puppy. Pat her, feed her treats -- nothing you do with this dog is wrong, today."

puppy with brown head, golden eyes and large paws sits on a lap

'This puppy' was a beautiful little English springer spaniel, 11 weeks old. She had a brown head, white speckled body, and seemed to be all legs. When I first arrived, she was obviously timid, so I let her be. I knew we'd all be swarming into the grounds soon, and that seemed quite enough for her to get used to.

By the end of the day, however, she'd been fed, cuddled and rubbed, as instructed, as well as worn collars a dozen times (both correctly and incorrectly -- we were learning to fit collars!), and was clearly feeling much happier about people.

puppy with white body and brown head lies on floor, reached for by female hands

Now, I didn't set out to teach her anything, honest. (Those who know my teacherly tendencies, stop laughing. I mean it.) But at some point in the day I was handed a tennis ball, and Ava's taught me what puppies like. I'm starting to think, though, that spaniels just can't resist moving things.

When I rolled the ball around and around in front of her, and then gently towards her, she followed it with her eyes, and then suddenly pounced in the direction it rolled. She was adorably clumsy, but soon learned to pick it up in her mouth and return it to me. Whenever she did, I gave her a treat, showered her with praise, and threw the ball for her again.

puppy with brown head, curly ears and white speckled body lies in the shade next to a tennis ball

My instructor had spotted me playing with the puppy throughout the day. As class wrapped up, he said, "Okay, class dismissed... oh, before we go, let's see what Melon's taught my dog."

The class watched as he gently tossed the tennis ball to the 11 week old puppy, who was lying on the floor in the middle of our class. She clumsily followed it, picked it up in her mouth... and ran out the door with it.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

An Update: On What's Going On With Our Girl Ava

So I've borrowed Ava's cute face a few times lately, but I haven't given her any real airtime lately. So I think it's time to do so now.

Hi guys.

Yup, she's in a cone, on lead, having the good life.

Very funny.

Unfortunately her humans noticed that she was having a couple issues with her hind left leg, so off to the vets we went, and it's luxating patella, which is a knee dislocating condition common in small breeds. She wasn't really in a bad way, but the vets advised we operate sooner rather than later as she would develop arthritis if left untreated, so the humans bit the bullet and she's had patella surgery at 10 months old.

I think we were all worried it wasn't the right decision, but she had her 1-week post-op checkup yesterday and the vet is pleased with her recovery progress and tells us the knee is no longer luxating (dislocating). Home with her today, I would say she's honestly still her own spunky self.

So she'll be fine. We humans will just have to persevere at keeping our small, energetic girl quiet for a couple months!

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

A Comic Scene: In Which Melon Is Rudely Awakened To The Nature Of Hounds And Taken Down A Peg or Three

Last weekend was my first practical for the dog training course. Our theory classes take place in the classroom, but practicals take place at a large private boarding kennel, where we can use some of the boarding dogs in class.

We began with all the usual things -- safety checks, a tour of the grounds, and some chat about our assignments. Then we started our first lesson with the actual dogs. In future some students will bring their own dogs, but today everyone was free to pick a kennel dog.

The kennel owner explained to us that those who have quiet, well-trained dogs can usually convince a neighbour or friend to watch them when they are away. So the ones who are put in a boarding kennel are... less easy. Makes sense, I thought. I was keen to see what we could do, but also a bit nervous walking into the kennel area to a cacophony of barking.

I looked down the line, evaluating my options. 2 German shepherds -- oh no, they have the 'not for use' sign. A little fluffer -- well, I'd rather something different from my usual, but then, it's less intimidating than the bigger ones -- oh, my classmate's already approaching that one, never mind. A beagle and a lab were pawing hopefully at the kennel doors near the end of the line. I've worked with labs before, the beagle's pretty cute and they love food, right? - let's go with that.

beagle: a small well-built white dog with tan head and black saddle
Who woulda thunk it?
(photo: Daniel Flathagen on Flickr)

If any beagle people are reading this, I'm guessing you're laughing already. For those who are still picturing Snoopy sitting on his doghouse stoically writing novels, I'll continue the story.

Collaring and leashing up the excitable beagle was managable, and passed my instructor's assessment. We were to walk the dogs out to the field and wait with them out of reach of each other. Fair enough.

But the minute I left the kennel, my new friend almost yanked my arm out of its socket to get over to another dog, a staffy. Uh-oh. I desperately yelled for my classmate to retreat as I was dragged over.

I finally made it to the field after a firm talk from my instructor reminding me that as a grown adult I can keep the beagle under control and advising me on the safest way to hold a leash. (That said, he also told me what to do if I was pulled over...) I grasped the leash as firmly as I could, my hands already smarting from multiple rope burns, and tried to stay upright as my beagle dragged me onto the field.

I was the last to arrive, and everyone was standing around waiting for instructions, patting their dogs, one or two even giving their new friends belly rubs.

Meanwhile, I looked like this:

cartoon dog on leash drags human up into air

After I completely missed all the instructions and my classmates stoically tried to ignore the ruckus, I finally managed to plant my feet to stop him from dragging us over to the other dogs. Of course, my new friend had to express his disatisfaction with this situation. Loudly. If you're ever worried you're not yet the centre of attention, try restraining a baying hound.

Our first lesson topic was, surprise surprise, loose-leash walking. Before today I thought I had a pretty good idea of how to teach LLW, but I couldn't even stay in one spot without being dragged around by this beagle, much less teach him not to.

We ended up taking breaks for de-briefing a couple of times -- "Same dogs after lunch, folks" -- so by the end of the day I had gone in and collected this beagle 3 times, each time feeling more tired than the last but determined to salvage what I had of my pride by at least not giving up.

By the end of the day I had learnt three things: two different approaches to training loose leash walking, and not to take on a hound without a lot more practice.

exhausted Ava puppy lying on a rock

Monday, 17 October 2016

A Notice: In Which There Is Some Exciting News, and A Request Made

Hey, friends.

A small part of the reason it's been quiet here lately is my practising Daniel Sieberg's Digital Diet, but the main reason is that I've just been trying to stay afloat!

Okay, things aren't that bad. Some weeks are pretty good! (But I won't be considering myself 'in recovery' from depression until most weeks are 'pretty good'.)

white and brown puppy sits on newspaper spread open
Reading paper newspapers is allowed during the digital diet.
But they do have other drawbacks.

A major takeaway from The Digital Diet is that it's okay to live your life without reporting on all of it, or comparing it to others. (I'm looking at you, Instagram.) So I'm not going to apologise for my absence.

But something major is happening -- I'm starting an 8-week intensive course on dog training through technical college! And not just any course, but a course run by two of Australia's leading dog trainers, Steve and Vicki Austin. It's only the beginning of my education in dog training, but I think it's a good start if ever I saw one.  I enrolled months ago, but thought I'd keep mum about it until it really happened.

Now, I don't exactly have a stellar track record of graduating classes (depression is a jerk).
So, yes, I'm terrified it might not work out (anxiety, that's your cue!).

But while I'm in, I'll keep you updated. I hope in turn you'll be here to follow along and keep me entertained with tales of your animal adventures. And knowing you're following will hopefully be one part of the raft keeping me afloat!

Friday, 23 September 2016

An Epiphany: Regarding the Magic of the Microwave

My house visits to Ava are when her humans are at work. We spend time both indoors and outdoors together, but she spends her alone time indoors. My challenge when leaving is to get her inside so I can shut the door without her following me.

I prefer not to call her to me just to step out again. (I'm sure she would wait inside the doorway while I shut the door if I asked her to, but I don't want to risk rebellion if she ever decides she doesn't like her alone time. It's the age old rule, don't call your dog to you for something bad.)

I don't make a fuss of her either -- in fact I don't even say goodbye. Instead, when it's time to leave I just walk out, shut the door and leave. All without saying a word. I'm sure it would look a bit strange if anyone were to see me, but I have been doing this since Ava was 2 months old, and she's never shown any sign of separation anxiety. So I can deal with feeling like I'm heartless (not to mention rude) for my abrupt disappearances.

It's not usually difficult, but I do employ a few different strategies to ensure I can efficiently shut dog in with human out. Thrown kibble, a tasty chewie to occupy pup or sometimes leaving through a different door, just to change it up. (Lately I've been hearing more about flexibility over routine to create a stable dog.)

Recently, though, I feel like she's onto me, just a little. Staying on the outside of the door when I want to shut her in. Today when I hovered by the door she actually disappeared around the side of the house to the other side of the yard, probably to wait by the outer gate or maybe just part of her important doggy business, I don't know. But don't worry - I had a plan. I went straight to the kitchen and opened and shut the microwave door.

I heard the rapid pitter-patter of paws before I saw her running in. As soon as she was in, I silently stepped out and shut the glass door behind me. Ava disappeared from view for a moment before returning to watch me leave. I think she really did check the microwave!

a tiny puppy sits, legs splayed, in front of the microwave on the kitchen floor.
Flashback: even at 13 weeks old, ladies and gentlemen, Ava knew what's what.

After all, if there's one thing I've learnt as a 'dog owner', it's to use whatever works. So here's a thankyou to the microwave and puppy logic.

puppy head peers through the closed microwave door, which is lit up with a bowl of rice inside.
So close, yet so far.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Fun Friday in the Forest

Do you remember Max and Cherry? They are two Cocker Spaniels who love to run. Ava and I met them on a walk once, when she was only 15 weeks old.
The other day we humans took the three spaniels for a walk in the bush. 

Ava had a lot of fun playing in the magical forest with her friends. They get along well because Max and Cherry are more interested in crashing through the forest than getting too up close and personal with her. I hope you, like I, smile when you see how much fun they are having!

Ava, Max and Cherry wish everyone a happy Friday!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

A Surprise in the Mailbox

Do you know these rope toys?

Close-up of a white rope knotted at both ends, with green stripes. It is lying on the grass and behind we see the forelegs of a white and brown puppy.

Ava loves her peppermint striped one. Her humans bought it for her and she's always been able to carry it in her mouth, even though it probably weighs the same as her head.

Rope toys seem generally popular and rather sturdy too, so I thought I'd order a couple online.
(I usually go for quality over budget, but don't we all buy cheap things on eBay late at night?)

I couldn't guess what the little package in my mailbox was last week.

2 tiny rope toys are held in an open hand next to a coffee mug for scale. They are only slightly bigger than the hand.

I guess I should have checked the dimensions first.

Ava puppy lies facing the two rope toys: one large, white and green and the other much smaller and colourful. She is looking down at them, seemingly unimpressed.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Training Video: In Which Ava Shows What A Good Girl She Is

Hi guys. Been trying to find the balance between keeping busy living life and updating so I can share the story with you all. I'm also experimenting with cutting down computer time through Daniel Sieberg's The Digital Diet, so don't panic if I'm not around for a bit.

But onto what you came to hear about -- dogs!

I feel like I haven't talked enough about training lately, even though I love, love, love to train. So here's a video of me and Ava working on her place command.

I am trying to use "bed" (pointing to bed) to mean 'go to to your bed' + "settle" to mean lie on it and stay there comfortably. I've found she can learn chains of events (like walk to door, sit and wait for release) so I hope it will become routine to settle on it when asked to 'go to bed'.

You'll notice there's a pink blanket on Ava's bed. That's her blankie, which I take to the café with us and I encourage her to stay on it. Eventually I want the command to generalise to anywhere I bring her and put the blanket down. It'll take a while to go from this quiet environment to busy cafés, but she's a quick learner!

Thursday, 4 August 2016

An Exposition: In Which Ava Absolutely, Definitely Does Not Like Rain

Did I ever mention that Ava doesn't like rain? Or, more specifically -- that she doesn't like getting wet?

You didn't tell me it would be wet out there.
(Ava, 11 weeks old)

Well, she doesn't. She's trained to potty on the lawn, so ever since she came home we've been carrying her to the lawn, so she likes to play in grass, lie in grass, and yes, she does her business on grass. But as the weather got cooler her owners mentioned to me that she doesn't like wet grass. Really? I wondered. I hadn't noticed.

Then she learnt Drop (lie down) as well as Sit, and one day I asked for a Drop in the grass. She started to lower herself in the direction of the ground so slowly she was barely moving. It was the first time I'd seen a dog know what I wanted but choose not to do it. She knew exactly what I was asking for but didn't want to get her undercarriage wet. Ha ha! I guess they were right.

(Ava, 13 weeks old)

Now she's 7 months old, and is pretty well house trained. She pees on command, which I love. It's such an invaluable skill, as I can ask her to go before and after we go out. But she still doesn't like getting wet. So getting Ava to do her incredibly elaborate potty dance on the lawn after it's rained isn't always successful. We're still working on making sure she doesn't leave her owners any more presents in the house on rainy days.

It rained buckets yesterday, but this morning was fine so we played ball on the lawn. As it's cold and wet I've realised we humans have been avoiding the yard and soggy lawn ourselves, so I'm making an effort to play games with her there to try to desensitise her to it.

She's not sure about this ball. Other toys she pounces on - this one she chases but won't touch. I wonder why?

She didn't mind the wet ground on our bushy walk today, but we got caught in a sudden shower on the way home and we were both drenched. Boy, did she throw a tantrum the minute we were inside! She ran around frantically, throwing herself on anything soft and rolling as much as she can. She could hardly hold still for me to dry her. I reassured her as I towelled her down, but inside I was laughing. Dogs!