Saturday, 23 December 2017

In Which We Examine Smudge's Favourite Thing

In the photo of Smudge in my last post, she had a denim bone. This is a toy I hand-sewed from old jeans (stuffed with polyfill and a couple of squeakers) and is Smudge's favourite thing at Chez Melon.

She runs around squeaking it, tossing it up in the air and chasing it, barking at it and growling while she shakes it.

She takes it with her on patrol...

It may be useful on my quest.

She carries it when hanging out...

Waiting for the humans to come out and play.

She picks it up when anyone enters the room and gives you this look.

You wanna play, right?

She can run, pee and bark with the bone in her mouth, although I don't have photographic evidence of this.

She also sometimes sits in bed with it.

I'm not sleepy.

Not if you wanna go and play.

What's your dog's favourite object?

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Character Study: A Gal Called Smudge

Hello dear readers. I hope you're all enjoying the lead-up to Christmas, and aren't too busy with preparations!

And now to my latest furry companion...

Smudge, 1.5 yrs old

Smudge is a young spoodle (cocker spaniel x toy poodle) who will be living with me over the summer while her humans are away. 

She's only been here a few days but I have discovered that she is quite the character!

For one, she's a chatterbox. She likes to narrate her day with a variety of whines, barks and growls. She can be extremely vocal about us leaving the room, although she has since realised that we aren't going to disappear if we go into the hallway. She barks at her toys before pouncing on them. She barks excitedly about food and walks. Sometimes she whines loudly (for no discernable reason). And her growls while wrestling her toys are really quite formidable! 

I guess you could say she has a flair for the dramatic.

She's also very clever. While filming her enthusiasm for toys, I caught a moment where her toy got stuck in the chair and she effortlessly solved the problem: 

The other interesting thing about Smudge is that every member of the family interacts with her in some way. Now, I am the dogsitter. And my dad loves the dogs and always slips them treats (to my constant exasperation), and lets them follow him around the garden and drink from his watering can.

My mum, however, rarely interacts directly with the dogs except to tell me how cute they look doing something. But as she loves to see Smudge play so joyfully, mum's played fetch with her a few times outside. Now every single time mum enters the room Smudge picks up a toy and runs to the garden door. And every single time mum feels guilty... and most times she goes out with her "just for five minutes". 

This is fun! Throw it again!

It's going to be an interesting summer!

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

On Choice, Ethics and Darcy

I recently attended the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) Australia annual conference. One of the messages threaded through many of the speakers' talks, I feel, was about accepting our learners (dogs and other animals) for who they are. Knowing the innate tendencies of species and breeds is part of it. But giving animals choices is another.

I'm lucky to come into animal training at a time where the 'progressive' notions of positive reinforcement and such are becoming mainstream. But I think the idea of 'free choice' -- what I think of as 'autonomy' -- is still pretty novel. I've always believed that training is for a better lifestyle -- as in, if my dog is well-trained she can come to more places with me and have a better quality of life. But people like behaviourist Dr Susan Friedman take it one step further when she says that training isn't manipulation; instead, giving more skills gives more choice. She asks us to explore how we can ask questions in our training -- how can we ask a bird if he really wants to step on our hand to be picked up? Does a dog really want to put her paw out to have her nails clipped? If we teach her to put her paw forward, she can choose at the time whether or not to do so.

It's a couple of weeks later, and I've just started Mechtild Käufer's Canine Play Behaviour: The Science of Dogs at Play. In the introduction she mentions that dog owners often say 'My dog loves me the way I am'. And I, Melon, agree, they do! But Käufer then flips the question -- do we love our dogs just the way they are? Or do we try to "train and mould our dogs into an ideal" (Kaufer p2)? I'd say yes. Many of us trainers judge owners who do no training and just complain about their dogs' behaviour, saying they don't understand how dogs work. Which is probably true. (For more info, read Jean Donaldson's The Culture Clash -- it's amazing.) But we know how dogs work -- and we just train them into what we want. Isn't that kinda unethical?

Which brings me to mister Darcy. I've written before about my struggles walking him because he pulls, chases moving objects and stops to dig holes. (Or rather, he wrote about the troubles walking with us! Telling, isn't it?). I also wrote about the progress we've made through reward-based training -- which has made life a bit easier. But it's still a struggle walking him, and the fact that he probably sees me (holding the lead) as an obstacle to what he wants (to run at the birds/insects/shrubs/leaves/people) probably means that, well, I am an obstacle to what he wants. And that's not very nice, isn't?

So what am I going to do about it? I don't have a concrete plan. But at the conference animal trainer Peta Clarke discussed using reinforcers other than food -- like chasing birds for her bulldog. He knows that the freedom to go chase them comes from her, so he'll wait for her cue to go do so. She gives him the cue to go chase them as much as she can because he enjoys it! She has control but he also feels he has control.

Since I realised a lot of Darcy's pulling on the lead is actually towards moving objects (he'll dart forward and then I see a small moth nearby), I've been thinking about putting it on cue, as she did. I don't want Darcy to see me as the obstacle to his fun, nor do I want to deprive him of what he obviously finds very rewarding! But I have some logistics to work out -- I mean, I can't just cue him to chase birds on a leash walk down the street. He'll just get frustrated as he hits the end of the lead, not to mention a sore neck when he goes boing!

I'll keep you posted -- all comments, ideas and suggestions welcome.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Sunday Funday: Rope Toy Romps

Do you guys remember the rope toy for mice? Okay, it's not really for mice. But it's so small I didn't know what it was for... until Coco showed me!

First, you pounce!

Then, you shake...


Saturday, 23 September 2017

A Visitor: Of the Baby Puppy Variety

It's puppy time!


This is Coco. She's a 15 week old French bulldog staying with me this week.

She's teeny tiny -- or at least she seems that way to me, despite spending most of my days with Cavaliers. I guess it's easy to forget how little and babyish puppies are! 

Human, what is this?

It's early days, but I'm pretty sure we're going to get along. She's confident, which I love, and curious without being a pest. And we've had a couple of good games of tug-of-war. Stay tuned for video!

She wasn't a fan of being put in the laundry for a nap (puppy alone training: starting above threshold -- oops) but has settled into having her pen in our main living area. From there she is now happy for us to leave and return. She had a good sleep in her crate last night, too. 

Coco likes to explore the yard, and frequently engages in what I'm fairly sure is scent marking. Has anyone else seen scent marking from such a young dog?

Otherwise, we are having fun. It can be tiring to keep up with puppy routines, but I'm looking forward to showing Coco the big wide world, which is always my favourite thing to do with puppies.

And, like all puppies, she sleeps like an angel.


Tuesday, 5 September 2017

In Which Being A Dog-less Dog Lover Has Its Perks

I'll be honest. Being a dog-less dog lover -- much less dog trainer -- sucks.

But sometimes, it provides unique opportunities.

Last night, I went to obedience club, even though I wasn't rostered to teach. The other instructors often bring their own dogs to train when they aren't teaching. But, of course, I don't have a dog of my own. No matter. I could just watch a class -- there's always something to learn about teaching [humans], and training [dogs], by watching others.

But then my colleague Ryan, who was teaching last night, offered to lend me his dog, Barney, so I could participate in a class.

I felt a bit of a thrill as I took Barney and joined the line of students waiting for our instructor. (Not Ryan -- we run many different classes.) Now, I have taken Miss Ava in class before. But this felt different -- probably because I've never worked with Barney before! So I imagine the feeling was one part 'I hope I don't embarrass myself' and two parts 'hey, this is cool'.

What are we waiting for?

It turned out to be a bunch of fun! Barney is a wonderful dog. Very, very laid-back for a young labrador, and he was very responsive to me, despite the fact that, well, he doesn't know me! Even more impressive was the fact that Ryan was about 10m away, walking around and calling instructions to his class. I've seen dogs in class ignore the 50-60 other strange dogs and their handlers working around them, but lose all focus because their other human, fur-sibling or doggy friend are elsewhere on the field.

But Barney, absolutely cool dog that he is, was content just to glance over at Ryan when we took breaks. Loyal, but composed.

I may be lanky, but I'm cooler than James Dean.

It was a great night. I'm grateful to Ryan for lending him to me, to the instructors at club who trust us with crazy shenanigans, and to my classmate who always gives me great training (and teaching) advice every time we see each other.

And of course this dude, who made my night! I'm still grinning.

That's cool, you can pay me in treats.

Being dog-less in the dog industry is a weird place to be. But sometimes, cool things happen.

Monday, 4 September 2017

A Feature: In Which We Discover The Truth of Being a Café Dog

Keisha here to tell you about the life of a café dog.

Sometimes the scratches need some work...

A little to the right.

There we go.

Sometimes people want to give you hugs.

I'm so cute you can't stand it?

There, there, human.

It's a hard life, but someone's gotta do it.

Guess I can make the sacrifice.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

A Report: In Which Keisha Writes Home

You know how when you go on holiday and you arrive at your destination, you send your family a message to let them know that you've arrived safely? (One of the many wonders of technology.)

Well, our latest houseguest would like to check in with her humans from her current vacation spot at Chez Melon.

Hi guys!

It's me, Keisha.

Melon says I should tell you what I did today.

Well, I went for a walk.

Then, I had dinner.

What did I do next?

Better get comfy while I try to remember.

Then... then...


Hey, Keisha? Keisha, it's Melon. Did you have anything more to add? You awake? Keisha? Helllooo?

... hmm. Guess that's all for now, folks!

Sunday, 20 August 2017

A Visit: In Which A Rather Pleasant Houseguest Comes to Stay

Remember Apollo, the Golden Retriever who really knows how to relax?

The lifesaver float is not for him... BOL!

Well, he stayed with us again for about a week and it was great. He's an easy dog.

For one, he really knows how to relax.

No, really -- despite his size he is relaxed in the house, never counter-surfs or paws the humans.

And he's an easy walker, which is great because at ~45kgs (at a guess), he needs all the walks he can get!

Lastly, he carries his bunny everywhere, which is, quite frankly, adorable.

Come back anytime, Apollo. You're always welcome.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Flashback Friday: It's Gatsby Time!

Things are still happening around here, but we've had some technical difficulties and the human has a bit of a cold. So while those updates are still coming, I think it's time for a flashback!

Miss Gatsby is the first dog who ever boarded at my house. She's a beautiful Japanese Spitz and was just a year old when she stayed with me.

She loves the outdoors and I loved to watch her explore the yard.

She's regal

And elegant

But silly

And fun.

Happy Gech!

Most of all, she's sweet and her trust in me when she visited reminded me of what I have to contribute as a trainer and as a companion to the canines.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Mischief Monday: Shhhh...

If I stay vewwy vewwy quiet... no one will notice me under here.