Sunday, March 23, 2008

Guest appearance

Yesterday morning I went outside and I couldn't believe who I saw through the trees …

The Easter Snowbunny!

Since he didn't seem very afraid of my approach, I stepped closer.

He still didn't move so I called Diesel over.

Marvin jumped for joy at the idea of meeting the Easter Snowbunny.

I quieted the boys … afterall the bunny might still be scared away, even though he seemed so very tame.

He's still outside this morning, although the sun from yesterday seems to have taken a bit of a toll on his posture.

In all honesty, although it was nice that the Easter Snowbunny paid us a visit, I'll be just as happy when he's gone. It's time for some green grass and daffodils!

Happy Easter!

Friday, March 21, 2008

The second day of spring

Mother Nature certainly has a way about her.

True, no one wishes for a spring snowstorm – especially one due to bring 9-12" by the time it's through. And just when the snow we had around all winter had almost melted away.

But there are quite a few upsides to today's storm:
  • As it's Good Friday, we only had a half day of work – so it was almost like a "snowday".
  • A rather short walk through the deep snow in the woods sufficiently wears the beagles out for the afternoon.
  • There is great entertainment watching said beagles plow through the chest-deep snow or, even better, bound great heights like deer or elk.
  • As it is a spring snowstorm, the snow won't stick around for the next three months and we aren't due to get a well-below-freezing drop in temperature afterwards.
  • This storm could bring us to the second all-time snowiest season on record (is that really an upside?!). (Yes, this season is now officially the second all-time snowiest with 96.9 inches. The record is 109 inches which we will not beat! :)
  • And, let's face it, it's pretty – very pretty.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I'm glad it's not today

Last weekend I found out from a fellow dog-walking neighbor that my neighbor from one house down lost her pup of 11 years suddenly to lymphoma a few days earlier. I had a busy week at work but Beth was always on my mind. As the boys and I walked down the alley and past her house on our morning walks, I thought how strange it must be for Beth not to have Bella to take for morning walks anymore.

Finally this weekend I had a chance to get her a card and a picture frame to put a special photo of Bella in. I took it over tonight. Beth opened the door in tears and I knew she was having a bad Bella day. She was a little surprised that I knew as I hadn't seen her since, but seemed glad to have a dog-loving neighbor to talk to.

She reminised and I listened. She told me about Bella's final days and I felt my heart break. She told me how she misses walking the neighborhood and how she would like to do it again but feels it would be too hard right now. She told me how, as the snow is melting, even seeing Bella's poo
reappear from earlier in the year is a difficult reminder.

I spent many many years of my adult life not knowing what it's like to love a dog and how deeply connected you become. Today I was glad I now know and understand the depth of emotion. I felt I could really be there for Beth when she needed a friend.

As I walked my short walk home, I took a good look at my surroundings. The neighborhood I see every single day, the houses I pass, the smells, the neighbors' barking Labs ... I took it all in and cherished it. Today is still normal for me. I have the beagles and tomorrow we will take our morning walk.

There will be a day when I go through what Beth is going through and I dread it. I'm just glad it's not today.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The other half

Most mornings after our early walk Diesel follows me into the bathroom while I retrieve a Kleenex or take care of various other sorts of business. It's his way of reminding me that he still exists so I don't forget to feed him breakfast.

I'm always the first to exist the bathroom. A quick look over my shoulder and I'm greeted with the scene above. It's a compliment to my previous Halved post.

Cute beagle. He melts my heart.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Clicker "how-to"s

Here is THE best source to introduce someone interested in clicker training to it's benefits and how it works. Karen Pryor is a founder and leading proponent of clicker training, a worldwide movement involving new ways to communicate positively with pets and other animals.

I was introduced to clicker training at the Wisconsin Humane Society in both Diesel and Marvin's Manners Classes, as well as Diesel's Tricks Class. I am forever grateful that I had this introduction so early in my dog-guardianship/training "career" because the whole idea behind it really "clicked" with me (yes, pun intended!). It's scientific and all about reinforcing wanted behaviors and improving communication in a positive way. I kind of geek out on it.

The following article is pulled directly from Karen Pryor's site and the specific link to the article is here.

I just want to add a bit to Tip 1 though, based on what I learned at WHS. The clicker – or the sound it makes – in and of itself means nothing to your dog. To introduce your dog to the clicker you need to "charge the clicker". As mentioned in Tip 1 below, have your dog in front of you, click the clicker once, then treat. Click again, then treat. Click some more, then treat. One click, one treat (teeny treats or your result will also be a chubby dog!). Your dog will begin to associate the click sound with a reward. This is where the fun starts!

Now, enjoy the article ...

Fifteen Tips for Getting Started with the Clicker

Clicker training is a science-based way to communicate with your pet. It's easier to learn than standard command-based training. You can clicker train any kind of animal, of any age. Puppies love it. Old dogs learn new tricks. You can clicker-train cats, birds, and other pets as well. Here are some simple tips to get you started.

  1. Push and release the springy end of the clicker, making a two-toned click. Then treat. Keep the treats small. Use a delicious treat at first: for a dog or cat, little cubes of roast chicken, not a lump of kibble.
  2. Click DURING the desired behavior, not after it is completed. The timing of the click is crucial. Don't be dismayed if your pet stops the behavior when it hears the click. The click ends the behavior. Give the treat after that; the timing of the treat is not important.
  3. Click when your dog or other pet does something you like. Begin with something easy that the pet is likely to do on its own. (Ideas: sit; come toward you; touch your hand with its nose; lift a foot; touch and follow a target object such as a pencil or a spoon.)
  4. Click once (in-out.) If you want to express special enthusiasm, increase the number of treats, not the number of clicks.
  5. Keep practice sessions short. Much more is learned in three sessions of five minutes each than in an hour of boring repetition. You can get dramatic results, and teach your pet many new things, by fitting a few clicks a day here and there in your normal routine.
  6. Fix bad behavior by clicking good behavior. Click the puppy for relieving itself in the proper spot. Click for paws on the ground, not on the visitors. Instead of scolding for making noise, click for silence. Cure leash-pulling by clicking and treating those moments when the leash happens to go slack.
  7. Click for voluntary (or accidental) movements toward your goal. You may coax or lure the animal into a movement or position, but don't push, pull, or hold it. Let the animal discover how to do the behavior on its own. If you need a leash for safety's sake, loop it over your shoulder or tie it to your belt.
  8. Don't wait for the "whole picture" or the perfect behavior. Click and treat for small movements in the right direction. You want the dog to sit, and it starts to crouch in back: click. You want it to come when called, and it takes a few steps your way: click.
  9. Keep raising your goal. As soon as you have a good response-when a dog, for example, is voluntarily lying down, coming toward you, or sitting repeatedly-start asking for more. Wait a few beats, until the dog stays down a little longer, comes a little further, sits a little faster. Then click. This is called "shaping" a behavior.
  10. When your animal has learned to do something for clicks, it will begin showing you the behavior spontaneously, trying to get you to click. Now is the time to begin offering a cue, such as a word or a hand signal. Start clicking for that behavior if it happens during or after the cue. Start ignoring that behavior when the cue wasn't given.
  11. Don't order the animal around; clicker training is not command-based. If your pet does not respond to a cue, it is not disobeying; it just hasn't learned the cue completely. Find more ways to cue it and click it for the desired behavior. Try working in a quieter, less distracting place for a while. If you have more than one pet, separate them for training, and let them take turns.
  12. Carry a clicker and "catch" cute behaviors like cocking the head, chasing the tail, or holding up one foot. You can click for many different behaviors, whenever you happen to notice them, without confusing your pet.
  13. If you get mad, put the clicker away. Don't mix scoldings, leash-jerking, and correction training with clicker training; you will lose the animal's confidence in the clicker and perhaps in you.
  14. If you are not making progress with a particular behavior, you are probably clicking too late. Accurate timing is important. Get someone else to watch you, and perhaps to click for you, a few times.
  15. Above all, have fun. Clicker-training is a wonderful way to enrich your relationship with any learner.
About the author: Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clickertraining, and the author of many books including Don't Shoot the Dog. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Click! happy

Whoo hoo! Waa heyy! Ahh rooo!

Monday night Marvin and I had a breakthrough. I know I've mentioned more than once that before, during, and after our agility runs my sniffer dog's focus on me and the task at hand has been waning. Even though I tried to remain upbeat (and was sure to keep my attitude with Marvin upbeat) I was feeling frustrated.
Well, during Monday's class I finally pulled a powerful tool out of our bag and we suddenly found ourselves on the same page.

Hail the clicker!

I use a clicker all the time at home when we practice tricks or I teach a new behavior. It's attention-getting and very positive feedback for the pups. They hear the click! and know good things happen. They love it and they pay attention.

But for agility?

I did actually think of trying it earlier but didn't act on it because I wasn't sure how to incorporate it into our agility practice. I thought about Silvia's seminar and how she interacted with La using the clicker while she spoke with us. She would ask La to do a trick or a short sequence and clicked and treated. La remained engaged, visibly asking "what's next?" as Silvia continued her lecture.

I realized I've been losing Marvin the second we left our seat and stepped out to the agility course. So the minute it was our turn and we took the floor, I clicked a brief moment of eye contact, then treated. Marvin's ears perked and there he was ... all attention on me. "What's next?" he visibly asked and I smiled from ear to ear.

So we played the Close Game (thank you Katherine ;), which is basically heeling (but doesn't the Close Game sound much more fun?!). We walked a couple paces, Marvin glued to my left side watching me with anticipation. I stopped. His butt plopped. I clicked and treated. And we did it some more. We made it all the way to our first obstacle without so much as one sniff and we were both happy as can be!

Believe it or not he was hyped enough that once we started our run he stayed right with me, looking for direction. I found myself suddenly free to practice my handling techniques knowing that I had a dog who was engaged and running along with me! It was incredibly fun. I even got to practice my RFPs (Reverse Flow Pivot, isn't that a lovely name?) over and over again to the point where it actually made sense.

The boy got a world of praise and a jackpot of treats at the end of that run, and all the runs following. We played the Close Game back to our seat and I was proud as punch of that pup and myself. We connected.

I have goosebumps just thinking about it. :)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Diesel's teeth: a great result

We're very happy with the results of Diesel's teeth-cleaning-day at the vet.

When I went to pick him up on Monday afternoon he barely offered me a wag, he so wanted out of there.
Since the office is only about a half mile from our house, we typically walk to our routine vet visits. So the minute we stepped outside Diesel was directing me home by foot. It took a little convincing to let him know that we needed to load ourselves in the car this time.

He wasn't totally himself that evening, still feeling some of the effects of the anesthesia, but he did as well as can be expected. He had an appetite (of course, we're talking about a beagle here), but we took it slow – giving him half of his supper at the usual time and then, once we were sure his system was handling the small amount of food okay, the other half about three hours later.

He was tired too. We caught him sitting on the edge of the window seat looking out the window with his eyes starting to close. We convinced him to hop down so he wouldn't fall asleep sitting up there and then fall.

After a good night's rest he was back to his old self the next morning, bouncing along on our early walk and attempting to kill Marvin once we got home.

It was indeed a good result. We've never seen his teeth this clean.

After. Super, super clean.
(It seems whenever you see healthy dog gum photos at the vet or online, the gums shown are just pink. Both Diesel and Marvin have black pigmentation on their gums.)

Another after – he loved this photo shoot. Umm, no.

I wish I would have taken better before photos. This is probably the best I have (from the
Toothbrush Attack post).

I am even more of a dog dental health advocate now that we've taken this step and seen the results. It only makes sense to take care of their teeth as part as their overall well-being. Also, not that Diesel ever had really horrible doggy breath before, there was still some noticable odor. Since his teeth have been cleaned there is no odor at all. Not at all. I think that says something.

Diesel smiling pretty.