Calling Dogs Off

I had a discussion with a friend the other day. His dogs are hunt-test trained (or in training) retrievers. Despite our differences regarding training methods and choice of dog sport, we have discussions about end-result-behaviors pretty successfully. Most recently, he gave me some wonderful advice on Bailey's directed retrieve problem using a common hunt-test drill. I applied it a bit differently than he'd advised, but the basis was the same.

One of our last discussions has still got me a bit confused though. The topic was calling dogs off a chase.

I said I can call Bailey off chasing live animals. She used to run the 80 acre farm at whim and thus had zero impulse control, because I'd never asked her for it. My friend looked at me like I had twelve eyes and said "of course you should be able to call your dogs off a chase." When I began working on the call off, I was new to clicker training and still had that knee-jerk collar correction habit. Bailey and I weren't communicating very effectively, but I'll be darned if I was going to give up and use any kind of physical pressure to get this end result!

I happened upon a post by someone on the original SitStay forum (the cause of my online dog community obsession) suggesting the use of a whistle as my recall cue, because it's not something the dog hears daily and can be loud enough to break through to the brain when a dog is focused on chasing. I don't remember all the details of my training plan (and I'm sure it changed almost daily) but in the end, I could call her off prey (with a whistle) when she gave chase. She also developed impulse control to the point where she was able to see a running animal and NOT give chase.

I never used an e-collar on her. I never attached a long line so she would hit the end and "learn her lesson." I never (intentionally) set her up to fail.

So why shouldn't I have been ecstatic I achieved this end result without inflicting pain? Apparently this is impossible without using force. I don't know about you, but I do know that at least one person has trained his dogs to do far more amazing things without the use of force and pain.



The photos below were part of this discussion. I can see bad play, I can even see poor play sometimes, but I get very confused when trying to evaluate play from dogs without previous 'good play history.'

Amber is a submissive, under-confident Labrador Retriever puppy. She's resilient but very soft. She's got good dog-dog skills and responds well to cues from others. As a puppy, she interacted with other Retrievers near daily. She learned some good and poor play habits there.

Frodo is a dog-reactive, middle-aged Pembroke Welsh Corgi. (If he were my dog, I would do a better job of labeling and describing him here.) He was also attacked by another dog while on a walk with his owner a week ago. He doesn't typically like other dogs and gets very few chances to play with others (as his owner's friends' dogs aren't ideal candidates either).

As Kristen and I discussed, "the play was not good, but it was very impressive" for Frodo.

I think Amber was relieved that another dog actually interacted with her at my house! My two usually ignore her completely.

Next time I'll remember to take video when I want to discuss play, Kristen!


Silly Photos

House Guest #1

We have our "regular" Labrador Retriever house guest over thanksgiving. She just turned a year old and she's still as cute and silly as ever!

(It's a darn good thing she loves Kongs. I was prepared and stuffed ALL the Kongs!)

She just found the (empty) tug a jug and brought it out into the living room. She learned about food toys the first time she stayed here and doesn't seem to have forgotten! There are far worse things for her to be looking for!


Happy Dogs

I have happy dogs tonight. It certainly isn't due to exercise (as they barely got walked today), it's not because their brains are tired (I trained absolutely nothing today), so what's left?!


There are days I say life without chewies is a sad life indeed! Bailey and I had to return some car parts near the pet food store in town today. Of course this means we had to stop in at the store and of course that means she got to pick something out. I may have influenced her decision a little but I don't think she was upset.

Beef Tracheas!
(Or Moo Tubes)
(Or Windies)

I really need to place a stock up order rather than buying them one at a time! I'd save so much money (in theory...)!

But for tonight, I have happy dogs!



I don't post over half of the pictures I take because the subject appears stressed.

Those are her 'please don't pet me' ears.
I refrain from commenting on pictures and videos where the subject (typically a dog) is showing signs of stress.

I wonder if the person posting these things notices and doesn't care, or doesn't even know what the signs of stress are.

Stryker's head is low, her eyes are darting, and she's lip licking.

Stress happens, I realize that. As my good friend Elizabeth says (and I'm paraphrasing because I don't typically record our conversations) "if my dog can deal with this level of stress and continue to work, then I'm okay with it. However, if my dog shuts down, then it's too much."
Stryker is eating food. Bailey is avoiding eye contact and turning away.
We strive to make the lives of our dogs as stress free as possible, right? If not, we should!
Stressed dog pictures make me uncomfortable and most are deleted when I sort through the first time. Our good friend Crystal explains stress well if you search for body language or stress.

So, to all the forumers and bloggers out here; this is the reason why I rarely comment on pictures. I can't bring myself to say something nice about sharing a picture of a clearly stressed dog. 

Here's more pictures of stressed dogs, without caption. Do you know why I consider the dog stressed?

If you can identify this adorable baby-dog... you win a prize!


Buzz and I

Buzz and I went for a walk this afternoon. Just the two of us. While he was gone last week, Bailey and I had a lot of one-on-one outings, just by default. In the dead of winter I usually wimp out and take both dogs walking together since we have to pack up and drive somewhere. Today I took advantage of the opportunity to hike, just the two of us.

We visited one of our usual winter stomping grounds complete with a coffee shop that allows dogs! Buzz had a grand old time and I snapped a couple pictures of him with my phone. I enjoy posing him on things and he doesn't seem to mind, so that's usually what I end up with.

We were out for at least an hour and a half so by the end he was a little tired, but I'd say he's still doing pretty darn well for being 13.5 years old!


Interesting Comments

Bailey and I traveled into the city again yesterday. I had a few things to take care of so she stayed in the car for a bit, when I was done I found a coffee shop with wifi so I could get some internetting (yes, it's totally a verb) accomplished. That coffee shop was smack dab in the middle of a shopping center. I figured "what better place to train my dog at?!"

When I got her out of the car, and got her gear on, she wasn't very interested in working. We've encountered this problem before, many, many times. This is where I've established a checklist with follow through.

  1. I check to make sure my treats are high value (zukes salmon, she only gets them when working in public)
  2. I check to make sure there aren't other dogs around (these can cause her to become stressed even when she was previously working well)
  3. I check my mental functioning level: Am I giving her my full attention?
If all of those are 'checkable' then we take a short break and I ask her to work again. Stationary behaviors have never been her strongest so I always ask for LLW first. I had to use a high rate of reinforcement as well as directional changes, but she did start working. The key with this is that when she does begin to work I reward heavily and then only work for a short while. Her release to go sniff seems to be a bigger reward in situations like this. We walked the length of the complex before she was reliably working for an extended period of time. On our second pass she was giving me wonderful heeling past people, complete with beautiful pivots. She even responded to cues for sit and down readily.

Along the way, we stopped to greet a couple people and got some very interesting comments!
As we heeled towards an elderly lady, she motioned for me to stop. She said she'd been watching us and was so impressed (why, thank you) but then proceeded to tell me that she has "a little Pomeranian and then got a big black and white dog that would have eaten the Pom if they hadn't trained it not to. It just happens with that breed." I curiously asked her what breed the big black and white dog is, she wasn't sure; just that it would have eaten the little one without training!

Another was from what appeared to be a mother and her son who were pushing groceries down the walkway. The mother asked if she could pet Bailey, to which I replied sure. Bailey wasn't so interested in being pet so she sat and faced me. This lady then asked Bailey to sit. Bailey didn't respond. She asked again. Bailey didn't respond. Rather than let the lady get frustrated, I cued sit with a signal. Bailey sat and the lady says "I knew you could do it! Now, can you shake?!" I just said no...

A third interaction involved two young men. They had watched her pivot while heeling so one says "hey, my dog can do that!" Before I can say anything, his friend bursts out laughing and is laughing so hard he can barely breathe. Then they just kept on walking, so I did too!

I've been good about working her in completely new places where I would have left her in the car previously! Training DOES work, I guess!


taking my dog for granted

Bailey's a really easy dog to live with, for the most part. I can take her pretty much anywhere (heck, she travels everywhere with me lately and I don't stress about it, neither does she) and she's able to chill out and relax. She's also quite easily motivated for training, and always has been. I didn't (and still don't) have to put forth a ton of effort to reward her. She has a lot of behaviors, some are on cue, some are offered, and a select few are on stimulus control. I definitely take her for granted.

I have worked with her and taught her many behaviors in the last couple years, even if we act like I haven't sometimes. Most of the time I just forget the cue I put it on (Robin, I promise I'm trying to be better about that!) so I wait for it to be offered, heavily reinforce, then wait for it to be offered again. Not very effective training, I know!

The point of this post is that a couple friends and I got together to watch a Silvia Trkman video on Tuesday night. Part of the video was teaching heeling and part of teaching heeling is pivoting. Bailey has pretty heeling, she has better-than-decent pivoting (thanks to Kristen VanNess for helping me teach that a couple years ago), and she's quite animated while doing it! I definitely got some good (new) information from the video, but it also made me train my dog a little bit (practicing already competent behaviors is still training). It also made me realize how much I really take my dog for granted. She's quite a talented little dog, if I remember how to cue her!

Now... should I go teach something new, or work on older behaviors that still aren't on cue? :-)


adventures of an "only dog"

My mom had surgery on her neck last Wednesday. In order to make life easier right now, Buzz's most favorite Auntie Elizabeth is watching him while we get through the first week post surgery.

Buzz Photo Fail
This is because I'm having to take all potentially-annoying beasts with me or confine them while I'm gone during the day. While I can bring both dogs to work and crate them while I work, Buzz is pretty sure that's some kind of inhumane dog treatment. Every time I bring him to work he BARKS and WHINES and is generally a VERY UNHAPPY dog. It makes me sad. If I try to take Buzz to work more than 2 days in a row he hides when I get his car gear out.

However, Bailey is quite good at this whole hang out at work thing. She comes to work with me sometimes even when she doesn't have to. She has "her" crate at work in a location that's pretty uneventful and she mostly naps while I work, comes out at lunch, and naps while I work some more.
Bailey Photo Fail
Unnecessary back-story? Probably.

Bailey's pretty sure this only dog stuff is AWESOMESAUCE. She goes everywhere with me. We stayed at Tim's Friday and Saturday night. She's got this city-dog-life figured out. We travel in the car a lot. Every time I leave the house she goes with me.

I fear for her reality check when she doesn't go everywhere with me. For now though, she's having a blast.

(I need to get out and take pictures with my own dogs again, after they've been groomed... which will happen. Someday, soon?)



Country Dog
Grey Dog
Happy Dog
Swamp Dog


Training Tuesday

With the puppy gone, I have MUCH MORE TIME to dedicate to training my own dogs again.

Sure, they're elderly. Nope, they're not going to be competing seriously. Of course they still love to train!

Tonight Bailey worked on some hat box sits, pivots, and dumbell retrieves (I need to rebuild a much more solid hold with a more defined release). She worked for most of her dinner and the rest was fed out of a food toy.

Buzz worked on bows, backing up, and letting me work on his shoulder. He also worked on being really, really adorable while begging for more food.

I need another Buzz.
His name is Max.

I would call him Rex.