2 Year Blogiversary

Another year of blogging has come and gone as February 26 marked my two year blogiversary.

Time is such a fluid thing. The older I get the faster it screams by me. The busier I get the harder it gets to pay attention to it’s passing. I try to quantify it by measuring X many months since THIS or THAT happened. But it still doesn’t seem concrete in my head.

This last year of blogging has had some real up and downs, as every year does. Which highlights another aspect of time passing- each year is a different set of events repeating the same pattern. In my Real Life there have been some major changes that I never thought I’d see and that pattern holds true in my Dog Life too.

If you told me last February I’d be a professional dog trainer I would never have believed you. Even writing professional today doesn’t seem true. I just don’t tend to think of my self in those terms. I’m a learner and even in my teaching roles in life I never feel qualified to claim a title of “Knower” since I consider my life a continual process of learning. Plus, the more I learn the more I realize I don’t know. Since I find not knowing quite aversive my 4legged lesson from last February is still true, “. . .let your pups teach you all they can as fast as you can learn. You never know what they are preparing you for.” I certainly could never have predicted my pups were preparing me to take training into a career!

It wasn’t all lessons and learning, when I look back I’m reminded of some silly moments too. This post about snip and snails and puppy dog tails reminded while some things have changes greatly some remain the same. Magnus is still bringing me disgusting things, but none as gross as the dead mouse he brought in a couple months ago!

Looking back there are some things I wrote that surprised me. Last March I wrote, “I’d say I use 85%, maybe even 90%, positive methods. . .” I can’t think why I wrote that at the time, I would say now I am 100% positive reinforcement trainer. I think it reflects one area I’ve grown greatly in the last year. I have a much better understanding of learning theory and the 4 quadrants of positive reinforcement training. I also value that understanding more since I really feel like understanding how negative reinforcement, negative punishment and positive punishment work helps build a more comprehensive training plan. Interestingly understanding the other quadrants has only driven me to find solutions in positive reinforcement even more. I’m proud to say I really have become a “serene trainer” as I set out to in that post.

I really love looking back through the months. It reminds me of things I learned and forgot. This post about Maizey taking Petite Pal’s class really shows that. It’s weird that a year ago she was in classes at all. I would never put her through that now. And though the post is full of lessons and things we learned in class, what it’s most full of is how much I love her. I guess it looks like we’ve lost ground since then, but in reality we’ve gained ground since our relationship has grown to where I’m much more confident in letting her be her.

I’m really glad I have the blog to remind me what we’ve done. It puts things in perspective. Especially things that are easy to get emotional about like Maizey’s progress. It also reminds me of things we trained that I didn’t really take anywhere, but learned from the journey. All in all it was a crazy year and I’m glad I have a record of it.


Petite Pals: Class 2,3: Click For Quiet and a Hard Lesson

I’ve said it before and I’m sure this wont be the last time but there are few things in my life as rewarding and complicated as having a fearful Maizey.

But first let me tell you about her Petite Pals Class.

Petite Pals is a basic obedience class for dogs under 25 pounds. In her first class they covered basic sit, down, touch, stand and mat.

For Maizey this class is not about obedience skills, for Maizey it’s about learning to be around other dogs and not react. It’s about learning to meet and greet and play like a normal happy girl would.

For Maizey week one went great! I set the goal of being a serene trainer and I actually succeeded!

I have to give a huge shout out of thanks to Nicole and Michelle at Calling All Dogs for setting up a special place in this class for Maizey. They set up an x-pen for her and then covered it with blankets to further reduce the stimulation.

It worked perfect, I was able to click for calm and quiet orientation to the other dogs. I learned to click for her being quiet even when there is just vocalizing from other dogs, which now seems so blatantly obvious of a thing to do that I can’t believe what an opportunity for reinforcement I was missing.

Maizey only reacts to dogs she can see so I never c/t for her being quiet when a dog was vocalizing. Nicole explained she knows there is a dog there, but she isn’t reacting so she deserves to be rewarded for that. It makes perfect sense and provides many more opportunities for me to reinforce that she doesn’t need to react. It is a perfect example of why I need to take classes, there is just so much I don’t know or think of.

After a half hour they let the dogs have a play time and by that time she was showing some eagerness to interact and meet these other little 4legged friends. I have to admit I was nervous, but by that time I had been able to observe and get an idea of the other dogs personalities. Since I also had Nicole and Michelle there to help I let her loose to meet the other dogs.

She lived up to her moniker of Princes Of The Shrill Bark, but it was not so much conflicted reactivity as really loud vocalizing. It was then I learned a most valuable lesson. I am so protective of her I wanted to jump right in and calm her down, but Nicole had me hang back and watch her. It was so hard for me! I said, “She’s barking! What should I do?”

Nicole said, “Stand there and let her bark, she’s not aggressing forward, she’s not being aggresive, she’s just talking to them.”

With total insecurity I said, “Just let her bark?!?”

With total reassurance in her voice she said, “She’s okay, lets just see what she does.”

I could see she was safe, and I could see her little brain working out this problem that, in my protectiveness, I have never really allowed her to work out for herself, so I just let her bark.

As I watched I was reminded of another valuable 4legged lesson: sometimes dogs learn from other dogs so much better than they learn from humans.

Here are seven other little dogs and they looked at her barking like, “Hey ya freak whats up with you?” Then they would just run and play.

It was like my girl was so confused, “Hey! Didn’t you hear me? I’m telling you all I’m here!!” But the more they ignored her the braver she got and she quit barking and followed them.

Then they would be like, “Oh hey, you want to play?”

It was just so funny and so tragic ’cause she I swear when they tried to play with she was like, “OH CRAP!! DOGS!!” And she would run away.

But I was so so proud because she knows enough now to look at me when she’s scared and the two times she got pretty overwhelmed she ran straight to me and leaned on my legs. I am so proud of us that we have built that trust, we certainly didn’t have it when she was younger. Now I think she is learning she doesn’t have to scare off all the scary dogs by herself, I will always be there to protect her.

I considered the whole thing to be a fabulous success. Thus you would think I would be eager to follow up such a great experience with two weeks of class since then and I was. Unfortunately two weeks ago we lost a close friend in death and his funeral was the same time as her class. Sometimes Real Life is just more imporant than our 4legged life and of course we missed that class.

But that takes me back to the begining of this post. The rewards are obvious, the complications not quite so easy to understand. Yesterday we were all ready for her class, but she has been extraordinarily anxious the last couple days, and frankly yesterday I was the reactive one. I won’t bore you with all the 2legged details, but just let me say, us humans sure can come up with a lot of drama for ourselves and that happened yesterday.

So as I was fighting to get things settled down to go to class I realized if I take my nervous girl to class with myself already in knots I may be doing her more harm than good. It was hard but I made the executive decision that I was not “in the game” and we didn’t go to class.

Was it the right decision? I don’t know.

What I do know is I promised to protect her and yesterday I felt like what she needed protected from was not being able to rely on me to be the stable one. I know others that have fearful dogs have felt the pressure of needing to not communicate their own nerves to their sensitive 4legged friends. I know friends with performance dogs that worry about sending their ring nerves to their dogs.

Most of all I know my Maizey is my little emotional psychic and if I might make her more nervous I will not push her into a situation she may not be successful in. There will be another opportunity and we will take it, but we will not rush in where we may not be successful.

That too is a Maizey promise, and a valuable 4legged lesson: it’s okay not to rush things, it’s okay to play it safe and it’s always okay to do something else together that is good for both of you.

Yesterday for Maizey and I that something else was take a nice long nap together.

But look out for us next week Petite Pals Class, we’ll be back and ready to learn, play and yes, probably bark!


Hodge Podge of a Post

There has been a lot of fun around here lately. So much fun I’m giving you the cliff notes version.

Sit stays for CDX (Twist is the Sheltie)

On Friday Magnus and I spent the day at an obedience trial. Of course he wasn’t entered, but it was excellent socialization for him and a great chance to learn self control and patience in his crate around lots of other dogs.

It was an especially exciting day since we got to see our friend Twist earn his CDX. Twist is one of my favorite 4legged friends, he has so much character.

Maizey was not left out of the fun since she spent the day with Chloe and Charley.

Last week Magnus got to have his first take your dog to work day where he learned all about riding in the big truck.

One thing that I was very happy about was how well he handled all the loud noises of the truck. I set his mat on the seat in between us and he just laid there and slept while we drove around. I am going to get him a seat belt harness for next time, since there is no way to take a crate.

In other Magnus news he starts Agility For Fun class on thursday night. I am excited, but also nervous-as usual.

Unfortunately we had a funeral to attend in Saturday so we missed Maizey’s Petite Pals class. Next week we’ll be back on schedule with that.

Maizey’s eyes are better, though I know until I have the $900.00 to do the allergy testing they will continue to have problems. She does have some relief with the meds she is on now, so that will have to be good enough for now.

Marie gave us a new crate that Maizey loves. It’s a soft sided travel crate, but it is super light and the best one I’ve had yet. Maizey  loves it so much that I’ve hardly been able to get her out of it since I set it up! Thanks Marie!

Charley and Chloe are staying with us this week, so Magnus is in heaven. He is in love with Chloe and they play so well together. I figure with all four of them to walk I ought to get in some good miles for the Challenge. If you have suggestions for managing a four dog household I would love to hear them!

Well this is a disjointed crazy post, but I wanted to at least update for myself. Don’t give up on our poor neglected blog, I have a big announcement coming with exciting news so you’ll have to keep coming around for that!


What Kind of Trainer Are You?

Tomorrow is Maizey’s first Petite Pals class. I went to the people part of the class last week, but tomorrow is her first time. Then in two weeks Magnus gets to finish his Agility For Fun class.

With all these classes it really has me thinking about my training style. I’ve had the opportunity to observe several different trainers lately and each has a distinct style. Not all are straight positive trainers, though I don’t work with any who are harsh. Some use corrections, some don’t. Some are talkers, some let the clicker do the talking. One thing they all have in common: all find joy in their dogs.

So what about me? What kind of trainer do I want to be? I use a clicker. I’d say I use 85%, maybe even 90%, positive methods. I don’t believe in anything harsh, and prefer to be force free as much as is possible.

But what kind of trainer does that make me? What is it that I admire and want to imitate the most?

I came up with one word: Serene.

Serene: calm, unagitated. . . tranquil (without losing self-possession) “remained calm throughout the uproar”

Not a word most think of in dog training, but for me a lofty goal.

I talk to much to my dogs. I confess, I’m a chatterer. I especially find my self chattering at the dogs in a class environment, one that can, at times, feel like an “uproar.”

But have you ever seen a trainer that seems to empathically tell the dogs what they want them to do?

One that with very little spoken word and very good body language demonstrates what they want next?

One who uses a clicker to mark the behavior and shows their enthusiasm through quiet, loving commendation?

One that is in the zone with their dog, not even really aware of the hustle and bustle that can be around them?

One that’s “calm and unagitated” and as such teaches the dog to be the same?

That’s the kind of trainer I want to be. That’s the kind of trainer I want to go to class with Maizey tomorrow and help her be calm and unagitated. Serene. So that she can go to class “without losing self-possession” and remain “calm throughout the uproar.”

So that we can go together and be in the zone where we work so well. The zone where it doesn’t matter what big scary things there are in the world Right then it’s just me and her playing games and that’s all we need to be serene.

(Post Script: I don’t expect either of us to achieve complete serenity tomorrow, but wouldn’t it be cool if we did?)


Maizey’s Petite Pals Class

Maizey starts the Petite Pals class at Calling All Dogs on Saturday. It’s a beginning obedience class for dogs under 25 pounds.

The decision to put maizey in class has been a hard one. I never felt either of us had the foundation necessary to deal with 7 other dogs in a class environment. What’s changed?

This photo shows one of the miracles:

On our walk to see George the elephant we met many dogs, people and bikes. My dogs were both on long lines, though I let them drag their lines for much of the walk.

Not long into our walk, this family of two Cavaliers, and a Chihuahua came from a branch of the trail behind us that we had passed. Since I didn’t see them coming and they were off leash they were upon us before I realized it. In the past this kind of surprise “attack” would have sent Maizey into a huge reaction. As you can see she had no reaction to them at all! She waded into this ‘sea of Cavaliers’ and as each dog made the rounds introducing themselves so did she.

Her tail was wagging, she moved into the dogs not away from them, her jaw was not tight, her ears were not pinned back. Even at the time I could not believe I was seeing that level of relaxation from her.

Over the course of the walk we met several other dogs, including two big Boxers who were on leash, she was a little nervous to meet them, but did not have a vocal reaction. All were opportunities for me to c/t her calm, and ask for basic behaviors which she willingly gave me.

Then towards the end of our hour and a half walk I started seeing more signs of nervousness. We met a high strung Fox Terrier who gave our gaggle of dogs and people a wide berth, but was obviously nervous and that was the first bark I heard from her.

Shortly after that I saw an old Golden ahead of us and saw Maizey tense up. So we moved away from him. We were perhaps 20 feet away when she went over threshold. It was a classic reaction, with her only able to glance at me, while still barking. We kept backing up and she never got anywhere close to him, but she kept reacting while he passed us at least 40 feet away.

I think she was coming close to threshold over the course of the walk. Lesson one for me: in a place where we are meeting dogs make the walk shorter.

We were walking on leash by that point. When she reacted to the Fox Terrier she was being carried, when the Golden approached she was on leash. Even though she used to react no matter what, now being restrained is becoming more of a trigger.

The dad of the family that was with the golden approached us while his family had stopped to meet the other dogs in our group. I had already backed off the trail with Maizey and was c/t for watching me, “showing me” the approaching golden and other easy behaviors.

Apparently this man thought it would be helpful to shout at us, “You’re going to make that dog fat!” I could go on a major rant about that, but the point is I know I reacted to him and his big rude mouth. My irritation zinged down Maizey’s leash like an electric shock and she flew over threshold.

Even with those reactions, after seeing her progress and talking to Nicole at CAD I think Maizey and I both may be ready for a class environment. What really makes it feasible is the adjustments they are willing to make for Maizey.

The first week Nicole is going to assist me for the whole class. We have the option of setting up an x-pen for Maizey to work off leash behind. Because this is class is structured as a follow up to Puppy PRep there is still a play time that we can use for Maizey to interact with the other dogs. Best of all, if it seems too much for her we have the option of rearranging any way that will make her successful.

I’m hopeful this can further our progress and so thankful to have access to such great trainers who are willing to work with her limitations and be determined to help her be successful!


Magnus is an AKC S.T.A.R. and Maizey Will Soon Be a Petite Pal

I always read these succinct, short, to the point blogs that are so easy to get the news you want without wading through extraneous fluff you really don’t care about.

Then I read mine. . .

So, I am going to endeavor to keep this short, which should be difficult since I haven’t kept up on the news around here lately.

I promise to do my best.

Monday, February 28, 2011 Magnus took and passed his AKC S.T.A.R. puppy test! Enter a proud Crazymomlady moment when his instructor said, “He’s almost ready for his CGC.”

Now that he is officially a S.T.A.R. and my life is trying to resume some sort of normalcy (whatever that is) he’s starting back to Agility For Fun class. On March 24th we will join one of our favorite instructors, Astrid, for the last 4 classes which we missed due to “real life” getting in our way the first time.

Since the instructors at Calling All Dogs are so wonderful they have agreed to help me work Maizey through the Petite Pals class there on Saturdays. She starts on March 12th.

Yes, this means I am officially insane, as both dogs will be in different classes on different days. Something I swore I would never do. However my Notsocrazymomlady is taking Chloe to that class and when Nicole heard the progress Maizey is making both she and Michelle, the instructor of Petite Pals felt it was worth a try to see how my Princess Of The Shrill Bark would handle it.

I will take it week by week and have their assurance they will help me monitor her stress levels and if it’s not a fit for her we will adjust accordingly.

In Steps to Success news Maizey has completed 38 of the L2 steps. Magnus is close behind with 29 steps complete. With our weeks filled up with classes we will be taking a bit of a hiatus from the levels until Sue releases the new book. (Which we are hoping and praying and wishing and begging will be soon!)

There! How did I do? Succinct enough? Oh wait. . . I forgot to update about Maizey’s persistent Blepharitis, Corneal Dystrophy and Distichiasis. Then there’s the Walking Challenge, my new obsession with making leather leashes and the perfect treat bags.

I can’t forget to at least mention the great honor Magnus had of being named one of the naughtiest dogs at Embee Cavaliers! A great thanks to Mary Beth for including him!

Most important of all I need to come up with a registered name for Magnus’ AKC PAL#!

Goodness, this being succinct thing is hard. Oh well, I guess I will have to get caught up on a night when it’s not already 12:15a.m.

In the mean time why don’t you help me out by coming up with a clever AKC registered name which includes the words: Magnus, Magnificent, and Moments. Who knows one of you could have the honor of giving Magnus The AKC S.T.A.R. his registered name!

(Don’t worry if you’re drawing a blank my next post is about the confusing world of AKC Purebred Alternative Listing/Indefinite Listing Privilege and should make you all as confused as I am!)

Okay, Okay, I wasn’t short and to the point at all, again. All I can do is beg your mercy and hope you’ll keep putting up with my long windedness since I value your input so much!