Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day 10 -- Goodbyes

Well, we knew this day would come when we would have to say goodbye. Atticus will be missed by everyone here, dogs and people alike. I should have known it was time to go when he followed me up and down the stairs today on his own accord. It was as if to say that he learned what he needed to learn and it was time to go. He worked hard, he played hard, and he slept hard. I think a good time was had by all...

Day 9 -- Steps Ahead

We had a great stair and car day today! That's a strange sentence but it means a lot to us. He went up and down a strange set of stairs with no hesitation at all and tail wagging. Yea!! He still needs to be exposed to more and more stairs, especially since he doesn't have any at home to practice on. It's always a challenge for me to find different kinds of stairs to practice on; metal, concrete, wood, open backed, etc. Sometimes my walks are all about finding new stairs.

The car went really well too. At first he hesitated slightly at the end of the driveway but then approached happily. I was able to open both the back hatch and the side door and I even sat in the side of the car and he was happily interacting with me. With some more practice at home, he should be getting into the car without hesitation. And just in time, he's growing like a weed. A pretty cute weed...

When we are not working, I make sure that there is plenty for Atticus to do. He knows he can help himself to the toy basket and play with a wide variety of toys. At his age, if there is nothing to entertain him he will find ways to entertain himself and it probably won't be in ways that I appreciate much. He is still too young to have free reign of the house but, even if I'm in the same room with him, I could get distracted and he could get into mischief. I suspect he has plenty to do at home as well which is really good.

It's nice that he can play well by himself for those times when you are preoccupied.

And it's really nice that he plays so well with other dogs. He's still young so he needs reminders if his play gets too rough. Especially when he doesn't notice a size difference. But what's even better is that he enjoys playing with people so much. You want him to look to you for all the good things that happen in his life; food, play, water, affection, toys, etc.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Day 8 -- Fun in the Sun!

Finally!! After days and days of rain (A LOT of rain) we finally got a sunny day. We took full advantage of the sun and did most of our training outside.

I really like to incorporate play into training. If it's fun for Atticus, he's going to want to repeat the behaviors. It's a great way to build the relationship with him and make sure he's really responsive to you in even high distraction environments.

He's such a playful boy! I can use play as a reward for him. He loves food but it's nice to have some variety in the rewards you offer him. I started playing tug with him today. He LOVED it! I play it with rules so that it's fun for everyone and it doesn't get out of hand. With a guy this big, you want to make sure you have a good on/off switch with games like this. Here are my rules; I start and stop the game and he has to drop it when I ask him to. I teach him to drop it by saying "drop" and putting a treat to his nose. I'll give him a another cue when I want him to get it again like "get it." This is a nice way to teach "drop" because it pays off so well for him ("If I drop the item I get both the treat AND the toy back"). And he is a quick study...he took something that didn't belong to him and I said "drop" in a nice, even tone and he dropped it right away. Big reward for that. What a good boy!

Playing with other dogs gives me an opportunity to teach him as well. First of all, I can interrupt play if it starts to get too rough. He's still young and learning what is ok or not ok and he's not quite sure of his size yet. I am also teaching him that it pays off to check in with me and respond to me even when really fun things are happening. I'm going to make sure I have tasty treats on me and maybe a tug toy so I can reward him when he randomly checks in with me and if I ask him to check in with me. I can do recalls with him, reward him for coming to me, and reward him by letting him go play again. A recall should not mean to the dog that play is going to end. Why would he ever want to come to you if it meant all fun was stopping? It's also nice to break up the play a little bit by throwing in some commands after a recall ("down," "sit," or walking nicely beside you with no leash). This teaches the dog a little bit of self control and helps them with their on/off switch.

We're continuing to work on stairs and he's doing really well. He hesitates some but always get the courage up to do them. He'll need practice on stairs every chance you get.

He was a little nervous about the car today so we decided not to open the back of the car and just work on approaching it again. I am guessing that this was because there was a lot of Black Friday traffic out but, because we don't know what is going on in their brains, we can only guess. We spent a lot of time walking up and down the sidewalk. Sometimes we would pass the driveway and sometimes we would walk towards the car. We did find something to work on tomorrow while we were out though...he loves people and other dogs and pulls a little on the leash when he sees them. While that might be ok now, it's not going to work when he outweighs his people.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Day 7 -- Happy Thanksgiving!

All our practice paid off! Atticus did great at Thanksgiving. No jumping, no mouthing...just very polite behavior.

Holidays can be a real challenge for dogs. There are a lot of new people around, which is very exciting. And LOTS of good food smells. Atticus did very well even though I know he would have loved to give in to some of his urges. He got a lot of pets and praise from everyone when he was behaving so well. This helps reinforce that behavior. And he'll get an occasional treat when he's doing something so spectacular like leaving the pumpkin pie alone on the counter.
He met some new dog friends today as well. He was very good with them and easily redirected if he started barking. Sometimes he does the barking in play and other times when he wants something. Either way he's easily redirected and is learning when he pays attention to the human it pays off much better than barking at a dog.

If I couldn't directly watch him, I put him in his crate with a stuffed Kong. This works well for a few reasons. First, dogs need breaks when there is a lot of activity going on. Especially at his age, it's too much to ask for him to be around a lot of new things for long periods of time. Secondly, if I can't watch him, he could get reinforced for bad behavior (i.e stealing someone's pumpkin pie would be reinforcing because, yum, pie is good). Lastly, it is good for Atticus to learn to relax in his kennel when there is a lot of activity going on. There are times when you can't or shouldn't have a dog out loose so you want them to be comfortable and quiet resting in their crate even if fun things are happening around them. And Atticus did this very well...especially if I gave him a sweet potato chew.

And the best thing he did on Thanksgiving was look cute! Everyone just adored him....

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day 6 -- Getting Ready

 We had intended to try to get in the car today but plans changed. Atticus balked a little when we walked up to the car which told me he wasn't ready to get in yet. I want to make sure we are getting a nice, happy response when he sees the car before we work on getting in. I'm not at all discouraged by's part of training dogs. You have to read them and let them tell you when they are ready to move on.

But he is still rocking it out on the stairs. The fact that he was contemplating going up the rest of the flight of stairs even though I wasn't at the top was a really good sign. He looked so much more comfortable on the stairs than he has been. It gives me hope that Matt and Kosette won't have to carry a 150 pound dog up and down the stairs when he gets older.

So now we're just getting ready for guests to come in tomorrow. This is Atticus helping me make the pumpkin curry. Big help Atticus...

We've practiced our greetings and manners and I think we are all set to meet our guests tomorrow. This will be good experience for Atticus and more dogs we can practice doing recalls with.

But not to worry, his old friend, Sinbad, will be by his side if he needs anything.

Better rest's going to be a busy day.

Day 5 -- Courage

Today was a day of great triumphs for Attticus! He made it up and down my big staircase several times today. We will continue to practice on the stairs in and around my house and we are also going to work on some stairs away from the house. Mastering my stairs is a good start but that doesn't mean he will have all stairs mastered. Dogs don't generalize so, if they learn something in one place, it doesn't mean they know it in another place. But mastering the stairs does help build his confidence and that will be good all the way around.

He did great walking out of the house and around the traffic but then put on the brakes when we got close to my car. I kept the leash loose so as not to force him towards the car. I turned my body away from him and stood next to the car with some tasty treats in my hand.

It did not take very long before he was sitting next to me with his tail wagging, happily taking treats from me. We're not going to get into the car today, we might do that tomorrow. But we'll have several sessions of approaching the car without the pressure of having to get in.

He's improving on his stays. It's nice to see him resting on his hip in his stays because that shows me that he's relaxing into it. The more he gets reinforced for those stays, the more comfortable he is going to be. This is also handy for teaching "go to your bed" so he's nice and relaxed if you ask him to do that.

Atticus does a great job asking for things by doing a nice "sit." He and Sinbad are waiting patiently for their dinner. He is working hard at not diving into the other dog's bowls. Because he is not 100% on this I make sure he is eating in the same room only with very safe dogs who are not going to correct him if he makes a mistake. He does love his food!

His recall is coming along very nicely! He will very happily come even when playing with a group of dogs. The rain has been falling hard here so we've moved a lot of our training indoors. Playing Hide-and-Seek in the house is a really fun game that Atticus LOVES. I hide in another room and call him to come. If he is having a hard time finding me, I'll encourage him along the way (making sure not to repeat "Come") and, when he finds me, jackpot with treats. He thinks that's a fabulous game. I have the feeling we'll be playing a lot of that this week...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Day 4 -- Steps Forward

Atticus is going to be a big boy. So my biggest concern this week is getting him comfortable with stairs and getting in the car. I was very pleased with our progress! He made it up more stairs than he had yesterday and he tried to initiate going up the stairs several times today. We practiced some on the front porch too. Those are a little easier for him to manage because it's not such a big flight of stairs. And, I might add, he went into the entry way and out the front door with his tail wagging today. The slow, no pressure approach works well for him. Pulling him towards something that he is nervous about could make it worse. But allowing him to approach on his own terms helps him to build up the confidence to get it done.

Most dogs do not really know where their back feet are. So, when Atticus tries to go up the stairs, his front feet will creep up but he forgets to bring his back feet along. I can help him a little by picking up a back foot and setting it on the next step to get him started. I also plan tomorrow to set up some obstacles in the house that he can navigate around and hopefully start to think about those back feet.

We also worked on the car today. All we did was approach it. I didn't open the door or have him get in. We'll save that for another session. I don't want to overwhelm him or feel pressured that he will have to get in the car. But if we approach it several times and he gets a lot of praise and rewards for that, he's going to start to associate the car with more happy things.

And, while we were out, it gave us a great opportunity to practice walking on a loose leash. He did great! I talked to him and praised him when he was in the appropriate position and gave him an occasional treat. He did really well sticking with me even when I made tight turns. Changing direction a lot will help him pay attention to me more while we are walking. In seemed he was getting more accustomed to the traffic as well. That makes me happy! Although he lives in a small town, it's nice to have a dog who is comfortable going into a variety of environments and he's at a good age for socialization.

We are continuing to work on "Stay." We're still working on building up his duration with this exercise. I can reward this with kibble from one of his meals. I reward periodically, just enough to keep him in his down. If he starts to break it, I'll say "ah ah ah" and ask for a down again. I won't reward him right away (I don't want to reward breaking the stay) but I wait a bit and then start rewarding again. When he has a little bit more duration on his stay, I can start to add in distractions or distance. I won't do any of these at the same time, at least not until he's really mastered it. So, if I'm practicing with distance, I won't ask him to hold the stay for a long duration. And, if I'm working on distractions, I won't ask him to do that while I'm far away. At least not in the teaching phase. As he gets older and has a really good understanding of "stay" I can start to mix and match components.

Busy day but we got a lot accomplished. Looking forward to tomorrow.