Saturday, July 26, 2014

Her "Ahah!" Moment

Hermione and I have been working on "hit it" and "touch" for quite some time now. Her "hit it" is her using her paws to touch and "touch" is her using her nose. She seems to prefer using her paws and so I've really tried to reinforce that behaviour. I want to say it's been a month or so, but maybe it hasn't been that long. Then again, maybe it's been longer. either way, it's been a while. Her "hit it" is spot on when I'm training with her, but proofing the cue has been a bit tricky. I could get her to do it as long as I had kibble or a treat in a closed fist pretty much anywhere, but I really want her to learn to use her paws instead of her voice. That was the whole point of me teaching her "hit it" in the first place. Even though I didn't see any improvement in her translating "hit it" to every day things and she was still yelling about things, I have kept at the training at meal times and when I'm dispensing treats.
About a week ago I saw a glimmer of her starting to understand. I was by the back door, letting the dogs out and she came over and whacked me with her paw. Normally I make the dogs sit before going out, but I said "yes" "" enthusiastically and flung the door open. I don't know if going out was what she wanted, but I wanted her to realise that she gets things for using her feet instead of her voice.
Yesterday was probably the biggest "ahah" moment she's had since we've started training the behaviour. I don't even think it's that she's put two and two together, but what I think happened was that she was so frustrated with me ignoring her barking that she hit me with her paw very enthusiastically and repeatedly. She had a stuffed fish toy that she loves. Technically it was otis's for his birthday, but Hermione seemed to enjoy death shaking and chasing it more than he did. I was sitting on the couch doing my best to ignore her insistent yipping; she really, really wanted me to throw it. Her bark is so high pitched it's difficult not to respond which is probably why she learned in the first place to use it. I sat and waited, hoping that she'd just give up. Instead of giving up, she hit me repeatedly on the leg with her paw in quick succession. The fish was within my reach so I nearly shouted "yes" in my excitement and hurled the fish across the room for her to fetch. Her frenzied state to get me to throw the fish must have worn her out because she didn't want me to throw it anymore after that one great toss, but I was so excited that she had used her feet that it didn't matter.
I've always read that re-training a behaviour or even training a new one takes time, patience and consistency. I knew that, logically. But, honestly, it's difficult to understand just  what that entails until you go through it. That said, I think we're making progress so I will blunder on and hope that paw tapping becomes more frequent than voice squawking.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Innovative Dog Mom

If you've read this blog for long enough, and maybe even for not so long, you will know that Her Royal Highness Princess Hermione Sophia is one high energy dog. Sometimes she drives me nuts, but most of the time, I embrace her Crazy with enthusiasm and try to figure out ways to keep her occupied.
Since my aunt's been here from BC, most of my hard work has been non-existent. We've taken the dogs hiking about every second day and it's been great for Hermione. I know that if I could see, and hence could drive, most of Hermione's energy would be better spent, chasing rabbits/squirrels/chipmunks and running as fast as her little legs can carry her. However, since I am blind and can't drive, I have to find other ways.
So, yesterday I decided that I'd find a new way of dispensing her supper.
A few weeks back I started doing a lot of my obedience training with her during her meals. It's something that I've kept up and I think is helping. Most mornings if I don't ask her for a "touch" or a "hit it" she won't eat the food that is in her bowl. That said, I knew that since my aunt is leaving and our hours long hikes are coming to an end, I needed to find a way to get Hermione moving in the house in a positive manner.
I've always liked the idea of food dispensing toys. We used to have Kong Wobblers, but moving from country to country has meant leaving the toys behind. Not to mention, Hermione was afraid of the Kong Wobbler. I didn't have any food dispensing toys on hand so I tried to come up with something I could make myself.
When Hermione was a puppy I used to put part of her breakfast in a paper towel tube. I'm not sure why this particular tube was as sturdy as it was, but it seemed to be industrial strength. She used to push it all over the floor, her puppy kibbles spilling out. She loved it. An empty paper towel tube would be way too easy for her now.
What could I use?
Empty water bottles!
Hermione likes playing with them anyway, so why not turn one into a food dispenser?
I set to work with knife and scissors, cutting small holes out of the sides of the bottle. I made two and found that I had to tape the edges of some of the holes on my first attempt to cover up some sharpish edges. Other than managing to stab myself in the palm when shoving the knife through the first bottle, it turned out pretty good.
At supper time, I took the lids off of the bottles and funnelled Hermione's and Otis's portions into the bottles.
I fed the big dogs from their bowls as I don't want Nala thinking she should forage for food on the floor. I'm not sure using food dispensing toys would create this habit, but I wasn't about to take any chances. I'm sure it depends on the dog.
Lids tightly screwed back on, I set the bottles down on the floor and stepped back to wait. Otis, being the brave guy that he is, investigated the bottles and pushed one over. Hermione stomped her front paws and huffed, circling the still upright second bottle. She did this for some time and so I laid it down for her, thinking that it was too challenging. She still didn't know what to do. I stepped back and waited.
Didn't I want her brain to be challenged?
After about five minutes I could tell she was getting frustrated. She kept coming over to me and stomping her paws or woofing softly. It was time to get out the clicker since my verbal encouragement seemed to be confusing her even more.
I went and sat down on the floor beside the bottle. Hermione sat in front of the bottle, what she is supposed to do before eating out of her bowl. I placed my hand near the bottle and had her do a "touch." She did it and was rewarded with a click. Then, I had her do a "hit it." It was with this "hit it" that I think the lights  started turning on. She moved closer to the bottle and I clicked. The instant I heard her paw hit the bottle I clicked. My clicking frenzy continued throughout the whole thing. Part way through I realised that I could use this to encourage her to play quietly. Every time she engaged with the bottle quietly, which could include soft grumbles, she got a click. If she full out barked at the bottle, no click.
I have to admit that this is not completely flawless as there were a few times where she hit the bottle and I clicked when she used her voice. My timing was off because I heard her paw before her voice.
by the end of her meal, Hermione had figured out how to whack the home made dog food dispensing toy around the whole living room. She even figured out how to get it out of corners.
Although I am going to count this as a success, if I want to have  Hermione and Otis eat from my home made toys again, I am going to have to make new ones. Once dinner had been dispensed, Otis promptly tore one of the bottles in half and Roscoe squashed the second one flat trying to get one last kibble out that the small dogs had left behind. I haven't decided whether I want to risk stabbing myself or not again, but if I don't, I think actual dog food dispensing toys bought from a store may be our next purchase. That said, if you're ever in a pinch, the water bottle toys do work.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Roscoe Learns to Swim

Today was another hiking day. My aunt asked me if I wanted to head out early since it looked as though it may rain. I got the dogs ready and in the process, Mr. K decided to join us. We drove back out to the area where we had walked for 2 hours, but took a different trail.
This one was one that I was actually familiar with as it was the trail that I had done my time trials on during the winter months. Skiing it and walking it are two different things. Not to mention, I think we took a different route since we drove down the large incline that I normally would have skied down.
Our hike started with us walking down a path and then on to a boardwalk/bridge thingy that is in need of repair. Some of the boards were loose and others were missing. There was a small waterfall rushing down on the right side. Hermione was convinced it wasn't safe and so we had to carry her across. Otis was okay with going it on is own, but he remained on leash and we had to lift him over certain spots where the boards were missing. Nala and Roscoe had no problems ploughing ahead.
After our encounter with the questionable bridge thingy we came face to face with a hillside. There was nowhere to go but up. So we went up. This sort of climbing was similar to that of the hike we had done on Monday. We found footholds for our feet in the big rocks and from time to time grabbed on to a tree to help pull ourselves up. There were also a few places where I had to dropped into a crouch position in order to lower my centre of gravity and kind of scuttle up the hill.
Again, Hermione did not think this was safe and squawked at me all the way to the top. She took it upon herself to rush ahead and yell at me from above. She would sometimes lay a paw on my shoulder if I was crouched down or poke my leg with her nose to make sure I realised that she was highly unimpressed. Otis just plunged ahead like the little mac truck/mountain goat that he is.
After that first climb though, the terrain levelled off and although there were climbs and descents, we could stay standing upright the whole time. Rock clutching and tree grabbing were no longer necessary. Hermione stopped yelling.
There were a few opportunities to practice recall. Two cyclists past us and I whistled the dogs back. Everyone came and stayed out of the cyclists' way. The man even commented on how beautiful the dogs were and how well behaved.
That was nice to hear.
A little while later another cyclist appeared and the whistle was used again. The three dogs off leash came bounding back and stayed out of his way as well.
Eventually, our twisting and turning brought us back out of the forest and to the edge of a man made lake. We were all fighting off mosquitoes and horse flies, but the dogs were hot and we thought we'd stop to let them cool off.
Nala, Roscoe and Hermione went splashing about, soaking themselves up to their bellies. Otis was brought over to the water's edge on leash, but when it appeared that all he wanted to do was drink the entire lake, he was removed.
My aunt asked me if Roscoe knew how to fetch and I said no. She then asked if he could swim and I said, "sort of."
Mr. K and I had tried to teach him a few summers ago, but he really didn't get it. There was much paw whacking the water and not enough of paddling under the water. We found a stick and she chucked it way out into the lake. Roscoe and Nala leapt into the water, but then put the brakes on when the bottom started to drop out. The stick floated away.
Roscoe whined in protest.
Another smaller stick was found and thrown within bottom touching distance. They chased it, but then it began floating away as well. Roscoe whined desperately. I nearly died laughing.
Was it a fluke or was he genuinely upset that he couldn't get the stick?
More sticks found and thrown with the same results.
Stick thrown.
Roscoe chases.
Stick gets away.
Roscoe yells about it.
Eventually, we managed to coax him to go get the stick and he became braver. It got to the point where he'd actually chase the stick and swim out to it. He'd usually drop it on the edge of the lake instead of bringing it to you, but baby steps right?
The fact that he figured out to put his paws under the water was a miracle.
He tired of the game much more quickly than dogs who learn how to fetch as puppies. He'd let us know by wandering away once he had dropped the stick on the ground. However, I'm just so excited that he learned how to swim. That means, that if it ever gets warm enough for us to go to the beach this summer, Roscoe can come swimming with me.
After our swimming lesson, we leashed them back up and headed for the SUV. Wet was fine, but we didn't want wet and sandy and there was plenty of sand for them to roll in on the way to the vehicle. We had to cross another bridge thingy that Hermione was none too happy about. She even waded out as far as she could instead of taking the bridge. Mr. K managed to convince her to cross the bridge with us and we were all back at the SUV in one piece.
"Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?" I asked as Roscoe leapt into the back of the SUV. At 7 years old, Roscoe is the "old man" of our group. It just goes to show you that there's something to be said for a dog's natural instincts and abilities.
It was a great hike, aside from the bugs. And even though all of the dogs, except Otis, are still a bit damp, they are happy and damp...and sleepy!
and, we all know that a tired dog, whether it is damp or not, is a good dog.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


The last few days have been quite busy. My aunt is visiting from British Columbia, a western province of Canada, and we've spent plenty of time in the great outdoors. Since her arrival last Wednesday night, we've been out hiking almost every day. Thankfully my aunt is a dog fan because that means that my whole furry family, minus Rufio the cat, have been getting a lot of exercise. We even had Kayla join us (on a long lunge line) yesterday as well. It was a full vehicle with two people and five dogs.
Yesterday was our longest hike yet. I wouldn't say it was the most challenging in regards to terrain, but we were out for just over two hours; partially due to the fact that we got sort of lost.
None of the trails are marked and it was impossible to know where you were. I'm not sure what people did before cell phone GPS.
We started by loading everyone into my mom's SUV which took some time because everyone was excited. I try to wait until the dogs have themselves under control before letting them into vehicles or else they will be crazy for the whole trip. Expecting self control in exciting situations and achieving it is one way to manage a multi-dog household. I wouldn't say we were perfect, but it was pretty good. It will be something we continue to work on.
Once we reached our destination the same expectation of self control was present. It was even harder for everyone since they could see the trail head from where we were, but with only two of us handling five dogs, there was no way we were proceeding until everyone was relatively calm. Eventually, the dogs figured out we weren't going anywhere until they heeled and we were able to move on. We had to cross a road to reach the trail, another reason for needing calm and controlled dogs, and everyone was asked to sit. A few thought about it, but again, eventually five butts were down all at once and we were able to cross safely. We walked a few minutes down the trail and once the road was out of sight we asked for another sit/stay and three out of the five dogs were released. Nala, Hermione and Roscoe all took off like shots, but never went very far ahead. Roscoe, despite being the oldest, was always out in front showing us the way.
Our hike was incredibly pleasant. It was actually quite cool considering it's July and, most excitingly, there weren't any mosquitoes. Our previous hike which took us up the side of the Canadian shield, had us eaten alive by the annoying critters. The cooler temperatures and the light breeze kept the monsters at bay.
We took various trails, twisting and turning. There were some spots where we had to climb down hills sideways because they were a bit steep. There were a few uphills that we climbed that were quite long and you could really feel your heart pumping by the time you reached the top. None of the inclines were as treacherous as our Monday hike though.
Our twisting and turning eventually landed us in a field with a "private property" sign and "keep out." We found our way back on to the trail and attempted to find our way back to the vehicle. We found a small swimming hole for the dogs to cool off in and let them splash about while we checked my aunt's phone's GPS. It appeared that we were heading back in the right direction.
After a few more steady uphill climbs, a couple more narrow trails and roots and rocks, we made our way back on to the main trail. In the whole two hours that we were out we only ran into one other person walking a Husky puppy. And, we didn't run into him until we were on the trail back out. By this time, the mosquitoes were starting to come out, we were both sweating and the dogs' tongues were lolling. There wasn't much difficulty getting everyone's leashes back on and the sit/stays came much faster and easier when crossing back over the road.
By this point I was following Nala and Roscoe down a dirt path back to the SUV which did not have any hills/roots and/or giant boulders, but it was here that I managed to roll my ankle on, what I am sure, was only a small rock. It may even have been a biggish pebble.
"Really?" I said to my aunt. "We climb a stinking mountain two days ago, hike for two hours in the forest and just before we get back to the vehicle I slide on a pebble."
We laughed and thought nothing of it...that was until a few hours later when my ankle swelled and I could hardly move it. I was shocked. It hadn't seemed that bad, but it was so painful that I was struggling to walk.
Mr. K and I were scheduled to go out and pick up a few groceries and although I felt like my foot was exploding I made myself go. I needed the foot to move. That said, I now see why people don't want to walk on an injured foot even though, in most cases, they should. I'm glad I did though as the swelling went down quite a bit and it's only stiff this morning instead of painfully sore. The Ibuprofin I took as well as elevating it all night may have helped too.
I think I'll be taking the day off from hiking though which makes me sad because it's a gorgeous day. It's better to take one day of and rest properly than push through an injury and risk making it worse. Quite often that leads to having to take way more time off. So, if I do end up going out for a walk, it will be on flat, paved ground and it won't be walking more than one big dog at a time.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

A Lot to Celebrate

Between a certain French Piggie's birthday and a guide dog anniversary, my days have been filled with puppy fun.
On Thursday July 03 2002 I was matched with my very first guide dog from Leader Dogs for the Blind. That little crazy Black Lab and I had a lot of adventures over the years, many of which I have written about here, and I was lucky enough to celebrate 12 years with her on Thursday. She was supposed to join us on our hike, but her leash had been forgotten in my Dad's truck which was out of town at a camping spot. So unfortunately, Jetta had to stay home. However, 12 years with one dog cannot be ignored, especially when that dog dedicated six years of her life ensuring your safety and embracing every nutso thing you asked her to do.
Next up was Otis's 2nd birthday. I can't believe the little dude is already 2. We celebrated in the morning by all of the dogs getting home made doggie ice cream. Otis got a Hear Doggie whale toy. The toys squeak, but the squeaker's set to a sound only the dogs can hear. I thought they were a hoax the first time i brought one home, but judging by the way my dogs reacted to the silent squeaker, I don't think they are anymore. Otis loved the first one so much that we got him a second one. His Grandma also bought him a team England mini soccer ball that he now hits around the floor with his front paw.
In the evening, we attempted a hike, but only lasted 30 minutes as the mosquitoes were feasting on humans and dogs alike. I had used a home remedy for repelling the pests from the dogs and it seemed to work for the most part.
Otis's birthday was finished off with my mom, aunt, me and the dogs watching the 4th of July fireworks. I thought Hermione would have a fit, but she loved them. She was more excited by the crowds of people than anything. Otis was slightly concerned and Nala and Roscoe could have cared less. We did have an exit strategy in place just in case the dogs were stressed, but we were able to sit and watch the whole display.
I'm also celebrating Hermione's paw targeting success. It's only been a few days since we started and it's to the point where I can name the cue. I called it "hit it." She even performed it last night at someone else's house. I still have to have a food reward in my hand most of the time, but we're getting there.
So, happy 12 years, Jetta!
Happy 2nd birthday Sir French Pig!
And, congratulations Her Royal Highness, Princess Hermione Sophia on a job well done. :)