Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"We must shatter the mirrors.
We must look in to ourselves and root out the distortions

until that thing which we know in our hearts
is perfect and true,
stands before us."

- Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain

One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books, I thought it went nicely with the picture.

Not only is it meaningful to me and my life, but it also applies to my relationship with Trent in everything we do - our ability to see past the faults and frustrations we face on the surface and instead cherish and love what is inside. Neither of us are completely perfect in every single manner, but this dog is true and perfect for me.

Here's to being thankful for our dogs! It may not be Thanksgiving yet, but I don't need a holiday to feel grateful for Trent

Monday, October 11, 2010

It's Been A While

Regrettably, I have not been keeping up with blogging and ended up neglecting it for the past 8+ months! It's been a busy year for me, but hopefully I will do a better job this time of keeping things up to date.

We did enjoy our summer, and spent most of the time driving the 4-5 hour commute to the beach in Lincoln City, Oregon. It's the best place to take a dog on a hot summer day, but we love it regardless of the weather or time of day. Trent, who at 5 months old would have nothing to do with the ocean, has proven himself to be quite the water dog now. He loves tackling the waves and dunking his head into the ocean, fishing for rocks.

As far as training goes, last time I posted, Trent was 11 months and an unruly adolescent. Now he's 19 months and still an unruly adolescent! But we've definitely improved since and will continue to do so.


- Recall is significantly better! He will no longer tear after dogs when he is off leash, and during one incident where he spotted a cat not too far away (and we all know that Cats Must Be Chased No Matter the Circumstances), I was actually able to call him back to me. He's also allowed to run off leash and once even went "naked" at the beach.

- Cat chasing. He's never been allowed to chase our cat at home, but once outside it's a different story. He has a very low threshold when it comes to cats and his prey drive, and while he can ignore squirrels, small dogs, etc. he cannot pass up a cat dashing across the street. And in a neighborhood where people let their cats have the run of the streets, it can be a safety hazard for Trent, me, and the cats in question. Now, when he sees a cat nearby, Trent's first reaction is usually to turn back and look at me, though sometimes he needs a gentle reminder. But most importantly, he no longer lunges after them like a 90 lb bullet.

- Barking. Trent's no less vocal than before, but now he knows to stop when I say so. He is allowed to bark at people coming to the house, but when I say "enough", he understands it means enough.

Sorely Needs Improvement:

- Reactivity. In some aspects, it's toned down, but in others, it's sky rocketed. He does not bark at dogs walking across the street, and is good at shifting his focus back to me or the task at hand. However, as a young male with a pushy and highly confidant personality, and a general "I'm King of the Hill" attitude, Trent's having problems with other male dogs. He has become exceptionally pushy and snarky with males his size and larger, and any reactive dog that barks or growls at him, he will respond to in kind. He won't go looking for trouble, but he does not want male dogs in his face.

We've mostly decided that the best course of action is to avoid allowing situations to occur where Trent would react negatively. It's doubtful and unreasonable to assume that we'll come to a point where Trent will enjoy to company of reactive dogs or large dogs standing over him or in his face. Instead, we will work to make him understand that in those situations, he is to focus back on me, or whoever is handling him, and walk away instead.

That being said, I would still hesitate to classify this as male on male aggression. Trent is not aggressive towards all males - three of his best canine friends are all males his size, and one of them was intact until recently. He has always been pushy in his play, but has never given me any cause, through his body language and behavior, to believe that there is a problem. He'll share the water bowl, the attention of the humans, and if he's feeling incredibly generous, maybe even that old tuft of dead grass he found laying around! And if I ever feel he's getting too rough on another dog, Trent's out of the game quicker than anything and asked to do a down, stay by my side.

Overall, he's a wonderful dog. As he's growing and maturing, I am seeing the dog he will grow up to become, and hope I can guide him to his potential. He is sweet, loving, and now that he is older, a solid and stable dog with strong nerves and the companion every person should have.

A demonstration of his down, stay.

Can you spot the dog?

Right here! (No idea what the black figure behind him is, it's not another dog, though)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I've a Teenager on My Hands

My 15 lb fuzzy butt baby has officially grown into an 85+ lb mini-tank. He turned 11 months old on the 20th, and I am still having trouble believing that in a few weeks, he'll be a full year old.

Without a doubt, Trent has given me the best year of my life, and everything I've wanted. Loving, intelligent, eager to please, fearless, and loyal. But right now, he's also going full blown teenager on me, which means there are a few attributes we can do without! Yes, the dreaded teen years are here, and hopefully with a fridge full of treats, a new 30 foot leash, a lot of determination and patience, and not to mention a sense of humor, we'll get through this.

"That bad?", you may ask. Not really. I'm exaggerating, but imagine a first time dog owner working with a 85+ lb, overexuberant, very excitable, very energetic, pushy working line teenager puppy. Don't get me wrong - he's nowhere as bad as he was when he was a pup, but since he was easier to handle at 2 months old and since I'm so used to my perfect angel of a dog, it's not going to be easy.

Now that that's established, I'll go ahead and admit I'm a bit excited. Maybe I've gone off the deep end, but I using this as a huge learning opportunity, a way to utilize all the patience and hard work I've learned from dog ownership. Instead of throwing my hands up and saying "forget it, I can't do this", I'm squeezing extra training sessions between studying for finals and working and volunteering. I have robbed the library of most of their dog training and behavior books, and hog them at the book store as well.

Lucky for me Trent is still so positively eager and even more excited to be working with me than I am to be working with him. When we are indoors and practice our heeling, you can see in his eyes, "oh Mommy, Mommy, am I doing this right? Like this? Oh! Change in pace! Oh boy! Oh boy!" When I ask him to "sit", *BAM!* butt on the floor before I finish the command. Even when I don't have a treat in hand or in my pocket, his willingness to learn and please shines through at the worst of times.

I've really come to appreciate this, and hope that by the summer, he'll be ready for his Advanced Obedience class. His trainer has already asked me if we'll be attending, but after a lot of consideration, I've decided he is not ready for the level of concentration and obedience around so many other dogs, especially since they will all be off leash. After all, there is nothing higher on his list of priorities than other dogs.

Wish us luck!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

First Snow!

Two days ago Trent got to experience his very first snow. News channels described it as a "sneaker snow storm" - no one had been expecting it at all, and I'm glad my puppy got to experience the good ol' white stuff.

He just couldn't get enough of it. I don't think he noticed it when it first came down. We were going on our afternoon walk when the snow started coming down fast, and Trent just shrugged it off. When we let him out in the backyard, however, and there was a good layer of snow on the ground, Trent went, to say the least, crazy. He zoomed and zipped around and flung himself onto the snow like you wouldn't believe. He jumped up and down and all over the place and was full of absolutely contagious excitement. I had fun running and chasing him and chucking snowballs his way (snowballs, which, he ate quite eagerly).

I also took the chance to grab my camera. Though I didn't get any videos (I blame the memory card), I was able to wrap my camera up in a Ziploc bag and get a few good pictures. He moved so fast, even though my camera was on hi-speed burst mode, more than 2/3 of the 200-300 pictures were blurs. Luckily, the other 1/3 came out well and I even got a few good action shots.

There was still some snow the next morning, and Trent had fun catching more snowballs and inhaling the snow, and even got to play with a couple of his doggy friends who live in the neighborhood. Together, they just had a blast, and it was only when my feet were almost frozen off that I had to drag both of us inside. The snow's pretty much all gone, now, but I'm going to keep my fingers crossed for a bit more of it either in January or February. With the crazy Oregon weather, you just never know!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Improving Trent's Recall - Part 1

Trent turned 10 months old on the 20th of December, and while he is excelling at many basic commands and general behavior and manners, his recall now leaves something to be desired. This is partly my fault, as I have not worked on his recall as much as I should have. The longest leash we have is a standard 6 ft. leash, and while he always comes when called inside the house, it's outside with distractions where we're struggling. This also may be due to the fact that he's becoming a bit of a teenager himself, and starting to get his own ideas. Luckily, it's only the recall that's deteriorating, and while he quickly and eagerly obeys all other commands, I'm still going to have to squeeze in more training sessions and being firmer with reinforcing commands. Good thing he's so eager to learn and please (or is it eager to receive his treats?).

Several knowledgeable dog owners have given me a great deal of excellent advice regarding strengthening his recall, and I'm hoping to put it to use while I'm on my 2 week holiday break.

First, I headed online to purchase a 30 ft. lead, which will be used to give Trent running space outside on the fields, and still allow me to reinforce the command I give, if he doesn't come when called.

I also did some digging through the freezer and found a package of meatballs which I'll be using as Trent's "extra special recall reward". He seems to love the taste and the smell of the meatballs, and hopefully if I only give them to him as a reward for coming to me, it'll up their value as training treats.

My next step was to choose a new word to replace the command I once used, "come", as it was suggested to me that I have "burned" the word - meaning essentially that now the word "come" means to Trent "run away from Mommy!" or "time to play hard to get!". I've decided to start teaching "hier" (a German command) as the new word for coming up and sitting down in front of me.

I'll start by practicing in the house and our backyard, which shouldn't be a problem, and then with our 6 ft. leash. With the 6 ft. leash, Trent won't have much freedom or running room, so I'll be backing up quickly and as he starts running towards me, I'll give the command "hier" and reward him when I've halted and he's sitting in front of me. We'll try doing this in more and more distracting environments, and perhaps even eventually take him to practice outside the dog park. Once the 30 ft. leash I'll be ordering arrives, we'll start using it out on the empty soccer fields where Trent likes to run and play ball.

Should be a fun thing to do for the Holidays!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Doing Good :)

Well, I did finally get around to posting after a couple weeks of lazing around. I know, I know, I should be the poster person for the forgetful. But hey, better late than never, right?

The biggest event in the past few weeks is Trent's graduation from his Novice Obedience class last Thursday :) He did well, and the training instructor commented on his nice "down", long stays, "finish/heel", and off leash heeling. His "stand, stay" was also excellent. He was more focused than I expected, and I was really pleased with his off leash heeling, especially with other dogs and people around. He did sniff the ground a bit, but we're definitely getting here... at least he didn't run off!

Obedience school is closed for the holiday season, but once the weather's better, we plan to start an Advanced Obedience + Agility class, and before that, have Trent evaluated for a CGC. We spoke to his training instructor, who's also a CGC evaluator, about it and she told us to go for it. I have to admit, I'm worried that Trent and I aren't going to pass the first time, because of how excitable he is, but the trainer apparently thinks it'll be a breeze for Trent, so let's hope I don't mess things up!

We did some extra work with heeling and paying attention around other dogs tonight. One of our neighbors were walking their dog, and Trent all but hauled me over to say "hi". Luckily, the dog was one of those calm, placid dogs (who, actually, didn't care for other dogs in general), and we tried heeling next to them. I probably looked a bit silly, talking in my "happy voice" and getting Trent to focus his attention on me rather than the dog, but a few minutes later we were doing great. He was heeling along, almost completely ignoring the dog next to us, and didn't pull once. I think we're getting better at this.

- long stand, stay
- more working under distractions
- continue with our training so he doesn't forget everything this winter
- lots more off leash heeling
- practice out of sight extended stays

I also ought to buy Trent a "big boy" collar soon. My 80 lb puppy is outgrowing his nylon one!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Obedience Classes

Every Thursday we take Trent to Salem (1 1/4 - 1 1/2 hour drive depending on traffic) for obedience classes with his breeder (breeder's daughter, more specifically). We graduated from puppy classes there and yesterday was our 7th week of novice obedience class.

On a scale of 1-10, I'd say Trent and I were at an 8 or 8.5. We could have done better, and I was lucky that Trent made up for my faults by being such a quick learner.

At the beginning of class, he got to say "hi" to two gorgeous black sable German shepherds in the class, and I think he had it quite bad for one of them. He also sniffed noses with his littermates Ulla and Sally.

During class, we practiced "heel" with the leashes looped around our shoulders - which means no touching the leash in preparation for off leash heels. Trent did excellent, whether we were doing about turns, changing paces, walking in tight circles, or walking across the room through a huge crowd of other people and their dogs. He sat down and stayed the moment he was told to, despite being a few inches away from two or three other dogs. At one point, he did try to go over to the rest of the human family, who were sitting off to the side watching, but I got his attention back quickly. His automatic sits are near perfect, and without any tension on the leash, too.

His "down" from six feet away is perfect, and in class we learned a sit from a down when I am 6 feet away. It took one or two times, but he caught on quickly, though once he did a "crooked/lazy" sit and I had to start over and ask him again. His "finish/heel" is getting much better (going from a sitting position in front of me to a sitting position to my left in a starting heel position on command). I stopped using the food lures and just slightly guided him with the leash, and he did great.

We then learned the "stand, stay", which is something that would be really helpful when I'm giving him a bath/trying to dry him or when I'm trying to get him into a stack. I was surprised by how well he did - only tried to sink back into a "sit" once, but when I put him back into a "stand", and told him to "stay", he kept that position and enjoyed the treats and praise I gave him. Only a few moments into learning the command, he did a 30-45 second "stand, stay" without any treats.

But, it was his "stay" that made me the most proud. We put the dogs in a circle around the room and put them in a "sit, stay", walked two circles around the room, past them once and ignoring them, and then did the same with a "down, stay", and Trent didn't budge. He is very used to following after me and is a bit of a velcro dog, so I was sure this would be especially hard for him. Out of sight stays are one thing, but seeing me walk by other dogs and completely ignoring him is another. His 5-10 minute "sit, stay" and "down, stay" with many distractions such as food bowls, squeaky toys, and people is amazing. He really understands the concept of "stay" as well as the fact that "sit" means "sit", not "go down anytime you feel like it, and maybe scratch your ear while you're at it". Granted, Trent did get up when the dog next to him broke his stay and went over to sniff him, but I really couldn't blame Trent for that. His self control hasn't gotten that far yet - but we're working on it!

I made sure to give him a big, meaty bone as a reward :)

Goals for the Week
- 2-3 minute "stand, stay"
- improve on "finish/heel"
- 10 minute in and out of sight "down, stay" and "sit, stay" + many distractions
- "sit" from "down" 6 feet away
- "down" at increasing distances
- continue heeling with more changes of pace and tight circles
- continue off leash heeling
- continue to work on recall
- continue to work on impulse control