Enjoying the Sunshine

Our dog Kira’s health has been very poor lately and yesterday we had a heartbreaking appointment with an internal medicine specialist. We were told that Kira’s gall bladder has likely ruptured and the only hope would be surgery that would be excruciatingly painful and would only give her a 5-10% chance of recovery. She is weak from previous illnesses and not a good candidate for surgery. Last night with broken hearts we prepared to say goodbye to Kira this evening.

Kira has always been a challenging dog, from the moment we took her home and she paced around our TV room continuously for hours. We had dogs when we got her but I was not yet a trainer and her behavior was far from what we were used to. At 7 months old, when she came home with us, she thought it was okay to use the bathroom in the house and jumped over any gate we put up as if it were a fun obstacle. She was indifferent to us and would stand and stare at us while we called and tried to entice her to come over. She lunged and barked aggressively at other dogs – anything that wasn’t another German Shepherd – and horrified us and our neighbors.

She taught me to look beyond her scary display of aggression and see the fear underneath. She taught me to find new ways to help her when nothing I knew was working. I learned the value of working to form a relationship with a dog that was indifferent.

Finding ways to help Kira led me to meet some of the best people in my life. Through classes and training and becoming a trainer I have formed friendships with amazing people and I feel so lucky that Kira led me to them. My desire to find a way to work with her without force pushed me to learn more, read more, train more. It made me want to share what I learned.

I am so grateful for this crazy, strong, willful girl. It has not been an easy ride. But it has been worth every second.

This morning, after a tearful evening, Kira surprised us with her bright eyes, desire to enjoy the sunshine and trying to steal Roka’s ball. We will give her her wings when she is ready. But we are on her time and we are taking it one small step at a time.

Please think of Kira today and if you can, enjoy some sunshine with your dogs.

Kira this morning, deciding this is a day to enjoy
Kira and Patrick walking

Kira and Roka 20160324

It All Adds Up

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about adduction and Clover and I have been playing around with it.

So what is adduction?

One of the dictionary definitions for adduct lists it as a chemical term: A chemical compound that forms from the addition of two or more substances.

So how does adduction relate to dog training?

The fabulous Ken Ramirez gave a great talk on Adduction at Clicker Expo. I was lucky enough to be able to attend it in person a few years ago. According to Ken’s talk, adduction is the art of combining cues — a type of compound cue. Adduction combines tricks and skills that don’t usually go together to create new behaviors.

When you ask your dog to lie down and he does but keeps barking, he’s performed his own version of adduction. He’s created a new behavior, barking while lying down. You just didn’t cue the barking, that was his own idea!

The trick where a dog rolls herself up in a blanket is adduction. The dog needs to be able to hold the blanket and roll at the same time.

What skills are really strong for your dog? Can they be combined to create any new and fun behaviors?

Adduction is a new challenge for Clover and I and a fun way to be creative with our training.

We previously worked on burrito – Clover rolling herself up in a blanket (https://youtu.be/hXyN2ihDtmI) and currently we are working on spin and hold and back up and hold. Down and back went better than I expected. She’s scooting backwards from a down when I cue her to down and then give her a hand signal to back up.

Here are a few examples of our experiments with adduction:

*Ken Ramirez’s talk is available for purchase at http://www.video.clickertraining.com/CFVEX13KR01

My Funny Valentine

Clover and I have struggled in the past to work together in public. She’s mostly blind and has a very difficult time focusing in new environments. She’s brilliant at home but she’s even had trouble focusing in my driveway with my husband moving around to video us. These challenges have caused me angst over the years but this Valentine’s Day weekend was so very sweet. My husband generously stayed home with our other 3 dogs so I could visit my nieces in Pennsylvania to celebrate their birthdays. As a traveling companion, Clover is the best. She doesn’t like the car, probably because she experiences vertigo, but she will tolerate it. And when we arrived at our destination she was absolutely perfect, lying next to me on the couch while we watched TV and snuggling with me at night. Clover adores my 8 and 12 year old nieces and the girls love her back.

I like to think that Clover is influencing how my nieces feel about dogs and how they feel about disabilities too. Clover doesn’t let anything stop her and the girls often help to train her. They are learning to plan training sessions and how to tell when she needs a break. Most importantly, my nieces are learning Clover’s lack of vision is something we need to adjust for but doesn’t prevent us from training complicated behaviors. Sunday morning, my youngest niece and I worked on shaping Clover to put her paws in my sneakers and we talked about how we are teaching small steps to build toward the goal behavior of Clover walking in my shoes.

Having this time with Clover and my nieces was such a special gift. Life has been a bit crazy since we got our puppy Gambit and Kira lost her mobility in early December. It was so nice to have this time to reconnect with Clover and be reminded of how lucky I am; it was good to slow down and just hang out.

I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine’s Day weekend! Please give your pups a smooch from Clover and me!
Clover 20160214_084237-1

Stir Crazy?

Roka at gate in snow 20160124

My dogs all like the snow but I have to be creative to keep them from getting too stir crazy.  They are used to spending a good deal of time playing outside and going for walks.  The massive amount of snow we got recently has changed our normal routine.  Outside time is shorter and they don’t have as much space to run around.

We’ve been spending more time playing in the basement. Gambit is working on discriminating between tunnel and mat and playing lots of tug and some fetch.  Roka and Clover are playing some ball and working on some conditioning.  They are all eating out of food dispensing toys and running around in the snow, as much as possible.  Kira is working on walking! And today Gambit and I worked on some crate games. He is learning to put his chin down in his crate.
Dog with chin down in crate

To provide your dog with some additional activity, you can creatively use some household items.  Empty boxes are great for nose games where your dog hunts for food in boxes and good for playing 101 things to do with a box (http://www.clickertraining.com/node/167), including teaching get in the box.  Boxes can also be used for cavaletti where your dog steps through multiple low boxes to work on confidence and body awareness.  Large cardboard boxes can also be used to create tunnels for a home made agility course.

The muffin tin game is also a favorite where you can use a muffin tin, some kibble or treats and your dog’s toys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WtNmr1oShw

If your dog likes the snow and to use his nose, you can find or make a place in the yard where the snow is low, scatter some of his kibble and let him hunt around for it. (This may not be appropriate in a multiple dog home if any of the dogs are resource guarders.)

And there are always tricks to teach!  Some favorites include figure 8s, heeling, play dead/take a nap, roll over, back up and spin.

Here are a few how-to videos from my Certified Trick Dog Instructor Application.  The figure 8 one is good for a laugh – Clover has quite a sense of humor 🙂

And make sure to do something nice for yourself!  Entertaining your dog for multiple days after a snowstorm can be quite a project!

Dog head down in snow

We Have A Sit!

This morning was a very exciting morning at our house. Our 11.5 year old German Shepherd, Kira, became mysteriously paralyzed in all of her limbs in early December and this morning she was able to push herself up into a sit. This is huge progress from 5 weeks ago when she was not able to hold her head up unless we propped her up with several rolled up towels. We are making small steps toward our big goal of her walking again on her own.

Kira’s small step toward walking again made me think about the steps Gambit and I are taking with the car. Dog training, like a lot of things, is all about small steps. And it is so important to stop and celebrate along the way to the big goal.

Gambit has severe anxiety about the car. He’s thrown up multiple times and even with medication he has severe diarrhea after car rides. He doesn’t want to go anywhere near the car. I am trying to remember to take small steps with him and today we worked on just hanging out by the car and putting his front paws up for a few licks of peanut butter out of his Kong. And then we celebrated. Being willing to get in the car on his own is the goal. Our small step today was about first being able to be comfortable near the car. Like everyone else I would love to just pick him up and put him in the car and go. But if I bypass the little steps I may never reach my bigger goal.

I really didn’t want to be outside on this super cold morning working on this, but I promised myself a hot chocolate as soon as we went inside. So while I drank my hot chocolate, Gambit finished the rest of his Kong inside and I watched Kira resting in the other room. And I feel good. Small steps towards our goals.

Hello 2016!

I’m excited personally and professionally to usher in 2016!

Our 2015 has been mixed with sadness and blessings. We have much to be grateful for but we lost our sweet Kaylee in August after a long journey with degenerative myelopathy and our crazy Kira girl became mysteriously paralyzed in all limbs at the beginning of December. As we approach 2016 Kira is being to try to get up and we are hopeful she will walk again. In October, we had the good fortune to bring home our funny, mischievous, super smart and super agile Australian Shepherd puppy, Gambit. He is now 5 months old and brings us much joy. He is growing into a wonderful companion and training partner. And he’s a great reminder of what it’s like for my clients having a puppy to chase after!

I have a new web site in the works, which is always exciting! And I am beginning to specialize in tricks, exercise and conditioning for dog sports. I am very excited about this new path.

The Mica Dog Sports Club will enter its fourth year in 2016! I continue to enjoy teaching this class and I am happy to have had a few of my students for all 4 years! I will be coming up with new class ideas and look forward to trying them out. In 2015, we had a wide variety of classes including Tricks with Props, Platforms, Tricks and Exercises for Balance, Coordination and Strength, Nose Games, Agility Skills, Remote Reward, Rally Obedience, Focus Games, Recalls, Downs and Stays and Games.

Clover completed her Advanced Trick Dog Title in July and received her Canine Good Citizen certificate in September. Not bad for a mostly blind dog!

Gambit is learning several tricks and working on body awareness, toy play and basic obedience.

Roka’s been working on conditioning exercises and learning to love interacting with different fitness equipment. It is very exciting to see our very timid boy getting on equipment as soon as it is put down.

Kira is currently focusing on walking again and we are supporting her with rehabilitation exercises, mental stimulation and time in her cart.
In 2016, Clover will be pursuing her Cyber Rally and Expert Trick Dog Titles and possible an Urban Canine Good Citizen Certificate.
Gambit will begin agility classes and pursue Trick Dog Titles.

Roka will continue his conditioning and hopefully pursue a trick dog title.

I will be attending Clicker Expo, a Ken Ramirez seminar and continue online obedience training classes with the top instructors in the country. Additionally, I will continue with several Canine Fitness courses.

And I will continue to make sure my dogs get out for play and long walks with their dog friends.
What are your New Year’s resolutions for your dogs?

I have found that saying I will do something for 3 minutes often leads to much longer and is a great starting place. Fetch for 3 minutes is time well spent and 3 minutes of cavalettis go a long way.

Whatever you do, I hope you take some time to do something nice for yourself and also tell your dogs how important they are. Kira has reminded us that you never know what will happen and it’s important to find those 3 minutes at a time to go outside or snuggle on the couch.
Wishing you all a happy, healthy and fun New Year!
Happy Training!