Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Camp Part 2

extreme close up Following up on my first post about DSA Camp a couple weeks ago . . .

As I mentioned, one of the special features of camp is the opportunity to train the dogs to do new things, and to earn cute little merit badges in the process.  As this was Cadence’s first year, he first had to pass the Scout test.  He waited until about the last possible minute to decide to demonstrate his knowledge of “heel”, so he was making me really sweat it out all week, but ultimately the hamster stayed on the wheel long enough for him to walk a simple heeling sequence in front of an evaluator.  Clearly he needs work on this though.  At least he is pretty decent at loose-leash walking.

He also earned the first agility badge, the backpacking badge, and the “Art of Shaping” badge.  For the shaping badge, we shape the dogs to wear a painting “mitt” on their paw and to “paint” by making repeated paw swipes on a canvas.  I love operant conditioning, so this badge is always fun right up until the time that you get the actual paint out.  After that, everything inevitably goes to hell and you end up with a dog that wants to eat the paint, watch everyone else, and swipe at everything BUT the canvas with their paint-soaked paw.  I  made it out without too many colors on my clothes this year at least.



Having a first-year dog at camp is quite time consuming, so we were proud that we were still able to earn badges with all four of the other dogs.  Maebe got her Agility II badge, and smoked the tunnelers fun course with a winning time of 13 seconds.  (Jade was in second place behind her with a time of 20 seconds – not bad for an almost 11-year old!)  Lowell and Jade earned the Rally Obedience badge together, which was very cool.  Jade is pure prey drive, and he usually excels at badges involving water (dock diving, water racing, etc.) or some variation on chasing a bag on a string (lure coursing, steeplechase).  But he is a good heeler, and I was pleased that he learned some new things this year.


Tristan and Django earned their IMPROV Obedience badges.  IMPROV is a new variation on obedience (DSA will soon be holding sanctioned events – stay tuned), that involves creativity, distance work, and lateral thinking.  You need to perform a series of exercises that, while they follow some general formats (fetching odd objects, working away from the handler, coming into contact with new things, etc.), are always different depending on what the judge decides to come up with that day.  Having general obedience skills (and ideally a few tricks) is very helpful, but often you need to think creatively to figure out how to use your dog’s known behaviors to accomplish a task together.

Lowell and Tristan and Django and I had a blast with it.  It really was an exercise where you got to see the dogs think and problem-solve, and you got to see what you can do as a team together.  It was also amusing to watch dog trainers who know better resort to typical verbal primate behavior and, when all else failed, try to explain to the dog in common English what was required of them.  I’m sure none of us have actually trained the cue “Pick up the hairbrush and go set it in that mail box 10 feet away” but it didn’t stop us from trying when nothing else was working. 

Oh, and not only did he earn the badge, but Django won third place in the mini IMPROV match!


At the end of the week, it was fun to reflect on our relationships and journeys with the five dogs.  I enjoyed the opportunity to work so intensely with Cadence for a full week, and he did great.  At the same time, while I love starting out with a new dog and the fun learning process that it is, there is always the challenge of working through adolescent distractibility.  There were times that I felt impatient to get to the place where Noodle didn’t need reminders every ten seconds that, hey, we are doing something TOGETHER here.  What helped me through that though was the time spent with Django, especially at IMPROV.  Django and I have a relationship now where I believe he would try to do anything I ever asked of him.  One night while working IMPROV, we had been going a long time and were about to do the final exercise of the night.  It was the evening of an activity-filled day, and Django had to be roused from a power nap at my feet when it was our turn.  He walked to the start line with me still a bit groggy, and I know he probably would have been happy to head back to the trailer for the night.  But, as soon as I asked him to begin, he went right to work for me, gave it his all, and his tail wagged faster and faster as we completed the exercise.  All he asked in return for giving 100% was a chest scratch.  And that is how he always is.  He is so easy, never causes trouble, and watches me all day just in case I might ask him to do something. 

Django is such a great partner, and I reminded myself over the week that this relationship didn’t happen overnight, but was a process itself.  I see in Cadence the same desire that Django has to be right (even though at times it is really, REALLY hard for a Noodle), and I know how rewarding it will be to do the work with him.  I also don’t expect him to be another Django, and I am appreciating the dog that he is, both in his brilliant moments and his squirrely ones.  For all their challenges, we are enjoying these teenage months.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Celebrating Small Successes

running cade in ky While the Noodle has come a long way in our first year together and our relationship continues to grow, the one area where I have had continued frustration is with off-leash control and his recall in the presence of distractions, especially  motion (moving dogs, moving squirrels, etc.).  We continue to work at it, but it remains our biggest limiter.

So, along comes Susan Garrett with her “5-minute formula for a brilliant recall” e-course.  I resisted at first – I’ve been to puppy camp, own all of her DVDs and books, follow her blog regularly, etc. – and while I always find her instruction to be extremely valuable, I felt like I had to draw the line SOMEWHERE.  Knowing I am powerless against her voodoo-like marketing prowess, I waited until yesterday to watch the promo video on her blog, and then only after receiving at least three emails that morning warning me that time was running out to register.

Well, shortly into the video, Susan mentions how the things in training that frustrate us and make us crazy become the things we hate to work on, and therefore become our biggest weaknesses with our dogs.  That hit home hard, and I realized I had to fix this problem first and foremost.  I emailed my husband to tell him I was ready to “drink the Kool-Aid” and registered for the e-course.

The course begins officially on August 1, but there was already a bonus game available to work on.  A pretty simple, fast exercise.  Last night I played it with Cadence twice in the yard, only spending a couple minutes each time.  Today at lunch, we went outside, played the game again for a couple minutes, then I unleashed him and released him to go sniff in the yard.  He immediately dashed over to a tree with one of the many obnoxious squirrels  that frequent our neighborhood perched about 15 feet up the trunk.  He whined and danced around for a second, then looked back at me.  At which point I shouted “YES!” and he blasted back across the yard to me for another game session.  We partied for a few seconds with the tug toy and treats, and I released him back to the squirrel.  Major, major event for us!

I hardly think we’ve hit a turning point – he is still many moons away from a “brilliant” recall, but it is so fun to see the little lightbulb start to come on every now and then.  Susan also said in one of her videos to celebrate the small successes, and I am definitely celebrating this one.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


camp sign We spent the past week at Dog Scout Camp in St. Helen, MI with the dogs.  We have been going to camp every year in July for nine years now, and it has become a favorite tradition.  Every year we get to see good friends, meet new people, train our dogs new things, and just enjoy ourselves playing in the water and hiking in the woods.

The goal of Dog Scouts, the organization that runs the camp, is to promote positive-reinforcement dog training methods and responsible pet ownership.  A lot of what we have learned and believe about dogs today came to us from them.  When we first got Jade, we were among those people who let him run off leash wherever, run up to any dog we passed, etc. (oh, how far away we are from that type of behavior today).  While we were going to positive trainers already, we did not really understand shaping, clicker training, etc. – we were guilty “lurers.”  DSA taught us much of what we now know about dog behavior, body language, communication, learning theory and training, and time and time again they are the people that I turn to when I have a question, concern, or need support.

At camp, dogs can become “scouts”, meaning they have passed a basic obedience/temperament test and that the handlers have demonstrated an understanding of responsible pet ownership and positive training.  Once they become scouts, they can earn badges for dozens of different activities.  It gives everyone an opportunity to try new fun things, and to work towards different training goals. 

This was an especially fun year for us for a few reasons.  First, we celebrated our ten-year wedding anniversary there.  After debating whether we should do something different for the occasion, we realized camp is one of our favorite places on earth, and what better way to celebrate than among friends and with our entire dog family.  Also making this year notable was the fact that Cadence was now a young adult and so was working on earning his scout title and his first badges.  I was also working on some new things with Django and the other dogs, and it was interesting over the week to reflect on the training journeys that we are on with each individual dog – how they differ, how they are similar, what we can learn from each, what we still need to learn and strengthen, and what we can rely on.

As always, the week always gets us thinking and excited about our training.  I imagine I will have a few posts about the experience yet, but for now here are some pictures of the week’s adventures (including our new proud scout, Cadence DSA)!

Cade DSA

T hike

jade agility

Maebe swimming

beach group

sleepy dj

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cadence's First Kayak Adventure

Went about as expected.

On shore, shaping him to get in the kayak . . .

Getting ready to push off . . .

Floating in the water. Off to a fine start.

What's that?!?

I need to get a closer look . . .

Wet dog.

Not pictured: Me, trying to figure out how to haul a sopping wet dog back into the kayak without losing the oar or tipping over while he splashes along joyfully and obliviously in the water.