Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cadence Turns Two

IMG_0284 It is hard to believe that two years ago today, I got the e-mail I had been excitedly awaiting, announcing the birth of the litter that would include my next little boy.  A few hours later, I received the first photos of the seven newborn pups.  There were three boys.  Male #1 was a cute split-face, Male #3 was a very traditional black and white, but I fell immediately for Male #2.  He had rather traditional markings with a lot of white – a full blaze and wide collar – which I liked.  But I fell for him because of his spots.  He had a little black spot on the top of his head, and a little white spot between his shoulder blades.  I thought he was adorable. 

DSC_0044 The weeks passed, and I was thrilled to receive regular photos and videos of the litter as they grew.  I loved watching them all, but my eye always went to the little spotted guy.  I just knew he was mine.  When the breeder began to assign names to them, she somehow never came up with the right one for him, and so he became “No Name.”  I actually appreciated this fact because I knew his name.  He was Cadence. 

Seven weeks passed and it was finally the day to make the trip to pick up my boy.  I had second pick of the males, and knew that the first person had already selected the split-face, so I got to choose between little No Name and the traditional male.  I pretended that I was going to keep an open mind and choose after observing them both, but I knew that my mind had been made up.  No Name looked very promising to have good structure, with nice front and rear angulation and a crazy long neck.  And, more importantly, I knew where my heart was, after all.

P1000528 I talked my dad into making the drive to Canada with me, and in a few hours I was sitting on the breeder’s kitchen floor, with seven tiny black-and-white balls of fur scrambling happily around me.  Eventually, I was asked what my decision was, although she knew already there wasn’t actually any question.  I would be taking home No Name, now Rival’s Drum Roll, Please, aka Cadence.

Cade DSA In two years, we have already had a blast together.  Cadence has accompanied us on many road trips, including to CPE Nationals in Massachusetts and Florida, where we were competing with our older dogs.  As a ten-week old puppy, he visited Niagara Falls, sat by the ocean in Maine, and enjoyed attention from park staff at Acadia National Park.  Last year, we hiked together at Mammoth Caves and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, and Sleeping Bear Dunes.  This spring we enjoyed runs along the river north of Chicago.  He’s come Cade runningto Dog Scout Camp for two years, and has earned his Dog Scout  title and a number of badges.  He has also represented Dog Scouts at various pet expos, where he politely greets the public while we discuss positive dog training and responsible pet ownership.  He is a great traveler, camper, hiker and backpacker.  And since he became old enough to start running last fall, he has run 200 miles with me and is a phenomenal, tireless running buddy who motivates me on many a dark morning when I’d rather stay in bed.  He is always up for anything, and I love to go anywhere with him.

ItsYerChoice I have made it my goal to raise Cadence without using punishment and by shaping, or clicker-training, behaviors.  In the process, I have learned a ton.  Cadence and I have gone to Susan Garrett’s Puppy Camp together, to a “Get Connected” workshop with Brenda Aloff, and two ClickerExpos, where we have learned from some of the best trainers out there.  We’ve been able to challenge each other and learn and grow together, which has been an exciting process.

Is he perfect?  Of course not – what dog is?  He has his quirky moments.  At his worst, I could describe him as a snow cade 2mischievous little monkey with ADHD.  His attraction to motion is beyond even my other Border Collies, and he can tend to be easily distractable and easily frustrated when something is moving that he can’t chase.  He can sulk and pout like a 15-year-old girl when things don’t go his way.  In contrast to Django, who will try over and over again to get something right, if Cade fails too many times in a training session he is quite ready to go find his own entertainment.  

But what has been the result of his quirks?  I’ve become a better trDSC_0079ainer, with better observational skills and much quicker timing.  I have had to become creative in controlling reinforcement, and knowing what will motivate him and keep his focus.  And I’ve had to become much better at “splitting” behaviors when we train, not moving forward too fast, and keeping a high rate of reinforcement while still challenging him to progress.  Many times in an early training session for a new skill, I’ve felt like we weren’t getting anywhere, but then been delighted when the next day, he’s got it down pat – he’s mastered it. 

helper cade We’re working, and I think this year he’ll be ready for prime time, and in the process, I love every minute of it.  I can’t look at him without smiling.  He is the silliest goofball of a Border Collie ever, and incredibly sweet.  He is constantly by my side, and thinks that at least one hand should be petting him at all times.  He fancies himself to be a 33-lb lap dog.  He is incredibly in tune with my moods, and always ready to cuddle if I’ve had a tiring day.  It is impossible to get mad at him.  Life is fun with him, and he makes us laugh constantly.  Cade Lake MI

So, again, is he perfect? 


Yes, of course he is.



Happy birthday, Noodle!


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Clicker Expo 2011

clickerexpo2011 “What the hell is wrong with us anyway?”  Patricia McConnell joked in this, her opening line, as she gave the closing comments at Clicker Expo 2011 on Sunday, wrapping up an amazing three days of top-notch education on animal training, behavior, and cognition.  

cadence hotel bed Certainly, I’m sure that is what many people wonder about us.  Trying to explain that we are spending good money on travel and registration costs, and taking a vacation to attend an educational conference probably doesn’t make sense to a lot of people.  When I tried to explain to others what Clicker Expo was, I basically just summed it up as another dog training conference, but it is so much more than that.  The faculty at Clicker Expo are leaders in their understanding about training all animals (including humans), and are perhaps the best assembly of presenters and educators I’ve ever seen – and I say this having spend my graduate and undergraduate years at a top-rated university! 

maebe learning lab So, what did I learn about this year at Clicker Expo?  In Learning Labs, Cadence and I and Lowell and Maebe heard from Kay Laurence about when and how it can be appropriate to use luring in training, and how to “microshape” behaviors by slicing them down into the finest details, allowing the animal to have higher rates of success throughout the learning process.  We were able to work on training reliable cues with Kathy Sdao, and Lowell and Maebe gave an amazing demonstration of the progress they made just during the course of the lab.  We practiced the mechanics of treat delivery and leash handling skills with Joan Orr and Alexandra Kurland, and learned the “Tai Chi” of leash handling skills.

In lectures, we learned about setting up efficient training sessions with Cecilie Koste, conditioning positive responses to noise and movement (especially good for the agility dog) from Emilie Veigh and Eva Bertlisson, and developing good observation skills from Kathy Sdao.  We heard Karen Pryor talk about changing the public’s view of punishment as a training method, and saw Patricia McConnell talk about animal cognition, and later in the closing comments, about animal emotions.  I took away from every session lots of great notes, and always at least one key “AHA!” point that I know I will carry with me as I continue training my dogs.  The sessions are fascinating, intellectually stimulating, and we left motivated and excited to try out all our new ideas.

chicago running In addition to being a great learning experience, the whole weekend was a blast.  Our hotel was located north of Chicago, and bordered a 30+ mile multi-use trail network along a river.  We were able to start every morning with a 4 to 5 mile run with the dogs, and close every evening with a more leisurely walk together along the water.  The dogs were on their best behavior.  It gave Cadence good opportunities to have to think and work with high levels of distraction, and while his brain was usually starting to melt by the end of the learning labs (so were ours, after all!), he always was a perfect gentleman.

cade learning lab2What I love about Clicker Expo, and clicker training in general, is how beautifully you see that what inherently FEELS right – training with positive reinforcement instead of punishment – is repeatedly backed up by sound scientific evidence.  As a social worker and a researcher, I love to see this harmony: when doing good is backed up with data-driven proof.

Lowell and I are fortunate to say that we are not “cross over” trainers (trainers who previously had been taught to use punishment), as we became dog owners just as the clicker training movement was gaining wider popularity.  When we brought our first dog, Jade, home, we had been reading a Brian Kilcommons book advocating choke chains and collar corrections.  We bought a choke chain, brought Jade home from the rescue organization, set out for a walk together, and realized quickly that we were NOT going to pop our happy, wonderful new companion on the neck with that damn chain.  That isn’t how I treat my friends and family members - there had to be a better way.  We turned around, immediately drove to Borders and sifted through the Monks of New Skete and Barbara Woodhouse books until we found a thin little book on clicker training.  Finally, someone was talking in terms that made sense to us.  We were fortunate to have a good veterinarian who referred us to positive trainers in the area for companion obedience classes, and the rest was history.

At the opening session on Friday, Karen Pryor asked the audience how many people were cross-over trainers.  Many hands went up, as usual, but many did not.  How exciting that we are now seeing a new wave of trainers, a wave who never had our heads filled with nonsense about dominance theory and collar corrections, but have learned how much more fun it is to use scientific principles and positive methods to train our companions!  While they still have a few remaining figureheads, I think the compulsion trainers are losing the debate.

cade and me hotel roomSo why do we do this?  Why do some of us spend so much time, energy, and money on these furry family members that can’t talk to us?  How is it that they make us so profoundly happy, and that we mourn their loss so deeply?  These were the questions Dr. McConnell posed in her final comments.  She theorized that there are two types of people in the world: those who are warmed and comforted as we learn how similar and connected humans really are to the rest of the animal world, and those who find that concept terrifying.  And, ironically, many tend to label the first group as being somehow emotionally damaged and unable to connect with other humans and form real relationships.  But what I find is that animals help us learn on a deeper level about empathy and emotion and connections with all living things.  I tend to be introverted by nature, but through my dogs I have met wonderful people and formed great relationships while challenging myself to learn and try new experiences.  My world has expanded exponentially, and I am a very happy person and am never bored.  Jade changed our lives, as I always say.

So, proudly count me in the first category – with those who cherish and celebrate our connection with dogs and all animals, both those who are four-footed and two-footed.  As Dr. McConnell ended her closing remarks on Sunday, she reminded us:

“Don’t ever apologize for how much you love your dogs.” 

Cade learning lab1

Monday, March 7, 2011

An Impatient Patient

About a week ago, we noticed that a sebaceous cyst that Jade has had on his rear leg for a couple years was looking a bit red and irritated.  We started to watch, and realized that Jade was fussing with it and it seemed to be bothering him, so we made an appointment to have it looked at.

Our vet reassured us that it was indeed just a cyst, and that sometimes they do start to irritate the dog and the best option is to remove it.  So, Jade underwent the simplest of simple surgical procedures.  All it involved was some sedative and local anesthetic.  I sat on the exam room floor with his head on my lap while our vet snipped off the offending cyst and put in a couple stitches to close the small incision.  Jade didn’t even notice. 

At home, we put an e-collar on him and kept an eye on him all afternoon and evening.  As he became a bit less groggy from the sedative, he grew interested in what was going on with his leg.  I was disappointed to see that he could bend himself around the e-collar and still get within licking distance of his incision.  Consequently, I decided to stay home from work the next day to keep an eye on him.

During our day at home, Jade made a couple attempts to investigate his incision, but a verbal reminder to leave it alone was all he needed.  He didn’t seem overly obsessed with getting at the stitches, and I thought the e-collar was at least a deterrent if not a preventative. So, that evening we decided to try to leave the house for about an hour to make it to a coaching appointment that we had scheduled and paid for weeks ago. 

When we arrived home a little over an hour later, we were dismayed to find that Jade had removed both of his stitches, and the incision was wide open.  Although small, it was near enough to the knee that the skin would tighten and open the incision wider when he flexed his leg to sit or lie in a “sphinx” down. 

So, Friday we returned to the vet, left with three new stitches and the largest e-collar they had. 

Jade cone

My relief was short-lived though.  As soon as we walked into the living room, Jade bent himself in two, hitched his knee over the gigantic cone, and made it very clear that he could still reach the incision. 

In desperation, and realizing that one day I needed to return to my job and couldn’t just sit around the house dog-sitting for the next several days, I sent a plea out to my dog-owning friends asking for suggestions. 

A friend suggested we try the Bite-Not, which is basically a cervical collar that prevents the neck from bending.  However, they aren’t readily available and usually need to be ordered on-line.  Fortunately, another friend had one we could borrow, and she suggested we may want to use the e-collar along with it.

On Saturday morning, I was out of the house for a seminar at the local dog training club, so Lowell and Jade ran across town to pick up the Bite Not.  Lowell put it on Jade and tried to lure his head to either side with treats to see how much range of motion he still had.  Jade swore that he was now unable to move his head to the side and could not possibly get anywhere near his knee. bite not

Lowell continued to keep an eye on Jade for a couple hours and all seemed well until he made the mistake of going into another room in the house for a minute, leaving Jade asleep on the couch.  After his very brief absence, he returned to find Jade doing his pretzel imitation once again, and having removed two of the three stitches.

One tenacious stitch remained, and was nobly doing its job keeping the incision closed.  With some fumbling and adjusting, Lowell managed to get the gigantic e-collar on Jade’s neck in front of the Bite Not.  That, I can say with a huge sigh of relief, seems to have done the trick, and Jade is now safe from himself.

Sure, my dog looks like a third of his body in encased in plastic.  And sure, as I like to remind him, this is all over an incision less than an inch long and only involving the top layer of skin.  Nowhere near the incisions Tristan had for his knee surgeries, or Maebe had for her spay surgery.  Which neither of them ever fussed with at all.  And yes, his reward for being a bad patient is that he temporarily gets to sleep in bed with us since he no longer fits in his crate with all the various paraphernalia he is now wearing, and which also means I get crammed against the wall, get the blankets stolen, and wake up several times a night to a paw in my face. 

But, given he is an eleven-year old dog whose predominant breed has a high risk of cancer, all I could think about last week was how glad I am that all this was due to a pesky cyst and not something much more sinister.  In a few days (barring any more interventions from Jade)this will be healed and over with, and I’m happy to provide the extra nursing care for my big guy in the meantime. 

Even if he is a bed hog.