Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Long overdue post: Teach your dog 5 commands in 30 days

So Lindsay over at ThatMutt.com had issued a 30-day challenge in July: can you teach your dog 5 new commands in 30 days? Read all about Lindsay and Ace's hard work HERE. Given Biggie's love for learning new tricks, I thought it would be just the push we needed to get some new tricks under our belt. We were not quite as successful as Lindsay and Ace were, but then again we had some bonus issues to work with w/r/t the Biggietude and his behavior at day care...

Biggie's puppy trainer had given us some suggestions on this command last year, so really, we weren't copying Lindsay and Ace! We started with Biggie in "down" and lured him slowly forward with a treat. We didn't think to use Lindsay's tactic of keeping a gentle hand on Biggie's back to prevent him from popping up, but when we tried it, I realized why it would have had limited success with Biggie. While the hand on the back did help remind Biggie to keep his butt down, it took almost my entire wingspsan to keep one hand on his back and another one forward of Biggie's nose and paws. That dog can STRETCH!

Also, there were some physical limitations to how often I could practice this trick with Biggie. Picture a mountain climber scaling an ice wall with axes in either hand, and you will get an idea of how Biggie pulled himself along the floor. Biggie is not the most light-of-paw, and he tended to crawl forward by smashing his front paw into the hand holding the treat and pulling himself along, then smashing the other paw in and digging in to pull all 100 pounds of him along the floor. It was just physically difficult for a dog of his bulk to crawl. If he got too excited he'd get up a few inches from the floor and pounce on my hand with both bear paws. OUCH. Ace's video looks positively nimble in comparison.

Overall, I give Biggie a B+ for his efforts here. He learned very quickly what the command meant, but he had some difficulty executing it for more than a few feet.

Biggie's been working on loose-lead walking in the heel position without using the "heel" command, so this "trick" was really designed to reinforce his leash manners. Again, I used a food lure in my left hand, coiled into a loose fist, which I would tap against my left thigh to get Biggie's attention. To get him to sit when we stopped, I would stop, open my hand palm up and raise it slightly, which is Biggie's hand signal for "sit." I'd reinforce a good heel position by feeding him treats as he walked and sat. When he sits from a heel, Biggie leans against my leg and looks up with a big smile on his face. My sister's old German Shepherd, Kiva, used to do the same thing.

Biggie gets a B+ for this one, too. We have yet to do this successfully outdoors with distractions, and when Biggie gets too excited he tries to run ahead to where he thinks we're going, but working on this command has improved his on-lead heeling tremendously.

As in, "get in your crate and park your butt in a sit." It took Biggie less than 5 tries to get this one down. It was pretty easy since he eats in his crate and he is a very food-motivated pup. Biggie's breeder, Mama Clare, taught Biggie to sit for his supper before he was even 8 weeks old, so it was pretty simple to transition to "go in your crate and sit and wait for something good to happen." I taught this by walking with Biggie to his crate, dinner bowl in hand. Then I'd gesture with one hand into his crate, and wait for him to go in. I swear I saw the light bulb go off over his head when he did this correctly the first time.

Grade: A+. The puppy whose only speed seemed to be "slow walk" trots to his crate now, and not just for meals! As an added bonus, he likes hanging out in his crate even more, and doesn't need to be roused from whatever random sleeping spot he's in when we go to bed, because he will often just put himself to bed in our bedroom or in his crate when it gets to be 11pm or so. (Or, he sees us getting ready for bed and gets himself up.)

4. BANG!
Again, we tried this before we knew Lindsay and Ace were working on it, and Biggie does a Monty-Python-esque, "I'm not dead yet" slow, operatic death, as if he had to think about how dead he feels. I taught this by getting Biggie in a down, and then gesturing in a quasi-gun arm wave, in the direction Biggie was already leaning, and shouting "Baaaang!" The first couple times I held the treat on the floor so the only way he could get it is if his body and head were flat on the floor. I used a clicker to mark the precise behavior I wanted (head touches floor) the first two times, and then we were done. He knew it.

Another A+ here. We just capitalized on his lazy temperament. My mother in law tried it this weekend and he did it for her, and she's no dog trainer. It really took me two tries to get this one: the first time, I thought it was an accident; when he did it a second time with that look in his eye I knew he had it down.

We failed miserably on this one, but I don't blame Biggie. The main reason was because I couldn't decide what exactly I wanted Biggie to do: stick his head in P-Daddy's lap? nuzzle his hand? arm? which side of P-Daddy to come up to? what if P-Daddy is lying down? what if he's standing or sitting?

We got the idea for this trick from friends who had a pomeranian who would run across the room and put her paw on her daddy's or mommy's leg, but since Biggie's 10 times the size of a pom and we don't want to teach him to jump on anyone, so needed to reinforce a different behavior. As you can tell, P-Daddy is not the main trainer in the household - he'll reinforce behaviors I've already trained, but he won't do much in the way of original tricks, other than his aborted attempts to teach Biggie how to unlock his crate. (Me: "P-Daddy, don't you think that if the crate is locked while Biggie is not in it, it means someone locked it on purpose and we don't WANT him to go in the crate?" Even now, when Biggie opens his crate he goes for the handle with his mouth.)

So initially I conceived of this "trick" to annoy P-Daddy while he was sleeping on the couch or trying to do work. I'd put biscuits on his lap or stick pieces of cheese between P-Daddy's toes while he was napping on the couch. (P-Daddy is a very sound sleeper.) This caused me all sorts of amusement while also bothering P-Daddy, which was fun for me, but we didn't really get anywhere with it. If anyone can suggest an appropriate behavior to reinforce with this command, I'll give it another try.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Training Momma

Psst! Hi doggy friends. My training of Momma is going exactly as planned! Over the weekend she seemed to be always In Continents, and going to the bathroom all the time. I had to stop my guarding duties to check on her. But the potty training seems to be going well. Every time she uses the bathroom, I give her some positive reinforcement by giving her some cuddles afterward. I think she gets it now. She's a lot of work, but she's worth it. 

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Barking at the door: Who's training whom?

As I've said over and over, kuvasz are guard dogs. Which means they will bark ferociously at the door if they hear someone approaching, right? Well, sort of. They are also really, really smart, as I was reminded recently:

Our apartment door is right next to the elevator, and we have a laundry room down the hall. On weekends, especially Saturday mornings, there is a fair bit of activity as people come to our floor to do their laundry. Lately, the building has been painting the fire stairs next to the elevator, too, so there has been a lot of activity and noise outside our apartment. Biggie almost never barks otherwise (after we worked out his separation anxiety, the subject of another training post), but when he barks at the door he is LOUD. The neighbors love it! Typically when he barked at the door, we'd make our corrective noise, a loud nasal "EH!" and go up to the door and pull him away, and praise him when he stopped.

A few weeks ago, we noticed that sometimes he'd run up to the door, bark loudly, turn and look at us, and continue to bark. If we went, "EH!" he would just ignore us. So we would grab his collar, sometimes put him in the other room so he couldn't physically get to the door, and listen. It seemed oddly quiet. What was going on? Was Biggie getting more aggressive and territorial?

Not quite. Biggie was training us.

The key was that he would turn to look for our reaction while he was barking at the door. This also usually happened later at night, when P-Daddy and I were working at the dining room table. Biggie was bored, and wanted to play, and any attention was better than no attention at all.

But this behavior presented a new problem, namely, how to untrain (or redirect) that behavior while staying on good terms with our neighbors? Obviously, ignoring that behavior was what we should do, but we couldn't very well let him bark incessantly while our neighbors were trying to sleep, not to mention it was driving us nuts too. 

The solution? Yesterday morning when Biggie ran to bark at the door, I got up calmly and went into the bathroom and shut the door. The barking stopped immediately and he walked over to the bathroom to wait for me to come out. When I did, I gave him some praise and petting for being quiet and calm. 

The best part of this training solution is that it doesn't punish alarm or guard barking - if there really is something outside, he will continue to bark.* But if he's doing it purely for attention, it completely removes the attention source without any emotion. We did this yesterday maybe 4 or 5 times, and Biggie's figured it out already - the barking at the door has decreased dramatically, and even his alert barking has calmed down considerably. Instead of ferocious, non-stop, "I'm gonna tear your head off" barking, he growls and gives a few low barks. If the noise in the hall doesn't escalate, he stops. 

After he's done a quiet alert bark, I reward attention to me by calling Biggie over, having him sit or down by my chair, and rewarding with a treat. And if he comes over to "offer" good behavior by lying next to my chair on his own, he gets intermittent and random praise and treats. 

*If there is a continuing noise in the hall, I will go to Biggie and have him sit, down, stay, and practice some hand targets with good treats while the noise is going on. It redirects his attention and creates a new association: non-threatening noise in the hall = treats for listening to Momma. Yesterday afternoon two neighbors who don't particularly like Biggie had a conversation just outside our door, and Biggie and I sat quietly and eavesdropped on the whole thing. Congratulations, Biggie, maybe they won't vote you out of the building after all!

Time to go SHOPPING!

My big buddy George(ous) gave me this award!

There are some rules associated with it but let's talk about 5 things I would buy with this:

1. Dog handling/training lessons for my walkers at Doggy Day Care
2. Some people to do Momma and P-Daddy's work so they can spend time with ME!
3. A girl puppy or a kitten of my very own (heck, I'll even take a Pez dispenser)
4. A bigger freezer for all my raw meat that my Momma is not letting me eat because I got a tummy upset the other day and some diaries (I was just at the vet and my poop came back clean - or as clean as poop can be)
5. Hm, I can't think of a 5th thing, so I must be pretty happy.

And now the rules:
1. Only five people allowed.
2. Four have to be dedicated followers of your blog.
3. One has to be someone new or recently new to your blog and live in another part of the world.
4. You must link back to whoever gave you the award.

So I pass this award on to:
Huck and Tom (we miss you!)
Booker (I got to learn about a breed I had never heard of before!)
T-Bone the Kuvasz (Also lives in another part of the world, or at least another country)
Mackenzie (I love Golden Girls)
Amber-Mae (I've only been trying to get her attention for, like, a year! AND she lives in another part of the world)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Biggietude: 98-pound weakling takes control

So yesterday was our big meeting with the trainer to see if Biggie can continue to go to day care. For those of you joining our program in progress, I found out a couple of weeks ago that the Biggietude had been having incidents at day care - lunging on his relief walks, barking and nipping and showing classic signs of leash aggression - but no one told us about it until they decided that he was suspended from day care. Which means that he can still come to day care, but they will not do pickup or dropoff, nor will they take him for relief walks during the day. Which sort of defeats the purpose of day care and worse yet, boarding, because if they won't walk him, Biggie can't pee or poo during the day.

I've been talking to the day care people about ways to resolve this, since Biggie has been really terrific with us, and we thought his leash reactivity was pretty much resolved. The upshot is just as I thought when we first heard of the problem: Biggie's been getting his kuvasz on in a big way at day care. He's figured out who he can boss and who he can't. At 15 months he's like a gangly teenage boy who's adult-size but a bundle of childish, undirected energy insde. He jumps on the guys who work at day care, trying to get them to wrestle with them. Never mind that he is NOT ALLOWED to put his paws on ANYTHING or ANYONE but the floor when he is with us; at day care he's figured out that the handlers will good-naturedly push him away and sometimes pet and wrestle a little with him. Which only reinforces it, of course. 

We also watched out of sight while one of the handlers walked him up and down the block in front of the day care.  He walked pretty nicely and went poop at the curb, the handler picked it up and then a bike whizzed by on the street. A little silent lunge, but not anything different from any other dog, and with one tug the handler got his attention back and they walked on, around the corner, and started coming back. A woman with 2 kids, one of them on a scooter and the other running wildly on the sidewalk, were heading straight for them. Behind them, another mom with a baby stroller. The trainer and I watched from our hiding place, and she stepped out to tell the handler to move Biggie all the way to the edge of the sidewalk. We needn't have worried - he saw them but did no more than turn his head and look at them with mild interest. 

The trainer's assessment of Biggie? Very good impulse control, attentive to the handler, and well-behaved on the leash. He's not actually showing leash aggression, but rather the handlers need to be more attuned to his arousal levels and know how to manage it by removing him from the situation. The other thing we found, from talking with the people at the day care, is that over the last few months, when no one told us about it, Biggie has been slowly making his way up the people hierarchy. He doesn't hurt anyone, he just plays with the people like other dogs and treats them like part of the pack that he has decided he will lead and guard. We learned that he barked at and then jumped on one of the workers there, and knocked him down and pinned him. He didn't bite, he didn't lick him to death, he didn't growl, just pinned him. I don't doubt that Biggie would protect this person to the death if he needed to, but as between the two of them, it is pretty clear who is the boss, and it's not the human. We've got a bit of work to do, but more with the walkers and handlers at day care than with Biggie. 

Biggie is being a classic kuvasz, fearless but cautious, with a very strong prey drive, even compared to his littermates, an independent and slightly aloof demeanor, and NO sensitivity to pain. All of these make him hard to control in an uncontrollable environment like the city.  The aspects that make him better suited for city living despite his kuvaszness are his friendliness (for a kuvasz), his ability to accept a dominant leader (for a kuvasz), and his very strong food drive. This last has done us well for teaching him lots of tricks, and the trainer remarked that Biggie's tendency to "offer" behavior is a classic sign that he's been well-trained with positive reinforcement, because dogs that have been trained with negative stimuli ("no" or punishment) won't offer behavior. For them, it's all about avoiding the negative stimulus. 

I knew when we were getting a kuvasz that we were going to be challenged. Working with Biggie is an exercise in patience and creativity (how can I teach him what I want him to do?), but it is so rewarding. I love you, you big oafy polar bear.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Vet Visit (1-year checkup)

When I turned 1 in May, my Momma was so excited about my milestone that she called the vet to schedule my 1-year visit. "Um, noooo, you need to come in for his 1-year BOOSTERS," they said.  Ohhhhh... Silly Momma! Who makes shots that last 9-10 months?

So on my 14-1/2 month birdday (the more birddays the better, in my opinion) Momma walked me about 5 miles all around the city to go to day care and the vet! The vet was a little scary but I was a brave boy and rode on a table that went up and down and then on the way home we met a nice policeman who gave me his whole bottle of water and then I got home and I was a hot smelly mess. 

The End.

Momma's side of the story:

The Biggietude has been overwhelming the walkers at day care. We had an experimental half day at day care as I took him in and out to go to the vet nearby and then home. It was an exhausting day for both of us. We spoke to the manager about using a Gentle Leader and/or a muzzle and working with the walkers there so hopefully we will be working this out soon!  I went back to being much more consistent about rewarding good behavior and using a command like "leave it" for potentially difficult situations, such as noisy carts, stumbling homeless people, or bikes or scooters on the sidewalk. He walked beautifully through almost 5 miles of crowded sidewalks, people, bikes, dogs, cars, trucks. 

BUT- I think in addition to not having strong leadership when he's being walked, he is territorial about the kennel. He went ballistic at a male yellow lab walking by who was probably also giving him the eye. A lot of sound and fury (from both dogs, but really mostly from Biggie), which stopped as soon as we got away from the kennel. Then, he was attentive about other dogs but not so nuts about them. We have been able to teach him that our building elevator and lobby are not to be guarded and he is accepting of that, so hopefully with some work he will learn.

Biggie did great at the vet, seeing dogs and cats at pretty close quarters. He made friends with the vet's cat, who decided to take a nap on the bench above where Biggie was lying. He really shone while we were in the waiting room. Curious but calm with cats and dogs that came in, Biggie just sat or lay quietly and attentively while they cried or scrabbled around to get away. He welcomed any attention and petting and sat politely while we talked about kuvasz. 

He was a little hesitant to get up on the scale/table since he is not allowed on any furniture at home - this is where his show siblings have the edge on us! He got his rabies but is getting the distemper/parvo etc. titer to check his levels before deciding whether he needs another vaccination. I'm happy about this option of not over-vaccinating him, which is not an option we had 17 years ago with our old dog, Boo. 

The vet really examined his hips and knees thoroughly since he'd had crackly hips in November and a fuzzy xray that seemed to show dysplasia. The vet said his hips felt fine and if anything there might be a little looseness in his knees, but even that was barely noticeable. So - his hips seem to be ok! We will keep up with the cosequin, though. Biggie did so well being on the mobile table so even though his hind end stumbled off as they were lowering it, he didn't thrash at all and they caught him and stuck his butt back on. He stood quietly for the blood draws and the shots, the only sign that he even felt it was that he closed his eyes a bit. Otherwise, no twitch, no noise, nothing. Hooray for my big brave boy. 

And big he is, though probably not as big as he would be on a kibble diet: 98.5 lbs

On the walk home in rush hour traffic, we met a policeman who insisted on pouring his whole water bottle for Biggie to drink from his hands, and as we passed people in the crosswalks, many people would drift their hands over to pet Biggie on his back or rump as they walked by. I'm not a huge fan of this but by the time I noticed it the people were usually past us, and Biggie seemed to like the attention, so I let it go. 

Friday, August 8, 2008

Pawlimpics WIN and Dedication

Hi everyone, thanks again to Lenny for hosting the Pawlimpics! I won the very first GOLD MEDAL of the Pawlimpics, in TRACK! I think this is pretty ironic because I'm a pretty lazy puppy and when I'm not getting the zoomies, I just lie there like a big fat blob. It's all about having good photographers and lighting. I'm honored to have been selected, and thank you all for the congratulations.

And now that I have your attention, I'd like to dedicate my gold medal to my friend Finnegan. I won it the same day that Finnegan crossed the Rainbow Bridge. Finny ran on 3 legs with more gusto than many of us run with all four. Finnegan was one of my very first dog bloggy friends. He lived life and loved his people and he always had a cheery smile for his short time with us. And I think his mom Angeerah is very very brave, because she knew what she had to do for him. So let's hear it for Finnegan and his brave family!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Lessons in Humility

One of my jobs here, in addition to GUARDING (that is my #1 job, always), is to teach my humans about humility.  

My Momma and Mango Momma have been commiserating discussing the very important topic of Happy Walkies For Big Strong Doggies. My Momma was all like, Biggie walks in a perfect heel for us and he is such a good boy and he has come such a long way, you should try this and that and bla bla bla. And I thought Momma was sounding a little too much like a Proud Mama (too bad her name isn't Mary), and so I had to teach her a little humility.

Don't get me wrong, I still am a good boy for my Momma and most of the time for P-Daddy, but I like to remind them that I am a KUVASZ, after all, and now that I am just over a year old, I am an exuberant horse-sized puppy. I need to stretch my legs and when I make zoomies, I make REALLY BIG ZOOMIES (P.S. Lenny, look at my jumping. Too bad they are video, not photos, and they didn't make the cutoff for the Pawlimpics!): 

YouTube video link here

(Momma's Note: It's hard to really capture the scale of all this with a little digital camera, but the sheer joy of running full-tilt does manage to come through...)

Anyway. So yesterday when my humans went to the horse show, they left me at home because they weren't sure if I was going to be a g'boy or if I was going to pull a Hulk on them and bark at the horsies. And then when they were at the horse show my Momma had the nerve to go say hi to SOMEONE ELSE'S PUPPY and take all these pictures of him!! And Momma and P-Daddy were saying how they missed when I was that little and fluffy and harmless and cute and easygoing and they could just pick me up and move me if I was being a nuisance. Well, Momma, puppies grow up into big goofy Addled Less Senses. And I still need a lot to work off my energy and take the edge off. No Nobel Peace Prize for me any time soon. Maybe if they gave a Nobel for Wreaking Havoc When Confined to a Condo in Brrr Mont in the Pouring Rain with 2 Little Shih-Tzu-Poos Who Bark at Me (and Won't Play) and 9 people I Want to Wrestle With, I might win. Momma and P-Daddy took me to The Beach this morning during a break in the rain. Momma was trying to get video of me blowing bubbles, but I decided to fish for rocks instead. 

YouTube video link here

Note: Updated to add YouTube links, and also this glorious photo by P-Daddy. Momma chose a "small" photo size in hopes of shrinking her butt... Good luck, Momma. (snort, snicker, snort!) The lengths we go to for our art!)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Horse Show? Really? Is that ALL??

I think my humans are cheating on me. We are here in Brrr Mont with my humans and the Puppy Transport Team. They are not appreciating my exuberant greetings (jumping up to kiss them in the face) and make me sit or lie down. But some of them I haven't seen in almost a year and I DON'T put my paws on them so I don't know why they are being so tough on me.

This morning they left me at home to go to a "horse show." They did bring back some pretty cool pictures:

but THEN...

I looked on Momma's camera and I saw THIS:



Harrumph. I'm going to go lie in the corner and mope now. It is raining and I haven't been able to hike.