Sunday, August 14, 2011

Updates & Learnings

Hi y'all,

It's a rainy Sunday afternoon so we're all hanging out in the leaky office. Orent thinks the drips sound funny! I thought I'd do a little catch-up blogging, writing about some of the things I promised way back at the beginning of August.

How good he is at entertaining himself (and how lousy he is at being entertained)/The amazing X-Pen!:

Orent in his cool-kid x-pen. Kaytee & Max love this thing!

Orent continues to be a calm dog in his kennel and now his X-pen. The X-pen makes it easy for him to hang out with us in the office (like now) and in the kitchen (i.e. all the other rooms in the apartment!). In the X-Pen, he's able to settle, to make decent choices about what to chew on (his toys mostly, but sometimes the X-pen itself), and even fall asleep out of his kennel. We're hoping someday the skill will transfer to being able to settle outside of the X-pen in the office or kitchen. Once his downs get longer or he learns under maybe that will help...

But, you'll notice in the title it says, "how lousy he is at being entertained." Sometimes, a puppy needs to hang out with people, to run and play, to get petted, etc. Now that he has a frisbee-chasing hobby he can sometimes have a fun play session with lots of running and even the occasional textbook "drop!" Unfortunately, though, a lot of puppy play time he wants to chew on people, play tug of war, and be chased. When we let him out in the bedroom or try to join him in the X-pen, he rolls on his back, mouths shorts, pants, arms, hands, etc. and just wants to chew and wrestle like, well, a puppy. He needs a puppy friend! And he needs to learn that his bad behavior ends the game. Kaytee and I ignore him and turn our backs when puppy play gets rough, but it's a real challenge for him to learn people-ways to play. This morning he wanted to wrestle and bite me as I took his leash off. I ignored him and he attacked his leash. I told him "Sit" and he did a play-bow and barked at me. I bribed him with his daily Vetamin and he did a calm sit and let me take his collar off but for a second there I thought he was planning a mutiny!

My hope is that as his commands and attention get more reliable, more playtime can be spent working on his hobbies and less on being a crazy puppy. And that he gets to have more puppy playdates to work some of that puppy play out. His next big adventure will be to have a swimming date with a 2-yr old retriever named Luke, and maybe a little bit of swimming in a local creek if it stops raining.

How many things he's not allowed to do:

Orent, tugging on the leash.
Kaytee and Orent had company yesterday and they were all experienced dog-owners, but none of them had raised a service puppy before. Kaytee and Orent had a lot of work to do to teach them how to play appropriately with a service dog. No tug-of-war, no face-licking fests, no cute puppy mouthing, only calm greetings and well-behaved fetch. And Orent, despite his overall good intentions, wasn't going to mention that tug of war is not a good game, that he's not supposed to be licking faces. "Oh Kaytee," he says, "they didn't mean too. I didn't want them to feel bad. I was just going along with them." Yeah, right, Orent! You know you led them on!

How many things he's amazing at:

Orent is a remarkably calm guy. He's pretty quiet, easy to redirect, not full of frenzied energy. He's also an excellent car passenger, pretty good at calm greetings, and good around kids. Not to mention, he learns really quickly.

"Sit" and "Orent" got pretty reliable in the first week and now are solid in all but the most high-distraction environments with no treats. "Down" gets better and better and "shake" is pretty good even without a lot of concerted effort. At the PetSmart yesterday he did "Sit" for a store employee (she was great, good posture, firm, upbeat, attention-getting voice, big hip-holster of treats). "Kennel" is my favorite training story. At first, he would follow the lure into the kennel reliably. Without the lure, though, he was lost. To him, "kennel" seemed to mean, "I get a treat if I follow it around. I don't even have to stay still! What fun!" I tried tossing the treat into the kennel and he'd follow that but again he was learning, "I can chase treats! More fun!" So I ended up sitting beside the kennel (it's a metal one), and poking a treat in through the sides. To get the treat, he had to go into the kennel, even though to his not-very-advanced-brain the treat seemed close to where we were sitting. He needed a lot of luring at first to not try to get to the treat through the bars from the outside, but soon he would go running into the kennel after a brief attempt to get the treat from the outside. I knew he was learning when, if he wanted a treat and wasn't getting one, he added running to the kennel to his routine of sitting, laying down, and acting like an idiot. (For the record, he added "acting like an idiot" on his own, we don't give treats for that). Pretty soon, he paired running to the kennel with the word "kennel" and now when we do training in the bedroom he's reliable about doing the right command on the right word (his words are: sit, down, kennel, and shake).

"Let's go" is the next frontier. We started his formal "Let's go" training by Pez-dispensing treats at our knees as we walk. Now, in low distractions, he can go without a treat for 100 feet or so, giving us (or our hands, anyway) decent attention and trotting along near the knee. The goal is to work up to doing the command with less luring and infrequent treats (frequent praise, though! We could never sneak up on anything. You can hear the "good boy, good Let's go" from a ways away. Maybe that's why we've rarely run into any cats, birds, or squirrels on our walks!).

The thunder adventures

Kaytee and Orent,
on a walk in the rain
Really, there haven't been any! We've had a few good thunderstorms and the ka-booming hasn't phased him. We'll be on the lookout for upcoming fear periods and we know we aren't out of the woods, but for now, even the ground-shaking, bowling-balls-bouncing-down-stone-steps thunderclap that woke Kaytee and I this morning didn't bother him in the least. He just sat there calmly (while sleeping in until 8:45! Good boy!)

We've even been out and hurried while there were distant rumbles of thunder. Even being outdoors didn't bother him. What he doesn't like at all is wet grass. Getting him to hurry when the grass is wet takes lots of patience. He tries to hold it and when he can't anymore, he runs like his tail's on fire 'til he finally find the perfect spot... then changes his mind and does it all again! Such a princess! You're not going to melt, little guy!

Orent, chill during the storm
Life with a Gentle Leader:

Score so far: Kaytee and Max like it, Orent hates it, and his buddy the downstairs neighbor hates it too. It makes the neighbors think he bites and is muzzled. His buddy the downstairs neighbor thinks it's cruel. He just thinks it's itchy. Kaytee and I think it makes it a LOT easier to teach him "Let's go" which isn't easy, so we're happy with it. If we leave it on for a while he gets used to it, but when he's being a grouchy, hot, hungry puppy he can sure put up a good temper tantrum about it!

"I do not like this, Sam-I-am" - Orent
Okay, I think that keeps you in the loop on the major stories and developments in Orent's life (oh, and that he's up-to-date on shots and can play with other dogs, and is enormous). The big learning for me this month has been really starting to learn how he learns. Correcting bad behavior is really hard (because it's usually rewarding in multiple ways... fun, gets some negative attention, etc.) and I tend to despair when he's being naughty. Late nights and early mornings with a crazy puppy chewing your clothes and hurting you with exuberant paws and teeth is frustrating. There have been days (nights, more so, actually) when I was ready to send him back to Long Island. And he's a relatively easy puppy!

Orent, enjoying "water for doggies"
left outside by a neighbor
Thinking "how will I teach him to be calm" or "how will I teach him not to mouth" or "how will I teach him not to put everything in his mouth" is hard. I don't have great answers for those things. But finally, I have answers to "how will I teach him 'kennel' and 'let's go'?" With lots of treats, patience, and slow weaning of treats and cues... and it really works. So I'm focusing for now on managing the bad stuff and teaching the good stuff. A dog with a perfect "Let's go" isn't eating stuff off the ground. A dog with a reliable "sit" and "down" can be stopped from exuberant pawing. A dog with a good "drop" can let his energy out with fetch that doesn't devolve into tug of war. I think that the secret of CCI dogs isn't necessarily that they're good all the time but that they can channel their energy & attention and practice a comprehensive set of commands that helps them know what to do when they're working. Not putting things in your mouth in a "down" or "under" might be nearly impossible to teach, but if you use treats and praise to help them know, "pay attention to me! Especially in tempting environments!" you aren't necessarily teaching, "don't eat off the floor" as much as, "do look to me to know what's ok." We even practice that by purposely spilling kibble during training and keeping him from getting it. We feed it to him when his attention is on us, and cover it up when he focuses on the food. Will it transfer to a dropped french fry on his socialization outings? We hope so!

Phew, thanks for reading! Maybe this will help out other first-time puppy raisers. If not, I hope you skimmed and enjoyed the cute pictures.

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