June 29, 2005

Kids and puppies

As a result of some strategic planning on my part, Dusty doesn't come across too many children, and I think it is important for her to experience them during this socialisation stage. I live in the inner city in a narrow one way street, most people have benches out on the footpath and sit in the street to catch the sun or the sea breeze. And three three kids in the street are luckily also regularly out and about.

Oscar loves Thommo. He was walking at ten months and spent all his energy trying to get down to Thommo, to throw the ball for him. Much to his mother's consternation, who is a little nervous around dogs. Now fourteen months, he and Dusty are a little wary of each other - but Dusty watches him toddling around and is getting used to jerky movements and baby toys.

Jack is three. He always stops at the screen door to say 'Hi' to Thommo on his way past with his mother. I have a box of dog biscuits near the door so that he can give one to Dusty each day on his way to day-care.

Isaac is early teens, with mates, music and skateboards. When they started skating in the street the other day Dusty had a real panic, wetting herself with fear. I asked them if they would stop for a moment and say hi, then I took her out the back to where the sound was muffled. I must admit when several of them drop their boards to the ground and take off, I leap out of my skin.

I'll also take any opportunity that presents itself in the park or on the beach. The kids don't have to interact with Dusty. She can be near them while they do their thing, and get accustomed to the running and yelling.

June 28, 2005

Bite Inhibition

Australian Cattle Dog puppies use their mouths, a lot. So there are two things we're learning at the moment.
  1. It's ok to put your mouth on your human's hands or arms, but it must be very gentle.
  2. It's not ok to nip your human on the heels or grab their pants leg.

Dusty does have quite a gentle mouth. When she was reluctant to settle at night I stuck my hand through the bars of her crate and she licked and nibbled my fingers until she went back to sleep. But the last couple of days she has turned into Fang the attack puppy.

It she bites too hard I yell loud enough to startle her. I don't pull my hand away or turn away because I don't want to introduce any elements that she might see as part of a game. If she comes back gently and licks then she gets a 'good girl' and a game with a toy. So far that has worked. If or when it doesn't, then the next step would be a second 'ouch' and then leave her alone for a few minutes.

When she grabs my pants as I'm walking, I say 'Uh huh', again loud enough to starle her, and immediately drag a tug or a leash to attract her attention to that. When it stops raining we'll do some choose to heel exercises which will give her something else to do when I'm walking.

Thommo takes my arm as a form of communication (I have visions of him leading me Lassie-like through a mine field) and he has very good bite inhibition. Once a vet was necessarily hurting him and he took hold of my arm and held it until the procedure was finished and didn't leave a mark. That's what I'm after - a dog that knows what force is appropriate.

June 25, 2005

Building Blocks for Performance

Building Blocks for Performance: Give Your Puppy a Head Start for Competition Written by Bobbie Anderson with Tracy Libby, sets out a number of games to play with your puppy to build:
  • Drive
  • Speed and enthusiasm
  • Attention and focus
  • Motivation
  • Handler relationship

One of the many suggestions I like is getting puppy to stay connected with you. For example, she suggests that if you are doing something together and puppy wanders off to check some fallen leaves then you should drop to the ground and roll around making happy noises. Don't allow puupy to get into the habit of ignoring you, and don't run after her, instead make her want to come back to you. If you are upbeat and switched on, puppy will be too - if you are as dull as a post ...

She recommends playing hide and seek as part of this process of getting puppy to stay connected. In our local park we have a playground designed as a ship, the sides are about a metre high, and it has portholes for access. I showed Dusty the portholes, and then without warning I'd step into the ship and sit in the bow, and she'd race down to find a porthole and rush up to leap onto me. I guess you had to be there, but she and I had a ball.

On the Road

I did Helix Fairweather's Cyberagility course when Thommo was beginning agility, and really appreciate the extensive notes we were given as part of the program. I often refer back to them for training help.

Helix introduced us to Dani Weinberg's training model. These are the stages that you go through from introducing a new behaviour, to mastery of that behaviour.
  1. Get the behaviour
  2. Change the picture
  3. Add a cue
  4. Make it harder
  5. Take it on the road

So far I have captured a sit, lured a down, and shaped a stand.

We have practiced these with me in different positions in relation to Dusty - it is so easy to only ask for a sit directly in front - sometimes standing, sitting or lying on the floor, and in different situations.

I've added a cue, both a verbal 'sit', 'down' and 'stand' and a hand signal.

I've started to make it harder, adding speed of response as a criteria in familiar situations. If she doesn't respond when first asked I just turn away, and try again a little later. There is no point in training her to wait for repeated commands.

So today we took it on the road. The weather has improved, so we went to the park armed with treats and clicker. She was very good with sit and stand, but was reluctant to down. So I relaxed the criteria and guided her down with my hand - a lure without a treat.

Of course it is too early to say that she has learned any of these things - she is just a baby. But she has made an excellent start, and responding to the cues will soon become automatic.

June 24, 2005


Dusty is holding on for most of the night now, though her wanting to go out at five is a signal to Thommo that we are up and ready for a walk. Today at 5:00am it was pitch black, cold and raining and I have the flu.

So I took them both downstairs, opened the back door and gave them each a bone. The babygate is no impediment to Duz but I put it across the stairs, and then pulled across a chair I knew she couldn't climb, and went back to bed.

I dozed for a hour before I heard the clatter of puppy steps. I helped her up on the bed and she made a nest near my head and we both slept for another hour. The barricade was still intact, Thommo waiting patiently in front of it.

June 22, 2005

Dog Door

I have the flu so most of our training sessions have focused on silently chewing rawhide rather than barking in the distinctive high pitched cattle dog way. But we have continued with sit, down and stand. Some instructors advise not teaching a new behaviour until the previous one is reliable, but others suggest that pairing behaviours actually enhances learning as puppy distinguishes between sit and drop. Dusty certainly isn't confused. She really knows the meaning of the clicker too - I clicked while tidying up today and got her immediate attention.

Continued success with toileting outside, but so far I have had the back door open. So I decided to patiently introduce her to the dog door. I went outside, shut the door, and got treats ready to lure her through. She was sitting beside me. I tossed a treat back through the dog door. She leaped through grabbed the treat and rushed back through to sit at my feet. I took my honey-lemon tea back to the sofa and left Dusty playing a game of her own that involved rushing back and forwards through the dog door.

June 20, 2005

Shaping a Show Pose

Today we started work on shaping a show pose. Because sit is quite easy to teach, and dogs seem to naturally use it as a 'please' when they want something, it is easy to over-reinforce the sit so that when you try to shape another behaviour, your dog just offers the sit and becomes frustrated when it isn't rewarded. So we are now teaching that a stand is also a rewardable behaviour.

Following Karen Pryor's Shaping for the Show Ring I started by just holding out one finger. When Dusty moved towards it, I clicked and treated. I gradually increased the distance so that she had to come out of a sit, each time click and treating when she focused on my finger. Clicker Rule - click for action reward for position, so if she sits after I've clicked I'll put the treat out in front of her so that she has to stand to get the treat. We'll continue over the next day or two to reinforce standing.

Nothing fancy. As Sue Ailsby says "As a starting point, you will need the dog ready to go to work, standing up, willing to be handled in all his parts, facing your right hand, understanding the clicker, and wanting treats." Enough in there for a 9 week old.

9 weeks

Ready for a nap under my desk.


Games with a sea sponge.

Getting to know Thommo

June 16, 2005

Dusty, Dusty, Dusty

Today we've been playing come. Getting Dusty used to her name and making it fun to come when called. I've roped in neighbours and passing strangers to call her - three times in a bright, cheery tone "Dusty, Dusty, Dusty" crouching down to her level - then I call her back to me. Patricia McConnell studied professionals communicating with animals and found that invariably a come signal was a short repeated sound, while a stop was one drawn out sound.

Following Dani Weinberg's advice I'm working to establish several primary reinforcers so that our training isn't too dependent on food. A happy "good girl" or a "yes" and a rough and tumble are sufficient reward for coming at the moment.

She enjoys her toys, particularly interactive tug and toss games, so we're keeping those up. Our local petstore had 25% off all Petstages toys so I bought her a couple of those - the Orka tube and the Cool Puppy teether. While both are designed for chewing, they have tails and streamers for chasing and tugging.

June 15, 2005

House Training

There are entire books on this subject, and as many methods as there are dog trainers. My method draws on Pat Miller's 'management' techniques - if you don't want your dog to do X, then don't let him.

Dusty is never being given the opportunity to go to the toilet in the house. This of course depends on my being able to watch her 24/7, to confine her when I can't give her 100% attention, to keep to firm feeding, sleeping and playing routines, and to be aware of her 'bio-rhythms'. I also think it is important to have a specific place in the garden as a toilet area. 'Outside' is a fairly nebulous concept, particularly with my slate tiled living area and brick tiled garden.

I have a square metre patch of mulch near the back door which is the designated area. Sometimes we walk down to the larger area near the compost bin that Thommo uses, and eventually I'll get rid of the other one. At 1:00am on a winter morning the back gate is too far away. I think it is important to go with her, to make sure she goes, and to reward her enthusiastically immediately she does. There is not much point in rewarding a dog for coming back indoors.

Duzz has been a little gem so far, even taking herself out to the mulch on occasion. It helps of course that Deb and Rosie had between them developed an understanding that the garden was the place where these things happen.

Puppy Proof

I made the mistake of forming a definition of 'puppy proof' without the help of Red-Nose's girls, so it's going to need some re-working.

Duzz tested all the gaps in the baby gate and found that she could squeeze through the last one where it meets the wall. Instead of recognising that the sandstone block that forms my back step is too big to clamber up, she takes a run-up, a bounce step, and a flying leap inside. So for the moment my plans to contol her movements have come unstuck.

Luckily she has quite a bit of self-control for a tiny puppy. Having had her play time she is content to have her rest time, and she is voluntarily seeking out her crate for quiet times.

June 14, 2005

Sit Happens

Pat Miller says that anytime you and your dog are together, either you are training her or she is training you. So today was spent establishing routines. It might have looked as though we were just playing puppy games but we were working on quite a few things.

Dusty already has a nice sit as a 'please' when she wants a treat or a game, so I put that on cue. She is happy to go to her crate to eat or play with a toy so again I added a cue. Similarly for going outside to pee.

In clicker training the first step is to get the behavoiur. This is done by:
  1. capturing
  2. shaping
  3. luring.

With the things that she was already doing, it was simply a matter of clicking and treating when she did them, capturing the behaviour, and then adding the cue "sit" and "in your crate". We are also using "go pee", but I'm not using the clicker here.

I know lots of people do use the clicker for house training, but the essence of c/t is the precision of the click as a marker of the desired behaviour. So if the behaviour isn't precise, you can't mark it with precision. It is not peeing that I'm training, or going outside - it's going outside to pee. Difficult to mark with precision. So most of the time I'm still taking her out after naps and eating, but she has taken herself out several times today and hasn't toileted inside. When she goes on the mulch, she gets an enthusiastic good girl and a chest scritch or a game.

I'm also a big believer in Pat's philosophy that management comes first, training second. I've been micromanaging Thommo and Dusty's relationship, not letting them together in any situation that might cause conflict - at the door or in the kitchen. Thommo is much more tolerant of her than he was of Diesel, he doesn't mind her being on my lap, for example. Still, they can establish a relationship in low stress situations and I'll reward him for appropriate interaction for a while. The crates are a godsend for this, and to think I was opposed to them for a long time - though the soft-sided Cabanas are less prison-like than the metal ones.

June 13, 2005

First Day Home

Today we just got to know each other. We all got up about 6:30 and went for a short walk. Thommo pretended that Dusty wasn't there. I gave her a chicken wing and when she'd finished, I left her in the 'dog-proof' area and took Thommo out for another half hour. Then Thommo got his breakfast while I took Dusty out by herself.

I 'charged the clicker' getting her used to the sound and the fact that it means a reward is coming. I carried the clicker and treats with me and clicked behaviours that I'll eventually want on cue - stretching, sitting, coming to me. We wandered along on leash, never allowing any tension on the lead. If she wasn't going in the direction I wanted, I used my voice or a toy to attract her attention. As Clothier says - it takes two to pull on the lead. My plan is for her never to feel any tension. The lead is an emergency safety device not a steering wheel.

Dusty slept under my desk while I marked essays, Thommo was in the other room with the door shut. They then had ten minutes together alone, while I went to the shop. All was quiet when I returned. Meals today were a BARF pattie in two sections, a half can of sardines and a small chicken wing. She sits and waits for me to put her bowl down, very impressive.

I've been taking her out to the mulch when ever she wakes up from a nap, has a play, has something to eat or drink or every hour if she hasn't been and so far she hasn't toileted inside.

This afternoon we went to the park and met a couple of friendly neighbourhood dogs. There was a children's birthday party in the distance so we watched the children running and shouting. Two boys came over and wanted to play with her, so I got them to snake her lead around on the grass and she happily chased it.

She is now asleep in the open crate.

Exploring the garden.


I flew down to Melbourne yesterday to pick up Dusty. Had a couple of hours to talk puppies and breeding, agility and training, people and pets, with Deb and Murray to watch the girls play and to meet their mum and aunt. Rosie treated me like a lost lost friend, and I loved both the puppies at first sight. Then back to the airport. I was really impressed by the way Dusty responded to the new sights and sounds - alert and curious but not at all timid or wary.

In the plane I looked through the wonderful package of photos, information and personal comment that Deb had given me. We got back to Newcastle just on sunset. She had dug a little nest in her blanket and licked most of the cream cheese out of her kong so I decided that she wasn't too stressed by the trip. She had hung on for the couple of hours she had been in the crate, so first step was a walk on the grass.

She rode home beautifully. I couldn't bring myself to put her back in the crate, so she travelled the short distance on her blanket on the passenger seat, tethered to the seatbelt anchor. She stood and looked out the window, then curled up for a nap.

Thommo gave her a cursory sniff, but was more interested in getting me to play ball with him, so we had a game while Dusty explored. For dinner they both had kongs stuffed with Billinghurst patties - shut in their Cabana crates, while I made some phonecalls and checked email. Dusty let me know when she was ready to come out - but quietened and sat when I stood beside the crate. I think she'll learn quickly that the door doesn't open unless she is sitting quietly at the back of the crate. Outside for a pee on the designated mulched area.

She made a move towards Thommo's kong (empty) and he barked at her. She backed up a couple of steps then bounced forward barking at him. He gave another bark, and she answered with a play bow and a chorus of barking. She thought it was a great game, but I wasn't sure if the neighbours would, so I sent Thommo upstairs to bed.

She seems to be a problem solver. She couldn't climb up onto the sofa with me, but got herself onto the neighbouring chair and jumped across, very pleased with herself. Having done that she wanted to be on the floor, and slept with her back against the sofa.

I also slept through the Midsomer Murders. Then out to the mulch again, and upstairs to bed. Thommo gave a bit of a wuffle when I let her on the bed, and jumped up himself but settled. She was tooo wiggly and I was too tired to read, so into her wire crate with the blanket and her cow. She gnawed on my fingers for a while, then slept soundly until just after 1:00am when we went out to the mulch again. Back to the crate without stirring until Thommo got us all up.

June 09, 2005

Nap with cow

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Girls at 7 weeks.

June 08, 2005

Flying with Puppy

Making plans to bring red girl home this weekend, I've decided to fly down to Melbourne and collect her. I toyed with driving, so I could visit people I haven't seen in a while and have a mini-holiday but it started to get too complicated.

She has been wearing her new collar for a week now, her blanket has been in the kennel with mum and the siblings, and she has been playing with her toy cow. I'll bring a toy that Thommo has been playing with so that she will come across his scent while she is in a familiar environment.

I have borrowed an airline approved crate for her - we will both have to cope with the embarrassment of a crate with DohDoh printed in large letters on the front. I just hope airline employees don't call her DohDoh and scar her psychologically. I'll have her name and my contact details on it of course, and a water container. She can have a stuffed Kong to distract her, though I'll just fill it with things to lick so there are no choking risks.

It is only an hour and a half in the air, with no stop overs, so I'm hoping for a smooth trip for her. I've made her reservation - Jetstar only carry two pets on any one flight - and I've notified the pet handler at my airport to expect us.

June 04, 2005

Click to Calm

In Click to Calm, Emma Parsons gives a number of 'training recipes'. One, for changing stress cues to calm cues, is chin targetting where you get your dog to walk with your hand loosely around his muzzle. This technique is useful where you come face to face with another dog in confined space under stressful conditions, such as the start gate, or the vet's waiting room.

How to make it happen:
  1. Touch the top of your dog's nose.
  2. Click and feed your dog.
  3. Repeat several times.
  4. Cup your hand under your dog's chin.
  5. Click and feed your dog.
  6. Repeat several times.
  7. Now alternate between the two behaviors (Steps 1 & 4)
  8. Now cup your dog's chin in your hand with your fingers alongside his mouth and your thumb lightly on his muzzle.
  9. Click and feed for compliance.
  10. Change the direction of your hand so that your fingers are on the other side of his mouth.
  11. Click and feed.
  12. Alternate steps 8 & 10.
  13. Continue working until your dog is comfortable with your hand encircling his muzzle from either side of his face.
  14. The recipe continues with instructions for starting to walk with your hand in position, for increasing duration and introducing distractions. The key is to build up slowly and to click and reward at every step.
Click to Calm is available from Karen Pryor's site and in Australia from Natures Creatures Down Under

June 03, 2005

Right Patch Girl at six weeks

Left Patch Girl at six weeks.

Ted at six weeks.

Muscle Strain

Thommo has been lame for a few weeks - he has pulled the muscle at the front of his thigh. He had a week on Metacam but at my regular vet he is absolutely rigid with fear so I wasn't sure that it was possible to diagnose just what the problem was.

So we went back to Barbara, a holistic vet who helped him to 100% recovery from a cruciate tear, and managed to extend Diesel's life. Her book Healthy Dogs is my reference for all dog health questions. He was a bit anxious here, too, so I used the strategies in Click to Calm . It was written for the aggressive dog, but given that aggression can be an outcome of stress, the strategies work well for a dog that stresses in particular situation. Thommo has a highly reactive handler, so teaching him to see my body language in a stressful situation as a cue for him to focus on a job like carrying a toy has been really useful.

He has had chiropractic to correct the alignment of his spine, acupuncture and gentle muscle manipulation and has been given Traumeel in tablet form. I'm icing his thigh after exercise for two minutes, and putting a heat pad on it when he beds down for the night. After two weeks of treatment he is no longer limping, but we'll keep the treatment up for at least another week.