July 26, 2005


Dusty in a rare quiet moment.

Taking the Car Keys for a Walk

I've entered Ikenheel Diamonds N Dust in a show. A pretty scarey thing for me to do, so I've been trying to find out as much as I can about the scene.

The NSW Canine Council has quite a good New Exhibitors Guide, with information on training and preparation, entering, the judging process, and the awards. As does the North Australian Canine Council.

I also watched the George Alston seminar video. He starts off by saying "I will criticize you, I will yell, some of you will cry ..." He talks about finding the 'button' that turns your dog on. And he demonstrates leash control. His advice is to attach your car keys to the end of your leash and then practice taking-up and letting-out the slack with both hands, and walking and running without jangling the keys. He reckons that if you can't walk your keys then you won't be able to walk your dog.

July 24, 2005

Off Leash

Most of the local off-leash areas are pretty boring places - flat, mown grass and not even a tree to sniff. But King Edward Park has a hill and tussocky native grasses left unmown and low shrubs for playing chase and hide.

July 22, 2005

Crate Training

Dusty loves her crate - though none of the crate training manuals I've read mention sitting on top of the crate. Given that we use a soft-sided crate I've had to reinforce it with a board after it folded itself up while she was perched on top. She sits sphinx-like keeping watch on her kingdom, alert to any movement by Thommo which might require action on her part.


Thommo has ripped a toenail off - well he started it and the vet finished it.
He is being a big sook about it, hopping around with his paw stretched out in front of him. The bid for sympathy seems to have worked on Dusty.


We are not learning anything really new at the moment. I'm trying to add duration to cues that Dusty already knows, though she is a great believer in instant gratification. So instead of click/treat the moment her bottom hits the ground after I say sit, I'm waiting for a moment or two. Not always getting harder, but asking for longer and shorter sits before rewarding.

We are also concentrating on life experiences. I'm taking whatever opportunity our day offers to let her experience walking on beams, going through tunnels, climbing ramps, standing on moving surfaces.

Another incidental thing we are doing is building self control. Following Scott Lithgow I'm using play sessions to move from excitement to control. He suggesting building a 'hunting relationship' where puppy follows your fingers (he says, "you will finish up losing a bit of blood") or a dragged toy. He suggests using your encouragement signal during the game - 'swit, swit'. You build up the excitement then stop the game with a 'that'll do'. You can also introduce a 'steady' as a pause during the game - stroking the pup to get her calm yet attentive.

Sleeping arrangements

We seem to have sleeping arrangements sorted. Dusty has pretty much adopted Thommo's routine.

They are invited up on the bed while I watch TV or read, Thommo on my left at my feet, Dusty at my right near my head. Then after I go to sleep they go to their own beds, to climb back onto my bed at around five in the morning for another hour's sleep. Dusty has 'held on' until we go downstairs at six for the last two days. Here's hoping it lasts.

July 20, 2005

Sleeping positions

Dusty has adopted a spot curled up under my chin as her night-time sleeping space. I'm OK with that - so long as she waits to be asked to hop up, and she goes to her own bed on command. So we spent some time over the last couple of days practicing that.

She is a lot of fun to shape behaviours with, though I'm finding I have to be very clear in my mind as to what the criteria are, because if something isn't rewarded she will offer something new very quickly.

She did well with 'go to your bed', and on 'hop-up' but if anyone has any clues on how to teach 'wait for the hop-up command without barking in a high-pitched yip' then I'd appreciate the advice.

July 16, 2005

Big Bed

Dusty's growing like a weed - her legs seem to have grown longer just this week. So the little metal crate that she sleeps in beside my bed is no longer spacious.

This week I've been going out to work for three or four hours, getting ready for students coming back next Monday. I've been leaving her in her restricted space, with acess to her big crate and the outdoors, with Thommo in a separate room where they can see each other. They get a meaty bone or a BARF patty stuffed into a Kong. Dusty also has a small basket of toys and chews. Everyday when I've come home things have been perfect; nothing chewed, no mis-placed puddles.

So the combination of those two factors led me to decide to get rid of the bed-time crate, and let her sleep on a dog bed in my room, like Thommo. The trek downstairs to the garden was a bit much to expect so I got one of those trays designed to collect car oil leaks, and filled it with mulch on the balcony outside my room, and left the door open.

She settled down beautifully, with the bed in the same spot as the crate was. At one point I was aware of her curled up under my chin, and Thommo tucked in behind my knees, but by morning both were back on their own beds.

I also heard her having a pee on the verandah boards, but I'm not too bothered by that. She did go 'outside' and it won't be a problem once she can hold on all night. And if anyone was walking along the footpath underneath at the time - well, I can't worry about them.

July 11, 2005

Operant Conditioning

Pat Miller gave a nice explanation of operant conditioning on the peaceable paws mailing list.

There are 4 principles of operant conditioning:
  1. Positive reinforcement (R+) - dog's behavior makes a good thing happen; behavior increases.
  2. Positive punishment (P+) - dog's behavior makes a bad thing happen; behavior decreases.
  3. Negative punishment (P-) - dog's behavior makes a good thing go away; behavior decreases.
  4. Negative reinforcement (R-) - dog's behavior makes a bad thing go away; behavior increases.
Positive trainers use primarily R+, secondarily P-, and try to avoid using P+ and R-.

July 09, 2005

Fear Period

Dusty has entered what is known as the 'fear period'. Puppies develop a fear of the unknown at around twelve weeks.

On our walk this morning she startled at the kookaburras dawn chorus, at rowers on the river, at a pelican coming in to land, and at a large woman on a bicycle wearing some sort of flowing cape thing (to be fair to Dusty I startled at that too).

She came to attention, backed off, and gave a woof-woof of suprise. Being a puppy with a very sound temperament, Dusty recovered quickly from her fright, marching up to the kookaburras perch, following the rowers and the pelican on the river, and watching the bicyclist out of sight.

My response to the fear period is to do nothing. Reassuring her could reinforce fearful behaviour, and anyway this whole developmental period is about her coming to terms with new things in her environment in her own way. My no-reaction to new things will reassure her that it is nothing to worry about. I will however takes steps to avoid things that I know will be frightening until she has developed her own mechanisms for coping. For example behind the fish markets are huge fans that come on with explosive noise and wind at seemingly random times - frightening the bejesus out of Thommo and I - so we'll stay away from there until she is older.

Klinkam talks about the practice of overstating and even abusing the behavioral concept of the "fear period" by accepting that it is normal for a pup to show protracted, chronic fearfulness of ordinary environmental stimuli. Contrary to a common misperception, the Fear Imprint developmental phase is not fearfulness, it is an awareness of what is 'new'. "The sound pup demonstrates the capacity and the will to identify that something encountered is novel, investigate to determine if it is benign and it need not be feared, accept it as a familiar (known) environmental element, and recognize future encounters as non-threatening and inconsequential that do not provoke a fearful response."

July 08, 2005

Too smart for school

We've been playing games where I wave socks, shoe laces, gloves in front of her face and then click/treat her for leaving them alone, but she catches on so quickly that she will only get the treat if she doesn't touch the object that we don't get to practice 'stop biting' very often.

Similarly with our beginning 'choose to heel'. Out walking on the beach or in the big foreshore park, I click/treat her for returning to me after chasing Thommo or stopping to explore. But she very quickly gets the idea that with me is where the treats are. I have to find a way to detach her so that I can reward her for coming back.

She woke up about 5:00 this morning and I let her out for a pee then put her on the bed with Thommo and I. He pounced at her, barking, so I put him outside the room. When I let him back in ten minutes later he hopped back on the bed beside her without any fuss and the two of them slept, almost touching, for another hour.

July 07, 2005

Got puppy nipping?

We've been working on nipping by:
  1. stopping all movement when Dusty grabs clothes or skin
  2. making a noise designed to startle
  3. distracting her with an appropriate toy or chew
Today I started rewarding her for not grabbing at hands, socks, shoe laces or other items just because they were in front of her face. Following Karen Pryor's I'm OK With That Game.
  • Take your closed fist and put it in front of the puppy’s face. Click and treat if he doesn’t nip—even for a second!
  • Next, take your closed fist and wave it slowly around in front of the puppy.
  • Raise the criteria for a click by both lengthening the amount of time the puppy can have your fist in front of his nose without nipping, and by altering the distance from his face and the speed of your hand flying around his face.
  • Do the same with your open hand. Do the same with your index finger. Try it with your shoes and your clothing.
  • Repeat this exercise with a toy or chew bone. Click and treat for calmness and for waiting rather than grabbing at the object.

Stay at each step for several repetitions, until puppy is consistently making the right choice - not to grab at something simply because it is in front of her face.

July 04, 2005

Electronic Journal

Australian CattleDogs of Canada is available on CD by subscription, or free online in a lower resolution to download and print.

The current May-June issue has an article on Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. My old dog Joel suffered from this, but it took a couple of years to diagnose him. I often wish that I had known more about it when he first started to show symptoms, and not allowed my vet to convince me that he was just getting old. When he reached the stage of endless pacing, and panic attacks in even familiar environments, drugs helped a little but a change in diet, mental therapy and medication might have made his last years happier. He lived to 14 years.

There are also articles on herding, square dancing with dogs, and on coat colour.

July 02, 2005

Ears up

Puppy's ears standing up really changes her appearance - it is a little bit sad as it represents the end of the baby puppy stage.

I couldn't manipulate a dogs ears in the way you have to with some breeds, splinting and taping and the like. Foutunately ear cropping is unlawful in Australia, but even taping sounds pretty extreme with all the warnings about not pulling the tip of the ear off with the tape, needing three people to hold puppy still, and of ending up with the wrong ear set anyway.

Sunrise at the Cowrie Hole

The sun's out after a week of rain, so we are back to our early morning walks. It is great to see the two of them playing on the beach, he is very tolerant of her attempts to get a reaction from him and occasionally obliges her with a chase game.

So far Dusty and Thommo have had two altercations. One evening Thommo was lying across a door way, and I stepped over him to get something. Dusty wanted to follow so she barked at him. He put up with it for a moment or two then grabbed her by the muzzle. She screamed blue murder, but he didn't leave a mark, and I felt that was an acceptable correction for a cheeky pup.

Last night I had the bottom desk drawer open and Dusty was playing on it trying to climb up higher. Thommo flew across the room at her and I grabbed him as he grabbed her. That, I felt, was unacceptable, Thommo does not have the right to control who has access to me. So I put him outside for fifteen minutes. Usually if I am playing with her on my lap, or she is snuggling on the sofa, Thommo is on the house line so his reach is restricted. He will grumble at her when she trys to climb onto my lap, but usually settles fairly quickly once she's up.


Dusty has found a use for those green bags that I buy at the supermarket to cut down on plastic bag use but never remember to take back to the supermarket - so they will eventually end up clogging landfill.