Crack Balls

February 24th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago at agility class, Micah had to run over and “snark” at another dog. He does this occasionally. Not a lot, but occasionally. Especially if there is someone new in class that he’s not familiar with. After working with him for. . . what . . . 4+ years now? I started thinking that I might be trying to force a square peg into a round hole. Even though he is physically Perfect for agility (lean and leggy), his inability to focus is getting me down. I started to entertain the idea that we may never be able to really excel at this sport, and I might have to look for something else to do with him.

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Tonight at agility class at Dog City Training Center, Micah discovered the “crack balls”. (We just call them that because it seems that ALL dogs LOVE them). He has a special toy at home that he’s totally nuts about, but I think the new crack ball will give it a run for it’s money. He was absolutely spastic as I placed the ball on top of a shelf while it was our turn to run; jumping and {{{quivering}}} and yipping for the ball. Please momma, please momma, PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEASE!!!!

I tried to get him to come but he was having none of it. So my instructor suggested that I put the ball in my pocket and throw it for him as a reward at the end. It was a good idea – at least in theory. He had a lot of trouble completing his sequences because he kept pulling off to come (try to) get the ball. However – his level of excitement was unbelievable, and he was TOTALLY focused on ME. As she pointed out, he didn’t so much as LOOK at another dog during the entire hour we were there. And that’s saying a LOT for Micah.

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Since this was our first attempt at training with a toy instead of food, I do realize that this was the roughest night. I’m sure that as he gets accustomed to using the ball, he will be able to focus a bit more, just knowing that the ball is coming. I’m very excited about this new possibility.

Maybe there’s hope for us yet. Fingers crossed!

Stay tuned.

Fun Party Trick

February 5th, 2011

Dang it!!! I just can’t get the video link to work. Not so computer savvy - but REALLY wanted to show the VIDEO!!!!

So I’ll have to settle for this not so great quality pic of Micah - the most fun boy EVER - and his new party trick called “feet”.

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Here’s one more that is really poor quality - but shows what good “vertical lift” he’s getting.

More "feet"

Good Boy Micah!!

Weather - Weather - WEATHER!!!

February 3rd, 2011

Tuesday morning Tessa (my elderly Great Dane) woke me up at 5:00am to go outside and (of course) EAT!! When I opened the door we were bombarded with tiny icicles hurling themselves at us at lightning speed. It was BAD out there. The wind was HOWLING!!! So what started accumulating on the ground and the roads, was ice. Millions of little chunks of ice that melded together to make our lives miserable.

Winter in Dallas isn’t really like winter at all. I mean, when you can do your Christmas shopping in a tee shirt and shorts, it’s really not winter. I’m from Minnesota, OK? Where winter really IS winter. The only time Dallas really feels like winter is during an ice storm, and I will admit that my Minnesota driving experience doesn’t help me there at all. I can drive on snow – I know how to do that – how to put the car in low and NOT spin your tires. You know, all the standard common sense stuff. But there really isn’t much you can do on ice.

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I HAD to drive to my part time (once a week) job Tues night, and even though I’m only a few minutes away, it was a scary proposition. The streets were just ice. Might as well have been a skating rink. So I started braking early when coming to a stop light. My disk brakes went into overtime. Sliding, sliding, sliding, and finally coming to a stop. Then when the light turned green there was still no guarantee that someone wouldn’t t-bone you because they couldn’t stop for THEIR red light.!!!! Like I said – SCARY!! Luckily there weren’t that many cars on the road.

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The media always amazes me during these weather outbreaks. It’s like they are foaming at the mouth for some juicy weather disaster.

Today is day 3 of the storm. Actually it only stormed once, and the ice that is on the road now is the same ice that’s been there since early Tues a.m. There is ABSOLUTELY nothing new happening right now, weather wise. And yet, the media breaks into my favorite programs every 10 minutes to show us pictures of 18 wheelers stuck on bridges, cars sliding into each other, folks a little short of grey matter standing behind pickups and jeeps – trying to PUSH them on the ice. Now there’s a good idea!

REALLY???? Are you SO desperate for news that we must drag this out for days on end??? I haven’t even been able to get any national weather (except for the ½ hour a day that the national news is on). No Early Show – just local weather. More and More and MORE local weather.

The true irony of the last few days is that Dallas is hosting the Superbowl this weekend. All of the football fan super-money that was supposed to be flowing into Dallas is being hijacked by the ice storm.

I guess God does have a sense of humor after all.

Another New Year

January 31st, 2011

OK – so it’s the last day of January, and if I’m going to write about my New Years Resolutions, I guess I should do it by today, huh?

Well – as always – I’ve given it quite a bit of thought. I really want this year to be about balance. Yin-yang. I want to become a more well-rounded person. All things in moderation. This year is not going to be “all dogs – all the time”. Don’t get me wrong – if you know anything about me at all, you know that I’m NUTS about my dogs. They ARE what makes my life go round. In fact I am vowing to spend more time actually training this year; not only Micah, but Ruby too. But let’s face it – dogs may be the main thing, but they’re not the ONLY thing.

My idea to become more “well rounded” started shortly after Christmas. I was bored one night and felt like reading something FUN!!! I haven’t read anything but dog training, or dog behavior, or dog agility, etc. for FAR TOO LONG. I haven’t read a novel in YEARS!!!! So I hopped on Amazon, found a book and downloaded it to my Kindle. It was GREAT!!! Wow – reading for pleasure. What a concept! I hope to do more of that in 2011.

Not only do I miss reading, I miss writing too. Blogging specifically. As I think I’ve said before – doesn’t everyone like to ramble about the useless crap in their life? It’s been so long since I’ve done it, I really couldn’t even remember how. Sad. So I’m hoping to keep up a little more with that. Certainly not daily, but maybe weekly. Maybe. I’ll try.

I also want to reinstate my running program. Well, I can’t honestly call it a running program yet; more like a walking program with some sprinting here and there. My long term goal would be to actually go for a rrrrrrr-uuuuuuuu-nnnnnnnnn! To run like the wind! I would LOVE to be able to run even a mile or two. Don’t know if that will ever happen, but I’m going to keep working on it.

Of course – losing weight is also on the list. It’s ALWAYS on the list. I have already started on that journey. Lost a few pounds, but have many, many more to go. I would love for this to be the year that I get to throw on a pair of skinny jeans – tuck my shirt in and go. That would be wonderful beyond belief. Nuf said.

Then there’s the house. Ohhhhhh – the house. This is the year I’m hoping to get it in order. NO – not hoping – I’m DOING IT!!!!! I AM doing it!!!

So – there you go. Now that I’ve put it out there in cyber-space, it somehow makes it more real. Makes me more accountable. Accountability can be a good thing. Whatever works.

Wow – can you imagine actually DOING all (or even most of) the things you resolved to do in January? That would be “wunderbar”!!! Stay tuned!!
(It’s good to be back).

Happy New Year!

December 31st, 2009

Wow! It’s 12/31/09, with the year end just a few minutes away. It has spurred me on to do a much overdue blog post. It’s been far too long.

I miss blogging. I guess we all secretly love to ramble on about the importance of our daily crap. Or the perceived importance of it.

So much has happened since my last post. Really involved in a new dog training facility. Mom has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Seems like there’s never time for anything. I’m sure my ADD (or my alleged ADD) doesn’t help. What it takes the normal person to do in 4 hours might take me 2 days to do. Then there are the things I can NEVER seem to get done. But I digress (due I’m sure to my ADD).

It’s New Year’s Eve and time once again to re-evaluate. To re-think how life is going, and how we might want to change it. As for me - I am vowing (once again) to try to be healthier in the New Year. To try (once again) to get more organized and use my time more wisely. To be a nicer person all around - definitely a huge challenge. And generally just try to make the world a better place.

Sometimes you just have to take an honest look and realize that there are improvements to be made. But we must keep on plugging, and not give up. Who knows, we might actually accomplish one or two of them before another year goes by.

Happy striving! And HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
Give all your pets a hug from me!!

Mickey

Fell Off the Face of the Earth?

November 16th, 2009

All two of you that had been reading my Blog must have thought I had been blown away by a random sniper, or thrown in jail, or incapacitated by a horrible car wreck. Actually, no.

I’ve recently become involved with a new business venture called Dog City Training Center. It was opened by a couple of friends of mine, and I’ve been quite “involved”. (For any of you in the area, it’s in Carrollton, TX). You can check out the website at: dogcitytrainingcenter.com

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Dog City is the first (that I know of) totally positive training center in my area, and I am absolutely thrilled with it. We are cutting edge dog training, and are teaching our students the value of creating a “thinking” dog. Some of you might think that is a bad thing, but I assure you, it’s not. :-) We have agility, manners classes, flyball, levels obedience and much more.

I went to a Rally-O trial today (a combination of agility and obedience) and was once again reminded of why I do what I do – train positively. I saw quite a few dogs in the ring walking around with their heads and tails down, pensively prodding along, obviously not enjoying themselves. Obviously afraid of making a mistake. Once again - a wonderful reminder that with positive training, the dog doesn’t have to be afraid of making a mistake. They are not punished, they just aren’t rewarded.

Dog City Training Center in many ways, is a dream come true for me, even if I’m not the owner. It stands for everything I believe in (as far as dog training goes). I hope that any of you in the area have a chance to check it out. It’s training at it’s best!!! And I am SO grateful for that!!

Happy Training!!!

‘Teacher’s Pet’ program changes destiny of kids, dogs

August 6th, 2009

I LOVE this story!! It was posted from USA Today on July 21, 2009. Enjoy!

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By Sharon L. Peters, Special for USA TODAY

When teens are troubled, when they tread more often than not on the wrong side of doing the right thing, when they can’t seem to dredge up any interest in school or parental advice, or preparing to be contributing members of society, it’s easy to conclude that nothing can reach them.

They’re heart-of-stone kids, we figure, with mile-high barriers erected to protect whatever small measure of softness, empathy or willingness to connect might exist deep within them.

And that settles that. End of story.

Except Amy Johnson was certain that simply isn’t the case.

She knows something about reaching kids, since she has a teaching background. And then there’s that little something else about her background — a few years working with the Michigan Humane Society as well as training as a dog trainer — that convinced her that combining her two specialties could make a difference.

A student trainer works with Jewell in the Teacher's Pet: Dogs and Kids Learning Together program, which links destined-for-euthanasia dogs with emotionally impaired students. Both trainers and dogs learn and benefit. Photo by Amy Johnson

A student trainer works with Jewell in the Teacher's Pet: Dogs and Kids Learning Together program, which links destined-for-euthanasia dogs with emotionally impaired students. Both trainers and dogs learn and benefit. Photo by Amy Johnson

She did some research. Got her thoughts together. Approached some Michigan school superintendents, proposing a program in which some of the kids who were floundering badly and were at high risk of dropping out would train dogs for a few weeks. Maybe helping a dog that needed it could turn those kids around, she thought. Maybe that would give kids the kind of success they needed to feel better about themselves and everything else.

The superintendent in Waterford bit.

In the three years since then, her non-profit Teacher’s Pet: Dogs and Kids Learning Together program has linked 42 destined-for-euthanasia dogs with 42 students from Kingsley Montgomery School, a day treatment center/alternative school for junior high and high school youth with emotional and/or cognitive issues.

And it turns out her suspicions were correct. The program seems to have helped kids and canines in almost equal measure. All of the rescued dogs plucked from shelters and trained through the program have been adopted into new homes; most of the emotionally impaired kids who have rehabilitated them have new attitudes, new leases on life.

“The dogs come with behavior problems, and these kids can instantly relate to them,” says Johnson, who has a full-time job as marketing coordinator at Oakland University and does this Teacher’s Pet program as a part-time sideline without pay.

Almost immediately the kids chosen for the program have developed tight bonds with the animals. “Something warm and fuzzy reached these kids who no one else could get to.”

Buddy gives as much love and attention as he gets, and his trainer supplies plenty of it. Photo by Amy Johnson

Buddy gives as much love and attention as he gets, and his trainer supplies plenty of it. Photo by Amy Johnson


In each of the 10-week cycles of teens training dogs that have been conducted at the school so far, “the teachers and social workers noticed a change in the kids almost immediately,” Johnson says. “One of the kids last fall would tell everybody, ‘This program changed my life.’ He graduated. He believes now that he really does have things he can contribute.”

The kids and dogs work together two times a week, two hours per session. Johnson does Dog 101 instruction, then advances to talking about how dogs deal with stress, how people can read dogs’ body language, and how dealing with the animal in a positive rather than a negative way builds its confidence, removes its defensiveness and nurtures a willingness to learn and bloom.

“I never say, ‘All this is to make you a better person,’ but they figure it out,” Johnson says. “They know they’ve messed up. One girl actually said, ‘I get that we’re like the dogs.’ ”

This being real life, not all of the kids in the program have experienced a storybook ending. They have a few hours a week with the dogs “and then some go home to their questionable environments,” Johnson says. “But most have done well. They’ve improved relationships, learned patience. Many have transitioned back to their home school.”

There’s enough belief in the little program that’s changing lives that Planet Dog and Banfield Charitable Trust have sent some much-needed funding to support it, and three lock-up facilities for teens have had Johnson launch her program there (40 kids and about 30 rescued dogs have participated so far).

She also is running a summer camp, called Kamp K9 for Kids, for nearly 40 sixth to ninth-graders so they can learn many of the same dog-handling-related facts of life.

Johnson, of course, has dreams … dreams of “more people to help more kids and dogs.”

Her goals, she acknowledges, are “lofty,” and the means of achieving them, at this point, are “somewhat vague.” But then again, four years ago there was no program, no non-profit, no board and limited interest in what she was proposing.

Things have moved forward, she believes, for a simple reason:

“If you learn to communicate with a dog, you’re well on the way to being able to communicate with everyone.”

BARK AT US
Sharon L. Peters is an award-winning pet journalist who lives in Colorado. You can e-mail her at pets@usatoday.com.

The Power of “Shaping”

July 12th, 2009

For those of you not fluent in “clicker” language, shaping is a process wherein you “click” (thus telling the dog – yes – that’s exactly what I want) for tiny approximations toward your goal behavior. It is a powerful, powerful tool.

Let’s say I want to train Micah to make a figure 8 around two traffic cones. First I would click him for just looking at the cone(s). I will usually click twice for the same behavior. Then the third time he looked at the cones I would just wait (and NOT click). I would wait for him to offer SOMETHING ELSE. More than likely he would take a step toward one of the cones and I would click again. The next step would be for him to actually get close to one of the cones, and I would click for that.

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Then he might turn back toward me, asking “is that what you wanted?” No click for turning back toward me. So he would probably go and sniff the cone, for which I would click again. Then I would withhold the click until he made just the slightest movement toward the back of it. Click! As he starts to move around the back of the cone – click again.

Hopefully you’re getting the idea of how shaping works. The process of getting him to go around the 1st cone took about 2 minutes. Getting the figure 8 around both cones took less than 10 minutes. I dare say I would have had a hard time training that behavior in 10 minutes with any other method.

Dogs that get “shaped” on a regular basis are pretty savvy on how to play the game. Instead of just standing there looking at you – waiting for you to “lure” them into position, (or better yet, physically push them into position such as pushing a dogs butt to the ground for a sit), you get a dog that thinks “hmmmm – what can I do to get mommy to make that clicking sound”, and will try behaviors on their own. They will actually search out ways to make the clicker “click”. The science of behavior has proven that when a dog makes a conscious decision, it releases endorphins in the brain. This is a very good thing! The behavior sticks because they have learned it ON THEIR OWN. THEY did something that caused the click, and hence the reward (be it food, or play or praise). They learn NOTHING by having their butt pushed to the ground, and they learn PITIFULLY LITTLE (I would guess virtually nothing) by leading them with a treat in front of their nose. In fact, the treat in front of the nose (for most dogs with a pulse) mainly makes them deaf, dumb and blind to much of anything else.

I can’t emphasis enough what a HUGELY powerful tool shaping is. If you want to prove it to yourself – conduct a little experiment in “free shaping”. Get out your clicker and some yummy treats and just wait for your dog to do something – anything. If he hears something and he turns his head to the left – click. If he sneezes – click. If he lies down – click. (The only things that I would NOT click would be behaviors that you don’t want such as barking, etc).

What he will start to understand is that, HE is somehow causing you to click (and reward). Just play the game for 2 to 3 minutes and then end with a “good dog” and maybe a short game of tug.

The next time you get out the clicker, he will start offering even more behaviors. Experiment with putting various objects on the floor. Will he put a paw on it? Will he touch his nose to it? Will he pick it up and fling it across the room? These are all behaviors that can be put on “cue” or command. You may ask, why would I want to put a head turn, or a fling across the room on cue. Why would I want my dog to do that? Quite simply, the more a dog learns, the easier learning becomes. And if you want to get a little creative, you can do some pretty interesting things with a few simple behaviors strung together.

Don’t forget – just like people – dogs need mental stimulation, as well as physical exercise. Learning is fun, and will make him a better, more enjoyable dog. I promise!!!!

Happy Training!

Gun Shy

June 10th, 2009

How many of us have had some kind of behavior problem with our dogs, only to withdraw into oblivion and pretend that it doesn’t exist? Many. I know. I’ve had clients do it. And I’ve been tempted to do it myself, once or twice.

Several years ago I had a pit bull in one of my group classes, that was very reactive to other dogs. He would bark and lunge and pretty much go nuts whenever he saw another dog. So I had his owner work on walking him around, (a good distance away from the rest of the class), and reward him for not reacting to the others. The rest of the class worked on a variety of things that night, but Judy just worked on getting her dog to be able to look at another dog without going ballistic. By the end of the class, she had made a TON of progress. He could come within about 12 feet of another dog without barking and lunging. The work that she did with her dog that night was the most important thing she could have done. It was VITALLY important. The dog had the potential to do a lot of damage, and this was the first step in helping him to divert that behavior.

When I spoke to her the following week, she informed me that she would not be coming back to class. When I asked her why, she said that her husband was totally mortified by the way the dog acted, and they would NOT be returning. I explained that I thought what happened that night at class was a really GOOD thing, and that she HAD made a huge amount of progress, and how important that work was, etc. It was no use, his mind was made up, and she wasn’t about to change it. So instead of continuing to work through the problem, I would imagine that the dog will now just be locked in the house, not able to interact with any other dogs ever, which will just exacerbate the problem. They will have to “manage” his behavior for the rest of his life.

I have always felt really bad about that incident, and have often wondered what happened to that dog, and his owners. But on some level, lots of us do the same thing. If our dog does something that we consider “not good” how many of us just try to avoid the situation in the future, instead of working through it? Susan Garrett, one of the most brilliant dog trainers I know, says that whenever we see a shortcoming in our dog, we should look at it as a “training opportunity”. Instead of running the other way, or making excuses for why he does that, we need to work on the problem, and train for it.

As many of you know, I’ve entered Micah in a couple of agility trials only to be pretty much humiliated. To have him either run around like a crazy man, or run out of the ring is certainly less than ideal. So of course my instinct was to never show him again – not seriously – but at least not for a long time. True, I don’t want him to be rehearsing that behavior, but how is he going to get better without more experience? So while we have continued to work on our agility, we have also decided to start doing some fun matches. Fun matches are somewhat like an agility trial, but they don’t count, and there isn’t an actual judge. It’s for the dogs to “practice”, and get more experience, often in a new location.

So on Saturday, we went off to somewhere we’ve never been before, for our 1st fun match in a very long time. Micah did surprisingly well. We opted for 2 jumpers runs and 2 standard runs. They weren’t perfect by any means, but they weren’t entirely bad either. He had a couple of “woo-hoo” moments, and being a crazy little guy, but they didn’t last. By the 4th run, it was getting downright hot, and he was not at his best, but he still seemed to be trying. I was really glad we went, and will definitely enter more fun matches in the future!!

I guess the bottom line is: if your dog has a problem – whatever it is – don’t run and hide in a corner. Dogs learn from training and experience, not isolation. People aren’t paying nearly as much attention to you as you give them credit for. Work on the problem and figure out a way to fix it, or at least improve it! Your dog will be SO much the better for it – and you will too!!

Happy training!!!

Mickey

The Turbinator

May 26th, 2009

There’s really nothing exciting going on at the moment, so I thought I would just share a short clip of my Doberman Turbo. Turbo is a special needs boy. He’s a little short on the gray matter, but is the sweetest boy in the world. He took a Doberman temperament test once and failed the part that involved an “aggressive stranger”. He was supposed to get aggressive back, but instead he just stood there and looked at the guy. I’m quite OK with that, since he’s 90 pounds of muscle. (Don’t need 90 pounds of “aggressive” muscle). :-)

Anyway, here’s a clip of his best tricks. Enjoy!

Silly Dober-boy