Not a Traffic Barrel

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Orange and silver striped traffic barrel on a road

A lovely morning for a walk.  Tom guiding on my left, Dulce spaniel and Zora walking nicely on my right.

Nearing the end of the walk, final stretch of sidewalk towards home.  I live on the main road through town, so there is always traffic, it’s busy.  It’s trash day. It’s the time of year for road work so various bits of construction.  You get the picture.

Dulce, who is walking with her gentle leader head collar on flicks her head and does a little woof, the way she does when there is something ahead she’s unsure about.  So we stop, do a couple of hand touches for some treats, she settles.  I glance ahead and see the orange and silver stripes of a traffic barrel at the edge of the sidewalk.  Ok, makes sense Dulce is unnerved, she can be worried about stuff like that.

Dulce is willing to trust me, and Tom and Zora are unphased, so we keep going.  As we are passing, the traffic barrel says, “Hi!”

Not a traffic barrel.

I can only imagine what the construction worker thought as I’m approaching, telling the dogs, “Don’t worry, it’s just a barrel.”  LOL

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Dulce spaniel close up happy panting

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On the Mend

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Zora standing on the treadmill, tail a wagging blur, waiting for me to turn the machine on for her

Zora’s been on R&R for the past 10 days or so for a foot injury.  Not sure how it happened, the most likely is either A. I stepped on her and let’s be honest, rather a high chance of that.  or B.  She really jammed it either chasing chipmunks or a ball in the woods, and let’s be honest, also high chance of that with the intensity she races after either of those.

After a visit to the chiropractor, about 5 days of snoozing on the couch and being left home from walks, her foot was clearly starting to feel better but she was still really low energy.  I thought to myself, something else is going on here.  My gut says she’s having a tick borne disease flare up as last year she came up positive for both lyme and anaplasmosis.  Sure enough 3 doses of doxy later, she’s back to her normal energy demanding I let her DO SOMETHING!!  Which of course is tricky, as her foot is still healing.

Mid week, after another chiropractor appointment, we got the go ahead to start doing bits of exercise.  Can I say how thankful we all are that she can now be a bit more active?

Yesterday she got to do a bit of an on leash walk in the woods through the pine forest.  Walking on the soft bed of pine needles.  Watching for chipmunks she couldn’t chase.  And was sound after that.

Today, we’ve added in some treadmill work.  With the treadmill I can more easily observe how she’s moving and more easily control the speed she is moving at.  Also, she loves the treadmill and asks me to turn it on every time we go in the cellar, so as she can’t play ball or run around like a nutter for the near future, if the treadmill is allowed and makes her happy, treadmill it shall be.

Suffice to say, this morning she was very happy.

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A trotting blur of Zora as she walks on the treadmill

Busy Body Tattle Tale

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Corgis are notorious control freaks.  Nosy control freaks.  Want to know everyone’s business and what’s going on and why weren’t they informed gosh darn it!?!  And rules, oh the rules!  The glee they get when someone is breaking the rules!

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Zora standing in the yard on grass looking at me

Zora is no different.  There is a fine line to balancing what could be very bossy (and rather jerk) behavior in her.  Most of the time she is able to walk the line.  Thankfully.  Monty, he was trouble, ‘fine line what fine line?  Oh you mean that one I stomped on and ignored, that line?’  In the old west Monty would have been a gun slinging head of the outlaw gang, Zora a badge toting law enforcing Deputy (I’m glad she considers me worthy to play Sheriff).

a black and white corgi wears sunglasses with his head out the window of a blue truck

Monty was one cool dude!

But a side benefit is Zora’s a fantastic tattle tale.

She can be sound asleep and some visiting dog makes some movement or noise or gosh knows what and she’s up in a flash off to investigate.  If something is amiss and her sticking her nose into it isn’t enough for the other dog to stop, she trot trot trots on over to me to tell her tale, “That dog is breaking rules!  Go tell them so!”

I have to say my favorite move of hers though is when the other dog is getting into something, drops it when Zora approaches, and she picks it up in a swoop, trots it back to me gleefully to deposit her prize in my hand.  Another LEGO brick saved.  Thanks, Zora.

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One of the LEGO thieves of late…

Contact Obstacles: More Than the End Zone

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This spring I’m working with a number of agility teams specifically on contact obstacles.  Some of the teams are with young dogs that the handlers want to set a solid foundation for contacts on, some are dogs who are nervous, insecure or otherwise uncomfortable on contact obstacles, and some are dogs with inconsistent or non-existent behavior in the contact zone.  These dogs are all learning how to move and keep their body safely on the obstacle

Over the years I’ve found, dogs who have been taught how to move their bodies and save themselves on the contact obstacles, rather than simply how to go across the boards from start to end, have increased confidence and in the long run more reliable consistent performance of the obstacle.

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Zora flying over the dog walk at a competition

 

So, we start with a board.  For these early exercises I like to use a 10″ wide 8′-10′ long board.

I do these below stages 1-5 with the board in various positions.  Part 1 we work through these stages with the board flat on the ground.  Part 2 with the board elevated on both sides so it is a flat elevated plank up on cinder blocks.  Part 3 with the board as a tippy board with a moving fulcrum (piece of 1.5-2″ diameter PVC) under it.  Part 4 with the board elevated on 1 end so it is a descending or ascending ramp (then vary the height starting with cinder block, working way up to various pause box heights and finally if available propping 1 end up on an a-frame ramp).  Depending on the dog we may spend ample time at each part, or so a few simultaneously.  Most dogs we do these exercises for a couple of weeks before moving on to competition style equipment, but we move forward at the pace of the dog.  The dogs comfort, confidence and attitude tell me when we are ready to move forward.

Yes, I do the tippy board work before I do the ramp work.  Why?  because I want a dog confident in understanding how to control movement.   When we start to eventually teach actual contact obstacles, I teach the teeter before the dog walk.  I do NADAC agility, we have no teeter in competition, yet still I teach my dogs and students dog’s how to safely understand and operate a teeter totter, as I feel it’s important in a dog’s understanding of how obstacles work and how to control their bodies.  Dog walks can flex, and shift, and make noise, teeters help a dog learn all about those variables.

Once the dog is comfortable with the exercise of each stage and each part, I then add in various speeds and obstacles into the board.  Practicing each piece coming into the board at speed, and from other obstacles such as tunnels, hoops, jumps, allowing the dog to further learn how to control and manage their bodies on a narrow board.

Stage 1: Mark and reinforce any contact dog’s feet make with the board as you move up and down the board.  Reinforcement is delivered while the dog is still on the board, and handler works to center the reinforcement over the board (either food reward or tugging is ideal in this situation over throwing a toy).  Build value for feet interacting with the board.

Stage 2:  Mark and reinforce when dog has contact with board with 2 or more feet, progressing criteria as dog is comfortable to all 4 on the board, as you move up and down the board.  Reinforcement still delivered while dog on the board and handler works to center the reinforcement over the board.  Build value for coordinating all 4 feet interacting with the board and maintaining interaction with the board (as opposed to tap and move off)

Stage 3:  dog is now comfortable and has built value for getting all 4 feet on the board.  Dog gets on board, and is cued to do a position change, sit, down, stand.  Criteria is dog to keep all 4 feet on the board during the position change, once in position and able to hold the position.  Handler adds in release cue (verbal) or another position change after reinforcement is delivered.  Vary where on the board the dog is cued to do various position changes.  At this stage also vary where the handler is in relation to the dog when they cue the position changes ie: ahead, behind, beside, a few feet away, etc

Stage 4:  Dog is all 4 feet on the board and learns to turn around 180′ to start then building up to a full 360′ on the board while keeping all 4 feet on the board.  Working on the dog being able to move their body in even more ways on the board.  This is an especially important exercise for larger dogs.

Stage 5: Dog learns to back up keeping all 4 feet on the board.

By learning progressively how to move their bodies, move forward, move back wards, change position, turn around with moving, stationary, level and angled boards once we finally move to actual agility contact obstacles the dogs have an understanding and confidence that makes teaching the full height equipment so much easier.

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Regal liver flat coated retriever on an agility teeter totter, photo from around 1999

 

ACVO eye exam

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Each May for the past number of years ACVO sponsors free veterinary ophthamologist exams for working dogs. It’s a wonderful program and one I am grateful for.

Black lab x golden retriever cross sitting in green grass with a blue collar on

Yesterday Tom and I headed in to the Angell Memorial Veterinary Hospital in Boston for Tom’s annual eye exam. I felt like I had a transportation fairy on my shoulder, the various transit we had to navigate to get there and back went smoothly in a way I usually only dream about. A friend offered us a ride to the train station, she was wonderfully on time, train arrived on schedule, the conductor actually clearly announced the stops, we caught a subway within minutes of arriving in the station, there were people around who quickly and easily answered my “which side of the platform” question, the .7m walk from the subway station to the hospital was a breeze so we arrived for the appointment with 5minutes to spare. Going home the travel fairy was also magically there, even to where as we were walking home from the train station just as I noticed Tom was starting to get hot about a mile from home a friend who happened to be driving by and saw us, called to offer us a ride. Magic I tell you, magic!

Anyway, back to the exam. It was good we went. Tom now has some mild age related changes to his eyes. The vet described them as very typical for a dog Tom’s age and nothing to be concerned about at this time. The vet anticipated likely in 2-3 years those changes will adversely affect his vision, but now they don’t and Tom is good to safely guide me. We will go back again next year as the vet recommended, see if there has been any further progression and go from there. So good, not great, news and more importantly good data to have so we can make the best decisions for Tom and for our safety as a team as time goes on.

Chipmunk with a death wish

Seriously little guy, there are so many better places you could chose to be.

Chipmunk standing in the grass

Like a thousand within 10′ that don’t involve being on my deck while 4 dogs also sunbathe on it.

Because you had to work hard to get onto the deck. Like active choice. Multiple active choices to get here. You don’t end up on my deck by happenstance. I’ve ensured that. For little critters to get on the deck, you must navigate a number of barriers put in placed to give you a chance to realize maybe this isn’t the wisest decision. I even give you enticements to want to be other places, like you ran through my lettuce patch to get on the deck! Where there is nothing but 4 dogs! 2 of whom get the thrill of a lifetime chasing your kind.

And that you’ve done it any way. Seriously pal, why? Are you a little chipmunk adrenaline junkie? Did your little chipmunk pals dare you to do it? Are you a suffering chipmunk, is this a cry for help?

I hope the run for you life from the dogs who love chipmunk chasing and the fact that this time they were so shocked at finding you willingly coming into their territory they couldn’t coordinate their efforts to actually capture you, makes you think twice next time you consider scurrying onto my deck. I don’t want to host a chipmunk funeral.

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3 of the chipmunk chasers in question (ok the only 3, Tom doesn’t chase chipmunks)

The Recall Game!

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There are loads of games you can (and I do) use to teach and reinforce the come cue (aka Recall).  Round Robin, Restrained Recall, Tag, The Stalky Stalk Game, Hide & Seek, Treat Toss, The Bowl Game, and more.  But relatively simple game my friends and I often play with the dogs on our walks is calling them back and forth between us.

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Rosie poodle, Zora corgi, Lena goofy dog racing through the green field toward me

The “rules” of the game are pretty simple:

  1.  The dogs start at Human A.
  2. Human B calls the dogs
  3. the dogs race as fast as they can to Human B.  Dogs that actually reach human B directly get praise and food treat (if they want it)
  4. Human A then calls the dogs
  5. The dogs race as fast as they can back to Human A
  6. Dogs that actually reach human A directly get praise and a food treat (if they want it)

The “if they want it” is because we’ve learned some of the dogs prefer to only gets treats from me, or from my friend.  But they learn they will only get those treats if they actually complete the loop of run to the opposite person, then run back when called.  So they race away when called to the other person same as the rest of the dogs, don’t really care or want that person or the food, but are thrilled to then be called back and get their treat then.  Race away, race back, race away, race back.

How far apart we are to start depends on the dogs in the group at the time and where we are (ie what distractions are or aren’t around), and as the dog’s get into the game we gradually move further and further apart.  Sometimes if we’re playing the game on the trails (vs in a field) the dogs end up racing around corners, over fallen logs, up and down hills and generally having a great workout.

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Wally the blond doodle flying through the grass to me, Lena & Rosie further back in the field

The dogs quickly figure out in order to get a food treat they have to A.  Go all the way to the human calling them, B.  Actually go from Person A to Person B if they want a treat when Person A again calls the group, (except for Tom, he’s special, and as such his version of the recall game involves a sit stay and me moving away) and C. Ignore the other dogs around them.  I’ve found this a great game for teaching dogs the value of not focusing on the dogs around them, I’ve done this game with dogs that have a tendency to want to chase or body block, and by the end they’ve stopped fixating on the dogs running around them and instead race as fast as they too can to get to the human calling them.  We’ve even been able to time our calls with some of the regular dogs to build up to dogs passing each other without a second glance.  It’s great fun for us all! (note, if a dog has a tendency to want to grab other dogs, they don’t play the game while other dogs are also running, safety first always)

Another piece we often add into the game is the dogs not leaving the present human until the other human actually calls them OR the present human sends them to the other human.  This teaching of the send has proved useful on a number of occasions.  The dogs all learn that if they hear the word “Katrin” and race to me, good stuff will happen.  Or “C—” and they race to her, good stuff will happen.  Or “J——” and they race to him, good stuff will happen.

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Group of dogs racing across the field away from me toward C

We do this game close to every walk in the woods as it really helps to remind the dogs that coming to us when we call is a good thing, doesn’t mean the walk is over necessarily, and helps increase the dog’s value for the humans in the highly stimulating environments of the woods, fields and ponds.

A bonus of the game?  The dogs get additional running time and end the walk really tired.

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Tom running to me through the green field

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Last week on May 1st, I mentioned an event Tom and I were going to later that day.  One I knew he was going to be excited about and enjoy.  What I didn’t realize was how much I was going to enjoy it.

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Tom lying on the ground under my leg, waiting for the train to arrive to take us to Boston

Last Tuesday we headed in to Boston to meet up with an incredibly nice group of ladies who also have guide dogs from the Guide Dog Foundation.  There is a GDF Graduates group on Facebook where we realized there are an awful lot of us in the Boston area.  We arranged a time to meet up and 5 of us were able to make it last Tuesday evening.  A couple of the folks had met each other before through other avenues in their lives, but a few of us, myself included, didn’t know anyone in person.  We ranged in ages, life styles and types of vision loss.  4 of us had guide dogs, 1 was between dogs.

It was really nice not to feel like an outsider.

What do I mean by that?

Well, for example we, as a group, changed tables 3 times.  Why?  Because we were all suffering from the angle of the sunlight and glare that continued to move depending on the time.  No one thought twice about it.  No one had to explain themselves.  Or justify it.  Or argue about it.  It was simply, “Hey let’s move” and we all said “Great!”  We all knew why, we all knew what would be criteria for a suitable next location, we all simply got up and moved.

That might sound like a little simple thing, and it was, that’s what I mean.  Never before have I been in a social group where I wouldn’t have had to internally wrestle with myself before saying “hey can we change tables?” because I’d know someone would want to know why, or make a big deal about it, or make an apology for choosing a spot with bright light, or say something rather personal about me to the wait staff, or ask me ‘how about here?  is this good?  why not? what about this spot?’  Where changing tables would be a reminder that I was different, asking everyone in the group to disrupt and move because of me.  Last Tuesday, none of that happened.  We all just got it.

It was really nice to be around people who just plain ‘get it’ but who do so without making a big deal about it.  Blindness and vision loss was just a part of life for each of us.  It was really nice to be around a group of educated, intelligent, very interesting people who also get fully life with disability.

As a bonus, their guide dogs were lovely too.

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2 black standard poodle guide dogs in leather harness standing next to their handler’s, the back of Tom’s head and a black lab guide dog in a red harness