Monday, August 31, 2009

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dog and Pony Show

Well it was a horse show and we brought the dogs, so close enough.

Sandy competed in a show nearby this weekend after quite a long layoff. This particular show was broken up into two days, and Sunday was just the cross country portion - the most fun (and nervous) to watch. It made for a relatively short day so we brought the dogs to help cheer her on!

My camera has a neat feature that unfortunately doesn't work very well. You hold the shutter down and it takes a rapid series of photos so for something like a horse jump, you have a much better chance of capturing the right moment - something otherwise very difficult with digital cameras because of the delay. But when I use that feature there is sometimes these lighting problems, streaks in the image.

It works better when the camera isn't moving as much though...

...and allows you to catch interesting moments. Like this one, in which Elmo - ever aware of his surroundings during competition - tests the wind direction with his tail before he ponders the next jump.

Safe and sound after a clean round, team Sandy and Elmo finished with a fourth place ribbon!

Cheering makes you tired! The two dorks on the floor of the truck, sleeping like they had just run the cross country course!

Friday, August 28, 2009


The title of this post is a typical jumble of words and thoughts going through my head as I work with Winnie using positive training. We are new to clicker training, something I resisted for the longest time because I never took the time to learn about it. I hesitate to mention at this point, because he probably will shudder at the thought of his good name being linked to my muddled, clumsy attempts at positive training, but I am getting guidance and support from Jim Barry of Reston Dog Training, who came out to our house and worked with Winnie and I personally to get us started.

One of the things I'm trying to do is work on some basic field skills and commands, things that are most often achieved with an electronic collar - something I want to avoid. So I'm breaking the field work down into individual commands, and then each command is broken down into smaller segments and taught using positive reinforcement.

For instance, here's what I'm trying to do with 'Whoa': I eventually want her, wherever she is and whatever she's doing, to Stop/Stand/Stay at the command "Whoa" or the sound of one whistle blast. On its surface this is - to me, anyway - a very advanced command. But the more I look and think about how to break it down into smaller steps that she can have success with, it gets even MORE complex! But here's how I see it:

She already knows 'Stand/Stay' from her brief yet illustrious show career, and has a loose affiliation with a vague hand signal to that effect. So I've got that going for me, which is nice. But I want to assign a different verbal command (Whoa), AND build the connection with the whistle blast as well. And I need to have her do this without the hand signal and without me touching her (as in a stacking situation in the show ring).

I've started with walking with her around the yard, then using the hand signal she knows (hand in front of her face) and the command she knows (Stand/Stay). This is off leash, by the way. When she stops and stands, I click/reward and praise her. If she sits or something else, I just keep walking around the yard and try it again until she gets it right. This worked pretty well and by the end I was getting fairly consistent results.

Then next time out I changed 'Stand/Stay' to 'Whoa' but kept everything else the same, and had similar success, probably because she was responding to the hand signal (and by that I mean she physically has to stop because my hand signal consists of holding my hand in front of her face). But, getting similar results with a new verbal cue was, I felt, a positive step. So again, because I am impatient and ever-curious as to what she is capable of, a few days later I added the whistle blast before the command. So, walk around the yard, whistle blast/'Whoa' and intermittently adding the hand signal (trying to phase that out first), when she stopped she got clicked/rewarded/praised.

I've been working here and there on this for about a week, and frankly even though there was some success, I had little reason to think that she was making much progress, mostly because I felt like I still hadn't figured out what I was doing. Who would have thought that trying to manage a clicker, a whistle, a pocketful of treats and a dog could be so overwhelming? Honestly sometimes I'd be walking around, watching her, and I would think (WHISTLE - THEN 'WHOA' - THEN WATCH, GET READY TO CLICK IF SHE DOES IT! WAIT FOR IT....), then I would simultaneously blow the whistle while clicking the clicker and realize I'm not even watching her, but instead looking down at the whistle and clicker as if one of them could explain to me what the hell I'm doing. If my signals are so mixed up in MY head, I presume they are at LEAST as unclear in hers.

But this morning we went for a walk down the gravel road at our house. Not quite light yet, so lots of deer and rabbit out at that time. Winnie's on a loose 15 foot leash and we're not training, just going for a walk before work. She spots a rabbit as we're walking along (she SO wants to chase a rabbit!), and without really thinking, just trying to avoid the discomfort of holding the other end of the leash as she bolts hard into the bushes, I told her "Whoa." She instantly stopped her feet in mid-stride, facing the rabbit, and stood there. Waiting. For me, presumably, but the whole thing was rather unexpected so I didn't really have a follow up command. But she got MUCH praise and true admiration.

If I can stay out of her way, this dog may get trained in spite of me.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I love the river! I think.

Winnie now gets VERY excited when we head down to the river. She runs ahead at full speed, only occasionally looking over her shoulder to make sure I hadn't changed my mind. Then when I reach the bank I find her there, standing, staring at the river but with only her front toes in the water.

I threw the brand new floatable Kong™ toy out in front of her and she stared at it as the current slowly took it downstream. Then she looked at me for the next activity, desperately hoping that I have come up with something more fun than the 'watch the orange thing float away' game. Turns out she very much enjoys the 'come on lets run so we can catch it downstream' game. This spot downstream is where she first learned to swim, so she did comfortably go in the water here and swam around quite a bit, ignoring about sixty honking and splashing geese nearby. We paused to take some pictures while we waited for Kong toy to arrive in the slow current.

Monday, August 17, 2009

What a cool, cool thing...

This is Thomas, my new friend. He's a ten year old draft cross with lots of trail experience and he's exactly what we needed. We've had him for a few weeks and I've been out on him several times. Up hills, down hills, through creeks, over bridges, he does it all. Even makes me look like I know what I'm doing!

But today we did something very special. We rode from our house to a series of trails nearby that lead down to the river! The trails were challenging, with some steep grades and rocky creek crossings. We even had to jump over a huge log! Predictably, my first jump ever was far from graceful. But it was successful. Sandy, riding behind me at the time, said she thought it looked like there was "a lot of movement" from Thomas as he 'hopped' over the log. Really? My, what a good eye you have of all things equine! Do you think that's why birds scattered from nearby trees at the commotion?

Fast forward to the river: Right about here is where Sandy decides to tell me that I should absolutely, positively, not let him roll in the water. Um, I'm sorry. What?? A horse, wearing a saddle, with me in it, knee deep in water, will ROLL?!?

"If he seems like he's about to roll," my instructions began, "kick him hard and get him moving out of the water." Uh, okay. One, I'm new at this. As far as I know, my horse is ALWAYS about to roll. And two, the whole reason I love this horse is he's almost impossible to get moving, kicked or otherwise. The good news is he didn't roll. The bad news is I now have a new addition to my Horrible Ways I Really Hope I Don't Die list.

This is pretty cute. Elmo started playing in the water, dragging his nose through it and then just splashing it with his foot over and over, like a dog pawing a tennis ball in his water dish.

Well this looked like so much fun to Thomas that he had to get in on the action! For a while they were both doing it right next to eachother. Just ridiculous.

This was absolutely one of the coolest things I've ever had the opportunity to do.

Can't wait to go back!!

Thanks Thomas for taking such good care of me (and for not rolling)!

Done with Summer!

We are both ready for summer to be over! The promise of approaching cool weather has me thinking about training and field work again, but while it's been a pretty mild summer so far, recently it has been VERY hot and humid. Conditioning might help her warm weather stamina, but generally she's just not a fan of high temps.

So we're working on some obedience things in the yard, and have started a program of positive training that I'll be talking about in the coming weeks. My goal is to have a reliable, enjoyable hunting companion in Winnie, and get her to that point without the use of a shock collar. We have much work to do, but I now have a plan and I think we'll be able to achieve that goal.

For now, obedience in the yard, whistle recall, things like that, then she gets spayed in a few weeks, and by the time that's over we might be having fun with birds in cool weather!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Color Dispute

Sandy considers Winnie to be orange in color. I know this because I've heard statements like, "could you put Orange Dog outside before she drives me insane?" or "someone dug a hole in the flower bed and I think that someone was Orange."

I have to admit, in this picture I took today looking up from the yard to the deck, she looks a little Orange. But the more I look at it, I think the correct color is somewhere between Gold and Chewbacca.