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Monumental A to Z High On Liberty

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas

Gimme wishes you each a very Merry Christmas.  Meaggi and I wish the same for you;  however, we are not as photogenic.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Nosework (4/2)

Class tonight was great - as always.  We did some new things that really showed the dogs' skills emerging.   On the very first hide of the first session the odor and food were placed on the desk, just 6 inches from two open bags of dog treats.  About five feet away the instructor's jacket, with treats in the pockets, was hanging on a doorknob.  All the hides were harder to find, obscured from view and more difficult to get to.

All of the dogs found the correct source, bypassing the food distractions.  Given that they don't get tested on finding the odor while ignoring food distraction until level two - Joyce said this shows they already understand that finding the odor (not just any food) is the bigger payoff. 

Because it was harder, all the dogs (except Gimme) were taking a very long time to find their hides.  Class is 90 minutes with six teams and we usually get 3 hide sessions and tonight we only got 2 sessions each because we were running over time.  Even though it took them longer, they were all enthusiastic and happily searching. 

Gimme sailed through hers in the same time as usual - it really seemed almost faster to me.  Of course there was some delay during the second session when Joyce and I ended up at one end of the room and Gimme suddenly dashed to the other end and stuck her nose into her baggie, polishing off all her garlic toast.  She hasn't even tried to get to the motherload since the first night of class, but for some reason tonight decided to.  So much for her outstanding work ethic and so much for baggies.

Anyway, we had a short discussion with the class about why Gimme is so much faster.  Partly its because she learned to use her nose so young, having had her first baby tracking lesson when she was about three months old.  So, she's had more practice using her nose before starting nosework class, understands the concept of finding things with her nose and getting paid for it and thus, has a lot more confidence.  Plus I bragged on her relatives and all their tracking titles.  It stands to reason that she has inherited excellent scenting ability.

I also discovered she knows how to count.  She let me know in no uncertain terms AND all the way home -- that she was due one more hide session.  She was quite emphatic!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Arf-Angel Michael

A to Z Who's The Boss
Mar. 8, 1998 – Dec. 12, 2011

The rub with loving these wonderful dogs is: they leave us too soon. Old age sneaks in to rob them of vitality, taking away their quality of life and dignity. We who love them are faced with the most painful decision. Then we are left behind to deal with the guilt and grief, trying desperately to find our way back to all the wonderful memories.

Michael’s last day was filled with the favorites he still enjoyed. After his usual breakfast, breakfast #2 was at McDonalds - 2 sausage biscuits and hash browns. Then on to the woods for our last walk together. His nose still worked as well as ever and he had a blast sniffing and snooping. On the walk out I dropped chunks of cheese behind me, which he thoroughly enjoyed finding on the way back – so excited to discover they were growing cheese out there. After agility, McDonald’s was his favorite thing, so we stopped there again for lunch - McChicken, McDouble, fries and holiday pie.

At the clinic we sat and hugged until doc was ready. They had placed a big thick blanket on the table so he'd be comfortable and the lights were turned down low. Doc doesn’t want dogs to experience any stress when the time comes. He gave Michael a sedative and yet, thirty minutes later Michael still hadn't fallen asleep. Doc suggested it might have been the holiday pie, but I think he was just enjoying the non-stop petting, hugs and kisses too much to drift off. Doc gave him another sedative and he did finally go to sleep. When the lights came up, with all the tension and cares of the world gone, Michael looked so much younger. I know he is in heaven, young again and eagerly waiting on the start line for me to come play with him.

I’ve been looking at old pictures and remembering. Michael was such a scaredy cat when he was a pup, so afraid of other people. Agility was a grand discovery and a big part of helping him get past his fears. We dabbled in other dog sports, but it was agility he loved.  He had so much fun playing the agility game that it was always a surprise to see his oh-so-serious game face in pictures. We never set the agility world on fire, but we always had fun. I learned too late how to be the handler Michael needed. No matter how clumsy I was, he always ran his best and we enjoyed the game together. We made it half way to a MACH before having to accept the inevitable retirement. His heart was still young and so willing, but his body just couldn’t cooperate.

Throughout his life, Michael was devoted to me and wanted only to please me. He was always watching me, looking for a clue to making me happy. He never stopped trying because he loved his Mom most of all.  Michael was sent to be my teacher. I learned so much from him; he made me a better trainer and a better person. Like ripples in a pond, his life touched, and still touches, so many others.

Michael in Pictures

Though he loved agility, he was also very serious about it.

 Our first and second Double Q's.

Michael loved riding in the car.

He loved it best when he didn't have to ride in a crate.

Walks in the woods were a lifelong fave.

Even the last walk still contained discoveries since
they'd started growing cheese out there.

I miss you Boy-san. I miss your Noodle-Doodle moments. No one else can be my Noodge. Wait for me and when we meet again you will be my Adja-Litty-Man. Rest well my beloved.   Love, Mom

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Breakthrough Imminent?

We didn't train yesterday because Gimme up-chucked in the car on the way home.  Obviously I didn't want to fill her up with treats.  She seemed a bit "off" for a couple hours, but then got back to normal. 

Tonight we did another session on scent discrimination.  It went fairly well.  She brought me an unscented tin a couple times, but mostly got it right.  At one point when she brought me an unscented tin and got nothing for her efforts, the next time she went back to the pile she spent a little time sniffing the correct tin and one next to it.  As it turned out she brought me the wrong one, but at least she is using her nose to try to sort out the difference.  I realize she was likely just trying to smell a hint of food, but all the same I figure a breakthrough is imminent.  Its only a matter of time until she realizes what the difference is.

We also did some heeling and front stuff, mostly the same things we did the other day.  She didn't do nearly as well as she had then.  That's not unusual for her.  She often follows a really good session with one that is several steps backward.  I'm not sure why that is, but I don't worry about it anymore. 

Her learning pattern usually contains fairly steady progress followed by a leap forward and then her version of a plateau, which is several steps backward.  I've never had a dog that does it that way - most seem to have a plain plateau, whereas Gimme backs up a few steps.  Then again, I've never had a dog that takes such large leaps in performance.  If I factored those out, perhaps her progression is more "usual". 

Unless I miss my guess, she will have another session much like today's and then the next session after that will either resume steady progress or take another leap forward in understanding.  It is what it is.

Happily using the little gates really helped her "around" behavior (clockwise circle around me ending up in heel position) - its been nice and tight ever since we did that.  Now its time to work on "behind" (counter-clockwise circle around me ending up in "side" position).

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cool Happening

It was a long weekend.  Went to my parents' yesterday afternoon.  Then drove them to Seattle (they don't drive in Seattle and seldom at night) to meet with my brother, Sam, and his family.  We did some light sightseeing (my Dad can't do much) and then headed out to dinner.  My other brother, Mark, and his girlfriend Dana joined us for dinner.  It was fun and there was a whole lot of laughing going on.  By the time we got back to Auburn it was almost midnight.  Spent the night and then joined Mom for church this morning.  I was going to help her get her tree up, but basically the afternoon got dawdled away.  I made them a big pot of chili for supper before leaving.  Just got home an hour ago.

Naturally the dogs didn't get to do much and spent far too much time crated.  When I got home here, Gimme was fit to be tied and wanted ATTENTION.  So I decided to do a training session with her.  I had thought before I might do scent discrimination tonight, but since I wasn't sure how focused she would be, having been cooped up so much over the weekend, I decided to hold that until tomorrow.

We worked on the forehand "pivot".  I've worked on it several times recently really reinforcing the front feet on and tonight she finally seemed to understand I really didn't mean for her to put the back feet on at all.  She's gotten so reliable about keeping the front feet on during the pivot execution, so I started putting the cue on it.

Then we did some heeling work.  She was already getting the 90 right pivot, but the last time I tried to pivot left, she wasn't getting it, so I moved on to other things.  She really seemed to get it tonight that if I pivot in either direction, she can swing her butt and stay in heel.  Now all the sudden, its like she invented it.  One of the things that has been hardest for her is staying in heel for the first couple of steps.  So tonight I did a couple of one-step-halt and after the first one she got it.  She claims she invented heeling, but I seem to recall hearing someone talking about it before Gimme was even born.

After that we did some front work.  I could leave her on a stay and walk away, stopping either with my back to her or side to her, cue "front" and she did a very credible job of getting into front position.  Once I tweaked my own treat delivery it got even better.

I was mighty happy with all that and yet it was clear that Gimme wanted to do more, so I decided to do some of our nosework homework.  I have to confess I haven't done any nosework outside of class until tonight.  But I know we need to do a bunch of it to get going on the pairing of the level one odor with food.  I shut Gimme in the office, got our tin and a treat, put them in a shoebox and hid it in the walk-in closet off my bedroom.  Here's where it gets cool...

When I let Gimme out of the office I gave her our nosework cue "where-zit".  She had come out bouncy and ready to play and when she heard that she paused to look at me as if to say, "you mean it?"  Then her nose instantly and OBVIOUSLY went to work and it took her no time to find the hide in the bedroom.  I really didn't think she'd learned that cue and was assuming she knew what to do in class based on the location.  So to see such an demonstrable understanding was just waaaaay cool. 

We did three more hides, one in the bedroom, the bathroom and the living room.  It was really neat to see her look for them and find them.  Her nosework scenting behavior is getting clearer for me to see, which is also waaaaay cool. 

This nosework is lotsa fun and I highly recommend it.  Gimme seconds that recommendation.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Nosework (2/2)

We had nosework class on Wednesday night and it was great.  She did a fine job of finding the hides on the vehicle.  She's really very intent about the car and more deliberate than she is in a whole room search.  She's been tending to put her feet on the car, which isn't something they should do, so Joyce showed me how to discourage it with leash handling and without using a verbal cue.

The dogs in this group are doing so well that we were introduced to the level one odor a week early.  The way you get the dogs to find that scent is by repeatedly pairing it with the scent of food.  I love the smell of birch - who knew...  I'd love to use that smell for room freshener... but I guess that is out of the question.

Yesterday I did the second session of scent discrimination with multiple tins (not on tape).  I saw an interesting thing that I thought I'd seen in the previous session.  However, after reviewing that tape I realize it wasn't the same at all.  Gimme only brought me an unscented tin one time during the first four repetitions.  But then the fifth try, she basically brought me every tin other than the one I wanted.  I'm not sure what to make of that.  My thoughts of what it could be:
  • the scenting is hard work and four tries was too much, except I don't really think she is picking them by scent yet
  • maybe she was already tired when we started, since we'd gone walking on the fort
  • or she was doing a bit of "are you sure you don't want this one, or this one, or..."
I know she saw me put them down, so that should have been a big clue.  I'll try it again on Sunday when she will be more rested.

We are back to walking on the Fort Lewis training areas.  They've had area 22 open and it has a nice open area where we can walk in plain view.  The bow hunting and grouse hunting season continues, but those are both hunting sports where they tend to be closer to the prey and so would see that we ain't critters.  I still plan to make Gimme and me neon-orange vests before next season.

It was fun walking out there again.  And it was clear from her behavior that Gimme finds that much more fun than the place we walk near home.  I'm sure walking on the wild side is more to her liking. 

Academe' Performers pictures

Here are a couple close-ups of Gimme during the recent performance.  I have to admit a bit of concern regarding the last one - I don't care for her choice in bedfellows.  I sure hope that doesn't mean she'll want to go into politics when she grows up...