Oz Working Dogs - Assistance & Working Dog Equipment

For assistance/service dog equipment, as well as guide, therapy, detection, search & rescue, police and dogs in training equipment check out my website http://www.ozworkingdogs.com.au - I make and sell vests, capes, belly bands, harnesses, handles and more... and will post to the world!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fantastic retrieve training, paw targeting and my favourite new halter

8 months 3 days old

Knightley holding his dumbell nicely. He can
hold things for 15-20 seconds easily on cue,
and when we are on a walk he will happily hold
a stick for 5 or even 10 minutes. He's definitely
a holdy dog.
So, I am happy to report that Knightley is still doing just awesomely with his retrieve training. I am getting good solid long holds, and we are working on him picking up all sorts of objects for me. He has problems picking up things like plastic lids which are too flat for him to get an easy purchase on. Maybe he needs to use the technique they teach for dogs to pick up credit cards with using their tongue to lift it a bit. Maybe I'll try clicking for seeing tongue contact tomorrow (wait until I see his tongue contact the plastic, then I click/treat immediately before he has even picked it up, so that he learns to use his tongue with certain objects). Either way, he often can't get it up, and starts pawing it frustratedly. It sometimes happens with pieces of paper too, leaving the paper worse for wear!! With everything else though, he is doing really well. His holds are in the correct place, just behind the two canines, as you can sort of see in the second dumbell photo. Dumbells are good practice for picking things up, because they kind of force him to pick it up in the middle (good practice for balancing awkward items), and are comfortable for him to hold because they are purposely made for this, and fit nicely behind his canines.

Showing the correct hold position, directly behind the pair of
canines, which is a good secure position to hold something,
and is comfortable for the dog.
It's important that I don't do too much practice with the dumbell. People that were training for obedience and not assistance work would just use the dumbell and nothing else, but in my case it's real world items I want Knightley to pick up. I don't want to do obedience or dogsports, I want him to make my life a bit easier. So we do gloves, spoons, pens and pencils, plastic lids and containers, pieces of paper, letters, his leash (I will train that to a specific cue) and really anything I can think of. He is doing very well and I am very happy and proud of him. It is amazing how fast he has picked it up since I started concentrating on it. It does show the temperament testing I did on him did seem to get it right!

The Infin8 halter from Black Dog. The black part with the two
D rings is where your leash clips onto. You can clip the two
D rings together, or undo the clip to take the collar off very
easily. The thick red part of the halter is the other side of the
adjustable collar that goes around the front of the dogs neck.
The thin red part is the adjustable strip that you wrap under
your dogs muzzle, then over it, then back under it and clip it
to the clip you see in the bottom of the photo. It makes a figure
of 8 when you view your dogs head from below. 
 I am very happy with the new Infin8 halter I got for Knightley. It is my firm favourite out of the Gentle Leader (a rather heavy handed, overly firm halter) and the Comfort Trainer (better, but still bothered Knightley quite a lot). For those of you who have tried halters and think your dog just can't tolerate them, take a peak at Black Dog. They are an Australian company who ships overseas, make a bunch of fantastic quality dog gear, aimed at dogsport people, and I am truly impressed with their Infin8 halter. It is different to any halter I have ever seen - really it's a mixture of a collar and a halter, and it allows a transition back to a collar better than any halter I've seen before. It is a clever design too, when your leash tightens, the collar tightens (it is a martingale collar), and the figure of 8 halter also tightens (also almost a martingale.... one side of the halter is on a running O ring). As soon as the tension is released, the nose band becomes quite lose, as does of course the collar part. The leash attaches to the collar.

Knightley with the Infin8 halter on. I got the red colour
because dogs see red very badly. If they had sold a tan
colour I would have got that, but the red has been fine,
actually. Visual disturbance is one of the reasons
why dogs don't like halters.
When your dog has been wearing the halter for a while you can start to loosen the long muzzle strap until it is extremely loose, and the dog is reacting almost entirely to the collar pressure. It doesn't matter at all if the looseness causes the noseband part to come off as the dog has a secure collar on as part of the halter. When
the dog is used to functioning without the noseband doing anything much, then it's time to slowly go back to your collar. This is partly why I think this halter is so superior - it actually helps your dog learn to walk on a collar, as well as give good head control.

Knightley with only the collar part of the Infin8 halter done up.
The part that goes around his muzzle is shown laid out with the
clip at the end. You can see the martingale D rings at Knightley's
neck where you clip the collar to. These things are what makes
this halter so different from others I have seen and used.
It's actually quite impressive how much more Knightley likes this halter than the other two. From the beginning, there was very very little pawing at it. With the GL and the CT, if I took the leash off him and left him alone he would begin pawing at the noseband until he got it off. With the Infin8 he just completely leaves it alone. So, I will continue to use it until Knightley is not pulling at all around children, other dogs and birds, and then I will slowly loosen the noseband until it may as well not be there. Then I think I will transfer him to a martingale collar from Black Dog. Why, you may ask? Well, firstly I *love* the quality of the halter, and they have lovely martingales too. But if I get a red martingale, it will nearly be identical to the halter, just minus the long wrap around bit. So it could well evoke those no pull memories. I like the safety of martingales too. When they first came out, people used them as a sort of more humane choke collar.... using them to leash pop, but doing less damage to the dogs throat and trachea. These days they are basically seen as a collar dogs can't get out of, even if they try to back out, because they tighten if the dog puts pressure on the leash. However, unlike a choke chain, they can only tighten so far, and they are made of comfortable nylon. The martingale that is part of the Infin8 has great shiny black nylon (see first photo) which means as soon as the dog releases the tension, the collar and halter are instantly loose, and much looser than a normal flat collar. It is great feedback for the dog. So, that's the plan.

The other thing I've been doing is refreshing Knightley's paw targeting. I was quite cryptic before about training an assistance skill I don't need but that would be fun to have. What I am going to do is train him to turn on a foot light (one of those ones that has a round switch that you turn on with your foot) with his paw. We haven't been doing much paw targeting for a while, so at first it was just basic stuff, getting him to target my hand, then a plastic lid, then eventually the switch. He isn't putting any weight on it yet, which he is definitely going to have to do... and I'm not sure how to do that, so I'll have to think about that.

A little bird told me about this documentary (which I am going to watch soon) that talked about the fact that 75% of successful guide dogs are 'right pawed'.... ie like humans, dogs too often have a dominant paw. I knew Knightley had one but couldn't remember which one it was until I did a bit of testing and observations.... and it is indeed the right. I guess this is a good thing, although assistance/service dogs need quite different skills to a guide dog. It's interesting that dogs have a dominant paw though. I always found it hard to get Knightley to paw things with his other foreleg, so I had wondered, but I thought it could have been due to my training just getting him stuck in a rut!

Hubby back in 6 days! Knightley is going to be happy and unhappy all at once..... he's going to lose his sleeping platform lol.....!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Knightley is officially useful! His first working retrieve!

8 months 1 day old

Today, well ahead of schedule, Knightley did his first real 'work' for me!! After the previous two days of amazing success with our retrieve sessions, today we had two more training sessions, again concentrating on retrieve. The first one was working on bring items much further away back to me nicely - in the end we managed about three metres (10 feet), which I was thrilled at. The second session I concentrated on getting him to hold and do short retrieves on as many different items as I thought he could comfortably hold (I'll work on tricky ones later). We put a fair bit of time into getting him to learn how to pick up spoons off the floor. They are obviously quite tricky to pick up, and dogs don't tend to like cold metal, so it's important that they get practice sooner rather than later with it, or they can get a bit of a doggy phobia about picking it up.

Then about half an hour ago when we were about to go to bed, I dropped a small plastic container. I could have just sucked it up and reached down for it, but if I do that more than a couple of times a day I pay for it the next day, or I could have got my reach stick... but Knightley was there.... so I thought I'd give it a go. It was a different situation as previously I had dropped things in front of his eyes so he knew what he was to pick up... but in this case he hadn't seen it drop. I called him over, and had a big chunk of 'roo jerky (a new big favourite) ready to reward him if successful. I also flipped the container over with my foot, as it was upside down and would have been very hard for Knightley to get in that position. I nudged it a couple of times with my foot and looked right at it (not at him at all), and told him "get it!". I was grinning from ear to ear as he reached down, picked it up delicately, turned around and placed it in my hand... then waited for my "thank you!" cue to tell him to release it. It all worked perfectly!! What an AWESOME puppy!!!! He enjoyed his lovely roo jerky for a job well done.

So there is lots more work to do, but we have the beginning of an assistance retrieve. Thank you Sue Ailsby!!! I have to say, her recent books with the updated Training Levels are perfect for those training their own assistance/service dogs. (Link to her main page on the link toolbar, also Training Levels tab at the top of the page, info & links from there too). Especially the retrieve. I followed it closely, and it has come up trumps. It was easier than I thought it would be too. 'Traditional' obedience trainers train retrieves in all sorts of horrible ways (forcing dogs to open their mouths by harshly pinching their ears, or by using electrical collars and shocking the dog if they don't get what they want). Some trainers don't believe that you can train a reliable retrieve by a positive reinforcement. There are many many thousands of working dogs out there with a positive trained reliable retrieve. If it wasn't reliable then they couldn't be trusted to be the helper of some very disabled people. I have no doubt, from what I have seen, that Knightley's retrieve is going to be completely solid. He really enjoys it, as there has been pleasure in every part of the teaching - just asking him to put his mouth around something has good associations.

That is what I love about operant conditioning, how the learning process itself deepens the bond you have with your dog. The time you spend training is pleasant and stimulating for the dog. When I stop my retrieve training, Knightley will grab a toy and nudge my leg with his nose almost in protest that training stopped too soon! That just doesn't happen with traditional methods. I love having a thinking dog, and I've really been enjoying the last week of training. The beginning of Level 3 was really boring, but this was awesome fun!! I will continue to work on the retrieve, but I have also started to teach Knightley another assistance skill..... although this isn't one I strictly need, but I'd be nice to have anyway! It'll be interesting training it, definitely a good challenge. I'll tell you more about it later once I have got somewhere with it, that was really just to tease you!

My husband is still away in England, he's been away for 16 days now although it doesn't really feel like that long. He's going to be home in 8 days time, and it really will be lovely to have him back. Knightley isn't going to be happy though, he's going to lose his spot on my bed!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Happy 8 month birthday Knightley, a retrieve breakthrough and a new halter!

8 months old

Knightley's extremely illustrious ancestor, Ch Camrose
Cabus Christopher. This golden was an extremely popular
stud all across the "English" style golden world (Europe,
Australia, NZ). He appears more than once in Knightley's
pedigree, and looking at pictures online of Knightley's
distant relatives who also have a lot of Cabus Christopher
in them, I see so much similarity. He was considered the
'perfect' golden, and sired a LOT of litters, including one
for the breeder of Knightley's sire.
Wow, 8 months old today. I remember when he was just a fluffy little 8 week old! When we got him at exactly 8 weeks old he was 6.4kg (14 lbs) and now I am guessing he must be about 28.5kg (63 lbs), although that could be a little off as I haven't weighed him for a couple of weeks. He's still a bit short for a male golden retriever, so I'm hoping to see another growth spurt in the next couple of months. Feeding raw has definitely slowed down his growth - which is good. I wish I had done it sooner, for that reason, as well as many others. But he definitely is a fine looking dog, and I'm sure could have been a show dog if he had been chosen by a showing inclined family. He certainly comes from a long line of illustrious sires and dams, especially the famous UK stud Camrose Cabus Christopher, who features quite a bit in his pedigree (probably too much, I would have liked him less inbred!). He is developing a very masculine head, quite blocky, and for a 8 month old, has a good amount of feathering. His smooth trot is a joy to watch... I love to watch him move, especially at the dog park. With a trot that beautiful, surely his hips are going to turn out good in his 1 year old x-rays! (which will be a deciding factor as to whether he can actually work as an assistance dog or not).

We had several short training sessions today, working mostly on our retrieve, and we really had a breakthrough. He is now about to pick up objects (spoon, pencil, dumbell) from the floor several steps away, then walk over, place it in my hand then wait for the cue to release the object. We can hold objects together for 15 seconds+. I am very very happy with him! I can *definitely* see a solid assistance retrieve before he's a year old!

Training this type of retrieve is *very* different to just playing fetch. I am looking for very controlled behaviour, lifting the object right behind his canines, being controlled in how he comes over to give it to me (no boisterous running or anything), and only doing it on cue. Once he has this cue down pat with all sorts of objects including unpleasant ones like hair brushes, we'll start practicing it in public, where he will really be useful to me. I've always wanted him to be able to hand me the handle of my handbag, as I hate having to reach down for it, so I think I'll try sewing a patch on the handle, partly to mark where he is to pick it up from, partly to protect it. He won't actually have to lift up the bag itself, only the strap, and then I can lift it myself. This is similar to training him to pick up his own leash, which is another thing I will have to do (dogs have to do this in airports, for instance, when they are called through metal detectors). Once he has a lot of experience in different places with different objects, then I will start teaching new cues for different objects.... for instance picking up delicate things like credit cards usually needs a dog to use their lips and not their teeth, so needs to be completely retrained. Similarly for pieces of paper, so they don't get slobbered on. So getting a basic retrieve in place is going to be great, but it's only the first step.

I got two doggy things in the mail today. The first was my new halter, the Infin8 by Black Dog. I am very very happy with it! This is, so far, my favourite out of the Gentle Leader and the Comfort Trainer. It is very different in design to the other two, as it has a martingale collar, to which a figure of 8 thin band is attached and wraps around the muzzle of the dog. When the martingale tightens, the halter part tightens too. The idea is to start with the band tight-ish, and once your dog is really behaving nicely, you start loosening it more and more, until it's really just a collar. I am very impressed with the quality of the halter, it surpasses the other two, and Knightley is far less bothered by it. It was much harder to adjust for size, but once you've done it, then you don't have to do it again. I think it would have been easier for me if had been able to get the smaller size, but as Knightley is still growing, I opted for the larger - as he was between the two in size. It meant a lot of adjustment to get the big one to fit. Anyway, I like it a lot, and think I may have hit open a winner here.

The other thing I got was some kangaroo jerky, as jerky I had got in the past Knightley had loved - but it had been expensive pet store jerky. This was obviously a little more 'rustic', as some of it still had kangaroo fur attached!!! It was also like an eighth the price of the stuff I've bought in the pet store before. Knightley absolutely went nuts when I opened the package, and it has been a hit all day for our training. I have been hard pressed to find things to take out with me since I started Knightley on a raw diet. I would rather take raw meat, but I don't really want those sticky bloody hands outside the house, especially out in the public where I might be putting my hands on public furniture etc. This jerky, which is obviously very natural, may well fit the bill. Only problem is it's rather hard to cut up!

Anyway, the pup is breathing deeply beside me on the bed right now, sleeping soundly, and I think I might just join him.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Great training sessions! Retrieve basics,eye contact and resource guarding

7 months 4 weeks old

We've had some great training sessions in the last couple of days, really getting back to where we were before on our retrieve holds (and more!) before I stopped training them in order to concentrate on finishing Level 2. We've got to the point where Knightley will walk three or four steps on cue, take an object from my hand, and hold it with me for at least 10 seconds, 5 of which he is holding it by himself. I then start holding it with him again, then tell him "thank you!" and he gives it to me. The next step is to get him walking more like 4-5 steps in order to get the object, then to let go and have him walk to me to deliver it, hold it together, then tell him thank you. I have managed to get him maybe half a step towards me to give me his dumbell, but I'm going to wait until we have at least a 15 second hold (together) until I push for a couple of steps walk towards me to deliver. Today I did manage to get him to take the dumbell from a stool on cue for the first time. It was the first time he didn't just take it from my hand. So we're definitely getting there!

I'm trying not to rush this, but I'd really really love a trained assistance retrieve a bit ahead of schedule!! I have actually used Knightley to pick up things before, but in that case it is moreso his curiosity. For instance, I've dropped my keys, and I nudged them with my foot and made them 'dance' a bit to get Knightley interested as cold metal isn't hugely fun, then when he picked them up, I praised like crazy and lightly held his collar to stop him retreating to inspect his new toy, while quickly grabbing a treat from my pocket which I exchanged for the keys with again, lots of praise. The technique works to an extent, but only if I can tempt him to pick it up. It needs to be a cued behaviour - in this case, 'get it'. So, it's going pretty well.

Our eye contact, where Knightley needs to keep 15 seconds eye contact with me without me actually looking at him, is going well. We are up to 15 inside, but not outside. Focusing outside is not Knightley's strong point, especially around GEE - ARR - EEH - ESS - ESS ! (Better spell it out right now or he'll wake up as he lies beside me on the bed! That's how much it excites him! Although we are working on it). We did some eye contact work up at the local shops today. He really does find it pretty hard to focus with all those fascinating people around. I think it's a perfect place to work on this actually, but it's going to be hard to get up to 15 seconds in a very high distraction place like the local shops after 5 on a weekday.

The Infin8 halter by Black Dog. It is a martingale collar, with a
figure of 8 halter that wraps around the muzzle. You can start
with the figure of 8 part fairly tight, giving you good control,
then slowly loosen and loosen it, until really the dog is just
wearing a collar. It's a great way to transition from a halter to
a collar successfully. Unfortunately they don't have a tan
option, so as to cause less visual disturbance to Knightley,
so I went with red as dogs see red very badly.
We are working hard on our loose leash - SIGH! I wrote an email to the trainer I wanted to work with, and got a reply saying she is taking a break at the moment.... grrrr. I did talk to a guy a while back about helping me, just not sure if he was the right fit. Maybe I should just try him anyway. I think Knightley *is* learning to give to the leash pressure and fight it less in the face of high distractions. He loses his focus on me though, and if there is something like a possum around (there was one walking along the fence just now outside, Knightley was quivering like a violin string!) I simply may as well not exist and it takes some significant force on his collar to get him moving. I am trying *one* more halter as a training device.... it's one I considered before, the infin8 by Black Dog. We'll see how it goes.

I did make an interesting discovery though. When we are doing public 'assistance dog' training, Knightley automatically goes into 'assistance dog walk', which is a very measured walk, almost a plod lol. Last time we were out practicing our public manners, I tried him with only his collar, and he was actually quite good, there was barely any pulling. Far better than he is just doing loose leash. I suppose there could be a few different reasons for this, but whatever the reason, perhaps I won't actually need the halter much afterall.....

I have noticed something a little worrying in the last week or so - the development of a small amount of resource guarding. He growled at me and did a wrinkly face when I tried to take a bottle cap from him, and I was pretty shocked. He has also been very protective of the food I've been feeding him, which obviously being raw, is very high value, so isn't that surprising. I was pretty shocked about the bottle cap though. I am being very very careful to 'trade', giving good treats for whatever Knightley might have in his mouth (he is a golden retriever puppy afterall, and despite his training, he likes getting things in his mouth as much as possible!), and giving him total privacy when he is eating so he can relax with the food.

Immediately after the bottle cap incident I went and ordered the book Mine! by Jean Donaldson, which is meant to be *the* best book for resource guarding problems, so hopefully I can nip any behaviour in the bud. I've also ordered some new equipment from my custom leash/harness maker, and one of those is a leash belt, with specially made double ended leash, so I think we might do a bit of umbilical leashing to put Knightley in his place., I'm thinking some other techniques from Sue Ailsby's "Leading The Dance" wouldn't go astray either, which is a program for behaviour problems that includes operant conditioning techniques (clicker training, basically!). Follow the link to Sue's page on the link sidebar if you're interested in reading about Leading the Dance. I am not hugely surprised about the timing this has come up - 8 months is a big time of change and hormones for dogs, I was almost waiting for something to happen with my almost perfect pup! If this is all, I will be lucky!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lots of zen, interesting raw food and the dog park!

7 months 3 weeks 5 days old (100th post!)

I'm doing lots of work with Knightley on zen and focusing on me at the moment. He has always found grass exciting, so I am trying to keep him calm every step of the way towards the grass. I should have done it from the beginning really, but I guess I've been too busy thinking about other things when I'm with him.

I'm going to really start working on sniffing zen and normal object zen as well. We had a small training trip to the local shops today, just 20 minutes or so of walking around with him in his vest, practicing good assistance dog type behaviour. He was pretty good, but does get a bit sniffy occasionally, which is a no-no. So we need to practice no sniff rules. Also, when people reach their hands out towards his nose to try to say hello (encouraging him to sniff), he will reach out to sniff. He does respond to my 'leave it', but I need to get it automatic, so he won't reach out at all. You'd think with three "do not touch" patches people would realise, but people just aren't observant in this day and age!

Knightley beginning to eat an ox tongue! It was a big hit,
although it took a lot of effort and time for him to get through
the entire tongue. Tongues are known as natural tooth brushes
as the roughness of the texture cleans the dogs teeth - naturally!
I bought some awesome food for Knightley today while I was out. I got him an ox tongue, beef liver, kidney and some whole raw fish. He had the ox tongue for his evening meal, and it was a hit! Apparently it is great for cleaning teeth as it has that really rough texture on the outside the dog needs to get through. He had to put a lot of effort into eating it, and was pretty tired out afterwards. That's one of the many things I love about feeding raw. It really gives him a release for that tearing, ripping, destroying behaviour, that dogs really do need. I'm about to start him on a raw egg a day too. I've ordered some beef hearts that should be here on Tuesday, and that is probably the cheapest red meat I can get for him. Looking forward to seeing how big a cow heart is! At the moment I feed lamb hearts regularly, but they are pretty small.

Playing nicely with little dogs and a puppy.
We continue to go to the dog park often and his behaviour is so different there than it was when we first started going 3-4 months ago. At first he was so rude and got quite a few snarls from adult dogs who told him off when they didn't want to play but he was being incredibly insistent. He was also extremely submissive back then. His manners are so much better now, and he's just a cheerful happy teenage puppy now. He's also a lot less submissive, although definitely not dominant. Just nicely in the middle of the road, which is a good place for an assistance dog to be. I love having such a great dog park so close to us, and I think Knightley does too! He's off like a rocket as soon as we get there, and is completely exhausted by the end of our time there. Sometimes it is hard to convince him to walk to the car! I'm not looking forward to going there in winter though! It has cooled down a lot here recently, especially at night, and gives me an idea of what winter will be like at the park. Not my idea of fun, although Knightley will be fine with his lovely fur coat.

Knightley in the car on the way home. From the very beginning, starting when
he was eight weeks old, I taught him to be calm and well behaved in the car.
It has definitely paid off!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Great training session, good training walk! Great puppy!

7 months 3 weeks 1 day old 

This is an oldish photo, but still demonstrates the variety of
objects I am getting Knightley used to holding. Once I am sure
his mouth is soft and controlled, I will move to personal things
that I might actually drop and want him to pick up. One of the
things I am going to be asking him to pick up is my handbag,
when it's on the floor, so I am going to perhaps reinforce part
of the strap to also give him a target to know where to grip.

Knightley and I had a really good training session today, especially with our retrieve training. I worked on getting him to reach for his dumbell up and down, very close to the floor... then moving it so he had to twist around to grab it, or even take a couple of steps. We are working just on a good hold... getting some good 5-6 seconds quite reliably. I was even able to take my hand off the dumbell for like half a second and he held it nice and securely, like the champ he is! He tends to love holding things - when we go for walks he'll trot along with a stick for 5-10 minutes, so if I can just tap into that frame of mind, I think this part of the retrieve will be sorted. I have started saying 'thank you!' as his cue to give me the object, instead of 'yes!' which is my normal finishing marker. I like the idea of being courteous to your dog. Tomorrow I'll do some work with other objects, like spoons, pencils and the like.

We did some great eye contact work, then finished it up by working on the speed of Knightley's downs. Sometimes he isn't exactly prompt! I was thinking of completely retraining it, giving it a new cue and everything. We'll see I guess. That's what I've done with Knightley's "crate!". He wasn't all that good about obeying the "crate!" cue, so I started retraining from the beginning, then gave it the "box!" cue. It is working much better so far.

We had a great loose leash training walk today. By the end he was really sticking to my side. It takes so much patience though, and completely implacability and unwillingness to compromise. If you let yourself be pulled forward even a couple of steps because you couldn't be bothered, then you have ruined it for who knows how long. Pulling = never ever going forward, must must be the rule. Knightley must always only go forward if he is at my side. If he pulls ahead I walk backwards, pulling lightly on his collar then releasing when a paw moves in the right direction... until he is in the right place at my left side. Then I praise, treat, and proceed.

Anyway, it was a really positive day, although he does have the runs a bit as I fed him raw liver (as I mentioned last time - perhaps it was a bit much) and like quite a few dogs, it just made him a little runny. I should have started smaller, but it's extremely important he has liver in his diet. I thought he likely wouldn't have a problem because he's been having freeze dried liver for many months, but obviously it is a different beastie!

Lots of loose leash, zen, and eye contact

7 months 3 weeks 1 day old

So the hubby got off to England as planned, and made it safely many many many hours later. It has been very quiet since then, and I've done a lot of resting which was very much necessary. I'm still overly tired, just not my normal self.

However, with no hubby to distract me, I've been getting some more training done. We're concentrating on loose leash. A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article (link above near the title banner) about head halters and how I was feeling about using one on Knightley. I had done a lot of counter conditioning to try to get him to accept it, but he just really doesn't like halters. In high distraction areas he doesn't notice it too much, but in lower ones it really changes his behaviour for the worse. He becomes less enthusiastic, almost sullen, and not the normal happy Knightley. I think it is likely due to the quite widely known psychological effect of putting something across the muzzle, which for a dog puts them in a submissive position.... and if they can't get it off, it can be quite disturbing. Some dogs are ok, some are not. Knightley is not. So getting a really solid loose leash is becoming a high priority. The Freedom Harness is getting too tight - Knightley's chest size has really expanded in the last couple of months.... and he can't wear a no pull harness at the same time as wearing his training vest. He needs the loose leash anyway, I don't believe you can call a dog trained unless it is able to walk loosely by your side on a flat collar. So we are doing lots of work, especially at night when the distractions are less. I wish my physical limitations didn't impact the training, but they do - a lot. I asked for advice on one of the lists I participate in and have some ideas to make it easier but it isn't going to be simple.

We continue to work on door zen, but I am going to have to up the ante somehow - to teach him to never ever go out an open door without being released. Throwing sticks might be a good way, Knightley looooves his sticks. Ideally I would work with people, first from a fair distance and then slowly coming closer to the door...... but I don't exactly have any volunteers.

We're also doing a fair bit of eye contact work, getting him to keep eye contact with me for long periods of time outside, and keeping eye contact with me when I'm not watching his eyes both inside and outside. Outside is hard for him in the last one, he finds it harder to do what is asked without me 'joining in' the eye game.

We're starting to get back into some basic retrieve training too, just working on getting him to hold objects. He does it really well outside - it seems to make sense for him there - so I think I'll do more on that outside to solidify it. Getting a really good hold is the first step in teaching an assistance retrieve. I started teaching it a couple of months ago, but stopped in order to concentrate on finishing Level 2. His holds are pretty varied, some are weak and last for a second, some are strong and last for 6 seconds (this is inside). Before I stopped before we had got up to 10-15 seconds, but I am not going to push it. Door zen and eye contact are my priorities for now, as they are the beginning of Level 3 and *this* time I'm doing the level in order!

Knightley has been sleeping on my bed since hubby left, and he is a wonderful comfort. He's a heavy boy though, when he decides to lie only on my feet.

Raw feeding is going really well. He had a bunch of liver today, as well as a quarter of a quicken and two lamb hearts. Some dogs really don't like raw liver, but Knightley doesn't have a problem with it at all! It's usually the first thing to disappear actually. He's a much healthier dog on raw, and I'm about to order some more interesting items at my local butcher as he needs some organ variety now he's had the opportunity to get used to eating raw.

Anyway, it's really late here, so time to sleep!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Public socialisation, hubby off to England and a lack of posts!

Well, I know I haven't been posting much at the moment. I usually work on my posts in the evening just before sleeping and the last week or two I've just been so tired I start falling asleep as I do it! My body has had a hard time getting over the virus I had, although the autoimmune rash I had is more or less gone - for now. We've also been a bit busy with house maintenance and my husband is about to leave for a 3.5 week trip to England, where he comes from and where we got married last year. So things have just been a bit tiring.

A week ago or so the hubby and I took Knightley on a trip to the inner city of Canberra for the first time. It was raining pretty heavily, but we tried to stay undercover when possible. We did end up getting pretty wet eventually though! Not good considering I was feeling pretty 'ordinary' as we Aussies like to say. (Ordinary = not great at all, with connotations of rough swearing Aussie blokes eg...' that's pretty bloody ordinary!' .... and just so you know, bloody doesn't count as swearing here. Right, that's your lesson in Aussie slang for today.....) Anyway, I had him in his vest which tells people not to touch him, as I want him to get used to not approaching people when in public, which he is getting quite good at. We wanted to go to a specific clothes store but it meant crossing a pretty major road that bisects the centre of Canberra's inner city - by far the most cars Knightley had seen together. He did absolutely fantastically though. I'd taken a big fat treat pouch so as he sat by my side waiting for the opportunity to cross I stuffed him with treats as cars wizzed by in front of him, splashing puddles of water around as they went. The idea of feeding when cars are going past, or for instance if we were in a quiet part of the city but stumbled upon a huge noisy truck, is to associate these things with good feelings, so when he seems them again he will feel good and certainly not scared. Fear is the number one reason assistance and guide dogs don't all make the grade. This method of association is called classical conditioning.

So we crossed the street and continued towards the store. When we got there we were all three of us a bit bedraggled at this stage, so the hubby asked if Knightley and I could come in, instead of waiting outside. He explained that Knightley was being socialised, and they were absolutely fine with it. It was great to get out of the bad weather, and Knightley was very well behaved. It was Knightley's first time in a clothes store - in fact it was only his second store ever after a book store at our local fresh food markets - so I took the opportunity to familiarise Knightley to it. We wove in and out of the racks of clothes, although  I often had to ask for him to wait, then I would go ahead, then release him to follow me, as the passages between some of the racks were pretty small. It was good practice. I wonder if I could get that automatic, or get it on just one cue. It's interesting how doing just a little tiny bit of public access experience gives you so much to think about.

After that we walked back to cross the busy road, and it was still pouring. The cars zoomed past in front of Knightley's face, spraying water everywhere, and I really - like his amazing performance at the Sideshow Alley - couldn't believe he could be so sanguine in the face of such a new and rather intimidating experience. I have been careful to slowly ramp up the intensity of his experiences with cars, but still, I was impressed and so proud.

Knightley under the table at the fast food place. We need
to work on getting him to curl more tightly so that if he has
only a very small area under a table he will still fit. The most
common technique is to use a hula hoop and then smaller
hoops until the dog is used to curling up tightly.
We decided we needed to eat after that, so asked if we could bring him into a fast food restaurant and get out of the rain. I trained him to do an 'under' command when he was pretty young, where he gets under any object its possible to get under on cue - a seat, table, chair, bench etc. We need to work on getting him to curl up some more, at the moment he is just doing it in a relaxed down on his side.

Nevertheless, he stayed in a down the whole time, and just shifted around once. So I was very happy with him, and we were able to eat our meal and pretty much forget that he was there. After finishing eating we walked around the busy shopping area, getting him exposure to the crowds  that had come to get away from the rain and do some shopping. I noticed a small change in the way he was walking and guessed he needed to have a pee stop, and as soon as I found a place and gave him the command he went immediately. I *LOVE* having cues to empty him out, I think they are the most useful of everything I have taught him.

Knightley on a good relaxing walk having had a new stressful
experience. It is important you let your dog process these new
experiences by giving them lots of rest time, and simple easy
walks. You can see the shaved patch on his leg where they
gave him the injection to make him throw up. It's beginning to
grow back but still has a good way to go.
It was a very successful outing. After any big new experience I give Knightley a good day or two at home doing nothing much, just thinking about what he has gone through. So we didn't really do much for the rest of  the week, just normal walks - especially when the rain finally started slackening!

Then this last weekend I took Knightley to our local shopping mall. He has spent a good deal of time outside it, but has never gone in - I assumed he wouldn't be allowed.  But I phoned up the information desk to ask nevertheless, and amazingly enough, they are fine with dogs in training coming in. However I am well aware that Knightley isn't particularly ready for public access training - that generally doesn't happen until assistance dogs are ready to do their jobs at around 12-14 months old. All I wanted from the experience was to introduce Knightley to shopping centres at a young age, and make it a positive experience. There are two entrances/exits quite close to each other, so I was able to go in through big glass sliding doors, have a short walk through the shops and people, past a group of children (one of whom screamed 'DOG!!!' but Knightley just looked around then ignored them), stop for about a minute with my husband, then left my husband to walk towards the other exit, and through the other glass sliding doors.

I praised Knightley to the skies and gave him several handfuls of treats once we were outside. A woman waiting outside smiled to see me giving him so much attention, and I explained it had been his first time inside, and he had been pretty much perfect. She was quite interested, asking questions about Knightley, so I got Knightley to meet her. He is getting better with not rolling over and asking for a tummy rub from everyone he meets, but it will take more work to make it perfect. He was very well mannered though, letting her touch him, but not trying to solicit attention. If anything he was too grave and collected for a 7 month old puppy! We spent some time outside in the quiet in a quiet area so he could relax, and I gave him more attention and treats.

We went back in and walked towards the other doors again. I really like the fact that seeing Knightley brings a smile to peoples faces. Having a rather cute dog in a place where they just don't expect dogs is just something that seems to make many people smile, and in this day and age, the power to make perfect strangers smile is pretty awesome! We found a seat near the doors, as we were waiting for the hubby, and I had Knightley go into a down against the seat (assistance/service dog etiquette is to have the dog under any seats, but this seat was solid, so Knightley couldn't get under it). He just watched people as they went past, and for every person that went past, I gave him a few treats, once again creating that positive association that I talked about previously. It was a fantastic outing, and once the hubby came back, we all three walked together nice and calmly back out.

We've been doing quite a bit of work on loose leash - more than before. I've been using the Comfort Trainer  halter in public and for some of our walks, but I am starting to phase it out some. Our loose leash is great inside, is pretty solid on the road, but once grass and smells come into it, and things like birds...... he loses the idea of keeping the leash loose and following me. I am wondering whether to get either the trainer I talked to many months back, or perhaps a different one which I kind of prefer the look of to help us... as getting this solid is very difficult, made harder by my problems with not being able to treat/click etc easily as one hand has to do everything as my other hand has my crutch. Sigh, we'll see.

Anyway, the hubby leaves for England tomorrow, and we have quite a few things to do to prepare this morning, as well as a blood test for myself. I think Knightley is going to be back sleeping on the bed with me while hubby is gone as 3.5 weeks is a long time..... we've only been separated once since hubby moved to Australia, and that was for 4 days for a conference. I think Knightley will miss the hubby too, but will be happy with the sleeping arrangements. Oh well, time to get moving and do what needs to be done today. That's all for now!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Very stressful and upsetting night

Knightley ate a pill of my migraine medication this evening and hubby and I freaked the hell out. We very very quickly phoned the emergency vet, and I was struggling to hold back tears as I spelled out the medications name. They said a vet would phone me back in 20 minutes as they were dealing with several emergencies.

Both hubby and I instantly got onto google and read up on the med Knightley had eaten in the meantime. We were extremely relieved to find it was one that was actually *given* to dogs, but he had eaten a dose about 4-5 times more than he would have been given. We partly relaxed, but still worried and monitored his behaviour closely as per the emergency clinics instructions.

However, it was nearly an hour later and there was still no phone call, so I called back. I don't know what they had done with me, but I immediately spoke to a vet. He basically said due to the amount of overdose, Knightley needed to be made to throw up, and perhaps there would be other treatments. I wasn't sure whether to take him there or not, as because they had not phoned me back and I had had to phone them eventually, I knew a good part of the medicine would have already been absorbed. But the hubby and I discussed it and we decided since the vet was pretty adamant it was the right thing to do we better do it, just in case. Knightley seemed ok, just maybe a bit quiet - although that could be due to my intermittent tears of guilt (even though I didn't know where the medicine had come from).

So we jumped in the car and drove for half an hour across Canberra to the emergency vet surgery. Virtually as soon as we got there they took Knightley out the back and gave him an IV injection to make him throw up. They couldn't specifically see a green pill in the vomit, but hopefully any lingering stuff came up. Where they injected got bandaged up with this adorable bone bandage. They also fed him a 'slurry' of activated charcoal to absorb any lingering toxins in his stomach and intestines, which he didn't seem to like very much but was well behaved nevertheless. A huge bill later he was emptied of stuff and we were out the door.

He seemed more sprightly on the way home, which was good to see. It is going to take a while for the fur to grow back on his foreleg where they shaved it to get to the vein.

I am going to work harder at keeping my medications away from the front part of the house completely, and will start looking into training a default 'leave it' even if I am not with him. We were lucky that this medication wasn't all that toxic for dogs, but if I am not more careful, I may not be so lucky again.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Rain, rain and more rain, lump going down, and not very well

7 months 3 days old

This is a post to say I haven't died! Not sure how long it will be....

Since the show we have had days and days of rain, to the point yesterday the nearby storm water drains were flooding their banks and going over the footbridges. It was an impressive amount of water!

Poor Knightley hasn't really been for any walks since the show, so he has had a lot of time to digest the experience! Every time he comes back inside he needs toweling off, even if I put his rain jacket on him. I hope he doesn't get any hotspots (caused by a fungus from having damp fur) because its almost impossible to get him dry at the moment.

His raw feeding is going excellently. He is loving eating chunks of meat for his meals. I recently got some turkey drumsticks for him - absolutely massive things - and wondered how he was going to handle them. However, it only took a couple of minutes of chomping and grinding (the noise as he breaks up all the bones is amazing!) and the whole thing disappears! He has been on raw for a couple of weeks now, so according to the schedule he can start to branch out to more adventurous meats. I'd like to get some interesting organs for him. I did get some chicken hearts for him last week but they are counted as meat, not organ. I need to find something like spleen, tripe, trachea etc. A raw diet is complete with the ratios of 80% muscle meat 10% bone and 10% organs (of which half must be liver and the other half whatever you like). I am looking forward to finding more interesting foods for him to eat now he is over the first couple of weeks.

His lump is definitely reducing, even though his antibiotics have finished - I guess they have done their job. I won't be happy until it completely disappears however. It seems to have been an infection of some kind though. We were lucky!

I haven't been well since the show. I'd had a sore throat leading up to it, and since then I've been down with a virus of some kind. I've also had a bit of a lupus flare as regards my skin... I get rashes when my immune system is struggling with myself. It's a sign I need to take it easier. I couldn't go into work this week, which I was sad about.

We're working on Sue Ailsby's Training Levels, Level 3 at the moment, even though I'm not very well. I'm working on getting Knightley to watch my eyes for 15 seconds even when I am not maintaining eye contact with him. We can now *just* do 15 seconds, but only in low distraction environments.

We're also doing lots of door zen, so that in the future I'll be able to have the front door open and he will know it's a boundary he can't cross. I already have it down with some other doors.... for instance I don't want him following me into the garage from the house, as the garage might have potentially toxic spiders in corners where Knightley could find them, and now Knightley knows that door is not to be crossed. He also waits to be invited through the front door when we are going out or in, although it isn't quite as solid when we are going out. The problem comes along when someone is outside and he wants to join them. Door zen just disappears. It makes taking deliveries difficult!

The last thing we are doing is recall with higher levels of distraction. He is good now in the house responding to my "come!", but at the dog park for instance, he is .... well... hit and miss! So I am throwing his favourite toys and then calling him back to me in mid run towards them. Stuff like that, just to increase the distraction level a bit. He is doing well.

We have also received our Comfort Trainer halter, so have swapped to that instead of using the Gentle Leader we got temporarily. I'll let you all know in a future post what I think of it.

Anyway, that's all for now. Time to get warm again and stop feeling like death warmed up!