I have to admit that we have some pretty good puppies. They can be full of it at times. They can be wild. They are puppies. However, I have been around and owned other puppies that were much worse. Bella and Shiloh are pretty mild.
They have been fairly easy to train. I have been working them slow. I want to make sure they have a command down really well before moving on. My friend, Kris, and I consult each other on dog training a lot. She is also a therapy dog handler and she has been showing dogs for years. She is far more advanced than me, so I always feel honored when she asks for my opinion.
She sent me a video recently from a trainer out in California. He trains protection dogs. That's not really our cup of tea, but a lot of his practices apply to dogs of all specialties. This particular video focused on marker words. I use a high pitch "yes" followed by a treat. Some people use clickers. Through watching the video and talking with Kris, we discovered the importance of timing between the marker word and treat. It makes a difference. Kris found herself marking and treating at the same time. I find that I am not consistent at all. If anything, I am slow between my marker word and giving a treat, but sometimes I am holding the treat, and sometimes it's still in my pouch. Sometimes I don't have a treat at all! That, I discovered, is my biggest issue. I am putting too much confidence in my dogs too quickly. I always use a marker word, but I am not always following up with a treat. How long do you follow up with a treat? I suppose it varies from dog to dog. Tanker, for example, is the kind of dog that wants to know what's in it for him. He is even sluggish with his sits at times. Tanker is not a dependent dog by any means. He is not the kind of dog who cares anything about pleasing his handler. He enjoys doing obedience, but not for the pleasure of bonding with the person on the other end of the leash. Wes did a rally course with Tanker once, and he loved it, but if you ask Tanker to sit in the kitchen, he is not interested unless you show him the treat first.
Topher has become a little sluggish with things as well. There is a lot going on in Topher's world. Topher is very in tune with me. He is my velcro dog. He is a typical Cattle Dog and I am his master. If I am not my best, he is not his best. If I am incredibly happy and on top of my game, he is happy and on top of his game. If I am irritated, he is on guard as to why. If I am sad, he is by my side and he will do anything to keep from making it worse. For example, I was really upset one night. Topher was right next to me. Bella and Shiloh were running around wild. Bella tried jumping on top of me and Topher nipped at her. He normally doesn't do that. I have been upset quite a bit lately over some things that happened with friends. My mood is reflected in Topher. I have been going through treats like crazy with training the puppies and I quit using them for a while. Topher became sluggish with responding to me. Not only does he sense my mood, he knows that the puppies get on my nerves at time, and if that extra motivation is not there in the form of a treat, he is not always going to follow through.
If my two more experienced dogs aren't clear on what I am asking them, I can't imagine the mixed signals I am sending the puppies. Command, marker word, treat. Command, treat. "Am I going to get a treat or not? What am I working for? Is this really worth it?" I can't imagine any obedience training is worth it to them at four, almost five months old.
Given that history of my mixed signal training, you can only guess how excited I was today when I reached this milestone with Bella. Bella loves to dig holes. What is more exciting than being leg deep in a hole full of dirt and worms? When I was a child there was nothing more exciting than that. I can't blame her for wanting to dig. It is fun! I am not crazy about the holes in my backyard. When she was digging today, I yelled out from the back deck, "Bella, COME!" She picked her head up and ran to me. I was ecstatic! No treats involved or anything. Of course, I praised her and gave her a treat inside. For a almost five month old puppy to choose between digging a hole or following the command "come" is a big accomplishment to me. This happened not once, but twice today!
Topher is really funny. He has gotten good with "shake" and "high five". He has gotten so good at it that he will do it in any position. He was laying on the bed this morning on his side. I put my hand next to him and said, "Topher, shake." He did not lift his head. He did not blink. He slowly lifted his paw and put it in my hand. I was so excited about it that I wanted to show Wes. Once again, on the second try, he did not lift head. He just slowly placed his paw in my hand while laying on his side. No excitement about it. I think he was wondering why we were having to meet each other once again while he was trying to rest. A therapy dog's work never stops, I suppose. He sure made me smile this morning.
My goal for the upcoming week is to be more aware of the signals I send to my dogs. Am I always giving the verbal and hand commands at the same time? Am I using marker words and treating? Am I using the same tone of voice? The only thing worse than an untrained dog is a trained dog that is too confused to know what's going on.
My other goal is to not let people bother me. I cannot get down over what other's say to me. My purpose in life is bigger than that. Why do I let it get me down? I must continue moving forward while looking up.
Wes started a psychology class this week. I am as excited about it as he is. I took this class ten years ago in college. I remember some of it. I loved it. I loved every psychology class I took. Wes was a psychology major, so he is excited as well. I plan to review some of his notes with him. It will help us both with the work we do volunteering in the psychiatric units with the therapy dogs. We both love people. We love helping people. We anticipate great things to happen as we move forward in doing so.
The best news that we got today is that Wes' ANCA came back negative. That is one less thing going towards a diagnosis of Wegener's. Keep your fingers crossed that his rheumatology appointment brings good news too.
About The Foster Zoo
- Lindsay, Wes, and The Zoo Crew
- We have decided to blog our adventures again. So much has changed since we last blogged. Bella and Shiloh both went to their forever homes and they are in wonderful families. June Bug got adopted. We quit fostering dogs after those adoptions because Tanker's epilepsy got bad. We quit doing therapy dog work because Tanker's epilepsy got bad. Tanker passed away June 9th, 2013. We adopted a senior border collie named Shania Tankerbelle in his memory. We still have our two cats, Sweet Pea and Little Bit. Wes has started rescuing pitiful bettas from Wal-Mart and we currently have seven. We have a camper. We camp. We have focused on giving our animals the best lives possible. We are The Foster Zoo Crew and we like to have fun.