Sliding into pethood

View from the "reverse" camera on our new-used car.

View from the “reverse” camera on our new-used car.

We continue the short-leash walks. In close proximity of our house Bear does great. He stays near the left hip with minimal corrections. And it feels like we are making progress. Then last night I took him on a slightly longer walk. We went in the direction of Sellwood Park, where he used to run off leash.

Every two houses Bear would be yanking. The rage first surfaced, correcting him with a forceful “Uh-uh.” Then remembering to reward the change in behavior, I’d do a quick 180 and praise with a “Good Dog!” after he let in with his pulling. We would then continue our walk, and he would begin pulling all over again.

Needing a timeout, I’d put him in a sit every half block, and give myself some deep breathing to relax. I didn’t want to take his head off on a correction and I could also feel myself sliding into the “well him walking out front a little bit isn’t so bad” mentality. And this is exactly the slide Bear hopes I would go into (if he has any hopes, of course). It makes me think of how Bear’s persistence has changed a lot of our behaviors. Or maybe just walking on a leash behaviors. For instance, I completely gave up the walk on a leash. I switched to the run with the bike because I was so tired of the constant correcting on the leash.

Resting after doing the laundry.

Resting after doing the laundry.

So maybe Bear is destined to pethood. Maybe he will be a great house pet, or just a normal pet. He certainly has gotten some of the routine down. In the morning he gets up to find a comfortable spot on his couch (90% of the photos are taken with him on his couch). 

There are still some annoying traits to change. He now thinks three in the morning is the perfect time to get up and go to the bathroom. And he’ll mimic Mimi barking at passers-by. The three in the morning potty break is being broken by crating him at night. 

And it could be his age, his new short-leash regiment, crating at night, or a combination of all that and Bear maturing a bit, but he has been mellowing out quite a bit. In fact, the other day we went over to his friend’s house, Homer, and Bear just wanted to lie down and enjoy the sun. Homer tugged at his ears and his tail, while Bear tried to get under a chair, a place with enough impediments to keep Homer off. 

I am undecided on whether coming to terms with Bear being a pet is a good thing or not. It certainly alleviates some tension. Each time Dec or Maggie is low my blood pressure rises as I look to Bear snoring on his couch, belly up and legs splayed out wide. Or when I hear him climbing the stairs at three in the morning I debate whether to test Dec and Maggie, wondering if Bear woke because he is alerting. 

It certainly minimizes the number of things to look out for. I begin to wonder our family really needs Bear to alert to lows. 

And then Bear alerts Maggie, pawing her and doing his high-pitched bark because, being Maggie, she ignores him. 

And then he alerts Declan.


Back to the dog park

Sleeping on the deck

Sleeping on the deck

It was our third annual trip to the Wings and Waves Waterpark in McMinnville. Last year Bear was along for the trip. This year Bear spent the day in his office. On our return I couldn’t help noticing that Bear was not in the office, but out in the kitchen area. I headed back to the office and nearly fell down by the smell, and then dry heaved seeing the mess of brown liquid on the floor. As my stomach turned right side up, I thanked whoever had the wherewithal to get Bear out of the mess, though they did nothing in terms of cleanup effort.

I wet down a few rags to cleanup and reminisced when we had cloth diapers in Eugene. Whether it was thinking about some of those nasty diapers we cleaned in the toilet, or just a sudden solidifying state of my stomach, I did not add my own mess to the already disgusting floor. What is going on with Bear’s constitution, though?

Bowl of Costco hot dogs and cheese sticks a day

Bowl of Costco hot dogs and cheese sticks a day

Is it the anniversary of his parvo experience, needing to somehow celebrate his survival, Bear’s insides are reminding us how far he has come and how bad it was. Or is it the new high value treat he gets for scent work? He’s been getting about one Costco dog a day for the past week. Though I haven’t tried this regiment, I imagine it could do some damage. After I have one I’ll taste it throughout the day. Or might it be the newly instituted lock down regiment is stressing his constitution? Bear only goes on short walks, no running along with the bike, no dog park, and treats only with scent work.

While cleaning the mess I decided to take Bear to the dog park. We’d walk on leash, which would be painful, before heading to the water and enjoying time off leash.

I finished scrubbing and spraying air freshener (it still smelled of poo) and loaded Bear into the car and drove to the park. The park full of dogs and the smell of the river distracted Bear greatly. He whined a bit and pulled quite a bit. Stay tuned on how the yanking develops into Bear’s lack of feeling around his collar.

And then I exhaled, taking Bear off leash and walking along the beach. The leash swung freely from my hand as Bear charged in the water for a stick. He boxed with other dogs. He charged other dogs, faking to the left at the last possible moment and dove into the water.

We came home and he flopped down, tired for the first time in a week.

Sleeping on the deck

Sleeping on the deck

Short Leash

IMG_20130802_074300We picked Bear up from Kristin’s after a week away. While he was happy to see us, he was also as excited, or more excited, to play with the dogs in the Kristin’s backyard. Camp is over for Bear.

And Kristin experienced Bear on a leash. And she said that we need to start over. That Bear needs to relearn how to walk on leash. He is not to pull; he is taken for a walk; he is not taking the thing at the other end of the leash for a walk. He is not to decide that it is time for a potty break and yank the walker over to a grassy spot. Bear needs to walk with the person, following the person.

This has been a challenge from the beginning. And I think the challenge emerged from Bear’s natural inclinations, but also from our lack of consistency in training. Bear is a bullheaded animal. He is not quick to change. In fact, at our last lesson, Kristin was a bit surprised at how stubborn Bear was when we were introducing the “no-scent” exercise. Bear is also very playful. Job one is to have fun. He constantly scans the environment for a playmate, preferably one with four legs, but two will do.

As trainers I don’t think we transitioned from the “get a treat for a trick/behavior” to the “demand for trick/behavior”. It might be the timing of Bear’s Parvo episode that delayed this transition. After getting out of the hospital (and paying that treacherous bill), Bear was still recovering for a month. His intestines were still rebuilding, and we had to be careful with what he ate. He was prone to extreme diarrhea. So maybe we handled him with kid gloves. And coupled with his confident demeanor, the gentle handling really conditioned him to expect special treatment.

I’ve also always had a low-key dog. My former dogs, Duke in Boulder and Annie all over the US, never needed a leash for a walk. They were interested in checking out new smells in the area. We would walk or bike together. They were happy and friendly, but they did not pester people or dogs for attention. I was prideful of their demeanor, laid back, and able to go without a leash. I enjoyed walking the street with Annie or Duke either next to me or trailing a bit behind.

Walks with Bear challenge one’s peace of mind. He sees the leash and dashes away. Not very far, he stands at the back door. And this is likely where the chasm of a trainer and me begin. I walk to Bear, who stands at the back door. He waits while I click the leash. Something inside tells me that Bear should approach me for the walk. Whenever I walk to him, I feel a pang of “I don’t think this is right” feeling. But I am happy he doesn’t continue fleeing from me while I have the leash, so Bear effectively trained me to go to him for a walk.

Bear occasionally got used to the gentle lead.

Bear occasionally got used to the gentle lead.

When we first introduced the gentle-lead I would give him treats when he had it on. I’d put it on him without the leash to desensitize the feeling, giving Bear treats while he wore it, trying to associate yummy treats with wearing the gentle lead. Not sure if my techniques were poorly executed, poorly planned, or were simply not instituted long enough. Bear’s behavior never changed, and I tired of the struggle with the gentle-lead.

And so I would snap on the gentle-lead and proceed for the walk. And Bear still enjoyed his walks. Walking with head up and tail wagging, he would tug on the lead still, but it was simply a bit easier to correct him. And whenever possible, he would rub his nose along some grass with his butt up high, tail wagging, relieving that pesky gentle-lead annoyance on his snout.

Another chasm between dog-trainer  and me: Instead of dealing with the annoying habits of the walk, I found another means of exercising Bear. I nearly completely abandoned the walk. I went for the bike. With the leash in right hand, I rode while Bear ran. We would go to the park to get off-leash time. We would occasionally find other dogs to run with, but usually found an extremely annoying owner yelling to keep Bear away from his dogs, that Bear’s safety was in danger (can’t discuss now, but maybe later). So score another for Bear, he once again taught me behavior in line with his needs.

Dog park by the river.

Dog park by the river.

So now we begin again. With a new Handcraft Collar, we take Bear on short walks. We go up and down the block. We might make it around the block. And why are they such short walks? They are so short because we have about four inches of leash to work with. When he pulls forward or to the side, we pull up on the leash, engaging the Handcraft Collar, sending a signal (hopefully) to Bear to back it up. The challenge involves releasing the leash, disengaging the collar, at the moment Bear gives in. We (myself, Heather, and Bear) are all working on this.

It has been a week and things are improving. Bear walks nicely along a boring stretch of road. He continues to become maniacal when we approach a house or park that has a history of playing with other dogs. The final exam for Bear (and me I suppose) occurs at the dog park, walking nicely on lead in the parking lot. We will try this out today. And just thinking about it makes me sad because I see it as a form of torture. And I vehemently hate torturing things (even though I teach math). In fact, I would rather be tortured than administer the torture.

I love taking Bear to the dog park so he can run and swim. Not only can you see the joy in Bear’s entire body wagging, but he also wears a smile. So I wonder do we go down to the park and walk in the parking lot, returning after that training. Or do we continue to the park after the training? What would a trainer do? If he is horrible on the leash in the parking lot, lunging and crying to play, do you still give play time. Or is it simply a training session, no more. No reward for bad behavior? I’m inclined to let him play, walking in the park, letting Bear run around, feeling for a few moments at least, that I have a dog I can walk without a leash.

Update: Scent training

Scent training tools: scent, no-scent, hot dogs, and cheese chunks.

Scent training tools: scent, no-scent, hot dogs, and cheese chunks.

We continue with the “scent/no-scent” training. Bear does great, signaling the scent and ignoring the no-scent. And then he does not so good, reluctant on the scent and signaling the no-scent.

But then he’ll wake from a nap when I walk by with an open scent sample in my pocket and signal. And he’ll ignore the no-scent in my pocket. I’m still clinging to the time he slept on the couch and I put the scent beaker in my pocket. His head jerked up and walked over to me to signal.