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Look at meeee!

January 25, 2011

It’s not that I haven’t been training. It’s just that it’s been rather unsuccessful.

I figured that there is one thing Sigrid needs to learn before we move into the realm of useless party-tricks. That was to do one walk without pulling her lead. So I did that.

So, in my book it says that I should practice it off-lead first. I did. She would follow me around, walk nicely, and yet I still ended up with a soar shoulder and screaming “Look at meee, I’m back here you mutt!” everytime we went for a walk. Sigrid would much rather walk quickly to wherever adventure was to be found, such as the park or the beach.

"I wanna be out there, not back here on the lead!"

A recommended method is to stop everytime she pulls. I can tell that for Sigrid this was far from a success. Oh she stopped allright, but as soon as I started walking she was there in front again trying to make me move faster.

Another is to make her do a turn around me everytime she pulls. Well, we’d never get anywhere at that speed.

The last resort was twitching the lead yelling “noooo” everytime she pulled. Success? Not a chance.

Then last week I started looking at some videos from Cesar Millan, the dog whisperer. He was the first to provide some sort of breakthrough with Sigrid’s pulling. A little more than a breakthrough, at that. It was actual results!

With a little calmness and insistance that I walk first, because I am the leader, guess who followed? It was the first time I had a long and relaxing walk with Sigrid, and all because I managed to force myself to be calm.

Dogs always read your mind. They know when you’re sad, when you’re angry, when you’re stressed. Of course Sigrid sensed that I was stressed and just wanted to get the walk over with. She was actually trying to help! But, now, we can have our long relaxing walks as long as I stay relaxed. Sigrid stays by my side, my partner in hunting for adventures.

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The taste of Forbidden fruit

August 30, 2010

In the dead of night, Sigrid wanders the dark and empty living room. She spots a Hidden Treasure left by two tired Masters on the sofa table: a pair of eaten stumps of sweet corn. She knows she isn’t supposed to eat them, but a little lick won’t hurt anyone.

It tastes of Forbidden Pleasure. Not that it’s tasty in itself, but it is Forbidden, and the Masters are asleep.

Sigrid takes a bite. Then another one. The joy of discovering such treasures takes the better of this little mutt.

Before she knows it, the sweetcorn stumps are gone. She ponders. The masters surely wouldn’t notice in the morning, would they? There’s a chance she has just committed the perfect crime and she knows she can get away with it.

But Sigrid still can’t sleep. She knows she did something wrong. And if the Masters would notice the Deed in the morning, they might point a finger at Sigrid.

She makes her decision. Jumping up in the masters’ bed, she crawls toward the lady Master with a look of Sin on her face. She licks her nose; the taste still lingers in her mouth.

Master wakes up, notices the nose licking and the crawling. “What have you done?” she says and goes out in the living room. The empty plate is discovered, and the Master laughs even if she’s tired. She gives Sigrid a little hug. She knows that forgetting the stumps on the table was the Masters’ fault, not Sigrid’s.

Sigrid goes back to sleep on her bed, ready to sleep now. Forgiveness tastes good, too. Sometimes it’s just difficult to obey all the rules when you’re a little mutt.

Time for bed!

August 26, 2010

Training a dog can be so much fun for one very good reason. When the dog manages a difficult command, the feeling of success is mutual and lasts for such a long time.

Today Sigrid managed, for the first time, the most difficult command we’ve ever tried. Go to bed. It’s difficult because she needs to find the mat, go to it and lie down all by herself without any guidance of food. She also needs to leave the candy I’m holding and actually move away from it.

It took many days to teach her the command, because every day she’d get a little step closer to the goal and the next everything was forgotten. I nearly gave up at one point, but decided to hang in there just because this command is so valuable.

At first, I threw some food on her mat (I always use her breakfast for training, and cookies only for special occasions). After doing this many times, I started staring at the mat. Every movement towards the mat was rewarded with some food thrown on the mat, and it didn’t take too long before she started going there by herself.

I added the command when she walked up to the mat more often than not. It’s supposed to be said just as the dog steps on to the mat. Sigrid often didn’t get that far, but ran up to the mat, stood in front of it, and then ran back to me again. If she did that too many times, we backtracked.

In fact, I backtracked every day. I’d do the whole routine all over again: food on mat, stare on mat, command. After a while the steps at each turn got fewer and she started to listen to the command right at the start.

Then she was supposed to lie down on it, as well. I used the handsignal here not to confuse the spoken command “go to your bed” with “down”. It’s important to walk up to the mat and do the “down” command, as I noticed, or else Sigrid would just rush back to me and thump to the floor.

After long periods of training that, too, I said the command and decided to wait. I’ve noticed that Sigrid needs to think about her command before she understands it entirely, so I just sat and waited. She heard the command and walked up to the mat. She sniffed it a little, decided there was no food there, came back. I waited, eyes on the mat. No need for repeating the command, she heard it the first time so why nag? If she forgets and does something else (sits down or lies down in front of me) a little reminder is in order, but too many would just confuse her.

She walked to the mat again, looked at it more carefully, and stared back at me. She was waiting, of course, for me to walk up to her again like I’d done before. But I waited. She returned to me, turned around, walked up to the mat and lied down on it. Jackpot!

I gave her lots of candy and praise and cuddles, and then we did a few more turns. She didn’t manage all of them, but no matter. Finally I saw that she was bored (she sighs and does a little cough when she’s bored of training), so I stopped.

I don’t expect her to pull it off first thing tomorrow. We’ll backtrack, repeat, and then try that big moment when I decide to wait for her to manage on her own. It’s a difficult decision. Too early and your dog is bound to fail. Too late and… well, you’d never know, but you could end up thinking your dog just doesn’t get it.

So, Sigrid the little mutt who couldn’t even sit down when we got her, far less lie down, can now walk over to her mat and lie down all by herself. I’m so proud of her! There’s of course lots more to learn, but victories like this just makes training worthwhile.

No’s and boo’s

August 25, 2010

The dog training guide I’m following goes by the rule that there are no “no’s” in the training. I remember hearing once that children can’t make the difference between don’ts and do’s, so it makes sense that this applies to dogs too. And what does it matter to the dog, anyway? If the “no” comes after eating something yummy, it’ll still eat the yummy thing again.

There are, however, situations where a “no” feels appropriate. Not because Sigrid minds it, she just ignores it and moves on. But still, for me.

Like this one time, when I opened a salad sandwich that was to be my first meal in 24 hours. I decided I needed to go to the bathroom to wash my hands and prepare for this oh so important meal. I came out; sandwich gone. I was in shock. The “no” from me that was about as loud as the grumbling in my tummy.

The sandwich was, according to Sigrid, very tasty and worth any “no” I could’ve thrown at her anyway. She was forgiven 8 hours later when I finally found another meal (I’m a vegetarian in Spain; veggie sandwiches don’t come around that often).

Then there was this other time when I woke up to the sound of Sigrid scratching the couch. It’s not even my couch (apartment’s furnished) so she really shouldn’t be making holes in it. I sneaked out of the bedroom, jumped out in my best “boo” manner and yelled “no”!

Sigrid did the same routine my boyfriend did when I played the same trick on him the other day: fell back, crouched in fear, then gave me a hug (just to apologise for anything said during those moments of fear). Well, Sigrid didn’t look very scared, but she did the crouching thing and it was followed by heavy tail waggng. She hasn’t scratched again. And I had to admit that it did make me laugh.

Sometimes, like with the sandwich incident, it’s just too hard to keep that “no” in. As long as it’s nice, not like that furious “no” accompanied by a slap that I see  too often from some other dog owners. Either way, I usually use a little “hupp”. Like in “hupp, you’ve forgotten that you’re not supposed to do that”. Sigrid understands the “hupp” and doesn’t continue until the “no”. Too bad, almost. I’ll just have to jump out from the shadows and “boo” my boyfriend instead.

Climbing stairs and roofs

August 6, 2010

Teaching Sigrid to sit and stay wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. I never had to tell her off for breaking the stay, as I shouldn’t do. The trick was of course to be quicker than her to get to the food and grab it before she got her reward. It’s all about patience, as I’ve discovered is the case with all dog training.

Having taught her to stay proved very valuable indeed once a while back in a way I wouldn’t have expected. Sigrid had a little tumble down the stairs up to out flat, and after that she blankly refused to walk up the stairs or even walk inside the house.

My boyfriend simply lifted the not-too-heavy dog up and carried her inside, but I didn’t feel it was something I could continue doing. Our front door is just beside two restaurants in central Fuengirola – naturally they are both filled up now during the summer months. Both guests and passers by had great laughs about the stubborn dog and shot weird glances at me when I needed to pick her up and carry her inside.

So, I tried a little trick. I bet lots of parents know of this trick, although I couldn’t tell. I asked Sigrid to sit down outside the door, then told her to stay. I placed some food on the floor inside, and waited a little longer. “You’re welcome,” I said, but being Swedish I prefer the Swedish word, so actually I said “varsågod”. Sigrid shot through the door like a missile. Ok, one down one to go.

The stairs took a little longer, the memory of her little slip was still fresh and she was terrified. Before I had thought of the “stay” trick, I had lifted her up the first couple of stairs and then let her run the rest, which she did without a problem. So her issue really was with the first couple of steps, and it was there I now placed the food. Sit, stay, varsågod. She hesitated here, could see that it was a trick but still really wanted the treat.

I waited. Sigrid looked at me, looked at the treats, looked back and started crawling upwards. She looked like what I must’ve looked like when I once tried to climb the roof of my family’s house. Every step was heavy, and every movement was accompanied by a quick glance at me (like I glanced at my brother who was helping me climb the roof). Is this ok? Is it safe, are you sure? If I fall and break my neck, will you call the ambulance?

Minutes passed, and suddenly, probably without realising it herself, she was past the first steps. Incident forgotten, she trotted up the stairs proudly and has been able to walk those stairs without issues ever since.

Sadly, the trick can’t be repeated. She still won’t go through the vet’s door no matter how hard I try to lure her. Well, she must be more clever than me. I still keep walking into the dentist’s office without treats or anything, and I bet that’s just as uncomfortable. Someone prodding at you, saying things you don’t understand. It’s ok, little Sigrid, I’ll carry you through that awful door.

Wet mutt coming through!

July 20, 2010

Yesterday when we went to the ball park, Sigrid both managed to sit down in chewing gum and lie down in something very nasty-smelling. So when we came home, Sigrid ended up getting a bald patch on her but and in grave need of a shower.

I don’t really get what the problem is with her and the shower. She loves water and loves grooming, so she should really love the shower.

But no. She pants as if she’s trying to operate a windmill all by herself.

Well, at least she stands still and I was able to rub the schampoo in real good to get that smell off of her. Then, when she was properly washed off I opened the door and let her out.

She managed to soak both bathroom and livingroom before she got the idea to give my boyfriend a goodnight kiss. Unfortunately, he was already in bed. Sheets, blanket, boyfriend, all got soaked.

But she wouldn’t settle for that. After that, she went into crazy mode. This means Sigrid turns into a tennis ball herself and bounces around the flat while spinning around in little circles. The problem last night was, of course, that she was still wet and slipped across the floors like a tennis ball on ice.

Then, she found a ball. The high-speed pursuit that followed sent her crashing against any wall in her way, including previously clean areas. When the ball was caught, it was obvious to Sigrid that the ball should be returned to the bed.

The whole flat ended up wet. Not only the floors, that would be a shame for such a good game. Bed, couch, walls. All got a little taste of the wet mutt. All but one thing. Sigrid’s blanket remained nice and dry for her to lie down on when the game was finally over.

Readers with dogs: Does your dog go crazy too after the shower? Share it and put your wet mutt stories in the comments field!

Lying down in the face of food

July 16, 2010

Sigrid is a very energetic dog, so I thought getting her to lie down on command would be a real challenge. Sitting down wasn’t as difficult; if the treat in my palm was brought above Sigrid’s head, she’d have to sit down to still see it. Lying down, however, includes less readiness to jump for the food if needed and at least some relaxation.

When Sigrid came to us from the dog shelter, she was obsessed with food. She had spent most of her life together with other dogs and had learned that eating must be done quickly or it might just get snatched away. So getting Sigrid to relax in the face of food = mission impossible? Of course not.

I started out trying what I’ve seen others do: getting her to sit down and then bringing the food down to the ground. Well, that didn’t work. She shot up like a rocket to try to get the food, and when she didn’t she looked at me with that look on her face: “What do you want me to do?!”

I’ve been reading this book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Positive Dog Training; it sounded easy enough and sometimes I feel like an idiot when it comes to training. It says in this book that it’s ok to treat the dog when it’s making the right movement toward what you want. If you want it to lie down, treat it when it hunches its shoulders.

So I started doing that, and the expression on Sigrid’s face changed from “What the hell is this?” to “Aah allright, I can do that!”. Guess what, it took her only a few hunched-shoulder treats to finally lie down in front of me. Her tail was at this point whisping across the floor faster than the eye could see.

Sigrid, and many other dogs with her, I’m sure, enjoys managing something difficult. When she realised she had done well she jumped up and licked my face, eager to try again. It wasn’t just the food, because if it was she’d show the same joy when she’s eating out of her bowl. This was more than that: this was food plus fun!

Dinner will be dedicated to teach her to lie down with command and hand signal. I’m already looking forward to this evening!