Friday, June 25, 2010

Facials anyone?

This weeks agility homework: rear end awareness. For those not aware, for dogs the but just sort of follows the decision-making front end because it's attached. They don't give it a whole lot of thought. There are areas in training having control over their rear is very useful though or important to working safely.

Now Sierra's a brilliant dog but erm... has not spectacularly successful... at rear end awareness before. It's just not particularly a strong area for her. We've taught with (flat) ladder and cavaletti in her puppy agility classes and those and backing in freestyle. She's inconsistent with the ladders and cavaletti to the frustration of myself and instructors. She does okay with backing, though she tends to crab a few degrees after several paces. We've tried rear paw targeting and spins on various equipment and via capturing, shaping and luring. She can climb ladders, both standard and more difficult ones at playgrounds which involves a fair bit of awareness of footing placement. When we're doing heel work in obed her left-about turn was taught with her tucking and swinging her bum off my left shoulder position. She can also do erm... I guess you'd call it lateral heeling - it's not great, there is two-tracking (I never bothered to refine it) but it's there. I've speculated part of it may be her physical build - her rear is not the best conformation wise so perhaps she feels the strain more - but she can move that rump! I think the only thing I know of we've not had a go at is the balance balls.

For this particular class they want pivoting on a point (pivot box) with the front anchored, ladder work and cavaletti work to be passed through to the next level. All pretty standard and they ought to be simpler than climbing the ladders but she bodges them up.

I decided to tackle the pivot box first because I actually have the equipment in the house for that and prefer not to be soaked by all this rain! The main sticking points for her have been her dancy front feet when excited... it's almost like that subconscious excitement whine some dogs do. Getting her to anchor her front in the face of excitement is difficult as she doesn't realize she's moving/shifting them

Almost as soon as I wrote it (okay, WHINGED it) onto my facebook page I realized my solution. I couldn't work with unconscious behaviour, it needed to be made conscious. There needed to be a way for her to have a sensation that would call her attention to the fact her feet were moving.
I pondered for a few minutes. Novel surface textures wouldn't suit, it needed to be on her paws so she was aware of it on and off the box. Socks? Nah. It'd likely be very mildly aversive and her focus would be solely on that rather than placing and planting her feet. Coke? (An old showing trick to give dogs a bit of extra grip when gaiting...) Not noticeable enough. Needed to be stickier but not messy either.

Solution: I put peel-off facial stuff on her paw pads, you know the stuff you put on, let dry and then peel off? She lays down to be groomed, so with her melting into a puddle of bliss I put it on her feetsies and let it dry until it was just barely tacky but not messy. Not only did it work - in four sessions she has quieter feet - but she now has "softer, fresher, younger" paw pads that "feel refreshed and renewed"! ;P Booyah for David Jones facial stuff! Six sessions and we've got a reasonable if rough pivot going on. May the great god Murphy ordain we actually get the cavaletti and ladders next!

Sunday, June 20, 2010


I had a lovely day today, as Sunday's usually are.

We left early for training, having to arrive early for set up as we'd borrowed one of the sets of Flyball jumps to practice with over the past fortnight. I had a nice chat with a couple different instructors before Hope had her obedience. She did lovely, as she always does.

Then Hope got to do some flyball and did excellent again - she was actually running heats on the competition team today! We got our form to sign up for competitions as well. As much as her runs, I'm also very happy with how nicely gives calm attention on the sidelines . For those not familiar, in a number of clubs the dogs are encouraged (or at least not particularly discouraged) from being in a state of extreme excitement. We all chatted about dogs, training, behaviour issues and with one of the instructors whose heart-dog has required a lot of work to get to the flyball team how deeply we love those dogs whom we've gone through so much with.

The club had a work bee after which I helped out with a bit before heading home. I spent the rest of the afternoon cuddling and playing with Lily and La. I did a bit of sketching. Had a laugh at bunnies flomping on fresh laundry. Chatted a bit. Had a nice dinner. Marveled over how perfectly adorable my offspring are and how I ever got so lucky as to have such lovely munchkins. (Yep, I am perfectly saccharine I know. Deal.) The gooey factor went up a notch watching them play with the girls. La is trying to get Hope to do flyball in the living room and Lily patted my little embroidered dog on my jacket and chirped, "aug!" before clicking! Naw, my little mini dog-nuts!

So all in all I had a really lovely day. Which is of course why I feel like crying like the quietly mad mess that I am, because I miss the dog who is not here. Gah, I am such a damn headcase!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A question of leadership

I thought I might post some of the stuff that gets bandied about in e-mail discussions because it's always interesting to get other perspectives than just one or two. :) So the first one was a question about how does one explain to a new owner how to teach their dog to take the cues from the owner - what training is necessary, what is effective to teach a dog like an Australian Shepherd who may have a reserved temperament and some guardian instincts to respond appropriately.

My thought is leadership isn't a training technique or set of exercises to teach so much as a way of living with dogs and relating to them which also incorporates training. A dog that is awake and breathing is watching and learning at all times, not just when we decide we're training.

So if you want to be a good leader, you must first be someone worth following. Some traits I'd associate with a good leader might be confident, sound in judgement and decisive but also things like fair, clear, consistent, trustworthy, flexible, responsible, approaches problems with thoughtful consideration and an ability to listen and consider other viewpoints. Someone with "people skills" ie they can read and respond to those around them, play up their strengths, motivate, focus them and are savvy at diffusing problems before they become problems. If there's a external problem, they take responsibility for it and will go back their people up if need be so they are reliable also. Much of this translates well to dogs. These can mostly be learned but is a more difficult and longer process because it means we must be aware of our own ways of behaving to change them and confront the basic assumptions and perceptions that create them.

I do use various training techniques of course. I start obedience, body handling, trust games and a conditioned relaxer from day one. There are games I play which would constitute training (in that they educate) but are just part of life vs. sessions set aside to train. With dogs with problems additional counter-conditioning, desensitizing, teaching alternative behaviours etc is done as appropriate to the individuals needs. Learning to do this is easier as they're just mechanical skills really, assuming you can read the dog and are willing to listen to it's feedback.

Training alone falls short though. It covers a few minutes a day in a constructed situation. While what they learn in it (sit, down, stay, come) IS undoubtedly valuable if the dog experiences 5-10 minutes a day training on one task but an owner who is inconsistent, unreliable or unpredictable in the dogs view the other 1400 some odd minutes a day you cannot expect it to be effective, especially in an intense moment when it counts most. If you want the dog to defer to your judgement or stand down where it's perceiving a threat, you need to have proved yourself to have consistently sound, reliable judgement and an ability to deal with problems in your dogs eyes with the little things that happen every day. Otherwise why on earth should the dog trust your judgement when it's own perceptions and senses are telling it there is a real threat and it's owner hasn't handled it?

To me this is also why a good temperament is a fundamentally sound and resilient temperament with strong nerves and Aussie's in particular their guardian nature is based in being level-headed, intelligent and uncannily discerning and able to moderate their responses to the situation. A dog that can moderate it's response is in control of itself which in turn eliminates dogs whose responses are based in fear or anxiety. It may still misinterpret what is a threat but it's in control enough that it is (neurologically) able to defer.

I also think we don't always appreciate what a big ask it is to ask our dogs to defer to us. It takes a lot not to just react based on what your senses are telling you is dangerous, even if the other person may know something you don't. Contrastingly, if we're wise we also trust our dogs and consider what they're telling us to see if it's truly in error or if they're picking up something we're not.

I do expect my dogs to defer but I also have a very good deal with my dogs - if I never put them in a situation where they'll need to bite to defend themselves and they won't. In my mind, I as an owner must be my dogs first advocate in a world where we will run across other dogs and people who may be well intentioned but ignorant as well as rude, obnoxious idiots.

Monday, June 14, 2010

It occurred to me the other day training with Maremma has strange parallels with training with scent hounds.

When you work with a scenthound, you always have to contend with, plan around/with the issue of scent. It's just always going to be a factor no matter how you train. They have a reputation of being 'stubborn' and too scent-minded to do obedience well. They may be giving great focus, beautiful work and BAM... they catch a whiff, their brains are sucked into outer space and everything ceases to exist but the nose and that heavenly scent. It can get to a point they enter 'scent hound Nirvana' and can't hear you. (Literally - the brain gives an 'all operators are busy' signal to the nerve receptors in the ears and doesn't transmit the information to the brain to translate into sound. They have to disengage from that state to be able to reorient back to the task at hand.)

If you're clever and skilled at managing training, you can keep the 'opportunity to scent/follow it' as a resource you possess/control access to and convince them the only way to get access to it is through your framework. Given how strong and deep that drive is, it can be a powerful motivator and reinforcer.

I'd tend toward laying a lot more foundation work with scent hounds generally on being able to disengage/reorient from what has wafted under their noses (catching them pre-total brain suck stage obviously) than a herding dog or sporting breed dog for example where the drives are skewed in 'listen to and work for the human even in high drive' behaviour in our favor. (Super strong eyed working Borders aside... which from what I understand are considered too much for the task as they trance themselves.) Likewise making low latency in response times important, making that VERY high value and teach things it's important to have immediate/consistent responses for more as classical than opperant conditioning.

With Maremma you can almost write the same thing, except you cross out 'scent' and insert "environmental awareness". That white polar bear brain is constantly scanning and monitoring for stuff that's out of place, even when he's giving good focus on me and training it's there in the background scanning away. And just like a scent hound, BAM, something ticks the radar as being 'one of these things is not like the other', brain suck hits and it zooms in on it to assess if it's something he ought to address or not. (Nope, was just a sparrow farting across the paddock. Stand down brain!) It's interesting differences that come with LGD.

Monday, June 07, 2010

"A real difference to expectant mums..."

For anyone who hasn't been following the news on the home birthing furor, after everything we were basically ignored and the government went ahead with it's blatantly-in-the-face-of-evidence-based-practice and in defiance of human rights, women's rights, WHO recommendations and just plain common sense to do what it (and the AMA cronies) wanted. It's always refreshing to know the government listens to it's constituents so well and acts in our best interests.

Today our Health Minister Nicola Roxon was quoted in the AAP as being optimistic about the future of home birthing. The headline raised an eyebrow (it disappeared somewhere well above my hairline) before my jaded inner cynic reasserted itself. She has more than proven she is against home birth, evidence and reason time and again and several of her stunts have left me with little faith that anything she says which may appear positive is nothing more to cover up the reality of ignoring the people she is supposed to be advocating for while using a bit of lip service (or more accurately lip gloss...) to appear sympathetic in the press.

The article goes on to say that the federal governments decision to support professional indemnity insurance for private practice midwives could help those offering home birth services down the track. They will do this by subsiding insurance for private midwives. "This will make a real difference to expectant mums, who can now elect to see a private midwife who will have government-subsidised insurance and, from November 1, have the cost of those services covered by Medicare," Health Minister Nicola Roxon said. If that sounds too good to be true your bullshit detection abilities are in fine working order.

The government subsidy does cover midwives in private practice. Just NOT if they're attending home births. As their are NO hospitals which extend visiting access to private midwives that sure is interesting way to 'make a real difference to expectant mums'!

Ms Roxon said the move is a significant step forward. What Ms. Roxon forgot to mention was that it was -one- step forward taken AFTER she'd waltzed a thousand back tromping all over human and women's rights, individual choice, the ability to determine what medical care, care models and treatments one deems fit for oneself and ones children, ones ability to self determine etc. etc. on the way!

The only other insurance option for private practice midwives it appears is one which does NOT COVER BIRTH. Obviously dreadfully useful then...

This whole thing just breaks my heart. It is a tragedy for the midwives who are loosing their passion and livelihood.

It's a tragedy for home birthing mothers who are having their rights to their bodies interfered with.

It is a tragedy for the babies and families who should be born in peace, in the places and mode of care their choice.

It is a tragedy for the generations whose only associations of birth will be the kind typical of a hospital system - managed, medicated, intervened, disembodied, painful, harassed - something to be endured and survived instead of rejoiced over.

It is a tragedy for those who have neither any idea nor interest in it because their rights are being stolen as well.

And it is an utter tragedy that it's done with political spins, manipulations, big business arse kissing and blatant bullshitting to slip the lies past the masses with a few smooth words and sound bytes under the guise of "helping" advance women's rights and choices.

Foggy walk

We have lovely autumny-wintery cold weather here at the moment and in our area that means most mornings are rather misty. Usually by midmorning it's gone though. A few days ago however it stuck around all through the day and I snapped a few shots on our walk. The whole world looked soft, with beautiful light sluicing through the clouds in ribbons and making everything look like an impressionist painting. The scent was so clean, crisp and electric but everything was calm and quiet aside from the soft crunch of dirt and leaves under our feet. It felt like we were the only ones for miles around, walking between worlds.

These may be the last photos for a little while as my camera appears to have carked it. I took it with me to the herding trial and thought it was protected inside my purse but apparently not! *sobs hysterically*

278 days

Sunday, June 06, 2010

So nice to be able to do stuff with my girlies again! :)

After a long stretch of not being able to get anything done actively, it's been so nice the past few weeks to be able to immerse myself in all things doggy!

For starters, Wednesday we got a phone call from K9 Agility Club saying they had a slot open up for class starting this Thursday if I was interested? I ended up deciding to take Sierra this time as Hope will have three things with herding, flyball and obedience which is quite a bit for her - so figured to spread the love. *G*

Saturday we had the Old English Sheepdog Club of Victoria's herding test day. I'd entered Hope in PT and little madam got two qualifying passes for her title. She also won a fuzzy sheepy statue that Lily is loving patting for most promising dog in test levels. This is the video from her second run:

It was absolutely pouring rain most of the time - by the time I got home I was drenched from standing around in the rain, having Hope "share" her wetness by shaking all over me AND having had the sheep do so. LOL

Today I managed to haul myself out of bed for another soggy day at obedience and flyball. Hope is having a lot of fun with flyball and it's a good chance to work on calm focus while waiting but still being able to turn it on at the running line. A lot of people I talk to are turned off of flyball because every time they've seen it the dogs were revved up out of their minds, screaming, barking and lunging on their leads with excitement the whole time. There seems to be the mistaken impression that in order to have a dog who is high drive, turned on, focused, excited and enthusiastic you have to reinforce crazy behaviour! While we have the occasional bark, for the most part the dogs at our club train and run quietly and either watch quietly on the sideline. Hope is happy to lounge on her back, half asleep, legs lazily akimbo in every direction while we wait. Take her to the line and ask her if she's ready though and she turns on instantly. Such a good little girlie!