Posts Tagged ‘puppy training’

2-minute dog trainer – kickin’ into high gear

June 8, 2012

Bud and I have always had multiple dogs. As many as 10 at one time.

As our seniors began passing our pack diminished to three dogs. Then we added Tempest for four, but I had lots of time for training and we were able to travel with the entire pack.

Then we lost Tempest and were back to three dogs, with a gaping hole where Mr.T had been.

Phoenix arrived and bumped us back up to four dogs, and I threw myself into training him and preparing him for travel and trialing.

Last week Margaret Hendershot came through on a request from a year ago. She’s involved with Multiple Breed Rescue here in Ohio and I’d asked her to keep an eye pealed for my next teacup dog.

So wee Haymitch arrived 9 days ago and fit right into the pack. My goals for him aren’t as specific, and he’s a quick study, so I started some training and will be taking it nice and slow. He’s over a year old, seems to be housetrained, is learning his new name and is clingy, so he’s not much of a chore.

But Haymitch bumped us to five dogs, so we now need to return to the days of arranging for a dog-sitter when we travel. I wasn’t too worried though, as Phoenix isn’t old enough for trialing for a year, and Haymitch isn’t going anywhere soon.

However, yesterday, with a flurry of black puppy fuzz, our world exploded around Django, Bud’s new BC puppy.

Django was an unexpected surprise. We weren’t shopping or even looking. And, if we were, he probably wouldn’t have been our choice.

Okay, so here are his positives. He likes food and toys. He gets along great with the other dogs. He grins (which I ADORE). He’s fearless, humble, and lovable.

Here are his negatives. He’s huge. And he’s going to get bigger than any other dog in our pack. His feet, at 12 weeks of age, are bigger than Kory’s, Phoenix’s, or Dash’s feet. They’re all 40-45 pounds. Django is going to be an enormous border collie.  And he’s long-haired. I was just getting to the point where my old canister sweeper was able to keep the balls of hair at bay.

Some folks love all things puppy. I’m more a fan of the adolescent dog. So Django has no power over me.

Did I tell you he grins?? ….. [sigh, as my heart melts]

Now our training has to kick into high gear. We have two dogs who don’t know how to eat with the group. They leave their own bowl to visit others. Just that fact makes for a hectic mealtime.

Mealtime training, for me, may mean that my young dogs eat at separate times.

2-minute dog trainer – weekly classes

May 26, 2012

In my May 11 post I described, in as much detail as was possible, our ideas for the end of our “training center” phase and the beginning of our “social club” phase.

It’s interesting to look back over my life and divide it by phases.

In 1998 my married-lady-working-40-hours-a-week phase ended with a bang. My 15-year relationship with my husband gave up the ghost without a whimper. I never knew anyone could care so little about a marriage as my ex.

Regardless, life marched on and I met a man who shared my interest in positive reinforcement dog training in general, and dog agility in particular.

We have fun together, have the same sick sense of humor, can vent to each other without worrying, and understand each other.

So the dog-training-center-facilitator phase of my life began April 1999. At Dogwood Training Center we averaged 120 students, with another 200 campers who visited for a week at a time.

In 2007 we considered semi-retirement, and my parents needed more attention from me, so we sold Dogwood and moved to Watertown, Ohio.

Our plan was to do a few camps each year, do a lot of writing and travel with our dogs, and slow down a little. We began our family-first-with-lots-of-writing phase.

Dog agility exhibitors in our area asked us to open our building for classes. We’ve averaged between 10 and 15 students since then, requiring a bit of work but nowhere near the effort required by our central Ohio site.

We have one more weeknight group class. Then we enter our TDAA-management-and-training-our-puppies phase.

Here’s how I see it working for us.

Every Monday or Tuesday Bud will set equipment in the training building and establish 3-4 training sequences which he’ll print out and post in the building.

On Tuesday evenings Phoenix and I will go to the building to do some “2-minute-dog-training” — working on obstacle performance and the specific skills a fast little dog with a slow old handler needs. If anyone wants to join us an play along, that’s okay.

On Wednesday evenings Kory and Phoenix will go to the building to do some sequence work — honing the more complex skills needed as Kory (AX AXJ) approaches his USDAA Masters titles. Phoenix and I will join them on little bits of sequences.

The rest of the week people will come and go, playing with their dogs on sequences designed by Bud, or of their own creation.

Here’s how I see it working for our local students.

Students who choose to become Board Members get access to the building and grounds, plus either or both nights of training at no additional charge. We hope they’ll help us maintain the public areas of the property.

Students who choose to be regular Members get access to the building and grounds, plus kick in a few bucks if they want instruction.

We’ll continue offering a few private camps each year. We have lots of fun with our friends from around the country. And our cottages provide sleeping quarters for folks traveling a distance and wanting private lessons.

We’ll be answering lots of questions, obviously. My basic response is “we no longer have a dog training center.” Everything else will work itself out.

Phoenix approaches age 6 months.

Phoenix has been with us 3 months. He’s been a clever little boy, interested in offering all sorts of favorite behaviors for food, for toys, for attention.

His mealtime training includes 2-on-2-off contact performance, distance sends through a series of hoops to a jump, and some sequences requiring that he follow my movement.

Every afternoon I try to break away from paperwork to play with him. We’re working on his formal retrieve and he’s currently chasing the dumbbell and bringing it back to dump it in my right hand. We’re also going to the training building occasionally to work on the more advanced equipment. He’s developed independent performance of the full-size a-frame, the skinnier dogwalk (not the full-size one yet), and the full-size teeter.

I’ve noticed he indicates lack of confidence by simply avoiding an obstacle, but he can be encouraged to be brave with food, toys, or attention.

He’s a typical border collie. He loves his baby pool, his big brothers, and stretching out on the couch.

I’m so lucky to have found him, though we have no idea of his heritage.

I love him intensely.

2-minute dog trainer – consistent reinforcement

May 10, 2012

If someone were to quote “Marsha-isms” I hope one they would choose is my favorite —

“Most dog training problems, and most dog behavior issues, are the result of ill-timed or inconsistent reinforcement.”

Dogs learn through reinforcement.

The more often they’re right, the more frequent the reinforcement for the right behavior, the faster they learn.

The smart dog trainer makes sure her dog is right 95% or more of the time.

Some unwanted behaviors are self-rewarding so the clever trainer must install the replacement behavior before the puppy discovers the unwanted behavior.

Regardless of whether it’s an agility performance or house manners, responsibility for the dog’s behavior sits firmly on the shoulders of the trainer.

My puppy cannot behave in a manner I’ve not taken the time to train.

Phoenix has two behaviors in class that really annoy me. More because they point out my shortcomings as a trainer than any other reason.

Let me start by saying he has no natural impulse control. I’m teaching him, incident by incident, how to control his puppy impulses.

At class last night he had a couple of out-of-control moments which embarrassed me slightly, and put some things on the top of my “to do list.”

1) Phoenix barks in his ex-pen when other dogs run, and when our students are excited and are encouraging their dogs. It’s just a matter of over-stimulation on his part, but I’ve not spent the time encouraging quiet.

2) When Phoenix wants to visit people and dogs he likes, my recall is worthless. I work on recall  occasionally, but need to put more emphasis on it because it is truly NOT reliable. He approaches people and dogs as if everyone wants to be his new best friend (sorry Crystal <g>).

So, in the first instance, I’ve not established enough reinforcement for the replacement behavior (quietly lying down in his ex-pen while other dogs are running).

In the second instance, I’ve not conditioned an immediate response to my recall.

Oh yeah, and he jumps up on people. And most people reinforce that. So my work at sitting-for-petting-and-attention must get more focus.

Topdog Agility Players agility club

Beginning June 1st our training center will be transitioning to a club where our agility friends can come and play, and work, and train, and even teach!

We’re not so much “closing the training center” as discontinuing classes, rosters, paperwork, and e-mail reminders.

When we become a social club we have a few expectations:
1. we’ll get assistance with responsibility and maintenance, OR
2. we’ll have less public appearance maintenance
3. we’ll grow a few new (and amazing) agility instructors, as
we’ll be allowing our members to run their own classes
4. our members will have incentive to invite members
5. we’ll spend time and effort commensurate with income

Members will have access to our instruction (Bud’s on Wednesdays, mine on Tuesdays) and we’ll still have occasional workshops. Members will have unlimited access to the training building and fields.  We’ll expect them to assume some responsibility over their training goals.

It’s all about consistent reinforcement, after all.

Bud’s been teaching agility classes for 20 years. I’ve been teaching obedience and agility for 18 years. In 2012 about 90% of our reinforcement (reward) comes from non-agility-class activities.

We’re hoping this transition allows all of us to train our dogs and have fun doing dog-related activities, gets us some assistance keeping up the public appearance of the agility building and surrounding zone, and spreads some of the responsibility associated with lesson plans, rosters, and e-mail updates.

Or maybe it will still be just Bud and I maintaining a 60×120 pole barn and parking lot, and playing with our dogs.

Some folks object to change of any sort, so it remains to be seen what the response will be to our plan.

2-minute dog trainer, Phoenix at 5 months

May 4, 2012

Phoenix occasionally joins my beginner agility class as a demo dog. His drive is lovely, though his youth is evident in his desire to visit with the other friendly handlers and dogs.

Phoenix has a bro-mance with “Bear,” a 7-month-old Aussie, and an affection for “Lisa,” a sweet little Icelandic Sheepdog.

He’s starting to attend my recall faster and faster, and we continue to work on recall skills for 1-2 meals a week.

In addition to his mealtime training on the contact trainer, and on the 30-foot dead-away send through hoops and jumps, Phoenix has begun three new training protocols.

Start-line stays

First, using the same line of hoops and jumps where we practice our “send,” we’re practicing start-line stays.

I believe I’ve created a unique start-line stay philosophy and training protocol — I’ve seen no one else addressing it in the following manner.

My philosophy is that dogs generally do not “break their start-line stay.” Instead, what they actually do with great frequency, is “anticipate the release to do agility.”

If I examine my dogs’ behaviors at the start line, and compare it with training for an obedience recall, I see two ways a dog may fail the exercise: 1) breaking the stay, leaving the task, putting nose down and sniffing, wandering off, and losing interest, OR 2) anticipating the release to follow me, or simply “jumping the gun.”

As a trainer using positive reinforcement, my responses to these two failures are distinctly different. If I treat anticipation the same as I do lack-of-interest, my training will be the biggest failure.

My training for “jumping the gun,” or anticipating the release to do agility, involves three elements.

I wish to reward the dog for staying, and will reward tiny stay performances at first, building consistently and in tiny increments with each training session.

My negative punishment (removal of reward and attention in order to extinguish behavior) for anticipating involves the absence of the reward, and having to return to the original position.

The third element of the start-line stay, and one I believe is unique to my start-line stay training, is the idea that the dog learning to stay in front of a jump, tunnel, dogwalk, whatever, must NEVER be released to that obstacle during start-line training.

Instead, I cue the “stay,” leave the dog, walk around the jump (or tunnel, or dogwalk, whatever), return to my dog’s side, reward the dog for the stay, and then release him to another, nearby, obstacle.

I want to establish in my dog’s mind the tiniest doubt that the course is going to progress in the direction of the obstacle in front of which they’re staying.

I want my dog to look to me for direction always, not assume and anticipate.

He’s able to stay while I leave his side, circle one jump or hoop, and return to his side to feed him his dinner. At first he was quite distracted and hyperactive but, once he was successful on a couple of short stays, he started catching on.

With stays I try to remind my students constantly that dogs learn through their successes so, the more successful they are, the faster they learn.

Retrieves (formal and play)

I must admit, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE training retrieves, both play retrieves and formal (aka obedience dumbbell) retrieves.

When I started training Banner (my Novice A obed/agil dog)  to retrieve in 1998, I met Sue Sternberg and was introduced to her inducive retrieve methodology. She left me with a charming self-published training brochure, with hand-drawn pictures of the trainer and dog.

Banner picked up on the training so quickly I swore I’d never use another method for training the retrieve.

Last week Phoenix started learning the inducive retrieve. The methodology is to position a treat behind the bar on the dumbbell, and the dog has to “go through” the dumbbell, touching or grasping with teeth, in order to get to the treat.

In his first 5-minute session Phoenix showed me he’s a fun guy willing to offer all sorts of behaviors which make no sense to him. He quickly started putting his teeth on the dumbbell, then grabbing it out of my hand, staying engaged and focused the whole time.

In his second 5-minute session he progressed to picking it off the floor and swinging his head, with the dumbbell still in his mouth, toward me.

In his third 5-minute session he progressed to chasing it when I tossed it 4-6 feet away, picking it off the floor, and returning partway to me with the dumbbell.

Tonight, in his fourth 5-minute session he progressed to sitting while I tossed the dumbbell 10 feet away, going after it when I said “get it!”, picking it up and bringing it all the way back to my hand.

WHEEEEE!!!   Awesome.  Mommy is VERY pleased.

For his play retrieve I began with generally conditioning him to put his mouth on various toys. When he brings the toy back to me I immediately toss it again. When he fails to bring the toy back I follow him, take the toy, put it away, and end the game.

Now, a month since I began this subtle training, I try to not over-do the play retrieve because I want to end the game while he still eager and willing to play.

Now that he’s mostly conditioned to the play retrieve, I can begin using a toss of the toy as his reward for agility performance, knowing he’ll return to me with the toy.

Sequencing (running with me)

I’m incredibly excited about Phoenix’s temperament and biddability. He’s learning everything very quickly.

But the most impressive thing about Phoenix is the calm intensity with which he follows my movement between agility obstacles.

He doesn’t bark or carry on. He leaves the start line focused and in high drive. He turns on a dime whether presented with a front cross, back cross, blind cross, whatever.

My beginner class is made up of three dogs, including Phoenix. We have plenty of time to put together and practice rather long sequences. The equipment is jammed pretty tightly into the 30×60 space.

My students are GOOD students. They try to do their homework, they listen to instructions, they watch me demonstrate, they absorb the philosophical discussion, and we progress quickly.

Four weeks ago, Phoenix was coming out of his crate for a couple of 2-minute demonstrations each class.

Two nights ago he spend nearly 45 minutes out of his crate, engaged in agility play (and flirtation).

His ability, at 5 months, to follow my movement on sequences, is breathtaking for me. Couple that with bold, fearless, obstacle performance, and you can imagine the fun I’m having.

I often think fondly of Tempest, and miss him every day, but Phoenix is providing me with a new agility life.

I would love to get comments from my regular readers! Tell me how your training is going, what suggestions you’ve tried with your own dogs, or how you’ve modified a protocol to suit your needs. Comments please!

2-minute dog trainer – months 5 to 9

April 10, 2012

Don’t worry — I’m not going to leave you hangin’ for 4 months. I just want to comment on the fact that no two puppies develop or train the same.

When Tempest was 4-or-5 months old, I took a job at a local hospital. It was entry level grunt work, but it supplied Bud and I with health insurance, plus a small paycheck.

I hated the job. I came home exhausted 4 or 5 nights a week, after an 11-to-7:30pm shift. I was generally irritated with the mean girls and dopey managers with whom I worked, and would cry about the rudeness I was forced to endure each work day. It was awful and no one deserves that life for $12,000 a year plus health insurance.

When I started the job Tempest was about 5 months old, and when I quit the job he was 9 months old. Tempest’s training was put on hold from mid-August to nearly Christmas 2010.

After quitting my horrible job, Bud and I took leadership positions with TDAA, Bud had an automobile accident in Indiana, and our lives were in turmoil. Tempest’s training slowed for the winter, and we didn’t really start sequencing until he was about 11 months old.

At 12 months he started learning how to weave, and began an intermediate agility class at a local club.

I don’t think we ever made up for those lost months. Before he got sick (Dec.2011) my plan was to spend the winter doing the training we had missed Fall-Winter 2010.

So, in other words, I was continuing with the 2-minute dog training protocols, and Tempest’s individual obstacle performance was great, but his introduction to sequencing and following handler direction cues was LATE and INADEQUATE.

I’m hoping to redeem myself with Phoenix.

My work life is different now. My work day revolves around my laptop and I spend a great deal of time in my office. I do all the paperwork for TDAA, as well as the class and camp rosters.

At 4 months of age, Phoenix is enjoying obstacle training for 3 meals a day (will be transitioning to 2 meals a day in about 2 weeks).

Once a day, for about 15 minutes, Phoenix and I go to the building where we do simple sequencing with his tug toy as a reward.

My first goal with each session is to make sure he’s conditioned with each of the obstacles I plan to use in my mini-sequence.

When he’s confidently performing each of the obstacles in the sequence I start putting together 2-and-3-obstacle bits.

When he’s putting the sequences together, I practice the longer mini-sequence (5-6 obstacles).

Last week’s mini-sequence was teeter-tunnel-teeter, with a front cross between the tunnel and the second performance of the training teeter.

Today’s mini sequence was tunnel-under-the-aframe, across an 8″ jump, into another tunnel, front cross, turn-back into the same tunnel, and through the tire.

The sequence isn’t important. What is important is that he learn to look at me for his directional cues.

I’m pleased with Phoenix’s drive to run with me, with his interest in focusing on obstacles as we run, and his quiet, calm working style.

By conditioning individual obstacle, then conditioning tiny 2-3-obstacle sequences, then performing longer sequences, I hope to build in him an understanding that agility is fun. But that the fun of agility is following Mom and doing what she says to do.

Mealtime training this week (15 weeks of age) includes: 1) breakfast = contact trainer, 2) lunch, pause table on the ottoman with an automatic down, working on STAY as I walk around the living room, occasionally disappearing from sight, 3) dinner, contact trainer or hoops / jumps in the back yard.

We do contact training with breakfast x 7 days a week.
We do pause table training with lunch x 7 days a week.
We do contact training with dinner x 3 days a week.
We do jump training with dinner x 4 days a week.

Therefore, we do 21 training sessions on obstacle performance each week.

If I add one 15-minute sequencing session 5 days a week, I’m totaling over 125 minutes of training each week with my puppy.

All without stressing his body, overworking his little brain, or interrupting my life overmuch.

That’s what the 2-minute dog training protocols are all about. They’re designed to fit training into every day with your dog, and into every interaction with your dog.

2-minute dog trainer – Phoenix at 14-16 weeks

April 2, 2012

Because Phoenix is a rescued pup we’re not sure of his birthdate. The rescue group, on Feb. 20, guessed he was born 12/20/11, and was 8 weeks old.  I thought he had to be older than that (who ditches an 8-week-old puppy in rescue?!?).

So now, the first week of April, he’s either 14 weeks old, or a little older. I’m waiting for his teeth to start falling out at that 16-week mark to have a better idea of how old he is.

I’m going to establish a birthdate of 12/15/11, making him 16 weeks old this week. We’ll see what happens with his teeth.

Regardless of the precise age of this pup, he’s learning rapidly and is a joy to train.

First, the resource guarding is a constant training opportunity for us.

Instead of a little growl when I touch his bowl, I get a happy face and a wagging tail. I always hold the bowl and stroke Phoenix’s back, and the tail continues to wag.

If I touch his face with my free hand, the tail stops wagging, but he doesn’t freeze up anymore. This is going to be a long-term training objective, and we can’t ever forget that he doesn’t like having his food bowl approached.

He has half-a-dozen behaviors which he offers in sequence when I pick up his food bowl.

He loves to offer:  sit, down, 2-o-2-o contacts, front, heel, table, and go-to-bed (get in crate and lie down).

For breakfast we work on contacts. I’m allowing him to climb the ramp now, so 2-on-2-off is done in motion, at some speed.

For lunch we work on pause table (on the living room ottoman) and go-to-bed (with his crate).

We’ve added a new exercise for dinner. I’ve set up 3 hoops (ala NADAC) in the yard and am teaching “go on” as a cue to keep engaging the hoops.

If the sequence of 3 hoops is 1-2-3, I start with #3, “YAY” and reward, then #2-3, “YAY” and reward, then #1-2-3, “YAY” and reward.

We reverse direction and repeat the exercise. I can generally get three of four of these sequences in for a single bowl of food.

2-minute dog trainer – reliable recall

March 19, 2012

Yesterday I was letting dogs out of the house for the really-short walk to the training building. We walk this off lead because everyone simply wants to run to the training building.

Unfortunately, Bud was returning home from the hardware store (working on his chicken coop — see his blog for more info on that < and pulled into the driveway the second I let dogs out.

Hazard and Dash returned to my side when I called them, and Kory was on lead (due to his door-dashing issues), but Phoenix floated around the driveway for a minute or two while I called him and he ignored me, or dodged away from me.

Well — that won’t do, now will it ?!?!?

So Phoenix’s mealtime training has gone to module one of my basic obedience lessons — attention to name and recall.

With every meal I walk around, allowing him to forge ahead of me, “Phoenix come!” and food for sitting in a front position and allowing me to grab his collar.

We’ll work on that for another week or so … he’s really clever so I don’t foresee it taking very long.

His agility training is going really well. He’s absorbing the 2-o-2-o training as only a puppy can. He’s showing lots of good control over his rear-end. He runs to the contact trainer when food is available.

Lots of fun!

2-minute dog trainer – Phoenix’s training week2

March 16, 2012

Phoenix has been with us for 3 weeks.

His breakfast training has focused on minimizing his resource-guarding tendencies. There’s always a hand in his bowl and sometimes the hand takes the bowl away.

He has discontinued the practice of growling when the hand comes in, choosing to wag his tail instead. Just a couple of days ago I set his bowl down, stepped away from it, then stepped back in. He looked up, wagged his tail, and backed away from his bowl. That really pleased me.

On the other hand, when the other dogs approach his bowl they still get a little growl, and they’re very accepting of it. Dogs see this as a natural behavior for a hungry puppy, I guess. (If anyone out there can tell me they definitively know what dogs are thinking please let me know.)

Phoenix’s breakfast training takes place at the dog-feeding station in the basement. In addition to working on resource guarding he’s being trained to assume a 2-on-2-off position on the contact trainer.

When we first started we went to the wider, steeper a-frame end. He was drawn into position and fed from hand.

Now, after just one week on this training, Phoenix heads to his contact trainer the second I pick up his food bowl.

He runs to the trainer and assumes his 2020 position on either the a-frame end or the skinnier dog-walk end. We’re surprised at his ability to control his back legs. For an 11-week-old pup he seems very aware of his rear end.

He’ll often hit the position a couple of times while I’m walking behind him. Occasionally he’ll be standing, watching me, and move just his rear feet into position. I find that very surprising.

Phoenix’s lunchtime training takes place in my office, in the training building, in the vet’s office, or on the road.

For example, yesterday Phoenix’s vet appointment was scheduled for 11:30am. I put his lunch and my clicker in my purse. He was rewarded for:

1) getting into his crate (x 2)
2) walking into the examination room (x 1)
3) being on the exam table, first lying down, then rolling onto one hip (relaxing), then sitting, then standing, then lying down and relaxing, etc.
4) getting back into his crate (x 1)
5) getting back into his crate after a quick walk around the nursery where I was shopping for a tree to honor Tempest (looking for an Austrian Pine) — got to finish his lunch in his crate.

Sometimes we do hand-targeting for click/food. Sometimes we walk to the training building, getting clicked/fed for loose-leash walking.

Phoenix’s dinnertime training involves more resource-guarding training, and more contact training. His little body mustn’t be stressed, so we don’t do any work with jumps, or fetching, or anything that might overwork him.

Sometimes late in the evening Phoenix gets a little snack of kibble, especially if he’s played with Kory for a couple of hours after dinner. He gets a little hungry, and will come tell me — sitting, staring at my face, jumping on my legs.

Feeding him a little snack before bedtime means I can hold off on breakfast for an hour or so after waking.

Next week I’m going to bring some hoops into the yard and get started with sending him through the hoop.

2 minute dog trainer – intro of Phoenix

March 8, 2012

My sweet Tempest has been gone 3-1/2 weeks.

Our new pup, Phoenix, has been with us 2 weeks.

When Tempest passed I decided to bequeath his place in our home to a rescued dog, perhaps one who had never experienced the level of comfort and love we can provide.

I checked on a daily basis. There were a bunch of border collie mixes in local shelters but no little faces called out to me. I put an application in with a local border collie rescue and began the extensive approval process.

On Tuesday, February 21st, with my application slogging toward approval by  border collie rescue, I went back to

Much to my surprise this little red-tri border collie face gleamed at me from my computer screen.  He was a couple of hours away, and (at 8 weeks of age) probably already adopted, but I decided to contact the rescue group and express my interest.

Long story short — the rescue group was marvelous to work with and several friends worked as go-betweens to make this little boy available for adoption to Bud and I.

I saw the picture at 10a.m., contacted the rescue group at 10:30am, had an e-mail application completed by 2pm, had a phone call at 3pm, had my application reviewed by 5pm, and had a call at 6pm saying “when would you like to come get this little boy?”

I’m just saying ….. I understand the reluctance of rescue groups to place dogs without complete home checks and calls to references and vets. On the other hand, isn’t it better for a foster home to provide for the veterinary care, feed, housing, training, and relationship-building for 1-7 days instead of 10-12 months?

I’m certainly not criticizing rescue groups, but sometimes dogs are left too long in foster homes and released too slowly to forever homes.  I know they’re well-fed, cared for, but they’re always “the foster dog.”

Anyway — we met the wonderfully nice foster mom who was so very impressed with my 8-week-old border collie puppy and brought Phoenix home on February 22nd.

I have doubts about his official story, but a young family supposedly turned him in to rescue at 8 weeks. Hmmm. Has nice bite inhibition, is very sociable, is bold and brave, has a little resource-guarding issue, but hard to believe a young family would purchase and ditch a puppy in a week.

Doesn’t matter — he’s mine now and his past is of no consequence.

I’m starting back into my 2-minute dog trainer protocols.

For the first few days Phoenix was with us we focused on the mealtime resource guarding.

Each meal Phoenix was presented with an empty food bowl. Human hands brought food to the bowl versus Phoenix’s greatest concern — human hands dragging him away from the bowl or taking the bowl away from him.

When we said his name and he glanced up he was rewarded with another handful of food. “Come” became part of the picture, and my little boy was on his way to becoming a trained dog.

We had one little bump in the road — Phoenix turned his nose up at dinner on February 26th and 27th, so he went to my vet’s office early on the 27th. He tested  positive for parvo.

The vet’s office kept him on the 27th, giving him fluids and antibiotics through an IV. By noon they were suggesting I should be prepared to get him at 6pm. “He’s pretty full of himself,” my vet said, “he’s chewed through his IV tube twice so we’re giving him fluids and antibiotics sub-cutaneous.”

She explained that, if I could get him to eat, he could begin getting meds orally and stay home for his long-term care.

I picked up a happy pup at 6pm. He was very hungry and ate little spoons full of canned dog food each hour.

Next morning Phoenix returned to the vet for more fluids and meds, but was cleared to come home by noon. Each day in the past 10 days he’s shown good appetite, kept his food and meds down, and gotten more energetic.

Over the next few months I’ll be documenting his progress with the 2-minute dog trainer training.

This, his second full week with us, Phoenix is eating breakfast starting with an empty bowl and accepting hands coming towards his bowl with more food.

For lunch he’s doing some targeting of my open palm, touching either of my outstretched hands for a click and food.

For dinner he often gets to train with Bud on the a-frame contact trainer. After just 3-4 sessions he’s already got the idea that sitting on the a-frame with his front feet on the floor makes the food keep coming.

I think about Tempest all the time. His ashes have been brought home. I know he wasn’t perfect, and his extreme epilepsy was devastating to all of us, but he was the ultimate clean slate on which I wrote my dog-training hopes and dreams.

The slate has been wiped clean again. Our work has evaporated into thin air, but we have a plan with which to start again.

2-minute dog trainer – time out to get healthy

January 11, 2012

Sometimes training is put on hold for recovery from injury or disease. Tempest and I are experiencing one of those involuntary time outs right now.

Here’s what’s happening. We’re able, on occasion, to implement my 2-minute protocols and they are keeping us in the game even during recovery.

October 21, 6:27am
“Off to what is supposed to be our last trialing weekend of 2011. Tempest is just 19 months old, has earned his NA and NAF, and has run in AKC as well as USDAA. I’m hoping to work this weekend on better partnership in Jumpers with Weaves class, and keepin’ all those bars up! Wish me luck! It’s been an amazing journey so far ….”

October 23, 6:27pm
“Tempest finished his weekend a little early. Saturday afternoon a Q and 2nd in Open FAST, finishing his Open Fast title. On a family walk Saturday evening he came back from the woods on 3 legs. Skipped Novice JWW on Sunday morning, still lame at noon so skipped Open Standard at 2 and pulled from T2B Sunday afternoon. This was our last 2011 trial (probably) so we end our first trialing season with an NA and OF, plus 2 Open Standard legs and 1 Novice JWW legs. Our winter lessons start in a few weeks, after puppy gets a complete rest and break from agility.

Best news of the weekend — switching from 20″ to 24″ made Tempest struggle in JWW on Friday, but he ran Open Std on Saturday with no dropped bars at all. I’m guessing 24″ will be his AKC jump height from here on.”

October 31, 7:32pm
“A big shout out, hugs, and thanks to great friends Tamara Kurtz and Kathy Ihle Clark! They noticed Tempest’s lameness at Zanesville (he came on Sunday but didn’t run because of it) and took the time to share information with me regarding Osteocondrosis (OCD) in Border Collies. Long story short – I had my vet take x-rays and look specifically for OCD. Because it’s tough to diagnose she sent radiographs to Dr. Barnhart at Med Vet. He confirmed OCD in Tempest’s left shoulder. We have a consult appointment in a week and probable surgery shortly thereafter. If my vet hadn’t been aimed that direction we might have missed this entirely. Thank you Tamara! You went out of your way to get me talking to Kathy. Thank you, Kathy, for all the information and for reasuring me. Love you both! (Tempest says thanks, too!)”

November 7, 7:09pm
“Tempest goes back to MedVet at 7am for arthroscopic surgery for OCD on his left shoulder. Physical exam showed extreme pain and substantial loss of muscle mass (after just 2 weeks). Hope to be home by this time tomorrow, with 4 weeks of leash walking — and then a complete recovery. Fingers crossed!”

November 8, 5:36pm
“Home from Dr. Barnhart’s at MedVet. Tempest is very uncomfortable, but is on strong pain meds so hopefully will get more comfortable in the next 3-4 days. Then 4 weeks of crate rest, pottying on lead, etc.”

November 8, 5:57pm
“Finally! Tempest stood and whined at me for about an hour. He’s on pretty strong meds so I knew he couldn’t last forever, but he FINALLY eased himself down onto a cushy dog bed and is sound asleep.”

November 9, 7:03am
“After a really good (aka “drug induced”) nights’ sleep Tempest woke me up at 6:30am, standing on all four feet, wagging his tail, smiling, and wanting outside. Walked down the ramp interested in the critters in the woods (instead of totally into his own discomfort as yesterday) and peed. Back up the ramp and into his pen for breakfast, all the time standing on all four feet. Not putting full weight on left front but not dangling it or folding that foot under as yesterday. Ate a hearty breakfast, chewed on his nylabone for a few seconds, now back asleep.”

November 10, 9:56pm
“On Thursday, just 48 hours post surgery, Tempest is putting weight on his left foot, is acting comfortable and happy, and is able to sleep on either side. Started Adequin injections today (2 x week x 4 weeks) and begin with Chondroitin + Glucosamine dietary additives tomorrow.”

November 12, 1:08pm
“Days 1-2-3 post op Tempest’s potty breaks were actually much more brief than recommended — probably 2-3 minutes each. Today (4 days post op) was so beautiful I took him to pee, then we walked together to dump the pooper-scooper at the bottom of the yard. Back in the house in about 10-12 minutes, and my pup seemed to appreciate getting to walk in the sun a bit. He’s very nearly putting full weight on his foot, moving his shoulder in a natural way, and seems to not notice any pain. He’s such a good boy and — once again — I’m glad I worked so hard on calming behaviors, loose-leash walking, and good house-manners.”

November 22, 8:44am
“Tempest’s staples come out today. He hasn’t had to wear his elizabethan collar at all, lucky boy. Since I’ll have him in the car I’m going to give myself a little outing.”

November 27, 10:07am
“One more week of crate confinement for Tempest. Time has flown by, even with my impatience and desire to get on with our winter training fun. We return to MedVet for our follow-up visit with Dr. Barnhart on Dec. 7. Rehab begins Dec. 8, hopefully. By Tempest’s 2nd birthday (3/13/12) we intend to re-enter the agility trial scene.”

December 7, 2:34pm
“Tempest is officially “cleared for take-off” today. Dr. Barnhart said his shoulder is very solid and that what he needs now is exercise. Free to play in the yard and house, free to interact with Kory. Free to do agility with gradual resumption of his full jump height. I’m so elated I can barely contain my glee. It’s been 6 weeks since our last agility outing and I was figuring we’d have a gradual re-entry to activity. ‘Get him out there running and playing. He’s got some scar tissue he needs to break up and he may act slightly lame on occasion, but he’ll work through that and gain strength through the exercise.’ YAY!”

December 15, 6:18am
Well, all in all a bad evening. Tempest seemed a little restless, over-anxious to do agility, and then a seizure in the training building. And another, and another, just minutes between seizures … for 55 minutes and a total of 10 seizures. Five before we were able to pack him up and get on the road to the emergency vet, 5 more on the way. By the end of the 30-min drive he was nearly unconscious and I really thought he had died. He’s spent the night at the emergency vet clinic in Parkersburg, I pick him up in an hour, and he starts anti-seizure meds on a regular basis. Second most horrible evening of my life (first was Bud’s accident a year ago, in ICU for 2 days four hours from home).

December 15, 1:30pm
“Tempest has spent the day at my local vet’s office. Took him 5-6 hours to get even marginally out of the anesthesia. Lots of vocalizing and thrashing. So here’s the thing. I’m afraid to bring him home. I’m afraid he’ll start again and I’ll be alone. I’m afraid he’ll die on my watch. Vet just called and said he’s resting easier but still wobbly on his rear end when they walk him. Hasn’t pooped or peed for them yet, so I’m certain he’ll be more comfortable with me. Last night’s episode was such a strong correction that I’m afraid to offer behaviors of any kind. Feel like I’m operating in a fog. Go to pick him up at 4:30 – vet has a Christmas party at her house tonight so they’ll all be there. Biggest concern is brain damage due to oxygen deprivation last night.”

December 15, 6pm
“Tempest is home, still coming out of [huge amounts of] anesthesia, has lots of separation anxiety we’ll have to work on, has eaten today, pooped and peed, and is resting comfortably in a soft crate on about 6″ of blankets. Still has some lack of control in his rear and some loss of vision. Hope those improve over the next couple of days. I appreciate all the care and concern we’ve been shown.”

December 15, 6:09pm
“Poor dude, after 4 weeks of crate rest for OCD, he finally got to go to agility class last night, worked for 10 minutes, and had 10 seizures in an hour. Luckily my dear friend Beth Murray was here for class (she’s a DVM) and she held Tempest while I contacted my vet and the emergency vet. We got him to the emergency clinic within an hour of the start of the seizures. They took care of him through a bad night, I took him to my vet this morning, they resumed recovery and observation (one sweet vet tech sat on the break room floor with Tempest on her lap for 2+ hours). It was terrifying. My sympathies go out to anyone dealing with seizures — in kids or dogs. Very distressing. I’ll probably have PTSD.”

December 16, 2:12pm
“Tempest had a slightly restless evening with a bit of whining when I left the room (still vocalizing as a result of the meds). Awoke early needing to go outside. Did his business and seemed upbeat and smiley. Making eye contact, working hard to keep his rear end under control, and being my very good boy again. My biggest fear — that Tempest wouldn’t be Tempest anymore — put to rest. Gobbled breakfast, ate his pill, and has been resting all morning. Every journey out of his crate he’s steadier and more like himself. I’m blessed. Thank God for veterinarians Dr. Beth Murray (friend and student), Dr. Helen Rutter (emergency vet clinic), and Dr. Roberta Haught (home vet). And thanks to the vet tech who spent 3-4 hours yesterday, sitting on the floor holding and petting my disoriented pup.”

December 17, 8:27am
“Tempest showed great improvement all day yesterday (greeting our house guest’s dogs at the fence confidently) and was allowed to attempt the ramp into the dog yard off lead this morning. Very coordinated and seems happy to have a little freedom. Fetched his toy for me this morning, so his brain is engaging again.”

December 19, 9:27am
“This morning Tempest woke up coordinated and happy. I thought, “wow, he’s moving better and seems more himself than yesterday.” Then he walked to the back door to go outside, jumped straight up in the air and landed in a heap on his side. Stood up, did it again. Jeez. Beauty is fleeting but goofy is, obviously, forever. <g> Thanks and blessings to friend Bonny who shared that she put Mojo’s pill schedule on her cell phone alarm. After only 3 days this handy system has ensured prompt dosing when I’ve been distracted. You’re a life-saver, Bonny!”

December 28, 7:52 pm
“I think this was my best Christmas ever. I kept my expectations low (my family doesn’t fit the Norman Rockwell ideal), made sure I had plenty of quiet time, I was intensely grateful for a healthy pup and happy family. When we had get togethers I tried to remember that our enjoyment of each other was most important — not the decor of the house, not the volumes of food, not the money spent on elaborate gifts.”

December 30, 7:56 pm
“Well crap. After 2 weeks on Phenobarbitol Tempest had a seizure at 6:05pm (55 minutes before his next dose) quickly followed by a second. In between we crushed up his pill and popped it into his throat. My home vet had one of her staff prepare two doses of rectal valium and I drove 50 minutes to pick it up and race home (should have had this on hand, I know). Bud stayed with T. Said second seizure was the last in this episode. Tempest was whining in his soft crate. I let him out, on lead, and he drank a ton of water. Now back in crate and resting easy. This is sickening.”

December 30, 7:56 pm
“I would feel so alone without my FB friends. Not fake friends. Not electronic friends. Actual friends with whom I’ve talked face-to-face, cried face-to-face, hugged. All of you are cherished by me. Knowing I had friends out there listening to me during this tough time, lending support, is priceless. We have a plan in place, giving me hope for Tempest’s future with epilepsy. First, we will do what we can to minimize the seizures. If we are able to provide him with relief, but he’s unable to resume agility, he’ll go live the quiet single-dog life with my sister and her husband (they adore him). If he’s able to continue with agility, well you’ll see us bobbling about local courses. And I’ll always be laughing at the end, because agility with Tempest is going to be the greatest gift I can be granted in 2012. Blessings to each and every one of you. My sincerest wishes for a Happy New Year go out to you!”

January 2, 2012, 2:06 pm
“Tempest’s pheno is increased by 50%, and our family has been able to ask all our questions and feel more prepared for the future. Have our valium, know how to administer it, and when. Well begun is half done …”

It’s now January 11, and a lot has changed since I began this blog post. My life has turned upside down, inside out, by “the monster” of epilepsy.

Tempest’s breeder claims she has no epilepsy in her line, though I’ve read that 5% of all dogs being treated by emergency vet clinics or university vet clinics (where this survey was taken) have idiopathic epilepsy (aka “seizures with no known cause”). So it’s probable that every breeder in America has epilepsy somewhere in their line.

There are thousands of regular veterinarians treating epilepsy in their exam rooms, and these are not reflected in the survey results, so 5% is probably a low average.

Since this disease has engulfed me and my family, I’ve engaged in an effort to read everything and learn whatever I can. I’ve read that epilepsy is a big problem for Border Collies from American AND Great Britain. I’ve read that it strikes across breed lines, more purebred but mixed-breed as well. I’ve read that it’s fairly rare in cats (because a minority are purposely bred?).

I’ve experienced that breeders, in general, are reluctant to discuss epilepsy and prefer to think it is environmental (aka puppy owners are doing something to create epilepsy in their dog).

I’ve experienced that there is power and confidence in knowledge, so I’ve got my seizure kit prepared for Tempest, we’ve attended a brief tutorial with my favorite vet tech on the use of the syringes and medicine, and have practiced valium injections on a nectarine.

Tomorrow we have our first Phenobarbitol level check. The drug builds to a pharmaceutical level in the dog’s blood stream, but must be administered every 8-12 hours in order to maintain that level. There are “peaks” 3-4 hours from administration of the drug, and “troughs” 1-2 hours before the next dose.

Our level check tomorrow is a “trough” test — does Tempest have a pharmaceutical level of phenobarbitol in his system during a trough, or immediately before his next dose is due?

We’ll know by Friday morning if we need to bump up, or add another drug, to keep the epilepsy “monster” at bay.

My vet leaves Saturday morning for several days’ worth of vet convention in Orlando, FL. She’s given me her cell number. I’m praying I won’t need it.

I’ve experienced that Phenobarbitol is a narcotic which can cause lethargy, restlessness, lack of coordination, excessive thirst and hunger, and associated excessive urination and weight gain.

Each increase in AEDs (anti epilepsy drugs) results in some loss of coordination for 7-10 days.

With regards to dog agility, Tempest and I did some agility yesterday. I have yet to put him on a high / skinny dogwalk or teeter, but he’s fine with jumping and a-frames, etc.

It remains to be seen if Tempest will respond to AEDs. If he does, his quality of life will remain as before — euphoric. <g>

If he’s able to do agility he’ll become my partner pup again. If he’s unable to do agility my sister has asked to have him.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens. I’m not sure I could exist in a home that didn’t also contain my T-man, but my sister’s quieter city-home might be easier on a dog with coordination issues.

I’ve been surprised by the response to this from the performance dog community. Support has been overwhelming, but denial has been evident as well.

I was asked, years ago, “if people aren’t allowed to breed dogs where is your next agility dog going to come from?” My answer at the time was, “the same place my last 2 agility dogs came from — breed rescue.”

Now that I’ve experienced 20 months with my first purebred agility puppy since 1996, I imagine my next agility dog will come from rescue. I’m probably done with puppies for now.