Thursday, May 26, 2011

New day, new video.

I put together a new video of some of Cohen's tricks with Adrian's help. I handled the dog, he handled the camera.

I was originally wanting to make it a bit more lengthy and arty, but this will do for now. I was working on a relatively tight schedule. So this video is short and sweet.

Cohen's handstand is really starting to come along!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Moving, with dogs.

It's time for me to start getting my ass in gear and moving into the real world. I'm done university (finally) and in a position to find a new place for Adrian and I to live. And, of course, the dogs are coming with us. Dogs, plural.

Cohen looking deceptively peaceful.

I'm enormously relieved that I've gotten the okay to take Cohen with me when I move out. It really does make the best sense, as far as the dog's best interests are concerned. But she was bought as a family dog, and the whole "what will happen when the kids move out" issue was always sort of glossed over. (Okay, not glossed over, but there was always the assumption the dog would stay with my father unless circumstances changed.) Unfortunately, my sister has never really bonded with the dog, and sees her more as a chore than a hobby (or anything remotely positive). And my father, while he loves the dog, is not quite capable of handling her. Unfortunately Cohen is A Difficult Dog.

She's reactive, easily excited past the point of being easy to handle, periodically resource-guards against other dogs, is very demanding of attention, and sees very little reason to acquiesce to "because I said so"s -- she always needs to see something in it for her. I'm actually looking forward to taking on the full responsibility for her care since I feel it will give her more stability in how she's handled. The different handling styles of my family are not doing any favours for her general obedience. I have a particularly high set of expectations for her, and won't ever settle for okay, I want excellent. I could live with pretty damned good.

So, yes, I'm looking forward to caring for her morning, noon and night. However I might feel like killing her after a few weeks. We'll see.

So, I said dogs, plural. Enter Meggy, the Chihuahua. 

Meggy aka Megatron. Larger than life.

This is Adrian's dog. She's as attached to his hip as Cohen is to mine, so the thought of leaving her behind is, well, unthinkable. 

She's a sharp little dog who I think has great potential. Unfortunately I don't think she's been given the opportunity to meet that potential yet. She's the middle "child" in a three-bitch household, and is louder and more boisterous than the others. Since she's so attached to Adrian (and the others the other family members) she tends to get ignored on "family" outings where Adrian isn't present. So she's never received any sort of formal training (though Adrian delights in teaching her bizarre tricks like sneezing on command), and she isn't given enough outlets for her energy. 

Her vices are barking at mysterious noises, and when people enter the house. She's not comfortable with children and could use some better leash manners. She tends to guard Adrian from other dogs. Her strengths are how relatively easily her needs are met, and she already has experience in multi-dog households. Plus, she can be very sweet.

Quite honestly, I'm really looking forward to trying out my training tactics on another dog. She'll present a slew of challenges which which I've not yet had to work. Namely, since she's so tiny food rewards need to be controlled carefully (she already needs to lose a bit of weight). She's also headstrong and not nearly as focused as Cohen while training. I have a mental image of bringing her by my training facility and getting her started in formal classes. Next step: agility-Chihuahua!

The Biggest Challenge:

Cohen. As I mentioned, Cohen has a history of resource guarding from other dogs. She'll snark and snap at others when she feels they're doing something she doesn't like. Due to the size difference I have serious concerns that a snark could easily escalate into a fight where Meggy ends up seriously hurt. It's both Adrian's and my worst nightmare, and neither of us can stand the thought of sending either dog back home due to a conflict. It also doesn't help that both dogs are female, and Meggy is intact. 

On top of that, the last time I had Cohen by Adrian's place, Cohen snapped at Meggy when Meggy jumped up on me in standard tiny dog fashion. For the rest of the night, each time Meggy was around Cohen had her fixed with an unhealthy stare. Cohen lashed out at Meggy once more when my attention dipped for a second and the dogs were too close to each other. Clearly, without some careful planning and management this is a recipe for disaster and heartbreak. 

Emotions are running high between Adrian and I, and we've not even moved yet. 

So, I have a plan of attack. 
  1. Extreme management. Neither dog will be given the opportunity to interact with the other in an uncontrolled manner for the first month. They'll always be crated, leashed, or behind gates. 
  2. Careful management of all potentially valuable resources, including Adrian and myself. If one dog is having lap time, the other will be crated with a chew. All toys, bowls and other valuable objects will be put away and only brought out under controlled circumstances.
  3. Counter conditioning. Lots and lots of it. When Meggy is around and at a controlled distance treats rain from the sky on Cohen, and vice versa. At no point will we push distance and cause either dog to feel threatened by the other. Progress will be kept intentionally slow. 
  4. No dogs on the furniture. Each dog will have its own separate area to call its own.
  5. The dogs will be fed in separate crates. 
  6. Encourage the dogs to coexist, but perhaps not directly interact.
  7. Exercise. The dogs will be kept perpetually tired. They'll be walked together, with Cohen fitted with a gentle leader just in case.
  8. Learning. I plan to pick up the McConnell booklet about managing a multiple dog household. I'm also attending a seminar offered by behaviorist Joan Weston, BSc about multi-dog management. I'll be taking loads of notes. 
  9. Never trust Cohen. Unfortunately, with the behaviour Cohen has displayed in the past I can't trust her to never react. It may be stressful, but this a serious issue, and I think extreme caution is better than not.
  10. Stop thinking of Meggy as Adrian's dog, and Cohen as mine. Both dogs need to be treated fairly and equally by both of us. I suspect this will be a challenge, but is important.

My goal is for there never to be an outburst. I think that if we take it slowly and carefully we stand a chance of setting ourselves up for success. 

Over the next few months I'm sure I'll be musing on this subject quite a bit. Truly I'm terrified of this not working out. I don't want a dog hurt, and I don't want Adrian or I to have to give up either of them. It's ridiculous how much we both love our animals. It's the size difference that I think is the biggest issue, as I think even if a snap was not intended to hurt, it could result in serious injury.

 If any readers have any additional insight I'm all ears. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chronological list of cues - count: 62

New cues:

Weave, high five, target w/ back legs, around, tug, "through" (reverse weaving through legs), blow bubbles, handstand (still needs refined), go behind, focus forward "watch it".

Previous cues:

Touch, sit, down, speak, come, stand, paw, stay, bang, roll "over", back up, go pee, go to bed, go outside, heel, front, heel in reverse, bow, jump "up", jump "over", jump into "arms", circle, circle in reverse "beep beep", pivot, spin, twist, weave, find a toy, figure "eight", get it, drop it, leave it, table, tunnel, head up, head down, nose bridge "push", pop, beg, balance on back legs "be people", crawl, "cross" paws, "open" door, "close" door, scoot, teeter, walk (obstacle), mark, formal retrieve, out, quiet, limp.

List of learned cues starting at 9 weeks old to present. Quotation marks indicate word used for each behaviour.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Happy Sandy Smelly Dog

We went for a bike ride along the river today. Cohen was ecstatic. She's now thoroughly passed out.

I got spoiled during the winter -- the dog was slightly less interested in doing things. Now that the nice weather is here she is GOGOGO all the time. I thought she was maturing. Turns out she just wasn't thrilled about the cold.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cohen HIC

Cohen passed her herding instinct test today! It's not like I had a doubt that she would, but it was insanely fun to get out there and just get a feel for what the sport is like. Plus, getting the feedback regarding her methods and natural abilities was fascinating.

Cohen, HIC

Her summary sheet.

Here is a nice summary of what each category means. To me, coming in as an ignorant city girl, none of this made sense until I had the evaluator explain it to me.

Style - gathering. Cohen seemed mostly to keep her distance and was interested in keeping the sheep together and pushing it towards me.

Approach - runs moderately wide. I'm told this is ideal. She was a little close to start, but as she settled down she backed off a bit.

Eye - loose. Unsurprisingly, she does not use any eye while herding. I've always thought of this as a Border Collie trait, but apparently Kelpies and a few others use it too. Cohen ... does not.

Wearing - shows wearing. Apparently Cohen wears the sheep (moves from side to side to keep them controlled). I don't think I noticed this since my eyes were on the sheep for so much of the test.

Bark - some barking. The barking came as no surprise to me. Actually, I was surprised she didn't bark more. When she first got on the stock she was her normal loud self, but as she figured it out a bit more her barking was reduced to next to nothing.

Temperament - a little distraction. Cohen did alright on the stock, but I wish she was a bit more engaged. She was flagged off at one point, and I think this confused her and her confidence dipped noticeably. Instead of herding she decided to take a sheep-poo break. With a bit of extra energy thrown in I was able to get her back out and engaged, but not to the same level she was when she started. If anything, I think some repetition would be necessary to increase confidence.

Interest - sustained interest. Despite her poo-break, Cohen did pretty well sustaining interest (though, note she was not marked as keen).

Power - sufficient for stock. The stock were pretty mild mannered and well behaved, so, well, apparently Cohen's power was "sufficient".

Responsiveness - responds to guidance/control. Unsurprisingly, Cohen did well with some guidance. I'm sure her long hours of working with me in other sports helped this.

Grouping of stock - keeps stock together/regroups. For the most part the stock seemed pretty easy and grouped well, but a few times I remember Cohen putting in some extra effort to bring a wayward ewe back into the group.

Balancing stock with handler - adjusts position. Apparently Cohen is much stronger going one way than another, but did change the direction she circled around the stock as we switched up our position. This was pretty cool for me to see, since I didn't know this was a requirement.

I was also very relieved to see that Cohen didn't once grip a sheep. She was flagged away a fair amount, so she didn't have much opportunity to, I guess. I just had paranoid visions in my head of Cohen taking a bite out of a sheep.

The notes say, "Very nice instinct! A little worried but has all the right stuff."

It was interesting to see the decline in Cohen's confidence when she was flagged off the stock the first time. I would have hoped she would take it in stride and continue, but instead, as I said, she had a poop-break instead. My theory is that since I don't use harsh corrections in training she wasn't accustomed to them and didn't know what to do with herself after she received one. I'm hoping that after a bit more exposure to stock her confidence will be higher and her performance better.

After the test I had an interesting conversation with the tester. She said she really liked Cohen and thought she showed potential. She said that, in her experience, a lot of Aussies don't have a high drive to please their handler and can therefore be pains in the asses and/or inappropriate for work. But Cohen was tuned into me the whole time. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the amount of training I do with her, but it also has to do with her natural aptitude.

I went up with Helene (and her Sheltie Snorri) and Laila (with her Icelandic Sheepdog Viggo). Not only were they nice enough to snap the following photos, but I got to stick around and watch some beginner herding classes as well. It has me excited to give it a try myself at some point. I'll see if I can manage it -- it's both costly and time-intensive.

Us getting started.

Being flagged away from the sheep a bit. I had no idea what to do, so I followed the sheep.

A change in direction. She was so unexpectedly collected and thoughtful during the test.

An action shot which I wish was in focus.

Cohen doing what she does best: barking.

A shot from our pre-play in the park. Here's Viggo and Scout, two Icelandic Sheepdogs.

Huge thanks go out to Helene for taking these photos, and thanks to both Helene and Laila for the experience!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

One year ago

Cohen today.

Cohen one year ago, 8 months old.

She's starting to look like a real dog. Maybe not a real Aussie... she's still kind of funny looking and angular. But she's looking good.

Her aforementioned limp hasn't shown itself in a few weeks -- there was really only two days of noticeable discomfort. With the warmer weather her energy level has gone through the roof, and she's bouncing off the walls. I thought her lower energy level was indicative of her maturing and settling down, but... nope! It's back!